When it comes to writers’ lives, what remains is fragmentary and incomplete. In her 1963 novel The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s protagonist Esther Greenwood refers to such remnants as “the tatty wreckage of my life.” The image of Plath in popular culture is linked to her poetry, but often emphasizes her suicide. Red Comet addresses these assumptions as it sheds new light on Plath’s cultural moment and relevance today. Any biography must confront the fact of an incomplete archive.
“Still Able to Make Sounds”: American Poetry on Record
This column for Process is about poetry that tries to make sense of sharing time together as it passes. For that I turn to John Ashbery, about whom I have never been willing or able to write, except in a very brief and unsatisfying conclusion to my first book. I live with several of Ashbery’s poems ricocheting around in my consciousness, along with stray lines by Herbert, Dickinson, McKay, and Rich. The idea of writing something about his poetry is particularly daunting because it carries a lot of emotional weight. More than anything else, the name Ashbery calls to mind the people who shaped and continue to shape what I know or feel about poetry. So when I think about Ashbery, the situation in which I think about his poetry is, almost automatically, a social one.
Rain in Lisbon often made me think of notation, of glyphs and dashes inscribing a page |/. I know this sounds too romantic, too neat, particularly for a rain that would often fall in unruly sheets, dislodging cobbles, stripping trees, and running thick with dirt and debris. There was something in the geometry of its fall, however, oblique strokes driven by Atlantic winds that would swing in an arc of directions, backlit by the amber lamplight. Each long strip of water was visible, and, in the labored rate of its fall, traceable.
The beginning stanzas of Winnemem Wintu journalist and poet Alfred C. Gillis’s “To the Wenem Mame River” have many of the conventional features of a romantic lyric. A solitary, wandering speaker walks along the banks of a river and lyricizes the natural landscape around her. The speaker hears the “river’s roar” and watches “[its] raging waters plunge and sleep.” She surveys the land’s “ancient mountains” as they rise and “point their columns to the skies” (“To the Wenem Mame River”). In its conventionality, “To the Wenem Mame River” resembles many other lyric poems about rivers and certainly draws on a long Anglo-American tradition of river odes.
“Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness?” wrote Martin Luther King, Jr., in words that resonate unexpectedly with the work of another noted twentieth-century Christian, T. S.
One of the frustrating things about academic writing is the categories set by the institution. These categories slice through histories to abstract people, epochs, and bodies of knowledge from their context and settle them deep into the belly of the institution to be studied as phenomena without cause or provenance.
The history of Iranian modernism is inseparable from the history of literary translation. In most accounts of Iranian literary history, the translation of European literary works played a formative role in the redefinition of poetic discourse as well as in the introduction of new literary genres, such as the short story and the novel, to modern Persian literature. In his landmark study of Iranian literary modernism, Mohammad Reza Shafiʿi-Kadkani rejects the ascription of originality to Iranian modernism.
In twenty-first century poetry about the millennial wars in Iraq, the deities and heroes of ancient Mesopotamia are congregating. Dunya Mikhail’s “Inanna” imagines the eponymous Sumerian goddess decrying the sight of “antiquities / scattered / and broken / in the museum.”