Book Review

Reading Updates: The Last Few Days of 2015

Books I completed in the last ten days

 

Commentary

 

Catullus- The PoemsCatullus: The Poems

Gaius Valerius Catullus was a Latin poet whose work had influenced Ovid, Horace, and Virgil, among others. I would have wanted to be introduced to his work in school or university. I understand though why he, like Sappho, aren’t included in the curriculum. Cause they’re awesome. I mean, dirty. Consider Catullus’s poem 62:

under your gaze,

your daughter wrenched from her mother’s clasp,

from the mother’s clasp

twined there

torn apart

her maindenhead placed under a young man’s burning hand:

what jackbooting of lost cities

pitiless as such an act?

    Hymen Hymenaeus attend O Hymen!

I wanted Cattullus’s poetry to celebrate the Saturnalia (that means read it to my cats at home on my own), just as I had celebrated the super blood moon lunar eclipse by reading John Milton’s Paradise Lost out loud, “Lured with the smell of infant blood to dance / With Lapland witches while the laboring moon / Eclipses at their charms” (2.664-666). The mark of the friggen beast, y’all.

I bought Catullus’s book for his fourteenth poem which he addresses to Calvus just because he writes, “Saturnalibus, optimo dierum!” and even without knowing Latin, it’s clear that the translation is something along the lines of “Saturnalia, the best of days!” Most translations seem to concur. Not so Wingham’s. He writes, “sent it along to Catullus / your Saturnalian bonne-bouche –” rendering the speaker himself, and not the days, Saturnalian in character. Well, that was disappointing. Reading through the other poems in juxtaposition with the Latin and other translations was a let down, I’m not going to lie. However, Wingham translated the poems in the style of William Carlos William to whom he even dedicates the book. So I decided to view this translation as a movie adaptation — based on, but not a reflection of the source material. That helped me to enjoy it. And Lo! I fell in rapturous love and hate with Lesbia. Oh Lesbia! Why you such a hoe? From Poem 11:

I send Lesbia this valediction.

succinctly discourteous

live with your three hundred lovers

open your legs to them all (simultaneously)

lovelessly dragging the guts out of each of them

each time you do it,

blind to the love I had for you

once, and that you, tart, wantonly crushed

as the passing plough-blade slashes the flower

at the field’s edge.

I used to call you on my cell-phone. I used to, I used to…

Final thoughts: Great, wonderful, enjoyable read if you don’t take it seriously as a translation of Catullus’s poems. It’s modern. It’s fresh. It’s really relevant today. If I were an English Literature teacher, whether in high school or in university, I’d bring Wingham’s translation to class.

 

Chomsky-On-Anarchism-On Anarchism & On Western Terrorism: From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare

I often say if you read 4-5 books by Chomsky or Zizek it’s like you’ve read them all. They always recycle their information and they churn out new books so quickly and so prodigiously that I don’t think they themselves have kept track of their publications. I will write a longer review of On Anarchism, but I suggest skipping it. If you’ve never read Chomsky, don’t start with this book. Anyone can grasp Chomsky’s meaning of anarchism from myriad YouTube interviews and essays available freely on the Internet. The book neither adds anything new to Chomsky’s understanding of the term, nor does it compile everything he said in one substantial place. It’s just another echo, incomplete, indistinct, and ephemeral.

Chomsky-On-Western-TerrorismOn the other hand, On Western Terrorism: From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare is a must. Final thoughts: Everyone should buy this book. Chomsky goes over material that he has mentioned, discussed, written about, basically tired out — true — but the organization and sections of the book make it a significant reference text or even a launching pad of interests for anyone concerned with “western terrorism.”

 

Beck-ToLiveInAutumnTo Live in Autumn

I read and reread Zeina Hashem Beck’s winner of the 2013 Backwater’s Press award, To Live in Autumn, her succulent, love letter of nostalgia to Beirut. It’s so good. I’m certainly a fan. Final thoughts: I highly recommend it. I also suggest you follow her on social media because she actively promotes her latest publications.

