What Our Contributors Are Reading and Watching This Winter


This Week’s Reading

Promotional still from Ethos.

As I searched for new shows to binge during quarantine this fall, I kept forgetting the title of the most recent Turkish Netflix drama. Ethics? Event? Euphoria (no), EulogyEgo … What was that show friends had told me to watch?

The English title is Ethos, but the words you see in the opening credits are, of course, in Turkish: Bir Başkadır. Episode after episode, I would rack my brain for a suitable translation—one that fit the idea of ethos, but also matched the delicate world of the show. “It’s Something Else,” I ventured to my partner. Or, “There’s One More Thing.” Or, maybe, simply, “The Other,” as in, an-other-ness? Something about this eight-episode miniseries—its wistful soundtrack, its themes of miscommunication, deflection, silence, and withholding—encouraged me to keep generating my own language for it. I still haven’t looked up the dictionary translation for the Turkish phrase.

Ethos is, admittedly, the first Turkish show I’ve managed to watch past the first episode. I never took to the long and overstated soap operas that played continuously on the TV in the restaurants of my childhood, nor could I get into the flat knockoffs of American shows with equally vague titles, like Intersection. I even struck out with The Magnificent Century—a gaudy historical drama about sex in the Ottoman Empire that I did attempt, in earnest, to enjoy.

What makes Ethos different is, well, everything and nothing, which is part of its running metacommentary. In its better moments, the show uses subtle humor and poignant details to write its characters both into and then out of the roles that it also, inevitably, inscribes. The most memorable scenes revolve around communication set askew: the aristocratic mother who calls her housekeeper by the wrong name, the conservative abla who prays as a way of ignoring her cosmopolitan sister, the ornery young hodja-in-training who tries to flirt by detailing each stop on a bus route through unremarkable neighborhoods of the city.

I appreciated what the show was able to do with a bus route, the way it displaced any celebratory focus on Istanbul’s prominent postcard sites. Rather than marveling at the Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque, the camera takes us to the interior spaces of the city: dystopian skyscrapers, dingy suburban nightclubs, sun-soaked Anatolian homes. About halfway through the series, when I saw the Bosphorus lapping up against the glass window of a traditional Ottoman yalı, I nearly choked on my Kombrewcha. I kept trying to figure out where the camera was shooting from, which neighborhood these characters actually lived in. At some point, I thought I could make out the Galata tower in the distance, but I wasn’t too sure.

Although I had to read the subtitles, I could tell the dialogue in Ethos leaned heavily on the fanciful “gossip tense” in Turkish (mish-mush)—a grammar used to describe anything that is only known allegedly, or secondhand. Even with subtitles, the conversations and spaces of the show reveal the thickly layered social and psychological underpinnings of this grammar, what it means to have a “gossip tense” at all. Sara Deniz Akant


D.H. Lawrence


After last month’s white supremacist convulsion at the Capitol Building, I went back to an essay I’ve read many times by D. H. Lawrence called “Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Novels.” In the past, mass shootings—school shootings in particular—have brought me to revisit this essay in an attempt to understand what it is about the American psyche that compels us to try to murder each other on a regular basis.

Lawrence’s style is, I don’t know, weird, but after a minute you get used to it. He’s at the podium, preaching. Lots of exclamation points. Be forewarned, his essay’s retrograde colonialist attitudes require reading from an ironic distance, just as we’d read the Leatherstocking novels themselves. My arguments with Lawrence’s approach are part of why I keep returning to this essay, I suspect.

He starts out with that old writing-workshop trick of telling you how much he loves the Leatherstocking novels before ripping them down to the studs. Then he takes some ad hominem shots at Fenimore Cooper, who—pearl clutcher—referred to his writing as “my work.” You can practically see Lawrence’s eyeballs rolling around his head when he writes, “If there is one thing that annoys me more than a business man and his BUSINESS, it is an artist, a writer, painter, musician, and MY WORK.” He accuses JFC of being a liar, a self-deluded dandy, a fake. And then it gets ugly, because Lawrence’s take on the colonialist destiny of white Americans is almost as troubling as the American myths of manifest destiny he’s attacking. But if you can lash yourself to the mast and weather it all, you’ll arrive at the reason I keep rereading this essay: “American Democracy was a form of self-murder, always. Or of murdering somebody else.”

