Sometimes it’s best just to let the words (and images) wash over you, as Bill Murray seems to know.
And who knew he was a Lorine Niedecker fan?
Sometimes it’s best just to let the words (and images) wash over you, as Bill Murray seems to know.
And who knew he was a Lorine Niedecker fan?
As we arrive at the final week of National Poetry Month, I recommend that you immediately grab a copy of Jerry Williams’ Admission, as funny and tough and thrilling a collection of poems as I’ve read in some time. In this volume, Williams specializes in poems that dare you to believe they’re autobiographical or confessional, and which can quickly become both intricate and artfully exaggerated. The opening poem, “Unadorned,” is a vehement list of the things he’s done “for you,” whoever “you” is. Here’s a chunk of it:
I let a dog in the park lick my face for you.
I pretended not to know the murder rate in Denmark for you.
I’ve tried to stay ugly for you […]
I worked in a cardboard box factory for you.
I gave up skin for you.
Whenever love metastasized, I ran over it with my lawnmower for you.
I wrote “Stairway to Heaven” for you.
I did the whole Reverend Dimmesdale thing for you…
Williams writes poems about HBO and The Tonight Show; he has a poem called “Imaginary Family Vacation” that made me wince and wonder whether Williams had rooted around in the back of my skull for memories.
Williams is also the editor of a fine new anthology, It’s Not You, It’s Me: The Poetry of Break-Up. It’s a collection featuring terrific poets such as Mark Halliday, Tony Hoagland, and Ai (a fine poet who died just last month). It’s Not You, It’s Me is divided into three themed sections “One Foot Out The Door,” “In The Middle Of The Storm,” and “The Aftermath.” This may be an anthology for anyone who’s been broken-hearted, but it’s not an anthology for anyone who’s faint-hearted: Treacly, romantic, winsome little poems are entirely absent Williams’ from conception of the messiness of breaking up with someone.
In his superb introduction, Williams says bluntly, “I have endured four major break-ups in my life. Each one nearly killed me.”
You think he’s kidding… and then he goes on to describe each one. Williams is as good a prose writer as he is a poet. Get hold of this guy’s stuff and read it.
The 2010 Pulitzer Prizes were announced today, and the winners included a few surprises (although sadly, still no recognition for critic extraordinaire Jay Sherman). The prize for fiction went to Paul Harding’s Tinkers, a debut novel about a clock repairman recalling his childhood on his deathbed. The book comes from Bellevue Literary Press, a nonprofit publisher operating out of a tiny office at New York University’s School of Medicine since 2005.
The Pulitzers for history and biography went to, respectively, Liaquat Ahamed’s Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, about the Great Depression and T.J. Stiles’ robber-baron bio The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Here’s the full list of those who won for books:
Fiction: Tinkers by Paul Harding
Poetry: Versed by Rae Armantrout
History: Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed
General Nonfiction: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman
Biography: The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles
Who said poetry readings had to be stuffy, unglamorous affairs? Scores of celebrities, including Sex and the City‘s Cynthia Nixon (pictured, far left) and Catherine Zeta-Jones, are creating their own verse-case scenarios. On April 2, GPR Records will release Poetic License, a three-CD set that features 100 poems performed by 100 famous names. (The disc will be available on Amazon and iTunes.) Each star picked a favorite poem to read on the spoken-word compilation, which is arriving just in time for National Poetry Month. Selections include Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (Jason Alexander), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Day Is Done” (Florence Henderson), Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” (Kate Mulgrew), and Edward Field’s “New Yorkers” (veteran TLC host Paige Davis).
EW is pleased to share two advance tracks from Poetic License. First, it’s Cynthia Nixon reading A.A. Milne’s “Vespers,” the first work the author wrote featuring his son, Christopher Robin. (Milne went on to write a book of children’s poetry, When We Were Very Young, that included a verse about a then-unnamed teddy bear who “however hard he tries grows tubby without exercise.”) You can easily imagine Nixon reading “Vespers” at bed-side to her own children.
Cynthia Nixon reading “Vespers”
In our second audio clip from Poetic License, Catherine Zeta-Jones reads William Wordsworth’s springtime classic “Daffodils.” She intones the poem in classic fashion, with more of a trained stage voice (the actress is now appearing on Broadway, after all, in A Little Night Music) than the Welsh lilt of her childhood.