 

 

The Sensitive Boy Slumber Party Manifesto, & The Sword of Things.

A week ago I received a very generous gift from The Operating System: a collection of poetry books and chap books. I read two of them so far. I have a longer review planned for Jospeh Cuillier’s The Sensitive Boy Slumber Party Manifesto, which I liked. The other book I read couldn’t be more different, but yet, I also appreciated the play and joy of words. Tony Hoffman’s The Sword of Things spoke about birds and grass and the solar system, while Cuillier’s book scraped lynching and murder and institutionalized racism. In “Rock-Paper-Scissors” Hoffman writes:

Hollywood adores zombies. Zombies slurp brains. Brains hatch ideas. Ideas foment revolutions. Revolutions topple orthodoxies. Orthodoxies repress heretics. Heretics challenge dogma. Dogma demands obedience. Obedience engenders servility. Servility breeds resentment. Resentment sparks violence. Violence provokes retaliation. Retaliation fuels conflict. Conflict seeds memoirs. Memoirs inspire films. Films employ actors. Actors infest Hollywood.

Hoffman-TheSwordOfThingsIt is because of this cycle, this routine, that Hoffman’s book does not try to change anything, it instinctively knows that any new stage in the process will be reincorporated into the system that regenerates itself. As such, a revolution in The Sword of Things is a cycle, a fully revolving world, from Hollywood to Hollywood back again; whereas in “The Most Important Days in my Life” Cuillier writes, “Revolution just means change.”

Hoffman’s The Sword of Things thus plays with the language, maybe the last realm of independent, spontaneous flow. In “The Problem of Peace in Our Time” he writes, “As geese is the plural of goose, / shouldn’t Zeese be the plural of Zeus / and peace be the plural for poose?” He concludes his book with “Celestial Fiesta,” which begins, “Chinchillas munch the enchiladas / that fill the craters of the Moon / while alligators in armadas,” clearly emphasizing sound, words, and their interactions with certain images, that of the chinchillas, enchiladas, the moon, and alligators, for instance, not of global terror, systematic murder, economic inequality, images rampant in Cuillier’s book. For instance, in “The Most Important Days in my Life,” a poem which oscillates between listing dates and personal commentaries, Cuillier writes:

Culliere-TheSensitiveBoyThe myth of the American dream teaches people you will achieve financial freedom through individual effort, but freedom is a collective effort. The type of freedom I want is the type of freedom no one has ever had. And if someone tries to convince you that the fight is over, they are the enemy. These scared niggas. These racist crackers. These are the enemies. The work is not done.

There are no “chinchillas” and “enchiladas” (everyday objects strewn together to create melodious vibrations) in Cullier’s book, no “mollusks and snails” (Hoffman’s “Coming of Age in the Intertidal Zone”), no “ram’s horn and whelk” (Hoffman’s “Life as a Spiral”), no “Squat Buddhafish” (Hoffman’s “Monkfish fra Diavolo”) or sound-play: “He worked the world / enlisting mages, sorcerers, sages / drank yage with brujos in vine-draped-nights” (in Hoffman’s “Technomancer”). There is no rhythm. No quaint little insects, animals, or objects in Cullier’s book, no distraction, nothing but pain, desire for change, and wrestling with the neoliberal psyche.

Final thoughts: I loved both because I read them back-to-back, which allowed me to view them not as separate texts but as complimentary objects. I suggest you pick up Cullier’s book if you believe in change and the social responsibility of the artist, and get Hoffman’s book if you prefer nostalgia, microcosmic objects, and more importantly, lush poetic diction with tongue in cheek humor.

If you would like to peruse or purchase other books from The Operating System, go here. Or check out their website (which is under construction at the moment).

Let me know what you read and enjoyed (or didn’t) in the last few days of 2015.

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