Virtual Memories Show 401:
John Keene

“How do we think about the past in this country? What tends to be erased? Once we start to dig deeper into a story, we don’t wind up just in one rabbit-hole, but a warren of sorts.”

Author, translator, professor and MacArthur Fellow John Keene joins the show to talk about how voices are found and how they’re erased. We get into how Benedictine monks started him on the road to translation, which languages he wishes he had, the perils of knowing just enough of a language to get in trouble, and how translation trains one to let go of ego. We discuss his amazing but uncharacterizable fiction collection, Counternarratives (New Directions), along with his powerful essay, Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness, and how to explore Black representation across cultural boundaries. We also get into the performative aspects of BLM by corporations and institutions and would it would take to transform into real change, the impact of his MacArthur “genius” grant, why he’s trying to move away from Counternarratives’ narrative density in his new work, and more. Give it a listen! And go read Counternarratives!

“With George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and you go on throughout the list, and these moments remind us of how much still needs to be done, in terms of rethinking how this society functions, and our relationship to each other.”

“With Counternarratives, I wanted to write a book that was grounded in specificity but also pulled away from the self, from myself. Which runs counter to today’s trend for autofiction.”

“There’s no frictionless change.”

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Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

John R. Keene was born in St. Louis in 1965. He graduated from the St. Louis Priory School, Harvard College, and New York University, where he was a New York Times Fellow. In 1989, Mr. Keene joined the Dark Room Writers Collective, and is a Graduate Fellow of the Cave Canem Writers Workshops. He is the author of Annotations, and Counternarratives, both published by New Directions, as well as several other works, including the poetry collection Seismosis, with artist Christopher Stackhouse, and a translation of Brazilian author Hilda Hilst’s novel Letters from a Seducer. He is the recipient of many awards and fellowships—including a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award, the Windham-Campbell Prize, and the Whiting Foundation Prize for fiction. He teaches at Rutgers University-Newark.

Follow John on Twitter and Instagram and harass him about blogging more.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of John by Nina Subin. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 397:
Daniel Mendelsohn

“Each of my four books is secretly exploring a genre: lyric, epic, novel, and I’m not even sure what this one is, but I wrote it entirely to please myself.”

With Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate (UVA Press), Daniel Mendelsohn has written one of my favorite books of 2020. We get into Homer’s use of Ring Composition and how it shapes Three Rings, how this book grew out of his experience writing An Odyssey, why he chose François Fénelon, Eric Auerbach, and WG Sebald as the three exiled subjects of his book, and how we understand the relationship between “what happened” and “the story of what happened” (that is, how narration changes the nature of facts). We also get into how he managed to compress and capture just about all of his major themes in his briefest book, why Auerbach disliked ring composition, and what it says about Homeric vs. Hebrew — or optimistic vs. pessimistic — styles of story, how every story has more stories embedded in it, and why Istanbul may serve as the fusion of Athens & Jerusalem. We also get into Daniel’s pandemic experience and coping mechanisms for anxiety and dread, his mom’s involvement in Ken Burns’ upcoming documentary about the Holocaust in America, why translation is like a crossword puzzle for him, the negatives of focusing on STEM to the detriment of the liberal arts, and how we can both relate to Auerbach’s comment, “If it had been possible for me to acquaint myself with all the work that has been done on so many subjects, I might have never reached the point of writing.” Give it a listen! And go read Three Rings! (& check out our previous conversation!)

“I was very attracted to the idea of the way in which their own wandering lives ended up being analogs for the narratives they ended up being interested in.”

“For the writer, anything is a subject. Even nothing is a subject, so to speak.”

“Colleges are going to abandon the humanities and go for more STEM stuff than ever, because it’s ’employable’. The irony is that NEVER have we needed the humanities more, because that’s the stuff that tells you how to deal with these crises.”

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Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Daniel Mendelsohn teaches at Bard and is Editor-at-Large at The New York Review of Books. His books include An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic; The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million; How Beautiful It Is And How Easily It Can Be Broken: Essays, and, from New York Review Books, Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture, and Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones. His new book is Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate

There’s a longer version at his website.

Follow Daniel on Twitter and Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Daniel by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 394:
Henri Cole

“My poems are a kind of transcript of life as it is lived.”