Sure, it’s a metaphor. America is a young snake that has to shed its old, European skin in order to become a slick, vital, wriggling democratic thing. But it’s also as literal as a bullet to the brain. I think I return to this essay as a corrective to my own hope that this country is not by nature a bloodbath, and has not always been. There’s no resolution here, just recognizance and forgetting, repeated endlessly. It’s a reminder to see that which is, not that as I wish it would be. Jack Livings


Still from Shadow of a Doubt.


“The enemy is within,” remarked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a recent press conference; those words rang in my head as I rewatched Hitchcock’s sublime Shadow of a Doubt for maybe the twentieth time. Teresa Wright plays Charlie, the teenage girl who summons her uncle (also named Charlie) to save her family from their drab, boring, bourgeois American lives. But from the moment Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) emerges from a mephitic cloud of smoke at the railway station, we know this is going to end badly. Eventually he is revealed to be a fascist and a sociopath, and he aims to take possession of Charlie’s soul.

Released in early 1943, this is a film about the spread of ideas, about sickness and contamination. Even music is a contaminant here—like the “tune” stuck in Charlie’s head, the one she can’t stop humming, ends up being a sort of rebus for her uncle’s hidden crimes. “I think tunes jump from head to head,” she muses, a line that resonates with Hitchcock’s entire body of work, most prominently in Psycho, in which Mother has “jumped” into Norman’s body, come to take possession of him. Charlie, like Norman, is too open. She is capable of telepathy and communicating across realms. It’s a gift that becomes her curse. Shadow of a Doubt is a kind of horror movie about communication.

I love the odd, creepy subtexts in this movie. I love the twinning of the Charlies, the scherzos of black comedy, the waltzing fin de siècle couples that make semiregular appearances. Teresa Wright gives a pitch-perfect performance—she gets every shade of Charlie’s innocence and disillusionment. Cotten oozes charm and menace. There is a subversive erotic charge to their relationship, an incestuous element Hitchcock doesn’t bother to conceal. “We’re not just an uncle and a niece,” Wright tells the gap-toothed Cotten as he slips the ring of one of his murdered victims on her finger. “It’s something else.” The “something else” that defines their relationship is one of several enigmas at the center of this ravishing, cryptic, unsettling film. David Adjmi


Still from 16 Days of Glory.


I’ve spent some strange hours recently with Bud Greenspan’s Olympics documentaries, starting with 16 Days of Glory, a five-hour film that chronicles the 1984 summer games in Los Angeles. Greenspan made a bunch of these, starting with the ’84 Olympics and progressing into the twenty-first century. The earliest installments are the most unwieldy and also the most absorbing, as longstanding rivalries and low-profile underdog stories intersect with geopolitics and nationalisms in revealing ways. I also very specifically recommend the opening-ceremonies montage from the film on the 1994 Lillehammer games, which culminates in someone executing a massive ski jump into the arena while holding the lit torch. Natalie Shapero



I love getting new Song Cave titles in the mail; they’re beautiful objects, always sparking with thought. Most recently, the stripped-down voice of Phan Nhiên Hao’s Paper Bells, translated by Hai-Dang Phan, has been echoing in my head and influencing how I see. The poems curate a kind of object music, knitted by little jumps, that can feel like Apollinaire, like Tranströmer:

Dawn ferments in the alley café
submissive like spoiled fish.
Behind glass pizza melts
foreigners        in the age of integration          and boxers
haggle in the backpacker district. (“The City of Ant Nests”)

In other poems, such as “Nights Working as a Janitor in Seattle,” Hao’s ironies, which range from the quietly affectionate to the declamatory, both contain and wryly indulge the pathos of exile:

you flee from one floor to the next
all night, a lost soldier
from a throng of defeated immigrants

