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This Week's Reading

What We’re Loving: Tragedy, Poetry, Music

July 5, 2013 | by

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I’ve been catching up on the last two issues of the Fairleigh Dickinson journal, The Literary Review. Of special brilliance: a long polyphonic poem by Leon Weinmann about Simone Weil, a bravely whiny New York poem by Rachel Zucker (“I don’t want to have coffee or not have coffee / or listen to This American Life podcast on infidelity”), and a novella by Paula Bomer, “Inside Madeleine,” about a town slut destroyed by love. It’s so arresting I raced to finish so I could pass the issue along to a friend. —Lorin Stein

Sing Me the Songs That Say I Love You: A Concert for Kate McGarrigle is a strange mixture of concert film—specifically, the 2011 tribute to the late Canadian folk singer at Town Hall—and documentary. But if at times the biographical elements are unsatisfying, the music makes it well worth seeing. Beyond the lovely McGarrigles covers from the concert (I especially liked the version of “Walking Song” performed by her son, Rufus Wainwright), we are treated to original recordings by Kate and her sister Anna, as well as the kind of impromptu jam sessions that take place when everyone in the family is a professional musician. I promptly dug out all my McGarrigle albums, and have been listening to little else since. —Sadie O. Stein

This week I escaped the city and its fireworks for upstate New York, taking with me Two American Scenes, pendent poems by two of our finest translators, Lydia Davis and Eliot Weinberger. Davis has adapted the memoir of a mid-nineteenth-century forbear, turning it into long poem that remembers childhood in a Cape Cod idyll, where the fireplace fit cords of wood eight feet long and “we took our first lessons in astronomy / by observing the transit of the stars / through the telescope of the sooty chimney.” Weinberger’s “A Journey on the Colorado River”—a sequel, it may be, to his earlier “A Journey on the Yangtze River”—imagines an Adamic excursion through the river valley, whose landmarks are seen as though for the first time: “Curiously shaped buttes. The head of the first canyon: bright vermilion rocks. We named this Flaming Gorge.” —Robyn Creswell

In tumultuous times, I often think of Euripides, “the most tragic of tragedians,” who, more often than his Greek contemporaries Aeschylus and Sophocles, challenged the democratic order. Characters weren’t simply set pieces for historical mythology; instead, his grief lessons resembled contemporary Athens. Heroes were foolish; women were powerful; barbarians sometimes won out in the end. Anne Carson’s spare translation of four of Euripides’s lesser-known tragedies offers a reminder of the resonance of these ancient texts with our own time: confusing, shocking, prophetic, and a kind reminder that we’re not alone in this wonderful mess. —Justin Alvarez

 

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