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States of the Art:
Selected Essays, Interviews,
and Other Prose, 1975–2014

Charles North
Pressed Wafer ($15)

by W. C. Bamberger

As a poet, Charles North is known for the creation of a new form of poem, the "line-up." A long-time baseball fan, North creates teams of names or of quotations, labeling each with what he intuits would be their corresponding position on a team. For example, in "A Midwinter Lineup," a prose line-up included here, we find a quote from Gertrude Stein—"I like a view but I like to sit with my back turned to it"—labelled "c," for catcher, and Robert Service's "A silence seems a solid thing, shot through with wolfish woe" taking the field as shortstop. The possibilities these assignments (and the title, which carries its own weight of suggestion) open up for fresh insights into the writers are comic, puzzling, and could even become profound, should we persevere through enough innings of thought. In the spirit of this same pastime we might say that North's stance is clear from the moment he steps up to write prose about poetry and its reception: his stance is that of a calm questioning of the usual premises, the supposed givens of his favored subjects (poetry and, to a lesser degree, visual art) and, at times more aggressively, to what others have written about them.

This stance is clear from the first essay of States of the Art, in which Harold Bloom's early enthusiasm for the poetry of John Ashbery makes North uneasy, instinctively so. The piece, "Life in (Mis-) Prison," allows us to observe North's sorting through of his feelings and Bloom's words until he pinpoints the problem: Bloom's enthusiasm is genuine but, "characteristically he manages to subvert, if not swamp, the praise with one of the most elaborated (not elaborate) critical apparatuses to appear in modern times." For anyone familiar with Bloom's theory of misprision, that "characteristically" and the emphatic (not hectoring) parenthetical comment convincingly uncover the self-congratulation at the very center of Bloom's thought.

North looks at how we read poetry—particularly, in "The Indulgence Principle," how we read our favorite poets: indulging "the bulk of their (inferior) work in order to have their very best." He offers a take on what he sees as its other side, the side that "grants a poet the right not to please a reader in every respect: it recognizes that the 'highest thing' is not only rare but inextricable from all the rest." North has his own favorite poets, of course: among them John Ashbery, Elizabeth Bishop, and James Schuyler—on whose work he performs an almost microscope-close reading of the minute revisions Schuyler would make in a poem, and what ripples these would send through the poem as read. Other poets favored here include Joseph Ceravolo, Paul Violi, and Frank O'Hara.

As this list of names shows, North displays a preference for cleaving to the poetic landscape of New York City. He surveys its (expansive and varied, even while easily identifiable) poetics again and again, like radar sweeping a particularly busy piece of the sky. Rather than feeling any provincialism while reading these pieces, the reader comes away with an impression of depth and originality unusual in simple reviews and surveys. The only shortcoming of this is that North ranks Frank O'Hara higher in influence than anyone outside the city's five boroughs would now be likely to do. Of course, as O'Hara died the same year Ashbery's Rivers and Mountains appeared, no one can know what he would have accomplished or become—and North does offer clear and robust explanations for his claims for O'Hara's work.

North feels that the "New York sensibility or aesthetic has by this point filtered down, around and through much of what is being done in the name of American poetry today. . . . Then how come, appearances and awards to the contrary, the state of American poetry isn't in fact very healthy?" North, at the end of this talk, chooses not to answer that complex question, but the observations and considerations here offer ample material to any reader who might want to think this through in a more expansive way.

North does concern himself with more than poetry here, and with places other than NYC (though none at the length of these two core interests): Keats's house at Hampstead Heath makes an appearance, as does the art of Manet, Edith Schloss, and other painters. The art reviews, however, are more traditionally descriptive than the deeper, more digressive pieces on poets and poetry. The contrast suggests that while North likes art, even likes some of it very much, it isn't part of his core self in the way thinking and the art of poetry (and baseball) are.


