Commonplace Book: “Life Raised to a Higher Power”

Two essays on modern German-language literature caught my attention recently. First, a piece from 2017—which I saw linked somewhere as "timely" on social media—in The New Criterion by Jeffrey Meyers on illness in the life of Franz Kafka and the work of Thomas Mann. Meyers claims that Kafka might have been a character in The … Continue reading Commonplace Book: “Life Raised to a Higher Power”

Commonplace Book in a Time of Plague

Some august world body said not to say "plague," but surely literary people have a dispensation? How far this dispensation extends we will discuss below. Right now, I reintroduce a poem I wrote and posted to this website in the fall of 2014. I was writing a lot of poetry then: I had been hired … Continue reading Commonplace Book in a Time of Plague

Clive James, Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts

Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts by Clive James My rating: 3 of 5 stars Is it possible to ask, without sounding like a morbid troublemaker, why the death of Clive James last November was not greeted with the outpouring of vituperation that marked Harold Bloom's demise the month before? Granted, Bloom … Continue reading Clive James, Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts

Les Murray, The Vernacular Republic

The Vernacular Republic by Les Murray My rating: 4 of 5 stars I started reading Les Murray almost by accident five years ago. I was in my adjunct peregrinations asked to teach a poetry-writing class at the last minute—though fiction is my preferred form—and self-consciously started to read more verse. Murray, meanwhile, was a favorite … Continue reading Les Murray, The Vernacular Republic

William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare My rating: 3 of 5 stars Like many modern readers and viewers, I am not shocked or outraged but rather fascinated by Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare's earliest tragedy and most notorious play. Wikipedia assembles a good collection of critical sputtering at this revenge drama's sensationalist logic of rape, mutilation and murder, … Continue reading William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus

Elizabeth Bishop, Questions of Travel

Questions of Travel by Elizabeth Bishop My rating: 5 of 5 stars Elizabeth Bishop went to Brazil in 1951 and stayed for 15 years, living with her lover, Lota de Macedo Soares. The first half of this 1965 volume of poetry, her third, variously documents this extended sojourn: titled "Brazil," it includes not only lyrics … Continue reading Elizabeth Bishop, Questions of Travel

Robert Lowell, For the Union Dead

For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell My rating: 3 of 5 stars The tag next to Robert Lowell's corpus in the museum of literary history designates him the most influential American poet of the 20th century's second half—less the founder of a school (Confessional Poetry) than an author the gravity of whose work legitimated … Continue reading Robert Lowell, For the Union Dead

Juliana Spahr, Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment

Du Bois's Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment by Juliana Spahr The first thing to be said about this book is that it is brave. Poet and critic Juliana Spahr does not make her startling argument in general, nor does she make it in unreadably dense jargon that could only be followed by academic insiders. … Continue reading Juliana Spahr, Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment

William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

Love's Labor's Lost by William Shakespeare My rating: 4 of 5 stars This early Shakespearean comedy, dating from the 1590s, is paradoxically slight but weighty, thin but dense. That's no doubt partially owing to the lavish verbal resources it spends on such a simple plot. The story it tells is this: the King of Navarre … Continue reading William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe My rating: 5 of 5 stars Goethe's Faust, including Part One and Part Two, was written over the entire course of the author's adult life, begun when he was in his twenties and finished when he was in his eighties, at the threshold of death. Many dates can be … Continue reading Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust