Monday, November 23, 2009

Reviews, poems from alternate blogsite

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Fat Girl (film) Letter to E. 2001
The ending: it was brutal but belonged to the worldview of the director who has a bleak opinion about men. There were 3 men in the film. The father: a workaholic who may not only have been working back in Paris (that's an obvious story) and who did not seem particularlyclose to his wife; certainly he had no idea about his daughters, the younger being neglected and disturbed, her only carer her sister; the boyfriend, who was Don Giovanni personified (and a thief and liar) and, finally, the rapist, the complete animal. Along with that there is the fat girl, who had decided (precocious aged 12), to lose her virginity to someone she wasn't going to care about (and that too was taken to its logical conclusion). She had been, in the family and in her little social life, utterly humiliated, to the point of living through her own sister's deflowering like a dog (she lay in bad crying). No one respected her or wanted her. But at the end, here came an animal who seemed to her to choose her; he killed her glamourous mother, her desirable sister, and she knew he would rape her so that she would lose her virginity, defiantly, as she showed by her last retort to the police (that he hadn't raped her but that if they didn't believe her they could find out for themselves).So that's why the ending was as it was. It was more than a study of a sad little girl growing up, it was an atrocious statement about men and the society they have created. You could see that from the mother. She kept herself nicely in her house, obviously more interested in looking attractive (which would be for men) whilst having no idea what was happening even with the daughter she identified with. She was a slut though, viz the way she threw the bottle out of the car window. It was an angry act not only of frustration and fatigue but as a furious protest, using the sexual symbol of the empty bottle in front of her own daughters, at society. (She never even went into her daughters' room to say goodnight. Did she know her daughter was sleeping with the boy? She must have, as her daughter observed to her that she must have lost her virginity once herself and she didn't answer. It was a taboo subject). And what did she threaten the girl with during that dreadful drive home? 'Your father is going to have you examined!' The girl was scared. Not because, on the surface, it could have been for AIDS for instance, but because the Father was Bogeyman. The old fashioned image of Father, an authoritarian man. No sympathy. G. thought the policemen were particulary unsympathetic too, but I didn't notice that.Well, I didn't mean to write so much, but here it is I guess while fresh in my mind.I really didn't enjoy watching it, the affect though was powerful.Linda
posted by Linda at 11:57 PM 0 comments

