Skip to main content


Showing posts from March, 2014

Clemson Literary Festival

The Clemson Literary Festival came and went, and as best I can tell, it was a huge success. For me, highlights were hearing U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway read her own poems, and then driving three other talented poets--Denise Duhamel, Natalie Shapero, and Craig Morgan Teicher--to or from the airport, and exchanging thoughts on topics ranging from writing to survival to teaching to raising kids.

Why did I drive writers to the airport?

Boredom, procrastination (instead of grading or writing), and making effort to keep my job count, but I was mainly inspired by some short pieces by Jonathan Ames, where he takes on various roles for the sake of adventure, and also by John McNally's After The Workshop, whose main character survives by driving writers around Iowa City. The driving seemed to go well, and I'm rather proud of the fact that with passengers in the car, I miraculously avoided one of my usual highway routines of suddenly and desperately pushing it to an exit whereupo…

death on the nile

So I randomly posted a Roberto Bolano quotation from a story about a photojournalist's adventures in India, which I've often paired with a section of The Savage Detectives about journalists and photographers in Liberia, Africa, and then within 24 hours I read about the death of Matthew Power.

According to The Huffington Post, Power died in Uganda while on assignment following an explorer who was attempting to walk the length of the Nile. Heatstroke is believed to be the cause of death, and he was only 39-years-old.

I didn't know Matthew, but because I've been a Harper's Magazine subscriber for years, I did know some of his wonderful writing, particularly, "Continental Drift: River vagrants in the age of Wal-Mart" and "The Magic Mountain: Trickle-down economics in a Philippine garbage dump." I read these when they first appeared in the print issue and heartily recommend them both.

Life is short, and for many far shorter than it should be, but it s…

pay adjuncts, work hard, live below your means

I didn't know Joseph A. Domino's article in The Huffington Postwas coming, but I have known Joe through various e-mails since the spring of 2010, soon after I first learned that Fight for Your Long Daywould be published. His early enthusiasm for the novel led to his testimony as a blurb on the adjunct situation at the front of the book.

Reading Domino's HuffPo piece, good writing that presumably didn't earn him a dime, it struck me that 1) Joe left out a lot of personal adversity he's faced; 2) in several fluid paragraphs, he captures the 1970s recession as well as the present moment for far too many; and 3) the man has worked hard, forty plus years of it, and he deserves his retirement with a degree of dignity.

Also, Joe says that some might call him "cheap," but I'd suggest that the way he implies he has handled his money over the years is very reasonable given the elasticity of the American economy with all of its downsizing, outsourcing, unpredict…

Hemingway, Hunger, and "My Old Man"

There are novels I've read at least three times, and both Hunger and The Sun Also Rises would fit this category. In the most recent rereads, I'm getting a lot more from the Hamsun than the Hemingway; for the former I've written down several quotations whereas when I was reading Papa in Suzhou, I found the book did not wear well with me.

In fact, just like my story "My Old Man" which began as a parody of a Hemingway story, or maybe, more so, a parody of my life, The Sun Also Rises, read in 2012, seemed to be an elementary tale about a bunch of drunks who were or felt like failed writers. That struck more than anything, that everyone from the opening Jew, Robert Cohn, to the narrator had a novel or an aborted effort somewhere in his dossier. So that's the ultimate writer's novel, but it's also the essential parody of all of us.

In the past though, particularly when reading it at my father's in his 1990s, $400-per-month studio by the sea in Ponte Ve…

a final quote from Hamsun's Hunger

"The intelligent poor man of course is a much finer observer than the intelligent rich man. The poor man has to look carefully around him every time he takes a step, he wisely mistrusts every word he hears from others, for him the simplest acts involve obstacles and problems. His senses are sharp, he is a man of feeling, he has experienced painful things, his soul has been burned and scarred. . . ."

Knut Hamsun, Hunger (published in 1890)

vintage selfie

Colin Powell took time to post a vintage selfie, and it reminded me of my dad's efforts at such from the 1970s.

Below my father's photo rests his college copy of The Sun Also Rises, which I enjoyed rereading in Suzhou, China in May of 2012. The book, as in the copy depicted (originally posted two years ago), figures prominently in "My Old Man," a story included here, about visiting my father when he had only forty dollars in his pocket but was happily living by the beach, writing poetry, and soon to return to the world of work as a cashier at a local gas station's convenience store. That was twenty years ago when I first plucked it off Jay's shelf near St. Augustine, Florida, began reading, and took it back with me to Philly (not my first time through that novel, but my first time through my father's copy).

In Suzhou, among other places, I read from it in a faux Italian gelato cafe in a small shopping mall near my daughter's four-year-old kindergarten…

passenger train


So it should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I'm now reading Hunger for the third or fifth time. It's a novel that has found its way to this blog several times before, including this early entry. Like several other great writers of the period, late in his life Knut Hamsun was on the wrong side of fascism, but, regardless, he was indisputably on the right side of literature (in the sense that he wrote it).

Here are a couple early quotations I've appreciated:

"I was beginning to be drawn in. The plot ran away with me, and one lie after the other popped into my head." p.27

"Despite my alienation from myself that moment, and even though I was nothing but a battleground for invisible forces, I was aware of every detail of what was going on around me." p.15

(Both are from the Noonday edition, Robert Bly trans. with an intro from Isaac Bashevis Singer.)

If by chance Hamsun's Hunger is one you've missed, please do grab a copy and …

Vietnam War Memorial

Last November, we had a chance to walk the wall in Washington, D.C.

Two Small Coincidences?

Late last night, as I tore through a section of Dave Newman's Two Small Birds where the narrator expresses his admiration for Knut Hamsun's Hunger, I turned to my left, and sure enough it was the only book on the stool by my bed (linked to the edition I own, translated by Robert Bly and with an introduction by Isaac Bashevis Singer).

This reminded me of the other Pittsburgh novel, Said Sayrafiezadeh's When Skateboards Will Be Free, and how I was about to fall asleep early after reading a page with the sentence, "The clock on the wall read 8:50." I checked my cell phone, and sure enough, it was 8:52 p.m.

I'll just tidy up, find the Hunger links, and escape this entry without mentioning Mr. Coincidence, Paul Auster (who, by the way, has written an introduction to a different edition of Hunger).