Daily Postings
literature : word choice

Jellyfish

by Menachem Kaiser

In Warsaw I board an overnight bus to Berlin. Three facts immediately present themselves. The bus is full; nearly everyone is sleeping; and there is a sleeping baby in seat forty-three, which is, importantly, my seat. I stand in the aisle, consider my options. I can wake all those around me who might be the baby’s guardian. I can wake the baby, see what happens. I can sit and hold the baby. I can sit on the baby. I can store the baby on the rack above the seats. I can do nothing, stay standing in the aisle.

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literature : review

Le Mômo in the Mire

by Micaela Morrissette

Madness, melodrama, mundanity, and the legacy of Antonin Artaud.

For those susceptible to the romance of madness, the essential sanity of the written word is a tragedy. Perhaps literature is not the only art to suffer from the rationality that form and meanings impose, but it does seem at a peculiar disadvantage, even when it comes to the works of those practitioners who were themselves inarguably mad. The violently colored, claustrophobically dense drawings of the psychotic Adolf Wölfli satisfy with an intense frisson of delirium; the schizophrenic August Natterer’s elusively symbolic, eerily cartoonish images are unsettling in the extreme. But Robert Walser’s microscripts, creepy though they may be to behold, are, once deciphered, all too legible. Gérard de Nerval’s Aurelia, while it may chronicle his descent into lunacy, does so in limpid prose, unfolding its narrative in a calm and eminently parseable progression. The fiction Philip K. Dick generated from his transcendental visions is, if anything, more clichéd than the brain-bending stories that arose during his slightly less hallucinatory earlier years. Maybe literature, the reading of which involves deciphering a series of symbolic equations, simply cannot escape an intrinsically argumentative, demonstrative quality. Maybe, because literary works operate, no matter how conventional or how revolutionary the text, through the suspension of readerly disbelief, it’s tautologically impossible to regard them as delusional. Maybe literature’s mundanity is one more evil ascribable to the crime syndicate of literary criticism: There’s no idea, no form, no mode of language too extreme or sublime to escape the shackles of a meaningful analytical framework. Or maybe one must simply give way to the heartbreaking truth that battiness is banal—no more, no less. The crazy are as bourgeois, as irremediably earthbound as the rest of us. They cannot take us aloft with them; they’re even deeper in the mire than we are.

If anyone was ever truly deranged, it was the French playwright, poet, theorist, and opiate addict Antonin Artaud. If anyone had a chance at translating psychopathy into poetry, it was him. Born in 1896, Artaud suffered in childhood from stammering, headaches, meningitis, and other painful physical illnesses; by the time he was a teenager, he had already spent time in sanatoriums; and in 1937, he entered a period of institutionalization that lasted until his death in 1948. He believed he was Christ—also Antichrist. Wrenchingly repulsed by sex, he would spit at pregnant women when they crossed his path. Artaud knew himself to be the victim of numerous bewitchments by an international cabal of black magicians, and was horrified by the fact that his near and dear were being murdered and replaced by indistinguishable doubles. He was also a maniacally prolific writer now best known for his formulation of the theater of cruelty and for poems and other texts that incorporate glossolalia and nonverbal noise—particularly the scream.

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literature : interview

Stephanie Barber

by Laura van den Berg

“You poor, quite accurate word… cast aside for being too apt!”

Stephanie Barber lives in Baltimore where she is an artist-in-residence in the MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art. In addition to her latest book, All the People (Ink Press, 2015), Barber is the author of Night Moves (Publishing Genius, 2013) and these here separated to see how they standing alone (Publishing Genius, 2010). She also has an extensive body of work in film and various media. Recently her first feature, Daredevils, screened at The National Gallery of Art in DC, and for jhana and the rats of james olds, Barber moved her studio into the Baltimore Museum of Art where she created a new video every day, with museum visitors acting as both spectators and collaborators.

The art I most admire creates its own world. I can remember visiting Stephanie at the BMA and being so wholly absorbed by the world she was creating—isolated, collaborative, lonely, joyful. I remember wanting to stay and stay. To me, that experience is characteristic of her body of work: whether she is operating in film or installation or poetry or prose, she constructs worlds that are kinetic, strange, and stunningly beautiful, worlds that are wise and scary, that hit you in the head and in the heart.

