The Birdcage Archives

Friday 20 October 2017

Pentti Holappa, Dies aged 90

Hello Gentle Reader,

Finland is one of those unique cultures and countries, which exist completely under the radar. It’s a Nordic country, with a complex language, notoriously difficult to learn, let alone translate. Its only relatives on the linguistic family tree are: Estonian and Hungary. In a previous blog post ‘Finnish Finds,’ I called the Finnish language, a language of: ‘dreams, spells, enchantments, and incantations; it’s a language of divination.’ Its people herald from a land of forests and frosts; a sparse population, and tundra’s riddled with reindeer. Few authors from this Nordic northern country have made any splash outside of the Finnish language and literary scene—which is a lamented pity, as their perspective is strikingly unique, with preoccupations to thoughts of divinity, and dreams; existential ponderings in relation to environmental concerns; as well as questions of the solitary individual in relation to the grander community. Many great writers are not known in other languages, and are often only admired in Finland; such as: the poet, Helvi Juvonen; the late short story master, Raija Siekkinen; prose writer, Eeva Tikka; and so many left forgotten and unknown at this time. Pentti Holappa, was one of Finland’s more well-known writers, who was able to appear very briefly in other languages. Though he wrote novels and plays, Holappa is most well-known for his poetry, and was considered a few years back a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature; which sadly would pass him over.

Pentti Holappa’s poetry was known for its gentle lyricism, and being intensely philosophical as it grappled with concepts such as: sexuality, the destruction of the environment, human conflicts, war, identity, the nature of memory, as well as the volatility of sexual attraction. His poems have also be compared to Swedish Poet and Nobel Laureate, Tomas Transtromer, for their superficial simplicity, and grand depths which lurk beneath their approachability.

Beyond his career in poetry and literary endeavors, Pentti Holappa, was briefly the Minister of Culture in Finland in the early seventies.

It is sad to admit Gentle Reader, but this post is very late in correlation with Pentti Holappa’s death; as the poet had passed away on October 10th, in his home in Helsinki.

Rest in Peace, Pentti Holappa. Here is hoping in the future, your poems and prose will be translated into English and other languages, so we too may enjoy your work.

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

M. Mary

Wednesday 18 October 2017

The Booker Prize 2017, Winner

Hello Gentle Reader

This year’s Man Booker Prize winner is, George Saunders, with his novel: “Lincoln in the Bardo.” The Booker judges praised, Saunders novel as: extraordinary and unique. Not bad for a writer who up until this point, had only written short stories. This year’s award once again broke convention and set precedence. For the second year in a row, an American writer has walked away with the Booker Prize. Though the win was greeted with cheers and appreciative applause; there are those who are more apologetic and dissatisfied, with the current direction of the award; some predicting and proclaiming with apocalyptic vision, the Booker Prize’s demise—or at the very least, its loss of cultural relevancy and importance.

In her opinion piece for “The Guardian,” Lucy Diver, offers commentary on the Booker Prize moving away from its ability to recognize daring and innovative literature, as it slowly is consumed in its own self-importance, whereby it recognizes literature of neocolonial influential powers of the United States, and the United Kingdom. Ms. Diver, comments on when Eleanor Catton’s massive novel: “The Luminaries,” won; it showed the power of the Booker Prize, to take risks and reap reward, with dark horse writers. This same result was once again captured in two-thousand and fifteen, when Marlon James won for his novel: “A Brief History of Seven Killings.” Lucy Diver reflects on how the Booker was able to put New Zealand (if only slightly and for the briefest of moments) on the literary map, with the outstanding news of Eleanor Catton’s win.  Such was the gift the Booker Prize could offer to writers of the common wealth. From the depths of the submitted publications, there could always be the dark horse; that writer who was just beginning to etch out their literary career such as: Eleanor Catton, Tom McCarthy, Marlon James, Kazuo Ishiguro, Deborah Levy; be it the author won or was just shortlisted, the recognition, name, association, and media attention could raise their prospects.

