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Recommended Holiday Reading

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Christmas is all about the traditional: gingerbread, brandied eggnog, tinsel and curling up in front of toasty fires with good stories. Or, if you’re a poor motherless MFA student like us at The Brooklyn Review, a fifth of whiskey, a shoplifted fir-scented candle, and your roommate’s three-month-old copy of The New Yorker. Whatever.

But maybe you’re tired of reading Charles Dickens or Hans Christian Anderson. Maybe you’d like to cleanse the saccharine Christmas palate with the humorous or the strange, the dark or the unusual. Let us recommend 12 stories — one per each of the 12 days of Christmas, duh — to pleasantly complicate your holiday hygge.

  1. David Sedaris, “The SantaLand Diaries.” The incredible true-life story of a writer who survived working as a department store elf.
  2. Isaac Asimov, “Christmas on Ganymede.” The alien race of Jupiter’s moon are understandably fascinated when they learn of Santa Claus, with hilariously disastrous results.
  3. George Saunders, “Chicago Christmas, 1984.” Later edited and added to his short story collection In Persuasion Nation, this little memoir explores what it means to a loser on Christmas.
  4. Willa Cather, “The Burglar’s Christmas.” This version of the prodigal son parable is also about being down on your luck during the most wonderful time of the year.
  5. Ishmael Reed, “Past Christmas,” excerpted from The Terrible Twos. A dystopian satire of American inequality and Christmas commercialism, in which Santa Claus has become expropriated, syndicated corporate property.
  6. Nikolai Gogol, “The Night of Christmas Eve.” Witches and devils come out to play on Christmas Eve.
  7. Grace Paley, “The Loudest Voice.” In this funny, critical look at American assimilation, Jewish schoolgirl is chosen to narrate her school’s Christmas pageant.
  8. Alice Munro, “Queenie.” A Christmas cake becomes a very loaded symbol in this longer story about labor, class differences, and opportunity.
  9. Raymond Carver, “A Serious Talk.” Nothing like a separated family, an almost-torched house, and a smashed pie to complete the holiday season.
  10. Harlan Ellison, “No Offense Intended, but Fuck Xmas!” A jolly little rant with an unusual interpretation of A Christmas Carol.
  11. Fyodor Dostoevsky, “A Christmas Tree and a Wedding.” Holiday party awkwardness circa 1848.
  12. Sandra Cisneros, “Three Wise Guys.” The anticipation builds as a family waits to open a large, mysterious present.

Merry Xmas!

— The Brooklyn Review

Departure of the Ark & Land of the Free

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Fabrice Poussin, "First Error," photograph, 2017

Fabrice Poussin, “First Error,” photograph, 2017

DEPARTURE OF THE ARK

    At midnight it was still chewing quietly on its anchor chain while the puddles meandering along the waterfront engulfed the chunks of watermelon we had thrown overboard after our farewell picnic.

     At two a.m., sound of the waterfront tugs suddenly flapping and churning. In no time we were roaring out through the roads, ready for the open sea. The noise gave us all a case of the vapors. The fluids boiled in our brains. Just when we had finally relaxed into thinking about nothing worse than chipped beef!

     The moon took on a distracted, uncomfortable look. The sky was ripe with reflections. Not yet visible, the jagged edge of the earth, out there where the ocean becomes a flume of falling water.

Land of the Free

     Do you remember the day when you buttoned up freedom for ever? “The bug is snug in the rug at last,” you said. Do you remember how the legs of the bug were flayed and abraded by a summer of crawling up and down the screen door? How the children stuck pins through the screen and into the bug, which rocked and swayed and fell backwards into the amber waves? How the rescue ship broke down and had to be towed? Our home certainly offered no refuge from sorrow.