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literature : word choice

I Am Not Dead, Yet: A Mesostic for Janet Fanjón

by John Pluecker

I sit down this morning to write about this image. This image—which might be a poem—that I made as the result of an experiment. I took walks through a city looking for street names with sufficient letters to create a mesostic for Janet Fanjón, a young photographer in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, in the northern part of Mexico on the border with Texas. She was disappeared by Mexican federal defense forces in 2011 along with her entire family.

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literature : from the editor
literature : interview

Mark von Schlegell

by Erika Landström

“Fiction can be this art object that doesn’t show us anything new about reality, but draws out everything fake.”

On the European release of Sundogz earlier this summer, I met with author and cultural critic Mark von Schlegell to talk about a mutual interest—the desire to observe from multiple viewpoints simultaneously, both inside and outside of fiction.

The idea of transformation is at the heart of speculative writing. Sundogz articulates this desire both allegorically, through descriptions of shape-shifting subjects in liquid worlds, and structurally, through normalizing a disrupted linearity, letting the point of reading become irretrievable by expansion instead. One viewpoint is diffused by striking two new.

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literature : word choice

Three Poems

by Joe Milazzo

THE DREAM
IN    WHICH
WE    WALK
EVERY DAY

They uncovered a u-boat in the bays beneath
the rayonnant of the kitchen linoleum,
drainpipes labyrinthed through its hull like
antennae with no use for alerts.
They anointed it “her,” so the lilting blue
of their torches might saw. In their sleeves
and buckles, they shoveled the fecund smell
her decks surrendered into the bags
whose buttressing they’d emptied of sand.
They offered to lay her relics in their van,
leaving me only her spiny lungs.
I asked them instead to erect
a second sink atop her bridge.
In the corroded glass of her periscope,
I can observe the creeping of green
bottles, brown bottles, brown bottles,
green bottles and the surface
of a mirror blank save
for a single bubble.

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literature : interview

V. Vale

by Karlynne Ejercito

“Everything goes, whatever. You know that word 'whatever'—whenever that started coming in, about twenty years ago? It's like whatever-core—that's where we're at now.”

As the editor and publisher of RE/Search, and a self-described amateur anthropologist, V. Vale has commanded volumes of interviews and articles about countercultural figures and the subcultures they spawned. In the thirty-some years since the first issue appeared in 1980—a slim journal that drew Julio Cortázar together with Non, Sun Ra, and The Slits—few things about RE/Search have changed. Still too catholic in its taste for discriminating punk palates and still not academic enough to be Semiotext(e), RE/Search continues to articulate a no-man’s-land between the “underground” and the institutions that undergrounds allegedly subvert. Despite inhabiting this space, these publications assume a distinct place with their irregular sizes and boldface logo emblazoned onto their exaggerated covers.

Much like the curious tone of his books, Vale is notably less cynical toward his countercultural peers than readers of, say, Vice or The Baffler might expect. His is an attitude that reflects a willingness to publish a book of interviews with tattooist Ed Hardy alongside a zine by McKenzie Wark and a book by Penny Rimbaud—with little trace of irony. His sincerity is not simply a pose but a mark of his deep involvement with the people he writes about.

That he’s sincere, however, makes him no less inscrutable. For one thing, Vale has a habit of deliberating over the delicate specificity of certain terms in unwieldy generalities—a style of expression that yields the most unpredictable of ideas. Although deciphering our conversation proved to be a difficult task, it may be the most straightforward path to an understanding of RE/Search and its place today.

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literature : interview

Magnus Mills

by Michael Barron

As novelist and bus driver, Mills discusses The Maintenance of Headway, vinyl puritans, and the history of England.

Few writers of fiction would retain a blue-collar occupation after meeting with literary success. In the case of Magnus Mills, however, it remains a vital component of his process. Throughout the span of eight novels, including one Booker nomination, the sixty-one-year-old British novelist has, curiously, remained a bus driver. It’s during his routes that he develops his ideas, which expand until he is ready to put them down on paper.

