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Jim Feast

Poetry: The Office is a Cruel Muse

Broadly speaking, all poetry is composed under such constraints. An Elizabethan sonnet followed a certain stanzaic or metric pattern while, at the same time, only coming to be within a certain social coterie composed of aristocrats and their hangers-on (like Shakespeare). However, when Mesmer speaks of a social component to her lyrics, she is linking them not to an enclosed segment of society, but to a practice. She writes that she belongs to “a handful of poets with full-time jobs and little time to write [who] were entering outrageous and/or inappropriate word combinations in the Google search engine and making poems out of the results.”

Bohemian Rhapsody

Herschel Silverman, Lift Off: New and Selected Poems, 1961–2001 (Water Row/ Long Shot joint production, 2002). Sparrow, Yes, You ARE a Revolutionary! Plus Seven Other Books (Soft Skull, 2002). Many of the most powerful American social thinkers of the last century, writers such as Edmund Wilson, Lewis Mumford, and Kenneth Burke, whose heyday ran from the late 1920s through the ’40s, emerged neither from academia nor political action groups, but from Bohemia.

Nonfiction: Youthful Anarchy

In Provo: Amsterdam’s Anarchist Revolt, Richard Kempton has laid open one of the most intriguing and unthinkable passages in recent European history. Why unthinkable? Imagine this. In 1965, a group of disaffected Dutch youth, fed up with their society’s englobed, smug dedication to consumerism, began weekly performances around the base of an innocuous statue of a child, which they periodically doused with gasoline and wreathed in flames. Aside from a small coterie, nobody but the police paid much attention.

FICTION: Enlightened Partisans

It’s interesting to pick up two books, both on the same topic, both fighting on the same side, that come from different powers in the publishing world—one a mainstream work, Roland Merullo’s novel American Savior, published by the mighty Algonquin; the other an avant-garde production, Tom Savage’s Brainlifts, released by the tiny, yet noble Straw Gate Books.

Prose Roundup

Jack Sargeant, Naked Lens: Beat Cinema; Jeremy C. Shipp, Sheep and Wolves:Collected Stories; John Adams, Hallelujah Junction; Jaime Lowe, Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of ODB

NONFICTION: A Pop Calypse

It’s debatable whether, as the authors of Apocalypse Jukebox hint, the U.S. is more fascinated with world-ending catastrophes than other countries.

POETRY: A Poet Stretches

For the poet today who wants to draw on contemporary forms, he or she finds that some of the most often used and passed around ones come from a single storehouse: creative writing workshops. Formal assignments are intended to “free their minds” and help them “think outside the box.” It’s as if poets, like Olympic athletes, have to limber up before they get down to business.

NONFICTION: Craziest Guys on the Lower East Side

It used to be that calling an autobiography “thesis–driven” was akin to an insult, but to my mind the best recent life stories are of this type.

CIRCLE SQUARED

In his striking new novel Passes Through, Rob Stephenson addresses the problem of depicting stasis in a narrative (i.e., a moving) form. The key to doing this successfully, as Stephenson does, is to make it not only convincing but engaging.

Fiction Review

In earlier works Lynn Crawford focused on the leisure time of the leisure class. In her new book, Crawford complicates things by placing her chosen content in a comparative perspective, resetting the plots of earlier novels in modern days and dress, so that every alteration she makes illuminates a distinctive difference between eras.

FICTION
She or the unknown person

People say postmodern novels can be read in more than one way, and Joanna Gunderson’s new She, due to its quirky collage technique, proves this with a vengeance.

FICTION
SUI GENERIS

Doug Nufer’s new novel By Kelman Out of Pessoa is another of his contributions to the “literature of constraint.” Certainly, all writing has constraints, but this genre involves an author piling on heavier, if self-imposed, restrictions to challenge his mettle.

FICTION
The Man With the Golden Pen

Like previous druggie fiction, Drew Hubner’s new novel, East of Bowery, hits all the low spots, giving readers a panoramic tour of the burnt-out squats, copping places, and holding pens that make up a user’s habitual itinerary.

IN MEMORIAM
On Barney Rosset

As a publisher, Barney Rosset was the rebel’s rebel, defending freedom of speech in celebrated trials for his Grove Press novels, The Tropic of Cancer, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Naked Lunch; publishing and championing path-breaking writers from Beckett to Genet to Pinter to Ionesco; establishing in 1957 Evergreen Review, the premier magazine of literary radicalism for that period; the list goes on.

FICTION
Drugs and Other Loves

I met Rami Shamir when working for Barney Rosset at Evergreen Review, and so I welcome Rami’s novel Train to Pokipse, which he kept talking about writing and now finally has. Rami and Barney became good friends and, oddly enough, this novel helped me to understand why.

On the Road Again

Carl Watson, fellow Chicagoan and friend for a couple decades, has published the novel Backwards the Drowned Go Dreaming, which is something of a re-imagining of On the Road and other mid-century odes to the highway, updating them to a period after the rebirth of feminism, which gave women a larger role to play in the public sphere and, for that matter, after industrialization, when, with the rise of outsourcing, good-paying working class jobs were in short supply.

