Happy Bloomsday!

Bloomsday, the June 16, unofficial, worldwide holiday, celebrates one of the world’s most extraordinary books, James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” June 16, 1904, is the day the book takes place. And one of the extraordinary things about the book is that its hero, Bloom, is not extraordinary at all. “The initial and determining act of judgment in his [Joyce’s] work is the justification of the commonplace,” wrote Richard Ellmann in the introduction to his biography titled simply “James Joyce” (1959).

Joyce had and continues to have detractors. Roddy Doyle, for example, would at least like the world to know that there are other Irish writers, some brand new who also write about the common man. Noted, Roddy. But Joyce’s example provided others, including Roddy Doyle, with extraordinary opportunities in one important way, without which it might be hard to imagine works like Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy, which includes “The Commitments,” “The Snapper,” and “The Van” (all hilarious).

Ellmann explains: “Joyce was the first to endow an urban man of no importance [Bloom] with heroic consequence.” In fact, some early readers, Ellmann explains, thought Joyce must have been kidding, that he “must be writing satire,” for “how else justify so passionate an interest in the lower middle class?” To his Marxist critics, Joyce commented, “I don’t know why they attack me. Nobody in any of my books is worth more than a thousand pounds.” Maybe the attack is explained because “Ulysses,” past the first three episodes, anyway, is written in such a way as to prevent access to the average, common interest reader. This is one of Roddy Doyle’s complaints.

Ellmann concludes, “Joyce’s discovery, so humanistic that he would have been embarrassed to disclose it out of context, was that the ordinary is the extraordinary.” “Dubliners,” Joyce’s book of short stories that preceded his first novel, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” which was followed by “Ulysses,” is characterized by clear and concise writing that is accessible. And just so, Frank Delaney has devoted his Happy Bloomsday podcast, titled “Meeting Joyce,” to sharing Joyce’s “Dubliners.” It’s a great way to start reading James Joyce and to kick back and enjoy a bit of Bloomsday.

An Invitation to Celebrate Bloomsday with Frank Delaney

James Joyce’s “Ulysses” begins with a large S that fills the whole page and ends with a small s, “yes.” The book opens, “Stately, Plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” And meanwhile, four chapters in, “Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls.” It’s morning in Dublin, June 16, 1904. The entire book takes place on that day. This coming Saturday, June 16, readers worldwide will celebrate “Bloomsday,” the 108th fictional birthday of “Ulysses,” that is, of the day the story takes place. The last page of “Ulysses” says “Trieste-Zurich-Paris, 1914-1921,” suggesting Joyce worked on his novel for seven years. It would be December, 1933, when Judge Woolsey freed the book from censure, before US citizens would be able to access “Ulysses” unmolested by itching assessors scandalized by what they see in a looking glass. In his historic opinion, Woolsey said, “‘Ulysses is not an easy book to read or to understand. But there has been much written about it, and in order properly to approach the consideration of it it is advisable to read a number of other books which have now become its satellites. The study of ‘Ulysses’ is, therefore, a heavy task.” And readers with a purely, solely, soily, prurient interest will be sorely disappointed.

Guessing from the number of Joyce books on my shelves one might conclude that Joyce is my favorite writer. In some ways, yes, but a general interest reader needs and wants so much, and while Joyce is a good friend, the point of a library ought to be, to quote Joyce from another of his books, “Finnegans Wake,” “Here Comes Everybody.” But yes, I love Joyce essentially.

Readers wanting to start Joyce might want to begin with his book of short stories, “Dubliners,” for it is engaging, accessible, entertaining, and a good introduction to Joyce’s characters. Joyce’s characters include everyone: “…happinest childher everwere.”

But on to Bloomsday, 2012. I received in yesterday’s electronic mail an invitation to celebrate Bloomsday with the celebrated writer, Frank Delaney. I can think of no one I’d rather spend Bloomsday with, and I’m extending the invitation below to you, too, to have some fun with Delaney and Joyce on Bloomsday. If you are new to “Ulysses,” I suggest you try some of Delaney’s podcasts, for hearing the book read, following Delaney’s clear introductions, is sometimes easier than going it alone with the text. In any case, here’s the invitation I received, quoted verbatim, with a few editorial comments and added information I’ve inserted in brackets:

Celebrate Bloomsday with Frank Delaney

June 16th, 2012 marks the first Bloomsday in which James Joyce’s mighty novel Ulysses is free from copyright and from the restrictions of the famously difficult Joyce estate [see “The Injustice Collector” and “Has James Joyce Been Set Free?“]. Celebrate in a series of projects and events conducted across land and Internet by Frank Delaney:

Re:Joyce Podcast, two years old

Dip into Ulysses by reading along with Frank Delaney in his spirited weekly podcast, Re:Joyce, launched on Bloomsday 2010.

