The Clerk's Tale: Poems

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The Irreplaceable Human Voice: Louise Glück Gives Form to Devastation

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As a Buddhist priest, I find in Louise Glück’s American Originality words for an increasingly bewildered and besotted country—a series of meditations on poetry’s power to orient, understand, heal, celebrate, and preserve the self’s “Individual, irreplaceable, human voice.”

1. America in Situ

Glück’s America is “famously, a nation of escaped convicts, younger sons, persecuted minorities, and opportunists.”

Nursed on “images and narratives of self invention,” our invented selves are insecure. Stretched between the need for distinction on the one hand and corroboration on the other, Americans dart about, encumbered by a hustler-complex: “Under the brazen ‘I made up a self’ of the American myth, the sinister sotto voce, ‘I am a lie.’”

Thus the American is wonderfully original, aware of herself and her life as being both the origin—the place, the raw material from which she culls meaning—as well as the originator: the poet who mines herself, as it were, from nothing, to justify her purpose for being. This situation generates panic, as with Richard Siken, in whose poems (from Crush) “desperate garrulousness delays catastrophe…Everything is a trick…everything is art, technology—everything that is, can still change.”

Of those who face the apparently contradictory task of creating an original—primary and distinct—self while burdened by that self’s need for broad accord: “The [American] artist must look like a renegade and at the same time produce, whether by accident or design, an aesthetic commodity, a set of gestures instantly apprehended as new and also capable of replication.”

“The cost of this pressure,” says Glück, “has been immense.”

2. Louise Glück’s View

“Against the background of the eternal, the void, stories are musical phrases, simultaneously completed formal shapes and inconclusive fragments,” Glück writes.

America’s is the culture that forces the self to sell. One is made significant by virtue of having been copiously consumed (replicated). Given this state of affairs, the self’s substance is determined by consumer demand. Intuitively, we loathe and rebel against this situation: for the limitation it imposes on our freedom, for its disinterest in our claim to, need for, and enjoyment of particularity, and for its assault on our dignity. Witness Glück on Jay Hopler, whose “dreamy obscurities and rapturous effusions share with his more direct speech a refusal to be groomed into uncommunicative cool”—who, for protecting spiritual and artistic purity, “writes like someone haunted or stalked,” who “wants, simultaneously, to hide and to end the anxiety of hiding, to reveal himself…to give himself away.”

3. Voices

In Part 3 of her book—“Ten Introductions”—Glück provides a series of 10 essays: introductions to collections she encountered during a busy-sounding period of her career, when, from 1999-2010, she served as judge for three separate prizes: the APR/Honickman First Book Prize, a first-book competition overseen by the American Poetry Review (1999), the Bakeless Prize, supervised by Michael Collier (2003), and the Yale Younger Poets Prize (2003-2010). She reports that these introductions were “thrilling to write,” for having felt that in the poet she introduced, she “had discovered an immense talent”; so that her act of describing the artist “took on a genuine urgency, not unrelated to messianic fervor.”

In her choice of winners, one finds the poetic sensibilities Glück appreciates as answers to the American’s troubling dilemma: If Aristotle is correct, our meaning is found in community and connection, which is to say historically, temporally, and by corroborative consensus. How, then, does one preserve an individual sense of self while at the same time participating in a society that—in the name of order, security, subsistence—must pigeonhole and hammer flat its citizens’ edges, curtail their freedoms, and this the very society upon which the self depends for meaning?

Glück’s answer to this dilemma is that we ought to live with awareness that the truths which hold society together—and in which we necessarily find ourselves enmeshed as its members—are not fixed. They are bound to an eternal cycle of change: forever subject to both deterioration and invention—a mirror, in fact, of the very same processes by which the self is governed.