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Rain Taxi Online Edition Summer 2018 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2018

Pontus Hultén and Moderna Museet:
The Formative Years

Edited by Anna Tellgren
Foreword by Daniel Birnbaum
Text by Patrik Andersson,
Annika Gunnarsson, Ylva Hillström,
and Pontus Hultén

Koenig Books ($30)

by Richard Kostelanetz

Of the many impresarios of contemporary visual art, Pontus Hultén (1924-2006) ranked for a while among the more prodigious. He moved from institution to institution, from country to country, always as a chief who apparently understood early that he’d better speak several languages fluently and own a big suitcase. As director of Moderna Museet in his native Stockholm from 1958 to 1973, he built an international reputation with such exhibitions as Nikki de Saint Phalle (1960), Movement in Art (1961), American Pop Art (1964), Claes Oldenburg (1966), and Andy Warhol (1968). Every two years at least, one exhibition was devoted to new American art, which Hultén helped make more acceptable in Europe. At the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he also guest-curated The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age (1968).

Hultén then became, in 1973, the founding director of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. There he mounted mammoth exhibitions with Paris in their title, associating the city with Moscow and New York. By 1980 he was in Los Angeles establishing its Museum of Contemporary Art. Less successful in California, he went in 1984 to Venice, Italy, taking charge of the Palazzo Grassi. In 1985 he joined others in founding an art college in Paris. From 1991 to 1995 he directed a museum in Bonn, Germany, and later the Jean Tinguely Museum in Basel, Switzerland. Just before his death, Hultén gave his private collection of several hundred art objects, many no doubt acquired as gifts directly from artists, to his original launching pad, Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, with the stipulation that they be exhibited not within the museum itself but in a separate warehouse.

Ponthus Hultén and Moderna Museet: The Formative Years is a collection of scholarly appreciations, all in English sometimes askew, ostensibly about the first phase of his museum career. This footnoted collection smells like the transcripts of some institutional conference, though none is acknowledged. In the preface is this crucial sentence: “One of his greatest gifts was his sense of timing, his ability to be at the right place at the right moment and to home [sic] in on the most interesting things going on.”

While this quality is evident in his Swedish career (and perhaps in his Parisian one as well), Hultén evidently lost his touch once he went to California. After Hultén quit Los Angeles and returned to Europe, he was curatorially broken, so to speak. Perhaps the hidden truth of Hultén’s meteoric career is that California, especially LA, irrevocably alters American easterners and Europeans—and rarely for the better.


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Rain Taxi Online Edition Summer 2018 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2018

The City Whispered in Her Ear:
An Interview with Cristina García

photo by Isabelle Selby

Interviewed by Allan Vorda

Cristina García was born in Havana in 1959, and although her family fled Cuba for New York City in 1961 (shortly after Fidel Castro came to power), her home country has made an indelible mark on her fiction. Prior to becoming an acclaimed writer, however, García received a B.S. in political science from Barnard College and a master’s degree in international relations from Johns Hopkins University. For almost ten years she worked primarily as a journalist for several publications before deciding to devote herself to fiction in 1990. Her first novel, Dreaming in Cuban, was published in 1992 and was nominated for the National Book Award; her seven novels since include The Aguero Sisters, which won the Janet Heideger Kafka Prize, and King of Cuba, which is being adapted into a play as we speak.

García’s seventh novel, Here in Berlin (Counterpoint Press, $26), was released in 2017. The story revolves around an unnamed Cuban narrator known simply as “The Visitor” who travels to the German capital in 2013; she then recounts thirty-five varying tales of Berliners she meets, many of whom recall personal episodes of World War II and its aftermath. It is a fascinating addition to García’s body of work, one that expands upon her recurring themes of politics, cultural memory, and how identity can be constructed from multiple viewpoints.


Allan Vorda: Here in Berlin is narrated by the Visitor, a Cuban-American middle-aged woman who has been divorced and has a daughter living in Barcelona. What was the inspiration for the Visitor (who is perhaps not unlike yourself), as well as the concept of relating thirty-five vignettes in which Berliners discuss their past?

Cristina García: The Visitor was the hardest character for me to write. At first, I used her as a kind of scaffolding to elicit stories from the characters and fully expected to cut her out once the stories were harvested. Eventually, I realized that her presence was essential. Listeners are as crucial to storytelling as storytelling itself.

AV: “On her twelfth day in Berlin, a young father asked the Visitor for directions in German, to which she correctly replied. . . . Thus, her mission began.” Are the stories you tell based on people you met or read about, or are they purely fictional characters? If they are based on actual people, then how did this come about?

