Jan. 12, 2012

To Marina (excerpt)

by Kenneth Koch

Let's take a walk
Into the world
Where if our shoes get white
With snow, is it snow, Marina,
Is it snow or light?
Let's take a walk

Every detail is everything in its place (Aristotle). Literature is a cup
And we are the malted. The time is a glass. A June bug comes
And a carpenter spits on a plane, the flowers ruffle ear rings.
I am so dumb-looking. And you are so beautiful.

from "To Marina" by Kenneth Koch, from The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Haruki Murakami (books by this author), born in Kyoto, Japan (1949). Murakami's earliest memory is from when he was three years old. He escaped his house, fell into a nearby creek, and was saved by his mother just before he was swept into a tunnel. "I remember it very clearly, the coldness of the water and the darkness of the tunnel — the shape of that darkness. It's scary. I think that's why I'm attracted to darkness."

It's a memory he transmitted to a character in his novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1997) and a motif — the metaphor of a dark and dangerous underground — he relies on in so many of his books that he forbid himself from writing about wells after his eighth one. Still, in his latest book, 1Q84 (2011), the plot pivots when a woman sitting in a traffic jam takes her cabbie's advice to take one of the secret, steep escape staircases hidden on the bridge they're sitting on. But, the driver warns her, once she goes through this portal, nothing will ever be the same again — and he's right.

As a teenager, Murakami read writers Kurt Vonnegut, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, Raymond Chandler, and Raymond Carver obsessively and to the exclusion of Japanese literature, so that when he wrote own novel in his late 20s, he struggled so much that he wrote the beginning in English, then translated it back into Japanese. He has since translated the complete works of Raymond Carver into Japanese.

Murakami's books have many references to American pop culture like McDonald's and jazz. A huge baseball fan, Murakami was at a game when he had the sudden epiphany that he could write a novel after all, and he began that very night.

His books are known for a quality of magical realism where strange, unexpected, and unexplainable things happen — like the secret staircase that changes everything in 1Q84. But Murakami himself lives an extremely disciplined day-to-day life. He wakes early — sometimes as early as 2 a.m.; enters the "black box" of his creativity in an almost trance-like state, writing for several hours; eats healthful food; trains for marathons and swims; shies away from publicity; and goes to bed by 9 p.m.

It's the birthday of novelist David Mitchell (books by this author), born in Southport, England, in 1969, who lived in Japan when he wrote his novels Ghostwritten (1999) and Number9Dream (2001), both of which owe something to the writings of Murakami. His most recent novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010), is set in Japan during the Edo period.

Today, Mitchell, his wife, and their two children live in Ireland. Being a parent, he says, can be a disruption to his daily writing life, but it more than makes up for it in the privilege of being able to witness the formation of a personality. "What a useful phenomenon for any novelist," he said in an interview. "We are shameless parasites."

Mitchell said: "Everything you need to learn about writing you will learn, and can only learn, by writing. So get rid of the TV and work. And when you're stuck, write why you're stuck, with merciless honesty, and you will become unstuck."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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