I’m working on a longer post, an appreciation of the poet Adam Zagajewski, which should be up sometime during the next couple weeks. For now, for the other general readers out there, may I suggest two writers?
If you want novels, get yourself some Denis Johnson. Tree of Smoke, a book about Vietnam and its aftermath(s) which won the National Book Award in 2007, is very long but a surprisingly quick read. However, if all those pages make you uneasy, check out Already Dead: A California Gothic, which is about weed growers and occultists in Northern California, among other things. Even shorter are The Name of the World, a novella which reminds me strongly of Nabokov and Coetzee (particularly in terms of how he writes the male narrator’s voice), and his incredible short-story collection Jesus’ Son, narrated by a sort-of-ex-junkie. Here are all the Cliffs Notes you need on DJ: he is the drugged-out offshoot of the opulent realism of Saul Bellow, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, on the one hand, and the weirder perambulations of Melville, Garcia Marquez, Thomas Pynchon, and David Foster Wallace, on the other. With the possible exception of Pynchon, there is no living American writer whose sentences are as gorgeous and psychologically precise as Johnson’s.
Prefer poetry? Really? Then buy the Australian Les Murray’s Learning Human, a career-spanning selection of his work. As a lyric poet with a delicate eye for nature and violence, he is a lot like Seamus Heaney. But Murray also warps and reconstructs language on the fly, the way John Berryman does in The Dream Songs, mixing together working-class Australian slang, polished international English, and his own bizarre style of dreamy half-babble. Like Johnson, he writes how the mind moves, without turning his poems into a hash. He does not show off his experimentation. Here is “On Removing Spiderweb”:
Like summer silk its denier
but stickily, oh, ickilier,
miffed bunny-blinder, silver tar,
crepe when cobbed, crap when rubbed,
and everyway, nap-snarled or sleek,
glibly hubbed with grots to tweak:
ehh weakly bobbined tae yer neb,
spit it Phuoc Tuy! filthy web!
At first it might seem like gobbledy-gook, but if you read it a couple times, you’ll see that the linguistic twisting and reweaving is just a way to evoke how it feels to walk through a big, nasty, sticky nest.
Enjoy fully not safely,