November 30, 2008

A brush with grief, loss and hope

And while Bombay, the city of my childhood, suffers through the horrors of a terror attack (and its aftermath), the entertainment value of art and music seems so inconsequential and immaterial. And yet, it is through these "renovating virtues" that..
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse – our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired...

Also: 1, 2, 3.

All links via a Metafilter post.

November 26, 2008

Sifting the leavings

One of my favorite authors, John Updike, writes about the challenges facing an aging writer:
I can appreciate the advantages, for a writer, of youth and obscurity. You are not yet typecast. You can take a cold view of the entire literary scene. You are full of material -- your family, your friends, your region of the country, your generation -- when it is fresh and seems urgently worth communicating to readers. No amount of learned skills can substitute for the feeling of having a lot to say, of bringing news. Memories, impressions and emotions from the first 20 years on earth are most writers' main material; little that comes afterward is quite so rich and resonant. By the age of 40, you have probably mined the purest veins of this precious lode; after that, continued creativity is a matter of sifting the leavings ...

A few images, a few memorable acquaintances, a few cherished phrases, circle around the aging writer's head like gnats as he strolls through the summertime woods at gloaming. He sits down before the word processor's humming, expectant screen, facing the strong possibility that he has already expressed what he is struggling to express again ...

With ominous frequency, I can't think of the right word. I know that there is a word; I can visualize the exact shape it occupies in the jigsaw puzzle of the English language. But the word itself, with its precise edges and unique tint of meaning, hangs on the misty rim of consciousness ...

When, against my better judgment, I glance back at my prose from 20 or 30 years ago, the quality I admire and fear to have lost is its carefree bounce, its snap, its exuberant air of slight excess. The author, in his boyish innocence, is calling, like the sorcerer's apprentice, upon unseen powers -- the prodigious potential of this flexible language's vast vocabulary. Prose should have a flow, the forward momentum of a certain energized weight; it should feel like a voice tumbling into your ear.

An aging writer wonders if he has lost the ability to visualize a completed work, in its complex spatial relations ...
If only I could write like any age!

Speed. Topicality. Cleverness. Contention.


If you are an overeducated (or at least a semi-overeducated) youngish person with a sleep disorder and a surfeit of opinions, the thing to do, after all, is to start a blog. There are no printing costs, no mailing lists, and the medium offers instant membership in a welcoming herd of independent minds who will put you in their links columns if you put them in yours. Blogs embody and perpetuate a discourse based on speed, topicality, cleverness and contention - all qualities very much ascendant in American media culture these days.

That's an excerpt froma A. O. Scott article in the New York Times in 2005! I'm kinda over-educated, not-so-youngish, sleep fitfully lately, but have no opinions (at least none I voice vociferously)..... no wonder, my blog(s) flail. :)

Speed? Topicality? Cleverness? Contention? Not here!

November 25, 2008

National Book Awards 2008

I just found out that Mark Doty has won the National Book Award for poetry for 2008 (interview) for his book, Fire to Fire - New and Selected Poems. I had seen this book at the Boston public library last month and meant to pick it up soon. Now I will have to!

Other finalists include:
Frank Bidart, Watching the Spring Festival - Interview
Reginald Gibbons, Creatures of a Day - Interview
Richard Howard, Without Saying - Interview
Patricia Smith, Blood Dazzler - Interview
Award winners (and finalists) in Fiction and Non-Fiction categories include:


WINNER: Peter Matthiessen, Shadow Country - Interview

Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project - Interview
Rachel Kushner, Telex from Cuba - Interview
Marilynne Robinson, Home - Interview
Salvatore Scibona, The End - Interview

WINNER: Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family -Interview
Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War - Interview
Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals - Interview
Jim Sheeler, Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives - Interview
Joan Wickersham, The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order - Interview

No work deserved this prize

Neelkantan brings to my attention, via email, this report at the Literary Saloon about the Sacred Defense Book of the Year awards in Iran:
This is the 12th edition of the event, which is annually held by the Foundation for the Preservation and Publication of Sacred Defense Works and Values (FPPSDWV) to honor writers of books on the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, which is known as the Sacred Defense in Iran.
And the winners are:

  • Poetry Section: No work merited the first prize
  • Children's Poetry Section: No works deserved the first and third prizes
  • Verbal Memory Section: No work was awarded the second prize
  • Fiction Section: No entry was given the first prize in this section.
  • Fictionalized Biography Section: No work was able to win the first and second prizes
  • War and Biography Section: No second or third prize was awarded.
  • Literary Research Section: No work was deemed worthy of the first, Second or third prizes in this section.
  • Military Research Section: No first or second prize was given.
  • Art Section: No work was able to win first, second or third prize in the Drama Section as well as in the Illustration and Photo Section.
  • Best Cover Design: No work deserved the first or third prize.
No.. this is no spoof! Apparently, we no longer need the services of The Onion to meet our daily dose of satire and wit! The world is a parody of itself!

