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.
Horrocks tells the story of her secondhand wedding dress as an oblique way to get at joys and absurdities of the marriage ceremony. Are weddings a communal expression of love or an industry, driven by media, money, and peer pressure? “Weddings are like dreams,” she says, “not in the sense of fairy tales, but in the sense of strange, disjointed departures from daily life that you shouldn’t assume anyone else wants to hear about.” And yet we do. Horrocks brings clarity and irreverent humor to the transformation that happens when a woman becomes a bride.
Langemak’s poem is an answer to what we take to be an editor’s question, “Why not just text me a photograph of her showering?” The piece is, among other things, a subtly staged inquiry into why poetry still matters in a world where love sonnets can so readily be replaced with text messages. Langemak’s description of a woman showering is both seductive and subversive. She points out the imperfections of her body, but in such provocative defiant language—the poet chooses which parts of herself to show, and which to hide.
Kapur sets her poem in paradise: Waikiki, Hawaii. Her fractured narrative undoes the glossy traditional picture of island life, stripping it down to suggest also its potential menace. The images become increasingly dark, yet they’re so vividly rendered that we are seduced into reading on, until that fantasied paradise breaks open and we are left with a single image, one both profoundly sad and memorably expressed.
Carrie Shipers’s haunting poem on the Jonestown massacre presents a shockingly intimate view of the event. Reimagining the violence within the context of a father-son relationship, the poem begins casually, its language only slowly laying bare the layers of fear. Starting with a basketball game and ending with implications almost more frightening than even the massacre itself, the poem builds and recedes, leaving the reader unharmed but anxiously braced, unsure if the danger has passed.
Fiction by the 2014 Nobel laureate, Patrick Modiano
In the first publication of Patrick Modiano’s work in English, in AGNI 10/11 (1979), the 2014 Nobel Prize winner brings readers into a confused dream, blending identities and languages in a way that belies and unsettles the solid-seeming truths of the post–World War II era. Anti-semitism, Judaism, martyrdom, self-loathing, self-knowledge, loyalty, sacrifice—the mix is heady, and as we read we feel our convictions shift until we find we have completely lost our footing. Left trying to fit our puzzle scraps of certainty into some picture of sense, readers of this piece will recognize Modiano’s exceptional talent, already clearly evident thirty-five years ago.
Cassie Pruyn plays with rhyme, lacing hipsters and fish with jazzy rhythms. The start of “Maine Morning, Age 5” feels almost mythical, calling up intimations of selkies and lost souls. “Lost Love Lounge” takes us into a jaded bar scene of cigarettes, alcohol, and easy women. Enticing, unexpected sounds weave through both, culminating in sharp, perfect rhymes that bring the reader up short, suggesting that she’s been seduced, urging that she return to try again.
Video, with an introduction by Erin Trahan
AGNI celebrates the life of filmmaker and photographer Robert Gardner, a longtime contributor and generous supporter of the magazine. This short film of his conversation with Peter Matthiessen, legendary writer and naturalist, was his final gift to us. Both Gardener and Matthiessen passed away this year, leaving behind this invaluable glimpse into their experience as witnesses to the Dani tribe, a nearly extinct neolithic culture in Papua New Guinea. This career-launching project would shape their view of modernity and its drawbacks. Introduced by our poetry reader Erin Trahan, the 1996 interview is now available exclusively through AGNI.
The word “visceral” comes to mind when reading Averill Curdy’s poem on Baffin Island, a failed expedition for gold. While the events of the poem take place in 1578, Curdy explores the timeless tension between human beings’ ambition and nature’s implacability. Poet Jacqueline Kolosov uses the phrase “intense musicality” to describe Curdy’s style and, indeed, a haunting lyricism underlies the harsh subject matter: “Imagine: / our lungs freezing / like sails, the intricate rigging of bronchioles / and alveoli singed in hoarfrost.”
Kolosov and Curdy have a moving conversation about what drove Curdy to poetry—“I think I was sort of ‘wounded’ into poetry, as many are”—who influenced her work—“I think my desire to give words the heft of objects comes from Hopkins”—and what themes compel her—“So many of poems in the book are interested in change, in transformation.”
“Padraic is singing, as he is always singing, and his voice is trying to do that Christy Moore sort of justice he can do to anything he sings. That such a deep voice can come from Padraic amazes most people because he is chinless and thin as a tin whistle, a long-necked man who looks like he should be pipping. Today, he sounds like he is pipping:
Where is the ring I gave to Mrs. C.?
No matter where I roam
It’s with her I want to be.
Padraic stops singing when he enters Rory’s shop and says, “Morn-ing Rory,” drawing out his first syllable as if to start another song.”
“A veil’s tiny
black diamonds touch
your lashes, your cheeks.
ringing from your wrist,
sideways on the stair.”
“We visited my grandparents in Raleigh one August when I was four or five. The first night, after I had been put to bed, I got up. I had heard the uncles, drinking and talking, and I didn’t want to miss out. I was hungry, I said, and my grandmother gave me a bowl of cereal. I ate it in the kitchen, listening. Everyone was around a yellow-lit table in the dining room, their tumble of Carolina accents rising and falling above the ticking of a fan stuck in the open window, holding the humid night at bay. I remember the music of the stories more than their substance. I sensed their pull and power. I wanted, suddenly, nothing more than to have stories to tell, and to sit at that table and tell them.”
translated from the Arabic by Andrew Leber
A dispatch from the Gaza Strip, brought to AGNI by Comma Press
“On August 1, my sister managed to visit us during the first morning hour of the announced truce. Before we even had the time to wish her well, she described what she’d seen on the way in a single sentence: “They have destroyed everything.”
I deeply want to see the sky above me, and I deeply want to see the full length of the road before me. Yet when I’ve ventured out during these days of war, worry has clouded my vision and dulled my perception. I came and went on the road without noting the time or feeling the air permeate the pores of my skin. I don’t deny that fear has perhaps taken up a large part of my diary entries, but not the fear of death. No, it is a fear of theft, of having life stolen from me before I know when this war will end. Whether an identical war will break out in two years, or whether those intent on this repetition will think of new ways to kill people on the ground.”
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.