Jackie Wang writes a letter to Dodie Bellamy, the author of the buddhist.
dodie, i want to do an epistolary review because i’ve been so clogged lately. it isn’t the same thing as writer’s block. my mind is always reeling—there is so much to be said, especially after reading your book. i just feel like i can’t be loose anymore, uninhibited, whatever. i feel always on the verge of some release but then i pull out . . . i can’t go there . . . don’t know why. so i thought if i wrote you, i could have an excuse to be a little more informal, a little more personal. plus, it’s fitting . . . since the buddhist is a performative writing endeavor that merges lived-life and the word. i don’t find things that excise the “personal” voice to be compelling. the feigned distance. that’s why i liked the buddhist so much. i want to say it’s “vulnerable,” but that makes it sound like i mean weak, and i do not mean weak. i mean an unapologetic TRUST in your emotions . . . at least enough to let yourself live in it and through it and with it.
BOMB Magazine is pleased to feature selections from ONandOnScreen’s summer issue. Each week BOMBlog will showcase poems and video pairings from the Summer 2011 issue of ONandOnScreen, an e-journal project matching poems and videos. This week features poetry by Ernest Hilbert and a video of Sir Georg Solti conducting Mozart’s “Lacrimosa.”
Danielle Drees on Kate Christensen’s fifth novel The Astral, an examination of marriage and middle-age from a Brooklyn poet’s perspective.
Kate Christensen’s The Astral does for Brooklyn what Joyce did for Dublin: it maps the city’s neighborhoods through vivid anecdotes of residents’ lives, from a crumbling marriage in a crumbling apartment building in Greenpoint to a “freegan” DIY-er in Crown Heights, and it makes the city into a person itself, an animate, often antagonistic force. “I stood behind the chain-link fence the city had slapped up to keep the likes of me from jumping in,” says narrator Harry Quirk, a middle-aged poet mid-marital crisis, whose attempts to recover are stymied both by old-school Brooklyn, a city so small-town he can’t stop running into his wife on the street, and by newly gentrified Brooklyn, where a therapist with a personal agenda pushes her upper-middle-class patients toward divorce.
Michael Andrews on the moral gravity and literary power of Mathias Énard’s Zone.
Mathias Énard’s Zone—all 500 pages of it—consists of a single sentence. This sentence describes in unsparing detail some of the grisliest atrocities in the history of war—episodes from the Holocaust, the Algerian War of Independence, the War on Terror, and other conflicts. While difficult to stomach, this graphic violence is anything but gratuitous. It is rather the necessary hard evidence for the novel’s astonishing meditation on war and history. Énard plumbs the depths of human cruelty to create a work of extraordinary moral gravity and literary power, a novel that deserves a place among the great works of war literature.
BOMB Magazine is pleased to feature selections from ONandOnScreen’s summer issue. Each week BOMBlog will showcase poems and video pairings from the Summer 2011 issue of ONandOnScreen, an e-journal project matching poems and videos. This week features poetry by Rosanna Bruno and Jeanine Oleson and a video of Cagney & Lacey.
Peter Moysaenko talks with poet Mark Strand about books as objects, collage, and the difference between “mystery” and “ignorance.”
Mark Strand’s one of those poets with the power to make (good) poetry (an incremental bit more) popular. His best poems are deceptively straightforward, and their spooky genius resonates with readers in that way spooky genius often does, as a memory you had once but misplaced. His work doesn’t hand out revelation though—it prompts questions to questions. It’s an invitation to the exhilaration of uncertainty and the generative potential of loss. And his talent is prodigious. On top of all the verse (and that Pulitzer, which I nearly neglected to mention), he’s penned children’s literature, critical essays, and short stories. More recently, he’s responsible for a gorgeous book of collage and prose poems from a gorgeous press you probably haven’t heard of yet.
