The Review of “History of Violence” by Edouard Louis, a Guest Post by Palash Mahmud

History of Violence Binds Us to Live a Life We Don’t Want to Live

L’existence précède l’essence

                          -Jean-Paul Sartre

When Eddy Bellegueule at the advent of his teenage was carrying the unbearable lightness of Anglo-Saxon name representing constructed masculinity intoxicatingly to present himself to the expectations of the social system and to act as per the principles of social exclusion and to  remain silent–  

a crisis of gender representation,

I standing at the exit door of my teens had encountered an event among the gathering of orthodox Muslim relatives first ever to be acquainted with in my own sister’s marriage ceremony and when I had introduced myself, obviously, as Palash Mahmud, a name combined by Arabic-Bengali words, within a second showing a distaste and shock on their faces, they asked why I am bearing the Bengali word despite of being a Muslim; I could not open my mouth further but to remain silent

a dilemma of lingo-religious representation. ‍

As Eddy said to Alessandro “Every reality is secretly built upon the rejection of something else,” he excluded the imposed qualities of masculine archetypes for Eddy Bellegeule and transcended to the exposed desires of human qualities for Edouard Louis, on the other edge, I am still carrying the bearable weightiness of intersectionality and enduring the pressure of excluding my linguistic identity to hold up my religious spirit, I could not say anything or write anything but only asking over and over again inside my mind that what’s the sense of not taking a Bengali name along with Arabic name although I don’t speak in Arabic but in Bengali.

Edouard and I have been going through the same societal pressure living in the opposite pole of the world, tolerating the same mass of humiliation and suffering by the different and distinct reasons that proves the objectivity of the human conditions, and adopting two opposite defense mechanisms – rejecting the name Eddy and being a voice of Edouard, oppositely, for me keeping the name Palash and being silent that also denotes the universality of human resilience.

The French debut novel, a global sensation of Edouard Louis, The End of Eddy (En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule in French, 2014) sets in Hellencourt in segregated far-right dominated and melancholic grazing land in Northern France which deals with name, sexuality and identity that are formulated by the norms of class-systemized cultures, social and political decisions that bring shame, humiliations, abuses and sufferings to the individuals. It links up Eddy’s gender representation and sexual preference with his family’s honor and dignity, political bourgeois and supremacy with Eddy’s ruthless poverty which make the analogous tones and themes with Scottish-American novelist Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain which is shortlisted for the 2020 Booker prize and the National Book Awards for fiction; and with Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake which won Palm d’Or in 2016. It shows us the basic structures on which persons and politics intersect and react with each other.

In his second novel, History of Violence (Historie la violence in French, 2016) which has been shortlisted for the 2020 International DUBLIN Literary Award extends the structure into more deeper level where readers can know how person’s identity is reconstructed over and over again by the political malice; and in process politics effectuates violence as a workable instrument evidently.

To show a model of violence in the universal characters, Edouard use bodily assault, the incident of rape from his own life which is very unique in the literary landscape illustrating his psychological journey of pain and grief, rage and revolt so subtly. The truth is no violence or injustice is not singular in nature – it is like multi-folded spider’s web- as soon as you are victimized by any kind of violence- like touching any thread of the web – you are immediately included in the other associate and collateral violences, injustices, humiliations, dominations and sufferings. But the thing is to find out the formula of remodeling the web to degrade the degree of violence and to upgrade the line of human freedom and spirit.

The story has been unlocked after “a whole year since it happened” on the Christmas Eve in 2012 at dawn in Edouard’s apartment when his sister, Clara, is throwing up the swallowed stories of the rape violence to her husband. “Hidden on the other side of the door” Edouard is adding the edited memories and practicing “anxious nagging feeling” and failing to describe the event truthfully because of lacking appropriate vocabulary.

Humans are far behind to picture their conditions in deficiency of exact lexical resources for the feelings and emotions which are kept under the veil of avoidance and rejection.

Being distorted by the rave feeling of reading way back to home, he encounters an Algerian man, Reda, whose “features were soft yet rugged masculine” and with a feeling of romantic and carnal desires for being close together as a man and a woman. They spend a very intimate time, crossing the boundaries of prohibitions and exclusions. During the departure time, Edouard witnesses his valuable appliances and gadgets are stolen and against his charges and protest, Reda exhales his air of violence, rapes him at the death threat. Though the whole narrative is sourced from Edouard own life, he can also replace his physical tribulation and post-traumatic upshots with William Faulkner’s Temple Drake’s rape and its ramification in Sanctuary (1931).