Now, the award is diluted in its prospects for up and coming writers, as the submission list is saturated in a surplus of works being force fed to the judges who must comply a longlist and a shortlist in relatively short time. So is the Booker Prize in for a disaster riddled future? Is it despair and devastation here and throughout? My vision maybe grey and always leaning towards the grim perspective of ‘unfortunate realities,’—it is not burning red with apocalyptic mania, where all that lies ahead is nothing more than a mushroom cloud of nihilism; detonated by the swollen egos of the United Kingdom and United States publishing industries. But it does leave one to wonder where other writers and countries sit on the list; what about New Zealand, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Canada, India and so on and so forth.

I found this year’s Booker Prize underwhelming over all. Both the longlist and the shortlist were at the end of the day representative of the literary status quo, with no real revolutionary changes or judgements being made. However, the lists on further inspection did show a certain engagement and inclination towards commentary on current socio-political issues; such as Ali Smith’s “Autumn,” discussing a post-Brexit world; or the relevant discussion of African-American history, and slavery as a large part of that historical context, outlined in George Saunders winning debut novel: “Lincoln in the Bardo.” This being said, the Booker Prize is a literary award, not a political one. Any socio-political commentary, engagement, or discussion, is that of the author; whether or not this assists or hinders the ability to win the award only the judges could say.

Over all Gentle Reader, I have found the Booker Prize rather dissatisfying and lacking in relevancy and imagination; becoming both trite and fraught with disappointment, only to be jolted back to life with an interesting work of fiction, though it doesn’t win (Tom McCarthy much?). For now though, George Saunders has won the Booker Prize and all the jovial congratulations to him.   

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

M. Mary

To read Lucy Diver's article please see the following link 

Saturday 7 October 2017

Post-Nobel Prize for Literature Thoughts 2017

Hello Gentle Reader

Well now Gentle Reader didn’t that just come from left field. Nowhere, did it seem that Kazuo Ishiguro was in the running for this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. The Swedish Academy proved they could be tight lipped, secretive, and surprising. Thankfully this time in a good way. After all, Kazuo Ishiguro is at least a writer not an antiquated pop culture icon, of hippie sixties resistance. Yet, despite the shock and sigh of appreciated relief, an actual writer won; the award felt rather bland. Yes, Kazuo Ishiguro is a writer, and a good one at that; but at the same time, the award felt awkward, and tasteless (much like an avocado; which doesn’t sit on my tongue for long). 

Kazuo Ishiguro is to be blunt: quintessentially English. His literary language is English, as are his literary preoccupations and themes. Ishiguro's novels are written in understated prose, reserved emotional touches, wrapped up in the grace and pomp of Anglophone culture. However, commentators and critics have often mentioned that Ishiguro employees ‘mono no aware,’—in his novels, which is a Japanese literary and cinematic trope, which is translated as: “empathy towards things,” or “a sensitivity to ephemera things,” or “the awareness of impermanence,”—in other words: it’s a understated manner, in which one reflects on the fleeting sense of joy, and in turn creates a wistful sense of sadness or longing; it can be related to the Portuguese term: Saudade;  or the German term: Sehnsucht. In that sense though, numerous writers of the English language, could have this attributed to their resume; such as Alice Munro (fellow Nobel Laureate).

To decide to award Kazuo Ishiguro is strikingly odd for a few reasons. First his entire output is very small, with seven novels, and one collection of short stories—and then of course the miscellaneous film scripts and collaborative work with musicians, writing lyrics. His output, however, has been noted for being uneven at times. His early novels: “A Pale View of Hills (debut) and “An Artist of the Floating World,” were set in Japan; though as Ishiguro clarifies, the Japan of his perspective or imagination is different than the reality, and striking separate from the Japanese fiction and literature being produced at the time. The sensibilities are there, though, they are heavily influenced by his parents, and his upbringing. After his early foray into his Japanese heritage, Kazuo Ishiguro, moved to his most famous and well known novel the Booker Prize winning: “The Remains of the Day.”