Poet Henri Cole joins the show to celebrate his brand-new collection, Blizzard: Poems (FSG). We get into his evolution as a poet over the 10 volumes he’s published to date, the transformative year he spent in Japan, how the closet compelled queer poets to develop original emblems and symbols to convey their private experience (and his transcendent experience of reading James Merrill’s Christmas Tree), and how a fan letter from Harold Bloom gave him a foundation during some tough times. We also get into his wonderful 2018 memoir, Orphic Paris (NYRB), whether he misses France or California more during the pandemic, his affinity for literary pilgrimage (and a recent one he took to Elizabeth Bishop’s grave), his use of the sonnet form and his enjoyment of the constraints and parameters of the physical page, how he knows (or thinks he knows) when a poem is done, our mutual love of Roger Federer, and more! Give it a listen! And go read Blizzard: Poems & Orphic Paris!

“The journey of my life as a writer has been toward more pellucidness, or transparency. But maybe that’s the journey of everybody’s life.”

“I think when I was a young man, I used nature as a mask for private matters. As the closet disintegrated, I became more directly autobiographical.”

“As I age, the thing that’s saddest to me is having fewer and fewer poets to look up to, because so many have died in recent years.”

“Being linear is the thing that bores me quicker than anything.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Henri Cole was born in Fukuoka, Japan, in 1956. He has published nine previous collections of poetry, including Touch and Pierce the Skin; as well as a memoir, Orphic Paris; and he has received many awards for his work, including the Jackson Poetry Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Award, the Rome Prize, the Berlin Prize, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, and the Award of Merit Medal in Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He teaches at Claremont McKenna College. His new collection is Blizzard: Poems.

Follow Henri on Twitter.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Henri by someone else. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 393:
Betsy Bonner

With her new memoir The Book of Atlantis Black: The Search for a Sister Gone Missing (Tin House), author Betsy Bonner explores her sister’s mysterious death by overdose in a Tijuana hotel. We talk about how she knew she was ready to write this story, what it was like to look at her sister’s life like a detective rather than as a sibling, the history of trauma in her family and whether she considers herself a survivor, the process of rereleasing her sister’s music, and the ethics of writing a memoir with some shady characters and unreliable documents. We get into Betsy’s literary influences, the writers she plotzed over when she was Director at 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center, her pandemic life & what she misses about NYC, how her modes of writing differ from poetry to memoir to fiction, how the meaning of family changes over the course of The Book of Atlantis Black, and more. Give it a listen! And go read The Book of Atlantis Black!

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Betsy Bonner is the author of The Book of Atlantis Black, a memoir published by Tin House; and of Round Lake, a poetry collection published by Four Way Books. She is a former Director of the 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center, where she now teaches creative writing. She is a fellow of the MacDowell Colony and the T.S. Eliot House. She grew up in Chadds Ford, PA, and lives in southwestern VT.

Follow the linktree of The Book of Atlantis Black.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Betsy by Catherine Talese. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 383:
Everett Glenn

“My motivation? Kinda cookie-cutter: Desperate person doesn’t want to die of alcoholism, writes instead. That’s the blurb.”

Artist, cartoonist, and clotheshorse Everett Glenn joins the show from Berlin to talk about how narrating his life as a story helped him make (some) sense of his fragmented, chaotic upbringing (he talks more about that upbringing in this great conversation with Noah Van Sciver). We get into his evolution and influences as a cartoonist through his Unsmooth graphic novel and his recent amazing achievement of the 20-page story The Gigs (which you HAVE to read), how he skipped the idol-worship phase of literature, how Cool World and Ralph Bakshi blew his mind at an impressionable age, and how he deals with the self-eating snake of racial identity from the perspective of a Black American living in Germany. We also talk about the importance of design, the origins of his ligne claire, where his fantastic clothing sense comes from, how he learned tailoring in an attempt to get a visa, how the confidence it takes to push the fashion envelope can feed into confidence in other parts of life, and more! Give it a listen! And go read Unsmooth & The Gigs!

“Art school teaches you how to embody the idea that art is valuable.”

“Somerset Maugham was basically my dad. Khalil Gibran was my birth father and left me in Maugham’s hands.”

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“When it comes to race, it doesn’t matter what I think. I’ll always be a Black man in society. That’s something I can’t control.”

“I skipped the idol-worship stage of discovering literature. I went straight to ‘This is a person who had experiences and figured out how to use language to articulate those experiences.'”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Everett Glenn is a semi-reclusive American cartoonist living in Berlin, Germany. He works in various mediums, including drawing, painting, and designing fashion accessories. His work grows out of his tumultuous upbringing and personal experiences. His most recent works are the graphic novel Unsmooth (Floating World Comics) and the story The Gigs, anthologized in NOW #8 (Fantagraphics).

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Everett by him. It’s on my instagram.