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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 March 2003

1 March: Paulin might not, Salamun will | Surprisingly popular reviews | Iraqi poetry
3 March: Epstein on Valéry | Another Joseph Roth review | Reluctant Vera reviews
4 March: Hindu literary coverage | Oprah takes on the classics | Steve Aylett's Rip
5 March: More on Chinua Achebe | Pinter v. Wesker | Walter Benjamin review | Penguin Classics | Martin Amis comment
6 March: Banville's Shroud
7 March: Magnus Mills' Scheme | European v. American fiction ?
8 March: NBCC getting more national ? | Boyd on journals | Book IMDb
10 March: Hofmann's Roth-translation | Fingerprinting and colonialism | HK Int'l Lit. Festival | Shoddy books | Budding writers should read

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10 March 2003 - Monday

Hofmann's Roth-translation | Fingerprinting and colonialism | HK Int'l Lit. Festival
Shoddy books | Budding writers should read

       Hofmann's Roth-translation

       We've mentioned Michael Hofmann's translation of Joseph Roth's What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-33 and review reactions thereto several times now (see here and here, for example).
       Much praise is heaped on Hofmann, both for his estimable efforts on Roth's behalf as well as for his able translating. Typical are comments like James Buchan's in the 8 March issue of The Guardian, in his review of the book:
The translation, as you can see, is very good. There is one mistake ("jejeune"), a page missing and a lost footnote.
       Typically, Buchan 'shows' the translation is good by simply offering some nice-sounding bit from the English, without actually comparing it to the German. What he means, it would seem, is that the English version reads well or sounds good (which is not necessarily the same as it being a good translation -- depending on what your criteria are.)
       A rare and slightly critical voice can be found in the 28 February TLS, where Ritchie Robertson reviews the book. He writes about Hofmann:
His translation is readable, fluent, spirited, with many well-chosen phrases, but often so free as to conflict with the translator's prime duty of accuracy. Scrutiny reveals innumerable small departures from the original. (...) Worse, Hofmann muffles Roth's trenchancy by adding extra words and even journalistic clichés. (...) There are also outright mistakes
       We haven't read Hofmann's translation, nor compared it to the original, so we can't judge how much of this is accurate (though the mistake-examples Robertson gives are quite convincing) -- but certainly it is something that readers should keep in mind.
       Disappointing (but not surprising) is how few of the reviewers raise questions about the translation at all -- most simply gush over it (everyone agrees it sounds good), without wondering whether, for example, it accurately reflects Roth's German original.

       And yet another review (that's light on translation-commentary): Maurice Walsh's review in the 10 March New Statesman

       (To purchase What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-33 at Amazon: in the US or in the UK.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Fingerprinting and colonialism

       A few years back Chandak Sengoopta came out with his first book, a useful study of the odd cultural phenomenon that was Otto Weininger (see our review). His follow-up strays pretty far afield from that, as he looks into how fingerprinting was born in colonial India in his Imprint of the Raj -- which we now also have under review.
       The worthy Otto Weininger-title was woefully under-reviewed. Imprint of the Raj isn't any more sensational, but is addressed more to a general audience -- and does discuss some issues of considerable present-day relevance -- so perhaps it will garner a few more reviews.
       In any case: we're curious to see what Dr.Sengoopta tackles next.

       (To purchase Imprint of the Raj at in the UK (apparently not yet available in the US).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Hong Kong International Literary Festival

       Enjoy the Hong Kong International Literary Festival from 17 to 23 March. Among the invited authors: Yann Martel, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Dai Sijie, and John Lanchester.
       Check out the official site, or read Mark Hanusz on Pramoedya Ananta Toer at The Asian Review of Books.

       Or, if Hong Kong is too far and you're in the mood for something more ... industrial, check out the London Book Fair (16 to 18 March).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Shoddy books

       Christopher Caldwell has nothing better to do that wonder Why are English books made so badly ? (at Slate).
       O.k., it is a valid question, and Caldwell's piece is of some interest. A well-made book, on decent paper, does enhance the reading experience.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Budding writers should read

       Here's a novel idea: budding writers should read more. Andrew Motion says so, in a profile in the 7 March issue of The Times by Dalya Alberge and Emma Hartley. We read there:
     Tomorrow's budding writers are so trapped in the educational "rat wheel" that they have no time to read the masters of their craft, the Poet Laureate complained yesterday.
       What's interesting about this is his timing: he complains about his non-reading students just as he steps down as director of the Creative Writing programme at UEA-Norwich (see his faculty page, still available there). Wouldn't he have been in a good position to rectify this situation while he still had the job ?
       In any case, as he notes, he's had grand success -- despite the students' shortfalls. He notes: "Of my recent graduates, more than 15 have got contracts or had their first books come out." So apparently it doesn't matter that they are literarily (if not literally) illiterate. Reading is obviously (or at least apparently) inessential -- at least for publishing success of the modern kind.
       (The profile also includes a list of the "Laureate's must-read texts". All of nine texts -- though admittedly some are of considerable heft. Still, if this is all there is that must be read .....)