Our answers to the question of human purpose and meaning, for Glück, ought not to resemble the fixed, well-packaged commodities—the ideologies—thrown down for the sake of preservation, in the self’s and civilization’s march through time. Rather, they should constitute a performance that resists this tendency, that accurately assesses and provides a creative response to the activity which takes place at the self’s and society’s inception: a response to the event at our origin, in the tension between lyric and narrative possibilities—where, out of void, what has been recedes to make way for what’s new. One example of this is the poetry of Jessica Fisher, whose poems (from Frail-Craft) “move like dreams or spells” where momentum “seems less a function of will than an evolved form of passivity…that condition in which freedom from decision and choice makes possible a unique flowering of attentiveness and reflection.”

From Fisher’s “Journey”:
Because the valley spreads wide, ridged with signs
we read; or because what we needed was always at hand—
reach down and there was a book, there a slipper, there a glass
of ice cold water. Hopefully we walked
the paths laid before us, there was a burr-bush,
there a blue jay, quail and other creatures, too many
to follow. Where did they go once we lost their lead?
Which is to say, where did we not go? Quick, quick,
they called to us, but we heard only the sound
of our boots on dried leaves, and were mesmerized;
we spoke to one another of things in the path,
we chucked to our horses, when we had them,
and when we had hats we took them in our hands
and hallooed to the passersby (brahma bull, bright
green bird) though we were not yet out of the wood,
instead it closed in around us, deep were its streams
and the trees thick around and thick together…

4. Rilke et al.

“Contemporary literature,” writes Glück, “is to a marked degree, a literature of the self examining its responses,” and in her essay “American Narcissism,” she traces the origins of this literature back through Freud, Keats, Whitman, Dickinson, and especially Rainer Maria Rilke, who postulated “a void, an absence into which the world flooded.” For Rilke, “The future had begun to disappear, and would continue—terrifyingly—to do so…all figures for continuity and trajectory began to seem false…[He] maps out a spiritual terrain never before visible or audible, never before necessary…an art that placed the self, actually or emblematically, at the center of lost time (the moment, the instant, just past).”

5. Poet as Secular Priest

Born of “the moment, the instant, just past,” Rilke’s subject is unable to witness its own inception—only, rather, the trail of afterbirth assembled post-genesis. It only knows itself as an effect: as having been the result of—and subject to—time. Aware of itself, its environment, its history as having been granted by time, this self is equally aware that time, for all its generosity, will come to reclaim its gifts.

Thus, in Arda Collins’s It Is Daylight, “The self in the present, always both performing and taking notes, becomes the self that acted and the self that remembers, the shift in tense making each self potentially whole. This, together with the atmosphere of searching or incompleteness, makes, despite the poem’s sadness, a model for hope. If something can end (the before of before and after), something can begin; time can begin, feeling can begin.”

Time is such that gain necessitates loss. And Glück would have us see that what we use—what we do—to appease such loss is poetry. This is the sense in which it can be said that poetry, for Glück, is religious: “By giving form to devastation, the poem rescues the reader from a darkness without shape or gravity; it is an island in a free fall; it becomes his companion in grief, his rescuer, a proof that suffering can be made somehow to yield to meaning.”

As a kind of secular priest, the poet strives to preserve by his expression what is worthy of edifying and sharing: that which, without his words, will otherwise perish. “His belief in art, and investment in art, in the dream of articulation, project him constantly into the future—the hypothetical moment in which comprehensive darkness acquires limits and form,” Glück writes. The life that has been granted, knowing it’ll be lost, invents itself through voice, narrative, words, bringing to its community and to its death a meaning that inspires “the compensatory fantasy that one can make a new self…The poem is a revenge on loss, which has been forced to yield to a new form, a thing that hadn’t existed in the world before.”

6. Two Examples

Two examples of such “new form” are Katherine Larson and Spencer Reece.

Here is Glück on Larson:
A grave passivity infuses [Radial Symmetry]; experience is less sought than received. The poet is a kind of dazed Miranda, so new to the world that its very ordinariness seems an emblem of wonder….I think a reader will remember these poems for their beauty, the profound sense of being in the present that their sensuality embodies, and a sense, too, of its cost.

