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David Kirby

David Kirby is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University. He is author or co-author of more than twenty books, most recently a collection of poetry, The Ha-Ha (LSU, 2003), and a volume of essays, What Is a Book? (Georgia, 2002). His work appears frequently in the Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies, and was recently awarded a Guggenheim fellowship.


An Army Of Chitterlings

Fall 2006 | Essays

Then retrieved my book and kept reading, because finally I was understanding France. I had lived in Paris a number of times before: twelve months across 1977 and ’78, six months in 1998, the summer of 2001, perhaps as many as a dozen shorter visits. Yet I had never asked myself why, which probably means I was enjoying myself; usually we don’t examine our pleasures unless they’re destructive ones, and even then only if we want to avoid them. Obviously, I wanted to keep coming back. Why, though? Why not someplace warmer and less expensive, a place where I could converse fluently? (Considerable effort notwithstanding, my French seems to be stuck permanently in second gear.)

This time, though, I intended to find out. I meant to discover what it was about France, and Paris in particular, that kept yanking me back. And I only had eight days to do so; Barbara and I had come to Paris over spring break, and we had to be back in the classroom the following Tuesday. But time, because it was brief, was on my side: in the past, I’d luxuriated thoughtlessly in French volupté, and now I meant to use my handful of days to force myself to come up with some answers.


Give Me Life Coarse and Rank

Spring 2005 | Essays

As the American poet, Whitman is scrutinized, taken apart, reassembled, and categorized more than any other. Yet often he ends up in the wrong pigeonhole. Some readers type him as an American original who sprang fully formed from the brow of Ralph Waldo Emerson; others take him for a Civil War hippie, a no-holds bard playing tennis without a net or even a racket. In this essay, David Kirby connects Whitman to two traditions that tell a lot more about him and his poetry, the ancient tradition of dithyrambic verse and that of “the old, weird America.”

Waiting for A Critic Who Does Not Exist

Henry James: An American as Modernist. By Stuart Hutchinson. Barnes & Noble. $27.00. The Phenomenology of Henry James. By Paul B. Armstrong. University of North Carolina Press. $26.00 In a 1952 essay entitled "The Critic Who Does Not Exist," Edmun [...]

Who’s In Charge Here?

Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th-century America. By Ronald T. Takaki. Knopf. $15.95. Paris, December 2. It is the day after the general strike. We have been waiting three weeks for the plumber to fix a leaky pipe in the kitchen. Today his wif [...]

America on the Couch

Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial AngloSaxonism. By Reginald Horsman. Harvard. $22.50. What happens when you put America on the couch? Reginald Horsman has done some intense probing, and with this book he joins the ranks of [...]

What is a Book?

In the middle of the journey of our life, I found myself in a dark wood, asking myself a question, namely, "What is the canon?" On my way to answering it, I'd like to say I went to hell and purgatory and paradise, like Dante, but all I did was giv [...]

What Is A Writer?

At this time in our culture, there are two extreme views of writers. The most conservative view sees writers as genuine heroes, gifted geniuses who are more insightful than the rest of us and who are therefore obliged to lead and instruct. The most [...]

The Sex Lives of the James Family

All biographers secretly want to annex and channel the sex-lives of their subjects; you must make your judgment on me as well as on Flaubert. Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot Within the last two years, two books have appeared which are li [...]

Chekhov’s Influence on Shakespeare

I. Something Recognizably His It's a chilly autumn evening in London, and I've just returned from a production of Twelfth Night at the Donmar Warehouse, the charming pocket-sized venue where Sam Mendes directed so many memorable plays (of which this [...]