Palash Mahmud

Consequently, Edouard as in Hanya Yanagihara’s Jude in A Little Life (2015) starts to pass through the chronic struggle, internally and externally, to resolve mental trauma; to clean his body, belongings and even his memories. After being raped with physical bruises and spasms he goes to the hospital for medical checkup for “post-exposure prophylaxis against HIV” and speaks “the torrent of words”  to make believable the violence to everyone  he faces not knowing either is nurse or switchboard operator. He even takes a tactic “remained stuck in metallic moments,” he speaks:

I had cried too much already, I had no tears left to offer. If you don’t cry he won’t believe you, I thought to myself, you need to cry. But my eyes seemed now to belong to a stranger. I made a huge effort. I tried to force the tears to come, concentrating on images of Reda, his face, his gun, so that the tears would flow, but there was nothing to be done, the tears wouldn’t come, my efforts were all to no avail, no tears welled up at the corners of my eyes, my eyes stayed resolutely dry, … I turned to other scenes from my life for help. I brought back to mind other painful memories, the saddest and most painful I had, in order to produce some tears. I thought back to hearing the news of Dimitri’s death.

The reader will also be possessed by every word and even every punctuation mark will occupy you. The most  absorbing scenes start to appear when he begins to clean the mirror where Reda  has observed and even absurdly strives to dissolve Reda’s reflections and shadows inhibited on it, meanwhile, “possessed by an almost maniac energy”  he yields that it’s not any object but his own body and existence to be washed out:

I was the problem. I got in the shower; I washed myself once, twice, three times, and so on. I lathered my body with soap, shampoo, conditioner to perfume it as best I could, it was as if his smell were encrusted inside me,

We know the rape thing happens in everywhere around the world but how many we know their feelings, emotions and everything they endure and adapt except pathological reports, legal and judicial hearings and the most popularly journalistic testimonies. As soon as I come to know the first hand narratives of Edouard’s history of violence disclosing shame, humiliations and the chain of sufferings, I slide down into the whirl of befuddlement  and fail to decide of which feeling of him I would exclude or skip over from my list of quotations. 

There are controversies and mixed reactions to narrative forms like History of Violence where you cannot draw a clear demarcation between fiction and fact, reality and imagination. Many says without aesthetic imagination you cannot define the ideology of literature, but, surprisingly, Edouard Louis believes when finding truth is the only purpose or making change in human despondency and on the map of violence is the only utility of literature then ornamental literature is an obstruction, and l’art pour l’art is a bygone dream.

 Like social or political exclusion, Edouard revolts against the literary exclusion by which writers and poets escape our lived realities to make it more appalling and tantalizing. He uses his own life in the first-person narrative view as a literary material like Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knasusgaard uses in My Struggle series (2009-2011) and Seasonal Quartet series (2015-2016); Annie Ernaux in The Years (2017) uses third-person narrative angle with her memories, impressions, archival documents and visuals. Svetlana Alexievich uses “the real testimonies that make a unique literary form. Writing lived realities is very much risky and dangerous that can make furies and cries into the hearts of people involved.

The next door neighbors, old school-friends, accidental acquaintances or the closest persons will confront the author incriminating for defamation of their images and disclosure of silence.

Edouard Louis has acknowledged in public his indebtedness for the sociological and political analysis of Pierre Bourdie and Didier Eribon; he had published, in collaboration with philosopher Geoffroy de Langasnerie, the article “Manifsto for an Intellectual and Political counteroffensive”  on the first page of Le Monde imposing the vitality of the redefinition of ethical principle and praxis in politics:

Si l’on veut redéfinir et transformer la scène intellectuelle et politique, il est urgent d’adopter quelques principes éthiques la pensée et l’action.

