Friday, 18 September 2020

Seth's Clyde Fans: My Reading of Giller Prize Long-list Nominees

 


Although the book is thick, heavy, and encyclopedic in appearance, inside is an intimate depiction of a generation of salesmen and the creep through time of disillusion and decay. Set in Toronto from the 1950s to the late 1990s, Clyde Fans (Drawn & Quarterly, 2019) depicts the postwar ideal of optimism and growth that loomed over the reality of people who knew that they did not fit into this ideal. Abe Matchcard, owner and manager of his father's fan business, at first sees himself as an inheritor of the postwar dynamism and optimism modelled by his self-involved, bullying father. Abe's older brother Simon, by contrast, has cultivated an contemplative inner life at odds with Abe's gung-ho validation of commercial enterprise, consumer acquisitiveness, and search for material comfort at the expense of all else.

 The graphic novel never shows favour for this ideal. Clyde Fans begins with Abe wandering through his family home and soliloquizing about his past. At first he discusses salesmanship as though he has absorbed sincerely the self-help-style mantra of Always Be Closing. Soon, however, he drops the facade, which crumbles as images piles up of his home and its attached offices, scraps of paper littering the floor, stacks of piles, boxes of unsold fans stacked in storage, and cracks in the walls. Abe acknowledges his ill-suitedness to salesmanship and hints at the disorder in his family, beginning with his father and leading to Simon's disengagement from the practicalities of life and his attachment to their aging, disappointed mother and to the writing of a book about the novelty postcards he has collected since the 1950s.

As he states in the afterword, Seth wrote Clyde Fans, inspired by an actual deserted storefront for Clyde Fans, in installments over twenty years. Though his obsession with the subject remained steady, his drawing style changed, becoming blockier and heavier in its outlines. Nevertheless, what remains constant is the insistence on silence and distance as represented by the many wordless panels and the attention to the clean geometries of the city landscape, often presented in a birds-eye view or slightly lower. Throughout the colours are stark black, varieties of grey, and pale blues. When the Matchcards go to smaller towns and the countryside, the panels are less crowded and favour curves rather than straight lines. Wherever and whenever the plot leads, images repeat: birds, shadows falling across facades, three trees on a hill, a lighthouse, drops of liquid, and those scraps of paper lying in hallways, in office floors, on sidewalks.

The Matchcard brothers have the urge to burrow into the comfort of the past as protection not only from the present and the future but also from the most distasteful elements of the past. Abe admits that he came to this awareness late in life, whereas his brother has acknowledged this reality since boyhood. Simon, introverted, dreamy, and dissatisfied, laments the "impenetrable wall of time" that separates him from the past and from the past versions of himself. He learns to cope, at least some of the time, by constructing fantasies that, though not without their painfulness, demonstrate memory's malleability and the imagination's constructive power. Although the characters, and people in general perhaps, have a wall that separates past from present, narrative literature can move around those walls. The chronology skips forward and back. The book ends not with the chronological present but with Simon at his happiest moment. That he disavows this moment later in his life is not important to the texture of Clyde Fans. That moment exists, and the book treasures that moment for Simon by reinvoking the bittersweet vision that inspired it. 

Seth's graphic novel may remind people of the plays Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller and Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet and the 1968 documentary Salesman by David and Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin. In other words, Clyde Fans will not stoke the enthusiasm of anyone about to embark on a career in sales.

The book expresses a particular and peculiar personal vision, melancholic and obsessive of the past without sentimentality. Simon's attempts to make sense of life's disappointments arethe strongest part of the book, and I can't forget the sequences of images that form his visions and ratiocinations. I recommend this book.


 


This is the first of the fourteen 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist of  nominations that I plan to read this fall. I will devote one post per book. The Giller Prize opened its nominations to graphic novels for the first time this year, so Clyde Fans is competing with Canadian novels and short story collections. 