[From Larson’s “Broke the Lunatic Horse”:]

“The Milky Way sways its back
across all of wind-eaten America
like a dusty saddle tossed
over your sable, lunatic horse.
All the plains are dark.
All the stars are cowards:
they lie to us about their time of death
And do nothing but dangle
like a huge chandelier
over nights when our mangled sobs
make the dead reach for their guns.
I must be one of the only girls
who still dreams in green gingham, sees snow
as a steel pail’s falling of frozen nails
like you said through pipe smoke
on the cabin porch one night. Dear one,
there are no nails more cold
than those that fix you
underground. I thought I saw you
in the moon of the auditorium
after my high school dance.
Without you, it’s still hard to dance.
It’s even hard to dream.”
And on Reece:
How are we to master suffering? Over and over, the poems in The Clerk’s Tale discover in modesty a discipline by which the desire to affirm can overcome repeated disappointment that threatens to become withdrawal or despair. They take solace in simple decency; they admire dignity, as they admire the natural forms in which spontaneity survives…I felt emanating from Spencer Reece’s work a sense of immanence that belongs to religious passion; it is a great thing to have it again in art:

[From Reece’s “Chiaroscuro”:]

“When the ficus beyond the grillwork darkens,
when the rind cools down on the lime,
when we sit here a long time,
when we feel ourselves found,

“we will turn at last,
we will admire the evening’s fading clues,
uncertain of what dark portends
as another season ends
and the fabulous visitors depart in luxury cars,
we will savor the sharp light from the summer stars,
we will rejoice in the fronds tintinnabulating down these
empty streets,
these beautiful streets with all these beautiful names—
Kings, Algoma, Via Bellaria, Clarendon, Via Vizcaya,
Via Del Mar, El Vedado, Banyan, El Brillo, El Bravo,
Via Marina.”
7. On the Relationship of the Poet to Her Art

Part 4, the final section of Glück’s book, includes three essays: “On Revenge,” “Estrangement,” and “Fear of Happiness.” Here Glück offers a kind of confession. It is not an offering she makes lightly. She has worked for it—on our behalf. She’s suffered awkwardness, anxiety, insecurity, darkness, despair. And yet she did not settle for, stop, or indulge these states. Rather, she examined them, and examined herself examining them. She clearly sought to understand their meaning, origin, and purpose, to move beyond—to shed—herself into art. And if her drive for such understanding was not initially motivated by an urge to educate, it seems she came to learn through self-understanding that her purpose—and purpose universally—requires one to make paradigmatic one’s suffering without losing the anecdotal particularity by which it commands temporal, corporeal substance, significance, meaning, and force. The essays of Part 4 are offered with a kind of “take these thoughts if you want; I found them to be a helpful working-through, and perhaps you will, too” attitude, exemplifying the humor, detachment, and modesty Glück extols as protections against narcissism. We are called to,
summoned, invoked into ourselves by way of this poet’s contemplations—offerings, it seems, as equally fitting for “Goodbye” as “Hello.”

Here is, perhaps, Glück’s conclusion: “Nothing in [the] past can be changed or restored. But the present can change the way it is thought about. In this new enactment, presence can replace absence, which is the best that can be managed in human time.”

Let me leave you with her:

“Occasionally something will give pleasure, will actually charm or divert or entertain, will, to use that terrifying word, disarm. Insofar as our fearful compulsive, rigid natures allow, I think we should welcome what follows.”

Post-40 Bloomer: Spencer Reece, The Poet’s Tale

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Click here to read about “Post-40 Bloomers,” a monthly feature at The Millions.

I try to recall what made me run out and buy Spencer Reece’s debut poetry collection. The book had been recently published, so this would have been 2004. Back then, I still got my news in paper form, the daily New York Times. I enjoyed especially the Sunday morning ritual — cover to cover, coffee and breakfast. I needed rituals back then: newly divorced, living alone for the first time in 10 years, past 30, with a demanding day job; and anxious that I’d never get back to writing, that it was all a silly fantasy I should put to rest. Sunday with the big fat New York Times was soothing somehow. I even cut coupons.

I do a quick search at the Times online, and there it is: a piece on Spencer Reece, Sunday, May 9, 2004. And yes, now I remember, it was in the Style section. The silly headline: “O Khaki Pants! O Navy Blazer!