The mythology of the working class exposes when people get down to status of muteness and the difference from the mainstream then people only survive and not have a chance to live a flourished life that brings the spiral of violence to society. As Toni Morrison brought the voice in Black literature in America; as Teju Cole commented in the essay “Unmournable Bodies “(2015)  “that unmournability, just as much as the massacre in Paris, is the clear and present danger to our collective liberté.”; or as Edouard tries to break the silence of “the compulsive racism” in France:  

At the police station I’d given a brief description of Reda, when they asked, and immediately the officer on duty cut me off: “Oh you mean he was an Arab.” He was triumphant, delighted would be an exaggeration, but he did smile

Lorin Stein, the erstwhile editor-in-chief of The Paris Review (2010-2017), is the translator of History of Violence (2018) and subsequent completion of Who Killed My Father (2019), who has been patrolling the fictional world for years restlessly to find the narrative that always speaks the truth and can “settle a troubled conscience”. Like Edouard Louis he also keeps faith in Ken Loach’s maxim, “art should be anything, it should be what imagination produces”.  A translator is a surrogate author who goes through the same creative labor and impeccable pressure to make a bridge between two minds, languages and cultures.  As Edouard’s real life appears almost fictional and fictions emerges nearly real, Lorin’s quality of translation draws a blur line between linguistic differences and creates a vivid impression down to the original in the French version. It’s a perfect example of oxymoron (blur-vivid) in transfiction.

The tone of the narrative pushes us to feel stranger than Camus’ L’Ėtranger (1942) because it depicts our minuet life that we are habituated with that always has been excluded from the ink and letters. The submission of the story is more on pluralism, truth and optimism than Houellebecq’s Soumission (2015). Memory and imagination make the archeology of knowledge and story that governs and binds us to live a life we don’t want to live.

Once you cross over the title you cannot look away, in some parts you will wish to transplant yourself with the characters only to know how it feels to live a life you have never seen at its core or have been ignoring or keeping in the dark shadows.

Guest Post, Josef Kuhn: A Retrospective Review of The Moviegoer

Love and Existentialism in New Orleans: A Retrospective Review of The Moviegoer

“On this my thirtieth birthday, I know nothing and there is nothing to do but fall prey to desire.” So says Binx Bolling, the ironical hero of Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer. At one time, Walker Percy was a literary superstar. The Moviegoer, his first book, was published in 1961 to glowing reviews, and it won the National Book Award that year, establishing Percy as one of the foremost voices of Southern literature. Since then, the novel has been included on numerous “best novels of the century”-type lists. Yet whenever I mention Percy’s name to friends today, nobody seems to have heard of him (except those in Catholic literary circles, for reasons that will perhaps become clearer below). I’m here to say that this is a crying shame.

The Moviegoer fuses the philosophical complexity and spiritual intensity of a Russian novel with the Southern tradition of the “familial decline” plot. Think Dostoyevsky meets Faulkner. Binx Bolling is a boyish thirty-year-old from a genteel New Orleans family who could do virtually anything that he wants with his life—and yet, faced with such freedom, he chooses to live in a featureless suburb, selling stocks and frittering his time away with pretty secretaries. His step-cousin Kate is similarly aimless, caught in a dialectic of mania and depression caused in part by her overbearing mother, Binx’s aunt. When this aunt puts pressure on Binx to make something more of his life, it forces a crisis that sends him and Kate careening on an ill-advised Mardi Gras journey.

For one thing, Percy’s prose is scintillating, some of the most finely tuned I have ever had the pleasure to read. He depicts the subtleties of landscapes and scenery with a painterly attention to detail: “A mare’s tail of cirrus cloud stands in high from the Gulf. High above the Lake a broken vee of ibises points for the marshes; they go suddenly white as they fly into the tilting salient of sunlight.” (Given Percy’s frequent attention to the qualities of light and atmosphere as well as his spiritual themes, it’s not a surprise that filmmaker Terrence Malick almost made a screen adaptation of The Moviegoer.) Percy has a talent for finding the exact metaphor or simile that, when you read it, convinces you that no other metaphor or simile would possibly do, as in “The blue boat rides up and down the bayou, opening the water like a knife.”

