Jed Perl begins his “best” of the year list (online at The New Republic) with Jacques Bonnet’s observation about art books, about how the reproduced images “come one after another or echo one another, all with their cargo of art works.” After Perl recalls some of the year’s most memorable exhibits and catalogues, he quotes an observation John Ashbery made about the influential Raymond Roussel: “A great example forces one to try to do something completely different.” Perl then concludes,
And so in the arts in 2012 we were always looking for the difference, but also for the echo of what had come before.Those echoes of art’s past are especially strong in a beautiful cycle of poems by Mary Maxwell — in her new book Cultural Tourism (LongNookBooks) — concerned with artists and writers whose lives intersected with the landscape and history of Cape Cod…Maxwell inhabits with easy yet never glib precision that mysterious zone where art and life meet. Her words about Hofmann resonate at the end of 2012, as they would at the end of any year in the visual arts: “… Transformation / even death, requires patience, perseverance and acceptance of unknowable / outcomes. Nature is not bound by what we see.”
Next year’s The Longnook Overlook: A Review of the Arts is now editorially complete, and preliminary print production is just beginning. Besides a splendid selection of poems, drama, fiction and translation (the occasional verse of Max Ophuls, for example), the journal will also present a diverse array of critical writing on subjects such as Colette and perfume, “masculine dance” in the fifties film musical, James Levine’s tenure at the BSO, the Brazilian filmmaker Alberto Cavalcanti, and the career of the late poet Rachel Wetzsteon.
With the holiday season in full swing, we are thinking about books as gifts, and therefore (given our obsession) about books about books. In this category we would be very happy to receive The Best of Both Worlds: Finely Printed Livres d’Artistes 1910-2010, published two years ago by Godine in consort with New York’s Grolier Club. This beautiful volume takes as its first epigraph the declaration of Joseph Blumenthal: “The art of the book unites two of man’s most cherished goals. The preservation of knowledge is linked with presentation of the noblest poetry and prose in form consistent with the significance of the words.”
Another enterprise that wonderfully manifests that mandate is The Cahiers Series, brought out by Sylph Editions in association with the Center for Writers and Translators at the Arts Arena of the American University of Paris. A boxed set contains their first eight productions: The first volume made available Richard Pevear’s Translating Music (a translation of Pushkin followed by a talk on translation); subsequent cahiers included work by Murial Spark, Lydia Davis, and Alan Jenkins. Our personal favorite is #6, Text on Textile by Isabella Ducrot (which presents not only Ducrot’s text, but her textile artwork alongside the poetic commentary of Patrizia Cavalli). The most recent in the slipcase (#8) is a selection of Paul Muldoon’s translations and poems entitled When the Pie Was Opened. The series, brilliantly fulfilling its intention to publish work that does not “fit neatly within the narrow categories dictated by most booksellers and publishers,” is edited by Dan Gunn.
The last twenty pages of Just Look at the Dancers,Christopher Middleton’s most recent collection of poetry, is a series entitled “Monostichs.” As Middleton himself notes, a monostich is really a one-line (usually end-stopped) poem; Middleton’s poems here are made up of a series of connected monostiches such as “Manet crushed his parents into a confining space.” As even that meaning-packed line suggests, a lot is going on in these pages: For if each line projects an entire poem, each poem feels more like a book, and the series ends up with all the narrative and emotional impact of an epic. It’s hard to describe exactly what happens in these poems (dedicated to Middleton’s father), but suffice it to say it’s analogous to a visually demanding yet rewarding work of cinema, both innovative and traditionally well-crafted. Given their depths of intellectual understanding (historical, aesthetic, spiritual), this is not the work of a young man; yet in their exhilaratingly untethered pinball-machine impulses, these poems can feel like the inspired work of a young contemporary:“Books ignored, words abused, personal memory wilts. // The gadget does things for and against you,” or “Coherences of poetry and painting are victories but still we soldier on.”
As Mary Maxwell became a member of PEN in 2012, three LongNookBooks publications will be displayed at PEN American Center’s New Members/New Books party to be held at powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn this Wednesday.
