Monday, 29 August 2016

Polishing Night's Stones - George Ttoouli and Simon Turner discuss, at length, M Night Shyamalan's The Village

ST: This is worth a gander. I genuinely thought we were the only two people left on the planet to give credence to any Shyamalan post-Signs (I've still yet to see The Lady in the Water: my misgivings haven't quite been overcome by your enthusiasm), but it's a nice surprise to read someone who's an enthusiast for The Village. I still stand by my assertion that it's his best movie.
GT: Yeah, I get it. But note how the article kicks off with the declaration of preference for his most genre-obvious films. And then tries to reappraise The Village from genre terms: genre films are 'for the love' / escapist, rather than political.
The author also makes some really crude assumptions about how some films 'mean something' and others don't. I stopped reading at: "It’s not just a cheap gotcha moment like the end of the recent The Visit, a film that, as enjoyable as it is, is about nothing at all." When is a film ever about nothing, ffs?

But your prompting me with the article sent me to Shyamalan's website, which, frankly is utterly typical of his work: an attempt at total immersion, which you have to squint at to hide the sellotape and string holding it together in places because either the studio/web company weren't given sufficient budget to execute that vision (The Happening) or the makers are tongue-in-cheek enough to know that a little bit of exposed architecture reminds us we have to sustain our inner child in order to enjoy life (Signs).
The website, if you haven't looked, uses a point-and-click house navigation system, with a crow guide, to interact with each of his films. Each room (on the first/ground floor) offers a template set of information about his films up to 2009: Night's favourite dialogue; his favourite scene (as video); how stressed he felt while making it; the 'theme'; the point he thought the film was a failure (!); and a couple of other details.
"Mmm . . . forbidden berries."
The picture you get is of a creative person who is both inspired by failure (I think it quotes him on this in one of the upstairs rooms) and also sent into periodic bouts of depression by public reception. And there's a couple of heartwarming moments where he claims he wants to stop making films for 'them' and 'me' and only make films for 'us'; and one where he self-portraits as an art house filmmaker, who turned to genre out of a sense of failure. But really, that's the problem: he's an arthouse writer/director who enjoys genre as much as he enjoys Hitchock's suspense thrillers, or whatever.
It's a weird insight, but chimed with the feeling I've had all along that the vast majority of critics have so far failed to engage with his films with a level head. The marmite approach - you either love or hate it - doesn't allow for careful appraisal, most of the time. The Village, for example, is not a genre film; on the website, he describes it as a romance. Yeah, that's what I dug - the monsters are just allegorical threats between the lovers. If your world is so unsafe, how can you love?
And Lady in the Water (website says he wanted to call it Story at one point - which would have been SO MUCH better) is wonderful, but it has some unfortunate moments: the critic is too indulgent for my tastes and breaks the spell completely. (Though he admits to ripping off Wallace Shawn's role in The Princess Bride for that scene, which is cute.)

And I was seriously disappointed that he selected that scene for his 'favourite' on the website, instead of the scene where Giamatti monologues about his family while trying to heal Story. Which is one of the most moving scenes in cinema I've ever sat through, without a doubt (it's making me tear up again just thinking about it).
Yes, they're all piecemeal. But that's part of the joy, part of the arthouse tendency. I feel like his films give me permission to interact, to make sense of the logic. Maybe that was a drawback in The Happening, though really I can't remember much of that film, it lacks the set pieces of earlier films.

Signs was the one I felt most successful at sustaining those rough edges. Sadly, again on his website, I found out he wasn't happy with the alien costumes (he wanted them to border on invisibility, like "lizard octopuses").

But for me, when the hand appears under the pantry door, with those silly fingers like a sewn together costume, I couldn't help feeling the whole thing was the product of Gibson and Phoenix's characters, a narrative they'd made up to try and explain something to the kids about asthma, about terrorism, about losing their mother. And then the story starts to take on its own meaning for the men, which is a mirror of the way meaning is supposed to work in an arthouse film.
As an aside, Lady in the... No, I'm going to call it Story, has a lot more faith in an external 'truth' - the characters get the interpretation wrong at times, collectively, and the critic is punished for it. That's perhaps a weakness in the films - that they don't consistently allow for doubt and multiple interpretations. And that's borne out by his website, where at one point I read something about his desire for everyone to agree on whether they like/dislike a film. That's perhaps the genre side of what he's doing conflicting with the arthouse side.
The parts of his films that stand out for me are set pieces primarily about family, not the jump scares of Sixth Sense, or The Village. The emotion in The Village is massively heightened when they open the box. Up to that point, the film is deceptive, sure. But that deception is a classic magic trick, there's nothing wrong with that - playing with expectations.
Anyway, that's a long enough rant for now. I still haven't seen The Visit. I want to, but I'm suspicious of its genre leanings, as with most of his films. Only this one wears its horror producer on the trailer and that kind of puts me off - I couldn't be bothered with the banality of Paranormal Activity and so on.
ST: I see your game: you're trying the lure me into a demi-intellectual conversation that we can bang up on Gists and Piths as a stop-gap until such time as we've written something people might actually want to read.  Dirty pull, old man!  (Addendum: it also feels indicative of our current anti-contemporary modus operandi - 18th century watercolourists? Books from the 60s?  Three year-old email chains?  Unsettling pictures of Patrick Swayze?  We got it! - that we're about to launch into a detailed symposium on a movie that's 12 years old, and which only a few people actually liked the first time around.  I can feel the theoretical click revenue just rolling in.) 

Anyway, to the meat of the matter: I shared your concern with the article - particularly with the 'some films don't mean anything' canard: in this context it's worth reading A O Scott's discussion of the criticism he received for a not-entirely favourable review he gave of The Avengers, in Better Living Through Criticism, which I've enjoyed a great deal recently - but in its defence, it is a feature on a horror-specialising website, so the genre elements were inevitably going to be given precedence, right? 

That said, I'm with you re: the ways in which Shyamalan's movies have been read (or misread, wilfully or not).  It struck me today that MNS is a sort of forerunner to Chris Nolan: they're both indie-esque film-makers who've found mainstream success, they both use genre as a means of expressing their particular obsessions and narrative strategies, they're both auteurs in a studio system, which is impressive in itself, and they're both clearly indebted to the art-populism that Spielberg does so well.  They're also both prone to a degree of narrative over-determination, a micromanagement of plot and atmosphere to such an extent that characterisation, or characterisation as we've commonly come to expect it, is denuded or underdeveloped.  Heavy exposition, a symptom of that hypertrophied narrative urge, is also a recurring vice for both. 

