The interviews in our new Winter issue feature three writers who have defied received wisdom—writers who have expanded art’s role in the national conversation. The first is one of the most politically engaged poets of our time; the second is a novelist whose experimental forms have made him a hero in his native Scotland, though he remains underread in the U.S.; and the third is with a critic who devoted his career to asserting and celebrating the centrality of the black experience to American culture.
Today is Prince’s birthday—the Minnesota governor has declared it Prince Day, and I’m wearing my Purple Rain T-shirt. “The Morning Papers,” a collection at Media Diversified, invites writers of color and Prince devotees to reflect on his legacy. Tanuja Desai Hidier, who was many moons ago an intern at the Review, remembers him in the poem “Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi woh Purple barsaat ki raat”: “Pulsing purple Om. / Love symbol. Id. / Strumming us home: / A compass. The Kid.” And in “Camille Ain’t Dead, Honey,” Gemma Weekes mulls on his death: “We remembered all his talk about the Spooky Electric. Some of us thought The Kid was irresponsible and that the Spooky Electric was a train he’d jumped on in the middle of the night, taking him off to some traitorous adventure elsewhere. He’d not read section 3, passage 33 of the Town Rules that stipulated he choose a successor before quitting city limits … A growing percentage theorized that The Spooky Electric was a It wanted his light. It wanted to stop his light from spreading, so The Kid was kidnapped, or scrubbed free of glitter and buried under a thousand layers of darkness.”
In which Diana Hamilton embarks on a journey to define “fictional poetry”: “I realized I had never been writing about ‘postconceptual poetry’ at all, but about something I started to call ‘Fictional Poetry’—i.e., poetry that uses the style, plot, characterization, or forms of fiction … Key to this sense of the ‘fictional’ is a quality of aboutness that prevents overemphasis on form—and on the repetition of the forms that often characterizes the appearance of schools—and especially resists the belief that the shape a poem takes, rather than its ‘topic,’ is always the source of its politics / interestingness / literariness / purpose. Instead, the books I want to write about don’t mind being about things … A lot of contemporary poetry does not deal very directly with its ‘content’; or rather, it seems contentless. Most things that pass for poems today are list poems without knowing it: by trying to focus on the lyrical image’s mediation of reference, they become mere collections of images that pride themselves on their irrelevance.”
Behold: our new Spring issue, with a cover by Adrian Tomine and a shade of yellow bright enough to bring the thaw. It includes an Art of Nonfiction interview with Luc Sante, who talks about growing up in the New York of the seventies and eighties and his fascination with “the intersection of specific time and place”:
This goes back to my teenage years. I would think, Jeez, 1972 feels so different from 1971 … I meant the feeling on the street, the feeling emanated by people, songs, the contents of the songs, what people were wearing. Trying to reproduce that elusive factor—it’s something I’ve tried to write about many, many times, and it’s impossible. I can only do it, kind of, by indirection. But my spelunking in that direction has nourished a lot of my work.
Rhythm matters. Mood matters. Sense of place matters. All these things we talk about with novels, yet I feel that for history and biography to accomplish what they should accomplish, they have to pay as much attention to these devices as novels do.
In 1912, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire published “Le Pont Mirabeau” in the journal Les Soirées de Paris;a year later the poem appeared in his collection Alcools. Even in Apollinaire’s lifetime, the melancholy piece—which uses the image of the ornate bridge spanning the flowing Seine to explore love and the passage of time—was one of his best known. In the years since, its fame has only grown: it was set to music in a much-covered 1953 song by Léo Ferré, made into a choral arrangement by Lionel Daunais, and later interpreted by the Pogues. A plaque bearing the last lines can be found on the bridge’s foot.
In a rare recording, you can hear Apollinaire himself read “Le Pont Mirabeau”:
In issue 202, the Paris Review staff contributed unsigned translations of ten Apollinaire poems. The following translation of “Le Pont Mirabeau” is by Frederick Seidel.
Le Pont Mirabeau
Under Eads Bridge over the Mississippi at Saint Louis Flows the Seine
And our past loves. Do I really have to remember all that again
And remember Joy came only after so much pain?
Hand in hand, face to face, Let the belfry softly bong the late hour.
Nights go by. Days go by. I’m alive. I’m here. I’m in flower.
The days go by. But I’m still here. In full flower. Let night come. Let the hour chime on the mantel.
Love goes away the way this river flows away. How violently flowers fade. How awfully slow life is.
How violently a flower fades. How violent our hopes are. The days pass and the weeks pass.
The past does not return, nor do past loves. Under the Pont Mirabeau flows the Seine.
Hand in hand, standing face to face, Under the arch of the bridge our outstretched arms make
Flows our appetite for life away from us downstream, And our dream
Of getting back our love of life again. Under the Pont Mirabeau flows the Seine.
Reading Primo Levi in translation, Tim Parks stumbled on the word ankylosed, prompting some thoughts on diction between languages: “A certain credit or self-esteem now attaches itself to reading translations; it is something that intelligent, broad-minded people do. Above all, it is understood that the books will be literary and challenging, perhaps with something of their exotic origins still clinging to them … The American reader of translated novels is predisposed to read a rather different, non-standard English. No one need be anxious that quintals or ankylosed might force themselves into standard vocabulary; rather, they will remain pleasant curiosities, or perhaps even pretentious markers, catering to a self-consciously ‘informed’ reader of foreign novels … We know what it sounds like when an Italian speaks English with an Italian accent. But how can we possibly recognize the flavor of written Italian in written English, if we can’t read in Italian? How can we distinguish it—in English—from the flavor of Spanish or French or Russian or Czech? What can we experience beyond a muddled exoticism?”
Book trailers: Those are funny, right? Watch as writers who’d normally object to crass consumerism sit down in the front of the camera to sell some hardcovers. It’s a uniquely self-loathing spectacle, as Katy Waldman writes: “Perhaps everyone is embarrassed by the apparent fact that a soft-shoeing writer gets people’s wallets out faster than flashes of plot and craft. Perhaps authors resent that it’s so hard to sell their actual books, or phone it in because the clips feel tangential to this tower of words they’ve made. Perhaps hustling your person is just grosser than hustling an object. Or perhaps writers appreciate not having to ‘pimp’ their novels, retreating, instead, inside their winning personalities, if applicable, and the self-mockery represents a kind of nervous laughter.”