The Hours, novel by Michael Cunningham
THE HOURS By Michael Cunningham Book Club 2004Linda HepnerI was half way through the novel when I suddenly realized I had read it before. This says of course that I read with only half my mind, but it also might imply that as a novel it is not absolutely successful in gripping the reader. The moment I woke up was when I suddenly realized the identity of little Richie, the 3 year old son of Laura. I was suddenly filled with dread and recognized that emotion from my first reading a couple of years ago. At that point I re-read more carefully, and anticipating the end helped to concentrate my mind. I would not say that every detail then gripped me, but I was certainly more alert for clues and developments which allowed me to appreciate the end of the now recognised novel. It also shows how perhaps the writing lacks some impact, does not close the distance between the reader and the characters in spite of the intricacy, vivid descriptions of detail and intellectual challenge.I am revealing this to you at the start since you have all read the book and I will only now summarize it. I will not summarize it in order of appearance of the characters. I think there is method in my approach. Keep in mind that I believe the novel in spite of its progression through the day is a hypertext. Characters, names,events, place and more powerfully, time, are intermingled. You can see however that I seem to be giving you a biassed opinion from the start. You might take this as a jumping off point in your minds while I am speaking. None of us think of this novel as a thriller or romantic tale, but I still demand of an author that he or she grip our interest fairly early in the story, either with plot or fascinating details or with involvement with the characters. You will make up your own minds.The Hours is a complex novel following a June day in the lives of 3 women living in different generations but each preparing for some sort of party. At least, it pretends to be three. In fact, it is four, as you will see.The chapters alternate, switching from one character to the other, but intertwining unexpectedly towards the end.There is Laura Brown: she is a young, married, pregnant mother living in a Los Angeles suburb in 1949. The war has been over for 4 years and her husband is a good provider. He had been pronounced dead in the Second World War but miraculously returned. Laura was an odd choice of wife, being aloof and bookish. She stays at home in a perfect 1949 house looking after her 3 year old son Richie, who adores her. She is beginning to read “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf and her mind is constantly preoccupied with it. She wonders how a writer like Woolf who puts a glow on the little details of life could kill herself. Her active day consists of preparing a birthday cake for her husband. This is her little party. She and Richie make it together as a delightful project but when he is not looking she rejects it for its amateurish decorations and makes another, carefully. A neighbor, Kitty, then comes in to reveal that she probably has fatal cancer. Laura kisses her on the lips. She then takes Richie to a babysitter and in a state of suicidal alienation drives around in Los Angeles and finally downtown where she checks into an anonymous hotel – to read “Mrs Dalloway”. She does come home in time to pick up Richie and serve her husband the cake. They go to bed without making love: she wants to read. This is the last we find out about her until the very last chapter.Clarissa Vaughan is a 52 year old book editor and small time author. She lives in Greenwich Village in 1998.She had been a good looking woman. At 18 she had met Richard, a 19 year old having an affair with a handsome young man, Louis. One moment by the water was all it took for Clarissa and Richard to fall in love. Their involvement lasted all his life, though they lived separately a la Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir with all the sexual freedom of the 1960s to 80s. He identifies her as a sort of Virginia Woolf character and in fact calls her Mrs. Dalloway. She even buys him yellow roses as does Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway in Woolf’s novel. He however is now dying of AIDS. She has a daughter, Julia, concieved as a Test Tube Baby, who is now a teenager. Clarissa lives with her lesbian partner, Sally, a TV interviewer, who loves her deeply. There seems to be little jealousy on the part of any of them except that Louis took himself off years ago and turns up this very day. That evening Richard is to receive the Carruthers Prize for Literature and Clarissa is arranging a party for him. Her day is busy with this, walking around New York and with talking to various people. She visits Richard in the morning with the yellow roses and again in the afternoon, when she finds him sitting on the window ledge; he cannot face the fuss of the party or the pain he will have to endure for the rest of his brief life and he throws himself out of the window. Instead of the party his mother, none other than an aged Laura Brown, flies in from her solitary life in Canada to sit with Clarissa. Michael Cunningham claims that Virginia Woolf is a fictionalized character in his novel, but we are invited to believe in her. Her June day in 1923 reads like a historical novel and in fact considerable research went into the background. The novel in fact begins with a prologue showing this character the day of her suicide in 1941 even though the June 1923 day, eighteen years earlier, comes in a later chapter. Virginia has been living for 8 years in Hogarth House in a suburb of London, Richmond on Thames, with her husband, the writer and publisher of Hogarth Press, Leonard Woolf. He had taken her there so as to escape her depressions in the bustle and tensions of London – you probably know she was the centre attraction of the famed and intense Bloomsbury Group near the British Museum – but she was aching to return to London. This morning she begins writing her novel about Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway. She places her story on a June day in the life of the middle aged woman preparing for a party in London in 1922, 4 years after World War I. Virginia writes for a few hours, helps her husband and the cook and prepares for a tea party for her sister Vanessa Bell and 3 children. Her sister and family turn up early and she kisses her sister on the lips. She and the children perform a funeral for a dead bird and place yellow roses round its grave. After they leave she walks aimlessly round the town of Richmond and almost catches a train fleeing out of it, thinks about her husband and the novel and decides Mrs. Dalloway will kill herself from depression and boredom. Later in a surge of joie de vivre and positive thinking she decides Clarissa Dalloway will not be the one to die, she loves the details of life too much, but that another person will kill himself instead. This person will have returned from the Great War, suffering hallucinations and mental pain and throw himself down out of a window to avoid being taken away.The prologue to the novel however begins with the description of Virginia’s suicide, jumping into the river 18 years later, one wartime day in 1941. She has written a loving note to her husband but can no longer bear the pain and depression. Her body comes to rest deep under a bridge on which a mother and a little son of three walking are looking at the surface of the water.The point is made: life goes on and all around people and activities continue, delicately and intimately connected yet unaware. In spite of these 3 women however there is a 4th character who is only seen as fictional by the main characters yet who both summarizes and