Monthly Archives: February 2013

Book Acquired Recently: Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife, First Edition

Gass, William H. Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife. TriQuarterly Supplement Number Two (1968): n.p.

I recently bought and read the Dalkey Archive Press edition of Gass’s novella (the only one currently in print), but it does not replicated the colored pages of the original edition, so I was happy to find this copy for a reasonable price–$30.00–from one of amazon.com’s independent sellers.

It is a beautiful piece of printing craftsmanship. There are four sections: blue, yellow, red, and white, with the first three printed on something akin to construction paper and the last printed on glossy paper like the entirety of the current edition. The book does not have page numbers, but as can be seen in the photographs below, the pages are visually different from one another to the point where it would be fairly easy to describe which page one was referencing in scholarship on the novella.

Here are some photographs of this fascinating object:

The front cover--only $1.50!

The front cover–only $1.50!

A view of the book with the different-colored sections visible.

A view of the book with the different-colored sections visible.

The beginning of the blue section.

The beginning of the blue section.

Some visual playfulness from the yellow section.

Some visual playfulness from the yellow section.

The end of the red section and the beginning of the white section.

The end of the red section and the beginning of the white section.

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Natasha Sajé’s Poetry

I occupied part of my leisure time this holiday weekend reading Natasha Sajé’s two collections of poetry, Red Under the Skin (1994) and Bend (2004). As I mentioned in my post from 15 February, Sajé is a colleague of mine. It was thus quite pleasing to find that I enjoy her poetry immensely. So much contemporary poetry simply bores me, but Sajé’s work is invigorating in both its language and its ideas. What follows are some reasons why this is the case.

Sajé’s poems flaunt their intertextuality in a way that isn’t showy name-dropping, but is instead an insistence that literature is essential and must be sifted through to find the gems that move us best, and also an affirmation of the poems’ rightful place within the tradition. One striking example occurs in “Between the Lines” from Bend, where Sajé asserts in regards to writing “What difference does the instrument make? Less / than the difference between pouring and spilling” (13), a direct retort to the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet Ron Silliman’s question in “The Chinese Notebook,” “I wrote this sentence with a ballpoint pen. If I had used another would it have been a different sentence?”

I am often struck by Sajé’s gift for metaphor. Examples from Red Under the Skin include “Reading the Late Henry James / is like having sex, tied to the bed” (3; this is my favorite poem of hers), “A Male in the Women’s Locker Room / is a shoe in the refrigerator” (17), and, describing a woman at her local swimming pool, “her thighs / have the heft of a good dictionary” (33-34), which reminds me of lines from Marilyn Nelson’s “Mama’s Murders”: “Her leg flies open like a dictionary dropped / the white fat sickens her till her blood / fills the wound….” Examples from Bend include “time as a river of milk whose blankness stretches // over my body” (24), and “She embraces error the way frogs walk” (29).

I appreciate the firm but not pedantic social activism in Sajé’s work, especially in Red Under the Skin. “Eating Crabs with Bob and Jim” is a memorial to the anguish of the AIDS crisis enveloped within one of Sajé’s numerous mouth-watering descriptions of food (I have had the pleasure of eating Sajé’s excellent cooking on a number of occasions, but her sensual descriptions of food throughout both books are so enticing that they would make me hungry even without this background knowledge), and the title poem is a moving exploration of the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s as it was happening.

Sajé also shows in poems such as “Tale” and “The Statues” from Bend that she is able to illustrate scenes from the fantastic just as adeptly as those inspired by real events. The seeming playfulness of these pieces epitomize why her poems are fun to read: they ensconce their wrestling with big ideas in finely crafted language that compels the reader to keep going. Red Under the Skin‘s language is more excessive (in a good way), like the palette of a Willem de Kooning painting, whereas Bend‘s poems are more like the measured, well-fitted work of a keen-eyed carpenter.

Both collections are excellent, though I have a slight preference for Red Under the Skin. I wonder, though, if this is simply because I am in the stage of life–my thirties–that Sajé was when she wrote it, and thus it feels more relevant to me now. Perhaps in ten years my preference will have flipped in Bend‘s favor. What is important is that these are both books that I will want to re-read.

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Books Acquired Recently

Miller, Walter M. A Canticle for Leibowitz. 1959. New York: Bantam, 2007.

I have been slowly working to expand my knowledge of the field of science fiction, and read about this book in the chapter on SF from The Cambridge Companion to American Fiction After 1945 (edited by John N. Duvall). The description of it sounded fascinating, so I decided to buy it from one of the independent sellers on amazon.com. I hope to read it soon, perhaps during Spring Break.

