The Books of My Numberless Dreams


Posted on: April 13, 2008

Yes, yes I’m still alive but am busy and also, frankly, not in a blogging mood. This will change as soon as I figure out how to write my first post on Walcott — I must string comments on a few poems together in a way that makes sense and doesn’t bore me to tears. This is harder than it sounds, at least for the first poem in the collection, Sea Grapes, as I find myself coming up with the tired “Walcott’s-conflict-with-mixed-heritage” yadda yadda which is probably all right but my thoughts on the other four poems are so much more interesting. And that may be because they take on and develop bits of “Sea Grapes”. If all else fails I’ll read what others have said as it seems to be one of his popular poems.

There is not much new, reading wise, as it is end of term and exam season so I had and still have a lot of glorious marking to look forward to. Undergrads always seem to have a lot of drama around this time too so I had to deal with one student who had a panic attack over a late assignment and another who came in asking for help on a topic but who ended up in tears about a boyfriend who made her “feel like shit”. Mmmmhhhmm. Worst, the Science student-run food shop is now closed so I no longer have access to 45¢ doughnuts or $1.00 Arizona teas.

Villette is now an odd companion read with the Walcott for he is very restrained and subtle, careful, while Lucy has just escaped from mental torment including suicidal thoughts — my goodness! How did the Victorian readership react to that? — as Volume I ends with her physical collapse on a strange street during a storm. It seemed a bit much after Walcott’s brief, laden lines on Sunday Lemons.

Brontë’s anti-Catholicism is also bothersome because it looms so largely in the story. For a moment or two I spitefully wished Lucy had succumbed to a priest’s kindness and ended up on her knees in a Carmelite nunnery in the Italian hills somewhere so I could point and laugh.

I’m having a harder time of explicating anything on contemporary prose. I finished a Dubus and the latest from Lydia Millet but cannot put anything down neither on screen or paper. A re-reading ought to fix things but I’m reluctant to do so for, in my impatience, I long for more and new not to go over the old. And I belatedly recall that I have Dreaming in Cuban to read for Slaves of Golconda, due at the end of the month. (I’ll probably reread. I’m less concerned about the Dubus than the Millet because on one level I enjoyed it and got what it was going for, more or less, on another there’s a stubborn gap between us. Listening to her Bat Segundo interview did not bridge it although it did cement the first impressions I had. Also, fun!)

Reading the World 2008 (via Literary Saloon) is here so if anyone needs ideas for translated reads (especially Chinese literature) do have a look around the site. The latest Bookforum (which had scads and scads of uninterrupted (ie no ads) fiction reviews in which I blissfully rolled around) reviewed one of FSG’s selections for the initiative: The GIrl on the Fridge by Etgar Keret, translated by Miriam Shlesinger and Sondra Silverston. The best surprise this issue was the review of Rudy Wurlitzer’s latest novel The Drop Edge of Yonder, his first in 20+ years. I read a novel excerpt of Nog (to be reissued in 2009 according to the review) in The Paris Review No. 38 and my interest in eventually reading his fiction never faded. Another Paris Review contributor’s book is with Reading the World: The Corpse Walker by Yiwu Liao, translated by Huang Wen, published by Knopf, and one of the books I am sure to get (along with The Diving Pool).

11 Responses to "Alive"

Charlotte Brontë as a Carmelite, that would be rich!

Ha! I actually meant that to refer to Lucy Snow and not poor Charlotte, even though that priest scene is said to be based on her actual experience.


As always, your wonderful irreverence is like mental seltzer, refreshing a thirst a you didn’t even know you had till you tasted it.

Ah, my mistake. I’ve forgotten the priest scene, but I don’t think I can stomach reading Villette again for a reminder. I’m glad to hear even a non-Catholic finds Brontë’s anti-Catholicism in Villette to be a bore.

Jacob you’re welcome, always happy to serve. 🙂

Syvlia it might as well be either considering how so much of the book is based on Bronte’s experience, if the footnotes are correct. (They mostly cite Gaskell’s biography.)

Oh, the priest scene was just awful. Lucy is this close to offing herself so in desperation she runs to a Catholic church and goes to confession; she needs to share her troubles with a sympathetic human. The priest was wonderful to her (if a bit pushy with his Catholic solution but consider the source) and, after being consoled, Lucy leaves, smugly assuring the reader that she never considered accepting his invitation to meet again for further counsel and help. “As soon should I have thought of walking into a Babylonish furnace.” But she did circle and circle around to the fact that he was a nice man and she wished him the best.

How kind of you, Lucy, truly we non-English are not worthy to touch the hem of your dowdy Protestant robes.

My heart still aches for her and Charlotte’s prose is technically excellent but I’m afraid the pervasive bigotry will prevent it from surpassing Jane Eyre for me.

Jacob told me I’d know how you feel, imani, and I do! Bon courage for the slog through the exam period. It always has a deadening effect on creativity!

In reading the snippet of Sunday Lemons I was reminded of how much prose writers can learn from poets. Poets are always faced with the struggle of economy- they have to whip up the equivalent of four course, four star meals in the world’s barest kitchens. There’s this saying (Mark Twain I think) that pops up all the time in fiction writing workshops: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Poets are in the daily business of finding exactly the write word.



Good luck with the Walcott! It is rather trite, isn’t it? Walcott’s language and imagery is subtle, beautiful, but when you read criticism on him you encounter the mixed heritage bit time and time again. For once, I’d like to hear someone comment on his use of terza rima in The Bounty or his rich blank verse in The Schooner Flight.

litlove thanks so much for the encouragement! This is the first time my blog has gone through exam period so it was something to get used to.

Armand oh, you’re always leaving such thoughtful comments. 🙂 Thank you. I agree with you about their careful economy and perhaps this is why I find it so jarring against Villette in which Charlotte B. is approaching Emily B.-like melodrama.

Brian yes, yes, I completely agree. I do have some things to say about his use of rhythm and what not and I *think* I’ve found a way into the poem that works for me and isn’t *so* predictable, although I haven’t been able to leave it completely behind.

Your mention of Walcott took me back years when I had the pleasure of hearing him read his own work. He is as good a performer as he is a poet. I’ll be really interested in what you have to say about him.

Your wish is my command. 😉 I just did my first post on him today.

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