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From the Archive

The Equinox Reality Check

March 20, 2014 | by

spring

Image via Giphy

Feel that? It’s the vernal caress of the equinox, its breeze seeming to whisper, There, there, your misery will soon fade, spring is here, the world is in bloom, cast off your gloves and scarves, put down the whiskey, lower your firearm, you’ve made it out alive.

In 1968, The Paris Review published a poem for just this occasion, kind of. Diane di Prima’s “Song for Spring Equinox” does indeed celebrate the first day of spring—it begins, “It is the first day of spring, the children are singing”—but it also boldly admits, and indeed seems to bask in, a truth most of us are trying to ignore: things are still really brown outside. As di Prima puts it, “nothing is blooming / nothing seems to bloom much around farms, just hayfields and corn / farms are too pragmatic.”

Well. Bummer. It’s probably no coincidence that this poem appeared in a fall issue, not a spring one.

Still, you can and should read the entire poem, which unfolds in a kind of free-associative frolic, touching on crossword puzzles, hydrangeas, and pioneers. Consider it a corrective, not a rebuke; any poem that includes the line “will I hate the Shetland pony we are buying” won’t harsh your springtime buzz too much.

 

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A Philip Roth Bonanza

March 19, 2014 | by

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The birthday boy, looking decidedly more bored than he’d be if he were reading our back issues.

Philip Roth turns eighty-one today. You must be wondering: How can you, little old you, partake of such an historic occasion? Well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. You could masturbate into a piece of raw liver, à la Alexander Portnoy; you could masturbate on your mistress’s grave, like Mickey Sabbath; or you could masturbate into your beloved’s hair, as David Kepesh does.

Then again, there’s no law saying life must imitate art. If you’re absolutely set on not paying tribute through masturbation, there is one other option: you can peruse our archives, where you’ll find a whole host of work by, about, or otherwise in the orbit of Philip Roth. Read More »

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Everything Is Calm and Peaceful

March 7, 2014 | by

 George-Perec

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.

 

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“Snow Is a Hat Worn By Mountains”

February 13, 2014 | by

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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.

Read More »

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Hear Chinua Achebe Discuss Martin Luther King Jr.

January 20, 2014 | by

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Achebe at the fiftieth anniversary of Things Fall Apart. Photo: Angela Radulescu

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.

 

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A Few Exits Back on the Information Superhighway

January 16, 2014 | by

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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 »

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