If I don't finsh reading the longlisted books before the announcement of the short list on October 5, I will skip to the shortlisted texts I have not yet read. The winner will be announced at a televised gala November 9 on CBC television and CBC Gem.

I have never tried to read all the Giller longlists. But I have recently finished reading all the books on my bookshelf, and I am doing this to sink me into contermporary writing after years of catching up with the past. I have a lot of reading to do. Better get at it.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Creativity Podcasts

I listen to a few podcasts regularly, but I thought I ought to boost my podcast consumption with respect to creativity. Here are some ones I like because they inspire me to take risks and because they pump up my fragile self-esteem.

WTF with Marc Maron. Maron has been podcasting from his garage since 2009. His guests tend to be fellow comedians, but occasionally he veers into other realms, such as when he famously had President Barack Obama as a guest. Maron has a philosophical bent, and he also has his guest speak about their origins and their creative processes, so I find his guests' commentary often inspires me to think about taking risks, something that comedians are forced to do every day.

Your Creative Push. Host Youngman Brown interviews people from all kinds of creative fields: writers, painters, musicians, small business owners, you name it. The goal is to encourage people to work on that project that they've always wanted to do but are waiting for something or someone to get out of their way. The podcast emphasizes bucking up creative people who have been struggling to achieve their dreams. Brown is a thorough interviewer, and he gets the most of out of the experiences of his guests.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Found Art/Found Poetry

Found art is a type of art that uses ordinary objects in the same way that more deliberately created art is treated. The Tate Gallery has a fantastic explanation of found art objects, including many examples of found art.

The idea is that all objects can be considered art, especially if they are put in a context that makes them art. When people collect sea glass, for example, or display a piece of driftwood they like, they are creating found art objects. A toddler's scribbles framed and mounted in a nursery, pretty buttons arranged in a row on a shelf, or an antique hoe put in the backyard for display, all are examples of found art. Other artists alter the found art objects, such as using them as parts of a larger work.

I have created a work using found objects, an acorn and a paintbrush. I don't consider the photograph to be part of the art, by the way, though I could have if I intended to frame the photo and display that.

V. Zenari. Acorn and Paintbrush

I like the balancing trick, and I like the lighting around the acorn (shadows below the brush and on most of the acorn).

People's homes are full of found objects treated as art. People may be more sceptical of found art when it put in an art museum with a person's name and a title, as though that person shaped that object rather than found it in a flea market or even lying in a garbage heap. Dada artists often did this kind of thing: Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (an unmounted urinal) is a good example.

Found poetry is a subset of found art. It is poetry created by words created for some other purpose than poetry.  To see some examples of found poetry, visit The Academy of American Poets website or
this discussion from The Guardian.

One can format or edit a text in its entirety, or use pieces of different texts to make a collage of some sort. Verbatim is an online magazine that accepts only found poetry.

For me, I worry about copyright. But if the original is in the public domain (for example, is really old), or if you created or transcribed somehow the original words yourself, I don't see any trouble with reusing texts created from other texts.

Below is a found poem of mine that uses word from Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic," which first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in Feburary 1862. 

---


Be Jubilant

Since the truth is tramping on our hearts
Let us die transfigured in my bosom
like the lilies in the evening
read the glory of their beauty in the dim
My soul answers holy the fiery gospel
at the heels of love’s terrible free sword.
Be swift, circle the camp where the lamps flare
Build an altar to us where lightning fires and
sifts the burnished steel of affection’s battle

Never retreat


Hymn to us, fateful coming
with the sentence of grace

Answer my writ

Crush me


---

I wrote another found poem using the simple method that Verbatim suggests: take a text not intended to be a poem and format it like a poem by adding line breaks. I used an an old template for a corset advertisement in the Dry Goods Book, a marketing manual the Emergence of American Advertising 1850-1920 digital collection at Duke University.


