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In the Spin Room: At the Republican Debate

Photograph by Antonia Hitchens. Last night, the fourth Republican debate took place in Alabama; Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Ron DeSantis took the stage. Immediately thereafter, news outlets started publishing “takeaways” and declaring winners. (Notably absent was the frontrunner in the polls, Donald Trump.) We were curious, in the lead-up to this debate, about what goes on behind the scenes of this staged media event, so we asked Antonia Hitchens, who’s been reporting on the presidential campaign, to write a dispatch from the “spin room,” where she spent one of the previous debates, in September, in Simi Valley.  I drove from my apartment in LA to Simi Valley to attend the second Republican presidential debate, and when I arrived, at 1 P.M. , the media lot was already so full that I had to park on grass, like at a music festival. Three women from a national newspaper got out of the rental car next to me, carrying their blazers over their arms to put on lat
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Announcing Our Winter Issue

A poet recently sent me an essay by George Oppen called “The Mind’s Own Place,” published in 1963. In it, Oppen grapples with lines from Brecht’s “To Those Born Later”: “What kind of times are these, when / To talk about trees is almost a crime / Because it implies silence about so many horrors?” Oppen, a poet who had withdrawn from writing for nearly twenty-five years to pursue his political commitments, sees Brecht’s concern as valid: “There are situations which cannot honorably be met by art, and surely no one need fiddle precisely at the moment that the house next door is burning.” But he also acknowledges that there is “no crisis in which political poets and orators may not speak of trees, though it is more common for them, in this symbolic usage, to speak of ‘flowers,’ ” which tend to “stand for simple and undefined human happiness.” He goes on: Suffering can be recognized; to argue its definition is an evasion, a contemptible thing. But the good life, the thing wanted for its

Writing about Understanding

Rebecca West’s The Fountain Overflows . Photograph by Sophie Haigney. The paragraph is perhaps an undercelebrated unit of writing. Sentences get their due, as do individual words, but paragraphs? At the Review , we’ve asked writers to select a favorite paragraph and write a paragraph—or several!—on it. This is our first piece in a periodic series. Yes, I think you three have been quite happy. But I doubt if Cordelia has enjoyed a single moment of her childhood. It has all been a torment to her. She is not selfish. It is not what she has lacked that is an agony to her, it is what we all have lacked. She has hated it that all our clothes have been so shabby and that the house is so broken down. She has hated it that I have always been so late in paying Cousin Ralph the rent. She has hated it that we have so few friends. She hates it that your father has gone away, but not as you hate it. She would have preferred a quite ordinary father, so long as he stayed with us. She wishes she

The Secrets of Beauty

Cocteau’s epitaph in Saint-Blaise-des-Simples Chapel in Milly-la-Forêt, via Wikimedia Commons . Photograph by Renaud Camus, licensed under  CC BY 2.0 . Jean Cocteau wrote on anything he could get his hands on, wherever he could. Édouard Dermit informs us that he often saw Cocteau writing next to him in the car, or while lying down, or when at the table (between fruit and dessert courses), using the smallest scrap of paper or cloth. This version of Secrets of Beauty was composed in March 1945, on a long journey back to Paris. Toward the end of the text, he writes: “Why do these thoughts come to me, to someone who is so reluctant to write? It’s probably because … I am writing them on the move, in a third-class carriage that keeps jogging me. I reconnect with this dear work [of writing] on the endpapers of books, on the backs of envelopes, on tablecloths: a marvelous discomfort that stimulates the mind.”   Cocteau was like one of those magicians who, having announced that they are go

A Pimp with a Heart of Gold

Peter Bogdanovich’s Saint Jack (1979). I watched the 1979 film Saint Jack on Amazon’s ad-supported streaming service, Freevee. Because the commercials often lurched on midsentence, I concluded that Freevee doesn’t pay people to insert the breaks between scenes. The deduction was sound, but being human, i.e., desperate for meaning, I nevertheless read intention into the placement of some of the ads. At the end of the movie, for example, when the main character must choose between collaborating with an occupying power or forgoing a fat check, Freevee broke to a spot for a skin serum by Vichy Laboratories. Unfortunately, the synergy didn’t last. The next commercial featured the socially conscious rapper Common, of the too-resonant baritone, shilling T-Mobile from a barber chair—a rich text, to be sure, but one without much relevance to Saint Jack , which is set in Singapore in the late sixties. Based on Paul Theroux’s novel of the same name, the film is the director Peter Bogdanovic

