Daily Postings
literature : review

The Blue Note: on Noémi Lefebvre’s Blue Self-Portrait

by Amanda DeMarco

 

Female intelligence and female obsession, in the air

A flight from Berlin to Paris takes an hour and forty-five minutes. This is enough time for a long nap, an unhurried conversation, or, if you're the narrator of Noémi Lefebvre's Blue Self-Portrait (Les Fugitives), it's the perfect amount of time to brood. In the first of Lefebvre's novels to appear in English, a woman on just such a journey unleashes an agitated inner monologue following a romantic encounter with a pianist in Berlin. Her rapid-fire, run-on thoughts rove over the places she's just visited (Café Einstein and the cinema at the Sony Center), her failings (a recently ended marriage, her insufficient education), and her in-flight surroundings. She also happens to be reading the correspondence of Theodor Adorno and Thomas Mann.

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literature : essay

On the Creation of Syllabi

by Jesse Ball

The finger pointing to the hills.

It is a very good thing if a syllabus is contagious. That is—if one of your students shows the syllabus to someone else, and if then that person is possessed by a sudden desire to take the class, or even to begin conducting research along parallel lines.

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literature : review

The Queens Bohemian: Johannes Urzidil’s The Last Bell

by Elina Alter

Fiction in search of a vanished homeland

The narrator of “Where the Valley Ends,” one of the five stories in The Last Bell (Pushkin Press) the first book of Johannes Urzidil’s fiction to appear in English, says he was once advised to “read the poet in his land.” This, he continues, is “a correct though not always practical piece of advice, if you don’t want to limit yourself to writers from those few countries you happen to have access to in the course of a relatively brief life.” Consciously reversing the idea that foreign writers are "rescued" when translated into English, Urzidil’s translator David Burnett writes in his introduction that it is “the English-speaking world,” lacking Urzidil until now, that has been “sadly overlooked.” But how should we read a writer whose land is no longer on the map?

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literature : first proof

I Took to the Streets

by Shelly Oria

I tried Al on like a suit and he didn’t fit. In the crotch area, excess fabric hung loose, like disappointment. And the shoulders—the shoulders were the worst part. I do not wish to discuss my shoulders inside the suit that was Al, and I don't wish to discuss what he did to them.

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literature : from the editor

Fall Books Preview

New titles and reissues highlighted by Justin Taylor, Chelsea Hodson, Paul La Farge, Emmalea Russo, Alexandra Kleeman, Ted Dodson, Dan Sheehan, Kristen Radtke, Daniel Saldaña París, Marjorie Welish, Tobias Carroll, Jonathan Lee, Scott Esposito, and Lauren LeBlanc

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literature : interview

The New Political Novel: An Interview with David Burr Gerrard

by Nicholas Mancusi

"I admire my characters for their ability to do something that I would find far too embarrassing to do myself. Fiction can get us to experience what we might do if we were braver. Or dumber."

David Burr Gerrard's 2014 debut novel, Short Century, was a propulsive, deranged, and hilarious manifesto portraying a debased neo-conservative in the hours before his death. With his latest novel, The Epiphany Machine, Gerrard has expanded both his scope and his ambition. In a cluttered Upper East Side apartment, Adam Lyons is the steward of a machine that can tattoo an epiphany on the forearm of willing participants.

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literature : review

An Occupation: Joshua Cohen's Moving Kings

by Robin Giles

Jewish identity and oppression, at home and abroad.

“I’m beginning to feel,” gripes Oscar Levant in 1951’s An American in Paris, “like the world’s oldest child prodigy.” One might guess that Joshua Cohen, whose literary star has been rising for the past decade, has felt the same way. His previous efforts—2010’s gargantuan Witz and 2015’s Book of Numbers in particular—have earned exuberant praise, but rarely without qualification: Cohen stuns, he dazzles, he defies; he also, we are invariably reminded, bores, grates, and confounds. His talent, quoth consensus, is a youthful one, bursting with ambition and excess. What he’s had above all—even inching towards forty—is promise.

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Announcing the Winner of BOMB's 2017 Fiction Contest

BOMB hosts a yearly literary contest, alternating between fiction and poetry, and judged by a distinguished writer in the field. This year's contest attracted a wealth of vibrant, compelling stories, and it is with great pleasure that we announce the winner, Kristen Gleason, whose work was selected by novelist Paul La Farge.

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literature : interview

Harmony Holiday

by Farid Matuk

"I don’t want the kind of career where everything is sensible and safe; I’d rather suffer through the anxiety of wondering where I’m going next than suffer the boredom of dancing in the same safe square."

