The Birdcage Archives

Sunday 18 December 2016

Nobel Prize for Literature 2016: Hindsight and Reflection

Hello Gentle Reader

I’ve made no qualm about my revulsion of the news that Bob Dylan became this year’s Nobel Laureate in Literature; for reasons already identified. Since the announcement, it is fair to state my perspective has not changed on Bob Dylan’s Nobel nod; there still breathes deep within me a sense of abhorrent and arbitrary resentment that Bob Dylan would be honored with the highest literary award in Literature, despite not being a writer – at least not in the traditional sense, as he is being touted and paraded as a poet of the highest pedigree, and a top rate lyricist and songwriter. These claims maybe true; but only in the most partial sense. Bob Dylan very well may be a talented wordsmith when crafting and conducting songs, for him to sing; but he is by no means a poet. Bob Dylan is first and foremost a musician and a singer. He is noted for his albums: “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” and “Blonde on Blonde.” Yet these works are now being inappropriately reclassified beyond their own place in the canon of integrity and artistic achievement. “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” and “Blonde on Blonde,” are albums – in other words they are musical achievements of: song, instrumentation, and lyrics; they belong in the category of music; a very extroverted form of artistic expression, which is often more able to gather populist appeal by its inclusive nature. Music and songs can be shared openly and loudly. Most to all of us have memories of sharing music and songs with friends in their youth, in dim lit rooms filled with smoke and alcohol in large supply, sharing the songs which spoke to them of the time. Even now, my neighbour chooses to spend some nights with a few friends and play music at exaggerated levels, while smoking copious amounts of weed, with his cohorts. Such is the pleasure of music and songs; the reveling and the celebratory experience in how they can be shared: in either a public space or a private environment amongst friends. Music and songs bring people together, in a sense of equal appreciation, deprived of the troubles of the mundane world. Music, song and dance – these are public affairs and displays of goodwill, revelry, and calls for celebration. Books: short stories, novels, poetry – these are private love affairs. Literature such as novels, poetry, and short stories, cannot be shared so openly as music. There is no group of people, sitting in a smoke filled room, drinking alcohol reading silently amongst themselves. Reading does not equate the festivities of a party. Reading is a silent and solitary act, which inadvertently alienates its participants from others.  Books mind you, can be shared and returned, but the joy itself is strictly limited to the individual and their subjective immersion into its subject matter. Books cannot engross the public or the mass populace, in the same way music or a song can.

The conception of both song and music is most likely very similar to that of literature’s conception. Both are conceived in silence and solitude; with pen to paper the first scribbles of ink are to be administered, while in those first scribbles, are the beginning formations of a song or a piece of prose or poetry. Yet, following this, the two begin to go their separate ways. Once the novel or the poem has stalled in its first draft conception, the writer may fight with the words in their intangible space before calling it a day. The musician/singer is gifted with an instrument to assist even further in their work be it: guitar, drum, piano or harmonica. By strumming the guitar, beating the drum, striking a key or blowing the harmonica; the musician is able to further gain ground with their planned song. While the writer is forced to move on with life: laundry needs to be folded; dishes need to be done; and dinner needs to be cooked. Though how they are conceived initially is similar; music and literature do divorce down the way.  

The debate about music and literature has been a paramount discussion with this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. Their similarities being recognized and praised as a great achievement, as people begin to believe they are not as inseparable as originally thought; while their differences are poignantly defined with greater clarity, in hopes to maintain and retain the clear border between the two. Be it one was a revolutionary in their thought process, and looks forward to a uncomfortable marriage between literature and music; or one is strictly purist in their perspective of the divorce of the two; this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature was divisive. On one hand, there was the populist cheers of the masses as their poet had won; a relic of the sixties and the counterculture; while on the other was the literary purists (including myself) who jeered the recognition of someone who was neither a writer, nor a man of literary letters. On Bob Dylan’s Nobel success, there was no room for middle ground of neutrality. It was either seen as a revolutionary success of the Swedish Academy to look beyond the dusty books of libraries, in order to step out of the box and award a complete outsider. Or, it was the complete destruction of the establishment, the stain on both the Nobel’s history, present and future, as a complete outsider, of unworthy merit had walked away with the most prestigious literary award. Despite praise and criticism the damage is done, and Bob Dylan accepted the award, and would now be considered officially a Nobel Laureate.

Throughout the Nobel controversy, Bob Dylan did not always help himself either. He refused to return calls to the Swedish Academy, or even acknowledge his Nobel accolade. This would prompt a member of the Swedish Academy to claim Bob Dylan’s stoic and silent response as “arrogant and rude.” While some celebrated Bob Dylan, and other remained indifferent; while others secretly cursed his fortune and luck over many other writers; Dylan was unreachable and silent; until two-weeks after the award was announced, Bob Dylan returned Sara Danius’s call. He admitted the news of receiving the Nobel Prize, had left him speechless, but he thoroughly appreciated the honour; while also mentioning that he will attend the Nobel ceremony ‘if possible;’ It would later be confirmed that Bob Dylan would not be able to attend the ceremony.

The Nobel controversy would die down. The flames had lost their potency; the coals now smoldering would burn out. Life must commence as usual; there is laundry to be folded, dishes to be done, and dinners to cook. Then the big day of December 10th came around, and the years Laureates would soon gather in the Blue Hall in Stockholm City Hall, where they would be presented with their Nobel medal and their Nobel diploma’s; the crowning achievement of their careers.

Generally speaking, December 10th and the first week of October, usually have me in high spirits and a good mood. Though this year, I was in a good mood leading up to December 10th, it was later pissed on by reasons which shall remain unnamed and unspoken, other than: work has a surprising ability to turn all bright moods into a sour state of the soul.

The Nobel Ceremony however, continued on as usual. The laureates for Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature and Economics; Peace would take place in Oslo, Norway; would each be honored with their medal and diploma, handed to them by the Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf; but before that a speech would be read by one of the committee members of the corresponding prize. This year’s speech giver for the Nobel Prize for Literature, from the Swedish Academy was none other than: Horace Engdahl.

The Award Ceremony Speech by Horace Engdahl opens with guns a blazing, in which subtlety this year’s decision has been defended, because its practitioner has mutated the form away from its vernacular roots, and brought to the greater heights of more serious literature. Engdahl mentions La Fontaine and Hans Christian Andersen as two writers in particular in the past who were able to bring their chosen subject matter out from their squandered ghetto and rise them up to the: “Parnassian heights,” of great literature. With pleasantries observed and niceties completed, Horace Engdahl gets to the point with his second paragraph, in which praises this year’s laureate, and understates the radical aspect of the decision:

“In itself, it ought not to be a sensation that a singer/songwriter now stands recipient of the literary Nobel Prize. In a distant past, all poetry was sung or tunefully recited, poets were rhapsodes, bards, troubadours; 'lyrics' comes from 'lyre'. But what Bob Dylan did was not to return to the Greeks or the Provençals. Instead, he dedicated himself body and soul to 20th century American popular music, the kind played on radio stations and gramophone records for ordinary people, white and black: protest songs, country, blues, early rock, gospel, mainstream music. He listened day and night, testing the stuff on his instruments, trying to learn. But when he started to write similar songs, they came out differently. In his hands, the material changed. From what he discovered in heirloom and scrap, in banal rhyme and quick wit, in curses and pious prayers, sweet nothings and crude jokes, he panned poetry gold, whether on purpose or by accident is irrelevant; all creativity begins in imitation.”

