Howard Norman's 'Call Me Ishmael'

It's hard to write a better first line than this one, from Howard Norman's latest novel, Next Life Might Be Kinder: “After my wife, Elizabeth Church, was murdered by the bellman Alfonse Padgett in the Essex Hotel, she did not leave me.”

Whether Elizabeth is haunting the narrator of this book, or whether he's imagining her, doesn't matter much in the end. This exploration of loss isn't about solving mysteries, but exploring them.

My review ran in The Washington Post today.

C.K. Williams on Argument in Poetry

A few nights after reading C.K. Williams new book, All At Once, his first complete collection of prose poems, for an upcoming interview, I was sharing a bottle (or two) of wine with my partner and his friend. Their stubbornness about aspects of the (admittedly rather flawed) artworld reminded me of one of Williams's pieces, and I ran to retrieve the book and recited the poem.

It read in part, “I differ from myself with rancor.” And then continued with Williams's wife saying, "That's because you're stupid."

That went over like a bomb with my two friends.

Nonetheless, I asked Williams about it when I interviewed him the next day.

In one poem you write: “I differ from myself with rancor.” Does that argument drive your poetry?

"Not the rancor," he said. "The argument is, the rancor is a joke. But the argument is at the basis for much of my poetry. Argument with myself. Robert Frost said something about having an argument with the world. That’s true. We all do. Some of us put it in poetry, and some of us put it in prose, and some of us just shut up."

My complete interview with Williams ran in The Washington Post last month.