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This Week’s Reading

Staff Picks: Turtles, Tornados, Teen Dirt-bike Racers

May 27, 2016 | by

From Works and Days.

“I’m not even sure anything happened to me. / Or to whom everything happened.” So ends Brenda Shaughnessy’s long poem of adolescence “Is There Something I Should Know.” Reading those lines, I realized I had been waiting for that wisdom—that formulation—a long time. Her new book, So Much Synth, is full of these moments. Soulfulness is not a quality I always look for in poets of my generation, but over the last two decades Shaughnessy has stripped herself down to a voice that can sing plainly about disappointment and love in hard circumstances and the lost art of the mix tape, here revived in verse:

As it records, you have to listen to each
song in its entirety, and in this way

you hear your favorite song with the ears
of your intended, as they hear it, new.

Lorin Stein

I’ve never been very diligent about keeping a journal, but the form is one I enjoy reading: the lists one makes, the mundane things that fill an afternoon. Works and Days is Bernadette Mayer’s forthcoming book, at once a collection of poetry and a dated record of a past spring: woven among her verse are her journal entries. I found myself pulled toward these other, more austere little notes. Comprising teensy, often inconsequential moments—like whether it’s rained or has been threatening to rain—these prosaic morsels are gorgeous and serene. Hardly any of Mayer’s days are spectacular, but her eye is so keenly attune to all that surrounds her that nearly everything feels touched with grandeur. She writes of the grackles that remind her of Donald Trump and her broken ulna, of the tornados in Duanesburg and the poems she wrote with Jennifer Karmin and Niel Rosenthalis. She says she hates rye bread and recalls the sound of New York City pavement being swept. But there are delectable, sometimes even bawdy bursts of excitement in the collection, too, like when she writes about the poet Bill Berkson bringing a dildo to sex camp or the heron that “ate my heart.” —Caitlin Youngquist Read More »

Our Daily Correspondent

Sweet Sorrow, Et Cetera

May 27, 2016 | by

Mikhail Clodt, Der Abschied, before 1902.

It is a strange thing to monetize your emotions. Anyone who writes or creates knows this. And the work one does on the Internet feels insubstantial, even by the flimsy standards of intellectual property. Any body of digital work is a funny mixture of ephemeral and immortal, and it’s hard to know how to feel about such an archive. 

Today marks my final column as the Daily’s correspondent. When I started writing these casuals, in January 2014, I thought of them as a challenge: to try to do something small, well, and consistently. There are certain kinds of writing—good writing—that are actually better suited to this medium than to print, and translating the personal and fleeting into something public seems to me one of the Internet’s primary gifts. The challenge comes not in finding inspiration, but in trying to strike the balance of confidence—that one’s observations have merit—and humility: recognizing that they’re not inherently interesting. Read More »

Look

Baxter Week, Day Five

May 27, 2016 | by

All things must pass, and so today marks the end of Baxter Week. To celebrate Glen Baxter’s new book Almost Completely Baxter: New and Selected Blurtings, we’ve run two of his drawings every day this week. Almost Completely Baxter spans four decades of “Colonel” Baxter’s work, drawing from such books as The Billiard Table Murders and Blizzards of Tweed. “Baxter’s comic realm—the space between image and text, between perplexity and the mundane—is a locale where uncertainty emerges as weird and weirdness recedes into uncertainty,” Albert Mobilio wrote recently in Bookforum. “The funny arrives as a slow-motion detonation that seems to dissipate as quickly as it boomed.” Baxter’s short stories appeared in The Paris Review’s Winter 1972 issue; a portfolio, “It Was the Smallest Pizza They Had Ever Seen,” followed in Summer 1985.

Almost Completely Baxter txt revised final crx.indd Read More »

On the Shelf

More Public-spirited Pigs, and Other News

May 27, 2016 | by

Eliot (not pictured) disapproves.

