December 15, 2018

A poem for Brigid on Imbolc:

Call yourself alive? Look, I promise you
that for the first time you’ll feel your pores opening
like fish mouths, and you’ll actually be able to hear
your blood surging through all those lanes,
and you’ll feel light gliding across the cornea
like the train of a dress. For the first time
you’ll be aware of gravity
like the thorn in your heel,
and you’ll shoulder blades will ache for the want of wings.
Call yourself alive? I promise you
you’ll be deafened by dust falling on furniture,
you’ll feel your eyebrows turning into two gashes,
and every memory you have — will begin
at Genesis.

Nina Cassian
Translated by: Brenda Walker & Andrea Deletant

By insisting on a conception of art and writing that emphasizes the physicality of both, and by finding in the erotic what Audre Lorde called “a well of replenishing and provocative force,” Lidia Yuknavitch draws on a specifically queer and feminist tradition of thought. She joins the assaultive presentation of sexuality in the work of the Marquis de Sade and Georges Bataille — a tradition Yuknavitch calls “the underbelly of literature” — with the ecstatic lyricism of the French novelist and theorist Monique Wittig, plus the conviction, shared with Hélène Cixous, that formal experiments can be politically liberating. “Such is the strength of women that, sweeping away syntax, breaking that famous thread,” Cixous wrote, “…women will go right up to the impossible.” Yuknavitch’s sadomasochistic sex scenes also owe a debt to another French thinker, Michel Foucault, and his notion that consensual, ritualized sexual violence can affirm “the limited being and … the limitlessness into which it leaps.” Such acts, in this view, have the potential to renew or even reinvent the self. Cixous, Wittig, and Foucault were among a number of French thinkers who became popular on university syllabi after the “theoretical turn” in literary studies in the nineteen-eighties, and in her memoir Yuknavitch notes the exhilaration she felt when she first encountered them as a graduate student. Not since Kathy Acker — Yuknavitch’s “literary foremother,” to whom she dedicated her second book of stories — has an American novelist written so vitally from within this tradition, claiming the body, especially the female body, as her primary subject, and writing polymorphous sexuality not only so explicitly but with such joy.

Garth Greenwell
The Wild, Remarkable sex scenes of Lidia Yuknavitch
The New Yorker 25th August 2015

On the first day of my workshop with Angela Carter, in my sophomore year, Carter was charged with reducing the number of would-be participants in her class to fourteen. Maybe thirty people were in the room, and she simply stood before us and tried to take questions. Some young guy in the back, rather too full of himself, raised his hand and, with a sort of withering scepticism, asked, “Well, what’s your work like?”

You have to have heard Carter speak to know how funny the next moment was. She had a reedy and somewhat thin British voice, toward the upper end of the scale, and she paused a lot when she spoke. There were a lot of ums and ahs. Before she replied, she cocked her head and said “um” once or twice. Then she said, “My work cuts like a steel blade at the base of a man’s penis.”

Rick Moody
Writers and Mentors

the bookshop

December 15, 2018

I stepped into the bookshop and breathed in that perfume of paper and magic that strangely no one had ever thought of bottling.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The Angel’s Game

Fiction sets a broken bone in the hope that it will mend straight.

It is a plea, a prayer, and because language itself is hope — the autonomic hope of a voice calling out even in despair, even involuntarily — fiction seeks the error in a complex mechanism, seeks to reset the human flaw.

Fiction recreates what never happened. By recreating that potential, it addresses both past and future. It does not seek forgiveness, it seeks to understand. It does not dare to hope, yet it is hope distilled. It is both solute and solvent, resignation and conspiracy. Buried within the history of what did not happen is the possibility of redemption — at the core of failure. That redemption does not lie in words or in the writer, but in the reader.

Anne Michaels
A Definition of Fiction and Poetry
Infinite Gradation

When the starry sky, a vista of open seas, or a stained-glass window shedding purple beams fascinate me, there is a cluster of meaning, of colours, of words, of caresses, there are light touches, scents, sighs, cadences that arise, shroud me, carry me away, and sweep me beyond the things I see, hear, or think, The “sublime” object dissolves in the raptures of a bottomless memory. It is such a memory, which, from stopping point to stopping point, remembrance to remembrance, love to love, transfers that object to the refulgent point of the dazzlement in which I stray in order to be.

Julia Kristeva
Approaching Abjection