CG: The characters are fictional but emerged out of a great deal of historical research, eavesdropping, casual conversations with Berliners, and, of course, my hyperactive imagination—such as the story about the Cuban boy who was kidnapped by the crew of German submarine during World War II. But I wanted the format to blur the distinction between fiction and fact.

AV: In one of the early “The Visitor” chapters you state: “Berlin was altering the Visitor, carving out space for silence, hallucinations, distortions.” Then in a later chapter you write: “People asked her: ‘Why are you here? What do you want?’ Her reasons had changed. Now it was war that kept her here; also Eros and pathos, the impossibility of looking away. A different mission.” Did your perspective change in any way the longer you stayed in Berlin? Also, did you feel that because you are an outsider, your writing might be criticized for bringing up a past that Germans want to but cannot forget?

CG: Yes, I went to Berlin, much like The Visitor, in search of stories about Cuba’s relationship with the old Soviet bloc. But the city itself seduced me, provoked me, coaxed me into telling stories other than what I had planned. The city whispered in my ear continually for the three months I was lucky enough to live there. Also, I felt that my outsider status gave me the freedom to probe where others might not.

AV: You have so many memorable characters in this book, such as Ernesto Cuadra (a Cuban who is kidnapped onto a German U-boat), Sophie Echt (a German-Jew whose husband helps her hide in a sarcophagus), and Christine Meckel (a nurse who kills her patients). Out of the thirty-five stories, is there a particular character you like the most?

CG: I think I’m most fond of the characters in the opening and closing stories of the book: Helmut Bauer, who was a young boy during World War II and gives us the wonder and horror of that perspective; and Lukas Böhm, who grows up to be a classical clarinetist. Both boys lost their fathers—a zookeeper, and a musician, respectively—during the war and carried those scars, with a poignant dignity, their entire lives.

AV: You use a quotation by Klaus Filbinger, a former Nazi judge, to open the chapter titled “Hunters”: “What was right yesterday, can’t be wrong today.” This is a fascinating sentence, since several of your characters try to justify their actions for Nazi Germany during World War II. How did you deal with coming up against such examples of what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil”?

CG: History of all kinds—official, revisionist, national, familial, personal—endlessly fascinate me. To create narrative, to choose one version of events over another, tells us everything about the storytellers themselves. Every narrative has an emotional urgency that conforms to what the storytellers need to convey for their own reasons, conscious or not.

AV: There are numerous references to the atrocities committed by the Russians when they entered Berlin at the end of World War II. Were these stories ones that still linger in the minds of the Germans who still remember those days? What are your thoughts about the Russians and international diplomacy today?

CG: There were no shortages of atrocities on both the Russian and German sides of the war. Yes, I believe the horrors that were perpetrated live on not only in the survivors themselves but in those who come after them. There is a whole new branch of brain research focused on the intergenerational inheritance of trauma. In my opinion, the best chronicler of Russia today is the fearless journalist Masha Gessen. The Road to Unfreedom, the most recent book by Yale historian Timothy Snyder, is a brilliant, penetrating look at contemporary Russia. I defer to them.

AV: While you do not mention Gunter Grass’s allegorical novel about Nazi Germany, The Tin Drum, you do allude to its two main characters, Oskar and Roswitha. What made you bring up Grass’s novel in this subtle fashion?

CG: I remember reading The Tin Drum in college and the huge impact it had on me as both a work of extraordinary literary merit as well as historical testimony. The novel took me deeper and further into the damaged psyches of war than any history book ever could. I couldn’t have known it then but Grass ultimately opened up this possibility as an ideal for my own work.

AV: Rudolf Hess was convicted of Nazi war crimes and was incarcerated at Spandau Prison from 1947 to 1987. He lived out his life as the sole prisoner in the entire prison until he committed suicide at age ninety-three. The utter loneliness he had to have experienced is incomprehensible. Was there any consideration about using Hess in your novel?

CG: His story is an astonishing one and I was riveted by it. But Hess’s story is also one of World War II’s most well-known ones. I was more interested in exploring the hidden interstices of the war—particularly in Berlin, the epicenter of the Third Reich. The stories that rarely, if ever, get told.

AV: Several of your characters have problems with their vision, such as needing cataract surgery. Lukas Böhm is one such figure, who states at the end of the novel: “My eyes are clouded, my hands no longer steady. And I wait for death, without Father’s courage, to end it on my own terms. Dear Visitor, upward of two hundred sparrows a year die against my windows, blinded by what they can’t see.” Essentially, many of the old Berliners have a distorted vision of their past. Did you find this to be true even in the 21st century during your time in Germany?