Harmony Holiday's latest poetry collection, Hollywood Forever, is a synthesizing force of visual, auditory, and textual elements. It uses a variety of media to invoke black cultural icons and autobiographical details that take on the expectations of the white gaze, art for profit models, black private spaces, ancestral teachings, Afrofuturism, and more. For Holiday, visual and auditory accompaniments have always been a part of her poetry's grammar. Her first book, Negro League Baseball (2010, Fence Books) came with a CD of tracks she sourced, curated, and mixed out of the double helix of black listening and black sound. In her 2014 collection, Go Find Your Father/A Famous Blues (Ricochet Editions), an exploration of her deceased father's past, she enriched the intimacy of its epistolary mode by setting text against image. [ Read More ]

literature : review

After The Coda

by Hilary Leichter

To sink is to save in Amelia Gray's Isadora.

"It has come to be that I can eat only when the flavor is attended by the subtle ash of the children in my mouth." So confesses Isadora, in Amelia Gray's intricately spun biographical novel of the same name. The book is at once an exploration and an invocation of Isadora Duncan, innovative choreographer, performer, and a real-life mother of modern dance. Duncan's son and daughter were killed in a horrible accident—a tragedy that jabs the rest of the story into being—and for several opening chapters Isadora secretly ingests her children's cremated remains.

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literature : first proof
literature : first proof

Seventy-Four Choices

by T.L. Baker

Everybody assumes I’m one or the other, at first. Sometimes it becomes a game, a mental tally of points in each column, trying to prove the original guess. Two points one way for ear-length hair, and another three or four for thick, dark brows. A solid ten for a squarish jaw.

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literature : review

Refracted Realism

by Kent Szlauderbach

The myth of documentary in Gerald Murnane's The Plains

If the most inventive twentieth-century fictions find their best analogues in coeval technological inventions, Gerald Murnane's novel The Plains, first published in 1982, is the optometrist's autorefractor. Known for its sharp yet defamiliarizing take on the landscape and an aesthetic of purity historically associated with it, The Plains is uniformly described as a masterpiece of Australian literature. Look closer, though, and it's a haunting nineteenth-century novel of colonial violence captured inside the machine's test-pattern image—a distant, unassuming house on the plains.

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literature : first proof
literature : review

Showcase Showdown

by Christopher Spaide

Playing with polarities in Adrienne Raphel's What Was It For

What Was It For? asks the title of Adrienne Raphel's debut poetry collection (Rescue Press, March 2017). Was any poet ever so quick to question the worth of it all? Raphel's mercurial poems teach you several correct ways to say her title: at a tea party, surmising offhand—Oh, what was it for—or while pulling out your hair, the world falling to pieces—What was it for! Well, what was it for? Everything, or nothing, who knows the difference. In Raphel's world, a dimension over from Wonderland and Neverland, whimsy rules tyrannically, best intentions veer woozily off, and the divinest sense lies in nonsense. [ Read More ]

literature : interview

Jeremy Sigler

by Samuel Jablon

"As writers, we have the tendency to get disgusted by our own filth and start throwing it all away, spraying disinfectant and removing words, instead of using creativity to construct buoyancy."

Jeremy Sigler does not write nice poems. There's something honest (with a touch of creep) about them. He's funny and has the ability to rejoice at his own misery—a slew of embarrassing messes most would rather cover up or deny altogether. His new book of prose poems, My Vibe (Spoonbill, May 2017) is filled with amusing perspectives that cycle between comparisons of acceptance and rejection. He even takes on the project of reflection itself: "Indeed. Reflection... Nobody understands the importance of reflection—of reflecting, that is, on what one has done. And what one is about to do. Don't prepare. Be unprepared. But reflect!" Here, we reflect on his past life as a sculptor, and how he prioritizes transparency and vulnerability in his writing today.

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literature : review

Plucky Digressions

by Jamie Fisher

Fabulous talkers in Penelope Lively's The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories

The promotional material for The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories (Viking, May 2017) describes the title story as involving "a trenchant and worldly-wise bird [who] pecks and stalks among the fountains and statuary and informs us as to the goings-on in a household of homo sapiens." This undersells the level of twee quite a bit: the bird is our narrator, and also dead. Or possibly immortal?

If trenchant and worldly-wise birds are your thing, Penelope Lively has been a reliable source of the fantastic for nearly fifty years. In novels like The Photograph (2003) and the Booker Prize-winning Moon Tiger (1987), she looks at the world through anthropological eyes, but with a pronounced interest in the improbable—think Margaret Drabble with a magical-realist bent.

