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Letter from the Editors

On Political Fiction

If our poets and novelists really believe that our political situation calls for a forceful response, shouldn’t they be writing poems and novels about it, as opposed to open letters?


After the Flood
Home and Marilynne Robinson
[Ben Jeffery]

Robinson describes Housekeeping as a Western—and in fact all of her novels can be thought of as reconfigured members of that tradition, outlaw stories moved from the nineteenth-century borderlands to the notionally stable Union of the 1950s. Like many Westerns, the four books revolve around questions of kinship. But their relocation in time from an “open” country to a “finished” one is symbolic, because the questions they ask aren’t typically to do with the creation of new communities but with what loyalty to an old and limited—and possibly dying—home might entail.

Who Did It?
Michael Lewis’s financial detective stories
[Hannah Rosefield]

It’s an extraordinary choice to write a book explaining the events of 2008 that asks its readers to root for a group of millionaires, let alone millionaires who spent several years hoping for the collapse of the economy so they could become richer still. It’s even more extraordinary that, of all the explanations of the financial crisis, Lewis’s is the narrative that has turned out to have the greatest public appeal.

The Time of the Assassins
Paris after the attacks
[Jesse McCarthy]

We know that the disasters of war overwhelmingly unfold elsewhere, that our lives are safer and more sheltered than they’ve ever been, and yet a crowded subway entrance, an airport terminal check-in desk, anywhere the density of human traffic accrues, is liable to provoke an invisible wrinkle of dread. … We live in a state of passive suspense, like Goya’s figure of Reason, who sleeps seemingly at ease as the monsters of Superstition and Folly crouch over him and close in from above.

Camera-phone Lucida
Instagram in art-historical perspective
[Jacob Mikanowski]

Art changes all the time, and when it changes, so does its history. … The word “selfie” only dates back to 2002, when it was coined on an Australian internet forum (and what an antique wind already blows from that word ‘forum’) by a clumsy drunk who took a photo of himself after tripping over a staircase at a friend’s twenty-first birthday party, and it hasn’t been in widespread use for more than a few years. By 2013 it was the Oxford English Dictionary’s word-of-the-year. By now, in 2016, the selfie is as common as water, responsible for a clutch of hideous gadgets as well as several dozen fatalities: a plane crash, a boat capsizing and at least one (alleged) dolphin murder.

Symposium: What is poetry for?

By Heart
[Carina del Valle Schorske]

My mother likes to say: “you listen for lyrics, I listen for melody.” And it’s true that I’m a nonstop party trick. It’s not so much that I’m good at burning through a rap track when it comes on at the club—I’m strong in my bracket (female, white-presenting) but a tricky flow (Kendrick Lamar, Big Boi) is hard for me to ride. It’s what goes on outside the club. I have a line at hand for every mood. Sometimes it’s Dylan when I’m drawing blood on a writing deadline: “beauty walks a razor’s edge / someday I’ll make it mine.” On Tinder, it’s Jay-Z: “sensitive thugs / y’all need hugs.” In moments of self-sabotage it’s also Jay: “an appetite for destruction / so I scrape the plate.” Existential distress is Biggie: “my ma don’t even love me like she did when I was younger / suckin’ on her chest just to stop my fuckin’ hunger.” And always, every morning, dizzy with the northern light I can’t bring myself to black out, it’s Whitney: “How will I know? How will I know? How will I know? How will I know?” 

Class Dismissed
[Frank Guan]

If a poetic tradition represents the aversions and longings of the class that produced it, then the conclusion to be drawn from studying the poetry of the American white educated class is that this class has never had an interest in insightfully examining its origins and privileges. Meanwhile, what emerges from the poetry of the American black educated class is the persistent desire (always accompanied by an unsparing knowledge of the obstacles to its realization) for recognition as a people worthy of dignity and citizenship.

The Last of the Iron Men
[Max Nelson]

That the American poet was distinctly guided by “his own necessity” rather than by an accepted set of literary standards was a powerful idea for certain mid-century poets and writers. It had a particular hold over the poets based at Black Mountain College, the wildly eclectic North Carolina art school where Creeley sporadically lived and taught between 1954 and 1955.

Demagoguery and Poetry
[Danielle Charette]

Robert Penn Warren’s descriptions of life along the Cumberland River or the struggles of Jacksonian America demonstrate an anti-elitist esteem for his subject matter. And yet the impulse to write also reveals a profound dissatisfaction—and a political challenge.  

Poet at Work
[O. T. Marod]

How should a poet make money? This is a terrible question, and has no satisfactory answer.

Pure Madness
[Jake Bittle]

It took me weeks of wandering through fields of garbage and government-issued apartment blocks to discover what anyone who has ever sought “Joyce’s Dublin” or “Dickens’s London” will quickly discover: authors—especially dead authors—make poor tour guides.

[Anthony Madrid]

Somebody asked a cynical male poet: “What are your poems about?” The poet showed his dimples and batted his eyes and said: “Me.”

Another time somebody asked the poet if he thought that, in some sense, he was saving the world. The poet said: “No, no. I think of myself as a kind of folk singer. People are as unlikely to improve their souls by listening to me as they would from listening to robins warbling in a park.”


Poetry and Politics in Myanmar
A conversation with four Yangon poets
[Rachel Wong & The Editors]

Our generation wants more art and less politics. We often talk about the two Ps: politics and poetry. Which one will you write as a capital, which one as a small letter? For us, the capital letter is poetry. It doesn’t mean we are against politics because that’s simply impossible—even the air we breathe is political. But what we want to focus on is the poetic nature of a given work of art. 


Monocle Men
[Ollie Cussen]

Monocle prides itself on providing a rare “optimistic tone” through “the darkest hours of a sagging economy.” Nowhere is this tone better expressed than in four landmark publications, released sporadically over the last few years … These books offer a break from “hectoring voices” and a stylish tour of the world the typical Monocle reader would like to live in, not to mention a note of reassurance for the kind of man who is concerned about the security and virtue of his white-collar job, but even more concerned about where he can find a decent pair of brogues.  

Multiple Purposes
[Kyle Beachy]

I was eleven when I started, I am 38 now, and I’ll be dead or immobilized before I stop. But it was fifteen years of fucking around before I began thinking even remotely about what I was doing. Skaters typically avoid thinking. This is partially a matter of self-preservation: there is no surer guarantee of hurting oneself than to consider the thousand failures that could come of an attempt. More crucially, there’s the nature of fun on which skateboarding is premised. Fun that, like humor, risks collapse the moment it becomes a critical object.

[David Anderson]

The nineteenth century was busy building cemeteries and ghost trains, challenging convention; the twentieth has been less progressive. Its architectures of death are overwhelmingly associated with barbarism and atrocity: the dispiriting outlines of the huts at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the crisp glass lines of Ground Zero. More everyday funerary practices seem to have been left by the wayside.

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