The Grammar of Grief

When, exactly, did this grammar of grief emerge? In my lifetime, it would seem to be the daily pages of biographies of 9/11 dead published in The New York Times’s landmark project, A Nation Challenged. And the homemade posters of the missing that flocked the walls and telephones of the city.

The Country on the Far Side of Fiction

By exploring the consciousness of a narrator—which, as I say, is depicted as a landscape and its human families, a consciousness which he calls the invisible world or the mind, not limited to the individual perspective of an octogenarian Australian—novelist Gerald Murnane discovers that reality is much larger than the one described by the disenchanted materialism of contemporary culture.

Bloomsday: How Ulysses Changes How We Read

James Joyce’s Ulysses is, famously, a difficult book. In grad school my professor introduced the novel by saying that most people who start reading Ulysses never finish it. Most of them, he said, won’t make it past the first paragraph of Episode 3. I’ve no idea what he said next, because I immediately turned to “Proteus” to see what was in store.

Puzzling with Monet

On closer inspection, no piece of green or blue was exactly like another. Many other colors came into play as well. In fact, the closer we looked at each piece—and looking closely at pieces is what puzzling is all about—, the more variegated each piece’s color-play was. The more we looked, the more each piece looked like a painting of its own, an Impressionist painting in miniature.

On the Way: Robert Duncan’s “Come, Let Me Free Myself”

Japanese Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki once famously told his disciples, “Each of you is perfect the way you are…and you can use a little improvement.” In this he expressed a core Soto Zen teaching that practice is already enlightenment. To be fully, freely present “at a station” with no attachment to outcome is already awakening. Robert Duncan’s “Come, Let Me Free Myself” reflects this basic insight in a rich and original way.

What Are We Doing Here?

What am I doing in the Blue Ridge Mountains? What am I doing turning to Jerusalem? What am I doing with all this history, this Jewish history? This poetry, this Jewish poetry? Body, heart, mind, soul: each looking in a different direction for home.

In the Hours

After Salvador kills you, all the earth falls silent. The birds nestle their young and quiet them, our dogs tuck their tails and hide beneath furniture, the winds collapse to the ground. Waves cease their rumbling. Currents sink into the depths. All the seas become as an open and sightless eye.

The World to Come

I’ve just finished After London; or, Wild England by Richard Jefferies, published in 1885. The story follows the protagonist, almost the only significant human character, Felix Aquila. The jacket copy declares that this book “pioneered the post-apocalyptic genre of science-fiction,” and cites a critic calling it the most beautiful Victorian novel. The story is indeed post-apocalyptic. But the correct term for this fiction is romance.

Paul Mariani’s New Poems

Paul Mariani’s latest collection of poems, All That Will Be New, just published by Slant Books, covers a wide variety of subjects and poetic forms. There are poems about particular classic paintings, about race relations, about death (including Christ’s), about Covid, about the trees and birds in his own yard, and more. The poetic forms range from free verse to iambic pentameter with ABBA rhyme scheme to terza rima.

Poetic Stem Cells: On John Milton’s Trinity Manuscript

A quarter of a century before Milton finished Paradise Lost, the young poet began listing topics for his future masterpiece. Ardent devotees who imagine the poet foreordained to create a great religious epic might be surprised to learn that his list of more than a hundred ideas contained thirty-three from British history. His leading idea, at the time, was an Arthurian epic.

Making It New: Q&A with Paul Mariani

No matter how many poems you write, the challenge is always with the blank page as you begin to write your next poem. There’s the emptiness, but it’s like a mirror with so many ghosts and echoes on the other side. Where are you going? Do you really know where this particular poem will lead you? Sometimes you do have an idea, a jumble of energized music swimming around as you look into what appears to be a void.

Circumcision Does It to Us

What’s your name, they asked. “Rick.” I had just arrived in Israel. July,1976. One of seventy volunteers from the U.S., I was settling into the Mercaz Klitah, Absorption Center, in Kiryat Shimona. One of Israel’s development towns in the north, situated at the foot of the Naphtali Mountains and close to the border with Lebanon, Kiryat Shimona was then a working class city. What’s your Hebrew name? As far as I knew, I didn’t have a Hebrew name.

The Tyranny of the Pointy

The college admissions system today, I read somewhere, rewards not the “bright well-rounded kid” (abbreviated BWRK by admissions reviewers), but the “pointy” kid instead, by which is meant an outsize and distinctive feature—like innovating a patentable medical device, launching a business, or testifying before Congress. Three sports and extracurriculars are nowhere near enough.

The Worst Person in the World

Well, Rick B. from the United States, it seems that you did not like the Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s newest film The Worst Person in The World very much. Your Amazon review is quite short, and pretty rough. You gave it one star. The title of your review is “tedious, annoying people talking too much.” And then you followed that up with two words and an exclamation mark: “It sucks!” I did like the film and so I found your annoyance annoying.

Poetry and the Sea

Recently my wife and I packed the kids up and drove to the coast by Savannah, Georgia, to attend the wedding of my wife’s lifelong friend. The house where we stayed was a five-minute walk from the beach. There, I thought of the greatest lyric poet of the sea to write in English, and specifically about one of his poems.

Frustrating Genius

The work of certain authors—Ivan Illich, Edward Abbey, Noam Chomsky, and Gore Vidal come to mind—alternately fascinates and frustrates me. Their idiosyncratic takes on urgent enormities like war, the fate of the earth, and the future of humanity occasionally veer from well-crafted arguments and illuminating narratives to what are, in my opinion at least, tiresome rants and dubious anecdotes. Yet they are spot-on far more often than otherwise, which is more than I can claim for my writing.

Circling Through a Sonnet

I like to memorize poems—to have them in my head to recite while I’m exercising on my indoor bike or taking a brisk walk in my neighborhood. Not surprisingly, I find that short poems with rhyming are the easiest to memorize. So sonnets are ideal. Take Mark Jarman’s epilogue to his collection Unholy Sonnets (2000).

Home, the Supreme Fiction

We were hungry, so we left home, a place of famine, for a flourishing place to the south. Oh, the cucumbers! The onions! The melons, garlic, and leeks! We were at home there for hundreds of years. Eventually, we were enslaved there. Then we were freed. After 210 years, we wandered home.

Okay, Okay, Okay!

There’s no question that O.K./okay is an American coinage, going back to the mid-nineteenth century. I’ll touch below on the various theories of its origin, but first I want to give some evidence of what Mencken calls its “success.” In fact, without intending any hyperbole, he claims that O.K. is “the most successful abbreviation ever coined, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere.”