Catherine Zeta-Jones reading “Daffodils”
will be released next year by HarperCollins, Publisher’s Weekly reports. The currently untitled volume will include 120-130 previously unpublished works, which are being curated by the author’s longtime editor, Antonio Markiet. There is no shortage of material from Silverstein, who died in 1999 at the age of 67. His first posthumous collection, Runny Babbit, was published by HarperCollins in 2005.The second posthumous collection of poetry and illustrations by beloved children’s author Shel Silverstein
Silverstein, whose body of work includes Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and Falling Up, depicted the innocence of youth in a unique and engaging way. He has remained immensely popular with children and adults due to his creative and eccentric observations about life, typically geared toward the kid in all of us.
My favorite poem has always been “Sick,” which related the elaborate lie one little girl tells her parents to avoid going to school. “I cannot go to school today, said Little Peggy Ann McKay,” she proclaims, only to discover that it is actually the weekend. “What’s that you say? You say today is…Saturday? G’bye, I’m going out to play!” Silverstein’s miniature hypochondriac captures the imagination we all had — and may still have — especially when it comes to those highly coveted chances to remain home, dodging any and all responsibilities (adults: substitute work for school?). Writing about issues of the kid world made Silverstein not only entertaining, but extremely relevant.
What about you ShelfLifers? What’s your favorite Shel Silverstein poem? Do you plan on purchasing his new collection?
Hilary Mantel’s Tudor-era novel Wolf Hall won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction at a ceremony Thursday evening in New York City. The acclaimed book also won the Man Booker Prize last fall.
Blake Bailey’s Cheever: A Life won the biography prize, while 92-year-old Diana Athill’s rumination on old age, Somewhere Towards the End, won for autobiography. The nonfiction prize went to Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science.
Rae Armantrout’s aptly titled Versed won for poetry and Eula Biss’ Notes From No Man’s Land took the criticism prize.
In addition, the uber-prolific Joyce Carol Oates received a lifetime achievement award from the NBCC, which has bestowed awards annually since 1974. In addition, veteran New Yorker writer Joan Accocela accepted the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing.
Mary Karr’s Lit and Edmund White’s City Boy were among the finalists named on Saturday for the National Book Critics Circle‘s 2009 awards. The two will compete against Diana Athill’s Somewhere Towards the End, Debra Gwartney’s Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love, and Kati Marton’s Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America in the autobiography category.
In fiction, the finalists are Bonnie Jo Campbell’s National Book Award finalist American Salvage, Marlon James’ The Book of Night Women, Michelle Huneven’s Blame, Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize winner Wolf Hall, and Jayne Ann Phillips’ Lark and Termite.
The biography category is dominated by books about writers: The finalists are Blake Bailey’s Cheever: A Life, Brad Gooch’s Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor, Benjamin Moser’s Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, Stanislao G. Pugliese’s Bitter Spring: A lIfe of Ignazio Silone, and Martha A. Sandweiss’ Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line.
Nonfiction finalists are Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History, Greg Grandin’s Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains, and William T. Vollman’s 1,300-plus-page Imperial.
In criticism, the short list includes Eula Biss’ Notes From No Man’s Land; Stephen Burt’s Close Calls With Nonsense: Reading New Poetry; Morris Dickstein’s Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression; former EW staffer David Hajdu’s Heroes and Villains: Essays on Music, Movies, Comics, and Culture; and Greg Milner’s Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music.
And file under better late than never: 93-year-old poet Eleanor Ross Taylor’s Captive Voices is among the poetry finalists, joined by Rae Armantrout’s NBA finalist Versed, Louise Glück’s A Village Life, D.A. Powell’s Chronic, and Rachel Zucker’s Museum of Accidents.
The uber-prolific Joyce Carol Oates will receive a lifetime achievement award at the NBCC’s annual awards ceremony, which will take place in March. In addition, veteran New Yorker writer Joan Accocela will pick up the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing.
Nin Andrews is the Wonder Woman of poetry. Her golden lasso is the prose poem, a form she’s mastered with more dexterity and wit. (Just read her moving, hilarious, and highly educational 2000 collection The Book of Orgasms for proof.)
