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JOHN FREEMAN

Wednesday, November 20, 7:00 pm
Magers & Quinn Booksellers
3038 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis
FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!

Join us as John Freeman — literary critic, editor, poet, and “one of the preeminent book people of our time” (Dave Eggers) — presents his latest work, Dictionary of the Undoing, a suite of incisive, poetic essays about the current political moment. From A to Z, Freeman has chosen potent words to build a case for their renewed power and authority, each word building on the last. At this Minneapolis event, Freeman will be joined by local writer-activists for a discussion about how we can redefine what it means to be a literary citizen.

Praise for Dictionary of the Undoing

“John Freeman has created a work of both artistry and activism in Dictionary of the Undoing, a lexicon of what should matter from A to Z—a complex and nuanced rebirthing of words that have been worn away by the strife and noise of this era.”
—Walter Mosley

“All [of John Freeman’s] projects feel like an invitation to enter into a polyphonic, multi-voiced conversation with other minds. Dictionary of the Undoing is no different. It is a book that makes you think, then rethink. It invites you to engage with it, to refute it, to contribute to it.”
—Valeria Luiselli

"How to be good in bad times? How to speak truth? Why read? Why write? Why bother? It is a symptom of our ongoing catastrophe that such questions must be asked, but we’re lucky that John Freeman is out there looking for some answers. Language is Freeman’s primary concern, because that’s where our struggle begins and ends, and he sets out to reclaim it and restore what was damaged by an onslaught of evil and idiocy. One day you might be asked what you were reading in 2019, when everything seemed to be coming apart, and you’re going to want to say: John Freeman’s Dictionary of the Undoing.”
— Aleksandar Hemon

“Freeman offers an alphabet of hope and action in this spare, eloquent meditation on injustice . . . A protest, a poem, and a plea, Freeman’s utterly original manifesto is a pocket manual for informed political dissent and a must-read for all thinking citizens.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Freeman is the editor of Freeman's, a literary annual of new writing. His books include How to Read a Novelist and The Tyranny of E-mail, as well as Tales of Two Americas, an anthology of new writing about inequality in the U.S. today. Maps, his debut collection of poems, was published in 2017. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages and has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The New York Times. The former editor of Granta and one-time president of the National Book Critics Circle, he is currently Artist-in-Residence at New York University.

Unspeakable:
A Conversation between
Michelle Lewis and Jeffrey Morgan

After twenty-five years of publishing its print journal, Conduit Books & Ephemera launched a book publishing division in 2018. It did so with two book prizes for poetry: the Marystina Santiestevan First Book Prize, judged by Bob Hicok, and the Minds On Fire Open Book Prize, judged by Conduit’s editorial board. In the following piece, the authors of the winning books, Michelle Lewis (for Animul/Flame, $16) and Jeffrey Morgan (for The Last Note Becomes Its Listener, $16), interview each other about the unique experiences that shaped their books and the challenges of translating inexpressible moments into language.


Michelle Lewis: Hi Jeff. First, a belated congratulations on winning the Minds On Fire Open Book Prize. I am thrilled about The Last Note Becomes Its Listener. It has given me enormous pleasure to read, and it has made me aware that you are a careful and immensely competent poem-maker. It is also a book that dives headlong into a certain kind of beauty (such a difficult word for a poet) that I am always chasing. I am so pleased to be your press-mate; it enhances my profile, among other things.

Jeffrey Morgan: Hi Michelle. Congratulations to you for an amazing book and for winning the Marystina Santiestevan First Book Prize. Bob Hicok is a poetry hero of mine, so knowing he chose Animul/Flame predisposed me to an affection for it, which reading it only enhanced. The opacity that rewards, the traveling and returning, the running away and towards; I was transfixed and read it straight through quickly the first time. Like most good books, subsequently reading it again more slowly revealed myriad pleasures and intricacies of language, loss, and mystery.

ML: I appreciate the kind words. As for The Last Note Becomes Its Listener, as the title puts forth, this book is very much like a note resolving, and I realized as I was reading it that there is an integration being fought for within these poems. There are many opposing forces at play—illness and remedy, brother and brother, calmness and chaos, player and listener, among others. There is also a sense that the book is sipping from the well of the surreal, which occurs to me has been described as a “machine for integration” for how it places diverse elements in concert. We’ve talked a little offline about voice and tone in our work and it’s no accident that tone, a poetic concept that derives from music, is one of the driving forces of these poems as the poet struggles to find harmony among inimical elements. As that struggle becomes apparent to the reader, there is a surge of both joy and disquiet. I wonder if you could tell me what your musical heritage is and what dualisms you felt you were balancing in this book?

JM: Thanks for your thoughtful question. My brother and I grew up playing music. I play the cello and my brother is a violinist. Our mother is a violist and started us on instruments when we were both four. I learned to play music before I could read it (and before I could read anything, really), and I think that has informed my relationship to sound in poetry. The music of language is very important to me, but I also find that the kind of taut, dense syntax that I often enjoy in other people’s verse is not something I practice. I like to write in long lines and long phrasings, and I sort of shy away from pre-determined meters and syllabic compression.

In terms of the book’s dualisms, as you say, there’s the notion that I’m writing about my disabled brother coming to live with us (my wife, our daughter, and me), but, no, I’m really writing about myself. When my brother got encephalitis at eleven, he almost died. After he recovered, he was not the same person. Prior to that, we were remarkably similar, even from a physical perspective—to this day people often ask us if we’re twins, despite the fact that I’m almost seven years older. Music saved my brother because it was one of the only parts of his brain that wasn’t especially affected by his illness, brain scarring, and subsequent epilepsy. Being a violinist is a fundamental part of his identity. It’s also perhaps the only way we relate to each other that is more or less the same as it has always been. All the other dualisms that you mention (and certainly more) stem from there.

The other aspect of this worth mentioning is that my brother has very little short-term memory. If you’ve ever seen Christopher Nolan’s Memento, my brother is a bit like that. He’s often unable to access short-term memories due to scarring on his hippocampus. However, through repetition (as with music) he can turn short-term memory into long-term memory and access it. It’s an interesting situation to say the least, and some of the fundamental obsessions of a writer, memory and identity, are daily practical questions in our household.