But where Nolan's films are pretty universally praised to the skies, MNS is (or was until very recently) persona non grata.  It's also worth noting that Nolan gets away with a lot of the same stuff that MNS has been panned for over the years.  If the twists in The Sixth Sense and The Village are a little creaky, Nolan's deployment of final act volte-faces owes just as much to the Scooby Doo / Twilight Zone tradition as MNS.  I'm going to keep these Nolan twists free of narrative context, as I'm not sure how much of the recent Nolan you've seen, but here are some prime examples:

"Ah, but it turns out his wife wasn't dead after all!"
"Ah, but it turns out that he was stuck behind the bookcase all along!"
"Ah, but it turns out, maybe, that he's been dreaming this whole time!"
"Ah, but it turns out his lover was the big bad all along!"
"Ah, but twins!  Ah, but quantum physics!"

Those are the big ones, and anyone who knows and loves Nolan's movies will accuse me of wildly traducing his corpus to make a point, which indeed I am.  But the point still stands, which is that if any of these twists were appended to a MNS movie, they'd be critically trounced.  (Indeed, the twists would be the springboard, the essential justification, for the trouncing).  Whether that trouncing is fair or not is a moot point: what matters is context.  In the context of a Nolan movie, The Village's ending would be fine, most likely, with no controversies, no suggestions that he'd egregiously dropped the ball and irrevocably scuppered his career (this is the gist of the Guardian review of The Village that came out at the time; Roger Ebert was even tougher, apparently).  You're right about the 'marmite' response eradicating nuance, but it interests me that the marmite response should be so prevalent here. 

A conjecture: boring art is never divisive, and favours consensus.  Best Movie Oscar syndrome: it's not usually the 'best' movie that wins - even though we can't really quantify something as qualitative and subjective as a value judgement - but rather the movie that's likely to cause the least upset: hence Kramer vs Kramer beats Apocalypse Now, Ordinary People beats Raging Bull AND The Elephant Man, Dances With Wolves beats Goodfellas, Forrest Gump beats Pulp Fiction, and more recently, The King's Pissing Speech won out in a field that also included Black Swan, Inception, The Social Network, True Grit and Toy Story 3.  'It's alright' is the death-knell of genuine creative production, and the fact that MNS used to elicit this marmite response (and continues to, if the critical response to The Visit is anything to go by) is a measure of his value as a director.  Discuss.

GT: Me trying to goad you?! I thought you were dangling the bait at me, knowing my weird soft spot for him. But yes, we need a more clickbait title than 'Polishing Night's Stones', which, frankly, sounds like some kind of vampire poetry porn. 'Everything you've secretly felt about MNS's films in 14 (un)easy bullet points?'
Yes, your point about Nolan and the weird unforgivable air MNS has attracted is very relevant. I noted, going through the wiki page, that the only fluff post-Sixth Sense is [Story], which still just about broke even. Generally speaking, he's a good investment, as long as he's not left with total control. I'd imagine Nolan also needs the reins on.
But I wonder if it's also to do with the familiarity of the narrative arcs. Nolan's films almost unequivocally tend to track the rise and fall and rise again of a male protagonist (even the 'twins' scenario). They have very often easy to follow focal points and conflicts. There's rarely a sense of you not being able to follow the central point.
Maybe the way MNS's films wear alternate between wolf/sheep costumes is troubling for some. Hence his slip ups, his risk-taking, appears less forgivable? I don't want to make this too much about the demands of 'genre fans' vs. 'normal fans' - that's crude and elitist leverage.

That is, however, a very real fear in MNS, by the accounts I can read from his website and elsewhere. It might be that the fans can smell his fear, or they can at least identify when he is pandering to what he perceives as their genre tastes, and that's just condescending. Perhaps it's a matter of confidence...
But that then leads me to a weird thought. Do any of Nolan's male protagonists make actual mistakes? I mean, like, make the wrong decisions? I don't mean wrong in the sense of the impossible decisions set up - like a memory-damaged tattoo canvas who can't make right decisions because of a disability; or the impossible decision of who Batman must save.

(Even that Pacino cop film in the ice (name escapes, can't be bothered to look it up [it's Insomnia, you lazy good-for-nothing: S]) is, from what I remember, set up so all the mistakes happened before the film - it's an atonement film.) When trouble besets them, those Nolan heroes respond with violence, with more muscle; with defter wit, intelligence, technology. They fight fire with nukes.
The characters in MNS are the opposite: they demonstrate weakness, they cry, they are humbled and show humility. Against violence, most often, there's a collective response, a sense of the need for community to help overcome obstacles and also to share in the grieving process. The powerful characters, when they exercise power, are dangerous, wrong, or unhinged.
I guess what I'm driving at here is that of the two directors you've picked, one expresses far more conventional ideas of masculinity and power than the other. And perhaps that exploration of weakness is what attracts me to films like Signs and [Story]. It's offering an alternative mode of being in the world to toxic masculine values.
So, yeah, excuse me, I'm off to play zombie games and burn ants with a magnifying glass for the rest of the afternoon, but I'm glad you get to air your Nolan fixation in public. It's been a while. Though I am a little surprised by your closing point: 'boring art is never divisive'. Which, against your earlier comment about Nolan's films being pretty much 'universally praised to the skies', suggest you've achieved some healthy distance?
Local council politics, Skeksis-style.
ST: Surely the prospect of vampire porn's always a vote winner, particularly among the cellar-dwelling nerds who make up the majority of our readership?  Anyway, I was sort of favouring 'The Skeksis come to Trumpton: Revisiting The Village', or something similarly confrontational, although that feels a little mean-spirited given how fondly I feel about the movie under discussion.  (This is particularly true having rewatched it, and finding myself surprised at the emotional heft it still has, which is something that happens again and again with MNS, much against my will and better judgement - it's certainly what leapt out at me most when I saw The Sixth Sense for the first time, for example: once the scares have abated, you're left with a surprisingly heartfelt story about damaged people finding solace and emotional recuperation through the narrative of post-traumatic therapy.)    

