Posts Tagged ‘poems’
August 26, 2016 | by The Paris Review
Fifty-three years ago, James Baldwin published The Fire Next Time, on the experience of being black in America. The title comes from a slave song: “God gave Noah the rainbow sign / No more water but fire next time.” This month, Jesmyn Ward published a compilation of essays called The Fire This Time. She wanted a book, as she writes in a brilliant introduction, “that would reckon with the fire of rage and despair and fierce, protective love currently sweeping through the streets and campuses of America … A book that a girl in rural Missouri could pick up at her local library and, while reading, encounter a voice that hushed her fears.” Ward has packed a multitude into a modest volume and fulfills, I think, her desire to provide a full and rich accounting of black life, one that is infrequently given voice. The lead piece is a sharply evocative prose poem by Kima Jones about a trip home to North Carolina for a funeral and time in the woods with her cousins, “with red cups, Black and Milds, Jim Beam, a blue lighter plucked from the card table.” Another favorite is Garnette Cadogan’s essay on walking, as a boy in Kingston and as a young man in the United States. The dissonance between the two is startling but not surprising: in the former, “I’d get lost in Mittyesque moments, my young mind imagining alternate futures,” and in the other, walking is “a pantomine undertaken to avoid the choreography of criminality.” —Nicole Rudick
I often go back to Gringos, the 1991 novel by Charles Portis, when I find myself between books. Portis is a fount of comedy; his books brim with deliciously absurd characters. Gringos features a clique of eccentric expats idling in the Yucatán: there’s Rudy and Louise Kurle, a blond duo, in Mexico recording evidence of aliens; Doc Flandin, an aged historian and anthropologist whose life work comprises a comprehensive account of Mayan culture; Refugio Osorio, a native of Mérida who deals scraps from his land in the jungle (I’m fond of his pup, “Ramos, son of the late Chino, bravest dog in all Mexico”). Their comedy comes from the wry observations of Gringos’s hero and narrator Jimmy Burns, a fortysomething deliveryman and former hustler of pre-Columbian artifacts. Jimmy lives at the marvelously shabby Posada Fausto hotel in Mérida, taking hauling jobs to pay his rent. His life there “rocks along from day to day”—he drinks in bars and heads to the zoo “to look over the fine new jaguar”—until he finds himself caught up in violent hippie rituals at ancient ruins and adventure in the Yucatán. —Caitlin Love Read More »
August 23, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
Is Kanye’s McDonald’s poem a parable of class struggle?
When I wrote in May about the seriocomic implications of a Burger King Spa opening in Helsinki, I thought I’d pegged the most extraordinary fast-food story of the year. Reader, I blew it. In the past month alone, McDonald’s has opened a “McDonald’s of the Future” in Saint Joseph, Missouri, luring customers to their purportedly healthier, Chipotlified restaurant by promising all-you-can-eat fries; BK has debuted the “Whopperito,” a burger-burrito hybrid that fits in your cup holder; and KFC has sold two thousand bottles of fried-chicken-scented SPF 30 sunscreen. For any writer hoping to capture the texture of our greasy-fingered moment, the ineffable Sturm und Drang of life in a world where Denny’s believes the ideal male body is a stack of flapjacks, the outlook is grim. As Philip Roth wrote, American reality “stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents.” And he said that before Chicken Fries were a thing.
But Philip Roth is no Kanye West, and Kanye West won’t just sit there while actuality outdoes his talents—heaven forfend. Instead, Kanye West has published a poem about Mickey D’s in Boys Don’t Cry, a one-off zine from Frank Ocean. It goes like this: Read More »
August 19, 2016 | by The Paris Review
“The one thing no one will tell you is that these feelings and this behavior will last ten years. That is, a decade of your life. Ask your doctor if this is true and she will deny it.” In Mary Ruefle’s hands an essay about menopause becomes an essay on the human condition; ditto an essay about shrunken heads, and one about milk shakes, and one about dealing with crumbs. We published “Milk Shake” in our Spring issue as a prose poem—and it is that—but reading her collection My Private Property, I’m struck by the conversational quality of this new work, by its anthropological spirit, and by its stubborn emphasis on the facts as Ruefle has found them—whatever your doctor, or hers, or anyone else, may say to the contrary. —Lorin Stein
“One day I was drawing my weekly comic strip, and as I drew the frame, I had a half-memory of being with my cousins after seeing the torch light parade … 9 kids crammed into one car—no seatbelts, 3 adults smoking … And suddenly we were all just throwing up parade food at the same time. On top of this image was a half-memory of staying overnight at a neighbor’s house. Nine kids. The mom said things like ‘Holy Balls!’ When I make a comic strip, I let these sorts of images lead and combine as I move my pen. I try to let one line lead to the next without plan. The only thing I have to do is stay in motion. That’s what I was doing when I first saw Marlys.” Lynda Barry has been drawing the freckled, bespectacled, opinionated eight-year-old since 1986; to my mind, Marlys ranks with Charlie Brown as one of the most genuine and poignant adolescent protagonists in serial comics. The newly updated and expanded collection, The Greatest of Marlys, has been my beach reading this week. If you haven’t read Barry, let this book be your gateway: she is one of a kind, and with Marlys, she is irresistible. —Nicole Rudick Read More »
August 3, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- In the early sixties, the London Review of Books’ Mary-Kay Wilmers was working as a secretary at Faber, where one of her superiors was T. S. Eliot. His managerial style left something to be desired, she writes: “I had some bad moments with him. I hadn’t been there more than a few months when he caught me looking out of the window onto Russell Square. I had my back both to my colleagues and to the door, and I was saying: ‘Look at all those lucky people in Russell Square doing bugger all.’ My colleagues were silent and when I turned round I realized why: Eliot had come into the room and was glowering at me. I might as well have been tearing at the grapes with murderous paws. After I’d graduated to blurb-writing he showed all the directors a blurb I’d written, saying: ‘Surely we can’t publish this.’ It was for Ann Jellicoe’s play The Knack and I’d said that the knack in question was the knack of getting girls into bed. Once, early on, I pointed out a discrepancy between two printings of one of his early poems—I can’t remember which. I was quite proud of myself. He said it didn’t matter.”
