Margaret Atwood

I’m not normally a giddy fan of anyone, but I’m super-excited! Margaret Atwood is talking at UCLA on Friday about her new book (The Year of the Flood, sequel – kind of – to the excellent Oryx and Crake) and I managed to snag a ticket online to see her. (There’ll be readings from the book and also some illustrative performances/enactments by actors and musicians.) I was scalped 25% on the ticket price in “service charges” by ticketmaster, which left a bad taste in my mouth, but then I remembered her voice and wit and humour and it somehow made it all ok.

If you’ve not read any of her work, perhaps begin with The Handmaid’s Tale and go from there. I love her brilliant writing style, wit, cleverness, humour and searing […] Click to continue reading this post

More Book Fun!

bookfair_homeMark your calendar for Sunday! The West Hollywood Book Fair is on from 10 am to 6:00 pm that day, and there’s so much to see and do with readings, panels, discussions, authors, special celebrity guests, food, exhibitions, writing workshops, discount book offers, signings, swag (no doubt), and so forth. I’ve not been before, but as you know from reading here I’m a big fan of cities going gaga over books for a while, being a regular visitor to the LA Times Book Festival when it comes in the Spring. The calendar of events and much more about the event can be found at the website here.

Here’s another thing. Despite the fact there was no mention of a spankingly splendid […] Click to continue reading this post

Poetry Slam!

On Sunday evening (perhaps after a lovely day at the Festival of Books), come along to the Mt. Hollywood Underground for a fun evening of poetry, organized by Smart Gals in the Speakeasy series! There’ll be food, fun, and even celebrity (!) poetry judges, (plus me), on the panel. There’ll also be live music form the Red Maids. Here’s some of the description from their website:

L.A.’s intentionally lowbrow, literally underground literary salon returns! Now running as a seasonal series, Smart Gals’ Speakeasy celebrates National Poetry Month with its fourth annual Dead Poets Slam. Year one, the Suicide Poets stood down the Natural Death Poets by but a few points. Year two, the Men took on the Women. Year three pitted East Coast against West Coast. And now, Smart Gals’ Spring Speakeasy presents a fresh challenge, ripe for a country with new leadership: Citizens vs. Expatriates. Many and mythic are the artists, writers, and otherwise sensitive types who have fled these United States to seek creative support and more responsive international audiences. Recall Langston Hughes’ Parisian sojourns, Hemingway’s romance with Spain. Smart Gals will pit die-hard American denizens against those who chose to disembark. Our criteria? The poet in question must live abroad for no less than four years, the length of one presidential term. Can poet-of-the-plains Carl Sandburg defeat Eurocentric Gertrude Stein? When dead poets enter the slam ring, there is no sure victor.

Hosted by Noël Alumit (Letters to Montgomery Clift, Talking to the Moon), the Dead Poets Slam levels the creative playing field by forcing seasoned performers to throw down anonymously. […]

To find out who’s performing and judging (besides you in the crowd), go to the […] Click to continue reading this post

Love Burns

It was Burns’ night last night, and I do love hearing his work read out loud. It is quite wonderful to read too. It’s his 250th birthday (Hmmm… something else to add to the year of celebrations of big anniversaries along with Darwin and Galileo). One of my favourites, which you possibly know, is the following (reproduced here in tribute):


A Red, Red Rose
Robert Burns. (1759–1796)

O MY Luve ‘s like a red, red rose
That ‘s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve ‘s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune!

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only Luve,
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

Now go to NPR and listen to Alison Jones read it out quite wonderfully, after having a […] Click to continue reading this post

Presidential Poetry

More encouragement (see my earlier piece about education and about science and more science) comes around the matter of poetry and the presidency. Larissa Anderson, on Weekend America this Saturday, reported on the president-elect’s evident interest in poetry. Derek Walcott was featured in the piece as well (I was pleased to hear this since I like his work, and it is also good to hear about the work of a Caribbean thinker on the national stage – it does not happen often enough for my liking) and had some very interesting things to say. From the transcript of the piece (see that link for audio):

Walcott says it’s good for people in power to read poetry because human beings are complex and contradictory, and poetry can capture that. Like in Langston Hughes’ poem “Theme for English B” when the black student writes to his white teacher, “Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me. / Nor do I often want to be a part of you. / But we are, that’s true!” Or in Walt Whitman’s line, “I am large — I contain multitudes.”

