July 01, 2010



Great to see you back in the saddle my friend.

Cynthia Haven

While Merwin is undoubtedly one of the most beloved figures on the American poetry scene -- he's also an elderly recluse with health problems who lives on a remote location in Hawaii. He doesn't use email or even have a fax machine. And doesn't want to.

Is the "poet laureate" gig supposed to be an honorific that caps a successful career -- or do we really want someone who is going to champion poetry on the national scene? Isn't it a question that should be raised when the Library of Congress makes the pick?

James Ph. Kotsybar


To lure the Wren from his island hole
the Capitol imports its laurels to pay for
the “rusty mutterings” of the drab old bird
who perches with tail cocked straight up
to distinguish himself from the sparrows

“Promote poetry! Like Pinsky!”
some vaguely assert
not knowing themselves
how it’s done

"I can't keep popping
back and forth between here and Washington,"
declares the octogenarian
who can’t even be bothered with punctuation

Chirping and bowing he'll poop from his perch
fly home to walk his dog and write
about this metaphysical journey
proud to have fulfilled his mandate
settling back into Paradise indeed
content to count the calendar days
leaving the sparrows to their worms and seed

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."