CG: I’m married to an ophthalmologist so I have more than a passing acquaintance with eye disease. More importantly, I thought it an apt metaphor for examining the distortions of memory. What, how, and why we remember what we do is inextricably connected to what we allow ourselves to see.

AV: In 2015, Angela Merkel’s stated that Germany would accept hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Do you think Merkel’s decision is based on a sense of guilt about Germany’s haunted Nazi past, which is also a theme in your book?

CG: As unpopular as her resolve was with her own citizens, I believe Merkel’s decision was an ethical, humane, and generous one, no doubt informed by Germany’s Nazi past.

AV: Do you foresee a backlash by conservative German groups against the Syrian immigrants, especially in light of such books as Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe?

CG: I’m not an expert on the refugee crisis in Germany. However, history tells us that the newest immigrants anywhere—especially in times of political and economic upheaval—often become scapegoats. We need look no further than our own shores for evidence of this.

AV: I’ve heard that a play based on your 2013 novel King of Cuba is coming out this summer. Can you discuss how this came about?

CG: Yes, I adapted King of Cuba as a two-act dark comedy and it premieres this summer at Central Works Theater in Berkeley on July 21. I’m thrilled! After twenty-five years of writing novels, I wanted to try my hand at another genre—and this is the result. I’m loving the collaborative nature of it, too.
Here’s a link: http://centralworks.org/king-of-cuba/ .

AV: The epilogue you use to close the novel is wonderful: “And now? What did she want? Quiet, resplendent days in the light. Her daughter a breath away. And a butterfly net with which to swipe the air, trapping bits of flying color here and there. Yes, she might spend the rest of her life doing nothing more than that.” I hope you are not implying that your writing days are over.

CG: Not at all! I don’t think writers ever retire, do they?!


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Rain Taxi Online Edition Summer 2018 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2018

Summer 2018

INTERVIEWS:

Rock Stars, Secret Agents, and American Myths:
A Conversation Between Constance Squires and Kurt Baumeister

From unreliable narrators to rock ’n’ roll novels, two writers converse about their recent works.

Boatsman on a Wasted Shore: An Interview with Peter Mishler
Mishler provides insight into the genesis of Fludde, winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry, including his formative, real-life experience as a performer in the opera that is at the center of this collection.
Interviewed by Michelle Lewis

Splitting the Adam: An Interview with Amy P. Knight
Interviewed by Erin Lewenauer
Amy P. Knight puts her degrees in Cognitive Science, English, Law, and Creative Writing to the test with her engaging new novel, Lost, Almost.

Poetics in These Here End Times: An Interview with Paula Cisewski
Interviewed by William Stobb
Poet, memoirist, arts activist, and tarot enthusiast, Paula Cisewski’s been turning the Queen of Cups upright for the Twin Cities literary scene since the 1990s.

The City Whispered in Her Ear: Interview with Cristina García
Interviewed by Allan Vorda
Cuban author Cristina García discusses her seventh novel, which expands on her recurring themes of politics, cultural memory, and how identity can be constructed from multiple viewpoints.

FICTION / COMICS REVIEWS:

Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures
Yvan Alagbé
In woodcut-like calligraphic brushwork, this legend of French comics addresses how to speak of courage or cowardice in the context of colonialism. Reviewed by Spencer Dew

Mrs. Fletcher: A Novel
Tom Perrotta
Many of the characters in Mrs. Fletcher are caught in a uniquely American dilemma, a type of restlessness that will not be satisfied by physical motion. Reviewed by Esther Fishman

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl
Andrea Lawlor
Both fable-like bildungsroman and exhilarating ode to mid-’90s queer culture, Andrea Lawlor’s debut novel tells the story of Paul Polydoris, a gay man in his early twenties with the uncanny abilities of a shapeshifter. Reviewed by Jeremiah Moriarty

The Canyons
Ben Kostival
Kostival creates remarkably convincing characters in this novel about the Coal Strike days near the turn of the last century. Reviewed by Paul Buhle

POETRY REVIEWS:

