Margaret Jull, Costa
(Harcourt)Andrés of Casas Solas lives in what's left of Ainielle, a small town in the Pyrenees. Life is a drag. There is little work, and the villagers are, like rats, abandoning ship. Even his own family is falling apart.
Son Andrés leaves without saying goodbye. Son Calimo disappeared in the Spanish Civil War. Daughter Sara died of a childhood disease. Wife Sabina finally says to hell with it, and hangs herself in a nearby barn. When all the other villagers disappear, it's Andrés of Casas Solas --- wearing his wife's hanging rope around his waist --- alone with faithful Old Dog Trey (or, this being Spain, Perra Vieja Numero Tres).
The title of the book has to do with the rain that appears around the time that Andrés starts to dig his own grave. The rain begins to take on a heavy, symbolic weight. "Time is a patient yellow rain," the author tells us, "that slowly douses even the fiercest of fires."
But there are fires that burn beneath the earth, cracks in the memory, so parched and deep that perhaps not even the deluge of death can erase them.
Ah so! The deluge of death!
The slow, gentle autumn rain was returning once more to the mountains to cover the fields with old gold and the roads and the villages with a sweet, brutal melancholy. The rain lasted only a matter of minutes. Long enough, though, to stain the whole night yellow...
§ § §
Some of us --- like your present reviewer --- are not resolute fans of the nouveau roman, the Last Year at Marienbad school of culture. How many times do you have to be told that the villagers are hightailing for the city, that it's cold and wet and snowy, that there's no one left now but the old guy and his faithful mutt. It's like being scolded ... with facts.
The most exciting moments in The Yellow Rain are limited to Andrés getting bitten by a snake, ("a solitary, desperate battle against death"), the ghost of his mum pothering around the kitchen ready to cook up a paella, and his taking a gun to ex-neighbor Aurelio (who merely came back to steal a few necessities of life from the empty houses in Ainielle).
There is the thought, as we get to the end of this potboiler, that the narrator (or maybe the author, or maybe both ... or maybe all of us) are already dead and we are listening to a dry Todenlieder. Llamazares is thus a master of an ancient and hoary stylistic trick: that is, of dragging the narrative out to the point that we just wish he'd be done with it --- that Andrés would get off the pot, pop himself with the gun, plop himself in the grave, and leave us to go on to more cheerful narratives.
But author Llamazares isn't going to let us off easily. Even though our slovenly hero finally shoots Numero Tres with the shotgun ("the cartridge blew her head off") on page 122, we still have to dawdle on until page 130 for the final parting --- on the shoulders of a tedious, mopey cliché: "The night returns to its rightful owner."
"Right you are," as Pirandello once famously wrote, "if you think you are."--- Ignacio Schwartz
The Best of
David H. Lynn,
(Sourcebooks)These literary anciens who run the "the little magazines" --- The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Midwest Review, The Sewanee Review, the Hudson Review, The Kenyon Review --- are not unlike the choirmasters from a hundred years ago whose job was to find the best boy singers, take them to the local surgeon for a quick snip, and thus render them bland counter-tenors for life. In like manner, the editors of these little magazines take what comes in the mail and get to work to do whatever is necessary to render the poems dispirited and the prose lifeless.
It will always be beyond me how they can exist in the fascinating world of American letters --- but end up publishing "product," something out of MacDonald's or Walt Disney or CheeseWhiz. Poems and prose are emulsified, bleached and toned, and then squeezed lifeless by the editor's steam iron, creating a bland mishmash such that one wants to let the magazine drop from nerveless fingers, plop to the floor to lie there alongside the doghairs and fleas and slutswool that inhabit the nether regions.
Despite their cant, these magazines are quick to reject the experimental. John Crowe Ransom founded The Kenyon Review in 1939 and acted as its editor until 1959, establishing its reputation as "one of the finest literary journals in America," says editor Lynn, modestly.
While regarded as a conservative critic, Ransom often published writers whose values and aesthetics were very different from his own.
Right. Ask authors like Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski, Pete Winslow, Mordecai Richler, Philip Roth --- not to mention James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Claude Brown et al --- all writers with life and heart and a clear, strong voice. Ask them or their biographers how easy it was to get into The Kenyon Review under Ransom.
I suggest they knew early on --- especially if they were black --- that they would get no hearing nor space from any of these WASPy little magazines. The real tragedy was that an appearance here could easily have spelled the difference between success and failure to these often impoverished authors who desperately needed exposure. These writers got stiffed, and stiffed repeatedly, by the intellectual bag ladies who were interested merely in the stars of the American Literary Pie, those with white skin, rhyming verse, and nerveless prose.
§ § §
The Kenyon Review has managed to prevail all these years by publishing this acceptable cream of American writing, and this fat volume (440 pages!) is evidence, your honor, of my brief. In the case of the Kenyon Review, it might have to do with being forced to emit its dim light from the feeble wastes of Godforsaken Gambier, Ohio.
