Welcome, traveler. You must be parched. Please, stay at my inn and consult this new review essay by Ryan. It’s about how college professors learn to actually do their main job: teach people about things. How does that work? Well, it’s complicated.
This year I published two review essays at my favorite arts and culture outlet, the Los Angeles Review of Books. The first, which came out in April, considers a harrowing journalistic account of what ISIS does to civilian women in Iraq and Syria. The more recent piece, “Students Want to Write Well; We Don’t Let Them,” appeared a couple of weeks ago. I’m proud of both; here’s a taste of the latter:
There is a crisis in how we teach young people, and for Warner this is especially salient in American writing classes. But it’s not the crisis you hear policymakers in Washington or your statehouse talk about, nor is it the sort of narrative that attracts New York Times columnists. The problem is not smartphone addiction, or oversensitive campus activists, or a lack of rigor on the part of professors who only care about their research, or unscrupulous teachers unions protecting bad apples, or millennials getting too many participation trophies, or helicopter parents, or whatever else bothers pundits at The Atlantic this week. It has, instead, a lot more to do with how we have tried to industrialize and centralize education since the Reagan era while simultaneously withdrawing the resources that allow teachers to create environments where students can thrive. A bad thing happened when the standardized test met the austerity budget coming down the road.
Hello. How did you get here, to this dormant belles lettres blog? What happened along your way to turn you astray?
Anyway, you’re here, and perhaps you would enjoy TGR co-founder Ryan Boyd’s criticism at DIALOGIST, the art and poetry quarterly where he is the Reviews Editor.
Here is a review of some Philip Levine and Charles Bukowski books (Rest in Power may they both). It focuses on the contribution a left politics made to their poetics. Here is an essay about a new biography of Elizabeth Bishop. And most recently, there’s this piece on the poet Dana Gioia’s lyrical practice and theory.
A long time ago, when I was still updating this blog, I wrote about Dwight Yoakam and country music’s Southern California heritage. It was somewhat personal for me, because, like Yoakam, I’m an Appalachian transplant to Los Angeles. That post was more about culture and aesthetics, but lately I’ve been thinking about the effect that country music (which colors some of my earliest memories) has had on my political commitments. I don’t have a theory of ideological causation or anything systematic like that, nor do I mean that great country songs are just topical screeds about politics, but I thought it would be fun to draw up an impressionistic, arbitrary playlist of songs that pushed me, in some small way, to the political left. For all its endemic conservatism, the South has more left-populist seams than a lot of Americans realize.
No more than one song by any artist. Otherwise this would have twenty Merle Haggard joints. Also, I’m defining “country” somewhat broadly and arranging my choices at random. Suggest more songs in the comments if you want.
- Merle Haggard, “Workin’ Man Blues”
- Loretta Lynn, “Coal-Miner’s Daughter”
- Merle Travis, “Sixteen Tons”
- Johnny Cash, “The Ballad of Ira Hayes”
- The Carter Family, “No Depression in Heaven”
- Tammy Wynette, “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.”
- Uncle Tupelo, “No Depression”
- George Jones, “Finally Friday”
- Dolly Parton, “Daddy’s Workin’ Boots”
Over at the Los Angeles Review, I’ve written a short essay about a new book on drugs, art, and culture. Despite the subject, I’m sober as a judge. Here’s an excerpt:
But the book would be limited if it just catalogued the influence of chemicals on the lives and works of artists, fascinating as that might be. Scott goes further, locating drugs within networks of capital and power. Narcotics are big business. Reliant on economic and ecological networks built during centuries of imperial conquest—that’s how rum, cocaine, sugar, coffee, Scotch, tea, tobacco, weed, Oxycontin, and all the other hedonic goodies became global commodities—“migrations of the narco-imaginary are marked by a history of violence.” Police power backs up corporate interests, determining which drugs are legally available and which are forbidden, and punishing socially marginal users of the latter most severely. Witness America’s prisons, full of black and Latino users in 2017, when a middle-class white literary critic might walk down the street smoking a joint in any state where you can buy a medical-marijuana card. The great irony of drugs: promising transcendence, they are wired into the same late-capitalist circuits that provide us with Chicken McNuggets and private jails.
Naturalized Angeleno and TGR editor Dan Pecchenino has a new review essay in DIALOGIST. It considers a fascinating new anthology of poetry about Los Angeles. RIYL good writing in general.
Hot off the presses, it’s TGR editor Ryan Boyd’s review of a new Wallace Stevens biography by Paul Mariani. Head over to DIALOGIST for the essay.