Fourth Notes: AWP19, Berfrois10

That title isn’t meant to sound like a sports score. The 19th annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs convention (AWP19) coincides with the 10th anniversary of the online site Berfrois, celebrated these last ten years for its “Literature, Ideas, and Tea.” Berfrois will be at the AWP convention with copies of its recently published books: “Berfrois: The Book,” and “Queen Mob’s Teahouse: Teh Book,” both published under the Dostoyevsky Wannabe Originals imprint of the British publisher Dostoyevsky Wannabe.

The two hard copy books are anthologies. They include writing by various writers that have written for either Berfrois or Queen Mob’s over the years and more. But the writing in these book print anthologies is new, entirely original, previously unpublished in any form. The writing has not been seen online, nor will it be (except of course for quoted material in reviews, etc.). The books represent a new effort by Berfrois editor Russell Bennetts to engage print, a formidable challenge in this age of Ewriting and Ereading in an Eworld.

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“Berfrois: The Book” opens with an interview with Eley Williams. A tone of humor amid chaos is established. There is something new about a Bennetts interview. The questions are creative and often playful and invite similar response.

A greener piccalilli, You must understand?

The greater the pucker caused by a pickle
The greater a succour becomes hot-tongue-tickled (21).

Speaking of green, author and translator Jessica Sequeira is included in “Berfrois: The Book” with “The Green Pickup: In honour of ST. ALBERTO HURTADO, lay brother of the Society of Jesus & his truck.”

As I wrote, the anecdotes of Hurtado’s story and his writings and my thoughts about him began to condense into the form of an object, the green pickup belonging to the Padre (78).

This is how I imagine an AWP book fair browser might engage with the books that will be exhibited at the Berfrois table, paging through, stopping here and there to take a closer look.

Probably some will stop at the very last piece, a short poem by Daniel Bosch, “Our Apps Demanded: after Hemingway” (387). I wonder if they will pick up on the original, published not quite a hundred years ago.

Imagine a hundred years of Berfrois, of AWP, and you begin to realize the importance of such things to our times and places and persons. Now think of a hundred years without them, a world barren of literary enterprise of any kind.

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berfrois tote bag and Seattle Mariners 1977 baseball cap

This is the fourth in a series with notes on AWP19 and the concurrent publication of the Berfrois and QM’sT books. I’m reading through the Berfrois anthologies this week and commenting on the writing and the conference as the week wears on.

Notes on “Pure and Faultless Elation Emerging From Hiding”

Pure and Faultless Elation Emerging From HidingPure and Faultless Elation Emerging From Hiding, by Lim Lee Ching, with Drawings by Britta Noresten. Introduction by Neil Murphy and Afterword by Jeremy Fernando. Poems Sequenced by Mary Ann Lim. Layout by Yanyun Chen. Paperback edition first published 2017 by Delere Press, Singapore.

 

In a December, 2014 interview with Sara Lau for Obscured, Jeremy Fernando talks about his vision for Delere Press: “We didn’t see the need to have a prescribed look for all our books – we recognize that we are a small boutique press, and we are probably going to remain that way in the foreseeable future. In the end, all we want to do is to create and publish something that shows the artists and the writers’ work in the most beautiful way possible.” “Pure and Faultless Elation Emerging From Hiding” is my second experience reading with notes intended for the Toads in response to a Delere Press work. Of particular note is the press’s intent “to provide a home for text and images that may not have a home otherwise, no matter what its geographical origins.” That the press attempts to do so with hard copy, illustrated texts, choreographed by literary troupe in our digital age is remarkable.

“Pure and Faultless Elation Emerging From Hiding,” is a collaborative effort to book a collection of poems by a particular writer that becomes more than a sum of its parts. We have, maybe, become too familiar with books of hidden poetry. They line the shelves like butterflies pinned under glass. A poem does not begin like a fallen leaf pressed between pages of a book for bibliographical preservation. A poem begins as a particle, a photon, a piece of light that lands in the reader’s hands, a single note that enters the ears with a breeze, something that bugs the skin with an itch, as in, “something just bit me!” A book cannot preserve that piece of light except in fossilized memory. We may never hear that note again; it has joined the sound ocean waves make. The bug has lit, and we are left the proof of a small rash of the bed bug or lice visit. We jump into a bath of prose to escape the itching.

