Archives: October 2016

The Last Summer

Donald Trump and the Fall of Atlantic City
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‘To me, Trump was always a blusterer, a conniver, a mouth: a cotton-candy-haired clown who crashed the AC party late and left it early and ugly’— Joshua Cohen examines the effect Donald Trump has had on his home town of Atlantic City.

THE GOVERNMENTS THAT GET THEMED into casino-hotel-resort properties tend not to be democracies, but oligarchies, aristocracies, monarchies, Africa-and-Asia-devouring empires. Pharaonic Egypt, Doge-age Venice, Imperial Rome, Mughal India. Atlantic City has incarnations of the latter two—Caesars Atlantic City and the Trump Taj Mahal—with the Taj being the last property in the city to bear the Republican candidate’s name, though it’s owned by distressed-asset czar Carl Icahn, who also owns the Tropicana, a crumbling heap styled after the Casa de Justicia of some amorphous banana republic. The worse the regime, the better the chance of its simulacrum’s survival. Atlantic City’s Revel, a hulking fin-like erection of concrete, steel, and glass that cost in the neighborhood of $2.4 billion, opened in 2012 only to close in 2014, which just goes to show that an abstract noun, verb, or imperative in search of punctuation (Revel!) doesn’t have quite the same cachet as a lost homicidal culture.

Today, the fake ruins of Rome and India are among the cleanest, safest havens to be found in the real ruins of Atlantic City—a dying city that lives for summer. I was returning there, to my family there, still unsure as to whether this summer would be my last or its last or both.

Now, given the fact that AC’s been so perpetually press-maligned that I can remember nearly every summer of the sixteen I spent there being deemed, by someone, “crucial,” “decisive,” “definitive,” or “the last,” this suspicion of mine might seem, especially to fellow Jersey Shore natives, irresponsible and even idiotic—so I will clarify: I don’t mean that I thought that after this summer of big media scrutiny but little new money the city would burn, or that the Atlantic Ocean would finally rise up and swallow it. I just thought that, come Labor Day, the city’s bad-luck streak would only break for worse and no one would care.

After the legalization of Indian tribal and nontribal casinos in Connecticut in the 1990s and in Pennsylvania in the 2000s; after the legalization of tribal casinos in upstate New York in the ’90s and of nontribal casinos in the 2010s; after the damage done to the city by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and all the myriad, still-ongoing depredations of the so-called global Great Recession that resulted in the closing of four of the city’s casinos in 2014 (the Revel, the Showboat, The Atlantic Club, and Trump Plaza), leaving AC with the highest rate of foreclosure of any urban area in the country between fourth-quarter 2014 and the present; this summer—the summer of 2016—already felt like the fall. Maybe this wouldn’t be the last summer that White House Subs or Chef Vola’s would ever be serving, but it might be the last summer that I, as a sane, unarmed, and relatively pacific human being would still feel comfortable traveling to them for a cheesesteak or veal parm on foot—taking the stairs down from the overlit Boardwalk to the underlit streets of what’s officially become the most dangerous city in Jersey, now that Camden has stopped reporting its crime statistics to the FBI. It occurred to me that if and when AC is ever visitable or enjoyable again, my parents will probably have retired south to Cape May, and the few acquaintances of mine who still live on Absecon Island—the island of which AC is the northernmost town—will probably have left.

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Interview with Eileen Myles

In The White Review
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For Maria Dimitrova, Eileen Myles’ poetry is one of ‘appetites and human needs’. Read an excerpt from her interview with Eileen Myles for The White Review.

Q  THE WHITE REVIEW — What would have been different had we done this interview a year ago? Has your increased visibility changed the way you perceive what you are doing?

A  EILEEN MYLES — I think the challenge is always to talk from where you actually are. It’s always like being in a different culture. My joke has always been that if being an alcoholic didn’t destroy my writing, if being a lesbian didn’t destroy my writing, if being an academic didn’t destroy my writing, why would…

Q  THE WHITE REVIEW — Being canonised?

A  EILEEN MYLES — Yes. In a way it’s none of my business and it’s a matter of figuring out how to make what I’m doing be even more intimate than it has been. I started writing in the seventies and it was very quiet and nobody gave a damn that I was writing or that I was me, and there was so much freedom in that. Lately I got an award and rather than making a speech I just read my newest poem. That felt right. That’s what I mean by intimate. So there’s just a way now in which maybe I can relax, and yet you don’t want to relax too much. I want to be precise in this freedom.

