Superfluous men


Narcissus and Ego: Poets Try the Novel, interesting look at Dan Beachy-Quick‘s An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky and Ben Lerner‘s Leaving the Atocha Station.

Ruthlessly autobiographical and dialectical on the role of art, we might think we’re witnessing a new form: a shrewd arbitrage of the Confessional Poem smuggled into the Novel. But, of course, the novelists have been here before. [Lerner’s narrator] Adam Gordon calls to mind André Gide’s marvelously puckish 1894 novella Marshlands, whose unnamed narrator never misses an opportunity to announce the writing of his own novel “Marshlands” (the story of a “man who lies down”). He carefully crafts empty maxims to deploy while mocking and being mocked by literary society, models himself (at least in his selection of breakfast) after the Lake-Poets much as Daniel would Melville or Adam would Ashbery, and all the way throughout . . . accomplishes very little writing of “Marshlands.”

Introducing: SJ Fowler

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Editors’ note: As we head towards publication, we thought we would introduce our contributors.

SJ Fowler has been exploring the boundaries of European poetry in his Maintenant series, a project that takes its name from pugilist, poet, hoaxer and nephew of Oscar Wilde, Arthur Cravan. It’s an astonishing project, one that has profiled the work of almost 100 contemporary poets, placing the likes of Frédéric Forte, Tadeusz Różewicz and George Szirtes alongside Ann Cotten, Luna Miguel, Holly Pester and Ragnhildur Jóhanns. Says Fowler,

“For years I was completely isolated in my reading too…and as such I was in a bubble, didn’t have the chance to develop any sense of prejudice against poetry in translation, or avant garde work, as somehow otherly. That’s perhaps why I read this kind of work alongside poetry that might be better known in this country in equal measure.”

A lost soul


Arthur Cravan writes to Mina Loy from Mexico City, December 10, 1917:

Since leaving I have become tremendously pure, and if I manage to survive I’m thinking of becoming a saint. But I don’t think I will survive. If you don’t get any more letters you’ll know that I’m dead or else that I’ve gone mad. If you can’t console me I’d rather disappear from the world of the senses or at least of the intelligence. I can no longer see a star or read a book without being filled with horror. I have almost no strength left for writing to you. and if I knew I was doing it in vain, I would kill myself in five minutes. All I do is think about suicide. As you have probably never been in this state, you can’t understand. If you had suffered half as much as I do, you would fly to my side. Listen, Mona, I would almost ask you to lie. The idea of death fills me with horror, so even if you couldn’t come, could you give me the sweet illusion that I will see you again? I could never bear the truth. Madness terrifies me more than death. My brain can’t manage to repair the losses, and the only thing I really grasp is that I am lost. Wire me for God’s sake. This is the Christmas of a lost soul. It will be the New Year of a man who is condemned to death…. Mina, I can’t believe, I don’t dare believe, that you will abandon me. If you come, I swear to you on my eternal soul that I will never cause you pain and that your life will be sweeter than that of any other woman. Forget the past. I was full of lies, but now I only want to live for the truth.

From the New Yorker.

Encounter at the crossroads of Europe


Will Stone, translator of Stefan Zweig‘s Nietzsche [a gorse read of 2013], on Zweig and Emile Verhaeren.

In Berlin, apart from his studies and bohemian indulgences, Zweig sought a more expansive freedom in literary terms, and caught the bug of translation. He began to explore further afield, even translating poets such as Keats and Yeats and producing with other translators a collection of Verlaine’s poetry to which he added a critically acclaimed introduction. But all the time he was moving closer to Belgium, drawn by the rich crop of its home grown artists and writers who seemed to integrate their works in fresh and creatively productive ways. So in the summer break of 1902, long anticipating a visit to the ‘little land between the languages’, Zweig made his move.


The vital importance of Zweig’s meeting with Verhaeren in relation to his ensuing career as a writer, emissary of humanism and key proponent for the higher ideal of a Europe of cultural unity, cannot be underestimated. The contrast between Verhaeren’s openness, curiosity, vitality, not to mention the explicit visionary credentials he held, and the self conscious dandified Viennese poetry circles Zweig had moved within was extreme. It was if Zweig himself had suddenly been released from a reserve of pampered elites into the rawness and unpredictability of the wild and could finally breathe real air, taste real food and appreciate the creative potential of risk and unpredictability. In Verhaeren’s verses he saw bold new vistas opening up which seemed to strike a necessary chord with the rapidly transforming epoch, as the fabled ‘golden age of security’, guarded by the Hapsburg realm unceremoniously gave way to something far more restless, ominous and uncertain.