Tuesday 4/2, 7 p.m.
In celebration of their latest collections, we invite you to a conversation between poets Alan Shapiro and Jonathan Farmer.
We often ask ourselves what gets lost in translation—not just between languages, but in the everyday trade-offs between what we experience and what we are able to say about it. But the visionary poems of Alan Shapiro's Against Translation invite us to consider: what is loss, in translation? Writing at the limits of language—where “the signs loosen, fray, and drift”—Shapiro probes the startling complexity of how we confront absence and the ephemeral, the heartbreak of what once wasn’t yet and now is no longer, of what (like racial prejudice and historical atrocity) is omnipresent and elusive. Throughout, this collection traverses rather than condemns the imperfect language of loss—moving against the current in the direction of the utterly ineffable.
Then, in beautiful and generous essays on subjects of perennial poetic relevance and contemporary sociopolitical relevance, Jonathan Farmer rethinks topics like joy, decorum, humility, kindness, humor, and political discourse itself through insightful readings of contemporary poets as varied as Ross Gay, Patricia Lockwood, Paisley Rekdal, Jill McDonough, Mary Syzbist, Terrance Hayes, Claudia Rankine, and more, as well as a vast array of interlocutors across time, such as Hamlet, W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop (whose phrase gives this book its title), Lucille Clifton, and even Allie Brosh of the iconic web comic Hyperbole and a Half. As befits an exploration of the social life of poetry, That Peculiar Affirmative is a book that will not only speak to you about poetry, affect, and politics, but will speak with you. Farmer has met his goal and then some: this book is dazzlingly and rewardingly worth your time.
Alan Shapiro has published many books, including Reel to Reel, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he is the William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Jonathan Farmer is the editor in chief and poetry editor of At Length, and he has frequently written about poetry for Slate.com, The Kenyon Review, and Los Angeles Review of Books. He teaches middle and high school English, and he lives in Durham, NC.
Praise for Alan Shapiro
Poet-critic J.D. McClatchy observed in a review of Shapiro’s Dead, Alive and Busy (2000), “Mr. Shapiro is a shrewd and sympathetic moralist. He never trivializes his subjects with high-minded flourishes or stylistic gimmicks.” Shapiro’s later collections address the loss of his two siblings to cancer, the aging of his parents, and the strains on a marriage. In describing the domestic details and loss portrayed in Shapiro’s Tantalus in Love (2005), poet Joshua Clover commented, “Such tightly framed tales of domesticity offer a sense of control parallel to Shapiro’s formal facility, reducing and clarifying the poem’s field of action in defense against an abysmal multiplicity of things.”
In his memoirs The Last Happy Occasion (1997), nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award, and Vigil (1997), Shapiro has written about the death of his sister and the role that poetry has played in his life. Shapiro is also the author of a collection of essays on poetry, In Praise of the Impure: Poetry and the Ethical Imagination: Essays, 1980–1991 (1993).
Alan Shapiro has won the Kingsley Tufts Award, the Los Angeles Book Prize, and a Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Shapiro was invited to read his work at the White House. He read “On Men Weeping,” a poem about Michael Jordan winning one of his six NBA championships. Shapiro has taught at Stanford University, Northwestern University, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Praise for Jonathan Farmer
“Along the front line of a new generation of poetry commentators, I place Jonathan Farmer beside Meghan O’Rourke, Philip Metres, and Solmaz Sharif. It’s a very fertile moment for poetry, and Farmer is one of the first critics I look to now for clarity and depth. His readings in That Peculiar Affirmative are uniformly brilliant, unswayed by partisan aesthetics, and marked by real joy in intellectual and social engagement with the lyric poem. Even his subtitles point to this rare odic impulse; he writes “on” decorum and humility, “on” politics and humor, even as he applies contemporary issues of racial and sexual identity, for instance, to an old-school devotion to close reading. His touchstones—Sidney and Shakespeare, Kristeva and Durrell—are as aptly rangy as his contemporary subjects, from Brooks and Bishop to Ross Gay, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, or Claudia Rankine. I greet this critic and his book with celebratory gratitude.” —David Baker