 Q  THE WHITE REVIEW — John Ashbery wrote that some artists, and possibly the best ones, pass from ‘unacceptability to acceptance without an intervening period of appreciation’. Do you feel something similar can be said about the reception of your work? That in a sense, you did time?

A  EILEEN MYLES — Yes, and I mean, not until recently has the press actually gotten really smart. In terms of say, getting reviewed, what often is getting reviewed is the fact that I’ve become famous, and I was still not having the work be written about. THE NEW YORK TIMES had some guy who was a cultural critic writing about me, and he talked mostly about my work in my twenties, and that I was, like, badass and punk, and I was just like, ‘How is this relevant to the work I’m doing now?’ But there was an amazing piece in THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS that was beautiful and smart. Getting my work actually written about is like being loved or something. I feel like that’s how I want to be seen. Meaning read.

Q  THE WHITE REVIEW — How is it that you would like to be seen now? What is different about your work now, and how do you feel about your older work?

A  EILEEN MYLES — I’m saying I’d enjoy being viewed and written about as a writer rather than as a cultural phenomenon. I think it’s more sexism – to see my work being read as this raw sexual thing – which only makes editors want more of that, rather than my next book. I think being a female or a queer writer is uniquely strange because you still are all those things before the word ‘writer’, when in all the years you were writing that wasn’t necessarily what was in the room with you. I was in my body writing. So is a man. So is anyone. So please tell me about the effect of the work, what’s in it, and I don’t mean content. What’s the experience of reading it? That’s how I write about books.

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Waxy

Camilla Grudova for Granta
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‘Waxy’ is a short story extracted from The Doll’s Alphabet, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in February 2017, and available to read now on Granta’s website. 

My new bedroom was an old kitchen. One wall was taken up by dozens of small cupboards and drawers, a fridge, a black stove and a little brown sink with a beige hose hanging out of it like a child’s leg. The landlord told me the fridge and stove didn’t work, but they were good for storing clothes and other things. I could use the fridge as a wardrobe, she said.

It was on the fourth floor of a fat house covered in green tarpaper, and shared a hall and bathroom with another room, where a couple lived. Neither of our rooms had doors, only door frames. All the windows looking out onto the street were covered in dirty sheets, giving the impression from the outside that the house was nothing more than an empty shell with a giant’s patchwork blanket hanging on the other side.

Along with the fridge and stove, my room had a table, a stack of flimsy chairs and a couch, which I was to use as a bed.

The kitchen cupboards were painted green and the walls were papered a reddish brown, with water spots and black mould here and there that reminded me of tinned meat that has been opened and forgotten. The sink water only ran cold.

I was very relieved. As soon as I moved in, I removed the sheet covering my small window, and washed the glass with vinegar.

 *

A few days before, a girl from my Factory said she was leaving her place, since her Man had done well on an Exam and she could afford to move, and she told me I could take it. I was desperate to find a place and another Man, but when I went to look it was no more than a curtained-off section of a gloomy room shared with two other couples. One of the Men had brown teeth and kept licking his upper lip and leering at me as I was shown around the room. All four of them shared one filthy hotplate, and the windows were covered in long, thick, mouldy purple curtains. Damp Philosophy Books were stacked everywhere. In one corner there was a mountainous pile of empty tins, like a dollhouse for vermin. The curled, hanging metal lids reminded me of the Man’s protruding tongue.

There is nothing worse than being taken advantage of by someone else’s Man. It’s always considered the woman’s fault. I knew I wouldn’t be safe there. I was very fortunate to find the kitchen room through an advertisement posted in a cafe.

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Say Something Back by Denise Riley

Kate Kellaway on Denise Riley's latest collection
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Kate Kellaway explaining in the Guardian why Denise Riley’s poetry is ‘deeply necessary’: 

It sometimes seems that contemporary poetry divides into two sorts – those poems that did not need to be written and those written out of necessity. Denise Riley belongs to the second category – her writing is perfectly weighted, justifies its existence. It is impossible not to want to “say something back” to each of her poems in recognition of their outstanding quality. Her voice is strong and beautiful – an imperative in itself. But her subject is not strength – it is more that she is robust about frailty. She describes in A Part Song, the most important of her poems, the death of her adult son, Jacob – to whom, along with his sisters, the volume is dedicated.

