Thursday, February 9, 2017

Dialing up in response to Trump, The Baffler adds columnists

The Baffler is one of the finest intellectual little magazines published today, in the same class as The Hedgehog Review, The Point, and n+1. In their latest newsletter blast to subscribers, the editors announce the addition of a new team of columnists to help extend their coverage of culture and society in the age of ascending Trumpism, bigotry, and political oppression. Here follows the text of that email announcement. If the work they are doing stirs you to subscribe, you can do so by following this link. 

Dear friend,In spite of our despair, bewilderment, and precarious finances, The Baffler has assembled a team of new columnists to respond to the Trump era.Our focus is the grassroots political issues—the sort of issues whose mainstream neglect got us here in the first place. We’re also increasing our books coverage, in honor of our illiterate commander-in-chief and our vocabulary-challenged Secretary of Education.Here’s just a few of them:
  1. Sarah Jaffe will travel across America introducing us to the independent resistance movements—from economic solidarity organizations in Mississippi, to black youth activist groups in Chicago, to labor unions in Minnesota—that have cropped up against our new regime.
  1. Jessa Crispin and Siddhartha Deb will take turns unraveling the literary world’s political visions.
  1. Niela Orr will will cover what remains of pop culture in our current demagoguery.
  1. Hussein Ibish will track the august western tradition of Islamophobia.

As a newsletter subscriber, you know how (unfortunately) prescient The Baffler has been about downward civic spiral. With this new lineup, we’ll be able to keep you apprised of both the state of our kleptocracy and the movements and ideas working against it. We hope you’ll support us by purchasing a year-long print subscription to support this expansion.Subscribe today, and you’ll get four of our newly designed issues for $24 dollars. That’s a 20% discount on our standard rate.Each of our 184-page issues is absolutely free of liberal pieties and conservative rage. It’s one way to know what’s really going on.Click the link below to start your subscription.Best Wishes,Valerie Cortes
(Please note that neither Pen & Anvil nor the Boston Poetry Union have any business relationship with The Baffler or its principals; we share this news only because we find it laudable and noteworthy.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Photo from the NYPL Writers Resist Event


This quote is carved in stone on the exterior of the New York Public Library. Its source is Zerubbabel, a young bodyguard in the court of King Darius, in Esdras, an ancient Greek version of the biblical Book of Ezra. Chapters 3-7 tell of a contest during a feast between Zerubbabel and two of his fellow guards to see who could write the wisest sentence. The full text: "Women are strongest, but above all things Truth beareth away the victor." 

Friday, December 30, 2016

"I have learnt to learn"; a New Year's essay by Chukwuebuka Ibeh

In these last days of December, we're all taking stock, totting up the wins and losses of the past year and looking ahead to the year to come. One of our correspondents, Chukwuebuka Ibeh, has more reason than most to look over his books, since his birthday coincides with New Year's. He was kind enough to send us the following essay, a self-inventory of sorts, and to permit us to share it with you here on Ampersand. - ZB


a birthday piece.

