Anakana Schofield – Author of Martin John and Malarky

May 20, 2012

Irish Voice & Irish Central review Malarky as “most distinctive novel of its kind in a decade.”

Thank you to Cahir O’Doherty who reviewed Malarky over at Irish Central and in print in the Irish Voice: (click on the extract below to read the whole review). I am glad he made the point about working class Irish female eccentrics, I painfully felt their absence from literature and hence wrote (after considerable struggle) Malarky.

February 27, 2011

Venus with Biceps: David L Chapman & Patricia Vertinsky

Venus with Biceps: A Pictorial History of Muscular Women by David L. Chapman & Patricia Vertinsky

Arsenal Pulp Press, $29.95, 359 pages

Got muscles? Expect scrutiny if you’re female. Venus with Biceps interrogates the history and taboos of female muscularity and pairs a taut consideration with a diligent pictorial unearthing.

This welcome book is interspersed with chapters outlining the limited perceptions placed on women’s bodies and how they have progressed, regressed and progressed again. David L. Chapman, who culled and amassed more than 200 images for this book, unveils a riveting history of strongwomen with roots in theatricality, athleticism, performance, ancient Greece and exhibitionism.

The images come in varied sources and forms: photos, advertisements, illustrations, comics, posters and even cigarette cards, up until the 1980s. We can understand plenty from these rare images, including what informs the continuing relentless scrutiny of women’s bodies today (a scrutiny that increasingly extends to expectations even of the pregnant body).

There have always been ardent opinions on the female form that often bore little relation to biology or the potential women have for developing strong musculature.

The obvious development of muscle -a sign of male power -in women was considered a masculinization of the female body. It is still subject to critique and reactions of fear and disgust in the mainstream celeb-obsessed media. As the art critic and novelist John Berger wrote in Ways of Seeing, “Men are expected to act, women to appear.”

At the start of the 20th century the first strongwomen appeared on the fete, carnival and circus scene. They were viewed with freak-show bemusement by an audience of men seeking titillation. Curiously, there was often a family link to strongwomen; she might be the daughter of a strongman or in the case of Melina, the wife of strongman Louis Cyr. Athleta, a Belgian strongwoman known for lifting half a dozen men and a large barbell, had three daughters who were all raised to be strongwomen.

A shift began in the 1920s that saw a change in attitudes toward embracing a new model of “able-bodied womanhood.”

Victorian prudery was out; the flapper was in. There was more evidence in photos of displaying muscles in contrast to earlier attempts to disguise them, with the hourglass figure upheld as the ideal.

The Great Depression of the 1930s sent attitudes spiralling backwards towards “traditional expectations” and “womanly allure”, although a “lightly muscled body could be considered attractive.”

Emphasis on the female body distinctly changed after and during times of war. Women were required to participate in physical labour and that participation was recognized as vital. The attitude was that women needed to be fit and strong in order to serve their country and the war effort. The 1940s saw the advent of Wonder Woman and role models such as Rosie the Riveter, who personified working women. Towards the end of the 1940s, female athletes also saw more respect for their ability and physique.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, all the progress was essentially lost and muscular women appeared to vanish. Then, in 1977, the first bodybuilding competition that judged women’s muscles -not their beauty -took place at the YMCA in Canton, Ohio.

David L. Chapman and Patricia Vertinsky are to be admired for this excavation and excising of these visual records and stories from obscurity. This is a reading opportunity that can only be described as uplifting, informative and delicious. The book is not weighed down with an overly academic tone; the tone is one of consideration, historical context and fun insight. It does not purport to be an exacting record, but it is a delightful departure point for readers and enthusiasts and a reference to aid the constant inquiries those with mysteriously large calf muscles must engage with, in the experience of this former gymnast reviewer.

Biblioasis will be publishing Anakana Schofield’s novel Malarky next year.

July 8, 2010

D.M. Fraser Ignorant Armies: a consideration

Here, I offer, my consideration of D.M. Fraser’s Ignorant Armies (out of print alas, but Pulp Press originally). It was suggested the piece needs to be more friendly to readers, therefore if you are confused you can ask questions in the comments section. (since the piece has yet to be published in print, link/attribute pls). And a nod to Helen Potrebenko, Brian Kaufman, Jeff Derksen, Michael Turner for reading/comments/discussion.

Buried Treasures: Ignorant Armies. D.M. Fraser

D.M. Fraser is a footnote in Vancouver literature where he should be the headliner.  Attracted by the title of his first collection — Class Warfare — I discovered his work last year, but it was his posthumously published book Ignorant Armies that spared my sanity during the recent 5 ring bling, all out flattening invasion of our city.

Ignorant Armies, published in 1990, by Pulp Press (out of print) emerged as a stand alone volume, during the attempt to create two complete collections of Fraser’s work. Fraser began work on the novel in 1978 and was still working on it when he died suddenly in 1985. The book was put together over three years, with input from close colleagues. In a note entitled You aren’t supposed to be reading this, Ignorant Armies editor Bryan Carson reflects on Fraser’s interminable, perfectionist approach: “He couldn’t tolerate a mistake on a page, would tear one out for nothing more serious than a typo and start the page over…”

This very process and happenstance of how the book formed itself, both by it’s author’s generation and subsequent external collation provides us with a lively reading experience, which we can wonder about, delight in each paragraph and choose how and where to darn them together overall. Knowing as we do that whatever Fraser intended finally for his book remains to be seen. While he left “structured units”, he did not indicate a conclusive map according to which they might sit.

