The Dead Do Not Return: Featured Poetry by Barbara Crooker

Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from Some Glad Morning, the new collection by Barbara Crooker. “No one gets excited when they see sparrows,” the narrator writes—an apt metaphor for how Crooker looks at human bodies aging and worn, in fear of being forgotten. Crooker’s lines are often steeped in melancholy, but her sense is powerfully redemptive: Those gone from us are still part of the fabric of this world, woven into our longing and our memories.

“Absence”

Sparrows for sorrow. One for everyone you’ve loved,the missing. Count them under the feeder: one two threefour five. Mostly whitethroats, singing O Canada orOld Sam Peabody, depending on where you come from. Drab at a distance, but boldly striped when you get close,bodies of tan and brown, stark white throats, a splotch of sun between eye and bill.

No one gets excited when they see sparrows, although the rusty cap of a chipping sparrow signals springwhen they come back. The dead, though, do not return. Spring brings splashes of color: orioles, indigo buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks, all back from the tropics.But my interior weather is winter, where the missing gather by the fire, then vanish like smoke. The bare tree limbs, the black and white landscape punctuated by the muted palette of brown. And below the feeder. juncos in their gray and white vests, house finches drab as Wednesday mornings, goldfinches stillin their dull winter garb. And sparrows. And sorrow.Come back, we shout, into the wind that scatters them.But they’re gone.

“Absence” from Some Glad Morning by Barbara Crooker, © 2019. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University Pittsburgh Press.

Panel Mania: ‘The Drops of God’

First published in English in 2011, this new edition of manga The Drops of God by Tadashi Agi—a pseudonym for sibling creators Shin and Yuko Kibayashi—with artwork by Shu Okimoto, will be released digitally by Comixology Originals.
It’s the story of a rivalry between Kanzaki Shizuku, the only son of a renowned wine critic who has recently passed away, and Toomine Issei, a mysterious young wine critic, as both seek to reap the legacy of the deceased.
An international bestseller, The Drops of God is often credited with spurring wine sales in the regions it has been published. In this 12-page excerpt, Miyabi, a young sommelier who has botched the pouring of a rare and expensive wine, is rescued by Kanzaki’s dazzling skills as a sommelier.


The first 11 volumes of The Drops of God will be published this month. The pages of this excerpt are displayed in a vertical scroll—but remember: Japanese manga panels must be read from right to left.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly and also appeared on publishersweekly.com.

Her Moment of Escape: Featured Poetry by Shimon Adaf

Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a piece from Shimon Adaf’s book-length elegy, Aviva-No. Exquisitely translated from Hebrew by Yael Segalovitz, the book is a song of grief and absence. In this section, Adaf captures the feeling of a life—a relationship—forever unfinished. How we try to grasp onto the “stretched glimmer” of the past, despite the past covered “with soot, / a little cloud.”

A stretched glimmer is the glasson the window, bliss it wasdeserted in that grove.
I took a stone—a pieceshe scorched for mesaid I should lookthrough it at the sun.
It was a eucalyptus grove,its scent awakened, waned.Its flames idle, rustling,green glint burstfrom them, drowned
in a light hard with soot,a little cloud. Thirtyyears my back was turned toher moment of escape

“A stretched glimmer is the glass” (poem) from Aviva-No by Shimon Adaf and translated from Hebrew by Yael Segalovitz, Alice James Books, 2019.

Why Write?

At an event I once hosted, I asked the assembled writers this question. Besides the “practical ordering of my reality” type of answer, there were also some surprises. One woman had been a classical singer, but failed, and needed to embark on something else having to do with language. One man said, “I write to talk about what I read”—equally unassuming. I began to think that it would be much more stimulating to know why certain writers wrote than to engage with anything they had written, especially fiction or poetry—two ultimate forms needing years of practice. It’s debatable who said “everyone has a book in them,” yet the second clause of that sentence, as uttered by Christopher Hitchens, is concretely dismissive of the first: “but in most cases, that’s where it should stay.” Who would have thought there were so many writers, that oodles would have the calling—many thanks to the internet? Now there is no barrier to that fusty adage, but it might be better to say this: everyone has some opinions in them.

