The first poem in the new Paris Review is the best poem I've read all year. "Cinna the Poet," by Nick Laird.
Reading poetry lately, I came to feel that certain poems written as soon as a year ago would be impossible to write now. This is dumb and not true, probably. But just the fact that it occurred to me, that I felt it, is what I want to talk about. There's too much politics and hate in the atmosphere for overripe poems about everyday kindnesses, or cool kid poems about Tinder dates evolving into heavy petting, or ironic, alt-lit poems about drugs&whatever. I've always loved literature in translation because of the resulting strangeness and sincerity. That, and how it often gets mixed in with cruel political realities, yields meaningful poems, poems you would want to take with you in prison or in grief.
Now the cruelty is closer, and the poetry may be catching up. This year I woke up one morning to find out that a man with an assault rifle opened fire on a baseball field of unarmed congressman a block away from where I slept. And that was, held up against the year, not as disturbing a morning as many, many others. Sometimes it's hard to put your finger on the pulse, to know when the zeitgeist has irreparably shifted. Difficult to name and embody it might be, but the spirit is so thick in the air no one could be blind to it now.
"Cinna the Poet" captures that spirit. It manages to have a sense of immediacy about it—it's inundated with politics—and a feeling of timelessness. It's the poem I've wanted to read for 6 months.
Tonight M and I talked about a book she's reading, which has a chapter about Nanabozho, the Anishinaabe first man in their oral tradition. The last of God's creations, it was up to him to walk around and name everything.