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, March 29, 2018

March 26, 2018 Issue

In her wonderful poem “Giraffe,” in this week’s issue, Lucie Brock-Broido, who died earlier this month, muses on reincarnation. In the opening sentence, she says of the giraffe, “In another life, he was Caesar’s pet, perhaps a gift from Cleopatra / When she returned to Rome / Her hair salty and sapphire / From bathing, the winged kohl around her eyes smudged / From heat.” Her next sentence continues the theme: “In another life, he was from Somalia / Where he spent hours watching clouds / In shapes of feral acrobats tipping along their tightropes / Spun of camels’ hair and jute.” Several lines later, she writes, “Once, in another life in the Serengeti, he stretched his neck / To feed on the acacia twigs, mimosa, wild apricot.” Further on, she writes, “If you come back from the other world, to this— / The sky in Denmark, in its reticulated weathers, is inky / On most days in February now.” There are a couple of other lines implying a form of reincarnation, as well: “In the Copenhagen Zoo they only name the animals who grow / Old there, and, in this life, they called him / Marius but he was just a two-year-old,” and “In that moment was he looking at a gray, cobbled / Steeple in the middle distance of a dome / Or thinking of a time when his life was circled by a mane / Of warmth in a bright Numidian sun?” I find these lines ravishing. That “clouds / In shapes of feral acrobats tipping along their tightropes / Spun of camels’ hair and jute” is inspired. The whole poem is brilliant, a perfect illustration of what Dan Chiasson meant when he said, “From her very first poems, collected in A Hunger (1988), Brock-Broido has shown how to bring maximum dazzle to every detail” (“The Ghost Writer,” The New Yorker, October 28, 2013).

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