Onto your other points: I'd disagree on the notion that Nolan 'needs the reins on', as he's generally seen as very safe pair of hands, bringing movies in under budget, which is pretty unheard of when you're talking productions of that scale, and reeling in moolah to an almost unprecedented extent.  I'd say, too, that his two weakest films so far - Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises, much as I love them - were problematic at least in part because the reins were on: TDKR because studio expectations were so immense, and Interstellar because it was a kind of inherited project (Spielberg was initially scheduled to direct), and the optimism of the film's premise was never an easy fit with Nolan's worldview, to my mind, which prior to it, seemed to be getting darker and more cynical with each passing film.  (I'd also disagree with the notion of his male characters not making mistakes: there's a strong case to be made that The Dark Knight Rises ought to be retitled The One Where Batman Fucks Up, Repeatedly, but I guess they couldn't get that past the Warner Bros. marketing department.)      

Anyway, back to Night, and the matter of narrative arcs.  I take your point about genre expectation maybe creating a false aura of betrayed hopes around his work, and it's certainly true that the marketing for The Village definitely played up the horror side of proceedings, rather than the slow, textural recreation of the 19th century that forms the backbone of the film; that is, indeed, its real subject.  But even without those expectations being played with and undermined, The Village is rather a tricky piece, never quite settling or allowing the viewer any kind of traction on proceedings.

Interestingly, in one of the special features on the DVD, MNS mentions the notion that he disguises the film's key protagonist until the final third of the narrative; that events unexpectedly clear a space for Ivy to step forward as the heroine, and we're suddenly in the midst of a narrative arc we didn't even know was being signalled until that moment.  Which is to say, that even before we've taken into account the monsters, the post-9/11 allegory of fear and ideology, the narrative rug-pulling, etc, etc, he's already dead-set on subverting expectations, camouflaging one mode of storytelling within the carapace of another.  That's probably one of the things that gets critical and popular hackles up, I'd imagine.

But it's a strange combination, isn't it, of narrative tricksiness and emotional sincerity?  That might also help situate some of the reaction to his work, particularly during / after The Village: that one can't be at the same time a serious artist with a capacity for emotional heft, and a fire-side storyteller who's more interested in wowing the audience with his box of tricks and keeping them dangling on the hook with the promise of 'what happens next?'.  I would contend that you can in fact do both, that there isn't a contradiction in those narrative modes in any way, and that The Village is the proof.  That may put me in a minority of one, or three at any rate, but I stand by it.   

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Rochelle Sibley - Adventures in Yiddish (4): Learning Yiddish in the digital age

Despite frequently and loudly wishing that I’d started learning Yiddish sooner, I am beginning to realise that I began at the optimum time.  As much as I regret that I didn’t get the chance to study Yiddish literature at university, learning Yiddish back then, before the internet had really evolved, would have been a very different experience.  Although Yiddish is a language without a country, it has instead found a virtual homeland online, and many of the resources that have helped me to learn the language have only really come into existence in the last five to ten years.

The resurgence of Yiddish has resulted in a variety of online publications that double up as excellent teaching resources.  Top of the list is the amazing פֿאָרװערטס, aka the Yiddish Daily Forward, a Yiddish language newspaper that has been in circulation since 1897, but whose online version is updated daily.  What makes the פֿאָרװערטס website so helpful to the novice language student is if you click on any word in any of its thousands of Yiddish articles, you see its English translation.  Of course, you can achieve the same effect by sitting with a page of Yiddish and a dictionary, but it’s the speed of this online process that creates the advantage.  I’ve tried translating from Yiddish to English with dictionaries and with the פֿאָרװערטס word search facility, and the latter is not only faster, but by typing out the words to search for them I learn them more easily. Admittedly, you need to use an online Yiddish keyboard to do this, but even so the online process is far quicker than me flipping through a paper dictionary and getting distracted every time I find a familiar, funny or obscene word.  The joy that I felt when I first read a paragraph of פֿאָרװערטס without clicking a single word was absolutely unparalleled.

פֿאָרװערטס also has a fantastic array of videos, audio recordings and other multimedia resources, so that you can hear Yiddish being spoken in all its variations.  While the Yiddish I’m learning is the standardized YIVO version, there are still people speaking Yiddish dialects from all over Europe and beyond.  It’s one thing to know that there are differences between Litvak Yiddish and Polish Yiddish, as well as between Hasidic Yiddish and Ashkenazi Yiddish, but it’s another to actually hear them.  It also means that if you want someone to show you how to make sorrel soup and matzomeal pancakes, you’re set.  Not that פֿאָרװערטס has the monopoly on videos in Yiddish.  Thanks to Youtube, I can watch entire films in Yiddish, as well as having proof that James Cagney could speak Yiddish like a pro (not really a surprise given that he grew up on the Lower East Side).
And then there are the books.  As I’ve discussed previously, the UK Yiddish scholar is pretty boned, book-wise.  Thankfully, we live in a digital age, so although getting paper copies of books in Yiddish is a struggle, there is an alternative.  The Yiddish Book Center, probably my favourite book-related institution on the planet, has ensured that Yiddish texts remain accessible despite their scarcity.  Forget Jaws or E.T., as far as I’m concerned, Steven Spielberg’s greatest contribution to the world is the Digital Yiddish Library that he funded.  This means that anyone anywhere can download over 11,000 digitised works of Yiddish literature, all for free. For this, I can even forgive Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, although that’s probably because I haven’t watched it.  While nobody can pretend that a pdf is the same as holding a real book in your hands, it’s so much better than nothing.  And if you run out of steam with the reading, you can even listen to native Yiddish speakers reading some of these classics out loud, thanks to the Center’s Yiddish audiobooks.
Even in the past 18 months, there have been new Yiddish resources appearing online.  אין געװעב (In geveb), an online journal of Yiddish literature, translation and pedagogy, is one example.  Many of their articles can be read in both Yiddish and English, so it’s perfect for the novice Yiddishist, while seeing contemporary scholarship on Yiddish language and culture is pretty heartening when you’re living in a Yiddish-less town. 