. . . [T]he apparel department was very strong in its technical craft, in its design training, and the one lesson they really drilled into me was that classic adage that a garment should be so well made that you can turn it inside out and wear it. I think about that all the time, how to turn a piece of writing inside out. In part two of a two part interview, Rebecca Keith talks to novelist Courtney Eldridge about her experiences at RISD, loyalty, and Battlestar Galactica.
Read part one here.
Rebecca Keith In our first interview, you claimed to have an aversion to plot-driven fiction, starting with voice instead. You said “characters drive plot, plot doesn’t drive characters.” But Ghost Signs is such a mystery, cliff-hanger and the narrative so complex. The Generosity was layer upon layer, but this time sequencing seems even more intricate, and the story much more suspenseful. Saccades is the quick, simultaneous movement of both eyes in the same direction—so this clearly played into the narrative’s disjointed structure. How did you conceive of this novel with all its flashbacks and flashforwards? Did it help that you wrote in small chunks based on your collaborators’ contributions? Did you make an outline or know where you were going at all? How did you keep track of the passage of time? How are you going to answer these seven questions at once?
Courtney Eldridge My aversion is to the attitude that plot-driven fiction is the right way. Because it’s not. It’s just one way.
The release of a posthumous non-fiction collection by author Roberto Bolaño provides new insights into the mind of a modern master through articles and columns written during his last five years.
If you were lucky enough to make it to Galapagos Art Space on Monday, June 13th to celebrate the release of Roberto Bolaño’s new book Between Parentheses by New Directions, you are likely still musing over this glimpse into the non-fiction world of a great writer. Translator Natasha Wimmer, novelist Francisco Goldman, writer and The Believer editor Heidi Julavits, Harper’s contributing editor Wyatt Mason, and The Paris Review editor Lorin Stein each read and discussed their favorite excerpts from the book as an eager audience absorbed them for the first time in English.
BOMB Magazine is pleased to feature selections from ONandOnScreen’s summer issue. Each week BOMBlog will showcase poems and video pairings from the Summer 2011 issue of ONandOnScreen, an e-journal project matching poems and videos. This week features poetry by Susan Briante and a video about the stock market.
I can’t help but wonder what would have become of our greatest writers, had they been confronted with current technology. Really, can you imagine John Updike writing a status report: “New poem out in Black Boot Brigade in Ireland. Check it out!” In part one of a two part interview, Rebecca Keith talks to novelist Courtney Eldridge about art school, self promotion, Saccades Project, and working with young artists.
What happened was, Courtney Eldridge wrote a book of short stories, Unkempt, and I wanted to read everything she ever wrote after that collection. When her novel, The Generosity of Women, came out in 2009, I got my hands on the galley as soon as I could and was swept away by the six narrators, from Joyce, a high-powered, brassy Chelsea gallerist, to Bobbie, her best friend and a successful gynecologist. As flawed and self-absorbed as some of them were, their voices were unforgettable. Before The Generosity, Courtney and I had almost met at a party for my job at a literary nonprofit. Let’s be honest, I probably wrote her a sweet little note urging her to come to the party. She showed up, but we didn’t actually get to meet. After that, we became pen pals in the most Anne of Green Gables kindred spirit via email way.
I’d take a bullet for Oscar Wilde. I think Oscar would have loved the salon. He would have slept with everybody. B.C. Edwards examines the salon series, The Wilde Boys: A Queer Poetry Salon, and talks to its creator, Alex Dimitrov.
It’s one of the first truly beautiful days of the season and in a gorgeous apartment in Chelsea, the balcony is open for the first time. Two dozen poets and writers, mostly young and almost exclusively queer, are wandering from room to room, chatting, drinking and preparing themselves for the nights’ event. This is the twentieth installment of Wilde Boys: A Queer Poetry Salon, and everyone is set to chat about Tim Dlugos, one of the clearest voices to rise out of the AIDS epidemic in the eighties.