There’s Still Hope for Utopia

I often wonder what you would see if you turned time inside out. That is, while the pummeling of exterior events is easy to study, what is less visible but more worth wondering about is how people relate emotionally and intellectually to historical surges.

FICTION: What Do You Want and Why Do You Love Me?

Luckily, I’ve known Donald Breckenridge for years, so I was able to plunge into his new novel, You Are Here, and ignore the off-putting remarks in the promotional copy. This material states, for example, that the novel “follows a dozen characters…But the main story here is Breckenridge’s virtuoso prose.”

NONFICTION: Homeland Mythology

We can put it like this: the Christian Right has diabolically fused biblical storylines, which are generally socially retrograde in the first place, with an updated, inspired jingoism, laced it with an extract from the conservative beliefs of Puritans and Southern slaveholders, and secreted it as a poison into the bloodstream of the American polity.

The Postmodern Condition

Douglas Glover, Bad News of the Heart (Dalkey Archive Press, 2003) Arthur Nersesian, Chinese Takeout (HarperCollins, 2003) Oskar thinks he could write a whole book, and there would be nothing in it but questions.

Nonfiction: You Can Never Be Too Paranoid

Jack Bratich’s Conspiracy Panics is a persuasive rehabilitation of conspiracy theories. Don’t get me wrong. Nowhere does Bratich take up the cudgels on behalf of any beyond-the-pale set of ideas; rather, his focus is on showing how defensively and often underhandedly those inside the pale assault these heterodox ideas.

Poetry: Rounding Out the Edges

In A Man of Letters in the Modern Age, Allen Tate makes the compelling argument that great poetry emerges at the edge of a belief system or way of living that has fallen short.

Fiction: Down-and-out Losers

Katherine Arnoldi’s new book of stories, All Things Are Labor, is roughly, very roughly, sliced in half, with the first part made up of stylized, experimental pieces/stories, which contain the same type of material that the second half treats in a plainer, more realistic vein. The stories in both halves of the work feature protagonists who are either girls being raised by single moms or are single mothers themselves. They are usually lapsed or practicing Mennonites and live either in the Midwest or on the Lower East Side.

Noir in Flux

Perennially, pundits decry the loss of Bohemia and the concomitant disappearance of the outrageous art such enclaves are said to produce. In New York City, essayists lament the towering rents that have driven the creative from the East Village and, more recently, Williamsburg.

Poetry: Opening Up

In a letter I received from Denis Mair, primary translator of the new bilingual anthology Current Chinese Poetry, edited by Yang Siping, he notes that “10 or 15 years ago a large state press like Shanghai Literature Press would not have gone near these poets. Things are opening up. But…the in-house censor chopped out a few of my favorites.”

Fiction: Lyrics of the Past

Two recent books, Night by Joanna Gunderson and The Company I Keep by Jordan Zinovich, share a peculiar affinity. They both feature lyrical dramas that evoke valued figures from the past, bringing them to life powerfully but in obliterated form.

Fiction: Two Swamps for the Money

In the 1950s Ace paperbacks introduced a new form for detective stories and science fiction: two novels, back to back and reverse. On one side would be, say, Prong Monsters of Mars. Turn the book directly over and you’d find, upside down, Robots Invade Paradise.

Who Likes Two?

Brian Evenson’s The Open Curtain circles around two murky, frightening mysteries: the first contained in the novel proper, which tells the story of a contemporary high-school-age Mormon boy who becomes fascinated with a nineteenth-century murder, the second in the book’s afterword, where the author purports to explain why he wrote the book.

POETRY: Finding A Better Use

There’s no denying that American poetry in the last few years (with exceptions) has been extremely, one-sidedly intellectual. New technical devices are used and played with in ways that are often ingenious, but most times lacking in passion. So it comes as a pleasant surprise when a book such as Wanda Phipps’ Field of Wanting appears...

Tangled Up in Rue

In her new novella Watch the Doors As They Close, Karen Lillis employs a technique made famous by Henry James, though in a manner that reverses James’s original intent.

NONFICTION: Where are the Wild Things?

Are there postmodern animals? Devin Johnston’s Creaturely suggests there are. He implicitly makes this claim in a collection of carefully honed essays that reflect on the fauna and (in one case) flora he encounters walking the streets and parks of St. Louis.

Haywire

I guess I’m old school, but when I turn to Thaddeus Rutkowski’s new novel Haywire (having read and reviewed his last two books and known the author for a couple of decades), about the last thing I care about is whether, as the blurbs on the book proclaim, it has “muscular prose” or “music, light, and wonder.”

Lust Will Tear Us Apart

There is a riveting line in Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: “One only makes love to worlds.” How to understand it? Obviously, when one finds a partner, that person brings with him or her a host of connections, family attachments, networks of influence and power.

from Long Day, Counting Tomorrow

Even if I were an advice giver, I don’t think I’d tell anyone "Begin writing a diary the way I did: You start it on the day you are going to die."

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The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2020

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