When I say “to book,” I mean that pinned collection of specimens organized for study. To book is to create a model to look. The helpless reader must imagine the specimen fluttering in a heat of flowers. A poem may try to evade its predators (its digital critics) by hiding in the book:

“Even as it might be chuckling, perhaps always
laughing

                                            le rire du poeme

A laughter from elsewhere,
one that we perhaps cannot yet hear.
Much like the silence of the sirens. Always perhaps
already there,
awaiting us.”

That is from Jeremy Fernando’s “Et tu…A Prayer for Lim Lee Ching,” an afterword to “Pure and Faultless Elation Emerging from Hiding.” Other parts of Lim Lee Ching’s book of poetry include an introduction by Neil Murphy (“Lim Lee Ching: Bounded by Beauty”) and eight drawings of birds, spread throughout the book, by Britta Noresten. We are told the poems were sequenced by Mary Ann Lim and the layout composed by Yanyun Chen. All of those collaborators are called “contributors,” and they are given end-space so they too might become familiar to the reader. What becomes larger than the sum of the parts is that collaborative effort that creates emergence. What emerges is poetry from hiding, raising elation, poetry unshackled, flown like paper birds from the garret into a community, a society. Poetry is a question of community more important than mere self-expression.

“The path is not tongue-tied,” Lim Lee Ching says. The path is there and people will walk it. The invitation, the invocation, is clear. But who are these people, these walkers (readers) of the path? “That perhaps is not so much the question, but quite certainly a question,” Fernando says, and “Keeping in mind Paul Celan’s beautiful, haunting, reminder that la poesie ne s’impose plus, elle s’expose. One might even say it opens itself” (93). Opens itself to itself, it’s self-same intuitions, which are its conventions, if you need “criteria” to read by, if mere light proves insufficient. We are on a path.

When I first read “Quick Guide” (48), I thought I was to pick words from the text box on page 48 and insert them into one of the blank lines in the text on pages 49 through 51. I thought the path had come upon a Mad Lib.

“Sometimes a show can be too new for its own good” (49), I suggested to myself, my choices being “first blue dark ripe new fast.” “Mad” is a choice farther down the list, and “sad,” and “bad,” if you want to rhyme. But now I’m not so sure. All the words in the text box are one syllable. There are 78 words in the text box, and there are 60 blank spaces in the text on pages 49 through 51. This is analysis. Am I analyzing a joke here? Is this humor? Of course it is! Let’s get the reader really involved!

“It quickly becomes clear that part of the idea is to use humour to send up some of the ____________ attitudes still dominant in the art world. So, the pleasures of discipline are extolled, the players get their turn and pretentiousness gets a ____________ kicking” (50).

Poetry comes without directions, or it should. Critics may provide some directions, using a kind of rear view mirror to describe the path now behind them. The critic’s notes may prove useful maps; then again, the reader may feel just as lost.

The Poems:

Beginning with “Ode to Everman” [sic], we hear repetition and a counting (accounting of things): cadence, marching, peace and piece, music piece, measured. Every man [who has ever marched, marching in a line, in a poem, to a tune, attuned]. Circumstance, the silence of Beckett (a ringing in the ears). Military “boom time,” “armed,” “beating” (12:13).

Warren Beatty? How’s that for a surprise? Repetitions (‘One at a time”), words connected by sound: “cravat advocate” (14).

“Unloading pomposity one at a time” (14), and again “…your / Penchant for pomposity” (22). Where “Iowa” is monosyllabic: “Impossibility of authenticity” (22).

Numbers as poetic concern, things counted, measured, “Halved too far” (15).

“Cull” illustrates the poet’s task. The poet fishes, on a perch, for a perch. But who are the “armed men”? Look how quickly we can move from river to city:

“Waiting and baiting on the narrowing perch,
The centre holds them still.
A trunk, a branch – of streets and lanes,
Of skinny legs and weathered shoulders” (17).