So many of the famous statements of intent have to do with a sense of outrage at the world. George Orwell put it like this: “I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.” Here’s William H. Gass: “I write because I hate. A lot. Hard.” But anger doesn’t always carry the muse. Flannery O’Connor: “I don’t know what I think till it is written, which is as good as the answer, the writing itself.” Certainly John McPhee doesn’t write out of a sense of outrage, but rather a hope for new discoveries and by not being bored by anything in the world. But if you poll writers not as accomplished as these—those struggling, or even struggling to wring royalty checks out of their small press publishers—many reasons fog up the glass containing them, but the underlying reason they write is a desire for attention. People want to be heard. One writes to be counted, even to be counted higher than others. Outside of gabbing, writing is the most respected and inflammatory pastime, though certainly less well compensated—it generates a conversation between ourselves and others without the need for another person to be there. And if we are writing to be counted, it is inevitable that there is a lot of discounting going on. Society is uneven, a few have too much, and too many have too little. How do we square this? Everyone knows life is unfair, but bringing a little beauty into the world is a small progressive step.

Why write today? Plasticity is at issue. The fakery of life. All the phonies out there—Holden Caufield’s famous refrain that so many people identify with. This is perhaps our first biting teenage thought as we start to see significant holes in the people who rule our lives. Phonies still exist, especially with the creation of online personae, which are sometimes completely the opposites of the people who make them. Have we lost our bullshit detectors with the drive toward ego or are we just more deluded than at any other moment in history? Is it now all right to give people a free pass on all hypocrisies as long as they sidle in step with political correctness and celebrity worship, two of contemporary letters’ most redoubtable genuflections? Why would people want to write, daring to add to the myriad pap and smear of floppy dramatics and weak sentences? Even some of the world’s better-known writers, who are celebrated by reviewers, the bulk of whom function as publicists, have aged to eschew the mark. Of those sources I quoted, only Gass lived long enough to see so much more that he amended his “hate” answer, 35 years later—though it is never quoted, probably because it wasn’t published in the Paris Review, but merely spoken on a podcast called Word Patriots: “I certainly don’t write for money, or for glory. … All sorts of writers receive that, but they have written worthless books. I and any other writer who is serious shall die not knowing whether you’ve wasted that much of your life in a fruitless pursuit or whether you’ve achieved fame and actual immortality, but you’re dead for that.” Immortality and death make attention-seekers uncomfortable because each is too immense a concept, dwarfing all the transitory tweets, gibes, gabs, and self-love that wash away with every new wave of the same. Similarly, John Berryman’s advice to W.S. Merwin, which the latter transformed into the art of a poem:
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write
I think many people write because it is therapeutic and it is used to therapeutic ends, i.e. writing a letter to a dead parent with whom there are unresolved issues. Writing encompasses language, which encompasses our minds, defining everything from our psychology to our morals, answering the question What do we want? with our only means: our words. If clothes make the man, words do also, but not always truly, depending on the person interested in them. Many abusers are seducers. Many misspelled and misused sets of words can pop out courtesy of some famous celebrity, athlete, or politician, yet people will always admire him or her for their “game.” If photography, and even “selfies,” but really “selfishes,” are becoming the new parameter of being human, it still is the case that, deep down, photos of us and photos of beautiful sunsets with us in them say very little about who we are. They are a dime a trillion dozen. Only words are a direct bloodline to our soul, and this is probably the reason for the equivocations of “everyone has a book in them.” Everyone has words in them. Many sentences, too. I love you. Many of us often say it or write it in different languages. Diaries and forms of diaries are still important, especially the brief entries typed into social media. People kill and commit suicide over words, owing to their content.

Where does all this leave us? There can be no conclusion except that writing, aside from speaking, is the most human activity. It expresses like no other substance can. We need to be heard, and many people, even more now with the plethora of social anxiety disorders (most named in conjunction with the creation of the PC), can’t speak to others for fear, embarrassment, or simple isolation. When we answer why we write, we reveal more about ourselves than we know. It is the intimacy available to so many who have no-one, or who have chosen written words to have their say. We write because we hate and love. It is a sacred act connecting us to distant civilizations and all the minds in history. Maybe I should write, “Y rite?” It is a magical act, no matter the misspellings.

Excerpted from Greg Gerke’s See What I See, available today from Splice. 

‘Ordinary Girls’: Featured Nonfiction by Jaquira Díaz

In today’s edition of featured nonfiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we present an excerpt from Jaquira Díaz’s memoir, Ordinary Girls, out today from Algonquin Books.

Here’s what our own Nick Moran had to say about the book in the Second Half Preview:
In her debut memoir, Jaquira Díaz mines her experiences growing up in Puerto Rico and Miami, grappling with traumas both personal and international, and over time converts them into something approaching hope and self-assurance. For years, Díaz has dazzled in shorter formats—stories, essays, etc.—and her entrée into longer lengths is very welcome.
Beach City 
I.
One August afternoon, the year we started high school, I met Cheito. I was coming back from the beach with Boogie, walking barefoot on the scorching sidewalk because someone had stolen all my shit while I was in the water, including my chancletas. Boogie still had her sandals, her towel, her lipstick half melted in her backpack. But I had nothing except my shorts and bikini top—what I’d been wearing while swimming. I was trying to look cool while tiptoeing my ass all the way home when a blue Datsun stopped across the street. 
“You need a ride?” the driver called out. 