influences all the others. This person is none other than the invented character Clarissa Dalloway herself as created by Virginia Woolf. It is as vital to know the Woolf novel as it is to know what happened to Virginia Woolf in reality. In “The Hours” we see her as she is born into the head of Virginia the novelist, with the first famous lines of her novel: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself…..” According to Cunningham, these words were the fertilizer for Virginia’s mind, just as the words of her novel “Mrs.Dalloway” inspired Cunningham to write “The Hours”. He paints Virginia’s racing mind as it creates iconic images, characters throbbing with reality, conversations and linkages. In reality they were indeed drawn from her experiences, her emotions, relationships and observations. Also from her pain, which may have been intense migraine, and hallucinations. The book “Mrs. Dalloway” draws us inexorably into Clarissa Dalloway’s train of consciousness – or is it Woolf’s - through the hours of the day, and in fact the working title was originally “The Hours”. We meet all the characters we are going to see in the novel we are reading, Cunningham’s “The Hours”, in their original guise. Every character in Cunningham’s novel is based on Woolf’s and so are the situations, moved to other eras and shifted into other individuals, sometimes just aspects of them, male or female. In Woolf’s novel there is Clarissa herself, middle aged, loving yet alienated from herself in an inchoate way, trying to recreate the joy of a moment of her youth by doing what she does best: bringing people together at her party. This is her creative imperative which she longs to share with other people and makes her so lovable in spite of her superficial life. She leads a golden life of leisure in London, married to Richard, a dependable, loving yet stolid gentleman who loves her. In her past she was loved by a passionate young man, Peter Walsh, who turns up from India the very day of her party. She has a daughter, who is growing up beautifully but is influenced by a disagreeable, inadequate spinster whom she later abandons to return to her mother. She thinks about the past and avoids depression by loving everything about the June day in London. She had one passionate kiss when she was 18, from her girlfriend Sally who then comes unexpectedly to the party, transformed into a successful bourgeoise wife and mother. Meanwhile outside in the London streets she has a doppelganger, Septimus Smith, a sort of Clarissa in photo negative. He had been a poet and is now suffering from post war trauma, with hallucinations. London in June is evil and ugly in his brain. His faithful Italian wife cannot save him from killing himself. He is the sacrificial lamb necessary for Clarissa’s surviving: someone has to suffer the tumult of the war, and she is in a state of Grace, a Christian concept that, without discussing itself, permeates her life since, ultimately, she remains blessed with security and love. We follow the day of Septimus Smith and his wife as we do Clarissa’s while occasionally other characters, such as Peter Walsh, notice them passing by. Only at the party however does the report of his violent and tragic suicide cause a black shudder over Clarissa’s life, like a reminder of her own mortality and the ugliness from which she is sheltered. The event is described by one of the guests, Septimus’ platitudinous doctor, explaining why he has arrived late. It threatens to ruin her party for her but it does cause her to make a small step in her life: she retires alone to sort out her feelings and is then able to zero in on her old love Peter Walsh who has been waiting for this moment all day if not years. A sort of consummation. Her last words are “Here I am at last.”Laura Brown in Los Angeles, 1949, 4 years after the tumult of W.W.2, identifies with Clarissa. Her bookishness is more real to her than her own, otherwise blessed life. She too has everything going for her, family, security; she does her best however to recreate trouble for herself, sensing the deeper current of alienation within Clarissa and feeling more acutely her own personal non-fulfilment as a wife and mother. She is at the cusp of and the victim of social change for women after the war. She performs acts she does not realise are close to Clarissa’s, such as decorating with yellow roses, driving away from her home as an escape to some inner freedom and reality and kissing her female neighbor, not to mention thinking about suicide. Her son Richie is right in sensing his mother is lost, and in fact his desperate love for her inspired his poetry and indirectly caused his death. But the state of Grace for her is dismal. She lives to an old age, an eccentric against all odds, alone with her books, surviving even the death of her son.Clarissa Vaughan in New York, 1998, is identified with Clarissa Dalloway by her lover, the bisexual Richard, and superficially she is like her, not only by name and in looks but by her comfortable, relatively superficial social life in New York. She has a teenage daughter, as does Dalloway. The sexual restraints are gone however; women kiss women and men men without a stir. She only stops being “Mrs. Dalloway” when Richard dies and she can become herself, Clarissa Vaughan, again. She too survives, along with her daughter and faithful lover Sally, but the one to kill himself is Richard, to escape the excruciating pain experienced also by Virginia and Septimus Smith. Is Richard here the sacrifice, made for the sins of our own generation with its freedoms so longed for by Mrs. Dalloway and Richard’s unmotherly, absentee Laura Brown? The female lovers and the kiss – brief moments of true passion - resonate with eachother: Clarissa Dalloway’s friend, Laura’s neighbor, Virginia’s sister Vanessa Bell. In fact Laura kisses Kitty and Kitty is the name of Virginia Woolf’s childhood love Kitty Maxss, though this is not mentioned by Cunningham. I wonder how many resonances we could uncover if we studied the texts and Woolf’s life in greater detail. Laura’s babysitter and Virginia’s cook intimidate. Daughters are independent minded and about to bloom. Life partners are decent and faithful. Colors resonate, above all the color yellow, lighting up the scenes yet signifying a sort of morbid attraction: yellow roses chosen by both Clarissas and even Clarissa Vaughan’s lesbian lover Sally, yellow roses as icing on Laura’s cake, yellow in Virginia’s days too in the roses round the dead bird and in 1941 the sulphur tinge to the sheep in the morning and the surface color of the river in which she drowns herself in the evening. Parties, or rather their preparation, define the day of each woman. The flight from meaninglessness, as with Mrs. Dalloway trying to leave Richmond on a train and Laura driving to the hotel; pain, either from the despair born of meaninglessness or of horror, the jump into the unknown, in Virginia’s case into water, in Septimus’ and Richard’s out of the window. There is scarcely an image, name or aspect of any of the stories that does not foreshadow, echo or interwine.All is connected, both writers seem to say, but unlike that other author E.M.Forster it is not ‘Only connect’…to exalt life and love and “live in fragments no longer,” because the connections here are fluid and delicate, yet powerful enough to govern our lives throughout the generations like gods or unseen forces of change and destroy us in our superficiality and innocence. Ultimately it is up to each of us to say whether "The Hours" works on its own merits or whether, for some indefinable reason, as it is for me, the original "Mrs. Dalloway" remains not only the inspiration but the more lasting work of art.Linda Hepner
posted by Linda at 11:36 PM 0 comments

