Literary Review

A Character As Reliable As the Internet

undiscovered-gyrl-jktUndiscovered Gyrl

by Allison Burnett (Vintage)

The gimmick of e-mail novels was spawned about five minutes after the birth of e-mail itself. Blog novels? Every other new novelist these days is a blogger, or birthed their idea on a blog. Which is why Allison Burnett's new book, Undiscovered Gyrl, is actually so welcome. It doesn't use blogging as a gimmick, it uses it as a setting. Like London to Dickens, or the Mississippi River to Twain, that vague "place" we all inhabit known as cyberspace is where this book lives. Read more »

In Homage to the Sorrows: Jim Carroll 1949-2009

jim-carrollRock and roll poets are few and far between, and the modifier suggests something less than the genuine article, someone who would never be courted by the literary world, a maverick imposter in the hallowed house of words. Jim Carroll was that rare, exotic creature, a rock interloper whose talent could not be airily dismissed. A lauded contradiction who was equally at home in a rock band and a literary salon. He had also been a budding basketball player, the handsome embodiment of the American dream, but Carroll's early sporting promise took a turn towards darkness. He would never really emerge from these shadows, but that made him the Rimbaud of Manhattan and beyond. Read more »

A Yard Sale Of The Mind

moz-bookMozipedia: The Encyclopaedia of Morrissey & The Smiths
by Simon Goddard (Ebury Press)

Andy Warhol surrounded himself with a variety of freaks, drag queens, and speed heads. The miscreants of Manhattan. He used them in his films, took Polaroids of them, and provided their short and tragic lives with a longevity they wouldn't otherwise have attained. There is a trace of Warhol in Morrissey's supporting cast of stragglers. The difference between him and the silver-wigged wonder is that his are obscure, misunderstood, and largely unknown to the person who admires them so. Read more »

The End Is the Beginning

lennon-nycHarold Norse 1916-2009

Some writers put their effort into living, while others strive to leave much work behind. Beat poet Harold Norse knew the literary giants of several generations and lived long and well, leaving only a few fine books as evidence. He has cameo roles in the lives of, amongst many, W.H Auden, William Carlos Williams, Paul Bowles, James Baldwin, and Tennessee Williams. His handsome presence will continue to slip between the pages of their lives as long as they are written about. Read more »

A Strange Democracy: Frank McCourt 1930-2009

frank-mccourtAlthough Frank McCourt will be remembered as a writer, that career, begun in retirement, eclipsed his lifetime's labours as a teacher in New York. His memoir of a flea- and rat-infested childhood in 1930s Limerick, Angela's Ashes, seemed to annotate an earlier, Dickensian kind of poverty, and was largely responsible foe the industry known as "the misery memoir." His was the first, but few that followed in his wake were as refined, and as eloquent, as his particular distillation.

In a debut, unflinching and unrelenting, the classic combination is harnessed. A down-trodden Irish mother, a drunken patriotic father, dead infant siblings, and the uncaring influence of the Catholic church. Read more »

Jazz Words & Images

Bisceglia_DalachinskyReaching into the Unknown 1964-2009
by Jacques Bisceglia/Steve Dalachinsky (RogueArt)

French jazz label RogueArt, which has issued twenty CDs, has branched out into jazz books. The first was Logos and Language: A Post-Jazz Metaphorical Dialogue, an interesting little volume wherein poet/critic Steve Dalachinsky interviewed avant-jazz pianist Matthew Shipp about the philosophical/spiritual underpinnings of his creativity (with photos by Lorna Lentini). Dalachinsky's second project with RogueArt is way bigger, a 429-page collaboration mixing poetry and photography. Read more »

Cross-Cultural Collisions

Waguih_GhaliAfter a Funeral
by Diana Athill (Ticknor & Fields)

Beer in the Snooker Club
by Waguih Ghali (New Amsterdam Books)

Diana Athill turned 91 on December 21, became an OBE in the Queen's New Year Honours List, and were that not compliment enough has now been announced as the deserving recipient of the Costa Award for Biography for her astute account of the progress of age Somewhere Towards the End. Read more »