Each segment [Joyce’s “Ulysses” is famously divided into chapters or segments, though the book itself isn’t obviously marked so. The easiest chapters are the first three, but for sound and language, the chapters following are my favorites, as well as the last chapter, the so-called soliloquy of Molly Bloom] features Delaney taking a short passage from Ulysses and exploring its multitude of references with insight, eloquence, passion, vast expertise—and a good dose of fun. As of Bloomsday 2012, Delaney will be in the midst of Chapter Three, and have reached podcast episode #105. Followed by academics, library groups, Joycean societies, scholars across the world, as well as ordinary folk, Delaney’s goal in deciphering and decoding the dense and rich text of the book is to allow greater enjoyment, by far more readers, of the book he holds most dear [and there really isn’t any other book about which this much fanfare is possible, which helps explain Bloomsday]. The podcasts have been downloaded nearly 500,000 times and have been covered in The EconomistNPR, The New York Times to name but a few. They are available for download on iTunes and www.FrankDelaney.com.

Rosenbach Bloomsday Festival

Frank Delaney is speaker and Guest of Honor at the annual Bloomsday celebrations of Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum & Library, whose collection includes the papers of James Joyce, Benjamin Franklin, Lewis Carroll, Marianne Moore, Maurice Sendak, Dylan Thomas and Cervantes. Event information for the Rosenbach Bloomsday Festival (one of the largest in the world) is available here. Tickets for The Rosenbacchanal are available here

“Ulysses” Live: Additional Joycean projects of Mr. Delaney’s include: 

Joyce Ways: Frank Delaney is the voice of “Joyce Ways”, an app with audio-visual guidance designed to lead and delight literary pilgrims through the streets of Dublin, on the trail and itinerary of Ulysses. “Joyce Ways” was created by the students of Boston College, under the direction of Joseph Nugent, and will launch 6.9.12. 

Occupy Ulysses: an event at Madison Park, New York, staged on the day Ulysses was released from copyright (February 2, 2012). 

The James Joyce Rap, Delaney’s witty, engaging, tongue-in-cheek portrait of the artist. As off-center and provocative as Joyce himself, this giddy homage serves up Joyce as Delaney’s hero, within a Pythonesque environment.  Funny, irreverent and surprisingly touching, we’re given more than a hint as to why Delaney has chosen Joyce as a major part of his life’s work.

Where Pigs Sing: “Pigsong,” by Frank Delaney

When I hear there’s a pig story in the offing, I think immediately of two of my favorite writers, P. G. Wodehouse, whose Lord Emsworth kept pigs, and E. B. White, whose Wilbur, of “Charlotte’s Web” fame, I can’t help but think of whenever I sit down to what another Wodehouse character, Bertie, of “Jeeves and the Bacon Fat Caper” fame, called the B and E, sometimes E and B, freely improvising on the jazz theme, but for our purposes here, sausage and eggs.

And yet, these singing pigs are not here sizzling in the pan, but if a pig really can sing, what has that to say about language? Perhaps many living and non-living things can talk, and we can hear them, animals and plants, acoustic and electric things, if only we try to listen. What is talk? What is language?

So it was with a bit of trepidation, resulting in only a tiny pig’s tail of technological frustration, that I delved into a bit of e-Pig fat and tasted a short story last night via Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader: tu-whit, “Pigsong,” by Frank Delaney.

There might be three kinds of people in our human world: masters, slaves, and those who escape entrapment of either of those two. But when we include animals, plants, rocks, and other things from our compost pile to the table of words, more interesting plots develop, and foil characters want out of their foils.

I have come to love compost. I love the sweet and awful smell of rotting food, decaying plants, moist loam and dirty, muddy soil, and I love to turn the compost pile over to discover mounds of lovely redish-purple worms at warm work eating their way through their Garden of Eden. Get a little closer and you can hear, hear the hum of the compost heap. I must have a bit of the pig in me. I think I can hear the pigs singing.

Frank Delaney, prolific Irish author, surely must lust for words as a pig honkers down to a late summer corn husk, must have some sort of language compost heap at his disposal.

What do pigs have in common with Ireland’s Saint Patrick? Well, for the answer to that, you’ll have to read the story: “Pigsong,” available at Amazon, (or, “Pigsong,” available at Barnes and Noble). Pigs are singing, waiting for listeners. It’s a story in which animals become human beings and tells of the origins of power, justice, and faith, and of independence, of cruelty and revolution to overthrow that cruelty. All this in a short story? Yes, well, it’s a fable, and so covers a lot of ground in a short space.

The source of stories that in turn explains the source of stories is a very old story, and continues to grow out of the compost heap made of words and fears and triumphs of songs and hate and love of cruel masters and creative workers in language that has been turned over and over by many a storyteller over the years. Frank Delaney is one of the best.