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literature : first proof

One Poem

by Alissa Valles

All rhapsodes want it, to fold the world into a poem,
          reconstrue a world in salvaged scraps & bracketed sighs;
it is easier to say what a poem is than what a world,
          were-ald, man-era, a stretch of time measured for a man
& weathered by him, a course charted across the face
          of time & everything found or fished up along the way?
Surviving pieces, in their brokenness, a call to form

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literature : review

Building Blocks of Noise

by Ben Tripp

Slow-cooked verbiage in Flarf: An Anthology of Flarf

Flarf is an avant-garde writing movement with a neologistic name, a nonsense word meant to signal its distance from delicate, effete, high-art poetry. According to the editors of Flarf: An Anthology of Flarf  (Aerial/Edge Books, May 2017), this sort of poetry is more like punk rock or Dada, but distinct from these previous movements in that the content crucial to its construction is sourced from the Internet. Flarf poets appropriate writings that might first appear in the textual yonder as unimportant, unfinished, and unwarranted—or just plain wrong. The finished poem itself may remain just as cringe-worthy, yet the poet is "in" on the joke, as it were, in a way that the ostensible author of the original source material may not be (but really we'll never know, and that's part of the fun).

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literature : review

Girlfriend Malaise

by J. Jezewska Stevens

Satirizing the "late-capitalist late-patriarchy" in Catherine Lacey's The Answers

The wry joke of The Answers (FSG, June 2017) is that it's a novel bristling with questions—mostly about what it means "to find love or keep love going," and why that struggle has to hurt. The result is a kind of postmortem on human intimacy, as Catherine Lacey examines, with clinical chill and precision, late-capitalism's perversions of love: celebrity worship, exorbitant health fads designed to help us better 'love' ourselves, and, inevitably, dating in NYC. It brings to mind some of Freud's gloomier conclusions: human beings are hopeless misfits within the civilization they've created. Love and civilization are at odds.

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literature : first proof

After the Attack

by Sara Nović

Well, nothing at first, not right after. In those initial moments panic is still optional.

At the grocery store, the one across from your building on Frederick Douglass, or farther up on Ft. Washington near your boyfriend's place, depending—a shrill, unfamiliar tone piercing the Muzak. It startles awake a sudden bond between you and other shoppers, people with whom you'd so far avoided eye contact, mumbling a continuous apology for bumping into one another. Now there is camaraderie in the unison groping of pockets, the rifling for phones among purses and reusable totes.

Across the river on Atlantic Avenue, in the urgent care waiting room, you and the receptionist both jump. The emergency alert system, this is not only a test.

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literature : first proof

Three Poems

by Andy Axel

How specific is neck to a woods?
Sleep-sick, the vehicle I operate's full
of ears that fail to be pricked by the query
so I field it myself, "one for the road" in that
it keeps it under us because it keeps me awake

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literature : review

Take Note

by Julia Bosson

Unchanging times, in Joan Didion's South and West

Californians live with a particular affliction. We suffer from a sense of timelessness, an ahistorical bent for the future. California may represent the end of the American dream, the realization of a brutal manifest destiny, but it is mostly a land of new beginnings, technological and cinematic alike. At times, it can forget that it is not its own country, focused as it is on the Pacific horizon. It looks back east, over its shoulder, only when the ties that yoke it to America go taut. November 2016 was one of those times, when its purported myth of future-building was outdone by the sea of red states still angry about the past. California, long-enamored with its visions for a utopian future, was made aware that it could not control it.

Joan Didion knows more about this than just about anybody, and she knew it forty years earlier. In 1970, Didion, a native Californian herself, made a pilgrimage to the South, where she spent a month driving through Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi with her husband, John Gregory Dunne. The notes she took while there make up the bulk of South and West, the first released writing from her notebooks. She went with no journalistic imperative, in hunt for no particular story, but rather to test a hypothesis: "I had only some dim and unformed sense…that the South… had been for America what people were still saying California was, and what California seemed to me not to be: the future, the secret source of malevolent and benevolent energy, the psychic center."

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literature : first proof

14 Person Poem

by Jeff Dolven

Incorporating poems by Maureen McLane, Dorothea von Moltke, Geoffrey Nutter, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Sal Randolph, Mónica de la Torre, and Monica Youn

It happens like this: you enter the bright room on the west side of the sixth floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art. You are among young trees, twenty-six of them, growing from wooden boxes raised on casters, spaced out around the room; the floor is red carpet, the light a mix of sun from the windows and a magenta glow from the bulbs on the ceiling. You may have a moment to look around, or you may be approached right away by someone who says: Find a furrow in your sleep. Or, The ridge. A ladder asleep against a house. Or, That went, This was our planet, a past tense.

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literature : review

Excavating Memory

by Alexander Pines

Moving toward a poetics of grief in Kate Zambreno's Book of Mutter

Louise Bourgeois's Cells makes physical the emotion of a wound, each piece in the series meditates on a painful object—clothing, furniture, a childhood home—as a form of exorcism. This duality of resurrection and destruction also animates much of Kate Zambreno's Book of Mutter (Semiotext(e), March 2017). It reveals both a tenderly curated archive of Zambreno's mother and the messiness of unearthing its zombie parts. "My mother book, my monster book," she writes of the text and its thirteen-year-long incubation.

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