Sunday, July 19, 2015

Reader for hire ~ Raymond Jean

When a friend suggests to Marie-Constance, that as she has a beautiful voice she should offer her services as a reader, Marie mulls this over and comes to the conclusion, that it’s not a bad idea.  Although when she goes to place a small add offering her services as a professional reader – she receives the advice that people, particularly men may misconstrue what she is offering. This turns out to be fairly good advice, but Marie-Constance, sees things differently & wants to proceed with the add placement and her new chosen career.

Through Marie, we meet a cast of characters that have their own agendas and own ideas of what they want from her, from the wheelchair bound teen who’s more interested in her thighs than her reciting Maupassant, to a Hungarian countess who wants to feel like a revolutionary by having Marie read her Karl Marx whilst the servant pours tea.  Then there’s the overworked businessman who would prefer Marie to make love to him, whilst she reads & the magistrate who wants to spend his retirement with the complete works of De Sade read to him by Marie-Constance, of course.

Through reading Marie gains a certain power over her clients although this is a bit of a two-way street because, as a cipher for her clients desires, this is limited to those areas and also creates situations where she has no control leading her into conflict with the local constabulary and a certain officer, who disapproves of what she does & thinks that she is a danger to society.

Reader for Hire was originally published in 1986 as La Lectrice by the French author Raymond Jean, and two years later made into a film directed by Michel Deville, becoming a cinema hit starring famous French actress Miou-Miou. If this wasn't already a film, my suggestion is that it would make a good one, something like a European version of Fifty Shades of Grey”. Something that would capture the sensuality and subtle nuance of this book that would delight in the sexuality of human nature without denigrating it to some puerile level, but that would also show the humour and that ambience that can only be described as “French”. This book is pure comic farce, with the knowing innocence & male fantasy figure of Marie-Constance, then the writer’s placing of her into the various roles called on by the other characters - creating a light-hearted romp that whilst making you smile at each situation she finds herself in, also highlights the power and joy of reading and the inherent wonder of being read to.

Why Peirene chose to publish this book:

'The premise of the story is brilliant: a woman who loves reading aloud acquires – without realizing – power over others. What’s true for her clients becomes real for you, the reader of this book. As you turn the pages, think of Marie-Constance as the personification of ‘reading’ itself. And I promise you an experience you will never forget.' Meike Ziervogel

Raymond Jean:

 (1925–2012) wrote more than 40 books during his lifetime – novels, short-story collections and essays. He was awarded the Prix Goncourt de la nouvelle in 1983. His novella La Lectrice (Reader for Hire) became a cinema hit starring Miou-Miou. The film won the César Award for Best Supporting Actor and was named the best feature at the 1988 Montreal World Film Festival.

Adriana Hunter:

 Has translated over 50 books from French, including works by Agnès Desarthe, Véronique Ovalde and Hervé Le Tellier. She has already translated for Peirene, Beside the Sea by Véronique Olmi, for which she won the 2011 Scott Moncrieff Prize, and Under the Tripoli Sky by Kamal Ben Hameda. Adriana has been short-listed twice for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

Peirene Press

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Isolation of Two Billion Light Years & Beyond (Tanikawa Shuntarō)

In 1952 Tanikawa Shuntarō published The Isolation of Two Billion Light Years, and was hailed as the first poet of the post-war generation. The following year he founded the Kai (Oar) group with fellow writers such as Yoshino HiroshiOoka Makoto & Kawasaki Hiroshi. Members of the Kai School were lyric poets, expressing the new hopes of the Japanese at this time and acting as a counterpoint to the nihilism of the Arechi (Wasteland) poets, who took the name of their school from T.S Eliot’s work, as it chimed with the desolation of the landscape and the prevailing atmosphere of doom that was apparent just after the war.

1952, was the year that marked the end of the Occupation by Allied Forces begun in 1945, and the nation was on the path to recovery from the war’s devastation lead by its new democratic constitution. Creating a political climate that could generate hope & a new creative outpouring within the society.  This was the background to the publication of The Isolation of Two Billion Light Years, which catapulted Tanikawa Shuntarō, to the forefront of Japan’s literary scene making him popular with both the public and critics.

Two Billion Light-Years of Solitude
 Human beings on this small orb
sleep, waken and work, and sometimes
wish for friends on Mars.

I've no notion
what Martians do on their small orb 
(neririing or kiruruing or hararaing)
But sometimes they like to have friends on Earth.
No doubt about that.

Universal gravitation is the power of solitudes
pulling each other.

Because the universe is distorted,
we all seek for one another.