[“The Nobel Prize in Literature 2016 - Presentation Speech". Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 18 Dec 2016] 

If you would like to read the entire presentation speech, please see the following link:

Of all the highlights of this year’s award, and the continual crisis and criticism this years Laureate has caused, this speech took the cake for symbolic and poetic justice.

Eight years ago, Horace Engdahl made unsavory comments with regards to the American literature, and a lack of a Nobel Laureate coming from the United States of America since Toni Morrison had won in nineteen-ninety three. Engdahl’s comments were that American literature was “too isolated and insular,” meaning it was incapable of challenging Europe as the literary hub of the world, and would further continue by stating: “they don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature ...That ignorance is restraining.” I have not dined being a slight a defender of Engdahl’s comments, specifically referring to the lack of translation; in which many great writers are overlooked because of a language barrier, and a great of the world is left undiscovered because of a hesitation to translate. Despite some warranted criticism, many of the American literary establishment reacted against Engdahl and his comments with equal vitriolic comments.

In two-thousand and fourteen, Horace Engdahl had opened up about his previous comments, and would further elucidate upon them:

“Everyone reacted as if I’d said that the major American writers had no chance of winning the Nobel. I said nothing of the sort; I didn’t say that there were no worthy American writers. I said that American literary life, American criticism and teaching were limited today by too narrow an access to world literature, because the number of translations and their reach in the US is feeble. Everything is focused around their [US] writers and their language, like a hall of mirrors which reflects a perpetual, infinite image of America.”

Now though years later, from the initial comments, and hearing Engdahl praise the decision of his fellow Swedish Academy member’s decision to name American singer/songwriter, Bob Dylan, as this year’s Nobel Laureate must have been sweet poetic justice for the American literary establishment. Yet for me it was ironic, to hear Bob Dylan being praised by a Swedish Academy member who had once criticized the literary establishment of America, but has extended this same criticism towards western literature. Now the grumpy old member of the Swedish Academy was now praising one of the most controversial decisions of the Swedish Academy of contemporary memory, by going so far as to state in his speech:

“All of a sudden, much of the bookish poetry in our world felt anaemic, and the routine song lyrics his colleagues continued to write were like old-fashioned gunpowder following the invention of dynamite. Soon, people stopped comparing him to Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams and turned instead to Blake, Rimbaud, Whitman, Shakespeare.”

After Horace Engdahl’s speech about Bob Dylan and his Nobel Prize for Literature, the stage was turned upwards towards the balcony above the stage; where seated next to the conductor Marie Rosenmir, was the American ‘punk poet laureate,’ Patti Smith. Seeing as Bob Dylan was unable to attend the Nobel ceremony, Patti Smith had gone as his proxy, and in doing so sang his song: “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” However, during the performance of the song, Patti Smith faltered slightly, incapable to bring forth the lyrics of the song. With great dignity she apologized, and explained that she was nervous, yet with jubilant applause, she was able to pick up, from where she found difficulty, and continued the song as if nothing had happened only moments before. In seeing that moment, I felt complete sympathy for Patti Smith. Our disagreement over Bob Dylan his new status as a poet, his Nobel Prize for Literature – they had all dissolved in that moment in which we have all been before. Patti Smith’s stumble was not a failure though. She was hesitant in her performance, and overcome with nerves and anxiety, as many of us have been and will be time and time again. No one can truly hold it against Patti Smith, who showcased great resolve and resilience to finish the song with great strength as she had begun. She paid a great tribute to her fellow musician and singer, and a dear friend I am sure. Her performance is memorable not because of one small floundering moment, but rather because of the real human experience of it; the moment in which even the greatest performers are overcome with the terrors of anxiety and nerves; in which no one can transcend, no matter how hard we practice or refine ourselves.

The last stage of Bob Dylan’s words making the appearance for the night was the banquet speech, which was read by the American Ambassador to Sweden: Azita Raji. In this banquet speech Bob Dylan, directly comments the question which has plagued and divided the literary community: “is this literature?” Dylan contemplates, the English literary giant himself, William Shakespeare playwright and poet, in how he attempted to deal with the conundrum in which he has been dealt with as of late. In his speech, Dylan notes:

“I began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn't have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I'm sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: "Who're the right actors for these roles?" "How should this be staged?" "Do I really want to set this in Denmark?" His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. "Is the financing in place?" "Are there enough good seats for my patrons?" "Where am I going to get a human skull?" I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare's mind was the question "Is this literature?"’

["Bob Dylan - Banquet Speech". Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 17 Dec 2016.]

Though I dare not digress and attempt to get into an argument about the difference between Shakespeare’s plays and the songs of Bob Dylan; I will say to a degree that yes Shakespeare most certainly did not preoccupy himself with the thought of what he was doing was of literary merit or not. This being said, a song by Bob Dylan does not compare to the Elizabethan sonnet, or the poems of Shakespeare. Nor do his songs compare with the great poets of the contemporary era, or of Nobel Laureates come and gone. Bob Dylan’s Nobel grab, has certainly stirred the debate of whether or not his songs and music are best comparable to literature. Be they are or be it they are not, has often now come down to being beside the point. Some have viewed Dylan’s award as an insult to both literature as a whole as well as poetry; but even more specifically an insult to American poetry and American poets. Don’t hold your breath, Sharon Olds or John Asherby; Bob Dylan is the best model of American poetry currently at work today.

Whether or not I agree his songs amount to poetry, no longer matters. The damage so to speak is done. Bob Dylan is officially a Nobel Laureate in Literature, and he has been inducted to the literary pantheon of the greats, alongside: Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Mann, Pear S Buck, Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway and George Bernard Shaw – the same Laureates in whom he had referred to in his banquet speech. Though Admittedly Gentle Reader, after a while, Bob Dylan and his Nobel, have faded from my mind. Though I do not agree with the decision by the Swedish Academy, and noticed great ironies in the presentation such as Horace Engdahl reading the ceremony speech, in which he elucidated the academy’s decision. There is very little I or any dissident or detractor for the decision can do to change the already drying ink of the status and the win for Dylan. One colleague at work once commented to me: the prize will forever be ruined for me, as from now on, there will only be: pre-Bob Dylan [win] and post-Bob Dylan. To my colleague, you are wrong. The Nobel Prizes (Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Peace and Economics) have a long storied history. Those who have been chosen to be name a Nobel Laureate, are considered the greatest minds of their time, which includes writers from William Butler Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Octavio Paz, Wisława Szymborska, Herta Müller, and Alice Munro. Bob Dylan has not soiled or destroyed the Nobel Prize for Literature at all. He may have bruised it, and caused many of us to retreat and lick our wounds, but he has not obliterated the award. As for the ceremony speech, in which the following statement was uttered:

“bookish poetry in our world felt anaemic.”