Plotted isn’t the most appropriate word to describe the kind of work Mills prefers to write. His novels are systems that slowly reveal their flaws as they progress. The Maintenance of Headway, released in the UK to much fanfare in 2010, now published in a US edition, is a poignant example of the Millsian style. The narrator is a bus driver who encounters little slips—a rushed or rerouted bus—that disrupt the optimal distance between the buses. Drivers are occasionally promoted to inspectors who, in turn, cite their colleagues for being early or late. New bus models loom on the horizon; others are retired. Headway remains a white rabbit.

Mills has since published two books in the UK, including this year’s The Field of the Cloth of Gold, a systemic novel tackling not the maladies of public transit, but the early history of the British, all woven with allegorical thread: a field of tent dwellers grows in population, including Caesarian and Christian inhabitants that bring about change.

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literature : word choice

The Thinking Head

by S.D. Chrostowska

An excerpt from Matches

§ Almost Being

The smaller the animal, the less the distance between being and its sensation. In this way, the smallest beings are closer to presence than us, who come face to face with being and do not sense it. What is our compensation for being so large?

 

§ Don’t Imagine…

If an angel were ever to tell us anything of his philosophy I believe many propositions would sound like two times two equals thirteen.
~ G.Ch. Lichtenberg1

If a lion could talk, we wouldn’t be able to understand it.
~ Ludwig Wittgenstein, enthusiast of Lichtenberg2

All the thoughts of a turtle are turtles
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson3

After all, what would be left of what it was like to be a bat if one removed the viewpoint of the bat?
~ Thomas Nagel4

Imagining and speculating about nonhuman experience makes us smaller and smaller. Why is it that we insist on being able to comprehend them all? Because little by little we are becoming our outside. The thoughts of a turtle will one day be shared by men who are part turtle, the arithmetic of angels, had angels ever existed, by semi-angels, the speech of a lion, by lion-man, the mindset of a bat—you guessed it. Even the experience of the next man will one day be accessible to us. Whenever we recognize this phenomenological drift, we start to prepare mentally for these interspecies liaisons, which will support us in our smallness. But when we set out only to know, we train for a fantasy takeover, ruling nothing.

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literature : interview

James Salter

by Sally Gall

“Style is the writer.”

In 1989, Esquire magazine sent me to France to make photographs for an essay by James Salter about his several-month French sojourn. The photo editor at Esquire (to whom I am eternally grateful) thought that the sensuality of my photos would complement the sensuous quality of his writing. The rest is history, as they say. We became friends and I remain a huge fan of his work. In 1995, when my first book of photographs was published, I asked Jim to write the introductory essay. He wrote a beautiful and evocative story that begins the book.

On the occasion of Salter’s novel All That Is, published in 2013, Betsy Sussler asked me to interview him. She was aware that Jim and I had known each other for a long time. What ensued was an interview that meandered very slowly over the course of a year or more and many travels. As we were rarely in the same physical place, we ended up exchanging emails, starting with me in New York and Jim in Bridgehampton, Long Island, and continuing through my travels in France and Italy while Jim visited Mexico, Aspen, and Long Island again.

I had just sent in the completed edit of this interview, for Jim to review, when I received the news that he had died unexpectedly. We never got to have our wrap-up drink at Capsouto Frères (see the beginning of the interview), we never had our proposed dinner, nor was I able to take his portrait, which we had planned to do this August. This portrait was to run side by side with the portrait I made of him in 1989, the summer we met.

It is a shock that he is gone. Despite the reality that he had recently turned ninety, he remained so youthful, seeming like a young handsome man with lots more writing to do—a few more green sprigs, as he says at the end of this piece.

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literature : word choice

Three Poems

by Linnea Ogden

The Way We Did It Was

“Going through something”
As though a spaceship made of marsh gas
Hovered overhead
The work of a moment mildewed
Along the edge
The press bed’s relenting skin
Sick at throat with hibiscus
Or rose hips
Our digressions
Black houses on a black street, hanging
Over dog-pawed ground

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literature : word choice

It’s Private

by Eric Ellingsen

That’s what we said. At the Ows-land-er-be-horde, the office for foreigners, pantheon of come backs of stays of goes, place to renew and apply. You have to make an appointment weeks ahead of time to renew. We made an appointment, then we missed that appointment. But today you don’t have to have an appointment, though it is advised.

