What do we call the innocent? Those precious little useless things we honor with large words and then largely ignore. As we do ethics. Or courtesy. Better yet - those prophets of doom with science degrees. What do we call them? Oh, yes, we call them fools. Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans
When discussing race or immigration in the United States, the maxim “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” applies. In Americanah Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrestles both issues without lace gloves and without apologies. And while we cannot say for certain that she is an angel, Ms. Adichie is clearly no fool.
The title refers to a Nigerian who travels to the U.S. and returns with the affectations of an American. That sounds like high praise to us, but surprisingly the term is not considered a compliment in Nigeria. Yes, we are confounded, too. The main character, Ifemelu, is a young Nigerian woman who comes to the U.S. to attend college. Upon arriving, she is confronted for the first time with the concept that she is black, and she describes this experience humorously and forthrightly in her blog. “Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care. So what if you weren’t ‘black’ in your country? You’re in America now.” And as the book details, being black in America (whether you are American black or Non-American black) means the backpack you carry as you climb the steep mountain that is the American dream is heavier than anyone else’s.
Now we know what you are thinking. Forget this awkward race stuff. Ifemelu has a blog? Oh, that’s so original (said with dripping sarcasm like maple syrup running down a stack of pancakes). Everyone has a blog. They are as ubiquitous as sunblock on a Block Island beach in August. True. But Ifemelu’s blog is intelligent and successful (that’s how you know the book is fiction), and it allows Ms. Adichie to shrewdly and effectively comment on all sorts of racial issues in the U.S., such as (a) Why Dark-Skinned Black Women – Both American and Non-American Love Barack Obama; (b) Understanding America for the Non-American Black: What do WASPs Aspire To?; (c) Job Vacancy in America – National Arbiter in Chief of ‘Who is Racist’ ; and (d) A Michelle Obama Shout-Out Plus Hair as Race Metaphor. Major Metaphor Alert: the novel opens in a hair salon for a reason, and Ms. Adichie’s use of hair to illustrate her points about race is compelling and engaging.
Race is a major theme but so is immigration. Ifemelu’s high school sweetheart, Obinze, leaves Nigeria for London soon after Ifemelu arrives in the U.S. Neither leave Nigeria to flee poverty or war. Their reasons are far more complicated and intriguing. They leave to escape the “oppressive lethargy of choicelessness.” As Ms. Adichie writes, they were “raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in the somewhere else.” They (and other similarly situated immigrants) were “now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty.” Ifemelu’s and Obinze’s divergent paths allow Ms. Adichie to comment on the different immigrant experiences in England and the U.S. “[I]n America blacks and whites work together but don’t play together, and here (London) blacks and whites play together but don’t work together.” Glib, perhaps, but not devoid of truth. Ironically, Ifemelu’s and Obinze’s individual quests bring them back to a vibrant Nigeria.
More than anything, Americanah is a love story between Ifemelu and Obinze. It follows them from the early romantic stages (where just the heart is engaged) to a more complicated stage (where both the heart and brain are engaged). It develops into an “aware” love, which also could describe Ifemelu’s feelings for America and Nigeria.
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor
Love dashed out the door with a surprising speed not suspected before. So I pulled on my pants and chased her to the lawn, but Love had turned the corner and she was gone. Love must have had her running shoes on. So I jumped in my car and drove all around, searched the whole town with a trusty bloodhound, but when Love left she covered her track. Now my wife's jewelry is gone, and Love demands bitcoins, or she won't bring it back.
Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief
I can justify anything I fail to do simply by saying I have done my best considering the meager gifts given me. For example, I can't run fast but I have done my best considering the vast distance between us - how the terrain is so treacherous and my flat feet can only shuffle because my shoes are sandbags with iron laces. So though your need is great (as it always is) I will come to you when I can. I am doing my best, considering . . . Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans
Yesterday, we sat with friends on the expansive sun-filled patio at Big Lick Brewing Company (biglickbrewingco.com), which is not the worst craft brewery in Roanoke. Tuco’s (tucostaqueria.com), which is not the worst taco joint in Roanoke, is across the street, and we had ordered take-out; sat at one of the tables on the patio; and ate savory food and drank golden beer. It was a gorgeous autumn day, and the mountains ringing this small city were blue. This is Roanoke at its wondrous best.