ML: What a fascinating backstory to this book and to what informs your daily life, Jeff. Your poetic line and its relationship to music gives me the opportunity to mention how much I admire the formal aspects of your work: the phrasing, the avoidance of compression. The beginning of one of the “Translation” poems, for example, begins with a complex sentence structure, heavy with clauses:

What I love about St. Sebastian is not the colander

the arrows made of his body,

or how he is always shown riddled and tied

to a column, which I should be able to identify

as Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian—

possibly the most pedantic and predictable question

on any art history exam. No. What I love about St. Sebastian . . .

It’s very Shakespearean, and I don’t want to start up that comparison (will an alarm sound), but I keep thinking of the tautology of Polonius’ speeches, for example, and how they are knowing and witty and push seemingly too far on a concept and how that is an important part of his expression. I guess I mention that because as you allude to, that can be wanting in more disciplined forms.

On another note, I have some understanding of what it takes to have a person who has significant challenges in the family and I know that part of that experience is living simultaneously with the ridiculous and the heartbreaking. I see so much of this in your work. The speaker has an acute knowledge that he is a speck on a spinning rock, a natural defense mechanism to pain and chaos, and joins forces with the reader in the wonder of that. It makes so much sense that you would come by this quality honestly. I’m thinking of how these poems grapple with meaning in real time—is that tree a poplar or not (an interjection in one of your poems)? It creates the sense of a joint venture. It is very communal, very inside. For instance, when the speaker observes a breeze that “moves the glistening mane of a willow like jewels around the neck of a woman nodding off,” the joy of that metaphor is in its being stretched. It’s wise and cagey and knowing. I see the affinity with Hicok immediately, a poet that is similarly self-aware, whose poems address ordinary life but end up inevitably touching the sky.

JM: I’m very interested in voice in poetry. I think that accounts for the long lines and my resisting of compression in The Last Note Becomes Its Listener—I’m a long-winded guy. Of course, the voice is more stylized and philosophical than my own. I like the notion of soliloquy that you imply; I think that’s often what I’m trying to do when I write.

In terms of Animul/Flame, it strikes me that the book is at times almost an epistolary, one side of a conversation about loss that is sometimes direct address, sometimes not. There’s a quality of eavesdropping that I love because what’s true about good poems is their ability to precisely describe the unknowable. I’m wondering what you can tell me about the opacity and the rewards of the speaker’s shifting conversation. How did writing this book reveal itself to you, and how did you manage to make such a fractured thing cohere so well? I’m a bit in awe of the balance this book achieves.

ML: I’m glad you found there was an internal coherence to the book. You bring up some things that I struggled with a lot—like why Rivulet poems were alongside the Animul poems, for instance, and what some poems in the chronology had to do with the others. I knew intuitively what the connective tissue was, but to make those teeth sort of interlock for the reader meant doing some difficult work, some of which was external and some internal. Sometimes it meant making some clear assertions about those connections that were uncomfortable to make. Prior to this book, I had been giving myself a lot of linguistic escape hatches so I didn’t have to commit to a single truth—you could see it in my metaphors, even, which would often have two vehicles for one tenor. With some help and anguish, I got to a point where the opacity you mention was not obscurity—I can defend any line in the book, for example, which is significant for me.

Thinking of the book as an epistolary where sometimes there is someone on the other end and sometimes not seems like a very lovely way to think about the poems. It strikes me that returning over and over to that form of address was one way of plugging one of those escape hatches—something real must be expressed if you’re going to the lengths to put pen to paper and address some other.

It’s interesting you mention this sort of tensile strength that holds a book together and how to negotiate that balance—how much can that connective tissue be stretched until it feels light and airy enough to fit one’s sensibility but doesn’t shatter into pieces? It feels very related to the tension I sense in how you balance dualities in The Last Note Becomes Its Listener.

JM: I wonder if you might also talk about voice in your own work. The speaker in Animul/Flame has a self-awareness, almost as if trying to piece together a telling. In the title poem, you write:

I was Flame, a fig wasp hunched in her own
sky. Sunrise tasted of red gums and spittle.

I stood at the bars of night, kneed
the floor, thought that would dismantle it.

Like the recitation of a lot of good stories, there is a tension between trying to make the thing cohere and trying to relay its wildness. The good ones don’t quite obey the storyteller. The pronoun “it” weighs heavy there, perhaps a placeholder for what is not quite knowable or expressible that exists at the center of this story. How do you see the speaker and the speaking in this book, particularly in terms of what is ultimately inexpressible?

ML: I like “piece together a telling”—that summarizes the book accurately to me! The “I” has a journey in this book. I enjoyed playing with the idea of who the “I” is and what the “I’s” identity is, and then questioning that. The “I” is often labeled with being Flame, for example, and there are many characteristics about a flame you can choose from: it’s changeable, susceptible to currents, extinguishable, easily lost or subsumed. But I like to think that there is a reclaiming of the connotations of this label for this “I.” Things like persistence, of being a source, etc. Also, the “I” has truths that change, and I love that about poetry—that it allows the poet to make assertions and commit to them in the isolated moment of the poem.

The idea about speaking the inexpressible is something I was thinking about recently because I just took the Myers-Briggs personality test and found I was an INTJ. It was a little surprising that this is not the type associated with the poet/philosopher career path until I realized that is a fundamental misunderstanding of poetry making—that it is someone engaged in dreamily watching a butterfly. It is much more mathematical than that. The poet is dealing with formal concerns, the intersection of meter, lineation, tone—a lot of data; it’s perfect for data-brain. Anyway, to your point, one of the traits of that the INTJ is that they have trouble explaining concepts to people because they feel like if you can’t brain-meld with me on this concept, forget it, I can’t explain it to you in language. So they shut down, sometimes making communication difficult. That really struck me as a characteristic of mine, and I think that’s what writing poetry can be for me and probably many poets. It’s the result of a desire to zap a current through that complex, fraught, difficult stuff to create a more effective route to expression, one with different rules that will get your closer than the old rules can. Non-poetry readers find this kind of poetry confusing, whereas readers of contemporary poetry sink into it and get a flush of understanding.

In fact, I suspect one of the techniques you’re using to this end in your book is the “Translation” poems. There are thirteen poems titled “Translation.” In them, the poet serves as a type of portal to the ineffable or the misunderstood, or as a broker between the terrestrial world and a world beyond that. But some poems are the inverse, as well, where the poem can be a decoder ring for overwhelming, languageless moments. I love that this “translation” moves fluidly across this sort of blood-brain barrier. It provides such gorgeous, existential moments. What was your intention for these poems? What indicated to you that a poem was destined to be a “Translation” poem?