Suggesting weathered soldiers, readers. Again, a military, a line: “Of fight, of fright, / And frenzied feeding against stained walls” (17). Desire is impotent. Who will teach that?

Then we turn the page to a drawing of a bird, not quite but almost black and white, but more, the feeling of a bird in flight, perhaps in the night, or a fog, or over a grey sea. We resist the impulse to anthropomorphize. But it’s clinging to a small branch. Building a nest? Very few birds fly solo. What a world this must be, to a bird. In any case, to cull is to pick, peck, at words.

“Only the facts remain” of Ryan White, who picked up a “Contagion.” Only our germs remain. You build yourself a bomb shelter against the fallout, but you are yourself a germ, a bug, rising, falling. So much fear. “Only the facts remain” (20). Facts survive. If we’ve lived for any length of time in a refugee camp, we have germs. If we’ve lived any length of time in a bungalow in Des Moines, we have the same germs. We are emergent, emerging – emergence, as writer merges with reader, something more. Is that pompous? Is poetry a contagion? After the poem, what remains?

“Bookmarks” is a longer poem, of which there are several in the book, prose blocks, not non-lyrical, but not lyrics. But not prose, and not blocks, scrolls. We keep to the first word of each line capitalized, giving the line that authority accustomed poetry, but the lines are not necessarily sentences, not in the usual sense:

“Only the words remain to be spoken, the writing to be sung
Of happinesses witnessed and tongues tied
In full contemplation of the idea of ideas” (24).

Who inhabits the space of an idea? “…not…king, colonel or clown, / Nor the realm of whisperers seeking to please” (24).

An idea (ideology is not ideas, Trilling said: Ideas malleable, suitable for poetry; ideology fixed). Idea of order in things (Key West shells, beaches, cocktails, dandy diamond Wallace Stevens). “Not ideas about the thing, but the thing itself,” Stevens said. No idea except in things (Williams, Paterson, Book I):

“—Say it, no ideas but in things—
nothing but the blank faces of the houses
and cylindrical trees
bent, forked by preconception and accident—
split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained—
secret—into the body of the light!”

I’m in “Bookmarks,” and I’m reminded of Blake (where I left plenty of bookmarks), “Proverbs of Hell.” “Adagia”? Erasmus’s collection of proverbs. In any case, Lim Lee Ching says:

“The source of ignorance may well be reluctant pursuit.”

“The cult of stability and singular meaning
Diminishes ascendant beauty, delight and breath-hope.”


“Persistent therefores are fallacious,
They bind while unleashing the gateward push” (25).

Prayer, cadence, repetition. Whose tongue is tied praying, writing, reading poems? The scat of the song ruins the stutter, but the poet’s many tools are not obtrusive:

“Whispery songs of woven trances,
Of ancient wisemen oozing” (27).

Cadence as old steps (“the fragrance of remembrance”) might lead to disappointment, even depression: “Accord each a place in abjection” (27).

But isn’t time directionless? What does it matter if we are moving forward (in desire, in anxiety) or backward (in memory, in loss). For-word. Back-word. The poet spends time in a backworld, where the citizens speak backward.

“Penance is the province of princes, not poor men” (28), which brings us to T. S. Eliot:

“Here lies the awakening
Of the dispensation of an age,
Dismissing the certainty as one in many
[where]
The faces put on meet the faces within” (29).

Ideology is a “contagion.” Is poetry the antidote?

And again birds, before a song breaks the spell of the litany. Something lonely about the bird drawings. The birds are not in nature, or even in the city, but alone, each its own poem, each drawing its own poem, saying the same thing, but in different expressions. Where do we see these birds? In sky that is like a sea: grey-green; blue-grey; slate; cliff chalk white.

“Song” (34): Blake of the Songs – song, rhyme, cadence, hope, safe, heart, metaphor for what? Can the reader, too, be one of the “players of the heart”? (35).

“faithful” (37), religious or spiritual, sound but abstract images, nothing of the kitchen full of dirty dishes or the toilet in the bathroom in need of cleaning. Not Bukowski here. And I’m still hearing Blake of the Songs. Which is lovely, lyrical, song. I try to remain a faithful reader.