     It is my birthday this weekend, on January 1st, first day of the new year. It beats me how I have come this far. The sated child of yesterday who watched the world with lack-lustre tentativeness simmered ever so slightly with resignation, not knowing and not really willing to know, benign and unforgivably naïve without the restless curiousity that came with being nascent—now a calmly collected teenager, who views the world askance, with mild exasperation, easily bored with the world's ambiguous melodrama, a stern aversion to superstition and inane culture. My mother would easily say, "You have changed, Ebuka," with the a small sigh of resignation that said she wished I had not, and although I do not dispute this, I know I have not changed, in whatever context that was. I have simply grown, simply evolved.
     I have learnt to learn—to look from others, listen to others, read books, and learn. Because I know ignorance is not a virtue, especially one to be flaunted, and although I do not claim to know what I do not, I still do not want to be the one who knows 'nothing', and so who easily agrees with whatever is being said. I want to be the rare one who says No in a room full of people who say Yes, and feel comfortable in my own skin, knowing that the answer really was No.
     And so I have learnt to be slow to reaction and quick to grasp explanation. I have learnt to be obsessed with nuance and difference, those little things that makes us unique as individuals. I have learnt to value people's opinion, to place humanity and empathy before my own selfish reality. I have learnt not to judge people with societal expectations—in terms of gender, morality, etc.—I have learnt to replace the words "This is how it should be" with "is this how it should be?" Questions give room for learning and learning give room for better understanding. I have learnt to recognise people the way they are rather than the way they 'should' be.
     I am not perfect. I have learnt not to try too hard to be perfect, have learnt that 'perfect' is adjacent to exhaustion, more like chasing the wind. That is asks too much energy for a sterile result. But I have learnt to be better, to improve, to try. I have learnt to do the few good things I can to the few good people who deserve them and I have also learnt, more importantly, never to expect gratitude for the necessary services I render, even though I deserve to be.
     I have learnt to be self-contented, to appreciate myself more often; to praise little efforts and criticize little faults, to tell myself 'well done' when necessary, and 'not good' when I fail. I have learnt to believe in myself, to excuse myself for failure and put in more effort next time. I have learnt to judge myself strictly, point out misgivings and unforgivable faults, but I have learnt to be forgiving, anyway to crumple myself on my bed sometimes and remind myself I am human and humans are easily flawed. I have learnt to be there for myself, to say, 'its okay, I'm here', to smile in my own way and say 'things happen' as a way of forgiving myself.
     I have learnt to love without losing myself, remember to breathe first, own myself a little more before giving room to a lover to own me. I have also learnt not to hold out forgiveness as some sort of armor, or as a blackmail. I have learnt to let go of bad blood, to forgive offenders whether solicited or not, and I have learnt to put the past in the past and move on, but I have also learnt not to be stupid, not to give too much space to assholes to jeopardise my happiness repeatedly. I have learnt both to fix things—relationships, friendships—whenever possible, and to walk away when necessary, since I do not owe anyone any particular lifetime commitment at the expense of my own satisfaction. But I have learnt not to be selfish, not to think of myself too often relegating the others to the background. I have learnt to weigh my strength and weakness adequately before giving room to well-meaning people to come in.
I have learnt to create within myself a refuge, a place devoid of nuance, suffused with comfort and familiarity. A place I can gently crawl back to when I feel deserted, with the very last shred of my dignity; a small place where I don't have to try to be someone else.
And I know I am loved. In the darkest places, the hollow sensation of whistling in the dark and never getting response, the mild paranoia somewhere beneath the blithe air above that had gathered significance as time went on and slowly became a solid part of me, this fleeting sensation of waking up one morning to discover I was suddenly alone, deserted, disowned, this unflattering self-esteem that had somehow molded into my being, like a cancerous scar, always reminding me that the amazing friend who would not stop texting could suddenly become the exasperating pest whom I could no longer stand, or worst still, the sudden distant stranger who could not think of me without a small feeling of resentment. But then I know I am loved. Its there, in the eyes of my little sister when she laughed at something I was saying even though she did not fully understand, when my brother ask 'are you alright?', with that misty gentleness in his eyes that suggested help, when a few loved friends call at odd hours just to 'hear my voice' and 'know what's up.'
     I may not be the most privileged one—the popular one, the charismatic one, the funny guy. I may not be the drop-dead gorgeous boy, the classy one, the most-brilliant one. I may not be the best human to be with in the world, and I do not aspire to be these things. I live my life for me first of all, and for the very few people who matter to me, whose existence, in one way or the other had somehow affected my development—positively, of course.
     And even when I get depressed, when I develop nagging self-doubt about my attitude, my looks, my writing, my perception and perspective towards life in general, I tell myself over and over again until I finally believe: I am loved.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Chukwuebuka Ibeh lives in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He began his university in 2016. His works have appeared in PenEgg, Dwart Online, Jotters United and the website of Short Story Day Africa. He counts among his literary influences the writers Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chinua Achebe, Zadie Smith, Alice Munro, Tami Hoag, O. Henry, Chinelo Okparanta, Helon Habila, and Ali Smith. His story "Kayo" was shortlisted for the Storried Short Story Prize, and published in New England Review of Books. His story "On the Sun-Baked Street" appears in a special feature on new writing from African authors, in Issue 19 of Clarionpublished by Pen & Anvil in partnership with the BU BookLab.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Impressions from a Melissa Green reading