JM: Hmm, I don’t know what the Myers-Briggs personality test would have to say about a person who didn’t even know there were thirteen of the “Translation” poems in his book, but that’s me apparently. It now makes me think of them in a “thirteen ways of looking” sort of way. Despite my ignorance, I do actually have a theory/methodology for what became a “Translation.” I think of them as me retelling a memory through the lens of that memory’s questionable veracity (because all memory is sketchier than we like to admit), while at the same time acknowledging the memory’s importance in contributing to self-identity. In other words, the “Translation” poems are me puzzling through how I think about complicated aspects of memory and identity. Often they involve/star my brother, but they are not about him as I see it. Rather, they are about me trying to figure out a little bit of who I am. “Translation” as a title was something that came to me as a shorthand for all these things. Within the “Translation” poems I was also able to provide a narrative spine for the book as they function more or less chronologically (with some asides in there for good measure).

All of this reminds me that I want to ask about your “first book process.” First books are this thing that people always talk about in poetryland. Did you think of Animul/Flame in terms of it being a first book, or does that sort of thinking not enter into it? And as a follow up question, do you think of your poetry writing to come differently in the wake of this publication milestone? Do you have the urge to keep writing as you always have, or do you feel the urge to do something “different”? I’m very interested in these questions as I struggle with versions of them myself.

ML: I’m so glad to hear that about the “Translation” poems (you have an undiagnosed triskaidekamania!) and to now read those poems with this in mind. There is something so freeing about this idea of course correcting a memory—Emerson says, “Poets are liberating gods,” and these feel liberating. I can see that wonderful uncertainty, the recalibration, and the digressions that open up to questions. You write, “Thank goodness // for the very dark beers // that pour like night, smell of coal smoke // and once inside us smolder, the process // like a fire in reverse.” Thank goodness indeed!

To your question, at the point of writing Animul/Flame (I had no indication this would be a first book, nor that any of these poems would be published—this has all been a crazy dream for me), I very much felt I was disconnected—also released—from any kind of literary establishment or community; it was sort of like I was putting in the time, why not do it my way, I have nothing to lose. I let go of some of the old workshops saws I was steeped in for decades, stop wondering who might read these poems and what they would think. Then it materialized, and it certainly wasn’t a book until it was—slowly at first, and then all at once, I suppose. Then it had a life of its own. I have recently completed a new book that digs into some topics of class and family that feels similarly dangerous but in a different way, and it’s actually lyric prose with research woven in, so I guess, yes, I did have the urge to do something poetically different! The desire to leave the Animul/Flame characters behind at least in the forms they were in was very powerful.

Tell me about this in terms of your struggle, as you mention. I will say that I read Crying Shame, which came out from BlazeVox in 2011, with delight. That book has this most recent book’s DNA for sure. It also feels very much to me like The Last Note Becomes Its Listener took some of the pulp of Crying Shame and just wrung it out. The Last Note Becomes Its Listener is a very realized version of Crying Shame, I might argue. I can only admire and hope for a publishing trajectory like this, though I don’t know if that’s how you feel about it, especially in terms of what you are doing now.

JM: I’m sort of happily “project-less” at the moment. Both Crying Shame and The Last Note Becomes Its Listener just came from writing a lot of poems before understanding there was a direction. I’m generally more interested in writing a poem than writing a book of poetry, at least for a time. I do like writing personae poems. They can be a little risky in terms of subjectivity, who gets to speak for whom, etc., but I write them anyway, and there’s more or less a pile of them sitting around at this point. What’s recently been hard for me is getting out of writing “Translations” as a mode/process. I had the same problem with continuing to write letter poems after Crying Shame was published. I’m not sure why I should stop, but it feels like time to do something else. Probably it doesn’t matter. The poetry changes but the obsessions stay the same.

Your new manuscript sounds really interesting. Lyric prose with research, issues of class, etc. That sounds like it might be sympathetic with work by Mark Nowak, Brenda Coultas, C.S. Giscombe, and Alice Notley—four of my favorite writers. I’d love to hear more about that if you wouldn’t mind expounding a bit.

ML: Yes, you’re on my wavelength there, but I need to dive in to C.S. Giscombe, so thanks for that. The form for Spare, this new book, came in part from reading Maggie Nelson and Claudia Rankine; C.D. Wright was also a huge influence. It’s something I’m very excited about; it attempts to explore issues surrounding class and marginalized populations, as I mentioned, and struggles with personal/social accountability through the prism of my own slice of the world. There are formally diverse sections that layer and create a momentum that I hope works to speak to these complex themes in a way straight language that we have at our disposal cannot, to sort of bring it back to our initial discussion. I’m licking the envelope to send it to you right now—kidding! I know we have to wrap, but were there particular writers hanging over your shoulder when you wrote your book, or are there now, maybe more so now that you are not mono focused on a book project?

JM: Please, send me the manuscript! I would love to read it. Hmm, how to answer the anxiety of influence question. I think the honest answer to this question and the answer I want to give are slightly different, so I’m struggling with that. I’ll go with the truth. I’m currently most influenced/delighted by writers who have a persuasive voice in their work. Bob Hicok (who wisely chose your book for publication), Alice Notley, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Erica Hunt, and John Ashbery all come immediately to mind. But also, if I’m being honest, I tend to fall in love with individual poems. At the moment, my favorite John Ashbery poem is “Daffy Duck in Hollywood.” It’s a silly poem that is also profound. I want to write poems like that, but if that’s not possible I just want to write poems.

ML: I want that for you and for the rest of us who can read them, Jeff! What a perfect way to end our conversation. I’m so pleased to have had the chance to learn more about your book and life. Congratulations again on this well-deserved prize.

JM: Congratulations to you too, Michelle. Animul/Flame is a fantastic debut! It’s such a pleasure to be your press-mate.


Click here to purchase Animul/Flame
at your local independent bookstore
indiebound
Click here to purchase The Last Note Becomes Its Listener
at your local independent bookstore
indiebound
Rain Taxi Online Edition Fall 2019 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2019

Mea Roma:
A Meditative Sampling
from M. Valerius Martialis

M. Valerius Martialis
translated by Art Beck
Shearsman Books ($17)

by Paul Vangelisti

In a recent essay on translation, “The Latin Epigram: Brevity, Levity and Grief,” Art Beck suggests that what defines the Roman masters of the epigram is their remarkable blending of the aphoristic and the elegiac. He insists that the more ample range of feeling found in the shorter Latin poems is what sets them apart from the noteworthy English tradition of the 18th century epigram.

