This week in reading articles

Because I have found writing difficult lately, and I have had little interest in novels, and various other small reasons, I have been reading a lot of articles lately. Here’s another smattering of things I have been reading:

“Capitalism has always divided its labour supply along lines of race and gender, ensuring that in times of unrest, we don’t start burning our looms – far safer for us to set fire to one other.”
No, identity politics is not to blame for the failures of the left, Laurie Penny

Obama Reckons with a Trump Presidency
A good read. I’m excited to see what Citizen Obama does. Something about this article makes me feel like he is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

“Trying to fix economic policy without tackling structural inequality is not just morally misguided— it is intellectually bankrupt.”
— Against Bargaining, Laurie Penny

What’s Wrong with Literary Studies?
I am a recovering English major, and sometimes I have these flare-ups of interest in the academic side of things. The sort of thing discussed in this article, while perversely fascinating to me, is why I never had much interest in continuing on an academic path! Look, pals, let’s not lose sight of the fact that stories are fun. Sometimes you read Woolf because her sentences are beautiful, and sometimes you read Harry Potter to deconstruct the inequality implicit in muggle/wizard society.

“Is it worthwhile to persist in retrying to remake the world? Or, still postmodernists, do we concede that the arc of the moral universe is long, and it bends toward meliorism?”
Twilight of the Idylls, on three books about attempted utopias

Links: Sundry articles

Some things I have read recently and enjoyed deeply. Any bold emphasis in the quotes is my addition.

Ursula Le Guin Has Stopped Writing Fiction — But We Need Her More Than Ever – “Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable—so did the divine right of kings.”

New Words Were Needed – “Another translation of ostranenie I occasionally find is “alienation,” making the familiar alien, which brings us to science fiction. Whereas modernists tend to defamiliarize at the level of the image, line, or sentence, sf writers have been in the business of defamiliarizing at the level of story since the very beginning.”

1194384Why women are leading the death positive movement – “It was not only important to us to amplify the voices of those actively creating the future of death, but also address the issues many women are facing who are confronted with the reality of ‘bad deaths’ such as femicide, victims of police brutality, reproductive rights and so much more.”

(Note: Talk to me more about women and death. Talk to me of the women who lay hands on the dead and bring them to their rest. Talk to me about the feminization of an industry being intrinsically coupled with its denigration. Talk to me about women and  our physical reality, women and bodies, women being forced to reckon with their bodies in ways that men are not, women taking that to a career that makes death familiar. Talk to me about women.)

Every Body Goes Haywire – “A migraine attack blurs the distinction between “sickness” and “health.” Headache, dizziness, nausea, trouble concentrating, fatigue, poor verbal skills—these symptoms could just as easily result from a hangover or a bad night’s sleep. That the same symptoms can result from irresponsible decisions gives patients an air of culpability.”

The Identity Politics of Whiteness – “These voters suffer from economic disadvantages even as they enjoy racial advantages. But it is impossible for them to notice these racial advantages if they live in rural areas where everyone around them is white. What they perceive instead is the cruel sense of being forgotten by the political class and condescended to by the cultural one.”

The Case Against Reality – “In contrast, you’re saying, Look, quantum mechanics is telling us that we have to question the very notions of ‘physical things’ sitting in ‘space.’”

Today: How to Survive an Anti-Feminist Backlash -“By underestimating the damage that Trump’s extremist right-wing movement is prepared to do to women’s rights, we all but ensure that damage will occur. We can’t relax, and we can’t assume that everything (or anything) will work out.”

On translation: “White Night”

It feels very silly to talk about poetry at a time like this, but of course it isn’t. I thought about looking for a poem that seemed more situationally appropriate, but you know what? This is fine. This is a Russian poet writing in the early 20th century (annoyingly, I have returned the book to the library and the internet is failing me at digging up a year for this poem) and for all that was happening, in Russia and the world, she wrote of love lost and despair. Here we go.

On a White Night, trans. Mary Maddock

I didn’t bolt the door
or light the candle.
Though tired I don’t know why
I decided not to lie down.

I am watching the spruce needles
blur in the darkening sun
and I’m getting drunk on a voice
like yours.

Nothing is any good now.
I know it. Hell is here.
I was so sure
you would have come by now.


I can only say so much about translation of this particular poem because I neither have the Russian original on hand nor speak a lick of Russian.

In searching for a version I could copy into this post, I realized the translation I had read, from a book, was significantly different from what I found online. (And the online versions I found didn’t have translation credits, which infuriated me.) Looking at the differences in translation is another, sideways look at how translation works or doesn’t work. So let’s do this.


Web translation one: Kind of terrible! The stanzas seem mixed up. I’m not sure why they use “haven’t the strength” to go to bed, when the Maddock translation chooses “I don’t know why.” How do two translations of the same source end up so different? Which is it?

This one also moves “drunk on a voice” to the very end, which is what I mean by mixed up stanzas. And it’s your voice, not a voice like yours in this translation.

And, pettily, I think “pine-needles” is a poor choice in the face of “spruce needles.”

To sum up: This translation is weird and I deny it.


Web translation two: This one at least seems to hew to the original’s (I’m assuming, at this point) stanza and line structure. But the choice of words changes the narrator, changes the voice and the character. Oh, she says. See, she says. Qualifying. Opening. Easing into the line. The unusual phrasing of “I’ve not” done this or that. Who says that? (Me.) No, we say “I haven’t,” so the departure says something. It feels old fashioned to me, almost staged. Or over-educated. Putting something on.

This speaker sounds more immediate, like she’s talking to someone, trying to get and keep their attention. The Oh, the See how the fields. Oh, listen to her. You know I’m too tired, you know it. Look, look at the fields with me. Be with me, right now, looking at dying light and gloom.

I’m not sure I like it.

I definitely don’t like the way the final stanza rhymes. Eugh. Inappropriate.

Anyway, in the last stanza the translator uses em-dashes. And uses them oddly, in the second line of that stanza. But I bring it up because in the book I was reading, there was an introduction. That introduction talked about each of the three poets included, their styles, and how they influenced each other and were different from each other. The translator talked about the immediacy of one of the poets, the “great poetic energy, her elliptic and staccato style.” Even in introducing her, the em-dash suddenly appeared, as though out of nowhere, and then vanished again when another poet was discussed.

The em-dash poet was Marina Tsvetayeva. So you see why I notice it in the translation of Akhmatova.


Can we talk briefly about why I like this poem? I didn’t discover the translations, then choose the poem. I chose the poem first. I had four poems by Akhmatova marked as I read. This was the first sequentially, and I suppose that’s the reason I chose it over any of the others.

This translation chooses bolt the door, more telling, more physical, more weighty, more final than a simple lock.

In this poem, there is only one candle, one possible light, one wick against the darkness.

This poem has not sunset, beautiful and fiery, but a sun that darkens. The sun doesn’t set. It burns out and grows cold.

This poem has you not here at all, has you not even echoing; this poem has you gone, and replaced.

In this one, nothing is fine. In this one, the sentences shorten and deaden and stop for a moment, in Hell. In this one, you haven’t come, and that is the most important part, not her certainty. You haven’t come, and the night is growing dark.


If you have thoughts on this poem, please share them! you’re probably smarter than I am.

Also, poetry recommendations are always welcome.

On “Aesthetic”

Friends, I puzzled over this post for a while, and then decided to go with it. It’s a short poem. I hope you like it.


Charles Tomlinson

Reality is to be sought, not in concrete,
But in space made articulate:
The shore, for instance,
Spreading between wall and wall;
The sea-voice
Tearing the silence from the silence.


I read this poem years ago. I know it was years ago, because I included it in a grad school project. We were to make an ebook of some sort. Keep in mind, this was the wild and heady days pre-Kindle, and to make an ebook meant, “Well, what do you think an ebook is? Something like a book, but on a screen? Maybe a PDF. It’s a PDF.” I chose as my subject, because we could choose whatever we wanted, “Poetry That Doesn’t Suck.”

I am an ornery person.

I chose something like 8 poems that I had (mostly) read in college and (absolutely) liked, alternating between a brief introduction and the poem itself. With some sort of illustration, and typography that I now wish I’d spent more time on.

This poem was in there. I know, because I still have the PDF, which I keep both secret and safe. My explanation of its inclusion was very non-existent: “You either get it or you don’t.” This exemplifies my understanding of poetry, or rather my frustration with my understanding, in that it’s not something I could understand or articulate basically at all. It’s like that judge with porn.

I don’t know what it is, exactly, I just know it when I see it.

This is a poem.


Step one in trying to figure out a poem: Is it using a form?


Step two: Rhymes?


Step three: Gosh, I don’t know. The other sounds, I guess, alliteration and assonance and all that?

Hm. Okay.

“The sea-voice / Tearing the silence from the silence.” (Which has a whole new connotation post-Matt Smith Doctor Who.) There’s actually quite a lot of that sibilance in this poem.

The first line also has the vowel sound, I think — sought, not, concrete. Second line, I suppose, repeats that space/made sound.

It’s cheating to call it out when the entire word is repeated; that’s probably something else entirely. Just repetition. Wall and wall, silence and silence. I like those repetitions. They form boundaries in nothing; shores don’t have walls, as a rule, but here they are, in this poem. The shore between walls. You also, as a rule, can’t do anything with silence, in regards to moving it around. It is a lack, rather than an object, and yet, here we are, letting the sea-voice tear it to bits and make it disappear, by sheer force of the sea-voice’s existence.

What does any of this have to do with reality? Or aesthetics?


Have you ever read the Tao Te Ching? I read it in college, like you do, and there are many parts of it I still think of occasionally. There is one verse, about emptiness, or negative space. Here is a small portion of it, from Ursula Le Guin’s translation:

Cut doors and windows
to make a room.
Where the room isn’t,
there’s room for you.

I apologize for using a verse to try to explain a verse. But that’s the neighborhood in my brain where this poem lives, though I never made the connection until now.

Even so, that’s not quite what this poem is pointing at. It’s sitting there, gesturing vaguely to the left of this idea. It’s not the absences that concern this poem. It’s what else that means, what else fills it, where these things touch and interact and talk to each other. But every time I read the poem again, I sense that all of this is wrong.


Aesthetic concerns itself with beauty. I mean the concept, not the poem, in this paragraph. Aesthetics is the study of, the contemplation of, what beauty is. That which is beautiful. The idea of beauty as formed by culture, and if it ever stands outside of culture. The creation of beauty, whether conscious or not, but I think, more often, the former.

Not in concrete, but in space, and shore, and sea-voice. Movement and sound, and in absences, and spaces created. Looking at those things (which I can’t quite explain) is a particular way to look at the reality around you and to define it as real (since reality is perception, even measuring is perception, even replication of measuring is perception so at some point you have to lay down the law and say this is reality) and choosing a way to look at things is to choose an aesthetic point of view. That is reality. Aesthetics are reality, to you.


This is the beautiful and terrible thing about poetry! I like ambiguity in poetry! I like double and triple meanings, suggestions via word choice, and something that seems to be missing, something you have to puzzle with. That frustration I have with being inarticulate about the genre is also what I like about it, and what I find definitive about it. For something to be easily explained, effortlessly unpacked, would make it less poetic.

The reason the poem exists as it is, is that to explain what it’s saying in any other form would take 50 pages and be impenetrable, possibly recursive. With a poem like this, either you’re smarter than me (not beyond the realm of possibility) and can explain it, or you just get it and nod. You like it. You can’t explain why.

You either get it or you don’t.

Maybe I got it right the first time.