The ‘bookish,’ poetry in our world is not anaemic. Great poets still exists and are hard at work as ever, crafting and refining more beautiful poems, as they are under threat of extinction in a world which no longer wishes to view them with any importance; preferring the popular music of the radio, to the serious craft which is going on locked behind closed doors. Serious poets still exists, and are still at work. Their words still move us; help us see with greater clarity, and seek to name and understand the world with greater poetic insight.

I had hoped for a poet to become this year’s Nobel Laurate in Literature; and in all I wasn't disappointed (though I say that with great irony). However, rather than getting my back up any further to which only leads to hissing and fighting over the debate of literature, I now treat Bob Dylan’s Nobel with indifference and apathy. I do not plan on engaging with his songs or rushing out to buy his albums, I do not hold his songwriting as a work of a poet either. Bob Dylan was, is, and forever will be a musician and a singer first and foremost, and after a long list of titles which can be attributed to his name, poet would most certainly be either near the bottom or at the bottom. Yet tomorrow is a new year, and a new Nobel Laureate will be named then. On that note: we can only hope that the Swedish Academy is now complete with its revolutionary and sensational decisions with future Nobel Laureates. Svetlana Alexievich was well deserved and a breath of fresh air. Bob Dylan was controversial from the start. Let’s hope true writers, who write, and must do battle with the intangible beast of language, are seen fit to gather greater focus and attention in the coming years, as they deserve it.

 Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary  

For further reading on this year’s Nobel Laureate and the ceremony please see the following links:

Wednesday 14 December 2016

After the Circus

Hello Gentle Reader

The eternal city is often attributed to Rome. Rome is the kind of city that inhabits the mind of an individual, who has yet to go there as a summer day dream. It’s a city where the cobble stone streets waving beneath the oppressive scorching eye of the Mediterranean sun. Yet pocketed throughout the city in plazas/piazzas, courtyards and streets are fountains of artistic, historical merit and value. Rome in fact houses the most fountains in the entire world; fifty of these fountains are monumental (such as: the Trevi Fountain) but also hundreds upon hundreds of small fountains, as well as decorative fountains (such as: Fontana dell Obelisco and Fountain of Neptune). In total, there are over two-thousand fountains in Rome. They offer solace and sanctuary from the burning judgement of the sun. In their shallow depths lie coins, possessing wishes, hopes and dreams. Yet no fountain is obliged; and they remain unanswered, at least on the fountains accord. Rome much like the rest of city retains its airy summer haze of a dream like quality throughout all desiring travelers and wanders. Rome calls to mind a place of romance; of history; of art, intelligence and ingenuity. It’s riddled with castles and churches. It’s a place in which Pope’s have called home; Leonardo Da Vinci has called it home, as has Alberto Moravia; Maria Luisa Spazianiand, a refined poet of Italian letters, would die in Rome just a few years ago; and Rome has inspired many writers, such as: Henry James and Edgar Allan Poe. Yet for me the eternal city is blinding white, and sparkling in gold, and shimmering in the soft sounds of water. Rome always brings to mind the film: “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.” My mind still brings the images of Karen Stones luxury apartment to life. A place fit enough to belong to an aristocrat. Despite the sun, the brightness of the city, its eternal swooning and soiree’s; Mrs. Stone is always afflicted with a slight sense of melancholy, which only begins to become even more devastating when a certain Paolo comes into her life. Paolo as a character had soured; to a degree the idea or the ideal of Italian men; their bronze golden bodies, displayed in their speedos, in which they give the impression of Greek gods in physical appearance, but apparently are equally as capricious as the mythical beings; as Paolo, himself, embodies a certain contrite conceited nature, only enhanced by his lust for personal gain; which of course drains dear Karen Stone to completely give up on life it were to seem. Tennessee William’s melancholic and fateful tale of false love, still strikes me as a desire to contrast the bright beauty of Rome with a tale of devastation and false declaration of love. Yet Rome pushes on in the mind as the ideal city of art, history, intellectual stimulation; but also for its food, its culture, and the possibility of love. Italy (or Rome) is a place of liberal leanings with regards to liberty in alcohol, its shameless display of the human body (topless women, and of course men in varying stages of age and body types, who’ve squeezed themselves into speedos, for better and for worst). Italy (or Rome) is the place of eternal ideals and tenacious ideas of perfection; a place where one is a connoisseur of art and fashion; a gastronaut with the most refined palates for fine food; but also a place where intellectual desires, curiosities and capacities are stimulated, encouraged, and provoked. Rome maybe attributed as the Eternal City; but it must be the: Eternal City of Dreams.

Rome is both dream and tangible reality in “After the Circus,” by Patrick Modiano. The narrator often day dreams and speculates about the city bathed in bright light, with summer shadows of green leaves. Deep within those dreams about Rome; there rings church bells of sanctuary and solace, for both Jean (the narrator) and his new acquaintance, a young troubled female by the name of Gisele. For both Jean and Gisele, Rome offers a new chance; an opportunity to turn a new leaf in their lives. Rome will allow them to escape the autumnal sepia tones of Paris; a place haunted with their pasts tinged with the poignant tints of guilt and grief. For Jean, Rome allows him to escape the ambiguous clutches of his father and his dubious business transactions, which have most certainly forced him to not only leave Paris but also France, and take refuge in Switzerland. Rome also will allow him to escape the corrupted in-lieu of parental guardian: Grabbley; who is best defined as Jean’s fathers ‘oldest friend,’ and more or less businesses partner of an equally unsavory flavor and character. Gisele – though it should be noted; that names and identities are not always as they are made up to be; is forever in a perpetual state of perennial movement in an attempt to escape her past. However, in typical Modiano fashion, Gisele’s past is never fully elucidated upon, as to what exactly she is running from; though she has found herself in cahoots with a band of cohorts, whose pasts are equally as dubious as hers, but offer assistance on a quid pro quo basis. Through Gisele Jean in his naivety and youth, finds himself entering a world in which he is neither fully enveloped nor submerged in, but is well acquainted with.  In Modiano’s hallmark style though, Jean, as the narrator, is only ankle deep in the conspiracy of those surrounding him; from his father, to Gisele and her associates: Jacques de Bavière and Ansart.

“After the Circus,” follows typical tropes by Nobel Laureate in Literature, Patrick Modiano, in style, language and themes. Margaret Atwood once famously gave general advice to an interviewer with regards to writing; especially in the case of mysteries – specifically murder mysteries; in that you must identity the murderer by the end of the novel, while before revealing the identity of the guilty party, allowing the narrator to attempt to unmask them. If one were to neglect this crucial aspect of the story, the readers would feel cheated, and outrage would be sure to follow. Thankfully for Patrick Modiano, these readers must not read his work; as they would most certainly be outraged by the lack of their just desserts. Modiano is not however a typical mystery writer. Or rather: Patrick Modiano, is not a mystery writer at all. The form is worn loosely; and is at best described as shabby and threadbare, with the left sleeve most certainly missing, a hole in trousers; and numerous stains which could keep CSI busy for ages to discover both the contents of the stain and where it originated from. For Modiano the tropes of a mystery novel are merely an enhancement of atmosphere, while also being to a degree a form of organization for the novel. There can be no denying Modiano inhabits a world painted in varying shades of grey, with a sense of morality equally as uncertain and unclear. His characters are a drift, both in the present and in the past. They sail their memories, without realizing they have yet to lift anchor.

