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Sunday, 26 April 2015

Rebecca Kylie Law: A Contemporary Metaphysical Poet

Rebecca Kylie Laws talks intimately about her new IP book In My Days and In My Sleep from her perspective as a poet and Catholic.

Rebecca's book will be launched at Bookoccino Bookshop on Sunday, 17 May, from 3 p.m. You can RSVP here.

The organ in St Mary’s Cathedral, St. Mary’s Road, Sydney has a beautiful console in the nave, designed I think by Eric Wisden and consisting of brass piping across horizontally slatted wooden backings that form part of a complex wooden sound structure. The piping is remarkable for the precision of its varying heights, remaining consistent in the increments by which they become taller and by which they recede. Indeed, they seem, toward the back, almost fan-like in their arrangement and the stronger, bigger and taller pipes at both sides add to this symphony of the delicate with the robust. 
When I first saw it I thought it was, aesthetically, a little like a book of poems, some short, some medium and others long. My new book essentially began here and became the reason for the religious overtones of the poems within. 
Of course, I was not at St Mary’s by accident but, rather, was attending a weekly service as a Catholic. To the non-religious person it truly is impossible to explain what it means to worship God in this ritualistic fashion other than to profess a faith I have had since a child, a faith that was given to me by my parents, vis-à-vis my education. 
The experience is extremely personal and rewarding in the sense the quietude of prayer, that dark space behind closed eyes in which you are with your soul, your heart, your feeling, directs you toward calmness. It is as though in drawing together your hands and kneeling you are facing yourself at your most composed and most beautiful: your most un-self. This is integrity and through prayer and worship, I follow it as my God and my light, my truth. 
At the same time I am with God, I am recognising a divine presence and sharing my most private life with him. I sometimes laugh at how useful that word, God, is, because it means in the one address, for instance, the beginning of prayer with “dear God”, I am really saying hello to the Trinity, to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Which in this sense means I am also addressing my church. So you see, prayer can be complicated! 
This point brings me to an important question a few people have recently asked: “how can you reconcile what has been happening in the media lately with your own faith?” This, more precisely, refers to the innumerable sex crimes the church tried to hide.
Well, my answer is very simple. Sexual abuse is everywhere. It is happening next door or over the street from where you live. It is happening to your best friend or friend of a friend. It is perpetrated by lovers, by strangers, by new acquaintances or teachers; and, sadly, by priests. In light of this, to my mind, the church has been disproportionately singled out by a media spotlight that, almost through bemusement, won’t beam the light of exposition elsewhere. So I continue in my relationship with God and go to Mass etc. because there are a lot of people in the world and some are bad, some so-so and some good.  
Now to poetry… 
My prayers are not poems. One comes to mind that could be with potential but, no, onthe whole they are quite different. They were written to share with others the experience of prayer, of being quiet with yourself and looking around at the world, of appreciating life and the loves you have in it, the people, animals or favourite moments. 
Some of the poems were inspired by walks in the botanic gardens, others at the beach whilst others were more sudden, for example, a child break-dancing or at my feet, sunlight catching the iridescent colours of a pigeon’s neck. 
One of the greatest tests, I think, for any person, is accommodating tragedy into the pace of everyday life. Halfway through the book, my dad became quite sick with cancer and died after a four-month battle. Spending time with him during his illness and in the last weeks whilst composing my book I remember making a very firm decision that this would not ‘become’ the book. I wanted to be sure the book showed enough resilience and faith to take my life past what I was about to lose. So there are a few dad poems, but not too many! 
To be honest, when I was first bedside with dad (an architect and later, church architect) I didn’t want to write any poems about his illness or last days. I was annoyed at Dylan Thomas for writing his exquisite poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” because to my mind he had cashed in on a personal tragedy. Yet write about it I did. And take the book past the fact, I did too.  
I have always written poetry. In my early twenties I tried out short fiction and was published, even shortlisted for a national prize; but, in all honesty, this is not my genre. Nor would anyone want it to be if they read any of my attempts. 
This book is poetry because it is the closest I get to prayer without telling the world my most private, intimate thoughts or worse, introducing you to the God I talk to before falling asleep.In My Days and In My Sleep is personal but not private, shared publicly because I think what I have witnessed, lived and loved is important.     

