- “Sorry, not sorry!” This little rhetorical slip—a dead hashtag, really—is analyzed by David Lehman as a poetic structure at The American Scholar. The non-apology, Lehmann explains, pits the poet against the crazed angel of language. “Our tendency to lie, distort or revise,” Lehman writes, “follows from the inability of the language to discriminate between truth and falsehood: Language is not self-verifying. Fiction is based on just this discrepancy between language and the duplicitous and calculating writer. Is it a discrepancy—or a struggle? Writers often describe their writing as a kind of wrestling match with language, as T. S. Eliot does in ‘Four Quartets.’ ”
- We can all agree that nothing is more debauched than a five-hundred-year-old drawing of a hand. That’s why we’ve consciously chosen Facebook as the arbiter of our shared morality. Facebook will first find the image of the hand, and then Facebook will do something about it—it will eliminate all traces of the hand. And it has done this very thing with a drawing by Holbein. Thankfully, too, an exemplary moral human (read: not an algorithm) was responsible for removing Holbein’s hand from the social network, Jonathan Jones writes at the Guardian: “It would be more reassuring if computer error were to blame, yet according to Facebook this is no algorithmic accident. An actual conscious human brain honestly thought a Renaissance drawing of a hand was obscene. Or did the curator think it was being published without proper copyright permission? That would open a huge hornet’s nest, but Holbein’s drawing is about 500 years old so fair use surely applies.”
- It has been eighty years since James Agee was offered the assignment of his life by Robert Ingersoll, his editor at Fortune magazine. It turns out, too, that this assignment—a piece on the works and days of white sharecroppers in the South—saved Agee from crushing boredom and despondency. At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Christopher Knapp retells the tale: “Agee had been on sabbatical from the magazine for seven months, recovering from his self-disgust. But the time off had been enough to restore his natural enthusiasm. As ambivalent as he was about the slick brand of magazine journalism that the Henry Luce publishing empire was built on, he was not only broke, but also desperately bored.” I wonder if Fortune will run an anniversary special!
- At The New Yorker, Daniel Wenger visits with the poet Bernadette Mayer, who has changed her writing method in the wake of a stroke. It now takes her a full four minutes to mentally compose a poem! “When I suggested to Mayer that her poetry had always been rather unbalanced,” Wenger writes, “she pretended to be dumbfounded, and then explained that the attack had forced her to alter her writing method. Without the use of her right hand, she cannot type quickly enough to transcribe her thoughts as she has them. She must now work out the poem in her mind, which she calls ‘actually thinking.’ I asked how long in advance she composes her poems before writing them down. ‘About four minutes,’ she said—both ribbing me and suggesting that even this obstacle has been made into an object of study.”
- Holbein’s hand may be morally objectionable, but a band named Penis is fine by me. At Bomb, Penis the band offers its “Penis Tenets.” They seem fairly reasonable: “We adjust our expectations and check in with ourselves: ‘Do I like this? Is this fun?’ WE decide whether or not Penis has value in our lives.”
“I’m not even sure anything happened to me. / Or to whom everything happened.” So ends Brenda Shaughnessy’s long poem of adolescence “Is There Something I Should Know.” Reading those lines, I realized I had been waiting for that wisdom—that formulation—a long time. Her new book, So Much Synth, is full of these moments. Soulfulness is not a quality I always look for in poets of my generation, but over the last two decades Shaughnessy has stripped herself down to a voice that can sing plainly about disappointment and love in hard circumstances and the lost art of the mix tape, here revived in verse:
As it records, you have to listen to each
song in its entirety, and in this way
you hear your favorite song with the ears
of your intended, as they hear it, new.
I’ve never been very diligent about keeping a journal, but the form is one I enjoy reading: the lists one makes, the mundane things that fill an afternoon. Works and Days is Bernadette Mayer’s forthcoming book, at once a collection of poetry and a dated record of a past spring: woven among her verse are her journal entries. I found myself pulled toward these other, more austere little notes. Comprising teensy, often inconsequential moments—like whether it’s rained or has been threatening to rain—these prosaic morsels are gorgeous and serene. Hardly any of Mayer’s days are spectacular, but her eye is so keenly attune to all that surrounds her that nearly everything feels touched with grandeur. She writes of the grackles that remind her of Donald Trump and her broken ulna, of the tornados in Duanesburg and the poems she wrote with Jennifer Karmin and Niel Rosenthalis. She says she hates rye bread and recalls the sound of New York City pavement being swept. But there are delectable, sometimes even bawdy bursts of excitement in the collection, too, like when she writes about the poet Bill Berkson bringing a dildo to sex camp or the heron that “ate my heart.” —Caitlin Youngquist Read More
Last September, Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library opened “The Book Undone: Thirty Years of Granary Books,” an exhibition celebrating Columbia’s purchase of the Granary Books archive. “It’s difficult to fully describe the range and impact of Steve Clay’s Granary Books,” wrote Mark Dimunation, chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress. “Beginning in 1985 he has concocted a mix of poets, artists, printers and craftspeople whose work defines an era and fundamentally shapes our understanding of the artists’ book.”
Granary Books began in Minneapolis, but when Clay first visited New York in 1986, he was quick to see an opportunity. “I came to do a one-week summer class in Columbia’s Rare Book School,” he remembered when we spoke in his Manhattan loft, “my first time in New York. Just coming to the city, getting off the bus at Port Authority, that was it.” Three years later, Clay arrived in New York to stay. After looking for a space on the Lower East Side and Soho to start a bookstore, he joined forces with the poet and bookseller David Abel. I asked him to talk about those first years of Granary Books.
We found 636 Broadway, doing it together with no formal plan. On the tenth floor you could display books, artist’s books, that you couldn’t on the ground floor. I lived there on the couch for months, took showers at David’s on Thompson Street. Milk carton on the window ledge. No kitchen. David knew a lot of people, perfect for a shy guy like me. Dick Higgins of Something Else Press came into the store and so did the poet Jerome Rothenberg, who became and remains essential to Granary. We put on a retrospective show of Something Else Books. Higgins gave me great advice on how to deal with the projects people who came to the store suggested—You’re going to have to find a really nice way to say no. Read More
We all hate to see summer end, but don’t despair: we bring you our Fall issue by way of consolation! And there’s so much to love.
James Fenton on journalism, shrimp farming, interior decoration, gardening, poetry, opera, and more:
What I had got from my teaching experience in the Midwest was a feeling for the enormous pressure on people in the poetry world to conform to an entirely negatively defined notion of poetry. It doesn’t rhyme, it doesn’t have any rhythm one might detect, and it isn’t written for the ear but rather the page. It seemed de-natured. These poets had forgotten the lips and the limbs, the dance, the whole bodily element—that had been banished. The manifesto was a piece of devil-may-care. It was actually anti-Iowa rather than anti-American.
Roberto Calasso on life, film, and publishing—Italian-style:
The publisher after all is considered, especially in Anglo-Saxon countries, a rather eccentric entrepreneur or impresario—a businessman in a very improbable field. But, if he is successful, then he is a good businessman. The author is the successor of the saint, everyone respects the author. So to put the two elements together is highly suspicious in a way, especially in the rather moralistic Protestant countries. In the Latin countries, less so.
Plus! Fiction by Jim Gavin, David Gordon, Ottessa Moshfegh, Peter Orner, and Sam Savage. Poetry by August Kleinzahler, George Seferis, Bernadette Mayer, Jason Zuzga, and Guillaume Apollinaire. A portfolio by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman, and collages by Jess.