This is a terrific issue of the Chicago Review featuring new translations of work by Stephane Mallarmé by Peter Manson, a long poem by British poet Simon Jarvis, a wonderful essay by poet and critic Stephen Burt on the usefulness and uses (read: need) for non-academic literary criticism and reviews (like this one!), three fine pieces of nonfiction writing (not a personal essay among them), a number of worthwhile poems, book reviews, and three solid short stories.
Especially appealing is “The Driving Dress,” by Gary Lutz, which begins: “Before I could fit into the few clothes my second ex-wife had left behind.” Who can resist reading further?! And a story by Matt Briggs, “The Tin Nose Shop,” is as original and quirky as its title: “He had nothing to do, having already finished all the nothings that he’d learned to pass the time.”
I loved Jennifer Moxley’s “Fragments of a Broken Poetics,” the type of writing I would classify as poetry theory, short segments of analytical musings on the meaning and nature of poetry. “After a point, even the poem can grow bored with its own devices,” constitutes the whole of section XLI. Moxley’s work is, happily, never boring. I appreciate, as well, her “Afterword,” explaining the (quite interesting) genesis of her piece.
The most unusual piece is probably Andrew Zawacki’s excerpts from a long poem entitled “Videotape,” with its broken words, stunted syntax, and spectacular attention to sound. Poems by Jean Valentine, typical of her work, are spare, yet striking. Susan Stewart’s powerful poem, “The Sand-Castle,” moved me inexpressibly:
there is no such thing as
a precision bomb
the formal finitude of made things overcomes
our respect for what we have made
often that our desire to destroy is
The dark side of the news he brought.
Her exquisitely rendered breaks reminded me of the truth in the writing of literary critics who define the social and political implications of the division of lines, demonstrated here with amazing clarity and proficiency.
Bringing together scholarly essays, translations of master poets, inventive nonfiction, accomplished and highly moving contemporary poems, smart and original short fiction, and intelligent reviews, The Chicago Review is one “made thing” worth paying attention to.