Daily Postings
literature : review

"To Lie Is to Try": Two Books on Kathy Acker

by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Chris Kraus and Douglas A. Martin conjure the iconoclastic author.

Kathy Acker catapulted to prominence as the enfant terrible of American literature in the 1980s—in New York, she was infamous; in London, she became famous. She aimed to sculpt herself into an icon of literary creation and destruction to be worshiped at the altar of evil sainthood alongside canonized experimentalists like William S. Burroughs and Jean Genet, and for a time she succeeded.

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literature : interview

Italy, Two Ways: Jessie Chaffee and Minna Zallman Proctor

"There's often a gap between what we're trying to say and what we are able to say. Sometimes I'm successful and sometimes I fail. Sometimes it's painful and sometimes I get into that space where it feels right. That's the high."

We can't always be in Italy, so we love the books that can transport us there. Jessie Chaffee's debut novel, Florence in Ecstasy (Unnamed Press), and Minna Zallman Proctor's collection of essays, Landslide (Catapult), both feature American characters who go to Italy to get away only to find themselves even more tethered to home. Hannah, the protagonist in Florence in Ecstasy, embeds herself in the local community, but has to confront the internal ruthlessness of an eating disorder. With poetic and incisive prose, Chaffee gives us access to an emotional world seldom explored with such grace. In Landslide, we follow Proctor on her trips to Italy and back, as she sifts through her complicated relationship with her mother, who passed away fifteen years after a cancer diagnosis. The essays, though they form a kind of elegy, are warm, humorous, and probing of life's absurdities and joys.

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literature : first proof

Four Poems

by Elena Karina Byrne

What language are you now? Blood-fuck blanco-made
     on the leaves, (brother was blood in the ears) blood
        bitter crop, body-doubt, the poplar rain falling grape-grey

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literature : essay
literature : essay

Our John: Remembering John Ashbery

by Eric Brown

There are some people I never expect to die. John Ashbery's death at ninety comes as a shock. As a poet he was among the greats; he was also a great human being and a generous friend. Painter Trevor Winkfield once referred to him affectionately as our John. He was like a gentle father figure to a multigenerational brood of poets and artists in New York and across the globe, all of whom had a profound affection for him.

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literature : essay
literature : essay
literature : essay
literature : essay

Hymns to Possibility: Remembering John Ashbery

by Geoffrey G. O'Brien

So much of Ashbery's poetry, like so much of poetry, turns on adjacency, on what we're willing to let lie next to each other. If I sound like I'm talking about sex, then I am, and it's part of why Ashbery went to France—for its versions of his own country's false promises of liberty, fraternity, and equality—in the wake of Joseph McCarthy's Lavender Scare.

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literature : essay

In the Wild: Remembering John Ashbery

by Charles Bernstein

In 1991, John, David Kermani, and I were waiting to get on a flight to Milan for a poetry festival there. John and David were in a convivial mood and the subject turned to John Shoptaw, who a few years later published a study of Ashbery called On the Outside Looking Out. Shoptaw's book was one of the first studies of Ashbery's work that included references to his being gay, which Shoptaw read in terms of what he calls "homotextuality." Before the early 1990s, Ashbery's homosexuality was not commonly addressed in print. As far as I know, this is how Ashbery wanted it.

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literature : essay

What We'll Have Forever: Remembering John Ashbery

by Andrew Durbin

Now that Ashbery is gone, I don't know how to say goodbye or to accept that there has finally been a last book, or at least a last one published while its author was still alive. I met John several times and he was always very kind to me. Since his passing a few days ago, I've searched those moments for some greater meaning, for a stray detail that I had missed before.

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literature : essay
literature : essay

Home Video: Remembering John Ashbery

by Adam Fitzgerald

In 2006, my friend Travis called me to say he was coming to New York City and wondered whether or not there was a good poetry reading we could both go to. I was freshly dumped out of college and only pretending to be working at a bookstore from which I would soon be fired.

Accidentally—or rather, instinctively—I popped into Google "John Ashbery poetry reading NYC" when I had meant "poetry reading NYC." A Google search can change your life.

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literature : essay

When Most Needed: Remembering John Ashbery

by Anselm Berrigan

Getting the news on Sunday that John was gone felt like having a big unlooked-for hand, like a Philip Guston hand, reach in and swipe something from my imagination. Going to his poems a little later on meant having that something put back, in a slightly different place, or acknowledging what can't actually be taken, despite the shock of initial grief. I think we're not supposed to talk about influence. Or maybe we're not supposed to talk about imitation. Who is we again?

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literature : essay

Blessedly Ordinary Things: Remembering John Ashbery

by Robert Kelly

The Hindus spoke of lila, play, the play of the gods that makes the world. I think of that recalling Ashbery, the ever-playful willingness to be surprised by what he might not even have known he was feeling. Surely he was the least grown-up octogenarian I ever met—there's a kind of sacred immaturity, smile of Apollo, in that delight in the new and in new joinings of blessedly ordinary things.

