National Banned Book Week

The last week in September in the US is designated National Banned Book Week by the National Library Association. It ought to be every writer’s ambition to write a book considered subversive enough to be banned. This week the Word A Day folks are devoting their space to words having to do with censorship.

More on banned books. And Ellen Hopkins response to being banned in Oklahoma.


As the first step in a bit of blog remodeling, I have moved the list of links (blogroll)  to its own page, a link to which can be found along the top of the page or in the right sidebar. A few other elements are due for simplification over the next couple of weeks, with the goal of making the page less cluttered and easier to read.

Balloon Girl

There are lots of bicycle-based businesses in Vietnam. In the late afternoon on days when there is mass at St. Joseph’s Cathedral, balloon sellers station themselves around the square so that after mass mothers and fathers can buy a toy for their kids. I snapped this picture on a street leading toward the cathedral.

baloon girl hanoi sm

I’m working on a couple of longer pieces for the blog, but until they are ready I’ll occasionally post photos from my recent trip to Vietnam.

Weather Report

Gardening: We’ve been having alternating days of sun and rain, which has been good for the stuff growing in the yard — both the stuff we want growing there and the stuff we don’t — but I’ve been finding the cool rainy weather a little depressing as I begin to recover from the Upper Respiratory Infection, i.e., cold, From Hell. But today it’s sun and I’m feelin alright, as the old Joe Cocker song has it. Yesterday during a break in the rain I hauled all the bonsai and indoor plants outside and put them in their summer quarters. Today I ought to pull weeds and put a few herbs I bought last week into pots.

Reading: I read The Idiot in Hanoi and I’m trying to write an essay about it that works with the idea of being beside one’s self. When I got home and had the bad cold, I plunged into the last three novels in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubury-Maturin series, which I’ve now completed over the last three summers, though I think maybe I missed one volume somewhere in the middle. I’ll probably read through the series again at some point, but not for a while. I read O’Brian’s books the way Carole watches certain kinds of HBO shows, because they are respectable, intelligent entertainment that still don’t demand complete concentration. Then — and this is weird — last night — without even realizing that today would be Bloomsday — I picked up Ulysses and began to read it for perhaps the fifth or sixth time. I’ve never gotten more than 100 pages into it, but I think this time I’ve caught the music. Stephen’s symbol for Irish art, “the cracked looking glass of a servent,” strikes me as an appropriate metaphor for modernist art in general, including Dostoevsky’s novel. The image in the glass is doubled and displaced; that it belongs to a servent might at first seem to devalue it, but we know that servents are often more free of illusion that their masters.

Update: There was a good short essay by Colum McCann about Ulysses in yesterday’s NY Times.

Twenty Books: How’s that for Hybrid?

Ron Silliman has been doing top-twenty lists, like this one from Javier Huerta of “top twenty books that made you fall in love with poetry.” Here is my list. I’ve intentionally limited myself to books from the first twenty years or so of my writing life. Maybe I’ll do the latter-day books in a subsequent post. I’d love to see others’ lists, either in comments or via a link.

  1. The Waste Land and other Poems — T.S. Eliot. [Especially the ironies of “Prufrock.”]
  2. Highway 61 Revisited — Bob Dylan [Not a book of poems, but “Desolation Row” remains one of the great poems of Late Modernism.]
  3. From Confucius to Cummings — Ezra Pound, editor
  4. The Mentor book of Major American Poets — Oscar Williams
  5. 50 Poems — e.e. cummings
  6. The Stranger — Albert Camus [Not a book of poems, obviously, but very important to me in high school when I was breaking away from my parents’ religion.]
  7. Ariel — Sylvia Plath
  8. Leaves of Grass — Walt Whitman [More as symbol than as substance until I was in my 30s. I carried around an edition bound in cheap and crumbling red leather that I bought in high school, until I finally read the thing fifteen years later.]
  9. Selected Poems — W.H. Auden [This was an early Faber volume I no longer have.]
  10. A Coney Island of the Mind — Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  11. How Does a Poem Mean? — John Ciardi [I first found a few of the Child Ballads in this book. I also got my basic understanding of poetic devices here.]
  12. Words for the Wind — Theodore Roethke
  13. Howl — Allen Ginsberg
  14. The Fall of America — Allen Ginsberg [Recommended by Ronald Johnson when he was briefly my teacher at the UW.]
  15. Selected Poems — William Carlos Williams [Especially “To Daphne and Virginia” and “Asphodel, that Greeny Flower,” and “Burning the Christmas Greens.”]
  16. Life Studies — Robert Lowell
  17. 77 Dream Songs — John Berryman
  18. Astral Weeks — Van Morrison
  19. Two Citizens — James Wright [From what I’ve heard, Wright’s least favorite of his books.]
  20. Selected Poems (Ecco 1980) — Czeslaw Milosz [Maybe just one poem, “Ars Poetica.] ABC of Reading — Ezra Pound