Reading Lolita in Tehran
READING LOLITA IN TEHRANBook Club Choice Monday 14th June 04Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi published 2003Upsilamba!This is the delightful word exclaimed by one of Azar’s students, Yassi, one day when she walks into the room for the routine Thursday morning private literary class. Azar Nafisi, the author, is immediately carried back in time, and in this episode when the girls use their imaginations to explain the word, there is a sort of encapsulation of this wonderful book. Here Azar first describes the episode, she then goes on to define the meaning of the word, and then uses it to stretch our imagination and feed us with memories, descriptions, analyses and histories of the students and the times they lived in in Iran under the Ayotolla Khomeini and others.Each girl has been given a pseudonym to protect their present lives. Yassi said she thought ‘upsilamba’ could be the name of a dance, Manna ‘suggested … it evoked the image of a small silver fish leaping in and out of a moonlit lake’, Nima, Manna’s husband who sent in his suggestions later added that it was a prod in the brain so as not to forget him, Azin said it was a melody, Mahshid said it was three girls jumping rope, Sanaz said ‘a small boy’s secret magical name, Mitra said a blissful sigh, Nassrin a magic code.In fact it was Nabakov who actually may have invented the word out of his usual method of word-play, meaning possibly how it was that children could understand ‘eachother at the first word’ captured in written form by dredging up an archaic letter, the ‘upsilamba’, which became in his own eyes a bird or a catapult that freed you into imagining other worlds.What is noticeable from their interpretation however is how each of these girls who spend most of their week swathed in black, hiding their hair, their nails, their laughter, cannot repress their inner hope and spirit, their imagination that soars and frees them from the cruel, gray brutality of their daily lives.So it is that Azar Nafisi manages to combine many literary devices in her book Reading Lolita in Tehran.The book reads easily like a novel but is in fact her memoirs, triggered by her deep love and knowledge of English, American and world literature. To give shape to her memoirs she takes 4 authors and explores themes she and her students discover in their various novels. You all know that these four are Lolita by Nabakov, The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald, Daisy Miller and other novels by Henry James and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Thus in each chapter we have unusual and often disturbing analyses of the books they read together, borrowing ideas frequently from other works by the authors or illuminations of works by other authors.The initial push-off, like the word ‘Upsilamba’, is never dull in itself. Most great works of art grab the reader pretty rapidly, whether it is Lolita or Pride and Prejudice or to be topical, The Iliad. But there has to be a greater theme and at least one interesting character to hold us and involve our minds. Nafisi could just have analyzed the books, but she uses them to draw us into her world. She finds that the Thursday morning discussions which she had originally intended as a private class for serious students of literature after she withdraws from her University career due to, for her, impossible restrictions on dress, behavior and choice of subjects, draw out the private lives and despair and hope of these women and herself.In the first chapter, concerning Lolita we learn about each student in turn. Nafisi is protective towards them and calls them her ‘girls’ even though some of them are women.She describes herself as ‘good old plastic’. This is obviously modest and belies her own genius and ability to hold the class together through thick and thin.There is Nima, married to a sympathetic husband, Manna, who is barred from the group out of fear of the religious police. Although Nafisi’s husband, Bijan, makes an occasional appearance in the apartment, the women unwatched by authorities or menfolk unburden themselves and allow womens’ problems to be aired…. and each novel sheds amazing light on their problems.There is impish Nassrin, who ‘disappears’ from the group and is found to have undergone horrific troubles at the hands of the authorities.Her friend Mashid is the oldest, the most conservative and religious of the group. She seems to have accepted an almost nun-like existence.Azin, the most glamorous, often clashes with the two friends. She is longing to show off her beauty and test the waters of freedom and sexual innuendo around her although she is actually married, albeit to a wife-beater.Mitra is calm and teasing. Of the group, she has the most peaceful relationship with another student, Hamid, and the two married for love.Sanaz is under the thumb of her immature younger brother, who takes on the role of irritated protector and mini-dictator. She finally travels to Turkey to attempt a marriage with someone she has had a crush on since childhood, a marriage expected of her Europeanized but obedient fiancĂ©; this imposing of marriage on the two good people who scarcely know each other ends in separation.Lastly, there is laughing, self-questioning Yassi, the youngest and possibly most devoted of the group who is only 14 when she audits a University class and later follows Nafisi into the private Thursdays. Her vulnerability in the face of her imprisonment makes her particularly touching.None of these girls have happy, carefree lives. They are captured for demonstrating against repressive authority, whether in appearance, religious deviance or political beliefs or being in the wrong place during the frequent raids. Some are tortured. They have friends who sat in prison with them or whom they had met in class who were summarily executed. Even those who avoid the public find their lives encapsulated by Kafka-esque or Alice in Wonderland rules and laws and attitudes. Nafisi comes out with many personal examples. There is the stray hair showing from under the chador.There is laughing in corridors. There is eating a peach too seductively. There is looking or letting a man (in other words seducing him) look into her eyes. There is playing music. Books are increasingly banned, films are hard to find, mixed company of unmarried people is considered whoredom for which you can be executed.In fairness to the University and to my puzzlement, the books and authors studied are pretty well acceptable to the authorities. Nevertheless the courage of Nafisi and her students constantly overawe us.Nafisi describes her career at The University of Tehran followed by the move to AllamehTabatabai University for women.At the U of Tehran where she was a young lecturer back from America (on campus she had demonstrated with anti-Shah students) she met the new revolutionaries who were battling amongst themselves for hegemony, Marxists versus Islamicists of various intense levels of belief. We watch as the Ayotollas take over. Meanwhile she relished the arguments she had with members of the various Islamic Brotherhood members who seem to have treated her with mingled respect and regret at her views. At one point she puts the book Daisy Miller on trial in the form of a debate. Daisy is attacked by a religious but persistent young man who finds her immoral and is defended by startlingly bright women. This one class could have caused Nafisi’s dismissal and expulsion of the women but she at least gets away with it.In the chapter on The Great Gatsby she describes the growing atmosphere of turmoil and fear as the religious leaders clamp down more and more on the population. One excuse for the repression is the inflated and imposed fear and hatred of anything Westernized, America the Great Satan and the imperialistic Zionist Entity.In the chapter on Henry James we experience the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war. On one hand she and the girls live with fear, death and terror every night, on the other they carry on in a sort of timewarp of disbelief; as with their appearance they have real bodies and expressions beneath the black clothes that swathe them, so their minds ready at any minute to run for shelter cannot really accept their daily limitations. Knowing life in Israel, we can understand how this can happen.In the last main chapter, based on Jane Austen, she discusses marriage. The girls are as engrossed in this subject as any religious Jewish girl waiting for a shidduch and have expectations just as varied, from acceptance of arranged marriage to yearning for romance. This is in an ethos of mens’ control over womens’ destinies. Yassi, the youngest, parodies the opening line of Pride and Prejudice saying “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Muslim man, regardless of fortune, must be in want of a nine-year-old virgin wife.” Nafisi tells us about her growing family. Her little daughter Negar was born into repression and resents the fact that she has never even known the freedoms her mother remembers. When Khomeini dies she thinks the women outside the window will take off their chadors and when they don’t she cries out that he is not dead. She is actually right, metaphorically! She is born into a society where people are so accustomed to unquestioning obedience they see Khomeini’s face in the moon. Her husband Bijan, a most stable character reminiscent in his perfection of Austen’s Mr Darcy, is completely supportive of her comparatively wayward behavior and also supports her in her career. Her mother who had been a minister under the Shah in turn chides her and gives her warmth and protection. She has a little son who will grow up in America when she finally decides to return after nearly 20 years and where she teaches to this day.I find it impossible to talk about everything I think about when I read the pages of this book. There is a sort of turmoil in my own mind, due to the myriad subjects and the emotional impact. But there are one or two themes I would like to mention because they affect me so strongly.One is her relationship with a mysterious, unnamed ex-teacher she calls “My Magician”. He is her mentor and his very hidden-ness and exclusivity suggest that she is at once attracted to him like a soul-mate in hiding and in need of him to clarify her own thoughts about books and problems as they arise. Now it is interesting that Nabakov in Lolita talks about a mysterious ‘conjuror’ who knows answers. This suggests to me that Nafisi sees her life defined as if it were literature and literature as if it were life. Thus she can delve into a book and with her students see incredible relevance to their lives and psyche whilst seeing their lives play out like a novel.Narrowing this down, I would like to mention Lolita itself. I have avoided getting into it so far as it would take an entire volume to explain it. Firstly, I am utterly amazed at the level of intimate knowledge by these non-native-English students with all the innuendoes of our rich language. To follow Nabakov’s use of language takes time and familiarity with much of Western culture. He himself was astonishing: had to learn English and he uses it like a wizard.We all react viscerally to Humbert Humbert, and this is Nabakov’s intention. He has taken a horrible subject and made art out of it. As Homer says (I’ve been rereading the Iliad as you probably realize), violence has a ‘terrible beauty’. The violence of Humbert against the nymphet Lolita is repulsive and yet produces all around us a ‘terrible beauty’ - a great web of deceit bolstered by brilliant innuendoes, word-plays that cause us to look further, deeper into history, our language, our society, ourselves, and the consequences of our actions and beliefs. He has us entangled. The Persian women understand this instinctively in a way that we in the West can not. The attitudes based on The Absurd, and the violence, physical or mental, against the Iranian people and women in particular is so all-pervasive, and so bolstered by religious and cultural baggage they cannot escape from it without revolution or death. Even escape or exile will never free them mentally as we see when Nafisi meets certain old friends after many years. During the war they were indoctrinated with signs saying:“Whether we kill or are killed we are victorious!”When the Islamic government took over the Film Censor was an old blind man.If a Muslim Iranian, even married with four wives, wants to make love to more women he can contract a 10-minute marriage.That is the Alice in Wonderland experience. That is the experience of Cincinnatus in Nabakov’s Kafka-esque novel about an innocent prisoner. That is why the women think that Daisy Miller herself shows heroic courage in the face of a society we would recognize today. Their sensitivity to problems – and freedoms – that surround us in the West is heightened far more than our own.And the despairing analysis of all the women is that the worst sin, the worst evil in Man is lack of empathy, lack of the ability feel, to put oneself in the place of another. Like Humbert Humbert. Like anyone who imprisons people and ideas in the name of love or religion or class propriety or patriotism, ignoring the living beings they are persecuting. And this is ironically aided and abetted by ourselves, since we like Nabakov’s ubiquitous butterfly, are caught in this net of solipsization, this persuasive taking-over of our own individual selves by another entity, whether it be a Humbert or a religion or a blind Film Censor. Because we are complicit -- as Nafisi says, “What linked us so closely was this perverse intimacy of victim and jailer.”Linda Hepner
posted by Linda at 11:24 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, January 10, 2006

