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April in the Berkshires

April 6, 2015 | by

North Adams, Massachusetts, in April 1934.

“April in the Berkshires,” a poem by William Matthews from our Spring 1987 issue. Matthews died in 1997. “Auden was wrong,” he said in a 1995 interview: “It’s not true that poetry makes nothing happen. It tends to work its wonders in a very small arena. It makes you more interesting to yourself, and you and me, at its best ... It has the power to perform a kind of cleansing, or rinsing of the sort for which for a long part of human history, we had only images of theological intervention to describe.”

Dogs skulk, clouds moil and froth, humans
begin to cook—butter, a blue waver of flame,
chopped onions. A styptic rain stings grit and soot

from the noon air. Here and there, like the mess
after a party, pink smudgily tinges the bushes,
but they’ll be long weeks of mud and sweaters Read More »

Soap

March 27, 2015 | by

Photo: Kathea Pinto

From “Soap,” by Francis Ponge, in our Summer 1968 issue. Ponge, a French poet and essayist born on this day in 1899, believed that “a mind in search of ideas should first stock up on appearances.” “Soap” is an excerpt from his Le Savon.

There is so much to say about soap. Precisely everything that it tells about itself until the complete disappearance, the exhaustion of the subject. This is just the object suited to me.

*

Soap has much to say. May it say it with volubility, enthusiasm. When it has finished saying it, it no longer is.

*

Soap was made by man for his body’s use, yet it does not willingly attend him. This inert stone is nearly as hard to hold as a fish. See it slip from me and like a frog dive into the basin again … emitting also at its own expense a blue cloud of evanescence, of confusion. Read More »

A Very Normal Person

March 11, 2015 | by

Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Tokyo noir.

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From the cover of our Spring 2006 issue: detail from “My Darling Monkey.”

Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who created a dark, noirish style of Japanese manga he called gekiga, meaning “dramatic pictures,” died last week at seventy-nine. We featured a portfolio of Tatsumi’s work in our Spring 2006 issue. “Tatsumi’s gekiga,” the editors wrote,

is distinguished by its discordant placement of flat, almost crudely sketched ordinary characters within gritty, naturalistic backgrounds. The drawings alternate between impressions of mundane daily life and images of surprising violence and sex, conveying a sense of individual alienation within the rapidly changing throng of postwar Japanese society. 

[…] In tone and style, Tatsumi’s gekiga shares an obvious kinship with the “alternative” or “literary” comics that began proliferating in North America in the mid-1980s—yet it predates that work by as much as three decades. The stories from which the images in these pages were selected are all set in Tokyo in the 1960s.

[…] When asked whether he wanted to say anything to English-language readers coming to his work for the first time, he said: “I myself am a very normal person. Please do not interpret these stories as representative of the author’s personality.”

Below, in memory of Tatsumi, are a few excerpts from that portfolio. Read More »

3 COMMENTS

The Art of Revelry

March 2, 2015 | by

We’re gearing up for our Spring Revel here at the Review. Variously described as “the best party in town” and “prom for New York intellectuals,” it’s a tradition that stretches back … well, tens of years. In that time, archival evidence suggests, it’s grown by leaps and bounds. The fifth revel, for example, in 1969, was held on the grounds of an abandoned church on Roosevelt Island (then known as Welfare Island). It did not go as planned. As George Plimpton later recounted, “Two pianos placed out in a grove of trees were destroyed in a late night rainstorm; almost all the profits from the revel were paid to a piano rental company. The final tally showed that proceeds turned over to the magazine amounted to fourteen dollars.”

Thirty years ago, though, the revel finally became the serious, unmistakably sophisticated affair that it remains today. In our Spring 1985 issue, Plimpton et al enlisted Roz Chast to help dream up a few concepts that could really guarantee a once-in-a-lifetime Revel experience. They were riffing on the theme of “Great Moments in Literature.” Here are three of their proposals: Read More »

The Verb to Be

February 19, 2015 | by

Andre_Breton

André Breton in 1924.

André Breton’s poem “The Verb to Be” originally appeared in our Spring 1985 issue.

I know the general outline of despair. Despair has no wings, it doesn’t necessarily sit at a cleared table in the evening on a terrace by the sea. It’s despair and not the return of a quantity of insignificant facts like seeds that leave one furrow for another at nightfall. It’s not the moss that forms on a rock or the foam that rocks in a glass. It’s a boat riddled with snow, if you will, like birds that fall and their blood doesn’t have the slightest thickness. I know the general outline of despair. A very small shape, defined by jewels worn in the hair. That’s despair. A pearl necklace for which no clasp can be found and whose existence can’t even hang by a thread. That’s despair for you. Let’s not go into the rest. Once we begin to despair we don’t stop. I myself despair of the lampshade around four o’clock, I despair of the fan towards midnight, I despair of the cigarette smoked by men on death row. I know the general outline of despair. Despair has no heart, my hand always touches breathless despair, the despair whose mirrors never tell us if it’s dead. I live on that despair which enchants me. I love that blue fly which hovers in the sky at the hour when the stars hum. I know the general outline of the despair with long slender surprises, the despair of pride, the despair of anger. I get up every day like everyone else and I stretch my arms against a floral wallpaper. I don’t remember anything and it’s always in despair that I discover the beautiful uprooted trees of night. The air in the room is as beautiful as drumsticks. What weathery weather. I know the general outline of despair. It’s like the curtain’s wind that holds out a helping hand. Can you imagine such a despair? Fire! Ah they’re on their way … Help! Here they come falling down the stairs … And the ads in the newspaper, and the illuminated signs along the canal. Sandpile, beat it, you dirty sandpile! In its general outline despair has no importance. It’s a squad of trees that will eventually make a forest, it’s a squad of stars that will eventually make one less day, it’s a squad of one­-less-­days that will eventually make up my life.

Translated from the French by Bill Zavatsky and Zack Rogow.

13 COMMENTS

Philip Levine’s “A Sign”

February 18, 2015 | by

Philip Levine in 1980.

This week, we’re celebrating Philip Levine by posting some of his poems from our archives. This one, “A Sign,” comes from our Spring 1981 issue.

The last words the sea spoke
before it died, the last sigh
of the great wind that blew
before we were born, the last
light that dawns on the hill
of our dying, skull hill we
would call it.

Read the whole poem here.