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    More of this, please: Ilya Kaminsky writes a poetic response to Giacometti.

    Janet Manley

    September 22, 2023, 10:18am

    No one would ever define them that way, but poems are little sculptures, are they not? Words chipped off and white space punched into them until the look matches the textual intent. The National Gallery of Art perhaps agrees with me, having invited some big guns of the poetry world to respond to pieces of its artwork in a project you can view at their website as part of the “Poetry is a Country” festival. (There will be a symposium on September 23, for the D.C. locals.)

    U.S. poet laureate Ada Limón is on the roster, as is 2021 Macarthur Fellow Hanif Abdurraqib, Ojibwe poet Heid E. Erdrich, Victoria Chang, Naomi Shihab Nye, Teri Ellen Cross Davis, Jorie Graham, and Jason Reynolds. If you’re an Edouard Vuillard fan or a Max Beckman buff, you will enjoy!

    The standout for this particular observer was Ukrainian-American poet Ilya Kaminsky’s response to Walking Man II, a bronze sculpture—a soul “unbandaged” and well-punched bus ticket—made by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966). What a nice complement the poem makes! I now want to lay down in the gallery and ponder our short and sharp existence.

    Have a peek at Kaminsky’s contribution to the project here:

    Alberto Giacometti, Walking Man II, 1960, bronze, Gift of Enid A. Haupt, 1977.47.7

    Alberto Giacometti, Walking Man II, 1960, bronze, Gift of Enid A. Haupt, 1977.47.7

    A Walking Man

    Ilya Kaminsky

    Giacometti is not working for his contemporaries, nor for the future generations: he is creating statues to delight the dead.” –Jean Genet

    Perhaps you too, upon seeing Giacometti’s “Walking Man,”
    will run from the National Gallery of Art hollering
    into the Potomac, will strip
    off your shirt—
    as you splash, the gulls will
    toss your pants back and forth
    making a game
    of what cannot
    be eaten.

    Perhaps you too have an enormous, impolite need to drink with the long-legged statue, but no
    beverages are allowed in the gallery & even Giacometti’s
    “Walking Man” is afraid of the guard & wishes
    him bird droppings in his hair.

    Between the flashes of tourist cameras, I
    see it: Giacometti’s “Walking Man” is
    a political

    A public lecture
    on how people’s
    souls are unbandaged and how
    we will die of them.

    The air is raw with joy.
    Sit, heart, rest
    from the soul’s south-west
    Why so much life?
    I don’t know what to do with less!

    I have given up all I have
    to the giver of bread and breath.

    Outside, Washington DC
    is a theater where police vans play the role of police vans
    and senators pretend to be senators
    a taxi makes a city more a city
    and boys still don’t read except for what is written on women’s t-shirts.

    At 10 am, the gallery opens and you zigzag between
    our nation’s most important people parading between important
    paintings. Someone’s
    camera flashes—
    a politician
    hurries by as if he were
    Giacometti’s “Walking Man”
    but he looks more like a well punched
    bus ticket.

    Why so much life?
    I don’t know what to do with less
    I have given up all I have.

    When I die,
    find me at the National Gallery of Art
    I’ll be flat on the floor
    in front of Giacometti’s “Walking Man”
    a little flask of lemon vodka in my pocket
    I want the last joy of putting my cheek
    to the stone floor
    of whispering
    you in whom I do not believe, hello.

    Pauls all the way down: Here’s the 2023 Booker Prize shortlist.

    Emily Temple

    September 21, 2023, 3:45pm

    The era of the Jonathans may be over, but could we be embarking on the age of the Pauls? Today, the Booker Prizes announced their 2023 shortlist, a full 50% of which was written by people named Paul. On the other hand, only one British writer, Chetna Maroo, and only two women, Maroo and Sarah Bernstein, made the list.