Walcott likes the idea of a president who reads poetry and thinks about this kind of human truth. Someone who can see beyond the act of political posturing.

Then he read his recent poem, “40 Acres” that he wrote for Obama, which I thought was rather good. He also described some of the process of writing it – also excellent to hear. Finally, the piece reported on something he said that reflects my own […] Click to continue reading this post

Summer Reading: Fresh Air From Pollan

I’ve been meaning to tell you more about Michael Pollan. I’ve been planning a post or two about Summer reading, and was going to discuss the books of Michael Pollan to kick off a possible series. That plan was hatched in the late Summer of 2007… then the Fall came, and then the Winter and Spring… then Summer of 2008… never got around to it. Drat. (Checking back, I see that I started the series by talking about Haruki Murakami, here. So I’ll call this part of the series too, even though it is not really Summer.)

Anyway, the good news is that Pollan was on Fresh Air (NPR) yesterday, and as usual he was excellent:

In an open letter to the next president, author Michael Pollan writes about the waning health of America’s food systems — and warns that “the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close.”

The future president’s food policies, says Pollan, will have a large impact on a wide range of issues, including national security, climate change, energy independence and health care.

Here’s the link to the audio. Before you rush off to that, let me continue what I was going to say, at least in brief.

Pollan has risen to prominence, justifiably, mostly as a result of his excellent book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History Of Four Meals”. It is a delightful examination of the food industry, charting the route of much of the food that you eat […] Click to continue reading this post

Yvette on LHC Poetry

yvette cendesAha! Regular commenter Yvette Cendes (over at The Chocolate Fish) has thrown down the gauntlet! She thinks that we can come up with more, and better, poetry about the LHC. The successful LHC song of Kate McAlpine (deserving of thunderous applause for raising awareness) should clearly be considered just the beginning. So she starts off the challenge to you all with some work of her own, which I shamelessly reproduce below. (Go over to her blog to submit your new writing – or do it both here and there. Up to you.) (My money’s on our regular commenter Elliot producing a marvellous LHC haiku or something like that.)

Yvette calls it an LHC Poetry Slam. Hmmm. I submit that it should be an LHC Poetry Event, or LHC Poetry Collision, or…. anyway, here’s her poem, and wow – true to form, it is good! […] Click to continue reading this post

Seven Hours of Wonder

One great thing to do when it is super-hot outside is to sit in an air-conditioned movie theatre. Yes, and watch a movie. And when its really hot, do it for a really long time. How about seven hours?!

movie poster of Bondarchuk's War and PeaceOver the last two nights I watched something wonderful on screen, at the Bing Theatre at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). A rare gem, in fact*. Sergei Bondarchuk’s film of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, (Voyna i mir) released (USA) in 1968, and in four parts (matching those of the book), each a full movie. I went with three friends (M, R, and R), since movie marathons are fun in company. The full print, in Russian and French with English subtitles, is seven hours long. This is not to be mistaken for the relatively paltry dubbed version cut down to a fleeting six hours duration. This is (closer to) the proper original version. It is rare…apparently not shown in the USA for a very long time, and apparently not available on DVD. (Arguably, it shouldn’t be seen on DVD on a screen that is inappropriate to the task, and without good company. This is a movie theatre movie if there ever was one.) It’s a national treasure, and frankly I have no clue how they made it so well.

The cinematography, set/production design, art direction, and – of course – direction […] Click to continue reading this post

Summer Reading: Distance Writing

Haruki Murakami by Elena SeibertI’m a big fan of Haruki Murakami’s writing. (Photo right by Elena Seibert). A huge fan, even though I’m only on a second book by him.

I read “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” last year and am on “Kafka on the Shore” right now. In each case, I read the opening paragraph and was immediately sucked right into the book.