So, my wife Hope and I had an appointment to renew, and we missed it. My wife is named after Bob Hope, Hope’s dad Jules says. And I know hope (the concept) fits this story, but it’s also the way it is. I’m a bit torn here—to change Hope’s real name to something more believable but less true. Her name could be Charity. Mercy. I’m friends with a Brazilian Ding. Freelanced with a Corner. I even briefly loved a Brie. The memories burst in on me. I could even make her a heart surgeon, say that gives her the right.

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literature : interview

Joshua Cohen

by Dan Duray

Tech moguls, syllable counting, computerized criticism, and the singularity.

Most people probably discovered the fiction of Joshua Cohen with the appearance of his short story “Emission” in the Spring 2011 issue of The Paris Review. In it, a man fights for dignity amidst search engine optimization after someone blogs a story he tells at a party, and his name becomes associated with a sex act. That story was later collected in Four New Messages, which James Wood singled out as one of the best books of the year in 2012, writing: “I was excited to read this young writer, and uncalmly await more.”

In fact, the now-34-year-old author already had a lot more. At that point, he’d published the novels Cadenza for the Schneidermann Violin Concerto (2007), A Heaven of Others (2008), and Witz (2010), a winding, 800-page experimental work about, literally, the last Jew on Earth. If any press releases exist about him they probably contain a line like, “Cohen explores themes human and everlasting with humor, wit, and pathos.” His new novel, Book of Numbers (Random House, June 9), is the culmination of efforts seen in Four New Messages and takes us through the ghostwriting of a tech mogul’s autobiography. The mogul’s name is Joshua Cohen, as is the ghostwriter’s. The novel vaguely follows the structure of the biblical book for which it is named, but its most impressive section is the second, a raw interview with that mogul, which comprises some 400 pages.

The real-life Joshua Cohen also writes the New Books column in Harper's magazine, and as a critic he neither shows off nor pulls punches. In The London Review of Books, he began his review of Jonathan Franzen’s translation of Karl Kraus with the question: “What’s the German for a writer who resurrects a writer who would have hated him?” Born in Atlantic City, Cohen speaks in a way that is quick, vivid, and dense, like William Vollmann mixed with a capo from a Martin Scorsese movie. We conducted this interview at my place, which he had previously likened to “a Tampa drug dealer’s apartment in the ’90s, because everything sucks, but the stereo system is good,” over iced coffee and cigarettes.

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literature : interview

David Winters

by Andrew Gallix

“It seems to me that style becomes a kind of crucible—an acid bath in which the self is broken down, producing something unique, something new.”

Robert Musil regretted publishing the first volumes of The Man Without Qualities due to “the fixity they imposed on his ever-evolving work.” Similar misgivings almost led David Winters to shelve his debut collection of essays, from which the above quote is lifted. In conversation, the young English critic is given to qualifying—and even disavowing—past pronouncements, always returning them, with academic precision, to their rightful contexts. He is loath to see his provisional reflections turned into eternal truths, and wary of being co-opted by some dogmatic school or other. Infinite Fictions (Zero Books, 2015) is thus a snapshot of the author’s state of thinking over the last couple of years: a work in progress frozen in time.  

Spurning any fixed theoretical position, Winters strives to preserve in his own essays the indeterminacy that lies at the heart—but also on the smudged margins—of literature. Given that the novels he writes about resist summation or translation, he has developed a contrarian brand of criticism that gestures towards what radically escapes it.

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literature : word choice

One Poem

by Tyler Flynn Dorholt

Gramercy Park

When I get off the sun skates in backward & blows the flags into their American fist pump, elbowing wind in the eyes / friendship is that which entirely leaves entirety & jangles the fish back into shade / to parse a line this city thumbs around invisible dogs & where the street fences the bodega with the hands that collect water is again an idea that I have to splash on my face in the lower east gate, taking hand fall & the meaning seconds leave—slant of the slant of these people who will finish their days in squares behind walls / I can’t believe in extension or gesture as in comparison to reaching an arm out we only have to preach from the harm inside ourselves & put hair into fingers before punching the night out ...

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literature : interview

Suzanne Scanlon

by Kate Zambreno

Index as fiction, mess as virtue.