We’ve had our song, now the “Road Rises” as the reader falls. Mix of pop culture with “village.” The “tenderizing songs” of Elvis. And “Plastic Jesus” – the perfect image on the dashboard desires deconstruction, a theory to explain its presence, or disappearance.

Then again I’m reminded of Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, but not Stevie Smith or Marianne Moore. Not a statistician. Enjoys punctuation that helps, not simply follows some rule. Writing as accretion, addition. I find something interesting, a two word form, in “Shallowbreath”: “ribboned arches…winded depths…cobbled many…meddled few…celebrated warmth…allayed smokememory…displaced upon…hounded the highroad… …warmed eyes.” We could be in London or Singapore or Dublin. Joycean, that “smokememory.”

A short, lyrical, litany ends, “And then there is you.” Do birds prepare for flight? Always at the ready, never slack, like cats, never napping in clear sight. Are birds keen to fly? “On the station platform prayer beads change hands” (57). Partnerships.

“A Gazal” (58). What gets rhymed, and why, and what gets repeated, and why? For song, for the sake of song in which we have something to keen. Poetry gives form to the broken. What is unbound cannot be broken again.

The poems seem to call on a kind of philosophical muse, hard thought. Yet that thought’s softness comes through in poetic style, the form and shapes, the lines, the breath, the flows repeated and measured. The writing seems logical, in the same way that Kafka may appear logical, or Borges, without dismissing the nonlogical. The first person is not paramount. Others are. And when I appears, it’s Meng Jiang (61). If we continue to break what is broken what do we become? Minerals? Salts?

Little poems of “love and faith” (65). What more can a reader ask for? The reader comprehends the poetry without necessarily every line understanding it.

Nijinsky appears (66). The last time I saw Nijinsky in a poem was at El Camino, around 1969. Stephen Jama passed out a poem he had written, typewriter print on colored paper. Some students got a green sheet, others a yellow, others blue or grey. Never white. “And the world dies, Adonis on its lips,” I think I recall, at the top. And Nijinsky was “dancing a band”? No, dancing I forget what. And there was a “tousled laugh.” I wish I could remember that poem. It’s lost now. I don’t think it ever made it into a book. I wonder who still has their copy. I kept mine for years, then one day without reason tossed them all, along with a box of my own stuff. I was knee deep in the red dust by then, cleaning out the basement, lost in the dust. Maybe it’s poems “belong only to the night” (67). Jama’s assignment was for us to read the poem and then to write a response. Birds in flight.

“What I have written, I have written,” Jeremy Fernando says in his afterword. Would that were true of what I have written. But what I have read, I have read. Fernando attempts to connect writer to reader: where does poetry, that space of water we seem to want to cross, a crossing, from the shore of sleep to the loading docks of day – poetry the ferry full of readers unbound from one shore, paddling for the opposite – what path leads down to the ferry launch? When the poem laughs, is it the reader laughed at? That is a cynical view many hold.

To read is to experience. Any attempt to make some other sense of that experience is a different matter:

“… every try, any trying, perhaps even trial, is not just haunted by misreadings, over-writings, one cannot even underwrite it with the certainty that reading has taken place, that one has even read” (77).

Gerard Reve: “The Evenings”

The Evenings Day job workers share in common evenings. Time off, free time, leisure time, time-wasting, occupy the evenings. What to do? The question often haunts office and factory workers (workers clutching daytimer calendars are bothered by another version of the question). The evening absorbs the question of what to do like a fountain swallows wish thrown coins. The equity of time off beggars everyone. Free time hours can’t be saved, must be spent. On what?