On Beauty, Zadie Smith's novel
On Beauty Zadie Smith The Penguin Press, New York, 2005This is a sprawling novel not about redemption or fate. There is no deliverance for any of the characters; whereas it could be a motif one always longs for in chaotic lives, there is a glorious freedom in the workings not of fate or divine judgment but of sheer accidentality, of meetings, of thought processes, of themes butting against each other.Life as it seems as it is lived!The story is not entirely about class. It is essentially about love and hate. About the incomprehensible love in marriage, between man and wife, parents and children and parent and child. The children are results of but marvelously independent of their parents, just as real parents in their middle age are a bundle of evolving histories. About the comprehensible love of man, woman and child driven hither and thither by lust. About the unexpected love and respect between friends. It is also about hate, the comic, petty, and obsessive feuding between academics, and the almost tragic hate when lust or greed noses into the established loves and cause disruption – but do not necessarily destroy or resolve, only indicate new directions.As such it is a novel that could hardly be about characters in their old age. There are no ultimate workings out, no despair, no melodrama, and the pages are filled with quirky, keenly observed and heard comic scenes. It is like the beauty which cannot be itemized, as in the poem On Beauty written by the author’s husband and included for us like a commentary or a clue. It is like a painting – and one theme throughout is the precious yet revealing subject of art appreciation, notably Rembrandt portraits – that is framed within whatever the artist has given us to see yet which hides a world of mysterious unknowns, including that of the painter, and into which entrances are murky but exits are actually open to the future. The open-ended story centers as with White Teeth, Zadie Smith’s first novel, on a family, here the Belseys, of mixed race and backgrounds. It takes place mainly in the small university town of Wellington, a tedious hour outside Boston, a journey away from Harvard and even more from the occasionally mentioned Oxford, where Howard Belsey, born to a butcher in the deep white working class of Cricklewood, London, was educated, thrust into the world of academe and evolved amazingly into the semi-successful, fairly disconnected, intellectually stagnating and flawed teacher of Art History. Thirty years earlier he had met Kiki, a woman not intellectual but of great natural intelligence, a once stunning black American of Floridean descent, now of enormous girth and immense charisma, and after several years in London moved to the second-rate university, nearest town Roxbury, Mass, where the events mostly take place. The two still love eachother just because, and their three very different children who squabble and disparage their parents also find sudden joy when they converge serendipitously on Boston Common, each there for their separate reasons. You know that come what may in the lives of their parents and their own vastly different futures, that love will always be present, a legacy from their very odd father and mother who on the final page have gone their separate ways but, as with a painting hiding other views from our eyes, may still have hope as a couple, just because. Interestingly, the novel, giving us a very clear resonance from the very first line of E.M. Forster's Howard’s End, starts with emails from the older son, Jerome. He is staying in London with the upper class black Kitts family, derived loosely, as is the plot and clash of class, from the Wilcox family in Forster’s novel, in a seemingly perfectly rational, calming ambience that seduces him with its apparent comprehensibility. Monty Kitts is sonorous, impressive, and believes in high standards of education and behaviour. Carlene, his ailing wife, is a fount of gentleness, and if there is any redemption in this story, it is hers, but only after her neglected death, when it is found that she has bequeathed her favourite painting to her new friend Kiki who in her ebullient way is also full of kindness and generosity. Jerome falls hard for Victoria Kitts, the drop-dead gorgeous daughter newly returned home, who spurns him, causes Howard to visit London quite unnecessarily, triggering off if not the events such as the Kitts returning to Wellington, subsequent disruptions in various forms. We witness Monty Kitt’s infuriating elitist right wing views clashing with the stultifying left-wing idealism of Howard’s and the attempted furor, so dull compared with that of the 60’s, spreading through the campus over Affirmative Action -- interesting not only to the Black Studies Department but the Liberal Arts faculty as well. Claire, an intellectual, slim, sexy fifty-ish teacher of Poetry who adopts needy outsiders to attend her classes, clashes with Monty over entitlement and having had an uncomfortable three-week fling with the basically loyal Howard, causes the initial separation between him and his wife Kiki. At the opening of the story, we have no sooner believed that the Kitts are going to be the protagonists we are going to follow and root for, than we are plunged into the mess and joy of the Besley family and become swept up in its comings and goings and misunderstandings and realizations, experiencing the connection – E.M Forster long since forgotten within this 21st Century framework at least – with finding that Victoria has relentlessly seduced Howard, who is her professor, her father Monty’s nememis and Jerome’s father, causing the possibly last break up of Howard and Kiki – the situation on the last page and one we cannot accept.The current lover of slutty Victoria, Carl, who has been dragged off the street by Claire for his poetic rap abilities and brought into Wellington like a prize mascot to work as the Rap lyrics expert in the Black Studies Music Archives Department, is blamed and leaves the white town for good. Zora, Jerome’s highly organizational and sharp sister, whose unrequited desire for Carl is shattered by Victoria, frees herself from trying to look sexy like other girls and one senses the beginnings of her future looks and career.The other siblings and their colleagues and friends all play their parts in this evolving story. The younger brother, Levi, is a hip hopping, determined philistine who loves street with its rap, body movements, dress, language and superficial yet moving politics, namely the social glimpses into discrimination and exploitation, this being in his easily influenced eyes by capitalists preying on starving Haitians. It is, oddly, through his misguided efforts to save the Haitians who have been robbed of their artistic heritage, so he thinks, by cold collectors such as Monty Kitts who, abetted by his children, burns a note he finds bequeathing a Haitian primitive to Kiki, that he steals the valuable painting (all the art mentioned in the book exists in reality) and hides it under his bed. Kiki finds and recognizes it as the beloved possession of her deceased friend Carlene and threatens her son with the police. But it is the careful Jerome, scraping off a note pasted onto the back of the canvas, that releases the redemptive moment recalling the scene of the differently acquired but beloved house of Howard’s End… Carlene had dedicated the painting, which was in fact given to her with love by the artist, to the suddenly single and enrichened Kiki. All other connections, and the term is never once used as far as I remember, may cause hilarity and catastrophe, but it is the warmth of human love that remains, for Kiki and thus, we hope for her children, her family and maybe one day, for the riven classes around them.Linda Hepner9.19.05
posted by Linda at 10:49 PM 0 comments