On another of our recent visits to New York City we encountered some memorable art: the Daniel Brush exhibit at the Museum of Design and Art, entitled Blue Steel Gold Light, showed the artist’s ink on paper abstractions alongside his extraordinary creations in precious metals and diamonds: “These works are a record of my breathing, a record of time, and an acceleration of being on and in the work.” The beautiful accompanying catalogue published by the museum is additionally a work of art. Also seen: in the Argentinian artist Guillermo Kuitca’s exhibit, Diarios, at The Drawing Center huge rondels, created as tabletops of collage, record “the ebb and flow of life inside and outside the studio.” And in the gallery’s the back room was found José Antonio Suárez Londoño’s The Yearbooks, visualized recordings of things seen — theater or books read. Drawing as notation or an nonelectronic blog, these are responses rather than “illustrations” to Kafka, Patti Smith’s poems, or the journals of Delacroix.
For those with a passion for the “bricks and mortar” bookstore, Cambridge’s Grolier Book Shop has a nearly legendary status. In the New York of our own bygone days, there was once the comparably legendary Gotham Book Mart, Books & Co, Pomander Bookshop, Hacker Art Books, etc. — all locations that have since passed into the mists of cultural history. The Strand alone remains, albeit updated with an elevator. New York has a few newer excellent entries (Soho’s McNally Jackson, among others) that still provide the experience of discovery and encounter with voice and eye, of picking up and putting down actual volumes of writing and visual art. But while we wholeheartedly acknowledge the ease with which the rare book can now be located online, the idea of the bookstore can’t really be recreated at a website. Even the best blog is not a substitute for the overheard conversation; the chat with the proprietor as to who’s stopped by or about what’s going on in the publishing community; what fellow habitués might currently be reading.
Once again we watched a New York City disaster on the television, ex-New Yorkers no longer “there.” Images of Hurricane Sandy showed familiar streets flooded, the inundation of Chelsea galleries with Hudson River water rather than a weekend’s human overflow from the High Line. We observed once again from a distance the vulnerability of “downtown.” That phrase of place was once related to a sense of self now attached to a neighborhood considerably more commercial — it’s gone from an adverb to an adjective — a style rather than what we still like to think of as our former “lifestyle.”
LongNookBooks is very pleased to have Mary Maxwell’s three books of poetry available for sale at the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge. A nexus for Harvard stylistically diverse undergraduate poets such as Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Donald Hall and Charles Bernstein, it remains the place to encounter contemporaries such as William Corbett, David Ferry and Robert Pinsky. Celebrating its 85th anniversary under the direction of Ifeanyi Menkiti, it is still a vibrant meeting place for readings and signings.
On a recent visit to New York, we found ourselves at the “new” Poets House at Battery Park City. A familiar haunt in its previous location on Spring Street, the library and exhibit space is now just a stone’s throw from the World Trade Center site, now being noisily rebuilt. It remains a location still painful for former New Yorkers to visit. The prose poetry of Emporia is, in part, one woman’s attempt to process her experience of that world-altering event referred to as “9/11”:
Three numbers as a point of reference. Date as vehicle expressing something larger, ambiguous as a living language, tenor varying depending on context. With this convulsive, discontinuous memoir, awkwardly processing. Ghostly twinned forms as backdrop to her life and times. Before and after.
Just at the top of the Poet House staircase there is a small but fascinating exhibit about Betty Cray who, along with Stanley Kunitz, was one of the founders of organization. As Cray had also been director of 92nd Street Y in the sixties, on display is a series of fascinating “po-biz” correspondence (Auden, Lowell, et al.) proposing and arranging a number of now-historical events.
Travel books have long been a favorite genre here at LongNookBooks. Among the series we have admired are the Picador Travel Classics (which included Sybille Bedford’s A Visit to Don Otavio) and the National Geographic Directions (W.S.Merwin’s The Mays of Ventadorn, among others). Most recently we came across the Atlas Pocket Classics’ 2008 boxed set on travel in France: James Fenimore Cooper’s Gleanings in France, Robert Louis Stevenson’s hilarious Travels with a Donkey and Edith Wharton’s A Motor-Flight through France. This series of hardcovers (sized for reading with one hand) seems to us especially charming. Edited by James Atlas, with an introduction by Diane Johnson, the books’ menu-like covers perfectly suit the publisher’s enterprise, a literary excursion redolent of our own French sojourns.
Though versions of Mary Maxwell’s translations of the Roman poet Sulpicia were first published in the 1995 anthology, Latin Lyric and Elegiac Poetry, LongNookBooks was happy to publish updated versions in Maxwell’s poetry collection, An Imaginary Hellas. As John Burt noted in the most recent Literary Matters, Maxwell gave a talk on her translations at the 2012 ALSCW conference held at Claremont-McKenna College. In her discussion (which also touched upon other translations of the “female voice” reprinted in Cultural Tourism)
Mary Maxwell discussed how the poetry of Sulpicia gave a powerful turn to the literary and social dilemmas which entangled the female lyric voice, caught sometimes between modesty and frankness, by giving her poetry a bold sexual declarativeness that must have been especially striking in performance.
