Sunday, January 31, 2010
Like I said before, I'm really doing this--at least to my conscious knowledge--as a way of blogging regularly without having to bore you with the details of my boring life. I'm not interesting, or rather, my life is not interesting. This is something I've come to realize over the past four or five months. My days are filled with the same things, placed as if on a loop. I wake up; I eat; I shower; I eat; I go to a coffeeshop; I read; I read; I read; I read; I eat; I read; I read; I booze; I sleep. That is my life. Everyday. I'm not sure if I'm dissatisfied. In all honesty, it seems there's nothing to be but content--nothing throws me on either side of the fence, I guess. In short, I have little to blog about. I don't have as much time to keep on the culture wars I'm certain are raging out there--I'm not all that current on current events, because I'm bogged down (mostly) in writing from people who've died decades ago. It's a bit tough to capture my interest these days, because everything begins to seem a bit like deja vu. I've seen or heard it before and perhaps if I tried to focus, I could appreciate it, but I'm just tired or lazy or busy. So yes. That's my apologia for the status and style of the blog at this point.
Leda and the Swan (1924)
A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
by the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
he holds her helpless breast upon his breast.
How can those terrified vague fingers push
the feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
but feel the strange heart beating where it lies?
A shudder in the loins engenders there
the broken wall, the burning roof and tower
and Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
so mastered by the brute-blood of the air,
did she put on his knowledge with his power
before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
Some women marry houses.
It's another kind of skin; it has a heart,
a mouth, a liver and bowel movements.
The walls are permanent and pink.
See how she sits on her knees all day,
faithfully washing herself down.
Men enter by force, drawn back like Jonah
into their fleshy mothers.
A woman is her mother.
That's the main thing.
Some commentary after the jump...
Friday, January 29, 2010
Anne Sexton at home, Part I
AS at home, Part 2
After the sweet promise,
the summer's mild retreat
from mother's cancer, the winter months of her death,
I come to this white office, its sterile sheet,
its hard tablet, its stirrups, to hold my breath
while I, who must allow the glove its oily rape,
to hear the almost mighty doctor over me equate
my ills with hers
and decide to operate.
It grew in her
as simply as a child would grow,
as simply as she housed me once, fat and female.
Always my most gentle house before that embryo
of evil spread in her shelter and she grew frail.
Frail, we say, remembering fear, that face we wear
in the room of the special smells of dying, fear
where the snoring mouth gapes
and is not dear.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
"A Story for Rose On the Midnight Flight to Boston"
Until tonight they were separate specialties,
different stories, the best of their own worst.
Riding my warm cabin home, I remember Betsy's
laughter; she laughed as you did, Rose, at the first
story. Someday, I promised her, I'll be someone
going somewhere and we plotted it in the humdrum
school for proper girls. The next April the plane
bucked me like a horse, my elevators turned
and fear blew down my throat, that last profane
gauge of a stomach coming up. And then returned
to land, as unlovely as any seasick sailor,
sincerely eighteen; my first story, my funny failure.
Maybe, Rose, there is always another story,
better unsaid, grim or flat or predatory.
Monday, January 25, 2010
It's from AS's first collection, To Bedlam and Partway Back. Re-reading this collection, I'm rather astonished. I've read it in part or in full probably three times now, and have certainly read some of the more famous poems about a million times ("Her Kind" of course, and "The Double Image," and my two personal favorites, "Some Foreign Letters" and "For John, Who Begs Me Not to Enquire Further"), but oddly, the collection itself is very different to what I remember. First, it's not strictly confessional--there are a half dozen or more that are like little stories, narratives of other lives (though still I think Sexton's interest lies in sort of marginalized or silenced individuals--the 'cripples' of life, as she would probably remark). There's a positively anomalous, really odd (but quite good) little poem that features the nuclear holocaust and life on Venus ("Venus and the Ark"), and then quite a few that are clearly--well, to my mind anyhow--exercises, little workbooks Sexton tried her hand at. She's still finding her voice in this collection. It's less biting, less pop cultural, less assured than the later ones. But it's also beautifully tender, attentive to the most minute of details and experiences, and brave in a way that I don't think anyone quite does like Anne Sexton.
That said, this is "Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward"--one of the little 'narrative' poems. I'll post the first stanza here, and you can click 'read more' if you'd like. Obviously, I don't own the rights to this poem.
Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward
Child, the current of your breath is six days long.
You lie, a small knuckle on my white bed;
lie, fisted like a snail, so small and strong
at my breast. Your lips are animals; you are fed
with love. At first hunger is not wrong.
The nurses nod their caps; you are shepherded
down starch halls with the other unnested throng
in wheeling baskets. You tip like a cup; your head
moving to my touch. You sense the way we belong.
But this is an institution bed.