Never respect tradition above your intuitive self

Read some essays from Amy Lowell's book of essays, Poetry and Poets. Some of the interesting ones can be read online for free (see links below) and so I will not excerpt from them but here is an excerpt from an essay called: The process of making poetry.

Amy Lowell, in writing about the process of making poetry and the role of the (sub)conscious arrival of the poem ("It came to me") writes:

Sometimes the external stimulus which has produced a poem is known or can be traced. It may be a sight, a sound, a thought, or an emotion. Sometimes the consciousness has no record of the initial impulse, which has either been forgotten or springs from a deep, unrealized memory. But whatever it is, emotion, apprehended or hidden, is a part of it, for only emotion can rouse the subconscious into action.


The subconscious is, however, a most temperamental ally. Often he will strike work at some critical point and not another word is to be got out of him. Here is where the conscious training of the poet comes in, for he must fill in what the subconscious has left, and fill it in as much in the key of the rest as possible. ...

Sometimes the sly subconscious partner will take pity on the struggling poet and return to his assistance; sometimes he will have nothing to do with that particular passage again. This is the reason that a poet must be both born and made. He must be born with a subconscious factory always working for him or he can never be a poet at all, and he must have knowledge and talent enouogh to 'putty' up his holes - to use Mr. Grave's expression. Let no one undervalue this process of puttying; it is a condition of good poetry.

I do believe that a poet should know all he can. No subject is alien to him, and the profounder his knowledge in any direction, the more depth will there be to his poetry. I believe he should be thoroughly grounded in both the old and the new poetic forms, but I am firmly convinced that he must never respect tradition above his intuitive self. Let him be sure of his own sincerity above all, let him bow to no public acclaim, however alluring, and then let him write with all the courage what his subconscious mind suggests to him.
There is much else to treasure in the essays, some of which can be read here.

Festival in the Desert

The Festival Au Desert in Essakane, Mali (2 hours from Timbaktu) will be held from January 8-10, 2009.

And while I cannot be there in 2009, I still hope that some day before I die I will make it to this musical heaven. For now, I get to enjoy Ali Farka Toure jamming at the Festival in 2003 ... many thanks to youtube poster, Festivalhopper, who has uploaded many videos of live performances from festivals around the world.

also this video of Ali Farka Toure from the festival..

and here's one of Oumou Sangare (see post) with Ali Farka Toure (also from the 2003 Festival.)

And last but not least... though Ali Farka Toure is no more with us, here's a video of his capable son, Vieux (see
1, 2, 3) at the 2008 Festival.

Oumou Sangare

Another great voice from Mali... Oumou Sangare. Love her music too, though to me, the voice of Mali's other famous female singer Rokia Traore is un-match-able.

First up, a track called Saa Magni

Great photographs to go with this video of the song, Yala.

And one last one...

Update: Turns out that, expectedly, I have already posted Oumou's songs at my previous blog. No repeats luckily, you can go see the old posts here and here.

Boubacar Traoré

Two guitar greats from Mali... short but beautiful video.

A longer video of the two performing together can be seen here.

I have posted about the music of Ali Farka Toure many times before (see 1, 2, 3) but couple more videos here of Boubacar Traoré, whose life story is an interesting example of how famous and great musicians sometimes go unrecognized for decades. So much beautiful music could have been recorded for the generations in the 1970s and 1980s when Boubacar was toiling away in various menial jobs in Mali!

Absolutely lovely! NO wonder,
Ali Farka Toure, himself an undisputable legend of Malian music, had this to say about Boubacar (fondly called "Kar Kar"): "If the maximum is five, I give ten to Kar Kar".

November 24, 2008

Darwin and The Origin of Species

Great set of pictures, via the Guardian.