Orlando by Sandra Simonds
Yeah No by Jane Gregory
Lecture Notes by Deborah Meadows

What is being written by women in books of poetry in 2018? Three marvelous collections contribute to feminist goals with fruitful potency and move the female voice into uniquely individual spaces. Reviewed by Greg Bem

Critical Assembly: Poems of the Manhattan Project
John Canaday
Canaday takes the ghazal form to new levels with this collection of forty-six characters delivering poems that reveal the internal friction at the Manhattan Project. Reviewed by John Bradley

pray me stay eager
Ellen Doré Watson
Watson’s latest poetry collection is a meditation on the myriad ways the passage of time can be humorous, engaging, and devastating. Reviewed by Teresa Castellitto

Deep Calls to Deep
Jane Medved
In her debut poetry collection, Jane Medved immerses her readers in a world of contradiction as evoked by Jerusalem, the city she calls home. Reviewed by Gwen Ackerman

Radioapocrypha
BK Fischer
Radioapocrypha has much to say about how teenage girls in 1989 were caught in a kind of trickle-down feminism, or (more aptly) a lack thereof. Reviewed by Kimberly Burwick

The Ghosts of Monticello: A Recitatif
Carmen Gillespie
Begun as a libretto for an opera, Gillespie’s new collection highlights the tensions between Jefferson’s dead wife Martha and his slave-mistress Sally Hemings. Reviewed by Sean Pears

NONFICTION REVIEWS:

Antigone Undone: Juliette Binoche, Anne Carson, Ivo van Hoe and the Art of Resistance
Will Aitken
Part travel journal, collage interview, and theoretical musing, this book chronicles the production of Anne Carson’s Antigonick in Luxembourg.
Reviewed by W. C. Bamberger

Three on Nietzsche:
What a Philosopher Is: Becoming Nietzsche by Laurence Lampert
Nietzsche’s Final Teaching by Michael Allen Gillespie
Nietzsche’s Search for Philosophy: On the Middle Writings
by Keith Ansell-Pearson

Despite Nietzsche suffering periodic rounds of disparagement, we are right now amidst a spate of new monographs that bring sober and thorough attention to bear on Nietzsche’s project. Reviewed by Scott F. Parker

States of the Art: Selected Essays, Interviews, and Other Prose, 1975–2014
Charles North
Poet North’s stance is that of a calm questioning of the usual premises, the supposed givens of poetry and visual art, especially what others have written about them. Reviewed by W. C. Bamberger

Pontus Hultén and Moderna Museet: The Formative Years
Edited by Anna Tellgren
This collection of scholarly appreciations follows Hultén’s work directing some of the biggest art institutions in the world. Reviewed by Richard Kostelanetz

Rain Taxi Online Edition Summer 2018 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2018

GARY SHTEYNGART

Monday, September 24, 7:00pm
Alexander G. Hill Ballroom
Kagin Commons at Macalester College
21 Snelling Ave. S., St. Paul, MN

The acclaimed author returns to the Twin Cities with his first novel in eight years, Lake Success—not to be missed!

This event requires a ticket to attend.

Ticket prices include a signed hardcover copy of Lake Success!
Ticket prices are: $30 for one ticket/one book or
$40 for two tickets/one book
.

Copies of Lake Success and other books by Gary Shteyngart will also be available for purchase at the event courtesy of Common Good Books. A book signing will follow the presentation. We hope to see you there!

Download a flyer for this event!

If you are an individual with disabilities, please let us know if you require any special accommodations to enjoy this event—write us at info [at] raintaxi [dot] com.

About Gary Shteyngart

Gary Shteyngart is the New York Times bestselling author of the memoir Little Failure (a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist) and the novels Super Sad True Love Story (winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize), Absurdistan, and The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (winner of the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction). His books regularly appear on best-of lists around the world and have been published in thirty countries.