Memory is one of Patrick Modiano’s most perennial themes and preoccupations with his novels. The absences, the abrupt departures, unanswered questions – these are the hallmarks of Patrick Modiano. As much as his characters dig, do their best to remember excavate research and hunt; they are chasing ghosts and shadows. The worlds they once inhabited no longer exist. Buildings demolished, streets take on a new life, a renewed life, a more vigorous persona then they once possessed previously. For Modiano and his characters, Paris’s change – as well as its willful amnesia; often fight against those willing to try and disturb old bones. Their attempts, their missions, their dreams, their desires – all futile, and yet they continue, to seek resolution, from their youth, seek answers their own inquires; fight off the self-conscious doubts, which are grounded in an ever more earthly present.   

Plot and story may not be his forte, or even his preference. Yet Patrick Modiano is not pretentious in subject matter, language, theme or even length of this novel. His novels are quiet, somber, and unsettling to a degree. Yet Modiano’s novels of memory are fragmented, saturated in perfumes of another time, perhaps more famous in an actress’s dressing room, in which she would apply before she went on stage. They are coloured in the sepia tones of autumn and the uncertain light of spring. The scenes are always populated by passing shadows, absent parents, naked light bulbs, and scantily clad apartments, which would not give a hint of resident or life, if it weren’t for the crumbs and unwashed dishes. To call Patrick Modiano a minimalist would be a misleading and incorrect assessment. Minimalist, have flayed their work down to its most crucial elements allowing context to dictate meaning. Modiano however, has not bleached or boiled his novels. Rather, his novels are centered, around memories which have been sanded down or blown away. With a few notes, a few photographs, and a melancholic poignant air for reliving the past, Modiano’s characters are haunted by their pasts, and attempt to make pace with it, by concluding the missing gaps and fragments. In this sense, Patrick Modiano is an amnesiac clinging to the few fragments of candle light memory in which he possesses.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Saturday 10 December 2016

Ferreira Gullar, Dies Aged 86

Hello Gentle Reader

Ferreira Gullar, was a well renowned Brazilian writer and artist. His main literary achievements were poetry; but during his later years he was known for his columns. Ferreira Gullar was best known however in both the fields of literature and art for two works specifically. In literature, Gullar was noted for his famous poem: “The Dirty Poem,” and for the “Neo-Concrete Manifesto.” The Neo-Concrete movement of Brazil, was revolutionary as it called to push aside the geometric purity and rationalistic forms of the Concrete Movement, and to instead embrace phenomenology, in which case spectators, admirers and viewers of the art would not just view the exhibit and the work, but be forced to participate with it. Five years later, Gullar would abandon the Neo-Concrete art movement, which he viewed as elitist. During this time, the Brazilian military would form a dictatorship, a prominent communist, would face increase persecution, before going into exile in: Moscow, Lima, and Buenos Aires.  In nineteen-seventy five in exile, Gullar would publish his most famous poem: “Dirty Poem.” The poem took shape from Ferreira Gullar’s own memories, specifically his memories of adolescence spent by the seaside during the Second World War. The poem deals heavily with the socioeconomic system and it’s shameful abuse of the ordinary citizen with such tools as poverty, sexism, greed and fear. Many have praised Ferreira Gullar’s famous poem, for its ability to achieve and capture the daily experiences, victories, defeats, and small triumphs of the everyday citizen of Brazil. The famous witch of Brazilian letters, Clarice Lispector herself was a great admirer of “Dirty Poem,” in which she said:

“I am a fervent admirer of Ferreira Gullar’s scandalously beautiful Dirty Poem. It makes me feel like a child before a tropical forest or a soaring monument.”

Ferreira Gullar did return to Brazil in nineteen-seventy seven, only to be incarcerated and tortured once again. The dictatorship would eventually fall, and Gullar would be recognized as one of the most important intellectuals and writers of Brazil during the twentieth century. Since “Dirty Poem,” was published Gullar would go on to continue to write poetry, a bit of prose, and his column.

Sadly on December 4th, at the age of eighty six, Ferreira Gullar died due to pneumonia. He leaves Brazil and the world during a time of great political uncertainty and volatility. Brazil itself is going through great social upheavals due to allegations of governmental corruption. Despite this, Brazil is sadly in a state of mourning for one of its greatest writers and poets have died. Ferreira Gullar, was a fierce champion of art and those struggling. He challenged the status quo, and suffered for it. Yet in the end survived while, such a form of government truly only has a short shelf life. While Ferreira Gullar, may find immortality for his poems, his columns, and his eclectic essays.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Thursday 8 December 2016

Angel of Oblivion

Hello Gentle Reader

The past is never quiet put to rest. It’s never placed in a bed where it is nestled in among the sheets and blankets, head framed by the surrounding pillows. No not quite. The past is more a book, continuously flipping its pages through the wind of the present. Pages marked with a green bookmark are filled with guilt; pages marked with a blue bookmark are filled with grief. All the while the book itself is written in the poignant purple prose of nostalgia. Under a summer sun, fields of green guilt carpet out; freckled and pimpled with wildflowers whose perfume is tinted with the pain of past misdeeds; or just the inadvertently guilt of doing nothing, staying by the sidelines, observing, not standing up, or worst yet, the guilt of knowing you survived by fates good graces, and chances own mismanagement of the dice, in which you truly got out by the bit skin on the bones, and the teeth in your head. Then of course beneath the hangnail of a crescent moon lies the expansive sea of grief; every droplet disguises a tear, a memory, a life, an individual; lost now to the pages of some unrecorded history. Neither famous enough to be taken note of; nor caught in a grand enough tragedy to become a statistical figure, which calculates and determines the measurement of grieving required for the devastation. The past in these circumstances: haunts. The past rattles its chains, and shakes the cage of its imprisonment. The past gains its spectral form and assaults the present and the living. No past misdeed shall be left to sink into oblivion. For some, the past must be kneaded back into place. It must be read over. It must be chanted and prayed for. One’s grip must not be loosened on one’s own personal history, as if by loosening one’s grip, it will drift away and never return, and all those lost, all those teetering on the edge of being completely lost, will never return or be recognized as victim and martyr; but rather will be a nameless numeric figure in the page of some history textbook. Those sunken eyes will stare out from photographs, but will remain nameless, forgotten and less poignant. Those eyes of a: father, a son, a brother. They were the eyes of a: grandmother, mother, daughter, a sister. In Maja Haderlap’s debut novel “Angel of Oblivion,” the tragedy of the twentieth century is discussed, documented, relived, as it saturates and seeps into the present, but also into the next generations life, as they attempt to make some order or understanding of a past that is not their own, but flings itself into their present, into their lives as it wails, attacks, tantrums about with anger, frustration and primal rage. In this no one can understand where it bursts forth from.  

