Saturday, December 30, 2006

time to think about those summer workshops

Yup. It's time to think about those summer workshops, especially the ones which offer scholarships.

Tin House runs July 8-15 right here in Portland, so I don't have to fly anywhere, and I can sleep in my own bed and wake up to my own coffee. Ah! Heaven!

I went last year and studied with Jim Shepard, who was a superb teacher.

The faculty lineup for fiction is:
Dorothy Allison
Steve Almond
Charles Baxter
Aimee Bender
Charlie D'Ambrosio
Yiyun Li
Whitney Otto
Pete Rock
Jim Shepard
Karen Shepard
Colson Whitehead.

Poetry is Thomas Sayres Ellis, Marie Howe, D.A. Powell.
Memoir is Steve Elliott & Abbby Thomas.

Down on the right hand side of this blog there is a sidebar, with listings for the Pacific NW workshops, and lower down for the workshops elsewhere. Let me know about other workshops, and I'll link them up.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Maes Howe webcam

Maes Howe is a neolithic monument built in in Orkney, about 5,000 years ago, and now it has a webcam. At midday on the winter solstice, the chamber is flooded with light. For me, this exerts the same fascination as Stonhenge and now I'm investigating all things Orkney. Maes Howe and nearby monuments are part of the Orkney UNESCO World Heritage site.

For more information on Orkney, I suggest starting with Orkneyjar, a site built by by Sigurd Towrie.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ogden Nash

The Hippopotamus

Behold the hippopotamus!
We laugh at how he looks to us,
And yet in moments dank and grim
I wonder how we look to him.
Peace, peace, thou hippopotamus!
We really look all right to us,
As you no doubt delight the eye
Of other hippopotami.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Lucille Clifton

holy night

joseph, i afraid of stars,
their brilliant seeing.
so many eyes. such light.
joseph, i cannot still these limbs,
i hands keep moving toward i breasts,
so many stars. so bright.
joseph, is wind burning from east
joseph, i shine, oh joseph oh
illuminated night.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Annie Dillard

"The twentieth-century development in fiction of a thoroughly limited point of view has been overemphasized, I think, especially in the light of more radical recent developments. One could arge that the use of a limited point of view is positively old-fashioned.

When Conrad, Joyce, Faulkner, and Woolf used strictly limited points of view, they were moving the novel's arena into the mind and voice of individuals. This is consonant with the traditional virtues of depth, of rounded character, of emotional intimacy, and of sincerity.

Nevertheless, you could also argue, and I shall, that the intimate voice of a narrator moves fiction a notch toward its own surface, and as such is new-fashioned indeed. Paradoxically, such an intimate, limited point of view actually distances us from the action."


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Anita Brookner

I just read Dolly, sometimes also titled A Family Romance. Wonderful prose, detailed observation, and although this is certainly a quiet novel, I was fully entertained the whole time.

Anita Brookner won the Booker (say that three times quickly) in 1984 for Hotel Du Lac, and continues to produce a novel every two or three years. And I continue to read them. I get in a particular mood, and nothing else will satisfy. No, she is not the modern Jane Austen. She has her own very distict style, and it is not warm. But she has compassion for her characters. If I must compare her to anyone, it would be to Chekhov, for her acurate characters, and her understanding of fragile connections.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

David Simon and The Wire

I am captive to this series. Is it the Greek tragic scope? Is it the briskly delineated characters? The parallel worlds of cop and thug? The taut writing? The basic intelligence? Gosh, I think it's all those wrapped up in episodic form. Here's an interview with David Simon over at Slate.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Brad Leithauser

At an Island Farm

If only the light might last,
the mild sea-breeze hold steady,
I think perhaps I could soon be ready
to relinquish a past

that let go of me as surely
as some stern wind last year
may have seized a wheat stem by the ear
and shaken it, purely

without a thought for
whether the seeds were drowned
or whether, aloft, some few of them found
another shore.

