DeAndre McCullough died last week at the age of 35. McCullough was famously portrayed as the young protagonist in David Simon and Edward Burns’s book The Corner, which went on to become its own HBO miniseries. The Wire later adopted aspects from both the book and the miniseries. The obituary Simon wrote is not to be missed.
Years ago, a lover read me a John Ashbery poem, "At North Farm." We were sitting at his kitchen table, and my head was on my arms, and his voice as he read was ringing through the old wood, through my hands and into my head; the poem and his voice walked through me arm in arm. A few weeks later, I asked him to read me the one about the cat again. He had no idea what I was talking about -- the poem wasn't about anything, as far as he could tell, even if it had a narrator -- I mean, speaker -- who puts out a dish of milk at night. He still reads poetry like a perfect kind of pop music, near-meaningless lyrics that nudge you toward a feeling and let your own mind suggest the rest. I accepted that here was another thing I knew nothing about, and that though I might like a good poem or pop song every now and then, I'll always be on the anxious, vigilant look out for characters and narratives -- in essence, I will always want something to interpret. I want to know what it's all about. So it was a relief this year to be given Eileen Myles's Inferno. I started reading it almost as soon as it was in my hands, and I couldn't put it down. Inferno is, of course, “a poet's novel” and so it hit me at the perfect half way point; Eileen is the poet, Eileen is the narrator, and the book is about her and New York City and poetry and sex and love. I felt all shook up by the messy intractable beauty of some of the lines, but even more so by the willfulness of this narrator, this character, this poet writing herself into being. “So I'm beginning to wonder about the book I'm in”, this poet, Eileen, says in the middle, and I think to myself, yes, what is this about? And she answers: “You always get to know how the real person fared,” you come away knowing that something happened. And because she wrote it down, in some way it also happens to you, the reader. This, it dawned anew on me, is what it has always been about; some magic thing is transferred from the page to your mind, and room is made for the richness of a new feeling or thought. Afterward, I was changed and ready to explore. Guilluame Morrisette's I Am My Own Betrayal was a great next step -- a combined poetry and short fiction collection on the theme of willful alienation that reads with a warmth and humor I wasn't expecting from this Montreal based member of the so-called “Alt Lit” community. Here's a real good part from “I Don't Know What A Poem Is But It's Not Preventing Me From Writing Poems,” one of my favorite of his poems -- perhaps for obvious reasons: “and licking your face/ is a sensation poetry cannot reproduce/ but fuck nature I rejected nature.” Natalie Zina Walschots, another Canadian poet, tickled me with her newest book, DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillians, getting down into deliciously crackling and submissive syllables the eros of imaginary evils—I just melt as she supplicates to King Pin: “my body / a blister / that you squeeze”. Michael Robbins's Alien vs Predator is like an album I've played on repeat; the poems are hard and funny and stuck now like ear worms in some old part of my brain. They're sitting there waiting for when I just really need to catch up to my breath by hiccuping along to the short stepping swagger of “My New Asshole” until I hit that humbling, defenseless last line...or for when I'm hit with the urge to be pushed further into the delight and despair of being alive today, being not quite punk as fuck or as hard like metal in this mercurial and fast moving world, by tugging petulantly on the black jersey sleeve of “I Did This to My Vocabulary.” And of course, I went back to Ashbery, too, to page through his Selected Poems and give myself over to his about-nothingness, to the seeds of feeling that are planted by language. More from A Year in Reading 2012 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.
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A contradictory set of truths about books and publishing in the abstract: don’t repeat yourself, and don’t write books that are too different from one another. Other writers will pillory you for the first, and publishers will be more than happy to pigeonhole you from the moment you achieve anything like success. Blow out your advance? Great. Now write the same exact book again.
Eli Gottlieb's The Boy Who Went Away won the prestigious Rome Prize and the 1998 McKitterick Prize from the British Society of Authors. It also received extraordinary notices and was a New York Times Notable book. Eli Gottlieb's latest novel, Now You See Him, will be published on January 22, 2008. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.Once every few years, usually when I'm beginning a new book, I reread one or two of Saul Bellow's novels to prime the pump. This year it was Humboldt's Gift, the last great work in the high Belovian style. It's a book which has always spoken to my "inner prompter" to use Bellow's own phrase for the mysterious faculty within us that allows us, as writers, to "speak". The novel, appropriately enough, was dictated and then transcribed, a process which accounts for the rather jaunty sprawl of its construction. It's a big, loose, episodic thing, guyed entirely by the high-wire act of its prose, which has the innovation - surely that of a late style - of running adjectives together in way that leaves a painterly blur in the reader's mind. So Lake Michigan has "limp silk fresh lilac drowning water," and a woman is "roused, florid, fragrant, large".The book is based on Bellow's close friendship with Delmore Schwartz, the fizzled literary comet of the 1940s, who wrote a perfect book of poems at age 24, lost his mind not long thereafter, and eventually died in a Times Square flophouse hotel, convinced that his wife had left him for Nelson Rockefeller. Schwartz's longtime shrink was a friend of our family, and I once found myself sitting in the home of the shrink's widow, looking at the written results of Schwartz's Rohrschach tests. They stated he was manic depressive, implied a repressed homosexuality, adverted to a probable alcohol problem, and concluded with a chilling definition of the poetic temperament. "It is probable," read the diagnosis, "that the mania has infected his higher reason." Ouch.More from A Year in Reading 2007