The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘New England’

A Brief History of Shelving, and Other News

November 12, 2015 | by

Titles on the spines: what a concept! A shelf in the Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek. Photo: Erik Kwakkel

  • In 1650, William Pynchon—Thomas’s earliest colonial ancestor—published The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, a small quarto volume about, you know, God and stuff, which caused a hell-storm of controversy in Puritan New England: “To leading officials in the government of Massachusetts Bay, however, this was an insidious text, an exercise in heresy—one the Puritan clergy believed capable of throwing their young and vulnerable colony into irreversible chaos. Pynchon, a prominent layman with a devoted constituency, was charismatic enough to inspire a movement similar to the Antinomian debacle that had nearly brought the colony to its knees in the previous decade … In addition to the burning of Pynchon’s book, the General Court also commissioned a theologian named John Norton to write an official rebuttal … The General Court accepted [Pynchon’s] contrition, though the magistrates did demand he appear before them again the following October. They set bail at £100. This time, Pynchon absconded.”
  • Imagine what it must’ve felt like to be the scribe who invented page numbers. Or title labels. Or spine titles. A physical book is an efficient device, but to look at the history of bookbinding is to see how momentous and hard-won these modest advances were, as Erik Kwakkel writes: “The early history of displaying a book’s title and author on the outside is long and winding: first the information was found on the front or back, then on the fore-edge, and finally on the spine. This order is no coincidence, because it roughly reflects another development, namely how books were stored: first flat (Early and Central Middle Ages), then upright with the fore-edge facing the reader (Later Middle Ages), and finally with the spine facing outward (Early Modern period). Judging from surviving book bindings, the history of the dust jacket actually starts surprisingly late. After all, the earliest traceable specimens date from the fourteenth century.”
  • Punk, which began as street fashion, has completed the final step in its transformation from ethos to consumerist movement: now it’s just street fashion again, and we’re left to wonder if there was ever really anything to it. “Forty years after Television’s legendary residency at CBGB, the world is awash in punk. In the last twenty months, former Village Voice rock critic and punk champion Robert Christgau wrote a memoir about his downtown New York youth, Kim Gordon published her memoirs, Viv Albertine published hers, Richard Hell released the paperback edition of his, Patti Smith released the follow-up to her National Book Award–winning memoir, and HarperCollins signed Lenny Kaye, Smith’s guitarist, to write a memoir of his own. Ramones fans can look forward to a forthcoming Martin Scorsese–helmed biopic and a documentary promising new footage of the seminal band, whose last founding member perished in 2014 … As punk pushes into its fourth decade, its rules, aesthetic, and parameters are still murky at best. Does punk retain any meaning at all?”
  • On the connection between writing and running: “Writers, like runners, often like the idea of their pursuit more so than the difficult work. The appeal of a running regimen is how the miles not only condition the body, but free up a space for the creative mind … Since I’ve returned to distance running, I’ve changed the way I think about writing. Writing exists in that odd mental space between imagination and intellect, between the organic and the planned. Runners must learn to accept the same paradoxes, to realize that each individual run has its own narrative, with twists and turns and strains.”
  • The Paris Review’s intern Joshua Maserow on J. M. Coetzee: “Coetzee doesn’t hate truth. In fact, he yearns for it (transcendental, objective truth). The truth just doesn’t seem all that comforting or that accessible. We must search for our truths but won’t find them. He wears two hats: that of the hopeful Platonist (‘our engagements are with a constantly changing interplay between shadows (fictions) and the real’) but also that of the weary pragmatist (‘the more a person has been offered sympathetic fictions of herself, the more easily she will be able to live within the fiction(s) she holds herself’).”

A Cataract of Ruin

October 26, 2015 | by

Hawthorne’s scariest story.

Thomas Cole, A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains, 1839.

“Even his bright gildings,” Herman Melville once wrote of Nathaniel Hawthorne, “play upon the edges of thunder-clouds.” This was in “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” an 1850 appreciation in which Melville reputed the notion that Hawthorne, fifteen years his senior, was merely “a sequestered, harmless man”:

this great power of blackness in him derives its force from its appeals to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from whose visitations, in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free … At all events, perhaps no writer has ever wielded this terrific thought with greater terror than this same harmless Hawthorne … this black conceit pervades him, through and through.

