• print • June/July/Aug

    What Are You Looking At?

    WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT TRUTH OR DARE, the notorious 1991 documentary about Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour, they tend to mention the same handful of scenes. The gay kiss. Madonna deep-throating a bottle of Vichy Catalan (not Evian, as often misremembered). Kevin Costner calling the show “neat” and Madonna making a puking gesture. Are these the best scenes in the film? No, but they passed for scandal in 1991 and so they made an impression. In retrospect they feel a little try-hard, a little overhyped, but that’s because we’re watching from the world Madonna made. With the distance of thirty years,

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Manifesto Destiny

    MANIFESTO IS THE FORM THAT EATS AND REPEATS ITSELF. Always layered and paradoxical, it comes disguised as nakedness, directness, aggression. An artwork aspiring to be a speech act—like a threat, a promise, a joke, a spell, a dare. You can’t help but thrill to language that imagines it can get something done. You also can’t help noticing the similar demands and condemnations that ring out across the decades and the centuries—something will be swept away or conjured into being, and it must happen right this moment. While appearing to invent itself ex nihilo, the manifesto grabs whatever magpie

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Neither Fairy nor Foul

    AT FIRST, TINKERBELL WAS ONLY A LAMP, a small mirror, and someone crouching in the dark. He tilted his wrist to make her fly, shimmering light. A bell was her voice and applause was her medicine. In 1904, she promised children that belief was enough, ritual worked, and friends could come back from the dead. “Never” was a land, a country. If you were an eight-year-old boy in that London theater, clapping for Tink, odds are you were deep or dead in the trenches ten years later. Loss dug itself into towns, steady and chasmal, leaving old men, women, and children behind. New types of family spooled

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Cool Runnings

    FOR NEGATIVE LESSONS, the “don’ts” when it comes to writing reviews, there’s always the internet. But for direction and inspiration, cold water on a face flushed from a looming deadline, it’s better to have hard copies of whatever you think defines greatness: you can open one to a random page, like shaking a Magic 8 Ball, and ask it what to do. Jenny Diski’s new, posthumous collection, Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told?, might give an answer—ultimately, obliquely—to its own title’s question. Of course it can’t answer mine. But I’m sure I’ll periodically give it a try anyway, because,

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Dare Package

    I PICKED UP HIGH RISK: AN ANTHOLOGY OF FORBIDDEN WRITINGS in Trident Booksellers & Café on Newbury Street in Boston in 1991 (when you could still smoke cigarettes while you read and drink bowlfuls of cappuccino), because Kathy Acker was in it and I idolized her—though she confused me with all her code-switching, gender-floating, language-bending, anti-narrative raucousness. Maybe I idolized her because she confused me. William S. Burroughs was in it too. He confused me but not in a way I was sure I liked. I was determined to keep trying though; Burroughs had literary street cred.

    High Risk

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    This Ain’t No Picnic

    GARY PANTER’S COMIC STRIPS ARE FUN TO LOOK AT AND HARD TO READ. “My work,” he’s admitted, is “not very communicative.” Panter made his mark as a poster artist in the late-’70s Los Angeles punk scene, established his reputation in the ’80s as a frequent contributor to Raw magazine, and confirmed his cultural bona fides as a designer for Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

    Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise, originally published in 1988, draws on a decade’s worth of work for Raw and the punk tabloid Slash; it now reappears framed by a brief Ed Ruscha appreciation (dig “the ravings and cravings of an amped up active

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Southwest Side Story

    RICKIE LEE JONES’S BLOND HEAD IS ATILT as she lights a French cigarette, crowned with an off-center red beret. It’s that image of the artful-dodger “duchess of coolsville” (as Time dubbed her) on the cover of her eponymous 1979 debut that became iconic to a public who still recalls her mainly for that year’s jazzy top-10 single “Chuck E’s in Love.” It was a sell, but one close to the reality of this former teen street kid and, more recently, poverty-line Venice Beach bohemian. Jones rejected the 1970s “glamour-puss” gloss that was being urged on her and brought her own wardrobe and sensibility

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Double Masking

    THE CONCEPT OF THE MASK, of concealing, is made explicit in the title of Persona, Ingmar Bergman’s superlative film of 1966. Yet ever since its release, many critics and viewers have sought to uncover the “meaning” of this enigmatic work, which centers on the relationship between two women: Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann), an actress who stops speaking, and Alma (Bibi Andersson), a nurse tasked with overseeing Elisabet’s convalescence. Bergman cautioned against the urge to demystify, remarking to a Swedish TV journalist in 1966, “Each person should experience it the way they feel.” Ullmann, in

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  • print • June/July/Aug

    Artful Volumes

    Jean Dubuffet (1901–1985) was a French painter, printmaker, and sculptor who began seriously making art at age forty-one. But he never really outgrew his divine callowness, the spirit of a teenager beseeching the sheeple to wake TF up: “Look at what lies at your feet! A crack in the ground, sparkling gravel, a tuft of grass, some crushed debris offer equally worthy subjects for your applause and admiration.” In JEAN DUBUFFET: BRUTAL BEAUTY (Prestel, $50), the catalogue for an exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, we observe the many ways he battled the notions of comportment and

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  • excerpt • May 05, 2021

    An excerpt from Pop Song on the line between articulating and aestheticizing pain

    When I used to write about my relationship to anorexia, I tended to retreat to metaphor. It was a worm. It left me hollow, scoured, cleaned of mucous contents. It was a fire. It was a book set aflame, and I was both the fire and the paper. Because I believed it didn’t have anything to do with how my body looked, I felt, at times, like there was something more regal, more holy about my condition, as though its removal from my body reduced the amount by which I was abased.

    I regret this, and I regret writing about it that way—with poetry. It was a way to make sense of a thing I found lived inside

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  • excerpt • May 03, 2021

    Two poems from The Essential June Jordan

    Letter to the Local Police

    Dear Sirs:

    I have been enjoying the law and order of our

    community throughout the past three months since

    my wife and I, our two cats, and miscellaneous

    photographs of the six grandchildren belonging to

    our previous neighbors (with whom we were very

    close) arrived in Saratoga Springs which is clearly

    prospering under your custody

    Indeed, until yesterday afternoon and despite my

    vigilant casting about, I have been unable to discover

    a single instance of reasons for public-spirited concern,

    much less complaint

    You may easily appreciate, then, how it is that

    I write

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  • review • April 29, 2021

    Giancarlo DiTrapano (1974–2021)

    Two writers pay tribute to the poet and songwriter Giancarlo DiTrapano, who passed away on March 30. DiTrapano was the mastermind behind the literary magazine New York Tyrant and the press Tyrant Books. A writer’s editor, Gian loved his work in ways that now seem sui generis. He was brave, ferociously supportive, and developed deep connections with his authors. He is missed.

    IF HE THOUGHT YOU COULD WRITE, THEN HE LOVED YOU, TOO

    By Nico Walker

    He was in a hotel room, in New York City, like stars do it. I won’t pretend he wasn’t consoled by this. He admired decadence. If anyone wants to

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