'I Think of Metaphor as a Gesture of Empathy': An Interview with Terrance Hayes

by Stephanie Sy-Quia

Terrance Hayes likes to describe his background as ‘very American’. His mother, who works as a prison guard, had him when she was 16. He grew up in South Carolina, before attending Coker College on a basketball scholarship. It was there that he started writing poems. In 2014 he was awarded a McArthur Fellowship and in 2018 he was shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize. I was able to meet Hayes when he was promoting his book American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, a keenly insistent sequence penned in the news-scream fever-dream which followed the 2016 American election. We chatted in the corridor of his hotel, while he ate a croissant. In this book’s examination of America and its many assassins, Hayes’s modus operandi is to be unrelenting in his ‘posing of poets’ questions to history’; we discuss some of them here. [read full interview]

Poems of the British Gulag

by Alex Niven

The War Poets, and their continuing centrality in British cultural life, from GCSE syllabi to media outlets where they are often the only poetry to feature in any given year, are at the heart of a modern liberal value complex that recuperates Remembrance Day’s human factor while leaving the door open for revanchist nationalism. It is not that their poetry is bad per se – indeed Owen and Rosenberg in particular are, in their best moments, capable of truly affecting and strange writing. Yet there is something much too comfortable and comforting about their reception. The real singularity of the best World War I poetry springs from the deep realisation on the part of the soldiers in Flanders and elsewhere that they were fighting not for a tangible communal goal, like the later repulsion of Fascism in World War II, but for an obscure web of motives derived from an epochal crisis in British capitalism and imperialism. [read full opinion]

‘We are meat puppets, tethered to an algorithm’

Dan Lyons, Lab Rats: How Modern Work Makes People Miserable

reviewed by Samuel Gregory

The 'always on' office culture enabled by smartphones and laptops is coming under increasing scrutiny. A steady stream of books and papers have nudged anti-work ideas into the mainstream in recent years, notably David Graeber’s irreverent 2013 essay ‘On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs’, David Frayne’s 2015 book The Refusal of Work and most successfully, Rutger Bregman’s 2016 bestseller Utopia for Realists. Joining them is Lab Rats by US tech writer Dan Lyons, who wrote about his time... [read more]

A Matter of Moderation and Negotiation

TJ Clark, Heaven On Earth: Painting and the Life to Come

reviewed by Dan Barrow

In Giotto's Joachim's Dream (1304-6), one of a sequence of fresco panels in Padua's Capella Scrovegni, a mountain's profile marks the boundary between earth and sky, at once contiguous and rigidly opposed. The angel descending from top-left marks the sky out as the realm of the divine, its blue ‘as cold as a colour can be, pressing down into the desert at the angel's behest’, and seeming almost to pop out of the picture plane. In the first and most persuasive of the five essays that make up... [read more]
 

The Incertitude of Red Cheeks

Jack Robinson and Natalia Zagórska-Thomas, Blush

reviewed by Will Forrester

In ‘Betraying Appearances’ (1997), WA Cohen’s excellent review of Mary Ann O’Farrell’s Telling Complexions: The Nineteenth-Century English Novel and the Blush (1997), Cohen leans on O’Farrell’s attentiveness to the relationships between the somatic and the semantic to belabour a point. He talks about words in English whose meanings contradict, suggesting the most ‘beguiling’ of these is the verb belie: ‘To belie is to expose a falsehood; it is also, however, to disguise... [read more]

More Internet

Franco Berardi, The Second Coming

reviewed by Stuart Walton

Nobody could accuse Franco Berardi of underestimating the scale of the problem facing an oppositional politics today. In Thomas Hobbes's mid-17th century, there was a civil polity to which all might be assumed to have sworn allegiance, conceding its right to intervene in the lives of its clients in return for protecting them from a delimited range of private enormities, while expecting them to pre-authorise its own enormous intrusions into intellectual and social liberty, as the guaranteed... [read more]
 

‘What We Need is a Revolution’

Édouard Louis, trans. Lorin Stein, Who Killed My Father

reviewed by Adam Scovell

Édouard Louis’s third book, Who Killed My Father (Qui a tué mon père), begins by setting out the blueprint for another form. ‘If this were a text for the theatre,’ he writes, ‘here is how it would begin. . .’ Ever since Louis’s debut novel The End of Eddy (En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule, 2014),the writer has pushed against the limitations of his medium, in particular its reach and its potential to instigate change. He has since jumped between forms, his work being heavily... [read more]

An Evolving Narrative

Annie Ernaux, trans. Tanya Leslie, Happening

reviewed by Xenobe Purvis

In April 1971, the weekly Parisian news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur published a letter submitted by 343 women. In a few brief paragraphs, the letter declared that the undersigned women – including, among many others, the likes of Simone de Beauvoir, Catherine Deneuve, Françoise Sagan, and Agnès Varda – had all undergone illegal abortions. The letter attempted to remove the shroud of secrecy surrounding abortion and champion its legalisation; it undoubtedly contributed to the eventual... [read more]
 

Young Mannish Bull

Michael Levitin, Disposable Man

reviewed by Stoddard Martin

In the 1950s and even as late as the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was common for American Jews to be reluctant to say where their families came from. To be asked about ancestral background could be inferred as suggesting that you were somehow ‘unAmerican’, to use the ugly McCarthy era term. If now ensconced in bourgeois comfort, many immigrant Jews had indeed been Marxists in youth. Names had been clipped or otherwise altered – Krumkotkin to Krumm as for the grandfather of the protagonist... [read more]

It does not look like a poetry collection

Sophie Collins, Who Is Mary Sue?

reviewed by Rosanna Hildyard

Who Is Mary Sue? is a collection that views itself but refuses to comment. It ranges over forms of poetry, essay, confessional writing, witness statement. (It is even part-review itself, for example in ‘a whistle in the gloom’, which considers Pauline Réage’s The Story of O.) Specifically, as in this example from ‘As bread is the body of Christ, so is glass the very flesh of the Devil’, it is aware of the way in which readers view both a text written by a woman and the female writer:... [read more]
 

A Panorama of Death and Vanity

Curzio Malaparte, trans. Jenny McPhee, The Kremlin Ball

reviewed by Marcel Inhoff

The Kremlin Ball is an extraordinary book – flawed, incomplete, mad. As literature it is nowhere near Malaparte’s best, and yet its inadequacies make it the pleasurable rarity that it is. It is an unfinished novel, found among the writer’s papers after his death. Composed in large part between his two better-known masterpieces, Kaputt (1944) and The Skin (1949), it breaks new ground for the novelist and scandal-monger. Rather than describe – as the other two books did, often in... [read more]

Self and the City

Ferdinand Addis, Rome: Eternal City

reviewed by Nicolas Liney

By all accounts, the city of Rome should have passed into the footnotes of history long ago, a sad victim of multiple sackings, internecine division, depopulation and egregious neglect. Case in point: in the early fifth century, a roaming military force of Visigoths crept uncomfortably far into Italy, bypassing the new capital Ravenna, and encircling Rome. Negotiations faltered, and in 410 CE the city was systematically, scrupulously levelled. The sacking was, by the standards of its age,... [read more]