17 February 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Adrian Nathan West joined this week’s podcast to talk about Marianne Fritz and his translation of The Weight of Things, the first novel in the recently launched Reading the World Book Clubs. Additionally, we talked about Twelve Stations by Tomasz Różycki (the RTWBC poetry selection this month), the ABA Winter Institute, this great article about Chris Jackson and how he’s building a black literary movement, and an awful article in Wired by Steve Rushin in which he imagines Super Bowl 100. (There’s some static in this one that pops up a bit. Nothing too bad, but, unfortunately, we couldn’t edit all of it out. Not to worry, though, we’re getting a fix ASAP for the mic glitch.)

Because the Wired piece isn’t online, I want to share a few paragraphs so that we can collectively wallow in the crap:

For its centennial Super Bowl, the NFL returned to its favorite host city, Las Vegas, which first staged the title game 45 years ago. Super Bowl LV shared its initials with Las Vegas but also with Louis Vuitton, the luxury brand that paid handsomely to cover game balls in its handbag leather, embossed with its famous logo. And though that game is now ancient history, 2021 remains important as the year the NFL—following the lead of the rest of the country—abandoned its nominal objections to sports gambling and awarded Steve Wynn the expansion franchise that became the Las Vegas Centurions. [. . .]

Barcelona brought its usual continental flair to the Super Bowl, running a variation of the Left Bank offense made popular in Paris in the 2030s, and it took a 7-0 lead on a leaping catch by All-Pro receiver Michael Davis, whose 60-inch vertical from a natural surface is among the best in the league and whose knees are among the highest-rated by J.D. Power and Associates.

And there’s so so much more to hate on . . . CTE cured by Harvard! People watching from Mars! Ref-bots! Biometric ticketing technology! Ugh. I just pissed off Nate and Kaija by reading too much of this garbage aloud.

This week’s music is Let it Happen by Tame Impala.

Also, just a reminder, since we changed our podcast feed, you may need to unsubscribe and resubscribe to the correct feed in iTunes at that link, or right here:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/three-percent-podcast/id434696686

Or, you can just put this feed link into whichever is your podcast app of choice:
http://threepercent.libsyn.com/rss

And, as always, feel free to send any and all comments or questions to threepercentpodcast@gmail.com.

1 February 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Despite all of my New Year Best Intentions, I fell off last week with posting about the two Reading the World Book Club books for January: The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz and Twelve Stations by Tomasz Różycki. I did read (and enjoyed!) both books and will be talking about both books tomorrow on a podcast with Tom Roberge and Adrian Nathan West.

Well, in advance of that conversation, I just wanted to remind everyone who happened to read either of these books to send in your comments/questions either to me directly (chad.post [at] rochester.edu) or the podcast (threepercentpodcast [at] gmail.com). You can also post to the Reading the World Book Club Facebook Group or on Twitter using #RTWBC.

There have been a number of comments and posts on the Facebook Group, including Tony Messenger’s review of The Weight of Things:

A wonderfully bleak, dark, foggy tale, set during a further period of human decline after the second world-war, with Biblical references to Sodom and Gomorrah, Christ and the Madonna, this can be read as a straight forward tale, it can also be mulled over, steered through carefully, and is a work that demands a re-read from the moment you finish it. A worthy contender to make the Best Translated Book Award lists for 2016 and another wonderful addition to the world of Women in Translation.

along with one from David Hebblethwaite:

The Weight of Things moves restlessly backwards and forwards in time, which enables the narrative feints that I won’t go into here . . . More fundamentally, though, it disrupts the reader’s feeling of progression: a period of history flattens out into timelessness, a sense that these circumstances cannot be escaped. When I’d finished The Weight of Things, my immediate feeling was one of waking from a beautiful nightmare – but it’s a nightmare that demands to be revisited.

There are a few other comments on there as well—including multiple requests for a discussion of “come-hither-boys” (thanks, Sparks!)—but if you want to add anything, do it now. We’ll include any and all of these tomorrow in the podcast.

