A poetic elegy for slain journalist James Foley
In 2011, New Hampshire journalist James Foley was kidnapped in Libya and spent 44 days imprisoned before being released. In 2012, on Thanksgiving, he disappeared in Syria, and on August 19, 2014, he was beheaded by ISIS. Daniel Brock Johnson, poet, executive director of Mass Poetry, and Foley’s best friend, has written a collection of poems that documents and honors Foley’s life and death. “Shadow Act: An Elegy for Journalist James Foley” (McSweeney’s) is a grieving achievement, a collection of heaving force and tenderness, exploring “absence, presence, & the shining, alchemical ever-presence of absence.” The book includes fragments of Foley’s biography (titles of a novel-in-progress, the last voicemail, bits of his letters hidden in a shoe: “part of me wants to witness/ what the end will be, to report it”). The book excavates the time when a person missing is alive and dead at the same time, and the ongoing conversation after death is confirmed. Among the memories, character sketches, old stories, and adventures he shared with his friend, Johnson writes, too, of his life here and now, his children, eating raspberries, “sliced apples./ Lemonade./ This is our book/ of days.” Most haunting of all, the recounting of a party upon Foley’s return after his initial release from kidnapping, toasts, a white party tent, and “he stared off & through us/ like he saw something we couldn’t —”. Proceeds of the book will benefit the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation which “advocates for the freedom of all Americans held hostage abroad and promotes the safety of journalists worldwide.”
Boston-based artist adapts Jamie Lee Curtis film as a graphic novel
At 19 years old, Oscar-winning actress Jamie Lee Curtis had an idea for a story she wanted to tell, about the faltering relationship between humans and nature. Now, decades later, she’s brought that story to life in both film and graphic novel form. “Mother Nature” (Titan Comics) is a horror story of the environment, and Karl Stevens, a Boston-based artist, adapted the film into the graphic novel. The story, set in the Four Corners, where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona meet, follows activist Nova, whose father was killed in a mining accident, and Cynthia, who’s trying to salvage the legacy of Cobalt Energy by shifting its focus from mining oil and uranium to purifying water. The Earth force itself becomes a character, enacting its own set of violence and revenge. Stevens, in pen, ink, and watercolor, expresses the subtleties of human emotion in the slightest shifts of expression and posture; the splendor of the Southwestern sky; transcendent Diné visions; and moments of flesh-shredding gore (a hailstone penetrating someone’s skull; a body caught and crushed in the accordion of a scissor lift). Stevens’s use of color, his extraordinary precision of touch, and his ability to move between the hyper-real and the monstrous and otherworldly brings Curtis’s story about the natural world, what we extract from it, and what we leave behind, to rich and gripping life.
Academy of American Poets names two regional poets as 2023 fellows
The Academy of American Poets recently named its Poet Laureate Fellows for 2023. These 23 fellows from across the country will each receive $50,000 and they’ll create programs that emphasize and celebrate poetry in their communities. In New England, Oliver de la Paz of Worcester was named a fellow this year. De la Paz teaches at the College of the Holy Cross, and his most recent collection was “The Diaspora Sonnets” (Liveright). He’ll be collaborating with the Worcester County Poetry Association on the Rain Poetry Project, a public art installation across the city. In Portsmouth, N.H., award-winning poet Diannely Antigua was also named a fellow. She’ll develop the Bread & Poetry Project, honoring the Hoot Poetry Reading series and the Esther Buffler Poet-in-Residence program, both of which were created by former poets laureate in Portsmouth.
“Still Born” by Guadalupe Nettel, translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey (Bloomsbury)
“The Details” by Ia Genberg, translated from the Swedish by Kira Josefsson (Harpervia)
“Prophet” by Helen MacDonald and Sin Blaché (Grove Atlantic)
Pick of the week
Nancy Brown at RJ Julia Independent Booksellers in Madison, Conn., recommends “Taxi from Another Planet” by Charles S. Cockell (Harvard University): “The subtitle ‘Conversations with Drivers about Life in the Universe’ says it all. Short, random trips in a cab to an airport or conference is the venue for the insight of Everyman. Smart, funny, inquisitive, and perfectly human. AI couldn’t come up with these questions or observations about what may be out there in the universe.”