“The Remains of the Day,” is considered the prototypical example of what an English novel is. The novel traces the emotional stunted character, Stevens, through his past and present. He’s a man of dignity and servitude, as he is a butler by virtue. A position of dust and ash; belonging to a far flung era of fascination. The job itself would best be described as subservient, loyal and dignified; much like a neutered German shepherd; with the stoic state of a statue, and the emotional intelligence and maturity of a grain of sand. This is the only novel of Ishiguro’s which I have read, and the scene where Stevens father dies, still stands out, in its singular moment of reserved resignation of indignant coldness, on the border of sociopathic inability to respond or comprehend the situation. But where a sociopath would be reptilian in death; Stevens seems more like a dog, incapable of understanding the situation and in response must act with a false sense of regality and reticence, in order to come his masters beck and call, while completing ignoring or willfully oblivious to the personal trauma which has (and is) taken place. In all, the entire novel was delightful, gratifying and well deserved. There is no surprise or shock that it won the Booker Prize. 

Following, “The Remains of the Day,” Kazuo Ishiguro, wrote one of his most baffling novels: “The Unconsoled.” The novel has been described as a five hundred page indecipherable waste of time and money. It’s blatantly Kafkaesque and surreal, written in stream of consciousness prose; and has often been described as: unenjoyable, difficult, self-absorbed, narcissistic; and in some cases a waste of paper. Upon its release, the novel was savagely reviewed and shredded; but like scotch, whiskey, brandy, cognac and wine, it appeared to have aged well over the years, being voted as one of the most important English novels of the last fifty years; and was listed high on one of the best English novels from nineteen-eighty to two-thousand and five. Though the critics may have changed their tune, readers still found it deplorable.

Kazuo Ishiguro came back to his more comfortable format of historical fiction and realistic prose with: “When We Were Orphans.” The novel is described as a pseudo-detective novel; much like Orhan Pamuk’s “The Black Book,” or “My Name Is Red,” or Antonio Tabucchi in “Peirra Declares,” or “The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro,” or “The Edge of Horizon.” Despite being shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the novel was considered uncharacteristically weak; even Kazuo Ishiguro himself had admitted the book as weak, and not on par with his previous success.

Besides “The Remains of the Day,” most well-known novel, showcasing his talents for refined emotional storytelling, understated prose, and keen observation on the human condition, was “Never Let Me Go.” The work is a dystopian-historical novel; imagining an alternative historical period of recent memory; where human beings, with all their self-absorbed ability, and scientific arrogance, have found a way to fend off their greatest fear and inevitability: death—though it comes at a humanistic and troubling cost. It has been leaked or at least rumored; that the Booker Prize for two-thousand and five, came down between John Banville’s novel “The Sea,” and Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go.” Banville did win the award though. Yet “Never Let Me Go,” stays in the minds of many readers, who ponder the ethics presented, the concepts of mortality, as well as the selfishness of human beings. This novel has often floated around my peripheral vision, now and then. It’s a novel, I am curious to read, but has always been pushed aside in favour of other books and other writers. Perhaps in the foreseeable future, I will read the novel.

Kazuo Ishiguro has not just written novels; he has also released as collection of short stories (as previously mentioned). “Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall,” is his only collection of short stories he has released. I did attempt to read this collection eight years ago, and ended up shutting it with disappointment. The short story is a particular form; and I am a picky reader when it comes to the short story. Ishiguro lacked the appropriate lyricism, the expression of economy, and the jewelers craft to spin the right and gentle kind of filigree to make the short story work. The scaffolding of his short stories were plain to see; there was nothing either unique or interesting about them; the same old tropes, the same old themes. I don't think (personally) that the short storm form catered the talents and tastes of Kazuo Ishiguro. 

