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Posts Tagged ‘Randall Jarrell’

What We’re Loving: NASCAR, Nukes, Nobility

February 21, 2014 | by

thermonuclear

From the cover of Elaine Scarry’s Thermonuclear Monarchy.

When I discovered the work of Elaine Scarry in college, I remember thinking that her name was somehow bound up in her field of study—one had informed the other. She has a new book out, and the connection has never seemed more apt. Thermonuclear Monarchy is a badass title and a frightening one. The book is 640 pages, so I haven’t read it—it could be a while before I have that much time—but I have been reading about it. Nathan Schneider’s essay at The Chronicle of Higher Education is the best read. Scarry is a broad thinker, pulling from unusual corners of politics, history, and culture (including, Schneider notes, “the town where [Thomas] Hobbes grew up, a mistranslation of the Iliad, marriage, CPR, the Swiss nuclear-shelter system”). Thermonuclear Monarchy, then, is “less an argument that nuclear weapons should be eliminated, or how, than an entire worldview in which they have no rightful place.” —Nicole Rudick

We all know him as The Paris Review’s trusty third baseman (“Wisdom” and “Chaos Mode” are but two of his on-the-field nicknames), but it turns out that Ben Wizner occasionally gets around to other things, too—such as serving as the legal advisor to, um, Edward Snowden. (Yeah, NBD.) Listen here as he and Daniel Ellsberg argue in favor of the motion “Edward Snowden Was Justified” in a debate against Andrew C. McCarthy and R. James Woolsey. (Really, listen—it’s riveting.) —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

Our forthcoming Art of Nonfiction interview with the British psychoanalyst and author Adam Phillips is full of literary reminiscences and references to books that have meant something to Phillips over the course of his life. One in particular has stuck with me over the past few weeks, a Randall Jarrell quote from “A Girl in a Library”: “The ways we miss our lives are life.” Happily, it has reminded me to return to Jarrell’s The Animal Family, which I started a few months ago and put down for no good reason. (I don’t even have the excuse of length—it’s a children’s chapter book). Through the simple story of a woodsman who gathers together members of various species—real and imagined—to form an unconventional family, Randall touches on death, love, the pain of being alone, the strangeness of taste, the joys of language, and the terrifying calm of the wilderness. It is a lesson in what plain words thoughtfully said can evoke, perhaps the best such lesson I’ve ever read in prose. My edition, and I think most others, includes beautiful Maurice Sendak illustrations that are, for Sendak, unusually pastoral—not a figural representation in the lot—and add much to Jarrell’s story. —Clare Fentress

NASCAR was incorporated on this day in 1948—exactly one hundred years after the first publication of The Communist Manifesto. (Would that their similarities didn’t end there.) On such a storied anniversary, an educated citizen has two duties. First, reread your Marx and Engels—now’s as good a time as any to hone your critique of capitalism. Second, visit—or revisit—the thrilling world of NASCAR romance novels. Bonus points if you’re somehow able to combine these pursuits, e.g., by writing a book that’s both a critique of capitalism and a NASCAR romance. —Dan Piepenbring Read More »

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W. H. Auden at the 92nd Street Y

January 22, 2014 | by

W. H. Auden at the Poetry Center, 1966. Photo: Diane Dorr-Dorynek, courtesy of 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center

W. H. Auden at the Poetry Center, 1966. Photo: Diane Dorr-Dorynek, courtesy of 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center

75 at 75,” a special project from the 92nd Street Y in celebration of the Unterberg Poetry Center’s seventy-fifth anniversary, invites contemporary authors to listen to a recording from the Poetry Center’s archive and write a personal response. Here, Cynthia Ozick reflects on W. H. Auden, whose readings she remembers attending as a Poetry Center subscriber in the fifties.

