Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Day One

Good luck in your first day, President Obama.

* At The New Republic, where he seems to have settled in nicely, Adam Kirsch takes stock of the inauguration poem by Elizabeth Alexander. 'This poem, written for a book and not for an inauguration, is already public in the worst sense — inauthentic, bureaucratic, rhetorical. So it was no surprise to hear Alexander begin her poem today with a cliché ("Each day we go about our business"), before going on to tell the nation "I know there's something better down the road"; and pose the knotty question, "What if the mightiest word is ‘love'?"; and conclude with a classic instance of elegant variation: "on the brink, on the brim, on the cusp." The poem's argument was as hard to remember as its language; it dissolved at once into the circumambient solemnity. Alexander has reminded us of what Angelou's, Williams's, and even Robert Frost's inauguration poems already proved: that the poet's place is not on the platform but in the crowd, that she should speak not for the people but to them.' On the other hand, we have Frank Bidart's 'Inauguration Poem' at Slate, which is a much stronger poem but would have been no more appropriate for the grandeur of the event.

* Scott Esposito at Conversational Reading has an interview with Declan Spring, of New Directions, one of my favorite publishers. Scott asks whether the small publisher model is better equipped to last the recession, to which Declan responds, 'Definitely. We’re not beholden to stock owners, our overhead is pretty small, and we always count on just a pretty small profit every year anyway. Our staff has worked here for many years, mostly the same folks for twenty years, who are devoting much of their lives to the mission of ND. We see it as a profit-making business, but we are also realistic and dedicated to the cause. That makes it easier in this climate. Most important, while we always expect people to get excited about the new books we publish — many of the most innovative and exciting foreign authors, and some of the foremost avant-garde American poets — we have always had the luxury of being able to count on the steady sale of our luminous backlist. James Laughlin started New Directions in 1936 and since then, ND has built up one of the great literary lists in American publishing. Those books are essential texts in any worthy bookstore and are adopted on a wide scale in college courses across the country. No matter how the economy’s doing, those books are sold and read. And since we’re a small press with a long-time devoted staff, we can be creative and smart about keeping costs down and forging ahead as we’ve always done. One thing our President Peggy Fox reminds us about is that we’ve been through ups and downs before.'

* Edmund White at The Guardian writes about the literary world's worst house guest: Arthur Rimbaud. 'He took to nude sunbathing just outside the house. He turned his room into a squalid den. He mutilated an heirloom crucifix. He was proud of the lice infesting his long mane and even pretended he was encouraging the vermin to jump on to passers-by. Verlaine was delighted with Rimbaud's antisocial antics, which recalled to him his own younger excesses before his marriage.'

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