Davenport’s Mao

At The Paris Review Online.

Teaser quote: See how these bums operate? They don’t know Chinese, but they know something. They always know something, and they make that something seem like everything.

[originally posted Wednesday 26 September 2018]

Baby Talk

At The Paris Review Online.

Teaser quote: In one of my poems I call babies “the crying people.” Heard plenty of that. The ones that said things were a bit older. The tiny ones gurgle.

[originally posted Wednesday 12 September 2018]

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Teaser quote: By subscribing to Book Post you not only treat yourself to two first-rate book reviews a week, direct to your in-box (starting September 10), but support a more healthy reading environment where writers are paid, data is not mined, independent bookstores are sustained, and readers are encouraged to come together across the land around books and ideas. Now through September 10 you can get a one-year subscription at the bargain-basement price of $30.


Until September 10 however our Book Post Summer Vacation continues, with all our posts for free: Padgett Powell, Jamaica Kincaid, Joy Williams, Geoffrey O’Brien, Michael Robbins, and more to come! So please sign up, follow, enjoy, and share; help us make this a lasting and wide-ranging project.

[originally posted Tuesday 4 September 2018]

Microreview of Zen Master Yunmen: His Life and Essential Sayings

At Rhino.


Teaser quote: Someone asked Master Yunmen, “What is the absolute concentration that comprehends every single particle of dust?” The Master replied, “Water in the bucket, food in the bowl.” [= Blue Cliff Record §50; Record of Serenity §99; Dōgen’s Sanbyakusoku §158].


[originally posted Wednesday 5 September 2018]

Microreview of The Yangtze Valley and Beyond, by Isabella Bird

At Rhino.


Teaser quote: I know what you’re thinking. Rather than drop $112 on the Folio version, why not get a copy of the original John Murray, 1899—gotta be cheaper than $112, right? Wrong. First editions of that little guy will run you twice that. There might be some way around this, but I haven’t found it. It appears to me that the Folio version is the one to beat.

[originally posted Wednesday 5 September 2018]

Ovidian Taste Test

At The Paris Review Online.


Teaser quote: You probably know it’s no easy thing, judging between rival verse translations, especially when they were produced before the 19th century. The good news has always been that it hardly matters how difficult a task is, when no one’s gonna do it. Easy, hard: comes to the same thing. Yet somebody has to go in there. Somebody born after 1960.


[originally posted Wednesday 29 August 2018]

Five Public Cases

At Practice Catalogue.


Teaser quote: Marianne Moore is to prosody what the Marquis de Sade was to holding hands and sharing a milkshake.


[originally posted Monday 13 August 2018]

Microreview of Shih-shuo Hsin-yü: A New Account of Tales of the World

At Rhino.


Teaser quote: It is a vast set of numbered anecdotes, very largely consisting of smart replies (sometimes by children), exemplary acts of generosity or respectfulness, remarkable incidents involving drunkenness and/or nudity, preposterous behavior in general, deceitfulness, mercy, taunting, ostentation, supernaturally quick judgment—and so on.


[originally posted Wednesday 8 August 2018]

Devin King interviews me for Iowa Review



Teaser quote: This is why surfing is a good metaphor for this. It’s not like you learn nothing by watching videos of other people doing it. But to stand on the water yourself, to cooperate with the particulars of the moment—to resist, risk, exploit, find, reject—that’s how you become a surfer. I’ll stop putting on airs now.


[originally posted Friday 27 July 2018]

Two micro-reviews, one of the new edition of Rolfe Humphries’ Ovid/Metamorphoses, and one of W.M. Thackston’s Sa‘di/Gulistan

At Rhino.






Teaser quote: It’s a book for everybody. As much as an axe helve is fitted to the grasp of the human hand, this text is fitted for the human mind. Which is to say it’s 100% homely anecdotes, parables, witty comebacks, all of ’em numbered, crystal clear, ramjam with images. Every metaphor is spot-on and memorable. Listen: it wouldn’t have been continuously quoted by every Persian-speaker for 760 years unless it was something special.


[originally posted Tuesday 3 July 2018]

Trite drivel that doesn’t need to exist

At Advice to Writers.


Teaser quote: If you ignore this principle, if you write a book, say, that is formidable nine ways from Tuesday, piled high with sophistication and impressive this ’n’ that, but which you don’t actually like, then what ends up happening is you helplessly side with the people who don’t care about your work. Next stop is the bottle.


[originally posted Tuesday 19 June 2018]

Two micro-reviews, one of a new edition of the Carmina Burana poems, and one of a new translation of Ruan Ji and Xi Kang





Teaser quote: Granted, these poems, even the best of ’em, aren’t for everybody. “Spring is returned, and lo! the birds…,” “That pert lady with her heart-gladdening eyes…,” and so on. A guy I knew in grad school summarized the whole thing as “titties and beer.”


[originally posted Tuesday 5 June 2018]

“Six Books We Should All Write”

At The Paris Review Online.


Teaser quote #1: ○ Pepys’s Diary ○ Aubrey’s Brief Lives ○ Palgrave’s Golden Treasury ○ Flaubert’s Dictionary of Received Ideas ○ The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon ○ Li Zhi’s A Book to Burn


Teaser quote #2: Open to any page, you’re going to hell.


[originally posted Wednesday 6 June 2018]

Formulaic Beginnings and Endings to Folktales

At The Paris Review Online.


Teaser quote: When Ivashko got down off the eagle, the eagle spat out the piece of flesh and told him to put it back into his shoulder. Ivashko did so, and the shoulder healed. He came home, took the maiden of the golden kingdom from his brothers, and they began to live happily together and are still living. I was at their wedding and drank beer. The beer ran along my mustache but did not go into my mouth.

[originally posted Wednesday 23 May 2018]