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The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

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Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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Group Reads

The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

New Books
Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

New Books
See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
    In 2011 Andrew Gallix, in the Guardian, wrote a piece on unread difficult books, and mentioned “an anthology of blank books [edited by Michael Gibbs] entitled All Or Nothing,” and we can consider Blank as continuing that line. Kenneth Goldsmith’s prefatory essay “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?” in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (201 […]
  • The Ben Marcus Interview March 9, 2014
    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

New Poetry Wanted

Poetry Magazine calls for new poetry:

A new poetry becomes necessary not because we want one, but because the way poets have learned to write no longer captures the way things are, how things have changed. Reality outgrows the art form: the art form is no longer equal to the reality around it. The Georgian poets wrote, coming after a century of such writing, with the depleted sensibility of Romanticism. Their poetry was in love with an antebellum England: "yet / Stands the Church clock at ten to three? / And is there honey still for tea?" The Georgians did not sense the approach of WWI, and their poetry was unequal to the horrors of trench warfare. (To see how a Georgian sensibility did respond, read Rupert Brooke: "If I should die, think only this of me: / That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England." This is a beautiful poem, but one far afield from mustard gas.) It took Yeats to give British poetry its first great dose of twentieth-century realism. It took The Waste Land to enable a poetry of chaos.

The need for something new is evident. Contemporary poetry’s striking absence from the public dialogues of our day, from the high school classroom, from bookstores, and from mainstream media, is evidence of a people in whose mind poetry is missing and unmissed. You can count on the fingers of one hand the bookstores in this country that are known for their poetry collections. A century ago our newspapers commonly ran poems in their pages; fifty years ago the larger papers regularly reviewed new books of poetry. Today one almost never sees a poem in a newspaper; and the new poetry collections reviewed in the New York Times Book Review are down to a few a year. A general, interested public is poetry’s foremost need. . . .

In 1933 Ernest Hemingway went on his first safari, hunting big game in East Africa. Then he came home and wrote short stories ("The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"), the non-fiction Green Hills of Africa, and an unfinished novel, True at First Light. It is a commonplace among creative writers that we should write what we know, but Hemingway took that a step further by seeking out fresh experience in the service of his writing: ambulance driving in the Spanish civil war, marlin fishing off Cuba, running with the bulls in Pamplona. He sought to live more in order to write better. That’s not to say that one has to be chased around Pamplona by bulls to gain experience. It could be something as slight as the difference between the poem one might get from a poet strolling past a construction site versus the poem one might get from the poet who is pouring concrete. Either could produce the better poem, of course, but the latter’s will be more deeply informed by experience. "To change your language," as Derek Walcott says, "you must change your life."

But when did you last meet a contemporary poet who takes this approach, seeking out fresh experience or new knowledge specifically for the benefit of his or her poetry? I personally don’t know many who would think to cross the street, let alone do what Hemingway did, in the hopes of getting a poem out of it. Rather it is the unconscious habit of poets to wait for the poem to come to them. (In the words of a poet friend, "You don’t choose the poem, the poem chooses you.") Most contemporary poets align their role as writer with that of witness. (Mary Oliver: "I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. / I do know how to pay attention." Or William Matthews: "I plan to notice everything.") They think of the artist as one more acted upon than acting. This is not to say, of course, that great poetry cannot come out of the most meager repository of lived experience. (Think of Emily Dickinson: all those years of writing in a still house, in the grip of a constant intensity.) The point rather is that poets today don’t seem even to be aware that what they write will be influenced by how they live.

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  1. A Poetry Brou-Hah-Hah Here it is. In a scathing review that appeared in the April 3 issue of The New Republic, Helen Vendler, arguably the country’s most prominent...
  2. oy So the Brits are shooting poet Adrian Mitchell’s poem "Human Beings" off into space, just in case any aliens want to know what it’s like...
  3. Misreading Dan Green with a great post on critic Harold Bloom’s idea of how literature is created: "Misreading" (or "misprision," as Bloom would have it) is...
  4. We have sacrificed poetry to clarity Yeah. I imagine that’s not all that was sacrificed. Apparently, Canterbury cathedral ("the cradle and headquarters of British Christianity") thinks the Lord is a wee...
  5. The Avant-Garde In this analysis of the contemporary avant-garde, Josh from Cahiers de Corey is talking about poetry, but I think his sentiments are transferrable to novels....

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4 comments to New Poetry Wanted

  • Poetry magazine has been something else lately. Did you see Dan Chiasson’s review of eight notable modern poets in the issue? He liked exactly two of them, and said so remarkably bluntly and eloquently. Don’t see that kind of toughness in the newspapers.
    Regarding the above, Barr has a point. Poetry is for idealists, but today poetry is manned mostly by academics, who measure with exquisite precision, but rarely risk all. (There are some exceptions…I think of Kenneth Koch.) I’m glad Barr’s throwing down the challenge…

  • Dawn

    I write poetry if you would liek to read some let me know. TY

  • E-mail Contact: poetryman@walla.com or promomanusa@gmail.com
    The Lost American: From Exile to Freedom, rising star in Illinois poetry, Michael Lee Johnson, poet and freelance writer, is about one man’s journey into exile to Canada over the Vietnam War many years ago, his struggle, his survival, his road to recovery and strength manifesting itself through his prose, poems, and personal convictions. He lives in Chicago. He is heavily influenced by Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Irving Layton, and Leonard Cohen. The Lost American: From Exile to Freedom is now available for purchase at iUniverse Publishers: http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?isbn=0-595-46091-7 The ISBN # is: 0-595-46091-7.
    EBook also available at iUniverse at: http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?isbn=0-595-90391-6 The ISBN # IS: 0-595-90391-6
    His 1st chapbook of poems and his first paperback of poems are both available for purchase or download at Lulu.com. Visit his storefront at: http://stores.lulu.com/poetryboy  The Lost American: A Tender Touch & a Shade of Blue (Chapbook); The Lost American II: From Exile to Freedom (Paperback).
    His website can be found at: http://poetryman.mysite.com/.
    Mr. Michael Lee Johnson lives in Chicago, IL after spending 10 years in Edmonton, Alberta Canada during the Viet Nam era. He is a freelance writer and poet. He is heavy influenced by Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Irving Layton, and Leonard Cohen. 350 plus poems published. He is a member of Poets & Writers, Inc; Directory of American Poets & Fictions Writers: pw.org/directory. Recent publications: The Orange Room Review, Bolts of Silk, Chantarelle’s Notebook, The Foliate Oak Online Literary Magazine, Poetry Cemetery, Official Site of Laura Hird, The Centrifugal Eye, Adagio Verse Quarterly, Scorched Earth Publishing, Café Del Soul (The Cynic Online Magazine) and many others. Published in USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Nigeria, Fiji, Africa, India, United Kingdom. Mr. Johnson has a poetry paperback book published by iUniverse Publishers: http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?isbn=0-595-46091-7

  • Calif_Dreamer

    I just wanted to say that what you say here is so true. Now days, things are so different, and one can find a poem in the smallest things. Watching the wave upon a beach, the sky as clouds roll by….I know as I have wrote a lot of poems of such things, but most of the time it is about love and romance, and hurt also.
    I hope to be getting more info from you soon.

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