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PN Review 277
Featured Article
No More Stories Gabriel Josipovici
with thanks to Kirsty Gunn

Our Stories and Our Lives


Why is talking about narrative so difficult? Why do we feel, as we try to do so, that we quickly sink into a quagmire from which it is impossible to escape? I think it has to do with the fact that narrative is inescapably bound up with our own lives. We live immersed in stories, making sense of our lives and even of individual episodes in them by means of the stories we tell both to ourselves and to others. Stories are as much part of us as our dreams.

This is not the case with other art forms. Poetry, painting, sculpture, music and dance may of course deploy stories to achieve their ends, but the crucial fact is that they are clearly demarcated off from life. They are outside us. They are made. But doesn’t much poetry, from the Odyssey to the work of Robert Frost, also consist of stories? You may ask. Yes indeed, ... read more
On Risk! Carl Phillips and the Poetry of Feeling
Kirsty Gunn Earlier this year I woke in the middle of the night unable to breathe. I lay in the dark, alert, aware of every single intake of air and its expulsion. I was alone. I was in a remote place. There was no one to take me to hospital or order a car or ambulance, and nothing I could do except lie very still and quiet until the episode passed and I could feel my body returning to its nomal resting state.

It occurs to me now, as I start to write this piece about the poetry of Carl Phillips, that those feelings I had in that faraway house, in that deep midnight of a room, reflect exactly the state I am in when reading the work of this powerfully affective writer. There’s something heavy resting on my chest; my heart rate increases. ‘The wind stirred – the water beneath it stirred accordingly’ Phillips writes in ‘Speak ... read more
Of Queerness
Gregory Woods Early in the 1980s, Nikos Stangos said to Robert K. Martin, author of The Homosexual Tradition in American Poetry (1979), ‘Literature is literature… There is no such thing as gay literature’. Stangos, a poet who was gay, was the commissioning editor with responsibility for the Penguin Modern Poetry (Ashbery, Ginsberg, Harwood...) and Penguin Modern European Poetry (Cavafy, Pessoa, Ritsos, Tsvetaeva...) series. Gay/lesbian poets are only great if you don’t categorise them as such. Djuna Barnes said, ‘I am not a lesbian, I just loved Thelma’, either meaning that she only ever loved one woman in that way, or that she declined to be treated as a case study in a category of supposed deviancy. In 1987, Yves Navarre responded to an invitation to a conference of lesbian/gay writers: ‘I am gay, I am a writer, I am not a gay writer.’ Indeed, one can hardly blame those who reject the category ‘lesbian/gay writer’ when ... read more
Selected from the Archive...
Notes on a Viking Prow Christopher Middleton
TO RECAPTURE poetic reality in a tottering world, we may have to revise, once more, the idea of a poem as an expression of the "contents" of a subjectivity. Some poems, at least, and some types of poetic language, constitute structures of a singularly radiant kind, where "self-expression" has undergone a profound change of function. We experience these structures, if not as revelations of being, then as apertures upon being. We experience them as we experience nothing else.

Yet we say that a poetic text is not this or that thing out there. We say that such a virtual thing as a text is not an actual thing, that it is not even thing-like at all. Or we say that this or that text occupies an interface between things and persons, but has its ontological status only ... read more
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