Publications
Review: The Griffin of Literature: Three New Books of Prose Poetry Print E-mail
Criticism

Knossos fresco in throne palace(TriQuarterly January 31, 2014)

I’ll admit it: I’ve never understood the prose poem, although it seems to be going strong in its third century. It’s the griffin of literature—an amalgam of the two literary arts that neither enhances their respective purposes nor makes the result stronger at the fused place. A definition is not much help; here’s the clearest definition I’ve found in a poetry handbook: “The point seems to be that [any] writing in prose . . . is a poem if the author says so.” It’s at odds with itself, which, I realize, may be the point. But when I reflect on the prose poem’s formlessness, I find it leaves me cold. A few descriptors may explain the chill: the prose poem is blocky, spatially inelegant, print-dependent, unmetered, and unsyllabic.

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My Vegan Heart Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

bosch hieronymus detail strawberry2(Everyday Health January 15, 2014)

After my third heart attack in five years, I became a vegan, or a plant-based eater. Then I wrote about it in my book, The Sanctuary of Illness: A Memoir of Heart Disease, which tells the journey of my having gone from a non-recovery recovery to healing after those near-fatal trials,which finally forced me to change my diet.

I was already a vegetarian, a “right” eater — or so I thought. That earlier journey began thirty years ago, while reading Francis Moore Lappe’s ground-breaking book Diet for a Small Planet. I was shaken to the core by the scale of factory farming and clear-cutting of Central American rain forests by McDonalds and other fast-food corporations.

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Slog For a Green Card Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20131231(San Diego Reader December 31, 2013) My 50th Reader Cover

I’m listening to attorney Eleanor Adams who’s been practicing immigration law locally for 25 years. By phone, she’s outlining, breathlessly, our labyrinthine federal system of percentage quotas, monthly resets, and Congressional reform proposals for the two big categories of immigrants—family-sponsored (relatives) and employment-based (workers). Immigrants are foreign-born people the majority of whom are here to work. As of 2009, they comprise 12.5 percent of the population—38 million. A little less than half of those are naturalized; the rest reside here legally or illegally.

I dare not interrupt Adams: such a seminar is like a first-semester course at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

Seventeen minutes into her monologue, I’m muzzy-brained, listening to her legalese: status, exemptions, chargeability tumble together like Cirque Soleil. Finally I find a space to enter: maybe, I say, we can take a step back and define legal and illegal. It’s the first moment of silence between us, which may be just that or a simmer, on her part, for my barging in.

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The Social Author #4: A Great Literary Future Behind Us Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Ginsberg(Guernica December 20, 2013)

Among the still-active maxims of literature’s evolving identity is that writing is carved in stone while speech and social authorship, once uttered, blow away. As I noted in my previous Guernica essay, capitalizing on this dynamic is the secret of the Bible’s reach. When a reader switches to the aural realm, reciting and hearing the book makes the page—and its message—more compelling. The Bible lasts because it works both orally and in print. The book achieves immortality because it is a number one print seller and the most talked about and handled book in our language.

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The Social Author #3: On the Social Authorship of the Bible Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Bible(Guernica November 13, 2013)

Here at the end of the four-century reign of books in our culture, which is to say in the digital age, I’m curious about what happens to the Bible, publishing’s crown jewel. As Robert Pogue Harrison writes in a 2012 New York Review of Books multi-book review on the King James’s 400th anniversary, that book "is rapidly becoming terra incognita. Whether in the King James Version or in new versions, the Bible is neither read, nor read aloud, nor memorized to anywhere near the extent it was when Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson extolled the KJB as America’s 'national book' a century ago."

If it’s true that the digital era is iconoclastic, muting the sacredness of religion-spawning texts, then can we still say that this “holiest” of Western books is still “holy?” By “holy,” I mean first that the Bible is supposedly decreed by God and so inerrant; and second that its long veneration as a literary masterpiece has earned it unimpeachable value. Both of these lend it an aerie all its own. The “divinely inspired” Christian canonical book, Old testaments and New, codified in Greek in the late 4th century, translated into Latin in the 5th century and English in the 17th, sells some 25 million copies each year. Would Christianity be possible without the Bible?

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How We Spend Our Days Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

(How We Spend Our Days blog, Cynthia Newberry Martin, October 1, 2013)

On a recent night, my son and I were stuck in ninety minutes of traffic, driving to the East Bay from the de Young museum in San Francisco where we’d been electrified by Richard Diebenkorn’s exhibition, “The Berkeley Years: 1953-1966,” and we were discussing the discipline of this great California artist, who died in 1993 and whose museum-filling retrospective I reviewed in 1998—the question on our minds was how did Diebenkorn create those deliciously messy, uncanny abstractions? I was glancing at a slip of paper, given out at the exhibit, with some choice lines from the painter. “Tolerate chaos.” “Be careful only in a perverse way.” And this: “Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.”

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The Social Author #2: Our Multimedial Beginning Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

8538173826 d6ac51c851 z(Guernica September 30, 2013)

Always, however far we travel back in time, we surmise other forms behind the forms which captivate us.The Voice of Silence, Andre Malraux

Here’s a word—and an idea—which, as I develop this series on the social author, I sense arcing across the axons of every writer: transliteracy, one’s ability to interact with others using many platforms and media, from reading and writing to digital communication. The word’s intent is to move past the literate, move, maybe, where we literates don’t want to go. I already hear the author’s grumbles. Where is this beyond beyond literacy is asking we get to? What could be more highly prized than reading and writing, the languages of law, literature, journalism, scholarship, history, as well as religions and their founding documents? Who among the writerly class feels unfulfilled because she’s not transcended literacy?

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