- Alice, of Wonderland fame, has osmosed right on into the culture and found a life of her own; we no longer need to read Lewis Carroll’s books to feel that we know her. But we should read Carroll—there’s a certain amount of drift between his Wonderland and the one we think we understand. “Conversations about what is real, what is possible, and how rubbery the rules that govern such distinctions turn out to be abound in the tales of Alice. Yet they are sold as children’s books, and rightly so. A philosopher will ask how the identity of the self can be preserved amid the ceaseless flux of experience, but a child—especially a child who is growing so fast that she suddenly fills an entire room—will ask more urgently, as Alice does, ‘Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different.’ Children, viewed from one angle, are philosophy in motion.”
- This Saturday marks Yeats’s sesquicentennial, an occasion celebrated easily enough by reading his poems—but why not read his plays, which are always given short shrift among his work? In a way, they anticipated Beckett: “What happens in a Yeats play can be startling. Purgatory, for example, verges on the lurid. Its material is the rough red wine of sex and violence: a woman’s lust for her groom and their son’s murderous determination to extirpate her sin in blood. Yeats’s genius is to distill that red wine into a fine but heady spirit, a short, incredibly potent theatrical essence that goes straight to both the head and the guts.”
- Since Jerry Seinfeld declared, earlier this week, that he no longer plays college campuses because they’re “too P.C.”—such a taboo-buster, that Seinfeld, with his wry observations!—many have asked if comedy is in jeopardy. They often lean on the same tired rhetoric about laughter’s potential as a “unifying force”; why? “Comedy isn’t supposed to be anything, except what the comedian tries to make it—harmless, mean, political, dirty, dumb. You wouldn’t say that music or fiction are ‘supposed’ to be anything; so why do we saddle all comedy with a curative democratic mission? Too often we view comedy as a craft, a service brought to us by cheerful comfort-workers, more than the work of serious artists. Thus, when they don’t comfort us, we want to complain to the manager.”
- “I can remember in the Fifties when Goatman would come by, up near Arab, Ala. The first time I ever saw him we were picking cotton in the fields near Arab and he was coming down the road. You could hear him coming a mile away with all the bells and all the pots and pans rattling. People would come by and say, ‘Goatman’s coming! Goatman’s coming!’ We’d all rush to the end of the cotton row to watch Goatman go by.” That’s Ansel Elkins, quoting her father in a new interview about her poems and the South.
- Chinese publishers routinely censor their translations of Western books—and the West just as routinely greets this news with a small shrug. “As the anecdotal evidence started to accumulate, it became clear that though cuts tended to be surgically precise, they were also extremely common. Only rarely was there outrage. Many were fatigued by the idea of having to police all their overseas editions. With international publishing, they argued, something is always going to get lost in translation. Many had simply decided to not worry about it.”
For the past two years, we’ve partnered with the Standard, East Village, in downtown Manhattan, to find a Writer-in-Residence—someone with a book under contract who could use three weeks in a hotel room. Last summer’s winner, the poet Ansel Elkins, from Greensboro, North Carolina, was profiled by The New Yorker during her stay. “I come down here with a book until I feel awake,” she said in the hotel restaurant, “and I watch the parade of fine-looking men in suits. You don’t get that in Greensboro.”
Today through April 8, we’re accepting applications for our next residency. No dishes, no distractions, just a quiet room in the center of everything. The residency will last the first three weeks in July; once again, applicants must have a book under contract. Applications will be judged by the editors of The Paris Review and Standard Culture. You can find all the details here. (We’ll answer your most burning question in advance: yes, the room includes free breakfast and free coffee.)