Frits van Egters, the main character of Gerard Reve’s “The Evenings” (first published in Dutch in 1947), works an office day job he considers so boring he barely mentions it. His attention is focused on his evenings, how they might be spent, how they pass, what he might do with his free time, and what he does do. Frits lives with his parents when in December of 1946 we are invited to spend his evenings with him as they pass from around Christmas thru the new year. He talks to himself, has bad dreams, tells horrible jokes, thinks about the evening hours passing, goes out and about, visits friends, is condescending toward his parents, alienated, sarcastic, cynical. It’s freezing outside. Inside there’s the coal stove, a radio with a classical music and a news station, books, food, his bedroom. One night he goes out and drinks too much and gets sick. By the next evening he’s recovered enough to be able to go out again. He sees a film, rides a tram, crosses canals, walks along a river. He owns a bicycle, but it breaks.

The layout is dense, the dialog embedded in paragraphs, and the book is meant to pass as slow as an evening might, and to mean the same thing, which is nothing, which is to say, everything. Often, Fritz’s thoughts during a conversation are spoken to himself and interwoven with what he actually says and hears. His dreams are related in a similar way, so that the reader may not immediately realize when a dream, or the memory of a dream, has begun or ended. The writing is clear, though, the descriptions appealing to every sense. The home meals, the food, for example, are described with local, specific detail – texture, smell, look, feel, taste. You can even hear the meal cooking, eaten. The clothes, weather, walks also all described with realistic detail, a pleasure to read. There is no television, no devices to distract or synch. “The Evenings” is a book, a perfect way to pass an evening.

The Evenings: A Winter’s Tale, Gerard Reve, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett, Pushkin Press, London, 2016.

Edna O’Brien’s “The Country Girls”

Edna O’Brien’s “The Country Girls” is the first in the trilogy telling the life and times of Kate and Baba, two girlfriends from country situations who get to the city trying to move away from the tangled mores of Irish family, church, education, and politics of the mid twentieth century. The second in the trilogy is “Girl with Green Eyes,” first published as “The Lonely Girl.” The third, received by critics at the time with the least enthusiasm, is “Girls in Their Married Bliss.”

Kate and Baba must work jobs, find a place to live, take care of themselves, all on their own. So what, we might ask. Those might be good problems to have. Indeed they are, and even better if the girls survive – the attempts to shame, the gentlemen who come into their lives, the petty but deep economic exploitations, trusts and distrusts of one another and their trysts.

“I work in a delicatessen shop in Bayswater and go to London University at night to study English. Baba works in Soho, but not in a strip-tease club, as she had hoped. She’s learning to be a receptionist in a big hotel. We share a small bed-sitting room, and my aunt sends a parcel of butter every other week” (212, “Girl with Green Eyes”).

At the time of their publications, in the early 1960’s, O’Brien’s books were banned, her family shamed. “The Country Girls” is dedicated to her mother, though it’s doubtful her mother ever read it. It wasn’t enough for the Irish censor board to simply ban the books – people burnt them in public shamings, and priests denounced them from the pulpit. It’s doubtful any of them read any of it, except maybe the pages someone said were rife with you know what, and God bless and keep you if you don’t know.

But O’Brien persisted, her work redeemed itself and a generation of girls. “My whole body was impatient now. I couldn’t sit still. My body was wild from waiting” (186, “The Country Girls”).

But redemption might not be sufficient for those who want to write their own lives, who want to be reborn every day: “Not long ago Kate Brady and I were having a few gloomy gin fizzes up London, bemoaning the fact that nothing would ever improve, that we’d die the way we were – enough to eat, married, dissatisfied” (7, “Girls in Their Married Bliss”).

My Penguin paperback copies are all three editions from 1981 (they were originally published in 1960, 1962, and 1964). Many editions have been printed, some with maybe better cover designs.

…from my Goodreads “short reviews of old personal library books.”

Alma Lolloon – Work in Progress

“Alma Lolloon” is the title of my next novel, which is in the final proofreading and editing stages. I’m using the same publishing platform (CreateSpace) as I used for “Penina’s Letters” and “Coconut Oil,” but I’ve decided to roll chapter one onto the Toads blog to introduce the new work and to spark interest. I hope to have completed hard copies ready in December. Meantime, I’ll be posting excerpts here on the blog.

From Chapter One of the novel “Alma Lolloon”: Casting On

“Words is just sounds,” I heard Annie was saying, coming back from the lanterloo to rejoin them on the stuffed couches in the picture window at Lard’s Coffee they were Saturday morning, the knitting ladies.