I think that this is most encouraging aspect of the online Yiddish community: it is clear evidence that twenty-first century Yiddish is very much of the moment, rather than being a historical echo of some lost age.  Without these digital resources I wouldn’t know about the ways in which the language is evolving to respond to societal change, or be able to listen to Yiddish metal, and I certainly wouldn’t know how to make vegetarian gefilte fishSo while it would be wonderful to already have 20 years of Yiddish learning under my belt, I suspect it would have been far more difficult and discouraging to have begun all this in a pre-digital world. Now, I can listen to Yiddish podcasts on the bus to work and watch Yiddish films on my laptop whenever I want, so that the language is in the world around me rather than just being sounded out in my head when I read.  All I have to do now is make sure my next mobile phone can cope with the Yiddish alphabet, and there should be no stopping me.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Simon Turner - The Three Rs

All poems rely to an extent on repetition:
rhyme (to give just on example) is simply repetition
that’s fractured in contact with syntax; whilst repetition
in the pantoum is raised to the nth degree.  So, to repeat:
rhyme (to restate my first example) is simply repetition
imbued with variation; and that same variation
in the pantoum is raised to the nth degree.  Let me repeat:
poems (and pantoums especially) rely on repetition
combined with variation, and it’s that same variation
which fuels the engine of the poem under construction. 
A poem (this pantoum especially) relies on repetition,
although here it’s the play of semantic alternation
that’s the real engineer of the poem under construction. 
At the risk of repeating myself: poems are a form of verbal interjection
which, combined with the play of semantic alternation,
remodel the world as logocentric contraption. 
At the risk of repeating myself: poems are a kind of verbal intellection
of the contractual fracture of syntax; whilst repetition
is a model of the logos as a series of concentric contractions. 
All poems rely to an extent on repetition. 

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Lubin Tinbags

"Poetry is seeking to make not meaning, but beauty; or if you insist on misusing words, its "meaning" is of another kind, and lies in the relation to one another of lines and patterns of sound, perhaps harmonious, perhaps contrasting and clashing, which the hearer feels rather than understands, lines of sound drawn in the air which stir deep emotions which have not even a name in prose.  This needs no explaining to an audience which gets its poetry by ear.  It has neither time nor inclination to seek a prose meaning in poetry."

Basil Bunting, 'The Poet's Point of View' (1966), reprinted in Strong Words: Modern Poetry on Modern Poetry, W. N. Herbert & Matthew Hollis, eds (Newcastle: Bloodaxe, 2000): 81

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Shotgun Review #1: Moorcock's Modem

GT attempts a new quickfire review series...

Michael Moorcock's Modem Times, 2.0 (PM Press, 2011)
Prose (fiction, essay, interview)

Time taken to read: approx. 2 weeks on and off
Time taken to review: 1hr 48min

Where found: a bookstall at an academic conference in Durham, July 2016

Transparency: I became a fan of Michael Moorcock's writing in my teens, through the Elric series, the Tales of the Eternal Champion and that kind of thing. The prose versions, not the graphic novels, though I think one of the compendium editions I read included a comic series or all of the comics, it was a long time ago.

Then I hit university and fantasy and SF were drummed out of me as 'un-literary'. Faith restored by: a random conversation with Alan Wall about how he was jamming guitar down the phone with Moorcock; reading some of MM's articles in the broadsheets; China Miéville's stint at as a colleague breaking down some of the academic snobbery in the workplace; picking up several second hand titles, including a first edition of The New S.F. in a (now closed) second hand bookshop in Atherstone and discovering just how intelligent and politicised genre writers could be.

I paid for this copy, price on the book is $12 (the press is based in California) I think it came to £8, so bought for full price(ish).


At a conference last month I discovered PM Press has series of titles called 'Outspoken Authors'. One of the UK PM Press reps was fronting a stall of their books, along with a selection of syndicated anarchist press titles. I'd been paid that month and needed a pick me up.

The series includes Ursula LeGuin (which I also purchased, mainly for its inclusion of some of her poetry), Terry Bisson and Kim Stanley Robinson, for example (fuller list on their website). It might as well be called 'Anarcho-Socialist Fantasy/SF Authors', though that might narrow the audience, but it wasn't just the politically left/left-field genre writers that attracted me.

The editorial approach for the series is fascinating. Each book is slim – the Moorcock only about 100 pages, the LeGuin, a little over 80 – and contains a strange mixture of prose, poetry, then an interview between the author and another writer, and a thorough bibliography to close.

The LeGuin (which I'll be reading next) opens with a short story, 'The Wild Girls', then a short essay on reading habits and corporate structures in the States, then some poetry, then another short essay on modesty, and the trademark interview, this one conducted by Terry Bisson. All the titles seem to have this similar approach: a 'curio curation' in a format that you rarely find in major publishing houses.[*]

So to the Moorcock: the opening piece of fiction, Modem Times 2.0 is a Jerry Cornelius story. I've heard of the character/series but I've not read any of the books, so this was a deep end immersion in something highly, beautifully disorienting. Cornelius, according to the blurb, is an “assassin, rock star, chronospy and maybe-Messiah” and the narrative is full of geo-hops and time-travelling confusion. It's totally dislocated from conventional spatio-temporal fixities or realism; Aristotle's probably turning in his grave at the misuse of his unities.

It's also about the second closest thing to a serial poem in prose I've encountered (Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition is the closest). The story is delivered through three sections: Living off the Market, Katrina, Katrina! and The Wheels of Chance. Each section contains numbered segments, each with a bizarre title, e.g.: 'Home Alone Five', 'They want to make firearms ownership a burden – not a freedom!' and 'The new XJ – luxury transformed by design'.

Beneath each title the sections provide one or two quotations, mostly drawn from contemporary magazines like the New Statesman, PC Magazine, Popular Science, Time... The sources are more diverse, some spilling over into fiction, one or two suggesting to me they're made up.

To give you an example, the opening of part 10, in the first section (Living off the Market):
The Epic Search for a Tech Hero

The penalties in France will be much higher than in Belgium. The fine for a first offence will be 150 euro. And a man who is found to have forced a woman to wear a full-length veil will be punished with a fine of 15,000 euros and face imprisonment. The crackdown on the veil has come from the very top of the political establishment, with President Sarkozy declaring that the burqa is “not welcome” in France and denouncing it as a symbol of female “subservience and debasement.”
—New Statesman, May 31, 2010

         Maria Amis, Julia Barnes, and Iona MacEwan, the greatest lady novelists of their day, were taking tea at Liberty one afternoon in the summer of 2011. They had all been close friends at Girton in the same class and had shared many adventures.
Yes, really. The section is hilarious, not least for conjuring a vision of the three enfants enneyueses of English letters in drag, sipping tea, like a British remake of To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. (To be fair, Moorcock is much more generous about, at least, McEwan, in the interview). But how the hell do you make sense of the title, the epigram and the actual piece of narrative? And how does it then add up with the fragments of Jerry Cornelius' narrative?

A short answer might be, It doesn't. A longer answer needs to acknowledge how rare it is for prose to attempt what poetry does more regularly. The principles at work in the story are more familiar to me in say, surrealist poetry, which tries to increase the energy of metaphors by increasing the distance of association between objects placed in syntactical relation and then strengthening the bond by eschewing simile: 'the telephone is a lobster' is a hard leap demanding some work from the reader, but also pushing away from easy meaning into disorientation as meaning.