In the reductive churn that comes with canonization, this “black conceit” seems to have washed off Hawthorne—Melville’s nickname for him, “the Man of Mosses,” hasn’t exactly stuck. We have better Moss People: your Poes, your Lovecrafts, your Shelleys and Stokers. Hawthorne, the thinking goes, is too puritanical to be truly spooky. (Imagine the groans you’d get from reading a bit of The Scarlet Letter around a late October campfire.) But his story “The Ambitious Guest” is scarier than anything in Poe, and its dark romanticism makes no recourse to haunted houses, death masques, black cats, supernaturally sustained heartbeats, or any other genre trope. It’s just about a weary traveler and a nice family who open their home to him. Read More »

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 »

Going Aboard

December 16, 2014 | by

Retracing Moby-Dick on a nineteenth-century whaler.

photo 1

Photo: Ben Shattuck

­­­When Herman Melville was twenty-one, he embarked on the whaleship Acushnet, out of New Bedford. We all know what that led to. This past summer, Mystic Seaport finished their five-year, 7.5-million-dollar restoration of the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan, the sister ship to the Acushnet. The Morgan is in many ways identical to Melville’s fictional Pequod, save that sperm whale jawbone tiller and a few other sinister touches. Mystic Seaport celebrated the completion by sailing the Morgan around New England for a couple months. I went aboard for a night and a day, intent on following in Ishmael’s footsteps, hoping to breathe a little life into my idea of the distant, literary ship. Below are passages from Moby-Dick that involve the Pequod, followed by my own accounts.
Read More »


Now in Fabulous 4-D, and Other News

December 9, 2014 | by


An audience watching a 3-D “stereoscopic film” in 1951. Photo: UK National Archive

  • On the letters of T. S. Eliot: “Despite having spent years wanting to know more about Eliot, I find the prospect of his complete correspondence—of which there are three-and-a-half decades still to go—boring beyond tears … the diplomatic mass of rejection slips and luncheon appointments … [the] deadening epic of polite notes.”
  • There’s no stopping the future, and the future is 4-D movies, which integrate wind, rain, scents, motion, and bubbles into the film-going experience, making it all the more immersive—arguably immersive to a fault. “If you take issue with your seat’s lilts, jolts, and prods (or having air blasted into your ear), you’re sadly out of luck. Aggressive warning labels caution you against placing lidless beverages in your cup holder lest your Sprite end up in your lap. Hot drinks are forbidden for obvious reasons.”
  • Are you tired of referring to December 16 as “Jane Austen’s birthday”? Doesn’t have a very nice ring to it, right? It would be so much easier simply to call it Jane Austen Day, which is what the Jane Austen Centre proposes you do. Go ahead.
  • Syntactically dubious headline of the day: BLINDFOLD SEX KNIFE ATTACK EX-WIFE JAILED FOR MURDER ATTEMPT.
  • “If the snow on the roof melts off, the next storm will be rain. If it blows off, you can calculate on snow. The day of the month on which the first snowstorm comes gives the number of storms you can expect in the following winter.” New Englanders have plenty of gloriously unfounded lore about snow.


Galway Kinnell, 1927–2014

October 30, 2014 | by


Photo via

Galway Kinnell, who aspired to a poetics that “could be understood without a graduate degree,” died on Tuesday in Vermont, at eighty-seven. A winner of both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, Kinnell wrote poems that “dwell on the ugly as fully, as far and as long as I could stomach it,” as he once told the Los Angeles Times. “I think if you are ever going to find any kind of truth to poetry it has to be based on all of experience rather than on a narrow segment of cheerful events.”

Tony Hoagland said that Kinnell’s primary subjects were “mortality, erotic love, and creatureness.” That might make him sound solemn, But Kinnell, who was born in Rhode Island, could also be exceptionally warm, especially when his subject was New England. An obituary by the Associated Press quotes Major Jackson, who included Kinnell among “the great quintessential poets of his generation”:

In my mind he comes behind that other great New England poet Robert Frost in his ability to write about, not only the landscape of New England, but also its people … Without any great effort it was almost as if the people and the land were one and he acknowledged what I like to call a romantic consciousness.

It would be hard to overstate the effect of Kinnell’s poems on the form at large. “I don’t think Galway Kinnell influenced me, but what’s more important, he inspired me,” Philip Levine said in his Art of Poetry interview:

When I read his great poem “The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World,” I said, My God, this is how good the poetry of my generation can be. I can remember exactly where I was when I first read it, on the second floor of the library in an armchair holding The Hudson Review and shivering with excitement.

The Review published Kinnell’s poems throughout his career; his work first appeared in our Spring 1965 issue. We’ve made available one of those earlier poems, “On the Frozen Field,” which begins:

We walk across the snow,
The stars can be faint,
The moon can be eating itself out,
There can be meteors flaring to death on earth,
The Northern Lights can bloom and seethe
And be tearing themselves apart all night,
We walk arm in arm, and we are happy.

You can also read “The Geese,” from our Summer 1985 issue, and “Lackawanna,” from Fall 1994. But best of all is “Another Night in the Ruins,” which Kinnell read at a Review salon in 2001; you can hear the recording here.