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Posts Tagged ‘James Agee’

What We’re Loving: George Packer, Joe Carstairs, Nick Laird

June 7, 2013 | by

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In a virtuosic long poem from his recent collection, Go Giants, Nick Laird inveighs against “the monotony of always being on a side!” Laird was born in Northern Ireland, but the complaint isn’t aimed only at sectarianism. His poetry, which shuttles between New York, Rome, and Cookstown, in County Tyrone, consistently escapes monotony and one-sidedness (including, in this case, a cricketeer’s pun on the word side). His book includes versions of Juvenal, Antoine Ó Raifteirí—a wandering bard and one of the “giants” of Laird’s title—and Anglo-Saxon poetry. You can also hear the nimble diction of Muldoon (“an atmosphere / flecked like emery paper, the finest grade, / that whets the seriffed aerials and steeples”) and the more ponderous music of Heaney (a summer job at a meatplant is spent “lugging plastic / crates of feathercut and paddywhack / and prime off the belt and onto palettes”). “Progress,” a long poem that rewrites Bunyun’s allegory, is a gathering of all these voices and ends up sounding like no one except Laird: “A fine baroque example / of how successfully the choral template / might adjust itself to fit an elliptic / non-contiguous life.” —Robyn Creswell

I recently visited my parents to help them sort through a lifetime of acquisitions in anticipation of a mammoth yard sale. Looking through boxes of my old books, I came across a favorite, The Queen of Whale Cay, and promptly reread it. Kate Summerscale’s biography is a vivid picture of Marion Barbara “Joe” Carstairs, a flamboyant figure of the Lost Generation. A boat racer, womanizer, dandy, and, yes, queen of her own island, Carstairs (an oil heiress) was also known for traveling everywhere with a doll, Lord Tod Wadley, who sported an equally dapper wardrobe. Summerscale was working on the Telegraph’s obit desk when she ran across the story of this forgotten figure; I’m so glad she did, and that I rediscovered my copy. (The office also acquired, from this foray, a brass whale, a crystal ball, and a harpoon.) —Sadie O. Stein

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Murder! Intrigue! Book Clubs! And Other News

June 4, 2013 | by

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  • “Illustrator Jonathan Wolstenholme is a fine artist living in London who depicts still lifes [that] feature animated books with arms engaged in humorous scenarios.” Tee-hee
  • Pulitzer-winning novelist Adam Johnson interviews Kim Jong-il’s sushi chef.
  • The prime suspect in Pablo Neruda’s possible murder is an American double agent in witness protection (!!!).
  • Today, Melville House releases James Agee’s “Cotton Tenants: Three Families” in book form.
  • How to spot the homicidal maniac in your book club.
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    Southern Holiday, Part 1

    January 30, 2013 | by

    Maude Callen's clinic in Berkeley County.

    On Tuesday morning, December 11, I drove a rented 2013 Chevrolet Impala out of Chapel Hill on I-40 East, the first miles of a twenty-two-day road trip around the South, with points as far west as New Orleans and Shreveport. These were the first Christmas plans I’d made on my own in forty-six years.

    Without children, my holidays since 1995 have alternated between my parents’ house in eastern North Carolina and my in-laws’ in Pittsburgh. Over a nearly identical duration, I’ve been researching the life and work of photographer W. Eugene Smith. Now I’m working to finish my last book on him. The first stop on this Southern holiday journey is Berkeley County, South Carolina, a former slave-plantation region near the coast where Smith photographed his 1951 Life essay, “Nurse Midwife.”

    The truth is that I’m tired of Gene Smith. Read More »

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