Born in New York in 1939, Bill Berkson is a poet, critic and professor emeritus at the San Francisco Art Institute, whose previous collection Portrait and Dream: New & Selected Poems won the Balcones Prize for Best Poetry Book of 2010. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Brooklyn Rail, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology, The New York Poets II, Bay Area Poetics, The i.e. Reader, The Zoland Poetry Annual 2011, Amerarcana, Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology and Nuova Poesia Americana. He now divides his time between San Francisco and Manhattan.
“Like his good friend Frank O’Hara, Bill Berkson writes about friends and family (wife, son, mother on her 100th birthday) and isn’t afraid to drop a few glam names from life in the cities where he lives, in his case San Francisco and New York. In this he resembles Stéphane Mallarmé, who wrote verses on fans (the kind you wave) and notes on fashion, as well as difficult dreamlike poetry. Berkson includes two celesta-toned Mallarmé translations, one of them ‘Brise Marine': (‘The flesh is sad, alas! And I’ve read all the books’) alongside journalistic patter: ‘Lovers for a time, Lee Wiley and Berigan began appearing/ together on Wiley’s fifteen-minute CBS radio spot,/ Saturday Night Swing Club, in 1936.’ Expect Delays is an all-too-familiar warning to urban Americans. In this case, the delays are as rewarding as the invigorating voyage.—John Ashbery
Ari Larissa Heinrich, in conversation with Scott Esposito, discussed the work of Qui Miaojin, author of Last Words from Montmarter, published by NYRP Classics and translated from the Chinese with an afterward by Ari Larissa Heinrich at City Lights Bookstore.
When the pioneering Taiwanese novelist Qiu Miaojin committed suicide in 1995 at age twenty-six, she left behind her unpublished masterpiece, Last Words from Montmartre. Unfolding through a series of letters written by an unnamed narrator, Last Words tells the story of a passionate relationship between two young women—their sexual awakening, their gradual breakup, and the devastating aftermath of their broken love. In a style that veers between extremes, from self-deprecation to pathos, compulsive repetition to rhapsodic musings, reticence to vulnerability, Qiu’s genre-bending novel is at once a psychological thriller, a sublime romance, and the author’s own suicide note.
The letters (which, Qiu tells us, can be read in any order) leap between Paris, Taipei, and Tokyo. They display wrenching insights into what it means to live between cultures, languages, and genders—until the genderless character Zoë appears, and the narrator’s spiritual and physical identity is transformed. As powerfully raw and transcendent as Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, and Theresa Cha’s Dictée, to name but a few, Last Words from Montmartre proves Qiu Miaojin to be one of the finest experimentalists and modernist Chinese-language writers of our generation.
Published in Laughlin’s centenary year The Collected Poems Of James Laughlin encompasses in one majestic volume all of the poetry (with the exception of his verse memoirs Byways) written by the publisher-poet. Witty, technically brilliant, slyly satiric, and heartbreakingly poignant, Laughlin charted his own poetic course for over six decades, prompting astonishment and joy in fellow poets. The Collected Poems includes over 1250 poems – from the early lyrics written in Laughlin’s signature “typewriter metric” to the “long-line poems of his later years, to the playful antics of his doppelganger Hiram Handspring, to the trenchant commentary of the five-line pentastichs that occupied his last days.
About Literchoor Is My Beat:
A biography — thoughtful and playful — of the man who founded New Directions and transformed American publishing. James Laughlin — a poet, publisher, world-class skier — was the man behind some of the most daring, revolutionary works in verse and prose of the twentieth century. As the founder of New Directions, he published Ezra Pound’s The Cantos and William Carlos Williams’s Paterson; he brought Herman Hesse and Jorge Luis Borges to an American audience. Throughout his life, this tall, charismatic intellectual, athlete, and entrepreneur preferred to stay hidden. But no longer — in “Literchoor is My Beat”: A Life of James Laughlin, Publisher of New Directions, Ian S. MacNiven has given us a sensitive and revealing portrait of this visionary and the understory of the last century of American letters.
Peggy Fox retired as President and Publisher of New Directions in 2011 after 36 years of working primarily with ND “bedrock authors” such as William Carlos Williams and Tennessee Williams. She is James Laughlin’s literary co-executor and a Trustee of the several trusts set up under Laughlin’s will to support New Directions and literary endeavors. She is also a Trustee of the Thomas Merton Legacy Trust and the E. E. Cummings Trust. She considers working with Lawrence Ferlinghetti one of the highlights of her editorial career. Several years after James Laughlin’s death in 1997, following Laughlin’s wishes, Fox contacted long-time friend and colleague Peter Glassgold and asked him to edit a complete edition of Laughlin’s poems, The Collected Poems of James Laughlin. She has continued to be the in-house editor of the book since her retirement.
In this transformative new book, award-winning poet and essayist James Lenfestey makes an epic journey across the world to find the Cold Mountain Cave, a location long believed to exist only in myths, and the ancient home of his idol Han Shan, author of the Cold Mountain poems and a legend in the history of both Chinese and international poetic tradition. Lenfestey’s voyage takes him from the Midwestern U.S. to Tokyo to a road trip across the expanse of China with frequent excursions into the country’s rich historical and cultural landmarks. As he makes his way to the cave, Lenfestey learns more than history or geography, he discovers his identity as a writer and a poet.