In Gilead, which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Marilynne Robinson explores the tempestuous beauty of life. And it is wondrous. Gilead is a fictional small town in Iowa. However, it is small in the same sense that Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County is small – in the same sense that the universe is small. Similarly, Faulkner’s admonishment about the past not being dead or even the the past is equally apt here. And like Faulkner, Robinson does not traffic in trivialities. She draws water from the well’s deepest depths.
The story is a letter from an elderly father, John Ames, to his young son. Ames rightly believes the letter is necessary because he will not live long enough for his son to really know him. Ames has lived his entire life in Gilead and has never desired to live anywhere else. He understands that nothing in life is small – regardless of where you live. Speaking of Gilead, Ames declares “[i]n eternity this world will be Troy . . . and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets.” The people living in Gilead are ordinary, which Robinson understands to mean they are extraordinary. “There have been heroes here, and saints and martyrs.” There have also been villains and lost souls desperately seeking redemption. Relationships are rich and at times fraught. Thoughts are deep. Answers are complicated, if they exist at all.
While the novel’s conceit is a letter, it is really an extended meditation on religion and spirituality. Ames is the son and the grandson of preachers. His best friend is (yes, you guessed it) a preacher. But a life dictated by Christian norms and tenets has not made Ames a lazy thinker, so do not expect to find anything glib, easy, or trite here. Ames states “[i]n the matter of belief, I have always found that defenses have the same irrelevance about them as the criticisms they are meant to answer. I think the attempt to defend belief can unsettle it, in fact, because there is always an inadequacy in argument about ultimate things.” The meaning of life cannot be known. However, regardless of its occasional pettiness and torment, life is miraculous. We can not match the spare beauty of Robinson’s prose on this (or any) topic, so we will give her the last word. We need to “acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.”
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor
As mentioned in our last post, Raven Breathless (formerly known as Death) gave Pungent Sound her response to the Haughty John Donne and asked (told) us to publish it. Now some may wonder why it took Ms. Breathless 400 years to respond. As Neil Gaiman (who is not the worst writer we’ve read) points out in his stunning graphic novel, The Sandman, Death is one of the Endless. Time is an entirely different concept when you are Endless so really 400 years is a pretty quick response. Plus, she has been dreadfully busy over the last 400 years.
To our knowledge, this is the first time in the epoch of life that Ms. Breathless has responded in writing to anyone or anything, so this is quite a coup for Pungent Sound – similar to when we discovered Shakespeare’s lost play As You Lick It. Please enjoy.
Death Responds to Mr. Donne
I have heard many silly taunts in my extensive time, and they are never more clever just because they rhyme. Ignorance should whisper like a muffled chime. I am not proud though you are too proud to see that when the Grand Bungler created you it also created me. I am not mighty or dreadful. I do not overthrow. Those are your birthmarks. You are your foe. Poison, war are a scaly brood for which I have no need. They hatched in the nest with you, and you are the fodder on which they feed. Chance is a monkey whose mischief ends at the tomb. Fate and sickness are encrypted when you are in the womb. You are the slave of desperate men and kings, who look like lice to me - or other insects without wings. I am a lantern at the end of day. I am not the Magnificent Fumbler, who gave you feeble DNA. I bring peace after you have done your worst, and while I may eventually die, you will die first. Raven Breathless, Chief Contributing Editor-in-Chief. First Published in Parody.
Hello! History is full of artists who were brilliant in the impractical world of art, yet they were idiots in the practical world of living. Take the haughty John Donne. He wrote Death, Be Not Proud – one of the most famous poems (a sonnet no less) in the English language. In doing that, he needlessly pissed off Death (who has changed her name to Raven Breathless). Guess what. He died. Spoiler Alert.
So the clear lesson is DON’T TAUNT DEATH, OR YOU WILL DIE. Ms. Breathless snuck up behind Professor Prig (Donne’s nickname), clutched his heart in her fabulously manicured hand, whispered “Who’s dead now, bitch?” and twisted her bejeweled wrist.
You should not mock Ms. Breathless even if she is proud. She won’t change just because you want her to. And, candidly, if you look at her success rate, she has every reason to be proud. Instead, we advise you to sit on The National’s porch (which is not the worst place to have a cocktail). Admire the harbor view on a Block Island day full of indulgence and gentle blues. Try not to think of anything that Ms. Breathless may construe as an insult, maybe she will ignore you for a while.
Incredibly, Raven Breathless has decided to respond to Reverend Fussbudget (that’s what Donne’s wife called him), and she has chosen Pungent Sound to publish her response. We are both honored to do so and petrified not to do so. That will be our next post, so look for it because it’s what Raven Breathless wants. Your life may depend upon it.
Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Professor for Student Loans
Hello! I am consistently amazed at the number of modern poets who can’t get published. Mostly, however, I am amazed that I can’t get published.
That’s why we started the Pungent Sound Journal of Pulp Poetry – to celebrate great poets whose greatness (for some stupid reason) has not been recognized by . . . anyone. So let’s start celebrating by reading one of my poems.
Each Spring Beckons Me Out the Door
A fuzzy pink sweater adorns the cherry tree and all the ladies half my age are smiling at me. Or so it seems - maybe they're just smiling near me. It's hard to see with such watery eyes, as if I'm looking through melting ice. Each spring beckons me out the door, but I'm moving slower than the year before and can't keep up as the ladies walk past. When did these women get so fast?
Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans
We recently read Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. The book is considered one of the GREATEST AMERICAN NOVELS EVER WRITTEN SO HELP ME GOD (20th Century Category). Thousands of people say they have read it; hundreds of people have actually read it; and 4 people have enjoyed it.
No one has understood it – making it the quintessential modern (or is it post-modern – we get confused) novel. The story (if you can call it that) is like gentrification in your major cities: New York, LA, Roanoke, New Shoreham. It’s sprawling but it’s also dense. It is literary and sophomoric and occasionally pornographic – just like Block Island.
Assuming he is still alive, Mr. Pynchon is a remarkable person. We say “assuming” because he is a recluse, and no one actually knows if he is still alive. There are very few pictures of him, and even slimy celebrity “journalists” have been unable to hack into his computer and steal all the naked selfies he has undoubtedly taken. That alone is remarkable.
The most interesting thing about the book (and Pynchon) is this. In 1974 Gravity’s Rainbow won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction. Actually, it shared that honor with another book no one reads. Instead of attending the ceremony, Mr. Pynchon authorized a comedian to go in his place. The comedian accepted the award on behalf of Richard Python and then gave a bizarre and funny acceptance speech. In this era of attention seeking, I cannot imagine anyone (other than perhaps Bob Dylan) doing that.
As for my comments on Gravity’s Rainbow, we didn’t actually read it. We only said we read it.
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor
The Vatican was appalled to learn recently that some of its priests have been accused of sexually abusing children. Just in the last week it issued a report on former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who rose through the church’s hierarchy despite repeated allegations of sexual misconduct. We are assured in the report that his rise to power had nothing to do with his phenomenal fundraising skills.
McCarrick was expelled from the priesthood in 2019 after a Vatican investigation found him guilty of abuse of power and sexual crimes against minors and adults. Fortunately, his crimes and abuses only spanned a handful of decades, so no one can accuse the Vatican of failing to act promptly.
Here at Pungent Sound our very own Father Orifice (pronounced Orifeechee) has asked to explain the Vatican’s reasonable and measured actions. Because we believe that even the powerful should be given a chance to be heard and because Father Orifice is a pretty proficient fundraiser himself, we immediately agreed. Take it away, Father Orifice.
Oh, the games we played in Bishop's Hole, but the foul winds have begun to blow so once again it's time to go. Even though it's hard, I must leave this behind. That's what the rector said, and he does have a good head. Granted, this happens all the time. It's why we installed a pipeline, which can send me anywhere because Bishop Hole's are everywhere. But still it's hard and I'm leaving quite a mess, but reputations must be protected, so there's nothing here to confess. When I think about the good we inflict this only gives my conscience a tiny prick. We lie in the shadow of the Cross, so there isn't anything we can't lick.
* * *
O.K. That's enough with the juvenile jabs. I've had my fun, and it's cruel to taunt. Let's get serious for a moment. We told you that we would fix things, and you had faith. Then you learned that we continued to rape your children and cover it up. You even found our pedophile pipeline. That was awkward for us. So we promised to stop for real. And you believed us, but we lied. Again. No rational person should have believed us. But you did. You continued to give us your children, and we continued to prey. You trusted us - the black vultures you should have feared. And we never did a single thing to earn your trust. After all that, shouldn't you be the ones condemned?
* * *
Have you noticed how we love gold veneer? It's everywhere, and it's immaculate as long as you don't stand too near. We've made the luster last all these years, because we polish the gold with your children's tears. Those tears run like torrents between the pews. It's like Noah's Flood. And there's nothing else we will do. Father Orifice, Chaplain of Pungent Sound Technical College of Technology.