Bodies by Osmond Arnesto
The first printed collection of the author’s poetry and prose. Also featured is a short story on the joys of accounting. For the lonely, the lost, and everyone who has ever known the feeling.
I met Osmond in a few of my writing classes at UCSD. He always impressed me with his comic and heartfelt way of dealing with deeply icky, deeply uncomfortable, and deeply taboo subjects. A mix of theatre actor, stand-up comic, and all-around nice guy, his writing sparkles with that unique something you sadly can’t bottle and sell.
Recently, Osmond self-published his very first work, a collection of poems and short stories. I was delighted to see the short story included as one that had been work shopped in one of my classes.
His poetic voice and style is very well established; his unique way of putting poems together reminds me perhaps of what it might have been like to read a young William Carlos Williams or Juliana Spahr. If you’ve never read those two poets, I highly recommend checking them out.
At 54 pages, my main complaint with this collection was that there wasn’t more. I admire Osmond’s ability to attack difficult subjects and break them into something comedic, however squeamish, while displaying impeccable talent, poise, and extreme breadth of knowledge. There are easter eggs scattered throughout his work for the careful reader, some of them denoted with foot notes. While the ease of movement of the work suggests a hasty dash-off, bearing that beautiful fluidity of stream-of-consciousness, further examination reveals how meticulously every line and sentence have been constructed.
Osmond is off to teach English in Japan for a year, which I’m sure will prompt many more hilariously wonderful poems and stories that I for one can’t wait to read.
His book is available through Amazon or as an e-book through Lulu’s.
Tinkers by Paul Harding
An old man lies dying. Propped up in his living room and surrounded by his children and grandchildren, George Washington Crosby drifts in and out of consciousness, back to the wonder and pain of his impoverished childhood in Maine. As the clock repairer’s time winds down, his memories intertwine with those of his father, an epileptic, itinerant peddler and his grandfather, a Methodist preacher beset by madness. At once heartbreaking and life affirming, Tinkers is an elegiac meditation on love, loss, illness, faith, and the fierce beauty of nature.
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Paul Harding read from his debut novel, Tinkers at UCSD. Though I didn’t buy my own copy that day, the book stayed with me. At the beginning of summer, I found a copy of it in a used bookstore in one of the San Diego beach communities.
On whole other topic today, I stumbled across this article about Peter Stothard, the head judge for this year’s Mann-Booker Prize (previous winners include The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes). In the article, Stothard describes how book bloggers could harm literature by making literary criticism obsolete. While I’m not delving into that topic today, one of the sentences from the articles really stood out to me as I went into the living room and finished reading Tinkers. In a comment on last year’s judge’s priority to pick a readable story, Stothard remarks “readability can be a very interesting thing, great art for the most part resists it to a degree”.
When Paul Harding came to UCSD, one of things that came up was how the book didn’t have great ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, despite being a Pulitzer prize winner (2010). One of the things that comes up the most is how Tinkers isn’t particularly readable. On yet another tangent, I was clicking back through my e-mail today while wasting time waiting (after finishing my book) and came across this article by Joe Bunting at The Write Practice entitle “How to (Nearly) Win a Pulitzer Prize in 5 Steps“. Bunting discusses how the Pulitzer was not awarded this year to a work of fiction. (If you ask me, the committee saw Fifty Shades of Grey dominating the best-seller charts and went, Fuck It). One of the last pieces of advice Bunting gives in the article is to “Write Beautifully”. He gives advice to make sure every single line is beautiful. And this is exactly what Harding does with Tinkers.
UCSD has a very experimentally-minded literature department. Perhaps this has opened my mind up to great works that tell (or don’t tell) stories in conventional ways. Perhaps not. What I do know is that Tinkers is a fantastic read. It’s less a story than it is a memoir and even that is fuzzy. The concepts of time and disorientation muddy the waters too much to say this is really even a fictional memoir. It’s just beautiful.
Tinkers clocks in at just under two hundred pages. Maybe if it was longer, I wouldn’t be singing the same praises. I don’t know. At any rate, I feel this is a work that will stand the test of time. After all, who hasn’t suffered through pages and pages of clunky, abstract prose in Doestoevsky or Tolstoy? (Don’t get me wrong, I love my Russians!) I think Tinkers hits a good balance. It’s abstract, but it comes in such a small package that it’s likely to hit a home-run with a greater portion of the market. Anyone can read two hundred pages. Really.