Motions for Red Coffee

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Magdalena Dukiewicz, Bastard 1, Hydrolyzed collagen sculpture, 20"20"50", 2017

Magdalena Dukiewicz, Bastard 1, Hydrolyzed collagen sculpture, 20″20″50″, 2017

 

Listen, my best wishes for you
are built from the inside out,
like a sentence after the eye falls
upon a reasonable stone and opens
a window I remembered

to save the glass,
to feel December’s bearable embrace.
At the cemetery edge, the shade
of a neighboring house passes
the afternoon in a hooky from the bore.

I am that afternoon,
swiping your parka in a checkout lane
where your granite face gives rise
to fresh gray hair; buy a candy bar
on special. Free sleep mask
with each bouquet.

Out of mounded sprockets
grows a castle into which the dreamer
reaches, sussing out a guillotine.
You are my sunshine, my pillory.
Come rack imagination
in the black well of a boot.
The dead have all lined up,
are never late. Throw your cue
into the low-slung lamp’s
kinetic dark — that it may break.

From One Crotchety Spectrum Septuagenarian Too Chicken To Do Real Speed

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While First Lady Nancy Reagan was exhorting us turkeys to Just Say No,
daughter Patti wrote, “my mother was a pill-popping Quaalude shrew.”

As a gaggle of rugged individualists, some fellow travelers pick stimulants.
Starbucks, CVS and shrinks offer caffeine, diet capsules, and Ritalin variants.

Then IMHO, there’s Lockean ecstasy vs. Hobbes’ hell — MDMA for joyous
afternoons with you, or squalid meth abuse — folks choose their crutches.

Speaking as a currently licensed physician, both stories really begin with
phenethylamine, the molecular skeleton on which amphetamine is based:

MDMA and methamphetamine are elaborations, with small structural
shifts significantly changing binding affinity, permeability plus longevity.

Methamphetamine’s formula is C10H15N, MDMA’s is C11H15NO2 —
thus essentially MDMA has an extra carbon plus two extra oxygens.

methmdma

Methamphetamine              MDMA

From Forum Grouch: “X is the lamest drug I’ve ever used…it’s for peeps
scared of speed, acid, shrooms, The Jaguar, Special K, coke, herion (sic).

there’s not enough of anything that’s in there, to get me off off off off!
what a joke! 20-30 bucks a pill for what? … We’re loyal crystal smoking addicts.”

From Speedfreak Emeritus: “Here’s my impression of meth vs MDMA.
They’re both phone. But when taken, they both have realistic promises.

Methamphetamine makes me feel powerful, potent, hung, virile,
superior, capable, strong, attractive, energetic and truly validated.

MDMA made me feel compassionate, loving, caring, gentle, friendly,
in-touch in-tune. I ADMIT it’s MUCH easier to quit X than speed.”

What boosters d’ya employ — chardonnay, chocolate (brownies), entheogens,
other exogenous chemicals, endorphin byproducts of meditation, exercise, sex?

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Interview with Monet Hurst-Mendoza + Excerpt

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Monet Hurst-Mendoza is an accomplished NYC-based playwright from LA. Rising Circle Theater Collective, Looking Glass Theatre (NYC), Amios, Playwright’s Playground at Classical Theatre of Harlem, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and many others have developed her plays. She is a current member of the 2017 Emerging Writers Group at The Public Theater and is a 2016-2018 Van Lier Fellow at New Dramatists. Monet was a 2014-2016 WP Theater Lab Time Warner Foundation Fellow and has held residencies with The Other Mirror, The MITTEN Lab, and SPACE on Ryder Farm. 

Hurst-Mendoza debuted her play, Veil’d, at the Astoria Performing Arts Center in November. Just before the premiere, Hurst-Mendoza spoke with The Brooklyn Review’s Cherry Lou Sy about playwriting, Veil’d, fighting xenophobia in the age of Trump, pie, and the Dodgers. An excerpt from Veil’d follows

Cherry Lou Sy: Why theatre? Why are you so passionate about it?
Monet Hurst-Mendoza: 
I am passionate about theatre because it is an in-your-face, moment-to-moment experience that can’t be replicated the same way twice. Theatre can be entertaining, but it can also call for brutal honesty and introspection. I love that theatre can be a political act just by its existence. But what compels me most about theatre is that it is a communal gathering, at once vivid, volatile, and necessary — and it can spark inspiration that can change the course of someone’s life.

