MR Notes

Welcome to the Mass Review Blog, please feel free to read, comment, and share the content posted here. You can Contact Us if you have any questions. Enjoy!
Date: 02/24/2017
Michael Thurston

Among the many pleasures of Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is what it gets right about poetry.

The film follows its title character, a bus driver in the eponymous New Jersey city, through a week that seems at once typical and catastrophic. Calling man and city by the same name, Jarmusch obviously cites William Carlos Williams, whose epic from the 1950s begins with the premise “that a man in himself is a city, beginning, seeking, achieving and concluding his life in ways which the various aspects of a city may embody.” Williams appears throughout the movie: in a photograph of famous citizens tacked up behind the bar, in another over the character’s desk, in the books on that same desk and in the hand of a Japanese tourist, in a quotation uttered by a rapper working out rhymes in a laundromat (“No ideas but in things”). Williams is also present in such oblique...

Date: 02/22/2017
Daniel Nevarez Araujo

Language is alive. Diachronic linguistics has taught us that words often change meaning over time. In a 2014 piece written for TED[1], language historian Anne Curzan notes how words like “nice” and “silly” actually meant the opposite of what they mean in our current usage. Nice meant “silly, foolish, simple,” while silly meant “worthy or blessed.” One particular combination of words that has evidently changed drastically over time, too, is The United States of America. Initially this nomenclature apparently meant nation, freedom, liberty, as well as many other philosophical and practical concepts which would guide a people to define themselves as members of a democratic nation, THE democratic nation. But somewhere along the way the words have gained a very different...

Date: 02/21/2017
Amal Zaman

“From the drummer, take the cymbals, the crash, and hi-hat
and walk like you’re shining.  From the composer take “water
under snow is wear,” sung by young voices in the timbre
of wind blowing through the antlers of reindeer..."

--from “What to Take” which appears in the Winter 2016 issue (Volume 57, Issue 4).

Tell us about one of the first pieces you’ve written

About the first poems I wrote, the less said the better.  I can tell you about an early, early poem that found its way from 1976 into my first book published in 1998.   To think that a twenty-year-old poem would hold up startles me more now than it did then.  What’s memorable to me has to do with where I wrote it—in the basement of the apartment I shared with two other women from the U.S. teaching English in Cali, Colombia.  When we drew straws for who got which...

Date: 02/15/2017
Amal Zaman

“Song is of a squeaky quality, with little or no repetition.
It is a poor imitator.
Song is a series of evry high, thin, separate, slurred notes.
Call is slurred chewink.
Song, drink-your-tea…"
--from “Bird Song” which appears in the Winter 2016 issue (Volume 57, Issue 4).

Tell us about one of the first pieces you’ve written

When I was 17 and still quite new to America, I took a writing class in my college and wrote a short story called “Cough’s Tokoloshe.” Its protagonist, a little South African boy named Cough, became obsessed by the idea that he was haunted by a tokoloshe, the tiny demonic sprites feared by Zulus and other Nguni Africans. (Local people will often place the legs of their beds on top of bricks so as to be able to spot any tokoloshes hiding under the bed...

Date: 02/13/2017
Jules Chametzky

Late in the afternoon of January 13, 1954, less than a year after my marriage to Anne Halley, with a two-month-old son at home in our apartment, I was sitting in my half of an office in Folwell Hall, a teaching assistant at the University of Minnesota, when the phone rang. It was a reporter from the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, an African American named Carl Rowen who was to go on to renown and a modicum of fame in later years. He informed me that I had been “named” as a Communist by a woman from Minneapolis—a former Communist at twenty-three, testifying before a U.S. Senate committee. Did I have anything to say, except that I had a certain lurch in my stomach? I bade the reporter goodbye and hurried home to Anne to tell her the news.

The next day the story occupied the lead on the front page of the Star-Tribune. The “witness” had named twenty-seven people...

Date: 02/07/2017
Len Berkman

I address this capsule memoir especially to those of you who take boisterous, passionate delight in retracing trajectories of your major life discoveries and convergences. Among my most profoundly haunting classical music discoveries of the past decade, Marco Rosano’s contemporary Stabat Mater has come to play a role in my life well beyond the treasured experience of listening to it, and seeing it performed, again and again.

The insistent, unmitigated artistic focus, across centuries, on the mother of crucified Jesus has long fascinated my wife and me: There the mother stands, as witness, as support through her very proximity, choosing not to shut her eyes or flee from the torture and murder of her son. A literally excruciating event, beyond the capacity of nearly all of us to genuinely absorb, whether or not we ever contemplate our children or anyone else we...

Date: 02/02/2017
Michael Rothberg

Photo: Getty Images

Since the US election, there have been two major debates on the left and in the broader public about the implications of Trump’s election and his assumption of the presidency. The first has concerned the relationship between the Trump movement and various potential historically analogous movements, especially fascism. The second has involved trying to understand the reasons for Trump’s victory (or Clinton’s defeat); this conversation has involved numerous factors, from Russian intervention to voter intimidation, but from the perspective of political strategy the most important dimension of this debate has been the question of what social categories (i.e. race, class, gender, region, etc.) were the most salient in shaping voter preferences.

The following notes—initially drafted between the election and the...

Date: 01/31/2017
Amal Zaman

The same week his father died, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart conducted a funeral for a starling he had purchased three years ealier in Vienna. Guests at the service wore solemn attire, and Mozart, then thirty-one, eulogized his pet as “not haughty, quite, but gay and bright.”
    “My heart,” he said, “aches when I think of him
--from “Mozart’s Starling” which appears in the Winter 2016 issue (Volume 57, Issue 4).

Tell us about one of the first pieces you’ve written

When I was in the fourth grade, I wrote a short story based on a true story about my great-grandmother. Some 50 years later, I find myself going back to that great-grandmother as I work on a nonfiction book about her (and my) slaveholding ancestors. Perhaps it’s my way of responding, at last, to the teacher who wrote at the top of that early story: “Keep...

Date: 01/26/2017
Amal Zaman

"Rhythm is the seed, the little
body we planted in fear of

the dark that rose to adorn
and outlive us. It crawled…

--from “Found Music” which appears in the Winter 2016 issue (Volume 57, Issue 4).

Tell us about one of the first pieces you’ve written

I was fortunate to have two teachers in middle school—their names were Mrs. Strom and Ms. Rambo—who encouraged me to try my hand at making poems. The first poem I remember finishing was for an assignment in eighth grade, a mock-epic (I realize in retrospect) full of images from middle-of-the-night pyromanaical exploits with my friends on the streets of Paris, Texas. During the culmination of this assignment, which was a class reading, I realized that all my friends had written awful poems, no attention to language, no excitement. So with that first poem came...

Date: 01/25/2017
Andrea Stone

As a Canadian citizen and U.S. permanent resident—with an “Alien Number,” no less—the concept of “Our America” is, well, foreign to me. Defining nationhood in possessive terms reflects the notion that nationalism is the work of imagined possession and therefore also exclusion. If something is ours, it cannot be yours. This election has focused almost entirely on whom America belongs to. The slogan “we’re going to take our country back” implied its return to its rightful owner. But it didn’t mean a return to the people. It certainly didn’t mean taking the country back from corporations, the Koch and Walton families, from Wall Street, and the disgrace that is Citizens United. “We’re taking our country back” implied that the nation’s rightful owner who’d been shafted out of their fair share were the deserving whites, the working classes, and their families. But “...