Maja Haderlap is a Slovenian-Austrian poet, as well as causal prose writer. Her novel “Angel of Oblivion,” lacks a clear defined plot or story. Yet in its place, she has constructed a unique quilt of a novel, in which language, history, guilt, grief, mesh and mingles; but also where ones peronal identity is divisive or rather dissents against the national identity. Maja Haderlap is bilingual in the fact that she speaks both Slovenian and German, in which she finds herself often on the duality of language; and the novel itself is riddled with its dual division, between the Carinthian Slovenes and the nation of Austria and its citizens, as both sat on opposing sides in history.

There is no denying that Austria, during the Second World War did not openly oppose National Socialism (or rather: the Nazis), but the Carinthian Slovene’s did. They fought as a resistance against the Nazi’s and opposed their warped ideology. For this however, they would suffer and be persecuted by their nation (Austria) and by the Nazi’s themselves. Those convicted of conspiring with the partisan fighters would be executed, those who were spared the bullet, would be sent to a concentration camp. “Angel of Oblivion,” rattles with partisan songs, and long glimpses of a landscape changed, years after the war. Despite the grass growing, the cows grazing, the sky still standing overhead; and the sun shining – they remembered, the fires of burned down farms; the frightful cries of the children, the soft but sorrowful cooing other mothers; the shots that ended a life; and the forest riddled with men, ready to die, but also kill in their opposition of a state gone mad, and their countrymen who had also fallen into a demented and delirious state, which called for extermination and extreme action against those who did not identify with their ideology or their perception of a true society.

“Angel of Oblivion,” opens with the following line:

“Grandmother signals with her hand, she wants me to follow.”

As the narrator obeys the obliging signal, so does the reader. We follow the Grandmother – an oppressive, determined, rough and mystical woman through the kitchen and into the larder. Grandmother in “Angel of Oblivion,” is the gatekeeper to the narrator’s family history. She herself carries the burden of songs, memories, thoughts, orders and stories within her, and cherishes them despite their broken contents, enveloped in barbs, and razor edges. Despite this, Grandmother, with her survival of the war, and the return to her farm, once again takes charge of the household, as she has little to no faith in her daughter in law; and her own son is far to broken to run the farm let alone manage it. The narrator herself is more akin to her grandmother, then either of her parents. Her mother for instance, is tasked with the chores outsider; where she milks the cows, feeds the chickens and gardens; but she is prone to fits of weeping and sadness, as slight resentful take on her life, and how it has turned out so haplessly against her own dreams and wishes. The narrator’s father is broken grown up child. He drinks, to escape the brutality of his past; but then relishes in his own part of his past; and then in a change of disposition and character, he flings himself into a fit of anger and rage, engulfed by paranoia that his world is ending as it did once before, and his own family has turned against him. With this in mind his only way of escape is suicide, which takes time and coaxing from both his wife and his mother, to finally get him to relinquish his weapon and the means to his end; which only makes him act far more bitterly with resentment, that his family has betrayed him further.

Despite the tension between the household; between Grandmother and her daughter in-law and the fragile mental state of the Father; the opening of the novel is quiet sunny, in its depiction of the farm, and idyll countryside childhood of the narrator. It becomes quiet clear, the narrators mother is quite frantically religious, and later we learn through her education she was dissuaded from any academic goals or dreams, in favour of home economics, running a household, raising children, and the daily chores expected form a goodwife, through her catholic education and  upbringing. Yet, she still gathers great enjoyment from poetry and reading poetry with her daughter, one of the few pleasures the two do together as mother and daughter, which is not yoked upon either as a mundane chore:

“Together we let the flowers grow. We cow with the roosters and peal with the church bells. We croak with the frogs and sing with the scarecrows, let soap bubbles rise like the sun, earth, and moon that turns without wings. We load springtime with its garlands of flowers onto a boat and sail into the distance. We sit for hours in meadows of language and speak in the rhythm of rhymes. We realize that nature must be adorned with verse and the flowers woven into wreathes. With rhymes we can leap from stanza to stanza like butterflies from one blossom to another without fear of falling. They bring everything to a good conclusion, they turn tears into laughter and silence into celebration. What was dried out will bloom again, what had stiffened will be able to dance again.”      

Needless to say the narrator of the novel will go on to become a poet, much like Maja Haderlap.

The idyll of this countryside childhood comes to its evident closure. Grandmother despite her earthliness her pragmatic use of the catholic religion, such as protecting the house with ancient known prayers, and making the sign of the cross on the bread, or on the roof of her tongue – and explaining to her granddaughter the horrors of her own history – and subsequently her granddaughters own family history, with its brutalization, its resistance, its persecution, and death; she too must give in to time, and resolve herself to the fate of all life. From here the novel begins to change its trajectory.

The beginning of the novel opens with its rustic calm of countryside childhood; but as the novel progresses, the narrative changes, as the narrator herself begins to grow, and is sent off to a nearby city to become better educated – a wish by her mother, despite the protests of her increasingly resentful and drunken father who battle his own dreams and demons continuously; and fails miserably on all accounts, as he continuously looks to a bottle to find his salvation. As she grows older, she soon sees how others were affected by the war in her rural community, how damaged and psychologically destroyed they have become. Now all each of them have or had, was their stories of fighting in the forest, which was both hell and home; as it offered them both salvation, but also where they were hunted like game, be it buck or wild boar. As she continues with her own studies, and grows more and more as an adult, the family dynamics begin to change. Her father spirals further into a state of disrepair, in which the farm is left in shambles. Yet in this time of change, and disrepair her mother begins to find her own voice; though she speaks with vitriolic resentment at her children, how has abandoned by them. Yet for her the moped gives her the opportunity to flee the farm, flee the black moods of her husband, and his damaged spirit, soul and state. She begins to write poetry, and has her daughter review them. She begins to find her own voice in the ruin of the once rustic home.

Maja Haderlap is a poet first. Her novels language is finely crafted with metaphors, lyricism, and unique anecdotes in which he describes the world of her narrator. “Angel of Oblivion,” at times is striking in how it comes across as both memoir and documentary of a unspoken past, of unsung heroes, and victims left to be forgotten behind the gates of concentration camps like Buchenwald, Auschwitz and specifically Ravensbrück. These places have fallen into the oblivion of the past. Partly destroyed by their creators, guards, and accomplices, to hide their own misdeeds and crimes, as they realized they themselves were caught on the wrong side of the gate when time had passed, the war was nearing its end, and their defeat imminent. They are riddled with memorials, names, and testaments of the crimes and atrocities; and now statements where it says: we will never do this again. However Maja Haderlap first and foremost being a poet often put her at odds with the structure of a piece of prose work. At times “Angel of Oblivion,” appeared fragmented and rushed, doing its best to clearly state its points and ensure that certainty was reached within it. It appears lost and muddled in points of the novel, as if it is not completely organized its delivery. Despite these flaws in organization and delivery, the novel is striking in its depiction of second guilt and grief, as seen by a generation which would inherit the suffering of their grandparents and parents.

Maja Haderlap is a writer in the similar vein of other Eastern European writers like: Herta Müller, Christa Wolf, Viivi Luik, and Imre Kertész – as she discusses suffering; but what makes her unique is her discussion of suffering is second hand, something inherited (much like Müller’s inherited guilt over her father’s involvement with the Waffen-SS, and her home village’s inability to separate itself from National Socialism and its pride in its German heritage and ethnicity). Maja Haderlap also discusses being an outsider by language itself, never completely identified as German or Slovenian.

