The Majesty of the Potato, and Other News


On the Shelf

Charles Jones, Potato Majestic, nineteenth century. Image via the Clark Institute


  • Jorie Graham, talking to Sarah Howe, elaborates on the difficulty of facing the blank page in times like these: “Increasingly now, it’s a matter of using poetry to try to find a way to keep the proportions right, to not be overwhelmed by grief, horror, fear, shame, rage; to use this precious medium I trust to guide me to find at least a way to ask the right questions, a way to hold ‘reality and justice in one thought’—as Yeats admonished me to do when I was a young poet … Our enemies are despicably small, but their actions are capable of destroying the earth now, not just civilization. So, like every poet writing today, what I ask of my poetic tools now feels more urgent than ever, what I ask of the blank page. Not just urgent, but baffling. I have never written so slowly—each poem an attempt both to try to understand how to reenter the current of existence with some understanding of what will suffice—what will permit one to go on as if there were a purpose—and to try to understand what poetry is for under these conditions.”

  • Alexander Briant is a lawyer for an oil company, meaning his job is harder than yours. He’s beckoned to various corners of the globe to investigate various allegations of fraud and corruption, an exercise so heavy with “alternative truth” that the West’s whole globalized house of cards threatens to collapse under its weight. Briant writes, “This is one of the paradoxes of globalization: multinational corporations are the cause of a lot of the dirt slewing around and at the same time set an example of due process in jurisdictions where there is none available in the domestic legal system. The attempts to influence employees’ behavior go well beyond the mere enforcement of rules. All companies worth their salt now speak of ethical ‘values’ as being essential and pay lip-service, at least, to a utopian approach to compliance in which eventually employees will internalize the requisite virtues so that procedures and policies will no longer be necessary. In the meantime, the fight against corruption and fraud continues in the oilfields, rigs and bases of Kazakhstan, Angola and Nigeria. And that is why, after a night in a Lagos hotel, I am on an internal flight to the Delta State town of Port Harcourt, which is home to many oil companies’ facilities.”
  • Seventy years after its publication in the Netherlands, Gerard Reve’s classic The Evenings is at last set to arrive in English—and as Nina Siegal writes, it’s right on time: “The Evenings (De Avonden) takes place over the last ten nights of 1946. It’s narrated by Frits van Egters, a twenty-three-year-old clerk in Amsterdam who still lives with his parents in a cramped apartment near the Amstel River. Frits is occupied during working hours, but in his free time he struggles with a sense of anxious aimlessness and isolation. Inwardly, he dissects the absurd banality of his life while he observes, with an acute sense of cynicism and occasional brutality, the slow decline of his doting middle-age parents … The story is … steeped in a sense of postwar gloom, and the dark humor that pervades the book underscores the difficulty of finding meaning in a world torn asunder.”