Birrell, Heather

Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning

It’s been a while since I’ve last read, for reasons whose details I won’t serenade you with, but which have to do with huge, overwhelming, life-changing projects that ultimately will leave me with more time to do this more often (I’ll need a little luck, if you want to drop some in the mail), but which, at the moment, have me submerged and often feeling not unlike drowning (or what I imagine drowning is not-unlike. I’ve never actually drowned.)

Then I received an email from Evan Munday at Toronto’s Coach House Books, asking if I had interest in reading from Heather Birrell’s latest collection. Let me assure you now that a response of “WOULD I‽” does not come across to full effect in email if not accompanied by a look of wide-eyed promise and a rare display of teeth (even with the interrobang). Some of you might remember my enthusiasm at reading Birrell’s Trouble at Pow Crash Creek (from I Know You Are But What Am I? a couple of years ago. I promise you that the new collection, Mad Hope, is, impossibly, even more beautifully wrought, more intellectually finely tuned, and more gut-wrenching. You’ll see what I mean when you listen.

(Thanks Evan and Coach House for the book. Thanks Heather for the collection. Lest you think this is shilly, I was under no obligation whatsoever to read from the collection. Like most makers of book-derived things on the Internet, publishers send me books all the time, which I often read and sometimes like, but which are rarely suited for the little sanctum I’ve got here. Happy weekend!)

Robinson, Rowland E.

Breaking Camp (from Danvis Tales)

If, while listening to tonight’s story, you come to the dialogue and have no idea about what I am talking, you won’t be alone. I staggered across tonight’s author by way of the great Hayden Carruth, whose introduction to Rowland E. Robinson’s Danvis Tales ranks among the most incisive layer-peeling short pieces of literary commentary I’ve read. And I assure you I’ve read a few. He says of the dialogue:

Robinson was an instinctive linguist; he understood the value of listening carefully and recording faithfully. And we may say as a matter of course that he applied the same care and fidelity to the larger aspects of his material, syntax, and speech rhythm…

… the most telling elements of Robinson’s skill are the least demonstrable, his sensitivity to the syntax and rhythm of colloquial speech. Notice the interplay of long and short breath-units in these sentences, and the mixing of grammatical structures, clause and phrase, different verb moods, and so forth. Only a very complicated chart could reduce all these elements to a form of linguistic analysis, but they are what account for both the verisimilitude and the esthetic liveliness of this speech. The truth is that Robinson’s dialogue, which is the largest and most important part of the Danvis Tales, is invariably better writing than his descriptive and narrative passages in the standard overblown English of his day.

So give it a chance, even if you have to suffer through my not entirely successful attempt at the colloquial speech of this time and place. “Folk tales” are not exactly my genre and narrative style of choice, but reading through these has been a welcome reminder of why I should slap myself on the hand with a ruler when I pigeonhole myself this way. And I’d slap you just the same; I care that much.

Benedetti, Mario

The Night of the Ugly Ones

Sometimes a story catches you by title alone. I have a real soft spot, personally, for “The Night of the” stories, no matter the medium. Hunters, Iguanas, Living Dead, even Comets (to a lesser degree)… all of these things weaken my articulated joints. Tonight’s story is no different in that regard, but all kinds of different if those Night stories are your precedents.

And if a great story isn’t enough to kick you in your more callipygian regions and get you to work, according to his NYTimes obit, Mario Benedetti is responsible for more than 80 books. If you move now, maybe you can catch up. Maybe I should stop soliloquising and give you your story already. Here’s Mario Benedetti.

Oh, wait, I’m not done. Over at Iambik, we’re giving away audiobooks this week. You should enter to pick up my most recent if you haven’t already, as I’ve got a couple of new ones in the works. Also, because tonight’s is a short story, and won’t nearly keep you cozy. And now, really, Mario Benedetti.

Rhys, Jean

Illusion by Jean Rhys (Redux)

Sometimes it just kills me how many stories I’ve read here. A lot, that’s how many. And as much as I’m endeared to those earlier lo-fi bootleggy recordings, there are some stories which just aren’t served by the lack of quality, and some stories that, after this many years, should be read again anyway.

So, here’s a bonus for you, thanks to Mel U of The Reading Life, and one of the internet’s most enthusiastic readers of Jean Rhys.

In related news, this article about Global Warming affecting the intelligence of reptiles has been floating around the internettish circles. A scary thought, to some, but I take great pleasure in the thought that someday salamanders may fit themselves with earbuds and join our clan of the literarily satisfied.