For the past two years, once a month or so, in various apartments around New York such as this, Alex Dimitrov has been leading something of a revival. The Wilde Boys is a salon in the truest sense of the word. The original salons of the 18th century became popular at the tail end of the Renaissance. Wealthy patrons and patronesses would bring their friends and associates along with the most intelligent, artistic scholars and craftsmen for an evening (or several) spent deep in discussion on culture, art, and philosophy. Modern salons, if they can even be found, tend more towards the critiquing of the attendee’s work or the simple reading series rather than any real conversation. The Wilde Boys attempts a return to the old school way of doing things. “As a young poet, the salons are a space where I can, in a publicly private way, ask a lot of questions in regards to aesthetics,” Dimitrov says. “Or however it is I’m thinking about poetry that week.” Part lecture, part cocktail party, part reading series, the goal of the salon is to afford poets and poetry students access to truly great work and great commentary that is more intimate and comprehensive than they could otherwise find.
BOMB Magazine is pleased to feature selections from ONandOnScreen’s summer issue. Each week BOMBlog will showcase poems and video pairings from the Summer 2011 issue of ONandOnScreen, an e-journal project matching poems and videos. This week features poetry by Elaine Equi and a video of a tarantula.
BOMB Magazine is pleased to feature selections from ONandOnScreen’s summer issue. Each week BOMBlog will showcase poems and video pairings from the Summer 2011 issue of ONandOnScreen, an e-journal project matching poems and videos. This week’s pairing features poetry by Cedar Sigo and a video by David Enos. Click through to read the poem!
“I say your name, & another dies in my mouth because I know how / to plead / till a breeze erases the devil’s footprints.” Levi Rubeck reviews Yusef Komunyakaa’s book of poetry The Chameleon Couch.
Anyone may come to Yusef Komunyakaa’s poetry, but only the most hard-skinned remain unmoved. His verse smolders with checked energy. Rather than operating in unrestrained rage, Komunyakaa swings cleanly with the power of the mountain behind his lines. He is a poet of poise and precision, and he expects as much from anyone he reads or leads in workshop.
Which is why I’ve been sweating this review. Komunyakaa’s latest book is The Chameleon Couch, and it feels like a book between books. Perhaps it’s because Warhorses, his previous volume, was so laser-focused on the violence that people do to each other, and its wake, that this one can’t really compare.
In this multi-part web-exclusive interview for BOMBlog, George Saunders and Patrick Dacey discuss growth as a writer, the place of the writing workshop (including a visit from a drunken Hemingway), and whether a man can ever really experience true happiness without an icicle impaling him through the head.
This is the second part of a two-part interview. Read part 1 here.
Patrick Dacey I’ve been thinking lately about the impulse new writers have to imitate their heroes—they know they want to write, and they know what resonates with them as readers, so they fall into a kind of trap where they write toward a preconceived ideal, taking whatever ideas they have and fitting them into someone else’s structure and style. My wife, Tara, taught a fiction class recently where two of her more promising students were Miranda July hopefuls who wrote stories full of non-sequiturs and quirky sweaters and neurotic inner monologues about mismatched shoelaces and Spam. What are your thoughts about the tendency among new writers to lean toward “what works” rather than pursuing a vision of their own? Is this maybe a necessary step for any artist, like the way a child learns to do things through observation and imitation before he becomes his own strange, self-motivated person? It also seems likely that by now there are more than a few George Saunders hopefuls out there who are trying to work versions of your characters or aspects of your style into their own stories. How does it affect you as a writer and reader when you come across this sort of thing, both among students and in published work?
George Saunders I definitely think this imitation phase is a good and necessary thing—or at least an unavoidable thing. I went through it in a big way, several times. I think what happens is that, as you get older, and start having more undeniably valid and costly life experiences, you start acutely feeling the distance between the prose you are imitating and your own life. It’s painful, actually, that disjunct. It grates.
“It’s a bit of a cultural brainwash, the notion that friendships, and especially young friendships, are basically starter relationships, like some sort of warm-up for the main event: conventional romance, marriage, child-rearing. All these other more important things. I don’t buy that. I never have.” Emily Testa talks to Ralph Sassone about his new novel The Intimates.
