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NEW ENGLAND LITERARY NEWS

From the mind of a cat; the return of the Mass. Poetry Festival; a look at some upcoming titles

Karl Stevens's new graphic memoir is told from the perspective of a philosophical, dream-traveling cat named Penny.
Karl Stevens's new graphic memoir is told from the perspective of a philosophical, dream-traveling cat named Penny.Karl Stevens

A cat’s tale

“Is it possible to occupy a different world simultaneously? Is time so elastic? What is the other me doing right now?” So questions Penny, a mordant and wide-minded philosophical cat in Boston-based artist Karl Stevens’s new graphic memoir “Penny” (Chronicle). Penny recollects her rough life on the streets before being brought to the relative ease of domestication with two humans, swinging back and forth between savoring her easeful life and longing to live out her animal instincts. “Is this vision of the ‘outside world’ a real thing? Or is it a hologram used to amuse me?” From off-panel, her people nudge her, “Do the cute thing that we love.” Besides capturing the mind of this cat — “every hour is a death dance with the unquenchable” — Stevens’s beautiful drawings capture her feline physicality, her snoozings, leapings, crouchings, cleanings. The book showcases Stevens’s keen eye for detail: bottles of shampoo, rumples in blankets, floorboard grain in wood, as he mixes apartment scenes with Penny’s wild dreamlife and trippy catnip-fueled entries into other realms.

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Poetry fest returns

The last Massachusetts Poetry Festival took place in 2018, the tenth anniversary of the event. It’s back this spring, and the virtual festival brings more than 100 poets participating in over 50 events. Some of the headliners include Naomi Shihab Nye, Victoria Chang, Martín Espada, Tyehimba Jess, Dara Wier, Jos Charles, and Ariana Reines. Opening this Thursday, May 13 and running through Sunday, May 16, the event offers up a rich menu of workshops, readings, panel discussions, as well as a few new events including a Poetry and Pets event, an online ekphrastic poetry gallery, and an audio walking tour. Discussions span a range of topics and themes: “Art in Plain Sight; Writing in Response to Massachusetts Murals”; “New Elegies”; “Ecopoetry: Words in Balance”; “Crossing Dimensions with Indigenous Poets”; “To Play is to Collaborate is to Queer”; “Called Back: A Virtual Emily Dickinson Poetry Walk”; and “Poetry & Ice Cream,” among dozens of other offerings from dozens of poets including Chen Chen, Charles Coe, Kirun Kapur, George Abraham, Chekwube Danladi, Mark Doty, Rebecca Morgan Frank, Jonathan Galassi, Matthew E. Henry, and Lloyd Schwartz, to name a fraction of those presenting. Suggested donation for tickets is $40 or pay-what-you-can; it’s free for students. For a complete schedule and to register, visit festival.masspoetry.org.

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Ghost ship

Cambridge-based author Joan Wickersham (“The Suicide Index,” “The News from Spain”) is working on a collection of poems centered on the Swedish warship Vasa. It set sail for the first time in 1628, sank 20 minutes later, and sat under water in the Stockholm harbor until the 1950s when it was pulled from the deep and restored. “Conversations with a Shipwreck,” a digital exhibition presented by the Scandinavia House in New York City, pairs Wickersham’s work with photographs by her collaborator Adam Davies. The viewer listens to her words — “This gloom is the gloom of fathoms”; “sense of unseen land that’s out there” — and sees the haunting, atmospheric images of boat skeleton, its architecture and intricate carvings, the ghostly atmosphere of something — and someones — lost and found again. Across each of 12 images paired with Wickersham’s elegant, elegiac prose poems, is a sense that “a collision is coming with the finite.” The exhibition is on view online through June 5. Visit conversationswithashipwreck.com.

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Coming Out

Acrobatby Nabaneeta Dev Sen, translated from Bengali by Nandana Dev Sen (Archipelago)

There a Revolution Outside, My Loveedited by Tracy K. Smith and John Freeman (Vintage)

The Plotby Jean Hanff Korelitz (Celadon)

Pick of the Week

Giovanni Boivin at the Book Loft in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, recommends “Rabbits” by Terry Miles (Del Rey): “I devoured this book in a matter of days. I am still bound up in the story and am questioning everything. Alternate Reality/Multiverse meets giant scavenger hunt with deadly risks. Even those who live don’t necessarily make it through to the other side whole. How much was real? How much was just part of a massively elaborate game? I still am not sure.”