Thursday, October 04, 2007

Were You, or Have You Ever Been?

In 1957, Judge Clayton Horn threw out the obscenity case against Allen Ginsburg's Howl, saving City Lights publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti from 50 years in jail.

If Ferlinghetti had served all that time, yesterday (3 Oct) would have been the day he stepped back into the light of freedom. In tribute to the poem, the publisher - and the clear-sighted justice - broadcast Howl yesterday... and only broadcast it online, as WBAI-FM were afraid of getting smacked down by the FCC, the New York Times reports.

With fines of up to $325,000 in their arsenal, the FCC have succeeded where the 1950s courts failed -- but the internet follows in Ferlinghetti's footsteps. Following a run of 1950s-set movies (Good Night and Good Luck, The Notorious Betty Page) this seems like clear evidence that the US is heading back to the days of UnAmerican activities -- which bodes well for another Beat-inspired revolution.

To Pacifica and all who sail with her, DL says: "Good night, and good luck!"

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Tori Gets a Tan

Clyde, one of Tori Amos' myriad characters from her new album American Doll Posse records in her blog that she left the Australian leg of her tour with a copy of Shaun Tan's amazing illustrated book The Red Tree. Which is weird, because DL just picked up a copy of that book at the truly incredible Salts Mill bookshop, while attending a reading by SF Said, author of Varjak Paw as part of the Saltaire festival. Delirium, as Sandman fans will remember, was based on Tori by her friend and fan, Neil Gaiman.

It seems strange but perfect that this should happen the week I saw Theatre de Complicite's A Disappearing Number at the Barbican, with texts by John Berger -- as I'm reading Berger's new book, Hold Everything Dear. Complicite's show, which makes mathematics into poetry, works from the idea that everything is connected, both figuratively and literally.

The same day, I get an email from my Australian friend, the brilliant playwright and poet Jasmine Chan, who introduced me to Tan's work with a copy of The Arrival which - in true DL style - greets visitors to my flat, who get drawn to its beauty, but has yet to be read. Now I feel that I must, to participate fully in the connectedness.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


Happy 800th birthday to Rumi. Born in 1207 in Balkh, now part of Afghanistan, Rumi's life, as much as his poetry, offers incredible resonance with the present. He was driven from Balkh by invaders, and lived in exile in Anatolia, where he wrote his masterpiece the Mathnawi, about exile, loss and the spiritual longing for reunion.

800 years on, controversy and division reign online, with his family claiming to run the only true Rumi site, which identifies the poet as Anatolian and embroils him in religious and geneaological disputes., and a surprising number of Rumi bars and restaurants also pop up on Google, however. Perhaps the global location of the eateries is a more profound indication of one of the central tenets of Rumi's work, which goes beyond nationalism, in the spirit of the wandering dervish.

It's a thought that's beautifully expressed in Sally Potter's film YES, which took some of its inspiration - for a story about the relationship between an Irish-American scientist and a Lebanese Armenian doctor, both living in different kinds of exile in London - from Rumi's ecstatic verse. Rumi was a religious poet, a Sufi mystic, but his poems emphasise belief as an opening of the heart in love.

Here's Rumi's vision of a world in which love, rather than the lust for power, rules, in Shahram Shiva's translation:

"This is a gathering of Lovers.
In this gathering
there is no high, no low,
no smart, no ignorant,
no special assembly,
no grand discourse,
no proper schooling required.
There is no master,
no disciple.
This gathering is more like a drunken party,
full of tricksters, fools,
mad men and mad women.
This is a gathering of Lovers."

"There is no high, no low... No proper schooling required." How radical a thought is that, on the eve of the Conservative party conference?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Gone Down to Sedna

This blog it becoming an obit list. Morbid. But it seems like attention only turns to some of the most moving and important artists of the day when they go into the night. None of them gently.

Katerie Akiwenzie-Damm drew my attention to the passing of storyteller, artist, raconteur and rager Alootook Ipellie, forwarding a link to her reading at his memorial service. Although Ipellie was recognised as a major figure in Canadian letters, his death did not make any of the Canadian national broadsheets, although there's a wry and warm note in the Ottawa Citizen.

for example by this article in Studies in Canadian Literature, which asks why so few Canadian First Nations, Métis and Inuit writers are widely known, either nationally or internationally?

It's a damn good question. The UK broadsheets are wetting their knickers this week over the new Michael Ondaatje novel, and undoubtedly the new Margaret Atwood/Alice Munro/Alistair McLean would have the same effect. Don't get me wrong: I moved 3000 miles across the pond to study Canadian literature, inspired by In the Skin of a Lion.