Highs and Highs

sempe

Jean Jacques Sempe
(Phaidon

Sweetness is poison. There is probably not a more horrible epithet to throw at any modern artist -- in any field. The word conjures up fields of Hallmark sentiments draped in saccharine emotion and as light as a souffle rapidly collapsing. In short, sweetness sucks. Big time. Read more »

Beyond The Pomp: Sir Reresby Sitwell 1927-2009

Sir Reresby_SitwellThe passing of Sir Reresby Sitwell brings to a close one of the most eccentric and diverting chapters of English lives and letters. His father Sacheverell, his Uncle Osbert and Aunt Edith were considered outlandlish heretics in the 1920's, that generation's equivalent of literary punks. Their patronage of the young composer William Walton resulted in 'Facade' which consisted of Edith reciting her uniquely eclectic verses through a megaphone as Walton's music skipped and shimmered, the first performance of which ended in an actual riot of disapproval. Read more »

Commonplace Exceptions

marvin-cheeseman

 Marvin Cheeseman
We Hate It When Our Ex-Lodgers Become Successful
(Cheers Ta Publications)

A sense of fun is all too often absent from poetry. It doesn't have to be difficult or elitist, but humor is mostly seen as a disadvantage to the high-minded, a case of letting the side down. Marvin Cheeseman is a poet who thankfully has been letting sides down with laughter and tremendous aplomb for years. His work has been featured on the BBC, TV and radio. He's even been name-checked by the Ting Tings. A perfect collision of a pop sensibility with a wry twist on the everyday.

Read more »

A Grain of Universes

house_of_leaves"House of Leaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski (Pantheon)

If you don't enjoy dark and disturbing sojourns into the foreboding unknown, then, in its own words, this story is not for you. If, on the other hand, you are willing to be infected and possessed by a book that will reach out and crawl under your skin as it draws you into the emptiness opening before you, then grab your measuring tape and head to the nearest bookstore. Read more »

Winter and Some Discontent

kathleen_farrellMistletoe Malice
by Kathleen Farrell (Rupert Hart Davis)

It was a brave move by Kathleen Farrell (1912-1999) to position her first novel (published in 1951) over those few portentous days known as the Festive season. Such a particular setting doesn't bode well for a long life on the shelves, the literary equivalent of a good melody marooned on a Christmas record. Her book employs the classic country house setting of an Agatha Christie, where a group of perfectly disagreeable people assemble under one roof. In Farrell's case, all could murder each other, but don't, they merely scratch, bicker, and add to the overall misery of their daily lives, supposedly in the name of celebrating Christ's birthday. Read more »

A Man of Few Words

mick-imlahMick Imlah 1956-2009

The poet Mick Imlah, who died on January 12, was a writer of immense concision and talent, but one with a scant regard for the sense of urgency. Compiling just two poetry collections in twenty years, evidencing the respect and effort of his devotions, provided the world with a legacy of rare worth. It has also left his readers with a profound awareness of pleasures unknown, unrealized, and denied. Read more »

John Updike 1932-2009

updike460I must confess I never read any of John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom novels. Nevertheless, upon the news of his passing, I felt a yawning hole open. His essays, his short stories (many of us have probably been force fed his masterful A & P in school, it still stands as a portrait of teen angst to rival Rebel Without a Cause), and, interestingly, his poems set him apart, above so many other writers. In the age of the sentence, which we seem to be mired in, he was a crystalline master, if not the master. Read more »

The Quest for Kazuko Shiraishi

Kazuko_ShiraishiWhat can we define as "Beat" poetry? A loose blend of Whitman, Blake, open sexuality bordering on erotica, and socio-political ideals, all cooked in a broth of jazz rhythms or at least associated with or accompanied by jazz? If this loose definition works for you, then Kazuko Shiraishi, a Japanese poet first embraced by Kenneth Rexroth and Allen Ginsberg, fits that bill. Shiraishi came into prominence in the '60s as a female poet who openly confessed to basically not being the good mother type, leaning more toward the liberated woman-poet-thinker that came to dominate that era. Read more »

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