CLS: What would you like people to know about you?
MHM: 
I love to bake pies, but I rarely ever eat a pie I’ve made myself. I really revel in the baking process and then enjoy watching others eat this dessert I’ve made with my own two hands. I guess it’s very similar to playwriting.

CLS: What do you think makes a “good” play?
MHM:
I always say, “I know it’s a good play if I’m afraid to show it to my grandmother.”

CLS: You’ve had so much success with developmental programs in NYC: the Van Lier at New Dramatists, the Public’s Emerging Writer’s Group, and the WP Playwright Lab, to name a few. How were these programs helpful to you as an artist? Do you have any advice to other playwrights who would like to apply?
MHM: 
I’ve been very fortunate to have been admitted to these wonderful programs — I absolutely think they’ve helped me grow as an artist. Each group is unique, but they have all provided me with a sense of community that I think is so vital to what we do.

Artists need other artists to survive. Community provides opportunities and a wealth of resources you may not have previously had access to.

I got in to all of the fellowships I’ve been accepted to after several rounds of denials. When you’re starting out, it can feel like you have to apply for everything all the time. You don’t have to put that momentous pressure on yourself, That is absurd.

I constantly have to remind myself that it’s better to submit a quality application than a rushed one, and that it’s okay to wait to apply if I don’t have a play or personal statement (hate those) that is quite ready for what is being asked for in the application guidelines. Keep working, keep marinating, and set a goal to apply the following round. If you’re passionate about a program and you get denied, keep reapplying for as long as you deem it useful to you. In the meantime, find opportunities to create work and build community close to home. Start your own writer’s group, participate in one-off play festivals, etc. Stay tenacious — you got this.

CLS: Congratulations on Veil’d, your world premier production at Astoria Performing Arts Center in New York. Why is this work important now?
MHM: 
Thank you! I thought the production was very exciting. Veil’d was the first full-length play I ever wrote, so it’s poetic that it was also my first world-premiere.

The play is a modern-day twist on the Rapunzel fairy tale. It focuses on an Afghani couple that immigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan at the height of Taliban rule to create a new life for themselves. After difficulty conceiving, they gave birth to a daughter, Dima, with a rare allergic reaction to the sun. As a result of her illness, the young girl becomes more sheltered and finds safety and comfort in wearing her mother’s old burqa. Though her parents worry about her future and are dismayed at her choice to wear the burqa, as it symbolizes the life they escaped, we as the audience get to watch how Dima grows into young adulthood with the help of some secret friends.

As much as this play is about first love, friendship, and self-actualization, it also examines what it means to be an American in today’s climate. Trump’s Muslim Ban is just one of numerous examples of the caustic effects of xenophobia that impacts the lives of many wonderful people in our communities. That is not the America I want to live in. So, as a playwright, I pick up my pen to engender understanding, hope, and empathy through truth in my storytelling. During our rehearsal process, we emphasized the importance of upholding the narrative of a Middle Eastern family that was not rooted in fear, judgment, or alienation. The Mansour family is just like any other you might encounter, grappling with questions of parenting and identity as they work to create the stability and happiness we as Americans promote and strive for. If the American dream is meant to belong to all, then it is our responsibility to set places at the table for everyone.

CLS: Can you talk about one defining moment that influenced you as an artist?
MHM: I saw Soho Rep’s production of Blasted by Sarah Kane in college. Sarah Benson exquisitely directed the production. I rushed an evening performance without having any knowledge of the play beforehand, except that it came highly recommended by my playwriting teacher. I was seated in the front row, which was a really intense seat location for Blasted. There is a moment in the play where the setting of the first scene, a nice hotel room, collapses. When it happened, a piece of prop ice from a champagne bucket hit my foot. After that, I knew this play wouldn’t be like anything I had ever experienced before. After the show was over, I was shaking, inspired, and in tears; I couldn’t physically move from my chair. That play, that production, changed my entire perspective of what theatricality is and can be. It blew my mind.