But what I found when I got there was a storytelling and poetic culture of vast inventiveness, resilience, humour and rage that's barely known: writers as lauded as Beth Brant, Tomson Highway, Greg Scofield, and others whose work has largely been published by indigenous presses such as Theytus and Kegedonce (Akiwenzie-Damm's press), or regional and feminist presses. Their work connects with the land in a way that Ondaatje's catalogue of city buildings can only faintly echo.

I'm more excited than I can say about the film adaptation of Fugitive Pieces that opened the Toronto Film Festival this month. But I'd be even more excited to see the second film by Métis director Clint Alberta. But it's not going to happen, because he's dead. Likewise another book from Ipellie, a follow-up to the magnificent, surreal, wonderful, scary, sexy Arctic Dreams and Nightmares.

Poet and one-man publishing army rob mclennan paid tribute to Ipellie on the Ottawa Poetry blog -- by quoting from the MSN Encarta article on him! Cmon, this is a writer who toured, read, published, made friends and enemies tirelessly and internationally.

mclennan gives a link to one of Ipellie's essays, which glints with shards of his sharp wit and precise eye for gorgeousness and horror. If you can find it, track down Akiwenzie-Damm's anthology Without Reservation for Ipellie's answers to everything you ever wanted to know about having sex in the Arctic but were afraid to ask. When NASA (or whoever) accepted Sedna as the name of the planet, or planetoid, or planetlike object, found in the Kuiper Belt, Ipellie's story "Summit of Sedna" should have appeared in the New Yorker. Or projected onto the sky.

Those Inuit party girls remember you, Alootook. They're waiting for you with Sedna, down under the sea, combing her hair.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Amazing Grace

American short story writer and poet Grace Paley died Wednesday. If you've never heard of her, you've never lived.

The first and last of a generation, Paley was a street-corner agitator, a poet of everyday speech, a fantasist of the porch stoop. She was one of the few remaining voices of the Bund, the Jewish Socialist unions who brought Yiddish humour (and food) to the tenements of New York.

In her stories, the Big Apple is its own country, half American but half Eastern European, and half purely itself. She did that kind of math, brilliantly. She was a mistress of the shrug, the pause, the glinting eye, the ear as keen as a journalist's pen, the absurd punchline that had you in tears.

Her stories were like Chagall paintings more than a little: a woman climbs a tree in Central Park to think; an American tourist decides she prefers China; a very overdue library book holds the secret of a failed marriage.

In my favourite story, a Jewish preschooler gets to play Mary in a nativity play - a matter of complex pride, shame and surprise to her parents, a microcosm of what is means to be a secular working-class Jew in America summed up in the neighbour's question after the play:

"Nu, so how's the Virgin?"

I can't think of any better tribute than that I'm going to hunt down my Collected Stories, signed by Paley at a reading in 1996, and re-read every story, treasuring them. Then I'm going to hoist my soapbox under my arm, go out and protest the war, and listen in on the lives and dreams of passers-by as I do.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Instant Nostalgia

It's a moment that could have come from a novel by the great adopted Canadian himself: the same month that Spook Country (a novel that has its own blog, that's how avant it is) is published, the restaurant where the protagonist of its prequel, Pattern Recognition eats dinner on her first night in London closed up shop.

I have a particular affection for Galangal that's entwined with geek god William Gibson descending from the cloud forests of Vancouver to notice a so-so Thai restaurant opposite the Odeon on Parkway. It was the site of many lively dinners with some of my best friends, one of whom also became friends with a writer-director called Giada Dobryzenksa who persuaded Gibson to appear in her short film Mon Amour, Mon Parapluie.

She stayed friends with Gibson, and kept him updated about her life in London - so weird aspects like Galangal and Mega City Comics, which Tom introduced her to, show up in Pattern Recognition. Tom, a filmmaker, lived on Parkway for a long time, as does a filmmaker character in the novel...

I bought Pattern Recognition at Heathrow airport as I was flying back from London to Toronto, the day after a Galangal dinner with Tom and our merry band. Reading about Cayce Pollard's transatlantic flight (she was in First, I was in cattle, but the principle was the same) I was struck with the Gibsonian emotion of "instant nostalgia," a sense of loss not for the distant past but for the previous moment. Time magazine uses it to describe the particular quality of pop art, which puts a sheen of kitsch melancholy over instantly recognisable brands and dead celebrities. Blogger Shit Happens was inspired to instant nostalgia by seeing the Transformers movie.

It's the emotion of the postmodern condition - a continual ache of loss for the empty present, a sense of entropic decay as what makes the vibrant moment come alive. Gibson would probably call it "nano-nostalgia," or use the example of feeling sad when - for example - playing an interactive game the previous day's state of affairs, scenarios and posts have been superceded by the new day's. Cyberloss is all the more painful for the illusion that the Web "remembers it for you wholesale."

