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Posts Tagged ‘racism’

Change We’ll All Believe In

September 27, 2016 | by

Photo: Sara Kelly.

There’s a brand of New Orleans evening that begins on a whim, dissolves into multiheaded spectacle, and explodes into something else entirely. A few nights ago I was talking politics outside of C___, this chalky bar tucked between the French Quarter’s nether regions, and the question came up, there as in everywhere else in the city: Saints game or debate? Their run times conflicted.

A buddy of mine said of course he would watch the debate. What a question, he said, what a farce. He added something else about the future of Everything.

Another friend expressed ambivalence. Six beers sat on the table between us, his words rolling across their rims. Whenever we knocked the legs the bottles tinkled along in agreement. 

I was about to embarrass myself when the woman smoking quietly behind us—quite literally in the shadows—said that of course she was watching the Saints game. It wasn’t even a question. And before we could ask her why, she gave us a story.

Her name was L. She used to tend bar at C___.

She said: Read More »

The Role of the Poet: An Interview with Solmaz Sharif

July 27, 2016 | by

In 2014, I heard Solmaz Sharif read “Look,” the title poem from her debut collectionLook 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 »

Unconventional, Part 7: Party Time with Dick Gregory

July 25, 2016 | by


Throughout the summer, Nathan Gelgud, a correspondent for the Daily, has been posting a weekly comic about the writers, artists, and demonstrators who attended the contested 1968 Democratic National Convention. Catch up with the whole series here. Read More »

An Emotional Performance

June 23, 2016 | by

How the Internet makes memoirists of us all.

Jean Alphonse Roehn, Portrait of an Artist Painting Her Self Portrait

Jean Alphonse Roehn, Portrait of an Artist Painting Her Self Portrait

I can’t recall the last time I didn’t know a writer’s face. See me pasting bylines into Facebook to find an essayist’s profile picture. Watch as I dive through tagged photographs to find out which school a reporter attended, what his partner looks like. Is his Twitter account verified? Is he famous enough to justify being verified? Usually I’m less interested in the plain fact of, say, a writer’s ethnicity or what kind of pet she owns than I am in her presentation of those facts. Of course sometimes I’m just nosy, but more often, I’m looking for reasons to trust or distrust a writer’s work. I don’t really believe in objective narrators anymore, but I still care to look for reliable ones. Read More »

My Twinkie Poem

June 15, 2016 | by

On “Goldacre,” a poem in our new Summer issue.

Photo by Rainier Arenas

Photo by Rainier Arenas

I wrote “Goldacre”—my “Twinkie” poem—in the wake of the brouhaha surrounding last year’s Best American Poetry anthology, when the white writer Michael Derrick Hudson published a poem under the name Yi-Fen Chou, sparking a media frenzy. As one of the few #ActualAsianPoets to have had a poem (“March of the Hanged Men,” first published in The Paris Review) included in the anthology, I was unwillingly sucked into the whole mess. But after my initial queasiness subsided, the controversy stirred up a familiar set of questions for me. Read More »

Poets at the Supermarket, and Other News

June 2, 2016 | by

Nathan Gelgud’s drawing of Ginsberg and Whitman at the supermarket. Image via Signature

  • A 1907 book of American superstitions confirms that we’ve always been a delusional people. And a morbid people, too, as these sample superstitions suggest: “If you kiss a baby’s feet, it will not live to walk on them.” “Never call a baby an angel, or it will die before the year is out.” “If a fire puffs, it is a sure sign of a neighbor’s quarreling.” “Carrying a shovel through the house—bad luck.” “If a white horse strays into your yard, one of the family will die.”