Teju Cole

Read the whole series on Storify (and be sure to check out the Pro Publica report Cole links to at the end, which is both thorough and non-ideological).

Teju Cole has gotten big on Twitter the right way (in my humble view): using Twitter as a creative medium. His growing follower count is an indication that there’s a real hunger for this kind of thing; I do hope more writers will follow his lead. While I’ve personally grown a little weary of his relentlessly grim small fates, there’s no denying their literary quality and inventiveness. And I do love his occasional Twitter essays (or whatever you want to call the above, which is less polemic but more devastating than its predecessors). A just-published essay, “Twitter>The Novel? @tejucole>Teju Cole?” by Sam Twyford-Moore cites and quotes from a couple of Cole’s other Twitter essays, in case you missed them.

Double Take:

But the rise of social photography means that we are now seeing images all the time, millions of them, billions, many of which are manipulated with the same easy algorithms, the same tiresome vignetting, the same dank green wash. So the problem is not that images are being altered—I remember the thrill I felt the first few times I saw Hipstamatic images, and I shot a few myself buoyed by that thrill—it’s that they’re all being altered in the same way: high contrasts, dewy focus, over-saturation, a skewing of the RGB curve in fairly predictable ways. Correspondingly, the range of subjects is also peculiarly narrow: pets, pretty girlfriends, sunsets, lunch. In other words, the photographic function, which should properly be the domain of the eye and the mind, is being outsourced to the camera and to an algorithm.

The Awl: “Being Female
I know I’m a little late with this, but the issue of discrimination against women in publishing and reviewing isn’t going anywhere, and Eileen Myles’ response to the troubling data released by VIDA last month really cuts to the chase.

So I wrote five pages of pussy wallpaper and gave it to the editors at VICE who did publish it but confided in me that the money people really had to be convinced that it was not entirely disgusting. With all the dirty and violent and racist things that VICE has done, this was um a little troubling. Do we really want to send that kind of message to our readers. What kind of message is that. I guess a wet hairy soft female one. I mean a big giant female hole you might fall into never to be heard from again.

Wicktionary: “dingle

A small, narrow or enclosed, usually wooded valley.

How can I have lived in a dingle for 40 years and not known it? “Plummer’s Dingle.” Hmm.

Plummer’s Hollow blog: “Fisher caught on video in Plummer’s Hollow
More great trail cam footage from our neighbors, Paula and Troy Scott, this time of a fisher, which is a once-extirpated and still rare species of large mustelid, bigger than a pine marten but smaller than an otter.

O.K., I know some of you don’t want to click through and read my deathless prose, so here’s the video:

Watch on YouTube.

Wordyard: “Another misleading story reports that blogs ‘r’ dead
The New York Times had a kind of half-baked article last week titled “Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter.” This has become a persistent meme on the part of the old media, and probably represents wishful thinking, because the data don’t bear out the contention. Scott Rosenberg’s response was right on the money:

Maybe we’ll end up with roughly ten percent of the online population (Pew’s consistent finding) keeping a blog. As the online population becomes closer to universal, that is an extraordinary thing: One in ten people writing in public. Our civilization has never seen anything like it.

So you can keep your “waning” headlines, and I’ll keep my amazement and enthusiasm.

The New Yorker: “The Arrival of Enigmas: Teju Cole’s prismatic debut novel, ‘Open City’
To say that James Wood loved Open City might be an understatement. “Teju Cole has made his novel as close to a diary as a novel can get, and his narrator is both spectator and flâneur.” (As close to a diary? Don’t you mean blog?) Also, if you’re a reader of the Sunday Times, I think you’ll find a glowing review of Open City there, too.

BBC: “Dinosaur named ‘thunder-thighs’
More like karate thighs. (The artist’s conception is great!)

