by Stephen Kessler
El Leon Literary Arts, 2015
Stephen Kessler’s third collection of essays gathers fifty-four pieces ranging over thirty-three years and several genres of personal and critical prose: family memoir, travel journal, social satire, political analysis, cultural commentary, literary criticism, anecdote, confession, spiritual and philosophical reflection. Whether addressing his own baldness, the pursuit of sexual satisfaction, the art of photographer Vivian Maier, the self-mythification of Gertrude Stein, the mysteries of literary translation, the creativity in criticism, or personalities like Steve Jobs and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kessler’s essays invitingly readable. His eclectic interests and nimble intelligence infuse these writings with unique insights into our lives and times. (Publisher’s description)
Stephen Kessler is a poet, translator, essayist and editor whose writings have appeared in books, anthologies, magazines and newspapers across the United States since the late 1960s. Born in Los Angeles in 1947, he has degrees in literature from Bard College and the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of eight books.
by Jane Hirshfield
Hirshfield, a poet and Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, ponders the value and function of poetry in 10 insightful essays. Following up on her earlier nonfiction book Nine Gates, Hirshfield delves into various works written across multiple styles and centuries. She begins with a perceptive lesson about the way a poet—and a poem—sees the world, later exploring the theme of “the hidden,” referring to both subterranean layers of meaning in a piece of writing and the protective concealments common in nature, in which, according to a biologist, “hiddenness is the default.” Elsewhere, Hirshfield shows how asking questions about poems, from Basho’s haiku to Walt Whitman’s American epics, can lead to answers about ourselves. In this vein, she tackles “American-ness” as it’s manifested in modern American poetry, concluding that our “culture [is] created by immigration, by mobility of psyche and of body.” Hirshfield writes with a poet’s voice and imparts wisdom on nearly every page. In a particularly lucid selection, “Poetry and the Constellation of Surprise,” she explains how important it is that poetry transcend reason, because reason “cannot and does not encompass the whole of life.” Hirshfield’s in-depth tour of poetry and art leaves a lasting impression. — Publisher’s Weekly
Jane Hirshfield is the author of eight books of poetry, including The Beauty; Come, Thief; After; and Given Sugar, Given Salt. Hirshfield has received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets. A resident of Northern California since 1974, she is a current chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
by Jennifer Barrett
Koala Cove Press, 2013
In 1790, a Frenchman by the name of Xavier De Maistre claimed to have pioneered the art of room travel; he explored his bedroom for the 42-day duration of a house arrest sentence he received for dueling. Over two centuries later, an Australian by the name of of Jennifer Barrett tried De Maistre’s unusual mode of travel for herself, embarking on a journey around her study. Her personal observations of the various objects she encountered soon developed into deeper meditations on the wider issues and ideas that arose from them. The result is The Lost Art of Room Travel—a collection of nine narrative essays that navigate ideas including imagination, travel, and nostalgia, in a voice that is, by turns, serious, comic, and even surreal.
One day while searching the T.V. channels for something interesting, I found that a Magnum P.I. re-run was on, the first time I had seen an episode since they were originally aired in the 1980s. As I settled down to watch I thought it would probably be a bit cringe-worthy, as many television series from that era are when re-visited. Although I had been a huge fan of the Magnum episodes, I wasn’t sure whether they would hold the same appeal decades later. However, somewhat to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. The episodes, which aired a few days a week, became something to look forward to. For the brief time it took Magnum and his friends to “save the day” I was transported away from the constricted confines of my house and deposited into the tropical beauty of Hawaii. The fact that the leading man, played by Tom Selleck, was very easy on the eyes may have added to the show’s attraction, but I admit nothing…
[One] reason the Magnum episodes appealed to me was that I had originally seen them when in my early twenties, so at a subconscious level I was connecting with my youth again while watching them. That’s presumably why nostalgia is such big business, with re-runs of the shows from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and clothing from previous decades coming back into vogue. People who were young when the originals made their debuts are reminded of their youth.