You will not know me very long.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
I've been off my beloved ciggies for three weeks--three full weeks, in fact, as I made the decision the Friday night I got into PA. I had one with my aunt and grandpa (because they wouldn't restrain their addictions around me) and one today, after cleaning my room, just to check in with how it would feel. Neither was all that enjoyable, so I figure I'm pretty much good to go. Drunk smokes; special occasion smokes; once-in-a-while-with-my-still-smoking-roommate...these I will not kick myself over. I've just come to the conclusion that I no longer want to be a daily smoker, even though a number of my idols were lifelong puffers--Anne Sexton (at a whopping three packs a day, my god), Virginia Woolf (who rolled her own), basically every Atwood heroine, of course, Joe Camel, oh, and that queen from Brideshead Revisited. It's been shockingly easy--I just flushed one down the toilet and busied myself if/when a craving hit (which was not what I expected--less the burning desire to suck ash, as was the usual hint when I was still smoking, and more of a tightness in my chest, like a really really minor panic attack). Maybe I really was a poseur for those four years. Also, I can't believe I was a legit smoker for over four years. Wow, time flies, furrul.
Any case, classes resume in 9 days. I owe a bunch of people money. I have about 450809 textbooks to buy (mostly my fault, since I included upwards of 20 books on the syllabus for my directed study--thankfully, I owed several already). I fear I'll be blues-y until I'm too busy to acknowledge it anymore, but it was to be expected. The Jenny Wilson album, Hardships, deserves a retroactive inclusion on my best-of-2009 list, as I hadn't heard it until about a week ago. Also, the new Beach House album, Teen Dream, is really great. Probably not as good as Devotion, their last one, but still damn good. Check both of these out.
The magic 8 ball says MOAR BOOK RUH-VEWZ are in the near future. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Sometimes I think that maybe these lists are simply things, not unlike NY Resolutions, that we--I--do to imaginatively shove aside mortality. I binge buy books on half.com--under the impression that they're all money well-spent. I have to live long enough to read them, right? Morbid thought, but it was rising up. Not to mention I found out about someone's passing today--someone I didn't know very well at all, indeed, only through an online forum, but well enough for her passing to really make me take pause. In any case, Michelle, you will be missed.
So the lists. I read a little over 80 works in 2009. I've got a list here of about 70 total works, divided by type--nonfiction/theory (ten), poetry (ten), and fiction (fifty). This doesn't include texts I'll read for school, though I suppose it could in the future (seeing as I don't really know what I'm studying in the next two semesters), so this is a really really lofty list. But I'm doing it just out of curiosity--just to push myself, see what I can accomplish over the next twelve months. If I've got any glaring omissions, leave me a comment--I really tried to cover many bases, with classics and contemporary works, men and women (mostly women), various national origins (France, Russia, England, America, Canada, Argentina, Ireland, Colombia, Germany, and Italy are all covered), realist novels and fabulist fiction, gargantuan works and novellas and short fiction...they're all here. Without further ado (and pardon my bookishness)...
Monday, January 4, 2010
And then winter break. My reading list is hemorrhaging books—everything that’s been shoved to the side over the past four months, but I made certain to crack into Atwood’s before the opportunity escaped me. I posted thoughts on the novel as I worked through it, which you can find on my goodreads.com review of it, but here are some more overarching musings about the novel.
Saturday, January 2, 2010
10 Metric, Fantasies
I may find Live It Out to be a catchier album, but Fantasies is mature and resilient from beginning to end. Emily Haines will never let me down. Key tracks: Gold Gun Girls, Collect Call, Help I’m Alive
09 Patrick Wolf, The Bachelor
Pop, electronica, folk, and piano balladry—not to mention Tilda Swinton as the ‘narrator’ of the album’s journey—all compressed into a hot white ball buoyed by Patrick’s beautifully emotive vocals, The Bachelor may well be his strongest and most cohesive effort yet. Key tracks: Oblivion, Blackdown, Count of Casualty, The Sun is Often Out
08 Gossip, Music for Men
Gossip outdo themselves on this one; every track has the power to provide a soundtrack to your stomp-offs and mirror-karaoke. If the last album showed that Gossip had come into their own, this one proves their true artistry. Beth Ditto’s voice remains soulful, uplifting, and full of conviction. Key tracks: Music for Men, Love Long Distance, For Keeps
07 Tori Amos, Midwinter Graces
Tori was well on her way to complete irrelevance and oblivion, but strangely, a seasonal album dragged her kicking and screaming out of the slump. It’s a tender, deeply felt, and beautiful album, focused by her kooky eye trained on traditional carols, while remaining universal enough to play for the whole family. Key tracks: Star of Wonder, Winter’s Carol, Holly Ivy and Rose, Candle: Coventry Carol (yes, had to choose four)