Galangal will be just one of the ghosts that haunts Spook Country when I get around to reading it. Another will be the long-lost alt thread where I discovered an earlier Bill (beta-test version?), a hippie draft dodger dealing weed in Toronto's Yorkville. In the way of the gradual instutionalisation of the web, you can now watch this choice titbit, this covert discovery, on the CBC archives. Despite this fresh-faced countercultural charm, Gibson says that the future he was responsible for inventing, as the Capo of cyberpunk, just isn't living up to his specs.

You know what they say: those who can't find history on Google? Condemned to watch Big Brother repeats.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Word Power

At Harare's Book Café, getting booed off stage ain't the worst thing that can happen to a poet. Italo Calvino has an essay in Cosmicomics where he writes that the fear broadcast by the censors remind us of the power of the word.

I'm trying to think of a joke about "getting booked," but there just isn't one, so -- read, be inspired, spit some words of protest. And if you're lucky enough to be at the Edinburgh festivals (whichever of them) this week, check out my good friend and heroSandra Alland spitting into the wind of war at Word Power's anti-war reading tomorrow (10th).

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Malian Moment

The great library of Timbuktu is about to be restored, depending on the political will (and aims) of Libya and South Africa. Meanwhile Rokia Traoré is touring her stage show Wati, which imagines Mozart as a griot at the court of 13th century Malian emperor Soundiata Keita. Keita was the Charlemagne of Africa, but his name meant little to puzzled audiences at the Barbican. With Touareg bands like freedom fighters Tinariwen and Timbuktu-based Tartit insurgent, and drawing crowds to the annual Festival in the Desert, is this Mali's moment?

2007 also sees the resurgence of Mali's film industury - following in the path laid down by the great Souleymane Cissé - with Faro: Goddess of the Waters screening at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and making the new Artistic Director, Hannah McGill's, top five picks for her first fest.

Are there Malian writers about to build on the recognition of African writers in Britain this year, with Chimananda Adichie Ngozi winning the Orange prize, and Chinua Achebe winning the Man Booker International Prize? Any suggestions or recommendations for Malian reads?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Dying for the Words

A rare event: I got talking to a fellow cinemagoer after we caught each other surreptitiously checking out our tear-reddened eyes in the washroom mirror after the film. Talking about things that make us cry, I mentioned the newspaper, and she cited a story she'd heard on BBC World this week about the assassination of master calligrapher Khalil al-Zahawi in Baghdad. And that's the only traditional news outlet where I could find information. Blogger liosliath, at Morocco Time, links to the BBC article and to some examples of al-Zahawi's calligraphy. Follow the link for the art, not the blog, which is reductionist and partisan in claiming al-Zahawi's death as part of a Zionist plot.

From the other reductionist, partisan corner comes Bobfrombrockley, who makes the excellent point that there's been no news coverage of this story in the English-speaking world (comparable to, say, David Hockney being mugged and shot and no-one reporting it), and the slightly less sound point that al-Zahawi's death somehow proves that the US & UK are right to be in Iraq.

Logic fails. Words fail. Language is shorn of beauty. A library burns.

Also in memory of novelist, filmmaker, educator, provocateur Ousmane Sembene.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Innocuous yet volatile? Verbose yet inchoate?

Yes, I have been wasting more time online in the last couple of days, on a new site called Wordie. I was tipped off by the LibraryThing bloggers, who were offering alternative pursuits to bookhounds howling at the downed LT server.

And it's soooooo addictive. It's one of those fabulous web applications that seems almost, but not too, useful -- aha, you say, a place to store all the words I don't understand from reading critical theory, and see if other people understand them. Or, wow, now I can save up all my silly anglo-francisms. Or collect lovely made-up words from poems. Or try to have the most neologisms. And so the lists proliferate... Unlike, Wordie doesn't seem to exist in order to cache demeaning sexist and racist slang 'inventions' of bored wiggas. Or if it does, I haven't really tripped over that list yet.

Wordnerds may be equally unappealingly elitist, but who can resist the almost embarrassingly profligate sensual charm of vega's gems of colour list? It's like an art store for poets!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Be Kind, Read Wild

On a completely different note, my friend Alison talked me into adding iRead to my Facebook page yesterday -- I was waiting for books in the British Library and bored, so not so much with the arm-twisting. It made me realise that I hadn't written a thing on this blog for ages, hence the guilt-induced double post.

Particularly shamefully, I forgot to post a book launch for Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilisation, a book that seems far from my normal beat, but is a) written by one of the best teachers I ever had, Ted Chamberlin, and b) is actually a book about the entwined history of humanity and its companion species that offers a horse's eye view on colonialism, agriculture, war, poetry and just about everything. It was held in the lovely new branch of Daunt Books in Holland Park, the latest flowering of the fiercely independent travel bookstore whose musty attic galleries of antiquarian maps and books in the original Marylebone High Street branch suffused my teenage years with a wanderlust that has been largely bookish. Books and travel are natural partners in my mind, two ways of exploring, two kinds of journeys. Ted's books - not only Horse, but also If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories? - are ideal travel companions: anecdotal, erudite, political and passionate in equal measures.