What sticks with me is the sense of vast stretches of time not condensed into gemmy lyric, but rather indexed in their refusal to cohere. The poems feel consubstantial with the detritus of globalization they so often record. In a materialist ars poetica that feels directed against Heaney’s naturalism, Hao writes, in “Manufacturing Poetry”:

In an afternoon with nothing to do
I sit manufacturing poems
out of sixteen screws, two metal plates,
and four wheels

As in Lorine Niedecker’s “condensery,” there’s a play on the long association of poetry and “nothing,” but there’s also a careful attention to the tiny imaginative possibilities of interstitial time. It’s possible to read the fact that “manufacturing,” i.e., labor, structures even potential leisure time as depressing, or constricting, and perhaps it is, but this is a poem that ends in an impossible victory over such inexorable forces: “Blasting open fate / I tunnel deep.” Making has changed to destruction, modesty to unsustainable bravado. For me, the real poem is in the echoic emptiness after that brash declaration, as the visible poem is reabsorbed by the world that made it. Noah Warren


Still from The Florida Project


I’d say I don’t mean to always go so hard in the paint for Floridian stories—but that would be a lie. I do. If you haven’t seen The Florida Project yet, you should, right away. It has the atmosphere of a small film, but the emotional and visual impact is astounding, reminiscent of my favorite kind of writing. Quiet, searing, haunting stories. The film essentially explores the lives of Sunshine State residents pushed to the outskirts of their own city by the relentless tourism of Walt Disney attractions (and other parks; Orlando is home to so many). The larger commentary seems to be about capitalism, or at least that’s what I got—how the system drains resources from local communities for the benefit of someone far richer and more powerful a thousand miles away. On the surface, I think the film portrays Floridians and Florida exactly as the rest of the country expects. But as in all things, once we move beyond the layers of our own prejudice, we can come to see the true nature of something or someone sparking underneath, their humanity as visceral as our own. If we allow ourselves, we can see the complexity and awfulness and beauty that define living for us all. 10/10 had me in my feelings, and made me appreciate that sometimes, even when uncomfortable, that’s the best place to be. Dantiel W. Moniz



‘T’ Space: Opening Celebration for Ensamble Studio with Fast Forward and Marie Howe (July 25, 2020) brings together music, architecture, and poetry in one event. Fast Forward’s musical performance sparked my recent poem, “Dilemma,” in the Winter issue. As I watched Fast Forward tumble across bicycle handlebars, I thought of John Cage, chance, noise, and music. And as I watched Ca’n Terra make a space out of an abandoned stone quarry in Menorca, I thought of transformations on our planet. Finally, in watching and listening to Marie Howe read her poetry, I thought of luminous and precise language. I hope viewing this video gives you as much pleasure as I received. Arthur Sze



Lately, I’ve been searching for a poetry that can meet my weary attention. Uche Nduka’s Facing You is a collection whose relationship to meaning is abstract, haptic, immediate, associative, and gratifyingly dense all at once. Desire and carnality subsume both his syntax and poetry’s purpose—to plumb experience’s unspoken gaps, to find the phenomena there waiting to bloom. Nduka’s propositions are by turns political and erotic, provocative and punning, as these short, flinty and lushly irreverent poems buzz into focus, linger, flit away. It’s as close to hummingbirds as poetry can be:

What happens, the tumult asks
when you fall through history?

…Why do I throw parties
in the abyss?

“You make sublimity / hot,” he writes, as the poems skip and languish in their “accounting, decanting / of the triple experience.” I’m relieved to find in this work none of exposition’s encumbrances, just voice, cresting into aphorism, embodied in a series of epigrammatic and sonically juicy cadences. Nduka’s poems prompt as much as they describe: “May it not be your thought alone / that is rebellious,” he imparts. In a season of solitude, Nduka’s work reminds me of the lyric’s double pleasure, belonging to itself and to others, and of its many shared mouths, speaking in compact, evocative language like glimmering beads of sweat. Alicia Wright