His most recent work the 2015: “The Buried Giant,” was controversial by some standard. Imagine this Gentle Reader, a writer known for his striking high literary sensibilities, dared to cross over the garden wall, and into the unknown woods of genre fiction. Kazuo Ishiguro was quickly and hastily criticized by many genre fiction writers (and to clarify genre fiction is: fantasy, science fiction, horror, Nicolas Sparks melodramatic romances et cetera). “The Buried Giant,” is set in a pre-medieval/dark ages Britain, populated with pixies, ogres, and a slumbering tyrannical dragon, whose thick miasmatic smoke cause’s widespread amnesia. The novel has been described as a Tokenistic journey, where an old married couple Axl and Beatrice on a quest to see their son. Their quest takes them through the post-Arthurian landscape, peppered with fantasy and reality, as they seek out their son. The novel received very mixed reviews from critics; and was often under attack from genre fiction writer, who felt the fantasy elements were being used at superficial value, and only furthered the claim that when literary authors treaded into the ghetto of genre fiction, they only mocked the lesser respected forms. Kazuo Ishiguro had expressed uncertainty with the novel, wondering if readers and critics would give the novel a chance, and see the entire idea behind the novel, rather than seeing it as only a novel with fantastic tropes and scenarios. Admittedly, many had difficulties coming to terms with the fantasy elements, and the explicitly metaphorical concept of collective memory; many thought prior historical situations would have been better suited for the idea; but Ishiguro rejected this perspective, stating that using post-war Japan, or post-Nazi Germany, or post-war France, or Bosnia or even America, would make the novel appear far more political then intended; and that the post-Arthurian fantastic landscape was ‘neutral,’ providing him the ability to explore the theme without any inclination (or misapplied accusation) political discourse, dissertation, lecture, or metaphor being attributed to it. Still the novel was divisive; many though it overtly unpolitical and even lazy; while others praised the author for combining literary and genre elements to create a unique piece of work; all the while Kazuo Ishiguro himself, was continually on the defensive, keeping the pitchforks and torches at bay; claiming that there should be no division or classification or caste system in place, separating genre fiction and literary fiction from one another; instead the two worlds should be more porous and interchangeable. His hope of unification fell (from what I can tell) on deaf ears. The authors of genre fiction, appeared to enjoy their place in the ghetto, as the downtrodden and the outcasts—they are the perpetual underdogs, and are therefore forced to make a stand against the literary high snobbery of others, even if they are attempting to build a bridge or tear down the garden wall. On a final note: it should be noted, during the Nobel interview, the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, had expressed she rather enjoyed “The Buried Giant,” as well as his novel “The Remains of the Day,” (arguably his most well-known novel).

Reviewing Kazuo Ishiguro’s output, it seems he’s a rather odd choice. His output is terribly small and from the looks of it, rather uneven as overviewed by critics. “The Unconsoled,” “We Are Orphans,” and “The Buried Giant,” were considered either mediocre at best; while his more acclaimed novels: “The Remains of the Day,” and “Never Let Me Go,” remain his stellar achievements; and the short story was not designed for his literary sensibilities; and his earlier works are often overlooked or forgotten. Seeing Kazuo Ishiguro, becoming the Nobel Laureate in Literature of 2017, with an uneven output and two famous novels to his name, makes him appear as an odd choice; perhaps not the strongest candidate who could have taken the award. Yet, the Swedish Academy and its members are noted for their eccentricities and often eclectic tastes. The award has had its highs, surprises, and lows.

Of the candidates speculated for this year, Kazuo Ishiguro was not even whispered about. Once again, this was the year Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o was audaciously proclaimed to be this year’s Laureate in Literature; and once again the Kenyan novelist would become a Nobel bridesmaid. There is always next year though; don’t lose face or hope. Thankfully the award did not go to Haruki Murakami, who would have been a rather uninspiring and limpid decision. Thankfully it also did not go to Yan Lianke, another writer, who appears dull and lacking in imagination. Philip Roth also has taken the backseat (or trunk), and thank god for that; as his solipsistic, self-absorbed and sarcastic narratives are suffocating, and unbearable. Sadly though other writers are also overlooked and time marches forward and progressively so, and it will rebound to collect those it has yet to already.

As it stands though, Kazuo Ishiguro, has been dealing with the attention as best as one could expect, with masterful grace, charm, and manners. He’s been modest, appreciative and even apologetic for his late replies and return of the phone calls. More than one could say about the blatant indignant and impertinent manner as a certain musician has done prior. Though, Kazuo Ishiguro did make homage to the singer, by stating he was honored to receive the award after him, and claimed Dylan had great influence over his work and himself personally.

