Third Factory/Notes to Poetry

art is autonomous

Attention Span 2011 | Jesse Priest

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Danielle Evans | Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self | Riverhead | 2010

A collection of short stories that seek to describe the experience of minority youths in today’s society, Evans goes a step beyond in her writing and captures something of the entirety of human existence. Each story contains a philosophic energy that is best described by one of her own narrators: “your skin crawls with the sensation that something urgent is about to happen, but you never know what, or when.”

Reif Larsen | The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet | Penguin | 2009

Larsen’s novel uses a complex system of notes and annotations made by his narrator to accompany the prose. What results from these smattering of images, charts, maps and drawings is a hybrid visual/written experience that creates a more complete world for his story.

Ander Monson | Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir | Greywolf | 2010

What intrigued me most about this collection of essays and fictionalized non-fiction is Monson’s use of the internet to add another layer to his writing. Many of his pieces contain different links to his website, which avoids seeming like self-promotion and instead creates an opening for the reader to explore additional research and insight into the ideas that Monson suggests.

David Mitchell | Cloud Atlas | Random House | 2004

What drew me to this novel is its format, which Mitchell describes as being similar to Matryoshka dolls. Each section is a self-contained story that connects in direct and indirect ways to the one following it, and halfway through the novel we begin working backwards through the stories again. What made the novel stick with me, however, is Mitchell’s ability to appropriate different genres and styles in a way that feels seamless and dynamic.

Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Jane Bannard Greene and M.D. Herter Norton | The Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke, 1910-1926 | Norton | 1976

These later letters drip with romance and longing, as well as fascinating observations as Rilke traveled before and during the First World War, searching for a place to feel comfortable and to write. “And how much people do,—I don’t know what they do, but for the most part they look busy or at least in love…”

Margaret Atwood | Selected Poems | Simon & Schuster | 1976

An early collection of Atwood’s recently acquired from the bottom of a relative’s dusty box, I was surprised at how Atwood’s early poems still reverberate both with her more contemporary writing and the world we inhabit now. I especially notice ideas and stylistic similarities with her latest novel, The Year of the Flood, that give new immediacy to these earlier poems.

Charles Olson and Robert Creeley, ed. George F. Butterick | The Complete Correspondence: Volume 2 | Black Sparrow | 1980

This volume of the writers’ correspondence takes place when Olson and Creeley’s friendship was beginning to embolden, and contains much discussion of philosophy, language and poetics. It can also be approached as a sort of manifesto-in-progress as Olson and Creeley mused over the logistics of publishing a magazine.

Thomas James | Letters to a Stranger | Graywolf | 2008

“Instead of all this permanence,/ I would have preferred a bouquet of yellow flowers–/ Buttercups perhaps, petals that might shrivel easily./ If you had wanted to ignite this room,/ You should have settled for a honey jar”

Adrienne Rich | Winterface and other poems | Tinhouse | 2010

“Death, good-looking as only a skeleton can get/ (good looks of keen intelligence)/ sits poised at the typewriter, her local, her pedestal… (I say her but who knows death’s gender/ as with life there are possible variations)”

Marjane Satrapi | Persepolis | Pantheon | 2003

I can’t add much to the discussion of this book. I re-approached it this year through the lens of teaching literature, as well as the interesting complexities involved with teaching graphic texts. I found that imagining how its historical contexts, its presentation, and the combination of words and images could potentially add to classroom setting made this reading of Satrapi’s autobiography my favorite one to date, and possibly my most productive.

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More Jesse Priest here.

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