What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

January 25, 2016 Issue

Ah, the surreal reality of Jiayang Fan’s ravishing descriptions:

On a recent Wednesday, a pair of patrons—dressed decidedly frumpier than their cashmere-sweatered, silk-bloused neighbors—commented, above the snarl of eighties-era Hüsker Dü and Circle Jerks, on the thematic connection between a drink named The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (sherry, grapefruit, cardamom) and one called Lee Marvin (tequila, agave, orange). The energetic barkeep who claimed authorship grinned: “I’m not so clever. For example, I also came up with this.” He pointed matter-of-factly at the New Fuck Buddy (rum, coffee sauce, lemon), which he advised pairing, improbably, with Szechuan-peppercorn duck wings.

That’s from Fan’s inspired "Bar Tab: Mother's Ruin," in this week’s issue. Her Rauschenbergian word assemblages – “frumpier than their cashmere-sweatered, silk-bloused neighbors,” with “the snarl of eighties-era Hüsker Dü and Circle Jerks,” with “the thematic connection between a drink named The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (sherry, grapefruit, cardamom) and one called Lee Marvin (tequila, agave, orange),” with “the energetic barkeep who claimed authorship,” with “the New Fuck Buddy (rum, coffee sauce, lemon),” with “Szechuan-peppercorn duck wings” – first surprise, then delight.

There’s another exquisite construction in this week’s issue – Lawrence Joseph’s poem "A Fable." I don’t claim to fully understand it. I like the swift, vivid notations at the beginning – “Great bronze doors of Trinity Church,” “A red // tugboat pushes a red-and-gold barge / into the Narrows,” “A bench in the shadows // on a pier in the Hudson,” “The café / on Cornelia Street” – like pictures by a savvy street photographer, Marvin E. Newman, say, or Sid Grossman, or Morris Engel, or other members of New York’s Photo League. And I like the specificity of the place names – Cornelia Street, Peck Slip, Water Street, Front Street, Coenties Slip, Stone Street, Exchange Place. The poem expresses passionate engagement with the city. I like the colors – bronze, red, red-and-gold, green, the yellow in Gauguin’s “Self-Portrait with Yellow Christ.” How often do you see Blake and Gauguin juxtaposed? Not often. Most of all, I relish the lineation, the stanzas’ wrap-around edges – enjambment, I think, is the fancy word for it. I’m not sure what to make of this poem. But I’m glad I read it.

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