I nearly missed National Poetry Month.
I’ve heard that April was chosen to celebrate poetry because of T.S. Eliot’s beginning for The Wasteland:
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
But even if there were no such Eliot poem I think April would seem the logical choice of a month to celebrate poetry, at least here in Western Washington. Except for those freak Aprils when the weather is nothing but freezing sleet from beginning to end, April is usually that time of year when it feels as if there may be such a thing as paradise.
Every April when poetry month comes around Eliot’s lines come to mind, and that always makes me think of the Michael Franks song Coming to Life.
(There’s no actual video here – it’s just for listening)
I’ve said it before: when he’s at his best, there is no one with a voice as subtle and masterful as George Jones. Gives me the shivers.
Antti Tuomainen’s sci-fi crime novel The Healer, released last month in Britain and translated by yours truly, will be published in the U.S. next month by Henry Holt, and is available for pre-order through several vendors.
Here are some advance reviews:
“In Tuomainen’s first appearance in English translation, a long-unpublished poet takes to the streets of a grimly dystopian Helsinki in search of his vanished wife… Tapani’s search, which will lead him through an appalling series of cityscapes to some shattering discoveries about the wife he thought he knew so well, is the stuff of authentic nightmares.” – Kirkus
“It’s no accident that Antti Tuomainen’s protagonist is a poet. As rendered in this sensitive translation from the Finnish by Lola Rogers, the book’s language is as important as the tension generated by the narrative.” – Barry Forshaw, The Independent
“The murders and their culprit take a backseat in this fraught thriller as Tuomainen conjures up in spare, softly poetic prose the collapse of social order and human decency in the face of environmental havoc.” – Metro UK
“The Healer is a fantastic introduction to a promising new name in Scandinavian Crime.” Kate Wilson, Booktrust
I found filling out my complicated self-employment tax forms extra irksome this year after learning that a plan to make taxes easier to pay has been in the works for years, but software companies have successfully lobbied to keep it from being adopted.
But you’ve already done your taxes (right?), so it’s safe for you to learn about it. The anger will fade by the time you have to fill out the unnecessarily and purposely difficult forms our crappy tax system insists that we provide.
Here’s a song to remind us of the smug feeling of virtuousness that is our reward.
Keep on smiling!
The high emotion evoked by the death of Margaret Thatcher doesn’t surprise me. I never even lived in Britain and I grew up with songs and t-shirts and graffiti hating on Margaret Thatcher. When I heard she had died the first thing I thought was what I always think when I hear her name: “Stand down, Margaret,”
The anger that Thatcher’s death has evoked makes me wonder why we there wasn’t a similar catharsis in America when Ronald Reagan died. After all, Glenda Jackson’s impassioned catalogue of the damage that Thatcherism did in Britain is a familiar list for Americans.
It was in the Reagan years that we started seeing people sleeping in doorways in the town where I grew up. That was when the government drastically cut programs for the mentally ill and disabled, then kicked them out of state-run institutions, at the same time that our city, like cities all over the country, was closing all the low-rent downtown apartments in the hope of “re-invigorating” the area. Like Thatcher, Reagan fiercely fought the labor unions as soon as he took office, starting a downward spiral of pay stagnation and lost worker’s rights that continues today. And like Thatcher, Reagan’s promise that these seemingly cruel policies would eventually be the best thing for everyone proved to be wrong. Mentally helpless people still sleep in our doorways, and the boom and bust and boom again has siphoned more and more money to the richest among us while the rest of us work harder for less pay.
So why wasn’t there celebration when Reagan died?
One answer is that there was, but the internet was younger then, so we didn’t know about it. Ronald Reagan died in 2004, before Facebook and Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post, when 4chan was just one year old. It was less than a decade ago, yet we relied much more heavily on broadcast media at the time. The public learned about his death on television and the radio and in the papers, and these establishment voices dominated the discussion much more than they do now. Like many people, I felt a strange unreality in the blanket positivity in the media’s remembrances at the time of his death. It is right to honor the dead, and Reagan was certainly important, whatever one might have thought of him, but there didn’t seem to be any space for talking about his mistakes. Things are different now. Although it sometimes doesn’t feel like it, the voices of those outside the establishment are a larger part of the discussion than they were in 2004.
Another reason for the difference is a cultural one. Americans may lack the social graces in many facets of life, but when it comes to politics we are notoriously polite. The lively, no-holds-barred debates seen in the British Parliament are a form of public discourse (and entertainment) that we can only dream of for our own government. There are, of course, plenty of pundits who are not polite in the least, but their form of rowdiness usually lacks much in the way of thoughtful argument, and in any case is usually in support of that thin segment of society that has done quite nicely under the economic rules that Reagan championed. To be impassioned yet rational about the common good was and still is a rare thing in American broadcast media.
And then there’s the matter of personality.