I once worked for an editor who wrote three decent books before she hit thirty. I admired her, and when I told her so, she waved me off. “Just get drunk and write some shit,” she said. I could hardly contain my mortification. As young writers we endure a full spectrum of covetousness before learning the simple, silly truth: there is no formula. There are no secrets. There’s only this lonely, unquittable act. And while downing whiskey at a three-legged desk doesn’t seem entirely prudent, neither does hoarding war stories in the hope that they’ll transform us.
Imagine the intrigue, then, of a novel built upon these very themes: desire, unrealized ambition, and admiration for achievements we can scarcely comprehend. The novel is The Intimates, written by Ralph Sassone. I spoke to Ralph last week and was delighted to find a careful, articulate writer who spoke humbly of his work but never took the wind out of it. I’d wager he’s not the type to just get drunk and write some shit. Sweet relief.
Ralph Sassone You’re calling from Georgia. Is that where you’re from?
Emily Testa No. I moved here last year to work as a speechwriter at a university. I gather you’re acquainted with the juggling act of writing and doing other things at the same time.
RS I am. I think a writer has to be. It’s probably good. Do you know anyone who says, “I just love writing, it makes me so happy, and I would be so contented if I could just do it all the time”? If that person exists, he or she is a liar.
ET Either a liar or the most infuriating person on the planet. So, about your book . . .
RS I’d almost forgotten.
“Poems are living things. Please dance with them.” Poet Bob Holman talks to Samuel Jablon about Picasso, Kathmandu, and reading poetry as wrestling match/lovemaking session.
I first met Bob Holman in a workshop I took with him at Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program. The workshop ended with our class at a gas station in Boulder, Colorado singing, reading, and mobbing people with poetry. We protested high gas prices and handed out poetry bucks (counterfeit bills with poetry printed on them) to everyone filling up their tank. Since then I have seen Bob in and around New York. This interview explores his new book Picasso in Barcelona, orality, and the current state of poetry.
Samuel Jablon Could you tell me about your new book, and any inspirations that brought it about?
Bob Holman Picasso in Barcelona is a direct response to the talent and testosterone unleashed in Picasso’s earliest work, on view at Museu Picasso in Barcelona. He was born in Malaga but became a painter in Barcelona. At 14 he painted his first piece—on top of a painting of his father’s.
“If all poetry burned as brightly as The Dragonfly, we would be the meteorites of its glow, cast through the perilous layers, warm to the touch but dead on the desert floor.” Dot Devota speaks with Deborah Woodard, one of the translators of Amelia Rosselli’s The Dragonfly.
The Dragonfly is a selection of poems spanning 28 years of Italian poet Amelia Rosselli’s life, pulling from such works as Martial Variations, Hospital Series, Document, Obtuse Diary, Notes Scattered and Lost, Impromptu, and The Dragonfly—Rosselli’s masterpiece. The book is co-translated by Deborah Woodard and Giuseppe Leporace.
“I see you striding through the down / and dust, blood spattered on your ankles, / your thin dress folding around your knees. / You’ve got an orange in each pocket, / and you walk by death with your head / held high, into the house and its shadow.” Iris Cushing reviews Maureen Thorson’s book of poetry Applies to Oranges.
Remember the kind of earth-map that’s made from a flattened orange peel? The skin transforms from sphere to plane, from organic waste to microcosm. Maureen Thorson’s Applies to Oranges embodies the do-it-yourself economy of such a map. In this collection of fifty-nine untitled prose poems, nothing is wasted; indeed, it is the remains, what’s left over after the fruits of joy have been consumed or lost, that gives the work its vision.
Cuban novelist José Manuel Prieto and Mark Weiss, poet, translator, and editor of the bilingual anthology The Whole Island: Six Decades of Cuban Poetry, recently conducted an email interview on the reasons for undertaking this, or any, anthology and the issues involved in its making.