In Beck’s new Martial compilation, Mea Roma, this critical understanding of Roman elegiac verse couldn’t be more in evidence. The translator’s selection, as Beck writes in the preface to Mea Roma, “becomes in itself an aesthetic of translation,” presenting some 140 poems, of varying lengths (from two to twenty lines), out of a canon of nearly 1,500 short poems. Beck presents his selection bilingually—a vital feature of the book—to serve as a starting point for a reader unacquainted with this remarkably quirky classic, or who has been only marginally exposed to some of Martial’s more notorious verses.

What immediately comes across from Beck’s renderings of Martial is the subtlety with which the Latin poet employs everyday speech. These epigrams are so much more than displays of an acerbic, sometimes obscene wit, as all too often has been the portrayal of Martial. Let’s consider a few of the translations to underline the remarkable effect Martial is able to glean from the quotidian, as well as the sensitivity and vigor of Beck’s English versions.

It might be interesting to look at the elegies on the death of the child Martial calls Erotion, a six-year-old slave girl, for whom the poet composes three very different versions of his lament. I quote the three in their entirety to emphasize the sensitivity and profound caring found in the poet’s approach, qualities that for some readers might be rather unexpected. The first, “Book V, 34,” is a graceful and poignant farewell meant to accompany Erotion’s little shade to the underworld, commending her to his deceased parents, the “old guardians” of his own childhood:

Father Fronto, mother Flaccilla, protect this child
who was my lips’ delight. Don’t let the darkness
and the snapping mouths of Tartarus’ monstrous
hound panic Erotion’s shivering little shade.
She almost survived her sixth chilly winter.
She lived just that many days too few.
Let her play and work her mischief on you, old
guardians, and chatter away and garble my name.
Soft grass gently cover these gentle bones. Please,
earth, rest as lightly on her as she scampered over you.

The second version is a much less conventional farewell, bound up with the social context of the poet’s time, wherein one of Martial’s friends questions the poet’s grief. However beautiful and ingratiating a child Erotion might have been, she was, after all, according to the conventional wisdom of the time, just “a little house slave.” When a friend reminds him of Erotion’s station in life, Martial’s grief gives way to anger and the poet can’t avoid taking up, with memorable irony, the cruelty and hypocrisy of his comfortable friend’s remarks. One of the longest poems in Mea Roma, “Book V, 37”—where Martial shows his debt to the Latin satirists, from Horace through Juvenal—follows on the heels of the first elegy:

A child with a voice as sweet as the fabled swan’s,
gentler than a Galician lamb, delicate as a Lake Lucrine
oyster shell. Who you wouldn’t trade for Red Sea pearls
or polished Indian ivory. A lily shimmering in new snow.
Her hair glowed like golden Baetic fleece, like German
curls, like a hazel dormouse. A girl whose soft breath
was as fragrant as damask roses, or Attic honey
fresh from the comb, or amber warmed in the hand.
Next to her, peacocks were crude, tiny squirrels
unlovable and the Phoenix nothing much.

Now Erotion lies still warm in the grave. The bitter
edict of brutal fate took her before even completing her
sixth winter. Our love and delight, my merry playmate.
And Paetus, my friend, forbids me to weep, beats his
own breast and tousles his hair: “Aren’t you ashamed
to lose it over the death of a little house slave,” he says.
“I buried my wife—but I got on with my life. And she
was a socialite from the old nobility, proud and wealthy
in her own right.” Who can set a braver example than our
Paetus? He collects twenty million and gets on with his life.

The third version of the elegy is also included in the translator’s selection for Mea Roma, and comes from “Book X, 61” some ten years after the two earlier compositions. Scholars have it that this poem is from one of the last books of the Epigrams that Martial composed before leaving Rome and returning to his native Spain to live out his last years. More condensed, though no less moving and refined a lament, “Book X, 61” reads like an epitaph on a child’s gravestone, addressed to whomever comes into possession of this plot of land after the poet has moved away:

Here rests Erotion’s hurried shade, robbed
of life by fate and her sixth winter. Whoever
owns this little plot after me, make an offering
to her small ghost each year. Then, may your
household endure, safe and untroubled.
Let this stone be the only sorrow on your land.

It might be useful to quote one more poem from these later books, “Book X, 63,” appearing right after the above in Mea Roma. Like the third Erotion elegy, it too uses the conceit of a gravestone inscription, as both of these late epigrams point to the form’s probable origins in Greek poetry as tombstone epitaphs. Here Martial is at his witty and scabrous best, undercutting any sentimentality for the aged matron. The poet leaves us with a bittersweet admiration for the lady, not only for her advanced years, but for what she has seen and endured with a quite remarkable vigor and dignity. Just when the reader is full of good feeling and somewhat complacent in the poet’s praise for this fine example of everyday Roman virtue, Martial twists the sentiment in his conclusion—making, in the simplest, colloquial terms, his elderly subject all the more sympathetic:

This gravestone you’re reading may be small,
traveler, but cedes nothing to any mausoleum or
pyramid. I attended not one, but two Saecular
Games, sixty four years apart, and never lost a step
until my dying day. Juno gave me five boys and as
many girls, and every one of their hands
closed my eyes. My marriage was a glory to
behold, and I was faithful to just that one prick.

It goes without saying that any contemporary English reader’s knowledge of Martial is dependent on the translator’s skill. In the above, for instance, Beck uses what, in his introduction, he terms an “invisible footnote” to clarify an apparent inconsistency for the contemporary reader. The problem is that the Secular Games were supposed to be at least a century apart and, if so, Martial’s persona would be making our Roman matron’s declarations quite laughable. However, Beck tells us that Claudius held special Games in 47 C.E. to celebrate the eight-hundredth anniversary of Rome’s founding, making it sixty four years after Augustus’ 17 B.C.E. Games, and certainly in line with the character of his persona. Thus, Beck creates his “invisible” note by rendering the lines: "I attended not one, but two Saecular / Games, sixty four years apart…"

Work as outstanding as Art Beck’s in Mea Roma, as well as his choice of epigrams, reveals the Latin classic not only in a new light, but with the full range of values that characterize the original. Beck’s is a poet’s translation, and a great one at that, demonstrating the work of a contemporary speaker of American English who has come to live with the canon of a Roman poet from the first century C.E. Art Beck has not only discovered contemporary poetic equivalences for Martial’s verse, but has achieved, in Mea Roma, that rare distinction of speaking through Martial, creating new American poems that give life to a 2,000-year-old imagination.