CLS: Anything else you might want to add?
MHM:
 I’m a Dodgers fan so I gotta shout out my boys for all the hard work they put in this past season. #GoBlue

 

Read an excerpt of Veil’d here: Veil'd

Permanent Change of Station

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The room is bare, except for the girls
Kneeling surreptitiously by the window,
Keeping watch on harbor seals. The girls
Are formerly land-locked Army brats
Displaced by houses, yards and fences
Caught on rotating schedules like
Themselves. The harbor seals are rollicking,
As harbor seals are wont to do without a care
On danger-free, authentic coasts, capricious
With Orca pods to keep the daily quotas
Set before the girls had grace with curiosity.
The harbor seals are slick with sand
To coat their furry radiance, dispelling
Rapture mixed with sea salt as the girls
Behind their open window, present
Each other with a shared gratitude
In the secret form of fear called
Giggles. And from the ocean waves
Another seal emerges, presenting with
A ravaged fish — the glimmering scales
And punctured eye sagging from the floppy
Tedium, twitching now in the mouth
Outside their window — and wiggles.

Two Poems

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Teeth 

From a blindfold of lips
every particular touch
is as hurting is to grass.

On these nights, your fingers
almost sensibly
set their ask to air —

almost regrettably, tease the lotus
notion of passing, not
skin to skin

or such heat
but taking a route
rendering the half-opened flower of the mouth

something harder,
sweeter.
Only moments at a time

does the singing note
of my spine
rise organically;

rise again
like a snake between the eyes —

So you are fortunate
to graze the map of my thigh,

but sink hard in the head.
Make a woman

instead of some
lying leaf. Or totem of grief.

 

Unable Mother

Flesh, cannot fathom the words.
Though your skin might
from time to time

recover a scent, a world away
in a rhythm of white walls
where moons are tugged down

and shame
is the only principle.
O, to be so

openly naked — how to account for that?
So much of you
was sunk, bones in a bed

burying the screams,
numb to the vital
wave of vibrations.

Despite the people, and all the methods
that tried to open you out,
your abilities failed.

You couldn’t accept the natural
give, the heavy
flower

of your uterus.
Someone had to drug
every knot in your spine

so you could hide
beyond the yellow mask
of sleep; almost in death

as the contracts in you crept
ever lower
with the infant’s head.

At her deepest point
the shadow-doctors
pulled her gory from the womb.

Despite the glorious pools
of blood, you insisted
you felt nothing — even when the last

toe
slipped hard and white
from the vertical wound —

you couldn’t mouth the sounds.
Your innards,
like a blown flower,

totally emptied.
O, to be so

openly naked — how to account for that?

From the Archives: “This Is About the Radio”

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“Sam realized there was a reason people went to dinner parties in twos. It was important to have someone there to squeeze your knee under the table when someone made an ass of himself and you couldn’t laugh out loud; it was particularly important if the ass was you.”

A drunken haircut, a dinner party, Connecticut commutes, girlfriends and ex-girlfriends, roller coasters and radios – CJ Hauser‘s wonderful, funny-sad short story, “This Is About the Radio,” has it all. First published in The Brooklyn Review Issue 26 in 2009, read it online now here.

I Have a Crush on My Mother’s Teen Idol

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On Hong Kong Island, I run into my mother’s childhood crush—
her teen-idol-gameshow-host-on-every-girl’s-wall-celebrity-
still-a-bachelor, trying on Korean glasses
in the arts district once used for police housing.
I pick up a pair I can’t afford,
hoping for the freeze-frame of the moment—
it’s like in the movies when strangers lock eyes
across the fancy boutique, and she drops her gloves.

