Gin

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With news that Philip Levine is the new Poet Laureate of the United States, we bring to you this poem that ran in the Spring 1991 issue of ZYZZYVA. (At the time, Levine was a professor of English at California State University, Fresno. He now divides his time between Fresno and Brooklyn.)

Focused on a bunch of boys experimenting with booze, as common a rite of adolescence as can be, “Gin” is funny and tender, as it shows the kids puzzling over the merits of drinking. But the poem unsheathes a sharp line at the end. “Any wonder we were trying gin,” Levine writes, after detailing all the travails — personal and political — life will hold for the underage drinkers.

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Postcards from the Fringe: Blind Summit Theatre’s ‘The Table’

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At Blind Summit Theatre’s The Table, showing at Pleasance Dome through August 28 as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a puppet explains the basic principles of Japanese tabletop puppetry. Pacing back and forth on the white table serving as his stage — as his entire world—the nameless puppet demonstrates, and everyone can see,  how he is operated by three puppeteers—one for head and left hand (Mark Down, who also performs the voice), one for rump and right hand (Sean Garratt), and one for the feet (Nick Barnes). All three are on stage, fully visible, dressed in unassuming black. There […]

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Between Possibilities: Stephen Dunn’s ‘Here and Now’

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Whenever a poet as preeminent as Stephen Dunn releases a new corpus of material, the potential for failure can’t help but manifest itself. Some might fear that the book, having come from an author who has already attained a pinnacle of critical achievement (Dunn won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for Different Hours), will turn out to be a footnote compared to the works that preceded it. Still others might stifle an otherwise solid book with narrow expectations or preconceptions. Yet Dunn’s most recent publication, Here and Now (Norton; 112 pages), is anything but stillborn, an object all its own—rather […]

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Just Follow the Train of Her Perceptions: “Gertrude Stein’s Reality”

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Gertrude Stein’s legacy today is strangely cleft. While her work continues to earn the reverence of a strong academic cohort, most everyone else – even much of the literary community – encounters her most often as the butt of jokes, made at the expense of both her uniquely inaccessible way with words and her eccentric celebrity personage. Take, for example, Ben Greenman’s “Gertrude Stein Gets Her New iPhone,” or Kathy Bates’ portrayal of her (this actor-role pairing is itself something of a joke) as the brusquely opinionated but unerring cultural sage in Woody Allen’s recent “Midnight in Paris.” These are […]

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Other Voices, Other Rooms

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Longtime editor and former bookstore owner Philip Turner has an essay on getting William Styron interested in a book he was editing, Dead Run: The Shocking Story of Dennis Stockton and Life on Death Row in America (1999). The core of the piece is really how editors become passionate about a manuscript and do all they can to get a book to succeed. As Turner writes: “As a person, I am not overly concerned about what people seem to think of me, nor do I crave lots of personal validation from others. Yet it’s an occupational hazard of the book […]

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You Don’t Want to Know

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Anneli Rufus is the award-winning author of several books, including Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto, California Babylon: A Guide to Scandal, Mayhem, and Celluloid in the Golden State, and The Farewell Chronicles: How We Really Respond to Death. Her work has appeared in East Bay Express, the San Francisco Chronicle, Salon.com and Psychology Today. She lives in Berkeley.

“You Don’t Want to Know” is an original essay for ZYZZYVA’s website. It’s one of a group of connected essays Anneli Rufus has been working on. “The basic theme,” she writes, “is the darkness and hilarity of life with paralytically low self-esteem.”

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The Same Anxieties: Contemporary Irish Art Group Show ‘this little bag of dreams …’

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There seems to be nothing particularly “Irish” about the show this little bag of dreams … at the Catharine Clark Gallery, other than the nationality of its seven featured artists. The art does not overtly perform, assert or attempt to define “Irishness” in a way we might expect, especially when the work is presented under a banner like “Imagine Ireland,” Culture Ireland’s yearlong transatlantic outreach program (and the show’s sponsor). As though to definitively dispel any residual expectations of a culture-on-exhibit show, Mediterranean food was served at Saturday’s opening reception. Guinness was available, but so was Sierra Nevada. In fact, […]

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A Wandering Artist: Philip L. Fradkin’s ‘Everett Ruess: His Short Life, Mysterious Death, and Astonishing Afterlife’

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I first heard about Everett Ruess, a 20-year-old wander and fledging artist who disappeared in southern Utah 75 years ago, when I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, during the ‘80s. His story – a longstanding mystery — was one you eventually got to know if you spent anytime roaming around the backcountry of the high desert. Many years later, on April 30, 2009, the New York Times published an article titled “A Mystery of the West Is Solved.” The article explained that researchers at the University of Colorado, using DNA analysis, claimed to have identified human remains found in […]

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A Meanness in This World: Donald Ray Pollock’s ‘The Devil All the Time’

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The major components of Donald Ray Pollock’s disquieting page-turner of a first novel, The Devil All the Time (Doubleday; 261 pages), are by themselves nothing special. There’s the novel’s crime fiction aspect: depraved criminals and less-than-innocent heroes on a bloody collision course. And the novel’s pivotal philosophical concern, one straight out of gothic fiction (as found in Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O’Connor): what does it mean to live in a godless universe full of incomprehension? Or in a world in which God seemingly doesn’t give a damn about what goes on down here? But Pollock, the critically-acclaimed author of the […]

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Looking for Home: Miroslav Penkov’s ‘East of the West: A Country in Stories’

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The title of Miroslav Penkov’s debut story collection, East of the West: A Country in Stories (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 240 pages) is ironic, or maybe wistful —for Penkov’s characters, there is never “a” country. They are Bulgarian immigrants in America, Bulgarian American immigrants returning to Bulgaria, Bulgarians in a village straddling the Serbian border, Muslims in Bulgaria. In 2008, Salman Rushdie selected “Buying Lenin,” the third story in the collection, for his edition  of Best American Short Stories. The atmosphere in East might remind you of Rushdie, but this isn’t magical realism. There’s nothing truly fantastic in Penkov’s work […]

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The Green Tunnel

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David Rains Wallace is the author of seventeen books, including Chuckwalla Land: The Riddle of California’s Desert (click here for our review),  Neptune’s Ark: From Ichthyosaurs to Orcas; Beasts of Eden: Walking Whales, Dawn Horses, and Other Enigmas of Mammal Evolution, and The Klamath Knot: Explorations of Myth and Evolution. His work has earned him two California Book Awards, as well a John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing.

In its Winter 1985 issue ZYZZYVA published an excerpt from Wallace’s work-in-progress — his examination of the unique ecosystem of a state park just north of Daytona, Florida, called Bulow Hammock. The book, Bulow Hammock, eventually would be published by Sierra Club Books. In this piece, Wallace thinks back to when he was a nine-year-old boy and first visited these woods, which are so different from those he knew in New England. “The hammock was … seductive,” he writes. “It smelled sweet, a perfumy sweetness that reminded me of the hotel lobbies and cocktail lounges I’d occasionally been in with my parents.”

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Delicate But Unnerving Patterns: Tahiti Pehrson’s Solo Show ‘Theta Pegasi’

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  Initially, the works comprising Tahiti Pehrson’s solo show, “Theta Pegasi,” at Ever Gold Gallery appear doubly insubstantial: these monochromatic paper canvases sliced into intricate geometric designs, often layered three-dimensionally toward the production of still more ephemeral shadows, declare their own fragility. Were it not for their glass cases, a San Francisco wind could easily devastate the show. Intellectually, too, the pieces seem to lack heft. They are astounding technical displays – the craftwork of a probably obsessive and detail loving mind – but that’s about it. Fortunately, before long, Pehrson’s works induce a rug-pull on our perceptions. What begin […]

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