Because the universe goes on expanding,
we are all uneasy.

With the chill of two billion light-years of solitude,
I suddenly sneezed.

                                                         (Translated by William I. Elliott and Kazao Kawamura)

Tanikawa Shuntarō (谷川 俊太郎) was born December 15, 1931 in Tokyo City, Japan, the son of the philosopher Tetsuzō Tanikawa  and a concert pianist, spending his formative years as a citizen of an occupied nation. He was mostly self-educated, never attended college and began publishing his poetry at around the age of nineteen, quickly rising to prominence amongst the newly forming literary scene. Along with a lot of his contemporaries he came to believe that traditional Japanese poetry was too restrictive, antiquated and didn't reflect the prevailing ideology. They believed that the traditional Japanese culture had been swept aside by the war & was no longer relevant to the reality faced by their generation. Turning to western ideas & poetry he sought to redefine a more universal ideal that would encompass the idea of what he has described as a "universal consciousness."

Anonym 1
 If I stay silent 
I must say I am silent 
If I cannot write 
I must write that I cannot write 

 That’s the spirit 
However drained I feel 
I am a man 
not by virtue of a single tree 
not by virtue of a single bird 
only by virtue of a single word 

I do not hope to have you give me an answer 
You can simply lean on a chair 
You can simply rely on the mass of men 

But I will give my own answer 
to the light that is about to dissolve into the woods 
to the scream I could not hear, to silence
                                                     (Translated by, Takako Lento)

Apart from publishing over 60 books of poetry (winning every major Japanese award), in styles as diverse as lyrical, analytical, prose, epic poems, satirical poems and experimenting with whatever form took his fancy, he has also written award winning plays, penned songs & theme tunes such as the theme to Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, and translated Mother Goose and Charles Schulz's Peanuts into Japanese. He was nominated for the 2008 Hans Christian Andersen Award for his contributions to children's literature & is amongst a rare group of individuals who is a frequent subject of speculations regarding the Nobel Prize in Literature and is one of the most widely read and highly regarded of living Japanese poets, both in Japan and abroad.

An Impossible Approach to a Glass  

It often takes a cylindrical shape with a base, but not a top. It is a depression that stands erect. It is a defined space closed to face a centre of gravity. It can hold a certain pre-defined amount of liquid without letting the liquid disperse within the earth’s gravitation. When only the air fills it we say it is empty, but even then its outline is shown clearly by light, and the existence of its mass can be confirmed by a level-headed glance, without relying on instruments.

When tapped by fingers, it vibrates to generate sound. At times the sound is used as a signal; at rare occasions, as a unit in music. But the resonance has a sort of stubborn self-satisfaction beyond utility and assaults our ears. It is placed on a dining table. Also it is grabbed by a person’s hand. It often slips out of a person’s hand. In fact it hides a possibility of becoming a weapon, as it can easily be intentionally broken into pieces.

But after it is broken into pieces, it does not cease to exist. Even if, at that moment, all of its kind on earth were broken to smithereens, we could not escape from it. Even though it is named in a different orthography in each specific cultural confine, it already exists as a fixed idea shared among all. So, even if we were forbidden, accompanied with extreme forms of punishment, to actually make it (with glass, wood, iron, or clay), we would not be free from the nightmare that it does exist.

It is a tool used mainly to quench thirst. But in spite of the fact that, under some extreme circumstances, it functions no better than two palms put together to create a depression, it undoubtedly exists silently as a thing of beauty, in the context of current diversified human lives, at times under the morning sunlight, at times under artificial lighting.

Our intelligence, our experience, and our technology gave birth to it on this earth and named it. We point to it by a string of sounds as if that were a matter of course. Yet, as to what it really is, people may not necessarily have accurate knowledge.
                                                                                        (Translated by Takako Lento)

As one of the most prominent writers of his generation Tanikawa Shuntarō, could quite easily sit back on his laurels & relax into his dotage, but he is a keen supporter of his fellow poets actively promoting and supporting the translation of their works aiding the spread and understanding of Japanese poetry onto the world stage. He has taken part in poetry readings and festivals around the globe and has worked in collaboration with various international writers creating Renshi poems inspired by those pioneered by Makoto Ōoka. His poetry has been widely translated into Mongolian, Korean, Chinese and most Eastern and Western European languages, his Floating the River in Melancholy, translated by William I. Eliott and Kazuo Kawamura, won the American Book Award in 1989.

