A culture is an angle, a way of looking, a style of humor, an inventory of unique details—and childhood is another. The two combine with beautifully timed humor and pathos in Bulgarian writer Sofi Stambo’s short fiction. Thus, in “Lists,” a wryly itemized assessment of life’s essential things brings this announcement: “the good news is that you have your toilet paper and that’s what matters.” Who will disagree?
If prose can brood with a light touch, then this is that prose—Tom LeClair’s open, wry, unsettling, discursive, historical meditation on the period of time when he was convinced he had but months to live. He starts out consulting with Michael Keever, operator of “Terminal Tours”—a bucket-list organization—and ends up pondering the starkly inscrutable expression of an archaic Greek figurine.
“No ideas but in things”, said the wise physician/poet, and Mary Buchinger has paid him heed, bringing the natural world into an uncannily high resolution in her lines, but also contributing the metaphoric torque that creates a lyrical glow around her depictions, as with her “bale of yellow straw twine-tied, ends chopped neat/ as whiskey no ice”.
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Visit our conversation in progress, curated by the award-winning story-writer and poet David Ebenbach.
A conversation with two highly accomplished practitioners about their work translating contemporary Danish poets. Denmark, as we know from Hamlet, is a microcosm of the world at large, and these two dedicated and inventive servants of the word illuminate much about the alchemical process of trying to change gold into an equally precious metal.
Deayton has hit on the perfect narrative device for evoking the webs of detached intimacy spun by compulsive travelers and expats. Her momentum has her moving from one flash to the next, but there is room to accommodate nuggets of collective wisdom. Like: “You try to avoid the ones who complain about the locals.” Indeed.
The season of change—whether marked by leaves turning colors or new living arrangements—is almost upon us, and Josephine Yu’s “Prayer to Saint Joseph” solicits benediction. But wittily. “Lead us not/ into the temptation of sublets or studio walk-ups.” A short handbook to the pressing transactions of real and unreal estate.
Begin in medias res, Aristotle advised—let the action itself be the hook. Jill McDonough takes the ongoingness of the ramified quotidian and peels it open for the reader in “What’s New.” Right away we feel we are being let into the real stuff of worry, fantasy, idle speculation, but at a powered-up—which is to say poetic—intensity. In advent-calendar fashion, her poem “Today” opens a different square of the mind’s daily occupation, only now that opening involves literal surgeries, and a play with the core (as in “heart”) stuff of Christian iconography.
Making its way forward by way of droll, puckish negations, Bruno Nelson’s “Fanfare” layers together the sequence of one man’s whole life. Received wisdoms are placed side by side with the most arbitrary-seeming “factoids,” but also deftly inserted bits from Tertullian, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Shakespeare, to finally compose a portrait that is at once heartbreaking and wry—an oxymoronic effect if there ever was.
The title invokes a lethargic, mid-1900s small-town life—what comes back to us in the “retro” form of nostalgia, an embodiment of some American dream of the common life. But not so fast! Kraushaar’s unsettling game is to take us inside of said Kittling and to destabilize our every imagined certainty, line by deceptively colloquial line opening the business of living for our questioning.
What could be simpler than the baking of a pie? Easy as pie! we say. But in the heat of the kitchen, a departing lover’s ambivalence is laid bare by a man’s gesture of offering, even as that intended kindness discloses, in a flash, the deeper sense of what is at stake. We see the power of giving, and understand what a tenuous construction resistance can be.
Such a mild-seeming epithet, “bourgeois”—but for the generation of the ’60s counter-culture it was the ultimate insult. Examining its power, its implications, John J. Clayton gets the reader back into the heart of that historical moment, when it was as obvious as could be that the personal was the political, and vice versa. Pitched as a flashback, the story ponders the ongoingness of choices made and actions undertaken.
Tautly recursive, formally sly, “Garden Party Reprise” moves with a minuet’s regularity through an imagining that reveals its layers gradually. We discover new shadings with every restatement, through variations of inflection, and through the growing suspicion that the apple “Hanging for an instant in the air” might also refer to a different garden, which gives a whole secondary resonance to “epic strain.”
Sarah Ladipo Manyika. On Race, and Raising a Son in America.
“I feel shocked when white friends are surprised to hear that one of my greatest fears for our son is that he will be stabbed or shot to death. Why, given all the statistics for young black males in America, do people continue to be surprised?”
A train, a letter, two young men sharing a can of beer, their faces “furious with drink.” As the cards are shuffled, the possibilities multiply and multiply, but then, inevitably, they are dealt out face down and, one by one, turned.