Physical description may be the lowest rung of mastery for a writer, but Percy brings the same level of acuity and subtlety to his observations of human character. For instance, Binx observes about his cousin’s fiancée: “What is funny is that Walter always starts out in the best brilliant-young-lawyer style of humoring an old lady by letting her get the better of him, whereas she really does get the better of him.” In a dinner-table scene involving Binx’s family, every gesture and line of dialogue seems to reveal some new element of the intricate subtext. Even in the briefest sketches, the most minor characters stand out as fully realized and lifelike:

“As he talks, he slaps a folded newspaper against his pants leg and his eye watches me and at the same time sweeps the terrain behind me, taking note of the slightest movement. A green truck turns down Bourbon Street; the eye sizes it up, flags it down, demands credentials, waves it on. A businessman turns in at the Maison Blanche building; the eye knows him, even knows what he is up to. And all the while he talks very well. His lips move muscularly, molding words into pleasing shapes, marshalling arguments, and during the slight pauses are held poised, attractively everted in a Charles-Boyer pout—while a little web of saliva gathers in a corner like the clear oil of a good machine. Now he jingles the coins deep in his pocket. No mystery here!—he is as cogent as a bird dog quartering a field. He understands everything out there and everything out there is something to be understood.”

But even more than Percy’s technical virtuosity, what I find most remarkable about him as a writer is his existential audacity, the boldness and originality of his intellectual vision. He is ever attentive to the particularities of history and geography, yet in The Moviegoer, he also dares to stride right past such temporal concerns to grapple with perhaps the most fundamental question faced by conscious being: How does one deal with the freedom of one’s own existence? This, in fact, seems to be the whole point of “the search,” an idea that recurs to Binx throughout the novel. Binx has a whole private lexicon of terms that seem ripped right out of Kierkegaard (e.g. “repetition,” “the malaise”) to describe his little phenomenological “researches.” Both he and Kate are acutely aware of the flimsiness of the solutions that modern society offers them—Binx claims his “only talent” is “a good nose for merde, for every species of shit that flies,” and Kate pokes fun at the shallow pedantry of her therapist, whose name, Merle, is suspiciously close to merde. What they’re dealing with is an emotional-intellectual problem that, as Kate describes it, is beyond the pale of 1960s psychotherapy:

“[Merle] got interested and suggested we look at the reasons. I said, Merle, how I wish you were right. How good to think that there are reasons and that if I am silent, it means I am hiding something. How happy I would be to be hiding something. And how proud I am when I do find secret reasons for you, your own favorite reasons. But what if there is nothing? That is what I’ve been afraid of until now—being found out to be concealing nothing at all.”

Percy is an ironist and a contrarian who takes pleasure in puncturing the banal pieties of his day, especially those of educated society. In one of the most hilarious passages, Binx lampoons a radio program called This I Believe in which high-minded celebrities state their personal credos. “If I had to name a single trait that all these people shared,” Binx says, “it is their niceness. Their lives are triumphs of niceness. … Everyone on This I Believe believes in the uniqueness and dignity of the individual. I have noticed, however, that the believers are far from unique themselves, are in fact alike as peas in a pod.” By the end of The Moviegoer, it becomes clear that Percy’s primary satirical target is a kind of shallow, toothless scientific humanism that is replacing people’s ability to independently contemplate the meaning and purpose of their own lives. It is a brave new vision of the world in which “needs are satisfied, everyone becomes an anyone, a warm and creative person, and prospers like a dung beetle, and one hundred percent of people are humanists and ninety-eight percent believe in God, and men are dead, dead, dead.”

Percy converted to Catholicism when he was about 30 years old, and Catholicism is present in a muted fashion throughout the book. But the novel rarely comes across as preachy, at least not in a religiously sectarian sense. I first read The Moviegoer when I was still nominally Catholic but teetering on the edge; the second time I read it, I was a non-religious agnostic. But if anything, I liked the novel even better the second time around. If the foregoing rant against scientific humanism sounds a tad reactionary, it’s worth noting that Binx is just as alienated from the thoughtless, conventional Catholic piety of his mother’s family as from the lofty universalist sentiments of his father’s. Percy never clearly comes down in support of any particular creed; Catholicism is just one more phenomenon that Binx is trying to make sense of as part of his existential search.

The book does, however, have a tendency to wax philosophical; if you don’t like your fiction with large doses of existential musing, then The Moviegoer is probably not for you. Reportedly, Percy’s later novels became increasingly dark and didactic (though probably no more so than, say, Sartre’s or Dostoyevsky’s). Perhaps this later didactism accounts for his relative obscurity today. I cannot vouch for the later work, but I can attest that The Moviegoer, at least, is a masterpiece of American literature that feels every bit as relevant in today’s fragmented, decentered social world as it must have in 1961. For any craft-conscious writer, or for any reader who enjoys dwelling on existential themes, this book is not to be missed.