Epitaph for “Poet’s Tomb” 

“I, infinite silence, will grant you words” [God Contemplates Man]  —Jules Supervielle
 When I was born
I was nameless
like a water molecule
But right away I was fed vowels mouth-to-mouth
consonants tickled my ears
I was called and
pulled away from the cosmos

Oscillating the atmosphere
carved onto clay tablets
inscribed on bamboo
recorded on sand
words are onion skins
If I keep on peeling
I will not find the cosmos

I would have loved to lose words
to be a tree singing in the wind
I would have loved to be a cloud from a hundred thousand years ago
I would have loved to be a whale’s song
Now I go back to being nameless
with dirt over my eyes, my ears and my mouth
with stars leading me by the fingers

 Giving People Poems (trans. by W. I. Elliott & K. Kawamura), Saru / Katydid Books, 2005

Selected Poems (trans. by Leith Morton), Vagabond Press, Sydney, 2006

Watashi (trans. by W. I. Elliott & K. Kawamura), Vagabond Press, Sydney, 2010

The Art of Being Alone: Poems 1952-2009 (trans. by Takako U. Lento), Cornell East Asia Series, 2011

With Silence My Companion (trans. by W. I. Elliott & K. Kawamura), Prescott Street Press, 1975

At Midnight in the Kitchen I Just Wanted to Talk to You (trans. by W. I. Elliott & K. Kawamura), Prescott Street Press, 1980

The Selected Poems of Shuntaro Tanikawa (trans. by H. Wright), North Point Press, 1983

Coca-Cola Lessons (trans. by W. I. Elliott & K. Kawamura), Prescott Street Press, 

Floating in the River in Melancholy (trans. by W. I. Elliott & K. Kawamura), Prescott Street Press, 1988 

Songs of Nonsense (trans. by W. I. Elliott & K. Kawamura), Seidosha, 1991 [English/Japanese version of Yoshinashiuta]

62 Sonnets & Definitions (trans. by W. I. Elliott & K. Kawamura), Katydid Books, 1992

Naked (trans. by W. I. Elliott & K. Kawamura), Stone Bridge Press/Saru Press International, 1996 [English/Japanese version of Hadaka]

Two Billion Light-Years of Solitude (trans. by W. I. Elliott & K. Kawamura),

Shuntaro Tanikawa: Selected Poems (trans. by W. I. Elliott & K. Kawamura) Carcanet Press 1998/ Persea Books 2001 

Looking Down (trans. by Y. Yaguchi & G. Tyeryar), Kyoubunsha, 2000 [English/Japanese version of Utsumuku Seinen with a reading CD]

On Love (trans. by W. I. Elliott & K. Kawamura), Minato no Hito, 2003 [English/Japanese version of Ai ni Tsuite]

The Naif 
(trans. by W. I. Elliott & K. Kawamura), Katydid Books, 2004

Listening (trans. by W. I. Elliott & K. Kawamura), Kyoubunsha, 2004 

And Then 
 When it is summer
cicadas cry

fireworks are
in my memory

a distant country is
hazy, but
the Cosmos is right in front of my nose

what divine grace —
a man
can die

leaving behind
just a conjunction:
and then

          (Takako U. Lento)

Sunday, July 5, 2015


“Locked away in a dimly lit cellar in a provincial Polish town, the writer Bruno Schulz is composing a letter to Thomas Mann, warning him of a sinister impostor who has deceived the gullible inhabitants of Drohobycz. In return, he's hoping that the great writer might help him to escape - from his apocalyptic visions, his bird-brained students, the imminent Nazi invasion, and a sadistic sports mistress called Helena.”

 This is a strange book to write about - within its 90 odd pages (pun intended) there is the main story & two short tales (Birds & Cinnamon shops) by the owner of the aforementioned head. This novella manages to blend slight biography with a surreal melange of myth and fiction. It takes elements from the real life of Bruno Schulz & adds elements drawn from his own take on fiction, almost as if he was channelling the spirit of Schultz.  We have children that are birds pecking at his basement window, a sadistic teacher that appears to have undying believe in his writing & a willingness to punish Schulz for his own lack of belief and a Thomas Mann imposter that appears to have all the citizens of Schulz’s hometown (Drohobycz) enthralled and at his beck and call, like some circus ringmaster. This small book has a strangeness that strays far from whimsy, in fact this is in the territory of Hieronymus Bosch, with our ringmaster/Thomas Mann imposter inviting the town’s people of Drohobycz to his residence, which is a bathroom but is the size of a large school hall. This room has no fixtures but showers & everyone is naked as the false Mann wanders round whipping all and sundry whilst smoke pours out of the shower heads.