Boogie smiled. “It’s your lucky day, girl.” 

I checked out the car, the Puerto Rican flag hanging from the car’s mirror, counted two boys. I looked down at my burning feet. “Fuck it.” 

We crossed the street, and the boy riding shotgun moved to the back. Before Boogie could slide in and take his place, the driver pointed at me, looked me in the eyes. “Sit up front with me,” he said.

Boogie sat in the back with his friend. I sat up front, checking him out. He had a dark tan, a low fade, hazel eyes that looked almost green in the sunlight. He kept smiling at me, confident—he was fine and he knew it. I was suspicious of his every move. I didn’t smile back. “I’m going to Ninth and West Avenue,” I said. 

“No problem.” He was quiet for a minute, then said, “My name’s Cheito, by the way.” 

“Jaqui,” I said, “and that’s Boogie.” I had already decided that I wouldn’t make conversation with them, but giving them our names didn’t seem like a big deal. 

“Where you from?” he asked. 

“Make a left on Fifth Street,” I said. 

He approached the light on Fifth. I sat back and ignored his question. 

“Why you gotta be so rude, girl?” Boogie said. “She’s Puerto Rican, and I’m Cuban.” 

“I was born in Caguas,” Cheito said to me, “and my mom’s family’s from San Lorenzo. What about you? Were you born on the island?” 

“En Humacao.” 

“Oh! So you like Tito Rojas? He’s from Humacao.” He turned up the volume on his radio, which was playing Tito Rojas’s “Condéname a tu amor.” 

I smiled. “I love him. And Pedro Conga. But not a lot of people know about Pedro.” 

He looked sideways at me. “You dance salsa?” 

“Claro que si. It’s in the contract.” 

Boogie tapped my seat. “What do you mean? What contract?” 

Cheito looked back at her. “You don’t know about that. You’re Cuban.” 

I smiled at him, then turned to her. “The Boricua Contract.” 

She rolled her eyes. “Dumbass.” 

Cheito and I both laughed, and he headed north on West Avenue toward my building, the windows down, the wind slapping at my face and hair. 

When we pulled up to Southgate Towers a minute later, I opened the door, got out of the car quickly. 

“Hold up!” Cheito said. “Can I call you?” 

I shut the door, then leaned down and looked into the car. He seemed friendly enough. He’d given us a ride. He handed me a Taco Bell napkin, and I scribbled my phone number on it. 

He shook his head. “Que mala,” he said. “I can’t believe you were just gonna walk away without giving me your number.” 

I handed it to him. “How do you know it’s not fake?” 

In the backseat, Boogie was still talking to his friend. 

“I’m a call you and find out,” Cheito said. 

He called two days later and we talked for hours. We talked about Puerto Rico, about Puerto Rican food, Puerto Rican music. He told me about growing up in Hialeah and summers in Caguas and San Lorenzo. I told him about Humacao, Fajardo, Luquillo, about Miami Beach. We both raved about our abuelas, who’d raised us. We shared stories about our fathers, both mujeriegos, all the women they’d betrayed. We compared stories about our mothers, both of them hurt by the men they’d married. We played our favorite songs for each other. We listened to each other breathing on the line when we ran out of shit to talk about. At around 3:00 a.m., we started falling asleep on the line, but didn’t get off until the sun rose, then agreed to talk again the next day. 

The next day he picked me up and we went to the beach by the Fontainebleau Hilton. We swam in the ocean together, diving headfirst into the waves, racing each other underwater. He never let me win. When I got tired, he let me hang onto his shoulders. 

In the water, he picked me up, lifted me until he was looking up at me, and I wrapped my legs around his waist. He was strong, I realized, much stronger than I’d thought. From the muscles in his arms, shoulders, and back, I could tell he lifted weights. He was two years older than me, and six feet tall, and didn’t seem like a boy, but he also wasn’t a man. He was funny as hell, and always asked what I wanted, and I liked every single thing about him. In the water, with my legs wrapped around his waist, I kissed him. Just a quick, soft kiss on the lips. 

We’d kiss again when he dropped me off that night. I’d take my time reaching for the door handle, and then he’d lean over, ask, “Can I kiss you good night?” 

I’d ride the elevator all the way up to our apartment on the eighth floor, the taste of his kiss on my lips, and I would know, don’t ask me how, that some day I would marry that boy.

Published courtesy of Algonquin Books.