The first line of the novel is “George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died”. Harding uses these time markers to progress the story forward. We get a countdown in hours. Because I had a used copy, the person before me had decided to go in and note what those hours amount to in days. I’m not sure I would have paid much attention to this neat, story-telling convention otherwise.
Maybe the best way to explain this novel is to give you a taste of the prose. That’s what got me hooked. Hearing the author read a portion of it aloud.
One hundred and thirty-two hours before he died, George awoke from the racket of the collapsing universe to the darkness of night and a silence, which, once the clamor of his nightmares had faded, he could not understand. (28)
And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. (72)
Let those grassy crafts be listed alongside the iron hulls that cleave the sea, for they are all improvisations built from the daydreams of men, and all will perish, whether from ocean siege or October breeze. (78)
What if it is clear and the sky brimming so full of stars that the light overflows the earth and transforms into luminescent white flowers along the bank, which sparkle and disperse without a trace the moment the planet passes the deepest meridian of night and begins turning back toward the sun? (145)
This novel took me a couple of days to finish because I was determined to only read it when I could focus on it. Some novels are for entertaining, for whiling away time. Some are for changing your life and giving you a greater sense of the world. Some are for impressing upon you the beauty of language.
Have you read Tinkers?
Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Instagr.am or are my friend on Facebook have already seen this, but:
I did it!!
You can’t teach writing. So why even bother going for a degree in it, or to any workshops or conferences at all?
Because you can’t teach writing to people who don’t love it, who don’t have any talent for it, who don’t want to lose themselves in it every time they set a pencil to paper. And for those talented writers willing to live and die by their pen, you can refine them, shape them, mold them, guide them. I’m going to use the super-cliche “diamond in the rough”. Because that’s what you do in writing courses–you help those with potential reach a fuller potential.
And perhaps, even more importantly than all that, you give these fledgling writers a community they can lean on. And friends they can go out with and grab a drink or two. Friends they can bounce ideas off of and refine. Friends who support you every step of the way.
To my friends:
To all my friends, who inspire me always:
Sahar A., Gwen L., Mina R., Jamelle J., Becky H., Will R., Kariana R., Ryan L., Will R., Natasha G., Paul Y., Catrina M., Rachel K., Allie M., Mika K., Natasha S., Andrew H., James D., Lauren F., Mary D., Dennis L-C., Steve B., Pial H., Rebecca O., Tylar P., Jenny L., Danielle M., Julie R., Hannah S., Brian E., Sara M., Elena C., Daniel H., Johnathan N., Alina D., Tania S., April D., Leelah M., Anthony M., Emily K., Osmond A., Alex C., Caitlin F., Jackie Y., Elizabeth F., David V., Carolyn C., Katie V., Paul F., Shannon N., Katie M., Sarah K., Brianna B., Frederik B., Justin C., Rose Q., Amy L., Kaisa D., Janet C., Tifany M., Tammy H.
(Hopefully I didn’t miss anyone)
UCSD Presents its 2012 Graduating MFA Literature Class, 5/16/12
It’s always lovely to hear talented new artists. It makes me feel hopeful for them, wondering when we’ll see their books out on the shelf. An MFA is something I’m strongly considering for myself in the future. Many of these MFA graduates were my TA’s or friends.
I’ve included a link to the sound recording here. At the time of writing, it still is not up. UCSD records all of its writing series, but I usually don’t link back because they are published authors. At the moment, the work of these MFA grads exists nowhere else. I jotted down some thoughts during the reading and posted them below. Take a listen and let me know if you agree or disagree with my assessments.
Amy read some excerpts from her novel project. I found her writing to be very conversational and correct. It’s not showing, it’s not trying to make you oohh and aahh, but is involved in communication. The parts of the text she read were very straightforward and precise. It’s almost Hemingway-esque.
Ryan was my TA for introductory poetry and he’s an awesome writer and all around cool guy. Check out his blog here. Ryan has a particular gift for seeing the beauty in the tiniest things, in noticing all the details of his world. In one of the poems he read, he described a spider spinning a web on a bike, making ” a tiny anchor in the wind”. His poems are short and compact, which I enjoy. I enjoy writing poetry that way as well, because my other writing occupation is fiction. And I enjoy the way both forms can be so far form each other in form and length, but still beautiful. Ryan posts a ton of poems up on his blog. He’s also a photographer, musician, and makes videos.