 It also turns out that the imposter is an agent of the secret police & has been placed in the town by the Nazis as a propagator of mischief, fear & confusion, to lay the path for an invasion.

Pushkin published this alongside two short stories by Schulz himself, 'Birds' and 'Cinnamon Shops', whether this was to give the reader an idea of Schulz’s own writing, to give one the background to Maxim Biller’s tale, or to bulk out what would have been a really small book, I don’t know. What I do know is that as a taster it makes me want to find out more about this strange writers headspace. 

As to the lead story, that was a short surreal trip to the dark side of the mind, that leaves you with little more than an impression, but I like that, not all stories need to lead you down the path holding your hand & providing you with all the answers, some tales merely provide an ambience and I'm fine with that, this tale leaves you with a foreboding and yet despite that there is a humour here, a dark scabrous, twisted & erotic humour – but still a humour..

Maxim Biller, is a critically acclaimed novelist, short story writer and journalist. He was born in Prague in 1960, but emigrated with his family to Germany in 1970 and now lives in Berlin. He is the author of several story collections - with two stories published in the New Yorker - and two novels, Esra and The Daughter. He is also a columnist for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung and Die Zeit, and a recipient of the Theodor Wolff Prize, one of the most prestigious German awards for journalism.

Bruno Schulz (1892 –1942) was a Polish writer, fine artist, literary critic and art teacher born to Jewish parents. He is regarded as one of the great Polish-language prose stylists of the 20th century. In 1938, he was awarded the Polish Academy of Literature's prestigious Golden Laurel award. Several of Schulz's works have been lost in the Holocaust, including short stories from the early 1940s and his final, unfinished novel The Messiah. Schulz was shot and killed by a German Nazi in 1942 while walking back home toward Drohobycz Ghetto with a loaf of bread.

Anthea Bell is an acclaimed translator of German and French literature, and is known for her translations of  W G Sebald’s Austerlitz, for which she won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2002, as well as the much-loved Asterix books. She has worked on numerous Stefan Zweig books for Pushkin Press, including Beware of Pity, and Burning Secret, for which she won the Schlegel-Tieck Prize in 2010.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

GRINNING JACK ~*~ Brian Patten

Johnny learns the language

         in order to explain myself
 I locked myself away
with an old alphabet,
with the hand-me-down phrases for which
I had no use but to which
I was already addicted.

while considering how absurd it was
that everything has a name
I discovered that the mayfly
was weighed down by a single vowel.
Under the threat of not being understood
I began to understand
how words were the nets in which
what I was floundered.

you come with your bowl of words,
fat words, puffed up with kindness.
And father
you come with your silences in which
words sneak about like thieves.

I am learning your language.
“Loss” “Defeat” “Regret” ---
Without understanding
You would have these be
the blueprints for my future.
(Grinning Jack)

This poem beautifully and poignantly encapsulates the idea that what we are is defined by our language & how we, in trying to escape it’s net, slowly realise that the threads wind round our very DNA, that the language we imbibe as babes in arms forms the chemistry of our adult self and escape is not an option, at most all we do is redefine.

Brian Patten is a poet that has long been a…… No I won’t say long been a favourite, but has long formed part of how I define myself as a lover of poetry.  

He is one of those poets that for a reason I cannot answer, just makes me shiver and shiver at some elemental level. 

I was a latecomer to his poetry, not really discovering him until sometime in the early 1990s, through the anthology Collected Love Poems (first pub’ 1981) this book went all over Germany with me, became a talisman that I carried from job to job, became a way for me to define a stage of my life and a key to break free from it and move on to what would prove to be my future.

And heart is daft
WITHOUT understanding any pain but that
    which inside her anyway is made,
this creature singled out creates
havoc with intelligence. And heart is daft,
is some crazy bird let loose and blind
that slaps against the night and has
never anywhere to go. And when a tongue’s
about to speak some nonsense like
“Love is weak, or blind, or both” then comes
this crazy bird, pecks at it like a worm.
(Collected love Poems)

This book was also one of the very first books of poetry featured on this blog, way back in 2010 and I stated that “This is a book full of beautiful images, of wide eyed wonder with the sheer beauty, terror of the collections subject matter.” .......

Grinning Jack (first pub’1990), is made up of poetry spanning three decades of Brian Patten’s writing. The poems are drawn from and replace a number of earlier collections - creating a companion volume to Love Poems. The poetry in Grinning Jack takes us on a journey from those childhood moments in some playground, through the wonder and angst of adolescence and ends with an adult lamenting the loss of close friends. This is a tale of growing up, growing old and growing disillusioned, but it is also much more than that, as Charles Causley once said of Patten he;

"Reveals a sensibility profoundly aware of the ever-present possibility of the magical and the miraculous, as well as of the granite-hard realities. These are undiluted poems, beautifully calculated, informed - even in their darkest moments - with courage and hope."

