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Posts Tagged ‘staff picks’

Staff Picks: Tall and Thin, Tortoises, Tennis Sweaters

September 25, 2015 | by

A 2014 photograph by Cedric Nunn, from Unsettled, now at David Krut Projects. Ntabakandoda monument, built by Sebe of the Ciskei Bantustan government as a homage to the Xhosa Chiefs who fought the British. Ndoda was a Khoi Chief who was killed in battle by Rharrabe.

A few pages into Barbara Pym’s 1944 comedy of manners Crampton Hodnet, I turned to Sadie in confusion. What’s with the descriptions? On page sixteen, “He was dark and thin, just a little taller than she was”; on seventeen, “He was a tall, distinguished-looking man with a thin, sensitive face”; and on twenty, “He was a short, jolly-looking man, while Mrs Wardell was tall and thin.” As Sadie explained, Pym never saw fit to publish Crampton Hodnet in her lifetime, so it’s possible that all these height measurements are a sign of inexperience and haste. On the other hand, the novel is such a sharp send-up of romantic conventions (handsome new vicar meets long-suffering lady’s companion) that they may be part of the joke. In any case, the book is addictive, with scenes as funny and impatient as anything in her later work. —Lorin Stein

The Greek tragedies were written for and performed by soldiers. Sophocles, a retired general, wrote his plays—many of them postwar tragedies, PTSD tragedies—between two major Athenian wars, and because they were performed during citywide festivals, they seem to have been a part of the civic war mechanism: a way for the citizenry to cope, understand, and grieve together. Bryan Doerries’s Theater of War project, which I first read about in Harper’s, stages readings of ancient Greek tragedies for service members and veterans in an effort to remind them that they’re “not alone across time.” Doerries’s new book is about his readings of the plays—and how he gained support from the U.S. military for his project—but it’s also a study of the therapeutic values of art. Many of us lamely suffer from PTSD headline fatigue: it’s always in the news but rarely makes the front page anymore, not for lack of persistence but because there aren’t many new ways of thinking about it. Doerries’s book implicates everyone when it says that the most useful healing is public rather than private. It’s hopeful, in a way, to consider that we can learn through catastrophe: that this is not a new idea, and that it’s best done together. —Jeffery Gleaves

“All the more elegant forms of cruelty, I’m told, begin / with patience.” That’s the first line in Carl Phillips’s newest collection, Reconnaissance. The book is thin, no more than forty-eight pages, and though you could easily read it in an afternoon, I’d recommend sitting with it awhile longer. Raw and unafraid, Phillips’s poems sift through the cruelties of the heart; he writes of the old lovers that “rise as one before you …/ like perennials you’d forgotten to expect again”; of betrayal, “the kind of betrayal … I’ve been waiting for, / all my life”; of mistakes, “the ones that sweetly rot beneath me.” He left me so mesmerized that I reread the collection as soon as I’d finished it. A few favorite (devastating) lines from “The Strong by Their Stillness”: “You can love a man / more than he’ll ever love back or be able to, you can confuse / your understanding of that / with a thing like acceptance or, / worse, all you’ve ever deserved.” —Caitlin Youngquist Read More »

Staff Picks: Castrating Cattle, Driving on Drugs

September 18, 2015 | by

From the cover of Alien Abduction.

I’ve been reading Lewis Warsh’s collection Alien Abduction this week, and it’s pretty great. Many are prose poems, and even those that aren’t read like they are: conversational, plain-dealing, unpretentious. Among my favorites is “Once,” a paragraph of a poem about taking mescaline and going for a drive and the miraculous feeling that comes from arriving back home in one piece and to a domestic scene that is oblivious to the adventure. There’s a loneliness to these poems, even when the poet isn’t alone, but he doesn’t seem heedful of this, or bothered by it: it may be more of a gentle, yawning solitude than loneliness. “There’s a difference between being with someone and being alone,” Warsh writes, “but I can’t tell you what it is.” —Nicole Rudick

The Paris Review was forced to move its offices in 2013; like every other building on our Tribeca block, ours—built in 1869, with a beautiful cast-iron facade, and chock-full of various arts organizations—was sold to a developer who planned to convert its units to high-end condos. For the staffers who were relatively new to the city, it felt like the end of an era—though, of course, the era that established Tribeca as an art haven has been over for a very long time. New York’s abandonment of its identity as a gritty, crime-ridden, artistically productive city is the subject of Edmund White’s essay “Why Can’t We Stop Talking About New York in the Late 1970s?,” published last week in T Magazine and accompanied by the hauntingly beautiful photographs of Peter Hujar. White is too exacting (and too honest; New York of forty years ago, despite its appeal, was a thoroughly unpleasant place to live) to be wistful: he gives the city’s vices more coverage than its virtues. But the piece is undeniably a lament, at least in part, for the New York of the seventies—“the city that, while at its worst, was also more democratic: a place and a time in which, rich or poor, you were stuck together in the misery (and the freedom) of the place, where not even money could insulate you.” —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

