Ran into the African Book Centre online today. Apparently a real place in London’s Covent Garden, but closed just now for a “planned three-year redvelopment plan.” Mail order service continues.

The scary thing about it is that the site has a list of Africa’s 100 best books (actually closer to 80 if you count them, but still).  I was appalled at how few of these authors I had even heard of (we won’t even discuss how many I’ve actually read). I counted 13 – Chinua Achebe, Mariama Ba, Nadine Gordimer, Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Camara Laye, Naghib Mahfouz, Okot p’Bitek, Alan Paton, Nawal Al Saadawi, Tayeb Salih, Leopold Senghor, Aminata Sow Fall & Wole Soyinka. (Note: I feel one shouldn't really get credit for Mahfouz, Al Saadawi and Salih, as they are also part of the Arab canon and so are twice as exposed.) 

Don’t know who compiled this list, but, hey, this is a book-selling site, and a fairly niche one, too, so one is surely safe in assuming that a hefty degree of consensus/mainstreamness  went into the compilation.

Note: I typed “African canon” into Google and got not much, apart from this Google query: “Did you mean to search for: American canon?”

That would be no, Google. (At least it didn’t say: “Did you mean: Western canon?”) 

Other note:  I searched Asian canon, and only found this entry, entitled Re-writing the Asian canon.  At least there’s one to re-write. Go, Asia. Come on, Africa. 

Jack Prelutsky – children’s Poet Laureate

We now have a children’s Poet LaureateJack Prelutsky. Woohoo! Look forward to seeing what he makes of the position. A sample online workshop with Jack Prelutsky for your young ones at home.  


Super Samson Simpson  

by Jack Prelutsky 

I am Super Samson Simpson,

I'm superlatively strong,

I like to carry elephants,

I do it all day long,

I pick up half a dozen

and hoist them in the air,

it's really somewhat simple,

for I have strength to spare.

My muscles are enormous,

they bulge from top to toe,

and when I carry elephants,

they ripple to and fro,

but I am not the strongest

in the Simpson family,

for when I carry elephants,

my grandma carries me.I saw at least one carping article on the web that said, What about Maurice Sendak? Well, it could be what about a whole bunch of other people, couldn't it. Go, Jack, I say.

My heart is like a singing bird

A Birthday

by Christina Georgina Rossetti


MY heart is like a singing bird  

 Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;  

My heart is like an apple-tree  

 Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;  

My heart is like a rainbow shell           

 That paddles in a halcyon sea;   

My heart is gladder than all these,  

 Because my love is come to me.  

Raise me a daïs of silk and down;  

 Hang it with vair and purple dyes;    

Carve it in doves and pomegranates,  

 And peacocks with a hundred eyes;  

Work it in gold and silver grapes,  

 In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;  

Because the birthday of my life    

 Is come, my love is come to me.    


What email is to paper-and-pen is what Bloglines is to keeping track of other blogs by clicking through your blogroll. What took me so long?! Click on the button below to get Very Like A Whale in the comfort of your own, er, one-stop-blog-checking shop. No more frustrating clicking forays into the swamp of your list of favorites; no more forgetting whose blog you have or haven’t checked tonight; no more checking un-updated blogs. The system rather brutally sacrifices the look of one’s blog to the look of the feed, but hey — who’s blogging for the look of things?
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More on Mazisi Kunene

Hm. I have no idea how the world of obituaries works, but I raised my eyebrows at this Sept 19 LA Times obituary of Mazisi Kunene, poet laureate of South Africa, who died August 11 – more than a month before the date of the obituary! (Thanks to Silliman’s blog  for heads-up on the obituary). Did it take the news five weeks to get the LA Times, or were they just waiting for a slow news day? Readers of this blog will recall reading about Mazisi Kunene here on August 25 as part of our ongoing national poet project. UCLA plans a memorial service for him October 12. 

xkcd & iambic pentameter

What else is out there that everyone knows about except me? Have you heard of xkcd? I hadn’t, until this minute. Some days I feel hunted. I thought ignorance was, if not bliss, at least a passive non-happening state of being. Now I’m not so sure. Sometimes it feels like ignorance is something mean and ugly coming your way brandishing a club.  I got a chuckle out of this one, though:

No comment

I’ve been asked (nicely, and not so nicely) why I have disabled comments on this blog and stuck up a boring old email address instead. This interesting but soooo long and involved post  (once you count all the comments) from Simply Wait goes a long way to explaining why. I found that comments (receiving them, that is) complicated blogging life beyond acceptable complexity.  On the other hand, comments (giving them) can be fun when you do it because you want to. Just call me Annoying Person.

George Herbert, II

George Herbert

As I was saying: George Herbert. A 16th century rich kid who turned to God. Bits from Wikipedia:

Throughout his life he wrote religious poems characterized by a precision of language, a metrical versatility, and an ingenious use of imagery or conceits that was favored by the metaphysical school of poets.