On the occasion of LITQUAKE 2014. City Lights in conjunction with LITQUAKE presented a panel discussion with Steve McQuiddy, Vladimir Dupre, and Steve Dickison (of The Poetry Center at SFSU) celebrating the recently released book, Here on the Edge by Steve McQuiddy, published by Oregon State University Press.
Here on the Edge is the story of how a World War II conscientious objectors camp on the Oregon Coast plowed the ground for the social and cultural revolutions of the 1960s. This evening explores a long-neglected element of World War II history: the role of pacifism and conscientious objection in what is often called “The Good War.” It focuses on one camp situated on the rain-soaked Oregon coast, Civilian Public Service (CPS) Camp #56. As home to the Fine Arts Group at Waldport, the camp became a center of activity for artists and writers from across the country who chose to take a condition of penance (compulsive labor for refusing to serve in the military) and put it to constructive ends. After the war, camp members went on to participate in the San Francisco “Poetry Renaissance” of the 1950s, which heavily influenced the Beat Generation of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg—who in turn inspired the likes of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, leading the way to the 1960s radical upheavals epitomized by San Francisco’s “Summer of Love.”
Loosely based on the little-known 1859 Mexican invasion of the United States, Carmen Boullosa’s newest novel Texas: The Great Theft is a richly imagined evocation of the volatile Tex-Mex borderland, wrested from Mexico in 1848. Described by Roberto Bolaño as “Mexico’s greatest woman writer,” Boullosa views the border history through distinctly Mexican eyes, and her sympathetic portrayal each of her wildly diverse characters—Mexican ranchers and Texas Rangers, Comanches and cowboys, German socialists and runaway slaves, Southern belles and dance hall girls—makes her storytelling tremendously powerful and absorbing. With today’s Mexican-American frontier such a front-burner concern, this novel that brilliantly illuminates its historical landscape is especially welcome. Texas is Boullosa’s fourth novel to appear in English, her previous novels were published by Grove Press.
Carmen Boullosa is one of Mexico’s leading novelists, poets and playwrights. The prolific author, who has had literally scores of books, essays and dissertations written about her work, has been lauded by critics on several continents. “As playful as a mischievous Puck,” says Elena Poniatowska; she has “a heart-stopping command of language,” says Alma Guillermoprieto; “one of the most dazzling of Latin America’s new generation,” according to Publishers Weekly; “Mexico’s best woman writer,” wrote Roberto Bolaño.
Elaine Kahn discusses her new book, Women in Public, and reads two poems in an interview with City Lights.
In Women in Public, the debut full-length collection by poet/musician Elaine Kahn, personal philosophies and collective admissions are put through the corporeal grinder, harnessing the sensual as a medium for the cerebral in order to negotiate the “feminine condition” of being simultaneously othered and consumed. In this interview, Eliane discusses her writing process, the inspiration behind her poems, and reads from her book.
City Lights celebrated the release of Women In Public, No. 13 in the City Lights Spotlight Poetry Series, on March 10, 2015 where Elaine Kahn was joined by Ali Warren, author of Here Comes the Warm Jets (City Lights Spotlight No. 10) to read several of their poems.
In Women in Public, the debut full-length collection by poet/musician Elaine Kahn, personal philosophies and collective admissions are put through the corporeal grinder, harnessing the sensual as a medium for the cerebral in order to negotiate the “feminine condition” of being simultaneously othered and consumed.
By turns seductive and self-deprecating, Women in Public navigates a world where the erotics of the body and mind do battle against the constructs that would demean and define them, using lyric, fragment, humor, and repetition to create a space flexible enough to hold the many contradictions of reality. Where expectations and desires can be piled too easily upon the body, Kahn digs in her heels, writing in attempt to liberate physical form from society’s confines.
Sandip Roy celebrates the release of his new book, Don’t Let Him Know, with Davia Nelson of the Kitchen Sisters and City Lights Book Store.
Moving from adolescent rooftop games to adult encounters in gay bars, from hair salons in Calcutta to McDonald’s drive-thrus in California, Don’t Let Him Know follows the trajectory of a family, the struggle between having what we want and doing what we feel we must – and the sacrifices we make for those we love. Tender, powerful, and beautifully told, Don’t Let Him Know marks the arrival of a brave new voice.
Sandip Roy is Senior Editor at the popular news portal Firstpost.com and blogs for the Huffington Post. He has been a longtime commentator on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio programme in the US, and has a weekly radio postcard for public radio in the San Francisco Bay Area. For years he was a radio host on KALW in San Francisco. He is also an editor with New America Media. Sandip has won several awards for journalism and contributed to various anthologies including Storywallah!, Contours of the Heart, Because I Have a Voice: Queer Politics in India, Out! Stories from the New Queer India, New California Writing 2011 and The Phobic and the Erotic: The Politics of Sexualities in Contemporary India. Sandip lives in Kolkata.
Richard Kenvin celebrates the release of his new book, Surf Craft: Design and the Culture of Board Riding at City Lights Bookstore by reading the first two chapters and answering questions.
In his text, Richard Kenvin looks at the craft and design of surfboards from a historical and cultural perspective. He views board design as an exemplary model of mingei, or art of the people, and the craft philosophy of Soetsu Yanagi. Yanagi believed that a design’s true beauty and purpose are revealed when it is put to its intended use. In its purest form, the craft of board building, along with the act of surfing itself, exemplifies mingei. Surf Craft pays particular attention to Bob Simmons’s boards, which are striking examples of this kind of functional design, mirroring the work of postwar modern California designers.
Surf Craft is published in conjunction with an exhibition at San Diego’s Mingei International Museum.