06 Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster
If you don’t love Gaga already, I won’t be the one to convince you; nonetheless, this is a flawless eight-track EP that blows even her impressive debut out of the water. Impossibly catchy and fascinatingly constructed, TFM wears its influences on its sleeve while proving that Gaga has both come into her own and harbors the capacity for transformation. Key tracks: Bad Romance, Telephone, Monster
05 Florence + the Machine, Lungs
A truly exciting debut album filled with gems; Florence’s voice is at turns violent, booming, caressing. Each song shines, sometimes drowning out the album as a cohesive whole, but give it time to sink in—she’s certainly got a bright future. Key tracks: Cosmic Love, Girl With One Eye, Howl
04 Bat for Lashes, Two Suns
Her debut was fantastic, but Two Suns takes Natasha Khan far away from the sophomore slump and proves that she has staying power; she’s matured from what could have left her as a Stevie-Nicks-knockoff into a voice all her own. Key tracks: Daniel, Siren Song, Sleep Alone
03 PJ Harvey and John Parish, A Woman a Man Walked By
I’ve come to realize the PJ Harvey is possibly the only artist I love that has a spotless track record, at least in my book. Every album is ace; nearly every track is spot-on. I can put her on at any time, in any mood, and find something enjoyable and new. People bitched about her new collab with John Parish, complaining that it’s intentionally ugly, that her gimmick is wearing thin, that she’s doing things simply to seem avant-garde—but I couldn’t disagree more. Admittedly, I loved Dance Hall at Louse Point (their first collab), which is another divisive album, but just when I thought she couldn’t take her music in any other directions, she and JP pull this one out of their sleeves.
Every track is a surprise, and each one inhabits its own sonic and narrative world. Black Hearted Love is vaguely reminiscent of the alt-pop glitz of Stories; Sixteen Fifteen Fourteen is a biblical tale gone sour, or perhaps a Hansel-and-Gretel fable of lost innocence. If Grow Grow Grow (on her last album, White Chalk) was a child’s terrifying elegy for her dead grandmother, April from this one is the grandmother’s haunting poem to her lost granddaughter. The title track could be dissected within the parameters of feminist body horror theory, with its bizarre attention to a woman/man hybrid with “chicken liver balls,” not to mention the narrator’s violent declaration that she wants to “just get up your fucking ass.” The album runs the gamut of emotions, with fury and arrogance carrying Pig Will Not and violence the title track. Melancholy dominates much of the rest: “Send me home damaged, and wanting” she cries in The Soldier, while in April, the plea is for escape, when “these days just crush me.” Passionless, Pointless is perhaps one of the subtlest laments for a love-gone-bored-stiff that I’ve heard; the breakout into wailing midway through the song elevates the yearning to the passion she wishes for, but otherwise, the song merely encapsulates the failure of a love to sustain itself. Cracks in the Canvas, the closing track, is a reflective glance back over the many places the album’s been, and fittingly leads us into the silence that follows.
Polly’s voice remains chameleon-esque; on April she croaks like a century-old hag; on Sixteen Fifteen Fourteen she howls like a lost girl; she growls and shrieks her way through the title track; she’s an otherworldly siren for The Soldier and an androgynous demon on Pig Will Not (evidently, inspired by a Baudelaire poem, to boot). If DHALP at times suffocated under the weight of its experimentalism, AWAMWB creates its own private world that thrives on its strangeness and gains coherence through loosely connected narratives among the songs. PJ has never been more daring vocally, and even if the stakes weren’t high for a side project like this, she and JP are both (chicken)balls-out for the whole run. It’s ugly, it’s haunting, it’s violent and beautiful. Incredibly difficult to rank these top three, I should add.
Key Tracks: Sixteen Fifteen Fourteen, April, Black Hearted Love
02 Neko Case, Middle Cyclone
I know most prefer her last one, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, to Middle Cyclone, but I think I may be on the other, more evil, end of the spectrum. Though the standout tracks of FC shine brighter (re: Star Witness, Dirty Knife, Hold On Hold On), Middle Cyclone tears you open with its opening note and doesn’t stitch you back up until the bitter end. There are (to my mind) two weak tracks on the album; everything else is simply perfect. This Tornado Loves You would probably top my Songs of the Year list if I were making one, and nothing is quite as heartbreaking as the title track. Of course, Neko’s soaring voice is the highlight of every track, but she never suffocates the music. This isn’t a ‘narrative’ or a concept album, but it feels like it could be, because I always feel as though I’m doing it a disservice if I don’t listen to the thing in its entirety.
