There are so many stars in this issue one almost needs sunglasses to get through the Table of Contents. Reading the work, one sees that these bright names (Francine Prose, William H. Gass, Peter Gizzi, Maureen Howard, Cole Swensen, Nathaniel Mackey, Ann Lauterbach, Rachel Plau DuPlessis) deserve their shiny reputations. Some of their work conforms to the issue’s theme, “Not Even Past: Hybrid Histories,” described by editor Bradford Morrow as “works in which past moments in history play a centralizing role.” Other work is categorized simply as “new.”
The hybrids and new work are accompanied by three major features: an essay on Beckett by Grove Press founder Barney Rosset; a translation of German poet Thomas Bernhard’s lengthy poem “Ave Virgil” by James Reidel; and Natasha Wimmer’s translation of a novel excerpt by Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño. The novel in translation is soon to be published by New Directions, and it is an excellent example of Bolaño’s dreamy, haunting style.
This is a massive 300-page tome, so it’s impossible in this short review to do more than give cursory mention to the issue’s many worthwhile offerings, which include highly original and beautifully crafted poems by Elizabeth Robinson (“Modernist Poems”), Andrew Mossin (“Drafts for Shelly”), and D.E. Steward (“Avrila”); excellent prose by Elizabeth Rollins (“The First Intifada: Jerusalem, 1987-1993), Andrew Ervin (“The Light of Two Million Stars”), and Peter LaFarge (“The History of the History of Death”), and a translation of a short story, “Rainscape,” by Chinese writer Can Xue, smartly translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping. I’m not sure I would have known this were a translation were I to have found the piece un-categorized as such, the mark of a great translation.
Conjunctions is published at Bard College (truly one of the superior liberal arts college in the very best sense of that term) whose students I consider among the most fortunate of any with such writers as Ann Lauterbach on the faculty. Her poems, “A Continue, Or Entry” and “The Translator’s Dilemma” appear in this issue. Lauterbach never ceases to engage (and sometimes enrage) me intellectually while she breaks my heart. What more could I ask for in a poem? Here she is at her best, I think, unfailingly philosophical with her singular talent for compressing large emotions into economical (and devastating) verse:
What next? Unique cruelty of the undone,
Rook rhymes with book, crow with toe.
Also hook. Also know.
To countermand restlessness, settle on fact…