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literature : essay

The Stories, The Lights: Remembering John Ashbery

by Patricia Spears Jones

As a poet and writer, I appreciate John Ashbery's continuous deep diving into rocks and rills of American language, into American culture, while openly curious about other cultures, languages, ways of being. His inordinate curiosity and acuity was often underplayed in his diction and yet, he was the consummate sophisticate. I particularly enjoy this perfect line from The Vermont Notebook—a collaboration between Ashbery and Joe Brainard in which he writes: "The climate, the cities, the houses, the streets, the stores, the lights, people."

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literature : essay
literature : essay

Supportive Acts

by Justin Torres

Rickie Vasquez is wondering if all you ever have to offer him are crumbs.

Rickie Vasquez is waiting to give you some attention. "You should buy yourself something," he suggests. "I mean, think. What do you really need? I mean, you need new makeup. Makeup goes bad, you know, it does. It spoils. You need new CDs because the ones you have suck. And you could definitely use a leather jacket." Rickie Vasquez is ready to fix your life; he's ready to help you spend the money he does not have.

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literature : first proof

Unconditionally Loved

by Christopher Paul Wolfe

"I need to talk to you," she says.

It's what she always says when she's compelled to get shit started. My response is equal parts cover, concealment, and a bit of noise and light discipline until she forgets the reason for this twilight cipher. But when it's been days since I've seen her, I forget that she possesses all the persistence and none of the patience of Rosa Parks.

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literature : review

The Writer and The Terrorist: on Antonio Muñoz Molina's Like a Fading Shadow

by Will Augerot

The Spanish novelist confronts the monstrosity of James Earl Ray.

In Mao II, Don DeLillo has Bill Gray, a fictional writer, comment on what he calls "the curious knot that binds novelists and terrorists." He goes on to say, "Years ago I used to think it was possible for a novelist to alter the inner life of the culture. Now bomb-makers and gunmen have taken that territory." It's a curious statement, both hubristic and overmodest, implying a recent succession that doesn't withstand scrutiny. But DeLillo knew better: in his earlier novel, Libra, protagonist Lee Harvey Oswald isn't the author of his fate—he's an instrument of the writer.

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literature : interview

Literature of the Present: An Interview with Nick Laird

by Will Chancellor

"Literature is a way of establishing the humanness of others. It's interested in the relationships between people, between authenticity and truth. That in itself has to make us better disposed to each other."

Nick Laird is the author of three books of poetry and three novels, including his latest, Modern Gods (Viking). It tells the story of a BBC documentary team traveling to a small island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Liz, an anthropologist who moonlights as an on-screen presenter, is there to report on the world's newest religion: a cargo cult started by a deeply mystic and magnetic local named Belef. Back in Liz's homeland of Northern Ireland, her sister Alison has married a former Ulster loyalist vigilante. During their brief engagement, Alison contents herself with vague notions of her husband's past. Their wedding, however, sparks front-page indignation, forcing Alison to de-romanticize any notions she had of her swain as a freedom fighter and confront the reality that she married a guy who shot up a bar on thin pretenses that it was for a noble cause. The two halves of this novel connect to form a meditation on buried belief structures, perpetual violence, and brief moments of grace that "sweep into the room." In clear and concise prose, Modern Gods offers a tight plot line with the chance to chew on abstract ideas like survivor's guilt and colonial exploitation. I met up with Nick in early June at a restaurant on Sullivan Street in New York City.

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literature : first proof

Four Poems

by Lauren Hilger

My doll had an exoskeleton
I could remove like a dress.

Inside, a baby with a ponytail and bow.

That doll had a thorax, it was easy.
You removed half of her,
a kind of leaf,

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literature : interview

Daniel Poppick and Jenny Zhang

"What do you do when you're born—without your consent—and you find out later that your life was at the cost of someone else's? That's how high the stakes can be."

Writers Daniel Poppick and Jenny Zhang met seven years ago when they were students in Iowa City. Since then, they’ve continued to discuss their individual projects, including Poppick's first book of poetry, The Police, released in April from Omnidawn Publishing, and Zhang’s first collection of stories, Sour Heart, out this month from Lenny Books. Poppick’s poems are grammatically dexterous explorations of power and interpersonal vulnerability. Zhang’s stories are richly narrated mostly by Chinese American girls who are equal parts tough and tender, feeling and talking their way through especially difficult adolescences. Both of these books resist predictability in language and scope. They offer, instead, vividly rendered depictions that possess the surprises, wisdom, and dark humor of our lived experiences. This summer the two writers met in Poppick's Brooklyn apartment to continue their ongoing exchanges about genre distinctions, poetry's role in contemporary American letters, how profanity intersects with race and class, and more​.

—Raluca Albu

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literature : review

Knife, Paintbrush, Pen: on Elizabeth Lyons's The Blessing of Dark Water

by Gillie Collins

Talking back to diagnosis

One morning in 1939, the staff of the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum woke to a curious sight: a patient's room was empty, and a mural of large, white seabirds commandeered the building's brick façade. The culprit turned out to be Walter Inglis Anderson, a New Orleanian painter and sculptor, who had escaped through his third-story window using a rope of strung-together bed sheets. During his descent, he stopped and hovered, drawing skimmers with a bar of Ivory soap.

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