Leaves of Grass: The Original 1855 Edition
by Walt Whitman Publisher Comments
In 1855, Walt Whitman published — at his own expense — the first edition of Leaves of Grass, a visionary volume of twelve poems. Showing the influence of a uniquely American form of mysticism known as Transcendentalism, which... (read more)
Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature
by Daniel Levin Becker Staff Pick
Ebullient to those already under the Oulipian spell and likely befuddling to those ingenuity intolerant, Daniel Levin Becker's Many Subtle Channels is a fascinating, engaging, and well-researched account of Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (translating loosely as the "workshop for potential literature"), a collective of mostly French writers and mathematicians that employ(ed) a range of constraints in their work to aid in the exploration of the seemingly limitless possibilities and forms inherent in literary creation.
Oulipian inquiry has yielded novels without certain vowels, love stories without gender, poems without words, books that never end, books that do nothing but end, books that would technically take longer to read than most geological eras have lasted, books that share the exercise of mourning, books that aim to keep the reader from reading them, books that exist for no particular reason other than to amuse and perplex, books that may not actually exist at all. These works, all of them governed in some way by strict technical constraints or elaborate architectural designs, are attempts to prove the hypothesis that the most arbitrary structural mandates can be the most creatively liberating.
Levin Becker traces Oulipo's origins and follows them through a half-century to their myriad present-day spin-offs and associated incarnations. Offering brief biographical sketches of many of its most noteworthy members (including cofounders Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais), as well as explanations of some of the group's most favored techniques, Many Subtle Channels is an indispensable addition to the Oulipian library in English. Levin Becker, now himself a member (having been co-opted in 2009 at the age of 24, making him the only other American after Harry Mathews), writes admiringly of the group, recounting meetings attended, performances witnessed, and inquests conducted.
Univocalism, the prisoner's constraint, n+7, anagrams, palindromes, alexandrines, sestinas, chronopoems, acrostics, word golf, metro poems, homophones, lipograms, snowballs, pangrams, and tautograms (to name but a handful) are all deliciously captivating, and Levin Becker does an excellent job describing and providing examples of each (although, sadly, some specimens remain untranslated [untranslatable?!] as yet). Surely Many Subtle Channels has a limited audience, but Levin Becker makes it accessible both to the ardent admirer as well as to those with but a cursory interest. Delving into the philosophical ramifications and technical applications of constrained writing (to reveal or not to reveal, that is the question) brings up any number of interesting asides and makes clear that potential(!) volumes of criticism could never begin to exhaust the subject. Many Subtle Channels is an invaluable read for fans of Oulipo or for anyone intrigued by boundless creativity, structured formation, or the irresistible coalescence of literature and mathematics.
...and so in the Oulipo, as in these stories, it is the act of seeking that defines the characters. They become who they are in searching for a solution, through the optimism and momentum of working toward it on their own terms, with the creative tools and interpretive resources at their disposal. The bigger the haystack, the better it is not to have a particular needle in mind. Think of the Oulipo, if you like, as a search party for those of us who don't know what we're looking for.
Et vive l'Oulipo! Recommended by Jeremy, Powells.com
A Poetry Handbook
by Mary Oliver Staff Pick
I bought A Poetry Handbook when I entered my first poetry-writing class as an undergrad. My professor was a notorious curmudgeon who didn't spare anyone's feelings and expected each progressive class in the term "to separate the sheep from the goats." I... (read more)
Edward Said Reader (00 Edition)
by Edward Said Publisher Comments
Edward Said, the renowned literary and cultural critic and passionately engaged intellectual, is one of our era's most formidable, provocative, and important thinkers. For more than three decades his books, which include Culture and... (read more)
The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking
by Olivia Laing Publisher Comments
Why is it that some of the greatest works of literature have been produced by writers in the grip of alcoholism, an addiction that cost them personal happiness and caused harm to those who loved them? In The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing examines the... (read more)
by Ali Smith Publisher Comments
and#147;A stimulating combination of literary criticism, essay, and fictionand#8221; (The New Yorker) from the incomparable Ali Smith Artful is a celebration of literatureand#8217;s worth in and to the worldand#151;it is about the things art can do, the... (read more)
Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books
by Wendy Lesser Publisher Comments
“Wendy Lesser's extraordinary alertness, intelligence, and curiosity have made her one of Americas most significant cultural critics,” writes Stephen Greenblatt. In Why I Read, Lesser draws on a lifetime of pleasure reading and decades of... (read more)
by Catherine Burns Publisher Comments
For the first time in print, celebrated storytelling phenomenon The Moth presents fifty spellbinding, soul-bearing stories selected from their extensive archive (fifteen-plus years and 10,000-plus stories strong). Inspired by friends telling stories on a... (read more)
Cahiers #21: Nay Rather
by Anne Carson Publisher Comments
Sylph Editionss Cahiers Series features some of the most venerable names in literature and publishing as they embark on unique explorations in writing and translation. This newest installment unites two texts by celebrated Canadian poet Anne Carson. The... (read more)
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