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Some Thanksgiving Treats from New Directions

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Thanksgiving heralds a change in season and commences a period of relative hibernation. It confronts the ambiental recession we commonly experience through slower breathing, lower body temperature, and possible metabolic depression. We feel it coming, so we cook all we can reap. We sit together, we eat, and then we eat some more. For our culture with its expansive appetite for consumption, Thanksgiving returns each year with an ironic bend of surplus.

While the economic recession this year may have induced many into hunger unusual, this merry-making season will certainly not be short of gifts for which to be grateful. At New Directions, we have prepared a literary harvest ripe for the picking, including works by William Carlos Williams, Denise Levertov, Bernadette Mayer and Tennessee Williams. To satisfy your desire to feel full and warm this this fall, compliment your cranberry and celebrate your stuffing with some great American poetry.

In In the American Grain, William Carlos Williams “sought to re-name the things seen, now lost in a chaos of borrowed titles, many of them inappropriate, under which the true character lies hid.” He  has “recognized new contours suggested by old words so that new names were constituted.” From old records—letters, journals, reports of happenings, Williams preserves the original flavor and peculiarity while creating wholey unique recounts of American History. Since the earliest attested Thanksgiving celebration was on September 8, 1565 in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida, our excerpt begins with a newly-appelled rendition of De Soto’s arrival in the Americas. Against the passionate forebearers, WCW juxtaposes the puritans, and we visit Sir Walter Raleigh, the said founder of the colonies. Our selection concludes with The Voyage of the Mayflower the traditional “first Thanksgiving” is venerated as having occurred at the site of Plymouth Plantation, in 1621. This Thanksgiving, taste anew the tales and personages of The New World, and the “grain of the landscape in which they flowered.”

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Midwinter Day, an epic poem about daily routine, written on December 22, 1978 in the Northeast, takes us from morning dream to night again with rich, linguistic flavor. Called “consummate” by Robert Creeley and “ a poet of extraordinary inveniveness, erotic energy and challenge, and ironic intellgience” by Michael Palmer, Bernadette Mayer might just provide the extra heat you crave in this bluster. Four morsels from Midwinter Day, a poem in six parts, will whet your poetry-prose palette.

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Such a pre-determined day of reflection and gratitude can run the risk of religiousness; luckily, it is impossible during this holiday to overlook the nourishing break from daily tedium, and treat of partaking with kin in taste and creation, in indulgence and rest, in stirring and smelling together.  But, perhaps this sensuousness is not so far from a practice of giving thanks. Denise Levertov, a poet often recognized for themes of politics and war, understands well the implicit blessing in all things. Her poetry touches upon family, relgion, taste and the outdoors, in addition to its activist edge. To remain present in  ‘the times’, both in an urgency for peaceful actions and in gratitude for the light of the hour, we recommend excerpts these from Oblique Prayers

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Tennessee Williams, a household name for those at home for the holidays. But who of you awaits seemless chemistry when thrust back into habitual family roles? Certainly Tennessee’s home life was not without strife, as the pained beauty in his drama seems to suggest. Instead of entertaining bitterness or speaking on behalf of an old role during these few cherished days of vacation,  find something fresh in an otherwise familiar voice. Not many people know that Tennessee Williams published two volumes of poetry published during his life: In the Winter of Cities and Androgyne, Mon Amour (now available at New Directions in single collection with a cd of the author reading).This holiday you will have the opportunity to  redefine and experience anew (whether with your family or alone)  America’s great dramatic poet.

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We hope you have enjoyed our a stimulating, euthermic medley. We worked hard to get the recipe just right.  But if what we have chosen doesn’t quite make your stomach growl, it is, as the saying goes “if you don’t like pumpkin pie, there’s some turkey on the table.”

Posted by Leonora Zoninsein


Written by New Directions

November 25, 2009 at 7:45 pm

When Borges first arrived at ND…

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This summer we held a contest. A quiz question, “In which New Directions publication did Borges first appear?” was answered correctly by Ben B. of Chicago. His answer, New Directions in Prose and Poetry 11 which featured two stories: “Investigations on the Death of Herbert Quian” and “The Circular Ruins”.