There must be sorrow if there can be love. —From “Canzone”

Ah, the fabled sixties and seventies! Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs! The glorious advent of Howling! Of Getting Stoned! The proliferation of Ginsbergian Exclamation Points! To secure the status of their literary subversion, these revolutionary decades were obliged, like the cadres of every insurrection, to denigrate and despise, and sometimes to blow up, their immediate predecessor, the fifties—the middling middle, the very navel, of the twentieth century. The fifties, after all, were the Eisenhower years, stiff and small like Mamie’s bangs (and just as dated), dully mediocre, constrained, consumerist, car-finned, conformist, forgettable, and stale as modernism itself. Randall Jarrell, one of its leading poets and critics, named this midcentury epoch “The Age of Criticism”—and what, however he intended it, could suggest prosiness more? And what is prosiness if not the negation of the lively, the living, the lasting, the daring, the true and the new? The reality was sublimely opposite. It was, in fact, the Age of Poetry, a pinnacle and an exaltation; there has not been another since. Its poets were more than luminaries—they were colossi, their very names were talismans, and they rose before us under a halo of brilliant lights like figures in a shrine. It was a kind of shrine: the grand oaken hall, the distant stage and its hallowed lectern, the enchanted voices with their variegated intonations, the rapt listeners scarcely breathing, the storied walls themselves in trance—this was the Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y in the heart of the twentieth century. Read More »

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War Memorial

May 27, 2013 | by

candleslarge

They commute with guns. A lot of Israeli soldiers live at home while they do their mandatory service, and, like me, they take the bus to work every day. I’m a student so for me that means carrying four different translations of the Qumran wisdom texts to the university campus. They carry what I think are semi-automatics. We all take the bus together. There is a language to the army uniform that I cannot read. If you know these things, you can tell what part of the armed forces someone is in by the color of his or her beret. The red ones seem tough, I know that. The uniforms themselves are different colors too: a standard green, a nappy white, a khaki. The grey-blue ones tend to have broad shoulders and handguns tucked into their pants. It took me a long time to realize they had holsters under their trousers: I thought the guns were being held in by their underwear elastics, and could fall any moment. From this information, a literate person lays the bones of their expectations for the soldier they see, if she sees them at all. I think most people don’t even notice them. One thing I cannot get used to in Israel is a kind of suspension of horror: that the mechanisms of danger and violence are laid bare and become mundane. Through what I'll call a willful innocence, this is something I resist fully. I notice every soldier, every gun. Guns they tote indifferently on the bus, in the mall, getting ice cream, at the beach. Obviously they can't spend several consecutive years (required service is two for young women, three for men) having anxiety attacks about whether or not it’s emotionally damaging to develop a familiar relationship with weapons. Luckily for them, they have me to do that.

The exception to the soldiers’ invisibility is during a series of memorials, which occur in Israel over a period of two weeks. First is Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. This is a day of ceremonies: candles are lit, and you will hear testimony from the dwindling population of survivors. This year it was on April 7 (holidays here are kept by the lunar Jewish calendar). It is marked by a one-minute siren at ten A.M. For a memorial siren, everyone stands. No matter where you are, you stop and stand. The entire country has this really effective PA system. It reminds me of that scene in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy before Earth is bulldozed, when every physical object becomes a transmitter. The memorial siren is similar to the siren that sounds when there are rockets falling but it is one single tone instead of a falling and rising pitch. This is so that if rockets fall during the siren, you know to seek cover.

A week later is Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day; this year on April 15. It is in remembrance of Israelis who have died in war and terror attacks. The year’s dead are added to a list. The day starts the evening prior (in accordance with the Jewish calendar), marked with a two-minute siren. At this point, the entire nation gives itself forty-eight hours to focus on the soldiers. The TV stations play a continuous loop of short documentaries on the lives of the dead—heartwrenching tributes with interviews and blurry home-videos. The radio stations play only sad, traditional music. At 11 A.M. on the day-of, there is a second two-minute siren. There are ceremonies that evening and, at the end of the memorials, Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day) begins immediately: whiplashing the nation into July Fourth mode. Opinions on this model, and the sudden change in attitude (grievance to celebration) are mixed in Israel.

My friend just left the army, after six years of service. He asked that I call him Ido instead of using his real name, and who am I to argue. So: Ido. This was Ido’s first post-army Yom HaZikaron. He said this year he was in his car, driving, when he realized the siren would go momentarily. Perhaps they said something on the radio. He pulled over, with every other car on the road, got out, and stood by his car, with the door open. He probably ended up in a Reuters photograph. He said it was strange to be in civilian clothes, to be a civilian, on that day. When you are a soldier, everyone looks at you on Yom HaZikaron: you are at the center of something that now he felt slightly peripheral to. In the past, during the siren, he has raised his hand in salute (a gesture exclusive to officers during the siren); this year he has stood with his hands folded by his car. I asked where he would look (I was never sure where to look during the sirens) in those days. “At the flag,” he said. Read More »

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“repeat, repeat, repeat; revise, revise, revise”: Poets Mourning Poets

November 19, 2012 | by

“I used to want to live / to avoid your elegy,” Robert Lowell confessed in “For John Berryman.”