Like many – like the editors of the Times – I was taken with Reece’s life before coming to know his art. It was his personal story – the romance of it, the near-tragedy, the “stylish” way in which it all turned around for him, one night, when he came home from his job as assistant manager at Brooks Brothers to a message on his answering machine from Michael Collier, chair of the prestigious Bakeless Prize committee. Louise Glück, then Poet Laureate of the United States, had selected his manuscript as that year’s winner.

He’d been working full-time at Brooks Brothers for several years, first at the Mall of America in Minnesota, then in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. The book had been submitted to contests and publishers, in various forms, and rejected, some 300 times over the previous 13 years. Spencer Reece was 40 years old when he got that call; he’d been writing poetry since college, had sent out thousands of submissions to magazines (three at a time, 10 magazines each round), diligently, year after year. Even so, he’d lived and wrote mostly outside the literary world.

The title of the book – and of the collection’s most well-known poem – was The Clerk’s Tale.
I am thirty-three and working in an expensive clothier,
selling suits to men I call “Sir.”
Not long after that phone message, another call came, while Reece was at work, from Alice Quinn of the New Yorker. “I was fixing a pair of pants for a man and his wife, the wife was very upset,” Reece recalled. “I couldn’t stay on the phone long, because I had a pair of pants and the woman was getting more and more upset.” The New Yorker published “The Clerk’s Tale” in June 2003, devoting to it the entire back page. Even without knowledge of Chaucer’s original — the tale of a peasant girl’s harrowing trials of love and loyalty — Spencer Reece’s Cinderella story was irresistible.

And we needed such a story. Well, I did. The romance, the sense of “close call,” i.e., what if he had never won any prize or come to anyone’s attention, but continued to labor in the dark – 40, 50, 60 years old — a melancholy retail clerk, making $30,000 a year, estranged from family, with two master’s degrees (in Renaissance poetry from the University of York, and in theology from Harvard Divinity), living in suburban Florida. It could have happened. It does happen, all the time. We need these stories to counter the inevitability of obscurity; we need stories that kindle our sense of hope, and possibility.

We needed Reece’s story so much that we began to own it for ourselves, at times adjusting and embellishing.

As I delve into research, poring over interviews and profiles from the past eight years, I find inconsistencies: it is notably difficult to piece together the chronology, to get the narrative right. Here, we have him graduating Harvard at 27, then entering a mental hospital at 29, after an acrimonious break from his family; another account has him closer to 31 or 32 at the time of the break and breakdown. Had he spent three full years in the mental hospital, or was it three years living with the nurse and her husband who took him in afterwards? In one version the root of acrimony was money and alcoholism; in another, the central conflict was Reece’s homosexuality. It is also unclear whether Reece did not work at all while he lived with the nurse, or if he did this and that – radio work, freelance writing. Was it eight years at Brooks Brothers by the time he got the call, or was it closer to five or six? In one account it is Collier’s message on the machine; in another, it is Louise Gluck herself.

One profile has Reece working on his poetry “in secret,” his “only literary encouragement an epistolary friendship with famed poet James Merrill.” (He met Merrill “through friends,” one article states. In a later interview, we learn that he met Merrill through Frederick Buechner, though we don’t know how Reece knew Buechner.) Elsewhere we learn that Annie Dillard was also an early encourager, and eventually a champion of The Clerk’s Tale. By his own account, Reece was once a finalist for the Walt Whitman Award and received consistent encouragement from the nurse, Martha, and her husband; from the poet Clare Rossini who lived across the street; from writers involved with The Loft literary center where he took classes and won an award; from the Minnesota State Arts Council from which he’d won an artist’s grant. “I read with Galway Kinnell, that was early on, so I want to paint an accurate picture,” Reece said in an interview. “There were little blips, things that were encouraging and that were happening. It wasn’t like nothing was happening. But I wanted more to happen faster.”