Gallery Darwin gallery: Charles Darwin

Darwin at age 31 in 1840, recently married, a dignified young naturalist with a secret theory about evolution. Portrait of Darwin, 1840, by George Richmond, ©Darwin Heirlooms Trust, courtesy of the English Heritage Photo Library

Gallery Darwin gallery: Charles Darwin

A grand old man of science. Darwin aged 71, photographed a year before his death in 1882. Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1881, ©Private

Seduction of the consumer and control of language

This year's Nobel laureate seems like one who I would love to read more of...

the great escapist

In an interview with me in 1997, Le Clezio explained that during this period he was greatly affected by Aldous Huxley's seminal dsytopian tract, Brave New World. This influence is most evident in The Giants, a novel describing a Big Brother-style society of surveillance, founded on the seduction of the consumer and the control of language by "the Masters". With characters called Machines and Tranquillity, trapped in a massive supermarket named Hyperpolis, Le Clezio echoes Huxley's horrific vision of the future in a premonitory portrait of the manipulative power of advertising. The inescapable oppression of modern Western civilisation and the fear of what it might lead to is the essential message that Le Clezio seeks to convey here, and there is little hope for new beginnings or a better way of being in the world. More optimistic insights came to him, however, as he travelled and experienced other cultures. After brief periods working as a teacher in Thailand and a librarian's assistant in Mexico, he spent considerable time in the early '70s living among the Embera indians, deep in the forests of Panama.

more from The Australian here

Obama, Social Networking, and Green

No mood to blog these days but I'll occasionally link to articles I find interesting.

Max Gladwell explores..
Part I: What the victory of Barack Obama means for the nexus of social media and green living.

Part II: Social media is the accelerant that drives change and innovation, moving us more quickly and efficiently toward the solutions of our time. That’s precisely what it did for Barack Obama.

Part III: Of all the problems the new Obama administration faces–health care, national security, the economy, global warming–none is more pressing than energy.

November 22, 2008

Scandal is our growth industry

Mark Danner writes in the New York Review of Books:

Scandal is our growth industry. Revelation of wrongdoing leads not to definitive investigation, punishment, and expiation but to more scandal. Permanent scandal. Frozen scandal. The weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist. The torture of detainees who remain forever detained. The firing of prosecutors which is forever investigated. These and other frozen scandals metastasize, ramify, self-replicate, clogging the cable news shows and the blogosphere and the bookstores. The titillating story that never ends, the pundit gabfest that never ceases, the gift that never stops giving: what is indestructible, irresolvable, unexpiatable is too valuable not to be made into a source of profit. Scandal, unpurged and unresolved, transcends political reality to become commercial fact.

The Times They Are a-Changin

George Packer writes in the New Yorker blogs:

Quote of the Night from November 4th (via Alex Ross): “I was born in 1941. That was the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. I’ve been living in darkness ever since. It looks like things are going to change now.”

That said ... it's easy to get caught up in Obama-mania with the fervent (and must I add illogical) hope that he is really THE ONE to lead us out of every mess we are in today - political, economic, environmental, world peace, and so on and so forth - (I think his third book is going to be titled "The Weight of Expectations")

But like the conservative writer David Brooks, "tremendously impressed by the Obama transition", writes

Believe me, I’m trying not to join in the vast, heaving O-phoria now sweeping the coastal haute bourgeoisie. But the personnel decisions have been superb. The events of the past two weeks should be reassuring to anybody who feared that Obama would veer to the left or would suffer self-inflicted wounds because of his inexperience. He’s off to a start that nearly justifies the hype.

Indeed! Obama continues to impress me, despite high expectations I have set him. In fact, I try very hard to not get swayed and blind to his faults and look at everything he says/does with a grain of salt and play devil's advocate. And yet....he continues to impress!

I am sure his detractors will come up with some argument that this shows he is not adjusting to the changing realities (or some such nonsense) but this excerpt here is another example where Obama speaks logically and rationally and not like a politician who puts his fingers up in the air to see which way the wind is blowing before he speaks!

Obama on the ‘Shock to Trance’ Energy Pattern

by Andrew Revkin

When President-elect Barack Obama was interviewed on “60 Minutes” Sunday night, he seemed to stick with his campaign pledge to press ahead with an energy quest (scale to be determined) whether or not it is politically correct. His answers on energy reminded me of what some people perceived as a defining moment during the presidential race, when — in the heat of the “drill here, drill now” summer — Mr. Obama split with Senator John McCain and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton over the need for a “gas tax holiday” in the face of spiking prices at the pump.

Here’s the moment (from the CBS transcript):

Steve Kroft: When the price of oil was at $147 a barrel, there were a lot of spirited and profitable discussions that were held on energy independence. Now you’ve got the price of oil under $60.

Mr. Obama: Right.

Mr. Kroft: Does doing something about energy, is it less important now than….?

Mr. Obama: It’s more important. It may be a little harder politically, but it’s more important.

