The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar: Essays on Poets and Poetry by Helen Vendler
The Collected Poems of James Laughlin edited with an introduction and notes by Peter Glassgold
The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon
Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart
Year Zero: A History of 1945 by Ian Buruma
Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kiš by Mark Thompson
The Attic translated from the Serbian and with an introduction by John K. Cox
Psalm 44 translated from the Serbian with an afterword by John K. Cox, and with a preface by Aleksandar Hemon
Garden, Ashes translated from the Serbian by William J. Hannaher, with an introduction by Aleksandar Hemon
Early Sorrows translated from the Serbian by Michael Henry Heim
Hourglass translated from the Serbian by Ralph Manheim
A Tomb for Boris Davidovich translated from the Serbian by Duška Mikić-Mitchell, with an introduction by Joseph Brodsky and an afterword by William T. Vollmann
The Encyclopedia of the Dead translated from the Serbian by Michael Henry Heim
The Lute and the Scars translated from the Serbian with an afterword by John K. Cox, and with a preface by Adam Thirlwell
Saul Steinberg: A Biography by Deirdre Bair
We Others: New and Selected Stories by Steven Millhauser
Sobbing Superpower: Selected Poems by Tadeusz Różewicz, translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak, with a foreword by Edward Hirsch
Here by Wisława Szymborska, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak
Unseen Hand by Adam Zagajewski, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh
The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
The Box: Tales from the Darkroom by Günter Grass, translated from the German by Krishna Winston
Searching for Cioran by Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston, edited by Kenneth R. Johnston, with a foreword by Matei Calinescu
On the Heights of Despair by E.M. Cioran, translated from the Romanian and with an introduction by Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston
Tears and Saints by E.M. Cioran, translated from the Romanian and with an introduction by Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston
Ninety-Fifth Street by John Koethe
Versed by Rae Armantrout
Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty by Tony Hoagland
Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War by Mark Danner
The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker
1941: Godina koja se vraća [1941: The Year That Keeps Returning] by Slavko Goldstein
Like Eating a Stone: Surviving the Past in Bosnia by Wojciech Tochman, translated from the Polishby Antonia Lloyd-Jone
Madame Prosecutor: Confrontations with Humanity’s Worst Criminals and the Culture of Impunity by Carla Del Ponte with Chuck Sudetic
Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know by Tim Judah
How to Be Perfect by Ron Padgett
Messenger: New and Selected Poems, 1976–2006 by Ellen Bryant Voigt
Indignation by Philip Roth
Time and Materials: Poems 1997–2005 by Robert Hass
Tamburlaine a play by Christopher Marlowe, adapted and directed by Michael Kahn, produced by the Shakespeare Theatre Company
Edward II a play by Christopher Marlowe, directed by Gale Edwards, produced by the Shakespeare Theatre Company
Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Poet’s Life by Scott Donaldson
Edwin Arlington Robinson: Poems selected and edited by Scott Donaldson
The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945–1975 by Robert Creeley
The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1975–2005 by Robert Creeley
The Collected Poems, 1956–1998 by Zbigniew Herbert, edited and translated from the Polish by Alissa Valles, with additional translations by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott and an introduction by Adam Zagajewski
The Curved Planks by Yves Bonnefoy, translated from the French by Hoyt Rogers, with a foreword by Richard Howard
White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems, 1946–2006 by Donald Hall, with a CD of poems read by the author
The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn
Dada: Zurich, Berlin, Hannover, Cologne, New York, Paris Catalog of the exhibition by Leah Dickerman, with essays by Brigid Doherty, Dorothea Dietrich, Sabine T. Kriebel, Michael R. Taylor, Janine Mileaf, and Matthew S. Witkovsky
Averno by Louise Glück
Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments by Elizabeth Bishop, edited and annotated by Alice Quinn
Beyond the Visible: The Art of Odilon Redon by Jodi Hauptman, with essays by Marina van Zuylen and Starr Figura
Polish Memories by Witold Gombrowicz, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston
Bacacay by Witold Gombrowicz, translated from the Polishby Bill Johnston
Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz, translated from the Polishby Danuta Borchardt, with a foreword by Susan Sontag
Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz, translated from the Polish by Danuta Borchardt
A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes by Witold Gombrowicz, translated from the Polish by Benjamin Ivry
The World of Witold Gombrowicz,1904–1969 by Vincent Girond
Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera by Anne Carson
Glass, Irony and God by Anne Carson
Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson
Men in the Off Hours by Anne Carson
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos by Anne Carson
Plainwater: Essays and Poetry by Anne Carson
Campo Santo by W.G. Sebald, translated from the German by Anthea Bell
Unrecounted by W.G. Sebald, translated from the German by Michael Hamburger, with lithographs by Jan Peter Tripp
Collected Poems, 1943–2004 by Richard Wilbur
Collected Poems by Donald Justice
The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov edited by Robert J. Bertholf and Albert Gelpi
How to Quiet a Vampire by Borislav Pekiå«c, translated from the Serbian by Stephen M. Dickey and Bogdan Rakic
Departure by Rosanna Warren
The Strange Hours Travelers Keep by August Kleinzahler
The Singing by C.K. Williams
Poems and Translations by Ezra Pound, edited by Richard Sieburth
The Pisan Cantos by Ezra Pound, edited by Richard Sieburth
The Hooligan’s Return by Norman Manea, translated from the Romanian by Angela Jianu
The Poetry of Pablo Neruda edited and with an introduction by Ilan Stavans
Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag
On the Natural History of Destruction by W.G. Sebald, translated from the German by Anthea Bell
Earthly Signs: Moscow Diaries, 1917–1922 by Marina Tsvetaeva, edited, translated, and with an introduction by Jamey Gambrell
Milestones by Marina Tsvetaeva, translated and with an introduction by Robin Kemball
Sun Out: Selected Poems, 1952–1954 by Kenneth Koch
A Possible World by Kenneth Koch
Joseph Cornell: Master of Dreams by Diane Waldman
American Sonnets by Gerald Stern
Swan Electric by April Bernard
A Short History of the Shadow by Charles Wright
Without End: New and Selected Poems by Adam Zagajewski,translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh, Renata Gorczynski, Benjamin Ivry, and C.K. Williams
Another Beauty by Adam Zagajewski,translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh
The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers edited by Tim Hunt
Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins
Memoir of the Hawk: Poems by James Tate
New and Collected Poems, 1931–2001 by Czeslaw Milosz
To Begin Where I Am: Selected Essays by Czeslaw Milosz, edited and with an introduction by Bogdana Carpenter and Madeline G. Levine
Literature and the Gods by Roberto Calasso, translated from the Italian by Tim Parks
The Strength of Poetry by James Fenton
Bellow, A Biography James Atlas
Collected Poems James Merrill, edited by J.D. McClatchy and Stephen Yenser
Familiar Spirits Alison Lurie
The Diagnosis by Alan Lightman
Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman
Good Benito by Alan Lightman
Dance for Two by Alan Lightman
Your Name Here by John Ashbery
Other Traditions the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures and John Ashbery
Collected Poems in English by Joseph Brodsky, edited by Ann Kjellberg
The Weather of Words: Poetic Invention by Mark Strand
Blizzard of One by Mark Strand
Chicken, Shadow, Moon & more by Mark Strand
Milosevic: Portrait of a Tyrant by Dusko Doder and Louise Branson
This summer I read Charles Reznikoff’s long poem Testimony: The United States (1885-1915): Recitative for the first time. I know of nothing like it in literature.
Following Ornette Coleman’s death, Charles Simic spoke to his brother Milan Simich, who has produced concerts and recordings for more than twenty-five years, about the avant-garde jazz scene in New York’s East Village that gave rise to that music.
I’ve felt at home in cities as diverse and foreign to me as Barcelona, Krakow, Mexico City, and Sarajevo. All I need is a street full of people and I’m happy.
One of the compensations of being an insomniac in a snowbound house full of books is that I can always find something to read and distract myself from whatever mood I’m in.
President Obama’s new request for war authorization to fight ISIS over the next three years with further airstrikes and “limited” combat operations may make our wars legal, but no less foolish.
We were just a couple of short-order cooks who kept trying to pass themselves off as poets.
It’s never been such a good time to be a crook. In what other country of laws does one enjoy so much freedom to defraud one’s government and fellow citizens without having to worry about cops showing at the door?
“Learn Barbering and make Money,” the sign said. Blind as I am without my glasses, the apprentice barber had cut off half of my hair with electric clippers, leaving just a tuft in front, before I realized what was happening to my head.
The improved quantity and quality of the wines that are being drunk in New Hampshire have become obvious over the years. Since I associate wine with good life and civilization, knowing that everyone from the old Greek and Romans to our Founding Fathers drank it too, Benjamin Franklin even claiming that wine is a proof that God loves us, I find this to be a most felicitous development.
The world is going to hell in a hurry. At my age, I ought to be used to it, but I’m not.
I haven’t done a thing in three weeks except watch soccer.
Two poets, Russell Edson and Bill Knott, both of whom I was friendly with and whose poetry was very important to me, died this spring, each one leaving behind many original and memorable poems and many devoted readers, despite keeping their distance from our literary scene.
The biggest and the most illustrious gathering of poets I have ever attended took place in June of 1968 at Stony Brook.
There are few things that never change in this world of ours, but one of them happens to be the near certainty that those who raise their voices against injustice get betrayed in the end.
There is nothing more mysterious and wonderful than the way in which some bit of language remains fresh in our memory when so many other things we were at one time interested in are forgotten.
Cold December night. A homeless woman cowering in a doorway on East 3rd Street in New York talking to God—and He, tongue-tied as usual.
It dawned on me recently that every song, movie, and TV show that ever made an impression on me is available on YouTube.
“Doesn’t he look like Gurdjieff to you?” he asked, pointing at my father. I had to agree that there was a strong resemblance.
The concerted effort backed by some of the richest men in this country to deprive poor Americans of the chance to get health insurance may be without precedent for sheer malice.
I don’t know how other poets imagine their muses, but mine is an Italian cookbook.
Used-book stores are disappearing in our day at an even greater rate than regular book stores. What made these stores attractive to someone like me is that they were more indiscriminate and chaotic than public libraries and thus made browsing more of an adventure.
Are rocking chairs in this country, I’m asking myself, being rocked on summer evenings as much as they once were? Or do they stand abandoned and motionless on dark porches across the land, now that their elderly owners tend to relieve their boredom by sitting in front of their computers?
Of course, I never really believed it would happen. Grow old, I mean.
Following on the premise that the more guns a person owns, the safer he and his family are going to be, the nation Wayne LaPierre and his supporters envision is one in which law enforcement would be supplanted by vigilantes in our communities.
After my first book of poetry came out in 1967, I started getting calls and letters from schools around the country inviting me to come and read. If the money being offered was acceptable, I’d say yes. I have now after all these years given readings in nearly every state of the continental United States.
Drug companies, medical device makers, hospitals, and labs are assured of profit; it just depends how big. And that’s really what all those who want to take the government out of healthcare are screaming about.
I recall rainy afternoons with nothing to occupy me in the office but some photograph by Dorothea Lange, Paul Caponigro, Jerry Uelsmann, or by a complete unknown that I couldn’t stop looking at, because it seemed to grow more beautiful and more mysterious the longer I kept looking.
In a lifetime of unexceptional and forgettable dreams, a few stand out.
On my walk this afternoon, I saw a store window full of manicurists at work, a green grocer on a sidewalk watering his tomatoes and peppers with a hose, and a pharmacist sell with a wink something to an old man.
He was writing a ballet for the radio, or did I hear that wrong in that noisy restaurant?
Fifty years ago washing still hung from fire escapes on the East Side. Neighbors sat on the stoops chatting amiably on hot summer nights and bored boys threw cats from rooftops to pass time. Writers and poets, destined to remain obscure, wrote feverishly while everyone else slept and black barges glided on the East River taking loads of garbage out to sea.
Here, briefly, is the story. In March, 1917, while walking on Broadway, Buster Keaton bumped into a friend from vaudeville who happened to know Fatty Arbuckle, the famous silent movie comedian and Chaplin’s rival.
It doesn’t take much. A deserted street at dusk, with the summer sunlight lingering on the upper floors of a row of buildings and the sidewalks down below already deep in shadow, may get some old movie in our heads rolling again.
“What are all these people crying about?” I imagine someone unfamiliar with our extraordinary national talent for hypocrisy asking while watching the conventions. It might even cross the mind of such a person that nowhere on this poor old earth of ours have there ever been people so caring of each other’s feelings as today’s Americans. Either the television networks had some kind of device on their cameras able to instantly locate tearful faces in a vast crowd of delegates, or they had nothing else to show, since there seemed not a dry eye in the house. The speakers choked up when mentioning their immigrant grandparents, their own supposed humble beginnings, their wonderful families sitting right there in the audience, whose adoring faces were then shown with eyes growing moist.