Sajé, Natasha. Bend. Dorset: Tupelo, 2004.

—. Red Under the Skin. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1994.

Sajé is one of my colleagues, and she recently gave me these poetry collections as gifts. I look forward to reading them (also during Spring Break), not only because I know the author, but also because we tend to have similar tastes in fiction (we’ve never really talked about poetry, which strikes me as odd now that I mention it), and so I am excited to see whether these commonalities translate to our poetics. I’m not sure that I’ve read any books published by Tupelo Press before, but the University of Pittsburgh Press’s poetry series is fantastic.

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The Northern Illinois University Shooting Five Years Later

Five years ago today, 14 February 2008, I was a graduate student at Northern Illinois University when a gunman walked into Cole Hall at the center of campus with a machine gun and opened fire. He killed five students and himself. I was fortunate enough to be several blocks away at the time of the shooting teaching a class in one of the dormitories on the edge of campus instead of in Cole, which I walked through every day when I was on campus, or in the English building, Reavis Hall, where my office was. Many of my officemates were in Reavis at the time and could see the victims’ bodies being ferried from Cole to waiting ambulances afterwards.

In retrospect, considering the recent massacres in Newtown, Connecticut, and Aurora, Colorado, the NIU community was “lucky” to only suffer a loss of life in the single digits. But the fact that civilians still have access to the weapons of mass destruction used in these killings is abhorrent. There is no rational argument for keeping these military-grade guns legal. It sickens me to think of all the lives that continue to be lost in the United States because Congress chooses to use the issue of gun violence as a political football instead of taking action to protect its constituents. I am happy that President Obama called for action on this issue in his State of the Union address (you can watch the relevant part of the speech here), and I hope that Congress finally realizes that it is time for action, though I remain skeptical about their willingness to do anything.

To those of you reading this who are against any form of gun control, I ask you to simply think about how you would feel if it were one of your children who had been a victim of these shootings. Doesn’t keeping your children safe warrant an end to the thoughtless political partisanship on this issue?

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Books Acquired Recently

Gass, William. Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife. 1968. Normal: Dalkey, 1989.

I recently read about this novel, which includes a number of photographs, figures, and elements of typographical play. I am quite fond of these postmodern elements because I appreciate it when a book is fascinating as a physical object (as an artwork, even) as well as intellectually.

hooks, bell. Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice. New York: Routledge, 2013.

I love bell hooks and purchased this book for a discount at the Modern Language Association conference last month. I must say that I am not impressed with Routledge’s shipping department, as the book took over a month to arrive from the time I ordered it.

Kauffman, Janet. Obscene Gestures for Women. 1989. New York: Vintage, 1990.

I read this short story collection in college about a dozen years ago, but don’t really remember it. However, several of Kauffman’s other books (Collaborators, The Body in Four Parts, and Characters on the Loose) are texts that I have enjoyed repeatedly, and since I am writing about her in an essay on Mennonite literature which I am working on, I thought I would give this book another go.

The Gass and Kauffman books were bought on amazon.com.

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Sad Post Office News

The United States Postal Service just announced that beginning in August they will no longer deliver letters on Saturdays. This is the latest cost-cutting measure in the USPS’s continuing fight to stay solvent, which has become more and more difficult with the increased use of email and other forms of electronic communication, and with Congress’s refusal to take meaningful action on the issue. I understand why the USPS is making the move, but it saddens me as a symbol of how this once great institution has been diminished. Most Americans just take the USPS for granted, not realizing how amazingly good–how efficient, how reliable–our postal service is in comparison to most countries’, including Canada’s. We won’t understand what we have until it is gone.

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Books Acquired Recently

Cohen, Samuel, and Lee Konstantinou, eds. The Legacy of David Foster Wallace. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2012.

I ordered this book at a discounted price at the Modern Language Association bookfair last month, and it finally arrived this week. As I’ve mentioned numerous times here, I am a big fan of Wallace’s work, especially Infinite Jest. I am happy to see that scholars are actively writing about him, as his work certainly deserves canonization. I would love to teach Infinite Jest sometime, but it is so large that one would really need to devote an entire course to it. His first short story collection, Girl With Curious Hair, will have to suffice.

Jackson, Lawrence P. The Indignant Generation: A Narrative History of African American Writers and Critics, 1934-1960. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2011.

I bought this volume at a discount from Labyrinth Books, which is the premier independent seller of scholarly books in the United States. The book covers the period of twentieth century African American literature that I know the least about even though several of my favorite authors, including James Baldwin and Gwendolyn Brooks, were active during it, so I am excited to read the text in order to remedy this gap.

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