Panel Mania: ‘The Illuminati Ball’

Best known for lavish and immersive theater productions, Cynthia von Buhler also works in the comics medium, creating graphic works that explore her fascination with secret societies, sensuality, power, and the hunger for freedom.
While she’s most widely known for her paintings, illustration work, sculpture, and writing—she’s the author of children’s books, graphic novels, and plays—von Buhler’s also praised for her imaginative events; she’s the producer of The Illuminati Ball: An Immersive Excursion, slated to be held a “secret temple” in New York City on New Year’s Eve.


This 13-page excerpt from The Illuminati Ball, a graphic novel tie-in to the theater event, introduces readers to a world of lavish fantasy and to the 18th-century roots of the Illuminati Ball. The graphic novel is out now from Titan Comics.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly and also appeared on publishersweekly.com.

Trippingly on the Tongue: Featured Poetry by Maurice Manning

Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem by Maurice Manning’s new collection, Railsplitter. Written in the persona of Abraham Lincoln, the poems are by turns lively, contemplative, and pungent—swollen with lament and anger. Lincoln, taken down in a theater, returns to the stage and the shooter often in these poems. He liked Shakespeare’s tragedies best, and here, among the lines and lore of Hamlet, we feel his struggle toward ghostly moderation: “gestures must not be over done, or else / Chaos will upend the unity desired.”

Aside. Wormwood, wormwood.
Trippingly on the tongue, so Hamlet says,How lines must be delivered from the stage,Especially when passion must be tempered,
And gestures must not be over done, or elseChaos will upend the unity desired.The groundlings, claims this son, are capableOf nothing but dumb-shows and noise, nicelyReaching beyond the stage to pander and pun,
Which makes one wonder how serious is thisEntreaty, then, to hold the mirror up toNature? In the play within the play, a mouse-Trap catches a king unnaturally.
To be or not to be, was never my pick.O my offence is rank, is the better speech—
Heaven is how high it smells, the offence—Enlivened language for murder, ironically.Low act, but elevated thought, to playLightly a scene of wretchedness and folly.

Copyright 2019 Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved. Posted here with permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Everything Here Is a Test: Featured Poetry by Paige Lewis

Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from Space Struck, a deft, entertaining debut by Paige Lewis. Lewis is a poet of surprise, but never mere novelty: behind play or pun, there remains transcendence. In this great second-person piece, the narrator gives instructions on how to leave that place of permanent stasis. “Lift your arms toward / the sky and receive nothing.” The poem loops and spins, perhaps, forever.

“So You Want to Leave Purgatory” 

Here, take this knife. Walk down the road until you come across 
a red calf in its pasture. It will run toward you with a rope tied 
around its neck. Climb over the fence. Hold the rope like a leash. 
You haven’t eaten in years. Think— are you being tested? Yes, everything 
here is a test. Stop baring teeth upon teeth and leave the calf 
to its grazing. Lift your arms toward the sky and receive nothing. Keep 
walking and think about the rope around that calf’s neck. Consider 
how fast its throat will be choked by its own growing. Walk until you 
understand what the knife was for. Now forget it. Here, take this knife. 

Copyright 2019 Sarabande Books/Paige Lewis. All rights reserved. Posted here with permission of Sarabande Books. 

Panel Mania: ‘Glenn Ganges in: The River at Night’

Kevin Huizenga’s new graphic novel, The River at Night, is a return to the loopy hall of mirrors inside the head of Glenn Ganges, the author’s irresistibly ordinary fictional dude and guide to the cerebral wonders of the drifting human mind.
As Ganges and his wife Wendy (a perpetually overworked freelance illustrator) go about their daily lives, Ganges’s ambient mind and goofy-smart interests combine to take readers on elaborate journeys through human consciousness in stories that delight in pushing the formal visual structures of the comics medium.
In this 12-page excerpt, Ganges, unable to sleep, rummages through his bookshelves looking for a book about a deep intellectual topic with unreadable text that will put him to sleep.
Glenn Ganges in: The River at Night by Kevin Huizenga will be published by Drawn and Quarterly in October.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly and also appeared on publishersweekly.com.

Panel Mania: ‘Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass’

Eisner Award- and Caldecott Honor-winning comics writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Steve Pugh collaborate on Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass, a new graphic novel about the teen years of Harleen Quinzel—better known as Harley Quinn—as she wanders the hallways of Gotham City High School.
In this 12-page excerpt, Harleen arrives in Gotham, broke, on a bus from a small town, and is taken in by a welcoming community of drag queens. Eventually she meets two people—teenage activist Poison Ivy and later, of course, the violent and anarchic young Joker—who will contribute to her transformation into the complex superhero she is destined to become.
Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass is available now from DC.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly and also appeared on publishersweekly.com.