Click here to purchase this book
at your local independent bookstore
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Rain Taxi Online Edition Fall 2019 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2019

Straight Around Allen:
On the Business of Being Allen Ginsberg

Bob Rosenthal
Beatdom Books ($28)

by Richard Kostelanetz

Though many books have been written about Allen Ginsberg since I profiled him for the New York Times Magazine in 1965, this one told me much that I’d not known before. Uniquely, it is written from the perspective of Ginsberg’s literary secretary, who ran the home office for two decades while his boss traveled and starred around the world.

Its subject is a celebrity who refused to live like a celebrity, which is to say that Ginsberg rented modest apartments in a marginal neighborhood while keeping the same P.O. Box for decades. He retained friends, some of whom became his de facto wards; continued to publish in eleemosynary magazines, even though an aggressive agent had connected him to the literary-industrial complex; and he instructed Bob Rosenthal to give reprint permissions for whatever publishers would pay, which could be nothing.

One recurring theme is Ginsberg’s generosity, indicatively allowing his fellow poet Gregory Corso, a drug-addicted beggar, to steal from Ginsberg’s library rare books that he would then purchase back from the bookseller who’d paid Corso. (John Cage was comparably generous; like Ginsberg he did not have children, and both correctly surmised that their estates would support at least one executor for decades later.)

Filled with modest detail, Straight Around Allen is an intimate portrait written from personal distance; Rosenthal, himself straight and married, notes that Ginsberg preferred manly men, often essentially heterosexual, in part because he simply ignored women (he often got wrong the first name of Rosenthal’s wife). His theme, implicit in the book’s subtitle, is of Ginsberg as a small businessman discharging many responsibilities while worried about income. Do not minimize this last achievement, which few prominent artists have realized as well. Consider also that Ginsberg overcame negative reviews to survive professionally for four decades while establishing a legend that continues for additional decades later.

Rosenthal writes dispassionately about his subject’s last days (here with a full text frequently quoted by others) and more about Ginsberg’s will and estate than most biographers do (though he refuses to mention dollar amounts). Those who consider Ginsberg devoid of calculation should read about his image of “Three Idiots.” One stylistic departure here, which I like, is that brief commentaries appear in smaller type adjacent to the principal text; these function like extended footnotes with asides and additional information. With images new to me—not only photographs but specimens of Ginsberg’s handwritten messages—and an informative text, this is a treasure. However, it does seem strange that Straight Around Allen should appear in 2019, more than two decades after its subject’s death, and that it should be published by a small publisher based in England.


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STARTS SPINNING

by Douglas Kearney

From Harry Belafonte's "Jump in the Line" to Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven," Douglas Kearney's poems in Starts Spinning will have you saying yes YES. Short, personal takes on pop hits, filled with humor and pathos.

29 pages, perfect bound. Limited edition of 150 copies.

$10 includes S&H in the U.S. Shipping costs added for overseas shipping.
Purchase via Paypal here.

The Spatial Lattice of Consciousness:
An Interview with Neal Stephenson

Interviewed by Allan Vorda

Born in Maryland, Neal Stephenson is the son of a professor of electrical engineering and the grandson of a physics professor. The family moved to Illinois and later to Ames, Iowa, where Neal graduated from high school. He received a B.A. in 1981 from Boston University with a major in geography and a minor in physics. Stephenson first made his splash in the literary scene with the publication of the cyberpunk SF novel Snow Crash in 1992. Since then he has published a number of books, usually of substantial length, in the areas of speculative and historical fiction; these include The Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, The Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World), Anathem, Reamde, and Seveneves. Stephenson has won numerous awards including the Hugo, Locus SF Award (five times), the Clarke Award, and the Prometheus Award (twice). He lives in Seattle, Washington. His most recent novel is Fall: or, Dodge in Hell (William Morrow, $35).

This interview was conducted on June 18th, 2019, in the lobby of a downtown Houston hotel, before his reading that evening at Christ Church Cathedral.


Allan Vorda: In Fall, Dodge Forthrast becomes brain dead after surgery, whereupon he is placed in a cryonic state until future technology can restore his consciousness. What was the genesis for writing such a novel?

Neal Stephenson: The idea of uploading the brain is something people in the tech world have been talking about for a while, and of course, people have always thought about what happens after we die. Is there an afterlife? Is there something more? Since it’s a topic of universal interest, it seemed like a good premise for a novel. I have also been interested in Milton’s Paradise Lost lately, and I’ve been looking for a way to do something with it. I came at it from various angles over time, and finally decided Fall was a good way to approach it.

AV: This also raises the mind-body problem. As you write, “The mind couldn’t be separated from the body. The whole nervous system, all the way down to the toes, had to be studied and understood as a whole—and you couldn’t even stop there, since the functions of that system were modulated by chemicals produced in places like the gut and transmitted through the blood. The bacteria living in your tummy—which weren’t even part of you, being completely distinct biological organisms—were effectively part of your brain.” Do you agree the mind is dependent on the body? If so, would you qualify whether your consciousness is you?

NS: There is a kind of naïve idea about this distinction between the mind and the body that hasn’t been taken seriously by people who think about it a lot. The idea is that you could just take the brain out of the skull, then keep it alive somehow, yet still have the same person. Everything you’ve just read in that passage is not based on my own ideas, but ideas that have been explored by philosophers, neurologists, psychologists, and so on.

From my point of view as a storyteller, I’m looking for ways to relate an interesting yarn. In the beginning of the novel, when the characters are beginning to scan the brains and put them up as digital simulations on the Internet, they are coming at it from that naïve point of view in which the brain is the only thing that matters. That has some unintended consequences as the situation develops, which eventually get rectified as people come up with a more sophisticated and nuanced view of what it means to be human. The questions you’re raising are explicitly discussed by characters in the book, which they’re working out among themselves as the situation develops.

AV: From a religious standpoint, various philosophers argue the soul can be separated from the body. The metaphysical existence of a soul is debatable, but throughout Fall you refer to the consciousnesses in cyberspace as “souls.” Why did you choose that term?

NS: Because it’s short—it only has four letters and it’s a term that people would use. I’m trying to depict realistic characters, and I’m trying to use terminology they would adopt, even if it is not the terminology I would use. It’s my job to think about what fictional characters would do and say, and not just what I would do and say.

The word “soul” has all kinds of religious significance, but it’s also used in other kinds of settings. When people talk about an airplane that has crashed or a ship that has gone down, for example, they’ll frequently say, “It was lost with 152 souls on board.”

