Eating Alone. Thursday morning, because of jetlag and all that, I was wide awake at four in the morning, and after a failed attempt to fall back asleep, I hopped on Yelp and looked for an inexpensive place to eat breakfast at 6 am. Remarkably few options that early in the morning. Anyway. I found Lola, a restaurant that had a perfect, chill ambiance, and rocked eggs with kale, octopus, beans, onions, and two slices of bread. Food was perfect, but also, the time to ignore all the noise and appreciate the fact that I was a part of this conference at all. It’s far too easy to bitch and complain about the conference rather than notice how amazing it is that the whole thing works at all. Quiet breakfasts are one way I did that this year.

1. Haruki Murikami’s name-stealing monkey in “A Shinagawa Monkey”.

2. The dogs in Mark Doty’s Dog Years are part of the reason that this is the only book that’s ever made me cry.

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3. The young tapir at the end of Lydia Millet’s How the Dead Dream plays a pivotal role in the novel’s extraordinary ending.

4. The turtle that struggles to cross the road in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

5. The pack of wolves at the wedding in Willa Cather’s My Antonia. AttackSeton

6. The rabid dog in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

7. Richard Wright’s Native Son opens with Bigger Thomas stalking a rat.

8. It’s bad luck for the obedient dog in Annie Proulx’s Postcards whose owner orders him to stay at the top of a hill and then forgets about him until he’s deserted his home and traveled many miles away.

9. Behemoth, the enormous talking cat in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.

10. The ancient collie in Jo Ann Beard’s remarkable essay, “The Fourth State of Matter.”

11. Finally, one of our very own. Stu, the astute German Shepherd in “Explaining Death to a Dog” by Susan Perabo published in The Missouri Review.

"Aint it just like that kind
to be fertile as cats,” the mister said to the missus
in the parlor room of the house.


I cottoned they was talking about me
an’ my belly, like I didn’t know
how that come to pass.


The missus took me by the hand to a root-worker
down by the river. She had yarbs hanging
all over her shack, and one lamed-up old dog.


“Papooseroot,” she says. “It grows in the forest.
But you best know what all you’re getting
or it’ll kill the both ya.”


She made up a bitters for me
from plants as grow in the deep of the woods,
lank things and dangerous.


“Drank this of an evening,” she says, “and say
th’ow it away, th’ow it away, th’ow it away.
There will commence a flow of blood by and by.”


Th’ow it away, she tells me, they be others.
The next one mos’ kindly let hisself out,
running away – just like I did right thereafter,


putting my hopes like solid money
on the first kind face as come along,
figuring it better than what I knowd on that farm.


Short but no way sweet, that companioning,
but long enough to spark a child. I counted my days
as the show headed down to winter quarters.


I axt and I found: a doctor in a dark office
that I come to through the back, and left the same,
bent over creeping through the alleys.


Then once, it was in York State, I begged a tonic
from a woman run a bawdy house, a work of night
an’ pulled shades, like the blood gathered up in the body.


Well, I come to being solitary, and well satisfied
in that, ’til Shelby. And for love, for love, they was no child
to be made. Fate in the lines on the side of my palm,


the children marked to me, one two three four:
what was throwd away not to be give again,
no more ’lowed to my account.


As for that first? I dreamt him live, many a night,
dreamt him standing by my cot, an’ he wore
a dent in his chin like the mister and all his get.

Our poem of the week is Valerie Nieman’s “Like Mother.
One of the exciting things is also one of the scariest things about publishing: there are no rules. When I say “publishing” here, I mean all of it: writer, editor, publisher, and even non-profit work (say, the wonderful Arizona Poetry Center). Many of my students, if they are honest, only have a vague idea of what they want to do. And, in universities now, humanities students desire a specific road map (do this, then do this, then do this…) to get where they are going. While saying so may reveal big dreams and lots of ego—say, being a famous writer with Big Important Books that Say Something, or being a New York editor with a corner office in Manhattan that looks like something out of a Nora Ephron movie—having those wishes is a good thing. Aim big, and all that. So it’s important for TMR to point out how different that imagined landscape is from reality.
Because TV and movies are more widely experienced than a specific book or story, they can serve as examples using a language we have in common. For instance, the TV talent shows I love offer a lesson for writers creating characters. They teach that the power to make the viewer care about the contestants enough to vote for them is not in their singing, it’s in their story. The most talented often don’t garner the most votes, it’s the ones who are talented enough, but who also have a moving story who do. We love the contestants for whom it didn’t come easy more than the ones who seem to have had all the advantages. Emotionally resonant characters must strive, must work, must overcome obstacles in order to achieve their goals. That doesn’t necessarily mean the old axiom about your protagonist needing to be sympathetic; think instead of creating a relatable protagonist.
While I’m excited that nerdiness has finally become a badge of honor of sorts, I’m more concerned that the term “nerd” has been watered-down to something so easily achievable that anyone with a few spare hours to devout to his latest interest can proudly proclaim himself one. Somehow people are confusing “liking something” with “being a nerd about it.”
thekenyonreview
Writing is a compulsion for me, although as compulsions go, it’s a pretty healthy one. Even though it’s a challenging process, writing tends to be a source of pleasure and peace of mind. I am powerful and in control as a writer in ways that I never feel in the rest of my life (at my day job, in my relationships, etc). So it’s a very important part of my life.
therumpus
I think one of the greatest gifts writers can give each other is the act of simple witness. To say to each other: I believe you and I believe in you and I want you to keep on keeping on because that’s the only way. Write that story or poem or essay or novel or play or advice column that you feel compelled to write, no matter what the market says.
Perhaps it is our longing
to see the part that sees
coaxed out from its place
of hiding, like the shadow
page you soon will turn
to lay upon another.
Perhaps there is a bone
to mend, a heart we hardened
when we were far away.
The past is always out there—
we know that—and never is.
Forgiveness is difficult
for this reason. And sweet.
You see it everywhere,
the dead hand that brought you
into the world, the birth
cry you cannot remember.
Somewhere a wasp unzips
the air and we pass through.
No, you have never passed
this way before. And yet
this particular spoon,
with the ceiling fan
spinning in its eye,
is on the verge of something,
confessing its attachment,
taking you, like some
drunk exaggeration, back.
Try, it says, to feed
yourself in both worlds,
to give to both, fit in,
and so move about more
freely. As if we might
forget when we are
thinking of forgetting.
Or look a little closer
by looking at the act
of looking. We might, you know.
Try, say all the fathers
with their dying and ours,
to blaze without burning,
the way one sun blazes
with many suns, and none
so blinding as today.
Our poem of the week is Bruce Bond’s “Déjà Vu.”
Americans love talking about happiness. When you think about it, especially as a writer, having language such as “the pursuit of happiness” put into a government document is curious. My old mentor, Lee K. Abbott, would call that a “stout stake” that makes a narrative promise that you, as writer, better deliver. I’ll keep the cultural commentary to a minimum here, but when a nebulous and temporary state called “happiness” is part of your national heritage for nearly three hundred years, the tendency to avoid sadness, fear, embarrassment, pain, disquiet, vulnerability, and restlessness becomes normal. It’s why so many books by American writers are interior and focused on the individual. It’s why so many books by American writers (and the writing workshops where the foundation of these books are birthed) feel like therapy.