From the Archive
March 7, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Georges Perec, best known for Life: A User’s Manual, was born on this day in 1936; he died at only forty-five. You can celebrate his birthday by reading a very celebratory poem of his, “Three Epithalamia,” which The Paris Review published in 1989. Granted, the occasion here is a wedding, not a birthday, but the jubilance, the insouciance, the joie de vivre—it’s all there. (A betrothed couple could do worse than to read this at their wedding.) Many happy returns, Georges; wherever you are, may it be as bucolic and festive as this poem.
It’s a delectable morning
the sun lights up the countryside
bees are gathering honey
a butterfly delicately alights by a mimosa
sheep are bleating
in the distance bells are ringing
everything is calm and peaceful
Read the whole thing here.
February 13, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Some might suggest that for a literary blog to feature three snow-related posts in a day is excessive. Well, tough. The weather has always been a great common denominator. And to our credit, we’ve refrained from calling this “Winter Storm Pax” or “the snowpocalypse.” We have standards.
Here, then, are seven poems from our archives fit for a snowy night. I won’t claim they’ll warm or comfort you—they’re poems, not pap—but they’re terrific reads, and they will be of some help. Next time you share an elevator with a distant colleague, you’ll use the weather as a conversational crutch, as one does; but instead of saying, “Man, it’s cold out!” you’ll say, “Snow is a hat worn by mountains.” You’ll make a lasting impression.
Note, too, that the majority of these poems were published in the spring or summer: a reminder that what’s unendurable now will be desirable in a few months’ time.
Debora Greger, “To the Snow” (from The Paris Review No. 154, Spring 2000)
Snow, let go. It’s late,
You are cornmush. You are cold.
Let me cover you with this white sheet.
No one will know.
Agha Shahid Ali, “Snow on the Desert” (from No. 107, Summer 1988)
the sliding doors of the fog were opened,
and the snow, which had fallen all night, now
sun-dazzled, blinded us, the earth whitened
out, as if by cocaine, the desert’s plants,
its mineral-hard colors extinguished,
wine frozen in the veins of the cactus.
January 20, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Last week we brought to light a few videos of George Plimpton we’d found on the original version of our Web site, circa 1996. Today we have another highly apropos discovery from those days: audio from an unused portion of the Art of Fiction No. 139, an interview with Chinua Achebe conducted for our Winter 1994 issue. In this clip, Achebe, who died last year, discusses the legacy of none other than Martin Luther King Jr. A transcript follows:
Yes, I think certainly, in my view, that Martin Luther King is an ancestor. And although he died at the age of thirty-nine, this is something we do not often remember: how young he was when he was cut down. But his achievement was such that some who lived to be a hundred didn’t achieve half as much. So he does deserve that status, that standing. If he were in my country, he would be worshipped … I did not meet him, unfortunately, and I think one of the reasons was what I have just said: that he died too young. He was thirty-nine. Gandhi, with whom he is often compared, had not even returned to India at thirty-nine; he was still studying. We are thinking not about a sportsman, who can achieve his peak at eighteen; we are thinking of a philosopher, a thinker, who had to mature into action. I have been lucky in the past few years to be invited, again and again, to speak on his day—two years ago at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and then last year at the Smithsonian, so I’ve become something of an expert on Martin Luther King.
January 16, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Thanks to the unflagging efforts of Archive.org’s Wayback Machine—which has had, since 1996, the unenviable task of preserving as much of the Internet as possible—we recently exhumed the original version of our Web site. Better still, we rediscovered these two videos of our late founding editor, George Plimpton. In the grainy, hypercompressed format that marked mankind’s earliest forays into digital recording, he helpfully explains where you are and what you might do here.
These were the days of 28.8k modems, of CompuServe and Netscape, when the word multimedia carried a frisson of ultramodern potential. As you watch, you can practically hear the bleat and drone of the dial-up connection. That’s technology, baby. These videos are not high definition. They are virtual fossils. Handle them with care. Read More »
November 29, 2012 | by Stephanie LaCava
I hadn’t seen Jake since years ago, when we had met at the Guggenheim before going away to college. I remember only one scene from the encounter: spinning around the museum’s spiraling staircase with our arms spread like wings. When we reached the ground floor, we ran out as fast as we could before anyone could have a word with us about our behavior. I don’t recall talking about France, because I don’t think we really did. I remember just twirling with abandon. He had been the only one to understand my kind of crazy. I wouldn’t see him again for five years.
Our second meeting was in Manhattan at the Odeon restaurant. Jake looked the same as he had in France, though a little taller, a little more handsome, but the same sandy hair and flashing eyes. Except more than ten years of maturity had lent him the calm that had eluded us both back then. He seemed at ease with himself and happy with his work in filmmaking. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t appreciated his attention as much as I should have when we were young, which meant I’d grown up as well. Instead of fixating romantically on Raees, I should have accepted and cultivated my friendship with Jake—that’s really all it was. Raees was no longer tall and he was an art dealer, having left behind dreams of working in cinema.
“If you’d have asked me then what you’d end up, I thought you’d be a hippie, a free spirit poet,” Jake said as he picked apart a piece of bread. “You were like a flower child obsessed with butterflies1—you had this really funny handwriting and drew insects on everything. You had a very beautiful spirit. You were strange, but it didn’t really bother me. I thought it was endearing. You weren’t like the other girls, and they definitely didn’t like you.” He laughed. “Sorry. You know what I mean. It seems as though you’re doing well now.”
- Just as Egyptian tombs and medieval catacombs were ravaged for treasure, butterflies are also victims of contemporary black market smugglers like Hisayoshi Kojima, the Japanese-born king of a vast multimillion-dollar ring of insect poachers. They were two Queen Alexandra’s Bird-wing butterflies ordered by an undercover agent that led to Kojima’s eventual capture. The species is the largest in the world, with a yellow body and mint-and-black-colored wings sometimes reaching almost a foot in width.
June 21, 2012 | by Tom Bean and Luke Poling
Luke Poling and Tom Bean have been hard at work at their documentary Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself. The film makes its world premiere tonight, at the AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival in Washington, D.C. We asked Tom and Luke to share their favorite photographs of our founding editor as well as their own memories of creating the documentary.
This photo perfectly captures the vibe of the infamous parties at George’s apartment. Hanging out in this one room are George’s fellow Paris Review cofounders Peter Matthiessen and Doc Humes, longtime friends William Styron and Terry Southern, and an impressive list of writers and filmmakers, including Ralph Ellison, Gore Vidal, Sydney Lumet, Mario Puzo, and, in the center of it all, Truman Capote.
Every time we went by the apartment to update Sarah Plimpton on our progress, we couldn’t help but look up from the sofa and chairs we were sitting on and think, The people this room has seen …