       So we wonder what Motion will do at his new job, in a similar position at Royal Holloway, University of London (see this press release)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 March 2003 - Saturday

NBCC getting more national ? | Boyd on journals | Book IMDb

       National Book Critics Circle getting more national ?

       The American National Book Critics Circle awards were recently handed out (see our brief mention). The winner in the fiction category was, once again, a British-authored work -- Ian McEwan's Atonement -- continuing what in recent years has become almost a tradition of honouring foreign rather than American fiction.
       Now Book Babes (or at least one babe, Ellen E. Heltzel) discusses Foreign Intervention at (link first seen at Publishers Lunch). Heltzel explains the situation:
In the mid-'90s, the National Book Critics Circle decided to go global. Its members voted to make any book published in English in a given year eligible for its annual awards. (...) Sounds good in theory. But what happens when the home team hardly ever wins ?
       (If it's true that all books published in English are eligible then the dearth of translated works nominated is pretty shocking (see also our previous mention). Adam Zagajewski's Without End (written in Polish) did get nominated in the poetry category this year, and Borges actually won a couple of years ago (the Borges award was particularly controversial since not only was the work not originally written in English, but the author was long dead), but generally translated works clearly don't get fair attention. But then: what's new about that ?)
       Apparently there are now some rumblings to bring the "national" back to the fore in the NBCCs -- as in a Pulitzer-like passport requirement. Heltzel -- bless her ! -- believes "broader is better", but not everyone is as thrilled to see the big prize go overseas on such a regular basis.

       There is something to be said for purely national or regional literary prizes (especially in smaller markets which might need the publicity and prestige such prizes afford in order for domestic products not to be overwhelmed by imports), but it is pretty silly if one really wants to simply consider literary worth (which, surely, is what these things should be about). Requirements of domestic publication, or publication in whatever the local language is, seem good enough.
       As is, the IMPAC Dublin Award looks to be ... well, as they put it: "the largest and most international prize of its kind" (basically accepting any work of fiction published in English during a specified period (and, if in translation, originally published not more than a certain number of years earlier -- i.e. it's restricted to fairly contemporary fiction)). It's a fine award, but isn't quite enough to do justice to all the international fiction (and non-fiction, etc.) that's published (even just that tiny portion that is published in English translation).

       Another big one -- the Man Booker Prize -- is among the oddest semi-international literary prizes, restricted to Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland passport holding authors (though they did recently consider opening up to American fiction). This leads to such odd circumstances as making citizens of countries such as non-Anglophone Mozambique (yes, they are a member of the Commonwealth -- see the full member's list for more surprises) eligible for the Man Booker.
       We also hope the official rules are a bit better thought-though than the ones posted at the official site. Yes: "No English translation of a book written originally in any other language is eligible", and: "All entries must be published in the United Kingdom". But note that there is apparently nothing excluding books published in a foreign language (only translated works are excluded) -- so, theoretically, a novel written (and published in the UK) in Portuguese by a Mozambiquean author would be perfectly eligible. We hope it happens.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       William Boyd on journals

       William Boyd gets to publicize his journal-novel (just out in paperback in the UK -- and hardcover in the US), Any Human Heart (see our review) with a long piece on journals in today's issue of The Guardian: The book of life

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Book IMDb

       Danny Yee kindly made us aware of a Slashdot-posting announcing a new site that aims to be a sort of IMDb for books. (The Slashdot thread is already awash with commentary.)
       The site is up already: the Internet Book List. "Its purpose is to provide a comprehensive and easily accessible database of books." It's starting out a bit sci-fi top-heavy, but it's still worth checking out -- and might turn out to be a useful resource.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 March 2003 - Friday

Magnus Mills' Scheme | European v. American fiction ?

       Magnus Mills' Scheme

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Magnus Mills' The Scheme for Full Employment (which was inexplicably on sale in the US two months before now being published in the UK).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       European v. American fiction ?

