Bending Over the Page

I’ve learned much from looking at visual art with my brother, John. He approaches a painting in stages, often bending close in search of clues to technique invisible to me. I got to thinking about his interest in how the finished work does what it does while reading two volumes of poetry published this year: Martha Serpas’s Double Effect (Louisiana State University Press) and Claude Wilkinson’s World Without End (Slant).

Belladonna, Beautiful but Deadly: Q&A with Gilbert Allen

I guess you could say what I write is “non-creative fiction.” As the saying goes, you just can’t make this stuff up. If I lived in a different place, I’d probably see the world differently. But I’ve lived in South Carolina for almost all of my adult life, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

On The Sublime

Probably it should be said that On the Sublime was written anonymously since the very point that the person who wrote On the Sublime makes in the treatise On the Sublime is that authorship, in a sense, transcends authorship. Authorship is weird, the text says, and texts are weird.

Letter to L from Asheville

“The only person that I ever touch,” you write, “left town for a few weeks, and the city [L.A.] feels more threatening than ever…. There must be more to life than writing letters. Trying to describe with words what can only be communicated by touch.” That was in the 1980s, the last time we were in touch.

Writers and Characters: White and Black

Within Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha universe, making Dilsey the spiritual center, the concrete embodiment of Christian faith, was doubtlessly intended to be the exact opposite of a racist gesture. But is putting her on a pedestal actually a form of condescension?

Why I Memorize Poetry

The initial reason is that Miss Irene Ashley, my ninth and tenth grade English teacher, told me (and her other students) that we had to. Her assignments: A selection from Hiawatha in ninth grade (“By the shores of Gitchee Gumee…”) and from Idylls of the King in tenth (“And slowly answered Arthur from the barge…”)

Embracing Our Entanglements

Entanglement is a fascinating, mysterious, thing in physics. Entangled particles can be galaxies apart, yet they change each other’s states instantaneously, in spite of the fact that a signal between them might take millennia to arrive. You can think of entangled particles as those twins who simultaneously pick up the phone to call each other, if you can imagine the twins always picking up the phone at the same time.

Pandemic Poetry

Probably the best poet to write about her own experience of living with HIV was Tory Dent, who was diagnosed with AIDS at age 30 and died from it at age 47. In between, she published three poetry collections focused mainly on her illness. (One, HIV, Mon Amour, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.)

Human Chain

I was told to put clay in the bath, so I do: gray dirt, more like ash or silt, a dust-petticoated lump of it flung from the jar, soft and heavy as it spatters in the tub. I cough at the dust and leave the room to let the tap run and the air warm; I always leave the bath to fill the tub, like I always leave the kitchen to fry bacon—until one of the boys, always the same boy, calls me back just before the oil smokes.

Erasure as a Spiritual Practice

In her “Declaration,” Tracy K. Smith, former U. S. Poet Laureate, uncovers another declaration, a story that lives within, inseparable from, the Declaration of Independence. To tell that story, the story of enslaved people, clearly, forcefully, Smith erases words from the dominant story.

This is How You Will Heal the Wound

First, stop waiting for someone else to do it. If, one day, someone does come with the power to heal this monstrous gash, you’ll be asked what you did while you waited. You’ll be asked what you think your purpose here is. You’ll be asked who the hell you think you are.

The Necessity of Pruning

This seemingly endless summer, in the middle of this seemingly endless plague year of 2020, has given me at least one thing: It is the year I began to grow things in earnest. For years I’d annually buy a pot or two of herbs, or a sole tomato plant, and sometimes they’d grow and sometimes I’d forget and they’d just drown in dry dirt.

Techno-Calvinism, Cancel Culture, and the Future of the Novel

Like the printing press, the internet seems to have created an almost idolatrous relationship with the written word. There are, of course, exceptions, but the tenor of most online discourse today is literal-minded and judgmental, with more than a whiff of the Salem Witch trials about it.

Girolata Triptych

I don’t know if you can call it a religious painting. Probably you can’t. That’s to say, there is no explicit religious intent in the painting as far as I’m aware, and certainly no one looking at the painting is going to suddenly pick out Moses or anything. It is a painting of a few blobs of black and green and a few other colors that sort of zingle through the canvas here and there.

Troubled by Trollope?

I went on an Anthony Trollope binge last year. It still seems a guilty pleasure, an unexpected detour in my reading list. My literary tastes are more Elizabethan than Victorian, and Trollope’s novels are thick, juicy slices of Victorian sensibility.

Words We Count On: Where Do They Come From?

Have you ever wondered where we get the idea of “idea”? Or of “conscience” or “pity” or “create”? Or wondered when words like “terrorize” or “democrat” or “capital” entered English?

Cloning Ourselves: Q&A with Susanne Paola Antonetta

Entanglement is a wonderful mystery. My characters live in that wonderful mystery. I think we all feel like we’re entangled with many things, some of which we understand, some of which we don’t.

Which Way Is Freedom?

I’m looking back. I’m reading James Baldwin, his essay “Notes of a Native Son.” His father dies. On the same day, his father’s last child is born. A few days later, his father is buried. On the same day, Baldwin celebrates his 19th birthday. That night, a race riot breaks out in Harlem.

Dylan the Prophet, Part 2

The desire that is typical of Blues—from which Bob Dylan draws so much of the spirit of his music as well as actual phrases—is the same we find in the prophets. The Lord God is a jealous and often a jilted lover.