“Poetry is dead!,” someone shouts happily every now and then, to the relief of parents and those among the educated who never read poetry. No such luck.
One of the blessings of rural life is that newspapers are not readily available and cell phones often don’t work outside larger towns, so the news of the world reaches us late, unless one has the TV or the computer turned on at home. I didn’t hear about the shooting in Colorado till late the next day on my car radio, while driving to the town dump. The monstrosity of the act struck me with full force of its vileness in the peaceful surroundings. My mind wandered back to the morning of September 11, when after watching the unfolding tragedy that culminated in the collapse of the twin towers, I finally took my dog, who had been nagging me for hours, for a walk.
Summer is the time when memories of other summers flood back. You lie on the beach, take a swim in the sea, or toss and turn at night unable to sleep because of the heat, and recall yourself doing the same in years past, or surprise yourself by remembering a half-forgotten, entirely different summer experience. The year is 1963. I’m on an army ship playing poker for high stakes in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. None of us has any money, but once we arrive in Brooklyn, get discharged and receive our pay, we’ll settle what we owe and collect what we have coming to us. I don’t believe this will happen, but I pretend I do and win and lose fortunes with the composure of a dissolute prince in a nineteenth-century Russian novel.
I was standing, one lovely May afternoon, on the corner of 5th Avenue and 42nd Street in New York City, waiting for a friend who was late. I had spent the previous hour in a bookstore in the neighborhood that was famous for stocking up on the latest literary magazines and poetry books, turning the pages and reading a poem here and there. Waiting at the busy intersection, it suddenly occurred to me that if the old Greek poetess, Sappho, could see what I’m seeing now, she would not only understand nothing, but she would be terrified out of her wits.
When my mother was very old and in a nursing home, she surprised me one day toward the end of her life by asking me if I still wrote poetry. When I blurted out that I still do, she stared at me with incomprehension.
Has there ever been any survey conducted among those who lock themselves in the bathroom inquiring how they spend their time? Do they read, smoke, talk to themselves, think things over, say their prayers, or just stare into space? If not, how come? All those lights burning in bathrooms late at night in large and small cities must indicate someone is doing much more in them than just answering the call of nature. Wives slipping away from husbands who snore, husbands kept awake by their wives grinding their teeth, or just plain old insomniacs, they seek a refuge, a quiet place to read and meditate. With all the surveillance that dozens of government agencies and countless private companies are subjecting every American to, I would not be surprised if they are not already tearing down the veil of secrecy from these late night activities and have a certain dentist in Miami, a farmer in Iowa, a showgirl in Vegas, and thousands of others around the country closely monitored to determine the level of threat they and other bathroom readers may be posing to our country that may require congressional action once their findings are made public.
Widespread ignorance bordering on idiocy is our new national goal. It’s no use pretending otherwise and telling us, as Thomas Friedman did in the Times a few days ago, that educated people are the nation’s most valuable resources. Sure, they are, but do we still want them? It doesn’t look to me as if we do. The ideal citizen of a politically corrupt state, such as the one we now have, is a gullible dolt unable to tell truth from bullshit.
All writers have some secret about the way they work. Mine is that I write in bed. Big deal!, you are probably thinking. Mark Twain, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Truman Capote, and plenty of other writers did too. Vladimir Nabokov even kept index cards under his pillow in case he couldn’t sleep some night and felt like working. However, I haven’t heard of other poets composing in bed—although what could be more natural than scribbling a love poem with a ballpoint pen on the back of one’s beloved?
A number of years ago I bought Halliwell’s Film Guide to inform myself about old movies shown on TV and available in video stores. Occasionally, however, when I found it lying around, I’d open the Guide at random and start reading, usually attracted by the name of the film, something irresistible like Calling Doctor Death, Isle of Forgotten Sins, Naked Alibi, or Prudence and the Pill, about a girl who “borrows her mother’s contraceptives pills and replaces them with aspirin, causing no end of complication.” One day it dawned on me that out of the twelve to fifteen movies listed on every page of the Guide, there was at least one I had seen and more often several. Like millions of others who grew up in 1940s, I had spent a good part of my life seeing hundreds and hundreds of movies, everything from genuine masterpieces of the cinema to worthless trash.