Restaurant Scene
Restaurant SceneThe candle flickers on the restaurant table,Shadows lie across the menu listingSpicy rice and chutneys we are ableTo taste in silence, both our eyes resistingIntimacy we’ve bitten in our lips;A lifetime’s truths and treason we must hideAs even candlelight can not eclipseThe light that conversation would provide.Another couple nearby shamelesslyGaze at eachother: he loquatious, talksTo hide his lustful motives; blamelesslyShe listens, smiles as if agreeing, stalksWith creeping hand his careless fingers, seemingAs if she wasn’t waiting for his hot advance…He strokes her patient palm and says that dreamingHad not prepared him for this true romance.We eavesdrop, voyeurs, as they unawareLighten our burdened hearts; released we smileOne to the other, as two colleagues shareA secret, and superior awhileTo all the world, we let ourselves directOur eyes to one another, surface glanceThat we will feast on, greedily connectA moment, then return to routine trance.LRH12.20.05
posted by Linda at 10:41 PM 0 comments

Margarita Dances
Margarita DancesFormerly: Margaritas and MariachiWhen in LA the blah-blahIs like a soft balloon,You must drive down to BajaOne wintry afternoon.You’ll see the dusty highwayAnd burgeoning hotelsBut you should do it my way:Breathe deep the sounds and smellsAway from trucks and wide roadsWhere paths are hillier,And stop on bumpy side roadsWith bougainvillea;You’ll see an old adobeLas Rivas, by the sea,And at the gate, tall TobyBeneath an olive tree.He came here fleeing battlesHe did not want to fight,From Sparta or Seattle,Or some eternal night.Old tables in the tavern,Salsa at the bar,A cool, secluded cavernWhere Toby is the czar,For suddenly comes laughter…And entering in flocksCome women and men afterMartinis on the rocks!So Toby springs to action,The barmaid spreads the salt,The Margarita faction,Cervesas spurning malt!Then mariachi singersArrive and start to play,Guitars and flirty flingersAll join the frolic fray!While sitting at my tableAnd sipping at my drinkI do not feel stableAnd soon forget to think,My voice begins to giggle,My eyes to laugh and light,My legs to tap and wiggleMy triangle excite,And over ancient candlesI sing and laugh and glanceFor welcome Baja scandals!The Margarita dance!LRH12.30.05
posted by Linda at 10:27 PM 0 comments

It Is What It Is
“It is what it is”, that’s now the darling phraseOf chattering classes, or perhaps not soChattering, as the dying wordsConvey a loss for words.Or – argue here –Perhaps these words describeExactly all the Indescribable,Like God, who Is, just Is.(Though He’s evolving, surely, and if He’s not,We are all whirling in a sealed placeAnd going nowhere).It is what it is –What’s “it”, what’s “is”, what’s “what”I want to know.What’s said twice must be trueSo I’ve been toldBy Bible scholars, yet I askYou, what’s a poem –What’s this poem?Is it ‘just’? Not even thisIs just a poem, not the wordsWhere even “It” is metaphor,Not even choice of words and notThe huge desireTo write them down, to let you read them,Reader.LRH1.8.06In Persian: “Fihi ma fihi”Vanity Fair, Dec. 2005'Five Little Words' by Jim Windolf
posted by Linda at 7:33 PM 0 comments
About Me
Name: Linda
Location: Los Angeles, California, United States
20% above water, can float
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Previous Posts
Fat Girl (film) Letter to E. 2001
The Hours, novel by Michael Cunningham
Reading Lolita in Tehran
On Beauty, Zadie Smith's novel
Restaurant Scene
Margarita Dances
It Is What It Is
January 2006
February 2006
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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pardon Speech at the White House

O Turkeys, beautiful and brave,
this is to be your loyal grave,
and for our sins we sacrifice
your bodies to our annual vice.