       Terry Teachout (see his page at Writers' Representatives for more information) wrote a piece in the 6 March Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal, described as explaining: "Why Europe produces better fiction than America does" (link first seen at Arts Journal).
       We planned to ignore this article after we first saw it, but now do feel compelled to make mention of it -- wondering: how and why is stuff like this published ? Was the WSJ in such desperate need of space filler ? And couldn't they get somebody to toss off something a bit more sensible ? But apparently they thought: it's just about art -- about books. It doesn't have to be sensible. Or rather: it can be as simplistic as most political commentary is nowadays.
       Teachout mentions how much he enjoyed reading Sándor Márai's Embers (see our review) and Andreï Makine's Music of a Life (see, for example, the Arcade publicity page), and that's fine. Book-praise, making readers aware of worthwhile reading-experiences they are possibly missing, is almost always a good thing.
       But then Teachout sees bigger (and smaller) things in these books:
Now, Embers is neither new nor American. (...) And therein lies its appeal: It is wholly unlike most present-day American literary fiction. Embers is modest in length, unassumingly elegant in style and written with the deceptive simplicity of a fable. Though deeply serious, it never succumbs to the heavy earnestness of the self-consciously "serious" writer.
       See those fatal words: "literary fiction" ? Without really explaining what that might be -- he knows it if he sees it, no doubt -- and naming only a few names (the odd combo of Sebold and Eggers) he condemns it all at one fell swoop.
       He does explain what's wrong with present day Am. lit. fic.:
Our "major" writers tend to be chronically verbose, stylistically ostentatious and agonizingly earnest (though the flippant Irony Lite of Generation X now appears to have replaced earnestness as the style du jour). Such books are unreadable, and so nobody reads them, save under academic duress.
       We enjoy wholesale condemnation as much as the next person -- and we're more Eurocentric (or at least international) in our reading habits than most -- but this kind of simplification, while sounding amusing, is neither fair nor useful (and far from accurate). Who, for one, is he talking about ? Surely no one would (yet) call, for example, either Eggers or Sebold "major writers". And even if some widely-publicized present day writers are verbose, ostentatious, and earnest the American literary field surely is far broader than what he is willing to admit to. (We're not huge fans -- see how little American fiction we bother with -- but even we wouldn't condemn it so roundly and soundly.)
       Teachout's complaint seems largely to echo B.R.Myers' (remember him, of Reader's Manifesto fame (see our review) ?) -- and his call to look at foreign fictions is also a similar one.
       Which brings us back to the way this piece is described at the OpinionJournal table of contents: "Why Europe produces better fiction than America does". First of all, Márai isn't exactly producing much (he offed himself a couple of years back -- and Embers was written more than six decades ago), and so he's hardly representative as an author of contemporary European literary fiction (if we're already generalizing).
       Teachout revels in the fact that Márai and Makine "write as survivors of a lost world, and in their books that world comes to life in all its terrible splendor". He likes their styles, too, but it's the weighty horrors they grapple with that really seem to win him over. He praises Naipaul and I.B.Singer too, and notes:
And as I read, I hope -- I pray -- that my native land will be spared the intimate knowledge of the horrors of modernity that lends to the work of all these men a moral gravity rarely to be found in the contemporary American novel.
       Ahh ! It's the intimate knowledge that lend the works moral gravity -- that critical piece missing in American fiction. Nicely offering American authors an excuse for their less-readable fictions in the process.
       For god's sake: it's not that simple. If moral gravity is what he's after, we might suggest he consider, for example, the works of Cynthia Ozick (though arguably she merely appropriated her moral gravity from the intimate knowledge of others -- a sort of inauthenticity he might not approve of) -- surely a major American writer. (Admittedly, her writing might be described as verbose, ostentatious, and earnest; but it's still damn fine stuff.)
       Based on less than a handful of books Teachout confidently offers these sweeping generalizations. With critical commentary like this .....

       Oh, why even bother condemning it ? But people read this stuff. People might actually take it seriously, not knowing any better. It's published by the WSJ, after all .....

