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Date: 10/20/2017
Alexandra Keller

Editor’s Note: This post inaugurates a new MR blog series, where we share online introductions given at guest appearances by some of our favorite speakers, writers, artists, and thinkers. Intros are, by definition, ephemeral, but that doesn’t mean they always should be. You’ve all heard great ones, the sort that don’t try to one-up the main event, yet somehow quickly manage to inform, evoke, and celebrate the person you’ve come to hear. With “The Next Best Thing,” of course, you’ll just be reading; you’ll have to wait for another occasion for actual star-gazing. But at least you’ll know who to come out and see, the next time they’re in town.


Date: 10/17/2017
Kira Archibald

"I have a persistent fear of being a strange person in a normal world. I know this fear is not uncommon. The worl—and I along with it—hopes to be normal, someday. Sometimes, though, it is better not to hope for this. The world has a long history of being strange and surprising, and in difficult times it is useful to think that this strangeness itself can be a resource." —from "Marvelous Things Heard: On Finding Historical Radiance" (Fall 2017, Vol. 58, Issue 3)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
This is a hard question to answer. It brings up memories of that uneven little-kid thick-pencil printing, with half the letters backwards, and a story I wrote about a dinosaur—I folded the pages carefully and tied them together with...

Date: 10/11/2017
Emily Wojcik

The Massachusetts Review presents the latest Working Titles e-book: THE KEEPERS OF THE GHOST BIRD by Jenn Dean—available this week!


From the air, Bermuda resembles a jeweled and pregnant seahorse, hanging by its tail from the Sargasso Sea. Its top and bottom wrap around two ancient volcanic calderas, one at Castle Harbor and one at Dockyards. In between, Bermuda’s twenty-one square miles twine along a fragile, curving spine of limestone. From a taxi van, the coastline uncurls past the windows: the rose sand, the bitter green foliage of tamarisk trees, stunted windblown evergreens, and the blue southern tip of the Sea.

Beneath the water, pillow-sized blue parrotfish gnaw algae off the reefs with their beaks...

Date: 10/10/2017
Kira Archibald

1. The world is the sum of facts and birds.

2. Every proposition has form (or syntax: the profile of a Siberian goldfinch) and content (or semantics: the belly of a Siberian goldfinch).

2.1. The contents of a glass of milk, which could be a human body transmitting songs about birds, are the lyrics of the songs transmitted by birds. . . .

from "Thirteen Theories on the Better Understanding of Birds of Eligible Age," by Berta García Faet, translated by Kelsi Vanada (Fall 2017, Vol. 58, Issue 3)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated.
My first experience with translation was in the Translation Workshop in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. MFA...

Date: 10/03/2017
Elizabeth Mikesch

An orphan
stands in the sky.

An orphan with a huge head
is nailed to the boundless sky in light-blue ink

like a Jesus
without grief on his face, . . .

—from "Night of the Full Moon," by Shen Haobo, translated from Chinese by Liang Yujing (Fall 2017)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated.
I started translating poetry more than ten years ago when I was still in China studying English literature. When I studied Keats and Shelley, I would try to render them in Chinese. Later, I began writing in English and translating from Chinese into English. One of my first attempts, as I remember, was an ancient Chinese poem by Yuan Haowen (1190-1257), telling of the love story between two wild geese. When...

Date: 09/26/2017
Beth Derr

A wine crate for a nightstand, and on it, a rose
gone bad in a cup. Its water

a swallow of shadow, murk of rot
and sugar. Clothes sloughed, bodiless, and half-

eaten on a plate,
a plum in its juice. . . .

from "Still Life with Hemorrhage," Fall 2017 (Vol. 58, Issue 3)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I began writing poems very young—as soon as I knew how, really. I’ve kept journals at every stage of my life, and my Kindergarten journal has some gems in it. My favorite is a poem about cheetahs. It’s more or less a list of all the adjectives I knew at that age, so an exercise in rudimentary epistrophe—“big cheetahs, shy cheetahs, silly cheetahs”—and ends with “but best of all are...

Date: 09/12/2017
Erri De Luca

“The wretched of the earth do not decide to become extinct, they resolve, on the contrary, to multiply: life is their only weapon against life, life is all that they have.” 

James Baldwin, a twentieth-century American writer, was forced to make racism his business—he was part of a people segregated at birth by skin color. The sentence cited here notes a contradiction: experiencing misery and poverty produces new lives, whereas a life of comfort produces fewer.

In Napoli, ground-floor apartments—slum dwellings with just a single room—used to swarm with children. With no possibility of privacy, parents began new pregnancies in the middle of their families. Such was their force, their biological richness: since they lost many of their numbers to every form of  scarcity, being numerous was essential.


Date: 09/07/2017
Jonathan Berger

El Nora Alila, a twelfth-century acrostic piyut by Moshe ibn Ezra, is recited at the start of the powerfully evocative neila service which closes Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Neila (literally ‘the locking’ in Hebrew) affords the congregant and the congregation a final opportunity to own up to transgressions and seek repentance as the doors of heaven are closing and soon to be locked. In a vain attempt to resist the inevitable closing of the doors, the cantor begins the neila service, incanting:

Open the gates for us, as the gates are being closed.
The day is passing.
The day is setting.
The sun will descend and set.
Let us enter Your gates!


Date: 09/06/2017
Michael Thurston

It’s right there in the title of the New York Times obituary: John Ashbery’s work is not only “celebrated,” but it is also “challenging.” PBS calls the poems “enigmatic,” while for NPR they are “confounding.” The more knowing and admiring pieces by poets or critics (sometimes the same people) nuance the point, while still emphasizing difficulty. Mark Ford’s...

Date: 08/29/2017
Emily Wojcik

First, it will feel like surprise. Like the edge of something
unconsidered: a glass let go; an open palm;
how cold a mouth can be and still say
still say
okay.  —from "Love & Hypothermia,"
in Summer 2017 (Vol. 58, Issue 2)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
The first poem I wrote was in the fifth grade, published on pink paper as part of an elementary school showcase of creative writing. I can’t say it was good, but I remember the thrill of comparing the crown of a live oak to a floret of broccoli. The first poem I recall writing, earnestly, as an adult was a pre-cursor to “Love & Hypothermia.” It’s taken a few years, and a few attempts at the subject, to feel like I’ve got it right.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?...