Why is the new book called The Elegy Beta you ask? Well, that’s a fine question. You always ask such astute and piercing questions.
The title refers to the eponymous long poem at the book’s close: a piece that responds to Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Duino Elegies, considered by many to be the greatest European poem of the 20th century. My elegies attempt to make the same moves as Rilke–thinking about angels and their place in history–without quite being translations. In that way they are a “beta-version” as in a pre-release of a piece of software meant for early adopters, but they are also a beta to Rilke’s alpha: the second in a series, “an after-ing,” as the poet Robert Lowell termed the practice. In so doing, I am participating in a revival of impressionistic “translations” used recently with great success by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy in Love Poems to God (Riverhead, 2005), and Anne Carson in Antigonick (Bloodaxe, 2012). My book’s overarching theme is to ask readers to think about suffering differently, the title poem arguing that it is a gift we should spend more wisely than we usually do.
The “and other poems” is there in the title to signal that the Elegies only take up about half of the book; the rest is shorter poems of the sort you know and love from Phases. :)
This week, we (the editor, designer, artist, and me) decided on a cover! It’s so thrilling to see the process from up close! My last book had a pretty sexy cover, but that was a stroke of luck; I didn’t have any say in it. This team, by contrast, sent me 8 possibilities for cover directions, which we whittled down to 3, and then all settled on one. It’s so fun and I can’t wait to share it with you (!!!) it gets a sense of the angelic–weightless, haunted– with a sense of the daring, threatening, paradigm-obliterating bare fact of what such visitation would would likely wreak on the human sensorium.
Meanwhile, I’m just back from Waco, Texas where I convened, conversed, and contrived with the folks from the Lilly Foundation for Arts and Humanities, hosted by Baylor University. Various theories of human flourishing were floated; various roasted meats were consumed.
Terminator by Richard Kenney
I’ve been looking forward to this book for most of the decade. His last, The One-Strand River is a desert Island book for me; like if I had to choose 5 books to accompany me until death, renouncing all others, I’d reach for it without a second thought. I’m only 1/10th of the way in to this new one, and am awed and delighted by the technical wizardry it performs.
The first issue wholly assembled under the new team over at the flagship. Everything is interesting within, but try unfixing your mind from the cover.
I Drink Therefore I Am by Roger Scruton
Wise and wandering, these are essays wrapped up as memoir, doing an impression of wine criticism, that’s really cultural criticism and history: Scruton’s milieu. A priest gave it to me and I’m glad he did.
Kanye West Jesus is King
Well, those are words I never thought I’d type. I don’t care anything for the cult of fame surrounding this fellow and his family, and I don’t prefer the genre in which he works, and I bear no affection for any of his creations up to this point. But he did just very publicly put on my team’s jersey, so I thought I’d wander over and meet the new recruit. I love that he’s bending his creative powers (such as they are) in service of something greater than his own titanic ego. Who can say if this all will be for him a fad, or a scheme; in any eventuality, we’ll have this record, which seems to me moving and worshipful even, drawing on deep wells of gospel music and images from a real wrestling with scripture.
Tooth and Nail bands
I’ve been listening to this podcast called Labelled, which tells stories of classic records put out by Seattle Record Label Tooth and Nail. A whole scene surrounded (surrounds?) this label in a way that I don’t think is true quite for any other entity (maybe Def Jam in the 00’s?) and anyway, it was my scene, my whole universe growing up. It’s fun to hear these many great bands from 25 years ago reflect on what the scene was like, what the world was like, at that time. Mostly, I love hearing about Joe Christmas, Plankeye, Poor Old Lu and other longtime favorites, but the show has also introduced me to new (old) bands that I’m really enjoying (ex. I never quite understood mewithoutyou, despite the recommendation from several quarters, but now that I’ve heard “A to B Life,” the whole thing makes sense. What a great record!)
(From a reading with Scott Cairns and Jennifer Maier at Richard Hugo House)
The author and critic Jeffrey Overstreet gave at talk at St. Ambrose on Babette’s Feast and it was wonderful: the talk and the film (which I had not seen). Check out his film reviews here.
James K.A. Smith came to SPU and gave a stirring address on “Practicing the Prophetic” which you are welcome to view here; then, two weeks later, he flew back out and gave a talk with novelist Garth Greenwell at Richard Hugo House– where I often read poems–on the topic of desire in St. Augustine. Most of my church attended, which I just find phenomenal.
Ellen F. Davis delivered a lecture on ecology and made me love Wendell Berry’s poems for the first time. I’ve always appreciated his essays, obviously.
Mrs. Willett appeared in two dance performances recently. One, just last week, at Magnuson Park Gallery with Sonia Dawkins and Tania Palomeque.
Oh yes! I’ve made a Facebook Author page.
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