2020: Looking Back

2020 has been such a difficult, strange year that I often forget a book I wrote got published at the beginning of it. The publication of that book feels like it was a lifetime ago, something from a different world. And in many ways it was a different world, because the book was released just as we were becoming aware that COVID-19 might be something of a problem for the United States. A month after the book's publication, we knew things were serious. Two months after, the routines of the world had changed. Trying to do a year in review post this year is especially difficult because the year felt so long and life was so upended that memory is both hazy and untrustworthy. This year, I didn't write a lot, but I read far more than I thought I had — once I started making a list in preparation for this post, I was surprised at just how much reading I did. This realization made me somewhat less depressed about how little success I've had this year at writing fiction or essays,

Paul Celan at 100

  Waterhour, the rubble scow ferries us into evening, we, like it, are in no hurry, a dead Why stands at the stern. —Paul Celan, "Rubble Scow" trans. Pierre Joris One hundred years ago, Paul Celan was born; fifty years ago, he died. A variety of books have been released to honor this occasion, but the most significant, for English-language readers at least, is Memory Rose Into Threshold Speech: The Collected Earlier Poetry translated by Pierre Joris , who has made the translation of Celan a significant focus of his life's work. Joris's translation of Celan's 1967 collection Atemwende appeared from Sun & Moon Press in 1995 as Breathturn . This was followed by Threadsuns in 2000, Lightduress and Paul Celan: Selections in 2005, The Meridian: Final Version-Drafts-Materials in 2013, and then in 2014, the companion volume to the new one: the magisterial Breathturn Into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry , which collected Joris's previous translations al

Screen Tests / Undying

This review was first published in the Fall 2019 issue of Rain Taxi Review of Books . Anne Boyer's The Undying  went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. (I have kept the page references in my text that are provided for the Rain Taxi copyeditors, but which are cut from the printed version.)  This review in many ways intersects with my later essays  on Zambreno's  Drifts and  Jeff VanderMeer's Dead Astronauts , parts of something I've been thinking of as "the asterisks project". What will come of it, I don't know, but it is ongoing, in fits and starts (more fits than starts these days, but c'est la vie). Screen Tests Kate Zambreno Harper Perennial ($16.99) The Undying Anne Boyer Farrar, Straus and Giroux ($26.00) reviewed by Matthew Cheney In Screen Tests , a collection of prose pieces, Kate Zambreno says that she writes to “announce to myself, as well as to the drifts of former intimates that amass into one giant coronary heartbreak, t