Congratulations to Peter Balakian, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry!
The winning collection, Ozone Journal, includes two poems first published in AGNI, “Near the Border” and “Slum Drummers.”
Balakian’s work has appeared in the magazine more than a dozen times, starting in 1977.
In an impassioned salvo, Ukraine’s most prominent writer argues that ignorance of Ukrainian history leaves the West diminished and vulnerable. As for who or what is to blame, her country’s habit of silence vies with a willful blindness outside its borders. But in recent years Ukraine’s writers have rediscovered an older tradition that lay dormant for too long—rich and raucous expression.
A nuanced and implication-laden excavation of a single word—sibboleth. This questioning becomes a way to grapple not only with the gradations of meaning in poet Paul Celan, but also to underscore the huge importance of the smallest shifts and displacements of language, how meaning can teeter on the fulcrum of a syllable.
Subtle psychic shifts turn a when—a time of young love—into a where. The past is a place left behind in literal increments, “a long bus ride home alone, small town to small town,” the destination in the end taking the form of a realization that keeps renewing itself.
Recursive to the point of near-inanity, “Jury Duty” plays the formal public process of peer deliberations against the doubts and vexations that bedevil a jury’s progress toward the receding mirage of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If the world is, as Wittgenstein proposed, “everything that is the case,” then we surely live in a multi-verse.
The intensities of kinship in Carlson-Wee’s poem are underscored by the slippery shifting and merging of pronouns—you, me—and somehow driven home by the counterpointing lurchings of a train moving through a city in the night. The evoking of place and sensation is so very precise, while the negotiation of the bonds of relationship remains suggestively mysterious.
Syncopation marks out the momentum and the shape of impulse in these short poems. It’s as if we’ve been given special access to the accelerating run of breath and heart, find ourselves suddenly present at two very different occasions of surrender.
translated from the German by Eldon Reishus
We’ve all readied ourselves for this examination, though possibly only in those dreams that we wake from in a sweat, thanking the kind gods that we are not really being called. How much depends here on the intuitions of faceless power, and the readiness—worse, willingness—to comply.
A tribute to Armenian-born painter Arshile Gorky, Davis’s poem uses color and punctuations of imagery and lore to mark out what might be called the space of painterly imagination. The nouns are artfully distributed and balance like the discrete pendants of a mobile.
Consider the humble aphorism, its compressed lyricism, its sly swift strike . . . Character-brevity is by no means the brevity of character, and is often enough its reverse. Aphorisms—as we see in this culling from Lababidi—are the distillation of reflection into provocation.
Kazarian explores the complex relation between trauma and the possibilities of lyric fragmentation in the essays of Peter Balakian. Despite a generation separating reviewer and critic, the resonance of a shared heritage—the weight of Armenian history—can be felt throughout.
The presence of the “satyr of the sideburns” is ongoing in the collective American psyche, and his encore appearance in Ruescher’s “Dedication” is occasion for a witty, period-soaked inventory of his far-flung fanbase. It’s hard not to smile at the image of “those femme fatales who were born that way / Slurping frappes through straws at clean-cut soda fountains / In streetcar suburbs.”
The power of writing to express inwardness—this we know. But how does expressed inwardness then turn its energies back onto the writer? How does that writer then navigate the often dizzying shifts between his written past and his brooding present? Can we ever really rid ourselves of the traces we’ve made—on paper or in the world?
Not likely to ever be an Olympic event, women’s tree climbing remains a minority sport. But what intense energies are exerted, and what care goes into establishing relative levels of ascension. Where are the men? It’s a question that Phifer-Byrne’s poem does try to answer.
Signification, the capacity of words to embody what they name, is the subtle animating principle in these poems, both of which play with the power of naming and, at the same time, consider the ambiguous spaces created when words are forgotten or repressed.
Just as an apple can conceal the shape of a feasting worm, so the folksy homespun of a Tennessee wedding is packed here with sly surprise. McGlynn wields a devious wickedness that gets us quickly behind the facades of decorum—a whole future of wedded “bliss” is glimpsed in a few perfectly orchestrated turns of phrase.
A letter written to register a consumer complaint opens a digressive path into a psyche that has possibly begun to lose its moorings. But the voice prevails, its comical aggrieved bravado trumping the sense of slippage—though it’s also hard to shake the sensation that a tugged bit of yarn might eventually unravel the scarf.
Such an unearthly dilation is found right here on terra firma as we glide on the moving walkway, and Carolyn Guinzo takes advantage of the possibilities of that receptivity. What happens? A fly, some finches, some ants—their scaled-down doings are suddenly magnified in the imagination. Reading, we feel departure, then arrival, both part of a traveler’s momentary business.
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”.
the AGNI blog
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.
On Monday, May 2nd, 2016, at 7:00 p.m., AGNI launches issue 83 with readings by Andrea Barrett, Jayne Benjulian, David Daniel, and Heather Abel and music by local singer-songwriter Mali Sastri. A release party follows. Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. Free and open. [download our flyer]
Askold Melnyczuk, the founding editor of AGNI, will read from his new novel, Smedley’s Secret Guide to World Literature at two upcoming events—May 5th, 7 p.m., at Porter Square Books in Cambridge and May 18th, at Newtonville Books in Newton Center. Join us there!
European Voices: A Reading and Conversation with Ilija Trojanow
On Tuesday, April 26th, at 6:00 p.m., AGNI, in conjunction with BU’s Center for the Study of Europe, presents Bulgarian-German writer Ilija Trojanow, who will read from The Lamentations of Zeno (Verso Books, 2016), a novel about climate disaster and a scientist imploding on a journey to the Antarctic. Born in Bulgaria in 1965 and brought up in East Africa, Trojanow established his name with the novel Der Weltensammler (The Collector of Worlds, 2006) about the cross-cultural Victorian adventurer Sir Richard Francis Burton. Trojanow has been prolific in a number of genres, including travel, ethnography, and science fiction. He has also become a major public intellectual in Austria and Germany with provocative interventions on topics such as Islam and the West, civil rights in the age of cyber-surveillance, and climate change. A reception follows. The BU Castle, 225 Bay State Road, Boston. Free and open to the public.
On the last Thursday in April, the Bay Area bookstore Mrs. Dalloway’s Literary and Garden Arts will feature Edgar Kunz’s “Window Washers” (AGNI 81) in its National Poem in Your Pocket Day celebration. A warm thanks to Mrs. Dalloway’s!
Kirun Kapur’s poem “Girls Girls Girls” (AGNI Online) has been selected for the 2015 Best of the Net anthology!
A new interview by our Sumita Chakraborty at LARB shows sides of AGNI poet Melissa Green that no one else has captured, with a sound and shape rare for author interviews. Five stars!
On November 26th, Poetry Daily will feature Kathleen Graber’s “New Year” from AGNI 82.
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.