4.09.2009

Wells Tower Reads "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned"

There's been a boatload of buzz, but not a lot of audio available from Wells Tower, whose d├ębut collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, has been hailed as the savior of the entire short story movement in America. Thanks to The Guardian Books Podcast, you can now listen to or download Tower reading the title story in its entirety.  The unadorned 25-minute reading is available at The Guardian site here, and on iTunes here. It's graded "Explicit," and there is a little "language," as well as a harrowing scene. Don't listen to it close to bedtime, or before you go for a lonely walk along the coast of Norway.

Unforgettable Details
Sam Tanenhaus interviewed the author for the New York Times' Book Review podcast's 3/27/09 episode (first 6 Minutes). Tower talks about how he came across the unforgettable foot detail (Minute 1:50) that he uses in one of the modern-day stories. He also reads the ending of the "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned" story (Minute 4), so save this interview until after you've listened to the Guardian podcast, unless you like your stories spoiled.

Pillage and Publish
The New Yorker online has a print interview (no audio) with Tower, in which he discusses his research into the Vikings' "most ugly bits," the drastic editing changes he made to his stories after he sold the collection (talk about guts), and his literary influences. On a separate web page he talks about his Updike-like separation of fiction & nonfiction workspaces (photos here). The complete text of his story "Leopard," which is quite tame compared to the Vikings, is also available at the New Yorker's site.

Along with American writer Lionel Shriver (who lives in the UK), Tower was scheduled to discuss the future of the short story in Britain (!) at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival on 4/5/2009, so I expect some more audio may turn up soon on the Times Online Books Podcast listing.

Robert Pinsky on Poetry's Aural Pleasures

Another anthology?! Published in Poetry Month? Yes.

As the owner of too many poem-bricks, I tried to resist Robert Pinsky's Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud (with 21-poem CD), but I was o'eruled.  First I was intrigued by a lively 3/30/09 interview on WNYC's Leonard Lopate show (video excerpt at WNYC site, plus full audio at perishable iTunes link), in which Pinsky makes a convincing case for the fundamental need for verse that sounds good. The former U.S. Poet Laureate is quite funny when he demonstrates how not to read poetry--zombie style (my perennial peeve) or hambone.  As he says, "You have to go to school to get it messed up" (Minute 5:30).

Beguiling Batches
I took some lucky dips into a copy of Essential Pleasures at Brookline Booksmith and found not a single dud. I was beguiled by the way Pinsky mixed up the centuries and organized the poems by type--i.e. "Short Lines, Frequent Rhymes," and "Odes, Complaints, and Celebrations." This book would make a good reference for any young person starting a library--it's unstuffy, expansive without being exhaustive, and it rewards randomness.

April is the Most Poetical Month
If you want to listen to some samples, W.W. Norton has posted audio links of Pinsky and others reading from Essential Pleasures here. They are also honoring Poetry Month with a hipster selection of their contemporary poets' audio here.

Not All Poems Are Impenetrable
Pinsky's selections are rich with wit and clarity, regardless of era. This poem, from the "Parodies, Ripostes, Jokes, and Insults" section, was written in the 17th century, but it's easy to understand in the 21st, particularly if you take into account the author's life experience: at the age of 16, English poet Katherine Philips left behind her contented virgin state to marry a 54-year-old Puritan parliamentarian. (Pinsky reads it on the CD included with the book, and at Minute 14:30 on the Lopate podcast):

A Married State
by Katherine Phillips (1631-1664)

A married state affords but little ease
The best of husbands are so hard to please.
This in wives' careful faces you may spell
Though they dissemble their misfortunes well.
A virgin state is crowned with much content;
It's always happy as it's innocent.
No blustering husbands to create your fears;
No pangs of childbirth to extort your tears;
No children's cries for to offend your ears;
Few worldly crosses to distract your prayers:
Thus are you freed from all the cares that do
Attend on matrimony and a husband too.
Therefore Madam, be advised by me
Turn, turn apostate to love's levity,
Suppress wild nature if she dare rebel.
There's no such thing as leading apes in hell.

Poor Mr. Philips! Though Mrs. Philips claimed she never meant to publish...