And now that I’ve sat down to write about this, I have no idea what to say. I was lucky enough to see Neko live in Richmond, VA in April—she was as stunning and powerful as you might expect. There are artists with distinctive voices that I love—PJ and Karen O among them, not to mention Bjork or Joanna Newsom, or Patrick Wolf—and then there are vocalists that are simply so polished and beautiful. Neko somehow manages to excel in both of these, and the best of it was that this power came through even live. Her lyrics seem only to get better with time, whether they’re darkly humorous, as in “You spoke the words, ‘I love girls in white leather jackets’—that was good enough for love, it was good enough for me” from The Pharoahs, or simple and emotionally wrenching, like with “Baby, why’m I worried now? Did someone make a fool of me? For I can show ‘em how it’s done. Can’t give up actin’ tough; it’s all that I’m made of. Can’t scrape together quite enough, to ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love” on the title track.
She’s a bit country, a bit indie, a bit pop—none of these and all at once. I suppose she’s a bit of a hipster darling from her work in The New Pornographers, but there’s not a more earnest or genuine artist in music right now—she truly strikes me as an artist’s artist, and that shines through on this album. It’s a moving forty-five minute trek into a timeless sort of landscape, and you’ll be kept warm with Neko’s incredibly voice to hold your hand along the way.
Key Tracks: This Tornado Loves You, Middle Cyclone, People Got a Lotta Nerve, Don’t Forget Me, Prison Girls, all the rest
01 Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz
Essentially flawless from beginning to end, It’s Blitz is the album that, according to the band, brought the Yeah Yeah Yeahs back from a career precipice. Karen O confessed that Show Your Bones and the ensuing tour nearly brought the band to their breaking point, personally and creatively. Some people have called this album derivative or said that the YYYs jumped a little too quickly onto the neo-eighties bandwagon, but nothing on the album feels stale or forced; it’s electrifying, fresh, and strangely compelling (though the emotional power of the YYYs isn’t, for me, usually the first strength to come to mind). They’ve revitalized their sound without leaving behind all the qualities that make them so distinctive in contemporary music. Karen O coos and howls her way through each track; the band matches her word-for-word, and the listener (okay, well, I) follows the siren-call. Some tracks compel you to stomp around (Zero, Heads Will Roll, Shame and Fortune); some to dance (Dull Life, Dragon Queen); some to cry (Runaway). Tracks like Soft Shock and Hysteric are of the sort that no one does better than the YYYs—they impeccably juggle reflective melancholy and naïve hope. Maybe it’s Karen O’s voice that captures this—I can’t think of anyone who really sounds like her right now, or, if they do, they don’t do it nearly as well. I’m sure this is why she was asked to do the Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack, because who better brings a childlike joy to a frighteningly jaded and adult world than Karen O?
I honestly don’t even know what to say about this album without sounding forced, mawkish, or kiss-ass-y. The best thing I might close with is that this album has followed me throughout the year, through high moods and low, through lonely nights and booze-fueled tranny parties; I played it in the car, in the shower, at work, for my friends and for my mother. As much as I love Neko and PJ, this album had already topped my year-end list by the time I finished my first listen.
Key Tracks: Dull Life, Heads Will Roll, Soft Shock, Runaway, all the rest
There you have it.
The movies list is sadly incomplete, as I really haven’t seen that many from 2009; the books, likewise, are comprised almost entirely of books *read* this year, though not published in 2009 (except for Atwood’s Year of the Flood). The books are alphabetical; the films are basically unranked, except for Bright Star and Inglourious Basterds, which were my two favorite films of the year. The albums list isn’t too bad, though, and so there’s a pretty strict ranking system there.
In conclusion, 2009 had its high points—I completed my thesis with highest honors, I somehow managed to sneak into graduate school, I read about a million books, and survived the two most harrowing academic semesters of my career thus far—and its low, which I have no desire to get into, but all in all, I’m ready to kiss that shit goodbye. Not sure what 2010 has to bring, but as Ella F sings, something’s gotta give, and hopefully, this year will at least run a bit more smoothly. Cheers to you all.
Best film of the year:
Drag Me to Hell
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
I read approximately 82 books this year (which means I didn't reach my goal of one hundred), and these were the ones that stuck out for me:
Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace
Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood
Jane Austen, Emma
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
A.S. Byatt, Elementals
A.S. Byatt, Possession
Angela Carter, Wise Children
William Faulkner, Light in August
Ian McEwan, Atonement
Toni Morrison, Beloved (re-read)
Alice Munro, Open Secrets
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Jeanette Winterson, The Passion
Virginia Woolf, Orlando
18 Martha Wainwright, Sans Fusils, Ni Fouliers, A Paris: A Tribute to Edith Piaf
17 Nellie McKay, Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day
16 St. Vincent, Actor
15 The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love
14 Marissa Nadler, Little Hells
13 Little Boots, Hands
12 Karen O and the Kids, Where the Wild Things Are
11 Tori Amos, Abnormally Attracted to Sin
To be continued...