Modem Times 2.0 reads like a barely-linked collection of flash fictions, unless you start piecing together your own experiences with the episodes, asserting your own moral position in the mess. Which, frankly, isn't that far off something Robert Tressell might have demanded of his readers, is it? It's just the technique, the strategy, flips off convention and moves along quicker than you can scroll your twitter feed.

Take it a step further, remove some of the scaffolding of traditional progression (sequencing, linearity, etc.) and you're forced to treat Moorcock's story with some of the time-hopping logic it loosely seems to describe in Cornelius' experiences. Trying to make sense of the disconnects between titles, quotations and narrative, or from narrative section to narrative section, I felt my brain spawning several new neural pathways through its unlit slums.

Which isn't to say there aren't concessions to familiar narrative patterns. Loosely speaking, certain themes recur as holding tropes: the story opens with Jerry's seemingly Dickensian (though actually a post-World War II London setting that may or may not be rooted in autobiography) Christmas Eve run through the market for a turkey as a boy. This recurs later in ways that suggest the adult Jerry is recalling a particular childhood Christmas for whoever he is with at the time, and then arrives in full in the final section, “Christmas 1962”. These sticking points provide a sketchy, pseudo-beginning-middle-end format to an otherwise chaotic anti-narrative structured by untrained monkeys playing frogger on a roller coaster.

I could go further into this – the geo-hopping clearly connects loosely with Moorcock's own transient life between Britain, the States and France – the associations with Ballard, particularly The Atrocity Exhibition era experiments with serial structures (in the manner of poetic seriality) in fiction – the way the interview at the end elucidates something of the moral and political challenge Cornelius presents to readers as a character concept – but it would be like trying to over-describe a quark. You'd lose the sense of thing.

It is hilarious at times. And it's morally and politically challenging: it brings to light certain horrific positions we've taken for granted at a mass social level, which, through displacement into semi-fiction, unveil as political narratives of hate. It exposed, for me, something of the mercilessness of subjugation to political power I go through in daily life: the inability to stop the hate speech of Trumps, the debt-leverage of banks, the terrorists, the madmen on trains in Munich, or the cool, just-following-orders psychosis of government agencies, be it demonstrated by military agents of murder or intransigent bureaucratic agents on national border fronts.

Moorcock certainly doesn't offer solutions; this is firmly in the category of fiction trying to capture (as I remember Ballard also once declared of his writing) the experience of living today, not some past-tense retro-porn. As he says in the interview with Terry Bisson, “Cornelius does what fantasy heroes can't do easily. I wanted him to confront contemporary stuff... and readers are only invited to examine his actions from their own perspective of events.”

To round off in non-linear fashion, the middle section of the book is a brief essay memoir by Moorcock. Only six pages, it's an interlude between the Cornelius story and the interview. But it's a vital little window, letting in air and space to what's gone before, picking up some helpful points about Moorcock's style (he can do conventional, and very fluently) and his influences and collaborations – Ballard, M John Harrison, Iain Sinclair, etc. – as well as a sense of the autobiography that manifests in the undercurrents of the Cornelius story.

There's a sense, from the whole book, that you're being given a difficult text to deal with, but also, afterwards, a debriefing, or pep talk, to contextualise the mayhem. It's a rare thing in experimental writing to be given context in the publication: normally it's a head first plunge into chaos and nothing but your wits to wrestle your way through a book with. (I'm partly thinking of a couple of other experiments I've read this year and nearly gave up on – Padgett Powell's The Interrogative Mood and Édouard Levé's Autoportrait.)

And, lastly, I have to mention the design and execution: it's a beautiful series, slim, carefully chosen paper stock and simple, appealing cover design, featuring a red band an inch in from the spine either side and a black and white portrait of the author on the front. The text is clean, well-edited, beautifully typeset. A delight – a vital series if you want depth from your fantasy and SF reading, but more than that, these books are a fascinating archive of untraveled roads for some great writers of literature.


[*] As an aside, I've noticed a kickback in academic publishing in recent years against the standardisation of publication formats for intellectual work. You've mostly had only two options: a 90,000 word book project or a journal article of 6-8k words. The empty space between has led to a lot of hot air or over-boiled density. While there are one or two new mid-length series in the big presses now (Palgrave Pivot, for example), it's really the indies that are leading on this: Fitzcarraldo's essays or Capsule Edition for example.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Rochelle Sibley - Adventures in Yiddish (3): The Search for Yiddish Books


If you’re obsessed with the written word (and if you’re reading this blog it seems safe to assume you are), you’ll understand the woe that is a reader without books.  When I first learnt Italian, I realised that I now had a whole new section of any bookshop to rummage through, and my joy was unsurpassed.  I’ll admit that I used to feel a little proud of myself, reading Verga and Capuano in Italian on the train, although the fact that it took me 30 minutes to read a page (with much swearing and consulting of pocket dictionaries) somewhat undermined the impression of scholarly accomplishment.  Even so, it was and is easy to track down pretty much any classic of Italian literature, either second-hand or new, and build yourself an Italian language library.  Unfortunately, Yiddish doesn’t work like that.

The difficulty faced by a UK-based student of Yiddish is that you just don’t tend to find Yiddish books in bookshops.  Yiddish is only taught at a handful of UK universities, and without a core of native speakers, new books aren’t going to be easy stock to shift.  In fact, it’s very rare to find books in Yiddish for sale in the UK at all, and those specialist bookshops that do cater for Yiddish readers tend to focus on high-end antiquarian fare.  Even then, the books that show up most often tend to be religious ones, so unless you want to hone your Yiddish by reading biblical exegesis, this approach is rather limited. 