Then, it’s on to On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and Monospace by Anne Parian, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan

14 January 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I was hoping to send Bill Johnston a bunch of questions about Tomasz Różycki’s Twelve Stations over the weekend, but the general exhaustion from MLA, Greyhound bus rides, and doing three events in three days won out. With a little luck I’ll have something from him to post next Thursday.

In the meantime, I thought for this week I’d post a few quotes from the part of the poem I’ve read with some initial reactions.

As someone who doesn’t read a lot of poetry, I tend to gravitate to collections at two very different ends of the spectrum: crazy experimental things that are completely divorced from the prose that I usually read, or poems that are more narrative based (like Twelve Stations) and feel comfortable, like fiction with line breaks.

Although that might seem like the case, the reading experience is very different when you’re reading fiction—especially conventional, “realistic” fiction—and reading a poem like this. With a novel, you can focus on pulling out the essential elements of plot, character, theme, etc., amid a wash of extra words that fill things out by adding texture and adjusting the book’s pacing.

Poetry, even narrative poetry, is more condensed. As a reader—and I know this is veering into Oprah Book Club territory here, but if there’s one thing I’d like to do with these RTWBC posts, it’s talk about books as a reader and not as a critic trying to show off my intellect—I appreciate the experience of having to slow down, go back a few lines, pause. In starting Twelve Stations, I found myself rushing past things, as if it were a story that I could gloss and still get it. There’s something to be said for dialing it back and taking extra time to read.

*

In Bill Johnston’s intro (which I referenced here), he mentioned the “gawęda, a long-established Polish literary tradition of prose writing in which the pleasure of pure storytelling trumps the need for tidy narratives and overarching plots.” This influence is evident right from the start, and really enjoyable. I like the ramble. And the lists. Reminds me a bit of Rabelais, although not as vulgar or extended, I suppose.

*

There’s an effusiveness to this poem that’s palpable on every page and somehow—through the lists? the abundance of language?—creates a sort of bustle, a fullness of motion, which drives the book as a whole. In contrast to a lyrical poem about a thing/emotion/moment, the first four “stations” of this book feel like they’re running towards something, gleefully veering out of control, or rather, almost spinning out of control, instead coming back to particular touchstones within the scene to keep the whole thing grounded. Reading this book is a bit of a trip.

*

Finally, this bit below also has a bit of the Polish history that Bill also addressed in his introduction. It’s interesting to think about a group of Poles moving into a bunch of abandoned houses and towns, creating a community with a set of habits and typical actions different from the people who had been living there, and different from the rest of Poland. For whatever reason, that concept really intrigues me.

So, to give you a sense of how all of those things seem to work together, and to try and convince everyone to get on board with reading this, here’s a long excerpt from the opening section of the poem:

He entered, then, through the wide-open door of a building
and proceeded directly to a first-floor apartment.
First he knocked, yes indeed, he knocked and waited a moment,
but hearing no reply he depressed the handle of the door.
He was not in the least surprised at the local practice
that permitted all doors and windows and gates
to be left open on the outside, notwithstanding intercoms
and all the break-ins, robberies, and crimes against property so      common today.
In other regions of that venerable city, in such a place
one would see chains, bars, barb wire strung across balconies,
mad dogs and, even worse, mad pig-dogs white or pink in color,
with tiny eyes, imported from Anglo-Saxon lands, capable
of biting an automobile in two or gnawing through the door behind      which
the birthday guests would be standing, flowers and a modest gift
in hand. The owners of such beasts, as they went to bed with a      sweet sense of security,
would come in time to resemble their own defenders,
eventually assuming their stance, their habits, their diet.
Thus it was often in Poland, or rather in the land that since the war
has always been referred to as Poland; but not here. This realm      here
was governed by its own laws. A person arriving uninvited
would sometimes have to search the entire apartment for their      host,
who, leaving every door unlocked, was presently taking a nap
in a distant chamber, snoring beneath a heap of blankets, head      wrapped
in a towel or dressing gown, such that any attempt to wake him      would be madness.
So it was now.

