Friday 3 November 2023

'First There is a Mountain': Bobbie Gentry and Donovan at the BBC

Letter for Gaza

Yesterday, a group of writers, editors, and academics known as the Writers Against the War on Gaza (WAWOG)—an ad hoc coalition committed to solidarity and the horizon of liberation for the Palestinian people and modeled on American Writers Against the War in Vietnam—published this statement of solidarity/open letter:

Israel’s war against Gaza is an attempt to conduct genocide against the Palestinian people. This war did not begin on October 7th. However, in the last 19 days, the Israeli military has killed over 6,500 Palestinians, including more than 2,500 children, and wounded over 17,000. Gaza is the world’s largest open-air prison: its 2 million residents—a majority of whom are refugees, descendants of those whose land was stolen in 1948—have been deprived of basic human rights since the blockade in 2006. We share the assertions of human rights groupsscholars, and, above all, everyday Palestinians: Israel is an apartheid state, designed to privilege Jewish citizens at the expense of Palestinians, heedless of the many Jewish people, both in Israel and across the diaspora, who oppose their own conscription in an ethno-nationalist project.

We come together as writers, journalists, academics, artists, and other culture workers to express our solidarity with the people of Palestine. We stand with their anticolonial struggle for freedom and for self-determination, and with their right to resist occupation. We stand firmly by Gaza’s people, victims of a genocidal war the United States government continues to fund and arm with military aid—a crisis compounded by the illegal settlement and dispossession of the West Bank and the subjugation of Palestinians within the state of Israel.

We stand in opposition to the silencing of dissent and to racist and revisionist media cycles, further perpetuated by Israel’s attempts to bar reporting in Gaza, where journalists have been both denied entry and targeted by Israeli forces. At least 24 journalists in Gaza have now been killed. Internationally, writers and cultural workers have faced severe harassment, workplace retribution, and job loss for expressing solidarity with Palestine, whether by stating facts about their continued occupation, or for amplifying the voices of others. These are instances that mark severe incursions against supposed speech protections. Specious charges of antisemitism are leveled against Zionism’s critics; political repression has been particularly aggressive against the free speech of Muslim, Arab, and Black people living in the US and across the globe. As was the case following the September 11th attacks, Islamophobic political fervor and the widespread circulation of unsubstantiated claims has galvanized a US-led coalition of military support for a brutal campaign of violence.

What can we do to intervene against Israel’s eliminationist assault on the Palestinian people? Words alone cannot stop the onslaught of devastation of Palestinian homes and lives, backed shamelessly and without hesitation by the entire axis of Western power. At the same time, we must reckon with the role words and images play in the war on Gaza and the ferocious support they have engendered: Israel’s defense minister announced the siege as a fight against “human animals”; even as we learned that Israel had rained bombs down on densely populated urban neighborhoods and deployed white phosphorus in Gaza City, the New York Times editorial board wrote that “what Israel is fighting to defend is a society that values human life and the rule of law”; establishment media outlets continue to describe Hamas’s attack on Israel as “unprovoked.” Writers Against the War on Gaza rejects this perversion of meaning, wherein a nuclear state can declare itself a victim in perpetuity while openly enacting genocide. We condemn those in our industries who continue to enable apartheid and genocide. We cannot write a free Palestine into existence, but together we must do all we possibly can to reject narratives that soothe Western complicity in ethnic cleansing.

We act alongside other writersscholars, and artists who have expressed solidarity with the Palestinian cause, drawing inspiration from the Palestinian spirit of sumud, steadfastness, and resistance. Since 2004, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has advocated for organizations to join a boycott of institutions representing the Israeli state or cultural institutions complicit with its apartheid regime. We call on all our colleagues working in cultural institutions to endorse that boycott. And we invite writers, editors, journalists, scholars, artists, musicians, actors, and anyone in creative and academic work to sign this statement. Join us in building a new cultural front for a free Palestine.

So far, the letter has received over 4000 signatures, including those of Ocean Vuong, Lilly Wachowski, Leslie Jamison, Jia Tolentino, Jonathan Lethem, Valeria Luiselli, Jamel Brinkley, Jami Attenberg, Laura van den Berg, Alexandra Kleeman, NoViolet Bulawayo, Max Porter, and Maaza Mengiste.

If you’re a writer, editor, journalist, educator, or cultural worker who finds yourself horrified by the ongoing carnage in Gaza, horrified at the near unanimity of approval this situation has received in Congress and the UK Parliament, horrified by the stifling of dissent and the threats to the livelihoods of your artistic peers, please sign and share this letter.

Sunday 18 June 2023

Echoland: Derek Attridge on Finnegans Wake

  While writing a review of the fascinating collection brought out recently by Tears in the Fence's new publishing imprint, Knitting Drum-Machines for Exiled Tongues by Jasmina Bolfek-Radovani, I was researching multilingual poetry on the internet when I came across this essay on portmanteau words in Finnegans Wake, probably the most illuminating I've read on the subject: 

Saturday 29 April 2023

Neurodivergence and The Piano

 This startling video of a young woman with severe autism and a visual impairment was a reminder to me that we should never make assumptions about those who are generally assessed as "less able" because of their neurodivergent presentation or communication manner but who might possess other aptitudes, understandings and means of expressing themselves we can be unaware of unless we make an open-minded effort of empathy and offer meaningful opportunities for these to manifest themselves. 
  I came across this on the recent Channel 4 series The Piano, quite an interesting twist on the formula of uncovering hidden talent. Various members of the public are invited to play a piano located within a train station, a sizeable yet informal and largely transient audience. The resulting performances have in many cases the unexpected charm of the amateur player improvising their own untutored compositions, a form of outsider art probably very prevalent in the same way that many people write poems or paint landscapes in their own time without necessarily thinking of garnering acclaim for it. 
    That desire to engage with music, move our fingers on the keys and link sounds together in a resonant way (within the ambient bustling soundscape of a train station) seemed to say something important about the innate connectivity of music and how you don't have to be a "unique talent" like Lang Lang (one of the judges) in order to use this marvellous instrument to externalise a small part of your inner truth to the world, as Lucy in particular was so remarkably able to do in her sequence.

Sunday 20 November 2022

George Saunders Interview and Story Club

 This is an intriguing interview George Saunders did with Stephen Colbert on The Late Late Show recently. Even though I haven't read his new book of short stories Liberation Day which he's plugging here, I've become an avid follower of Saunders' Substack blog called Story Club

    Some of the themes and approaches he advocates in chatty, witty form during the interview are explored in more depth in the weekly posts of Story Club, often via the prompts of a famous short story he wants to examine or by thoughtfully responding to an email from a reader or aspiring story-writer. The importance of seeing where the story takes you without too strict a plan or structure in place; the pre-eminence of discovery and risk-taking over premeditated invention or having a point to prove (or something unitary to say); the embrace of fun, surprise and humour in how you approach your writing, rather than seeing it as a tortuous, self-lacerating process. 

   I really warmed to how, in one of his posts, Saunders described his own evolution from a struggling stylist endeavouring to write like Hemingway or Tolstoy or one of his other realist masters and not having much success in terms of publication and not feeling he was getting anywhere artistically; but then pretty much giving up on trying to write "great literature" and (with a sense he had nothing to lose) instead starting to just "goof around" and write more intuitively and spontaneously, seeing what would come out. Only then did he start getting published and begin to garner acclaim, ironically discovering his own voice just when he'd given up on trying to find it.


Saturday 8 October 2022

Thursday 1 September 2022

Dean Young RIP

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Dean Young passed away last week at only 67, a poet I greatly admired. A moving tribute from his editor at Copper Canyon Press here.