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Archive for the 'Prose & Poetry' Category

À la Bacall

Elegance wrapped in a name,
“Lauren Bacall”
A husky Newyork drawl,
Let the sound roll of your tongue
A wishful you, full of grace and in control.

“I am sure of who I am,
What I want,
What use I’ll make of you.
A man can’t hold me in his palm
Unless I want him to.”

Yet who would guess behind “The Look”
A stare so hard to please,
A girl called Betty, in her twenties
Is hiding ill-at-ease.

“Elegance is frigid”
Wrote a sage old Japanese
And every time I watch Bacall
I see what he might mean…

Yet there it is again!
In a wave of warm surprise
A moment on screen,
À la Bacall,
Where she is free and loose and true – no ties.

That glimpse of tender in the tough,
Of sassy in the brash
Balances out the attitude,
And with a shimmy and a smile
Can melt a heart or two.

The Woman Behind Lolita

There is something magnetic, deeply mesmerizing about the opening paragraph of Nabokov’s Lolita. It takes three dainty steps of the tongue to pronounce Lo-li-ta, which is all the time Nabokov needs to showcase his dazzling writing skills and his love for clever word play and literary gimmicks. Extraordinarily simple yet highly ingenious, down-to-earth and “physical” yet brimming with an excess of desire, the controversial novel’s first paragraph draws in the reader in the bat of an eyelid, yet keeps her at an intriguing distance because of the morbid topic, because of the moral boundaries that are so brashly overlooked by the narrator’s thoughts and actions.

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

Image from Stanley Kubricks 1962 adaptation of Nabokov’s Lolita.

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What style! ‘You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style’, Humbert warns us at the outset. That may be true, for a murderer, but in Nabokov’s case it was someone else he could count on for advice, help and inspiration. Vladimir Nabokov wrote his first draft of Lolita (published in 1955) while on butterfly-collection trips in the Western United States with his wife, Véra Nabokov. Not many know the crucial role she played in drawing up the scandalous masterpiece: surprisingly enough she acted as his “secretary, typist, editor, proofreader, translator and bibliographer; his agent, business manager, legal counsel and chauffeur; his research assistant, teaching assistant and professorial understudy”!. It was Vèra who prevented Nabokov from burning the unfinished drafts of Lolita; she believed in her husband’s creative genius, privately encouraging and standing by him all his life — he called her “the best-humoured woman he had ever known.”

Vladimir and Vèra Nabokov

Vladimir and Vèra Nabokov

Now, putting aside the fear of sounding like a despicable child-abuser, have a go at composing a short paragraph in homage to Nabokov’s incredible style, and dedicate it to your own Vèra. Think about your loved one’s name (wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, companion or lover – it doesn’t have to be a paedophiliac, semi-incestous infatuation that drives your passionate immagination), find inspiration in its soothing sound and the meaning it acquires as you spell out the letters. Say it out loud a few times. Now break it up in syllables, listen to the consonants and vowels, draw shapes with the letters and go with the rhythm of the name. Though Nabokov, as Vèra herself admitted, always “had the good taste to keep me out of his books”, we — who lack his fervid imagination and literary status – are free to playfully smuggle our loved one’s real name into our imaginary word game. Try it as a very personalised and poetic card, as a humourous note to leave on the fridge before leaving for work, or as a romantic text message for a high-brow surprise during the day.

Vladimir and Vèra Nabokov

Vladimir and Vèra Nabokov

Sources:
Amis, Martin. Visiting Mrs Nabokov: And Other Excursions. pages 115–118. Penguin Books (1993)
New York Times obituary, “Vèra Nabokov, 89, Wife, Muse and Agent”, 11 April 1991
Brian Boyd’s biography, “Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years” (Princeton University Press, 1990)

Talking to Susanna-Cole King

Susanna is for me the perfect example of a dreamer. She created the blog Girl Meets NYC in 2008, to document her Summer in New York City. Here, she has written many poetic, dreamy tales combined with amazing photos. It feels like reading someones diary and being allowed into the world of her dreams. Because the photographs (taken by both established and up-and-coming photographers) are so well chosen, they seem to be taken specifically to accompany the written words. Today, Susanna is in the process of writing two books and has travelled through nearly all of Asia, which she’s documented in both words and pictures. This is how she describes herself:

Nonconformist and nomad, adventurer and raconteur, sculptor of words.

I’ve asked Susanna a few questions about her life, work and inspirations. Enjoy!

Self-portrait by Susanna-Cole King

Tells us a bit about the place you grew up.
Well, I think I did much of my crucial growing up in a theological seminary in Missouri (U.S.), but I also lived in three other states as a kid. We built forts and climbed trees and ran wild. If we were even wearing shoes, they were always filthy from running around. That’s the way a kid’s shoes should be, I think. There was a log cabin, built by the founders of the seminary, to smoke and play cards in, and drink alcohol, or so the story goes. We loved that cabin as kids, sometimes we hoisted each other up through a small back window if it was locked. It had a front porch with a swing, which I think we accidentally broke one summer. We’d pretend to be pioneers, and the cabin and the surrounding woods were the perfect setting. I knew we weren’t rich, but I was somewhat oblivious to our poverty. I didn’t know any different, nobody had money. Many of us didn’t attend school, and I never did. It was an isolated world in a way, with little to no exposure to things like pop culture and superficiality, which is why I probably grew up to be a woman who doesn’t wear make-up, except for special occasions. Beauty didn’t matter to me as a kid, and I was happy then, so I figure it makes sense for me to be happy now without caring how I look.