Though “Angel of Oblivion,” begins in an almost bright summer setting, with the rustic and charming life of a family farm, via the perspective of a child. It begins to evolve, grow and change in its perspective. Its discussion of second-hand suffering, inherent guilt and grief, show themselves through the daily upheavals of those who are scared and battle wounded. The language is stunning and remarkable, showcasing Haderlap’s origins as a poet. Organization and delivery were often put aside, leaving the book to seem like a collection of fragments of memories, stories, dreams, and metaphors. Yet getting past these issues of organization and delivery, and one is left with a stunning account of an overlooked part of history. Yet being overlooked and now being brought to light by this novel, does glorify it with patriotism or a sense of civil or historical pride. It rather showcases the grotesque pride and horrors of the resistance, the persecution and the suffering of all those involved; and how that suffering for those who had survived would be passed on to the next and future generation, who would in turn become acquainted with a horror and suffering in which they are not entirely equipped with dealing with or comprehending as the songs and stories, become diluted further with the salvage found in a bottle; or are drowned out by the wailing threats of murder or suicide.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Reigniting Booker Prize Controversy and Criticism

Hello Gentle Reader

In two-thousand and fourteen the Booker Prize, had  shifted its focus and inclusion policies, to allow for American writers to compete for the prize alongside, writers from the United Kingdom, as well as the old Common Wealth; which includes but is not limited to: Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The decision of inclusion was not without its cheers of support; but it had just as many jeers of criticism – my voice included in the later of the two categories.

Now the controversy has been reignited by Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes, who has stated that the decision to include American writers along with ‘heavy hitters,’ was daft and would deplete and overshadow the chances of others. Barnes would elucidate upon his comments by stating:

“The idea of [the Booker] being Britain, Ireland, the old Commonwealth countries and new voices in English from around the world gave it a particular character and meant it could bring on writers. If you also include Americans – and get a couple of heavy hitters – then the unknown Canadian novelist hasn’t got a chance.”

This comes around just as this year’s award went to: Paul Beatty, for his uncomfortably satirical dark comedy of a novel “The Sellout,” which discusses racism in modern day America; the novel most certainly would hit home with greater poignancy and potency, with the election and Donald Trump’s win.

Barnes comes could not be more relevant; despite being a few years late in the game, with the Booker Prize’s inclusive policy. Criticism of the decision, where aimed at the Booker Prize grasping at straws to attempt to retain some relevancy in today’s literary world, and book market. By including the prize to American writers, the Booker Prize will see itself enter new markets, and obtain a greater readership as well. Yet, the decision was not without its controversy, which rebounds now with Barnes comments.

Since the inclusion of American writers, in two-thousand and fourteen – only one American has won the award (Paul Beatty); but the controversy and the subsequent debate has been reignited by Barnes’s comments, including this one:

“Which American prizes are open to Brits? In theory, I think only the National Book Award is. I don’t think any Brit has won a major American award for years.”

Much like Julian Barnes and other critics of the Booker – I doubt, we will see the Pulitzer Prize open its doors to being more inclusive of other writers, from the English language.

Many other writers however have given their support to Barnes’s comments. Dame A.S. Byatt’s spokesperson had stated that she: “agrees with everything Julian Barnes has about this.” Susan Hill a judge for the award back in two-thousand and eleven, also added her void to the chorus. She believes Barnes’s comments hold a great deal of weight; and mentioned with the inclusion of American writers, that the “dice are now loaded against UK authors.” Though it should be noted it’s not just loaded against writers from the United Kingdom, it pushes Canadian, Irish, South African, Australian, and New Zealand writers back further as well; as the playing field becomes more saturated by American writers and publishers.

Philip Hensher also reiterates his predications for the Booker Prize’s downfall back in two-thousand and thirteen:

“It is hard to see how the American novel will fail to dominate. Not through excellence, necessarily, but simply through an economic superpower exerting its own literary tastes, just as the British empire imposed the idea that Shakespeare was the greatest writer who ever lived throughout its 19th-century colonies”

Though it could be fair to state, that the prize has not completely fall into oblivion and been destroyed by any repair. The last two winners: Marlon James, “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” and Paul Beatty, “The Sellout,” – both share an independent publisher: Oneworld; who has reached greater audience by producing some very intelligent and unique literary novels, which generally go overlooked or are denied by bigger mainstream publishers.

Yet doom and gloom still fills the atmosphere of the Booker Prize, as it grasps for a life boat to remain relevancy in the literary world; but also must come to terms that in numerous occasions of the past, it has overlooked great novels, in favour of old favourites, or more established writers; perhaps with the exception of Marlon James and Paul Beatty. But if the Booker Prize is to retain its relevancy and gather more of it, to live up to its grand name and illustrious heritage; it should continue on the path of awarding newer more vibrant talent, which are just becoming into their skin and into their pens, as their novels are trying to be published and their work trying to find readers in which to appreciate their voices, their themes, their messages, and their views.

The Booker Prize may not be dead. It may be trying to reinvent itself; renovate the house; clean up a bit around the corners, in which to gather greater support and readership; but by doing this is not by awarding already established writers, or opening the award up to American writers. To truly gather some greater support, and to put oneself up as a literary coinsure of contemporary tongues and taste, one needs to look for the newly arriving stars, the small flicker of a starving literary talent on the cusp of success or complete and utter failure. It’s time to champion the new, the up and coming, the reinvigoration and reigniting of the literary novel and steward those authors and their success.

Yet, Will Self put it best with the Booker Prize (and all literary prizes), when he showcased his complete indifference towards the award:

“Pets win prizes. It hardly matters if they’re Boston terriers or British bulldogs, the important thing is that prizes have come to dominate the literary world because they’re effective marketing tools in a cultural era in which genuine literary criticism and judgment has given way to febrile consumerism.”

For now though Gentle Reader, I do hope to a degree the Booker Prize continues to find new novels, emerging talent, and new writers in which to award the prize to, just as they have with Marlon James (and yes) Paul Beatty, who have tackled interesting issues, albeit controversial ones at times as well.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

For more on this please see the following links to “The Guardian,”

Wednesday 23 November 2016

William Trevor Dies Aged 88

Hello Gentle Reader

Few literary forms Gentle Reader claim to have a practitioner within it, who can be deemed a master; but with the short story, there are a few devoted practioners to the form who can be elevated to the esteem of: Master of the Short Story form.