    Here’s the shortlist:

    Sarah Bernstein, Study for Obedience
    Jonathan Escoffery, If I Survive You
    Paul Harding, This Other Eden
    Paul Lynch, Prophet Song
    Chetna Maroo, Western Lane
    Paul Murray, The Bee Sting

    This year’s judges are novelist Esi Edugyan (chair); actor, writer and director Adjoa Andoh; poet, lecturer, editor and critic Mary Jean Chan; Professor James Shapiro; and actor and writer Robert Webb. The winner of the £50,000 prize will be announced November 26, 2023.

    Read a 1962 review of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

    Dan Sheehan

    September 21, 2023, 1:56pm

    Shirley Jackson’s macabre tale of sororal love and murder, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, was first published sixty-one years ago today.

    The story of eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood, who lives with her agoraphobic sister and ailing uncle on a large estate, six years after the sisters’ parents, brother, and aunt died after being poisoned with arsenic at the dinner table.

    Here’s a look back at one of its very first reviews of the book widely regarded as Jackson’s masterpiece.


    “I can’t help it when people are frightened,” says Merricat. “I always want to frighten them more.”


    “Citing this novel’s rough resemblance to the spooky cartoons of Charles Adams or the play Arsenic and Old Lace doesn’t take into account the author’s subtle literary art, her capacity to induce a slow chill as well as a bemused enjoyment of the craft by which she builds a private and frightening world.

    It should be understood that Miss Jackson doesn’t write the standard horror story, and that her concern with character and the kind of events it reacts to are what give her stories their unique quality. This one finds her in full command of a tender and gruesome chronicle, all entirely credible with no tricks or leg-pulling.

    Not until a number of pages into the story does the reader fully realize that the narrator is demented, an 18-year old girl who has lost contact with realities and who lives, thinks and acts under the influence of childish superstitions and omens. Not till toward the end does her role in the murder of most of her family become clear.

    “The family, a wealth and eccentric one, had lived in proud and secluded splendor in a big old house on the hill, and one day, at dinner, they sprinkled sugar on their fruit and immediately died. Arsenic had been mixed with the sugar. The survivors were but three, the 18-year-old narrator, her older, protective sister (later acquitted of a charge of murder) and a dotty uncle whose full-time hobby was gathering research on the murder and the trial that followed it.

    This macabre situation sets in motion the story as told by the gentle and rabbit-like Mary Katherine who buries dolls in the ground to ward of evil, is emotionally upset by visitors to the house, and is scared of the villagers who hate the family and its aloof isolation.

    We Have Always Lived in the Castle

    “On to the scene comes a cousin, a predatory young man who sniffs concealed wealth, and with his arrival begins a series of minor and major disasters that all but wreck the hermetic security of the two sisters.

    Yet at the end, the older sister says ‘I am so happy,’ and the pathetically daffy Mary Katherine replies, ‘I told you that you would like it on the moon.’

    Innocence here survives all misfortune, and finally it is the wrongdoing villagers, not the sisters, who are afraid.”

    –John K. Sherman, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 14, 1962

    Here’s the shortlist for the 2023 Dos Passos prize.

    Literary Hub

    September 21, 2023, 1:03pm

    This week, Longwood University announced the finalists for the 2023 John Dos Passos Prize, which is the oldest literary award given by a Virginia college or university, and which honors “one of America’s most talented but underappreciated writers…whose work offers incisive, original commentary on American themes.” Previous recipients of the Dos Passos Prize include Maxine Hong Kingston (1998), Colson Whitehead (2012), Ruth Ozeki (2014), Paul Beatty (2015), Karen Tei Yamashita (2018), Rabih Alameddine (2019) and Monique Truong (2021).