Some things I learned from Ted Conover’s “Cattle Calls,” a look into the lives of Iowa livestock veterinarians from the new issue of Harper’s: that more than 10 percent of the nation’s pigs died in a year from porcine epidemic diarrhea; that you can castrate a bull simply by tying a rubber band around its scrotum, and that dogs love to eat raw bull testicles; that agribusiness has made it all but impossible to survive as a vet with a private practice in a rural area; that bald eagles have taken to eating a slurry of dead hog parts sometimes used as fertilizer. Conover’s piece opens with a doctor inserting his arm into a cow’s rectum and ends with an assisted cattle birth; and lest you feel misled by the lurid details I’ve cherry-picked, it’s a generous, evocative portrait of an increasingly rare kind of working life. The photography, by Lance Rosenfield, is strong and lived-in—here in New York, where Fashion Week has just ended, it feels like an authentic rebuke to the parade of editorials glamorizing blue-collar work wear. —Dan Piepenbring
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Staff Picks: Yeltsin and Yelling

September 11, 2015 | by


From They Live, 1988.

We published Padgett Powell’s “Boris Yeltsin Spotted in a Bar” in our Summer issue. It spoke to me, but I don’t know why. It’s basically a list of items you’d find in a well-stocked hardware store, followed by a meditation on a drunk spouse, followed by the appearance, in an American bar, of someone who may or may not be the deceased Russian statesman. But its narrator, with his digressive style, is lonely in a way that makes him obsessed with everyday mysteries, and he felt very alive to me, in his mania. That story is from Powell’s new collection, Cries for Help, Various­, where—be still my beating heart—it sits among a Yeltsin trilogy, rounded out by “Yeltsin Dancing” and “Yeltsin and Canaries.” As with the rest of Cries for Help, these stories are at once absurd and plaintive; they generate the kind of curiosity you feel when you see one boot sitting in the middle of the street, or the same stranger in three different neighborhoods in a day. Critics sometimes dismiss Powell’s fiction—as with Barthelme’s before him—as directionless riffing, but these aren’t non sequiturs: his sentences gather pathos as they accumulate. He’s hidden a lot of sadness in such a funny book. —Dan Piepenbring

Last weekend, I rewatched John Carpenter’s 1988 film They Live, a subversive and satirical take on capitalism. Midway through the film, with the planet in jeopardy, two protagonists engage in an exhausting six-minute fight; one has insisted that the other don sunglasses that allow him to see Earth’s invading aliens. I see now that the scene is an astute comment on human nature: even when the future of the planet is at stake, people can’t be trusted to make the right decisions. This realization comes only from having read Lee Billing’s essay at Nautilus about digging into Stanislaw Lem’s early sixties philosophical tract, Summa Technologiae. The book—which sounds dense but also brilliant—examines questions about our relationship with technological advances, such as “Where are the absolute limits for our knowledge and our achievement, and will these boundaries be formed by the fundamental laws of nature or by the inherent limitations of our psyche?” In Lem’s appraisal, the potential obsolescence of the human race will be determined by the unpredictability of human behavior—an unpredictability he experienced firsthand as a Polish Jew in World War II: “We were like ants bustling in an anthill over which the heel of a boot is raised … Some saw its shadow, or thought they did, but everyone, the uneasy included, ran about their usual business until the very last minute, ran with enthusiasm, devotion—to secure, to appease, to tame the future.” —Nicole Rudick
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Staff Picks: Cavewomen, Contentlessness, Crawfish Étouffée

August 14, 2015 | by

From the cover of Scattered at Sea.

This week, in anticipation of sending files to our printer, I’ve mostly been reading the work that will make up our Fall issue. But I’ve snuck moments to read from Amy Gerstler’s new collection, Scattered at Sea. Gerstler’s poems are witty and direct, informal but also decisive. She seems to be thinking about things that other people aren’t thinking about—or they are thinking about them but don’t take notice of the fact. So we have “On Wanting to Be Male,” in which she “Lusted after their sprint speed, briefcases, Tahitian aftershave, crew cuts, blue nuts, thrusty cutlasses” instead of the “undulating, oft-colonized potential baby cave” of the “female model.” Elsewhere, she imagines herself as a cavewoman who “Can’t keep cave clean” and has “Tender feeling for baby mammoth as we eat him.” There are moments of sublimity, too, as when she describes a sunset as “a cocktail of too many boozes / she’d like to switch off / via remote control / but there’s no antidote / for celestial events.” And when she says of the early Greek philosophers, “getting a lot of the science right /  While still pawing through entrails to divine the future,” I feel the distance between then and now shrink to almost nothing. —Nicole Rudick