In truth, I wouldn’t blame fans or journalists for altering or exaggerating the story. I understand why we need it to be as dramatic as possible. I wouldn’t even blame Reece himself if he occasionally magnified certain truths over others, or melded details for narrative effect (“much I knew I would forget or remember in a way my own / which would not exactly be correct, no, not exactly” he later wrote in “The Road to Emmaus”). With such compelling bare bones, we need the story to rise and fall in a particular way, we need cause and effect to play out convincingly. I am reminded of a visit I made to my MFA alma mater a few years ago, upon the publication of my novel. My former professor had asked me to visit his workshop, to encourage the students and be a kind of poster child for “Yes, you can.” The students asked good questions about my Road to Publication. The day after, one of the students confided in me that among the after-chat was a horrified sentiment along the lines of It’s been 12 YEARS since she graduated? What TOOK her so long? So much for poster child.

But Reece is, in many ways, a poster child for the Post-40 Bloomers series. Although, I rather dislike that expression, which implies, literally and otherwise, a two-dimensional representation. My efforts to track Reece’s story in a linear, progressive way – and finding this challenging – showed me that his story is messier than that, fully three-dimensional, with diversions and detours, hills and valleys, all along the way. How else could it be?

Reece lived a lot of life as he worked on his poems; in fact he’d lived many lives. He’d aspired early on to be a poet, then a poet-slash-hospital-chaplain (in the footsteps of George Herbert and John Donne, whom he studied at York). Discouraged from pursuing that particular path after finishing his degree at Harvard Divinity (“A religious career seemed impractical,” he wrote, reflecting in 2008, and “I was immature”) – he spent the next few years living alone on a farm owned by his family in Minnesota, writing poetry, managing a bird sanctuary, and writing for his father’s medical newsletter. When the break with his family came, he lost his bearings, along with any financial stability, and checked into a mental hospital. In our romanticized version of Reece’s story, this was rock bottom, and thus the epiphany moment, the turnaround. Perhaps. Or perhaps the years following were even more difficult, and unstable. At any rate, there is a beautiful story he tells about meeting nurse Martha: they became friends when he read to her Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.”

“Much life has gone into the making of this art, much patient craft,” wrote Louise Glück in the Foreword to The Clerk’s Tale.
Its light touch and connoisseur’s passion for surface notwithstanding, this is a book of deprivations and closures […] I do not know a contemporary book in which poems so dazzlingly entertaining contain, tacitly, such deep sorrow.
The average contemporary reader may find poetry difficult to access, even more so to “evaluate.” Glück describes Reece’s work in terms of “tone” – one of “artless naturalness[…] so capable of simultaneous refinements and ironies as to seem not a tone, not an effect of art, but of truth.” I love this about Reece’s poems – an erudition that is sensual; formal beauty that is also earthy. We see this especially in the collection’s two ghazal cycles – a form characterized by 5-15 couplets per cycle, traditionally incorporating a rather strict rhyme-and-refrain scheme. But Reece plays with the form and makes it his own, moving audaciously between high and low registers:
Hey you! Come unto me! Let the meadow march into my mouth!
I’m due for a moist trembling emotion, don’t you think? Well, don’t you? […]

The animals are back and they’re singing their prothalamia.
It’s about time. And get a load of that forest! It’s squirting filigree.
In the remarkable “Florida Ghazals,” we are immersed not only in this tone, in this earthy erudition, but also in story and character, an ensemble cast (including Reece’s cousin who was murdered at 23, the local prostitute, an escaped convict, and Elizabeth Bishop) whose fates are both remote and hauntingly proximal.
Dolores teases her blonde hair a foot into the air, her hair the one perfection in this low-income town, a conspicuous example of Darwinian sexual selection.[…]

Weather. Weather. How’s the weather? When I speak of the weather is it because I cannot speak of my days spent in the nut house?

Juan sinks into the swamp thick with processed excrement.
Nude paper ladies sinking like cement, silencing him. […]

All this beauty. Butterflies at the ankles. Birds, birds.
When hurricanes come with their bad names, they ruin this place like madness.

