From the Archive
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.
July 23, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
“Mannerism,” a poem by René Ricard from our Summer 1970 issue. Ricard was born on this day in 1946; he died last year. An obituary in the New York Times calls him “a notorious aesthete who roamed Manhattan’s contemporary art scene with a capacious, autodidactic erudition and a Wildean flamboyance.” In the eighties, his essay “The Radiant Child” helped to burnish the reputation of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Read More »
June 10, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
An excerpt from Susan Howe’s “Defenestration of Prague,” originally published in our Winter 1982 issue. Howe, who was born in Boston, is eighty-eight today. People often tell me my work is ‘difficult,’ she told the Review in 2012. “I have the sinking feeling they mean ‘difficult’ as in ‘hopeless.’ ”
long illness of little difference Read More »
May 27, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
From “On the Literary Life,” a series of excerpts from John Cheever’s journals published in our Fall 1993 fortieth-anniversary issue. Cheever, born on this day in 1912, had amassed twenty-eight notebooks by the time he died, in 1982; he wrote the extracts below between 1974 and 1978. “These were workbooks, a place to take notes, to practice and to fume,” Cheever’s son, Benjamin, says in his introduction. “Please remember that this is just one piece of the man. An interesting piece, I think: diverting, instructive, candid, and intimate. But not the whole guy.”
The telephone rings at four. This is CBS. John Updike has been in a fatal automobile accident. Do you care to comment. I am crying. I cannot sleep again. I think of joining Mary in bed but I am afraid she will send me away. I think I am right. When there is a little light I feed the dogs. I hope they don’t expect to be fed this early every morning, she says. I do not point out that John will not die every morning and that in any case it is I who feeds them. The restraint costs me nothing. When I go into the kitchen for another cup of coffee she empties the pot into my cup and says: I was just about to have some myself. When I insist on sharing the coffee I am unsuccessful. I do not say that the pain of death is nothing compared to the pain of sharing a coffee pot with a peevish woman. This costs me nothing. And I see that what she seeks, much more than a cup of coffee—is to gratify a sense of denial and neglect—and that we so often, all of us, put our cranky and our emotional demands so far ahead of our hunger and thirst. Read More »