Featured Columns

Poetry and Dyslexia

By Philip Schultz on 10.14.11

The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Schultz didn’t learn he was dyslexic until his oldest son was diagnosed with the condition. The following is an excerpt from his memoir, My Dyslexia, which chronicles his experience. Check back on Monday when Schultz joins us to answer a few questions.

I finally understand that the life of an artist is in many ways similar to the life of the dyslexic. Both are essentially dysfunctional systems that produce in each individual volumes of anxiety, perseverance, and rejection, as well as creative compensatory thinking. Each, by their very nature, makes a victim of its creator, turning him into an outsider and misfit. It’s true of all artists, I think, at every level of success, the more gifted, the greater and riskier the anxiety and struggle. Each must, without appeal, strive to tolerate its own forms of self-defamation, creative excitement, and lack of forgiveness.

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The Early Poems of Gerald Stern

By Gerald Stern on 6.21.10

What I attempted to do in this Early Collected—the first six books of my collected poems—is to reach out simultaneously for a new language and a new subject matter. I was interested in that which was overlooked, neglected, and unseen, from a political, religious, and personal point of view and a voice that bespoke this in the simplest, most honest manner. I found myself returning to early—to fundamental—experiences, as I found myself discovering a new language. This constituted a celebration as well as a kind of mourning or elegy, and the results can be seen in such poems as “Lucky Life,” “The Blue Tie,” “Stepping Out of Poetry,” and “Bob Summer: The Final Poem.” This was a difficult road to hoe, for it expressed neither formal, academic niceness nor bohemian madness. If there are sources they are variously in the Hebrew prophets, in Blake, in Whitman, in Ovid, in Coleridge, and, as far as modern poets, in Yeats, Stevens, Pound, and Hart Crane.

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The Oral World vs. The Written Word

By Nicholas Carr on 6.18.10

Early in the fourth century BC, when the practice of writing was still novel and controversial in Greece, Plato wrote Phaedrus, his dialogue about love, beauty, and rhetoric. In the tale, the title character, a citizen of Athens, takes a walk with the great orator Socrates into the countryside, where the two friends sit under a tree beside a stream and have a long and circuitous conversation. They discuss the finer points of speech making, the nature of desire, the varieties of madness, and the journey of the immortal soul, before turning their attention to the written word. “There remains the question,” muses Socrates, “of propriety and impropriety in writing.” Phaedrus agrees, and Socrates launches into a story about a meeting between the multi-talented Egyptian god Theuth, whose many inventions included the alphabet, and one of the kings of Egypt, Thamus.

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The Importance of Merging Margins

By Kimiko Hahn on 5.20.10

In the current Broadway play Red, Mark Rothko shouts at his assistant for never having read such writers as Nietzsche. It’s both an attack on the younger man’s perceived lack of cultural literacy and a provocative way for the older artist to mentor. All the while, classical music is playing in the background in a kind of surround-sound tutoring. The audience comes to discover something about the assistant’s own musical preferences when he plays a Chet Baker record while the master is out wheeling and dealing in the art world. We also learn that the assistant’s artistic taste runs more toward Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns than toward the high modernism of his self-aggrandizing guru. I’m impressed by the variety of culture represented in that studio.

When I was about that young man’s age, say twenty-eight, I was in the throes of an art movement here in New York City. It was 1983, and the group became known as Artists Call Against U.S. Intervention in Central America. Reagan was president and he was funding “freedom fighters” to undermine the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua and elsewhere in the region. We congregated in the loft of Leon Golub and Nancy Spero.

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You Have Flown to the Dangerous Country

Thoughts on Haiti

By Elizabeth Spires on 1.29.10

A few years ago, I reviewed the children’s classic Popo and Fifina: Children of Haiti, written by Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes in 1931. The Haiti presented in that book was a simple, lyrical place, in some ways almost paradisaical, and totally at odds with the terrible scenes of destruction and human suffering we are seeing in newspapers and on television broadcasts since the earthquake. Even before the earthquake, however, Haiti’s troubles in recent years, its political instability, social chaos, and poverty, made it an unlikely destination for most travelers.

This didn’t deter my husband, who began making regular trips to Haiti in 1995 to research a trilogy of historical novels (All Souls Rising, Master of the Crossroads, and The Stone That the Builder Refused) about the Haitian slave revolt of 1791. Since he is an intrepid, resourceful traveler, who recognizes little in the way of danger, I decided it would be pointless to worry about his safety until the day of one trip, when the Haitian Times landed on our doorstep in Baltimore running the bold headline “Kidnappers Run Amok.” Fortunately, his plane to Haiti had already taken off, which was a good thing, since I know that that particular story wouldn’t have stopped him from going. But my misgivings on that occasion spurred the poem “You Have Flown to the Dangerous Country.”

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