Archives for category: Essays


The Diction of Dance (Excerpt)

by Wendy Lesser

…Like poetry, choreography speaks to us about the familiar, but in a way that makes us see it anew. The materials, in both cases, are part of everyday life (speech, movement), but these materials need to be transformed in a way that makes them more than merely documentary. So a certain level of stylization (whereby the real gets stripped of its excess, turned into something clearer and sharper and more shaped) is required in both art forms for them to be art forms. At the same time, the ever-present danger is that stylization may interfere with feeling—may get between the artist’s expression of something and the audience’s reception of it.

To combat this danger, poets and choreographers remain eternally alert to the sensibilities of their own times. Just as Wordsworth revolutionized the poetic diction of his time by bringing it closer to ordinary speech, choreographers must continually replenish their known storehouse of stage gesture with movements that they observe in life: on the street, at home, in offices and playgrounds and parks. Yet to abandon the languages and gestures of the past entirely would be not only silly but impossible. Poetry and choreography both derive from all the work that has gone before them, even as each maker tries something new and special with the form…

MORE: Read “The Diction of Dance” by Wendy Lesser in its entirety at

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wendy Lesser is an American critic, novelist, and editor based in Berkeley, California. Lesser did her undergraduate work at Harvard College and her graduate work at University of California, Berkeley, with time in between at King’s College, Cambridge. She is the founding editor of the arts journal The Threepenny Review, and author of ten books, including one novel, The Pagoda in the Garden (Other Press, 2005), and her latest nonfiction book, Why I Read (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014). She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, the Dedalus Foundation, and the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, among other places.

IMAGE: “Fred and Ginger” by Mel Thompson. Prints available at

Essay by Ada Limón

Speaking of art & politics…

: What man is that?

A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

Set him before me; let me see his face.

Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.

What say’st thou to me now? Speak once again.

Beware the ides of March.

He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.
It’s hard not to think of Caesar on the ides of March. All those knives, all those men of politics. However, I often find that it is not Caesar or Brutus that I think of the most, rather, it is the Soothsayer. The poor nameless fellow who wanders in to warn his dictator of the coming fall only to be shoved out of the way as men with important business to attend to go about their day.

Mainly, I think, Hey, I’d like a soothsayer! Or an oracle. Or a Ouija board, a magic eight ball, even a good horoscope. Unlike Caesar (there’s really little comparison between us), I’d listen. Someone says, “Beware,” and I do, I pay attention.
 Maybe the soothsayers of today are the poets: Poor, often nameless, often shoved aside, often shouting something that no one is listening to.

But if the ides of March has taught us anything (aside from never befriending a man named Brutus), it is that we must listen to the soothsayers. Perhaps it could save our lives.
That sounds dramatic, of course, and it is. I like a bit of the dramatic. I mean, I’m talking about Caesar.

But in all honesty, I do believe that we are often delivered a poem exactly when we need it—when we are unaware that we are asking. We’ve all been on those marble steps, thinking, Man I’m done with this whole Rome thing. Let’s throw in the toga. And just then someone hands us a note, a poem. Say it’s, “Listen” by W.S. Merwin and we read: 
“with the cities growing over us like earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving 
dark though it is.”
And we’re reminded to do so.

Thank you. Thank you Rome. Thank you Romans. And for one more day we walk up the steps and we’re reminded to be, well, alive and for the meantime, happy about it.
 If it weren’t for those many poet/soothsayers, I’d most likely have taken the wrong path numerous times. Maybe you’ll get a poem today, passed under the door like a note. Read it, and in honor of the ides of March, pay attention.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ada Limón is the author of three books of poetry, Lucky Wreck, This Big Fake World, and Sharks in the Rivers. She received her Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from New York University. Limón has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and is one of the judges for the 2013 National Book Award in Poetry. She works as a freelance writer and splits her time between Lexington, Kentucky, and Sonoma, California (with a great deal of New York in between). Her new book of poems, Bright Dead Things is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in 2015. Visit her at

AUTHOR PHOTO by Jude Domski

I recently received a copy of The Novelty Essays by Adam Matcho and have enjoyed the author’s humorous essays about working in a novelty store. Anyone who’s ever suffered and struggled while working a “maintenance” job will find something to smile about in this debut collection.

BOOK DESCRIPTION: The Novelty Essays by Adam Matcho is a memoir-in-essays about the author’s working life. Twice flunked out of college, Matcho — newly married and a new father — finds himself in school again, rushing to classes between shifts at the mall, where he works in a novelty store that sells lava lamps, pot-leaf necklaces, along with some x-rated items. In there, the weird have turned capitalist. Customers need goods. Adam needs work. He needs a degree to get a job where he’s not piercing noses and selling “pornaments.” The hours are endless, the pay not enough. The bills are due. The car is broken. In these true stories, Matcho’s dreams of becoming a writer mix with the reality of paying the rent. (For more information, contact

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Adam Matcho is the author of the chapbook Six Bucks an Hour: Confessions of a Gemini Writer, winner of the Nerve Cowboy chapbook prize, and The Novelty Essays (WPA Press, 2-13). His poems and essays have appeared in numerous publication and his nonfiction regularly appears in The New Yinzer. He works as an obituary writer and lives outside of Pittsburgh withis wife and two children.