I first met Suzanne Scanlon just under a decade ago, both of us in a small conference room filling out forms for adjunct teaching gigs at an arts school in Chicago. I remember looking at this composed, smiling woman in that yearning kind of way, as I was longing for female friendship, especially with other writers. We were both, as I was later to learn, there to teach literature and writing, but I don’t think we had a conversation about it then. Being a writer wasn’t something either of us announced. I really met her, I think, through her writing, as she confessed to me several years later that she kept a blog (I had started one, too). I remember reading entries on her blog that became drafts for her book Promising Young Women and being completely struck by this intimate and searching voice, this memory project, and also a library of a mind inhaling and referencing literature voraciously, as if it was a crucial life force. It was through Suzanne’s blog and our correspondence that I began to feel a sense of community as a writer. I felt this same admiration and kinship reading Her 37th Year: An Index (Noemi Press, 2015), her fictional essay of a life and a marriage.

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Hyperbolics

by Valeria Luiselli

An excerpt from The Story of My Teeth

Our first lot is a piece in a somewhat deteriorated state. Yet, considering its antiquity, the overall condition is good; one might even say excellent. Significant flattening of the point leads to the supposition that the original owner, Mr. Plato, talked and ate continuously. He was five feet five inches tall and thirty-three and a half inches broad; he was of medium height but robust, with a fighter’s build. He had a long, cotton-woolly beard, light brown in color; thick hair of the same hue and texture. Mr. Plato flaunted the conventional fashions of the day and wore his toga loose, without a belt. Neither did he wear sandals.

Mr. Plato once made a comparison between the period of dentition and a man falling in love: “In this state, the soul enters into effervescence and irritation; and this soul, whose wings are just beginning to develop, can be compared to a child whose gums are inflamed and enervated by its first teeth.” Lovely, don’t you think?

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literature : interview

Tim Parks

by Scott Esposito

The international novel, mistranslation, and blogging in print.

At some point in 2011, everybody I knew in the international literary community was suddenly talking about the columns Tim Parks was regularly filing at the NYRBlog. At long last, here was a columnist at a major periodical actively engaging with the questions that most mattered to us: What was this new globalized novel genre taking shape right before our eyes? How can we best understand the psyche of that schizophrenic entity known as the Nobel Prize jury? And why in God’s name do the Germans like Jonathan Franzen so much?

“Looks like Parks is working his way toward a book,” one of my friends commented back then, and he was right. This spring NYRB Classics releases Where I’m Reading From, some 240 pages of lightly edited and meticulously arranged postings from Parks’s four plus years as a blogger. I’m as skeptical as anyone of collections of pre-published material—particularly when it’s work that just happens to be sitting around for free online—but the writing in Where I’m Reading From really does take on new dimensions as a printed, choreographed book. Arranged into four linked sections, these pieces deal with what the novel has become in the 21st century, how globalization has impacted it, the authors most relevant to it, and where Parks himself fits into this equation, both as a reader and a writer.

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literature : interview

Michael Wiegers

by Peter Mishler

Fable and fact—an editor's perspective on the poetry and cult of Frank Stanford.

Frank Stanford was a prolific American writer who published several collections of poetry and left behind numerous unpublished works before his death at the age of twenty-nine. His poems have received attention through various posthumous editions, but What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford—just released by Copper Canyon Press—serves as the most complete and thorough survey of his work, now nearly forty years after his death. What About This deftly compiles both published and unpublished work, drafts, prose, an interview, ephemera, and excerpts from his 450-page poem The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You. In June, Third Man Books will release Hidden Water: From the Frank Stanford Archives, a companion collection of outtakes, alternates, and ephemera not included in What About This.

I first encountered Stanford’s poems as a student, through a loaned copy of an earlier selected poems. I was struck immediately by his obsessive and recursive image-making and idiomatic style; how he used the page to exorcise his head of symbols drawn from the speech and mise-en-scène of the American South in which he lived. As I began making my own poems, Stanford was an assurance for me that I could approach poetry as a means to define and redefine my own private symbology in a language both strange and everyday. I corresponded with Michael Wiegers, executive editor at Copper Canyon Press, editor of What About This, and co-editor of Hidden Water, to discuss these new editions of Stanford’s work.

