Monthly Archives: August 2013

Evoking the Physical and Tangible of Art and Life: Éireann Lorsung’s ‘Her Book’

Her book (Milkweed; 76 pages), the latest poetry collection from Éireann Lorsung, is a surprising and eloquent look into a highly physical, sensuous world. In particular, Lorsung is concerned with the delineation of the (female) self as it relates to its surroundings, both natural and constructed. Through many small moments that are exactingly crystalized, she builds a powerful, wider vision of a woman’s life. The first part of Her book, “Fifteen poems for Kiki Smith,” revolves around artist Kiki Smith, lingering on Smith’s treatment of the female body (in which she subverts the blatant sexuality traditionally surrounding the female form …Continue reading

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In the Fall Issue

In our newest issue, ZYZZYVA asks: Having kids—what could possibly go wrong? In Eric Puchner’s “Heavenland,” a stalled L.A. artist finds his style—and his relationships—severely cramped after the birth of his son. In Vanessa Hua’s “A River of Stars,” a pregnant mistress in Southern California is cornered by the wishes of her married lover in China. In Nana K. Twumasi’s “Pica,” a widowed father tries to make sense of his young daughter’s troubling eating compulsion. And in Kate Milliken’s “A Matter of Time,” a suburban mother hopes a dinner party with an old and successful friend can salvage her dreams. …Continue reading

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Poems Encounter the Absences in a Family’s Long History: Q&A with Tess Taylor

Tess Taylor’s first book of poetry, The Forage House (Red Hen Press; 88 pages), is a far-ranging exploration of a family’s role in the United States’s past. Called “brave and compelling” by U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, Taylor’s collection mediates the historical record that too often embellishes or deletes the legacy of slavery. Framed as a first-person lyrical attempt to understand family history, The Forage House contains no easy solutions to the problems of inherited guilt. Rather, Taylor’s poems outline emotional experience within archival reality, achieving a personal historicity that poet Timothy Donnelly calls “scrupulous and artful.” We talked with …Continue reading

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‘Anal, Alimentary, Abstract’: Wayne Koestenbaum’s ‘My 1980s & Other Essays’

Poet and critic Wayne Koestenbaum’s newest book, My 1980s & Other Essays (320 pages; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), brings together a wide range of enthralling and intellectually daring texts, ranging from rigorous critical explorations of Susan Sontag and John Ashbery to a diary-style look at the life and work of Lana Turner. The essays vary wildly in length and subject, but are grouped together, vaguely, by theme: the first section contains the closest thing to traditional “personal essays”; the second section tends toward literary critique; the third one toward cinema, celebrity, sex; and so on. Each section feels like a …Continue reading

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Self-Portrait of the Author in ‘the Rush of Life’: Gary Soto’s ‘What Poets Are Like’

For some reason—the imperative-sounding title, perhaps?—it’s easy to imagine a would-be poet leafing through What Poets Are Like: Up and Down With the Writing Life (Sasquatch Books; 236 pages), in expectation of a how-to guide. Such ventures will be somewhat disappointed, at least at first. Gary Soto’s collection of short, autobiographical essays are highly particular and personal, specific to Soto himself. And Soto’s wry, occasionally self-deprecating sense of humor means that, far from extolling the virtues of leading a writer’s life, many of the pieces contained in this collection point out its travails, its small indignities for anyone less of …Continue reading

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A Crystal Retelling of a Dark Origin Myth: Natsuo Kirino’s ‘The Goddess Chronicle’

Japanese crime writer Natsuo Kirino’s latest novel, The Goddess Chronicle (Canongate; 312 pages) translated by Rebecca Copeland, is a revenge-filled rethinking of an ancient Japanese creation myth. As the latest entry in The Canongate Myths series, Kirino’s novel reinterprets aspects of the Kojiki—a collection of myths initially assembled in eighth century Japan—to tell the story of two powerful deities, Izanami and Izanaki, and the beginning of the world. This origin story is not a happy one: the world produced by Izanami and Izanaki is born of conflict, through an infinite cycle of betrayal and payback. For every one thousand people …Continue reading

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Chiapas, the Zapatistas, and the Moral Opportunity: Q&A with Michael Spurgeon

On January 1, 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional or EZLN) marched out of the jungles of the Mexican state of Chiapas to occupy its capitol, San Cristóbal de las Casas. Like his protagonist Henry Singer, author Michael Spurgeon had a bird’s-eye view of the occupation from the balcony of his girlfriend’s apartment directly overlooking the city’s main square. In his new novel, Let the Water Hold Me Down (Ad Lumen Press; 372 pages), Spurgeon chronicles how the events surrounding the Zapatista uprising stir Singer out of a state of relative inaction as the …Continue reading

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Striving for the Lyrical, the Pleasurable in ‘Drunken Botanist’: Q&A With Amy Stewart

Readers were introduced to Amy Stewart in 2004 upon the publication of her book The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms. Using her small backyard in Santa Cruz as a starting point, Stewart took the reader on a delightful tour through the unexpectedly fascinating world of earthworms. “Ten tons of garbage. It is staggering to think of the amount of waste that people produce. Californians dispose of about thirty-eight million tons of waste per year. I did the math; it works out to seventy-two tons per minute.” Then Stewart relates how earthworms provide a remedy to the trash …Continue reading

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A Physicist’s Methodical Dissection of an Indian Atrocity: Jaspreet Singh’s ‘Helium’

Jaspreet Singh’s second novel, Helium (Bloomsbury; 290 pages), is an intricately layered, meditative journey through recent Indian history. Raj Kumar, a professor of rheology at Cornell, returns to India, his birthplace, to visit his father, who is recovering from an unnamed surgery. Our narrator, however, finds himself quickly sidetracked by the figures and places of his past, and the story turns accordingly backward—and inward. Raj visits his former university at the request of one-time colleagues, and eventually reunites with Nelly, the widowed wife of Professor Singh, an influential figure in Raj’s life, intellectual and otherwise. The memory and image of …Continue reading

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The Beginning of the End: ‘One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses’

Lucy Corin has a gift for illuminating the dark and the unsettling through flashes of often absurdist humor, even of beauty. As the title of her new story collection, One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses (McSweeney’s, 192 pages), suggests, Corin’s imagination is vast. In it, she nimbly shuttles us among a soldier encountering a witch, treasure-guarding dogs, and a girl he knew in high school; a pubescent girl agonizing over her coming-of-age rite, in which she selects a “madman” for her own; a high schooler obsessed with a neighborhood girl who disappears after California begins to burn unceasingly; and a …Continue reading

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