About Lake Success

“A STYLISH, BIG-HEARTED NOVEL.”
—Publishers' Weekly

“PURE HILARITY.”
—Richard Ford

“INCREDIBLY SMART, INCREDIBLY FUNNY, INCREDIBLY TRAGIC, AND THEREFORE INCREDIBLY HUMAN.”
—Nathan Hill

A CELEBRATION OF ELIZABETH GREGORY

Thursday, August 16, 7:00pm
Soo Visual Arts Center
2909 Bryant Ave S #101, Minneapolis

Ah, look at all the lonely people: where do they all come from? We might find out a glimmer of an answer at this celebration of Elizabeth Gregory, a chapbook of poems that combs the inner space of every mom in search of radical humanity. Elizabeth Gregory is one of millions currently living with early onset Alzheimer’s dementia (EOAD), often referred to as “the long goodbye.” Carollo uses Beatlemania as his compass with which to find a path toward communication, understanding, and love. Elizabeth Gregory is for every mom.

Join us to celebrate this remarkable collection. Author Kevin Carollo will take those assembled on a mystery tour through verse, photography, music, and memory, and YOU are invited to participate in either of the following ways:

  1. Send a photo of a loved one with dementia, we’ll add it to a memory montage to be screened at the event:
    email to news [at] raintaxi [dot] com
    post on our Facebook Event page HERE
    tweet to @RainTaxiReview
  2. Tell us the name of a song that you and a parent both love, we’ll add it to the event’s playlist:
    tweet to @RainTaxiReview, #SongsConnectUs
    post on our Facebook Event page HERE
    email to news [at] raintaxi [dot] com

Our mission: Dementiacide.

Reception to follow, get ready to be received!


Kevin Carollo (pictured here with Elizabeth Gregory) is a poet and translator living in Fargo, ND. He is an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota, Moorhead and editor for New Rivers Press. Kevin is known to birth cardboard critters and play guitar.

Volume 23, Number 2, Summer 2018 (#90)

To purchase issue #90 using Paypal, click here.

INTERVIEWS:

Melissa Fraterrigo: How People Become Ghosts | interviewed by Steven Wingate
Elizabeth Byrne: Grave Reckoning | interviewed by Jenn Mar
Jordan Rothacker & Jorge Armenteros: The Guided Dream | A Conversation
Katie Willingham: Disambiguating Poetry | interviewed by Graham Sutherland

FEATURES

Abandon All Expectations: An Afterword for the Re-release of Ascher/Straus’s The Other Planet | by Stephen Beachey
On Expanded Publishing | by Richard Kostelanetz
Celebrating the Classics: Jurgen, a Comedy of Justice | by Ryder W. Miller
The New Life | a comic by Gary Sullivan

PLUS:

Cover art by Yuta Uchida:

NONFICTION REVIEWS

The Collected Letters of Charles Olson and J. H. Prynne | Ryan Dobran, ed.
An Open Map: The Correspondence of Robert Duncan and Charles Olson | Robert J.
Bertholf, Dale M. Smith eds.
Imagining Persons: Robert Duncan’s Lectures on Charles Olson | edited by Robert J.
Bertholf, Dale M. Smith eds. | by Patrick Dunagan
Jonathan Williams: The Lord of Orchards | Jeffery Beam, Richard Owens, eds. | by Thomas Crowe
In the Days of Rain: A Daughter, a Father, a Cult | Rebecca Stott | by Spencer Dew
The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem | edited by Marie Luise Knott | by W.C. Bamberger
Contemporary American Memoirs in Action: How to Do Things with Memoir | Jane Danielewicz | by Scott F. Parker
Lenin: The Man, the Dictator, and the Master of Terror | Victor Sebestyen | by Brooke Horvath
Genius and Discovery: Five Historical Miniatures | Stefan Zweig
Triumph and Disaster: Five Historical Miniatures | Stefan Zweig | by John Toren

FICTION REVIEWS

The Farm | Héctor Abad | by Nathaniel Popkin
Swallowing Mercury | Wioletta Greg | by Micah Winters
Dispatches from Moments of Calm | Alexander Kluge & Gerhard Richter
December | Alexander Kluge & Gerhard Richter | by Joel Hernandez
Paris by the Book | Liam Callanan | by Erin Lewenauer
Asymmetry | Lisa Halliday | by Gregory Chase
theMystery.doc | Matthew McIntosh | by Chris Via
The Overstory | Richard Powers | by Allan Vorda