       (Final note: Teachout does not mention that Embers is a second-hand translation, Carol Brown Janeway having based her version on the German translation and not the Hungarian original. Don't even get us started on that subject again .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 March 2003 - Thursday

Banville's Shroud

       John Banville's Shroud

       John Banville's most recent novel, Shroud, just appeared in bookstores in the US this week (it's been available in the UK for several months already), and we now also offer our review.
       The review-reactions to this book have been interesting so far. There are lots of comparisons to Eclipse (the two novels share a central character) -- though some think the new one is superior, others not.
       Banville's writing gets the usual praise, with complaints that he over-does it remaining fairly rare -- and usually carefully couched, as when Michael Glover writes in The Spectator (28 September 2002):
Banville is one of the great fictional stylists of our time, a deliberate and deliberative man who picks over his words with the finest tweezers available from the lexicographical pharmacy. This is both to praise him and to dispraise him. Sometimes he is a little too foot-cloggingly slow, aromatically pernickety to the point of preciosity.
       (Note that the US Knopf edition uses the above quote as a blurb on the book. Note that they only use the first sentence. What a surprise ! What honesty !)

       Also of interest: in his acknowledgements, Banville notes that themes in the lives and works of Louis Althusser and Paul de Man "have been alluded to and employed" in the text. Much is made of this by many of the critics; the parallels, particularly to de Man's biography, are hard to ignore. Nevertheless, Banville puts his own spin on things and Shroud is a very different book than, for example, Gilbert Adair's excellent de Man-novel, The Death of the Author (see our review).
       Not everybody approved of the Banville-spin. Benjamin Markovits wrote in his review (London Review of Books, 2 January 2003):
I can't make out why Banville decided to fictionalise de Man's relatively straightforward 'dirty secret' into such sophistries.
       We found Banville's take a worthwhile one -- and that the result hardly amounted to sophistries. In fact, given that the de Man story has been examined from all possible angles, it seems the far more worthwhile fictional exercise.

       Nit-picking note of possible interest: both Alex Clark (in her review in The Guardian) and Adam Mars-Jones (in his review in The Observer) give the full name of the woman the main character becomes involved with as Cassandra Cleave (in both the book and the other reviews she is generally just referred to as "Cass"). Mars-Jones even writes:
Cassandra Cleave's name trails any amount of emblematic significance: her first name hints that she has gifts that will not profit her, while her surname is a famously ambiguous word.
       Cass does sign a postcard "Your Cassandra" (though -- a tip-off -- she uses another name for the addressee too), but when she first meets Axel Vander she introduces herself:
"I am Catherine Cleave," she said. "I'm called Cass."
       At least that's what it says in the US edition (page 60); maybe the British edition had it differently .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 March 2003 - Wednesday

More on Chinua Achebe | Pinter v. Wesker | Walter Benjamin review
Penguin Classics | Martin Amis comment

       More on Chinua Achebe

       We recently added reviews of two Chinua Achebe titles -- and mentioned that he isn't much in the news nowadays. Apparently we haven't been paying close enough attention -- and missed the fact that there was a Chinua Achebe Profile on BBC Four last night.
       Catch a repeat 6 March (12.25am - 12.55am) -- or listen to three brief interview-excerpts from a previous occasion at the World Service.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Harold Pinter v. Arnold Wesker

       More fun from the BBC:
       Pinter and Wesker don't exactly square off -- they just offer brief little statements, contra and pro intervention in Iraq. Read the transcript at the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal, or check it out at the BBC site itself (where, curiously, the transcript is less complete -- but you can actually listen to the two dramatists having their say).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Walter Benjamin review

       This week's issue of The Village Voice offers a review of both Gershom Scholem's Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship (see also the NYRB publicity page) and the recently published volume 3 of the Harvard University Press' edition of Benjamin's Selected Writings (see also the HUP publicity page).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Penguin Classics

       Today's issue of The Times offers a moderately interesting Penguin Classics profile by Erica Wagner -- or, as they put it: "Nigel Wilcockson, impassioned publisher of Penguin classics, talks great literature with Erica Wagner". Some interesting information, but far too much blather about what greatness is or might be.

       Interesting side-note: included at the end of the piece is a list of the top ten bestselling PC volumes; five of them are by women.
       (Note also the disappointing list of overlooked classics offered by Wilcockson -- he doesn't exactly go out on a limb with any really daring choices, does he ?)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Martin Amis comment

       Yesterday's issue of The Guardian offers a fairly interesting comment on current events by Martin Amis, The palace of the end (link first seen at wood s lot)
       Among the significant points: Amis' proper focus on the role of religion in all this -- and no, not just Islam. As he notes:
All US presidents -- and all US presidential candidates -- have to be religious or have to pretend to be religious. More specifically, they have to subscribe to "born again" Christianity.
       And, more to the point:
Why, in our current delirium of faith and fear, would Bush want things to become more theological rather than less theological ? The answer is clear enough, in human terms: to put it crudely, it makes him feel easier about being intellectually null. He wants geopolitics to be less about intellect and more about gut-instincts and beliefs -- because he knows he's got them.
       But read the whole thing for yourself.

