TANYA: Poems, by Brenda Shaughnessy Attempt to ferret out the origins of the name “Tanya,” and you’ll find yourself awash in contradiction. A Russian name, it’s a diminutive of “Tatiana,” one source declares. Another insists the name is not Russian at all. A third states that this very Russian appellation means “fairy queen.” Some websites contend that “Tanya” comes from a Latin or Greek root meaning something like “define.” This flurry of conflicting information is an apt lead-in to Brenda Shaughnessy’s definition-questioning poems. The construction of self, the joys and vagaries of language and meaning-making, and the relationship between thought and feeling are abiding themes here. Of the last, the poet observes, “I don’t think I’m brainy because I love too much/the feeling of my thoughts moving/aside to let new ones in,/and the mixing feels so good,/I begin to crave it.” How intellect and emotion mesh and are embodied in art is a key subject in these poems. Appropriately, … [Read more...] about Love, Absence and Loss, Filtered Through Philosophical Poems
Poetry and poets
And You Thought Your Family Had Problems
THE NEW EARTH , by Jess Row Officially, there is no hall of fame for unhappy families. But even the staunchest Russian novelist might be hard pressed to match the particular gift for dysfunction that the Wilcoxes, subjects of Jess Row’s sprawling metafiction “The New Earth,” display with such impressive esprit de corps across nearly 600 dense and often wildly discursive pages. Death and divorce are a given; immigration, climate change and crises of faith crowd the margins, clambering to compete with a thousand-year conflict in the Middle East. Incest eventually enters the chat, an assiduous but uninvited guest, and race hovers over it all, a quivering question mark. (The impetus for everything, naturally, is a wedding.) It’s all richly imagined, reflexively neurotic and frequently quite dazzling. It’s also more than a single book, even one guided by a keen and careful hand, can adequately contain: a Gordian knot of domestic melodrama, global politics and high-flying philosophy … [Read more...] about And You Thought Your Family Had Problems
Welcome to Immortality. Your Body Can’t Come With You.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF LIVING FOREVER , by Jaroslav Kalfar Jaroslav Kalfar’s first novel, “ Spaceman of Bohemia ” (2017), was about a vaguely bewildered Czech professor of astrophysics who blasts into space on an urgent mission. Once up there, his wife back on Earth leaves him and (worse?) a giant, hairy spider latches onto his spaceship. The spider, unlike his wife, can read his mind. The first half of “Spaceman of Bohemia,” which was a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke award for science fiction and is being made into a film with Adam Sandler and Carey Mulligan, is inventive and charming: It makes you smile. The book reminded me of Victor Pelevin’s short, absurdist and moving Russian space novel, “ Omon Ra ” (1998). Pelevin’s book is about a soul sitting in a tin can, and it is ripe for rediscovery. In the second half of “Spaceman in Bohemia,” the spider probes into deeper matters, such as the professor’s history and the Czech Republic’s, and the novel slowly grows leaden. The … [Read more...] about Welcome to Immortality. Your Body Can’t Come With You.
Review: A South Korean Troupe’s Physical Risks and Daunting Tasks
The South Korean contemporary dance company Bereishit takes its name from the first word of the Torah, meaning “in the beginning.” The group’s founder, Park Soon-ho, has said : “We named the dance company after that word because I cherish beginnings, including those with new dancers and new experiences.” That might sound a bit generic, but Park’s work is not. The energy of trying something new, entwined with older traditions, infused the program that the Seoul-based company brought to NYU Skirball on Friday and Saturday, a presentation with the Korean Cultural Center New York. “Judo” (2014) and “Balance and Imbalance” (2010), both New York premieres, made clear that as a choreographer Park also cherishes physical risk and the swift, fearless execution of daunting tasks. The company’s eight dancers were fully up for the challenge. “Judo” began on a lighthearted note, far from where it would end up, with the dancers balancing red athletic mats on their heads while swaying their … [Read more...] about Review: A South Korean Troupe’s Physical Risks and Daunting Tasks