The Way a Corset Is Made

The way a corset is made
has everything to do with
its comfort, appearance, 
and
wear. The ——
corset is made of
good materials and is
flexible. That’s the
foundation
of success. It will adapt itself to
any form, as if the
wearer were
melted
and
poured
into it. It couldn’t fit
better. The flexibility makes it fit
perfectly. It makes it
comfortable. It makes it
economical. The price is $ ——.

There is no
corset made which will give
the same amount of
satisfaction, wear, and
beauty
for the
price.


Thursday, 31 January 2019

Poetry

This December I received a grant from the Edmonton Arts Council to complete a book of poetry on my province's natural regions. As a result, these days I am knee deep into poetry.

My husband for Christmas bought me Stephen Fry's poetry-writing book, The Ode Less Travelled. I've decided to do some of his exercises.

First is his third exercise, which requires writing iambic pentameter with and without caesuras (pauses) and enjambment (unpunctuated line endings).

1. Five pairs of iambic pentameter without caesura or enjambment:

Outside the Window
I see the snow and then again more snow;
upon the streets and lawns the snow piles up.

What I'd Like to Eat
I wish to eat all day and night a cake,
with frosting chocolate and thick on knife.

A Recent Dream
I dreamt I lost my schedule for class,
and wandered round the school till half-past five.

Pesky Tasks Overdue
In Gabriel's room I'm cutting out old rot,
since summer's inconvenient flood caused mold.

My Body
My gut annoys my means of dress and stance;
my pants droop down but I must still stand tall.

2. The same five topics and meanings but with enjambment in each pair and at least two caesuras



Outside the Window
I see the snow; it's there again. It piles
upon the streets and lawns up here and there.

What I'd Like to Eat
I wish to eat a cake, made by a chef
well-versed in frosting making, rich and thick.

A Recent Dream
I dreamt I lost my timetable. I lost
my locker too, and missed my hardest class.

Pesky Tasks Overdue
The rain had filled the barrel. Water seeped
inside the house, and baseboards warped with wet.

Next is his Exercise 5, which asks for two quatrains of iambic tetrameter, two quatrains of alternating tetrameter and trimeter and two quatrains of trochaic tetrameter. I chose the subject FORESTS.

The trees they crowd around me here
in spite of wind, of cold, of snow.
They stand above with cones aloft
the pine, the larch, the fir, the spruce.

A mound of ice sits by logs long dead
uprooted years ago I'd guess
I sit upon its hardened top
to rest my wearied legs and soul.

I can't believe the hardiness
of life in this cold place
I hardly know what nature thinks
to start new life up here.

If only I could see its mind
discern its thoughts and heart.
but nature's not a person, girl,
just spirit hard and daft.

Gather strength and gird my loins now
Stand and shake my hair of snowflakes
Take a breath and lift a snowshoe
Step ahead and touch the icepack.

Trod upon the drifts and ridges,
Raise my eyes upon horizon
March ahead and bravely sojourn
Take your heart and hold it open.


Monday, 31 December 2018

Delany on Writing AND New Year's Eve Music Countdown

I finished Samuel R. Delany's On Writing, a compendium of essays, articles, and tipsheets by the science fiction writer and critic. In this collection, he sometimes comes across as a cranky old man, but he has important things to say, and his varied career makes him worth listening to.

The following excerpts are from "A Poetry Project Newsletter Interview: A Silent Interview."

A communal task that art accomplishes--particularly the verbal arts of fiction, poetry, and criticism--is to help with the all-important shifts in discourse that must occur for there to be meaningful historical change.

Because it is a communal task, because no single work of art can accomplish such a discursive shift by itself, the artist (responsible only for her or his own work) doesn't  have to worry abot preaching. It does no good; don't waste your time. It's far more effective to look at a situation and dramatize, in however complex allegorical terms you'd like, what it is you've seen. (300)
I like the way he insists that a single work in itself can't be burdened with the responsibility of "changing the world," but that a collective action can do that. Delany rephrases this idea in terms of censorship against an individual text:
For the same reasons that poets and artists don't have to worry about preaching, the general public doesn't need to worry about imposing censorship. "For poetry makes nothing happen," W.H. Auden wrote in his elegy for Yeats. That priviledged lack of power of the single work of art--the single poem, say,--is precisely what, I feel, Auden was getting at.