- While we’re on Faber—in Eliot’s day, they declined to publish Basil Bunting’s poems. But now they’ve put out a long-awaited critical edition of his work, which corrects, as Christopher Spaide says, a decades-long oversight on the publishers’ part: “Bunting’s arrival at Faber comes with a certain poetic justice: after enduring a stinging rejection by Eliot, the former Faber editor, in his lifetime, he has now been published alongside scholarly editions of Eliot’s work, and he looks every bit the major British poet. The editor of the new edition is Don Share, a poet and the editor of Poetry magazine. Over the phone, Share suggested that Bunting ‘is more important to us, and even more legible to us, now than he has been, because he was right about so many things early on.’ Specifically, Share brought up Bunting’s reliance on performance (‘He was kind of a proto-performance poet’), his gratitude to small presses, and his grounding of global concerns in a local community.”
- One of many reasons that Japan is culturally superior to the U.S.: its citizens are presently in the thrall of an existentially despairing egg yolk. “Meet Gudetama, the anthropomorphic embodiment of severe depression. Gudetama is a cartoon egg yolk that feels existence is almost unbearable. It shivers with sadness. It clings to a strip of bacon as a security blanket. Rather than engage in society, it jams its face into an eggshell and mutters the words, ‘Cold world. What can we do about it?’ … How did a sad little egg win so many Japanese hearts? Why did a billion-dollar corporation decide to market a character embodying depression? And what does Gudetama’s appeal reveal about Japan’s culture?”
- Boyd McDonald had a passion, and that passion was publishing one of the best fucking gay-sex magazines ever to see a printing press: “He found his calling in the early 1970s after he got sober, dropped out of straight life, holed up in a New York City SRO, and began publishing the zine Straight to Hell, a compendium of real-life gay-sex stories that is still being published today, more than twenty years after his death. Though Straight to Hell was mainly composed of stories sent in by anonymous contributors, it was always inflected with McDonald’s own dexterous wit, radical politics, and unashamed obsession with the details of sex. Straight to Hell painted a world full of glory holes, where around every corner men were having every kind of sex. A reader once called it both ‘fantastic jerk-off material & consciousness-raising stuff.’ ”
- Then, on the other hand, there are teens. As if to take a perverse pride in the fact that nothing is sacred in this world, that no norm can go unchallenged, today’s teens have decided they no longer enjoy sex. “Noah Patterson, eighteen, likes to sit in front of several screens simultaneously: a work project, a YouTube clip, a video game. To shut it all down for a date or even a one-night stand seems like a waste. ‘For an average date, you’re going to spend at least two hours, and in that two hours I won’t be doing something I enjoy,’ he said … He has never had sex, although he likes porn. ‘I’d rather be watching YouTube videos and making money.’ Sex, he said, is ‘not going to be something people ask you for on your résumé.’ ”
July 27, 2016 | by Zinzi Clemmons
In 2014, I heard Solmaz Sharif read “Look,” the title poem from her debut collection. Look inserts military terminology into intimate scenes between lovers, refashioning hollow, bureaucratic language from the U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms with a human touch. (Even the collection’s title has an alternate military meaning: per the Department of Defense, a look means “a period during which a mine circuit is receptive of influence.”) At a time when the U.S. automates acts of murder, Sharif insists that war is still personal—perhaps today more than ever. In one of its most quoted passages, she writes, “Daily I sit / with the language / they’ve made / of our language / to NEUTRALIZE / the CAPABILITY OF LOW DOLLAR VALUE ITEMS / like you.”
“By simply placing words from the Defense dictionary in small caps, and deploying them in scenes of intimacy,” John Freeman wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Sharif has begun the process of renaturing them, putting them in the readers’ hands for examination.” Look confirms what I’ve known since 2014: Sharif is poised to influence not only literature but larger conversations about America, war, and the Middle East. I spoke with her about her influences, the role of the poet in today’s world, and the stories behind Look.
In an essay you wrote for the Kenyon Review, you said, “When I am asked to describe my poetry on airplane flights, at dinner parties, I describe it first as ‘political.’ Then, ‘documentary.’ And these two things seem to, for some, preclude aesthetic rigor.” There’s a popular conception that overtly political can’t have aesthetic value—that a political message degrades the aesthetics. Is your work a deliberate effort to rebut this notion? Read More »
July 22, 2016 | by Alex Dueben
Morgan Parker has a long résumé—she teaches and edits—that somehow hasn’t precluded a prolific career as a poet. Her first collection, Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night, came last year; her second, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, is due out in 2017.
A few months ago, Parker’s poem “Hottentot Venus” appeared in the Spring issue of The Paris Review. Her use of famous names and long, playful titles (“Ryan Gosling Wearing a T-shirt of Macaulay Culkin Wearing a T-Shirt of Ryan Gosling Wearing a T-Shirt of Macaulay Culkin”) suggests that she’s light of heart—but she is, as one reviewer put it,“as set on understanding the world as on changing it.” Race and femininism are central to her work, which explores ways to look at the present through the past, to examine ordinary life through pop culture, and to consider the events of her own life. We spoke recently about the joys of lengthy titles, how her many jobs intersect, and the process of crafting a personal mythology. Read More »