José Manuel Prieto In your introduction you say that this is the first anthology to gather Cuba’s recent poetry in one volume. The result is noteworthy, its greatest virtue perhaps that it gives the reader a picture of Cuban poetry untainted by exoticism. You represent Cuban poetry’s complexity and maturity, and avoid making a false distinction between poets who remained on the island and those who have left. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you decide to put together an anthology of Cuban poets? Was it out of an internal need, or was it in response to an assigned task? What did you know about Cuban poetry before you began to work on The Whole Island?
Mark Weiss I knew something of Cuban history (and I’d worked many years ago on an unpublished translation of Lydia Cabrera’s El Monte), but very little about Cuban poetry or the culture at large before I started, though I had been deeply involved in translating José Kozer for some years (Stet, the fruit of that involvement, appeared in 2006.) José is widely considered the most important living Cuban poet, and he seems to know every poet (and everything they’ve written) on the island or in the diaspora, so Cuban poets came up frequently in our conversations. I had to learn the field pretty much from scratch.
“I’ve come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.” Justin McNeil reviews Jonathan Lethem’s non-fiction book, They Live, an examination of the movie of the same name.
For people who have read Lethem’s recent novel Chronic City, the sentiment behind his new non-fiction book They Live will be immediately recognizable: Perkus Tooth Lives! Translation: Lethem is at heart an endearing and noble movie geek, and when he writes you can feel his best fictional characters (Perkus Tooth being one) elbowing into his work and egging him on. They Live is one of those rare books that is more honest and naked than most autobiographies, though the subject is not Lethem, but instead the John Carpenter ’80s cult movie.
Part of a series published by Soft Skull, the Deep Focus books look at semi-forgotten cult-movies. They are an even mix of film criticism and cultural wondering: most of us are not really obsessed with the cultural artifacts that peek in on us periodically like parents, however we still go back to them again and again and dreamily think, Why that?
Since the late ’60s, Rudolph Wurlitzer has produced five novels and a dozen screenplays that, rather than simply begin and end, just happen. Craig Hubert talks to Wurlitzer about his recent retrospective at Anthology Film Archives and the audio book release of his novel Slow Fade, read by Will Oldham.
The work of Rudolph Wurlitzer is impossible to contain, pin down, or wrap-up. A writer of immense talent, he has produced five dense, challenging novels and a dozen screenplays that, rather than simply begin and end, just happen. Everything in his work is fluid, constantly in motion: destination, identity, purpose are always changing, never stable. Crossing borders, Wurlitzer’s writing for film remains consistent and defiant. It’s hard to think of another writer who made the transition so easily without compromise.
I spoke to Wurlitzer after the opening weekend of a new retrospective at Anthology Film Archives, where he gave a reading (from the forthcoming reissue of Slow Fade) and had the chance to revisit some of his old films. A retrospective can often signal the end, but with most of his work now available to explore, for the first time in a long time, it seems more like a beginning. As Rudy told me, “I’m still on this side of the grass.”
Craig Hubert How was the performance on Friday?
Rudolph Wurlitzer It was very interesting reading with Will Oldham, who’s a very interesting guy. And he had another guy reading with him, Alan Licht, who’s a good composer and very smart guy. So it was fun to break up the whole reading—usually it’s sort of deadly to go and hear an old geezer read from his book, you know? So we figured out a way to do it was have a couple of readers and make it more sort of theatrical and have a narrative involved. My wife Lynn Davis, who’s a photographer, put 100 of her photos and slides in the background, blown up, moving across the screen. So that was great. That resonated with the journey of the book. So that was cool, we sort of survived that. The films, I saw two of my old films. It’s interesting, because films date more than books do, at least for me.
“Nothing seemed to matter / Anymore, not the past with / Its ax of granite nor the future / With its watery punctuation, / But the moment, yes the moment, / She was forced into it like / So much dough between / The fingers. / “God bless us all,” / She said aloud to everyone and no one. / There is no other life. Claire Wilcox talks to Noelle Kocot about Clarice Lispector, the distinction between “soul” and “self,” and the presence of bathos in her poems.”