Many works of art taken together, however, through the very process by which we learn to read them, establish discourses--discourses of the possible, discourses of the probable, discourses of desire.(301)
An attack on a single work is not enough to weaken the discourse from which the work arises.

Delany doesn't care for utopias,  he says, but he knows something about utopian and dystopian fiction. He mentions three utopian/dystopian pairings (he calls them "image clusters"): The New Jerusalem versus Brave New World, which he says is an urban love/hate pairing, Arcadia versus Land of the Flies, which is a rural pairing, and the Techno-Junk City versus the Empire of the Afternoon (302-03).

I have a good sense of the first five of these categories, but I don't know what Empire of the Afternoon might be. Perhaps someone can enlighten me? Post me something.

Finally is a statement that reflects on my series on light and shadows:

Since Wagner at least, silence has been considered the proper mode in which to appreciate the work of art: Wagner was the first major artist to forbid talking in the theater during his concerts and operas. He began the custom of not applauding between movements of a symphony, sonata, concerto, suite, or string quartet. Also, he was the first person, during performances of his operas at Bayreuth, to turn off the house lights in the theatre and have illumination only on the stage.
Silence.
Darkness.
For better or worse, this aligns art more closely with death: it moves us formally toward a merger with the unknown. (309)
Artists must turn away from the known, the day, that which is immediately perceivable.Art, in its association with the unknown, the night, that which is not visible, frightens some people.

_____

Here are my favourite songs of 2018:

BlocBoy JB feat. Drake, "Look Alive"
Leon Bridges, "Bad Bad News"
Florence + the Machine, "Hunger"
Parquet Courts, "Wide Awake"
Janelle Monáe, "Make Me Feel"
Rosie and the Riveters, "Ms. Behave"
Erin Costelo, "All in Your Head" 
Shad,"The Fool Pt. 1 (Get It Got It Good)" 
Melissa Laveaux, "Nan Fon Bwa"
Jeremy Dutcher, “Mehcinut"

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Prep for New Year's Eve Music Countdown

On New Year's Eve, I like to make a playlist of my favourite songs of the year. I'm not great at keeping on top of new music, however, and I usually have to scramble after renominating Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk" from 2014.



This year I will be different! I am going through Billboards's  "Top 50 of the Year (So Far)" from June using the family Spotify account.

Of the fifty, I like the following (I really like the ones with *):

48. SAINt JHN, "I Heard You Got Too Litt Last Night"
*46. BlocBoy JB feat. Drake, "Look Alive"
43. Arctic Monkeys, "Four Out of Five"
42. The Weeknd, "Call Out My Name" 
*39. Leon Bridges, "Bad Bad News"
*38. Florence + the Machine, "Hunger"
37. Jessie Reyez, "Body Count"
*33. Parquet Courts, "Wide Awake" 
*32. Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Future & James Blake, "King's Dead"
28. Cardi B, "Be Careful"
23. Nicky Jam & J Balvin, "X"
19. Camila Cabello, "Never Be the Same"
17. Kali Uchis feat. Tyler the Creator & Bootsy Collins, "After the Storm"
16. Migos, "Stir Fry"
9. King Princess, "1950"
*8. Janelle Monáe, "Make Me Feel"
6. Troye Sivan, "My My My!"
5. Kendrick Lamar & SZA, "All the Stars" 
*4. Childish Gambino, "This Is America" 
*1. Cardi B feat. Bad Bunny & J Balvin, "I Like It" 

 

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Drama Notes

I flipping through a printout of a short play I wrote and saw some notes I'd written on the back of a page. I should keep these notes in mind for myself, so why not share those notes with others?