The message of Reagan and Thatcher was virtually the same: The wealthy are the generators of economic growth and government should free corporations and investors from any restrictions on increasing their wealth. If a person is poor or uneducated, they’re not trying hard enough, and the way to get them to try harder is to reduce the assistance that the government provides them. The working class should rely exclusively on individual initiative and should be prevented from joining forces in labor unions. More control of unions, less control of corporations. More subsidies for business, fewer for the poor. All these things will lead to a smaller government, and thus greater economic growth, and one day everything will be better for it.
Reagan was as likely as Thatcher to use ugly, divisive language. He implied that anyone who wasn’t born to privilege was lazy or innately incompetent, talked about “welfare queens”, laughed that people who went to bed hungry could use to lose a little weight. The two leaders were very similar in writing.
It was in person (or on video or audio) that the two of them differed drastically. Reagan delivered his message with a friendly smile. He seemed kind of stupid. He seemed to wish the best for everyone, or to at least have the grace to pretend he did. This cannot be said of Margaret Thatcher. Her personal style of speaking and behaving was just the sort of style people do not like. She didn’t seem stupid at all. She seemed actively hostile. Reagan’s charm served him better than anything he said or did. There’s a little pinch of pity in our feelings about him, even when we hate most of what he said and did. The ubiquitous anti-Reagan graffiti I remember from when he was president largely portrayed an empty-headed company man, stuck in the nineteen-fifties, sinister because he was so oblivious. Part of you wonders if he was just a dumb, well-meaning guy who screwed up. And since he happened to be the president of the United States, we’re still feeling the damage thirty years later.
Riikka Pulkkinen’s first novel The Limit, written when she was just 26 years old – and translated by yours truly – will be released in May by Scribe Publications, Australia.
The novel is a story of ordinary people testing, and being tested by, the limits of acceptable conduct. Anja is a literature professor struggling to keep a difficult promise to her husband at the end of his life. Her student Julian, who teaches high school, trespasses sexual boundaries with Mari, a girl in his literature class. Observing adults from a child’s point of view, Julian’s daughter Anni learns her limitations, and those of her parents. Mari, the troubled 16-year-old at the center of the story, finds herself experimenting with transgressive, self-destructive behaviors until an accident allows her to break through her limitations in heroic ways and see herself in a new light.
Like Pulkkinen’s second novel, True, published in English in 2012, The Limit fuses philosophical and emotional questions in a thoughtful, moving way, and culminates in an emotionally cathartic resolution.
The book is available for pre-order from Scribe Publications
More about Riikka Pulkkinen
Here is Rick’s entry in the Seattle Times 2013 Peep Show.
The problems of three little peeps don’t amount to a hill of jelly beans in this crazy world.
No public voting this year. It’s all up to the judges now.
Doesn’t Shelley Hack look cute in this knit and broomstick lace dress set? It’s from Woman’s Day Knit & Stitch‘s 1973 Summer-Fall issue.
Here’s the pattern:
We recently took the train into the mountains northeast of Seattle to visit the lovely tourist town of Leavenworth, Washington. Once an economically depressed logging town, Leavenworth has transformed itself into a Bavarian Getaway, with 18 various festivals and celebrations held throughout the year. There is always something to do at Leavenworth, except the weekend we visited. We arrived between events, and we had a wonderful time.
This last photo was either father & son, or more likely grandfather & son playing hide & seek. A good time was had by all.
It’s taken me a little longer than I expected to get back to my year in movies posts, but no worries, the movies I wanted to post about are old ones, anyway. To wit, two great screwball comedies.
The More the Merrier, from 1943, is set in Washington, DC during a wartime housing shortage that forces strangers to share apartments and get to know each other better than they had planned.
This is a film whose title always made me picture something chirpy and syrupy. Instead, it’s a just about perfect romantic comedy, smart and full of clever dialogue delivered with immaculate rhythm and understatement. Jean Arthur is absolutely charming as always, and Joel McCrea gives my favorite of his performances, shy, deadpan and very funny. It also has one of the steamiest movie kisses ever:
The 1934 film Kiss and Make Up, on the other hand, leans less toward smart sophistication and more toward zany absurdity. Watching the first fifteen minutes or so, I was thinking, This movie is preposterous. After about twenty minutes I thought, Oh, I get it – It is utterly preposterous. It’s like reading Kafka, you don’t try to understand it rationally, you just let it flow over you. The corned beef and cabbage, the rabbits, all of it. In the end, I came away completely satisfied, if a little dizzy. It also purports to have a message about society’s overemphasis on beauty, if you like a moral in your movies.
You can watch the entire movie online on the Edward Everett Norton myspace page.
Have I mentioned that The Healer, by Antti Tuomainen (and translated by yours truly) is scheduled for release in just a few weeks in the UK, and a few weeks later in the US?
Random House will also be releasing an audiobook, read by Simon Shepherd, and they’ve posted a preview (or is it a prelisten?) online: