Monday, 24 October 2011

Reviews of Books I Have Read

The Bratsworthian Elegies by Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander
The eminent Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander, poet laureate of Bratsworth, reciting one of his elegies into a recording  machine. Bratworthians so admired him that after his passing, they scraped the speaking tube of this machine for his saliva dribblings, placed the precious drops in a glass vial and put them on display in the Bratsworth Museum of Arts, Culture, Science and Goat Herding History.
In my role as a translator of some of the greatest European authors you've never heard of, none are more lyrical nor deeper in meaning, thought and metaphor than the amazing and unsung Bratsworthian poet, Mr. Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander. Where is this Bratsworth you might ask and if you don't, you should because, obscure as it is, Bratsworth is the true cultural capital of Europe, its influences felt from the lowly ghettos of Antwerp to the lush tundra and icy environs of the Arctic Circle. And Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander is the leader of the Bratsworthian cultural pack. Even the ospreys can be heard calling his name as they circle the choppy waters of the Black Sea, looking for sardines and dried kelp on which to sharpen their beaks.
Oomaplintz-norf norf-oomaplintz-norf norf, sounds the call of the majestic wild osprey. The non-wild ones, like at Bruno's Osprey Rehabilitation Sanctuary and Cheese Curd Manufacturing, barely make a sound except for a low gurgling that sounds more like a mating guinea hen in the low brush and scrub land of West Virginia and certain, deserted parking lots in Medicine Hat, especially around Sven's Bingo Emporium.
The tiny country of Bratworth sits between Bulgaria and Romania and since the Roman times has been mistaken for a garbage dump. It was only in 1983 that British outdoor enthusiast and grasshopper collector, Samuel Ungeworth, on one of his collecting field trips, discovered an entire country flourishing in the flora, fauna and fumes of hundreds of miles of septic waste and a hearty people who lived there and who spoke a language that seemed a mix of ancient Norse and 19th century Yiddish. He also discovered a cultural revolution in the literary, visual and theatrical arts that was soon embraced by all of Europe and was agreed to be so groundbreaking and trendsetting that soon all followed in the wake of its waste-encrusted gumboots. Bratsworth was also the catalyst for a whole new movement in modern dance, based on the meandering routes taken by their famed goat herders as they led their mangy beasts from one garbage dump to the next looking for tin cans, ear wax, ham hock scrapings and other delicacies that the goats were fond of. In fact, it was this ritual that led Mr. Norfenlander to write his one and only play/ballet, Goat On A Hot-Tin Bedpan, which, of course, Tennessee Williams was to steal from later on.
A scene from Norfenlander's Goat On A Hot-Tin Bedpan, as performed by the Royal Bratsworthian Ballet and Theater Company.
But it's his poetry that Norfenlander is best remembered for and especially his Bratsworthian Elegies, which Wallace Stevens called the finest series of poems ever written by a man with a head that resembled a dust pan. Perhaps this analogy is most apt because of Norfenlander's aptitude for collecting the dust of Bratsworthian history, filtering it through his brain and turning so much stray hair and lint and general grime into something beautiful, lyrical and clean considering its filthy origins.
This dust pan and broom are part of the annual Norfenlander Poetry Prize, given out each year to new, budding poets of Bratsworth who show unusual promise. The other half of the prize is a goat, usually older and bound for the slaughterhouse. It is considered a great honor in Bratsworth to save a goat from slaughter, invite it over for dinner and dress it in your dead grandfather's underpants.
But don't take my word for it. Take Norfenlander's words for it instead with this example from Elegy 2, Stanza 6.

Stinkmitzplinfooven noodarden snutz,
Aigen snutz,
Yag borglungen kadasploufungen
Klunga blotspoohaufen,
Kunga punga
Gits zietsmanplimple arf mit lungafil loofpitz,
schnitz, schnitz vingovelstrumpf.

Odiferous goats of dusk,
Clinging dusk,
You penetrate my flinching buttocks
Whooping on beaten hooves riddled with corn husks,
Is this not a trampoline of despair where you can't find your shoes,
Must I jump for hours until someone  finds my shoes and dispenses some aspirin for my bouncing, soulless mood,
Sneeze, sneeze, then spray saliva no more on the strudel cake of doom.

Here metaphor rides roughshod so as not to slip in the mud and goat dung and the repetition of the word "sneeze" followed by a spray of saliva calls to mind Ezra Pound's dictum of oral hygiene and the spread of germs as the facilitator of words that could make a dictator out of a heating duct cleaner and sully a soul until it's reduced to washing linen in the blood of she-goats at a Bavarian clambake. "Bavarian clambake," you exclaim, "I've never heard of such a thing." Believe you me, there certainly is and those Bavarians knew how to throw a clambake at the edge of the Black Forest like it was going out of style, so let's put that to rest right now, okay? And let us not forget the buttocks standing in as a symbol of a quivering and declining European economy and gastronomy, prodded and slapped and prodded again until not even the promise of a force-fed duck will mean fresh liver for the children of tomorrow or at least the next day. Balance that image with defiled corn husks and you can smell the doom in the air like the wash of ozone off a heavily chlorinated swimming pool. Then in Elegy 4, Stanza 3, Norfenlander takes a whole new approach to the age old dilemma of a long and barren goat herder winter and the philosophical pondering that comes from excessive mustache waxing and the surprise visit of a long lost cousin believed to have been killed in an accident at a doorknob factory on the outskirts of Budapest.

Horflingmunsten fluntz
Mit chorckal versht gunt flitzen broot
Stumzlashmuftz zsakasakapaka ja ja twonk plitz
Vlish piptominkyak clotfinstenbrau
Hauf klonken task tsak mit hoofen splotz.

The ventriloquist's underpants
Cast a heavy shadow across the porcupine's brow,
What's that? The plinking of a dissolute piano string
Choking the horse penis of the evening, yes, yes,
Cries the matzoh meal man,
Do not try to stump the house of remorseful goat people
Or the clomp clomp of their childless wombs.
Here, famed Bratsworthian actor and Norfenlander's cousin, Heinzfeld Leif Mictonschmeltz, admonishes his sidekick, Ebner Vishka, for hiding the ventriloquist's underpants. Notice the excessive mustache wax which places Heinzfeld squarely in the goat herding caste even though his suit tells a different story and so does his dummy, even if he does have the words put in his mouth or taken out or something like that. This photo was taken during the run of Mictonschmeltz's one-act play, Soul Stenches and Coattails, loosely based on Norfenlander's elegies.
In this elegy, Norfenlander puts a new twist on the poetic voice by having a ventriloquist stand in as his alter-ego, allowing for him to say things like horse penis and porcupine's brow, bringing the natural world into interplay with the destitution of the Bratsworthian industrial landscape, especially around the animal fat rendering plant and Kolaslov's End-Of-The-Roll Carpet and Broadloom Warehouse. The recurring themes of goats, underpants and clomping uteruses might seem overkill at this point but Norfenlander skillfully tempers their recurrence by introducing the parable of the matzoh meal man, subtly weaving allegory and reality into a seamless fabric, much like Kosalav is able to do with only a smattering of carpet roll remnants, creating an elusiveness of meaning that has no meaning, which in turn gives it plenty of meaning by not meaning anything in the first place, which is no mean feat when your words are brimming with so much meaning it actually hurts your feet. As we can see in Elegy 9, Stanza 15, Norfenlander takes a different tact in which he opens up the dialogue between man and beast, doctor and patient and roofer and shingle supplier all at once, making for some confusion, but after all this is poetry where confusion is at its best, especially at Lancelot's two-for-one shish-kebab night, where the poets of Bratsworth still continue to gather for a little playful philosophical bantering and charred goat meat.

Plitzhagen mein migzoftin hauf hauf,
Vishtuncle naarsnaarsgaard oguntz neef broten
Snussle vit kuchentitsvaarn moidel,
Guntzhaulfinbinen putz und a vatz schmutz und lokshen gossle,
Blauplotz fingendoorzvogen shmuntz eiger soorsmunchkin,
Heif, heif gonosht gizzlungoormaard pipple zugflishten.