It’s official: Cultural Tourism is in the running for a Pulitzer Prize! Well, actually, as true as this statement may be, it’s not quite as impressive as it might at first appear: What has occurred is that LongNookBooks has entered the title in the 2013 Pulitzer Prize competition, overseen by the Pulitzer Prize Office at Columbia University. Nominated finalists, chosen by a committee appointed by the Pulitzer Board, will be announced in the spring along with the year’s winner. LongNookBooks firmly believes Mary Maxwell’s Cultural Tourism deserves serious consideration as “a distinguished volume of original verse by an American author.”
Though there are a number of independent publishers whose works we read and admire (The New York Review series of reprints and children’s books; Green Integer’s poetry titles, as well as Douglas Messerli’s PIP Anthologies; the astonishing volumes that keep being brought out by Zone Books), the lovely paperbacks brought out by Pushkin Press have lately dominated our bedside reading stacks. No one needs to be told about the sublimity of Stefan Zweig, but we are newly grateful to Pushkin Press for their rainbow-colored set of his novellas and short stories (mostly translated by Anthea Bell).
Poetry reviews are an increasing rarity in the general press. Today’s NYT magazine feature on Stephen Burt suggests more attention is perhaps being paid to the critics than to the poets. It’s a tough time for books of poetry to get the attention they deserve. As LongNookBooks publisher David A. Keller has written in a cover letter accompanying a set of review copies:
Given the sheer volume of poetry being published just now, both in print and electronically, I know how difficult it is to keep up with, let alone review, what is being offered. Under such circumstances it is perhaps understandable that the ambitious poems and translations of An Imaginary Hellas (reflecting the female voice’s historic struggle for literary expression through one girl’s passage to motherhood) or the engaging prose poetry of Emporia (ending in homage to the poet’s years in Manhattan) were for the most part overlooked. But with the book publication of these works alongside Cultural Tourism, it is my hope that Mary Maxwell’s poems might now receive the critical acknowledgement they deserve.
The cover of Mary Maxwell’s Cultural Tourism (set side by side with the works of Thoreau and Millay) was featured on the poster for yesterday’s reading at Truro Treasures’ “Prose & Poetry Night” at the First Parish Truro Meeting House. Maxwell read from “Hans Hofmann,” her portrait of one of Truro’s permanent residents.
At LongNookBooks for some years now we’ve admired Seagull Books. Though we’re aesthetically inclined toward the “matched set” (the visual consistency of Gallimard folio paperbacks, for example), the varied designs of Seagull are a real pleasure to book lovers. We first came across the press when we picked up their translation of Theodor Adorno’s essays on music (Night Music, translated by Wieland Hoban, 2009) at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge. Whether it was the feel of the paper, the translucent and sparkling book jacket whose design was picked up by the foil-imprinted endpapers, or the humble yet passionate tone of the translator’s introduction — for all these reasons, we literally couldn’t put it down. Last year the press published another translation masterpiece, Cees Nooteboom’s Portrait of an Other, written in 1993 in collaboration with the German artist Max Neumann and translated by David Colmer. We thought such a production would not soon be matched, and yet, Seagull has just published Stephen Romer’s translation of Yves Bonnefoy’s L’Arrière-pays, complete with reproductions of the Italian paintings referred to in Bonnefoy’s hallucinatory poetic prose. All three books are priceless examples of how the greatest works of literature do somehow manage to find readers through the visionary perseverance of their translators and publishers.
The official publication date of Cultural Tourism is tomorrow, though a number of “advance copies” have been circulating over the summer. Word-of-mouth response on the book has been excellent, with a number of Mary Maxwell’s fellow poets already choosing their favorites: New York School aficionados express admiration for “The New York School of Beauty” (i.e. “the Jimmy Schuyler poem”); Francophiles have responded to “A Song of Max Jacob”; women poets are in a particular position to appreciate, “To Frederick Seidel, An Old Man.”
A nearly full house turned out for Mary Maxwell’s poetry reading at the Wellfleet Library last Wednesday evening (August 22). Librarian Elaine McIlroy introduced, quoting Guy Davenport’s observation that
Mary Maxwell’s criticism is so beautifully done, so alive, informed, and intelligent that I’m envious of her craft. Each paragraph has something new, while charmingly continuing… She is literary – admirably – without any hint of being a Literary Scholar.