    The finalists for this year’s prize are:

    Achy Obejas, author of Days of Awe (2001); Ruins (2009); The Tower of the Antilles (2017)
    Brandon Hobson, author of Deep Ellum (2014); Where the Dead Sit Talking (2018); The Removed (2021)
    Patricia Engel, author of The Veins of the Ocean (2016); Infinite Country (2021); The Faraway World (2023)
    Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, author of A Kind of Freedom (2017); The Revisioners (2019); On the Rooftop (2022)

    “The works of these finalists engage motifs central to American life—identity, conflict, authority, the legacy of the past and the present—in ways that challenge conventions of form and reimagine what is possible in fiction,” said Dr. John Miller, associate professor of early American literature in the English department at Longwood and chair of the selection jury, in a press release.

    The winner will be announced in October.

    Exclusive: See the cover for Amy Lin’s Here After.

    Literary Hub

    September 20, 2023, 10:00am

    Literary Hub is pleased to reveal the cover for Amy Lin’s debut memoir Here After, which will be published by Zibby Books in March. Here’s a bit more about the book from the publisher:

    Here After is an intimate story of deep love followed by dizzying loss; a stunning, taut memoir from debut author Amy Lin so finely etched and powerful that it will alter readers’ hearts.

    “When he dies, I fall out of time.”

    Amy Lin never expected to find a love like the one she shares with her husband, Kurtis, a gifted young architect who pulls her toward joy, adventure, and greater self-acceptance. But on a sweltering August morning, only a few months shy of the newlyweds’ move to Vancouver, thirty-two-year-old Kurtis heads out to run a half-marathon with Amy’s family. It is the last time she sees her husband alive.

    Ten days after this seismic loss, Amy is in the hospital, navigating her own shocking medical crisis and making life-or-death decisions about her treatment.

    What follows is a rich and unflinchingly honest accounting of her life with Kurtis, the vortex created by his death, and the ongoing struggle Amy faces as she attempts to understand her own experience in the context of commonly held “truths” about what the grieving process looks like.

    Here After is a love story and a meditation on the ways in which Kurtis’ death shatters any set ideas Amy ever held about grief, strength, and memory. Its power will last with you long after the final page.

    And here’s the cover, which was designed by Anna Morrison:

    amy lin here after

    “Our only time is the body,” Lin told Lit Hub.

    I learn this twice: first, when my husband Kurtis suddenly dies, and then, when I almost die, ten days after Kurtis’ death. His body ending, my body stuttering, the seemingly limitless pain of all of it, this is what Here After reckons with. It is a book as tender as it is raw, as natural as it is unnatural, as gripping as it is disorienting. As such, I envisioned a cover that was organic in shape, striking in colour, and commanding in presence; a cover that reflects the intensity, longing, and fragmentation so inherent to my grief.

    I was most pleased to have Anna Morrison on board with this project as I have admired her work for some time. She has created a cover that elegantly realizes my hopes. In Anna’s cover, we feel first the sensation of it: there is the intensity of the red, as well as the red’s sharp contrast with the blue, all beautifully reflective of grief as a landscape of extremity: the heat of pain, the blues of loss. Then, the body: two of them, both stretching in a gesture of longing that is forever fixed—each diver is just beyond the other, him ever falling away into the realm of the beyond, her ever held to the realm of reaching.

    I also really admire the ways in which Anna shows, in the different shading of the divers, how grief collides with life, with death, with memory—each touches the other in a way that leaves traces. This collision is, of course, an imperfect process, subtly shown by the softly misshapen circles. Finally, in Anna’s tilting of ‘a memoir,’ I find a fitting gesture to the ways in which grief-memory is always bent by its own making: the pain that renders memoir possible is also the very thing that ensures it is impossible to perfectly capture.”

    “Creating the cover for Here After was very much a collaborative project between the author, myself and Zibby Books,” Morrison added. “Amy’s memoir is extremely personal and moving so it felt very important to have her on board within the design process. I loved Amy’s suggestion of using diving bodies (I had gone for a more abstract approach initially). We played around with the interaction between the divers, we wanted them to have a feel of reaching towards each other to give that sense of longing and grace.”

    Here After will be published by Zibby Books on March 5, 2024. You can preorder it here.