This year’s Nobel Prize for Literature was a surprise. However, it’s not necessarily a overjoying surprise; as it was with Herta Müller, whose beautiful and concise work, is both poetic, piercing and terrifying; or Patrick Modiano whose work riddles my shelves, and has often been an enjoyable writer to read, as one stumbles along haunted Parisian streets. In fact, this year’s Nobel feels slightly bland; like over watered mashed potatoes or porridge. I am delighted it went to a writer at least; but it wasn’t a writer I had hoped would take the award. To be honest, I don’t think I’ll be in any rush to run out and grab a Kazuo Ishiguro novel—though, “Never Let Me Go,” does orbit occasionally in my peripherals, a little more now than it has in the past; but for now, I’ll leave it rest.

Congratulations are still in order for Kazuo Ishiguro; you were quite a surprise; and at the moment, a little baffling, but at least in a delightful manner.

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

M. Mary

Thursday 5 October 2017

Nobel Prize for Literature 2017

Hello Gentle Reader

This year’s Nobel Laureate in Literature is, the English novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, who has been rewarded with the following citation:

“who in novels of great emotional force has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.”

Congratulations Kazuo Ishiguro!

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

M. Mary

Monday 2 October 2017

The Final Analysis

Hello Gentle Reader

Last week it was autumn in full force. Now a winter storms whips and whirls through my region, bringing wet heavy snow, and a frigid north wind. Some would say: it feels a lot like Christmas. Others would resent that comment. But today is a rather special day; today the Swedish Academy, announced these years Nobel Announcement Date would take place on the suspected and conventional date of: Thursday, October 5th. In that regard it does feel a little bit like Christmas.

Generally around this time, after my closing thoughts have been mulled over and discussed I leave speculation alone until the date of the announcement, at which point I reconvene with the news and express my congratulations (generally speaking). This year, however, I am too excited in a way to resign completely from the discussion.

Despite the Swedish Academy releasing this year’s announcement date for this week, there has been very little shift in odds; but the speculation and the discussion has only intensified, making this one of those exciting years; as the sour taste of last year slowly dissipates into oblivion.

The favored candidates remain the same: [ According to the Betting Sites ]  

Ngugi Wa Thiong'o (NicerOdds)
Haruki Murakami (NicerOdds)
Margaret Atwood (NicerOdds)
Ko Un (Ladbrokes)

Followed by:

Amos Oz
Claudio Magris
Yan Linake
Javier Marias
Jon Fosse
Cesar Aira
Ismail Kadare
László Krasznahorkai
David Grossman
Gerald Murnane
A.B. Yehoshua
Peter Nadas
Daniel Kahneman
Doris Kareva
Merethe Lindstrøm
Juan Marsé
Kjell Askildsen
Dubravka Ugrešic
Adam Zagajewski
Mircea Cartarescu
Leonard Nolens
Sirkka Turkka
Cees Nooteboom
Jaan Kaplinski
Tua Forsström
Bei Dao

Please Note Gentle Reader, the above list was taken from the betting sites, and is based on the lowest odds given to the listed writers.

( I )

In two-thousand and ten many proclaimed it was the year Ngugi Wa Thiong'o would win. Many commentators and speculators offered detailed analysis as to why they thoroughly believed, the Kenyan writer would take the award. First and foremost: his nationality. The last African writer (by continental definition) was the Nigerian playwright, poet, and memoirist, Wole Soyinka in nineteen-eighty six. By awarding Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, many saw this as adequate compensation for the neglect and oversight, the African continent has often suffered on the literary world stage. The second reason, he writes in a traditional and tribal African dialect (Gikuyu), which the writer is able to preserve the traditional and cultural identity of his native land. Third and finally, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o discusses post-colonial themes in his work, and how they have shaped the continent as it is today; in political terms, he has mapped the contemporary narrative of the African continent, through its oppressive colonial rule, to the high hopes of independence, to political disillusionment and disappointment post colonialism and independence was. He has been imprisoned for his plays and his writings, and has been exiled for his criticism against the new oppressive power of Kenya. Yet, in two-thousand and ten, despite being the bookies favored candidate to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o was passed over in favour of the Peruvian writer: Mario Vargas Llosa.