Now while I never expected Yiddish books to pop up in bookshops, what I hadn’t anticipated was that this scarcity is mirrored online.  It’s possible to buy modern Yiddish translations of contemporary and classic literature, which can be huge fun, but finding Yiddish literature in Yiddish is remarkably tricky.  What is out there can be incredibly expensive, especially when it’s being shipped from the US, and there’s no equivalent of the £3 Mondadori Italian paperback.  It’s easy to find cheap editions of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Sholem Aleichem and I. L. Peretz in English, but in Yiddish?  You’ll need to fork out some serious cash. 
The saddest aspect of this Yiddish book famine is that from the 1890s to the 1950s there were plenty of Yiddish speakers in the UK who were literate and eager to read, but their books are likely to have ended up as landfill due to the subsequent decline of Yiddish.  And it’s those books that I really want to read, because I’m not just obsessed with reading in general, I’m obsessed with second-hand books.
All my favourite books are ones that have been pre-owned.  They smell of pipe tobacco and that bright, sweet scent of decaying paper.  These books have scuffs and dents in the covers, perhaps someone has written some little comments in the margins (the best ever was a note next to an essay about the influence of Plato on Dante, which just said “Balls”).  I understand why some people love brand new books, with their pages that are still clean and their shiny covers, but pristine books make me uncomfortable.  I might as well drop it down the stairs now and crease the spine, otherwise I’ll be too worried about smudging it to read it.

This is about more than just my inherent clumsiness, though.  A second-hand book links you with the readers who went before you, whose names are sometimes inscribed in the front cover, so that you’re in dialogue with them as well as the text.  Second-hand books are often beautifully made, like the pocket edition of Paradise Lost I found that had a linen cover decorated with gold fleur-de-lys and which included a red silk placemarker ribbon. Milton definitely wouldn’t have approved, but what does he know.  

Second-hand books that have been inexplicably customised are even better, like my copy of Harkavy’s wonderfully named English-Jewish Pocket Dictionary, which has a handmade paper cover painted in blue and red, with Jewish Dictionary pencilled neatly onto the front with such force that it appears to be embossed. Someone called Aron Owen used to own this book, so maybe he was the cover artist, but it seems more like the work of a careful child than a dude with personalised bookplates.

Sometimes the personality of the previous owners is right there in these books.  My 1967 edition of Uriel Weinreich’s College Yiddish was previously owned by some kid called Louis Feldman, which I know because he’s written “Lou Feldman the Great” in both English and Yiddish inside the front cover.*  Looking at the state of the book, Lou didn’t make it past Lesson 4, but I guess that was all the Yiddish he needed.

And then there’s my 1910 edition of Longfellow’s הײאַװאַטהאַ or Hiawatha. This book was published in New York but the library stamps inside its front cover show that it went first to Rownem in the Ukraine, then on to Tel-Aviv, before it came to me in the UK. The pages in this book are heavy, almost like blotting paper, so they've stayed crisp even though the cover has been knocked and scuffed at the corners. At some point in its life someone has recovered this book in a peculiar, plasticized fabric that I can't place; it feels like a 1960s twinset that has been ironed on too high a heat. Another stamp in the back cover lets me know that this book was fumigated by "Hadar" on May 21st 1996. Judging by the unidentifiable insect crushed in the endpapers (are book weevils a thing?) this seems to have been a very timely intervention. Cheers, Hadar.

(דער אַװעקפֿאָר פֿון הײאַװאַטהאַ)
Ultimately, this is what I’m missing with the absence of second-hand Yiddish books.  All those bookmarks and stamps and inscriptions that provide the briefest link to the world that has been lost, where Yiddish was still spoken and read and sung by my family and countless others in the UK.  So, while I am supremely grateful that the resurgence in Yiddish allows me to buy Lord of Rings in translation, that doesn’t even come close to the joy of finding something like my 1917 edition of Noah Steinberg’s יונג אַמעריקאַ (Yung Amerika), a series of essays on Yiddish-American writers.  This volume has been drilled through by bookworms, the cover’s all שמוציק (shmutsik – dirty), and it looks like someone’s tried the lick the title off the spine, but damn it’s beautiful.

However, this overall lack of Yiddish books means that when you do track one down, it’s nothing short of a נעס (nes - miracle). Every torn page, chewed edge and dented corner is evidence that these books faced some pretty steep odds and some pretty persistent insects, but they survived all that to cross the Atlantic and get cherished by me. So my Yiddish library might be growing more slowly than I’d like, but given the number of books already in the house, that’s נאָך אַלעמען טובֿה**.


*In Yiddish it’s לו פֿעלדמאַן דער גרױסער.  I love that kid.

** Or “Nokh alemen a toyve” - a blessing in disguise.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Some news and a reading list

Not your average news extravanganza, this is more a comp(i)l(ic)ation of interviews and random items gathered by George Ttoouli over the past few weeks...

The winners of the Ink, Sweat and Tears/Café Writers Poetry Pamphlet Commission were published in April this year (while G&P was sleeping).

Jonathan Morley was my co-founder and partner-in-rime at Heaventree Press ten years ago. The description for his pamphlet, Euclid's Harmonics, sounds on form given his recent output in anthologies like Voice Recognition: "a reckoning of his years in Coventry, manipulating register, form and language to create a dazzling, genre-defying collection".

And Jay Bernard's The Red and Yellow Nothing sounds like a wonderfully weird synthesis of black racial identity and Arthurian legend. Jay I met when she was winning awards as a teenager and then through her first pamphlet with tall lighthouse, your sign is cuckoo girl (she's also in Voice Recognition).

Both pamphlets are available at the IS&T shop.


There's an interview with horror writer Ramsey Campbell online for free, via an academic journal. Ugly website, ugly format, but some good snippets.


Pierre Joris is interviewed in the latest issue of Asymptote.


Interviewing Sophie Mayer led me to a wonderful audio interview with Ava DuVernay on NPR.

The last six minutes of this is amazing: DuVernay talks about, firstly, King's argument that rich white people used race to distract poor white people from their exploitation by rich white people.

And then DuVernay explains how, contractually, the original screenwriter, Paul Webb, exercised his contractual right to be credited as sole writer of the final film, despite her rewriting a substantial portion of the script, including having to make up some of King's speeches because the copyrights for King's speeches are already owned by Dreamworks and Warner because Stephen Spielberg is working on a biopic of King. Oh irony.


And, following a weird retweet incident, which got me far more visibility for five seconds than I felt comfortable with, I found this podcast interview with Laurie Penny.

The interviewer is a little sycophantic (I mean, anything short of drawing blood is a bit too pandering for my tastes), but the discussion of the writing process was reassuring, given where I am right now with writing projects. [1]


Simon also sent me this essay on lyric essays. It's, you know, adequate, but I wish there was a more articulated discourse on the bleeding edge of experimental essays.


And a closing delight, thanks to those lovely people at Nothing in the Rulebook, who managed to capture a few minutes of Will Eaves reading in London, end of July. Joyous.


