Staff Picks: Night Skies, B Sides, and Neon Lights


This Week’s Reading

Joanna Klink. Photo: © Antonia Wolf.

When I picked up Joanna Klink’s new poetry collection The Nightfields, I had half a mind to rush to the main event, Night Sky—a long sequence inspired by James Turrell’s massive land art project Roden Crater. (Paris Review readers got a preview of Night Sky in the Fall 2018 issue). For fans of Turrell (I consider myself one, as do Drake and, recently on the Daily, Scott O’Connor), the cinder cone crater is the culmination of his life’s work—and also a fiercely guarded work in progress. The Arizona site is closed to the public, leaving followers to squint over elevation drawings at museum exhibitions and trawl the internet for artist-approved and illicit photos. Now we can turn to Klink’s metaphysical sequence to get a different sort of visit to the earth work. Her poems do a tricky thing of being at once urgent and geologically slow (every breath and breeze is noticed, but time passes such that copper is “greening” and stars “thicken”); the sequence is imbued with depth and color and all the possibilities of a pitch-black night. Before I leave, I should acknowledge my other half a mind: like a dutiful editor, I started The Nightfields at the beginning and found prior to Night Sky several exquisite poems about the passage of time (“Most weeks I am no more than the color of the walls / in the room where we sit”) and the liminal space between seasons (“The bright key of morning. / The bay fanned with foam”) that make the quotidian nearly as beautiful as Turrell’s monument. —Emily Nemens 

Every night is date night, or none of them are, for my man and me in 2020. But to set Friday apart this past weekend, we watched an entire feature film that, though not new, was new to us. Rafiki, currently available on the Criterion Channel, was the first film from Kenya to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival even as it was banned in its home country for a “too hopeful” portrayal of homosexuality. Wanuri Kahiu’s 2018 film can be dazzling in its use of light and love. When the afternoon sun, a candle, or the club’s neon light plays on the face of the actress Sheila Munyiva, it is easy to surrender to the movie’s charms—or to the charms of Munyiva herself, who, especially in Kahiu’s hands, is so beautiful as to test hearts of any gender and the laws of any nation, to say nothing of the bounds of time and space. The movie’s plot, which concerns a love affair between two young women who are the daughters of rival politicians, is less groundbreaking. The threats of intolerance and discovery are always at the door, and the chorus of gender expectations is with them either way. Still, Kahiu and her talented actresses do the hardest thing, whether under the jacarandas or under COVID: they make love new again. —Julia Berick


Eric Berryman in The B-Side: “Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons,” A Record Album Interpretation. Photo: Bruce Jackson.


The B-Side: “Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons,” A Record Album Interpretation (streaming through September 14 on the Wooster Group’s website) may consist mainly of men singing along with a record, but it is not a sing-along. It is a channeling of spirits. After briefly explaining his fascination with a 1965 LP titled Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons and a book called Wake Up Dead Man: Hard Labor and Southern Blues, the performer Eric Berryman plays the record almost straight through, only breaking to read from the liner notes or the book and explain, for example, the type of work a song might be sung to or a historical fact about a character named in the chorus—like Jack of Diamonds, a monstrous prison guard said to have challenged the devil for control of hell. On the record, each track is sung or spoken by a different prisoner or group of prisoners. Onstage, Berryman—or one of two supporting cast members, Jasper McGruder and Philip Moore—matches his voice to the lead so exactly, taking on the prisoner’s accent, timbre, or tremor, even coughing when he coughs, that sometimes it’s unclear whether we are really hearing two voices or one. The stage, apparently, is an eternal portal between 1965 and 2017, when The B-Side was first produced. Other times, there is a minuscule lag between ancestor and reenactor, a drastic thinning of the decades just short of perfect communion. In the end, Berryman stares out a Harlem apartment window and sees a chain gang chopping wood. Through the essential medium of human voices, The B-Side brings into the present a moment of song and story that itself was born from all preceding moments. If you want to think about eternity, I recommend this play. —Jane Breakell

Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things has knocked me out of my hiatus from watching films, and I couldn’t be more grateful. With this stream-of-consciousness narrative, Kaufman clearly demonstrates how much he trusts his audience in the midst of narrative fragmentation. Of course, the cast delivers exemplary performances all around. But to be entirely honest, the film left me unsettled in a way few have. I felt as though I were watching a cerebral horror movie at some points and a romantic drama at others. But this juggling of genres—or perhaps a joyous disregard for them—kept me utterly immersed. The uneasiness I felt could be sated only with more unease, and therein lies the biggest strength of the film: the most satisfying comfort lies after cumulative and seemingly endless discomfort. If I hadn’t finished it, I wouldn’t have been able to stop thinking about it. I probably still won’t be able to stop thinking about it, but I’m perfectly content with that. —Carlos Zayas-Pons

When my college shut down for lockdown in March, I left with two suitcases in hand and a promise from the administration that the pile of boxes in the middle of my stripped-bare room would be shipped home to me sometime that spring. Spring came and went, and it wasn’t until this week, six months later, that a freight box of my belongings finally arrived at my door. As I unpacked, there were moments when I felt like I was sifting through some other girl’s things. Who was this version of me whose belongings I had gone six months without? And what was I supposed to do with her unused mini blender, her collection of mason jars, her tapestries? But there were little joys, moments of self-recognition, especially as I did what we all do when packing and unpacking piles of books: flicking through, reading the highlighted lines, stopping at the dog-eared pages. I moved some of those books from my boxes to my bedside and am taking my time with them now. Up first is A. Van Jordan’s most recent poetry collection, The Cineaste, in which he chronicles his life as a moviegoer through the films he loves and the experiences of watching them. Some of the poems are ostensibly retellings of famous and obscure films through his own lens; the middle section, The Homesteader, is a series of poems formatted like a screenplay, each taking cues and borrowing lines from the one before it to weave cinematic worlds and characters together; and other poems describe becoming like a child again on every visit to the cinema. Missing my favorite place in the city, the Roxy Cinema, as much I do, it is no surprise that I started here, with poems so vivid and multivalent in their study of the simple “magic moviegoers still believe in, / the way voters and lovers do not.” —Langa Chinyoka


A. Van Jordan.