Horse is not the only book currently fanning the fires of summer wanderlust (the execrable air in London is also doing its bit - yesterday it was, I swear, brown by 7pm). Chamberlin points out that part of the horse's fascination for writers/riders is its double signification of wildness and domestication - the promise of mobility and the promise of home. It's a paradox that would, I think, delight Jay Griffiths, author of Wild: An Elemental Journey, who lights out for the homes that EuroWestern thought sees as wilderness (the Amazon basin, Nunavut, the Australian outback, West Papua), and finds there that a sense of wildness is instrumental in making home for the people who live within and with it.

I absolutely fell in love with Wild from the first review I read in the Observer, followed by a fortnight's wait to have the book in my hands - during which I read everything I could find about the author: an interview in G2, an old Utne cover story that sets out the philosophy of wild time that lies behind the book, and some loopy, goofy, charming, playful writing for magazines like Resurgence and Aisling.

The web - its very name suggesting stuck, caught, constrained - is not the best place to meet Griffiths, although searching for her work does point to the wilds of the web, the way it brings small magazines to a wider community and allows them to connect with one another. Its webbiness is taken back from Spiderman and returned to Spider Woman, to Anansi, and to the increasingly uncommon garden spider as a labour of love, of storytelling, of subsistence.

That wild style isn't mine, but an imitation in tribute of Griffiths. Her wor(l)dplay is reminiscent of the wise, wild Mary Daly and another Spider Woman, poet Cecilia Vicuña, the title of whose English-language collection The Weaving of Words and the Unravelling of Water could also serve for Wild. As the Independent's review points out, Griffith has found wildness within an English paradoxically domesticated by globalisation. She returns frequently to the roots of words whose wood has been transformed into bland flatpack furniture.

One such astonishing etymology, that threw even this Inga Muscio reader, was Griffths' connection of "cunt" not only to "kenning" and other words for knowledge, but to "kind." Hello! I once spent an entire semester studying the use of the word "kind" in a Coleridge poem (I can't remember which poem, instructive in itself) with the archetypal eccentric professor, and although spiralling into all sorts of places - Japanese woodcuts, Roma songs, Saussurean linguistics - to explore the full menaing of "kind" as an animist Brotherhood of Species, not once was sex, gender or sexual difference mentioned. Even though (through the haze of memory) I think that the poem was about fatherhood and lacked more than the shadow of a mother.

Similarly, the reviews I've read of Griffiths' book (four so far) have all conformed to the notions of suburban, patriarchal, disembodied deathliness against which she sets the lifeforce of wildness, by glossing over the thread of kindness through her book, focused as it is on womankind, women's kindred to the wild, and particularly the kindness and kenning of cunts. While some of Griffiths' country business (in Shakespeare's pun) is the useful stuff of travel literature (how do you change a tampon while canoeing up the Amazon? hiking through West Papua?), there are passages of prose dedicated to the interconnections of interior and exterior wildscapes. Rather than sublime unknowability inspiring feats of phallic conquest, Griffiths learns and shares an indigenous sense of respect for the necessary mystery, an unknowing that is the basis of true knowing.

I'm tempted to quote whole chapters, but that would be like turning the Rockies into ski-chalet subdivisions: this is a book whose (argument is that) wildness is in its wholeness, and that wholeness is in wildness. To read it is a kindness - a gentling of the spirit, a sense of affinity, an erotic learning and an elemental call to action.

Bureau of Film Incompetence?

Cary Bazalgette's letter in today's Guardian is the latest strike against the British Film Institute's mishandling of its role. As Cary points out, control of the BFI has been given to the Film Council, a commercial body whose total contribution to the canon of British cinema is Sex Lives of the Potato Men. The full woe of the story is documented - of course - on a blog, bfiwatch, run by Pam Cook, a BFI and Screen author.

Here's my take, unsanctioned by senior academics, just based on interactions with various high-ups in the BFI over the last year, and also on conversations with library staff. In the tradition of corporate takeovers, the Film Council is now severing the BFI into edible chunks under the cover of convergence and flagship-ness. Squillions of pounds were poured (literally, the place is made of very expensive concrete) into the ugly echo chamber of the BFI Southbank's new "wing" (think 1970s brutalist institution rather than beautiful bird), while the library struggles to fund new acquisitions and, er, pay staff.