POETRY REVIEWS

Bullets into Bells: Poets & Citizens Respond to Gun Violence | Brian Clements, Alexandra Teague, Dean Rader, eds. | by John Bradley
Lunar Inheritance | Lachlan Brown | by Robert Wood
Blue Guide | Lee Briccetti | by Scott Hightower
Cherokee Road Kill | Celia Bland | by William Doreski
Yaviza | Roberto Harrison | by Garin Cycholl
Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries | Martha Collins, Kevin Prufer, eds. | by John Bradley
Hunger | Judy Jordan | by Carl Rogers
Noirmania | JoAnna Novak | by Ken L. Walker
Suture | Simone Muench, Dean Rader | by Dina Pinner

COMICS REVIEW

Puerto Rico Strong: A Comics Anthology Supporting Puerto Rico Disaster and Recovery | Marco Lopez, Desiree Rodriguez, Hazel Newlevant, Derik Ruiz, Neil Schwartz, eds. | by Spencer Dew

To purchase issue #90 using Paypal, click here.

Rain Taxi Print Edition, Vol. 23 No. 2, Summer 2018 (#90) | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2018

Yuta Uchida

Yuta Uchida is a portraiture/figurative painter, born and raised in Hiroshima, Japan. After finishing high school, he moved to Superior, WI, where he found a passion for painting while he participated in several local art shows and exhibitions. He completed BFA in visual arts at University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Currently, he is pursuing MFA at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Learn more about Yuta and his work here: https://www.yutauchida.com/

Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit

Chris Matthews
Simon & Schuster ($28.99)

by Mike Dillon

“Doom,” poet Robert Lowell wrote of Robert Kennedy, “was woven into your nerves.” On June 5, 1968, the junior senator from New York, after winning the California Democratic primary, was gunned down in a crowded kitchen pantry at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Chaos surrounded him as he lay on a cement floor; his gaze was calm, “as if he knew it would all end this way,” wrote journalist Pete Hamill, who witnessed the scene. With the approach of the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s death, another book has come along to remind us of the tragic dispossession from that turbulent spring.

Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s Hardball, has synthesized a familiar story into a brisk, straightforward biography in which he casts Kennedy’s life as an existential progress of the soul—which it most definitely was. Late in Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, Matthews quotes Kennedy’s words to the wife of a staffer in 1967 after he visited heart-rending scenes of poverty and starvation in the Mississippi Delta: “I’ve done nothing in my life . . . everything I’ve done was a waste . . . everything I’ve done was worthless!”

Matthews, also author of Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked, and other books, is well suited to tell the Kennedy tale. Like the Kennedys, Matthews grew up with an Irish Catholic lens on the world. Born in 1945 on the leading edge of the Boomer generation, and a former Peace Corps volunteer who went on to work for Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, Matthews breaks into the narrative here and there to connect his own personal experience to the Kennedy saga and the 1960s.

Matthews acknowledges two prior biographies as crucial sourcebooks: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.’s capacious Robert Kennedy and His Times (1978) and Evan Thomas’s Robert Kennedy: His Life (2000). His biography won’t replace those works or Larry Tye’s Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon (2016). Still, Matthews’ narrative, bolstered by archival interviews, manages to advance our understanding of an enigmatic man, the runt of the Kennedy litter who grew up under the shadow of an overweening father and a constellation of dazzling siblings.

“My goal here is to come to grips with his story, who and what he was and what lay beneath the man we saw,” Matthews writes in the prologue. “Born twenty years before me, he was from a different East Coast City and an environment far more privileged than mine. Yet the familiarities of our Irish Catholic world rang ardently through our everyday lives.”

Matthews has a sharp eye for those moments in Kennedy’s early life that flag the man he would become. One summer the four-year-old Kennedy jumped off a boat so he would have no choice but learn to swim. In 1951, while a law student at the University of Virginia and president of the school’s Student Legal Forum, Kennedy invited Ralph Bunche, the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize, to speak on campus. According to state law the audience would be segregated. Kennedy wrote a five-page letter to the university president, logical and eloquent, arguing for integrated seating.

Early enemies made in Washington D.C. were also a credit to his character. They included the menacing Roy Cohn, whiz kid attorney and chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Cohn, later disbarred for unethical conduct in New York, went on to become Donald Trump’s mentor.

The legendary feud with Jimmy Hoffa, President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters from 1958 to 1971, is the stuff of film noir. As Chief Counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee prior to his brother’s 1960 presidential run, the millionaire’s son had the corrupt union boss squarely in his cross hairs. Matthews notes: “Hoffa, Bobby would recall, ‘was glaring at me across the counsel table with a deep, strange, penetrating expression of intense hatred . . . There were times when his face seemed completely transfixed with this stare of absolute evil.’”