Elizabeth Bishop was five when her mother went mad.
They locked her other away in Nova Scotia and Elizabeth never saw her again. […]

It was dark and my cousin was alone. They dragged him to the river.
It rained for three days. They could not find him; when they did, no one knew his name.
We see Reece’s comfort with informal formality – a grooving box-step — in Reece’s rhyming poems as well. From “Chiaroscuro”:
When the ficus beyond the grillwork darkens,
when the rind cools down on the lime,
when we sit here a long time,
when we feel ourselves found,
when the red tile roofs deepen to brown,
when the exhausted beach fires with blues,
when the hush of the waves reminds us of regrets,
when the tides overtake the shore,
when we begin to place God in our sentences more,
we will turn at last[…]
We see here too the quality of Reece’s attention to minute detail, blooming into metaphysics – the rind cooling on the lime blooms into time passing; the browns and the blues and the hush of the waves bring forth memory’s regrets; through the composition of sentences, our spiritual state emerges. “I admire his studied attention to details” says the narrator of “The Clerk’s Tale” of his co-worker, “an old homosexual” who refers to himself as “an old faggot.” In this case, such details include “a layer of Clinique bronzer,” “manicured lacquered nails,” “his breath mint in place.” At the end of “The Clerk’s Tale,” “Sometimes snow falls like rice,” and then the remainder of the poem is written in the imperative, the reader implored to
See us take our dimly lit exits […]
See us loosening our ties among you.
We are alone.
Here, the metaphysics pivot to me, the reader, to the meaning of my life as this attention to details becomes my own responsibility, to See us. As in many of Reece’s poems, our engagement becomes simultaneously intimate and expansive, personal and universal.

From “Midnight”:
The rest of this panorama is immense, dark, impenetrable, unstructured.
But if you look closely in the left-hand corner,
I can just be distinguished from the blue blue brilliance of all this land,
A tiny figure, no bigger than a grass blade, a shadow hugged by shadows
From “Etude”:
and if a new friend should take your arm
do not define the gesture, no,
let the moon spread shampoo all over you,
allow the palm trees with their shallow roots
to lull you down the broad avenue
The narrative of Reece’s last nine years – since the Bakeless, since that first New Yorker publication – is indeed remarkable, and yet still, also, textured and surprising. He continued to work full-time at Brooks Brothers for another two-plus years, through The Clerk’s Tale’s acclaimed publication. Then, in 2005, he won a Guggenheim, an NEA fellowship, and the Whiting Award. He decreased his retail-work hours to four days a week, then eventually to three days (“to keep my benefits”). On his off days, Reece began volunteering at a nearby hospice center – in his own words, “whispering into the ears of the dying.”

After two years of volunteering, Reece came to a decision; or, as he put it, felt “called.” He wrote: “Perhaps thirteen years in an Episcopal prep school, a seemingly dead-end graduate degree, twelve years in retail, a first book published in middle age, a priest could make. Why not? […] Each door I open at Hospice, I move closer to something brightly intimate.” In 2008, he left Brooks Brothers, Gerstenberg (hospice) Center, and Florida for Connecticut — his birthplace (Hartford), and also where he went to college (Wesleyan) – specifically for Yale Divinity School, with the renewed intention of becoming a priest. Reece was ordained in the Episcopal church in 2011.

And all the while Reece has continued to write poetry, answering finally to the hybridized vocation he envisioned in his early twenties. Since 2008, he has published primarily in the New Yorker and Poetry magazine, and his second collection, The Upper Room, is due out with Farrar, Strauss & Giroux in 2014.

