“Fiction Isn’t Machinery, It’s Alchemy.”

Before I say a reluctant goodbye to Peter Orner's book, Am I Alone Here?, that has been such good company these past three days, I thought I'd share a few final quotes I marked in the book. Six are from Orner himself, and three are ones he fished from Frank O'Connor's book, The Lonely Voice (and …

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The Humbling Beauty in Reading-About-Reading Books

Every writer is a reader, and every reader indulges himself now and then in a good "reading about reading" book. This is where I'm at now as I amble through Peter Orner's Am I Alone Here? (The answer is, Clearly not, P.O.!) The thing about reading-about-reading books is how expensive they can be. No, I don't …

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The Poet, the President, and the People

Almost to the man, the Founding Fathers of this careening experiment we call the United States of America feared the eventual appearance of a demagogue. George Washington warned us about him. Alexander Hamilton warned us about him. John Adams warned us about him. Only John Adams went one better. He saw that a demagogue without …

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“Pepper Trees Brushing the Roof Like Rain”

Charles Bukowski is one of those enviable poets known even to people who think poetry is a joke. Although I had never read much of his work (until this week, thanks to The Pleasures of the Damned, which collects his poems from 1951-1993), I knew enough to consider him one of those characters who carefully …

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Bukowski’s Cat

We've all heard of Schrödinger's cat. He's sealed in a box, poor thing, with radioactive material and something called quantum superposition. That's geek speak for an experiment centered on being "simultaneously alive and dead," which is a tricky business, even for 9-lived felines who ain't feeling so fine. Less famous is Bukowski's Cat, apparently quantum-free. …

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Chekhov’s Secret: Not a Gun on the Wall

As is true with poetry, short stories are typically frowned upon by book publishers. To get a collection of short fiction accepted, you either have to be a well-known name or your stories have to be very, very (did I say "very"?) good. This truth, as self-evident as Thomas Jefferson's were supposed to be, struck …

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Twin Poetry Peaks: Terrance Hayes and Jericho Brown

These past few weeks I have been reading and rereading poems from two contemporary poets of note, Terrance Hayes and Jericho Brown. Both Hayes' book, American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin, and Brown's, The Tradition, mix personal poetry with political, specifically living as a black man in post-Obama America. For the curious, here …

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“The Mix of Flag Blood & Surprise Blurring the Eyes”

All politics is local, they say. And all poetry, too, seen in a certain slant of light. Sometimes it's bright and obvious. Other times, you have to work in the dark a bit to see it. As I continue to slowly read (and reread) Terrance Hayes' American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, I …

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