While many researchers gently mock the BFI Library - until last year, the catalogue was entirely DOS-based and required an advanced degree in information science to find anything; there's no internet available, wireless or otherwise; the microfiche machines print ghost copy - they do so with great fondness and, more than that, a long, democratic history of use. Because the library is public, all you need to work there is a library membership (roughly a tenth of the cost of a London Library membership) and a pen (yes, a library that allows pens!) There are open shelves for browsing current and reference material, as well as a treasure trove of publicity material, deposited screenplays, audiotapes and videos. You may find yourself working alongside well-known film scholars such as Laura Mulvey or film journalists or producers or costume designers or students. All sorts of names pass over the screen that lets you know your books have arrived from the basement.

Most important of all, the staff know the collection brilliantly -- able to judge whether it's worth searching for that obscure Polish film magazine, and equally able to advise on how to find what you don't even know you're looking for. Currently, there are too few staff working too few hours, because of pay cuts siphoning off money to the empty concrete box on the other side of the river. While it's undeniably exciting that the new Mediatheque is (selectively) making material from the National Film and Television Archives available to viewers on site and on tour around the country, it just points up further the way in which the Library and Publishing divisions are being regarded as poor relations. It just reinforces a comment made to me by a student in a first-year film studies course:

"What do you mean there's a reading package? This is a film course!"

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Lambda Origami Themselves Over Trans-Sexy Striptease

I'm just copying and pasting an email from Greg Wharton of Suspect Thoughts. He tells the story of Peggy Munson's censoring by Lambda so eloquently and succinctly that all I have to add is: get to grips with the press's catalogue to show your support of their authors.

Disabled Origami Striptease Author Peggy Munson Censored
for Explicit Erotic Content and for Appearing to be Straight

Last Thursday evening, our author Peggy Munson was to perform an excerpt from her Lambda Literary Award Finalist novel (Best Lesbian Debut Fiction), Origami Striptease via DVD at the annual San Francisco Lambda Literary Award Finalists’ reading. Peggy is disabled with Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and cannot travel for readings. It was arranged by Charles Flowers (the Executive Director of Lambda Literary Foundation for her to perform in San Francisco via DVD as she has done on several other occasions since the release of her novel. Peggy created a specific new DVD performance for the occasion. Ian Philips, Mama Bear and I, as well as several other folks, specifically came to see the DVD performance and cheer her book and her on.

Peggy’s DVD reading wasn’t shown, nor was anything mentioned as to why the scheduled Peggy Munson was not performing. She was simply not mentioned (thought the screen and DVD were hooked up and ready to go).

Immediately before the event ended, Ian went over and asked Jim Van Buskirk (the Program Manager of the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library) what happened. He stated that he didn’t know; that Chuck Forrester. The Lambda Literary Foundation Vice-President, had the information to introduce her.

I then spoke with the Lambda Literary Foundation Board President, Katherine Forrest, who emceed the reading. In brief (after obviously being caught off guard about being asked), she told me that Jim Van Buskirk informed her that he had watched the video selection and that it was "straight." She asked me if I had seen it. I said no but that I’ve read the novel of course. I asked her if she had seen it. No, she hadn’t watched the DVD. She had made the decision to not show the video (or even mention Peggy being scheduled to perform) without watching it. She told Jim she trusted his judgment completely. She made the decision on his statement alone. They didn't show it—even though one of the other seven readers was a “straight” spouse from an anthology about straight spouses of people who come out as LGB or T and another was Max Wolf Valerio who is a transman with a girlfriend. They didn’t show it even though Jim’s supposed statement about his perception of Peggy’s performance was incorrect.

Peggy wasn't there to ask about it, she said. But I said, ah...there's a reason for that, she’s disabled which is why..., did no one read the introduction and bio?, and the book was there, the book that has been read enough times to be narrowed down to a Finalist, and Ian and I were there, as we always are, and Jim is (was) a friend and has our personal telephone as well as our office cell.

The content is straight, she said. I said, um, no, the actual gender is not ever mentioned. One of the characters is trans. I told Katherine they might take a little more care in making such black/white statements and judgments when trying to include the community as a whole. Her complexion, which had been ever-more beet red during our conversation, blanched considerably when she heard me say “trans.” This is not the first time the Foundation has upset the trans community. An uncomfortable conversation later, Katherine took full responsibility for censoring the excerpt for gender. She said that it was a wrong decision and that she felt horrible about it. She also gave an apology to Ian about the situation. I believe she was greatly upset by what she did. But she did it, and there’s nothing to take that away.

It should be noted that not thirty minutes after Katherine made the decision to silently censor Peggy’s performance and inclusion in the event, she stood up before the audience and proudly talked to us about the Foundation being “our” Foundation and that the mentoring Lambda Literary Foundation would provide with their new LGBTQ (there’s that pesky T again!) Writer’s Retreat would help authors with the community and support she didn’t have when she was younger. This is our foundation?

