Monthly Archives: January 2017

Three Poems for Inauguration Day: ‘I Used to Be Much Much Darker’ by Francisco X. Alarcón

On the occasion of Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day, we would like to share with you three poems from our early volumes—poems we believe speak to values that will be very much challenged by the incoming administration.

“I Used to Be Much Much Darker” by Francisco X. Alarcón (who died last January) appeared in ZYZZVA No. 3 (Fall 1985). A playful even jovial poem, it tells, in English and in Spanish, of the speaker’s love of self, of reveling in his “darkness”—something others would deem unworthy of celebration. Indeed, as the speaker plangently notes: “but anyway/ up here ‘dark’/ is only for/ the ashes:/ the stuff lonely nights/ are made of.” Yet it’s the poem’s indefatigable cheerfulness—could we even call it optimism?—that remains with the reader.

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Three Poems for Inauguration Day: ‘Snake’ by Sherman Alexie

On the occasion of Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day, we would like to share with you three poems from our early volumes—poems we believe speak to values that will be very much challenged by the incoming administration.

“Snake” by Sherman Alexie appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 77 (Fall 2006). In the poem, a driver recounts the accidental running over of a bull snake. But what is really being recounted is how the speaker takes responsibility for the creature’s body, and how respecting the dignity of others, and holding oneself to account for actions that affect them, is akin to holiness.

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Three Poems for Inauguration Day: ‘Justice Without Passion’ by Jane Hirshfield

On the occasion of Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day, we would like to share with you three poems from our early volumes—poems we believe speak to values that will be very much challenged by the incoming administration.

“Justice Without Passion” by Jane Hirshfield appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 12 (Winter 1987). In the poem, the speaker observes a friend’s son practicing the piano, noting “he is like a soldier or a saint: blank-faced, and given wholly/ to an obedience he does not need to understand.” Perhaps, the poem suggests, justice rests in understanding when obedience is merited, that justice requires us to be aware if we are only playing “for playing’s sake.”

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A Political Awakening in Haiti: ‘Dance on the Volcano’ by Marie Vieux-Chauvet

Dance on the Volcano, by Haitian author Marie Vieux-Chauvet (1916-1973), was originally published as La Danse sur le Volcan in 1957. Previously translated into English by Salvator Attanasio in 1959, Archipelago Books has published a delightful new translation by Kaiama L. Glover. Glover, a scholar of Caribbean fiction, translation, and Francophone literature, seems like the natural candidate for translating Vieux-Chauvet’s stunning novel. She has already translated two other works of Haitian fiction, and her scholarly knowledge and apparent pleasure in making the sights and sounds of colonial Haiti accessible to an Anglophone audience are palpable. Dance on the Volcano tells …Continue reading

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Landscape as Character, Characters at a Distance: ‘Ema, the Captive’ by César Aira

César Aira’s books often shrug off the shackles of genre, tradition, structure, or sense. They’re also often short. Usually around 100 pages, these novellas are complete in and of themselves. However, readers will most likely leave an Aira text in a completely different mental state than from the one they entered with—such is the challenge and the pleasure of reading him. Aira’s latest book, Ema, the Captive (128 pages; New Directions; translated by Chris Andrews), is fairly straightforward in substance and story. A 19th-century Western set in Argentina is probably the most succinct way to describe it but to box this book …Continue reading

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