       "Intellectually null". That's going to go over big, isn't it ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 March 2003 - Tuesday

Hindu literary coverage | Oprah takes on the classics | Steve Aylett's Rip

       Hindu literary coverage

       The Indian newspaper The Hindu provides considerable literary coverage that might be of some interest. The monthly Literary Review (latest edition from Sunday, 2 March) and the weekly Book Review section (last updated today) offer substantial information about an English-language literature (and some local language literatures) that doesn't get much coverage in the rest of the English-speaking world.
       Of particular interest (we find): increased efforts to make local language literature available in English -- which are often mentioned and discussed in their pages. So, here, for example everything from reviews of the 19th-century Malayalam novel Saraswativijayam by Kunhambu ("a stark linear murder mystery") to a report about the 15th anniversary bash for Katha (an "independent publishing house specializing in translations") -- an event to which even Peter Carey made it.
       Also of interest in the current Literary Review: a report about the U.K.-South Asian Women Writers' Conference 2003.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Oprah takes on the classics

       As has been widely reported, Oprah Winfrey will once again be devoting episodes of her popular talk-show to works of fiction -- though now she's going after the "classics" (no closer definition has yet been offered).
       As the press release from the Association of American Publishers (that's where she made the announcement) states:
The new club is tentatively titled, "Traveling with the Classics," and selections will be made three to five times a year. Oprah discussed how each show will originate from a site connected with the selection —- the author’s birthplace, the book’s setting, or some other relevant locale.
       (See also the announcement Oprah's Book Club is Coming Back ! at her official site, or this article from Entertainment Weekly.)

       We were briefly excited by the promised book-focus, as we found the author-focus of the previous incarnation of the Book Club highly disturbing (the books were props, the authors were the focus). But these reports suggest the new incarnation of the show will again not focus much on the books, but rather use the books as the basis for travel segments.
       The written page does not translate well onto TV, that's understood; still, travelling to an author's birthplace and broadcasting that to an audience seems about as useless a literary undertaking as one could imagine.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Steve Aylett's Rip

       Steve Aylett's writing is about as wildly imagined as anything you can find nowadays -- so it'll be interesting to see how that translates to the small screen. Yes, "Steve Aylett has created an animated TV series, Rip, the Angriest Pig in the World, to be directed by Richard Bazley".
       Some pictures suggest what it's like .....
       Probably not your usual Saturday morning fare. But we'd get up early to tune in.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

3 March 2003 - Monday

Epstein on Valéry | Another Joseph Roth review | Reluctant Vera reviews

       Joseph Epstein on Paul Valéry

       Joseph Epstein writes about on Paul Valéry in the March issue of The New Criterion, in The intimate abstraction. The focus is on the Peter Lang edition of the Cahiers/Notebooks, but it's a decent introduction to Valéry.

       For other Valéry information see, for example, the Paul Valéry page at books and writers or the Valéry Studies site.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Another Joseph Roth review

       A few days back we mentioned a number of reviews of Joseph Roth's What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-33. Now: another review of interest, in The Threepenny Review: Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer's.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Reluctant Yvonne Vera reviews

       The newest additions to the complete review are our reviews of award-winning Zimbabwean author Yvonne Vera, the newly published The Stone Virgins and the older Under the Tongue.
       These books presented us with something of a dilemma. Fact is, if we had come across either of them without having anything else of hers under review we wouldn't have bothered with them. Or at least we wouldn't have bothered you with them. Some might appreciate Vera's work, but for the most part it goes completely over, or beside our heads.
       So why did we bother covering these two titles ?
       About two years ago we offered reviews of Butterfly Burning (which Farrar Straus & Giroux had just brought out) and Without a Name (unavailable in the US at the time). Last year FSG published Without a Name in one volume together with Under the Tongue, and we thought we really should provide coverage of Under the Tongue at that time (since anyone who bought Without a Name would be stuck with it too), but we just couldn't bring ourselves to do it. Last month, when FSG published the American edition of the prize-winning The Stone Virgins, we reluctantly relented and decided to do them both. (Prize winning ! Acclaimed author ! Yes, even we are vaguely swayed by publicity and awards. And how we curse ourselves for it ! But there is justice in this world: as this example shows: we suffer for our naïveté, in more ways than one.)
       Vera is a unique case among the authors we've reviewed. We've reviewed many bad authors (and ignored many more), and many good authors who have written bad books (it happens). Most are readily disposed of. But Vera is more confounding. She has some talents. Certain qualities. But, honestly, we just don't get what she writes. Not in the least. Barely any of it.
       We're not alone; one New York Times Book Review reviewer says that "at times it is almost impossible to discern what she is talking about", while another writes, of one book, about "Vera's vague and ethereal prose style", and, of another, that parts are "nearly impossible to understand". And perhaps our bafflement can serve as guidance to readers -- many of whom are, no doubt, wiser and more understanding than we, and might actually be able to make something of these works. We hope we offer enough information in our reviews that readers can make up their own minds whether this might be something for them. But it's nothing for us. So: don't expect any more reviews of other Vera works hereabouts. (Though we'll probably have a look at anything else she does, just to satisfy ourselves -- and who knows, maybe she'll eventually come to grips with all the things that irritate, annoy, and confuse us about her writing .....)