The next morning I received a voice message from Charles Flowers (the Executive Director of the Lambda Literary Foundation) who stated sincere apologies for the situation, again stating that Katherine made a wrong decision and he would do everything possible to see if Peggy might be able to perform at one of the other city’s readings. What could he say? He set the whole thing up, but he wasn’t there when Katherine made the poor judgment call. He's on the hot seat for something out of his control.

When I spoke with Charles on the phone later that morning, he said Katherine watched the DVD that morning and said Jim must not have watched enough of the video since it was about a woman going down on a man, then a man going down on a woman, then two women having sex. She was rushing the video to Charles for him to add to the New York Lambda Finalist reading, if possible. I’m not sure what excerpt Katherine watched and what she heard Peggy read, but I don’t think she understood it. That's not Origami Striptease. But at least she watched and tried to understand, I guess.

I finally spoke with Jim late that afternoon when he returned my voice message and email pleas to help with some details about what happened. Despite being a friend and working together for years, he was almost hostile during our conversation and sounded quite upset with me over the situation, and the fact that I was questioning him. That makes sense! Why would I want to know the truth about the situation, anyway?

Let’s remember to never question any action by others, kids. It makes those in question annoyed.

Jim was—not surprisingly—telling a very different story from Katherine’s the night before and Charles’ earlier in the day. But I was forewarned. Charles did say that he “doubts I’ll ever get the truth from Jim about it.” Jim stated he did not have enough time to review the DVD before the reading, and only watched part of it at that point, which was 45 minutes before everyone arrived for the reading. When I asked when the DVD arrived, he said he received the DVD that Monday (Peggy rushed delivery to make sure Jim had plenty of time to test the DVD with the player, etc.). I guess four days is not enough time to watch a five-minute DVD for an event that you are in charge of.

Jim disagrees with what Katherine said the night before and stated he did not say anything about “straight” content but told Katherine specific “words” that he thought were inappropriate for the public library. (I guess I should have asked him the specific words but since the whole idea of a few words being so objectionable to him is so bizarre that under the circumstances it wouldn’t make a difference.) He thought the video to be too sexually explicit to be played.

I said, come on, Jim, I’ve been at and performed in dozens of your events…are you for real? (The San Francisco Library system and that branch most specifically host readings and events by many of our friends and colleagues and sexual content has never been an issue—at all. Nor is gender usually an issue. It is San Francisco after all. But censorship has been an issue. In 2004, I was part of a panel sponsored by the library and the New York Times regarding queer marriage and our anthology I Do/I Don’t. My contact at the New York Times wanted me to tell my authors on the panel that they couldn’t discuss the upcoming presidential election. Ha! Not. Jim was as furious as I was and stood beside me when I said that they were crazy to try and censor the content. The panel happened as planned.)

I said nothing in Origami Striptease is any more graphic than the excerpt the Lesbian Erotica Finalist Karin Kallmaker read. He agreed that it wasn’t, yes, that's true, he said, but she was “there” and able to judge the audience for appropriateness. What? Did he really say that? He took full responsibility for censoring Peggy for “explicit erotic content.” He later refused to confirm that he had agreed it wasn’t any more graphic and actually said “yeah, what-ever!” at me. I’m surprised he didn’t give me a fingersnap too. Jim did not, like Katherine, act like he was sorry and actually was quite a prick about the whole thing. I guess he didn't like (the portion of) the video (that he didn’t really watch), huh?

When talking with Katherine after the reading Thursday night about things I thought might have been the reason for the missing performance she said there was no such thing as too sexually graphic an excerpt for the Lambda reading and that that wouldn’t have been an issue or a reason to not include her.

So there you have it. Peggy Munson was censored from the Lambda Literary Award Finalist reading in San Francisco Thursday night first by the San Francisco Public Library for “explicit sexual content” and then again by the Lambda Literary Foundation for explicit gender content, in essence for being, gulp, yeah, I’ll say it… “straight!”

Peggy Munson has blogged about the censoring of her performance. Charlie Anders has also blogged about the censoring.

Information about Suspect Thoughts Press and the dirty straight book called Origami Striptease can be found here. Please give Peggy some support and let her know your feelings by responding to her blog posting. You can see other offensive performances by Peggy. And you can order the apparently too-filthy-for-San Francisco-homosexuals novel.

Greg Wharton, publisher
Suspect Thoughts Press

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ideas, cinema thereof

Went to a curious new event this week, Cinema of Ideas, organised by the Independent Cinema Office at the shiny new BFI Southbank (aka the National Film Theatre, rebranded for the covergence generation). NFT 2.0 has a huge concrete and glass barn extension, which is eerily reminiscent of the spaceship in 2001, and in this extension there is a Studio, where the COI took place.

