All entries for February 2010

February 28, 2010

Great Independent Bookstores That I Recently Visited

Some of my favourite bookshops…

In Paris

Shakespeare and Co

In New Haven, Connecticut

Atticus Books

Labyrinth Books

In Pennsylvania…

Otto Books

Webster’s Bookstore

(Image by Ariel Rubenstein)

In New York

Shakespeare and Co NYC


And one of my personal favourites:

Amate Books in Oaxaca, Mexico

(Image by Dave Haggard)

Gil Scott–Heron at Columbia College, Chicago 18th Feb 2010

Writing about web page

Gil Scott-Heron has always been an impassioned and inspiring performer, but I can’t pretend that I have always been completely comfortable with his polemic. When teaching political poetry in a Creative Writing workshop setting, I use his album Small Talk at 125th and Lennox to show the power of political writing, but also to highlight the problems in using poetry for moralising or didactic purposes. In this kind of workshop, it is useful to play students ‘The Revolution will not be Televised’...

...and/or ‘Whitey on the Moon’.

In poems like these, Heron uses rhetoric, humour and irony to critique American society, but what is more disturbing is how he uses such techniques in the poem/song ‘The Subject was Faggots’, a diatribe against homosexuals. The homophobic hatred in this poem is shocking and disturbing, and it is very difficult to understand how Scott-Heron becomes so bigoted when he is such a passionate spokesperson for black rights. Thinking about these paradoxes, however, does force students to consider where the line is between political polemic and hate speech. As Tim Dellow explains for Rock Feedback:

Like with Johnny Cash before him, there is a desire to whitewash and sanctify the artist towards latter stage of his career. This is a man made up of many faults. (Rock Feedback )

Gil Scott Heron at Columbia College

It was with some trepidation then that I attended a little-publicized “reading” by Gil Scott-Heron at Columbia College, Chicago to celebrate African History Month. The reading, however, turned into a three and a half hour show to a warm audience of Chicagoans, who continually shouted or clapped encouragement.

After a warm-up act by performance poets, Verbatim, Scott-Heron began his set by simply talking, telling stories in a very honest and unaffected way. For example, Scott-Heron told the story of how he was touring with Stevie Wonder in 1980 when the terrible news came that John Lennon had been shot. Wonder decided not to mention Lennon’s death until the end of that night’s show, and Scott-Heron recalled in moving detail how Wonder spoke about his murdered friend. The next day’s newspapers, however, reported that Wonder hadn’t mentioned Lennon’s death. Scott-Heron told us wryly to always stay until the end of the gig.

When Heron did start to play, it was simply him and a piano singing classics like ‘Your Daddy Loves You’, ‘We Almost Lost Detroit’, ‘Pieces of a Man’, ‘Winter in America’ and ‘Or Down you Fall’. Later a pianist, drummer and a harmonica player join him to blast out more upbeat numbers like ‘Three Miles Down’, ‘95 South (All of the Places We’ve Been)’, ‘Work for Peace’, ‘Is That Jazz’, and ‘Celebrate, Celebrate, Celebrate’. The night ended with everyone on their feet, young and old, and it fe;t more like a gospel church service than a gig. Strangely missing were the diatribes of Small Talk at 125th and Lennox, as the more aggressive polemic was replaced by a message of simple survival. Less confident and knowing than it once was, Scott-Heron’s voice sounded all the more sincere when he sang out:

From the Indians who welcomed the pilgrims
And to the buffalo that one ruled the plains
Like the vultures circling beneath the dark clouds
Looking for the rain

Little Magazines in the UK

New Welsh Review

At the end of last year, I was finishing off a series of Creative Writing workshops with my students at Northampton University and they asked me where in the UK they could read cutting edge fiction and where (eventually) they should be aiming to send work. I was recently having a similar discussion with some of my American friends a few weeks ago and so I post this list for their benefit. It is not exhaustive. Mainly it is a list of magazines that I have some association with or that I have read and enjoyed. If anyone has any more suggestions of UK magazines, please feel free to add them.

It’s best to read these magazines before sending off work, so that you can get an idea of what they are looking for. Even if you just order one copy, it’s a help.


Send up to 6 poems.

Fiction max. 6000 words.

Flash fiction only up to 360 words long.

Granta Magazine
Fiction, no guidelines on length.

Send 6 poems.

Women only. Fiction and Poetry. See guidelines online.

Poetry London
Send up to 6 poems.

Poetry Wales
Send up to 6 poems.

PN Review
Poetry. Send up to 10 pages.

Surrealist. Poetry and Fiction.

The London Magazine
Fiction no more than 6000 words long, poems no longer than 40 lines.

The New Welsh Review
Fiction no longer than 3000 words, or up to 6 poems.

