My lofted arm a-swivel like a flail,
My father's glazed face in my own waning
Again the growl
Of shutting doors, the jolt and one-off treble
Of iron on iron, then a long centrifugal
Haulage of speed through every dragging socket.
And so by night and day to be transported
Through galleried earth with them, the only relict
Of all that I belonged to, hurtled forward,
Reflecting in a window mirror-backed
By blasted weeping rock-walls.
-Seamus Heaney, "District and Circle," ll. 57-68. 1
Dear gentle readers,
I think it is time to return this blog to its roots. Back to literature. I may not be in grad school at the moment, but I am still reading, and it feels good once more. So far since my last paper I have read the following:
Wasted Vigil (Nadeem Aslam)
My Revolutions (Hari Kunzru)
Netherland (Joseph O'Neill) (See Zadie Smith's beautiful review here)
Monsters of Templeton (Lauren Groff)
Ultimate X-men - Volumes 1 and 2 (writer: Mark Miller, artist: Adam Kubert)
Ultimate Spider-man - Volumes 1 and 2 (writer: Brian Michael Bendis, artist: Mark Bagley)
Batman: The Dark Night Returns (writer and artist: Frank Miller)
A fine list in about 6 weeks, and I also reread Heaney's District and Circle. For those of you who have known me for any time, we have probably chatted about my love for Heaney, young and old. He is a great poet and has a wonderful ear for language. So I started my blog post off with a snippet of perhaps my favourite poem of his. "District and Circle" is a tribute to the myths of the underworld. Heaney knows his classics well, and his reimagining of this journey as a subway trip is phenomenal (note: I will probably not make any huge literary claims or arguments in this post. Just fyi). His ending is awe-inspiring. That last "flicker-lit" hangs, in typical Heaney fashion, echoing as we hurtle towards oblivion. The play of both dystopic and hopeful imagery I think really situates this poem in the modern era. We have to deal with a broken world, a messy, dirty planet, but even among the ruins there is beauty.
I want to include one more selection of another poem in the same collection (District and Circle is all I have in Toronto). I love this whole poem because it is perhaps Heaney at his best aurally. The only note I have written above this is "Must read aloud" (yes I still write notes even when not reading for class). Here is the beginning:
Into your virtual city I'll have passed
Unregistered by scans, screens, hidden eyes,
Lapping myself in time, an absorbed face
Coming and going, neither god nor ghost,
Not at odds or at one, but simply lost
To you and yours, out under seeding grass
And trickles of kesh water, sphagnum moss,
Dead bracken on the spreadfield, red as rust.
I reawoke to revel in the spirit
They strengthened when they chose to put me down
For their own good. And to a sixth-sensed threat:
Panicked snipe offshooting into twilight,
Then going awry, larks quietening in the sun,
Clear alteration in the bog-pooled rain.
-Heaney, "The Tollund Man in Springtime," ll. 1-14. 2
There is tons I could say about this whole poem. It is another one of Heaney's Tollund Man poems, and yet there is certainly a tellingness to its being recent. I love this poem because it really exemplifies how he has changed as a poet. However, I think that it is most successful because of its sound. Read it aloud! In fact, buy the book here and read the whole thing aloud. Well worth the $12 or so bucks.
This particular part of the poem stands out for me because of the liminality between reality and virtual, between bodies and ideas. The idea of the speaker entering the world unnoticed and yet real, felt but ghost like, is spot on. "Lapping myself in time" is a crucial moment. The Tollund man is out of time, of this moment and not. Hamlet's famous time is out of joint, which for me is becoming more and more of an interesting turn of phrase. How can we understand the undead or even just the dead revisited as temporal objects. Is the Tolland Man in time, of time, out of time? These are question of bodies and people and ideas that I think are critical to how we approach literature. Ok, ok, I will stop with my literary babble before I become totally incoherent.
I might try to write up a quick review for each of the books I have read thus far. Just a few lines each, nothing big - mainly just reactions. Even if I don't, I will start posting more regularly about what I am currently reading. Starting tomorrow: Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon) and Sandman (writer: Neil Gaiman, artists: Mike Dringenberg, Todd Klein, Robbie Busch, and Dave McKean). After that the potentials are American Pastoral (Philip Roth), Midnight's Children (Salman Rushdie), What I Talk about When I Talk about Running (Haruki Murakami), Maus (Art Spiegelman), and Good Omens (Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman). Anyone want to weigh in on which of those comes next? I am rereading Spenser come August, so no time to finish all those before summer's end.
-Your Humble Author
1. Heaney, Seamus. District and Circle. London: Faber and Faber, 2006. 17-19. <<
2. ibid. 55-7. <<