Untitled by Susanna-Cole King, Baltimore, 35mm film.

Untitled by Susanna-Cole King. Baltimore, 35mm film.

What’s the best time of day?

It depends on my mood and the season, but I’m very fond of dusk in summer (pinks and fireflies) and winter (moody blues).

What’s the difference between the stories photography and text can tell?
With pictures, the viewer creates the words to the story, and with text, the reader creates the pictures to the story. Maybe they’re a little like yin and yang.

Is it true that you’re writing a book? If so, tell us what it’s going to be about.
Yes. Well, I think I’m writing two different books that are like conjoined twins at the moment, and I have yet to operate, to pull them apart and figure out where one ends and the other begins. At least half of it is nonfictional prose from my travels across Asia this summer, but bits of fiction keeps creeping in and veering off in other directions, and into veins of other stories. I’m not quite sure what it is, but hopefully, some day, something good will come of fruition from this all.

Untitled by Susanna-Cole King. 35mm film.
“My workspace. The desk was once my grandfather’s. I keep lots of little treasures from around the world, and specimens of natural history, and writing instruments and inks on it, and of course, a small living cacti and succulent garden.”

Where have you learned to write the way you do?
Reading, I guess. I never intentionally imitate anybody (even if it’s tempting to try, sometimes), but I’m sure many writers have subconsciously influenced me, and poetry in general, even though I write prose, it’s evolved into a very poetic prose. As it happens, I disliked poetry as a child (too ambiguous for my tastes), and I didn’t consider it again until readers of my blog began calling my writing poetry, and I thought, “Perhaps I should be reading poetry…” and I did, and found that I loved it. I have my readers to thank for my rediscovery of poetry.

Describe your process of writing one of your posts.
It usually begins with a moment, a fragment or a metaphor that comes to mind during the day when I’m not doing any writing or even thinking about writing at all. I put that down on paper somewhere, and then it will slowly bleed and bloom outward from there. I do not write chronologically, and I usually can’t move on from a sentence until I’m satisfied with it, so I relentlessly edit as I write, instead of writing straight through a draft and then editing that, and repeat. There reaches a point where sometimes I just have to let things go, or nothing will ever be done.

Where do you usually write? (In front of a computer or in a notebook?)
Both. I often flesh things out on paper (I’m partial to Field Notes at the moment), and get the kind of awkward, ugly beginnings out and then move to a computer when I want to be more productive or edit a lot. Considering the intensity and obsessiveness with which I edit, I would kill an awful a lot of trees and time to do it all by hand.

Photo by Nishe. (Featured on Girl Meets NYC)

How do you find all the amazing photography that you post on Girl Meets NYC?
A lot of the photographers I feature are friends now, and that’s helpful as they’re especially generous in sending over their work to me when I request it, and I already keep up with new and upcoming projects of theirs. I think if somebody combs through places like Flickr and Tumblr enough, you can eventually develop list of exceptional photographers you can go back to again and again, and who will inevitably lead you to other wonderful photographers. The internet is very interconnected so, one thing leads to another, you know.

Why did you create Girl Meets NYC and what is the main goal for it today?
To document my summer in New York City. That was in 2008. I’m afraid don’t update it very frequently anymore, as my writing process became much more drawn out and meticulous. I wouldn’t say I have any main objectives for it today, except I hope it reaches somebody.

Why did you choose a blog for the place to post your writing, did you consider other media as well?
I was seventeen and blogs were booming then, I was curious and wished to try my hand at it. I don’t think I considered any other media. I mean video blogging wouldn’t have worked, for instance, because I’m camera shy and not articulate if I can’t get it down on paper first.

Photo by Parker Fitzgerald. (Featured on Girl Meets NYC)

You seem like a perfect example of a dreamer, but how would someone who knows you very well describe you?
Well, I don’t know if I’m a perfect example of anything, and I’m one of those individuals who prefers a couple of close friends to many. I can count on one hand how many individuals I would say know me well. Actually, I think one of them would have to be my grandmother, as I’m very much a younger version of her, thus, in a way, she knows me by knowing herself. I have a mean, sarcastic sense of humor that I mostly only use around my best friend. If people didn’t know we loved each other, they’d think we hate each other, but I know she never insults me with real malicious intent, nor I her, therefore we enjoy such cutting commentary. I get uncomfortable if she’s being too nice to me. I don’t really know how she’d describe me, as “crazy” probably. The other week she asked what I was reading, and I told her, and she goes, “You read such deep stuff, no wonder you’re crazy.”