Mr. Kroft: Why?

Mr. Obama: Well, because this has been our pattern. We go from shock to trance. You know, oil prices go up, gas prices at the pump go up, everybody goes into a flurry of activity. And then the prices go back down and suddenly we act like it’s not important, and we start, you know, filling up our S.U.V.’s again. And, as a consequence, we never make any progress. It’s part of the addiction, all right. That has to be broken. Now is the time to break it.

BRILLIANT! More power (no pun intended) to him!

The Presidency and the Climate Challenge
Readers to Obama: 10 Earthly Ideas on a Budget

I hope his administration is successful in at least some of the many good things he has promised; the expectations have been set really high and while he may fail sometimes, I hope the media and talking heads all don't sense blood and get into a feeding frenzy and tear him apart. Patience, less politics, more goal-oriented focused efforts will help the US (and the world) dig out of the hole we are in (on many fronts).

Also, this excerpt from the same CBS interview (emphasis mine)

Mr. Kroft: Are you gonna make a lot of speeches? Are you gonna talk a lot to the American people on television and radio?

Mr. Obama: You know, I’m not sure that the American people are looking for a lot of speeches. I think what they’re looking for is action. But one of the things that I do think is important is to be able to explain to the American people what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. That is something that I think every great president has been able to do. From FDR to Lincoln to John Kennedy to Eisenhower. I mean, I think that they were people who were able to say ‘Here’s the direction we’re going. Here’s why I think it’s important. Here are the possible dangers or challenges. But ultimately, you know, this is gonna lead us to a better America.’ And I want to make sure that I can recreate a bond of trust between the presidency and the public that I think has been lost.

Someone I talked to earlier this week thought Obama is inexperienced and so probably lacks the ability to pool resources and bring about real change. The strong team he has put together (see David Brooks article mentioned above!) suggests he has shown the ability to tap into the right resources to overcome any lack of experience he may have. To the detractors who think Obama has seduced us all with his words and oratory and find it unlikely Obama was going to make any big change, I say patience please! Let us at least give the man a chance before we pre-judge him as a failure. Last I checked it was still a Bush government in charge, though there have been couple op-ed pieces that suggest he should just get out of the way and let the Obama administration start working! I agree with people saying that they will only believe Obama when he backs his talk with words and action and gets things done despite the tough quagmires we are all stuck in! But somehow I have hope that he will act. Talking heads can fill their TV time between now and January mouthing off and analyzing Obama's every move before he even gets to work - prematurely judging him before he even gets inaugurated as President - but nothing so far suggests there is reason to sway away from our 'audacity of hope' and so, hope I will!

P.S. Meanwhile, Bush continues handing out gifts to the oil industry even as they head out!

Earlier this week the Bush administration announced another parting gift for Big Oil in the form of new oil shale regulations. What America, and the world, really needs is investment in clean energy solutions -- like plug-in cars -- that will reduce our dependence on oil. Instead, the Bush administration has chosen to invest taxpayer subsidies in a dirty fuel with production operations that would destroy wildlife habitat, increase greenhouse gas emissions, and suck up limited water resources. About two million acres of public land are at stake -- land that belongs to all Americans.

November 21, 2008

The war is anything but over

The Life and Lonely Death of Noah Pierce
At age 23, Noah Pierce took a handgun and shot himself in the head. It could have been the memory of the Iraqi child he crushed under his Bradley. It could have been the unarmed man he shot point-blank in the forehead, or the friend he tried madly to gather into a plastic bag after he had been blown to bits, or it could have been the doctor he killed.
Alas... such is the Price of Aggression
We, as a nation, seem to believe that, win or lose, the war is nearly finished, done with, history. Unfortunately, for hundreds of thousands of American veterans and their families, the war is anything but over.
Just something to mull over as Bush exits after 8 horrendous years.

President Bush strides out of the White House, the lawn turned into a cemetery

© Ross MacDonald and Virginia Quarterly Review

Related: A Poem for the Last American Soldier to Die in Iraq by Brian Turner

November 20, 2008

Mahotella Queens

Mahotella Queens from South Africa

Thoko (1964)

Jabulani Mabungu (1967)

Umculo Kawupheli (1974)

On David Letterman's show (1990)

The Mahotella Queens with Mahlathini and the late, great 'groaner' Simon Mahlathini Nkabinde performing Mbaqanga (1991

At the Grassroots Festival, New York (2002)

and finally
at the WOMAD 2007 in Taranaki New Zealand (2007)

Coupe Decale

Something very different than what I normally listen to but one has to keep an open mind about all kinds of music and explore. I just heard of Coupé-Décalé, which is..