It is this juxtaposition of the fantastic with the mundane reality of existence that runs through his poetry, where one moment magic is revealed to be the prevalent force inhabiting our world, and in the next for death to raise his macabre hand reminding us that for all that is of wonder, the flipside is blood and guts, the entrails that make up the stark reality, the apparent meaningless that life sometimes demonstrates.

The necessary slaughter
THERE WAS a bird come recently. When I went into my
I saw it balanced on the open window.
It was a thin bird, I dreamt worms for it
And in the morning it was fatter
And the next night for the worms
I dreamt rich soil, and then other creatures,
those that could not fly but now had ground on which to walk
all came and waited round my bed.
I dreamt for them what they needed,
The bird the worm, the fox, the hen, etc., etc.
Right up to the two-legged creature.
Sadly the more they came the more
I had to dream for them each other’s murder
Till my dreams became a planet and that planet called
The necessary slaughter

Brian Patten, wrote a prose poem entitled “Prose poem towards a definition of itself”,

“When in public poetry should take off its clothes and wave to the nearest person in sight; it should be seen in the company of thieves and lovers rather than that of journalists and publishers. On sighting mathematicians it should unhook the algebra from their minds and replace it with poetry; on sighting poets it should unhook poetry from their minds and replace it with algebra; it should fall in love with children and woo them with fairy tales; it should wait on the landing for two years for its mates to come home then go outside and find them all dead.

When the electricity fails it should wear dark glasses and pretend to be blind. It should guide all those who are safe into the middle of busy roads and leave them there. It should shout EVIL! EVIL! From the roof of all stock exchanges. It should not pretend to be a clerk or librarian. It is the eventual sameness of all contradictions. It should never weep until it is alone and only then after it ha
s covered all the mirrors and sealed all the cracks.

Poetry should seek out couples and wander with them into stables, neglected bedrooms and engineless cars for a final Good Time. It should enter burning factories too late to save anyone. It should pay no attention to its real name.

Poetry should be seen lying by the side of road accidents, be heard hissing from unlit gas rings. It should write the teacher’s secret on a blackboard, offer her a worm saying, inside this is a tiny apple.

Poetry should play hopscotch in the 6 pm streets and look for jinks in other people’s dustbins. At dawn it should leave the bedroom and catch the first bus home. It should be seen standing on the ledge of a skyscraper, on a bridge with a brick tied around its heart. It is the monster hiding in a child’s dark room, it is the scar on a beautiful man’s face. It is the last blade of grass being picked from the city park.”

I believe he achieved this and more through his words. He is a poet that has meant a lot to me, has become one of a small selection of poets that define how I see poetry, has become, I guess, a signifier pointing a way for me to define my relationship with the world/word, and as stated above – we may not escape the language imbibed whilst young, but we can find means of redefining our relationship to it, and to me personally this writer, was one of my means.

Brian Patten was born in 1946 in Liverpool, and grew up in a working class neighbourhood, now long demolished. He left school at fifteen, becoming a junior reporter on The Bootle Times, where he wrote a popular music column. One of his first pieces included a report about McGough and Henri. At sixteen he edited and produced the magazine underdog, which gave a platform to the underground poets in Liverpool at that time, and which went on to print the work of international poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Andrei Voznesensky. 

He made his name in the 1960s as one of the Liverpool Poets, alongside Adrian Henri and Roger McGough. Their main aim was to make poetry immediate and accessible for their audience, and their joint anthology, The Mersey Sound (1967), has been credited as the most significant anthology of the twentieth century for its success in bringing poetry to new audiences, and is now a Penguin Modern Classic.

His first solo collection was Little Johnny's Confessions 1967, published when he was twenty-one years old. Since then he has published numerous collections, including Vanishing Trick (1976) Armada (1996), which includes some of his most striking poems, focusing on the death of his mother and his memories of childhood. Penguin publish his Selected Poems and Harper Perennial one of his most important books, The Collected Love Poems. Brian Patten's poems have since been translated into many European languages.

Cosmic misery
IN THE MORNING I get up and there is nothing to do
   I tell myself it is only temporary

In the afternoons I am bored I dislike what I am
I tell myself it is only temporary

In the evening I meet a woman I no longer care for
I tell myself it is only temporary

At night alone confused I listen to my heart beating
I tell myself it is only te
(Grinning Jack)