The Swedish Academy was under heavy fire and criticism, when Chinua Achebe died in two-thousand and thirteen, without receiving the Nobel recognition. Many called fowl on the Swedish Academy’s perceived ignorance, and willful desire to neglect and overlook writers hailing from the continent. Despite the criticism, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, remains (as it stands) in the peripherals of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

( II )

Haruki Murakami has been the perennial Nobel bridesmaid for many years now; yet he is not entirely alone, as he has company with: Philip Roth, Ismail Kadare, Milan Kundera, and Ko Un. Personally, I think Haruki Murakami is often considered a candidate, due to his high level international appearance. After all, Murakami, is the western publishing industries darling: he’s foreign as he is familiar; weird enough to sell well (and he does) while grounded enough not to alienate the readers. He offers the illusion of literary experimentation, which in reality are merely pop cultural references and odd moments of surrealism. His philosophy is at best aimed towards youthful disillusionment and urban existentialism. Not really the hallmark of grand philosophical ideas.  His decision to move from: ‘detachment,’ to ‘commitment,’ is superficial at best. Credit is due to Murakami, as his work has transcended the cultural barriers of Japan and the Western World, becoming a very popular and well known writer, as well as successful. This being said, noteworthy, international reputation, popularity, and success do not always translate to Nobel worthy. Murakami lacks the required depth (in my opinion) to be considered a Nobel Laureate. His commitment to the repressed, downtrodden, and victims of society, is again superficial; and neither revolutionary nor groundbreaking. It’s a cheap ploy in order for the writer to present himself as a socially conscious writer. He may have written books about the earthquake, or the Tokyo subway sarin attack; his actions beyond the pen do not showcase any further involvement. He is not in other words: Herta Müller or Kenzaburō Ōe. A fine writer, who has helped shape and influence Japan’s contemporary youth; but he would be a very uninspiring choice, lacking any imagination or profound reasoning, and would be a subsequent disappointment.

( III )

In two-thousand and thirteen, Alice Munro, won the Nobel Prize for Literature; and it came as quite a shock. The applause, however, were endless. Those who read the short story masters work heralded the decision as being long overdue. I too applauded the decision, but was left confused at the same time. Perhaps it’s the fundamental and dogmatic Canadian modesty, which is sewn into our flesh and branded on our hearts, and engraved on our brains—that Munro’s Nobel, came as quite a shock. Up until two-thousand and thirteen, I did not think any Canadian writer was ever in the running for the Nobel Prize for Literature; let alone had a chance at the Nobel accolade. Alice Munro was a quiet giant. She wrote her stories, and let them speak for themselves; she was not known for going on the television to defend her work, or promote it. She resigned herself, to the rafters and behind the curtains, remaining reticent and regal. When the once advertised ‘housewife writer,’ won the Nobel, it was a shock and delight.

Seeing Margaret Atwood as one of the favored writers for this year’s prize is less then thrilling. As previously mentioned in my closing thoughts, Margaret Atwood is a prolific writer, who has written in numerous literary formats: poetry, prose, short story, essay, children’s literature, libretti, and now comic books. Not to mention her numerous speaking engagements, editor of anthologies, commentaries, twitter tweets, and activism. She’s the Joyce Carol Oates of Canada; a singular industrial literary machine. Much like Joyce Carol Oates, however, Atwood’s prolific nature is also her demise. Her output is uneven and it shows in her vast diversity of her work. Playing many instruments may make an individual well rounded, but do they ever become a master of any of them? This conundrum falls to Margaret Atwood; she is most famous for her novels, where she tackles numerous social and political issues, ranging from feminism to environmental concerns; but again her novels range in quality, from good to poor.