Friday, 10 April 2015

Hemingway in Spain is featured in a new critical book

The most gratifying outcome for an author is, of course, to have his book bought in huge numbers. But the next best thing is to be the subject of an extended critical study. That's what's happened in the case of my book, Hemingway in Spain: Words and Images (1st edition, 1997; 2nd edition 2007), and the feature film Hemingway in Spain, which was released in 2006.

In his 2015 book Appropriating Hemingway: Using Him as a Fictional Character, American academic Ron McFarland studies both works at length in his final chapter, "Hem Among the Poets". Dr McFarland has graciously given his permission for us to quote from his analysis of the works.

David P. Reiter’s book, Hemingway in Spain: Words and Images (1997, 2nd edition, 2007) offers a kaleidoscopic portrayal of Ernest Hemingway in that post modern vein touring contemporary Spain accompanied by his girlfriend Maria, presumably borrowed from his 1949 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. As Publisher of Interactive Publications in Brisbane, Australia, Reiter, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Denver, has seen to the publication of several of his own books, and on the IP Web site he describes the “several ‘Hemingways’” that make up the sequence as “voices from the past and present, real and imagined” in a mode he calls “fusion poetry.” In a DVD based on the book and released in late 2006, available through, Reiter fuses his reading of most of the poems (only sixteen of the 61 are not included) and an elaborate pastiche of images and videos pertinent to the texts. We can sample the variety of these Hemingway voices by reflecting on a few of the poems, starting with the first one, “At Plaza de España, Madrid,” where we hear a voice sounding very much like Hemingway addressing Cervantes:

You were their best, Miguel,but you only got it right once.Is that why they bronzedthe myths before the man?

The presumably rhetorical question might apply equally to Hemingway. Hemingway––or more accurately David Reiter, speaking through that mask or persona––then rips on Franco, whom he reduces to no more than “wet sand: between toes of the peónes. In the DVD, Reiter provides images ranging from statues of Cervantes and Franco on horseback to a quick clip of a donkey. Throughout he occasionally inserts lines of text from the poems, in this case the description of Franco as “no more than wet sand between their toes.” 
As the poem ends, Reiter looks back to a piece of dialogue near the conclusion of The Sun Also Rises, when Brett says, “It’s sort of what we have instead of God” (249). The neuter pronouns’s antecedent may or may not be regarded as ambiguous. It would seem from the context that she means simply “deciding not to be a bitch” is what we have instead of God. But Jake proposes that they have a martini, so one might surmise that alcohol is “what we have,” and in a broader context, perhaps “it” refers to love, or perhaps to feeling “rather damned good.” In appropriately post modern fashion, Reiter’s Hemingway offers “irony’s what we have instead of God” (4). Addressing Cervantes again, he writes, “You took up a pen to escape a war; / I took up battle to escape an uncertain / pen.” In the closing line, he declares flatly, “Things haven’t changed a hell of a lot.” The opening poem is set opposite a familiar photograph of Hemingway from the early 1930’s. Another twenty or so photos of scenes from Spain are distributed throughout the book, and most of those also appear in the film. 
The second poem in the book, “A Clean Well-lighted Place,” opens with a three-line passage from A Moveable Feast and follows with a quatrain very much in synch with the style and tone:
It’s easier when you come back in winter, in the half-life. The sun’s more sympathetic to grey and you can sip a cheap rosé without regretting those stories you left too quickly [5].

Hemingway then notices a wooden bust of himself, and he comments on how a waiter told tales of how Papa composed A Moveable Feast there in Madrid and he made out so well with the tips that he was able to open his own place, which he called “Not the Hemingway Restaurant / and all the postmodern pretenders go there” (6). Ernest claims not to be able to understand a word the postmodernists say. In the third poem, “At the Hotel Florida,” the first-person speaker signs the register as “E. Hemingway, / Ketchum, Idaho,” and in the lobby he encounters Maria, who will accompany him throughout the rest of his visit to Spain (7). In that poem we watch him struggle with his writing. Maria joins him in the next poem, “No Writers in the Prado.” There and elsewhere in the book the dictator Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975, is conjured up and repudiated as a man incapable of appreciating art or literature. 