The despot thruline of narrative is bid adieu in Ignorant Armies and instead we revel in a fragmented repository of chunking. Fraser’s sentences are long, lifting, yet single word succinct. His resplendent prose owes something to music: looping phrases that riff and repeat (Johnny Girardi came into town singing), phrases also delineate new events (May all our sins be forgiven). A lead in and a lead out and always in his sentences, an elevation. Therefore, identical to a piece of music the reader could chose, non-fatally, (any) where to join this prose.

The overall shape of the text reflects what’s happening in it. A Venn diagram of loops within loops that perhaps reflect the tad loopy nature of his characters. Characters, sufficient in number to form a small circle, thus rotate the tale, weave their lives, intricately around each other and bounce off each other like a game of rounders: They recall, rotate, remember and recoil. Gus Asher, (who is the main man) “if he recalls Johnny it’s to recall that was the winter Joan went crazy, and I too perhaps…”

While Johnny Girardi concludes on Asher: “A tour of his personal history yields little insight: it is an official visit to an exploded coal-mine or any industrial disaster, where the object of the ceremony is not to see what is there, but to be recorded as having been seen seeing it and weeping.”

Cut to Asher on Joan: “Asher broaching the notion with what he hoped was the suitable level of candor, I’m gonna fuck off out of this stinking house, felt a messianic exaltation that so amply irrigated his arid spirit that he began to weep almost immediately, loudly, thereby missing Joan’s murmured answer, Why don’t you do that very thing, tonight for example?”

Asher has handed the reins to Johnny Girardi to complete his tale. Johnny Girardi (sometimes Giraardi) plows through the book swinging his arm, like a marching band, as he bears agreed witness to Asher’s life. As noted in the text “The story is over by now and this is the epilogue”

Even Fraser’s point of view resembles the gliss of string instruments. It merges, and dissolves in the same paragraph to the extent I reached the last sentence of the book startled to discover Johnny Girardi had been talking to me, where I assumed Asher was. With not a bother on me, I read the book again.

Essentially the tale, if we must entertain such a bland notion, is a man sorting events (“an accounting”) in his life and allowing external points of view to consider the same situations. Some of the most poignant reflecting is Asher on his lust and love of manipulative Devon (who has murdered or knifed someone I think), his accounting affords an honest representation of the fluid nature of sexuality. This, while, still married to Joan from whom he is certainly, latterly in the book, separating. Devon concurrently has stolen Asher’s writing to create the “most notoriously unperformable opera in the world”.

As Devon is literally running circles around him, within his stagnant marriage lies Asher’s tranquillity and while he’s consuming both, it is at the stake of his wife’s sanity. Joan quietly commits suicide.

Gus Asher may be a self-centred, panicking, drunk, yet his rigorous honesty and pondering offer us the contradictory nature of human behaviour. Much seems to pain Asher, yet he adheres to his honest appraising. When Devon seeks to comfort him after Joan’s death he’s having none of it.

“I let him (Devon) hold me and pat me like a wounded puppy, saying obviously unbelievable things like It’s not your fault, she didn’t know what she was doing, but it was I who hadn’t known, hadn’t seen, love was a lie, as it may indeed be, and I summoned from impoverished memory everything mean and gross and ungiving in all of us, I charged all of us with every crime I could name (and god knows the list was long enough to occupy a night) I beseeched Devon to beat me until I bled from nose and mouth, to fuck me in the ass because I’d always hated that and feared him in his moods to do it…”

Separation or unfolding is a constant mode in this text. Even as readers we are embroiled: what is Asher’s actual truth? Is Johnny Girardi reliable? Blimey who on earth is Eli? Petrov would you stop being a pain in the hole.

It’s rare as a reader to bounce up a set of stairs with material that could be construed as  likely to bring one down. Get blasted on Fraser’s pneumatic prose. He transforms the most vicious of maladies.

May 14, 2010

LRB: On thanatophobia and Vancouver

My first blog contribution to the London Review of Books Blog can be read here:

Things to Do in Vancouver When You’re Dead

A Saturday morning, the first in my 40th year, I’m at the Mountain View Cemetery for ‘The Final Disposition Forum: De-Mystifying Death, Funerals, Cemeteries and Ceremonies’. I’ve come to face my fear of being buried in Vancouver, where I’ve lived for the past decade. I arrive late, the film A Family Undertaking has already started. On screen a set of cold-looking turned-out feet. The acoustics are terrible. But the feet are a good set, the ubiquitous final set. I am reassured, when my moment comes, I too will have a set of absolutely dead feet.

May 13, 2010

Cortazar’s Hopscotch has to return to the library. This is a problem for the two of us. His Hopscotch is/was to become my scotch hop. My hopping has been scotched by the new/old couches and the fine tuners on the cello and the violin end biteen that threatened to break and the hip that didn’t break

and
and
and

A 1,3,7,5,9er.

May 12, 2010

The quantity of these uninhabited ghost estates (I had noted them in rural Ireland gouging into the land and tacking themselves onto villages) and the matter that the bulldozer may now visit them … Jeeeesus. Squint left, squint right — how’d we end up here again? Really wish they’d uploaded the RTE documentary on this last night. Hearing about it, and grabbing bits of it here and there. Just plain batty. And yet we saw it. It was happening everywhere you looked. And yet? And yet if NAMA owns them, then they belong to the tax payer and should be streamlined into social housing projects. The strange thing about them was you’d look at them twice and wonder who’d want to live in them, but you’d never contemplate there wouldn’t be anyone to live in them.

I remember the original stab at affordable housing during the boom years produced only completely unaffordable housing.