Monthly Archives: February 2012

Studies in Sinister Toys and Figurines: Q&A With Michael Brennan

If you’ve dined at any number of swanky Bay Area establishments, you might have unwittingly enjoyed your meal in a restaurant designed by one of the few people who is as well known and well respected for his fine art as for his commercial work. Michael Brennan has designed the interiors of such San Francisco hotspots as Farallon, Zero Zero, Fleur de Lys, and Bruno’s, and Alameda’s Miss Pearl’s Jam House, as well as Revival in Berkeley. He’s painted murals for many more places, too, including the Cliff House (also in San Francisco). ZYZZYVA’s Winter ’11 issue features images of …Continue reading

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Bending Time and Music: Celebrating ‘Masters of Venice’ at the De Young Museum

Gerhard Richter’s enormous mural Strontium glowered over Wilsey Court. The mural, made from a collection of blurred photographs representing the atomic structure of strontium titanate (a substance used to make artificial diamonds), might have been interpreted as a bit of a symbolic downer on the festivities, which celebrated both the high and the low fruits of early-Renaissance wealth. Projected on an adjacent wall was the flashier and less demanding 1964 Vincent Price horror flick, Masque of the Red Death. Downstairs, the lauded exhibition, “Masters of Venice: Renaissance Painters of Passion and Power” was open to any partygoer who wanted to …Continue reading

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The Great (and Good) Cross-Pollination of American Literature

It was the first day of my first Advanced Fiction workshop. Everyone was fiddling with their pens and eyeing each other across the long oak table. As she handed out syllabi, our professor extolled the virtues of experimentation and articulated a staunchly ecumenical approach to writing. With one exception, of course. If any of us were interested in writing science fiction, fantasy, or mystery, she would be happy to introduce us to her dear friend over at MIT, who knew everything there was to know about genre fiction. The implication was loud and clear: some of her best friends wrote …Continue reading

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How Do You Dance ‘Honor’?: SF Ballet’s ‘Onegin’ by John Cranko

Often, the thing we love about the work of a great author is the ability to describe a moment, an emotion, some nuance of experience, in such a way that it is immediately recognizable to us, however foreign to our experience it actually is. We feel they somehow rummaged around in our mind and conveyed our lives back to us with different plots and more elegant language. The months after I graduated from college and was struggling to find work, feeling like I was both fabulous and doomed to uselessness, was probably the worst time to read The House of …Continue reading

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A Kind of Portraiture: ‘Threshold Songs’ by Peter Gizzi

In Peter Gizzi’s fifth and newest poetry collection, Threshold Songs (Wesleyan University Press, 108 pages), the poem serves as a place where Gizzi can “talk / to myself through you.” He asks, “what does it mean / to be tough / or to write a poem / I mean the whole / vortex of home / buckling inside.” The collection is a place where Gizzi can articulate the “aboutness” of language, the interval between discursive sounds. This place both urges speech and thwarts the compulsion; it’s the gap where poetry is invented internally and is exonerated externally.

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Beyond Life’s Slow Drizzle: ‘Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty’ by Diane Williams

There are 51 stories in Diane Williams’s new book of short stories, Vicky Swanky is a Beauty (McSweeney’s Books, 118 pages), and not one of them is longer than a page, front and back. I read the collection in a night, and spent a week and a half (with pleasure) working the text over again. Is this flash fiction? It is, except when there isn’t really a narrative. Then the pieces are prose poems. Williams uses a lot of devices consistent with prose poems – the second-person voice, the posing of questions. But whether her book can be classified as …Continue reading

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The Staying Power of Joan Baez: Marianne Aya Omac at Yoshi’s in San Francisco

As diverse as the music performed in concerts is, so are the appearances of the audiences. James Mollison documented a spectrum of what he calls the “tribes” of attendees in his photography project and book The Disciples, a rough census of personae that converge around the archetypes represented by the musical acts Mollison followed. The grouped images of said disciples invite one to guess, before reading the captions, which performers each had come out for. It’s not hard: men in trucker hats and denim overalls, Merle Haggard. Men holding up sagging jeans by the crotch and women whose skirts barely …Continue reading

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Doing the Right Thing: ‘Body Awareness’ at the Aurora Theatre

As befits the first play by a young, promising playwright, Annie Baker’s Body Awareness, performing at the Aurora Theatre, is ambitious, spry, inquisitive, and restless. Before launching Baker’s award-studded career, Body Awareness appeared in the 2007 Bay Area Playwrights Festival, which showcased two playwrights who would go on to win Obies: Baker and Samuel D. Hunter. Five years later, the play returns under the direction of Joy Carlin, who balances the script’s constant intellectual and physical dynamism by keeping it zipping about, like a juggler circling on a unicycle. The play, set on the campus of a Vermont small college, …Continue reading

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‘A Theory of Small Earthquakes’: Q&A With Meredith Maran

A Theory of Small Earthquakes (Soft Skull Press; 352 pages) is the first novel by award-winning author Meredith Maran. Known for her several nonfiction books, including My Lie: A True Story of False Memory (2010), Dirty: A Search for Answers Inside America’s Teenage Drug Epidemic (2003) and Class Dismissed: A Year in the Life of an American High School, a Glimpse Into the Heart of a Nation (2000), Maran worked on her story of love, friendship and family for eight years (“from start to publication”). Humorous and heartfelt, and breezy yet serious, her story of the long and evolving relationship …Continue reading

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Self Portrait as Wikipedia Entry

Dean Rader is a professor in the English department at the University of San Francisco and author of Works & Days (Truman State University Press), which won the 2010 T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize. His forthcoming book is Engaged Resistance: American Indian Art, Literature, and Film from Alcatraz to NMAI (University of Texas Press).

“Self Portrait as Wikipedia Entry” is one of his two poems in ZYZZYVA‘s Winter issue. The piece, in print, appears with sections of underlined words, denoting what would be a hyperlink if read on a screen. We reproduce the poem here with the actual links.

Rader will be reading tomorrow night at 7 p.m. with Herbert Gold, another Winter issue contributor, at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, as part of a ZYZZYVA/Granta event.

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Variation Under Nature

Kascha Semonovitch is a poet and writer in Seattle. Her poems have appeared in The Colorado Review, The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review, and other journals.

“Variation Under Nature” is one of her poems in ZYZZYVA‘s Winter issue. The titles of her poems in ZYZZYVA are also selection titles from Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species. She is currently working on a series of poems based on the life of Alfred Russel Wallace, a contemporary of Darwin’s.

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