Yale Environment 360: “Alien Species Reconsidered: Finding a Value in Non-Natives
Science writer Carl Zimmer examines some new studies suggesting that total eradition of invasive species might not always be the best idea: for example, “Introduced cats were eradicated from Maquarie Island off the coast of Australia, after having driven two of the island’s bird species extinct. But with the cats gone, an introduced population of rabbits exploded, devouring the native plants.” Read the comments too, though. (via Chris Clarke on Twitter)

Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog: “Interviewe wyth Margarethe Atte-Woode
Advyce for beginninge makeres of ficcion and poesie. Ful heartily Ich LOLd. (via Nic S., who incidentally is also guest-blogging at Best American Poetry this week)

Watch on Vimeo.
Hannah Stephenson did a screen-capture video of the composition process for one of the poems she blogged last week, then speeded it up by about ten times. Be sure to expand it to full screen by clicking the four-arrows icon on the lower right, so you can read the poem as it grows and mutates. This is more or less how I work, too, except that I can’t listen to music while I’m writing. In her blog post about it, Hannah says, “It feels a bit like I’m inviting you into my brain…welcome! Come on in.”

The New York Times:When Democracy Weakens
Bob Herbert wishes Americans would take a cue from the Egyptians.

NPR: “An Immigrant’s Quest For Identity In The ‘Open City’
I have been reading the glowing reviews for Teju Cole’s new novel with great pleasure, but it was especially fun to hear this interview come on the radio while I was kneading bread this morning. I was all like, “Hey, I know that guy! I’ve published his stuff at Via Negativa and qarrtsiluni!” So good to see a member of the old blog neighborhood make it big.

Grant Hackett: Monostich Poet blog
I don’t link Grant’s poems in the Smorgasblog because they’re too short to excerpt — a monostich is a one-line poem and he excels at them. I don’t know anyone who packs more mystery and suggestiveness into such a small space. He used to blog at Falling Off the Mountain, but took that site offline late last year. On the new site, he seems to post at the rate of about one or two poems a day.

Moving Poems forum: “What comes first, the video or the poem?
Check out the variety of responses to my question from videopoets at all skill levels. I am going to have to remember to throw out questions to the community like this more often.

Voice Alpha:To read or to recite? Dramatic versus Epic
Dick Jones — poet, musician and retired drama teacher — wades into the debate about how best to present one’s poems to a crowd. Surprisingly, perhaps, given his background, he comes down rather decisively on the side of reading.

Call for Submissions: Festival of the Trees 57 with Rebecca in the Woods
Rebecca is one of the best young naturalist-bloggers out there, so we are very lucky to have her as host of the next Festival of the Trees.

Linebreak: “To Failure:” by Christopher Ankney
My first reading for Linebreak, a magazine I admire. Don’t know the poet from Adam, but I know the subject all too well! It was fun to learn the poem this way, over a series of half a dozen takes, even if I was a bit too tired to give it as good a reading as it deserves.

BBC Earth News: “Madagascar’s elusive shell-squatting spider filmed
Speaking of failure, check out the first spider in this clip from the redoubtable David Attenborough & co. (a win for photography and evolution). Then there’s…
Bizarre mammals filmed calling using their quills
Tenrecs! Stridulating!

(Watch on YouTube)
In a rare trip off the mountain, a chance remark at the coffee shop led me to discover that I was surrounded by fellow kale afficionados, and one of them later sent me the link to this video. What used to be an obscure vegetable back when we started growing it in the garden in the early 70s has now apparently achieved cult status. Who’d have thunk it?

Photos and text by Teju Cole

foggy park-like area in Savanna, Georgia

In Savannah, a homeless man, quite drunk, came out of the fog. “I am homeless,” he announced. He began to fulminate about the statues in front of the Academy of Arts and Sciences. They were of famous artists, but he took them to be conquistadors. “This one,” he said, pointing to Raphael, “was a mass murderer. And that one over there” — Phidias — “was a child abuser.”

