Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A letter to end the year

Not mine. Not even from someone I know.


You know how there are books of famous speeches that kids used to be encouraged to mug up, for elocution competitions and such? I once thought (and said in some blogpost I can't find) that it would be a great idea to have an anthology of fictional speeches; that is, speeches characters make in books, but which are fantastic and stirring and all that. I was thinking, mainly, of Andre-Louis Moreau from Scaramouche, but that's just me. Cat said, with perfect truth, that any anthology of fictional speeches that left out Gussy Fink-Nottle's prize-giving speech at Market Snodsbury, did not deserve to exist. How can anyone disagree with that?

Speeches are all very well. Anthologies even more well. (Weller. Something.)

I want to now propose, in the last few hours of this old year, that someone do an anthology of fictional letters. Letters written by characters that, if taken out of their context and placed in the world, would deserve to be in Volume 2 of Letters of Note.

This, naturally, disqualifies epistolary novels, because they're all letters and we're not doing volume two of My Dear Bapu.

But I want to nominate this letter below for that imaginary anthology: it's between Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, in Gaudy Night. Now Dorothy Sayers, like a couple of other writers, is on an emergency shelf of books that are comfort reading. I have recently re-read Have His Carcase, but the big gun, the cannon, is Gaudy Night and it's usually saved for emergencies.

But I found this letter here and as love letters go, it is delicate and gorgeous; as a way to end the year, it is perfect. Here it is in full:
Dear Harriet,

I send in my demand notes with the brutal regularity of the income-tax commissioners; and probably you say when you see the envelopes, ‘Oh, God! I know what this is.’ The only difference is that, some time or other, one has to take notice of the income tax.

Will you marry me?—It’s beginning to look like one of those lines in a farce—merely boring till it’s said often enough; and after that, you get a bigger laugh every time it comes.

I should like to write you the kind of words that burn the paper they are written on—but words like that have a way of being not only unforgettable but unforgivable. You will burn the paper in any case; and I would rather there should be nothing in it that you cannot forget if you want to.
Well, that’s over. Don’t worry about it.

My nephew (whom you seem, by the way, to have stimulated to the most extraordinary diligence) is cheering my exile by dark hints that you are involved in some disagreeable and dangerous job of work at Oxford about which he is in honour-bound to say nothing. I hope he is mistaken. But I know that, if you have put anything in hand, disagreeableness and danger will not turn you back, and God forbid they should. Whatever it is, you have my best wishes for it.

I am not my own master at the moment, and do not know where I shall be sent next or when I shall be back—soon, I trust. In the meantime may I hope to hear from time to time that all is well with you?

Yours, more than my own,

Peter Wimsey

On that letter of note, dear ones, here's wishing you a very happy year ahead.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Hanging by a thread

(It's not spider-silk but it's just as strong, so I don't despair.

Every time I announce a long silence on this blog, I break it almost immediately. This time, while not doing precisely that, I can't let the year go without looking back just once. At least just a little way.)

The year in reading has been amazing. I don't keep a reading diary - maybe I should - but off the top of my head, my stand-outs have been Rahul Soni's translation of Shrikant Verma's Magadh, reading and re-reading Sundara Ramaswamy, getting annoyed with Kalidasa in Iowa City, among other things.

But there's a book for every phase in one's life and while it was all Book of Disquiet five years ago and A Lover's Discourse two years ago, this is the year in which Daniil Kharms' Today I Wrote Nothing became my I Ching. What can I say? When I need divination, solace, when I need to bury something in someone else's words, I dive into this one.

Other things I've been reading recently: Miroslav Holub's Intensive Care which is basically some new poems and all his Selected rearranged in strange but informative ways. There are bits of paper sticking out, where I've marked lines and pages and the plan is to write about one book of poetry I've read at some regular interval as yet undecided upon.

When? Who knows. Some time soon, I hope.

Also Tomas Salamun's On the Track of Wild Game which, I don't know, is lik he was trying to be Bukowski, and was disappointing. I should put it away and return to it some other time.

Currently reading: Kazim Ali's translations of Sohrab Sepehri's poetry, The Oasis of Now.

On my Next Up list:

Tsering Wangmo's A Home in Tibet.
Naiyer Masud's Occult
Nirmal Verma's Days of Longing & The Red Tin Roof
Forugh Farrokhzad's Sin (in a less than satisfactory translation by Sholeh Wolpe, I already know this, but Farrokhzad has been the guardian angel of my recent writing, so it must be forgiven)
Kazim Ali's Skyward
M. Nourbese Philip's Zong!

This last is a book I have long wanted and when Kazim just gave me his copy of it, I almost swooned with gratitude. It deserves close and careful reading and extensive, maybe even running, commentary so I will definitely be writing about it, if not here then somewhere.

So that's the reading year, both gone by and coming up. It's not a blow by blow account - god! why would I do that to you guys? but it's some kind of highlight.


I haven't watched and don't plan to watch The Desolation of Smaug. I feel the shorter and more entertaining gifs on tumblrs around the world are enough. And, Jennifer Lawrence notwithstanding, Hunger Games does nothing for me.

The Sherlock mini thingie yesterday! Did y'all see it? The hair, oh gawd! So terrible! I predict an awful season, but I will watch it anyway.

What will make me both happier and weepier, will be this evening's Doctor Who, in which Peter Capaldi says hello and Matt Smith says goodbye.

All this seems to indicate that I watch more TV than films and this is true. The last film I remember watching is Four Lions which is funny and sad and problematic and in which it is proved that Brit Pakistanis can outswear Malcolm Tucker.

Other films in recent times included the loooong, strange and strangely fun film Kin Dza Dza! There was the harrowing Act of Killing and the epic-but-went-by-in-no-time Jai Bhim Comrade. And oh yes! - there was Recollections of the Yellow House and Offside, which were easier because more familiar types of filmmaking, without asking too much of the viewer. I regret to say I didn't finish watching 12 Storeys, which I found unrelentingly bleak; but now I wish I hadn't skipped it.


Music, I dunno. I said nasty things about whiny midwestern American singers who hide their faces behind their long beautiful hair and thus might have offended a friend. There was a lot of salsa music at the IWP, as well as lots of belly-dancing.

I mean, I listened to all the big releases and all - Kanye, Beyonce, Daft Punk (that was this year, wasn't it?) but the thing that really got me was a mixtape of tango that Kaash put up somewhere. It had 'Tango Apasionado' from Happy Together on it, so no more words necessary.


I cannot talk about the people. They have been the most important.


I am trepidatious about the new year. If I've had a good one - and I have - it must follow that the universe has a mega-balancing k.o punch in store for me, right? Right? Therefore I am nervous. I feel like I'm being set-up and I want to finish the year in hiding and/or hibernation so that I can fly under the radar and make myself small and invisible until it becomes necessary to show myself.

But that's just me. I hope the new year will be good to all of you.

See you on the other side.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Spaniard Was Here

Yes, I know it's been ages (and ages) but I'm not sure what to say about that. Iowa happened, then Chicago, DC and New York and then I came back.

And I haven't felt like blogging, that's what. Not sure things are going to change around here. This silence, absence, whatever - it's not a slump. I feel energised, actually. But I also feel I should be pouring that energy into other stuff.

In other words, life is elsewhere.

Of course, going by my past record, I need only announce this in order to want to blog the heck out of the remaining few weeks of this year. We shall see, but don't hold your breath.

I leave you with a photo.

BANKSY WAS HERE. November 2013.
That was where the Bansky truck thing was.

Consider this a portrait of the space he occupied.