“Words are noise,” Rufa nodded.

“Ah, fiddlesticks, I left my notebook in the loo,” and when I came back again they hushed like people do when they’ve been talking about you and suddenly you appear in their midst and there’s that pregnant pause.

“So you’re writing a book, then, are you, Alma,” Annie breaks the water of that wait and you could feel the rupture spill and spread across the hardwood floor.

“How long does one give labor to a book before quitting?” Hattie said with her know better than you ever will crooked smile.

“But what do you possibly have to fill a book with, Alma?” Rufa said.

“But I married five times, didn’t I, one selfish boy and four hapless men? Surely that ought to hold enough to fill a few chapters.”

“Ah, but what is good, what is marriage, what is a boy or a man? There must be some argument,” said Hattie.

“And what, pray leave me, is a wife?” Hattie went on, as is her wont, questioning everything but leaving no time for an answer before moving on to another question. Times she could be such the rhetorical bitch, and always jumping to the supposed hidden meaning of something when you hadn’t even discussed what was actually happening yet. But that Hattie was the book club hostess. The knitting Hattie was rarely so contrary. But the idea of my doing a book seems stuck in her professorial craw and she’s having trouble swallowing it.

“And I never divorced a one of my hopeless helpmates, wouldn’t you like to know?” I said, amplifying my voice a bit to hold the floor while I got something all out.

“Saltwort” Book Launch!

saltwort-front-cover“Saltwort” is selected poetical writings by Joe Linker, author of “Penina’s Letters,” “Coconut Oil,” and “Scamble and Cramble: Two Hep Cats.” Forward by Salvador Persequi. Includes 109 pieces.

US readers may participate in a paperback giveaway:

  • Winner: Every eligible entry has 1 in 4 chance to win, up to 4 winners.
  • Requirements for participation:
    • 18+ years of age (or legal age)
    • Resident of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia
    • Follow Joe Linker on Amazon

Follow this link for a chance to win a paperback copy of “Saltwort.” https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/739df558f09931bf NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Promotion Ends the earlier of Feb 20, 2017 11:59 PM PST, or when all prizes are claimed. See Official Rules http://amzn.to/GArules.

  • Saltwort
  • Paperback: 222 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1542768977
  • ISBN-13: 978-1542768979
  • Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches

Deconstruction & Design

Scamble and Cramble Cover DesignIn the process of deconstruction we discover new ideas. We need not start with a design in hand. We don’t necessarily need a plan. Unless, of course, there is some destination we are particularly interested in, we need to get to. If that’s the case, we’ll usually find ourselves on the wrong path, wrong way on a one way street, people barking directions at us, flipping us off. But if we begin with deconstructing that destination, we often find we discover interesting things along the route we end up taking we would have otherwise missed. There will be constraints. Fences and gates. Do Not Enter signs. No Solicitors. Beware the Dangerous Critic!

At the same time, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for directions, listen to our critics, gather advice, ask for consent, patience, forgiveness of our trespasses. That the severe critic may be lurking behind the next corner, hiding in a recessed alcove doorway, spitting sunflower seed shells from an open second story window, pulling us over to ask for license and registration – that the severe critic lurks in the shadows of our path is a good thing. The critic keeps us awake when we might otherwise fall asleep, and reminds us of our responsibilities to audience, sense, time, and place, direction, design, and deconstructions.

Coming Soon!

Common keyboard signs and punctuation marks become characters in this experimental children’s book for readers of all ages. Scamble and Cramble are two cats observing, interpreting, and commenting on daily events. Other animals come and go, too, changing with text and form and story. “Scamble and Cramble” may work best for independent middle grade readers. Younger children may enjoy perusing the book with an older guide. The book’s Concrete Poetry techniques use standard keyboard symbols and readily accessible font types and sizes. Readers may be encouraged to explore more the world of concrete poetry.

  • Paperback: 108 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (June 24, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1533501084
  • ISBN-13: 978-1533501080
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.3 x 8 inches

Scamble and Cramble
Two Hep Cats
and Other Tall Tales