As the December 2016 release of Soundings, a collection of essays concerning the work of poet Melissa Green, approaches, a lot of us here in Boston, and ever further afield in the literary community, are thinking once again, appreciatively, of the work that Green has produced over the years.

Here below, I reproduce a blog essay published online back in 2012 and in the Autumn 2013 issue of The Charles River Journal. I offer it as another testament to the impression that Green and her work has left upon readers (or in this case, a reader -- me.) - ZB

* * *

Fred Marchant, introducing Melissa Green as the first of two readers at a literary evening sponsored by the Suffolk University Poetry Center on February 2, 2012, said of her most recent book-length publication, Fifty-Two: "Such an amazing little book. I wish we could all pitch in five dollars each, right now, and republish it again." I happen to know these poems well, and couldn't agree more: how fine it would be if Arrowsmith Press would hear the demand and do another hundred or two hundred copies. I was in the audience at the reading in 2007 when a veritable pageant of renowned poets -- Derek Walcott, David Ferry, Lucie Brock-Broido, Frank Bidart, Rosanna Warren, fifteen writers in total -- turned out for "A Tribute to Melissa" to celebrate the publication of Fifty-Two. The readers were there to honor the beauty and brilliance of Melissa Green's work, and to celebrate the appearance of another collection after she'd been a long time silent on the page. We'd had to order our copies in advance, and I gave away one of the two copies I'd bought for myself to my friend Daniel Pritchard (now Evans Pritchard), who hadn't reserved one in time. Oh, I hope he appreciated that gift! For the book sold out that evening, and it now commands a commendable price in the catalogs of fine booksellers, if you can find it at all.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Six translation recommendations from the Grolier

Grolier Poetry Book Shop, coming up on its 90th anniversary, is the oldest all-poetry bookshop in America.

The shop has been a home to many great poets, and poetry lovers from all over the world, and remains a destination for poets visiting Boston; one can always be sure to find conversation in its small square space tucked into a side street around the cover from Harvard Yard. Great poets who frequented the shop as readers and patrons include Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Creeley, ee cummings, TS Eliot, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O'Hara, Marianne Moore, Adrienne Rich, Frank Bidart, David Ferry, Michael McClure, Kimiko Hahn, Maxine Kumin, Robert Pinsky, Ariana Riens, and Franz Wright.

The latest selection of staff-recommended titles in translation appear below. Beyond the intrinsic value of the literature on offer, keep in mind that purchases made directly to a bricks-and-mortar shop not only help to show support for literary culture, but provide direct support to an institution that has hosted innumerable in-person encounters among writers, readers, and literature-lovers over the years.

Click here to learn more about supporting this irreplaceanble institution via direct giving to the Grolier Legacy Fund. Or, sign up here to receive their email updates directly.
Buy this title
Buy this title

Black Square by Tadeusz Dabrowski

Translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. $15. Tadeusz Dabrowski was born in northern Poland in 1979. From his first volume, published in 1999, he has been critically acclaimed for poetry that combines a tone of metaphysical meditation with the theme of love. His poems are like snapshots taken by a sensitive camera that captures moments filled with the "caring absence" of God and intimacy with the woman the poet loves. Here we find gravity laced with humor and sublimity mixed with pleasure. So far Dabrowski has published five volumes of poetry in his native Poland, which have won him numerous awards. His work has appeared in translation in thirteen European languages. English translations of his poems by Antonia Lloyd-Jones have been published in leading literary journals including AgniAmerican Poetry Review, and Tin HouseBlack Square is his first collection to be published in English.

