This past Wednesday Tracy K. Smith officially began her term as the new U.S. Poet Laureate. After adding her name to the guest book traditionally signed by poet laureates upon the start of their one year term, she read aloud from previously published poetry collections and introduced new work. Ron Charles from the Washington Post reports “[a]mong her most powerful new pieces were ‘found poems’ constructed from archival letters that African American veterans sent to President Lincoln asking for pensions they were owed.” Smith is the first poet laureate appointed by the new Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden. Stay tuned for her upcoming efforts to engage rural communities in poetry discussions.
I’ve written before about the First Sentence series at Granta. The magazine asks a prominent writer to explain how they came to write an opening line. Recently, they asked Bear Down, Bear North author Melinda Moustakis to talk about the beginning of her story "River So Close": “She’s a good-for-nothing chummer.” You could also read Jonathan Russell Clark on the art of the opening sentence.
We submit that beginning a love story with the lede “I never intended to get a tortoise” pretty much guarantees that the reader will read to the end. In Sunday's New York Times Style section, Caroline Leavitt puts our theory to the test. (If you like her essay, you might want to pre-order her new novel.)
"I don’t think writing the truth makes you strong by default. I think it makes you vulnerable, which in turn can make you strong." Amy Jo Burns writes for Ploughshares about the difficulties of "Writing About Other People" and the upcoming publication of her debut memoir, Cinderland.
"Yes, it’s easy to laugh at the lawyers. But what if the lawyers were right? For the question that still needs to be answered, I think, is whether the arguments over the novel’s obscenity and obscurity were just temporary historical effects or whether they point to the essence of Joyce’s originality." A longform look at why we should still find Ulysses scandalous.
At The Rumpus, Greg Hunter talks with John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, whose debut novel, Wolf in White Van, came out last month. In the past few weeks, I’ve recommended former Millions-er Emily M. Keeler’s review of the book, as well as a video interview with Darnielle.