Readings: On Water by Thomas Farber

We recently had the pleasure to hear Thomas Farber, one of the greatest water writers read from collections @ Litquake in San Francisco.

Farber’s prose itself, as a Los Angeles Times reporter once put it, “re-enacts the experience of being in water.”

“Pelagic,” he writes in his book On Water, simply describing the term: “Of or pertaining to the seas or oceans. Call me pelagic. Rocking in the swell, hour after hour, a lulling to and fro. Drawn to the wave, lifted, thrown. The wave sucking up, sucking up, rising, rising. Pull, lift, push. In time, the system tunes to the surge. The erotic pleasure, on shore even hours later, of this essential rhythm in blood and bone.”

Read a sample from his collection: 

Reading water. "To describe a wave analytically," Calvino wrote, "to translate its every movement into words, one would have to invent a new vocabulary and perhaps also a new grammar and a new syntax, or else employ a system of notation like a musical score." Making a start, Pablo Neruda says, "teach us to see the sea wave by wave." Not a bad aspiration, though Neruda himself is quick to figurative language: the ocean's "gifts and dooms," the "spent comet" of the wave's "scorn and desire." The need of the poet, like Lem's scientists, to make Contact. To name the qualities of even Earth's ocean, Lem seems to be arguing, thus reveals our hungers. Takes us to the limits of our capacities. And beyond.

"Surfers as centaurs, as matadors. Teenage girl springing to her feet up off the board: Minoan dancer vaulting the horns of a bull. The ideal of the great waterman, the master surfer who has no commercial ties, surfs for the thing itself, who does not search for the waves but is, rather, found by them. Syncopation of the surfer, against the beat of the wave. Surfing is carving, they say; surfing is shredding. Surfers and time, slowing the wave down, speeding it up. The recurring mystery of moving toward the approaching wave instead of fleeing from it. Then taking the drop, trying not to wipe out. Impact zone. Boneyard."

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  • thomas farber on

    thank you, robert!
    all best,

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