There is the suggestion in this unnerving story that some discerned lights might be “a form of alien intelligence,” but there is also the growing sense that intelligence—and maybe everything—is alien. But to what? One has to wonder . . .
“Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges into the past.” Bern Mulvey works his own variation of the Master’s wisdom in “Cape Air,” filtering experience through the scrim of the airborne nervous system.
“Poets are our professional observers,” quotes Yamaguchi, before looking closely to see how traditional “witness” sorts with its evil twin: “surveillance.” It could be that poets can sometimes do both, and in the process engage our contemporary culture in untraditional ways.
It’s hard to imagine it now, the ubiquity not just of cigarettes but of all that blue-gray smoke. Looking back to those times, her younger years, Carol Potter discerns something more than a broadly derided bad habit—a kind of epidemic of yearning, a raging insatiability that has to have gone somewhere.
The reckonings of later life, the unexpected calculus of regrets and satisfactions, and the uncanny ways that hindsight revises the implication of certain outcomes . . . And what does that bowl of sugar have to do with all of this, that parade of marauding ants?
In this emotional and evocative cross-generational portrait, Meredith at once expands and deflates the meaning of “documentary.” “Holding the small, blue comb . . .” attempts to hold time with a toddler’s grasp—that is, without comprehension, but with immediacy—as the intangibility of historic events merges with the pathos of a veteran’s urge to share what he confronted. An accusatory meditation on the chaotic senselessness of war evolves from a girl’s tactile fixation on her great-grandfather’s hair.
Neither prophetic nor self-indulgently avant-garde, Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red inspires Wrenn to a meditation on the seams between violation and love. If, according to Helen Vendler, “form itself is emotional content,” Autobiography of Red reveals through its unstable, elaborate form emotional patterns that Wrenn finds human and true. A reverie unafraid to probe into the ways we confront life as traumatized individuals, the essay exhorts us to respond as the protagonist of Autobiography does to “swarms of pain”: by approaching the altar of the aesthetic.
The Vietnamese landscape and all it represents—nationality, race, war wounds, shame, and gender—provide the swirling backdrop for a painful and unresolved reflection on the human longing to find “purpose in life.” “The American” contains a cast of non-Americans desperate to “draw attention to themselves” in a hapless effort to discard or recreate identity. Markstein’s searing narrative explores the extent to which foreignness asserts itself even in assimilation, and asks if the stories we tell ever fully survive the “miracle of translation.”
Ulin uses the occasion of a long-dreaded airline flight to launch a meditation on first and last things. His “Kinehora” considers the myriad active residues of superstition, from the prophetic power of dreams to rituals for preempting fate, along the way negotiating the stages whereby we age and look to accept our common lot. With nods to the writers that have shaped his changing awareness of mortality, he enacts what Yeats called the “dialogue of self and soul.”
Taking a single pre-Euro Italian banknote as her pretext, Wilde-Menozzi conducts a sly but also serious inquiry into our notions of value, taking up the specter of the counterfeit, the bank’s strategic incorporation of a mirrored inset, and moves from that to link the currency with attraction, desire, and love. She brings into striking opposition the free-floating, inflation-prone attributions of the market and the values we believe to be indwelling.
D’Abate’s poems are drawn to the liminal, to the zones of overlap. In “The Foot of the First Violinist,” we feel how, in the absorption of art, presence can yield to absence, “a trance, / a kind of death-in-life,” which is shown to be access to a very different kind of completion. In “The Sadness of Young Mothers,” the relentless momentum of time can appear to be momentarily arrested in what might be called the “echo-chamber of parenting,” where repetitions create a resonance of the ongoing.
The Launch of AGNI 82:
On Tuesday, October 20th, at 7:00 p.m., AGNI launches issue 82 with readings by Hungarian story-writer and war-zone correspondent Sándor Jászberényi; Rome Prize–winning poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg; Cave Canem Poetry Prize winner Nicole Terez Dutton; memoirist, poet, and fiction writer Richard Hoffman; and for the first time a special musical guest, singer-songwriter Petaluma Vale, accompanied by harpist Ally Blake. A release party follows. Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. Free and open to the public. [download our flyer]
A Q&A with Boston Lit Mag Editors in the Roundtable Series
On Monday, November 2nd, at 7:00 p.m., editors from AGNI, Harvard Review, Post Road, Printer’s Devil Review, Salamander, and other local journals will answer questions and talk about their magazines. Moderated by Jenn Scheck-Kahn of Journal of the Month. Porter Square Books, Porter Square Shopping Center, 25 White St., Cambridge. Free and open to the public.
