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I’ve been reading Thomas James’ collection front to back, including the introductory essay by Lucie Brock-Broido, who states this is the only book she ever stole. I didn’t think it could possibly live up to all the love she gave it, but it does. It’s the only book James published in his lifetime. He committed suicide at 27, shortly after its publication. Many of the poems deal with the passage of time and death and decay. The imagery in many of them is of the natural world. A couple are written from the point of view of people who have died and are now taking their place among the dead, and these seem to treat death very matter-of-factly. Here’s his “Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh XXI Dynasty”:

My body holds its shape. The genius is intact.
Will I return to Thebes? In that lost country
The eucalyptus trees have turned to stone.
Once, branches nudged me, dropping swollen blossoms,
And passionflowers lit my father’s garden.
Is it still there, that place of mottled shadow,
The scarlet flowers breathing in the darkness?

I remember how I died. It was so simple!
One morning the garden faded. My face blacked out.
On my left side they made the first incision.
They washed my heart and liver in palm wine—
My lungs were two dark fruit they stuffed with spices.
They smeared my innards with a sticky unguent
And sealed them in a crock of alabaster.

My brain was next. A pointed instrument
Hooked it through my nostrils, strand by strand.
A voice swayed over me. I paid no notice.
For weeks my body swam in sweet perfume.
I came out Scoured. I was skin and bone.
Thy lifted me into the sun again
And packed my empty skull with cinnamon.

They slit my toes; a razor gashed my fingertips.
Stitched shut at last, my limbs were chaste and valuable,
Stuffed with a paste of cloves and wild honey.
My eyes were empty, so they filled them up,
Inserting little nuggets of obsidian.
A basalt scarab wedged between my breasts
Replaced the tinny music of my heart.

Hands touched my sutures. I was so important!
They oiled my pores, rubbing a fragrance in.
An amber gum oozed down to soothe my temples.
I wanted to sit up. My skin was luminous,
Frail as the shadow of an emerald.
Before I learned to love myself too much,
My body wound itself in spools of linen.

Shut in my painted box, I am a precious object.
I wear a wooden mask. These are my eyelids,
Two flakes of bronze, and here is my new mouth,
Chiseled with care, guarding its ruby facets.
I will last forever. I am not impatient —
My skin will wait to greet its old complexions.
I’ll lie here till the world swims back again.

When I come home the garden will be budding,
White petals breaking open, clusters of night flowers,
The far-off music of a tambourine.
A boy will pace among the passionflowers,
His eyes no longer two bruised surfaces.
I’ll know the mouth of my young groom, I’ll touch
His hands. Why do people lie to one another?

From Letters to a Stranger by Thomas James. Copyright © 2008


We’re on at 8.

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Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop
Thu Oct 2, 7:00PM
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Host(s):
Julia Fierro
Appearing:
Erika Anderson
Joseph Riippi
Austin Ratner
Thessaly LaForce
On the Docket:
Reading
Book Signing
Author Bio(s):

Erika Anderson‘s work has appeared in the New York Times, Creative Nonfiction, Interview Magazine, Guernica and other publications. She co-hosts the Renegade Reading Series for emerging writers​, teaches for the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, and​ is an editorial assistant for Guernica. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Brooklyn.

Thessaly La Force is a 2013 graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was the recipient of the Meta Rosenberg Fellowship and the Friedman Prize for Excellence in Fiction. She has also worked and written for Vogue, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, and The Paris Review. In 2012, Little, Brown published My Ideal Bookshelf, an illustrated book she co-edited with the artist Jane Mount. She is at work on her debut story collection The Muse.

Joseph Riippi‘s latest novel, Research (A novel for performance)​, will be​ published by Civil Coping Mechanisms in October. CCM also released Joseph’s last novel, Because. A chapbook (with illustrations by Edward Mullany) called Puyallup, Washington (​A​n interrogation) is forthcoming later this year from Publishing Genius. Joseph lives with his wife in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. For more, visit josephriippi.com.

Austin Ratner is the author of the novels In the Land of the Living and The Jump Artist, winner of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. His non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and The Wall Street Journal and his short fiction has been honored with the Missouri Review Editors’ Prize. He attended the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Before turning his focus to writing he received his M.D. from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and he is co-author of the textbook Concepts in Medical Physiology. He grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and now lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and two sons.


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Paul Bowles, The Art of Fiction No. 67

I’ve read this before several times, I think. I don’t know what drew me to it today, but it might be a longing for something foreign. Life in Tangier as an American ex-pat qualifies. In it, I’m drawn today to Bowles’ admission that he has no ego, no ambition. And that if he did, he would have returned to New York. He also states that he never thought of himself as having a career after he quit his career as a composer. He never thought of having an unconventional marriage, and it was never discussed with his wife, Jane. He never thinks or plans, but allows things to happen to him. He writes from a place, he says, that is not himself. He doesn’t own what he writes. And everything he writes is completely fabricated, he says. He doesn’t model characters after people he knows. He doesn’t write if he doesn’t feel like it.


The band is getting active again this fall. We’re opening for Phoenix, AZ’s Calabrese at 8 pm on the 8th, followed by The Long Losts and Silverhounds at The Grand Victory in Williamsburg. Come!

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Their Book End Events begin on the 15th. Everything’s here on the site. 

Thurston Moore is back this year. I also see John Leguizamo and Bob Saget on the list of authors giving talks and readings. Jonathan Lethem, Paul Auster, Zadie Smith and Salman Rushdie are all on the list, too, which is huge and far-reaching. You can check it out here.


In this essay, Almond talks about his students disparaging published writers. Mainly out of fear and insecurity and a lack of respect for the writing process. It basically comes down to empathy for other human beings who are involved in the process. Everyone should read other people’s work carefully and understand that it was another human being who made it, and we all have the same goals in mind as writers—making good work that reaches an audience. Here’s an excerpt:

It might sound like I’m describing “snark” here. But while the Problem of Entitlement and the Problem of Snark are related, they’re not the same.

Snark is a conscious attempt to cast aspersion for narcissistic reward. Writers who use social media, or other public forums, to dis other writers are seeking to convert resentment into attention. It’s a tool of self-promotion.

Entitlement operates at a more basic and often unconscious level. It’s a kind of defensive snobbery, a delusion that the world and its constituent parts—whether a product or a piece of art or a loved one—exist to please you.

Americans as a whole have become more entitled as we’ve become more deeply immersed in consumer culture, with its insidious credo: The customer is always right.




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