The themes of ‘God’ and ‘love’ are treated by Herbert as much as psychological forces as metaphysical phenomena.

It was said of him: “Herbert speaks to God like one that really believeth a God, and whose business in the world is most with God. Heart-work and heaven-work make up his books.”

I tend to itch and shuffle around religion myself, but I must say I love the shape of Herbert’s world and how he brings it to us. Here is The Pulley, to add to yesterday’s The Collar. Pragmatic. Sweet. They can go together.

                                     The Pulley 

                         When God at first made man,
              Having a glass of blessings standing by,
                    “Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can;
              Let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie,
                         Contract into a span.”

                        So strength first made a way;
              Then beauty flow’d, then wisdom, honour, pleasure;
                    When almost all was out, God made a stay,
              Perceiving that alone of all his treasure,
                       Rest in the bottom lay.

                       “For if I should,” said he,
            “Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
                  He would adore my gifts instead of me,
            And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
                       So both should losers be.

                       “Yet let him keep the rest,
            But keep them with repining restlessness;
                  Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
            If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
                      May toss him to my breast.”
                                                                             — George Herbert

Yang Li, China (1962)

Yang Li

Ever heard of Yang Li? I hadn’t either, but just ran into him on Poetry International Web (nice place to hang out to see what’s going on in the other six-eighths of the poetry world). See what you think of his stuff — all I can read are the translations, but am finding them oddly taking. For example,

by Yang Li

standing on the river bank we shout in loud voices at a person on the other side we don’t know if he can hear us we do know he doesn’t acknowledge us from the river bank he is headed off into the distance somewhere so distant he couldn’t hear us even if we shouted in louder voices

or this:RADISHES
by Yang Li

at 10 in the morning I go off to the Yanfeng Plaza and buy myself five jin radishes back home I chop up the radishes into tiny, tiny pieces and boil them up in a big pot in less than an hour they’re ready I take the pot to the table and start eating how fast I eat them! in just a few mouthfuls my tummy has swollenMichele Hutchison’s September PIW editorial is worth a look too: poems are notes for bloggers, pared-down versions of the here and now, is what she says of Yang Li’s pieces.

Happy Birthday to me and Hilda Doolittle

I was born on it, so hooray for September 10. It’s getting harder every year to remember just how old I am, though. Nice day, this year.My family checked in from all four corners of the globe, as they always do, in their different familiar modes. Funny how certain dates are branded into one’s consciousness – my siblings’ and parents’ birthday dates just hit my retina differently from other dates, so imbued are they with ancientness and meaning (in me terms, of course), and I know my birthday date hits them the same way. Appropriate friends said, wrote or sang appropriate things. The people in the office got me a paganly delicious mango cake (may sound gross, but boy oh boy) and I got all sorts of goodies from the nice folk at PFFA (check out the cool Whale cake from Cookala!)

H.D. Imagiste

Guess who else was born on September 10? Hilda Doolittle. A few years before me, of course. Not a poet one is drawn to, on the face of it. A close associate of Ezra Pound – always a name to make one’s mind begin to think about nipping off quickly to do something else. He called her, H.D. Imagiste, it would appear. Imagism, I learn this instant, was a movement in early 20th century Anglo-American poetry that favoured precision of imagery, and clear, sharp language. The Imagists rejected the sentiment and artifice typical of much Romantic and Victorian poetry. Now we know.

Actually, I’m sorry I have not known anything of my co-birthdayee before. These two poems by her are really sticking with me today. (The first one is apparently her most-quoted and most-anthologized poem. I must have been buying the wrong anthologies. “Oread” by the way, is the name of a mountain nymph – not a typo and an imperative):


By H.D.

Whirl up, sea—

whirl your pointed pines,

splash your great pines

on our rocks,

hurl your green over us,

cover us with your pools of fir. <><><><><>

Stars Wheel in Purple  

by H. D. 

Stars wheel in purple, yours is not so rare

as Hesperus, nor yet so great a star

as bright Aldeboran or Sirius,

nor yet the stained and brilliant one of War;

stars turn in purple, glorious to the sight;

yours is not gracious as the Pleiads are

nor as Orion&apos;s sapphires, luminous;

yet disenchanted, cold, imperious face,

when all the others blighted, reel and fall,

your star, steel-set, keeps lone and frigid tryst

to freighted ships, baffled in wind and blast. 

christmas is just around the corner

I am so developmentally backward. Most peoples’ lives have a healthy and well-developed E-bay component. Not mine.  I just discovered E-bay this week. Making up for it though — just spent a fun fun Saturday buying nativity sets there. You don’t run into nice nativity sets every day, let me tell you. My head is spinning from the range of choices encountered. I bought five

The expensive one I really really want is by John Barrow, a British expat  living in Peru, for sale on Novica. Pictured above. Cedar and mahogany! Oh man.