From the description circulated, it was going to be a salon, a soirée, an interlocution and circulation of ideas among the soignée folk of the cineaste world. Only, the Studio does not have moveable seats -- it's a small preview theatre with fixed seating and a classroom-like atmosphere exacerbated by an excrutiating echo/feedback loop on the sound system that occasionally made the panel sound as if they were speaking from outer space or the Tate Modern turbine hall.

Andrea Arnold didn't show (but, I've just discovered from IMDb, was in No. 73, one of my favourite TV shows as a kid!). But two out of three ain't bad, and both Ali Smith and Gaylene Gould from the Bernie Grant Centre were great raconteuses, very personable and engaging. Ali Smith in particular was a thoughtful respondent and addressed larger social questions with ease.

The same can't really be said for the audience -- it was a lot like an encounter group crossed with the first day of class, with each speaker starting "As a..., I feel that..." No-one really responded to anyone else's point. Few offered evidence or grounds, and fewer still were able to be reflexive or self-critical. There was a decidedly anti-intellectual atmosphere - we were there because we loved cinema, not ideas -- and apparently the two are incompatible.

Further frustrating proof that the salon culture that produced thinker-creators like Susan Sontag is little in evidence in the UK. The Guardian were full of praise, recently, for a new crop of small journals -- started and curated by editors at Faber and close personal friends of Manolo Blahnik. This is salon culture the wrong way round, proceeding from celebrity and established voices. Would Gertrude Stein have made headway in such a world? Could a journal like Close Up exist today?

I would love to edit an anthology in the spirit of Close Up, bringing together writing of all genres by poets, playwrights, essayists, psychoanalysts, filmmakers, artists, novelists like Smith (whose most recent novel The Accidental is one of the most brilliant pieces of thinking about film I've read) as well as academic theorists to really see how film is being thought about. The legacy of Close Up's writers, like HD, Dorothy Richardson, and Stein has been erased by the institutionalisation of film studies, although The Red Velvet Seat has collected many modernist women's voices, both professional writers and amateur cinemagoers, into an amazing collection.

There's so many exciting writers thinking about film now: Lee Ann Brown, Abigail Child, Dodie Bellamy, Tony Harrison, Anne Carson, to say nothing of all the emerging writers whose work appears in Chroma's Cinema issue. As well as critical writers who aren't film specialists like Marina Warner, bell hooks...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"The Order is All Things Happening Now" (Tom Raworth)

Several things, all occurring at once:

1/ The Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference, where there were more film and film theory books than I can begin to describe. Yup, I spent most of my time in the book room -- although I did go to several panels and events about Web 2.0 happenings, including great papers by Julia Lesage and Paul Hertz as well as meeting the excellent crew from academic multi-party blog Dr. Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope -- interesting things afoot!

I was particularly drawn to the tables set up by Wallflower and Continuum, whose respective editors Yoram Allon and David Barker were both very friendly. Duke University Press's table was also heaving; I don't know who their designer is, but the books in the Next Wave series are highly desirable. I bought Amy Villarejo's Lesbian Rule, which should really be called Lesbian Drool, -- it's so beautifully presented and gorgeously written.

Duke were celebrating the 30th anniversary of Camera Obscura, which is probably my favourite film journal. Certainly the one I consult the most. And it's now online for subscribers. Among other things, Camera Obscura published the first academic article on Thriller by Jane Weinstock. Also, they had chocolate-covered strawberries at their party.

When I wasn't rambling round and round the book room desperately trying not to buy things (other accidental purchases included Geetha Ramanathan's Feminist Auteurs from Wallflower and Petra Kuppers' The Scar of Visibility from Minnesota, whose Visible Evidence series could have caused serious wallet hemorrhaging), I also caught Michelle Citron's new media project, Mixed Greens, a choose-your-own-structure set of intertwined films each identified by a salad vegetable icon on the home screen. Each story comprises the same number of sections featuring the same themes (heartbreak, family, desire, etc). There are two strands: Citron's Irish-Jewish family history, conveyed through interviews with relatives and footage shot in Ireland as well as historical photographs; and a history of lesbian America, and specifically coupledom and changing butch-femme dynamics, from the 1950s to the 21st century. Like many of Citron's films, this latter is composed of intermixed found and staged footage, using voice overs to narrate the intimate histories. My primary reaction to it was emotive - charmed, moved, engaged, sad and happy, aroused and amused - so I'm not ready to write anything analytical yet.

Her analytical voice is one of my favourite in film theory: Home Movies and Other Necessary Fictions is probably the only volume of film theory I've ever given as a gift, for its wisdom as well as its style. It moves between film script, essay, double-column essay a la Kristeva, autobiography, confessional, photographic essay, arranging an act of witness without insisting on a binary of truth and fiction. Speaking, as Cathy Caruth says, from the wound. It's one of the beautiful Visible Evidence series, so it's a deeply seductive book to handle, even as its disturbing narrative demands that you keep reading and avert your eyes.