My hovering globules of life, oh globules of life,
Do not forgo the broth of your fecund mind or the ant tunnels beneath,
Even webbed feet must be kissed from time to time
And maybe greased with midget fat and fluids of ethereal delights.
Still the shoe inserts may evade your fingers when night drops its mallet of despair,
But the ants in your toreador pants shall always be welcome in our house of goat hides.

I don't know how you feel, but each time I read this elegy the tears drop from my eyes like the poop from the mythical chimera's behind, so rich in nutrients and life-giving aromas and forces that it emits, it actually nourishes all the unborn in a 50 km radius from its source, as well as the ability to impregnate goats from 20 feet away and cook mutton from an additional 10 feet. Of course this all hinges on the amount of ant tunnels in the vicinity and it's precisely this element that Norfenlander, although so briefly touching upon in the elegy, obviously accentuates through the  underestimation of its power and integral role in the Bratsworthian cultural psyche. For beneath the garbage piles and waste and interesting fungi and mosses that grow in the stench, the ants are continually tunneling, creating their magnificent ant cities, but all with the threat of having the earth above collapse on their heads and beneath the Bratsworthian's feet simultaneously, and so both species live in dread of this day and walk softly, even when carrying heavy loads of laundry or root vegetables or escalator parts or burlap sacks of goat droppings. That is why they say, all over Europe, that the people of Bratsworth are the greatest tiptoers west of Tripoli and east of Labrador, a province equally famed for their tiptoers due to the nature of the shifting ice and polar bears that they must sneak by daily on their way to work.
Here, Professor K., a good friend of Norfenlander and renowned Bratsworthian ant historian, explains the effect of ant tunneling on the Brastworthian psyche.
It's also interesting to note the recurrence of shoe imagery, first used in the Second Elegy, although previously it takes the mercurial form of shoes lost on a trampoline, a nifty bit of transposition that puts anthropomorphism firmly back in the hands of the amphibians, while in Elegy 9, it is not the shoe but its inserts that take centre stage. What is the importance of this, you might ask, and I would answer, how come it's so hard to turn the radiator caps in my apartment and then you might ask, is that really what you meant or are you re-contextualizing the shoes through the use of steam heat and I would answer, I haven't pressed a shirt or ironed my pants since before man landed on the moon.
Norfenlander's favourite goat, awarded to him by the Bratsworthian High Council for the Arts on his 70th birthday. As tradition dictates, the goat was dressed in Norfenlander's dead grandfather's underpants, a man who was just as beloved as his grandson because of the bright hue of his underwear. Everywhere he went people used to say, with the utmost respect and sense they were standing close to goat herding greatness, "Hey, there goes that nut case with the brightly colored underpants," and Norfenlander's grandfather, Yonkers Splashgaard, would laugh and reply, "If your goats wore underpants as bright as mine, maybe you wouldn't lose so many to the wolves in the forest outside of Galipsoboline. Not to mention my wife has more teats than your average Romanian gypsy caravan and it's only because of the underpants that this is possible and that I am such a happy man while you all wallow in the septic waste hoping your goats will pump out enough milk to make even the smallest cube of feta cheese that wouldn't even feed a colony of ants during the winter time."
Suffice to say, Bratsworth is back on the map, both physically and culturally and is taking its due place in the course of history and septic waste and the ability of its people to eke and carve out fulfilling lives amongst the debris and goat droppings and it's all owed to one man, one great man who had the foresight to see the future even though he was nearsighted and once even mistook a goat for his wife and a son was born although that's a different story and one most Bratsworthians are loathe to mention. Anyway, it's because of Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander and his wondrous  elegies that the world can at last witness what it must be like to hear the singing of angels and the thrumming and humming of heaven, much like a well-oiled air conditioning unit and believe you me, those Bratsworthians know and understand a fine piece of machinery and would never take one for granted, especially when the goats begin to smell during the spring and the garbage heaps vibrate with the ants beneath and you can smell change in the air like your Aunt Gerta after she'd been dead for seven days and the goats were licking her body and urinating in mourning. That's the kind of poetry I'm talking about and if you don't like it then you can take it up with Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander when you get to heaven, but if he's not in you can talk to his cousin, because he's a pretty reasonable guy as long as you compliment his mustache wax and mention his grandfather's underpants.

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