(from May 1998 POETRY)


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

David Long

I finished reading The Inhabited World by David Long and I knew that it was going to be hard to find anything else to read. What could top this? A ghost story, a love story, great setting (the Pacific Northwest), sex, childhood, and suspense? And all in prose so clean and elegant that is is breathtaking. Why hasn't this book made all the bestseller charts? I have no idea. This is a darn good read. Strong begining, compelling middle, and perfect-o ending.

Here's the premise: dead guy gently haunts the house where he killed himself, and spies on the new owner, a woman who is escaping her addictive relationship with a married man.

Here's a sample of the prose:
"Day and night, he navigates around the house and yard, seeing what there is to see, taking stock. As often as he's made this circuit he's not sick of it; being sick of things is no longer in his repertoire - it's as if the exact site of boredom in his brain ahs been drilled out. When he reaches the property line, he stops. Why not keep walking, another step, shoe on gravel? But a force like gravity keeps him here - the farther he gets from the house, the weaker his resolve to leave it."

And there you have it, there the author neatly sets up the parameters of the haunting. Wow. I'm a fan (dancing and waving arms in air) okay, not really because actually I'm sitting here typing this so that you will trot right out and read this book.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Clive James on Robert Frost

"...I started re-reading Robert Frost, something that I have done every ten years or so throughout my adult life. I would never stop reading him if there were not something talkatively smooth about him that allows me to convince myself he is not intense. Then I pick him up again and find that his easy-seeming, usually iambic, conversational forward flow is a deception, a way of not just bringing show-stopping moments to your attention but of moving them past your attention, so that you will form the correct impression that he has a wealth to spare and does not want the show stopped for such a secondary consideration as brilliance."
(from "Listening for the Flavor: A Notebook" in POETRY December 2006)

This resonates with me because it is also the aim of good prose. The lines should be in service to the work, should not draw attention to themselves, should not pull focus away from the characters and their world. Yet another reason why novelists and short story writers need to include more poetry in their daily readings!

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Diane Johnson

"My impression is that, though different writers find the genesis of a novel in different ways, all are alike in their sense of having the work inside them in some potential form. The analogy to gestation is very exact. The work must be born to be known."

from her essay "Aspiradora" in The Writer on Her Work, Volume II, edited by Janet Sternburg, 1991)


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Kim McLarin

I just finished reading Kim McLarin's newest novel Jump at the Sun. There isn't a sentimental moment in it, though the topic is one prone to the worst excesses of squishy thinking, for Jump at the Sun is about mothers and daughters, motherhood, and what,if any, are the boundaries of familial duty.

This is a compelling, unflinching read. And now that I've said that, I'm sure you will never want to pick up the book. And that would be a pity, as it is a darn good read, a real page-turner. But the word "unflinching" I can hear you mutter, this scares me. Yup. Real discusions of what it means to be a mother, those are rare, and they are not all sweetness and light.

What I find so amazing and powerful is that McLarin asks the hardest questions about this subject. And there are no easy answers. That she does this, and comes up with a novel with characters who make me ache for them, that is the mystery of good writing.

The Philadelphia Tribune called Kim McLarin "one of the bravest novelists in recent time." I concur. I've also read her earlier novels: Meeting of the Waters, and Taming It Down and recommend both. She is writer-in-residence at Emerson College in Boston. Her students are lucky, lucky, lucky.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Pacific NW books

I'm making a list, checking it twice, for books which are set in Oregon, Washington, or British Columbia. Here's what I have so far:

Sherman Alexie, Ten Little Indians, Reservation Blues, Indian Killer, etc
Michael Byers, The Coast of Good Intentions, Long for this World
Raymond Carver (many of the stories)
Randy Sue Coburn, Owl Island
Charles D'Ambrosio, Dead Fish Museum, The Point,
Molly Gloss, The Jump-Off Creek
David Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedars
Ken Kesey, Sometimes a Great Notion, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Jim Lynch, The Highest Tide
Betty MacDonald, The Egg and I
Gina Ochsner, (stories)
Pete Rock, The Bewildered

What have I missed? I know there are more...