We let you roam and grow so fat
in regal splendour, just so that
when we are happy, gratitude
drowns out our excess amplitude.

To God Almighty we give thanks,
and eat all day not fish nor franks,
but fattened turkey meat like you,
once strutting with your feathered crew,

which now comes slaughtered, roasted, basted,
rich in gravy, nothing wasted,
carved and served on platters then
with cranberries and an 'Amen!'

But Thou, O Turkey on the Lawn,
we spare you as your lot is drawn;
successfully your god has pleaded
with God of Man that you be needed

to survive another year ----
all proof that we in secret fear
think we'll be labeled cruel and savage
inhuman, evil; and may ravage

nature God created for
the finch and flower, boy or boar,
which we act out with thoughtless glee
each Thanksgiving, except for thee

who tells the world our hearts are kind
and we pour love on all mankind,
so Innocent one, we are nice
and spare you from our sacrifice.


LRH 11.22.09

Memories of War

When I was four I crossed the road
To pick some flowers growing wild
In meadows lovely to a child
Allowed to roam in birds' abode.

A wandering bomb had hit the home
Which once stood calm upon this place
Or were there secrets or disgrace
That brought that house to dust and loam?

Bees I saw, and shrapnel shells
And snails and grasses waving high
Above me to the cloudless sky,
Breezes and birds and distant bells.

Fearlessly I gathered more,
And bore an armful, loving gift
Of foxgloves, lupines, daisy drift,
And buttercups and farmer's lore.

The daily siren's wailing moan
Did not disturb my young delight
But suddenly into my sight
Sat at my feet a whitened bone.

I stared and thought and bent to see
When something moved away in fear,
A hedgehog braving the All-Clear
Was startled at the smell of me

And showed courageously his spines -
I shrieked and dropped my great bouquet,
Forgot my gift, my country play,
"A hedgehog!" I left enemy lines

And ran awoken from my field
Out of the summer's flowery charms,
Across the road to welcome arms
Where laughter made a shameful shield.

Linda Hepner
True story: my encounter with a Hedgehog! My mother said, "You were frightened by a little hedgehog?"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


She found it on a lettuce leaf,
A greenfly with an attitude;
She took the leaf and walked it out,
Then sang me this old platitude:

All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

I loved the bearer of the leaf,
The saviour of that sinned-on salad
Forgiving sinners, not the sin,
And half a century late, this ballad:

I was the greenfly, trespassing
Upon the hymns which Christians learned
In sweet Victorian eagerness
While all around them bodies burned

And families were rounded up
To slave like aphids for the ants,
Or pulled asunder brutally
This death or that, no final chance.

But in those salad days my mind
Had only ears for country sounds
And eyes for waving wheat, the kind
that ripples on its golden grounds.

I was the greenfly, tenderly
Put out of danger, saved with thought
That I had some far quality
That would emerge when I’d be sought,

And so I left and went afield
To face vicissitudes and years
Until the skin I grew was peeled
By loves familiar in my tears

And laughter: home at last I came,
No transformation, all as if
It ever was, myself in name,
A greenfly on a lettuce leaf.

For M, begun in thought 1954
Written 11.23.07.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Time for Toenails

"I will go and cut my toe nails too,"
He said, driving at speed inside the Diamond Lane.
No one could overtake him, planes that flew
Descending above us in the blinding rain
While trucks and police on motor bikes were slow
Behind us flashing their warning lights as we
Sped forward heedless of the Stop and Go
And my complaints. "It's fine Mum, just trust me,
We'll get the plane in time, I'm always late
But always manage to get on in time;
It's true they always say they'll shut the gate
But yet they never do, this car's sublime,
It goes so fast we'll have at least an hour
To buy a book, some tea, and this is true:
You'll get a manicure and I will shower
And then I'll go and cut my toe nails too!"

For Zak
LRH 7.7.2005

Jasmine's Hair

I wrote this today after seeing Jasmine at her stall in the La Cienega Farmers Market!

Jasmine’s Hair

Her hair is wild
Like a child
Who’s never combed her tresses,
Yet when she smiles
Her eyes fly miles
And every guy confesses

It’s love, it’s lust,
It’s doubt, it’s trust,
She loves me too, she wouldn’t,
I’m big, I’m small
Not seen at all
And if she could she shouldn’t;

Just leave and dream
And let off steam
By running from obsession,
My feet have flown,
She’ll be alone
And nobody’s possession.

Jasmine's lavender scented soaps and creams are as great as Ha's Apples!


Going up I watch them coming down.
Going down I watch them from behind.
An angel am I, always on the move,
and since my Master sends me, I must be
mercurial, and rationally blind.

Yet in their eyes I see the vacant stare,
and they don’t notice my inquiring gaze,
as if I have no role in private lives
and can’t inspire or warn them of their ways;
my silver heart quakes not from heat but fear

that fear that freezes deep below the ice
where rain’s unknown and snow’s too cold to fall,
a glimpse of frozen planets where we stand
like statues, where the Master never moves,
staring ahead, foreknowing, into time.

But here between the escalators to
the dream above, the world below, I fly
watching and hoping, unseen, unknown, yet
suspected to exist, and therefore know
I must go up, go down, and catch Your eye.


Do Not Fear

Do not fear, my darling, have no fear,
stand tall and see beyond, beyond ahead --
that sudden terror will be there, so be prepared;
do not let grimness hold you in its grip.

It’s certain they will come, the wicked ones.
The evil that they blast will blind your eyes,
with suddenness their plan, since lacking sense
except for burning and annihilation
they are determined to wreak ruin.

Do not fear, my nation, no have no fear.

Tell them:
Plot your plans, devices, they will fail;
whisper lies and they will come to naught,
for God is with us and these are his words:
Until your old age, when you’re bent and grey,
I’ll bear you on my shoulders, in my heart;
I was the one who made you, I will carry you
until the end and I will rescue you
from evil.

