Short-shorts

Yes, that is correct. The Hampton Snook Short-Short Story Festival is taking place once again and I am missing it. Again.

Having managed to have missed it every year of its six year life span I cannot say whether it is any good – or whether it is, as I think it is, yet another sad result of our society’s short-short attention span (blame it on the blogs). Here, nonetheless, is a preview of the kind of work this festival peddles. This is taken from Piers Röelberg’s new translation of Jens Klofferson’s work (Klofferson being, of course, an undisputed master of the short-short story).

‘You’ve heard of people thinking themselves out of holes?’
Max wasn’t sure he had – so he nodded
‘Well,’ she said: ‘Daddy thinks himself into holes’.

(The end).

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Poetry Procession

‘The king, for his part, quite forgot to thank the Icelanders for what they thought the most significant thing they gave him in return, which was the poetry composed in his honour. Some poets composed as many as eight poems about him. It is not the custom in Germany to compose poetry in honour of country governors, Electors, or even the Kaiser, and Kristian Wihelmsson was left wide-eyed and open-mouthed as a procession of poets stepped forward one after the other and recited verse at him; he had never heard verse before, and did not know what it was’ (Halldor Laxness, Paradise Reclaimed)

Random fact about Stanley Pleeber no. 4:

Stanley Pleeber, a man from whom good intentions often oozed, once had the idea to invite all the children of Boston to compose a poem or two in honour of a great and modest man (i.e. himself). The children, being the enthusiastic type, did so – spurred on (i.e. pushed by their parents) by the promise of some wonderful reward. In March 1931 all the poems were submitted to Pleeber, whose charming idea turned to dust in his lap. ‘I had not realised how tiring the reading of poetry is’ he wrote in his diary, after getting through two lines of the first work. Needless to say, he went no further, giving the reward (a grapefruit) to the boy with (in his opinion) ‘the most amusing name’. Isaac Slopper received the fruit gratefully.

The rest of the poems remained unread – until now. I am, however, saddened to report that few of them are brilliant, let alone masterly. Perhaps in the future, however, I may share one or two with you – and you can be the judge.

Vulgarity and Venus Bear

Things slip. Frogs from mossy rocks. Lies from politician’s lips. Promises from our minds.

Had this blog an army of readers they might have noticed my neglecting to follow up a shoal of issues brought up by a large proportion of my posts. Fortunately it hasn’t – and loose ends have been allowed to remain untied. And for this I praise the gods (and all their horses too).

Nevertheless, I may as well take the time I find today to trudge back in the direction of an earlier interest or two. About a week ago I posted (mostly here) on the subject of a certain folk-tale known as La Chauve-Souris et le pot de chambre – a story I thought to have inspired the work of Kirios Quebec. In a pre-meditated response to this post – and to Quebec himself – I also received a brief complaint from the affable Mr. Andrew K – who doth appear to shake his head at the ‘vulgarity’ of these bat-genitalia-related literary matters. “Such subjects should surely and literally be left beneath the bed of obscurity” he argues.

Well, indeed. Perhaps I ought to have stated, in response to this, that other versions of this tale (of which there are no less than eight) are much less vulgar than the one I posted. I ought also to have noted that there is much less vulgarity hanging about the side-streets of European literature (or my version of it, at least) than he may imagine. Despite the eternally spurious reputation of the genre, you may find that my list of Great European Novels is in fact relatively unplastered in smut. And oo too, I would say, is the work of the example he gives: Mr Kirios Quebec.

As has often been noted, Quebec is what we might call a philoprogenitive fellow. His fecund personality and pen produce work of many colours, some less vulgar than others. Indeed, in an even earlier comment Mr. K himself brings to light a Quebec story that is not the slightest bit vulgar at all. I refer, of course, to that amiable short story The Loudness of the Humming-Bird Meets the Silence of the Ghostdriver, which Mr. K correctly – and charmingly – associates with the work of the Peruvian Pre-Raphaelites.

For those unfortunate enough to have received a ‘proper’ education, you might like to be reminded that the Peruvian Pre-Raphealites were a ever-changing group of Lima-based artists centred around Nolberto Çinto, who in last two decades of the nineteenth century created a strange collection of paintings, mostly inspired by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais (though in some works I also see the influence of the celebrated ‘insane’ painter Richard Dadd). The most famous – and weirdest – of their works is undoubtedly Çinto’s 1897 work Venus Bear, a near copy of Rossetti’s Venus Verticordia, substituting the woman for a, well, bear (I should love to share this wonderful image with you – but as yet I have been unable to find one).