My own inordinate interest in what the lunatics are up to in every corner of our planet has to do with my childhood. When I was three years old, German bombs started falling on my head. By the time I was seven, I was accustomed to seeing dead people lying in the street, or hung from telephone poles, or thrown into ditches with their throats cut. Becoming a displaced person after that, one among millions, ending up in country after country, learning one foreign language after another, mispronouncing its words in school or when asking direction in the street, struggling to read and make sense of the history of the place, worrying about some war being declared and even bigger bombs falling on my head—all this contributed to my need to know what plans are being hatched behind our backs.
“Nothing ever changes” may be one of the truest things ever said. Certainly, life was different when our grandparents were young, in many ways far worse and in other ways far better—as they never failed to inform us every time some new, faddish invention came along. But despite all the predictions of social reformers and utopian thinkers, human behavior seems to have remained pretty much the same throughout recorded history. The four-thousand-year old admonition in the Code of Hammurabi that the strong be prevented from oppressing the weak, or Thomas Moore’s observation in the sixteenth century that society was a conspiracy of the rich to defraud the poor, are not only perfectly understandable today, but are aimed at the same problem that has brought demonstrators to the streets from Wall Street to Oakland.
Writing with a pen or pencil on a piece of paper is becoming an infrequent activity, even for those who were once taught the rigorous rules of penmanship in grade school and hardly saw a day go by without jotting down a telephone number or a list of food items to buy at the market on the way home, and for that purpose carried with them something to write with and something to write on. In an emergency, lacking pen or notebook, they might even approach a complete stranger to ask for assistance.
Do people still suffer from periods of boredom even with computers, smart phones and tablets to occupy them endlessly?
Until a few years ago, hardly a day would go by in the summer without the mailman bringing a postcard from a vacationing friend or acquaintance. Nowadays, you’re bound to get an email enclosing a photograph, or, if your grandchildren are the ones doing the traveling, a brief message telling you that their flight has been delayed or that they have arrived. The terrific thing about postcards was their immense variety. It wasn’t just the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal, or some other famous tourist attraction you were likely to receive in the mail, but also a card with a picture of a roadside diner in Iowa, the biggest hog at some state fair in the South, and even a funeral parlor touting the professional excellence that their customers have come to expect over a hundred years.
The surprise arrest in northern Serbia of Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb general believed to be behind the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, is very good news. As one mother, whose son was killed in Srebrenica, said on Serbian TV, “Justice is slow, but it does come.” The big question is why the Serbian government waited so long to arrest him.
I don’t know of anything more disheartening than the sight of a shut down library.
I can’t remember when I last heard someone genuinely optimistic about the future of this country.
This is a question poets get asked often. The quick answer is nowhere.
“Everyone who thinks is unhappy,” says Sergei Dovlatov in one of his stories. Some crows caw all day, some have nothing to say. I see one of them pace back and forth on my lawn the way I’ve seen Hamlet do on stage. Whatever is bothering him seems insoluble, too much for one crow to figure out on his own
Back in the early 1970s, when I was teaching in California, I had a colleague named Bob Williams who taught fiction writing and was famous for beginning each semester with a lecture on the art of cooking.
One of the sorrows of our modern age is that so much of the life one knew in one’s youth has completely disappeared, or is on the verge of disappearing. It wasn’t always like that. For most of human history, one could count on one’s favorite dishes and songs still being around when one became old. Not anymore. One evening recently, thinking about this melancholy subject, I was wondering, for example, what happened to the delicious Manhattan clam chowder that was once on the menu in every restaurant and corner luncheonette in the city, when my mind drifted—first to different neighborhoods in New York where I lived, then to small piano bars, now nearly extinct, where I spent many an evening drinking and listening to music.
An astonishing event occurred in the United Nations this month: the government of Serbia made a complete reversal of its policy toward Kosovo.
Cleaning my basement recently, I came upon an issue of The New York Times dated Friday, April 13, 1990. How familiar the headlines all sound.
There is nothing very surprising about the ruling by the International Court of Justice that Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence was legal.
The obvious explanation, that a better team won that day, is never good enough for the tens of millions of disappointed. Here, then, are some excuses the fans universally rely on to explain defeat.