Antonia Lloyd-Jones is a translator of Polish literature. In 2008 she won the Found in Translation Award for her translation of The Last Supper, a novel by Pawel Huelle. Her other translations of fiction include works by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz and Olga Tokarczuk. Her translations of poetry by Jacek Dehnel appeared in a recent anthology, Six Polish Poets, published by Arc Publications.
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Buy this title

Black Stars by Ngo Tu Lap

Translated from Vietnamese by Martha Collins. $16. "A beautifully rendered translation by Vietnamese poet Ngo Tu Lap and acclaimed American poet Martha Collins, Black Stars introduces a man who is both attached to his war-haunted childhood home and deeply conversant with contemporary global life.

Simultaneously occupying past, present, and future, Black Stars escapes the confines of time and space, suffusing image with memory, abstraction with meaning, and darkness with abundant light. In these masterful translations -- printed alongside the original Vietnamese -- the poems sing out with the kind of wisdom that comes to those who have lived through war, traveled far, and seen a great deal. While the past may evoke village life and the present a postmodern urban world, the poems often exhibit a dual consciousness that allows the poet to reside in both at once. From the universe to the self, we see Lap's landscapes grow wider before they focus: black stars receding to dark stairways, infinity giving way to now. Lap's universe is boundless, yes, but also
just big enough
to have four directions
with just enough wind, rain, and trouble to last
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Buy this title

Fusion Kitsch by Hsia Yu

Translated from Chinese by Steve Bradbury. $13. Steve Bradbury writes: "Hsia Yü's frank and innovative treatment of gender and sexuality in a small handful of poems in this collection and in her second collection Ventriloquy (Fuyushu) was seized upon by critics and scholars anxious to find a candidate to fill the long-vacant post of "Chinese feminist poet." But while Hsia Yü may well have been one of the first woman poets writing in Chinese to have written about love and romance in a manner that broke dramatically from the conventions and constraints of traditional Chinese women's poetry, if we bother to look beyond labels at the poetry itself, we will find a body of work that is far less interested in providing a critique of gender relations or advancing a sexual/textual agenda than in exploring the sensuous and quirky interface between the pleasures of the flesh and the pleasures of the text. It is this preoccupation with pleasure that sets Hsia Yü apart from other poets writing in Chinese today; that and the fact that her poetry embodies a fusion of styles and influences -- both high and kitsch -- with the French influence running perhaps stronger than most."

Among her numerous honors, Hsia Yü was most recently awarded the Taipei City Literature Award for her book Salsa.
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Buy this title

Door Languages by Zafer Senocak

Translated from German by Elizabeth Oehklers Wright. $16.95. Lee Upton, author of Undid in the Land of Undone, writes: "Door Languages, in Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright's brilliant translation, sends us news of the stranger within us who keeps putting on and taking off a cloak of invisibility. This is bracing work. Line by insinuating line, Zafer Senocak peels back our most rigid assumptions. These poems, marked by the highest ambition, read like folk tales from the future." 

Askold Melnyczuk, founder of Agni: "A fine edgy satisfyingly demystifying voice."
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Buy this title

Clearing The Ground by C.P. Cavafy

Translated from Greek by Martin McKinsey. $17. "Clearing the Ground conveys the texture of Cavafy's written life through the course of a near decade -- the threads of preoccupation, the unfolding elucidations, the occurrence of the poems in their shining clarity. What appears is an active and intimate image of Cavafy, the poet and the man."
I know that I am cowardly, and am unable to act. Therefore I confine myself to words. But I don't think that my words are without purpose. Someone else will act. But my many words -- the words of a coward -- will make it easier for that person to act. My words clear the ground.
~ Cavafy, 1902
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Buy this title

