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<i>The Book Of Joan: A Novel</i><br>by Lidia Yuknavitch<br>288 pp. HB<br />HaperCollins, 2017


December 20, 2017

“Cli-Fi,” the latest portmanteau construction with which critics try to corral runaway culture (“postmodern,” e.g.), first turned up in a 2007 tweet. The coinage puts together fiction and climate, implying “climate change,” and it rhymes closely with “sci-fi.” Science fiction, after all, provides earmarks for any narrative that draws on threats like global warming. Such a story must peek into the future and raise questions of humanity’s purpose, its place in the biosphere. Thus a winner of science fiction’s Hugo and Nebula, Paolo Bacigalupi, is the first of the cli-fi authors named in a 2015 Atlantic article. Others mentioned, however, include Margaret Atwood, whose novels are sometimes speculative, sometimes straightforward—and in The Blind Assassin, both at once. The flag-bearer for the movement may be Jeff VanderMeer, whose Southern Reach Trilogy enjoyed success all over the planet while imagining a planet stripped of technology. VanderMeer wrote the ars poetica for cli-fi, “The Slow Apocalypse and Fiction,” a 2015 piece which worried that, when it comes to the endangered ecosystem, “fiction is languishing behind other disciplines.”


By the time Kathy Acker died, in the autumn of 1997, I was nineteen and fully under her spell, having discovered her just a few years before. Her work brought me to all sorts of feelings—lust, rage, shame, guilt, rebellion, liberation, ecstasy, transgression, indulgence. If you were the type of nineties kid I was, piercings and tattoos and all kinds of body modifications interested you, and so her look—buzz-cut bleached blonde in a leather jacket with smeared red lipstick and smudged black eyeliner, with all sorts of visible ink and metal—appealed as well. She looked like a rock star and even now I think she was the only one the literary world ever really got. At one point, a wealthy Manhattan artist I briefly fell in love with gifted me one of her original proofs for The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec, which I keep next to my bed at all times. It feels lucky somehow.

<i>Magdalene</i>. By Marie Howe. Norton, 2017. 96p. HB, $25.95.


Perhaps poets are attracted to edges because, as Anne Carson puts it in Eros the Bittersweet, “Words…have edges. So do you,” and perhaps also because notions of the self tend to form in response to and because of those limits. Identity—what Emily Dickinson called the “Campaign inscrutable / Of the interior”—has always concerned the lyric poet, but what might constitute a “self” has perhaps never been more prevalent on the public radar than in our current moment. In three new, mercurial books—Magdalene, by Marie Howe; In Full Velvet, by Jenny Johnson; and Milk Black Carbon, by Joan Naviyuk Kane —poets resist, succumb to, and transgress the identities—familial, social, ecological, biological, sexual—to which they attend.

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