Guest Post, Ashley Caveda: Me After Me Before You

Cover of Me Before YouUpon finishing Jojo Moyes’ popular novel Me Before You, I was heartbroken. But it wasn’t “a heartbreaker in the best sense” as promised by the New York Daily News. It was the kind that left me feeling helpless and sick—literally, like I might throw up, or punch someone.

A friend loaned me a copy, mentioning that the book dealt with disability and love. I forgot about it for a couple of weeks, until I saw a preview for the movie, released this month. The story features a young woman named Louisa Clark, whom the back cover describes as “an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life.” Louisa finds work as a caretaker for Will Traynor, a man who becomes a quadriplegic after an accident. From the preview, the two appear to fall in love, and yet Will also seems to be contemplating assisted suicide.

As a quadriplegic myself, paralyzed from the chest down since the age of 6, I value writing that subverts common disability stereotypes. I willed this book not to portray a spinal cord injury as a fate worse than death.

“Please,” I prayed, “Not another Million Dollar Baby.”

And so I read. In the novel, after being sexually assaulted at the age of 20, Louisa barely ventures beyond her hometown. Will, a rich, handsome businessman, spent his life prior to the accident engaging in extreme sports, traveling the world, and bedding beautiful, leggy blondes.

While getting to know Will, Louisa learns that he plans to commit suicide at the end of six months. She and his family are determined to prevent this. Louisa makes it her mission to show Will how beautiful and good life can still be. They attend concerts, go on picnics, visit art exhibits, and even take a dream vacation together. Through these excursions, Louisa and Will eventually fall in love.

During their last night at a beach resort, Louisa tells Will she wants to spend her life with him. But he rejects her proposal; he doesn’t want to be a burden to her and he hates living with his disability. He says,

You don’t know me, not really. You never saw me before this thing. I loved my life, Clark. Really loved it … I led a big life … I am not designed to exist in this thing—and yet for all intents and purposes it is now the thing that defines me. It is the only thing that defines me. (325)

These words, written by an able-bodied woman, are weightier in the mouth of a disabled (albeit fictional) man. Smoke and mirrors perhaps, but the illusion is effective enough for the book to be a New York Times Best Seller for 76 straight weeks and counting.

In the end, Will goes through with his suicide at a clinic in Switzerland, freeing everyone around him, including himself, from the burden of his disabled flesh. And although they are unhappy, Louisa and Will’s family come to respect his choice. In fact, he convinces them that it is the only choice he has been permitted to make for himself since his accident. As a final act of love, he leaves his fortune to Louisa. The book closes with her sitting outside of a café in Paris, finally inspired to live her life to the fullest.

Ultimately, Moyes uses Will’s suicide to transform him into a romantic hero and the able-bodied masses call it beautiful.

Numerous essays and blogs criticizing this portrayal of disability in Me Before You already exist (including this especially comprehensive critique), but there are two important points I would like to make.

First, all of the characters who try to convince Will to live make the argument that life can be good in spite of his disability; I would contend that my life is often good because of my disability. Second, this book argues that Will lived a big life and simply can’t accept a smaller one; I would contend that some of the biggest things that life has to offer at first appear to be small. These apparent blind spots on Moyes’ part inhibit her from crafting a more nuanced look at disability.

While most of the novel is from Louisa’s point of view, multiple characters receive their own chapter-long perspective shifts, including Will’s mother; his father; his medical caregiver, Nathan; and Louisa’s sister. Notably absent from this list, however, is Will himself. Moyes never bothers to put the reader inside of Will’s mind, instead largely shaping him through the interior thoughts and opinions of the non-disabled people around him. This, to me, is a grievous defect.

Therefore, to remedy this and to explore the aforementioned blind spots, I wrote my own brief, alternate ending to Moyes’ novel from Will’s point of view.

NOTE: This alternate ending takes place during Louisa and Will’s final night at the beach resort after Louisa confesses her feelings to Will and he rejects her, announcing that he is still planning on going forward with his suicide.


“I wish I’d never met you.”

Those were the last words Louisa said as she stumbled away from me on the beach. Drunken strangers found Nathan and brought him to me, and he helped me to bed. He cleaned me; he changed me; he tucked me in, as though I were an infant. The only thing our routine lacked was a bedtime story. And then he went to his room.

Now, propped up on my right side where he left me, I lay still (what else was I going to do?) and thought. Thinking was pretty much the only thing I could do by myself these days.

