Archive for the Literature and Performance Category

How Magic is Like Literature

Posted in Language, Literature and Performance, Magical Systems on March 6, 2007 by Patrick

W. H. Auden, I think it was, said “Poetry, after all, makes nothing happen.” Except, of course, that it does. Hemingway’s fiction shaped how a century saw masculinity and femininity, power and powerlessness, choice and weakness. People made decisions, changed their lives, and acted differently because of Hemingway, but in no way that could be quantified or predicted. Similarly, when I do a spell for — let’s say — money, I am causing change in the world, but in no way that I can predict. I only know that the outcome is likely to be that I’ll get money from an unexpected source. I don’t know how or why.

Obviously, in the case of literature, the chain of cause and effect is clear from retrospect, or at least, clear-ish.  The chain of cause and effect in magic is less clear.  Maybe I do a spell, and it makes spirits do something that causes me to get money.  Or maybe I do a spell, and it makes some sort of magical energy move and do something.  It’s always that chewy nougat center that our magical theories are trying to fill.


Zadie Smith — KCRW | 89.9FM

Posted in Literature and Performance on November 18, 2006 by Patrick

Zadie Smith — KCRW | 89.9FM

Zadie Smith:

But the problem with readers, the idea we’re given of reading is that the model of a reader is the person watching a film, or watching television. So the greatest principle is, “I should sit here and I should be entertained.” And the more classical model, which has been completely taken away, is the idea of a reader as an amateur musician. An amateur musician who sits at the piano, has a piece of music, which is the work, made by somebody they don’t know, who they probably couldn’t comprehend entirely, and they have to use their skills to play this piece of music. The greater the skill, the greater the gift that you give the artist and that the artist gives you. That’s the incredibly unfashionable idea of reading. And yet when you practice reading, and you work at a text, it can only give you what you put into it. It’s an old moral, but it’s completely true.

from BoingBoing


Posted in Literature and Performance on September 12, 2006 by Patrick

Yesterday I went to an mc chris concert.  It was a lot of fun, although going to an all-ages show, especially an mc chris show, is entertainment in its own right.  Ahh, geeks!  My people!  Still, I was not the oldest one there — that distinction went to one of my friends, thank the gods.  When he asked if there was anyone there who was older than college age, we were a tiny cluster of woot, my friends and I.

Evidently, contrary to the song, he is indeed going on tour.

One of the things that impressed me the most, weirdly, is that he mentioned he sat in a nearby park and read a book for a bit before the show.  I suppose I’m easily impressed, but living in a semiliterate culture, it’s nice to hear of someone, you know, reading.


Posted in Literature and Performance on July 2, 2006 by Patrick

I do this thing every year where I work as a counselor for a writing camp for high school aged kids. It’s a guaranteed peak experience; I come away from it feeling like a zen master. The kids are beyond amazing: little burning balls of energy and creative force. All I need to do is wave generally at the idea of “image” and they get it — snap! — and they’re off writing amazing poetry and fiction. I don’t mean, amazing for a fourteen year old. I mean amazing. Like, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that in a couple years I’ll walk into Borders and see a name I recognize from writing camp sitting on a shelf.

I mentioned this camp to a buddy, and he said something like “I miss being sixteen, when I could just write poetry and say things that really mattered to me.” And I realized, hey, that’s the Great Work. Saying what really matters. Connecting. Those of us who get there by the crooked old road of magic, well, we’re maybe a little weird. But others get there by other means, and it doesn’t matter the boat; it’s the river that matters.

I’m sad. I miss my kids. Would you believe last year, when I was asked to do this, I considered not doing it because I thought I didn’t like kids? I was an idiot. I didn’t know kids. It turns out, I like these kids more than most people I’ve met this year.

No, I’m not going to get my teacher’s certification; for one thing, I’m not up for sitting in those cramped desks again after eleven years of doing so for my Ph.D. For another thing, I know very well that my campers chose to be there because they liked writing. I suspect most of my students, if I became a high school English teacher, would be like — well, wouldn’t much want to be there. I’m not interested in discipline.

I am going to focus a bit more on poetry. And I’m making some other changes, too, which I’ll talk about later.

Poetry Reading

Posted in Literature and Performance on April 11, 2006 by Patrick

I went to a poetry reading of the Poetic Justice League yesterday. Several of the readers were energetic and entertaining. Djazz rocked my little world with her refrain “I could so write poetry to this.” She’s got the good fortune to have a beautiful voice on top of a strong ear for sound and rhythm. I found the Mutinous Mutt alternately amusing and frustrating. I still have one of his lines stuck in my head — high praise. I just wish he’d spend less time telling us in abstract terms how it should be, and more time describing how it is. One clear beautiful image of reality is worth a dozen cliched tirades.

Still, it’s the nature of the genre, I suppose, and the nature of contemporary poetry, that it be militant, activist, and abstract. They’re trying to undo the damage done by the concrete imagists, but they’re throwing out the powerful tools that did such damage in the first place. Pick back up the image and use it, because the sermon is played out.

I had hoped I’d have a chance to sit and talk with them (poets at poetry readings are approachable, especially slam poets — they’re weird enough not to find it odd when a hairy little stranger strikes up a conversation about poetry). Sadly, the show started late and I had to leave by intermission. Still, they’re in the area, and it turns out I know someone who has performed with the Mutt, so it’s quite possible our paths will cross again, unless — as seems likely — I relocate this summer.