History is riddled with such masters of the form; from Anton Chekhov, to Yasunari Kawabata, to the Nobel Laureate and ‘contemporary master of the short story,’ herself: Alice Munro. In large part though, Anton Chekhov reshaped the short story genre, and would begin paving the way for the literary format to receive greater respect, and would establish the forma as a unique literary form of expression. Others had followed suit, and would find continual success in the short story genre such as: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (considered the grandfather of the Japanese short story); Antonio Tabucchi, and many others. This being stated, many writers who thrived in the short story format, would later go on and publish novels; and yet many (such as Yasunari Kawabata) feel that in order to truly understand their literary expression, one need only look at their more shorter works to truly understand their craft of brevity and literary dexterity. William Trevor was an accomplished Irish novelist, and more importantly master of the short story in his own right. In his long career Trevor had published fifteen novels, and numerous short stories, which resulted in thirteen collections, along with two volumes of collected short stories; and three collections of selected stories. William Trevor was nominated for the Booker Prize four times, for his novels: “Mrs. Eckdorf in O'Neill's Hotel,” (1970),  “The Children of Dynmouth,” (1976), “Reading Turgenev,” (1991), and “The Story of Lucy Gault,” (2002).” William Trevor’s work is noted for being set in Irish and/or English villages, in which he depicts the individuals who are holding onto the lower middle class standing, as they battle against a capricious fate and the daily battles of life. Trevor’s short stories and novels are noted for the stark and dour atmosphere, complete with an overcast day and a high chance of rain. His characters were noted for their struggles, but also for the varied cast and colour. Ted Solotaroff reviewed “Beyond the Pale and Other Stories,” in the New York Times and mentioned the spectrum of Trevor’s figures:

“His farmers and priests and men of the turf are as convincing and suggestive as his Hempstead aesthetes, his suburban swingers, his old-boy homosexuals, his mod clerks and shopgirls. Nothing seems alien to him; he captures the moral atmosphere of a sleek advertising agency, of a shabby West End dance hall, of a minor public school, of a shotgun wedding in an Irish pub.”

Despite writing numerous novels, William Trevor had always expressed greater enjoyment with the short story format; and claimed his novels only came into being when he could not fit them into short stories; and further elucidated that his novels are simply interconnected short stories. Personally, I always held the view that William Trevor was Alice Munor’s rival when it came to the short story, and recognition, and especially the Nobel; always thinking to myself one or the other will have to take it for the short story to gain its recognition; though ideally hoping it could have been a joint award between the two writers. Despite Trevor not receiving the Nobel alongside Alice Munro; he is best now more than ever not seen as a rival, but rather an equal in his mastery of the short story form, in how he offers glimpses into the lives of his varied cast of characters, and their unfortunate struggles.

Writing and the short story, were not William Trevor’s first calling or jab at the artistic world. William Trevor first was a sculptor, working under the name: Trevor Cox. During this time he supplemented his income by teaching on the side. It wasn’t until he began working in London for an advertising agency as a copywriter, that Trevor began to write, and would soon fall in love with the literary art form of the short story. Trevor disowned his first published novel “A Standard of Behaviour,” and has refused to see it re-released; and considers “The Old Boys,” to be his first novel. With “The Old Boys,” published and wining the Hawthornden Prize William Trevor at the age of thirty-six would go on to write full time, and become one of Ireland’s most prestigious and well known writers.

William Trevor however died on November 21st, peacefully in his sleep at the age of eighty-eight. With the passing of William Trevor the short story format has lost one of its greatest advocates and practitioners. William Trevor truly was a master of the short story.

Rest in Peace William Trevor.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Saturday 29 October 2016

I Once Said

Hello Gentle Reader,

I once said: “tomorrow night, I shall stroll no more,” which proved to be true for two years, and a little over two months. Yet tonight – or rather this morning – the vow was broken. Stricken with insomnia and a persistent cold; complete with a dry cough and a tap for a nose; I once again engaged on a nightly stroll. Though this time my stroll was more condescend. Before, my unassuming, uneventful, and otherwise extremely dull, monotonous and tedious walk had produced no thought provoking internal conversations; no soul reaching affirmation or change; no profound sense of self-awareness. And this time. .  . Well the results were ultimately the same; unchanged from their previous discourse. My feet had moved in the same rhythm as before. My right leg striking harder on the pavement, with my heel making a distinct ‘click,’ with each step; while my left foot and leg did their best to pass by, unassuming and without much noise. After a few rhythmic drums of my feet in my ear, it was time for music. Which – may I add – I was not armed with on my prior stroll. Enter now, Lisbonne Télégramme and their song: “Miroirs d'automne.” A song whose English translation is: “Fall Mirrors,” certainly sets the mood nicely. I’d like to add at this point Gentle Reader, I do not understand French (wish I did) but alas I do not. However, despite the language barrier, the song is enjoyable; despite the fact I do not understand a lick of it. It’s a funny thing Gentle Reader. The nightly light of autumn and winter. As the night grow more overcast; more crowded and clouded; the light becomes more claustrophobic. Everywhere, every shape, silhouette, shadow – takes its contoured form. Trees, park benches, fences; all on full display; no longer cast aside as a nameless or forgotten fixture in the night within the dark. Now they are apparent, defined and near; clearly visible – or at least distinguishable. Nearby the house, there is a creek, which in its serpentine and watery fashion, slithers alongside the walking path in which I stroll. Perhaps though it’s the other way around; rather the walking path slinks alongside the creek; in its manmade imperfection. The sky overhead is close and ominous, and the light brings everything close, rather than illuminating the distance. With no destination set in mind, it really doesn’t matter. As I walk ‘Miroirs d'automne,’ continues to play. I am immediately struck by how the band or the song, could either write album or be a good companion piece of music to one of (if not all) Patrick Modiano’s novels, in which his autumnal tomes of memory, amnesia, oblivion, and the consumption of time; all unfold in the sweet perfume of nostalgia, and time now long since passed and unattainable. Besides me as I think of this, is a storm pond: stagnant and still watered, within its hidden depths a moonstone cataract gaze.


Now on to business. Now returning after licking my wounds from the news of Bob Dylan’s Nobel announcement. It appeared; I had forgotten and missed some news which I was watching before. Those two being the winners for this year’s Booker Prize and German Book Prize.

This year’s German Book Prize winner is: Bodo Kirchhoff for his novel: “Widerfahrnis,” || Or || “Encounters.” The novel traces a serendipitous pair’s journey, as they leave behind their lives – Reither and his publishing businesses, and Leonie Palm who ran a hat shop. Together they set off on a road trip with no predetermined destination. Their travel soon takes them to Italy, where they come across a girl who joins their voyage wordlessly.

The jury praised Bodo Kirchhoff’s tightly woven narrative in which he depicted the directionless of an older couple, who only have one setting on their compass, which is south. South with its warm weather, red wine, and the dream of love; it is all one grand adventure later on in life. Yet the appearance of the vagabond young woman soon raises age old questions for the older couple. Questions about: loneliness, loss, parenthood, and radical new adjustments and beginnings. Kirchhoff’s novel is more than just a road trip, of an aged wistful couple. It tackles political themes as well. As the couple make their way south, they observe the plight and flight of many moving north for work and a better life. The novel is a masterful one in which the personal and the political intertwine within each other.

Following Bodo Kirchhoff and his German Book Prize grab; this year’s Booker Prize, went to the first time an American writer Paul Beatty; and for the second year in a row Oneworld Publications, has seen one of its own published titles receive this year’s Booker, after last year’s Marlon James novel: “A Brief History of Seven Killings.”