7 January 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Before getting into the poetry side of our Reading the World Book Clubs, I just want to remind everyone that you can share your thoughts and comments about these books/posts in three different ways: in the comments section below, on the Reading the World Book Club Facebook Group, and by using #RTWBC on Twitter.

For this intro post, I thought I’d list five reasons why I chose to start the poetry RTWBC with Twelve Stations by Tomasz Różycki, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston.

1.) This is a narrative based poem. I like more abstract poetry that plays with language, forms, meaning, etc., but for my first attempt at running a poetry book, I thought it would be nice to start with something that’s more narrative based. Although based on Bill Johnston’s introduction, the “narrative” aspect of this seems a bit incidental . . .

It’s a sort of mock epic about restoring a Catholic church in what used to be the eastern part Poland and is now the Ukraine. Bill Johnston does a fantastic job explaining the cultural background of this poem, but in short, after World War II, the eastern part of Poland was given to the Soviet Union, whereas Upper and Lower Silesia were incorporated into Poland, becoming the western part of the country. (Oh, those shifting Polish borders.)

To further complicate things, the Germans living in what became western Poland moved back to Germany, and the Poles of what used to be the eastern part of Poland took over their abandoned houses and towns. Which is why the older generation is essentially “returning home” to the Ukraine to restore the church.

2.) The humor. I heard Bill read a part of this at Translation Loaf, and it was incredibly funny in a very Polish sort of way. Rather than try and explain that myself, I’ll let Bill take over:

Różycki’s mock epic has strong affinities with the gawęda, a long-established Polish literary tradition of prose writing in which the pleasure of pure storytelling trumps the need for tidy narratives and overarching plots. The gawęda goes back at least as far as Henryk Rzewuski’s Pamiatki Soplicy (Memoirs of Soplica, 1839) [. . . ] and stretches to the 20th century, where it left deep traces in the work or writers as otherwise diverse as Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969) and Wiesław Myśliwski (b. 1930). Polish audiences know not to expect much in the way of plot resolution in such books; they read for the sheer exuberance of the narratorial voice, for the recounting of endless amusing incidents, and, going deeper, the delight of spendin ghours wiht a writer who is, simply put, good company. [. . .]

Though the form doesn’t draw attention to itself quite the way that, for example, rhymed verse does, a large part of the poem’s pleasure resides in its irrepressible torrent of words. Its comedy inheres as much in the exaggerations, excesses, and playful absurditites of the language itself as in those of the story and the characters.

Definitely a Chad sort of book.

3.) The fact that this is a contemporary work that’s made a huge impact. This poem was originally published in 2004, when Różycki was 34, and won the Kościelski Prize. Since that point, its made its way onto school reading lists, has been adapted for the radio, and has been performed in theaters throughout Poland. This sort of reaction to an epic poem is definitely more likely to happen in a European country than in the U.S., but still, that’s impressive.

4.) Because Bill Johnston. There are so many good Polish translators working today, but I have a personal soft spot for Bill. He’s a great person, incredibly talented, has a wonderful sense of humor, and picks some amazing projects. Over the past decade he’s translated Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel, which was one of the first books Open Letter ever published; Wiesław Myśliwski’s Stone Upon Stone, which is one of my favorite books of all time; and Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, which is one of the great works of twentieth-century science-fiction.

Oh, and remember this t-shirt? Which served as my indoor soccer team’s jersey for a season, and which I still wear? The front of which looked like this?

(Unfortunately, these are all sold out.)

5.) To give a shout out to Poland. Poland is also the Guest of Honor at BookExpo America in Chicago this summer, and was one of the main organizing forces behind the New Literature from Europe that took place last fall. The Polish Institute is great to work with, and over the past year has taken a lot of great editors over to Poland to learn about their literature and culture. There are so many great Polish writers and great translators from the Polish. And as most of my friends know, I’m mostly Polish! So why not honor this fascinating country and its wonderful literature by featuring one of its most notable contemporary poets?

Overall, I’m really excited that we’re starting the Reading the World Poetry Book Club off with this poem and am looking forward to reading what everyone has to say about this particular book.

....
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