I wouldn’t read too much into my use of the term. When the characters use it, what they’re getting at is a rebooted consciousness: this digital simulation which has the complexity of the brain on which it was based. It has some of the personality and memories, and it acts and behaves as if it had the full complexity of a living human. When we talk about a human being, it implies a physical body. When we talk about a soul, it seems to be a more precise term for what we’re denoting.

AV: At one point in Fall, El Shepherd wants to destroy the less developed souls who are wasting his money to keep the Process going. El states these “new ‘fruit fly’ processes have to be terminated.” Corvallis Kawasaki counters by saying these souls “are based on human connectomes.” Can you comment on this moral question of what constitutes life, and who has the right to decide who lives or dies? Not insignificantly, this is being debated right now in our country regarding abortion.

NS: The fruit fly reference is to new animals that are being booted up by Spring; she feels the Bitworld isn’t complete until it has birds and bees and other lesser creatures in addition to humans. Spring is trying to create those animals to more fully realize the world in which they’re living. I think both El and Corvallis agree that souls, based on a human connectome, should not be terminated. What they’re arguing about is this new phenomenon of less complicated creatures that have emerged due to the creative efforts of Spring within the story.

AV:“The mass of people are so stupid, so gullible, because they want to be misled. There’s no way to make them not want it.” A lot of fake news is disseminated by the Internet, or what you refer to in Fall as the Miasma. Do you see any solution to preventing all of the disinformation we see? How do we preserve free speech?

NS: I’m not too worried about free speech. The constitutional guarantee of free speech refers to governmental activities, and basically says the government doesn’t have the power to restrict people’s exercise of free speech. It doesn’t say anything about private companies and their activities. Platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have been gamed by hostile state actors who are actively using them as part of a disinformation campaign, and to engage in a kind of non-shooting war with the United States. That is all completely obvious and out in the open at this point, and by failing to prevent this from happening, social media platforms are failing in their responsibility as corporate citizens. It appears they’re trying to clean up their act and get better at this, but I don’t think they’re doing it fast enough. I question whether or not they have the ability to ever completely succeed at it, given their whole corporate valuation and revenue model is based on running these systems algorithmically, without any humans in the room.

I can’t remember who is quoted in that line and I’m not sure it matters, but to answer the question on disinformation: I don’t see a solution. I think it’s a terrible problem, and we’re in a terrible situation because of it. It will be very challenging for the responsible companies to change their ways. The only way I can see forward is for people to get more skeptical about what they see, which is difficult, because a lot of people are happy to swallow inaccurate information that aligns with what they feel. Along with skepticism, part of the solution might be that these platforms will fade away over time and be replaced by new ones. Maybe in ten years, we will be using different platforms that have been invented in the wake of the situation of today.

AV: This is a peripheral question, but nowadays a writer can Google a topic and get information immediately, whereas before the Internet writers had to scour journals and microfiche in the library to find what they needed. It was almost like being a detective—time-consuming, yet often fun and rewarding. Have we lost something if writers no longer have to spend time in the library, or does it not really matter?

NS: I think it does matter, because serendipity is a valuable side effect of using old school libraries. When you’re walking down a shelf of books, looking for one particular volume you think is relevant, you may see other books surrounding it that are useful in ways you didn’t expect. You can get the same results when flipping through an old paper card catalog or microfiche. One of the things digital information storage systems have not done well is reproducing that kind of serendipitous discovery. Balanced against that is the fact it’s much easier to find things on the Internet; you don’t have to physically go to the library to do research, so everything just goes much faster.

I try to develop skills in how I use the Internet to help make up for that a little bit. Rather than doing one search on one set of search terms, I’ll try to create some serendipity on my own by trying a bunch of related search terms, and then searching outward from the first hit to make sure I’m not missing anything.

AV: The Forthrast homestead is located in northwest Iowa, a borderless, undefined territory called Ameristan that is populated by uneducated, gun-hoarding cults; one group in Iowa is building a two hundred-foot tall flaming cross, and another in Nebraska actually crucifies people. Yet you also suggest that Jake Forthrast, a survivalist from Idaho, can actually change into a reasonable human being, and your depiction of city-dwellers isn’t without criticism. What is your opinion on how people in rural areas differ in thinking from people in cities?

NS: The situation that exists, not only in rural areas but all over the country, is that there is a divide. We tend to refer to it as red state versus blue state, but it’s not really correct to think of it in terms of states—it’s more finely detailed than that, the boundary is a very complicated fractal that can exist even between neighborhoods.

In the case of the novel, this is the same situation. Some areas are strictly blue-state; for example, in the town of northwest Iowa, there are dentists and doctors and all the people have learned to live in the modern world productively; they have money and education and they know how to do things. On the other side, past this invisible boundary, there are the have-nots who are suffering because they’ve fallen under the grip of algorithmically-generated memes that are coming into their eyes and ears all the time, making it impossible to make sense of what is objectively real. This is an exaggeration of the situation which exists today. The purpose of the book is to provide a kind of glimpse into the future, a cautionary tale to make people consider the consequences if we keep going down this road. I try to depict some characters, such as Jake, who are trying to make connections, to address these difficult situations and find ways to work with it.

AV: Your book Cryptonomicon might be the only work of fiction to mention the Reimann zeta function, and Fall also invokes some mathematical statements such as “the plot of the integral.” The majority of your readers probably don’t know the meaning of mathematical or technical terms. In what way does this add to your writing?

NS: Based on my interactions with readers at my readings, I think this may be a pessimistic view. I’ll allow a fair number of people won’t necessarily understand these terms with absolute precision, but that's not what I’m thinking about when I’m writing this stuff. I’m in the business of writing stories about fictional characters, some of whom are well-versed in technology, mathematics, engineering, computers, etc. My strategy is to show them doing and saying things people like this actually do and say. Some readers may not totally understand some of the jargon, but that’s how real life is. I’m hoping the result is to make the book seem more like real life, and in that way help the reader suspend their disbelief, and find the whole thing realistic and plausible.

AV: In Fall, Time Slip Ratio refers to the differences between Meatspace (real world) and Bitworld (cyberspace) time. Enoch Root is a recurring character in your novels who is essentially immortal and never seems to age. If we consider the hypothesis that all reality is a computer simulation, then can Meatspace in the novel also be a simulation, and is Enoch Root from a reality outside this simulation? This could provide an explanation of Enoch Root’s ostensible immortality due to Time Slip Ratio.

