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Alice Oswald, Dart

Gabriele D'Annunzio, Episcopo & Company

Vincent Kaufmann, Guy Debord: Revolution in the Service of Poetry

Dorothy L. Sayers, Busman's Honeymoon



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Just finished Ask the Dust by John Fante, a slim novel which didn't live up to the extravagant praise I've heard from Bukowski fans. Henry Miller and Hubert Selby did this kind of thing much better.

I'm currently reading Middlesex, has anyone else read it? I remember it being discussed elsewhere and people were criticizing the fact that it won the pulitzer prize. Maybe not Pulitzer Prize worthy

Several of the pieces in Paris to the Moon appeared earlier as Gopnik's monthly Letters from Paris to The New Yorker. His use of adjectives to describe the weather, the neighborhood, etc impressed me

On 7/4/2020 at 11:59 AM, Wilfrid said:

A bonanza time for Jeremy Prynne fans. He just turned 84, and what a sprint he's putting on. At least two books last year, three this year already, with two more already announced.

But also, we now have a late Prynne style. He long ago squeezed the lyricism out of his work, turning to obscure and scientific and technical vocabularies. The result was forbidding blocks of verse with rare glimpses of meaning.  Starting (I think) with 2019's Of Better Scrap, he introduced new sonic qualities, working at the syllabic level: not just occasional internal or half rhymes, but multiple variations of them, sonic attention to vowels and consonants. This creates a remarkable music when the verse is read aloud, even though meaning is utterly allusive. It's as if he has not just the English language, but all its niche idioms at his fingertips, and he can play it like an organ.

Rather inspiring.  (There's also Parkland, a book-length prose poem like nothing he has written before.)

I've just ordered the fifth volume of poetry published by Prynne this year. It really is extraordinary, this burst of late productivity. One comparison would be with the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas, who published five collections (including two very large ones) after his 75th birthday, resulting in a second volume of his collected poems. Prynne has published 15 (rather shorter) volumes since his 75th birthday, precisely a third of his entire output.

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Gabriele D'Annunzio, Virgins of the Rocks, The Intruder

I thought I had worked through D'Annunzio's novels a few years ago. Complete fantasy. Working through them now. Aestheticism which borders on proto-fascism (these were written a long time before Mussolini came on the scene), but I figure I'm allowed as I just read a couple of antifascist Silone novels.

Geoffrey Hill, Broken Hierarchies

The massive (almost) complete poems, where I am working through the collections I haven't previously bought and read.

Susan Stewart, The Ruins Lesson

A survey of the role of ruins in European art and literature. Bogglingly erudite, but I confess I expected her to draw some clearer conclusions from the material.

Ian Nairn, Ian Nairn's Paris

Alcoholic curmudgeon and architectural critic takes on the city of light.



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How did I forget Canetti’s Auto da Fe? This is one I should have already read: long, German-language, modernist. And I have read Crowds and Power.

It’s good of course, minor characters are hilarious, but I was a bit concerned by my sympathetic identification with Kien’s relationship with his books.

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When I finish The Flame of Life, I'll be finished with D'Annunzio's novels (there's a later one, but I can't find an English translation). This and The Triumph of Death show him at his best: amazing set pieces like sick pilgrims packing a shrine to be healed, and a night of fireworks over Venice. Conscious attempts at Wagnerian scale and drama. Along with that, you get plots that move like drugged snails, and his thoroughly offensive worldview.


Alice Oswald, A Sleepwalk on the Severn

Joe McGinniss, The Selling of the President 1968

Charles Olson, A Nation of Nothing but Poetry (these are poems, fragments, etc which got omitted somehow from the massive collected poems: although I think you need to be an Olson scholar of some skill to tell what's a finished poem, what's a fragment, and what may be a shopping list).


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Needing an antidote to the D'Annunzio overdose, I picked up a Penguin paperback mystery by an author I'd never heard of: James Byrom, Or Be He Dead.

It was quick read, and really very good. Unusual, exciting, well observed and well written. What more could I find out about Byrom? It's the pseudonym of James Guy Bramwell, who published a utopian novel and a non-fiction work on Atlantis in his twenties, then returned to writing (as Byrom) with three thrillers in his late forties. I just ordered the second one; the third is rare and fetching three figures.

Not much else known, except he was a conscientious objector in WW2, and his voice can be heard discussing that here:  https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80009329

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Alice Oswald, Memorial: A Version of Homer's Iliad.

You might expect this 2011 book-length poem to bear some relationship to last year's Nobody, which she explicitly associated with the Odyssey. But where Nobody has a tenuous relationship with the poem which inspired it, is very impressionistic in style, and has no unitary narrative voice or persona, Memorial tracks Homer closely, is very direct and glaringly clear. It catalogs some (not all) of the deaths of combatants in the original poem, interspersed with Oswald's own versions of Homeric similes. What I found curious was that the nostalgic cadence in which she recalls the lives of the dead heroes sounds like nothing more than Cavafy in English translation. 

A.E.W. Mason, The House of the Arrow. I thought I had read all five of the Hanaud novels, but no (an earlier version of the post said three; I am behind). Very well done, although the cast of characters is so small the murderer really had to turn out to be A or B.

Götz Aly, Europe Against the Jews 1880-1945. Much of this serves as historical background to Snyder's Black Earth.

Eimear McBride, Strange Hotel. Disappointing.



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Just finished Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk. The book has so many components - it's memoir of grief and recovery through the exercise of procuring and training a young goshawk named Mabel. But it also has an element of literary criticism as she examines T. H. White's memoir The Goshawk a book that fascinated her as a child. Her writing is spectacular and learning how she trains this wild raptor is captivating.  I would put this in a similar category as William Finnegan's Barbarian Days as both writers write about something I have no interest in ever pursuing and yet they manage to capture my attention by being so generous with their passion.

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It was this remarkable short piece in the New Yorker back in April which put Maggie Nelson on my radar. I'm making up for lost time now.

She is known, apparently, for blending genres. Bluets is possibly a book-length prose poem, possibly a series of short prose poems, possibly a (fictional?) memoir, possibly a book about objects colored blue. What it looks like, to anyone who has read Wittgenstein, is pages from the Philosophical Investigations, which is no coincidence because she has some real fun with the Tractatus here.

I have several more books by her on order.

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Crime fiction.

After reading through the stack of D'Annunzio, I haven't wanted to read any big, self-important novels. So I enjoyed The House of the Arrow, then I read two good old Penguin crime novels by James Byrom. This led me to pick up The Mystery Writer's Art, a mixed bag of essays on everything from Poe to Alfred Hitchcock. It reminded me of some novels I'd like to re-read, but also introduced me to new things.

That in itself is surprising. I got obsessed with detective fiction at a ridiculously early age, and although the field is inexhaustible, I assumed I knew it pretty thoroughly. And yet. A couple of years back, something led me to Cyril Hare and his terrific Francis Pettigrew series. Then something else notified me of C.H.B. Kitchen's Death of My Aunt. I discovered Byrom out of sheer serendipity when I noticed an old Penguin with a great cover illustration in a bookstore.

Now Henry Wade, who has an essay devoted to him in this Nevins anthology. Apparently he had a readership back in the thirties, but I don't recall ever seeing his name. So I finished The Duke of York's Steps yesterday, and it was good enough. Ingenious alibi. 

What next?



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