  • As an editor at Faber & Faber, T. S. Eliot had the chance to publish Animal Farm. He declined. And he had sound porcine reasons for doing so, according to a newly digitized letter he wrote Orwell in 1944: “The positive point of view, which I take to be generally Trotskyite, is not convincing … After all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm—in fact, there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.”
  • Memorial Day has only been around for about 150 years, meaning it’s not terribly old as far as memorials go. Consider instead the Bayeux Tapestry, which likely dates to the 1070s. Alison Kinney writes, “It’s a seventy-by one-half-meter length of linen panels worked in crewel, its madder-, mignonette-, and woad-dyed yarns still as vivid, after a thousand years, as the tints of the Art Nouveau comic strip Little Nemo … The medievalist Valerie Allen writes about the Bayeux Embroidery’s ‘dynamic things grounded in space and time,’ ‘from kitchen utensils to war gear … Objects acquire a kind of agency by exerting their inherent “virtue,” wearing down conventional distinctions between human and non-human to the point that a hand, a sword and a relic can all share in the same phenomenal luminosity.’ The Embroidery itself is just such a luminous agent: a war memorial—a Normandy Beach war memorial, no less. In this place occupied by hundreds of memorials, planned and incidental, fleeting and obdurate, from funerary sculpture to the bunkers that, after seventy years of coastal weather, still bear flamethrowers’ char marks, memorials develop unpredictable, unaccountable vibrancies that can shape the conflicts, even the topography, of later battles. That is, if they can first escape violence, neglect, and ordinary wear and tear.”
  • Because your day needed the phrase intravaginal hardware for the pregnant body in it, here is Sasha Archibald on a thrilling development in consumer electronics: “A company in Spain recently released a new product, the Babypod. The device entails a small roundish speaker … The idea is to insert the speaker inside one’s vagina, like a tampon, and connect the auxiliary jack to an iPhone, from which the mother-DJ selects a playlist. The music is piped in directly where it can be heard best … Women have presumably always enjoyed the utility of an interior pocket, though no one has written this history. The nineteenth-century spirit medium Eva C. had a trick of producing ectoplasm from her vagina, and police report finding jewels and drugs, money and handguns, stolen phones and credit cards. In these cases, the vagina is treated as a secret lockbox—a hiding place no one will think to look, the corporeal equivalent of a buried treasure chest. The Babypod inhabits the woman in a totally different fashion. The very purpose of the device is to announce itself and broadcast sound. It makes the vagina speak. The Vagina Monologues didn’t need to get more literal, but they have.”
  • While we’re in the vicinity of the genitals: “When reporters are forced to write about sportsmen kicking each other in the nuts, what do they write? This week has provided some answers … In ninety-six articles, totaling a little more than fifty thousand words, groin was used 148 times across headlines, body and photo captions. Of course, in sports, groin injuries can mean something very different from your basic knee to the crotch. So at best, this creates unnecessary ambiguity in order to demur from coarser language. The next most frequently used was some form of below the belt with seventeen appearances, followed by nuts with fifteen, low blow with fourteen, a few variations of private parts totaling twelve, between the legs with ten, and balls with nine.”

Arts & Culture

Take Me to the Burger King Spa

May 26, 2016 | by

One way to spend your free time.

I read that a Burger King franchise in Helsinki has opened an in-store sauna, serving Cokes and fries to visitors as they sweat it out, and my first thought was: I want to go there. I don’t mean “go” in the sense of an ironic pilgrimage, the way some people go to Dollywood or the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. This is a more disturbing impulse. Even if I recognize the sauna for what it is—a cynical ploy by a multinational corporation to hijack a local tradition, down to the inclusion of BK-branded robes and towels—I have an ingrained affinity for Burger King that resists rational argument. I could hurl a brick through the window of their corporate headquarters, but I know I’d only end up wanting a Whopper as the cops handcuffed me.

I haven’t eaten at a Burger King in years, but I’ve accepted that the Whopper is my madeleine. I guess this makes BK—the world’s second largest fast-food hamburger chain, an amoral monolith helping to drive up the obesity rate by plying a misinformed, increasingly impoverished public with processed foodstuffs—something like my Combray. As sad as it sounds, to sink my teeth through that sesame-seed bun is to activate long-dormant memories of … the sesame-seed buns of my childhood. Read More »

Our Daily Correspondent

New York Values

May 26, 2016 | by

O’Hare International Airport. Photo: Cory W. Watts

The same day I ate the hot dog—indeed, the same layover—I found myself in conversation with a group of other travelers. One commented on the crowds, and another said, “Tampa’s not a small place but it’s nothing like this,” and they all talked about the energy of the city versus the pleasures of having moved to Florida. It was very friendly. Then one woman said, “Not New York, though. I hate New York.” Then they all piled on with gusto, discussing the general crumminess that is New York, the rudeness, the filth, the overwhelming pace, and all manner of other clichés. It all happened so fast that I didn’t have a chance to jump in and defend my hometown.

I didn’t even have a defense, as such. People from other places seem to feel New York is a thing they need to have strong opinions about, like the election, or cilantro. And the truth is, most of us really, really don’t care. At least, those of us who are from here. Never having made the choice to move here, it’s akin to the affection and irritation one feels for a family member. Especially since our families are, you know, here. Read More »