I wrote the play as part of a play writing workshop held at the University of Alberta's drama department. One year the workshop was run by Colleen Murphy, and another year it was run by Meg Braem.

The comments likely come from  Colleen Murphy, but Meg Braem might also have said them. Below the notes are my elaborations.
  1. "Without foreshadowing, drama is melodrama."

    Three literary terms are in operation here. Foreshadowing is the hinting of details that will happen later in the plot chronology. Drama is the telling of a narrative in front of a live audience. Melodrama is a subset of drama that arose in the nineteenth century in which music played throughout the performance as a way to set mood and affect the audience's emotions. These days, soap operas continue in the tradition of melodrama by having nondiegetic music--music played unrelated to events in the story and unheard by the characters--play continuously. In melodrama, emotions are stark and strong. Good and evil are easily discernible, and though evil is powerful, ultimately good prevails.

    To me, the quotation is arguing that drama and melodrama can seem similar. A drama can have the same outcome as a melodrama--good vanquishes evil--and generate strong emotions. However, drama establishes a rationale for that outcome in some way. In melodrama, rationale is besides the point. The audience knows how things will end, and they want that ending, and they don't care how that ending comes about. Melodrama is weak on characterization and lacks sophisticated plots.

    Superhero films are melodramas. Even if some characters may, on first glance, seem complex, they really aren't. Deadpool is a good guy, in the end: he is an asshole to bad guys and is rude to good guys, but his actions operate on the side of goodness.

    A happy-ending drama has to work for its happy ending and its emotional effects. Its happy ending is deserved, rather than inevitable. If the happy ending arises out of the blue, with no explanation, it is melodrama. William Shakespeare himself edged his plays towards melodrama (keeping in mind that "melodrama" is an anachronistic term to use). In a plot that threatens murder and rape, Measure for Measure has a surprise happy ending.
  2. "Tragedy is when the past leaks into the present and changes the future."

    "Tragedy" here is the original dramatic idea that Greek playwrights represented a few hundred years before the Common Era. Sophocles's Oedipus Rex well demonstrates the principle. Oedipus unknowingly killed his father and married his mother. In the present, Oedipus decides to find out what is the source of his kingdom's suffering, and he tracks down himself. He blinds himself and withdraws from the world.
  3. "Can a narcissist be humourous?"

    A good question. I would think not.
  4. "Negative action on stage is different from positive action. Negative action does not indicate agency."

    Negative action is action not taken. For example, a person may have the opportunity to steal a purse on a nearby park bench and decide not to steal it. Not-acting is an action: a decision related to action. Though in the lived world a person not stealing a purse is good. In drama, a character not acting is not a real action. Such a character is not an agent: that character does nothing. A lack of agency in a character makes that character passive. Passive characters are not much fun to watch, and they are counter what drama is: actions on a stage.
  5. "In drama, the meaning of life is more important than life itself, said Edward Bond."

    I couldn't find a source for this quotation, though Edward Bond is a playwright whose philosophy seems amenable to this idea. To me, this statement refers to plot and character. A character doesn't have to stay alive in a play. A character should, however, help to explain the meaning of life (what meaning life has). A character may need to die in order to communicate the meaning of life.
  6. "Earnestness is saying, 'This is important.' Preaching is telling the audience how to think."

    The difference is in quality. A preacher has an answer, whereas an earnest person, though he or she may have an answer, prefers to call attention to an issue without "solving" it.
  7. "Arthur Miller said 'right' versus 'right' = drama."

    I traced this idea to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (via Julia Peters's "A Theory of Tragic Experience According to Hegel" among other places). Hegel appears to be discussing Antigone by Sophocles. The "rightness" is from the opponent's point of view. Both opponents see themselves as operating on moral grounds; it's just that more than one moral ground is possible. (In melodrama, one opponent may takes an avowedly immoral position.)