Another reader to correctly answer this question was the translator of Borges’s Labyrinths, Donald Yates (who was very pleased to know that someone else correctly answered the question). He told me a bit more about the history of New Direction’s acquirement of Borges’s work:

“This early appearance of Borges’s fiction was the result of James Laughlin’s recognition of Borges’s importance, and no doubt influenced his decision to offer a contract when the manuscript of Labyrinths came across his desk — after it had been rejected by other publishers, including Barney Rosset at Grove Press, who immediately rushed ahead with a translation — by Anthony Kerrigan, et al., — of Borges’s Ficciones — immediately after Borges shared with Samuel Beckett the First International Editors in 1961.

“In a sense, I think it helped in Borges’ critical reception here. A lot of reviewers sat up and paid attention when two Borges collections came across their desk and often (New York Times, e.g.) both were reviewed together. If I had it all to do over again, since we had access to all of Borges’s prose published through 1960, I would have also included `El sur,’ `El aleph.’ and as you point out, `Herbert Quain.’”

“I was properly scolded by my friend Anthony Boucher, who reviewed mystery fiction for the NYTBR, for leaving out that story that touched on a subject close to both our hearts — detective literature. He, by the way, did the first translation ever of a Borges tale in English: `The Garden of Forking Paths,’ which appeared in the August, 1948, issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. In early 1963, Time magazine selected Labyrinths as one of the top ten fiction titles published in 1962. And in 2008 The Authors Society of London named Labyrinths as one of 50 outstanding English-language translations of the previous 50 years.” –Donald Yates

Mr. Yates is currently working on a memoir of his friendship and working relationship with Borges underling “the importance of the detective literature genre in the shaping of Borges’s creative attitude toward fiction” along with Bioy Casares, Manuel Peyrou, Rodolfo Jorge Walsh, Enrique Anderson Imbert, Anthony Boucher, and Yates himself.


It’s interesting to note the importance of the detective literature genre in another highly acclaimed Latin American author of ours, Roberto Bolaño. Not surprising from a writer who once claimed “I could live under a table reading Borges.” (My eyes brows are bobbing up and down and my finger is tapping my nose). The Skating Rink is as close to a who-dun-it, as one might get with Bolaño. It’s a murder mystery with a surprising twist ending written in a round-robin frenzy between three narrators. I am glad we didn’t place bets on the murderer, or the murdered, when the staff was reading The Skating Rink galleys. I would have become a poorer man.


Written by New Directions

July 17, 2009 at 6:22 pm

Of Being Numerous

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Looking through the New Directions’ library, my finger crossed over the spines of many books, quite a few yellowed and frayed edges, until I stopped upon the slender 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry: George Oppen’s Of Being Numerous. Here’s #27 of the long poem:


It is difficult now to speak of poetry —

about those who have recognized the range of choice or those who have lived within the life they were born to –. It is not precisely a question of profundity but a different order of experience. One would have to tell what happens in a life, what choices present themselves, what the world is for us, what happens in time, what thought is in the course of a life and therefore what art is, and the isolation of the actual

I would want to talk of rooms and of what they look out on and of basements, the rough walls bearing the marks of the forms, the old marks of wood in the concrete, such solitude as we know —

and the swept floors. Someone, a workman bearing about him, feeling about him that peculiar word like a dishonored fatherhood has swept this solitary floor, this profoundly hidden floor — such solitude as we know.

One must not come to feel that he has a thousand threads in his hands,
He must somehow see the one thing;
This is the level of art
There are other levels
But there is no other level of art

On reading Oppen, one cannot help but feel a somewhat awed respect at Oppen’s hewing to honesty, not so much as a style of vernacular but of choosing the words that most clearly approached his thoughts….or so it strikes me. There is something of the American Transcendentalist, perhaps, in him: that seeking for larger meaning within the details of the daily life, as well as a persistent seeking — a questioning that elicits further thinking but not necessarily answers.

Even though we no longer publish Of Being Numerous as a stand-alone volume, we do have a collected volume which contains a CD of Oppen reading. I found listening to Oppen a revelation, that deep voice that enunciated each word as carefully as they were written.

~Soo Jin

Written by New Directions

June 8, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Posted in ND Archive

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