Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Jack Ross: Opinions

James Ko: "Jack" (c.1996)

So I've started another blog. You may have noticed that it's crept unobtrusively into the sidebar over there, listed under "Bibliography Sites." This particular one is devoted to providing consistent, accurate texts of all of my published essays, introductions and reviews, together with full details of the journals and books they originally appeared in. Thrilling, no? It's called (for what I suspect will be fairly obvious reasons): Jack Ross: Opinions. NINO: Nothing If Not Opinionated, as they say ...

I suppose that it sounds like a pretty egotistical thing to do (hence reproducing above that caricature of me by my ex-Language School student, James Ko). There have been previous suggestions, from time to time, that I should collect some of these essays - the poetry ones, in particular - in book form, but I have to say that I've always resisted it. It isn't that I don't enjoy reading collections of essays: just that my own ones, on examination, always seemed too clearly connected to particular arguments or controversies (or publishing contexts), and I found it hard to imagine them making much sense in isolation.

I have devoted a good deal of time to working in this form, though. Poetry and fiction remain my areas of predilection, but you don't always find poems and stories to hand when you want them - and editors do often seem to prefer commissioning essays and reviews. Academic committees like them, too.

Anyway, while the site is not yet complete (I've put up a bit over half of the essays I'd like to include on it eventually), I find that there are 125 pieces there already, covering the period from 1987 (when I published my first review, in Scotland) to a piece which appeared in the latest issue of brief [49 (2013): 129-45].

For further details on precisely how to navigate between these various sites, you could do worse than consult the post called Crossroads (listed on the side bar opposite under "Site-map"). It'll give you some idea of the extent of this web-based madness of mine.

I won't say, either, that I haven't blushed from time to time at the silliness and general effrontery of some of the opinions included on the site. But then, you have to start somewhere, and the only way to learn is to fail: again and again, repeatedly. My original plan was to suppress some of the more embarrassing ones (and - who knows - the links may not function quite so well to those ones) ... But I decided finally to throw them all up and let anyone who can be bothered to read them sort them out.

That isn't really the point, anyway: "You can't know where you're going until you know where you've been," as Laurence Olivier sagely informs his big-screen son in the Neil Diamond remake of The Jazz Singer. There are a lot of repetitions, tics of phrasing, favourite quotes which I've begun to notice now I've been forced to trawl through all of these pieces again. I'd like to avoid as many as possible of those in future.

Finally, though, the whole project has been (and continues to be) redolent of the same kind of schadenfreude Kendrick Smithyman so accurately describes in his 1968 poem "Research Project:
I fossick among very minor novelists
of our nineteenth century, ours, by God,
peculiarly by virtue of whatever was
held in common with other colonies.
Or, what held them.
I have picked pockets
of several shrouds and more than one
fashion of shroud, for crummiest of crumbs,
driest fragments, dust of droppings, bone
flakes. A shard flint-sharp at the edges,
that was prematurely aspiring red muscle,
a heart. Pick, and pocket.
Someone knew
an impulse to act, entertained a dream
of action

That "ours, by God" phrase rather sums it up for me: good or bad, these reviews and essays are mine, by God. They were the best I could do at the time, and - with all their obvious imperfections - I simply can't disown them, however much I'd like to sometimes.

Neil Diamond: The Jazz Singer (1980)

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