Wednesday 30 May 2012

A.L. Kennedy

I've read quite a lot of A.L.Kennedy's work over the years. I found "Day" difficult initially. Now I think it might be her best book but the other ones are always interesting. I prefer the short stories that she wrote in the 1990s to the earlier and later ones. As reading experiences her books sometimes disappoint me because too often the characters (perhaps because of shared pre-occupations or states of mind) sound much like each other. Perhaps material that used to enliven her stories now goes elsewhere, leaving her stories more monotone.

It's easy to find material by and about her. Her output includes short stories, novels, film criticism, cultural commentary, stage play, radio drama, film screenplay, newspaper journalism, radio and TV discussion programmes, and she's contributed to dance productions and TV drama documentaries. Her Guardian blog has interesting material, and her comments on reviews are fun. On YouTube you can find her doing stand-up

Kaye Mitchell's book will give you an overview. In it you'll find lists of Kennedy's recurring themes and this interesting quote on p.123 "I believe in God, I believe in love - they probably make very little sense without meaning much the same thing".

Here's a list of my notes

Monday 28 May 2012

Litrefs Quotes

I've put my list of 1277 literary quotes into blogger at Litrefs Quotes. Feel free to use them for articles, essays, etc.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Writing and psychological distance

  • "Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot" - Chaplin et al
  • "a poet even as falling down the stairs, will observe his fall" - Holub
  • "The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity" - Wittgenstein.
  • "you must hide profundity. Where? On the surface" - Hofmannsthal

Some people have little resistance to changing their psychological distance from events. As a result they may be accused of adopting "inappropriate" positions or performing disruptive switches of perspective. They may be viewed as detached, prying, over-analytical or over-familiar, of taking things out of context, of not seeing the wood for the trees, or vice versa. The results may be amusing (the "Pull-Back-And-Reveal Gag"), anti-social or (because it's non-standard, non-linear) considered artistic - zooming in on alliteration, a grain of sand or brushstrokes, then pulling back for the big picture, seeing ourselves as others see us; watching a tear trickle down your lover's face, psychologically withdrawing but not turning away; a penchant for synecdoches.

The easy passage between extremes of scale may also lead to a lack of appreciation of the distance that the psychologically astigmatic might feel between them. Agile zoomers might see the surface as little more "obvious" than the depths. Making poorly hidden secrets or assumptions explicit may be stating the obvious to some, but to others it may come as a shock. Bringing the cosmic into the everyday may cause eyeballs to roll.

I think people with the gift might be drawn to Poetry, seeing it as a legitimizing vehicle for their natural tendencies (though perhaps Art might suit them better). The person's instinctive zooming movements may be adroit in the eyes of the audience, or they may appear medically symptomatic, disorganised. Controlling this gift is what transforms the juxtaposed, multiple viewpoints into art or comedy. The person may need to rewrite (re-order and re-integrate the source material) before it "works" for others.

Is this gift of rapid perspective-changing useful for writers? I think it helps when gathering material - they can happily dive into new experiences knowing that they can make a rapid psychological retreat if necessary. I think awareness and orchestration of the multiple perspectives is useful for writers of many persuasions - not just stream-of-consciousness writers. The speed isn't necessary, though it may assist the integration of the different perspectives.

Friday 4 May 2012

Conformity and success - some poetry articles

Jon Stone's Pluralism versus Selectivity considers some pros and cons of ecumenical anthologies. Todd Swift wrote of "Identity Parade" that "What is odd is how this compression of talent ... manages to diminish even the larger figures in the midst of the pack, who feel a bit crushed in the crowd" and David Kennedy wrote that "anthologies with a relatively small number of poets tend to reflect exhaustion, a coming conservatism, or a combination of both".

Marjorie Perloff's Poetry on the Brink: Reinventing the Lyric looks at how "The demand for a certain kind of prize-winning, ‘well-crafted’ poem has produced extraordinary uniformity", how new names replace old names, though the poetry's the same. "the lack of consensus about the poetry of the postwar decades has led not, as one might have hoped, to a cheerful pluralism animated by noisy critical debate about the nature of lyric, but to the curious closure exemplified by the Dove anthology"

She adds that "the poems you will read in American Poetry Review or similar publications will, with rare exceptions, exhibit the following characteristics: 1) irregular lines of free verse, with little or no emphasis on the construction of the line itself ...; 2) prose syntax with lots of prepositional and parenthetical phrases, laced with graphic imagery or even extravagant metaphor ...; 3) the expression of a profound thought or small epiphany"

Peter Riley's Poetry Prize Culture and the Aberdeen Angus also identifies a formula for success - "the first-person singular is very prominent as mediator between the poem’s material and the reader. ... the poetry is basically subjective and the process at work is, typically, one of internalisation ... an insistent metaphorism, sometimes remote but generally clever or arty ... initial obliquity, teasing the reader with an almost riddle-like opening which is later solved ... the avoidance of idiolect or dialect, as too of disrupted syntax, neologisms, references beyond the cultural sphere, and avoidance indeed of any serious degree of abstract thought ... heavy end-rhyming, argumentation, or flashy displays of street-wise contemporaneity"