Do not fear, beloved, no,
no, do not fear.

November 17, 2009

Adapted from:
Al tirah mi pachad pitom umishoat roshaim ki tavo
utzo eitza vtufar
davru davar vlo yachum
ki imanu el, v'ad siknah ani hu,
v'ad sevah ani esbol
ani asati, v'ani eisa v'ani esbol v'amaleit.

Proverbs 3, Isaiah 8, 46 ; Siddur: end of Mussaf service.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Between the Lines

“That’s not how it looks to me,”
she said, flinging a plate,
across the room.
It smashed into the wall
and split into a thousand fragments –
one was ice and plunged into his eye
yet lo, it melted just in time.
“But that is how it is,”
he said, wiping his eye
(imaginary tear)
that trickled down his cheek
onto his lips, his licking tongue
flickering in and out, a thousand forks with
newts and blindworms coming near.

Her heart is bloody, full, succulent to asps,
brimming with visions
(imaginary) of what her brain, busy, crowded, verbiage–ridden,
supplies. Each organ feeds the other.
And so, another plate,
whirling, hurling from hand to cabinet
where sets of Wedgwood, Spode and Rosenthal
in tribes of twelve sit snugly
declaring marriage, Friday nights and festivals,
children, (chipped off the old block), in dinner, salad, Limoges bowls for fruit,
tall coffee jugs, flowery teapots.
All smash to smithereens.
But just before they smash, an arm emerges from her raging sea,
dropping its sword and deftly catching
saucers that fly, plates that destroy,
cups that cut, soup bowls that spin,
teapots that tumble.
“That’s not how it is,” insisting.
And so the story spills in different ways:
half full, half empty,
white with murky indigo,
indigo with white,
half in, half out of shadows,
while in the silent stillness of the conversation
the sitting sets of plates in twelves
they will rarely be washed clean again.


Al Tirah

Al tirah me pachad pitom umishoat roshaim ki tavo
utzo eitza vtufar
davru davar vlo yachum
ki imanu el, v'ad siknah ani hu,
v'ad sevah ani esbol
ani asati, v'ani eisa v'ani esbol v'amaleit.

From siddur, 11.16.09

Apple, Oak

In the garden of my childhood stood six apple trees,
remnant elders of an ancient orchard,
pride of parents in the spring when blossom bees
busied themselves with tulips planted round our courtyard

and one I named but now forget his name
who daily visited a stately glad
nobly ignoring me who’d give him fame
back then armed with my sketching pad.

Those years were sweet and few and yet they feel solid enough,
spreading boughs and branches where a swing
held a child happy in the photograph
streaked with light like childhood on the sudden wing,

no static attic vase, but breathing then
as now beneath my southern pomegranate,
a recreation of that childhood when
a minute was an hour and garden, planet.

Five of the apple trees were short and gnarled, the apples tart,
dropping amongst the grasses in the shade,
good for chutneys, sauces, wild tastes that smart,
spicing the pies and ciders that my mother made;

but in the sun, the centre of the lawn,
stood tall and sturdy that old apple tree
supporting children climbing, swinging, torn
between the watchful window and the free

world of imagination. Up above, the clouds could stop
and in them we would float to pirate land
until the game was over, then a voice would crop
our freedom, but beneath we’d later understand

that sweetness can be stored in taste and mind
when biting in the big tree’s juicy flesh,
which brings a lifetime search - the perfect kind
of apple to keep past in present fresh.

But strange, the tree was not like any apple ever seen;
rather it’s mate was in the park behind,
an ancient oak, immense, and noble, wide and green,
acorns like apples to red squirrels who would find

happiness for ever in its solid trunk
imposing gravitas upon my eyes:
from family, tradition I have drunk
enchanted juice, the spell, the bind that ties.

For Susan

Daniella at the Checkout Counter in the Art Store

Nectarine balloon, pearlescent blouse,
Her massive arms as strokable as silk, billowing,
Her olive oil breast barely constrained
And gaudy lace the only texture
For the eyes of Pablo, salivating
As he buys too many colored pens.

Linda Hepner
June 5, 2007

Artistic License

Painting naked women makes them nude,
And I do long to see two painters feud
Over my full size portrait, wielding brushes
And colorizing my impromptu blushes.
There was a painter once whose eagle eyes
Pierced through my skin like penetrating spies
And saw tomorrow in my outstretched hand,
Wielding a baton, leading the home band.
Alas the prophet’s dead, but not his sight,
Which carried me through deepest, darkest night.

In memory of Henry Koerner

Asian Courtyards

Amongst calligraphy in Asian courtyards
my ears filled with the tune of splashing water,
I sit upon a low wall writing this
in purple ink.
And you sit near, encompassing your thoughts of love
in even lines of four or eight,
your cursive, running, style
enshrined in seal style upon your page -
You write of darkening mountains,
mules and horses,
changing sources,
flowing fountains
and I turn the pages of this little book
I bought for you
with my last coin,
reading you on every page,
in every poem where
the ancient poets sitting once
in quiet courtyards
saw into your heart.

Metropolitan Museum, NY,

Asian Courtyards

Amongst calligraphy in Asian courtyards
my ears filled with the tune of splashing water,
I sit upon a low wall writing this
in purple ink.
And you sit near, encompassing your thoughts of love
in even lines of four or eight,
your cursive, running, style
enshrined in seal style upon your page --

You write of darkening mountains,
mules and horses,
changing sources,
flowing fountains
and I turn the pages of this little book
I bought for you
with my last coin,
reading you on every page,
in every poem where
the ancient poets sitting once
in quiet courtyards
saw into your heart.

Metropolitan Museum NY

A Basket of Fruit

A basket of fruit I wish to paint:
Pineapple, orange, grapes,
This is the palette I must acquaint
You with; escapes
Into my heart which harbors love,
City of Refuge, peace,
Having no wish to kill the dove
Bringing the writ: Release.