Early this year, poet Noelle Kocot published her fifth volume of poetry, The Bigger World, which is a book of thirty-seven of what Kocot calls her “character poems.” As the moniker suggests, each poem takes as its central figure a fictional character (or two), so that individuals, relationships, and emotional states are the subjects of these poems in which life is a constant living through. Like many of Kocot’s speakers (and her work in the past has been transparently autobiographical), Kocot’s characters are wounded and must reconcile their woundedness with the necessity of living. However this may be the case, the process for this reconciliation remains unprogrammatic and individual.
The subtle chorus of this collection seems to be a phrase that crops up in at least four of these poems which is noticeable in book with few instances of repetition. The phrase is simply: “I don’t know”—as in “Noneness,” when a bird speaks to the poem’s protagonist: “You have yet to be saved, from what/I don’t know.” This construction (“from what/I don’t know”) recurs, signaling that at the heart of these human events, this action and intensity, is a sort of epistemological void, which is not so much cause for existential despair for Kocot as a source of mystery and wonder.
Emotional gravity is a hallmark of Kocot’s work. Here, as elsewhere, she couples it with a linguistic mode that veers away from the familiar into humor and bathos, into the absurd and the mysterious, and, in some places, into mysticism and religion.
Claire Wilcox Was it you who decided to call the poems in The Bigger World character poems?
Noelle Kocot It was me, yes.
CW I’m curious about that designation.
NK I just wrote a bunch of poems in a very short span of time, and I kept calling them the character poems because they were about different characters and what they did.
Two poets discuss the nature of poetry after returning home from two separate poetry celebrations on April 27, 2011: “Poetry and the Creative Mind” at Lincoln Center’s Starr Theater, and “Rimbaud’s ‘Illuminations’” at the Poetry Project.
Leah Umansky Do you think poetry is accessible?
Rebecca Melnyk Yes. After hearing Rimbaud’s work, the word “timelessness” comes to mind. His words are translatable not necessarily only from French into other languages, but also through their rhythm. Music is an accessible language anyone can understand and feel.
LU The beauty of poetry is that everyone can relate to it. At the core of poetry is the essence of human emotion and what most refer to as the “human condition.” Caroline Kennedy touched on this at the “Poetry and Creative Mind” reading at Lincoln Center before reading Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry. She said that people need to “hear poems, not only read them, because they create community” and poetry lets us feel that “we are never alone.”
Albert Sussler’s moving account of his experience as an aid worker in Tsunami and earthquake-devastated Japan.
Last weekend I joined the group Aichi Volunteers to bring supplies to Ishinomaki, and help clean debris in one of the towns hit hardest by the March tsunami. This group was started several days after the earthquake by people in the area around Nagoya, Japan. The plan was to bus 131 selected volunteers and two trucks of supplies to the evacuation center of Minato Elementary School.
On the bus ride up, each member was asked to introduce themselves and explain why he or she had volunteered. I said I wanted to help the people of Miyagi, the place where I had started my life in Japan some twenty-plus years ago.
My other reasons I did not say.
I was distressed by the many people who panicked and left Japan, in fear of earthquake damage and radiation fallout from the leaking nuclear plants at Fukushima. The overreaction of ‘Fly-jin’, ( a combination of two words: fly as in fly away and jin, meaning people in Japanese), do not help in the fight against discrimination here. Foreigners make up less than 2% of the total population in the country, but some Japanese voices often accuse gaijin (outsiders) of various problems in Japan, way beyond any statistics or logic.
Rather than run I wanted to make a stand.
Jo Ann Beard’s long-awaited follow-up and debut novel In Zanesville excavates the emotional terrain of Nowheresville teendom with stunning wit, cutthroat clarity and a profound empathy for the rigors of adolescence.