Editor Lynn modestly calls this "an extraordinary anthology," but despite all the names (and name drops) --- James Dickey, Galway Kinnell, Derek Walcott, Ha Jin, Joyce Carol Oates, Charles Wright, John Berryman --- the usual heavies of the American Lit Biz, the word "extraordinary" need not apply. The ones above, along with Schwartz, Lessing, Nabokov, Beckett, Walcott, Lowell, Calvino, Berryman, and Rukeyser are uniformly represented by their weaker wares.
The reason is obvious. Once authors attain a modicum of fame, they wouldn't be squandering their words on the likes of The Kenyon Review. It is no accident that the circulation of the magazine over the years has never risen much above a few thousand.
§ § §
Here we find a juvenile piece from Dylan Thomas (1940), a terribly translated poem from García Lorca (accented "i" somehow mislaid), a not so very inspiring poem of Nabokov ("Tell, flier, why your lips do lack/a tint of life...") dated 1979 but actually composed fifty years before --- a poem that not even Joseph Brodsky's translation can salvage. There is one mildly interesting offering from Sylvia Plath, dated 1960, but it would probably be meaningless if we didn't have the knowledge of her life with poet Ted Hughes and her own sad demise.
F. Scott Fitzgerald is represented here by "The World's Fair" dated they tell us 1948 even though he passed on to his own world's fair in 1940. It's an excerpt from his never-John Berryman (1940) is included ("Becket's brains upon the pavement spread/Forbid my rust, my hopeful prophecy") along with the ironical if not mischievous editor's note that he jumped off a bridge in Minneapolis in 1972. And of course, since we always need the copyright notice of American literary success, that being the heavy of all heavies in the lit-biz --- Joyce Carol Oates --- we have four pages (Introduction) and twenty pages ("Death Mother") of her prose, which, surprisingly, isn't all that bad, considering that it was whipped off in an afternoon between gigs on several literary panels and evening classes spent explaining the roots of American letters to the dumbfounded students at Princeton University.
published fourth novel, and since we all know that his writing turned pale and meaningless in the last years of his life, it is obviously included not because of its innate quality --- it has none --- but because a reader will see "F. Scott Fitzgerald" in the table of contents and think, "The Kenyon Review even published F. Scott Fitzgerald." Wow.
An endless meditation on snakes from the Mr. Softee of American Verse, Wallace Stevens, takes up some nine pages. There are two poems by Robert Lowell, and we know he is a Very Important Poet because the editor's notes are printed on page 57 and repeated without change on page 69.
John Crowe Ransom founded The Kenyon Review which may explain its lack of nuts. He and the other dandys out of the New School of Criticism turn up early on in the book, including Allen Tate with a poem that starts off, unappetizingly,
The Management Area of Cherokee
National Forest, interested in fish,
Has mapped Tellico and Bald Rivers
And North River...
Small literary magazines like this one have pretended over the years to be a place where the new and young and untried will be heard. In truth, they exist to plump up the lorky egos of the fossils in the English Departments who, having failed at their chosen craft --- being creative or being writers or being creative writers --- end up as editors. Thus The Kenyon Review and its ilk become not a hothouse of experimental literature but a sinecure for the frumpy literary failures who abound in these departments around the country --- men and women who live in a perpetual Brown Study of ennui, wheezy memories, and desuetude.--- H. Washington Frazier, Jr.
(Twisted Spoon Press)Nichita Danilov is from Moldavia, in Northern Romania. According to the translator of this edition of his poems, he is an Orthodox Christian, but his writing turns out to be a strange combination of illusion and Old Testament imagery if not humility ("I lie in your hand/like a pear/just picked.") He is much taken with mystical visions and angels which he invites to "enter your body." There is also an element of the Song of Songs, where he sees breasts, not like twin roes, but "twin dice."
The most interesting of his poems use startling images that remind us of the best of the Imagist school where the moon can become an old farmer "leaning over the fence." For Danilov, eyes become "blue tongues of fire," souls "emerge from a second-hand store," an Angel "smokes a long cigar," and Grandpa Ferapont would "pour his beard out over the city.
Images of madness combine with crazy wisdom:
I will walk barefoot through the snow
torn with longing for an old white field.
§ § §
In his spirit Danilov pays homage to Doestoevsky, Borges, and Whitman --- this last in an essay that spans the final pages of the book. He quotes Whitman,
But I from the banks of the running Missouri, praise nothing in art or aught else,
Till it has well inhaled the atmosphere of this river, also the western prairie-scent,
and exudes it all again.
The essay is concerned with the power of words, especially words in poetry. Danilov asks that we honor them, treat them with great seriousness. He claims to have written a poem about losing hair from three places on his head, and, shortly after, lost hair from three places on his head. He subsequently burned the poem and dropped the ashes in a lake, and, he says, the hair grew back.
We may not wish to take all of his ideas at face value --- (especially when, in the same essay, he tells us that Buddha achieved enlightenment by kneeling in front of a wall for nine years) but there is no doubt that Danilov can create subtle and telling images:
O how I loved Maria
at night I would wash my feet
in her golden hair
where the nightingales sang...--- A. W. AllworthyGo to a reading
of Danilov's poetry