Now, about Jean Rhys…

Du Maurier, Daphne


You’ll have to excuse the fact that this sounds somewhat as if it might have been recorded in a submarine in the icy waters beneath an alien planet; I haven’t been around for a while, and my audio equipment was dusty and had been playing bingo in a church basement, so it was a little creaky when I roused it from its folding chair. But I didn’t want to leave you without at least a shimmer of holiday leer, and think this does the job nicely. I’ve got more guests to post but will be back on the regular beat in January. Meantime, happiest of all of that. Now, have a story…

Rilke, Rainer Maria

The Young Workman’s Letter (Guest narrator: Chris King)

Usually, when I think about this humble little project, it fills me with all kinds of amourpropre. Even when I’m temporarily removed from my own devices (audiotorily speaking), I can’t help but self-congratulatorily pat myself backwise (I’m flexible) at keeping the motor of this anthology running.

Then sometimes I’m introduced to other projects that leave me licking the dust of underachievement. Tonight’s narrator is behind one such project. You should have a listen to Poetry Scores, and share in the dust-licking awe of it. And as a bonus to all of us, Chris King, the genius responsible, is a Rilke enthusiast of the very best sort. It’s our lucky day.

Visit Poetry Scores and Confluence City and don’t forget to thank Chris for the story.

I’ll be back very soon now, honest.

McDermott, Alice

I Am Awake (Guest narrator: Philip Shelley)

Tonight’s guest narrator owns and operates The Devastationalist Manifesto, a project I desperately wish would soon revive itself from its two-year hiatus, and not just because I miss the occasional chance for self-gam-gawkery. The project is one of genius, sometimes seemingly singlehandedly keeping the internet’s signal-to-noise ratio from flatlining, and maybe if you help me to strongarm him (GENTLY), he’ll rouse it from its vanWinklery nap.

Reflecting on his interpretation of Alice McDermott, I realise that perhaps I haven’t given her a fair shake, and that should change. This is heartwrenchingly rendered beauty, which, given our narrator, shouldn’t surprise anybody.

I’ll be back in my own voice very soon now, and still have a few guests to post. If you told me you’d read for me and you haven’t, I am probably very disappointed in you, although I just might understand all the same.

Sturgeon, Theodore

The Man Who Lost the Sea (Guest narrator: Shig Vigintitres)

Sturgeon’s a presence which should have been established here long ago, and I was grateful beyond expression when tonight’s guest reader volunteered to represent him. That said, I was only told there was “this Theodore Sturgeon story I’ve always wanted to read.”

So, when I was sent a story that I didn’t know, I was allowed to sit back and listen and discover and marvel, as you should. If you really want my experience, be on your third glass of wine before you listen. It’s worth tomorrow’s headache.

O'Connor, Flannery

Enoch and the Gorilla (Guest Reader: Patrick Scott)

Some of you may remember the sweet sounds of Patrick Scott from earlier Miette Bailouts. When I put out the call for guest readers, he was quick to the case. But Patrick’s a busy guy, now that he’s a famous filmmaker, and so when you listen to his lustrous interpretation of Flannery O’Connor, you will pick up the occasional whirr of what seems a loud computer fan.

I’m here to tell you resolutely not to mind this, not to let it interfere with the almost toxic pleasure you might receive from a Patrick/Flannery one-two-punch. If anything, think of it not as a probably loud computer fan, but rather, as a Flannery O’Connor story as broadcast from the other side of the buckle of the asteroid belt.

The next two weeks will be just full of guests, and if you’ve offered a story and haven’t delivered, I will remember this when your birthday rolls around. There’s still time to redeem yourself. You know who you are.

Walser, Robert

Frau Wilke (Guest narrator: Sam Jones)

If you know Sam Jones from various internet outlets, you will be neither surprised nor disappointed that he chose to read Walser for his guest stint here. However, if you know Sam Jones from various internet outlets alone, you might not know that his is not unlike the disembodied voice in your head that reads you to sleep, all silky and warm and just sensual enough to make you comfortable, though not quite enough to make your lover jealous. Or maybe I’m confusing you with me, which happens with pronouns.

So, it’s time to drop some buds into your head’s sound detection holes and try not to smile sheepishly when he whispers “… for I do like a certain degree of raggedness and neglect.” And then look up to see if anyone catches you mid-blush. Make no excuses, but barrel down and enjoy the rest. I expect you’ll get as much out of Sam’s interpretation of Frau Wilke as I have. For more, keep your eye on Wandering with Robert Walser

I’m featuring guest readers for the next month or two, and am in search of more guest narrators, although admittedly the bar’s being set high. If you’d like to have a try at reading for the podcast, email me.