The storms from the previous night left a breeze in their wake and I could feel the cool air through the crack in the balcony doors. My nose itched.

Bested again, I thought. You’ve won this time, Itch.

My eyes were heavy, but I fought sleep. What was it she said to me that night at the wedding? That I never would have noticed her if I weren’t disabled? She called herself “one of the invisibles.” And she was right. I never would have seen her, in my other life. We never would have met. Louisa was only made visible to me after—no, not after, because of—my accident.

These seemed to be two incongruous concepts. On one hand, there was the life I lost, filled to the brim with ocean vistas, European cobblestone, and steep mountainsides that left my whole body screaming for rest and oxygen, while still craving more exertion. In those moments, I knew every single cell was alive and active. On the other hand, there was Louisa. Louisa in her red dress at the concert. Louisa at the wedding, her arms draped around my neck, her fingers pressed into my skin as I spun us around and around on the dance floor, her perfume-like joy spinning along with us. There was the man who could walk; there was the man who loved Louisa. These two Wills could never occupy the same universe.

On the beach, I could still hear the other hotel guests carousing. A woman’s high-pitched laughter at some inaudible joke. The crackle of distant fireworks. The shrieks they provoked. I wasn’t sure if I could actually taste a hint of acrid smoke in the air, or if it were just my imagination—my mind’s nose, if that were even a thing—but the effect was convincing enough.

Louisa’s life was so small compared to my old life. She hadn’t done a fraction of the things I’d done. While I was staking my claim at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa, she laid claim to nothing more than a closet-sized bedroom in her parents’ home and a job serving tourists at a second-rate café. It was my life’s purpose to see, to do, to conquer. And I conquered everything.

“Where there’s Will,” my friends used to joke, “There’s a way.”

Six months, I’d promised my mother after my failed suicide attempt. In that time, Louisa and my family tried to fill my days with excitement and action—a poor man’s facsimile of the life I once led. Although they were simply trying to be kind, pretending my life could be what it used to be was almost more maddening than anything else. I needed them to acknowledge that although some form of my body survived, Will Traynor was dead and would never be coming back. Trying to recreate my old life would never work.

And yet, there was Louisa.

I pictured her now on her side, asleep in her bed, knees pulled up high, clutching a pillow in her arms. Perhaps she cried herself to sleep after running from the beach to her room. Perhaps she was still awake, clenching and unclenching her hands, cursing the day we met. The thought pained me.

Louisa, the once-invisible-now-visible girl, came to love me only if I crossed that rainy street at the exact right moment two years ago.

And if Louisa herself were once invisible to me, were there other things invisible to me as well? Perhaps there was a whole host of unseen things that might now be seen. Perhaps I was so determined never to let the world pass me by that I passed the world by.

Louisa, with her crazy shoes and her black-and-yellow striped tights, lost to me if not for the accident. Entirely too small for me to see.

When did I decide that small was inherently less? I wondered.

I must have been young. Even as a child, my parents’ wealth afforded me such extravagant possibilities—winter vacations skiing in the Alps, weekly equestrian lessons. I never bothered with anything that seemed ordinary.

I spent so much time criticizing Louisa over the past six months for all of the things she was afraid to do, jealous that she could still live the big life I lost—if she would only seize it. But was I guilty too? Was I afraid to live an ordinary life?

The first time she shaved my face clean, her fingertips grazed my skin, adjusted the fold in my collar. She barely touched me while she worked. At the time, this was just more evidence of my own physical failings. I couldn’t even shave my beard without help. But there was a measured way she wiped my face when she was done, with the same care one might reserve for handling something precious. Would I have ever let a woman touch me like that if I weren’t disabled? Did I invest in obvious thrills at the expense of humbler joys—the ordinary that only through experience might reveal itself to be extraordinary, just like Louisa herself? My wealth and privilege allowed me to see everything I might ever want to see—except what was right in front of me.

Alone, in that dark hotel room, the noise from the beach finally quieting, I questioned for the first time whether all dependence should be counted as loss. Or was the breaking that took place more like a seed that must shatter completely before new life can emerge?

As this thought came over me, the faint rhythmic ticking of a leaky faucet kept pace with my pulse. For two years, I resented every single heartbeat. But now, there were entire days I didn’t feel like dying.

If the old me could scale a 90° peak, couldn’t I find a way to continue just a bit further? Would my own life be the one summit I never reached?