Related:

Frank Delaney: The Last Storyteller

Frank Delaney: Storytellers (about the series)

Magdalena Ball: Interview with Frank Delaney

Frank Delaney On Blogging…

Frank Delaney, whose novel The Last Storyteller, just out in February, I reviewed back on Feb. 27, was featured in a Trib Local interview this morning, and what he had to say about blogging, I want to celebrate, “fur and feathers” and all. One of the questions asked of Delaney was, “How strong is the pulse of literary fiction, criticism and serious examination of literature in the 21st century? Who are today’s shining literary lights?”

Delaney replied: “Great question! People have been saying for generations, ‘Oh, the novel is dead.’ Well, it ain’t – nor is that wonderful American invention, creative nonfiction, nor is biography, nor is political writing. And as well as the books, the commentariat is alive and well. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that it’s healthier than ever, because we now have this wonderful new creature, the Literary Blogger. I’m a massive fan of this gorgeous animal, with all its fur and feathers – for a number of reasons. My main complaint about the general direction of literary criticism over the last century has been – and Joyce is a case in point – that it tended, in its lofty tone and often impenetrable language (not to mention occasional vendetta behavior), to be antidemocratic, to keep certain areas of literature to itself, whereas my own passion is for as many people as possible to be reading as widely as possible. The Literary Bloggers have no axes to grind, they’re not protecting their reputations, they don’t fear being sneered at by other critics, they’re reading what they want to read, writing what they want to write, and they don’t want to keep what they enjoy to themselves. They want to share. They want to expand the constituency of reading. They want to hail and applaud good writing. To my mind this is a very significant development – uneven, I grant, here and there, but, dammit, not as uneven as the generations of formal literary critics, and the blogging intention is so good and so worthy of loud vocal support that you can call it truly a new and, to my mind, incomparably welcome development in the world of reading and writing.”

Reference: Librarian’s Shelf by Lisa Guidarini – An Interview with Ireland’s Pre-eminent Storyteller Frank Delaney, March 16, 2012, by Virginia Freyre, Algonquin Area Public Library.

Frank Delaney: The Last Storyteller

Framed within the foreshadowing of an Irish griot’s fantastic folk tales, Frank Delaney’s The Last Storyteller mixes myth with the mirth and mire of 20th Century Irish reality. The book is full of stories crisply told, characters sketched and fully drawn in telling dialog, telling about how and why and when and where certain things happened, all in a narrative-descriptive flow that runs like a river, every story a stream that pours into the same thirsty human river.

The foreground of most of the telling takes place in the 1950’s. But seemingly eternal are the Irish themes that haunt the characters: hunger, poverty, and violence both inside and outside the home. And divorce (an emigration from the home), remorse, and the anger and temper and guilt that accompany these human emotions.

But a few jokes get told too, one about a snail who sells encyclopedias (a door to door snailsman), another about a talking frog, for example. How these get mixed in with a story that includes a history of the Irish Republican Army is well worth the read.

The text, 385 pages in hardback, is composed of eight parts, including a story-closing epilogue (it’s not a novel that ends on a cliff), and 150 chapters. The short chapters clip along like a train ride crisscrossing the river of stories.

There’s a love story, of course, which involves its distant cousin, jealousy: “See Ireland as a village and you will completely understand,” our narrator, Ben MacCarthy, tells his children, for the main story is a memoir told by a professional Irish folklorist (a kind of Irish Alan Lomax), written to his children.

Is the narrator reliable? In other words, are the stories true? It’s true he keeps what he calls “a record,” the folklore a subtext, for he creates his own back-story, and then explicates it himself.

“I mean to tell it all. Nothing held back. Think of it as the higher purpose for this family memoir. If that’s what we’re calling it. Some memoir. In which your father seems, with icy calculation, either to have lost his mind or abandoned his principles. Or both. Let me begin with the planning.” But this is the beginning of Chapter 116. In any case, like Ben’s mentor mythmaker, John Jacob O’Neill, Delaney “never for a second lost the original thread.” For all along Ben seems to be apologizing for something. Actions have consequences, and some actions simply can never be reversed, and some actions, like seeds, seem to have their source in other actions.

How is it that Ireland produces so many great storytellers? Well, they’ve a story to tell, that’s for sure. So Delaney joins Joyce, Beckett, Edna O’Brien, and particularly Roddy Doyle, whose own trilogy, The Last Roundup, provides yet another view of the Irish century. Perhaps the single thread that links these writers together is explained by Ben, talking about the Irish storytellers: “…they cared only for the telling.”

Frank Delaney is currently creating a podcast reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Delaney appears to be one of those rare, erudite scholars who are able to communicate across cultural and idiosyncratic experience or educational boundaries to share common and important stories. There’s no doubt about his storytelling credibility, and it’s on full display in The Last Storyteller (published this February by Random House).

Available from Amazon,

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