Thursday, December 31, 2015

Pico Iyer on Kurosawa & Japan, Harriet Tubman Madame $20, Mario Bellatin and his publisher, Orson Welles new release: last 2015 links

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Blue Met 2016

It's been a great year for us at Blue Met. Our 2015 Festival was our largest Festival yet in terms of attendance. In the five years since I've been at Blue Met our attendance has tripled. Yes, tripled. Which has, I think, something to do with the programming. In addition, our media attention has been solid, as well, with local, national and international attention.

This blog, too, has been getting pretty extraordinary traffic though it's slacked off the last couple of months since I've not had as much time to write here. But in the late summer and early fall it was booming...and that's carried over though I do blog less lately.

Still: the end of the year is a normal if rather arbitrary time to consider where we have been and where we are going.

In terms of reading, this was a great year for fiction. Some books I read that I really enjoyed included:

Valeria Luiselli: The Story of My Teeth
Elena Ferrante: The Story of the Lost Child
Drago Jancar: The Tree With No Name
Tomaž Šalamun: Woods and Chalices
Anakana Schofield: Martin John
Mary Oliver: Felicity
Jean-Christophe Rufin: The Red Collar

I also liked Larry Tremblay's book The Orange GroveNeil Smith's novel Boo, and Samuel Archibald's excellent story collection, Arvida.

It feels like 2015 had some really fascinating new things, new forms and experiments by writers that always excites us around the office.

With our 2016 Festival planning in its final stages, we've been reading and discussing many fascinating books in Quebec, Canada and around the world to bring you some great events in 2016.

Our 2016 Festival will have a lot of works relating to translation, a lot of writers from outside North America (as usual) and events in many different languages, of course (again, as usual), including Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, Polish and many others.

The 2016 Festival runs April 11-17 at Hotel 10 in downtown Montreal. Mark your calendars!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Vermeer by Wislawa Symborska


So long as that woman from the Rijksmuseum
in painted quiet and concentration
keeps pouring milk day after day
from the pitcher to the bowl
the World hasn't earned
the world's end.

(from her collection, Here)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Meena K's new collection of poems, Ozu and his muse, Indian artist Hema Upadhyay murdered, Agatha Christie and archaeology, Lewis Carroll: Cultural Digest December 17

RIP Hara, Ozu Muse

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

On Tomas Venclova and Vilnius

I've long been reading Lithuanian writer, Tomas Venclova, and his collection of essays, Forms of Hope, I've returned to again and again over the years.

I read over the weekend his book Vilnius: a Personal History which, again, I found very easy to read and engaging. Not very aptly named, though, the book is light on personal details or history and very much an objective look at the history of Venclova's native city from its founding, through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and beyond...

I first discovered Venclova through the work of another writer I admire, Czeslaw Milosz, and their letter exchanges on the city of Vilnius make up the last section of this book (and other books by Venclova and even in some of Milosz own work).

I spent a week in Vilnius years and years ago and found it one of the most interesting and beautiful cities I've ever visited. My trip there cemented my love of Milosz (who also spent many years there as a young man) but also led me to other literary discoveries.

The city of Vilnius is interesting because of its long history as a centre of cosmopolitan culture, learning and language. For years it was nearly made up of half Jewish residents, the other half being largely Polish-speaking and Belorussians. Lithuanian speakers made up just a fraction of the population for much of the 19th and 20th centuries (at least until the middle part of the 20th century) though this changed when the Soviet Union annexed the republic and absorbed it into the USSR. Almost 95% of the Jews of Vilinius perished at the hands of the Nazis during WWII and the few remaining were shipped off to Siberia under Stalin.

These vicissitudes of history also meant that the linguistic situation flip-flopped: from a primarily Yiddish and Polish-speaking city in the early part of the 20th century to a mainly Lithuanian-speaking population today. The city has long served as an antidote to the idea that language must determine nationalistic temperatures (many Poles consider themselves Lithuanian and the Jews largely did too). As has been pointed out by many historians, the notion that language somehow determines nationality is a relatively recent notion and for much of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, there was absolutely no contradiction in a state being a motly collection of all kinds of languages and ethnic groups. Lithuania generally and Vilnius particularly was an interesting symbol for that almost anachronistic idea (though nationalism in general is largely passe in most Western democracies).

Venclova explores all this and more, giving his reading a moving and more than passing glance of this city which has seen so much horror and oppression. Largely forgotten now, Vilnius exists at the edge of Western democracy (it's an EU member now), just a stone's thrown from Belarus (practically a dictatorship) and, of course, Russia. Lithuanians watch with alarm at Russia's growing dominance and assertion of power and more than one politician and intellectual saw portentous signs when Russia annexed Crimea. The West doesn't have a good track record in coming to the aid of small nations when faced with the might of a big (if corrupt) power like Russia.

Venclova, long a Slavic Literature professor at Yale, is one of Central Europe's most respected poets and it's a shame that he is so little known outside of that region, given how incredibly famous he is in the Baltics, Poland and even Germany. His collection, Winter Dialogue, is another favorite book that I take down and disappear into several times a year.