The death of one poet is an extraordinary occasion for another poet. It is like the day a stonemason dies and another has to carve his headstone. Like a rough ashlar, the elegy sits waiting to be shaped into a memorial for the one who is gone. The death of a poet so great as Jack Gilbert last week pains, but also promises remembrances fitting the one who died.

Gilbert devoted most of his elegies to his wife, Michiko Nogami, but poets have forever elegized one another. We can trace the canon through the poems that poets have written to mourn their own: Henri Cole grieving Elizabeth Bishop; Bishop remembering Robert Lowell; Lowell lamenting the death of John Berryman; Berryman longing for Roethke, Jarrell, Hughes, Plath, Schwartz, and William Carlos Williams; W.H. Auden elegizing Yeats; Shelley bemoaning the loss of Keats; all the way back to Ovid mourning Orpheus.

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Staff Picks: R. F. Langley, Divorce, and Rereading

January 28, 2011 | by

This morning I’ve been reading our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, on the protests in Egypt. —Lorin Stein

I’ve just learned that the poet R. F. Langley—like me, a Staffordshire lad—has just died. It’s well worth reading Jeremy Harding’s tribute to Langley’s “fiber-optic attention” over at the LRB blog, and it’s only a short trip from there to the faintly surreal pastoral world evoked by Langley’s verse and journals. His playful approach to poetic form and intimate but elliptical voice tilt the reader’s perspective ever so slightly askew. This isn’t nature as seen beneath the microscope, but glimpsed through the looking glass. —Jonathan Gharraie

Earlier this week, I stumbled on Charles Baxter’s short story “Poor Devil”. Baxter documents a divorced couple’s last moments and memories together as they clean the “house where [they] tried to stage [their] marriage,” ending in the couple—eyes closed and arms out—intimately stumbling through the dark together to look for the ex-wife's purse, “divorced, but ... still married.” Oof. —Sam Dolph

I used to hate it when grown-ups sang the praises of rereading. Then I got old. This week it's The Counterlife and No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger. I remember there was a waiting list at our school library when this restored edition of Mark Twain’s fantasy novel came out, and that it blew my fourth-grade mind. No wonder. Telepathy, time travel, a clandestine printing press in a dilapidated castle—inhabited by a boy narrator who happens to sound like Mark Twain? I must have thought I'd found the Perfect Book. —L. S.

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Staff Picks: Faust, Ibsen, and Bananas

January 14, 2011 | by

I’m reading Randall Jarrell’s translation of Goethe’s Faust, for no better reason than that I found a good used copy while browsing at the Strand. Jarrell died before he could finish part I—at times the verse is a little rough—but Robert Lowell stepped in to translate Gretchen’s famous Spinning Song, which now reads, very movingly, like an elegy for his friend: “My peace is gone, / My heart is sore, / I never find it, / I never find it. // When I look through my window, / I look for him. / When I leave the house, / I go on looking.//...If only I could / Catch him and hold him.” —Robyn Creswell

I saw Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman on Tuesday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Ben Bratley describes James Macdonald’s “thaw-proof” production as having a “sense-numbing wintriness” to it. I loved the sight of Lindsay Duncan, Alan Rickman, and Fiona Shaw standing amid large banks of snow on stage. A small blizzard descended on New York that evening, and when I exited the theater, snow was falling heavily. For a brief moment, it felt as if I hadn’t yet left the play. —Thessaly La Force

The box set of Sandy Denny’s complete recordings are an imposing introduction to one of the most indelible voices of the last fifty years. Fortunately, Rob Young is at hand to steer a course through her work. Denny’s rich and allusive personal mythology—which draws upon maritime literature, pre-Raphaelite poetry, and English classical music—has been a major influence on artists like Kate Bush and Joanna Newsom. Head straight for “All Our Days,” “an eight minute mini-cantata with chords streaking like shafts of sunlight stabbing through clouds, and the alien ripple of a vibraphone recalling the mystical opening of [Vaughan Williams’s] Eighth Symphony.” —Jonathan Gharraie

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