I know too much about this man,
his tabloid exploits, the “bored stag” lifestyle,
taking women half his age out for drinks.
But, if I’ve inherited my mother’s face,
why not inherit her taste in men,
pretend she’s a best friend who’s betrayed me
and I’m trying to get her back, make her jealous,
go after this man. It’s a sick, twisted family game,
and I’m ready to hold his gaze a few seconds longer,
picture our dream date: me waiting for him
in a silk robe with dragonfly pattern,
ready to eat spaghetti with our hands,
let him lick the tomatoes and Parmesan off my fingers,
drinking Mexican Cokes, then off to an artisan bar
drinking Old Fashioneds on dim sum trays.
My mother and father would be at the next table,
but in this dream, they’re in their twenties,
art is the lie—she glances over,
sees this girl in a body similar to hers,
wishing she were me instead and that she’d leave my father
in that moment, chase after some bigger dream.
And I let this man buy me a couple more drinks,
downing shots, but in this haze is where the scene cuts short.
Maybe it’s because he’s too friendly to the owners,
or that he’s actually shopping while I’m not,
but I don’t think the rumors are true—he’s not that crazy bachelor,
and he walks home, alone, happy, every night.

Metal

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Starved for contact,
sailors traded any last scrap
of metal for whatever intimacy
they could find.

My chest walks
to the rhythm of her stride.
Her scent spirals
the brainstem, petaling
my scalp with shivers.

They were dizzy with the breeze
full of frangiapani, heliconia,

the burning striations of the tiger
lily in her hair.

They slept on the ship’s floor,
no nails to keep up
their hammocks.

All my belts have lost their buckles.
My glasses are a pair of flat gems.

Loose floorboards rumbled
where the ship’s metal ribs
had been stripped.

I’d brave that long ocean
on a single plank, my teeth
pulled out for their fillings
& pawned.

The sailors didn’t
look back
at the shoreline shrinking
beneath the horizon.

My rear view mirror
is busted & my brake pedal
is covered with thorns.

Simone White’s Of Being Dispersed: A Review

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I maintain dominion over the crevices of myself, deep into the layers
of my skin, which must never be questioned. Never doubt that these
crevices extend toward an infinitely receding boundary. Come close
to me to feel it.

The last time I encountered Simone White was in the summer 2016 issue of BOMB magazine, in an interview with Vince Staples. In it, White notes a “family feeling” to Staples’s music that evokes a sense of knowing him. I had this same feeling while reading White’s latest text, Of Being Dispersed. It’s work that makes room for empathy between artist and reader, a reminder that we walk the same ground, take the same trains, roll our eyes at the same ads on them.

Of Being Dispersed begins with a portrait of Los Angeles as a place “where dead negroes can’t get in your house.” Followed by a break, then alone on the next line: “Yeah.” White shows without telling, making the reader reexamine their own positionality and assumptions.

This approach returns in “Lotion,” the volume’s closing essay, which explores the social context of White’s beauty regimen with equal parts exhaustion and dignified ownership. It’s the sheer power of her voice that holds this disparate formal universe together. One still hears the poet who reminds herself that it “looks bad to yell at a white man in public, even if he pushed you out of the way” in the preceding poems. In “Lotion,” that same poet who assures the woman who mistook her ironed hair for something burning that nothing was on fire. These are scenes of subtle confrontation embedded in flippant reassurance, evidence of White’s negotiation of complex affects.

While the book is set in an intellectual and embodied universe that is decidedly White’s own, we as outsiders feel ineluctably drawn into its orbit. A layered consciousness shines in a consistent and textured tone engaging the different parts of her mind: sometimes as entire poems, but often within the same poem, even the same line.

White’s words reflect worlds she has seen. They extend access to her mind, her analysis of herself and her surroundings, so that the reader gets as close to her as they can while remaining self-reflexive. I experienced Of Being Dispersed as a mirror that made me consider the consequences of my own body as a container—what it means to exist in the world, in America, as my physical self, but also as a spirit within it.