Vilnius, Lithuania

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Alone by Tomaž Šalamun


One finger is the tundra,
one finger is the Bodhisattva,
one finger is mother Slovenia.
Two fingers still remain, beckoning
and with awful force feeding me
seventeen hands with this arrangement.
I'm alone on the roof of the world and drawing
so stars are created.
I'm spurting through the nose so the Milky Way is created
and I'm eating
so shit is created, and falling on you
and it is music.
I am God.
I am God and I'm dancing.
This table is a gift, this house is a gift,
this garden is a gift, these squirrels are a gift.
These human legs are murmuring mantras.
Glug glug glug I drink gulps of light
and I brush.
So I shower and put myself back, alone.
I alone am the center of the world's light, the Lord's lamb.
I alone am all animals: a tiger, an ant, a deer,
a rabbit, a porcupine (a hedgehog), a butterfly, an insect,
a piranha, a baby rabbit, a daddy rabbit,
the god of ferrets, the straw hat of a sketched
puppy and his paws.
I alone am all plants: strawberries, birch, hazel,
pumpkin, fern, dandelion, juves (juves is a plant
with thin roots, resembling the roots
of parsley, but it has a nose and head like
a porcini cap and one birch's hand,
sitting all day in a race car like a liana),
maple, oak, corn, alone.
I alone am all the people named in this book
and all the others: Joe, Janet, Agatha, Veronika,
Boris, Ivan, Italo, Pierre, alone.
I alone am the air, smoothly, the lining, two parallel tracks,
pot (to sweat), pot (the road),
the cause, the forceps, Lope de Vega, the streak,
the dot on the forehead, the dot in the air, alone.
I alone am the air and the golden butter,
linden bark, the king, the sickle and hammer,
the Dalmatian, the saw, Armenia, the key,

-  Tomaž Šalamun (Translated from the Slovenian)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Signed copies of Gloria Steinem's Life on the Road, Overrated Writers, Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken, The Tribe in LARB, Hammershøi Exhibition in NYC,

  • Gloria Steinem's event  at Rialto with Drawn & Quarterly was a lot of fun. Such a fascinating life that woman has had so far and her big lesson is simple: listen to others. Think of all the problems we might solve if we merely listened, really listened. If you missed it and want to get a signed copy of her book, you can order one on their website.
  • A really interesting discussion on one of France's best-known writers, Delphine de Vigan. Does Delphine de Vigan deserve her success? (The discussion is in French and it's all in good fun in one way though the French rather take these things rather seriously.) One critic argues she's brilliant and fascinating. The other critic argues that she's overrated. Both men, of course, but still, part of a new trend where writers and critics are starting to push back again: really taking certain writers to task and exploring the idea of the overrated writer. Personally, I love de Vigan's work but I definitely do agree with Partisan's analysis of some their writers.
  • A really interesting piece on Matthew Orr's book The Road Not Taken and his analysis of Robert Frost's widely anthologized poem, "The Road Not Taken." Orr's argument is that the poem has long been misunderstood as an anthem of individuality when, upon closer analysis, it really does not contain that kind of message at all.
  • If you're in New York next week, there's an exhibition at Scandinavia House on the work of painter Vilhelm Hammershøi which ends on the 16th. His paintings are so moving and lonely and I am reminded of Edward Hopper though from a totally different era. This writer looks at the exhibition and at Hammershoi's work in context with his time and age
  • Great long analysis in LARB of the Ukrainian film, The Tribe, that swept Cannes in 2014. I saw it at Cinema du Parc a while back and thought it was pretty revolutionary, not only in terms of the lack of spoken dialogue (the film is set in a deaf school and everyone communicates in sign language, none of which is translated, yet it's easy enough to follow the broad plot arcs), but also in terms of its squalor and portrayal of the downtrodden (death, murder, rape, accidents, it's a bleak and depressing film but one is still left with hope), things shown on screen that I have to say, I've never seen before. I walked out of that theatre in a daze...

Vilhelm Hammershøi: in New York until next week

From Eighteen Days Without You

December 11

Then I think of you in bed,
your tongue half-chocolate, half ocean,
of the houses that you swing into,
of the steel wool hair on your head,
of your persistent hands and then
how we gnaw at the barrier because we are two.

How you come and take my blood cup
and link me together and take my brine.
We are bare. We are stripped to the bone
and we swim in tandem and go up and up
the river, the identical river called Mine
and we enter together. No one's alone.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

From Eighteen Days Without You by Anne Sexton

December 2

I slept last night
under a bird's shadow
dreaming of nuthatches at the feeder,
jailed to its spine, jailed right
down to the toes, waiting for slow
death in the hateful December snow.
Mother's death came in the spotlight
and mother slamming the door when I need her
and you at the door yesterday,
you at the loss, grown white,
saying what lovers say.

But in my dream
you were a weird stone man
who sleepwalked in, whose features did not change,
your mouth sewn like a seam,
a dressmaker's dummy who began
without legs and a caved-in waist, my old puritan.
You were all muslin, a faded cream
and I put you in six rooms to rearrange
your doors and your thread popped and spoke,
ripping out an uncovered scream
from which I awoke.

Then I took a pill to sleep again
and I was a criminal in solitary,
both cripple and crook
who had picked ruby eyes from men.
One-legged I became and then
you dragged me off by your Nazi hook.
I was the piece of bad meat they made you carry.
I was bruised. You could not miss.
Dreaming gives one such bad luck
and I had ordered this.