The writing is, quite simply, wonderfully stirring, with stunning light, chilling darkness and everything in between (including, notably, a great sense of humour). The light and darkness are to be found in the interior worlds of the characters that are explored in the writing and how they connect to the rest of the world as they move through it. A person’s place in the world, relationship to the world, and how they affect the world […] Click to continue reading this post

The LA Times Book Festival

Don’t forget – The LA Times Festival of Books is on this weekend. As I said earlier:

LA Times Festival of Books ImageIt’s a Los Angeles celebration of the written word, done in wonderful sunshine, with hundreds of marvellous events in three days for young and old – Yes, it is the LA Times Festival of Books, coming up the weekend starting April 25th. The main daytime proceedings take place on the 26th and 27th (Saturday and Sunday) […] Click to continue reading this post

Festival of Books

LA Times Festival of Books ImageIt’s a bit more than a month away. It’s always fun every year. It’s a Los Angeles celebration of the written word, done in wonderful sunshine, with hundreds of marvellous events in three days for young and old – Yes, it is the LA Times Festival of Books, coming up the weekend starting April 25th. The main daytime proceedings take place on the 26th and 27th (Saturday and Sunday) and I recommend them to you if you’ve not been. Mark your calendar. (Once you’re over there on Sunday, stay for the Categorically Not! event in the evening (entitled “Loops”), which will involve among others, science writer Dava Sobel!!) (Above right: One of the 2008 theme images from the Festival’s website. More here.)

The Friday evening will see the book prizes given out, kicking off the festival as usual. I remembered this just now because I found myself curious about the shortlist of books in the Science and Technology category. I wondered if there was something on […] Click to continue reading this post

’Twas the Night Before Finals…

My always-ignored advice to anyone studying for exams is that the best thing you can do the night before is get a good night’s sleep. Long study periods long before the previous night should have been used to build up your skills and knowledge. Late-night cramming at the expense of being fresh and having your wits about you in the morning is not really going to help much, if at all. (Heh… long study periods….call me old-fashioned.)

On this very matter, Yvette (one of our regular commenters here) has outdone herself once again with her literary skills! Here is part of her seasonal (as in finals season) poem:

The Night Before Finals

By Yvette Cendes

T’was the night before finals
And all through the dorm
Crazed cramming and panic
Was quite the norm.

The students were restless
And none touched their beds
While theorems and formulas
Danced in their heads.

With textbook in hand […]

Click to continue reading this post

Really Excellent

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This was originally posted on Cosmic Variance on May 3rd 2006. It was a report on the Categorically Not! event that took place on 23rd April 2006, entitled “Really?”. I’ve decided to reproduce it here as a happy memory of the wonder that Artist and Educator Bob Miller brought into the lives of many. (See next post.) It was a marvellous event overall (probably my favourite Cat Not! event), with several excellent presentations, and so I’ll reproduce the post in its entirety (with slight corrections) to give you a sense of the evening. -cvj
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Well, apologies to all concerned for taking so long to post this, but here it is. The Categorically Not! two Sundays ago was -as usual- extremely enjoyable and informative. This one was all about Illusion, in some sense, the theme being “Really?”.

categorically not! Really image

We started out with a few opening remarks by Bob Miller, who specialises in what categorically not! Really image some might call “light art”. He’s well known for creating a large number of wonderful works using light and shadow, several of them forming the cornerstone of exhibitions in the Exploratorium in San Francisco, for example. Have a look at the “lightwalk”, linked here.

Bob did not talk much, because he wanted everyone to just play, learning from getting involved. And play they did. He’d been up all night preparing (with KC Cole’s help) various fun things for people to do (see the table in the picture above, for example). All simple, and all with a little printed explanation about what to do, and the operation of the thing they were playing with or effect they were seeing.
[…] Click to continue reading this post

Even More for my Reading List

Aha. I’ve been meaning to get around to some Doris Lessing for a long time. The Academy is trying to tell me something:

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2007 is awarded to the English writer Doris Lessing “that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny”.

Do you have any favourites of hers you recommend?

Here are some passages from her biography on the Nobel site, talking about some of the works that really got her a great deal of wider recognition, emphasizing her important intersection with other genres such as feminism and science fiction (to pick […] Click to continue reading this post