Two Poems

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Tarantella

She was unaffected by the lump on her forehead. Its size was considerable, and her father was concerned. If you see that spider, kill it, he said. Or I’ll kill it. She smiled and nodded — fathers sometimes had to kill things in order to express their affection.

Everything seemed to come in squares. Architects had led the cause, incorporating sliding quadrants everywhere — polygons inserted into the natural landscape, and the movement of shadows made noticeable as they outlined the meticulous angles of a constructed space. These houses were always beautiful and forever unlived in until an Italian couple would purchase one for the express reason of not living in it but instead having it photographed. To see a photograph, which was no longer a photograph but instead a collection of pixels, was a thing to like. A person could like architecture, and in this way architecture’s likeability would grow.

She noticed the shadow of her head in profile — the lump really was considerable, and had she been in one of the new houses it could very well have disturbed the geometry of the place. Did the owners of beautiful houses dance? Who danced at home anymore, that unselfconscious unstudied type of dance that came in un-beautiful steps and furniture-threatening spins? The tarantella was such a dance, specifically manufactured for spider bite victims fallen under the spell of tarantism, where involuntary paroxysms of the leg and arm muscles carried a person about a room in 6/8 time.

 

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Cary Grant Poses for Imogen Cunningham

Archie held three grapes in his mouth. The photographer was unaware that this was code for Don’t photograph me, and if you’re going to photograph me, it will look like I have three grapes in my mouth. But some people’s mouths are beautiful anyway, and the photographer made the picture. Archie looked down at his sweater. It was pilling in any number of places.

Some people want to be in movies. They say to a friend on the beach one day When I grow up. The problem with growing up is that some people never do it. The converse is also true: some people are born into it, and then they must find ways to undo their grown-upness. And then the things that their parents do, themselves still wrestling with their own scarcity or surplus of grownupness, these things change a person into the person they become.

Archie had already changed his name. In his mind, though he tried to keep his mind busy, he still responded to his given name. But a person longed to be loved, and if the longing was fierce enough, a person would change what they could. The damage shown in the mouth, its smile calling out I am ugly and Don’t leave.

Still Thrumming in My Brain: A Review of Anthony Madrid’s Try Never

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Try Never

By Anthony Madrid

Canarium Books – 2017

I first saw Anthony Madrid read alongside Michael Robbins and Paige Ackerson-Kiely in Brooklyn one summer afternoon, in a bookstore by a church undergoing repairs, scaffolding wreathing the brown steeple. I only knew of Robbins, whose book, Alien Vs. Predator (Penguin, 2012), I had come across and liked while doing research for my undergraduate thesis on John Berryman. At the time, I hadn’t read much poetry—a few books for workshops and some of Berryman’s Dream Songs—though I cautiously thought of myself as a poet. I sat in a gray fold-out chair in the packed, un-air-conditioned bookstore, stealing some of the breeze from Paige’s hand fan. When his turn came to read, Madrid, as he orated his ghazals, swayed, snapped his fingers, stamped, and grinned. It was unlike anything I’d seen before. I was hooked.

Madrid was born in Bethesda, Maryland in 1968 and raised in the suburb of Rockville by working class parents: Dixie, a coal miner’s daughter from the Virginia/West Virginia border who dropped out of 10th grade to marry her first husband, and Nestor, her second husband, a “Mexican schemer, charming and irresponsible” (Madrid’s words). Madrid began writing poetry to “impress people,” he says, to get “his portion under the sun.” As a boy, he’d wanted to be a lawyer, like the ones on TV whose speeches hypnotize the jury, but when, in 11th grade, he realized what being a lawyer is actually like, he decided to keep the appealing parts and throw out the rest. “Poetry,” he says, “was what was left over”—and it shows, particularly in the bewitching quality of his readings.