I gave him money. He reached into his coat and handed me a flower.

hand holding flower

Another poem from Teju Cole, in response to this.

Living in the body of a seal,
diffident as a crippled hound
stealing some shut-eye in the belly,
night office of the soul.

Enfolding not the future,
no gland of hope or glory,
the lobes will only testify
in favor of the shadowed now.

Solemn a temple of deception
as bird flight or other sign:
staves scattered across desert,
dowsing through text-terrain.

Wolf call hints at augury,
unfurls like lifting fog,
antenna pitched at gods who
are much too fond of sleeping.

© Teju Cole 2008

Another poem from Teju Cole, in response to this.

For you shall be in league with the stones of the field
and the wild animals shall be at peace with you.
—Job 5:23

The hand emerges
from the pocket
on its own, its splodge
of low brown hills
a keloid map of how
I’d failed to heal.

Gnarled, tidal wind:
a leaf storm hassles the air.
Argumentative clouds.
This hand is strange to me.

I’d stretched it out
as makeshift landing gear,
like one reaching out
for help, or to bless,
and badged it instead
with dirt and blood,
red archipelago
from base of thumb to wrist.

The dog had stopped
and looked at me
with his mangy face,
and slowly turned away.
I left a part of myself there;
the road rehearsed itself in me.

“They can smell
your fear, you know.”
Yes, I’d thought of that.
This gift of theirs
was what I feared,
dull humanity unmoored
from the strangeness of a dog.

Cousin, I’ll go chasing trees,
wade ankle deep
in the soft coin they mint,
spend hours tailing memory,
a dog on scent,

a child in the creek
of full human being,
trampling prodigal bounty:
hand-sized leaves
—burlap, silk, damask—
weeping off the branch like sails,

blush-hued, wine-hued, gold:
healing scars that
protect the stones,
eyelids for their perfect eyes.

Let us agree to pray
for each other:
that the tidal wind
settle us into a rightness

and recreate from these faults
and fears, fitter selves,
as lean years follow fat.

© Teju Cole 2008

Download the MP3

For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field: and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.
Job 5:23

Dear Teju,

Rocks are the roofs of a city
we barely know. On a dry ridgetop
at the end of a dry month,
I find little under them but burrows
leading deeper into the earth,
a colony of ants frantic
at the sudden inversion,
and on the talus slope, more rocks:
a puzzle that was put together wrong
8,000 years ago, but over the millenia
has settled into its own kind
of rightness. I follow a bear’s trail
through the woods, marked by black
cherry-pitted cairns of bear shit,
& note the series of overturned rocks,
flipped by an expert claw.
Only a human, uneasy at the way
our grotesque bodies no longer
quite fit into the matrix,
would ever return a flipped rock
to its bed. Birds have nests,
foxes have holes; culture
is not a thing unique to humans.
The song that makes the songbird
must be taught. Instinct borrows
always from improvisation —
the true two-step. But watch
a human child, too young
to hunger for our made world’s
humdrum El Dorados, playing
in the creek with a stick —
how she projects her dreams
into the teeming, pulsing flow,
how she punctuates
& fabricates — & tell me
this is not more wondrous
than any gold, this human

a letter from Teju Cole

Nature: in the dream
it sounds like a thump,
a guest rapping
the floor boards from below.

Raccoon, groundhog,
milk snake in the walls,
the sound of summer
perfecting its two-step.

Country cousin,
I work a two-strand braid,
from outside in—
culture na yarn, na jolly

wey man dey take carry
burden for him head,
nature come dey help am
comot the load again.

The Soul Washer
protects another’s life.
Born the same week-day
as the Asante king,

he wears around his neck
a disc of solid gold—
the disc absorbs all evil
lofted at the king—

gold and man agree
to carry such a load.
Nature thumps again—
let me out or let me in,

the sound of summer
perfecting its two-step—
raccoon, groundhog,
milk snake in the walls.

Download the MP3

© Teju Cole 2008