Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


the year in the rest and the best of it

The prior two posts cover current fiction in translation and poetry, each of which accounted for a quarter of my reading overall (another quarter consisting of older translated fiction). Of the current fiction, Can Xue, Wolfgang Hilbig, Yuri Herrera, Jenny Erpenbeck, and Antonios di Benedetto and Tabbuchi all met high expectations, even if not their best; so too with Pierre Senges and Antoine Volodine (perhaps at their best), but Samanta Schweblin's Fever Dream and Olga Tokarczuk's Flights surpassed even their raves. Of the poetry, in English, Tyehimba Jess' Olio was the standout, edging out Monica Youn's Blackacre (and reading Berryman's Dream Songs in proximity didn't hurt, nor broader background), and in translation, Luljeta Lleshanaku's Haywire.

Other readings that exceeded high expectations:
Christa Wolf, Cassandra (Jan Van Heurck) [FSG] brilliant in concept and execution, the essays following more interesting than most critiques
Mike McCormack, Solar Bones [Soho] the hour or day of reckoning
the latter my first exposure; other authors who've I'd not encountered and who impressed include Tarjei Vesaas (The Ice Palace, The Birds) and Tor Ulven (Replacement) (both overcoming my aversion to scandifiction), Antonio Moresco (Distant Light), Yiyun Li (The Vagrants) ...

... and from The Bookshelf of Good Intentions: James Joyce, Finnegans Wake [Penguin]: must say something, what I said along the way:
(after part I): funny how a book of such reputation hinges largely upon reputation; and speaking of gossip and such, such modalities: he do the puhleeze in different joyces; I knew going in it was circular but it's more matryoshka without an outside, everything nested within everything else
(after part 2): many a novel throw one into the middle right off but few manage to keep one in the muddle the whole way thru
(and once the whole way thru) (with the prop of Campbell & Robinson's Skeleton Key, which was the Baedecker at hand, not so much an analysis as a gloss, but all such inadequate anyway to the multischema underlying; also appreciate Anthony Burgess' appreciation in ReJoyce), my first take is closest to that of Waggish (except that I put in weeks rather than months) (cf further reflections), and might elaborate further that the collisions are inelastic, everything holds together because it sticks together, whether at the level of portmanteau words or twisting turns of phrase (both of which along with the musicality serves to slow one down) or semiotectonics or modes and registers or architexture ... could say more about the chaotic neurotic indeterminancy and humor but it's still settling, unsettled ... and I have a substantive disagreement with one characterization, though I'm no expert: Joyce doesn't create a universe, he recycles the one we got (same with the language) ... on musicality, Skeleton Key and ilk may be thought fake books, but then so too the Wake itself to an even larger music (which also plays into encyclopaediac aspect).

And even with all this I'm leaving out some worthies, so: the year's full reading list


the year in poetry

What I've read rather than what's been published this year (small overlap) (and rather more each year, at least proportionately), similarly collated chronologically with unqualified short takes:

Pegasus Descending: a book of the best bad verse (James Camp, X.J. Kennedy, Keith Waldrop eds) [Burning Deck]: unfortunately no Stuffed Owl
Benjamin Fondane, Cinepoems and Others (var, Leonard Schwartz ed) [nyrbpoets]: strong selection across oeuvre of Romanian/French small-s surrealist [3AM]
Ezra Pound, Cathay: The Centennial Edition (Zhaoming Qian,ed) [New Directions]: historical significance (and controversies) overshadows merits (but does not reduce them)
Angélica Freitas, Rilke Shake (Hilary Kaplan) [Phoneme]: 2016 BTBA poetry winner, blending hi/lo working best for titular sequence, only occasionally otherwise [3%; samples]
Proensa: An Anthology of Troubadour Poetry (Paul Blackburn) [nyrb]: good broad scope, fair rendering [RainTaxi]
Monica Youn, Blackacre [graywolf]: justly a contender for NBCC NBA PEN awards, strong and well-crafted [Stephen Burt's pick of '16 & interview]
Stephen Edgar, The Red Sea: New & Selected Poems [Baskerville]: put on to this by Clive James; selected well judged new less so
Tyehimba Jess, Olio [Wave]: delivers (partly on the strength of the underlying material and grounding and selection, partly on method [Susan Howe comes to mind]) ... it was on the radar as finalist at NBCC (poetry) and PEN (Jean Stein) and won the Pulitzer [topical cf]
Szilárd Borbély, Berlin-Hamlet (Ottilie Mulzet) [nyrb/poets]: a braid of postwar Berlin a la Benjamin, Hamlet, Kafka, and some Hungarian poets with whom I'm not familiar, more cumulative effect than local brilliance [BTBA poetry finalist]
Robert Creeley, Collected Poems 1945-1975 [California]: the stuff from the 60s and either side a couple years is Creeley at his best, syntactical master; what preceded (and to a lesser extent succeeded) more often slighter (not a function of brevity) but worthwhile beyond merely tracking development
John Berryman, The Dream Songs [FSG]: still filling in holes in my understanding of development of US poetry ...
Elsewhere (Eliot Weinberger, ed) [Open Letter]: small selection of translated travel poetry, loosely connected, Paris/NY/LA etc from outside [excerpt]
Abdellatif Laâbi, In Praise of Defeat (Donald Nicholson-Smith) [archipelago]: poems from across career selected by the author, French and englishing on facing pages, some of the music of language lost but that of idea preserved, runnerup for 2107 poetry BTBA [QC]
Odysseus Elytis, The Sovereign Sun (Kivion Friar) [Temple]: yes good but short of Cavafy, Seferis even as wider-ranging
John Kinsella, Jam Tree Gully [WWNorton]: Bush Thoreau, of place and place within, certainly competent but not my cuppa [JK thereon]
Susan Howe, Debths [NDP]: a little of everything that came before, a little of that this ... [Boston Review]
Luljeta Lleshanaku, Haywire: New and Selected Poems (various) [Bloodaxe] combines NDP's (US) Fresco & Child of Nature with a handful of new poems. (arguably) foremost among post-Hoxha Albanian poets, warmly recommended: from Peter Constantine's intropening:
Luljeta Lleshanaku is a pioneer of Albanian poetry. She speaks with a completely original voice, her imagery and language always unexpected and innovative. Her poetry has little connection to poetic styles past or present in America, Europe, or the rest of the world. And, interestingly enough, it is not connected to anything in Albanian poetry either. We have in Lleshanaku a completely original poet.
Theodore Roethke, The Collected Poems [Anchor]: after mediocre debut (despite reception, and I'm being generous) hit his stride in the late 40s early 50s but after seldom returned to what made that work (eg North American Sequence), too often giving rhyme (if often slant) and meter precedence
Jean Toomer, The Collected Poems (ed Robert B. Jones & Margery Toomer Latimer) [UNC]: Curious sidebar to Harlem Renaissance; selection from aesthetic, ancestral consciousness, objective consciousness (Gurdjieff), and christian existential (Quaker) periods, incl from Cane in second case, and "The Blue Meridian" (Whitmanic) in third.
Nicanor Parra, Antipoems: How to look better and feel great (Liz Werner) [NDP]: good fun, sometimes slight but oft with bite of wit: eg via Bashō, "el poeta se viste de hombre rana / y se zambulle en la pileta del parque" (the poet dresses up as a frogman / and kerplunks into the pool in the park) [MAO; Edith Grossman]
Robert Desnos, Essential Poems and Writings (Mary Ann Caws ed and et al) [Black Widow]: less essential than I'd hoped, Desnos rightly overshadowed, though not without moments or merits
Virginia Hamilton Adair, Living on Fire [RandomHouse]: a fall-off from Ants on the Melon [downscroll]
Yu Jian, Flash Cards (Wang Ping & Ron Padgett) [Zenith]: Billy Collins-ish [WLT, 3%]

on deck: Guiseppe Gioachino Belli, Sonnets (Mike Stocks) [Oneworld] something to follow on Burgess' ABBA ABBA & Peter Dale's Strine

to be acquired: Thom Gunn, Selected Poems ...