New Writing
New Writing is an annual anthology of new literature in English from the UK and the Commonwealth, subsidised and administered by the British Council and published by Granta. It provides one of the few opportunities in the UK for unknown writers without an agent to get published by a leading fiction publisher.

Under the Radar
Under the Radar welcomes submissions with open arms. Please send us no more than six poems, or a maximum 2,500-3000 words of fiction.

Web Publications

Gists and Piths
Send 6 poems.

Send 6 poems or 3 short stories.

Stride Magazine
Send up to 5 poems.

Genre Magazines

Black Static
Horror fiction up to 10,000 words

Crime fiction up to 10,000 words

Interzone: Science Fiction and Fantasy
SF Fiction 2000-6000 words

February 05, 2010

A Review of Rinne Groff's Compulsion, the Preview

Writing about web page

Venue: Yale Repertory Theatre
Date: 2nd February 2010
[Contains spoilers]

Compulsion is a play about a play that plagiarises a play about a book. It is that complex! The idea for Compulsion apparently came from an article in a New York newspaper titled ‘An Obsession with Anne Frank: Meyer Levin and the Diary’ ( see interview in New Haven Register). The feature caught the eye of the writer Rinne Groff and she went on to create an entire play based on the life of the Jewish writer Meyer Levin , who was one of the first American journalists to become aware of the diary of Anne Frank . The title of the play is, of course, riffing on Levin’s 1956 book Compulsion about the Leopald and Loeb case . In this play, however, it refers not to a crime, but to Levin’s obsession with the Anne Frank diaries and his turmoil when his own adaptation of the play is rejected for a version that is ‘less Jewish’.

In Groff’s play, Levin becomes Sid Silver, a doppelganger that Levin created for himself in his own writing, and the play moves beyond the biographical. The play is divided into three parts:
*the discovery of Anne Frank’s diary and Sid Silver’s deal with Doubleday Publishing to write a play version;
*Silver losing the rights to the play and his legal battle with Doubleday and the “other play’s” producers;
*and his move to Israel where he tries to create a new production of his Anne Frank play.

Sid Silver is played by Mandy Patinkin who works hard to make us understand his character’s obsession. Hannah Cabell is excellent too in her two roles as the ambitious and amoral Miss Mermin who represents Doubleday publsihing; and the long-suffering wife of Sid Silver, one of the most sympathetic characters in the whole play. Sid Silver is attracted to both women and this doubleness seems to say something about Sid’s perception of womanhood itself. Stephen Baker Turner is also good playing a succession of anti-Jewish/anti-Sid businessmen and lawyers; he is also convincing in the more sympathetic role of Mr. Matzliach who sets up a production of Sid’s play with Israeli youth, only to find that Sid has signed an agreement never to produce the play.

One of the most spectacular actors in the play is Anne Frank herself who appears in a number of eerie scenes in puppet form (manipulated by puppeteers Emily DeCola, Liam Hurley and Eric Wright). In one especially memorable scene, Mrs Silver wakes in bed only to find the puppet there between her and her husband. They begin a conversation in which the wife begs Anne to leave her husband alone, and Anne Frank’s replies – ominously voiced by Patinkin himself – offer little hope that the girl will be forgotten.

So the eerie presence of the puppets and the precision of the actors makes this play worth watching, but there is something missing. It is, of course, difficult to make a book deal and its consequent legal wranglings into a proper subject for drama, and there is something lacking in the exchanges of dialogue. It is obvious where this play is going and I could have predicted what happened from beginning to end after the opening scene. There are not many surprises here, and while it could be said that this is down to the connection to the real-life story of Meyer Levin, we are told that the play departs from this biography so why not surprise us? The extracts of the “Anne Frank plays” acted out by the puppets only reflect badly on the dialogue in the actual play which seems to be lacking energy and originality.

There are a lot of jokes surrounding Jewishness, but most of these have been done to death. When a lawyer asks Sid Silver, ‘D’you’, and he replies, ‘Jew?’, you immediately think of Woody Allen in Annie Hall and wonder why a more original line wasn’t found for the exchange. Sid Silver’s quest to foreground the Jewish issue is sympathetic however, and the play does make you wonder about the extent of post-war anti-semitism in the US. When the play moves to Israel for its final scenes, Sid becomes less sympathetic in his views about neighbouring arab states, and his wife is set up as a foil, expressing more pacifist views about relations with others. The writer holds up an irony here: that Sid begins his quest fighting for the rights of a minority and the suffering of the Holocaust, but ends by celebrating the beginning of a new war because it gives his play a better chance of being produced. Some of the scenes in which he expresses his views about Palestine/Israeli relations are very uncomfortable.

One of the most successful parts of the play is the relationship between Sid Silver and his wife. Some of the most entertaining exchanges feature Sid in the stereotypical feminine role of non-logic and emotion and his wife as a voice of reason. This reversal works well and is one of the most entertaining aspects of the play.


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