Paul Beatty’s won this year’s Booker Prize for his satirical novel: “The Sellout.” Which much like, Marlon James’s novel was rejected numerous times by publishers before being picked up by Oneworld Publications. Beatty’s agent opened up about the novels tough sell; stating a total of eighteen different publishers had turned down the novel in the United Kingdom. The reasons why are not entirely clear. Perhaps it was because the novel dealt with racial segregation, slavery, the racial tensions currently taking place within the States; or perhaps more than anything else, it is because the novel itself was satirical and farce like manner in how the subject matter is dealt with. The judges however, praised Beatty and his book, comparing the writer to Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift. His caustic satire of US racial politics, is very relevant in the current mood of his home country; where the country is divided between a billionaire plagued by self-inflicted scandal; and a well weathered high ranking politician and former first lady, whose is plagued by her own scandals of alleged corruption and misallocated use of government resources on personal hard drives. The campaign and election, has been nothing short of train wreck, and a slow ugly dispute of mudslinging and slander from both sides and parties.

The praise for Paul Beatty has been warm, welcoming and noteworthy. The chair for this year’s judging panel, Amanda Foreman, has noted that the book may be difficult for readers to digest, but also pointed out that the book being difficult to sit through, is not a bad thing; citing:

“The truth is rarely pretty and this is a book that nails the reader to the cross with cheerful abandon . . . that is why the novel works.  While you’re being nailed, you’re being tickled. It is highwire act which he pulls off with tremendous verve and energy and confidence. He never once lets up or pulls his punches. This is somebody writing at the top of their game.”

“The Sellout,” has been called painful and funny. A novel which can make the reader laugh and wince, with the realities being depicted, as does away with every sacred cow and taboo subject, and forcefully wrenches the reader to face the realities of the current world, and the situation currently unfolding.

Beatty’s win took four hours of deliberation, and was unanimous decision to recognize him with this year’s award. “The Sellout,” in all its abrasive joy, will certainly shock and force awareness on the reading public, as it frequently swears, and uses the n-word. Paul Beatty’s book is an unflinching depiction of the current realities and racial issues which plague the United States.


Unfortunately Bob Dylan has yet to fade from memory and mind. After remaining silent on his Nobel nod, Dylan has finally spoken up; but not after the controversy surrounding the Nobel Prize for Literature’s selection. As we speak the fires have reignited; and the smoldering coals of once cooled down coals, now burn with a new intensity. The other night on the CBC Rex Murphy gave his point of view; with regards to Bob Dylan receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. In which Murphy states the backlash towards Dylan has been paramount but unjustified; and the Nobel committee’s response to Dylan’s silence (in which I quote Mr. Murphy: “ignorant and rude.”) is actually misinformed. The Nobel Committee did not refer to Dylan’s humble silence, as ignorant or rude; nor did the Swedish Academy in its multi-voice chorus. Rather, it was a member of the Swedish Academy who expressed his own personal view on Dylan’s humble silence or holier reticence; Per Westberg of Chair No. 12, verbally expressed his frustration with Bob Dylan’s silence by calling the singer and musician: “arrogant and rude.” Needless to say the Swedish Academy went on damage control with Sara Danius expressing the opinions in which Per Westberg had proclaimed where those held by him, and did not reflect those of the Academy with regards to this year’s Laureate. With those regards, Rex Murphy was misinformed with who said what with regards to this year’s Laureate’s silence.

Now a few days later, Bob Dylan has been in contact with the Swedish Academy. According to the press release, the singer and musician were left: ‘speechless,’ by the news. Though many questioned if he was so speechless by the news, what was he doing parading and singing about, while he was on tour, completely retaining his silence on the matter of the award? Though he humbly informed the Permanent Secretary Sara Danius, that he greatly appreciates the honour which has been bestowed upon him, but also he accepts the prize.

Still Gentle Reader, there is no mention of whether or not Bob Dylan will be attending the Nobel ceremony in December, and whether or not he will give the traditional lecture or now perform a Nobel concert. Time will tell.

For now though Gentle Reader, I say goodbye. I am currently reading: “Angel of Oblivion,” by Maja Haderlap, and am loving it! This being said, allocating time for reading, along with work, and studies has proven at times to being difficult. Though I shall certainly attempt to get through the novel as quickly as possible, while enjoying it. For now though Gentle Reader, I must confess and say a short farewell, and will be returning k with a review of “Angel of Oblivion,” in November – unless of course something interesting pops up in the literary world.

For now though:

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

If you would like to see the press release about Bob Dylan's Nobel acceptance you can see it here:

And of course, here is the video of Rex Murphy Defending Bob Dylan's silence. 

Monday 17 October 2016

Neustadt International Prize for Literature 2016 – Winner

Hello Gentle Reader

Since the controversy of the Nobel Prize for Literature and the heated discussions, debates, dissertations of dissent; along with laments, elegies, and mournful wails – nothing else hasd the room or the orating space in which to make itself heard. The literary controversy continues to burn, as many contemplate whether or not poetry has been redefined; and if it has what does it mean for the literary world, when it can be invaded by a reluctant musician. Yet, now for the good news, which was sadly eclipsed by controversy and the intensity of still fanned flames.  

The Bi-annual Neustadt International Prize for Literature (often considered the ‘American Nobel,’) has announced (last Friday) this year’s Laureate for the prize: Dubravka Ugrešić. The ‘post-Yugoslav,’ or Croatian writer, has been gifted with this year’s silver feather, and the $50, 000 prize money. Her novels and essays have been well revered in Europe as well as internationally, has her work has been translated into twenty different languages. She is noted however, as much for her literary output, as well as her political stance. In nineteen-ninety one, as the former Soviet State of Yugoslavia began to dissolve, the dogs of war would soon be released, with the trumpeting of nationalism. Ugrešić took a strong anti-war stance as well as anti-nationalistic stance. She was vocal in her criticism and published them, which soon would receive the ire from her follow intellectuals, writer and public figures in now Croatia; as she was soon herald as a traitor, an enemy of the public, and deemed a witch. As the attacks, the slander, and the defamation continued, Dubravka Ugrešić would later leave her fragmenting homeland, and live in exile in Amsterdam. Exile has become one theme for Dubravka Ugrešić. She writes about the painful loss of home, as someone who entered exile; but also rejoices in its freedom.

Congratulations to Dubravka Ugrešić, for becoming the Laureate for this year’s Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

Dubravka Ugrešić now joins the ranks of other Laureates: Mia Couto (2014), Czesław Miłosz (1978), Francis Ponge (1974), Tomas Tranströmer (1990), as well as Assia Djebar (1996).

I’d like to note Gentle Reader, for this year’s Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the shortlisted contained seven female writers:

Dubravka Ugrešić,
Can Xue,
Caryl Churchill,
Carolyn Forché,
Aminatta Forna,
Anne-Marie MacDonald,
Guadalupe Nettel.

While only two men where shortlisted for the award:

Ghassan Zaqtan
Don Paterson

There has been great talk over the years, about female writers being overlooked or not taken as seriously as their male counterparts. Literature should be genderless; but it were to appear the Neustadt International Prize for Literature has decided to lessen the gap in disparity between female and male writers, with this year’s award.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary