Epistle to a Godson by W.H. Auden

DEAR PHILIP. “Thank God for boozy godfathers”
you wrote in our guest-book, which was flattering:
     though I’ve reached the years when discretion
     calls for a yearly medical check-up,

who am I to avouch for a Christian
baby, far less offer ghostly platitudes
     to a young man? In yester times it
     was different: the old could be helpful

when they could nicely envisage the future
as a nameable settled landscape their children
     would make the same sense of as they did,
     laughing and weeping at the same stories.

This poem from 1969 was dedicated to Philip Spender, nephew of the poet Stephen Spender, a close friend of Auden’s.

Read more from Auden as we celebrate National Poetry Month

“At the age of twenty, Jacques Derrida took the entrance exams for the prestigious École Normale Supérieure a second time, having failed, as many students do, in his first attempt the previous year. Fueled by amphetamines after a sleepless week, he choked on the written portion and turned in a blank sheet of paper.”

Emily Eakin reviews a new biography that traces Derrida’s lifelong sense of exclusion and his complicated relation to first French and then American academics.

Photo: Jacques Derrida at the Sorbonne, June, 1979 (Martine Franck/Magnum Photos)

“At the age of twenty, Jacques Derrida took the entrance exams for the prestigious École Normale Supérieure a second time, having failed, as many students do, in his first attempt the previous year. Fueled by amphetamines after a sleepless week, he choked on the written portion and turned in a blank sheet of paper.”

Emily Eakin reviews a new biography that traces Derrida’s lifelong sense of exclusion and his complicated relation to first French and then American academics.

Photo: Jacques Derrida at the Sorbonne, June, 1979 (Martine Franck/Magnum Photos)

Mango Seedling by Chinua Achebe

Through glass window pane
Up a modern office block
I saw, two floors below, on wide-jutting
Concrete canopy a mango seedling newly sprouted
Purple, two-leafed, standing on its burst
Black yolk. It waved brightly to sun and wind
Between rains—daily regaling itself
On seed-yams, prodigally.

For how long?
How long the happy waving
From precipice of rainswept sarcophagus?
How long the feast on remnant flour
At pot bottom?
    Perhaps like the widow
Of infinite faith it stood in wait
For the holy man of the forest, shaggy-haired
Powered for eternal replenishment.
Or else it hoped for Old Tortoise’s miraculous feast
On one ever recurring dot of cocoyam
Set in a large bowl of green vegetables—
   These days beyond fable, beyond faith?
   Then I saw it
Poised in courageous impartiality
Between the primordial quarrel of Earth
And Sky striving bravely to sink roots
Into objectivity, mid-air in stone.

From the May 22, 1969 issue of the Review

“A hyperactive cutter and paster, Emily Dickinson repurposed scraps and clippings for original creative work, shifting—like Whitman, or perhaps like ambitious Facebook compilers today—from consumer to producer. Late in life, she wrote dazzling fragments of verse and prose on discarded envelopes, chocolate wrappers, and stray bits clipped from magazines and newspapers. These scraps functioned as something more than convenient notepads, encouraging spur-of-the-moment poetic spontaneity and the creative challenge of fitting stray thoughts to odd shapes of paper.”

Christopher Benfey: Scrapbook Nation

Photo: Emily Dickinson Collection/Amherst College

“A hyperactive cutter and paster, Emily Dickinson repurposed scraps and clippings for original creative work, shifting—like Whitman, or perhaps like ambitious Facebook compilers today—from consumer to producer. Late in life, she wrote dazzling fragments of verse and prose on discarded envelopes, chocolate wrappers, and stray bits clipped from magazines and newspapers. These scraps functioned as something more than convenient notepads, encouraging spur-of-the-moment poetic spontaneity and the creative challenge of fitting stray thoughts to odd shapes of paper.”

Christopher Benfey: Scrapbook Nation

Photo: Emily Dickinson Collection/Amherst College

“Mme Proust is seated, looking to the left, while her sons, young men in their twenties, stand on either side of her. They are beautifully dressed and have a look in their eyes that suggests the boulevard and the salon. There is something feline and sleek about the pair of them. It is easy to imagine why maman is so dour-looking and disapproving, her mouth firmly closed, her eyes fixed on the ground. She is a woman who knows what trouble looks like, and these boys are ready for trouble of the most sweet and tender and pleasurable kind.”

– Colm Tóibín, The Sweet Troubles of Proust

Photo: Bibliothèque Nationale de France

“Mme Proust is seated, looking to the left, while her sons, young men in their twenties, stand on either side of her. They are beautifully dressed and have a look in their eyes that suggests the boulevard and the salon. There is something feline and sleek about the pair of them. It is easy to imagine why maman is so dour-looking and disapproving, her mouth firmly closed, her eyes fixed on the ground. She is a woman who knows what trouble looks like, and these boys are ready for trouble of the most sweet and tender and pleasurable kind.”

– Colm Tóibín, The Sweet Troubles of Proust

Photo: Bibliothèque Nationale de France

On February 5, The New York Review celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with an evening at Town Hall in New York City. Before a packed crowd of 1,400 people, editor Robert Silvers introduced John Banville, Mary Beard, Michael Chabon, Mark Danner, Joan Didion, Daniel Mendelsohn, and Darryl Pinckney, who read from their past work in the Review and spoke about their relationship with the magazine, and its influence on their careers.

We’re pleased to present some highlights from the event, with photos by Beowulf Sheehan.

Happy Robert Burns Day! On January 25, Scots celebrate the poet’s birthday with haggis, whisky and bagpipes in a party that John Carey calls “an orgy of assertive nationalism that has nothing remotely to do with literature.” “If you ask a group of academic friends to list the great poets of the last two or three hundred years,” Carey writes, “it is quite likely that his name will not come up at all.” Yet for Burns’s biographer, the author of “O my luve’s like a red, red rose” and “To a Louse, On Seeing one on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church” is very much worth literary examination.

Happy Robert Burns Day! On January 25, Scots celebrate the poet’s birthday with haggis, whisky and bagpipes in a party that John Carey calls “an orgy of assertive nationalism that has nothing remotely to do with literature.” “If you ask a group of academic friends to list the great poets of the last two or three hundred years,” Carey writes, “it is quite likely that his name will not come up at all.” Yet for Burns’s biographer, the author of “O my luve’s like a red, red rose” and “To a Louse, On Seeing one on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church” is very much worth literary examination.

Zero Dark Thirty was constructed to bring viewers to the edges of their seats, and for many viewers it has succeeded in that respect. Its faults as journalism matter because they may well affect the unresolved public debate about torture, to which the film makes a distorted contribution.

Steve Coll: ‘Disturbing’ & ‘Misleading’

Photo: Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal on the set of Zero Dark Thirty (Jonathan Olley/Columbia Pictures)

Zero Dark Thirty was constructed to bring viewers to the edges of their seats, and for many viewers it has succeeded in that respect. Its faults as journalism matter because they may well affect the unresolved public debate about torture, to which the film makes a distorted contribution.

Steve Coll: ‘Disturbing’ & ‘Misleading’

Photo: Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal on the set of Zero Dark Thirty (Jonathan Olley/Columbia Pictures)

Heavily dependent on computer-generated imagery, The Hobbit has also been ballyhooed for introducing a new technology. Projected at forty-eight frames per second rather than the usual twenty-four, Jackson’s movie bombards the retina with twice the visual information of a standard film. Does it matter? It does seem as though this innovation has solved the problem of the dark polaroid glasses needed for stereo visions. The 3D struck me as brighter, if disconcertingly sharp. Others have described the image quality as thin or shiny. (The critic Dave Kehr called it “a heightened video look.”) In any case, this improvement was overwhelmed by the repetitive violence of the digital carnage and the ugliness of the CGI.

J. Hoberman on Tolkien vs. Technology

Photo: Martin Freeman, left, and Andy Serkis on the set of The Hobbit (Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Heavily dependent on computer-generated imagery, The Hobbit has also been ballyhooed for introducing a new technology. Projected at forty-eight frames per second rather than the usual twenty-four, Jackson’s movie bombards the retina with twice the visual information of a standard film. Does it matter? It does seem as though this innovation has solved the problem of the dark polaroid glasses needed for stereo visions. The 3D struck me as brighter, if disconcertingly sharp. Others have described the image quality as thin or shiny. (The critic Dave Kehr called it “a heightened video look.”) In any case, this improvement was overwhelmed by the repetitive violence of the digital carnage and the ugliness of the CGI.

J. Hoberman on Tolkien vs. Technology

Photo: Martin Freeman, left, and Andy Serkis on the set of The Hobbit (Warner Bros. Entertainment)

It might be useful to distinguish between pleasure and joy. But maybe everybody does this very easily, all the time, and only I am confused. A lot of people seem to feel that joy is only the most intense version of pleasure, arrived at by the same road—you simply have to go a little further down the track. That has not been my experience.
Zadie Smith on joy
In days like ours when help can still mean ruin and saving mean slaying, when evil and horrible acts can be given wrong names—”redevelopment” for people losing their homes, “defoliation” for forests and fields blasted with poison—a book which sharpens a sense of words, their power and proper meaning, is to be praised. For all the excesses of the Tolkien cult, there could be many a worse one.
Janet Adam Smith explains the enduring appeal of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional world, from our December 14, 1972 issue.
Cell phones are banned from public schools in New York City and students must store them in trucks outside the school during the day. The business of storing cell phones takes in around $22,800 a day, from students paying a dollar a day for storage. Francine Prose talked to students about the situation when she visited a high school in the Bronx recently.

"Why, the students asked, are the students in more prosperous neighborhoods unofficially allowed to ignore the ban, as long as they aren’t caught? And why are the poor kids in the eighty-eight New York schools that have been equipped with metal detectors forced to spend five dollars a week—an expense that, for some, means going without food?"

Why Are Poor Kids Paying for School Security? http://j.mp/XTq8xg

Photo: Students lining up to pay for cell phone storage near New York’s Washington Irving High School, September 27, 2012 (Tina Fineberg/AP Images)

Cell phones are banned from public schools in New York City and students must store them in trucks outside the school during the day. The business of storing cell phones takes in around $22,800 a day, from students paying a dollar a day for storage. Francine Prose talked to students about the situation when she visited a high school in the Bronx recently.

"Why, the students asked, are the students in more prosperous neighborhoods unofficially allowed to ignore the ban, as long as they aren’t caught? And why are the poor kids in the eighty-eight New York schools that have been equipped with metal detectors forced to spend five dollars a week—an expense that, for some, means going without food?"

Why Are Poor Kids Paying for School Security? http://j.mp/XTq8xg

Photo: Students lining up to pay for cell phone storage near New York’s Washington Irving High School, September 27, 2012 (Tina Fineberg/AP Images)

Furniture lay on the street in soggy, reeking heaps—the pathetically intimate sight of defiled mattresses and stuffed chairs mixed with mounds of foam, roof shingles, Halloween decorations, and soaked, grease-streaked insulation. Groups of people waited in ankle-high puddles for buses that seemed never to arrive. Here was a drowned cat, there a pit bull with flaming eyes chained to a wrinkled Ford. ‘We Shoot Looters’ read the sign on a house protected by a barricade of storm-mangled cars.
Michael Greenberg returns to the Rockaways, where he grew up, a week after Hurricane Sandy hit.