November 26, 2009

The Road - It's Finally Here

A great piece of fiction, for me, is gauged by how effectively it devastates. This not only comprises of story and character, but how the piece speaks to the human condition, the bonds between persons, the metaphysical and existential questions surrounding existence. And, of course, prose.

Cormac McCarthy's The Road cuts to the quick. Dark, harrowing, unrelenting in its grief and hope. I read it right after my daughter's birth, in two days, often with her curled up asleep on my lap. This book is very much a love-story.

A great director like John Hillcoat (his The Proposition is a must-see) ensures a certain loyalty to the source material, and a refusal to engage in the sentimental. The cast is immense and capable, the few trailers I have seen look rightfully grim. But what no director can capture, especially in the context of a writer like McCarthy, is the texture that comes from prose.

Nonetheless, I'll be damned if I don't see this film half a dozen times before the year is up---just to be sure.

November 15, 2009

Best Vinyl Art 2009

Art Vinyl has posted their nominees for the best album art 2009. Unlike fiction, where I often find myself removing hardcover book jackets to avoid being influenced, I am forever drawn to album art for vinyl.

Half of these albums I doubt I'd ever listen to, but I wouldn't be surprised if I picked them up because the covers looked so great.

So, based on Art Vinyl's nominees, here are my top ten picks (click to see art):

  1. Mastodon - Crack the Skye
  2. The Mars Volta - Octahedron
  3. Bat for Lashes - Two Suns
  4. Volcano Choir - Unmap
  5. Biffy Clyro - Only Revolutions
  6. Skunk Anansie - Smashes Trashes
  7. Baroness - Blue Record
  8. Teeth of the Sea - Orphaned by the Ocean
  9. Massive Attack - Splitting the Atom
  10. Kelpe - Microscope Contents

November 12, 2009

Advice to Writers: Read Poetry

I've been told over and over, if you want to be a great writer--not good, but bloody great--you have to read poetry. Or at least sit close to poets every now and then. So, I try.

Case in point: an evening with Aislinn Hunter and Miranda Pearson where each launched a new book. Great readings, but I would need several hours to write on both. So I'm only going to tackle one.

Aislinn's latest, A Peepshow with Views of the Interior: Paratext, is a diverse, thoughtful collection of essays on our understanding of and relationship to objects in the material world.

For the record, I don't think I've ever conversed with a more intelligent person than Aislinn. Her ability to listen and respond in a sincere, informed way often leaves me breathless--if not a little intimidated. And this is evident in her new book.

A Peepshow... displays her wealth of knowledge, her understanding of philosophy and how it pertains to the world around us. Experimental in its forms--using everything from poetry to footnotes as a creative medium, but never lacking clarity--I consider the essays imperative for every writer, or artist for that matter.

A quote from the book:
Few of us have the stomach for obliteration. We want some semblance of our having-been to reel out behind us. Want to see oneself seen. This is the conundrum of the rock garden: raking the stones to erase our footsteps but taking comfort in the tracks of the rake. How it takes a storm to come and shuttle the stones into a place that bears no trace of us. Truth of the matter is we cannot begin to say something from the void of nothing. That was the first lie: In the beginning was the word. No: In the beginning was Form. An utterance needs a body to speak to or speak from. As for the dead, they become formless, but leave a trail of pebbles behind them.
Another item worth noting--and a testament to both Aislinn's and Miranda's apparent sincerity-- a few of their students also came forward and read from their own works. My good friend, Nelia Botelho, and a fellow student Kistie Singh were among the readers, and both were in great form.

Nelia and Kistie each compiled related poems from their own collections into respective chapbooks. Great-looking books with impressive poetry within. Nelia in particular (not to take away from Kistie) impressed me greatly. A poem from her chapbook, Undone:


Autumn reveals itself
In the skins of split fruits,
the burden of berries,
in the crackle of cornhusk
gilded in senescent light
the dry curled hollows of a husk unfurl
as scrolls before a great revelation

Autumn defines itself
in the silhouettes of crows
perched on pumpkins' thick ginger hulls,
whose sable feathers fold
like pious hands,

and in the stitched burlap
of a scarecrow's lips,
the vigilant eyes.

I think Nelia has a few chapbooks left if someone wants to purchase one. $7 (includes shipping), if you email her at: neliabotelho(at)

Miranda Pearson's latest is called, Harbour, and focuses on a person's drive to create territory in whatever space available. Look for it.

November 11, 2009

Remembrance Day 2009

At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them.

Also, check here for war poems written by combatants and their families. Many from WWI and WWII.

November 3, 2009

Music For Muse - Hans Werner Henze

In conversation with a professor several years ago, I found him difficult to believe when he said he wrote most of his work(s) with music playing in the background. Was that not a distraction? Quite the opposite, he had explained. It was muse and colour, texture and nuance. Music affected his writing in unexplainable ways. This said to a young protege who wrote most of his half-assed stories in complete silence.

Years later, as I gather my notes together to begin a large, hopefully successful project, the gravity of the discussion is not lost on me. Writing in silence is important. The mind needs to clear, to rid itself of the immense amount of bullshit it collects and filters and stores. This must be why the first hour or so of writing heaps up in the trash--that necessary, humbling process that finds its yield in the pages to follow. But silence, much like music, elicits a certain response--one that is not always what the author is looking for.

So, in part an experiment and in part a need to pursue a particular character to his true, basic depths, I have been playing music while I work. Not raging metal (God bless it) or even my usual fare of acoustic protest songs, but unusual compositions that wind and unwind, spread desolate and forlorn across the floor of my kitchen, and settle at my feet. Enter Hans Werner Henze, and his Guitar Music Volume 1 (samples).

Henze is an interesting chap--still alive, I believe. Of German descent, but now living in Italy as his politics and social viewpoints were not popular at the time of his post-WWII departure (1953), he is a man at odds. His upbringing also carries complex variables (check the link above to find out). In return, at least to my limited perception, his music reflects the same complexity: madness, apathy (atonal), longing...and on. Things I also equate with some of Benjamin Britten's work. But I'm a hack when it comes to music, so what the hell do I know?

What I know is whenever I'm working or thinking of the main character in my next project, I find Henze to be his soundtrack--at least the Guitar Music CD of his I have. And I fondly think of my conversations with that old professor, whose wisdom chastises me to this day, a gentle but relentless pressure to progress.

Such is the artifice of art? One cannot escape their life's influences through the process of creation. But one can draw from the bones of another's skeleton and, in mimicry, fashion themselves fiction.