An obsession with detail, a propensity for whimsy and an moderate interest in the intensity of colour – all these attributes of the Peruvian Pre-Raphealities are utilised to great effect in Quebec’s story, which is (for those who do not know) thought of by most Quebecian scholars to be an early study for the later novel, Sounds of Copulation, a work described by one critic as  ‘a love story which stops in the middle of the first sexual encounter and has two hundred more pages inviting the reader to finish the story and bring it to some suitable climax’.

So, like I said – not the least bit vulgar.

Return to the Cinnamon Affair

As noted a post or two ago, the late collector Stanley Pleeber was, so far as records suggest, amongst the top ten ‘cinnamon fans’ that has ever wriggled upon or roamed about this dear old earth of ours (who are the other nine, you ask? A subject for another day, I fancy). He simply adored the stuff – and liked nothing better than to toss it hither and thither, like some deranged confetti hurler.

Having said, I have always maintained (correctly, I believe) that Pleeber scattered cinnamon over his books for purposes other than to heighten his reading experience. Reading, after all, was not his forte (despite his being a collector of books). What I have hitherto neglected to explore, however, were those people other than Pleeber who have had – and will have – access to his cinnamon sprinkled archive, amongst which we may count his sadly forgotten helpers (mentioned here) and more recent persons such as myself (mentioned everywhere). What effect does the cinnamon have on us?

It is of course hard to come to any tangible conclusions at such an early stage. After all, Active Reading demands that a text be read in a variety of irregular conditions: not just the one. Having said that, I am yet feeling confident enough to chuck a thought or two onto the table. Firstly, I would like to tentatively suggest that cinnamon sends the reader into a state of relaxation. A good thing? Not necessarily. Beware of relaxed readers. Beware also of readers whose minds are inclined to turn to thoughts of Italian puddings in the middle of a sentence: for this too is a side effect of a cinnamon-sprinkled text. It may not necessarily be a bad thing to feel at home with a book, but to want to eat it is not, so far as I am concerned, a healthy state of mind. I like the relationship between me and a book to resemble that of a dear but difficult friend; the type with which you often fall out, but will always try to forge a new friendship. Cinnamon, I would argue, does not quicken this process – though, as always, the experience it does provide is one I would not disparage. It is with this thought that I warmly invite you to experiment with it yourself.

[Further Reading: Unlocking the Flavours of Words: Putting the Spice into Indian Poetry – A Reassessment, by Prof B Dessawasray]

Books in the Bath

The thorns on this topic could be as thick and fierce as those we would find on a bishop’s rose. Reading in the bath! Otters above! Or have the days have passed when people would quiver at the very thought of taking literature into the bathroom with them? Granted, a certain level of dampness is not good for a book (witness my copy of Jarni Kolovsky’s …And I Lost which a friend of mine took on holiday to Bangladesh). On the other hand, we can no longer cling onto the belief that there are such things as ‘ideal conditions’ for reading – or that, if there were, they would be of any use. Damaging the spine of a book is nothing compared to ripping the metaphorical pages of the reading experience. The book as pure object is almost meaningless. The book as experience is almost everything. I will go on repeating this until someone tapes up my mouth and chops off my arms.

As you’ll no doubt know, reading in the bath has had a certain amount of press recently, due mostly to Zhou Wang’s book (an extension of a long-running newspaper column) Books in the Bath: A Personal Memoir; some of which I read this afternoon whilst taking a quick soak in the tub. There are many reasons why I might recommend Wang’s book, not the least of which is the fact that I am name-dropped in the preface. Thanks Wang. Still, I must warn any reader that Wang’s approach, though pleasingly seditious in part, is yet too narrow for my tastes. In my wise green eyes, Wang sometimes fails to grasp the central concept of ‘active reading’; which is that it involves not just the avoidance of accepted reading habits, but a constant renewal of any reading habits. It boils down to this: the bath is not enough. The reader must keep moving.

Any cinnamon on your Cervantes, sir?

Random fact about Stanley Pleeber no. 3: Stanley Pleeber was obsessed with cinnamon. One reason we know this (other than the fact that he regularly told people) is that all his books smell of cinnamon. Apparently he used to sprinkle the powdered spice all over them.

Now, I’d love to imagine that this was a form of ‘active reading’; that Pleeber was trying, as readers should, to unlock the potential of literature through the means of committed experimentation in and around the book as object. Unfortunately, there is little proof that Pleeber ever read his books. The most we can glean from the above fact is that Pleeber liked cinnamon. A lot.