Maybe; maybe not starts the collection on a wing and prayer – in which Riley refashions the biblical with a new take on Corinthians – I love her line about putting away “plain things for lustrous”. Although written with certainty, it is a poem about doubt, and leads naturally to A Part Song, which follows it. Here she begins by doubting song itself: “You principle of song, what are you for now.” And in song, it is the plain, not the lustrous, she craves. She dismisses the conventional lyrical solace of elegy. “I can’t get sold on reincarnating you/ As those bloody ‘gentle showers of rain’/ Or in ‘fields of ripening grain’ – ooh/ Anodyne.” Instead she wishes her son’s “lighthearted presence, be bodied forth/ Straightforwardly”.

It is a poem of several tones – but never hushed, reverent or docile. This is part of its originality. At one point, she startles with a mum’s scolding tone – painful to read – as she urges her son to be alive almost as you might tell a teenager he has had one sleepover too many and urge him to come home (death the never-over sleepover). And she complains: “But by now/ We’re bored with our unproductive love,/ And infinitely more bored by your staying dead/ Which can hardly interest you much either.”

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Say Something Back is published by Picador (£9.99).

The Man Who Brought You Brexit

Sam Knight on Daniel Hannan for Guardian Long Reads
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Britain’s vote to leave the EU was the grand finale of a 25-year campaign by a lonely sect of true believers. Daniel Hannan wrote the script. Another great piece of reportage by Sam Knight in the Guardian: 

Until about nine months ago, leaving the European Union was not something that sensible British politicians talked about. They hadn’t, really, since the country entered the bloc in 1973, the year that Theresa May sat her O-levels. In the intervening 43 years, as the EEC became the EU; and Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair came and went; and the Channel Tunnel was dug; and the borders spread to the east; and the euro was launched, and then foundered; our relationship with Brussels seemed, more or less, to embody a settled ambivalence towards the European continent that most British people instinctively recognised as their own. Close, but separate. In, but not integrated. Related, but not the same. We did not learn French.

And then 17 million people voted to leave. Everyone has their own explanation for why. Not all of them make sense. I found out the other day that my wife’s uncle voted for Brexit because his son is training to be a doctor, and doesn’t like Jeremy Hunt, who campaigned for remain. Victory, as they say, has many fathers. Since 23 June, a great many things have been blamed – or thanked, depending on your view – for convincing the population that staying within the European Union was hurting us. Their names are more than familiar now. Nigel Farage. Globalisation. The rightwing press. The left behind. Professional politicians. Absent politicians. The financial crisis. Boris. Migrants. Project Fear. Sunderland. In their own way, and over time, these things helped create the feeling that we were trapped in something so defective, so inimical to our interests, that our best hope was to climb through a high window, and out.

But you don’t get to Brexit without someone dreaming up the window – the remedy of leaving – in the first place. And during those long years inside the European project, that was the work of the right wing of the Conservative party. To be specific, a small, somewhat esoteric part of that wing: a flash of feathers, almost, a sect of true Eurosceptic believers who dreamed and schemed for this moment for the last 25 years. Most worked for little else, with no reward, and with no sign that they would ever prevail. “Like the monks on Iona,” as one of their former parliamentary researchers told me, “illuminating their manuscripts and waiting for the Dark Ages to come to an end.”

But you don’t get to Brexit without someone dreaming up the window – the remedy of leaving – in the first place. And during those long years inside the European project, that was the work of the right wing of the Conservative party. To be specific, a small, somewhat esoteric part of that wing: a flash of feathers, almost, a sect of true Eurosceptic believers who dreamed and schemed for this moment for the last 25 years. Most worked for little else, with no reward, and with no sign that they would ever prevail. “Like the monks on Iona,” as one of their former parliamentary researchers told me, “illuminating their manuscripts and waiting for the Dark Ages to come to an end.”

And no one in that group worked with more devotion than Daniel Hannan, a Conservative member of the European parliament for south-east England. Hannan, who is 45, is by no ordinary measure a front-rank British politician. He has never been an MP, or a minister, or a mayor. Instead, since the age of 19, he has fought for what he calls British independence – fomenting, protesting, strategising, undermining, writing books, writing speeches and then delivering them without notes. For the last 17 years, Hannan, a spry, fastidious figure, who likes to read Shakespeare once a week, has done this mainly from the other side of the English Channel. He knows what it is to toil for a lost cause. “Here I am, Ishmael,” he told me recently, in his office at the European parliament in Strasbourg, invoking the Old Testament as he gestured around him. “Every man’s hand is against me.”

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Fitz Carraldo Editions