Kennedy managed John Kennedy’s quest for the presidency with tenacious—some said ruthless—efficiency, and as Attorney General he became his older brother’s most trusted confidant. Matthews give a good account of the pair’s slow swing toward the civil rights struggle. The violent mobs assaulting the Freedom Riders and federal authorities in Alabama in 1961 shocked the Attorney General. Matthews quotes singer Harry Belafonte, friend to both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Kennedy: “At last, Bobby’s moral center seemed to stir.”

Following his brother’s assassination in November 1963, Kennedy, his sharp features haunted by grief, dived into the works of the Greek tragedians and Albert Camus, trying to understand suffering. A successful run for the Senate seat in New York in 1964, riding on the hated Lyndon Johnson’s coattails, gave Kennedy a base from which to act. And so began his interregnum: unwelcome at Johnson’s White House, he pondered, in Hamlet-like fashion, a return of “Camelot” to the same address.

Finally, he began to doubt the war in Vietnam. In an speech to Senate colleagues in 1967, after pointing out that three presidents had overseen the war’s expansion, he admits, with nearly unthinkable political honesty: “As one who was involved in those decisions, I can testify that if fault is to be found or responsibility assessed, there is enough to go around for all — including myself.” Clearly, Robert Kennedy was no ordinary politician.

On the evening of April 4, 1968 it fell to the presidential candidate to inform an African American crowd in Indianapolis of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Matthews rightly quotes Kennedy’s speech in full. It was a rare moment in American history — a son of privilege, vulnerable and raw, speaking softly, at times haltingly, of tragedy and hope to the grief-stricken African American community like no other white politician could. That night riots broke out in major cities across the United States, but not in Indianapolis.

As he barnstormed in key states during the extraordinary 82 days of his presidential run, the man who searched deep inside himself for his better angels called on the country to do the same. In the last days of the California primary campaign, frenzied crowds rushed Kennedy’s open car, grabbing for a piece of him. “You know, I feel now for the first time that I’ve shaken off the shadow of my brother,” Kennedy tells family confidant Ken O’Donnell by phone on the night of his California primary win.

Kennedy’s victory speech called for an end to violence and division before he turned from the podium towards the kitchen pantry. He was 42 years old. “Give sorrow words,” Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth. This Matthews has done.


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Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner

Paul M. Sammon
Dey Street Books ($16.99)

by Ryder W. Miller

Blade Runner, though not a cinematic blockbuster, ranks up there at with the very best of science fiction films. Credited with revolutionizing science fiction filmmaking and heavily influencing the cyberpunk subgenre, the film presents a post-nuclear world in a state of anarchy, a dystopian setting with pollution that has caused permanent night and a police division that can kill the artificial life humankind has created without a trial or consequence. Despite the dangerous pollution on earth—the opening scene of the film landscape was actually called “Hades”—people are stuck on the planet even though they would like to go to the stars.

Future Noir, originally published in 1996 and now in its third edition, does a great job of exploring the film in depth (or perhaps I should say “films”; there have been seven different versions due to studio demands at the time, and more recently a sequel). Though loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the film moves the story out of the Bay Area and cuts some of the novel’s major elements, namely a fictional religion called Mercerism and dystopian society’s use of live animals as status symbols. Most life is now dead because of DNA-destroying radiation. Androids, here called “replicants,” have been created to be “more human than human” but they lack empathy. “Blade runners” are supposed to eliminate them from the population.

There is really not a hero in the movie; this is a film about replicants who cannot fit in. Dick was not thrilled about the adaptation process, and he died before the film premiered, but he knew it would change science fiction. He has since received a “cinematic rebirth” of sorts; so many movies have been based on his books, with more coming—which is good since his books usually explore dark undercurrents in society and politics.

Future Noir, which runs almost 600 long pages and contains interviews with director Ridley Scott and some of the actors, is the bible concerning Blade Runner. For those who want to know about all the infighting and struggles of putting a film together, and what is sometimes lost and misunderstood in the process, journalist and film insider Paul M. Sammon has done a monumental service.


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Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2018 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2018