Louisa, my visible girl. What other things have I missed?

I bandied on for so long about how this was my choice to make. But the thing about having a choice is that you can also make the wrong one.

The somber blues of the night would soon be giving way to subtler tones. And those subtler shades would soon be giving way to sunlight that would break through the thinly veiled windows. When that happened, Nathan would come and dress me, and help me into my wheelchair, and I would press my good hand forward on the motor’s control and roll myself over the dense hotel carpet until I reached the lobby. Louisa would be waiting for me, unlikely to make eye contact, but my own eyes would stay on her. They would follow her even as she avoided mine.

How odd that only through the loss of one ability did I gain a new type of sight.

I couldn’t promise her forever. I couldn’t promise I wouldn’t choose to end my life before sickness or time stepped in. But I could give her at least six more months. Not to appease her, like I did for my parents, but because it was my choice to make.

These next six months, I wouldn’t live a shadow of the life I once had, trying and failing to revive the past. But perhaps there was new life hidden inside the smaller-seeming things if I were willing to look for it, and perhaps those six months would give way to six more, and those six to another, until they kept expanding and growing and my life would be big again and I wouldn’t need to keep count anymore.

After all, I was Will. Maybe I would find a way.

Mark Yakich’s Poetry: A Survivor’s Guide, Review by Intern Elijah Tubbs

images“Inspiration comes after writing, not before,” Yakich states in his new book Poetry: A Survivor’s Guide. I stumbled over this for a few moments because traditionally we are made to believe that the formula is a.) become inspired, b.) now write. But really I think Yakich is saying all inspiration can do is make the poem better through the revision process, where the writer can then pull from the various resources given to them. The first time a poem is written needs to be wholly from the inner gut of the writer. I find this to be true in my own writing, a lot of people probably do, even though I hadn’t thought about it before picking up this book. Yakich will tell you the opposite of what everyone else does, making you re-think not only poetry, but also writing and the world of writing in general. It is his honest and “unconventional” advice that make Poetry: A Survivor’s Guide a memorable and valuable experience.

There are a lot of “craft” books on poetry, (Whatever that word craft means? As if writing is equivalent to a macaroni pinwheel or scrapbooking, etc.) most notably The Triggering Town by Victor Hugo or The Virtues of Poetry by James Longenbach. Unlike many books on writing though, Yakich’s Poetry: A Survivors Guide—I’m so happy it’s a survivor’s guide and not this bougie, talked up craft book that only academic folk can parse out—will fit right into a poet’s life like the first time they read Whitman’s Song of Myself and actually understood it.

Unfortunately, in many books like this, we find the author putting themselves in front of the work. Look at me, look at me! It turns into an ego thing, a mine is bigger than yours. “Critics will try to tell you ranking is for experts and disappointment for amateurs . . .. ”  Yakich tears apart those people who make poetry not for everyone, specifically when talking about The Best American Poetry series that is released once a year. “There are usually some very good poems in the collection; 1994 was particularly a fine year. Still, a more accurate title for the series would be something like A Clutch of Unconcatenated Poems That a U.S. Poet Kinda Enjoyed in the Small Hours Before Drifting off to Sleep.”

“There is no accounting for taste. What one reader admires, another disdains… Don’t pretend to love a poem you really find dull. Don’t be afraid of disliking a great poem or poet.”

Whether you are new to poetry or experienced, this book uncovers things about the poem that you did not know or understand or remember. Yakich’s advice and observations on poetry are real, they’re meaningful, they’re not pretentious and they’re for the greater good of poetry and its writers. “Someday, when all your material possessions will seem to have shed their utility and just become obstacles to the toilet, poems will still hold their value.”

Yakich wrote this for his students, I am a student, this is the most genuine book on poetry I have come by. This book tackles every ounce of the poem and the poem in the real world: knowing the poem, reading the poem, writing the poem, publishing the poem, reviewing the poem. It really is a survivor’s guide and all of us poets and poetry readers can get something from it.

Reading this survivor’s guide will make you feel why you fell in love with the poem. Not only will it remind you why you fell in love, Yakich’s smart, playful, humble and sometimes brash words towards the poetry will make you realize (hopefully you already knew) the importance of the art in your life, others, and the social setting.

“Poetry’s irrelevance, therefore, becomes its importance,” he says.