Kara was my TA for introductory fiction and later, my peer in a grad level film studies course I took. Kara read some pieces from her project, which is a collection of intertwined stories. Her fiction is also straightforward and conversational, very much in the contemporary mode. But there’s something sad and melancholic about it. The words express a strong desire for reminiscing. It could be just the work she read, but I think it’s more of her style. There’s a deep poetic longing underneath it all.
If I could describe Lester’s work in one word, it would be “packed”. He’s very much like Gabriel Garcia Marquez in that way. He notices everything and leaves nothing untouched. His sentences are well-constructed and filled to the brim with beautiful diction. It almost sounds like a flarf construction, but I don’t think it is. Or else it’s incredibly well-curated. His work is rich and deep and beautiful. I imagine if you were reading Lester’s work, you’d read it a few pages at a time, in order to fully digest the intense beauty of it.
Nikolai shared some of his fiction. Right away, I noticed his work as being a bit darker and grittier than the previous speakers. It came across as tough and unapologetic, precisely the attitude of the characters whose story he was relating. He displays a real talent for finding beauty in the unbeautiful. His work also included some sections of what came out as spoken word/rap, though I think it’s supposed to be some other type of art form that I missed the reference to. Either way, his work showed great versatility.
K. Lorraine Graham:
Lorraine seemed to be the most interested in experimenting with form and language in her poetry. She also makes use of methodology as a means to create art. Her work is very juxtaposed: things fit together precisely because they don’t. Her writing is extremely emotional and comes across that way, as a torrent of feeling. In the manuscript she read from, I didn’t so much get a sense of a theme binding together the prose poetry, so much as a feeling. She uses language to evoke emotional responses rather than cognitive response.
Allie is the current editor-in-chief of Alchemy, the translation journal that I also work on. She has her blog here. Allie is such a sweet and laid back individual, who balances school, work, and a child! When you talk to Allie, she seems rather mild-mannered and sedate, but when you hear her read, it’s ferocious. She definitely packed a punch closing off the reading. She has a background in spoken word and it really shows in her poetry. Her art is fierce. Allie has a profound understanding on the way in which we can use sound and silence in language to express something beyond mere words. Her work is rhythmic and focused on tonalities and the musicality of language.
UCSD New Writing Series Presents Paul Harding, 4/11/12
You have to love an artist who can poke fun at himself. Paul Harding was introduced by his friend and UCSD Professor, Ben Doller. Professor Doller started off his presentation by reading from some of Harding’s worst reviews on Amazon.com. Apparently, some people found his novel, Tinkers, boring, without plot, and a waste of time.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Tinkers won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2010.
A self-deprecating Pulitzer winner? A God among men, yet the humblest of the humble? Perhaps you are calling shenanigans on me from your computer screen. But ladies and gentlemen, it’s all true. I cannot tell a lie.
Okay so, Paul Harding. He’s smart, he’s humble, he won a Pulitzer, and a lot of people didn’t like his book. So where does that leave this review?
I’m going to borrow Tinkers from my friend as soon as my workload lightens up. Harding read from Tinkers at the reading yesterday afternoon, along with an excerpt from his new novel that will be released soon, and part of a short story he wrote, Speed of Light, which is set in Nigeria.
While listening to Harding read his work, I was struck by the same feelings I felt listening to the poem Howl being read aloud. It’s one of those things where the words you’re hearing don’t fade out of your mind as soon as you process them, but collect until their is a bottleneck of beautiful prose in your brain, the pressure mounting until it all comes out in a rush when the story is done.
Harding certainly had beautiful, precise, prose. It’s very lyrical and bears a strong resemblance to poetry. Harding used to be a drummer, which seems to contribute to this feeling of musicality. He explains that he seems to hear the lines in beats and phrases, trimming a syllable hear and there to fit this sort of rhythm he has in mind for his work.
My favorite line I picked up on at the reading, was fromSpeed of Light. Two characters are looking up at the stars, and one is talking about them to the other. He says, “Our own history is in the sky, preserved for us in light”.
In the Q&A, discussion of Harding’s writing process inevitably came up. I really enjoyed his answer though. In essence, he said that writing processes are never normative and should never be thought of as such. He also went on to state that “the right way for you to write is whatever gets the words on the page”. Another of his thoughts about writing is that a writer should know his language to the fullest extent possible so that everything is as precise and perfectly articulated as it could possibly be.
I’ll close this off with another gem from Harding’s writing. In Tinkers the title character goes searching for his father. In it, he climbs trees and is described as “tasting for traces of my father in their sap”.