In a New Yorker Talk of the Town from last year, the poet Ansel Elkins sits at an outdoor table at the Standard East Village and watches, she says, “the parade of fine-looking men in suits.” I thought of that line as I was reading her forthcoming debut collection, Blue Yodel. Elkins is from Anniston, Alabama (she now lives in Greensboro, North Carolina), and her poems convey the punishing weather, latent violence, and overgrown beauty of the Southern states. One of my favorites is “Tornado,” in which a woman loses her child to the storm: “I watched my daughter fly away / from the grapnel of my arms. Unmoored, / like a skiff she sailed alone out the window.” Among these measured evocations of sometimes wild places is a rather astute depiction of the city, in the poem “Tennessee Williams on Art and Sex,” which takes its title from a 1975 New York Times review of Williams’s memoirs. (Williams, of course, was another Southerner come north.) “Men in gray suits and hats leap graceful over a water-swollen grate / You stop at a corner bodega to light a cigarette, lean against a crate of oranges,” she writes. The poem also deals dexterously with missed connections: “Tell me again about desire and writing. But you don’t hear me.” —Nicole Rudick
The first page of Richard McGuire’s graphic novel, Here, depicts a corner of an empty living room. A date of the top left reads “2014.” The next page is the same vacant room decorated with floral wallpaper and different furniture, in 1957. Next page, same house, different wallpaper and furniture, 1942. As the book proceeds, McGuire inserts multiple “windows” atop the room: snapshots of that same space across time, sometimes stretching back millennia and jumping two hundred years into the future. We see Lenape Indians joking and flirting in the woods in 1609, the catastrophic rise of sea levels in 2126, carpenters building the house in 1907, the primordial swamps of 8,000 B.C.E. Driven less by narrative and more by the juxtaposition, Here is a collage that pits domesticity and the personal, and even civilization, against the flow of time. McGuire, with his command of the rhythm and texture of images, is onto something concerning the way we perceive the temporal; he said about his recent cover for The New Yorker, “As I walk around the city, I’m time-traveling, flashing forward, planning what it is I have to do … Then I have a sudden flashback to a remembered conversation, but I notice a plaque on a building commemorating a famous person who once lived there, and for a second I’m imagining them opening the door.” —Jeffery Gleaves
J. C. Chandor’s first two films, Margin Call and All Is Lost, were impressive pressure cookers, but neither prepared me for the jolt of his latest, A Most Violent Year, which somehow finds tension and high drama in New York City’s heating-oil business circa 1981. Oscar Isaac stars as Abel Morales, the proprietor of Standard Oil, a thriving but beleaguered company facing turf wars with its competitors, violence against its drivers and salesman, and a slew of indictments from the District Attorney’s office, among other problems. In attempting to solve these, Morales enters a mobbed-up, ethical gray zone, where any victory is pyrrhic and the threat of violence always looms. But A Most Violent Year is not a violent movie: it borrows from crime and gangster films without succumbing to their clichés. As Chandor’s camera takes in the blighted outer boroughs and graffitied subways, success, that most self-evident of goals, comes to feel like a slippery abstraction. “Have you ever thought about why you want it so badly?” Morales’s second-in-command asks him at one point. “I don’t know what you mean,” he replies, with scary sincerity. Isaac turns in a career-making performance: steely and suffering, he can say more with the set of his mouth than many actors do with their whole faces. —Dan Piepenbring
Congratulations to Ansel Elkins, our poet-in-residence at the Standard, East Village, who’s featured in The New Yorker this week. (Complete with a terrific caricature by Tom Bachtell.) Elkins, who recently finished her residency, speaks to Andrew Marantz in the Talk of the Town section, discussing her time at the Standard, her unique position on the height spectrum (“between Lolita and Lil’ Kim”), and her persistent yearning for HoJo ice machines.
Elkins spent her days indoors, napping and listening to Hank Williams and revising her poems with colored pens … Most nights, she went out for three-dollar tacos on Second Avenue and walked back slowly, gazing up at the gargoyles on East Sixth Street. “This late-night walking is the one thing about the city that’s most saturated my work,” she said, mentioning a new poem, an ode to Mae West, that she began writing here. (“Singing in two languages— / English and body; / She jazzes that dazzling verse.”)
Read the whole piece here.
We’re delighted to announce that Ansel Elkins will be our second Writer-in-Residence—and our first poet—at the Standard, East Village, in downtown Manhattan. She will be in residence for three weeks this July. We wish her a happy and productive stay.
Ansel is the recipient of a 2013 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the 2012 North American Review James Hearst Poetry Prize, the 2012 Fugue Poetry Prize, and the 2011 “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in AGNI, The Believer, Best New Poets, Ecotone, The Greensboro Review, Gulf Coast, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. She lives in North Carolina.
If you’re not familiar with our residency series: biannually in January and July, writers with books under contract are selected by The Paris Review and the Standard for a complimentary three-week stay at the newly refurbished Standard, East Village.
We also wish to congratulate our three finalists: Andrew Forsthoefel, Ken Kalfus, and Chinelo Okparanta, each of whom will receive two nights at the Standard, East Village. Because even writers sometimes need a weekend on the town.