Darkness Spoken by Ingeborg Bachmann

Translated from German by Peter Filkins. $24.95. Ingeborg Bachmann was born in 1926 in Klagenfurt, Austria. She studied philosophy at the universities of Innsbruck, Graz, and Vienna, where she wrote her dissertation on the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. In 1953 she received the poetry prize from Gruppe 47 for her first volume, Borrowed Time (Die gestundete Zeit), after which there followed her second collection, Invocation of the Great Bear (Anrufung des großen Bären), in 1956. Bachmann also went on to write short stories, essays, opera libretti, and novels, including The Thirtieth Year, Malina, and The Book of Franza. At the time of her death in a fire in Rome in 1973, Bachmann was at work on a cycle of novels titled Todesarten (Ways of Dying), of which Malina was the first published volume.

Along with her close friend Paul Celan, Bachmann was considered the premiere German language poet of her generation. Her various awards include the Georg Büchner Prize, the Berlin Critics Prize, the Bremen Award, and the Austrian State Prize for literature. Her work remains highly influential to this day, and she is now regarded as a pioneer of European feminism and postwar literature. Influencing numerous writers from Thomas Bernhard to Christa Wolf, Bachmann's poetic investigation into the nature and limits of language in the face of history remains unmatched in its ability to combine philosophical insight with haunting lyricism.

Peter Filkins has published two volumes of poetry, What She Knew (1998) and After Homer (2002), and has translated Bachmann's The Book of Franza and Requiem for Fanny Goldmann. He is the recipient of an Outstanding Translation Award from the American Literary Translators Association and the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin. He teaches at Simon's Rock College of Bard in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Sven Birkerts on That Continual Hmmmmm

Over the past few months, I’ve observed a more sophisticated and focused outreach effort from the marketing team at AGNI magazine. Their social media is sharper, their content tempo more on pace, and their monthly email newsletter to subscribers and supporters quite well worth reading. As far as I can tell, the mini-essays that editor Sven Birkerts contributes to these newsletters aren’t available elsewhere. A shame...
Wanting to share the latest edition more widely than I could by simply forwarding the email, I’ve elected to take the initiative and re-print the essay here on Ampersand. (Sven, if you think this presumptuous, please accept my apologies and let me know if you’d allow just an excerpt, or, better yet, an out-link directing readers to somewhere they CAN read the text, in an authorized way.) Enjoy! 
- ZB 

“That Continual Hmmmmm”

by Sven Birkerts

[The AGNI email newsletter, October 2016.] I’m fascinated by the waxing and waning of words and usages and of the concepts that underlie them. What is it that first puts a notion on everybody’s lips, and then later makes it eye-roll material as soon as it hits some indeterminate expiration date? Who decides? Is it just a matter of saturation? If that were true, our political life would have expired long ago. Maybe it did.

The word on my mind today is “voice,” and it’s there because after years and years of not daring (or wanting) to use it—it had become such a cliché in the writing world: you need to find your voice, what is the voice doing in this piece?—it suddenly sounded plausible again. Just recently someone asked me to talk about voice in essay-writing and I didn’t even flinch.

And now it’s in my thoughts. When I asked myself what I wanted to write in this newsletter, it showed up again. Voice.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How small publishers matter

An observation on print runs and the need for small presses, made by Andre Schiffrin in his book The Business of Books, p.147:
Let's make this as explicit as possible: If books with small print runs disappear, the future will die. Kafka's first book was published with a printing of 800 copies. Brecht's first work merited 600. What would happen if someone had decided that was not worth it?

(As spotted by Stephen Sparks -- a "Reader; book buyer &c. @greenapplebooks / @gabsunset; infrequent writer; & constant worrier. Co-editor at @WritersNoOneRds and steering committee @BayBookFes" -- and shared on Twitter this past April.)