One of the major reasons one should be apprehensive about Atwood’s position on the betting sites, is once again the recent adaptions of her work. The recent television adaptions of Margaret Atwood’s novels “The Handmaids Tale,” and “Alias Grace,” have seen a resurgence of interest in Margaret Atwood. One should be careful of awarding a writer, simply because interest has renewed in them due to pop cultural adaptions. Though “The Handmaid’s Tale,” may be seen as having certain relevance, due to the current presidential administration down in the United States; and has been utilized as a symbol of resistance, freedom, democracy, feminism, as well as protest. Still the Nobel Prize for Literature is a literary award first and foremost; social and political ideas, themes, contexts, narratives, and perspectives, are all secondary to the literary merit of the author. Atwood could be another Doris Lessing, a writer with scathing preoccupations and perspectives towards contemporary society, societal standards, social conventions, and political institutions. The likeliness of this is slim; but October 5th may state otherwise. As a writer though, with such a massive oeuvre, international acclaim and renowned, Margaret Atwood does not necessarily need the Nobel, as her work and commentary are often respected and solicited for now. The Nobel would not necessarily change her positions, or lift her higher—it would only increase her speaking engagements, and request for interviews.

( IV )

Ko Un’s odds recently shifted on Ladbrokes. For years Ko Un has been considered in the running; much like Jorge Luis Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, and W.H. Auden in decades past, and much like Borges, Nabokov, and Auden, Ko Un has been passed over. Now in his eighties, the Swedish Academy needs to make their decision on whether or not Ko Un will receive the Nobel or not. His poetry is extensive and wide reaching, covering the vast political discourse of the Korean peninsula over the past fifty years.

Ko Un’s poetic profile varies in form, themes, and format. He has written imagistic poems, to haiku’s, to long epic narrative poems, as well as his monumental poetic achievement: “Ten Thousand Lives”; a thirty volume poetic series, where Ko Un wrote a poem to commemorate and remember every person he has ever met. This thirty year, long poetic achievement came from Ko Un’s imprisonment, where he waited to be executed; and vowed if he lived, he would write a poem for every individual. “Ten Thousand Lives,” is both documentary through poetry, as Ko Un discusses social themes, individual themes, and the people he remembers; it’s a starting epic piece of work recounting the personal history of (South) Korea and the Korean war, through the eyes of the citizens and individuals, who witnessed firsthand the death and the destruction the war would bring, and the division of their homeland into two spheres of ideologies.

During the Korean War, Ko Un worked as a grave digger, and his studies were interrupted. Many of his friends and family died during this time. The war had traumatized Ko Un, so terribly; he even poured acid into one of his ears to drown out the sounds, horrors, and noise of the war. This action would leave the poet deaf in one year. In nineteen-fifty two, Ko Un spent a decade as a Buddhist monk, where he published a collection of poems and a novel, but would soon abandon this way of life, and returned to the layman’s world, with all its hardship and suffering. In nineteen-seventy an alcoholic Ko Un attempted suicide, but failed.  It was a chance (and poetic epiphany) during this time that Ko Un read a newspaper article, about a young textile worker who immolated himself in protest against the government, advocated worker’s rights, and democratic reform. It was then, Ko Un, the social activist was awaken. During this time he founded numerous writers organizations for freedom and democracy, and found himself at odds with the government of the day, which imprisoned him three times due to his activism and political activities. In prison, Ko Un, was beaten and tortured. After the coup d’état and the military takeover, Ko Un was once again arrested, this time for treason and sentenced for twenty years in prison, he was pardoned two years later, and the poet would finally come at peace. He married, and dedicated his time to writing poetry, chronicling and documenting the turbulence of the Korean peninsula.

Ko Un would make a delightful Nobel Laureate. His poetry changes in style and form, and its themes are wide ranging and historical scope, with personal narrative. Ever socially aware and conscious of the state of the world, Ko Un is a poet of engagement and commitment. It would also be a delight to see a true poet receive the award.

For now though Gentle Reader, I resign myself to be quiet and anxiously patient for Thursday to come around. Hopefully I’ll see you then in the early hours here. Till then Gentle Reader:

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

M. Mary