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Criticism

<i>Boys Will Be Boys: Power, Patriarchy and Toxic Masculinity<I>. By Clementine Ford. One World, 2019. 362pp. PB, $17.95.

Gender Warriors


There are few things in American life more problematic or pratfall-prone than a privileged, straight white man like myself holding forth on the topic of feminism. The innumerable things that men know about the universe and are happy—happy?, no delighted—to tell women about even has its own word now—“mansplaining,” a term I am sure nearly everyone reading this has heard at least once in their life. I’m fortunate enough to have been accused of mansplaining twice just this week, so allow me to explain to the uninitiated how mansplaining works—mansplaining occurs when a man … 

Wait.

Damn.

<i>What is Democracy?</i>. Directed by Astra Taylor. Zeitgeist Films, 2018. 108 minutes.

How Free Is Too Free?

After a fallow period of about fifteen years, in 2014 I returned to driving. Having let my license expire out of pure indolence, I embarked on a process that ended with a road test in deepest Brooklyn. I had no car and no plans to buy one, but within a couple years I was doing more driving than anyone I knew. A needy dog five pounds too big to fly and a sick parent five hundred miles away sent me again and again to the closest rental depot, where I would be handed keys to a compact car of limited but occasionally stark variation. For the same price, I might settle into a vehicle loaded with sixty-seven computers and a heated steering wheel, or a shitbox with no USB port and a tire set to blow on a major Ontario highway. I would study the rental agent’s face as she clacked in the relevant data, looking for some sign of my fate.

<i>Sight Lines</i>. By Arthur Sze. Copper Canyon, 2019. 80p. PB, $16.

“Alone with America”

Much has changed in America and American poetry in the nearly forty years since Richard Howard published his expanded edition of 1969’s Alone With America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950. The 1980 table of contents itself tells a significant tale of those changes: forty-one poets under consideration, six of them women, not one a person of color.


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

Selvages

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.

Screening the World

Television may be remembered, among other things, as having entered a “golden age” even as it ceased to exist. As a term, television feels increasingly inapt, vestigial, at risk of acquiring the air quotes that presage irrelevance. Still, it refers to a form—episodic, moving-image narrative—for which we have not yet found a better alias, beyond awkward talk of streaming content and on-demand services, and the shorthand that is Netflix, a brand name that suggests the merger of two media, neither of which is television. As good “television” proliferates, television as a medium and as an experience is in decline.

<i>Calling a Wolf a Wolf</i>. By Kaveh Akbar. Alice James, 2017. 100p. PB, $16.95.

Toward a New Masculinity

If you are hungry for complicated layers of displacement spiked with an uneasiness of any sort of assimilation, as I am, Alex Dimitrov’s poetry might feel like just the right home for your homelessness. Bulgaria-born and Detroit-raised, Dimitrov [...]

Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer. By Arthur Lubow. Ecco, 2016. 734 p. HB, $35.

Street Casting

What kind of energy do we get from the streets? What does it give us and how much do we need it? The publication of Arthur Lubow’s biography, Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer, and a national tour of Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, a career retrospective of the artist’s work organized by the Brooklyn Museum in 2015,* highlight how certain artists are able to tap into street energy, and what they extract from it.

Impossible Bottle. By Claudia Emerson. LSU, 2015. 65p. PB, $17.95.

Ecstatic Sorrow

Claudia Emerson, who died in December 2014, had come to be known as a poet capable of revealing startling discoveries inside quiet, quotidian circumstances. Her poems are set mostly in Southern rural and small-town scenes, moments in ordinary lives that would normally elude anyone else’s attention.

Go Set a Watchman. By Harper Lee. Harper, 2015. 278p. HB, $27.99.

Scout Comes Home Again

As admirable and courageous as the film’s Atticus is, this lionization goes way too far in construing the novel’s Atticus in our memory as some sort of social reformer. 

André Løyning

Knausgaard’s Triumph

All of this is surprisingly interesting, even addictive, as has often been pointed out in reviews. But no one can pinpoint precisely why. A striking element in the praise of Knausgaard—and he has garnered almost uniform praise in the English-speaking press—is the recourse to vocabulary not normally considered complimentary. “Boring” comes up an enormous amount.

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