Some sense of how the poems affect the reader can be gained by citing a few opening stanzas in which the historical past (sometimes the Spanish Civil War, sometimes events from much more distant history––Reiter provides explanatory endnotes) mingles with the present:

It took days for our troops to reach Toledo through all the sniper fire and land mines but just a few hours for Maria’s old Renault 
[“The Walls of Toledo,” 15].

I couldn’t help but think of Robert Cohen
as we walked by that pathetic synagogue
scrunched between souvenir shops
[“In the Barrio de la Juderia,” 25].

Charles was tapping his sceptre in the dustas we passed the ticket counter. “I suppose,”he said, “that Boabdil asked you to intervene with me on his behalf. The man has no shame.He gives the crown––or whatever he wore––a bad name.” [Boabdil, or Muhammad XII, was the lastMuslim ruler of Granada, the last Muslim-ruled city in Spain] 
[“Charles V Sets the Record Straight,” 65].

It would have been pure hell for Scott––a Hollywood without martinis and olives––but old Clint never looked so fit.
“You won’t believe your eyes, Hemingway,”he said, “but they’ve done it up in spades.Look at this––it’s a base away from home!” 
[“Clint Eastwood at Tabernas,” 73].

Some of the poems are more subtle, and in some Hemingway appears nonexistent, or perhaps more completely blended into a first-person speaker who seems more akin to David Reiter lowering the mask. In the credits at the end of the film, Reiter states simply, “David Reiter was Ernest Hemingway.” 

True to the postmodern premise of the poems, anything can happen. For example, in “Bluffing at Gibralfaro” (Lighthouse Hill in Málaga, per Reiter’s endnote––a castle-like fortification on a hill that rises about 427 feet over the Mediterranean) a gypsy attempts to force Hemingway to pay a parking fee, an obvious scam. “Here was another gypsy / who didn’t recognize Hemingway!” he grouses (48). When the gypsy returns with a shillelagh, Hemingway, slipping into the role of his own character, Robert Jordan from For Whom the Bell Tolls, regards him as “one of the faceless ones I shot down / before I passed out above the bridge.” Then just as a fight seems inevitable, Teddy Roosevelt shows up with “a mean bull-whip” and the gypsy turns tail. “Get tough, / Hemingway,” TR advises, that’s the ticket to ride” (50). In that gesture, Reiter connects what was most likely an unpleasant contretemps he experienced as a tourist in Málaga with Hemingway, with the fictional character of Robert Jordan, with Theodore Roosevelt (as Rough Rider), and with the Beatles via the allusion to their 1965 hit “Ticket to Ride.” Viewing the bullring from the ramparts of the Gibralfaro, TR scoffs at bullfighting, but Hemingway suggests, “Maybe that’s what they have instead of God” (51). 
Near the end of the book Maria parts company with Ernest, ending their relationship “quick / as a bullet” and reminding him, “If you have to turn the page / the ending was wrong!” (105). In the final two poems Hemingway first visits the Escorial, where Philip II (1527-1598) welcomes him and Ernest likens writers to kings: “The veins we mine are the only ore / worth a sentence. Yet who else loses sleep / over the marrow behind the architecture?” (107). He then visits the Valley of the Fallen, a monument to the dead from the Spanish Civil War. Here he feels the presence of Franco, who had the site constructed by prisoners of war, but Franco is not there:

I walked further and further into the mountain but I couldn’t find him among the statues. Maybe he’d decided not to interrogate the myth [110].

Of course, both the film and these poems, most of them driven through with lines and characters drawn from Hemingway’s prose, invite just such an interrogation.

Both titles are available in physical and eBook formats from the IP Store.