Megan Mayhew Bergman’s story “Romaine Remains” (AGNI 79) is cited as distinguished (we knew that!) in The Best American Short Stories 2015. In The Best American Essays 2015, K. E. Duffin’s “Castle Hill” (AGNI 80) and Carol Ann Davis’s “On Practice, School Buses, Hummingbirds, Rumi, and Being Led” (AGNI 79) are cited as notable (they’re distinguished too, not to mention anguished).
On September 1st, David Ebenbach became the founder, curator, and primum mobile of the AGNI blog. Visit it, write for it, and add your comments. The conversation is just beginning.
On May 18th, Poetry Daily will feature Noah Warren’s “Automatic Pool Cleaner” from AGNI 81.
We’re thrilled to welcome Irish story writer and novelist Mary O’Donoghue as fiction editor, where she joins William Giraldi. After publishing three of O’Donoghue’s stories from 2004 to 2009, we invited her to join the staff as a reader. Now she will play a bigger, much-deserved role in
guiding the magazine.
Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, every writer AGNI publishes in 2015, whether in print or online, will receive double our old standard rates. AGNI now pays $20 per page for prose and $40 per page for poetry, with a $300 maximum. We believe writers should be paid as well as possible, and we’re proud to have been paying equally for print and web publication since the advent of AGNI Online in 2003.
Anna Journey’s essay “An Arrangement of Skin” (AGNI 79) is reprinted in the Winter 2014 issue of Utne Reader!
On December 6th, Poetry Daily will feature Mark Kraushaar’s “Matinee” from AGNI 80.
Rebecca Hazelton’s poem “Book of Forget” (AGNI 75) has won a Pushcart Prize and appears in the 2015 anthology. Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s essay “You Gotta Have Heart” (AGNI 77), Paul Christensen’s story “My Beautiful Life” (AGNI 77), and Selena Anderson’s story “Grief Bacon” (AGNI 78) receive Special Mention.
Two recent AGNI essays are cited as notable in The Best American Essays 2014: Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough’s “Europe, Europa” and Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s “You Gotta Have Heart,” both from AGNI 77.
We’re proud to add Patrick Modiano to the list of AGNI writers who have gone on to win the Nobel Prize! He joins Seamus Heaney (1995), Derek Walcott (1992), Wisława Szymborska (1996), and Tomas Tranströmer (2011). AGNI was the first to publish Modiano in English.
On June 4th, Poetry Daily featured Sarah Rose Nordgren’s “Mother, Pressed” from AGNI 79
On Elephant magazine’s Walk the Talk Show, Waylon Lewis talked with AGNI founder Askold Melnyczuk.
Congratulations to AGNI poet Charles Wright, named the new Poet Laureate of the United States!
We’re proud of our partnership with the audio magazine The Drum. Listen to Tiphanie Yanique’s story “Oakland Gomorrah” from AGNI 77.
On December 2nd, 2013, Poetry Daily featured AGNI 78 and Gail Mazur’s poem “Où Sont les Neiges d’Antan.”
Five of the fourteen new recipients of 2013 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants are AGNI translators. Congratulations to Isabel Fargo Cole, Sean Cotter, Edward Gauvin, Marilyn Hacker, and Elizabeth Harris.
On June 4th, 2013, Poetry Daily featured Melissa Green’s “Leda, Later,” a poem first published in AGNI 77.
Robert Long Foreman has won a Pushcart Prize for his story “Cadiz, Missouri,” which first appeared in AGNI 75. It appears in the 2014 anthology.
Two more strong votes of confidence in what we’re up to! Harper’s Magazine, in its February 2013 issue, reprinted Robert Leonard Reid’s short story “That Doubling Is Always Observed,” from AGNI 76, and The New Yorker’s Page Turner blog is reprinting Jamie Quatro’s story “Relatives of God” (AGNI 73). That story and two others from AGNI are part of her debut collection, I Want To Show You More, which James Wood reviews in the March 11th New Yorker: “The best stories are passionate, sensuous, savagely intense, and remarkable for their brave dualism. . . .”
Poetry Daily featured David Wojahn’s “My Father’s Soul Departing” (AGNI 76) on Thursday, November 15th, 2012.
Jen Percy’s essay “Azeroth” (AGNI 74) won a Pushcart Prize and appears in the 2013 anthology.