Andrews’ latest book, Southern Comfort (CavanKerry Press) is a superb volume for both dedicated readers of poetry and anyone looking for an apparent autobiography in poetic form. Born to, as the dust jacket says, “a southern father and a northern mother,” Andrews’ subjects include a the death of her grandmother, the ghosts her “daddy” sees, the mysteries of a Southern accent, and wasps and centipedes and earthworms and bees, and a boy named Jimmy in poems and prose poems including this one, called “Summer”:
Sometimes in the middle of the day, Jimmy and I’d rest on the upside-down feed buckets beside the sugar maples, sip Cokes and talk about our dreams, maybe watch the horses slurp water and swish off gadflies. Jimmy talked about Sarah Lee, his girl (he liked to say so long after she wasn’t). Then he would lie back with his ball cap over his face while I fished dead frogs out of the trough. I’d think about what it’s like to be the girl every boy talks to about the girl he likes. Sometimes I watched him sleep until the lizards ran out to wait by the water for insects to light. If I wanted to, I’d pick off their tails and show them to Jimmy when he woke.
I wrote “apparent autobiography” a while back there because Andrews is also a devillish poet. If all you’d ever read of Andrews was Southern Comfort, you’d think you were dealing with a straightforward gal reminiscing about her colorful childhood, spinning yarns and telling true tales.
But if you’ve read more than one Andrews volume, you know that she is also, at various times, possessed of a slashing sarcasm, of a confident knowledge of Kafka, William James, and how angels manifest themselves in everyday lives. She assumes different identities. She radiates a powerful assurance in writing about sex, romance, and loneliness. She’s a sly sophisticate, a raucous verse-maker, a mischievous observer with a long memory.
You could not do much better to begin your new year by reading Nin Andrews’ Southern Comfort.
A new year is fast approaching, and it’s a good time for me to take a good, hard look at my leisure reading and resolve to do better. Or at least to be a little more ambitious in my reading choices (even if it’s only to finally tackle that daunting pile of books accumulating on my nightstand that I really, truly do intend to get to someday). It’s rather embarrassing for a guy who regularly reviews books to admit to some of the glaring gaps in his reading, I admit, but I’m hoping that a public confession will spur me to action. So I hereby resolve that in 2010 I will read:
1. More poetry. I love poetry and find that I don’t make nearly enough time for it. First up: Amy Gerstler’s Dearest Creatures, which sounds brilliant in this review in the New York Times Book Review.
2. The zombie-free oeuvre of Jane Austen. (Yes, I was an English major in college. No, I never did read an Austen novel.)
3. Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I’ve never been a comic-book guy, and I think that that aspect of this Pulitzer-winning novel always put me off. But I loved Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which boasts a comics-fixated hero, so I’m willing to take a chance.
There are other items on my to-read list (I want to chase down the acclaimed locked-room mysteries of John Dixon Carr, for instance, and go back to Lee Child’s early Jack Reacher thrillers), but that should be enough to get me started. The biggest challenge — for me, anyway — will be carving out time for already-published books when I’m so busy reviewing new titles. But what about you, Shelf Lifers? What books do you resolve to read in the new year?
Let the Great World Spin, Irish-born writer Colum McCann’s well-received novel about 1970s New York City, won the National Book Award for fiction on Wednesday night. Other winners announced at the 60th annual ceremony in New York City included T.J. Stiles’ The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt for nonfiction, Keith Waldrop’s Transcendental Studies for poetry, and Phillip Hoose’s Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice for young people’s literature. (Hoose, a finalist in the same category in 2001, won for his book about the African American civil rights pioneer who refused to give up her seat on a bus years before Rosa Parks.)
There was one more competitive prize announced at the black-tie dinner at Manhattan’s Cipriani Wall Street, a Best of the National Book Awards Award. Based on 10,000 votes from the reading public, one title emerged as the favorite of all the winners in the prize’s 60-year history: Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories, a posthumous collection that won the fiction prize in 1972.
The National Book Foundation, which administers the prizes (worth $10,000 each), also presented honorary medals to Gore Vidal for distinguished contribution to American letters and to author/activist/McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers (the Literarian Award).