"A dip that will satisfy… a small group."
~ Microwave Cooking With Sad Music
To imaginative suggestion, Frost is just as receptive. For him the ovenbird’s musical question, like the phoebe’s murmur and the thrush’s lament, takes its emotional quality partly from its setting in place and time. Colored by that setting, it becomes a memento mori. As any country walker knows, a mid-summer woods is indeed a “diminished thing.” Leaves, already ‘old,’ start to tatter and curl. A scattering of wintergreen and wood sorrel makes a poor showing as we remember the spring, when lush patches of blue and yellow violets, red and white trilliums, and peppermint-veined spring beauties colored the forest floor. We miss the few short weeks when flowering shadbush painted whole hillsides white and every woodland bird was in full song. Especially if we remember Frost’s poem as we walk the woods, we regret the several ‘falls’ that span the seasons: spring ‘petal fall,’ the summer settling of ‘highway dust… over all,’ and the inevitable approach of autumn, each of which reminds us of Creation’s fall into flux and death. Like the clouds in Wordsworth’s ‘Intimations’ ode, which ‘take a sober colouring from an eye / That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality,’ the ovenbird’s song acquires somber overtones from a poet who has kept the same watch. Once again, man and nature draw oh-so-close together and the bird’s song almost becomes the poet’s question: What do we make of a season, a world, and a human life so indelibly marked by mortality?
~ Terence D. Mosher, "Music of Northern Forest: Boreal Birdsong in Literature and on the Trail"
The value of independent presses like us is about what the books themselves can add to the culture. It’s very simple. A person who lived their whole life without reading a Graywolf book wouldn’t keel over and die. But they’d be impoverished in some way, I think. Our books enrich the people who read them. All good books do. I really believe that. And I think a culture has a responsibility to nurture its talent. Simply through encouragement and editorial support, independent publishers like us can do a lot in that regard.
Any day of the week you can see that the big publishers are publishing some great books. I’m not looking to bash the bigger publishers, which are full of good editors and good books. But I think sometimes the context they’re working in involves the wrong kind of economic stress—or at least, a focus on economics and commerce that is not always conducive to interesting literary dialogue, or finding the new things that are happening at the edges of the literary culture. A very big publisher is unlikely to publish poetry unless the poets have already proven themselves—made it. And they are unlikely to go anywhere near essays, or hybrid books that fall between genres or play with conventions. Translation. Short stories. Criticism. We’re able to publish all these things, but someone who is required to hit X financial target each year is unlikely to go anywhere near those areas of literature.
~ Fiona McCrae @ Guernica
Illustration by Ping Zhu
Learning to coexist once again with long-vanished wildlife isn’t a new issue in New England. In recent years, Massachusetts has seen an explosion in the populations of beavers, turkeys, deer, and bears, creating a host of problems: beaver dams flooding neighborhoods, turkeys chasing pedestrians, deer scampering across highways in the night. But the return of mountain lions—animals known to kill pets, livestock, and, on rare occasions, even humans—is something altogether different, an event that would surely change the way we walk through the woods and play in our yards, if nothing else.
These characters, these editors and writers, frequently call attention to their implausibility—that is, if they don’t discover that they’re characters in a novel and stage a mutiny, as in “The Comforters,” in which a young writer realizes that Muriel Spark intends to make a fictional character out of her and tries to leap from the frame by changing her travel plans at the last minute or missing appointments she thinks are important to the narrative. To read Spark is always to read about reading. By populating her novels with memoirists and poets, cranky publishers, well-connected hacks, all of them arguing about what makes a character, what propels a sentence, and did you hear about so-and-so’s advance, she draws our attention repeatedly to the artifice of the novel. She loves reminding us that every word—this phrase, that comma—was brought together by human hands, for your pleasure. That’s the point of all those catchphrases. Every time Jean Brodie tells us that she’s in her prime, it’s Spark’s voice we hear, and we’re reminded of who wields the puppet strings.What Muriel Spark Saw : The New Yorker
Nancy Lord and Irene Owsley were collaborative artists-in-residence in 2013 with the Voices of the Wilderness program, in the U.S. Forest service’s Nellie Juan-College Fiord Wilderness Study Area. This video essay is one of the outcomes of their collaboration.
Often I think readers pick up literature in translation expecting it to be adventurous and experimental. There’s a long tradition of fiction from writers like Calvino, Borges, Murakami, Cortazar, and Kobo Abe where the formal experiments are part of the attraction. They’re a key ingredient in what makes their fiction so enjoyable. Maybe readers are willing to embrace this because translated titles seem like they’ve already been vetted: another publisher thought enough to translate them and they’re often accompanied by glowing reviews from around the globe. When these books get strange, the reader is willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Or maybe it’s a case of believing that writers construct books differently outside the U.S. and therefore aren’t bound by the same rules. Because, certainly, describing a book by a U.S. author as experimental seems to be shorthand for “difficult,” “pretentious,” and “no fun.” Most people suddenly feel like they’re being asked to eat their vegetables – and these vegetables also happen to be covered in shit.Jeff Jackson