February 18, 2011

Awful Poetry

Some years ago, my friend Lionel Thompson turned me on to The Stuffed Owl, a wonderful collection of terrible writing, which has been reissued by New York Review Books. Here are some gems:

“Dust to dust, and ashes to ashes:
Into the tomb the Great Queen dashes.”

an anonymous Indian poet

“So we leave her,
So we leave her,
Far from where her swarthy kinsfolk roam;
In the Scarlet Fever,
Scarlet Fever,
Scarlet Fever Convalescent Home.”


“She sat with her guitar on her knee,
But she was not singing a note,
For someone had drawn (ah, who could it be?)
A knife across her throat.”

Lord Lytton

“Holy Moses! Have a look!
Flesh decayed in every nook!
Some rare bits of brain lie here,
Mortal loads of beef and beer,
Some of whom are turned to dust,
Every one bids lost to lust;
Royal flesh so tinged with 'blue'
Undergoes the same as you.”

Amanda McKittrick Ross (Possibly the worst writer who ever lived. The Inklings used to hold competitions to see who could read her poetry for the longest without laughing.)

“Of composts shall the Muse disdain to sing?
Then, planter, wouldst thou double thy estate,
Never, ah! Never, be ashamed to tread
Thy dung-heaps . . .”

—James Grainger

And here's my own addition, from A.S. Byatt's otherwise fabulous Possession:

“Others in a heavy Vase
Raise darkly scented Wine -
This warm and squirted White
In solid Pot - was mine . . .”

February 9, 2011

Hyper Hundred!

The Book on Fire has been chosen as one of the hundred best sci-fi and fantasy novels of 2010 at the influential SF Crowsnest! I'm delighted.

February 8, 2011

Carved Books

Julia Fields makes these extraordinary objects by cutting through books. See more here. Some are available for purchase here.

February 3, 2011

Lafcadio Hearn

A reader recently queried me about the ghost story I purloined from Lafcadio Hearn and used in The Book of Flying. I'd forgotten which one it was, so had to order the book through inter-library loan. It was in an essay called "The Chief City of the Province of the Gods." Here it is:

"In Nakabaramachi there is an ameya, or little shop in which midzu-ame is sold,―the amber-tinted syrup, made of malt, which is given to children when milk cannot be obtained for them. Every night at a late hour there came to that shop a very pale woman, all in white, to buy one rin worth of midzu-ame. The ame-seller wondered that she was so thin and pale, and often questioned her kindly; but she answered nothing. At last one night he followed her, out of curiosity. She went to the cemetery; and he became afraid and returned.

"The next night the woman came again, but bought no midzu-ame, and only beckoned to the man to go with her. He followed her, with friends, into the cemetery. She walked to a certain tomb, and there disappeared; and they heard, under the ground, the crying of a child. Opening the tomb, they saw within it the corpse of the woman who nightly visited the ameya, with a living infant, laughing to see the lantern light, and beside the infant a little cup of midzu-ame. For the mother had been prematurely buried; the child was born in the tomb, and the ghost of the mother had thus provided for it,―love being stronger than death.

Hearn had an interesting life. His father was Irish, his mother Greek. He moved to the States at nineteen, and became a writer. He was apparently pretty odd-looking. He'd lost an eye in an accident, and the other was enlarged. He was also very short. Perhaps due to his "monstrous" appearance, he was fascinated by the macabre, reporting on crime, and interested in ghosts. He married (illegally at the time) a black woman, was forced from his position as a journalist when that was discovered, and then divorced her. He wrote about New Orleans and Martinique, but found his calling in Japan, where he married a Japanese woman, became a teacher, and settled down. His writings on Japan are just wonderful. They are in the public domain, and may be downloaded here.


After I posted this, another reader wondered if Shel Silverstein's lion was named after Hearne. I'm not sure if he was directly, but Hearne was apparently the first person to bear the name, which was taken from Lefkada, the Greek island where he was born.

Protecting the Bibliotheca Alexandrina

People have formed a human chain around the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (the new Library of Alexandria) to protect it from looters. More pictures here.

February 1, 2011

Egypt on Fire

via Reuters

As the momentous events continue to unfold in Egypt, I have been struck by the basically decent responses of most Egyptians. After days of trying to call, we finally managed to contact friends in Beni Suef, both Muslim and Christian. They have spent all their money on food and are barricaded in their houses. The young men of each block gather every morning to patrol their neighborhood, turning looters over to the army. I was heartened to read that citizens, on their own initiative, organized to protect the Egyptian Museum.

On the Bibliotheca Alexandrina website, director Ismail Serageldin writes:

"The young people organized themselves into groups that directed traffic, protected neighborhoods and guarded public buildings of value such as the Egyptian Museum and the Library of Alexandria. They are collaborating with the army. This makeshift arrangement is in place until full public order returns.

"The library is safe thanks to Egypt’s youth, whether they be the staff of the Library or the representatives of the demonstrators, who are joining us in guarding the building from potential vandals and looters."

Libraries in Egypt, it seems, are always in danger. One could argue that cutting off the net, as Mubarak has done, is a modern form of book-burning.

Of course, I can't help but note that the scenes at the end of The Book on Fire, with Alexandria burning and running battles in the streets, seem to be coming to life. Those scenes were inspired partly by the events I witnessed in 2006, when Coptic Christians were stabbed in several churches and inter-religious tensions were running high. So far, in the current events, the religious element has been somewhat submerged under the general euphoria, but it will certainly play a huge role in the coming months.

I hope that the outcome of the present struggle is peaceful and results in greater freedom and stability, and that the libraries of Egypt, in whatever form, emerge from the fires with new wings . . .

Catherynne Valente on Persephone

On Catherynne M. Valente's Livejournal blog, she has a lovely post on her obsession with and affinity for Persephone (Proserpine/Proserpina). As always, I'm struck by Valente's extraordinarily supple prose, and her deep intelligence. The Persephone myth has always resonated for me as well, and (skewed and co-opted), informs The Book on Fire. The picture above is one of my favorites: Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Proserpine.