Happy Birthday Doris Lessing

Taq-e Gara

And now at Kermanshah the gate
Dark empty and the withered grass
And through the twilight now the late
Few travelers in the westward pass
                       from “You, Andrew Marvell”  by Archibald Macleish
Kermanshah, known as the “Gate to Asia” lies in the Zagros mountains of Iran.  It is the largest Kurdish city in Iran.  It was here, on Oct 22nd 1919 that Doris Lessing was born.
In 1925 her family moved to Southern Rhodesia and it was in Africa that the Nobel Literature Laureate found her unique voice. An Africa that exists no more, where Robert Mugabe renamed the country Zimbabwe and chaotically dismantled the productive economy.
Twice married and twice divorced she left Africa in 1949 leaving her children behind because “There is nothing more boring for an intelligent woman than to spend endless amounts of time with small children. I felt I wasn’t the best person to bring them up. I would have ended up an alcoholic or a frustrated intellectual like my mother”.
Banned from returning to Rhodesia (or South Africa) for her views on apartheid, she was also closely monitored by the British Secret Service for her support of Communism.  A supporter of Communism who was not afraid to denounce Soviet aggression .  She was vocal in criticism of the Hungarian and Afghan invasions.  Also a lifelong anti-nuclear campaigner and vocal feminist.
My favourite thing about Lessing is that she evolved into a writer of Science Fiction.  She moulded her Science Fiction from Sufi Philosophy, a throwback perhaps to the place of her birth, and the sinful Sufi poets of Persia.
Lessing stoutly defended speculative fiction against literary snobs.  You can do that when you have won every literary prize worth having!

Oh Cherry trees you are too white for my heart; by Doris Lessing

Oh Cherry trees you are too white for my heart,
And all the ground is whitened with your dying,
And all your boughs go dipping towards the river,
And every drop is falling from my heart.’

Now if there is justice in the angel with the bright eyes
He will say ‘Stop!’ and hand me a bough of cherry.
The bearded angel, four-square and straight like a goat
Lifts a ruminant head and slowly chews at the snow.

Goat, must you stand here?
Must you stand here still?
Is it that you will always stand here,
Proof against faith, proof against innocence?

Secret league of Vernians

Verne

Jules Verne

 

Today is the birthday of Elizabeth Bishop, the poet born in 1911.  She was born on the birthday of no less an author than Jules Verne, who was born this day in 1828.  Verne was a father of Science Fiction writing and his legacy is treated almost as a religion by some.  These are the Vernians, the true believers who think Jules Verne’s books are scientific manuals rather than fantastic stories.

Vernians have been prominent in film.  In the 2008 version of “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” the lead characters use an annotated copy of Verne’s novel to retrace his steps.  Vernianism also has a part to play in Back to the Future III.  Doc Brown and the love of his life, Clara Clayton, are committed Vernians.

Now get this:  Clara Clayton is played in the movie by Mary Steenburgen, born in 1953, ON THIS DAY.  Coincidence?  I think not!

The Bight: by Elizabeth Bishop

At low tide like this how sheer the water is.
White, crumbling ribs of marl protrude and glare
and the boats are dry, the pilings dry as matches.
Absorbing, rather than being absorbed,
the water in the bight doesn’t wet anything,
the color of the gas flame turned as low as possible.
One can smell it turning to gas; if one were Baudelaire
one could probably hear it turning to marimba music.
The little ocher dredge at work off the end of the dock
already plays the dry perfectly off-beat claves.
The birds are outsize. Pelicans crash
into this peculiar gas unnecessarily hard,
it seems to me, like pickaxes,
rarely coming up with anything to show for it,
and going off with humorous elbowings.
Black-and-white man-of-war birds soar
on impalpable drafts
and open their tails like scissors on the curves
or tense them like wishbones, till they tremble.
The frowsy sponge boats keep coming in
with the obliging air of retrievers,
bristling with jackstraw gaffs and hooks
and decorated with bobbles of sponges.
There is a fence of chicken wire along the dock
where, glinting like little plowshares,
the blue-gray shark tails are hung up to dry
for the Chinese-restaurant trade.
Some of the little white boats are still piled up
against each other, or lie on their sides, stove in,
and not yet salvaged, if they ever will be, from the last bad storm,
like torn-open, unanswered letters.
The bight is littered with old correspondences.
Click. Click. Goes the dredge,
and brings up a dripping jawful of marl.
All the untidy activity continues,
awful but cheerful.

Ursula le Guin : Galactic Queen

lefthandbanner

Ursula le Guin was a great writer.  Not just a great sci-fi writer.  As she said herself, the focus of literature on realism as the epitome of literary excellence throws out many excellent babies with the bathwater.  Le Guin ascended to the heights of recognition in Sci-Fi circles at a time when the genre was entirely dominated by men.  She was a true pioneer of feminism both by achieving greatness for herself, and by representing heros in her work who were outside the white male paradigm.

We shall not see her like again.  RIP.

Maenads: by Ursula le Guin

Somewhere I read
that when they finally staggered off the mountain
into some strange town, past drunk,
hoarse, half naked, blear-eyed,
blood dried under broken nails
and across young thighs,
but still jeering and joking, still trying
to dance, lurching and yelling, but falling
dead asleep by the market stalls,
sprawled helpless, flat out, then
middle-aged women,
respectable housewives,
would come and stand nightlong in the agora
silent
together
as ewes and cows in the night fields,
guarding, watching them
as their mothers
watched over them.
And no man
dared
that fierce decorum.