[1] Though I did wonder if there's a calculated attempt to get a kickback from a word processing software in there. How do you separate evil, capitalist socialite mediatistas from ethical ones? So far I've only encountered teh internet'z misogynist method of mindless teenagers and frustrated men yowling threats, which I believe is based on the medieval 'water method' for determining if a woman is a witch.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Aggressive Interview #4: Sophie Mayer

Having recovered sufficiently from former wounds inflicted in the interview room, George Ttoouli has decided to resume the foolhardy interview series, which may become regular, or might just be as sporadic as before.

Round 4: Sophie Mayer, most recently author of Political Animals (IB Tauris, 2015), (O) (Arc, 2015) and kaolin (Lark, 2015). A writer, editor, activist and educator based in London, she is so prolific online you could be forgiven for thinking she's some kind of post-human datacloud. Her poetry also features in Out of Everywhere 2, which launched this week in London.

So, Sophie, thanks for agreeing to an interview. How's the armchair activism going these days?

Sofa feminism (preferred term, please) has never been better. I even joined Twitter and Tumblr so I could shout more into the black hole of the internet, mainly about this totally niche artform called film.

Writing for poetry magazines like Athens-based international journal aglimpseof and new UK experimental magazines like Datableed or para*text has really confirmed to me that this internet thing is on a hiding to nothing and/or the doom of our time: who wants the possibility of international community and exchange that’s not dependent on increasingly expensive travel? Pfft. Or the integration of vispo, filmpoetry, sound poetry, experimental narrative etc. on a single site, in two or more languages, available for free?

I look at world-class writers such as Rebecca Solnit and Alison Croggon wasting their time writing impassioned and informative posts for online magazines and then sharing them via Facebook and think: really? So clickbait. Such attention-seeking behaviour. Surely this stuff is best kept in closed-access journals, for the élite – and really, far fewer people should be allowed the tools of research and self-expression. Nothing good will come of all this communication and conversation. Particularly because it bears no relation to RL (as the kids call it): no-one starts a conversation on Facebook idly one Sunday morning that leads to a (print) anthology featuring over one hundred poets that raises thousands of pounds for Pussy Riot’s legal fund, with over a dozen live launch events.

But, tbh (as the kids say), a lot of the internet is shit and a lot of clicktivism is disjointed from larger political communities and strategies. Which is why I think poets need to spend *more* time online doing that unacknowledged legislator thing. As the current government destroys education, including all media and arts education, and reduces the complexity of language and rhetoric to recognising made-up grammar, someone needs to intervene into the corporate double-speak, alarmist preaching, and displacement of verbal language by gifs and emojis. Who better than poets? This is our business. 🙊💪✒️💻💣 [*]

Indeed, that 'niche' artform, film. Many of your film recommendations, by feminist or female directors and writers, don't seem to manifest in my local supermarkets/multiplexes. It's fair to say, isn't it, that your war fronts are London-centric hipster battles--aren't they?

Oh, absolutely. Because video on demand – and possibly the internet – hasn’t reached outside gentrified urban areas, with tons of cheap or even free viewing options. Safe to say, if you’re spending your time and money at the multiplexes (all owned by big US corporations), you won’t have the time to save money and get better films at the growing number of independent cinemas across the UK (homemade cakes AND a wider choice of films!) and the amazing community screening spaces, like An Lanntair in Stornoway, some of which have been outfitted with excellent portable digital projection by the BFI’s Neighbourhood Cinema Fund. Liverpool Small Cinema has committed to the 58% project, screening films by female, trans, intersex and/or non-binary directors across their 2016 programme (I have a spreadsheet of 500 that you can consult).

It is sadly true that independent DVD and video rental and retail stores are vanishing, like bookstores and record stores. As rent rises, it’s harder to see a “disposable” income available to give to culture of any kind. So then it becomes even more important to choose wisely. Sure, you can see BlockBusterFaceSmashYesAllMen for a tenner each, plus a tenner for snacks. Or you could take that 20 quid and check out a site like ourscreen, which lets communities “pull” the films they want toward them, to screen in independent cinemas. Or start your own curation group or film club. Or just stay in and watch independent Indian films directed by women on Netflix (really).

But let’s go back to the supermarketplex. And a film called Selma, which had wide theatrical distribution here. Major historical biopic. Nominated for major international awards. Directed by an African American woman. Whose name doesn’t appear on the DVD you might pick up at the supermarketplex or order online. So believe me, some of my recommendations are there — but they are (as James Tiptree, Jr./Alice Sheldon put it so brilliantly) “the women men don’t see”.

I noticed via your recent tinyletter that Sara Ahmed quit her job at Goldsmiths. And that she thinks she can do "more by leaving than staying". But how can you effect change from the outside? Via a right-wing mass media? And what about your own hypocrisies, in fighting the good fight from your divan, macbook resting on your lap, cup of fairtrade/organic chamomile steaming on the table beside you?

The existence of the question is proof I’m doing it right. You've already read my tinyletter, which was written shortly after Professor Ahmed resigned and reached audiences immediately. My academic paper on Ahmed’s life/work will be years in the finessing, and decades in the publishing, and then accessible only to a tiny élite. Whether Ahmed remains outside the academy permanently, or takes another job as a professor, her post has done more to generate conversation about sexual harassment in academia than any number of internally-focused conferences. Enjoy your ivory tower privileges, and remember that ivory is made from murdered elephants. Plus via writing the tinyletter I learned that fitte is Norwegian slang for vagina. You don’t learn that in school.

I’ve held short-term teaching contracts at half a dozen UK universities in the last decade, and been a guest speaker or seminar leader at a dozen more, so I’m hokely-cokely doubly hypocritical (as well as a dilettante and a flibbertigibbet). And I often feel like a double agent, especially when I’m trying to get arts organisations and academia to work together: I wish it were dangerous liaising, but it’s just frustrating. Not as sexy a quality.

For every hour I’m quaffing fair-trade organic tea on my divan (aka scalding my tongue on something from EAT on the bus running between fifteen different jobs while trying to write a blog post on my phone), there’s at least three hours where I’m at a meeting or on a panel or participating in a seminar or workshop or supervision or training or exchange or screening or conversation (I refuse to use the word “networking”). I don’t know if that’s TEF standard. But standing up and moving around certainly keeps the macbook from frying my innards any further; even fair-trade camomile can’t repair that degree of free radical damage.

It sounds like you're merely reinforcing binary power structures: let's all replace patriarchy with matriarchy; rigorous heteronormativity with rigorous trans-culture, yadda yadda. Even queering as a process suggests an unchanging social power structure, the need for a process because society ain't getting any better.

