- AIGA’s Eye on Design blog has a thoughtful, thorough history of The Paris Review’s art and design, with stories from our former editor Maxine Groffsky and our art editor, Charlotte Strick. “The masthead has shape shifted from serif to sans and back again; its size has gone from pamphlet, to book, to magazine, to somewhere in-between … ‘Mining The Paris Review’s rich archives revealed that the primary role of design in those mid-century issues was to support the publication’s beautifully curated literature and artwork,’ says art editor Strick. She was determined to make the current publication work in the same way, while simultaneously reminding the reader of The Paris Review’s continual evolution.”
- Scholars have long endeavored to place Sarah Palin on the continuum of American poets—but where does she belong? Her speech endorsing Trump this week suggests that she’s the next Walt Whitman, as Jeet Heer writes: “There is a strong consensus among Palin scholars as to where she fits into the poetic pantheon: She is heir to the tradition of free-flowing democratic verse that runs from Walt Whitman to Carl Sandburg to Allen Ginsberg … Now that Palin is back in the spotlight, it’s hard not to hear her voice in her great precursor Whitman. Palin’s alliterative apostrophe to the common folk of Iowa (“You farm families! And teachers! And teamsters! And cops, and cooks!”) calls to mind the egalitarian inclusiveness of Whitman’s many lists … As a right-wing populist, Palin shifts the political valence but keeps the allegiance to the ordinary. As much as any Whitmanesque poet, she claims to be the voice of those who are never listened to.”
- In which Janet Malcolm takes Ted Hughes’s unauthorized biographer, Jonathan Bate, to task: “Beyond tastelessness there is Bate’s cluelessness about what you can and cannot do if you want to be regarded as an honest and serious writer … The question of what [Hughes] was ‘really’ like remains unanswered, as it should. If anything is our own business, it is our pathetic native self. Biographers, in their pride, think otherwise. Readers, in their curiosity, encourage them in their impertinence. Surely Hughes’s family, if not his shade, deserve better than Bate’s squalid findings about Hughes’s sex life and priggish theories about his psychology.”
- Fact: Robert Pinsky once wrote a text-adventure video game called Mindwheel. “For a brief time in the mid-nineteen-eighties major literary publishers, including Simon & Schuster and Random House, opened software divisions, and major bookstores stocked works of ‘interactive fiction,’ ” writes James Reith; Pinsky’s Mindwheel is “a playful mishmash of sci-fi tropes, Pop surrealism, and allusions both high and low: the work of a poet having fun, but still the work of a poet. After all, Pinsky pointed out to me, ‘allusion’ and ‘ludicrous’ both come from the Latin ludere, meaning ‘to play.’ ”
- While we’re here poring over our “books” and our “literature,” there are people out there with their eyes on the real prize: an elevator to the stars. “As outlandish as it seems, a space elevator would make getting to space accessible, affordable and potentially very lucrative. But why it hasn’t happened yet basically boils down to materials—even the best of today’s super-strong and super-lightweight materials just still aren’t good enough to support a space elevator … ‘The problem with the entire space elevator effort is that there is no real support for it … This is what a project looks like when it’s done as a hobby, by hundreds of people spread out all over the world. There will be no substantial progress until there is real support and professional coordinating management for the effort.’ ”
In the spring of 2000, The Paris Review published an issue dedicated to poetry—dubbed, in fact, the Poetry Issue—including a series of prompts for poets and an essay by Robert Pinsky, who was then the U.S. Poet Laureate. Pinsky is seventy-four today; an excerpt of his essay, “Occasional Poetry and Poetry on Occasions,” follows.
What does it mean that so many distinguished and gifted poets responded to the somewhat goofy games and assignments suggested by The Paris Review for this issue? Not just willingly, but with spirit, they have composed poems to strange titles like “An Empty Surfboard on a Flat Sea” and “Lavatory in a Cathedral,” written commentaries on worksheets—written, in other words, to suit the occasion.