Who are you inspired by?
Many times, by artists who are also my friends, because I can connect with them as individuals and as artists, such as Magda Lutek (usually known as Nishe online), Aëla Labbé, Daniel Stephensen, Nirrimi Firebrace and Mexico Rosel (Matt Caplin), Tara Violet Niami, to name a few (or a couple more than a few). But I often feel very inspired by film and filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, and Wim Wenders. I wonder if I should become a filmmaker instead of a writer, sometimes…

You spoke to Sally Mann recently, is she a friend of yours or how did that come about?
Oh no, I wish I could call her a friend, but no. Merely made her acquaintance on one fine occasion. I wrote her a long-winded letter of all the things I’ve wanted to say to her since discovering her work — I admire her quite immensely — and she wrote back with her wonderful pairing of humility and wry wit.

Photo by Misma Andrews. (Featured on Girl Meets NYC)

Top 3 films?
Let it be noted that for the next three questions, because I don’t necessarily have a top three, I will simply write three from a long list of favorites. For films: Baraka (dir. Ron Fricke), Stranger Than Paradise (dir. Jim Jarmusch), Lost Persons Area (dir. Caroline Strbbe). Wait, let me cheat and add a few more: Last Life in the Universe (dir. Pen-ek Ratanaruang), Paris, Texas (dir. Wim Wenders), and In The Mood for Love (dir. Wong Kar-wai).

Top 3 photographers?
Sally Mann (she really is in my top three, if I ever had one), Aëla Labbé, and Magda Lutek (Nishe).

Top 3 books?
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Ode to Common Things by Pablo Neruda, Selected Verse by Federico García Lorca.

Photo by Sally Mann. (Featured on Girl Meets NYC)

Which book are you reading at the moment?
I don’t have enough self-control to limit myself to one book at a time, so at the moment I’m amidst The Paris Review Interviews: Volume IV, The Vagabond by Collette (a beautiful 1980 edition, a gift from my friend Daniel — before mentioned in this interview — who said it reminded him of me), The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting by Philip Hensher, American Photobooth by Nakki Goranin, a book on Japanese residential architecture, and I want to mention two books I just finished, because they were so wonderful: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and Once by Wim Wenders, which feels like sitting around a kitchen table with an old friend, listening to stories, and sifting through photographs from a shoebox, it’s a warm feeling reading it.

Photo by Natalie Kucken. (Featured on Girl Meets NYC)

Tell us about your travels, the physical ones as well as the spiritual ones.
Well, after coming home from New York City and entering a mind-numbingly dull work situation with a mentally and verbally abusive boss, I was always of daydreaming of defiantly quitting one day, and traveling the world with no plan but to see and experience new things, and so, one day I did just that. Quit my job, applied for a passport, picked a beginning destination, bought a plane ticket, and told no one until it was too late to talk me out of it. I’ve told this story many times (sorry for those who have already heard it). Anyway, that was how my traveling began. In that trip, I visited Europe and Africa, where I went without food for days. This summer I traveled across India, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Việt Nam. The more I travel, the more I want to travel even more, if that makes sense (a poorly constructed sentence).

As for spiritual, well, it’s difficult to detail all that concisely, as it is deep and intimate, but in a nutshell, I grew up in a religion-saturated environment, but when I reached the age of fourteen or so, I realized that everything I supposedly believed was only because the people around me believed it. It was religion and not spirituality. So then I become an atheist, and I was a miserable atheist. After a while, I decided to essentially rewind, erase, and begin again. I’m not religious, I think even Jesus was against religion, but spirituality has become the most profound component of my life. If anyone feels sorry for my having faith in God, then they don’t understand my faith, which is not defined by others.

Hà Nội, Việt Nam by Susanna-Cole King, 35mm film

Varanasi, India by Susanna-Cole King, 35mm film

New Delhi, India by Susanna-Cole King, 35mm film

What are your plans for the future?
My plans are forever forming and evolving. I keep an open mind. I’ve never been one of those people who knows what I want to do with the rest of my life, knowing this would feel suffocating I think, I’d be in a panicked gloom. I guess I like surprises, in a way, the unpredictably of being a free spirit. At this very moment (this could change by tomorrow), I’m considering returning to New York to study book arts, or living in either Australia or Southeast Asia with some friends (building a commune has been discussed). I definitely want to move, that’s been a desire for a while now. I travel overseas for months, but I keep coming back to the same place broke poor, and that’s getting old. I want to go home broke poor from adventures to somewhere else now. Or not broke poor. That would be a plot twist.

Photo by Ciorania. (Featured on Girl Meets NYC)

Can you recommend other blogs/sites to look at?
Forgetlings (my friend Daniel is a master of poetry)
Nishe (a wonderful photo blog by one of my dearest friends)
Fuck Yeah, Book Arts! (book arts!)
Le Cam Romain (film photo beauties)
the road is home (my friend Nirrimi’s beautiful blog)
the raw book (“…aims to deconstruct the conventional definition of beauty through a series of original conversations.” I just did an interview for the Raw Book recently, really honored to be a part of it.)

There are many more I’d recommend, these are just some that came to mind.

Other things you would like to mention?
Thank you, and I hope I didn’t say “well” too much, it’s my vice at the moment, my predecessors of this particular habit were “oh” and before that “anyway.” Well, anyway, that’s all folks. A good song has just come on, I must get up and dance.