NS: What you just described is something I’m hinting at in the book, so I would say that you correctly pieced it together in a way that makes sense. I’m reluctant to say, “Yes, that’s it,” because the heart of this is not to just baldly describe the state of things. It is a natural question that arises: If you posit we can simulate reality with our computers, then the next question you have to ask is, could our world be a simulation on someone else’s computer. Then it turtles all the way down.

AV: If given the option to upload your consciousness, would you do it?

NS: I’m quite skeptical of this kind of thing myself. I would have to know a lot more about the process and how it’s supposed to work before making such a decision. This book isn’t so much me advocating that process as just saying, “Let’s suppose this would work to some degree and use that as a basis for a yarn.” I want to tell a story and see where the story takes us.

AV: Do you play video games? If so, which ones and does this add or detract from your writing?

NS: I used to play them more in the past. I like solo games, and the trend in the last decade has been towards multiplayer games. This is driven by economic considerations: game publishers get more bang for their buck if they can get customers to entertain each other. I would rather be on my own. My time spent playing video games has gone down, but I’ve played a little bit of Red Dead Redemption 2, and a little bit of Anthem recently. I’m probably more apt to play board games than video games at this point.

AV: Fall incorporates straight fiction, science fiction, and fantasy. Was it difficult to plot out three distinct genres?

NS: I don’t see genre that much while I’m writing. Those are distinctions that are drawn by people outside who want to classify books. There is nothing wrong with those distinctions—by assigning genre labels to different books, we make it easier for readers to find books they’re going to like, to find each other, and to form communities. So I have nothing against it, but those distinctions are all invisible when I’m actually doing the work. I don’t have any mental sense of shifting gears; it’s all an organic whole to me, and so there are no hurdles or difficulties associated with moving from one to the other.

AV: As a writer, you received a lot of recognition for writing science fiction, but do you feel that you’ve been stereotyped as an SF writer? Do you think this prevents critics from considering you for awards such as the National Book Award or the Pulitzer Prize?

NS: Probably to some degree, although I’m not particularly worried about it. There is an odd mentality around genres versus so-called literary fiction that I’ve been observing for some time, although more as a kind of anthropologist than a participant. I wrote about this a long time ago in a Slashdot interview, explaining what I call Beowulf versus Dante writers: Beowulf and The Divine Comedy are both great works of literature, but The Divine Comedy was written by a person who had a patron, whereas Beowulf probably just bubbled up from some guy telling stories in a bar. The same situation occurs today; you have some people working in a more literary area, where typically they’re not supporting themselves through writing—they’re employed by a university or something that effectively acts as their patron while they work on their art. Then you have writers who are making their living at it, and they sell a whole lot more books. Occasionally, you have someone who can do both, which is a marvelous thing.

I’m completely uninterested in drawing value judgments between those two styles. Consequently, I’m not a big fan of people who live in one camp and look down their nose at people in the other. It’s quite possible I’m in a weird place and I’m not going to be winning a lot of awards, but I really don’t care. I’ve been amazingly fortunate in my career. There are a lot of writers who make more money than I do, and a lot of writers who make less. My position has given me the ability to write full time and have a good standard of living, so I consider myself lucky. Whether I win awards or literary acclaim means nothing to me.

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Fall 2019

INTERVIEWS

The Spatial Lattice of Consciousness:
An Interview with Neal Stephenson

Interviewed by Allan Vorda
Renowned speculative fiction author Neal Stephenson discusses his newest contribution to his oeuvre with Fall, or, Dodge in Hell, a futuristic take on Paradise Lost.

NONFICTION:

Straight Around Allen: On the Business of Being Allen Ginsberg
Bob Rosenthal
Written by Ginsberg’s literary secretary, who ran the home office for two decades while his boss traveled around the world, this memoir offers a new perspective on the poet. Reviewed by Richard Kostelanetz

POETRY REVIEWS

Mea Roma: A Meditative Sampling from M. Valerius Martialis
M. Valerius Martialis
In Art Beck’s new Martial translation, Mea Roma, the blending of the aphoristic and the elegiac defines the Roman mastery of the epigram. Reviewed by Paul Vangelisti

Little Glass Planet
Dobby Gibson
In his fourth book, Dobby Gibson stands closer than ever to entropy, to inertia, to the middle-aged feeling that there can truly be nothing better than this life right now. Reviewed by Stephanie Burt

The Perseverance
Raymond Antrobus
In The Perseverance, Raymond Antrobus explores marginalized experiences and identity in the not-so-distant past and the post-Brexit world, alarming and unsettling his reader in necessary ways. Reviewed by Margaryta Golovchenko

Friedrich Hölderlin:
Selected Poems and Letters

Friedrich Hölderlin
translated by Christopher Middleton
The Last Books ($27)

by Patrick James Dunagan

The work of German poet and singular visionary Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843) embodies the essence of the poet-as-seer. His ethereally divined poetic compositions manifest themselves primarily in regard to the individual’s engagement with the natural world, albeit telescoped beyond the confining lens of historical time and place. In Hölderlin’s writings, myths intermingle with experience as distant lands become one with the world outside his window. In 1796 he tragically fell in love with a married woman, Susette Gontard, while serving as pupil to her sons, but aside from one or two brief periods, they were never to be alone together. In 1802 he trekked across Europe through the aftermath of the French Revolutionary Wars; reaching Stuttgart “he appeared among friends looking ‘deathly pale, very thin, with hollow wild eyes, long hair, and a beard, and dressed like a beggar.’ Gontard died shortly thereafter without his ever having seen her again; their love is both mourned and celebrated in his work. From 1803-06 onward, Hölderlin wrote very little, gradually falling in to a state of madness from which he never recovered.

In 1967 the University of Texas issued a slim collection presenting a selection of Holderlin’s letters accompanied by those of fellow poet-seers Arthur Rimbaud and Hart Crane. William Burford oversaw the selections of the latter two, while British poet Christopher Middleton (1926-2015) undertook the selecting, translating, and notating of the Hölderlin. Over the ensuing decades Middleton continued pursuing his interest in Hölderlin’s work: In 1972 he published Selected Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin and Eduard Mörike, and returned to translate further poems in later years, as well as penning critical essays regarding thornier intricacies faced when translating the poet. This new posthumous collection gathers all of Middleton’s endeavors regarding Hölderlin into one volume, making it ideal company for both the acquainted and unacquainted reader alike.

