May 31, 2012

Eileen Myles on Charles Dickens

I always date people who turn me on to great books. Often not right away. Sometimes right away. An ex said Bleak House was of great interest to Marxists. And now my beloved Leopoldine had Bleak House by Charles Dickens on her shelf. We were auditioning candidates for the reading aloud before bed spot. I read the first chapter of Bleak House and I was so elated by the flow which was utterly English, a thing I mostly have no use for and yet in Bleak House I was in the poetry of it. I would claim that the best English poetry is in English prose though I will also say that I was doing a studio visit in Rotterdam last week and a young artist asked if he could read me some Jeremy Prynne who Lisa Robertson had introduced him to and I was also taken by the compressed and odd music of Prynne’s work. But Dickens. He’s funny. He nails people in these flash character portraits but you know I think it was generally the landscape that mostly took me:

The sun was low – near setting – and its light came redly in above, without descending to the ground.

And soon after that the human landscape: Mr. Jarndyce, it is very kind of you to come to see me. I am not long to be seen, I think.

Dickens wrote in time where people talked like that - Death was perhaps a matter of going off stage – for good. Or else least people aspired to talking like that. Since it’s all that there was language was in everyone’s ears. I think of the 19th c. as having talk, and landscape, and a wealth disparity as grand as ours. So to be in Dickens observant colloquial world of this book (and it took me months to read) was to be both more and less at home in ours. In 1853 when Bleak House appeared the world still spoke richly of its problems and since even my own grandmother was born in 1880 and she is long gone we can’t ask anyone if a world about talking hurt less. But they died younger. So.

(Learn more about Eileen Myles herself here.)

May 29, 2012

Laura Mullen on Daphne Marlatt

“Who’s There?” The book begins—as Hamlet begins—with a question, and the insistence on an unfolding that must follow upon a sudden awareness of presence. Who = character, There = setting and both together: plot. His story: “history, the story of dominance. mastery. the bold line of it.” A deep engagement with the archive, Daphne Marlatt’s Ana Historic is also an exquisitely and subtly crafted novel (this “book of interruptions” feels loose and fresh as a draft), its poetic prose both transparent and prismatic, providing a wise guide to the problems and opportunities exposed by second wave feminism while opening—gently, lovingly, lucidly—an inquiry into history as a discourse, and lineage as an issue. The territory the book explores includes the rough beginnings of a logging town or outpost in the Pacific Northwest and—as palimpsest—the civilized present incarnation of that geography; the narrator is a history student turned faculty wife who turns again, away, straying first with her mind and then with her heart and soul, becoming one of those who can never go home again, given what she comes to know. In questioning charged absences in the historical chronicles she finds traces of women whose almost erased lives fire her imagination, and she unfolds herself—going from research assistant to novelist and from a stale and stalled marriage into a relationship which is tender, warm, intimate, and vulnerable. She unfolds herself: it turns out that that opening “Who’s There?” was not necessarily a question for another after all. Or not only. Ask it of yourself: read this—more than once. “the real history of women…is unwritten because it runs through our bodies: we give birth to each other…it’s women imagining all that women could be that brings us into the world.”

Hear Laura read from this here.
(Learn more about Laura Mullen herself here.)