The open-house fundraiser this past Wednesday (August 15) for the Truro Meeting House was so old-fashioned that it might have been a scene from a Frank Capra movie inhabited by energetic and civic-minded Yankees. (The celebration began and ended with the ringing of the Paul Revere-cast bell.) The historic building, a beautiful early 19th century church (the First Congregational Parish of Truro), is in need of restoration. Surrounding grounds comprise a graveyard where, among others, Hans Hofmann is buried. The painter’s final resting place is described in Cultural Tourism’s “Hans Hofmann”:
to yet another world, his final granite composition remains set down upon
a Truro hillside where he lies dreaming between his two childless wives.
Yesterday’s publication party for Cultural Tourism at the LongNookBooks home was attended by 70 or so poetry and pizza enthusiasts. Fantastic wood-oven pizza was prepared and served by Pizza Barbone of Hyannis, a meal chosen in honor of the book’s poem, “To Dante Alighieri”:
On the crowded shores of Lake Garda, Dante
they’ve named a pizzeria
after your Commedia…
… And yet,
what communion is more divine
than pizza porcini with truffled grana
and a glass or two of Bardolino?
John Kelly’s show at the Julie Heller Gallery in Provincetown opened last Friday (July 10) on a particularly rainy summer evening. Tucked in a corner of what was once the Provincetown Playhouse box office, the stylistically ranging series of self-portraits only give an introductory suggestion of Kelly’s performance genius. From Cultural Tourism’s “John Kelly”:
Face as blank page or
canvas, expression shifting with wet oil-paint mutability, changeable as
social gesture and gender categories.
On August 3 was the opening of the Paul Resika show at Berta Walker Gallery, where the great painter’s “Creation Series,” was the initial inspiration for Cultural Tourism’s “Paul Resika” poem:
gallery is a windowed aquarium where viewers swim through acrylics…
Long Point: An Artists’ Place is also up at PAAM, just next door to the Robert Motherwell exhibit. Long Point Gallery was a collaborative gallery (1977-1998) whose members included Motherwell, Judith Rothschild, Varujan Boghosian, Sidney Simon and Fritz Bultman, among others. (It was Bultman who’d arranged for Hans Hofmann’s wife Miz to come to America, as noted in Cultural Tourism’s “Hans Hofmann.”) A particularly wonderful Paul Resika painting hangs at the end of the big room.
On July 20 was the opening of the fantastic Robert Motherwell: Beside the Sea show at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. Motherwell’s forceful images (“One might say that the true way to ‘imitate’ nature is to employ its own processes”) recalls lines from Cultural Tourism’s “Robert Motherwell” poem:
Wielding expensive brush against bone’s blankness, the
albino whale is attacked with the sword of a samurai or caped toreador.
The Wellfleet Marketplace Weekly Book News describes Cultural Tourism as
an intelligent yet accessible new collection of poetry from Truro’s LongNookBooks. The middle section of the volume recalls Outer Cape residents who have left their mark on the cultural life of this sandbar — Edna St. Vincent Millay, Norman Mailer, Edmund Wilson, Blanche Lazzell, Mary McCarthy and Edward Hopper among others. Look for it in our Local Authors section.
Cultural Tourism is also now available for purchase at Tim’s Books in Provincetown.
Everyone who’s anyone on the Outer Cape seemed to be at the party on July 6 at PAAM to celebrate the new issue of Provincetown Arts. The magazine contains an ad for Cultural Tourism, as well as a note in the magazine’s “Buzz” column;
Mary Maxwell’s new collection of poems, Cultural Tourism, contains a series a verbal portraits of Outer Cape resident past and present (such as Millay, Lazzell, Breuer, Mailer, Motherwell, Resika). “As in certain special European locales,” she writes of the areas’s remarkable roster of artists and writers, “those who have committed themselves to a life of the imagination seem to have remained here as its perpetual inhabitants.” Trained in Classics at Columbia, Maxwell recently returned from Claremont McKenna College, where she gave a talk of Roman erotic elegy at the 2012 ALSCW conference. Given her view that art exists “outside of mortal time,” it’s no surprise that poems in Cultural Tourism address Catullus and Virgil as though they were contemporaries and actual contemporaries, such as performance artist John Kelly, as though they were already immortal. Mary served as Poetry Editor of Provincetown Art’s 2005 issue.
LongNookBooks is an enthusiastic supporter of Truro’s Payomet Performing Arts Center. Look for our ad for LONGNOOKBOOKS.com in this season’s program.