Occasions have elicited poems throughout history: coronations, birthdays, weddings, victories, executions, seductions (successful and unsuccessful), births, and deaths have their genres and great examples. Poems responding to specific circumstances have ranged from the agonized majesty of Yeats’s “Easter 1916” to the humblest good-humored verses produced for benign laughs at the office retirement party or a family anniversary. Donne wrote “the Anniversaries” on assignment and Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House” is the most gloriously entertaining in-group, after-dinner speech in the language.
Does this play of talent in response to occasions and assignments tell us anything about the art of poetry? Many poets have been unwilling or unable to write on assignment, in response to circumstance but even their work has been used after the fact—quoted in speeches, inscribed in stone, read at the graveside or after the victory. (Anyone who writes or studies poetry can remember being asked for something suitable to be recited at a wedding or a funeral.)
Occasional poetry is a reminder that poetry is related to speech a little bit in the way dance is related to walking: it is more playful, as well as more serious. Poetry’s medium is not merely light as air, it is air: vital and deep as ordinary breath. Read More
- “Delicious, unkosher, dark, vague, the Cloud / Of Mexico Pork threatens our borders.” In a new forum, John Ashbery, Cathy Park Hong, Charles Bernstein, Robert Pinsky, Rae Armantrout, and others contribute poems about the surveillance state in the twenty-first century. (Those lines are Pinsky’s.)
- Good news for grad students reluctant to enter academia: “Humanities Ph.D.s are all around us—and they are not serving coffee.”
- The Mets blew what now? An unfortunate headline teaches us the everlasting value of commas.
- Anyone who worships at the altar of user experience will wince at these designs by Katerina Kamprani, who has made it her task to suck the utility out of everyday objects.
- One man’s strangely inspiring search for a vocation: “He started the Restroom Association of Singapore to clean up the public toilets. People loved it. He then realized there were fifteen toilet associations around the world, in cities in Britain and Germany and Japan and some other places, too, but no world headquarters. So he started the World Toilet Organization … and that is how Jack Sim became the Toilet Man.”
- A brief history of naked babies in fashion magazines.
With multiple translations come disagreements—different scholarly notes, interpretations, and even titles. But often what allows a translation itself to become a great work of literature can be determined by something as subtle as the phrasing of a single idea.
Lord Byron, the notorious English poet who died in 1824, at the age of thirty-six, toyed around with his own translation of a passage from the Inferno. The passage is in canto 5, in which Dante enters hell past Minos, and meets the carnal sinners. He comes across Francesca da Rimini, who was killed with her love, Paolo, after the two had an affair. Francesca, like many other characters in the Inferno, identifies herself first by some obscure trait—in her case, the river near which she was born. She tells Dante that she could not resist Paolo because love itself can sway the heart of a beloved. Indeed it is one of the most beautifully agonizing passages in the Inferno, and probably one of the most difficult to translate. After all, Byron picked it for a reason. In a way, Byron even presented readers with a sort of litmus test for determining the quality of a translation; in the way a translator engages such a passage, a reader can observe not only the translator’s precision, but his or her skill as a poet. Read More
- All of Tolstoy’s works are going online. “We wanted to come up with an official website that will contain academically justified information,” explains his great-great-granddaughter. The work on the site will have been triple-proofed by more than three thousand volunteers from some forty-nine countries.
- This week, FSG has collected a lovely series of Seamus Heaney reminiscences and tributes—by Jonathan Galassi, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Maureen N. McLane, Robert Pinsky, and more—on their blog.
- Maya Angelou will be the recipient of the Literarian Award, an honorary National Book Award for contributions to the literary community.
- UK charity shops are overwhelmed with a glut of Fifty Shades books—unrecyclable due to the glue used in their bindings. (Recommendation: find the nearest motel.)
- A new app allows self-published authors to add their own sound tracks and effects to audiobooks. For good or ill.