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


This Week’s Reading

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.

After finishing Randall Jarrell’s Faust: Part I last week, I switched translators in midstream and have been reading Martin Greenberg’s version of part 2. The first act features speaking roles for an olive branch, “a deputation of gnomes,” and a creature named Skin-and-Bones, who changes sex in midspeech. At the end of the act, Faust wrestles with Paris, who is trying to rape the resurrected Helen of Troy. So far, the second act is much, much weirder. —Robyn Creswell

T. S. Eliot’s On Poetry and Poets is a pleasant collection of essays on how and why we write poetry. Eliot argues that he comes to understand his own verse better by reading the critical reaction to it. With last month’s New York Times article “Why Criticism Matters” in mind, this is a nice reminder that even the most creative and accomplished writers benefit from an open critical discourse. —Rosalind Parry

This winter’s record-breaking snowfall has given some at the New York Times a touch of the poet, with such newsy verse as “Everywhere, the winds whispered and moaned in their secret Ice Age language” and “Winds that had howled like banshees moderated through the day to cello velocities, and Central Park was a child’s dream of winter, with sledders, skiers and strollers out in the drifts, cutting trails to nowhere.” But what do you expect from the masters of the trend piece. —Nicole Rudick