Archive | July 2006

Whatever next?

Further to my discovery that some scientists can actually write, now I find out they’re discussing their favourite children’s books:

especially ones that perhaps strike a chord with those from a science sensibility.

Whatever next?

Via Boing Boing.

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Editing on the fly

In what might be interesting news to his fans over at Sarsaparilla, Mackenzie Wark has put a draft of his new book GAM3R 7H30RY (oh man) on the web in a kind of wiki format to enable people to have a read and make suggestions. You can read about it at the Chronicle (and this is a free link ladies and gentlemen).

[tags]books, doomsayers, editing, publishing[/tags]

Publishing a book: the word according to blogs

Lili has posted a wonderful little piece about how books are published and what blogs say about every step of the process.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: it takes more than one person to write a book. And lucky for me, many of those people have blogs. So here, for your my reading entertainment, is my report on How a Book is Made, illustrated by Other People’s Blogs.

Go read it.

[tags]books, publishing, austlit [/tags]

The White stuff

So, is Patrick White a piece of

“high Australian culture that nobody actually cares about”?

Laura at Sars is beseeching us all to join in a month of White reading. Nominate your suggestions tonight or just read the commenters pick after the decision is made. Then get yourself over to Sarsaparilla and give the old two fingers to the doubters at The Australian.

UPDATE: There is now a blog devoted to the White read.

Hamble, where are you?

So, Play School is 40 years old. What I want to know is: what happened to Hamble? Jemima, Little and Big Teds, Humpty, they all made it but what about Hamble? Early death from cigarettes? Tragic car accident? Sent away to the big house for assault committed on Jemima out of jealousy? Drug trafficking in Indonesia?

Please, if you have any information, leave a comment.

A limestone landscape

The fact that we don’t like or haven’t understood a poem doesn’t mean, always, that it has failed. We may have failed the test it set us. This is rather awful when we have exams to face, but in the longer perspective of our life it doesn’t matter nearly as much. We are always free to come back to the poem later, when a degree of personal independence has been achieved and we can afford to be more receptive. A good poem is very much its own thing, and we need to be pretty much out own person to deal with that.

This was written by Les Murray in 1980 as a preface to a book about poetry for high school students. Some may argue that his point here would be lost on such students. But in other ways it allows those few students who may have actually read it, a reason to relax. A catalyst for actually forgetting about the HSC and really trying to ‘get’ the poem, free from constraints.

Of course, in the year or so that make up the HSC such relaxation to experience art is a rarity. There is an end point on which to focus, there are performances to consider, there are expectations, not least those of others, with which to deal and keep in check. There is a pressure to perform the right act, to write the perfect formulaic essay and reap the rewards, in the old days at least, during a heady couple of days in January.

…Come cried
the granite wastes,
“How evasive is your humour, how accidental
You kindest kiss, how permanent is death.

The more I think about it the more I believe high school is not the place to experience poetry and enjoy it.

Having said that, sometimes it is those very failures to pass those tests set by poems in high school that can make one’s subsequent years all the richer.

I sat the three unit English exam in the early 90s. At the time it was the highest level of English one could pursue at high school level. And I was fairing rather poorly. For a number of reasons, none of which I will go into here, I was not focussing on my work as I should.

…But the really reckless were fetched
By an older colder voice, the oceanic whisper:
“I am the solitude that asks and promises nothing;
That is how I will set you free. There is no love;
There are only various envies, all of them sad.

English was my one true love and I found myself fumbling about like a teenager in a car on a headland. I wanted it so badly but had no idea what to do. I just didn’t get it. At least, I wasn’t giving the required answers.

At this time we were studying Auden. We were all given poems to focus on and we had to run the class discussion for our alloted poem. The star of the class was given ‘In Praise of Limestone’. I was given the rather more simple ‘Moon Landing’. I immediately saw that my star status had waned. I was given something a little ‘easier’, perhaps because the teacher felt that he didn’t want to see me embarrassed. I don’t know. Perhaps he thought I just wasn’t up for this whole English gig.

As the year wore on it was clear that I was not going to do as well as expected in the exams. Those reasons, of which I will mention none, had got in the way and to be honest, I was more interested in feeling rather than thinking. Which is kind of unfortunate when you are doing your HSC. It has not been unfortunate though in my subsequent life.

In praise of limestone is one of those poems that has stuck with me through life. I return to it quite often, pour myself a glass of red, read it and take it all in. It’s almost an indulgence. But it also gives fabric to my very being.

My teacher in my final year said one thing (among a lot of others) that stuck with me. I was schooled in the country and my teacher was strangely campy and married to someone who would pass quite easily as a dyke should she decide to wander down King St. He was always going to say things that were ‘outlandish’. That didn’t fit with the rest of my environment. For which I will be eternally grateful. One day he said to the 8 students who were swotting away at their Carey, Lowell and Auden: whatever you are in life, just don’t be mediocre. Never give in to mediocrity.

Watch then , the band of rivals as the climb up and down
Their steep stone gennels in twos and threes, sometimes
Arm in arm, but never, thank god, in step;

I took this as: soar as high as you can, and when you fail, make sure you do it with style and with a bang. Make sure your failures are brought about by passion, not because you couldn’t give a toss. I feel Wystan Hugh would concur with this. Limestone says as much, for me.

I was just glad that I didn’t give up on poetry in high school. I didn’t GET it but there was a small germ of passion that was kindled in me by a decent teacher and some great art. That was enough. I think Murray’s words are wise. If you want the ‘everyperson’ to read poetry, or to engage with at least one poem in their life, you have to give them space. You have to give them poetry that speaks to them. Sometimes it’s the luck of the draw that an individual reads a certain poem at a certain time in their life and it all falls into place. It’s never too late to ‘get’ poetry.

…when I try to imagine a faultless love
Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur
Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape.

 Cross-posted on Sarsaparilla.

A scientist who can write

As some of you know, I’ve been hawking the wares of blogs dot usyd around the interweb of late. We’re progressing quite well with the ‘experiment’ and there are some interesting blogs emerging. I would like to draw your attention to Life of a Lab Rat. It has now become required reading for me, and I don’t even know anything about science…