When it was published in 1997, Jo Ann Beard’s debut essay collection The Boys of My Youth indelibly altered the nonfiction landscape, earning her a Whiting Award and cult status as one of the new pioneers of creative nonfiction. Like Junot Diaz’s Drown on the fiction side of the ‘90s, Beard’s autobiographical sketches comprised a darkly comic and jarringly lucid collage of a life as intimately mundane as it is universally terror-stricken. Now, a decade later, Beard’s long-awaited follow-up and debut novel, In Zanesville, excavates the emotional terrain of Nowheresville teendom with stunning wit, cutthroat clarity, and a profound empathy for the rigors of adolescence. Over draft beers and bad curry fries at a dim, breezy Irish pub on New York’s Upper West Side, we examined the role of visual memory in fiction and nonfiction alike and considered the surrealistic impulses involved with Beard’s self-proclaimed “superpower”: the ability to mine the subconscious of the Every Girl.
Melissa Seley In what ways did your process change from writing shorter nonfiction essays to approaching a fictional novel?
Jo Ann Beard Writing fiction really freed me up. The level of worry and stewing over fact—I was free from that. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, underneath the surface it’s always the same thing: it’s just you and your imagination. I like that.
In this multi-part web-exclusive interview for BOMBlog, George Saunders and Patrick Dacey discuss the writing process, storytelling technique (“Any monkey in a story had better be a dead monkey”), and how the mind is like the trash compactor from Star Wars.
I met George Saunders in the fall of 2000 when I was a junior at Syracuse University. I had never read his stories (had never read much fiction at all outside of what was assigned in high school), and took his writing workshop to meet a humanities requirement and because I thought it would be easy. I ended up suffering over some long, melodramatic piece about a narrator’s dead brother coming back to the beach where he had drowned and speaking from the beyond. There was no denying how terrible it was, but something happened for me in writing that piece, some kind of opening. It might have been knowing that George took an interest in my writing, though he’s such a generous teacher and writer that I can’t imagine he takes less time with any of his students. It was during this time that I read George’s first book, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. There are stories in that book—“Isabelle,” “The 400-Pound CEO”—that have the capacity to make you laugh and weep in the time it takes to read them. George’s writing does what it seems to me all great writing is supposed to do, which is to garner an emotional response. In Pastoralia and In Persuasion Nation, his second and third collections of stories, the voice of each character creates a narrative that lives in arm’s reach of us. Secretly, we believe these worlds exist. It is not that George opens our eyes to something we may not have considered, but that he breaks through intellectual apathy and allows us to see, hear, and feel what is inside us.
C.S. Leaf reads poems near an open window.
If there must be a month for poems and their creators, that month should be April. It is possible that youth spawns verse, as it is my experience that the vernal dawn has more frequently led me to study dendrology. I uncontrollably stammer syntax that begins to rhyme at some tolerant listener while the Fraxinus americana blossoms swirl a crown around our brows, even as I am fully aware that my clichés are beginning to render me an unworthy sex partner. This is where C.S. Leaf lends us a lexical field in bloom to ease our stammering. Aside from these soft spots, I am as rough around the edges as any admirer of verse belonging to the American tradition, with a passion for violence and the bastardization of language for the sake of democracy—I’m more punk, rebel, and political-dissident than you, I love Modernists, Language Poets, or the brash Beat/Post-Beat; an Ashbery, Myles, D.A. Levy, or perhaps Jim Behrle, who reveal with no frills of form some direct purpose and art. But for Leaf I am willing to admit I can’t leave these things behind: language as music, lyrics that are not concerned with pop music or the traditions of folk, and the way C.S. Leaf can make melodies with words.
On the occasion of the Yale Review’s centennial celebration, Daisy Atterbury talks literary giants with J.D. McClatchy, editor of the literary institution.
“Many of the stories repeat a narrative, looping moments of loneliness filled by a stranger’s fingers. The endings are often gloomy and ruinous, and so are the beginnings. As one of Lutz’s narrators says, ‘a ruin shouldn’t usually start out as one.’” David Varno reviews Gary Lutz’s I Looked Alive.