Monthly Archives: October 2012

Do You Like It?

To Kay Ryan, former U.S. poet laureate, the gradual evolution of a poet is a strange and scaly one, full of bewilderment. It’s possible, even likely, in Ryan’s mind, that a person destined for the “ferocious religion” of poetry staves off the eventuality for a long time.

In her essay “Do You Like It?,” published in ZYZZYVA’s Winter 1998 issue, Ryan reflects on the unforeseen moment she decided to become a writer. The poet tested her dedication to the craft over the course of a 4,000-mile bicycle trip. Then, an epiphany: “All at once I no longer had to try to appreciate my experience or try to understand; I played with the phrase the peace that passeth understanding like turning a silver coin in my fingers. And with the peace-beyond-the-struggle-to-understand came an unprecedented freedom and power to think.”

The following is Kay Ryan’s essay, in full.

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An Alternative Universe, One Where Her Son Still Lives: J. Robert Lennon’s ‘Familiar’

Somewhere on an Ohio interstate, where bored drivers can be counted on to whiz past the paranormal events happening in a middle-aged woman’s Honda, a crack in Elisa Brown’s windshield transports her from one brief, thirteen-page-long reality—of facts and blunt tragedy—to another. She finds her fingers gripping a different steering wheel, her toes jammed inside pumps instead of her usual sneakers, a husband who actually calls to see when she’ll arrive home, and, in place of her once bony frame, a plumper one that hasn’t suffered the death of her youngest son, Silas. J. Robert Lennon’s new novel, Familiar (Graywolf …Continue reading

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A Publishing World Gone Beastly: Howard Jacobson’s ‘Zoo Time’

Guy Ableman fixates on Amazon.com the way that he fixates on the runaway success of “The Girl Who Ate Her Own Placenta,” or on his mother-in-law, or his wife, or monkeys – with a gleeful sort of disgust. The protagonist, if you can call him that, of Howard Jacobson’s new novel, Zoo Time (Bloomsbury, 376 pages), is nothing short of feral. “Feral!,” Guy exclaims upon described as such. “From the Latin for an unruly beast. Guy Feral. Feral Guy.” These, however, are feral times. The publishing industry has, in Guy’s view, dissolved and reconstituted itself into a gelatinous mass of …Continue reading

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Everything Pivots on the Verb: Constance Hale’s ‘Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch’

Constance Hale (author of Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose) has penned another guide to prose writing. Her new book, Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch (Norton; 400 pages), is a celebration of the verb. “(A)ll serious writers know,” Hale writes, “that verbs act as the pivot point of every sentence. Verbs put action in scenes, show eccentricity in characters, and convey drama in plots. They give poetry its urgency. They make quotes memorable and ads convincing.” In her book, Hale gives readers and writers many views on the life of verbs, from their birth to their evolution to …Continue reading

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Death and Jealousy: Q&A with Strindberg Translator Paul Walsh

On the occasion of the centennial of Swedish writer August Strindberg’s death, San Francisco’s Cutting Ball Theater will be performing all five of Strindberg’s Chamber Plays (Storm, Burned House, The Pelican, The Ghost Sonata, The Black Glove) in repertory from October 12 to November 18. The production will feature new translations of the Chamber Plays by Paul Walsh, professor of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at the Yale School of Drama. ZYZZYVA talks with Walsh, whose new translations are available from Exit Press, about the Strindberg Cycle and Strindberg’s significance to the arts. ZYZZYVA: How did you become a scholar and …Continue reading

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Brother’s Keeper: T. Geronimo Johnson’s ‘Hold It ‘Til It Hurts’

Upon bringing home his newly adopted son, who is black, to his other son, Achilles (also adopted, also black), the white father in T. Geronimo Johnson’s Hold It ‘Til It Hurts (Coffee House Press, 342 pages) announces, “Don’t need blood to be brothers.” Johnson’s violent first novel, though, effectively proves the opposite, but in a different sense: tearing through Afghanistan and Hurricane Katrina, the morgues of Atlanta and the stilted subdivisions of Maryland, Achilles Conroy finds familial love in the most harrowing situations. If Achilles’s younger brother, Troy, is “fearless and light, like a rock that floats,” Achilles is an …Continue reading

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A Program for Fulfillment: Scott Hutchins’s ‘A Working Theory of Love’

Scott Hutchins’s first novel, A Working Theory of Love (The Penguin Press, 328 pages), is a refreshing exploration of how the many relationships every person has can shape who we are. It is a reflection on failure, fear, grief, hope, and, of course, love. Lovers, friends, family, coworkers, and even the city in which one lives: Hutchins demonstrates what these connections can mean in our search for fulfillment. Neill Bassett Jr., a San Franciscan divorcee, is trapped in “the doldrums of physical isolation,” stuck in a dull cycle of unsatisfying bachelor routines and a Silicon Valley job. He works at …Continue reading

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San Francisco Opens a Walk-In Human Cloning Agency

For millennia people have struggled to craft the human form in materials from clay to silicone. But while there have been some popular hits such as Michelangelo’s David, nothing in the world’s museums shows the subtlety to be seen in the living body. In our scientifically advanced society, the optimal way to create a portrait is to clone the human subject. Conventional genetic cloning is technically problematic, but only because cloners apply antiquated genetic concepts. Recently biologists have learned that the genes you inherit don’t determine who you become. What matters is which genes are expressed, and gene expression depends …Continue reading

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A Paperboy Finding His Way Out of Bleakness: Per Petterson’s ‘It’s Fine By Me’

The Norway of Per Petterson’s newly translated 1992 novel, It’s Fine By Me (Graywolf; 199 pages; translated by Don Bartlett), will be familiar to readers of his 2007 bestseller, Out Stealing Horses. It is a country marked by pervasive solitude and backbreaking work, by deeply buried familial troubles and the quiet, occasional help of strangers. In 1970s Oslo, young paperboy Audun Sletten prides himself on his checked pants and ubiquitous sunglasses. The latter provides him distance from the surrounding bleakness: alcoholism runs rampant (most notably evident in Audun’s absent father), and death seems close (his younger brother, we learn, fatally …Continue reading

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