The editors of our major anthologies face their share of trade-offs and hard choices. One might alter the Shakespeare canon; or make the case for Christina Rossetti’s poetry being superior to Matthew Arnold’s; or recover a lost voice while silencing another. A sure sign of danger, however, is when editorializing takes on a life of its own:
In light upon the figured leaf
You paper glutton. Your screen, like a grieving conscience, keeps pressuring you to go paperless. It chivvies you with charts. It cites damnable statistics. You had the “third highest paper usage” in your department. Bad, bad, bad.
Why resist the inevitable? Because, we say, paper is indispensable to the art of writing. We are grateful, to be sure, for the rise of e-journals, and for the access that the internet provides. But to compose a piece of fine writing—examples of which await you in this new issue of Literary Matters—authors require paper.
“Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses!”
—Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
Literary types, being more sensitive than slabs of concrete, may find themselves embarrassed. When cities are on fire, when pestilence is raging, when victims cry out for justice, what good is literature? What do we think we’re doing at a time like this? How shall I presume to teach literature—at a moment of crisis?
One suggestion I have is teaching the lives of the poets. I have known seasons of close formal analysis and I have known seasons of intertextuality. In our current season, it feels like topicality is everything. At least we are not the first to experience such compression.
The girl on the bus looked like that actress—Chloë Moretz. But what would Chloë Moretz be doing on the damn bus? Arlo was deep in his phone when she sat down right across from him with a shiny paperback on her lap. She was wearing a big gray hoodie over her lavish blonde hair. No lipstick. Baby blue high tops. Beautiful girls always knew how to scale it down. If it was Chloë Moretz, she was going incognito.
He thought of texting a friend, but decided against it.
Connecticut, toward the end of the last century
“Watch where you’re going!” A row of red cones
(One mashed flat as a puck), the turning trees
Covered in white dust, and a pile of stones.
“Did you hear me? I was saying…” Our sleeves
Flutter and flap. “…when they walked on the moon…”
Tap brakes…change lanes…forty-five…thirty…soon
We’re idling through colossal parking lots.
On foot for the last stretch to the marquees:
They’ve come in droves to see the astronauts.