SpeechwriterBarton Swaim’s memoir The Speechwriter is about his time working for Mark Sanford, the disgraced former governor of South Carolina—but Sanford’s name never appears in print, which helps the book to shrug off the lurid connotations of political tell-alls. There’s actually nothing scandalous in The Speechwriter: it’s a sober, lucid, funny story about language and its fraught relation to statesmanship. Early on, Swaim learns that what the governor wants from him isn’t well-honed rhetoric—it’s logorrhea, a torrent of verbiage designed to conceal the total absence of content at the heart of the gubernatorial body. “Sometimes,” he writes, “I felt no more attachment to the words I was writing than a dog has to its vomit.” In the extent of its dysfunction, Sanford’s office seems like something out of an Armando Iannucci show, and Swaim allows himself to feel cynical about it, but never inhumane or Orwellian. In fact, unlike nearly every book of its kind, The Speechwriter at its core is sensitive and apolitical: Swain just wants to understand why we so often insist on mangling the language.Dan Piepenbring Read More »

What We’re Loving: Gremlin Jokes, Spiritual Paths, Sundae Ire

January 17, 2014 | by

Backgammon (1982) by Jane Freilicher

Jane Frelicher, Backgammon, 1982.

It’s been almost fifteen years since Akhil Sharma published his first novel, An Obedient Father. This terrible, improbably funny book—about a single mother forced to share an apartment with the father who raped her as a child—won Sharma a PEN/Hemingway prize, a Whiting Award, and praise from the likes of Jonathan Franzen and Joyce Carol Oates. (I remember because it was the first novel I had the honor of editing.) Now Sharma is back with Family Life, the tale of an Indian American boy coming of age in the shadow of a family disaster. It too is terrible and improbably funny, and is excerpted in this week’s New Yorker. With acid, deceptively artless prose and a faultless ear for dialogue, Sharma strips his characters bare from page one and dares us to love them in their nakedness. I cannot think of a more honest or unsparing novelist in our generation. —Lorin Stein

Michael Hofmann is the only translator whose work I would read no matter what he decided to English—if only I could keep up with him! In the excellent new issue of Asymptote, he tells a story about interviewing Wolfgang Koeppen in 1992, four years before the German novelist’s death. (“With my English reticence and youth, I met Koeppen halfway: in other words, we were both barely out of our shells.”) He also writes of the Joseph Mitchell–like silence that Koeppen fell into after the publication of Death in Rome (1954) and lauds the still-untranslated last book, Youth (1976)—giving us reason to hope he might be at work on an English version. The final remarks on Koeppen’s sentences—continually “sidestepping into freedom,” “scrupulously managed, supple, cadenced, sumptuously lexical, expressive prose”—double as a description of Hofmann’s own writing. —Robyn Creswell

Poetry’s January issue contains a thirty-page feature on Jane Freilicher: her artwork and her close friendships with a number of poets, among them Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, and James Schuyler. The section is adapted from Tibor de Nagy Gallery’s wonderful exhibition, last summer, “Jane Freilicher: Painter Among Poets” (it’s currently on view at the Poetry Foundation, in Chicago). I remembered having glimpsed the show’s catalogue in Lorin’s office. I liberated it, and I’m not sure I’ll give it back. It’s like having a scrapbook made by the people whose work you most admire, and it shows that they had as good a time in one another’s company as you’d imagined. “Some little gremlins seemed to have popped loose in my idea factory and I think they may have been sent over from Koch’s brassiere factory,” writes Freilicher to O’Hara. And in what may be my favorite letter in the whole book, from Jane to Frank on a poem of his: “it just don’t seem to have that real low-down smelly sexy everyday Olympian quality your admirers depend upon.” —Nicole Rudick Read More »


Horror Story

October 25, 2013 | by

“First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.” So begins Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury’s 1962 tale of a demonic carnival that descends on a Midwestern town. I’ve long loved the 1983 Disney adaptation (which is way scarier than many a grown-up horror movie, and actually nothing like the synth-heavy trailer) but until this fall, had never read the book. When I did, I was intrigued by the dedication: “With love to the memory of GENE KELLY, whose performances influenced and changed my life.” In his afterward, Bradbury explains the unexpected dedication—altered for the second edition—and also relates the anecdote below, in a talk he gave in Pasadena a few years ago.