The story of Reece’s life comes to us now mostly through his poems – “The quietness inside my father was building and would come to define him,” he wrote in the 2011 prose poem “The Manhattan Project,” about his father and paternal grandfather, an engineer who worked on the bomb. “I was wrong to judge it. Speak, father, and I will listen.” (In a 2011 Yale Divinity School alumni note, Reece writes of “reconciliation with family.”) In two narrative poems, “The Road to Emmaus” and “Gilgamesh,” both written in linear first-person fragments, he explores the intimate relationships of his life — with his mentor and AA sponsor Durrell Hawthorne (who died in 2003, the day “The Clerk’s Tale” appeared in the New Yorker), and his five-year love affair with an older man – both as retellings of Biblical narratives. In an interview accompanying “Gilgamesh,” Reece reveals that he continues to engage formal conventions while also personalizing them: “I need the poems to be understandable to me” and also, “Memoir bores me. But in poetry, the autobiography becomes something else entirely, somehow selfless […] I am unconventional but always trying to adhere to convention.” He could just as easily be speaking about his work as a priest.

At, Reece’s official, complete biography currently reads: Spencer Reece is the chaplain to Bishop Carlos Lopez-Lozano of the Reformed Episcopal Church in Spain. In 2014, I suspect that may once again change. Reece will be 51 then, both deeper inside and further outside the literary establishment. I look forward to both the poems and the publicity. I can see the Times article now, perhaps in the Book Review, perhaps in the Religion section: “O, Holy Poet.”

Happy Bloomsday


Dubliners and James Joyce fans are celebrating Bloomsday in the town that Leopold Bloom wandered through on that epic day exactly 100 years ago. Revelers, among other things, ate “Gorgonzola sandwiches and sipped Burgundy wine in the sunshine in honour of the lunch enjoyed by the novel’s hero Leopold Bloom, midway through his momentous day.” The novel of course is Ulysses. and you can read more about this remarkable literary festival here.Ray Charles died last weekend. He made such soulful and happy music. Driving from New York to DC, we encountered several radio stations playing his music, some of them continuously, side after side of classic records. Now the tributes are over, and the radio stations are back to their regular rotations, so I was annoyed when I realized that I left my fantastic 5 cd set in storage in LA.Spencer Reece and his book The Clerk’s Tale got a sizeable write up on the front page of the Washington Post Sunday Style section. Not bad for poetry.BookspottingHow powerful is Oprah? I spotted Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina mixed in with a couple of romance novels in the rest stops along the New Jersey Turnpike. Also spotted: On the Washington DC subway: The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman, Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz, and The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom; and in the back seat of my little brother’s car: Our Posthuman Future by Francis FukuyamaFinally, check out the trilogy of Alice Munroe stories in the New Yorker fiction issue. It’s worth a look if only to read the stories that the New Yorker deemed worthy of such prominent placement. You’ll have to pick up the magazine to read all three. Only the first story is online.

Quick Notes


Arts & Letters Daily links to a Washington Post article by a former employee, James Marcus, picking up on February’s story about a programming glitch at He gives us a little insider perspective on the customer review phenomenon, but perhaps more interesting for Amazon-watchers is the prospect of his upcoming book: Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.Com Juggernaut chronicling the early days of the online superstore through the internet bust. This will likely be an interesting portrait of the dot-com era.Also at, a link to a review of Kingsley Amis’ comic masterpiece Lucky Jim in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication. Believe the hype, this book is fantastic.Folks in Los Angeles, and probably most big cities, have probably noticed the proliferation of stencil and paste-up graffiti appearing on sidewalks and walls. The images range from blatant advertisements (usually for bands) to beguiling and intriguing symbols. The British artist Tristan Manco has collected these odd hybrid art forms into a couple of good-looking volumes, Stencil Graffiti and the soon to be released Street Logos. Here are some images from the first book: Stencil GraffitiI’ve added The Clerk’s Tale by Spencer Reece to the Reading Queue, and I’m almost done with The Known World by Edward P. Jones. It is fantastic.

The Millions Poetry Corner


Over the last year it seems that Spencer Reece has become the poet laureate of The Millions, mostly because his poem in last summer’s new fiction issue of the New Yorker was so amazing. Now, finally, his first collection of poetry, named after that poem I loved, The Clerk’s Tale, has been released. I’ve got my copy on order and I can’t wait to get it. While I’m waiting, I’ve been reading this interview with Reece.A NoteFrom the book I’m reading right now: “For it is certainly true that negligence in ladies destroys shame in their maids.”

Surprise Me!