Forget about the dog days—this is the time of year that turns August from a proper noun into an adjective. And there’s nearly a week left in which to read the August (in both senses of the word) issue of Open Letters Monthly. There’s a lot of good stuff here, including a couple of novels I had earmarked already and a lot of poetry—criticism, collections, and the real thing.
In this month’s cover feature, Maureen Thorson looks at James Longenbach’s collection of essays on poetry and its process, The Virtues of Poetry, and notes that the term “virtues,” as Longenbach uses it, is not a moral one:
There are poems well written, and poems badly written. There are poems of qualities, and poems without them. What qualities? In his preface, Longenbach lists boldness, change, compression, dilation, doubt, excess, inevitability, intimacy, restraint. These are the virtues to which individual poems might aspire, in the service of constituting what Whitman called the path “between reality and [the readers’] souls.”
John Cotter takes issue with David Rakoff’s posthumously-published novel in verse, Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, pointing out that “if you’re going to treat serious subjects with the attention they deserve, self-mocking whimsy cannot be the only arrow in your quiver.”
Steve Donoghue examines Reza Aslan’s portrait of Jesus the radical nationalist, Zealot, a book he deems “charming, smart, and thought-provoking, but it never even glances in the direction of humility.”
Y Greyman finds a lot to like in Caleb Crain’s Necessary Errors, and the interesting conceit of “national-system-to-intimate-relationship connections” (which is a good thing, since I have it up near the top of my own pile).
Anne Fernald has very good words for Sparta, Roxana Robinson’s tale of a young Marine’s uneasy return home from Iraq.
Kirsten Kaschock makes a good case for Stephen Burt’s poetry collection, Belmont: “I expected Belmont’s craft and wit and intellect. What I did not expect was Burt’s occasionally lovely and deeply considered strangenesses: shadowy places I needed to dig at, moments in his poems when the gates surrounding more manicured language are left ajar—unfastened, beckoning.”
Justin Hickey takes a look at the uneven Before Watchmen series and admits that it “seems poised to almost, maybe be remembered in the long run.”
Charlotte Mathieson gets caught up in Tatiana Holway’s tale of exotic Victorian flower-fever, The Flower of Empire: An Amazonian Water Lily, the Quest to Make it Bloom, and the World it Created.
Barrett Hathcock gives us a kindly essay on getting lost, reading Philip Roth, and not becoming a lawyer.
Kathy Cawsey is disappointed in J.R.R. Tolkein’s unfinished foray into Arthuriana, The Fall of Arthur.
Colleen Shea takes a second glance at Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle, a “hilarious post-Modern, meta-theatrical romp” from the 17th century.
Jackie Clark offers up an original poem, Tender Reproach Aeronautics.
Samantha Carrick finds Muriel Rukeyser’s Savage Coast imperfect but worthwhile, “a snapshot of the strange period between American involvement in two European wars, and of the anxieties of this inter-war generation.”
Phillip A. Lobo plays—and expounds on—the surprisingly philosophical video game version of The Walking Dead.
Chris R. Morgan enjoys the new NYRB reissue of Saki’s The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories, with “aptly morbid illustrations by Edward Gorey,” while managing to compare him to both Bret Easton Ellis and John Waters (OK, I’m sold).
In her It’s a Mystery column, Irma Heldman pronounces Arne Dahl’s Bad Blood a “compellingly stylish thriller.”
Tucker Johnson reveals filmmaker Gore Verbinski, hiding in plain sight. (Who? Think, for instance, The Mexican, The Ring, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Rango).