2/ Speaking of -- I read two incredible books while I was at the conference that have become entwined in my mind with each other, with the experience of SCMS and with my travels. The first was Stevie Davies' The Eyrie, which I saw reviewed in the Guardian by AL Kennedy, who could sell me on walking over a cliff. Suffice to say that I sobbed over the blazingly sunlit Great Lakes, utterly immersed in and gripped by the narrative of connections and disconnections between three different, anarchic women. As great as the characters were, and Red Dora is one of the most seductive and persuasive portrayals of an outrageous old age I've seen since the Auntie in YES, it was the waves and wash of language that kept me in the novel.

Similar yet different, the precision of Jenny Diski's On Trying to Keep Still astonished me. Her descriptions of travel through the landscape of the mind made me think of Kay Redfield Jamieson, but also reminded me of Maya Deren's films, in which impossible spaces are united by dream logic and editing -- it's a particular mind that is stepping between beach and ice and wooden floorboard with such elegance to carry you along. It's worth checking out her blog to see that this finely crafted, spiky and witty writing is going on all the time, and to contemplate the blog as a form of going out (public) while keeping still (private), of moving not moving, of engaging community while hiding away.

3/ Community always makes me think of the Toronto Women's Bookstore, where I spent a merry afternoon supplementing the weight of my luggage with a supermarket sweep. As I'm travelling and hanging out with good friends, I haven't had much time to enjoy my booty, but I am so looking forward to Nalo Hopkinson's newbie, The New Moon's Arms and Joanne Arnott's Steepy Mountain Love Poems. Drawn and Quarterly's beautiful newest book Aya is a treat for a rainy day (a fairly safe bet that it won't be long on the shelf in the UK, then), and I'm holding out for a delivery of Betsy Warland's Only This Blue after reading about it in the most recent Herizons.

4/ And after all that Canadiana (yes, it's allCanCon!), to end with a (slight) return to the US and media studies: Buffy Season 8 the comic. I am hyperventilating as I write this, and also predicting a panel at SCMS next year (oddly, Michael Franti is singing about vampires as I write this - the BtVS uncanny is back in business!). Can a comic be a TV series and vice versa? What does it mean when the paratext is rapidly becoming the text (tee hee)? The Buffy is My Life essay contest on Dark Horse's MySpace page is a curious example of the ways conventional publishing is harnessing online fan community energy and new media convergence. SCMS panel for sure (any takers?)

I Want!

I'm really used to wanting books (for example, the WACK! exhibition catalogue) but less used to wanting web magazines - after all, how can you own them? -- but Drunken Boat makes me feel all weak at the knees. It's the cutest kid at the prom, totally desirable and totally aloof. Want! Thanks to the fabulous poet and community activist and all-round grrl riot Sandra Alland for bringing it to my attention.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Addictive - but proactive?

Terrible things are afoot. Instead of writing a really cool short story riffing on Icelandic folk tales, I've discovered Squidoo via the lovely people at Artsphere, who offer the persuasive argument that if I Squidoo, I will make money, find a job, be elected president of the Galaxy and not be such a late adopter when it comes to social networking...

So far, so non-literary. But I think Squidoo could be a pretty good tool for writers looking to do lo-fi promo, and readers looking to pick up new titles. No-one's really cracked how to make the internet work for writers - don't buy the lulu hype - but maybe this self-generating, soapbox/storefront will be the way forward?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

One R out of 3 Ain't Bad

Long time coming... But really, I've been doing more writing than reading of late (in the fun sense). I have been wearing grooves in the seats at the British Library and the BFI library, but somehow reading Derrida just isn't that fun anymore... Although I have been re-reading a lot of Ursula Le Guin, and thinking about why she's so amazing. How can you not love someone who reads and reviews so brilliantly and justly. I'm hoping that a little of her hard-earned charms will rub off on me...

Thankfully, for the time being, my writing is actually making waves. "They like me, they really like me!" [You can hear the parodic Hollywood hysteria there, right?]

So this is an utterly self-disinterested posting plugging the wonderful Stride magazine where I may have some poems in a recent online issue.

Look out for a familiar name cropping up in new issues of Seam, Staple, Equinox, Frogmore Papers, Interpreters House, Avocado, IOTA and Velvet.

Thanks to the lovely folks at the Poetry Library, Staple, Equinox, Frogmore Papers, Interpreter's House and Iota - along with other excellent magazines - can be read for free online.

Most small magazines are put together by volunteer editors, and most can't afford to pay their writers. If you can afford to buy or subscribe to any of these magazines, you're not only helping sustain a publication, but an entire community. But reading online and enjoying is all to the good :)