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literature : word choice

Three Poems

by Melissa Barrett

Mother Is Only One Letter From

Homer, the father of culture. And yet he was never born.
And yet he gave birth to a hero who wanted to go home.
Home. Two letters. Let her journey, too. Culture, one letter from ulcer.
A moth laying eggs on your good suit. On the suitor’s leather.
The books on motherhood change every year, but they all say there will be blood.
Saddam Hussein popularized the expression “the mother of all —— ”
when he referred to the Gulf War. The first one. The second was his redheaded stepson.
All wars create gulfs, and all wars are motherly, since from death comes life.
Cf. forest fires. They’re part of a forest’s natural ecology.
From death comes heat. From heat comes tea. Find our way back to this scene,
carrying a knife, a camera, a book of myths.
That’s Adrienne Rich. My children cause me the most exquisite suffering.
Poor Penelope. It’s not easy being the first cock tease, the original single mom.
She suffered, too. Molly Bloom said yes I said yes I will Yes. What hyperbole.
And Penelope, No. Please. Smothered by the suitors, the rumors, fidelity,
a son. T is for Telemachus, two letters from machetes. 

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literature : word choice

The Cow

by Hernán Ronsino

I hear about it from my old man. He calls Buenos Aires early in the morning and tells me, in a weary voice, that Pajarito Lernú has died. He says that it happened last night. They found the body in a ditch, on the dirt track to the cemetery. Two policemen came in the middle of the night to give him the news and ask him to pick up the body—one of the cops was the boy from Cejas and he seemed drunk. Two idiots, my old man says, at that hour. I threw them out. But when he went back to his bedroom he was hit in the chest by a wave of unbearable anguish. So he stayed there, waiting for the light to filter in through the window so he could call me. Then he says that he needs me. The last thing he tells me is that a few hours before he died Pajarito Lernú gave me a cow. It’s a wounded animal, he says. He stole it from Negro Soto.

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literature : interview

Georgi Gospodinov

by Jeffrey Zuckerman

Empathy in literature, public reminiscence, and the long half-life of socialism.

Here we have an author whose “immodest desire is to mold a novel of beginnings, a novel that keeps starting, promising something, reaching page seventeen and then starting again.” An author who incorporates flies, pseudonyms, minotaurs, and nested memories into his unclassifiable books, and who has hoped critics might say, “this novel’s good, because nothing’s ever certain in it.”

Georgi Gospodinov’s astonishing debut, Natural Novel, was published in 1995, just after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and immediately went on to be translated into twelve languages. On the face of it, the novel described a marriage’s dissolution, with a backdrop of Bulgaria in the ’80s—but its pages contain more: a chapter about the language of toilets, a consideration of whether the alphabet’s letters have sexual characteristics, a bit about Linnaeus and whether man should be the measure of all things…

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literature : word choice

Two Poems

by Graeme Bezanson

Eclogue

Music parts to reveal the famous antiquity, a fine lace
Of gasoline in the tapwater, an anomaly of pinkish light.

See now how the cheek of South America pulls away from
Our kisses. My wife, the compound-adjectived,

Dappled by a net of starlight, hands in a deathless
Watermelon: Everything you find in the trough of a U

Is rising: Peregrine insects, sap in the fir tree, imperative
Sentences containing just one or two words. Or you might have

No views on the rolling table, borrowing where it’s cheap to borrow,
Sleeping where the beds are huge. This is why we’re in your

Wheelhouse, looking for sapphires. Refracted by treetops.
I can’t tell if I’m the flotilla or another wayward curl.

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literature : word choice

from Where the Bird Sings Best

by Alejandro Jodorowsky

In those good old days, Salvador Arcavi, the first of a long series of Salvadors—traditionally all his descendants had the same name—though respectful of the Holy Book, decided he was not to going to be a prisoner to its letters. Following the prophecy Jacob made to his son (“Your hand will be on the neck of your enemy. Your father’s sons will bow down to you. Judah is a young lion.”), he became a lion tamer. His way to draw nearer to God was to study those beasts and to live an itinerant life, giving performances in which his union with his animals surpassed the limits of reality and reached the miraculous. The lions jumped through flaming hoops, balanced on the tight rope, danced on their hind legs, climbed up on one another to form a pyramid, spelled out the name of a spectator by choosing wooden letters, and, the greatest test, accepted within their jaws without hurting it the head of the tamer, then dragged him through the sawdust to draw a six-pointed star.

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