Do Not Et Cetera


The Review’s Review

“Living in America during the Reagan years had the same disorientation as a texture dream,” writes David Wojnarowicz in Close to the Knives, “that sense you get at times lying with your face against the sheets with your eye open, millimeters away from the microscopic weave of the linen, and suddenly your body freezes up and your eye is locked into the universe of textures and threads and weaves, and for an extended moment you can’t shake yourself from the hallucination.” The political subterfuge of the Reagan years is the subject, too, of Maxe Crandall’s recent poem-novel, The Nancy Reagan Collection. Published by Futurepoem in 2020, it’s a mercurial archive of the Reagans’ silence on AIDS and the era’s innumerable other devastating failures, among them Iran-Contra and the expansion of the war on drugs. In high-camp imagined encounters with Nancy Reagan, Crandall deftly traces the era’s iconography of concealment—Nancy in her immutable trademark red, her high-necked collar, her tartan blazer, her little nautical blouse, her gloves—as he lists the names of friends and public figures dead from AIDS and its complications. Grief and rage churn at the center of these encounters, each of them shaped by speculative archival work and a biting queer sensibility. It’s a beautifully inventive experiment in historiography and a reminder of the enduring political aesthetics of obfuscation and silence: the particular politeness that meets with mass death. And like everything Futurepoem puts out, as an object it’s gorgeous—bright red, impossible to miss. —Oriana Ullman 

I am going through a lot of changes in my life, all at once, and as usual I am trying to resolve this by imposing haphazard measures of discipline. Ordered mornings are tantalizing—alarm clock, reading, running, shower, skincare, dressing in the kind of clothes I don’t even own to catch a train into the city. I am always trying and failing to establish different versions of such a routine, and by the end of the day it normally breaks down altogether. But there is one thing I have been doing most days for the last few weeks, since I have moved at least temporarily into a little attic room that overlooks the highway and has nothing on the walls. In the morning, I’ve been reading a few pages of John Cheever’s journals while I drink my little coffee; this feels virtuous and luxurious, because it is pointless but I love the prose. 

I first read an excerpt from these journals in college, before I’d read anything else by Cheever, and now that I have I can say with certainty that the journals are leagues better than the stories, a whole different category of thing. The critic Dustin Illingworth wrote that the journals center on the themes of “God, sex, guilt, and nature” and “manage to instill genteel ennui with the anguished moral passion of a Russian novel.” They are sort of lush, pastoral, romantic, rough, and full of gestural lists: “The calendar of flowers, gin bottles, steak bones.” There are philosophical declarations—“When the beginnings of self-destruction enter the heart it seems no bigger than a grain of sand”—and there are self-admonishments and resolutions—“Do not drink. Do not et cetera et cetera.” It is strange, maybe, to be trying to create some order in my life by reading the thoughts of someone who was consistently failing to do the same. But I have been sticking to it anyway, underlining the good parts and sometimes coming back to them: “The little boy, running barefoot over ash heaps, the warm ash heaps in the cool evening, as we used to do. Thought of last year’s passionate autumns where love obscured the crack in the ceiling and the dust under the bed and how this terminated in spitefulness and bewilderment. But these are not the things that will kill us.” —Sophie Haigney

Hardcore punk is not my genre. However, its a staple in our flat, and I regularly come home to the blistering shockwave that is Minor Threat or 7 Seconds. I dont seek it out, and I dont mind (some of) it. But Im mesmerized by the Baltimore band Turnstiles NPR Tiny Desk Concert, recorded in the drummers basement during the COVID pandemic. I think its their primal rhythm—everything starts with the rhythm—the infectious playfulness of the performance, and the music itself. Because Turnstile reimagined their songs for the stripped-down setting of a Tiny Desk Concert, there’s a powerfully restrained energy in every beat. I have the feeling that this is a band not afraid of anything: they let in whatever they want, and when they do, they mean it—whether its swimming guitar riffs, soul-inspired sounds, a thirteen-second bridge with handclaps all the way through, or the hundreds of stuffed toys surrounding them in lieu of a mosh pit. Turnstiles Tiny Desk Concert is seventeen minutes of joy. —Chetna Maroo 

Chetna Maroo is the winner of the Review’s 2022 Plimpton Prize. You can read more about this year’s prize here