Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Well I had one solid vote on the question of prizes and festivals and their intrinsic value, and that was a solid NO. Meaning a 100% dissatisfaction rating with the cultural circus as it stands. Arts Facilitators be warned!

Word has filtered back to me via a number of different channels that poets and writers are relieved at the recent decision to leave the publishing tariff in place. One industry insider cited the example of the Australian music industry and its success under differing forms of protection, although I was too polite to point out that the Musicians' Union relaxed those conditions years ago and that musos could teach your literate types a thing or two about kicking against the pricks. Other very successful bookshop owners cited the relief over copyright, as though they gave a tinker's cuss.

All I see is another example of the riches of our culture being kept out of reach of the young as they struggle too too long to find their feet in this increasingly top-heavy world, while the purveyors of that culture hold on to their priviliges and damn the consequences (oh, and pen the occassional piece for some daily rag bemoaning the sub-literacy of our youth).

To paraphrase my old song-writing mate, Bow Campbell, more of the same isn't the thing we were asking for.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Boy's Own

One of the big movers at my local remainder store, London's Kathy Lette, has ventured a step closer to the zeitgeist by raising that old evergreen of her generation, sexism. More specifically, sexism in the publishing world north of the line, homing in on the latest top 10 list from US Publishers' Weekly (does anyone still pay attention to these things?). Lette is her usual measured and considered self in deeming the staff of said institution a bunch of dinosaurs, although on casually perusing the list it strikes me there is more matter for concern here than the men in question's hoary genitalia.

It is one of those questions that just keeps getting asked: what purpose do such lists serve? Who is gaining from being on them? Certainly not literature, judging by the current crop. The same question could be asked of literary prizes. Sure they raise the profile of literature for a day here and there (oh, are people still doing that stuff?), but has literature itself ever really benefited from such prizes and festivals? The same question was being asked around the Paris Academy in the 1880's, but the people asking it had the courage to strike out on their own.

Is it mere coincidence, for instance, that the burgeoning of festivals and prizes was contemporaneous with the rationalisation of the publishing industry both here and north of the line? Of course, small publishers would argue that they need the exposure, but their stable are rarely the marquee event at such gabfests.

Anyway, just a thought. I have posted a survey on the topic in the sidebar.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The cost of a canal

Strange Meeting 

It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which Titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall;
With a thousand fears that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
"Strange, friend," I said, "Here is no cause to mourn."
"None," said the other, "Save the undone years,
The hopelessness.  Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something has been left,
Which must die now.  I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery;
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now . . ."