From the Archive
August 25, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
“Wait in the Chair,” a poem by Cynthia Macdonald from our Spring 2004 issue. Macdonald, who died earlier this month at eighty-seven, taught for many years at the University of Houston; she was also a psychoanalyst. Richard Howard wrote that she drew her poems “from the grotesque.” “Grotesque comes from the grotto,” she said in an interview: “the grotto is, if you want, the hidden part of everybody … all writing comes from the grotto, whether it comes out as overtly odd or very conventional. So I would agree with that definition. I would say I am interested in strange things that happen, because they seem like a sharpened metaphor of what happens all the time.”
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August 19, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
“Coke,” a poem by Scott Cohen from our Summer 1971 issue. Cohen’s collection Actual Size was published the same year.
The difference in the speed of the thought process of a man who has just snorted coke and a man who hasn’t is a very strange number which has a cosmic meaning, that is, it enters into the cosmic processes. This number is 27,000.
I was glad to find the Bar-B-Q Book sitting on my desk because sitting on the Bar-B-Q Book was another gram of coke. Read More »
August 12, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
“Last Days of Prospero,” a poem by Donald Justice from our Winter - Spring 1964 issue. Justice, born on August 12, 1925, is remembered for his formal mastery; he had a special fondness for sestinas. He died in 2004. Michael Hofmann has said that Justice “probably has few peers when it comes to the musical arrangement of words in a line.” In 2011, John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote about his poem “There Is a Gold Light in Certain Old Paintings” for the Daily.
The aging magician retired to his island.
It was no so green as he remembered,
Nor did the sea caress its headlands
With the customary nuptial music.
He did not mind. He would not mind,
So long as the causeway to the mainland
Were not repaired, so long as the gay
Little tourist steamer never again Read More »
August 7, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Where I went to college in the purple valley of northwest Massachusetts, there was a fellow in my class who used to drag a brick around by a string. He called it his “pet brick.” Every night he would drag his brick into the campus snack bar when the snack bar was most crowded, and order two vanilla milkshakes—one for himself, one for his brick. The first time I saw him I laughed at the absurdity of the proposition. A pet brick! A brick drinking a milkshake! The subsequent occasions of my seeing his fellow and his brick made me respond differently. Often I was angry, thinking he dragged the brick for just the clamor that will always attend the outrageous. Sometimes, when I could convince myself that he and his brick were actually a charade protesting technology gone wild or man’s inhumanity to man, OI could feel the pleasant twinge of belonging to a fraternity of hoodwinkers. But when I saw him in the early morning, dragging his brick through the empty quads, my heart would fill with the silent despair that rose from the strange interplay between them. Just as it was impossible to know exactly how he felt about the brick, in those days I never knew how I should feel about anything. Only one thing was clear. He did not love the brick. Nor did the brick love him. This fact became my reference point in all matters of faith.
July 31, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
It seems someone else was interested in order, too—
The squat trees edging away down the slope
In wavy lines like rivulets—but wasn’t very good at it,
And left you to make the best of the result.
But you can’t very well tear up Uncle Jack’s half-acre
On a whim, and besides, the view isn’t unattractive,
Just arbitrary. Read More »
July 28, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Happy eighty-eighth to John Ashbery. Many of his poems from the Review are available online, but I wanted to share a meditative passage on film from “The System,” a long prose poem published as fiction in our Spring 1972 issue.
In 1971, Ashbery read from “The System” at St. Mark’s Church, in New York. Someone captured his prefatory remarks on tape, and they’re pretty illuminating in suggesting an approach to the poem:
Oh. I don’t think I have the last page of it with me. Well, it doesn’t really matter, actually. I don’t … I do like the way it ends, but it’s kind of an environmental work, if I may be so bold. If you sort of feel like leaving at any point, it won’t really matter. You will have had the experience. You’re only supposed to get out of it what you actually get out of it. You’re not supposed to really take it all in … you know, think about other things. I am disturbed that it’s incomplete, but maybe that’s good.