Daniel Williams

Archive for the ‘Canadian’ Category

Summer Reading Challenge 2012

In American, Canadian, Literature, Miscellaneous, Welsh on 31/08/2012 at 11:16

In my borough (and in other parts of the country) the libraries have a summer reading challenge for children. They have to read six books over the summer and get stickers, medals, etc. I blogged about this last year. As I was volunteering to help out again this year, I did the challenge myself. My six books aren’t as eclectic this year, but that’s because I’ve been on a crime/noir binge.

1)         The White People and Other Weird Stories (2012)- Arthur Machen: I spent ages trying to track down any copy of Machen’s stories. I couldn’t even find his books in his home country of Wales. I ordered this book from America. In some ways I prefer Machen to H.P. Lovecraft, but he does have a tendency to go very Victorian (one story has a paragraph that lasts about twenty pages!)

2)         Tigana (1990)- Guy Gavriel Kay: I don’t read fantasy all that often. I picked this up because I’d heard about it on Sword and Laser’s youtube show. It was a good read, some interesting characters and themes. The story is about a city with a spell on it that nobody (except those born there) can remember its name. I don’t much about the world of fantasy fiction, but I imagine Tigana is in the literary end of things.

3)         Drive (2005)- James Sallis: I’ve heard this book called an existential crime novel, but, truth be told, I didn’t quite get it. I watched the film afterward and that didn’t strike me too much either. In the novel there is a lot of non-linear narrative, while I like flashbacks, I’m not a fan of a plot too much out of order. This books gets a lot of good press and I know I’m in the minority but, as always, this comes down to personal taste.

4)         The Goodbye Look (1969) Ross MacDonald: Lew Archer is a private eye hired to recovered some missing jewellery. I’ll admit, I get a real kick out of noir and private detective fiction. I went on to read another Lew Archer novel called The Galton Case (1959) and I preferred that to this. Still, it was a lot of fun to read.

5)         When the Women Come Out To Dance (2002)- Elmore Leonard: This was a great collection of short stories. In each the dialogue, plot and characterisation were masterful. The story ‘Fire In The Hole’ was quite possibly my favourite due to the slightly unconventional protagonist of Raylan Givens.

6) The Big Nowhere (1988)- James Ellroy: This is the second in Ellroy’s LA Quartet, followed by LA Confidential (1990). This is a compelling book, but it has to be one of the most brutal, nasty stories I’ve ever read. There are a lot of good things about it- it’s well written and I like Ellroy’s prose style, dialogue and characterisation, but it’s the world of the story that troubles me. I have a strong stomach when it comes to violence and bleak worldviews, but The Big Nowhere pushed me to my limit. I read the last third of the book as quickly as I could because I didn’t want to be carrying around that world in my head for any longer than I had to. I like flawed characters, but the there was nobody in this book who really, truly, had any kind of redeeming feature. I’ve read Ellroy before and I remember it been strong stuff, but not this bleak and nihilistic.

Advertisements

‘The Energy of Slaves’ (1972) Leonard Cohen

In Canadian, Literature, Poetry Review, Review, Writing on 06/08/2011 at 15:07

For a songwriter to be called a poet is a compliment, but poetry and lyrics are two different beasts. One man who really is a lyricist and a poet is Leonard Cohen, he published poetry years before he recorded his first album. The collection The Energy of Slaves (1972) was published after his first three albums. Here is one of the poems:

Whenever I happen to see you…

Whenever I happen to see you
I forget for a while
that I am ugly in my own eyes
for not winning you

I wanted you to choose me
over all the men you know
because I am destroyed
in their company

I have often prayed for you
like this
Let me have her

That break between the penultimate and final lines just amazes me. That last line contains such power but is so underplayed. I hear it read in Leonard Cohen’s wry tones. In fact, I hear all of Leonard Cohen’s poems been read by the man himself. His wry, mordant voice echoes through the collection.

Like ‘Whenever I happen to see you…’ the more depressing poems are underplayed in their forms. The poems are often only a handful of lines long, but each word, punctuation or line break counts for something. The poems in The Energy of Slaves are very economical in terms of their form and structure. This next poem is quite probably my favourite break-up/put-down poem ever:

 I did not know until you walked away…

I did not know
until you
walked away
you had the perfect ass

Forgive me
for not falling in love
with your face or your conversation

The oft forgotten side of Leonard Cohen is just how damn funny he can be. Some of his poems really make me chuckle. The wry sarcasm shines through against the more depressing of his poems.

This book is a huge, huge influence on my own poetry. The minimalist style is one I’ve tried to make my own, though I owe Mr. Cohen a large debt in terms of style and in wry humour.

%d bloggers like this: