Seasonal Affective Disorder: Winter in Wallace Stevens’s “Farewell to Florida”

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Having consoled myself in damp pubs in London, creaked across frozen lakes in the deep freeze of Minnesota, and coughed my way through Philadelphian afternoons that could never decide between rain or sleet, I can tell you: there are many different kinds of cold. It’s something Wallace Stevens knew well. His poem, “The Snow Man,” is probably the most famous winter poem in modern poetry, laying before us a “distant glitter” and, within it, the full presence of winter’s unique nothingness. It’s a philosophically acute poem, five even tercets laid on the “same bare place” of Stevens’s singular thought. Many believe it captures winter in its absolute essence.

But Stevens wrote about winter in many exceptional poems. Today I want to talk about a quite different winter piece (really a seasonal/climate comparison), the opening poem of Ideas of Order, “Farewell to Florida.” It is far more expansive; it eschews austerity for something richer. It’s Stevens in a more playful mode, five sections of ten-line stanzas with a relatively straightforward conceit: leaving Key West and heading back to a wintry north. . .

Read the feature at Michigan Quarterly Review

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Literary Promises: A Look at Last Year’s Books as a List of New Year’s Resolutions

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My year was rich, and I hope yours was, too. It was full of joys and frustrations, thrombosis and the evenest sleeps, massive blizzards with fragmenting winds, rains that blurred the boundaries between body and air, and the exasperations of humidity rising off the tennis courts in the park near my home. I listened to the otherworldlygargling calls of ‘ua’u in the young but stelliferous dark of Haleakala, let the shutter out on my Nikon to see those same stars in the sapphire depth of Wisconsin’s skies, and I spent an inordinate amount of time staring out at the Chicago river from the exhibit hall in the Sheraton Grand Chicago, where I also learned how to sell books on the run. I learned how to make kimchi and that my brother-in-law knows how to replace rotors and brakes. I went to California twice.

Read the feature at Michigan Quarterly Review

Affable Beasts: An Interview with Michael Thomas Taren on Tomaž Šalamun

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It is a thrilling thing, for many of us, to consider a new book by Tomaž Šalamun. Now, nearly an exact year after Šalamun’s death, we have Justice, the first posthumous work. It is Šalamun at his very best, full of energy, always after different approaches, exploding his vision into a celestial pantheon of different realities. A few months ago in these pages I shared some thoughts, and, especially, favorite lines of Šalamun’s past works. This month I had the pleasure of chatting with Šalamun’s translator and collaborator, poet Michael Thomas Taren, about this first posthumous collection, working with Šalamun, and the unique endeavor of translation as a creative enterprise. His effervescent illuminations offer the perfect precursor to the new poems, available soon from Black Ocean.

Read the interview at Michigan Quarterly Review

Bent Beneath the Low Heavens: An Interview with Dan Rosenberg

DanRosenbergDan Rosenberg is a deeply curious poet, experimental, playful, always pushing after new forms and approaches. It’s evident in the books he has published, each of which expresses new talents, from the image-and-voice-driven pieces of The Crushing Organto the tight and angular poems of cadabra to the exuberant sublimity of his latest chapbook, Thigh’s Hollow, which has just come out from Omnidawn. His successes with reinvention give any poet exhausted with “finding one’s voice” a refreshing new outlook: the voice is always right in front of you, part of whatever project you are pursuing.

He is a generous poet and a great conversationalist, and we had a chance for a quick couple of exchanges that got right to it, ranging from Eliot to Wittgenstein, from Nintendo to the Song of Solomon.

Read the interview at Michigan Quarterly Review.

A Field Guide to the Yi-Fen Chou Case and Identity Politics in the Arts

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I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s this guy running around claiming to be Chinese, and he happens to write poetry, and, right, he’s not Chinese. Also, it worked. This guy, Michael Derrick Hudson, writing under the pseudonym Yi-Fen Chou, now has himself a Best American Poetry badge. He’s an imposter, a charlatan, appropriating ethnicity as a tactic for getting an accolade, or maybe as an activist performance to highlight the injustices of reverse racism. A lot of people have been talking about it, passionately, personally, with anger and frustration, laying out an arsenal of theories and logics to establish or reinforce what we might call the proper ethics of artistic identity, of identity politics and the right to voice.

At this late hour in the news cycle of the Yi-Fen Chou debacle there has been enough conversation to offer a fairly coherent set of coordinates that map the proprieties of ethnic and racial identity in contemporary American poetry, in the immediate, and in American culture more broadly construed. If you want the news, you can read what Jennifer Schuessler has to report at the New York Times. If you want to hear it straight from the editor—Sherman Alexie—who has been wringing his hands over the affair, you can read his extraordinarily thoughtful response at the BAP blog. If you want a roundup of the conversation, the Poetry Foundation has it for you.

What follows here is a rough and succinct guide to the central issues that constitute this story, the ways we think about who we are and whether we can pretend to be someone else. A nota bene—you will no doubt notice my name as an Asian one. I have many personal feelings on this matter, but for the most part my aim is simply to break down the dialogue into the most meaningful and illuminating categories that I can.

So let’s get on with it. . . .

Read the guide at Michigan Quarterly Review

Tomaž Šalamun: A Love List of Lines

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Since Tomaž Šalamun’s death at the end of last year, I have been living with his poetry, walking around with it, running my hands back and forth across its lines, coming to find in its voice a friend, even though I never took a class with him, never spoke a word to him, and hardly even know about his life.

He is the kind of poet who has this effect. Many tributes were erected when he passed. . . .

I cannot offer here what others already have, but I can follow in Merrill’s footsteps and say that for a poet of such breadth, of such aggressive exploration, experimentation, absurdism—for a poet who will always surprise, and often haunt with dark themes—he is also one who leaves me feeling deeply welcomed. His intellect is warmed through with spirit and good will, a sense that kindness is the most important of all, because it can endure.

Šalamun leaves us the most incredible gift—many collections yet to be translated into English. I look forward to the first of these, Justice, due in October from Black Ocean.

In the meantime, I want to offer, as humbly as I can, this love list of lines, moments (all drawn from The Four Questions of Melancholy, which spans his work from 1966–1995) that have been with me these past nine months. . .

Read the feature at Michigan Quarterly Review

What is Inside?: An Interview with Carrie Olivia Adams

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Carrie Olivia Adams is a poet as much of the line as what’s in-between them, and her newest book, Operating Theater, is no exception. A haunting drama of the liminality of the body, this dialogue-driven play-poem asks over and over one profound question:what is inside? Steeped in Victorian surgical manuals and medical X-rays, the voices here explore the tension between the mind and the body, between subject and other, asking how we can know, and from knowing, live together, in a house, or in a city.

I had a chance to ask Carrie a few questions about this book (and film her reading from a brief section). . .

Read the interview at Michigan Quarterly Review