The Book Review

Poems in Practice and in Theory

Episode Summary

Elisa Gabbert talks about her poetry criticism and her own poems, and Ian Johnson discusses Wang Xiaobo’s novel “Golden Age.”

Episode Notes

Elisa Gabbert, the Book Review's On Poetry columnist, visits the podcast this week to discuss writing about poetry and her own forthcoming collection of poems, her fourth, “Normal Distance.”

“When I’m writing what I would call nonfiction or an essay or just pure prose, I’m really trying to be accurate,” Gabbert says. “I’m not lying, I’m really telling you what I think. There’s very minimal distance between my persona on the page and who I really am. And then when I’m writing poetry, that persona really takes on more weight. I’m definitely creating more distance, and it really feels more like fiction or even more like theater, I might say. I’m really more creating a character that’s going to be speaking this monologue I’m writing.”

Ian Johnson visits the podcast to talk about his review of “Golden Age,” a novel by Wang Xiaobo recently translated by Yan Yan. The novel, set against Mao’s Cultural Revolution, made waves in China when it was originally published there in the 1990s.

“It was controversial primarily because of sex, there’s a lot of sex in the novel,” Johnson says. “The sex is not really described in graphic detail; this isn’t Henry Miller or something like that. It’s more like they’re having sex to make a point: that they’re independent people and they’re not going to be trampled by the state. And it’s very humorous — he talks about sex using all kinds of euphemisms, like ‘commit great friendship,’ stuff like that. It’s meant to be a sort of parody, a somewhat absurd version of a romance.”

Also on this week’s episode, Elisabeth Egan and Dave Kim talk about what people are reading. John Williams is the host.

Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

“Time Shelter” by Georgi Gospodinov, translated by Angela Rodel

“The Displacements” by Bruce Holsinger

“The Annotated Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum, edited by Michael Patrick Hearn

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