Find The Novelty Essays at


Z  (Excerpt), An Essay

by Tom Robbins

…It’s the most distant and elusive of our twenty-six linguistic atoms; a mysterious, dark figure in an otherwise fairly innocuous lineup, and the sleekest little swimmer ever to take laps in a bowl of alphabet soup.

 Scarcely a day of my life has gone by when I’ve not stirred the alphabetical ant nest, yet every time I type of pen the letter Z, I still feel a secret tingle, a tiny thrill. This is partially due to Z’s relative rarity: my dictionary devotes 99 pages to A words, 138 pages to P, but only 5 pages to words beginning with Z.

 Then there’s Z’s exoticness, for, though it’s a component of the English language, it gives the impression of having zipped out of Africa or the ancient Near East of Nebuchadnezzzar…Take a letter? You bet. I’ll take Z. My favorite country, at least on paper, is Zanzibar; my favorite body of water, the Zuider ZeeZZ Top is my favorite band…Had Zsa Zsa Gabor married Frank Zappa, she would have had the coolest name in the world…

Photo: Tom Magliery, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


The above essay taken from Tom Robbins‘ essay, “Write About One of Your Favorite Things” (Esquire, 1996) and collected in Wild Ducks Flying Backward: The Short Writings of Tom Robbins (Bantam, 2005)



by Jack Kerouac

…Christmas was observed all-out in my Catholic French-Canadian environment in the 1930s much as it is today in Mexico…When we were old enough it was thrilling to be allowed to stay up late on Christmas Eve and put on best suits and dresses and overshoes and earmuffs and walk with adults through crunching dried snow to the bell-ringing church. Parties of people laughing down the street, bright throbbing stars of New England winter bending over rooftops sometimes causing long rows of icicles to shimmer. As we passed near the church you could hear the opening choruses of Bach being sung by child choirs mingled with the grownup choirs usually led by a tenor who inspired laughter more than anything else. But from the wide-open door of the church poured golden light, and inside the little girls were lined up for their trumpet choruses caroling Handel…

Note: “Not long ago joy abounded at Christmas” was first published in the New York World Telegram on Dec. 5, 1957. Read a longer excerpt at

Photo: Jack Kerouac as a boy during the 1930s.


DOG STORY (Excerpt)

by Adam Gopnik

…where we are creatures of past and future, she lives in the minute’s joy: a little wolf, racing and snorting and scaring; and the small ingratiating spirit, doing anything to please. At times, I think that I can see her turn her head and look back at the ghost of the wolf mother she parted from long ago, saying, “See, it was a good bet after all; they’re nice to me, mostly.” Then she waits by the door for the next member of the circle she has insinuated herself into to come back to the hearth and seal the basic social contract common to all things that breathe and feel and gaze: love given for promises kept. How does anyone live without a dog? I can’t imagine.
Excerpted from The New Yorker, August 8, 2011. Find the complete story here. In “Dog Story,” Adam Gopnik describes how his family came to adopt and fall in love with a Havanese puppy Gopnik named Butterscotch.

Photo: ”Havanese puppy” by Martin Taylor

by Roger Angell

Baseball’s time is seamless and invisible, a bubble within which players move at exactly the same pace and rhythms as all their predecessors. This is the way the game was played in our youth and in our father’s youth, and even back in the country days there must have been the same feeling that time could be stopped.

Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you I and have to do is succeed utterly – keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young.
Originally published in 1972, The Summer Game, a book of essays by Roger Angell is available at The site describes the book this way: “The Summer Game, Roger Angell’s first book on the sport, changed baseball writing forever. Thoughtful, funny, appreciative of the elegance of the game and the passions invested by players and fans, it goes beyond the usual sports reporter’s beat to examine baseball’s complex place in our American psyche.”

PHOTO: Joe DiMaggio (New York Yankees) at bat, with Hank Erickson (Cincinnati Reds) catching (1936)


by Joan Didion

We tell ourselves stories in order to live. The princess is caged in the consulate. The man with the candy will lead the children into the sea…We interpret what we see, select the most workable of multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience. Or at least we do for a while.…
The White Album (1979), a book of essays by Joan Didion, is available at

“When I’m working on a book, I constantly retype my own sentences. Every day, I go back to page one and just retype what I have. It gets me into a rhythm.” JOAN DIDION

Graphic: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live” is the opening line of Joan Didion‘s essay “The White Album,” featured in her collection of the same name.

Find The White Album (1979), a book of 20 essays by Joan Didion  at


by Joan Didion

There is something uneasy in the Los Angeles air this afternoon, some unnatural stillness, some tension. What it means is that tonight a Santa Ana will begin to blow, a hot wind from the northeast whining down through the Cajon and San Gorgonio Passes, blowing up sandstorms out along Route 66, drying the hills and the nerves to the flashpoint. For a few days now we will see smoke back in the canyons, and hear sirens in the night…It is hard for people who have not lived in Los Angeles to realize how radically the Santa Ana figures in the local imagination. The city burning is Los Angeles’s deepest image of itself…Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and….the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.