In an introduction, Middleton demonstrates a keen translator’s reckoning of language use by his subject, while also fully bringing it vividly to life for the reader:

Hölderlin is converting the involutions of German syntax into concentrated forms resembling Chinese ideograms. Certainly it is poetry departing from plain linear progression, or, to put it picturesquely, poetry as a field of vision crossed and recrossed by whirlwinds of fire. That, perhaps, is how Hölderlin experienced ‘ideas’: they crossed his mind like whirlwinds of formal sensation. One thus has to be careful when one asks what is the true axis of a particular word in its context, or what is its function in that context. One can intuit the radius of a word’s connotations, but one is hard put to define that radius. One has to allow for the fact that connotations valid then may not be perceptible (or translatable) now.

Middleton’s notes to the poems are equally indispensable. He describes how with poems such as “Patmos” (1803), he “opted for a freer layout” with the lines upon the page, breaking from Hölderlin’s original and aiming to “sharpen the profiles of particular words and phrases, and to invest the English with some of the glowing and vigorous rugosity which H. achieves by rhythmical turns, elliptical syntax, eccentric word order, and changes of key.” With the fragmentary later poems he also likewise moves into a freer layout, “prompted by the gaps and silences in some of the originals.” This is both startling and quite lyrically effective. For instance:

Wohl aber duftend den Jungfraun,
Und Biennen,
Wenn sie, vom Wohlgeruche
Der Frühlings trunken, der Geist
Der Sonne rühret, irren ihr nach
(from “Wenn Nemlich Der Rebe Saft . . .”)

is turned out as:

but fragrance
for girls
and bees
drunk with the scent
of springtime
when the spirit of the sun
touches them
possessed (131)

The result will likely rub the more purist-minded the wrong way, yet Middleton’s version is anything but stilted.

It’s remarkably edifying to have Middleton’s critical prose appended here to the poems and letters, as they detail his engagement with Hölderlin across the span of his mature writing life. His 1967 review of Michael Hamburger’s translation not only provides an inspiring openness to contrasting takes, but also allows opportunity to compare earlier versions of some lines as rendered by Middleton that he later revised when publishing his own efforts. Similarly, both “Syntax and Signification in Hölderlin’s ‘Andenken’” and “A Spirit Voice in Loose Alcaic Measure” are exactly the deep textual dives they sound to be. And when Middleton remarks in “The End of ‘Andenken’” that “Hölderlin hears first in the elements and then relayed into culture an infinite and terrible cry, such as Heraclitus and Yeats heard in the elements as a ‘clash of arms’, Milton as a ‘singing through all her [nature’s] works’, Boehme as a turbulence in the godhead itself,” we are left hungering for more from both poet and translator alike.

In this fine collection, the depth of Middleton’s knowledge of his subject is on full display, and his humble yet assertive authority is consistently revelatory. The Last Books thus not only delivers a fine tribute to Middleton, but also ushers into print an excellent introductory text to Hölderlin’s life and work.


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Sleep in a Strange House

Jessica Purdy
Nixes Mate Books ($9.95)

by Douglas Cole

There’s a beautiful mystery in Jessica Purdy’s poetry collection Sleep in a Strange House—it’s like we’re traveling through her dreams or watching a surrealist movie, the meaning of which lies just out of reach. Take the opening poem, “Architect,” for example, in which the poet creates a sort of house for “Everyone I know,” with enigmatic labels on their rooms: “I am a door. I am locked. / I am occupied. I am alone.” If in dreams a house represents the structure of consciousness, then what are these pieces of the poet, and what is the mysterious “staircase I didn’t build”?

In fact, there are many mentions of dreams and dream states in these poems: “the meaning of dead horses in dreams,” “The father dreams of being held down,” “In dreams I welcome prosthetic legs.” It offers a “blueprint,” if you will, one alluded to in “Architect,” as though the title were announcing the plan to come. But who is the architect, the poet or the unconscious?

Hence, it is interesting how the consciousness in these poems often seems disconnected from the scenes, like “the breath coming out of us in clouds.” The speaker, in fact, often feels like a reluctant inhabitant: “I don’t deserve my body. I should have/been born something else.” And it’s as if this consciousness were forever on the verge of leaving, whether in the petit mort of “Expiring in bed” or the invisible something that “makes you want to leave, / drive away in your car.”

As in the work of the great haiku poets, images of nature stand in for these layers of awareness: “How do the bugs know when to start work?” And like the haiku poets, Purdy fixates on the moon as the ultimate symbol of reflection, although her moon is “a square / framed by linear clouds.” We explore the subconscious with her like a “lurking burglar” about to stumble on a realization that will rip us from the world of sleep.


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The Perseverance

Raymond Antrobus
Penned in the Margins ($14)

by Margaryta Golovchenko

What language
would we speak
without ears?
—“Echo”

In The Perseverance, Raymond Antrobus explores marginalized experiences and identity in the not-so-distant past and the post-Brexit world, alarming and unsettling his reader in necessary ways. The poems not only call out famous figures like Alexander Graham Bell, but pluck from the abundant contemporary political and social landscape. The reader faces questions about how masculinity, language, and race are presented today, alongside how deafness is (mis)understood.

Antrobus’ poems explore what it means to have a voice in a variety of registers, from the poetic to the historical to the everyday. From a negotiation between wealth and poverty in “My Mother Remembers” to the frustration that refuses to admit defeat in “Dear Hearing World,” the speaker’s words glint with a sharp edge:

I have left Earth in search of an audible God.
I do not trust the sound of yours.

One of the central concerns in the collection is an exploration of language as a means of communication, a construct that for many is automatically associated with the auditory experience. Antrobus goes beyond familiar linguistic boundaries and points to people whose forms of expression continue to be silenced. The Perseverance does not set out to speak for, but to remember and challenge the repetitive cycle in which the victim is left to seek reconciliation within themselves. Poems like “Samantha” confront the reader with a simple fact:

I know the deaf are not lost
but they are certainly abandoned.

Not only do the poems speak on paper, they live beyond the page, for Antrobus’ poems belong in the mouth, ear, mind, and heart. The Perseverance creates a loud silence that lingers over the poems, which are both a poetic deconstruction of the author’s life and an exploration of various identities and experiences. Linking these poems is a desire to communicate that is never realized, because their conversation partner fails to accommodate any perspective other than their own. A frantic chorus, bursting out as soon as one opens the book and begins reading, The Perseverance presents a voice that is always coming through but is not always heard—not because it isn’t loud enough, but because some have still not learned how to shut up and listen.


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