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“The average magazine editor’s conception of good verse is verse that will fill out a page. No editor is looking for long poetry. He wants something light and convenient. Consequently, a Milton might be living in Chicago today and be unable to find an outlet for his verse… In other words, the modern English speaking world says ‘Shut up!’ to its poets, a condition so unnatural, so destructive to new inspiration, that I believe it can be only temporary and absurd.” - Harriet Monroe

I admire and agree with her opinion, while also admitting that, as much as I love the city and its writers, there obviously weren’t any unpublushed John Miltons in Chicago in 1911.

November 19, 2018 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...of a boy who died at nineteen..."

Joan Didion, on visiting the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in 1966:

I would go up there quite a bit. If I walked to the rim of the crater I could see the city, look down over Waikiki and the harbor and the jammed arterials, but up there it was quiet, and high enough into the rain forest so that a soft mist falls most of the day. One afternoon a couple came and left three plumeria leis on the grave of a California boy who had been killed, at nineteen, in 1945. The leis were already wilting by the time the woman finally placed them on the grave, because for a long time she only stood there and twisted them in her hands. On the whole I am able to take a very long view of death, but I think a great deal about what there is to remember, twenty-one years later, of a boy who died at nineteen. I saw no one else there but the men who cut the grass and the men who dig new graves, for they are bringing in bodies now from Vietnam. The graves filled last week and the week before that and even last month do not yet have stones, only plastic identification cards, streaked by the mist and splattered with mud. The earth is raw and trampled in that part of the crater, but the grass grows fast, up there in the rain cloud.

(From "Letter from Paradise, 21° 19' N., 157° 52' W.", in Slouching Towards Bethlehem.)

November 12, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

“A nowhere place that was easy to loathe.”

Guy Gunaratne, on the suburban London of his youth:

Neasden was never pretty – an unremarkable concrete outcrop between a dual carriageway and the North Circular. Somewhere on the way to Ikea. It’s the sort of place new immigrants land before moving to Kilburn, Cricklewood or Wembley. As a teenager, these neighbouring areas seemed far more compelling. Wembley had a Burger King. Cricklewood had a High Road and once, Doris Lessing. Kilburn had, for a time, Zadie Smith. What did Neasden have? It had a roundabout with a museum. A Tesco Express and a Tennessee Fried Chicken.

So many of these weekly Guardian pieces (all of which I love) tell of idyllic rural upbringings, with lonely moors, rushing streams and bucolic farmland, that reading this account of bland suburbia is actually quite refreshing. After all, more of us are from places like this than from the country.

And the funny thing is that, despite Gunaratne’s youthful envy, I would guess that people who grew up in Wembley, Cricklewood and Kilburn were probably just as disparaging about their own hometowns. They might have even envied Neasden for its Tennessee Fried Chicken. 

November 11, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Even more Gorey


This is quite wonderful - especially the cat episode. The Wickeys did a great job of capturing Gorey's drawing style.

Back in the mid-'90s, a student filmmaker named Christopher Seufert began to cast around for projects. A native of Cape Cod, Seufert kept hearing about Gorey, who lived a few miles away in the town of Yarmouth. After reading up on his work, Seufert arranged a meeting, gained Gorey’s trust, and began work on a film. Then, Gorey died.

Now, some 17 years later, Seufert’s documentary, tentatively titled “Gorey,” is close to completion. The animation seen here — animation that, like the rest of the series, is the work of son and father team Benjamin and Jim Wickey — was created from audio recordings of Gorey. These particular audio bits didn’t fit in Seufert’s film but we found them too delightful to just ignore.

I'm really looking forward to Seufert's documentary.

November 7, 2018 in Books, Film | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ben Hecht and Paul Dailing

Henry Justin Smith, on Ben Hecht, in the preface to A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago:

It was clear that he had sat up nights with those stories. He thumbed them over as though he hated to let them go. They were the first fruits of his Big Idea — the idea that just under the edge of the news as commonly understood, the news often flatly and unimaginatively told, lay life; that in this urban life there dwelt the stuff of literature, not hidden in remote places, either, but walking the downtown streets, peering from the windows of sky scrapers, sunning itself in parks and boulevards. He was going to be its interpreter.

Of course, that's hyperbole - nobody could ever be the interpreter of an entire city, especially one as vast and complex as Chicago. But Hecht did succeed in his inevitably narrowed focus - the book is wonderful.

I'm reminded of this quote from the penultimate post in Paul Dailing's blog 1,001 Chicago Afternoons, which chronicles (in 1,001 posts from April 2012 through last Friday) his encounters in seemingly every corner of the city, and hundreds of points in between. Dailing was heavily inspired by Hecht's premise, and in some sense took it further than Hecht (who gave up Chicago and journalism after only a few years, leaving for the bright lights of New York and Hollywood) ever did. I won't pretend that I intently read even a fraction of Dailing's posts - that's a ton of content, even spread over six and a half years - but those that I did read were never less than worthwhile. I'm tempted to read all the way through the blog, start to finish, or wait for what would be even better - the entire blog compiled into a single book.

November 5, 2018 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

”...nothing he could see, maybe only make-believe...”

So she took a paper napkin off the bar,
spit on it, and told him to hold still
while she carefully lifted his glasses,
leaving him half blind, and wiped
something off just above his left
cheekbone. "There," she said, handing
him back his glasses, "I got it," and even
with his glasses on, what she showed
him was nothing he could see, maybe
only make-believe. He thought, "Better
get out of here before it's too late," but
suspected too late was what he wanted.

- Philip Levine, from "Of Love and Other Disasters", collected in News of the World.

Interesting to note that The New Yorker published a slightly different version of this poem, which changed a handful of words here and there, most notably that "suspected" in the final line, for which the magazine version substituted "knew." The change of just one word leads to significantly different meanings. I prefer "suspected" - it suggests the man doesn't know exactly what he wants, but realizes that his worst impulses will probably lead him somewhere or with someone he shouldn't. And he's going there anyway.

Incidentally, while Barnes and Noble's selection usually leaves much to be desired, during a visit this weekend to the Bolingbrook store I was quite pleased to find and browse through both this Levine book and William Carlos Williams' Paterson.

November 5, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


“Literature is news that stays news.” - Ezra Pound

To answer Coe’s question: no. Fiction isn’t journalism. Fiction is about the long view, as he mentions. If a fiction writer succeeds in being timely and up-to-the-minute, many if not all of the references will be hopelessly dated by the time the book comes out, unless one happens to write about someone who ultimately turns out to be timeless, like Churchill or FDR. In just a few years, I doubt many people will remember or care who Nigel Farage or Michael Gove were. 

November 4, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)