Rachel Wetzsteon

Surprisingly little info about her and her life on the internet. A New York poet. Born in 1967. And (what matters) author of this: At the Zen Mountain Monastery  

by Rachel Wetzsteon 


A double line of meditators sits

on mats, each one a human triangle.

Evacuate your mind of clutter now.

I do my best, squeezing the static and

the agony into a straight flat line,

but soon it soars and dips until my mind’s

activity looks (you can take the girl…)

uncannily like the Manhattan skyline.

Observe your thoughts, then gently let them go.

I’m watching them all right, unruly dots

I not only can’t part from but can’t help

transforming into restless bodies — they’re

no sooner being thought than sprouting limbs,

no longer motionless but striding proudly,

beautiful mental jukeboxes that play

their litanies of joy and woe each day

beneath the shadow of enormous buildings.

Desires are your jailers; set them free

and roam the hills, smiling archaically.

It’s not a pretty picture, me amid

high alpine regions in my urban black,

huffing and puffing in the mountain air

and saying to myself, I’m trying but

it’s hopeless; though the tortures of the damned

make waking difficult, they are my tortures;

I want them raucous and I want them near,

like howling pets I nonetheless adore

and holler adamant instructions to –

sprint, mad ambition! scavenge, hopeless love

that begs requital! — on our evening stroll

down Broadway and up West End Avenue.


I always read the ends of books before I start them. I never watch a movie without checking it out on the movie or somehow finding out how it ends. Suspense is all very well for real life, but in art, it’s a distraction, a cheap trick. That’s what I say. 

People who think they know me (you know who you are) say it’s a control thing. Control schmontrol, is what I say.

Duhamel on Ai

A Rhode Island poet today.Take a look at this piece on Ai  by Denise Duhamel. You find it everywhere (well, in lots of places), and I can’t work out whether she’s dissing Ai, or complimenting her, or what.

Apart from that, Duhamel’s a trip – funny & easy to read. Today’s poem of the day: Sex With A Famous Poet. Love the ending:

For instance, he writes a mean iambic.

Otherwise, what was I doing in his arms.


Annie Dillard

I am not sure why I blog, to tell the truth, but now I am doing it, I find I am beginning to surprise myself with the things I blog about. A couple of things I’ve written about recently strike me as coming from what is usually some hushed and dimly-lit private world. Why are those things in retreat, like that? Who knows. Up until only a few years ago, I always thought anything I wrote became irrevocably stained and sullied once it was released by me to be read by anyone else. A control thing, maybe. I never revised stuff because I unfailingly hated it as soon as it was let out. Now – thanks in large part to PFFA, heh, which makes rhinos of us all – I see that things can go from you without you losing ownership and that allowing that out and back in cycle actually strengthens whatever it is. Why would not that process apply to many of those so-sensitive things in our lives? It also seems there’s always a lot of creaking old stuff cluttering up the hushed and dimly-lit places. Shouldn’t other, newer stuff move in – and out – occasionally, since presumably that hushed place is some kind of emotional processing station? Let’s keep production moving — kick the old sensitivities out, let new ones in. No bottlenecks, comrades.Annie Dillard has been in that place for me, I don’t really know why. I think I was probably eighteen, or not much older, when I read Living Like Weasels from Teaching a Stone to Talk  and was completely blown away, both by the weasel and the metaphor she made from him. Then onto Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek  (set in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains where, as we know, the world began and will end) and Holy the Firm, which continued the blowing-away process. All three editions in my ownership are tattered and hugely worn from being read and read and re-read. More recently, I read For the Time Being, with the same fascination. What is it with her? All the works I have mentioned are supposedly prose works, but they’re not, they’re really lovely long prose poems. Then she has this thing about imparting the most fascinating facts about the physical world, combining science and poetry from line to line in the most mind-boggling (sick-envy-inducing) way. 

I have only just turned to her as a poet, just got Tickets for a Prayer Wheel in the mail. This is an old early collection (from 1974, before she won her 1975 Pulitzer for Tinker Creek). Am still at the begining of it, this to end for now:

My Camel

by Annie Dillard
(A dialogue of self and soul)
I snared him with a jackknife

and a four-foot length of gut

before his eyes were open,


or they were shut

against me. I cut

His tongue out; I seared


his bloody tongue-root shut.

Sun in your eye,



do you even know I’m here?

I chew honey-locust pods;

I spit them down his throat.


For years I forget my camel.

He wanders, edged in light,

caked in grit, like a cloud.


Does he wander.

He scents up empty stream beds

with his nostril slits;


he kneels to sleep –

I watch him through the glass.

He’s upside down


in the sky; behind

a pyramid, he splits

and crosses the lightest lakes


like Moses. Oh artful,

shaggy, folded:

I write the words


of your name on the lintel,

the gates of my house,

like a cloud


on my hands’ binding,

between my eyes,

so like a cloud.