Why the enormous interest in the final thoughts of men and women who were often guilty of committing horrific crimes? It must be the same morbid curiosity that brought huge crowds of Americans to public executions in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Many considered these grim occasions so much fun they brought their families along.
Yesterday, a special court in The Hague convicted two Bosnian Serb military men of genocide for their part in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. But the man who is believed to be the mastermind of the killings, General Ratko Mladic, remains at large.
Everyone who walks the busy streets of a city takes imaginary snapshots. For all I know, my face glimpsed in a crowd years ago may live on in someone’s memory the same way that the face of some stranger lives on in mine. Of course, out of the hundreds of people we may happen to see in a day, we become fully aware of only a select few, and often not even that many if we have too much on our minds. Then it happens.
It never crossed my mind that I would become the poet laureate of the United States. The day I received the call from the Library of Congress, I was carrying a bag of groceries from the car to the house when the phone rang.
For someone like me who lives in New Hampshire, cold and snow are things I take in stride, the way I fancy the inhabitants of the tropics barely take notice of the hot muggy days they have there. It’s the howling wind that discombobulates me, the one a neighbor calls “Labrador Express,” conjuring up for me visions of the bleak landscape of that great peninsula in eastern Canada that once I surveyed in horror from a low-flying plane.
A strange little book came in the mail the other day. It’s called transcript and is published by the admirable Dalkey Archive Press. Translated from the German by Patrick Greaney and Vincent Kling, its author, Heimrad Bäcker (1925-2003), was unknown to me. He was an Austrian book editor, photographer and concrete poet who as a teenager joined the Nazi party and became an active member in the regional leadership of the Hitler Youth. At a first glance, his book looks like a collection of verbal scraps of uncertain origin, some of which have the appearance of avant-garde poetry, but on examination it turns out to be something entirely different. Bäcker’s “poems” consist of excerpts from documents by Holocaust planners, perpetrators, and victims.
I have a collection of Buster Keaton’s films I bought in the late 1980s when they first became available on video. It’s made up of nineteen half-hour shorts and his nine full-length films, all made between 1920 and 1928. Every few years I take a look at some of them, and recently, being thoroughly depressed by our wars and our politics, I watched a dozen of his shorts to cheer myself up. Almost ninety years old, these shorts are still very funny and visually beautiful. They make the Dada and Surrealist pranks everybody was scandalized by in that era seem dated and tame in comparison.
As a rule, I read and write poetry in bed; philosophy and serious essays sitting down at my desk; newspapers and magazines while I eat breakfast or lunch, and novels while lying on the couch. It’s toughest to find a good place to read history, since what one is reading usually is a story of injustices and atrocities and wherever one does that, be it in the garden on a fine summer day or riding a bus in a city, one feels embarrassed to be so lucky. Perhaps the waiting room in a city morgue is the only suitable place to read about Stalin and Pol Pot?
Sometime in the fall of 1958, an old fellow came up to me late one night on MacDougal Street and said, “Mister, I’m writing the book of my life and I need a dime to complete it.” I gave him my last dollar and went off happy. This kind of inspired, seemingly spontaneous panhandling differs from what professional beggars do. They employ props: crutches, head-bandages, wooden legs, or have a skinny, sad-eyed dog accompanying them. They stage a theatrical performance for your benefit and hope for the best.
Back in September, I read an article in The New York Times about an American base in Iraq that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. It describes a U.S. military installation in the Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad that houses 28,000 American troops and has a busy airport, two power plants, two sewage plants, and two water treatment plants that can purify 1.9 million gallons of water a day for showers, swimming pools and golf courses, and eighty to hundred buses any given moment crisscrossing the area on fifteen bus routes.
In late September, I went to hear the President of Serbia, Boris Tadic, speak to students and professors at Columbia University. He was in New York leading his country’s delegation to the UN General Assembly meeting. Tadic is a nice-looking, charming, and articulate man without a trace of Milosevic’s arrogance. He said many reassuring things about democracy in Serbia, maintaining peace in the region, and preserving the territorial integrity of Bosnia. But, when it came to Kosovo, he asserted that Serbia will “never, under any circumstances, implicitly or explicitly, recognize Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence.”
Update: Listen to Frederick Seidel read from his work in the Review’s podcast.
“All books that wouldn’t be published today,” I heard one elderly visitor to the exhibition mutter to his wife.
A marvelous, small exhibition of Poe’s manuscripts and first editions at the Morgan Library