Writer’s Desk: Don’t Worry About Being Original

All writers want to stand out. How do you make a name otherwise? But it’s also easy to tie yourself up in knots worrying about it.

Poet Derek Walcott, who was never anything but original, dismissed such worries in his essay “The Muse of History“:

We know that the great poets have no wish to be different, no time to be original, that their originality emerges only when they have absorbed all the poetry which they have read, entire, that their first work appears to be the accumulation of other people’s trash, but that they become bonfires, that it is only academics and frightened poets who talk of Beckett’s debt to Joyce… We are all influenced by what we have read…

Own it, but earn it.

Do as Walcott says, and make a bonfire from the trash of the greats.

Reader’s Corner: ‘Black Leopard, Red Wolf’

The latest novel from Marlon James (A Brief History of Seven Killings), is the start of a planned fantasy trilogy set in a world of African-inspired mythology.

My review of Black Leopard, Red Wolf is at PopMatters:

Unless they’re killing or trying to avoid being killed, nobody in the otherworldly Africa of Black Leopard, Red Wolf knows how to stop talking. Part of this is because this fantasy is being told to us by a garrulous wordsmith, a trickster and fixer known as Tracker. He’s spinning a tale, certainly tall but shot through with memory pangs and bone ache, to an unspecified “inquisitor” and seems to have plenty of time on his hands…

Writer’s Desk: We Do Language

Toni Morrison in 2008 (Angela Radulescu)

For this week’s installment, we’re providing not so much advice as a reminder of what we do when we write.

In 1993, Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In her acceptance speech, she said this:

Word-work is sublime … because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference – the way in which we are like no other life. We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives…

We work in words. Sometimes, those words live on after us.

Do good work. Make Toni proud.

Screening Room: Jackie Chan’s ‘Police Story’

Jackie Chan cemented his hold on the Asian box office with the launch of his high-kicking cop movie series in 1985. Starting today, Police Story and Police Story 2 are getting a limited theatrical re-release in advance of the launch of their remastered editions in the Criterion Collection.

My review is at PopMatters:

Sporting the same shaggy mop of hair and the slightly bemused look of a sleepy John Cusack, Jackie Chan rolls into 1985’s Police Story like some kid fresh out of the Peking Opera School and not a pro who had already been working in the Hong Kong film industry for over 20 years. It’s part of the reason why attempts in the previous decade to turn him into the new Bruce Lee never quite worked…

Screening Room: ‘The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part’

For anybody who is keeping track, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part opens wide next week.

My review is at Slant:

Instead of the inside-out lampooning of the type of monomaniacal industrialized chirpiness epitomized by the first film’s earwig theme song “Everything Is Awesome,” the mood is now mock-dystopian, with Bricksburg now known as Apocalypseburg. There’s good fun to be had at the expense of Mad Max: Fury Road and its grim-faced ilk. Similarly, the series continues to poke fun at adolescent “dark” genre material with its deep seam of Batman gags. But, unfortunately, there’s also a plot and that’s where The Lego Movie 2 goes wrong …

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: It Beats Working

We lost the great Russell Baker this week.

An easygoing witticism factory who mined a seam of everyday observational humor without playing to the lowest common denominator, Baker once provided what might be the greatest reason of all to become a writer.
At this time I had decided the only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn’t require any…
Yes, it takes work to win a couple Pulitzers like Baker did. But not work.

Screening Room: ‘Monsters’

My essay “Monsters Built the Mexico Wall Trump Never Will” was published at Eyes Wide Open:

What kind of movie will best describe the Trump presidency for future generations? Will it be high-minded drama replete with sarcastic asides, soaring speeches, and a grand view of the arc of history ala Aaron Sorkin? Maybe trashy overkill gutter-punk in the vein of John Waters or Bobcat Goldthwait would be more appropriate. How about a monster movie? Better yet, one with an extremely obvious yet potent visual metaphor that predated the current catastrophe? If the latter, then 2010’s Monsters might be a good place to start…