"...a type of popular dance music originating from Côte d'Ivoire and the Ivorian diaspora in Paris, France. Drawing heavily from Zouglou, Zouk, Coupé-Décalé is a very percussive style featuring African samples, deep bass, and repetitive, minimalist arrangements. While Coupé-Décalé is known as Côte d'Ivoire's definitive pop music, it actually began in Paris, created by a group of Ivorian DJs at the Atlantis, an African nightclub in northeast Paris." 

Turns out it is the same as some music I had heard some years back on some radio station -- 10+ minutes of deep bass and dance music mayhem from DJ Caloudji in a song called Sentimental Moko.

Dance on!


Not quite my style of music but interesting stuff, nonetheless. Quite liked the beat of this track though.... It's by Lady May from Namibia and the track's called Chokola. 

Seckou Keita

I have heard of Salif Keita before but just saw some videos uploaded at youtube featuring the Seckou Keita quartet, playing at Ethnoambient 2007 in Solin, Croatia! Seckou is a kora player from Senegal though (not from Mali.)

The internet has indeed brought us all closer. How else would I have enjoyed this lovely music by an African artist (with some European musicians accompanying him) from a concert played more than a year back in distant Croatia.

Rokia Traore

What an amazing voice the Malian singer Rokia Traore has...

Some day I hope to hear her live!

Update: Just realized I have already posted the above videos earlier - here and here! I suppose each time I hear her, I get so enthralled... I feel the urge to share!!

Ngoni time

The ngoni is a plucked lute-like stringed instrument from West Africa. Hear a beautiful demonstration of the same, as played by Mama Sissoko first.

And next Bassekou Kouyate on the ngoni & his band
, Ngoni Ba ("the big ngoni"), which is "a quartet of ngoni players—treble, mid range and bass—augmented by Kouyate's wife, Ami Sacko, on lead vocals, and two percussionists."

Incidentally, Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba won the 2008 Album of the Year (for their debut album - Segu Blue) & African Artist of the Year at the BBC3 Awards for World Music earlier this year. Apparently...

One of the undisputed highlights of this year's rain-sodden Womad festival in Wiltshire was a midnight feast of sound from Mali's Bassekou Kouyate and his group Ngoni ba. Accompanied by two percussionists and his gracefully dancing wife Amy Sacko on vocals, Kouyate led his immaculately attired group on the ngoni, a tiny, delicate-looking instrument that punches above its weight with sharp, scrabbling and plunking notes. The other three musicians also played ngonis of various sizes, trading piquant riffs and booming bass lines with him in a fascinating approximation of lead, rhythm and bass guitar. Even the rain couldn't break the spell they cast.
How I wish I could be at Womad or even the Desert Festival in Mali one of these days!

Leave you with one more live performance by
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba at Rostock on the 7th of Jun.

November 14, 2008

Victory Speech

Nov 4th 2008. Historic night for Obama and the US but also... "A very good night for the English language" writes James Wood, whose recent book - How Fiction Works - is on my to-read list.
A movement in American politics hostile to the possession and the possibility of words—it had repeatedly disparaged Barack Obama as “just a person of words” —was not only defeated but embarrassed by a victory speech eloquent in echo, allusion, and counterpoint. No doubt many of us would have watched in tears if President-elect Obama had only thanked his campaign staff and shuffled off to bed; but his midnight address was written in a language with roots, and stirred in his audience a correspondingly deep emotion.
Do read the entire piece. You'll read of allusions in Obama's speech that you, like me, may have missed.

Obama in DC

Great cover from The New Yorker, whose cover art earlier this year featuring Obama had caused quite a brouhaha!


This issue has some real good articles about the elections.

Race and the campaign of Barack Obama by David Remnick

The Fall - John McCain's choices by David Grann

Jane Mayer on Sarah Palin

Battle Plans - How Obama won by Ryan Lizza

Podcast - The Campaign Trail

The New Liberalism - Redefining the Democrats. by George Packer

November 10, 2008

RIP, Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba (or as she was fondly called, Mama Afrika) is dead (also a video report.)

"Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation which she felt for 31 long years. At the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us" -- Nelson Mandela
A few videos showcasting her amazing voice.

If this voice does not make you hair stand on end....

Not one more refugee death, by Emmy Pérez

And just like that, my #NPM2018 celebrations end with  a poem  today by Emmy Pérez. Not one more refugee death by Emmy Pérez A r...