But Madrid isn’t merely a compelling performer. He is an exemplary poet, too. In the wake of Victorian excess, Modernist poets called for brevity with maximum voltage, producing masters of linguistic compression like Basil Bunting, George Oppen, and HD. Try Never can be placed in this lineage, as it embodies Ezra Pound’s dictum, “dichten = condensare,” that is, writing poems is condensing language. To that end, very few words or pages in Try Never go to waste. The book is only 50 pages long, and the lines are no less economical; the first one reads, “Brake light out. Kid with a stick” (1), and the rest follow suit. Occasionally, this leads to moments in which syntax produces an elegantly compacted phrase, and grammar becomes poetry: “All my life I’ve been a fool for women: / Got off on so being” (19). The grace of the phrase, “Got off on so being,” teaches us that Pound was right: poetry may quite simply be the act of compressing language.

By employing a disused form, Try Never continues in the same vein as Madrid’s first book, I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say (Canarium, 2012). Whereas Slave was all ghazals, Try Never is mostly in a Medieval Welsh form, aside from two “Maxims.” This, too, places Madrid in the Modernist lineage. Ezra Pound borrowed from China, and T.S. Eliot from India, both looking to other cultures and historical eras for novel ideas. In this case, the Welsh form provides Madrid with a structure well-suited to his strengths: juxtaposition, repetition, and acerbic wisdom. Natural imagery, however, is crucial to the form as well, which has induced  Madrid to demonstrate his mastery of the pictorial phrase. “Cold Spring,” for example, stands out because it is packed with lovely, photographic lines (all on page 4): “Flowering pear full of tiny white blossoms”; “Redbud puts out a violet petal”; “A gull’s cry like a screen door in motion”; “Green ash still clustered in last year’s pods.” The detail, the color, the names of flowers and plants, and the aptness of the simile all create a space in which the imagination can bloom.

Sound, however, may be more important than image in Try Never. As the 5 train came to a halt one morning on my way to work, I closed the book after an hour of reading, put it in my backpack, and got off at 42nd Street with the rhythm of the poems still thrumming in my brain. For example:

     Quinceañera. It’s not up to me.

     Digeridoo if it’s sadder and wiser.

     Seventeen saturnine stanzas neither

     About nor intended for teenagers. (18)

A succession of stanzas like that inevitably results in the rhythm lodging itself in one’s head, a pleasure compounded by Madrid’s use of rhyme. Though probably not the first example of this, Try Never’s rhymes are not just end-line rhymes or internal rhymes but also rhymes in different parts of lines: an end-word rhyming with a beginning word in the following line, for example:

     Books stacked up, and nowhere to store ‘em.

     Decorum is spontaneous order. (7)

This isn’t mere ingenuity for ingenuity’s sake. There is pleasure in hearing a precise rhyme where one wasn’t expecting it, and Madrid is nothing if not attuned to the pleasures of sound. Indeed, some lines in the book have little purpose aside from sound, but it is sufficient purpose for me:

     Kiskindhakanda. I’ll never not know.

     I’ll never not need you to teach me to read.

     This poem’s for daffadowndilly and weed,

     Either other sweetly gracing. (21)

The final line here, made solely of trochees, (“Either other sweetly gracing”) is a sonic delight.

Try Never, too, has a refreshing dose of unsentimental, clear-eyed pessimism. Take, for example, “Cold Spring.” Successively, the final lines of three stanzas are, “Rare is regret. More usual, bitterness,” “Inconvenient, the needs of the soul,” and, “Both are degenerate: felon and cop.” No one is special in Madrid’s cosmology—not even himself: “And why / Must I sit through my own performance? // …I shall forever be lapped by the orange flames / Of my self inflicted glory” (49), he writes in the concluding poem, “Try Never.” It comes as no surprise: Madrid is well-read in Buddhism, Taoism, and 18th Century British literature—all of which hold contempt for delusion. It is particularly restorative if one reads contemporary writing, much of which is buoyed by an optimism that merely satisfies our collective vanity. Or, as Madrid puts it, “Three quarters of modern memoir is just / Saying things in the wrong tone of voice” (35). Try Never has many tones of voice—direct, witty, opinionated—but almost none of them is the wrong one.