Temple Cone

Slurry and Whiskey

Review: Johnny Cash, 'Forever Words'

Johnny CashIn response to the awarding of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan, reporters and bloggers anxiously mused, "Are song lyrics poetry?" As musings go, this one is wooly and threadbare as grandfather's cardigan, offering little more than terms of exclusion; "Get out of my anthology!" shouts Pop-Pop at the neighborhood kids. A question that yields more insight, but that also takes longer than a blog post to answer, might be "Where is the poetry in song lyrics?"

The Mountain and the Encircling Mist

Review: Rachel Corbett, 'You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin'

The hypersensitive Rainer Maria Rilke was nearly overwhelmed by the deluge of urban life in Paris, but nothing would deter him from meeting the world-renowned sculptor Auguste Rodin.

The Firebreak We’ve Been Waiting For

Review: Sharon Olds, 'Odes'

Sharon OldsIn 1855, a new poet introduced himself to the world: “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos / Disorderly, fleshly, sensual…eating drinking and breeding.” Experimental in its use of free verse; progressive in its treatment of race, gender, and sexuality; and above all democratic in its politics and its spirituality, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass stoked a vast fire that swept through world poetry, consuming and altering all the landscape before it. One-hundred sixty years later, we have confirmation that Whitman’s poetic wildfire is finally under control. Sharon Olds’s new volume Odes is the firebreak we’ve been waiting for, the clearing across which we can safely watch Whitman’s flames dim to embers.

‘I Hope You Find What You’re Looking For’

Review: Maximilian Uriarte, ‘The White Donkey: Terminal Lance’

Maximilian UriarteThere’s a lack and a longing in the heart of Abe Belatzakof, the main character of Maximilian Uriarte’s graphic novel about the U.S. Marine Corps, The White Donkey: Terminal Lance. A middle class kid from Portland, Oregon, with a sharp intellect, an absent father, and a lover whose status in his life is uncertain, Abe enlists in the Marine Corps because he is “looking for something else.” His journey takes him from the Marine base at Twentynine Palms to the war in Iraq, and finally home again. Along the way, his life will confirm what Aeschylus cautioned more than two millennia ago: “We must suffer, suffer into truth.”

The Bough That Does Not Graft

Review: Seamus Heaney, trans., ‘Aeneid Book VI’

Seamus HeaneyWhat is it about a writer’s final posthumous work that so haunts us? Perhaps because it offers one last glimpse of mastery, or helps unify the writer’s oeuvre, or offers the gift of a parting embrace, we grant such writings special significance. But are we obliged to read such works differently than those that kindled our desire and affection when the writer was living? When the dead speak, should we judge what they say, or simply be grateful that they have spoken? When Seamus Heaney died in 2013, he left behind a Nobel Prize-winning body of lyric poems, essays, and translations. Readers mourned the loss of his consonant-crusted music, his unflinching self-scrutiny, his evocative landscapes, and his deft handling of the religious and political conflict in Northern Ireland.

The Scarcity of Annie Dillard

Review: Annie Dillard, ‘The Abundance: Narrative Essays New and Old’

One comes to Annie Dillard’s The Abundance: Narrative Essays New and Old as to a trove of prehistoric flint knives: “Each of these delicate, absurd objects takes hundreds of separate blows to make. At each stroke and at each pressure flake, the brittle chert might—and, by the record, very often did—snap. … To any human on earth, the sight of one of them means: Someone thought of making, and made, this difficult, impossible, beautiful thing.” Dillard’s essays are uncanny objects, incisive as the flint knife a modern surgeon found “smoother… than his best steel scalpels,” yet due to their perfection, unsuitable for the day-to-day work of living.

‘I Can Hear Death Pronounce My Name’

Review: Christopher Logue, ‘War Music: An Account of Homer’s Iliad’

It is nightfall in ancient Achaea, and your goat-herding family and neighbors gather near a fire to hear a traveling minstrel sing of the fall of heroes. Or perhaps you are a citizen in the Athenian city-state, listening indoors to the foibles of the gods, so like those of your own aristocracy. Or perhaps you dwell on Leuce Island in the Black Sea, and you long for a paean to menein, a word that means rage and that is reserved for the gods alone, save one mortal, the hero patron of the cult you worship, Achilles. But always you expect the minstrel to sing of that distant city: Troy.

‘Hatred Knows How to Make Beauty’

Review: Wislawa Szymborska, ‘Map: Collected and Last Poems’

Wislawa SzymborskaIn his short story "On Exactitude in Science," Jorge Luis Borges imagines a guild of Renaissance cartographers so committed to precision that they created a 1:1 scale map where "the kingdom was the size of the kingdom." Later cartographers found such obsessiveness absurd and destroyed the map, but its fragments littered the realm, “providing shelter for beggars and animals.”

Exposed in a Southern Lens

Review: Sally Mann, ‘Hold Still’

Midway through her memoir, Hold Still, photographer Sally Mann recounts the first of several journeys she took through the Deep South with her portable photograph studio, seeking, “To whatever extent it is possible to photograph air… To whatever extent photographs can reveal the dark mysteries of a haunted landscape.” Using the archaic process of wet-plate collodion, which requires enough explosive, ether-based chemicals that her Suburban was “effectively a rolling bomb,” Mann produced massive landscapes, sometimes 40 x 50 inches in size, whose washed-out ethereality and mystery can stir the viewer much like the Civil War photographs of Matthew Brady or Michael Miley (whose work Mann discovered in an attic, and later saved, while working as the campus photographer at Washington and Lee University).

He’s Not Wrong

Review: Steven Pinker’s ‘The Sense of Style’

Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style is a maddening book, much the way doctoral students are maddening. At once a style guide, a work of aesthetics, and an overeducated explanation of writing precepts that many unwashed composition teachers nationwide already understand, it is a book sometimes too smart to get out of its own way.