       (Also of interest, re. The Stone Virgins: Michael Hartnack's article in The Herald, wondering about the "problem of mental accessibility for the ordinary Zimbabwean reader" the book poses (and mentioning that "Vera’s 'stream of conciousness' style of English sometimes seems too self-consciously 'feminist writing', aimed foremost at Western feminists.").)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

1 March 2003 - Saturday

Paulin might not, Salamun will | Surprisingly popular reviews | Iraqi poetry

       Paulin might not, Salamun will

       We bored you often enough with the Tom Paulin at Harvard-and-not story (he was invited to read, then sort of disinvited, etc. (see, for example, this mention)). The Thursday online OpinionJournal from the Wall Street Journal ran a little item claiming We Get Results (Quietly) (scroll down for it), providing a link to this article in the 27 February Harvard Crimson by Alexander Blenkinsopp, noting that Paulin had not yet accepted whatever re-invitation he was offered.
       So the goings-on continue to confuse. But at least there's a little bit of clarity regarding who will give the Morris Gray Spring Poetry Reading on 12 March: Slovenian poet Tomaz Salamun -- a big American favourite and apparently dependable stand-by.

       Even the Wall Street Journal might approve: here's a fellow who's written lines (in Grain, about the Kennedys) like:
I’ve had it with this Boston quasi-elite
and their provincial Catholic bullshit.
To hell with Teddy and his health care
       O.k., that's completely unfair, because we're quoting it entirely out of context -- these lines are preceded by: "And somewhere, in America’s heart, lost / amid the corn, an ordinary farmer says:" -- but maybe the WSJ-folk didn't notice .....
       Of course, the same poem also has lines like:
Meanwhile, in California my friend
Jerry Brown is sleeping sweetly. No
wonder he’s rested. I make love to him night and day.
       There's a fair amount of Salamun material online. Listen to him read at Counterbalance Poetry, or have a look at his recent collection, A Ballad for Metka Krasovec (which we've been meaning to review for a while now) -- or read a whole bunch of excerpts at Archipelago. And Ploughshares also offers a number of his poems: The Blue Vault, The Deer, Functions, Happiness Is Hot, Splattered Brains (which includes the line: "The trite alone is true."), and Nihil Est in Intellectu....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Surprisingly popular reviews

       The monthly bestseller list of most popular reviews at the complete review usually doesn't change much from month to month. A few predictable books occasionally break onto the list -- Ian McEwan's Atonement, Michael Crichton's Prey, Donna Tartt's The Little Friend -- but by and large the same books reappear month after month. But February saw two unlikely titles make the top fifteen -- the recently deceased Augusto Monterroso's Complete Works & Other Stories and João Magueijo's Faster than the Speed of Light
       The Monterroso review has been available almost from day one (it was the sixth review posted at the site, many years ago) and has enjoyed reasonable popularity over the years. Unfortunately it took the author's 7 February death to fan interest some more.
       The Magueijo is a more surprising success story. The review was only posted mid-month, and for some reason caught on like no debut has previously -- getting as many page views in only half the month as all but twelve other reviews managed in twice the time.

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       Iraqi poetry

       Lots has been heard from and about British and American poets in recent weeks, especially regarding their take on the political events of the day.
       More worthwhile, perhaps: allowing, for example, Iraqi poetic voices to be heard. Today's issue of The Guardian helps: read Saadi Simawe on Poets for peace ("on bringing Iraqi poetry to a wider audience in the west"), and read a few actual Iraqi poems too !

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