Syllabus: Unexpected Dramaturgy

LYNN NOTTAGE IN REHEARSAL FOR THIS IS READING (2017) AT THE FRANKLIN STREET RAILROAD STATION IN READING, PENNSYLVANIA, 2017. In an interview in the Review ‘s new Fall issue, the playwright Lynn Nottage describes the way one of her classes at Yale would open: with a trip to the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. “Most academics and practitioners weren’t acknowledging the different forms of theater happening all over New York City, and how those forms were in conversation with the way we as playwrights make our work,” she tells Christina Anderson. Her class also visited vogue balls, megachurches, trials, and wrestling matches. “What I’ve witnessed is that, by the end of the course, all the students, even if they began as very naturalistic, structurally conservative writers, are making work that is more playful, inventive, and open,” she says. We asked Nottage to provide us with a syllabus of sorts—and she sent a reading list of plays that can also teach us to look at drama and narrative

The Church Van

1990 Plymouth Voyager. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Every Sunday morning would start the same way. Grandma Gayle, after her overnight shift as a nurse’s assistant, would walk into the room catty-corner from hers, knock, and yell, “Grandson!”—though Grandman’s yelling barely registered a decibel. So she would gently nudge my side and remind me that we had to get going. If there was time, bath; if not, shower. I’d make my dash to the kitchen, where Grandma would have prepared the kielbasa sausages fried, eggs fried, and cheddar cheese melted on a bialy or bagel bought from the deli up the street and accompanied by Tropicana Berry Punch in a glass. Church wouldn’t start for four hours, at least. But we started early—my grandma, grandpa, and me getting into the 1994 Plymouth Voyager, normally parked in the back lot of their home, which was wedged between where Brownsville and East New York meet. We traversed every borough to pick up congregants; on Sundays, the Voyager serv

Postcards from Elizabeth Bishop

Unpublished postcard sent by Elizabeth Bishop, from Special Collections Library, Vassar College. Copyright © 2023 by The Alice H. Methfessel Trust. Printed by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux on behalf of the Elizabeth Bishop Estate. All Rights Reserved. Elizabeth Bishop delighted in the postcard. It suited her poetic subject matter and her way of life—this poet of travel who was more often on the move than at home, “ wherever that may be ,” as she put it in her poem “Questions of Travel.” She told James Merrill in a postcard written in 1979 that she seldom wrote “anything of any value at the desk or in the room where I was supposed to be doing it—it’s always in someone else’s house, or in a bar, or standing up in the kitchen in the middle of the night.” Since her death in 1979 and the publication of her selected correspondence, Bishop has become known as one of the great modern-day letter-writers. And yet inevitably something is lost when an editor transcribes a letter to p

Lifesize Dioramas: At Carolee Schneeman’s House

Photograph by Hannah Gold. Carolee Schneeman’s house near New Paltz. In 1965, a stone house near New Paltz was slated for auction. A cousin of the owners, a young and broke painter, begged them to let her buy it with her musician partner. She feared the house, which was limping along, would be torn down. Soon after the artists purchased the house, the painter heard a voice in her dreams: Take a chisel to the concrete stucco, and you will find golden stones beneath; use a crowbar to peel up the linoleum flooring, there are chestnut boards below; hammer at the drop ceilings, there are wide beams above. The painter did as she was told, and found what she was promised. The house began to breathe again. The painter lived in, or perhaps with, the house for more than five decades, long after the musician departed. There were other lovers, and a series of cats—some of the cats were reincarnations of the previous cats. She made films in the rooms and worked in a studio on the second floor. S

In the Beginning

Photograph by J.D. Daniels. I don’t remember learning to read. There is a story in my family: I am still a small child, my mother carries me in her arms as she stands in line at the bank, the bank teller sees my long golden hair and says, “What a pretty little girl.” I say “I am a boy, Janice,” and Janice screams and faints. This was in the seventies in Kentucky, the years of The Exorcist and The Omen , the era of demonic children on-screen. Janice, primed by horror movies to see the supernatural in everything, was unable to imagine a less exciting explanation. It was impossible that a child so small could have read her name tag. It is not lost on me that this myth of learning to read frighteningly early is, at the same time, about my indignant insistence that I am a boy. Nor is its brimstone whiff of my family’s demonic flavor lost on me. When my mother’s brother Charles Edward died, she told me, “He was the devil, John David, and you are just like him.” *** You know the line