There is Only the Trying: Some Thoughts on Fame & Failure

1. When Derek Jeter retired from baseball in the fall of 2014, those who followed his last season heard the unsurprising story that he’d wanted to be shortstop for the New York Yankees since he was a little boy. And as I watched his last home game at Yankee Stadium, and watched how his last…

On the Road

Does anyone else feel a kind of intangible attachment, even nostalgia, for the road? One day and long into the evening I remember driving from El Reno, Oklahoma, to Holbrook, Arizona; just hoping to cross out of New Mexico, there were fewer hotels than I expected, so during that last hour of trying to find…

Go Ahead and Fuck Up

Not sure who the equivalent is for you, but Albert Camus was one of the first authors I found outside of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. The high school teacher who introduced me to him also laid an egg it took years to get over: the apparently insurmountable gulf between “popular” and “serious” literature; and…

The Palace of Winds (rereading “The English Patient”)

Our love for certain books or movies or pieces of music are so intense that we like to imagine our preference for them rises to the level of objectivity. The wonderfully grouchy critic Harold Bloom, for instance, praises the poetry of Hart Crane to no end; but, just as effusively, he relates the memory of…

Robinson Jeffers (11 Poems)

Remember when poets made the cover of Time magazine? For probably intersecting reasons, poetry and the public have both failed each other, so that the reputations of people like Robinson Jeffers have pretty much disappeared. But read any of the following poems aloud, and see if you don’t hear something brutal, beautiful, and essential. Because…

John Donne: Holy Sonnets & Good Friday

There’s a sense that, eventually, somebody could have written much of the best of John Donne’s poetry. His tremendous blend of looseness (many of the poems can feel casually spoken) coupled with an almost impenetrable density and complexity, or his mixture of the erotic and humorous and newly-scientific in some of his love poetry, feel…

Early Yeats (12 Poems)

A recent article tells the astonishing story about theatre majors who were unable to act out flirting: “Accustomed to soliciting one another via text, and more used to hookups than dates, this verb was no longer a touchstone for college students, and ‘flirting’ did not elicit any specific physical or emotional behaviors (sustained eye contact,…

Daniel Paul Marshall (6 Poems)

I would encourage anyone with an interest in poetry to check out the work of Daniel Paul Marshall. He has kindly allowed a handful of his poems to appear below, but many more are available at his website. Originally from England, he now lives on Jeju Island, Korea, where he runs a café and guesthouse…

Kafka’s Diaries

  My recent post about Thomas Wolfe elicited a handful of comments like, “I loved to read him when I was young, but as I get older he no longer holds up.” My own versions of Wolfe are people like Hesse and Dostoevsky, but Kafka has remained one of those authors I latched onto in high…

George Orwell in the Coal Mines

As an addition to my last post, here is George Orwell’s complete description of going down into the coal mines of northern England, taken from the second chapter of his 1937 book, The Road to Wigan Pier.  The entire text of the book can be found here. *** When you go down a coal-mine it…

Thomas Wolfe

On this anniversary of Thomas Wolfe’s death, I’m reminded that every few years I turn around and he’s there again. Whether in influencing Ferlinghetti or Kerouac, or anecdotes about his editor Maxwell Perkins trying to beat his holy mess novels into some more coherent shape, or just his own troubled life, Thomas Wolfe always shows…

The State of Poetry … in 1993

The following essay was published in the New Criterion in February, 1993, and reflects a view of American poetry from at least the 1970s forward. It’s quite depressing to read this two decades later, since the status of poetry as a subculture can’t help but be worse than it was then, and worse in part…