In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do.
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How much has changed since then? Though the Bay Area has recently become a seat of cultural power—the place where digital life is defined, where pathways for community, news, and people-meeting are set—its recent ascent to fluky wealth marks only a return to olden forms. Today, as long ago, the city is in vexed thrall to a cast of fresh-made titans. Now, as before, private gifts are meant to heal the public sphere. Ed Lee, a San Francisco mayor who died in office this past December, liked to praise what he called “a new twenty-first-century philanthropy movement”: the local gentry stepping in to modernize the city. Lucky people no longer require columnists to burnish their progress; they have Instagram. Possibly they own it.
This re-privatization of public life should tell us something about the future. San Francisco has reliably been the country’s tectonic front edge, the place where social frictions and warring mythologies show first in acute form. Today, it is the site of a totemic battle between civic virtues and a growing sphere of private power and experience. Locals lament losing one sort of cosmopolitanism as they turn toward another; the country has followed suit.
But the shift should also tell us something about the past. At the moment of my grandparents’ marriage, the Bay Area was in the process of changing its tribal myths, tilting toward a fresh civic ideal. By the time their hair turned gray, a new private order, with new myths, had emerged, though San Francisco was more than ever aligned with their left politics. How this happens—how a place can break open to a new phase of social confluence and then re-sort itself, without ever changing its beliefs—is the real family story of the Bay Area over the past sixty years. To the extent that San Francisco is still out in front, it’s a story of the past American half century, too.
Editorial Intern Sydney Bradley
Excerpt from “Private Dreams and Public Ideals in San Francisco,” New Yorker, by Nathan Heller
Lyric poetry is the voice of the individual making sense of his or her experience. When I say that lyric is the most basic form of poetry, I mean two things–”everywhere and always.” “Everywhere” refers to the fact that lyric poetry is present in every culture on the planet. No matter where you go, if people are there, then lyric and song are also there. If my blanket claim of “everywhere” is global, then my claim of “always” is historical: lyric poetry and song have been present throughout history in every culture whose writing has been recorded and preserved. There’s also little reason to doubt that it was present in cultures without written languages.
Let me reiterate briefly: the personal lyric exists universally–everywhere and always. Poems about love, or loneliness, or fear, or wonder. Poems about what someone did, or what happened to him, or what she dreams of doing. Sometimes lyric poems don’t use the pronoun I, but they are always expressive of an individual viewpoint–what some imagined person is saying or feeling or doing in the world.
Lyric poetry is present in all times and places because it helps us live by expressing our experience and at the same time moving that experience a bit away from us–to the world of words, where it can be shaped or dramatized into meaning.
Editorial Intern Sam Rice
Excerpt from A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry, by Gregory Orr