So: if you became Kueeng of the World (through democratic revolution by armed insurgent-workers), what ten books/writers would form the basis of your Literary Canon?

Wait, are those the same question? Base-2 and base-10 are different things, aren't they? Even in queer math (which is a real thing, particularly in superalgebra). But (to address the first question first) even in normcore boring heteronormative math, a spectrum (or sphere) and a binary are not the same thing. And (I'm warming to my theme now) processes in mathematics are agents of change: addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc. Within the Euclidean universe, yes, but they are based on the core idea that performing a process or function creates change.

Society is a set of processes: they can be repeated ad infinitum (more math language! I am a language thief, see below); or they can be interrupted, altered, redirected, reversed. Society is not an iterative zero-sum in which we cannot intervene; queerly, if you will. I think about the appropriation of the iteration in Claudia Rankine's Citizen, the use of repetition to foreground (make aware, interrupt) social/political unthinking repetition of the (extra-)judicial murder of African Americans.

So (queerly), given that society is a process (and one that is not unidirectional, linear or eschatological: that's another normative myth), there can only be canons for a given moment. (Did you know that canon comes from κανων (Gk), meaning straight rod – which makes me think of fasces (Latin), bundle of straight rods, etymology of fascism. But κανων (Gk) itself derives from καννη, reed – so maybe instead of a canon we need leaves of grass?)

Reeds to read right now:
  • For Black Lives Matter: Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric
  • For Idle No More and decolonisation: Gloria Bird and Joy Harjo (eds), Reinventing the Enemy's Language
  • For Brexit: Gwyneth Jones, the Bold as Love series
  • For the unbinary: Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon, Gender Failure
  • For migration 1: Caroline Bergvall, Drift
  • For migration 2: Etel Adnan, In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country
  • For the memory of our elected leaders' wrongs: Han Kang (trans. Deborah Smith), Human Acts
  • For the memory of another Europe, and its poetries: María Rosa Menocal, The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain
  • For another way being possible 1: Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha, Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction from Social Movements
  • For another way being possible 2: Inger Christensen (trans. Susanna Nied), It

Language does not equal the author. Reading black or female authors or tracts by trans, two-headed, aliens won't guarantee change. All this meritocracy and remixing says to me, is, Don't read Sophie Mayer, read these other people. Amirite?

You’re absolutely right. As Björk says (argh, I can’t stop myself), “I go humble.” When I think about what I’ve done that really counts, I think of co-editing Catechism, Binders Full of Women, and Glitter is a Gender – projects that amplify and contextualise a range of poetic voices; I think of collaborating with Test Centre to bring Derek Jarman’s poetry chapbook A Finger in the Fishes Mouth back into print; I think of a hundred people singing “Building Bridges” from the Greenham Songbook at a Club des Femmes screening of Beeban Kidron’s Carry Greenham Home.

Surely one way out of capitalism (heteropatriarchal colonial edition) is to think about what we do (whether teaching or writing) as acts of collaboration, sharing and clearing spaces for each other, together, so that no one is (read as) an alien. There’s no change as long as there’s a sense that “author” is a neutral universal that excludes trans, two headed beings – or, worse in some ways, grudgingly includes them on the authority of those who hew closer to the neutral universal.

So maybe the whole concept of “author” is the problem — the authority, the ego, the rugged individual with his Bic for Men pen. We need an auteurnative that keeps visible the differing sets of social and political conditions from which creative labour arises, the specific shape of a voice or a practice, but that doesn’t just simplistically equate that with being in charge or worth it. After all, we’re all multitudes. Being a hero is a bullshit narrative; adding your voice to the chorus is where it’s at.

Or in the words of Trinh T. Minh-Ha, in Woman, Native, Other:
By laying bare the codes of literary labor, it unequivocally acknowledges the writer’s contradictory stand – her being condemned to do ‘good work’ in choosing to ‘write well’ and to produce Literature. She writes, finally not to express, not so much to materialize an idea or a feeling, as to possess and dispossess herself of the power of writing. Bliss. (italics in original)

Interesting how well you've failed to contain your multitudes, but I'm glad to hear you're at least aware of your hypocrisies. Some poets might even take that unresolvable position as creative energy, but I noticed, in your latest book, (O), you've basically repackaged a lot of other women's words: Samira Makhmalbaf, Sappho, etcetera.

David Hart called your process "translating English into English." I'd call it yet more faux-experimental derivative sampling as intellectual posturing. Where the hell do you locate 'poetry' in your thefts?

Sadly, Samira Makhmalbaf didn't make the final cut for (O), although her words (which are the words of the young women with whom she made the film Sib (Apple)), are in a poem that you published in an anthology about apples (long a tendentious subject for women under Judaeo-Christianity). I.e. if I say apple, I say Eve (Milton, Newton). Blessed be the pure of subject/content, for they are ignorant of their history and/or references.

When I quote, I attribute: there's no theft or nod-wink "sampling" expecting readers to be hip to the source. OK, one line where I scratch an Emily Dickinson phrase. Flipside: a lot of potential readers wouldn't recognise an Audre Lorde reference if it wasn't attributed, although they might well recognise a Walt Whitman one. Or the expectation would be there.

Let me anticipate the follow-up question: I give the pale, stale, male canon a bloody good kicking, unashamedly (perhaps unadvisedly considering its contemporary iteration still rules whatever roost poetry lays claim to). It's a very small act of trying to settle the balance.

Obviously, with both Makhmalbaf and Sappho, I'm not translating English into English, but translating (or working with translation) in the more formal sense. I think Hart does capture that my work is exactly translation (transferre [Latin], metaphorein μεταφορειν [Greek]), an act of carrying). Absolute magpie acts – but because the words shine, shine, shine. Call it my critic side leaking through: I see all my writing as advocacy, as a Lily Brik-style shout-out, the poetic hand as megaphone saying READ THESE WRITERS! Voices carry, collectively, better than a single voice alone.

So I'd locate the poetic in the invocation. Witch work/squad goals, depending on your idiom. England may want to be a walled-in island, but no poet is/should. I'm proud of my lineage, my sisterhood, my un-nation. Call it grave-robbing if you like, but there's no ghostbusting this parade of goddesses.

[*] Respectively, these are: Speak no evil monkey, flexed bicep, black pen nib, personal computer, bomb. This apparently describes visually a narrative in which those monkeys chained to typewriters trying to produce Shakespeare have upped their game and are preparing to overthrow their human overlords.