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new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

Essays encourage personal quests; Yale Series of Younger Poets winner

Essays on new trajectories

About three dozen authors explore the question of how the unpredictable has set them on new trajectories in the surprising and expansive collection of essays, Strange Attractors: Lives Changed by Chance,’’ out this week from the University of Massachusetts Press.

The situations and encounters are as varied as the voices telling the tales, and Edie Meidav, who edited the volume with Emmalie Dropkin, opens the book up with a beaming opening essay that reminds us that “quest is hardwired into our marrow” and when we embark on one “we swap our past selves for a fantasia of the future.”


R.O. Kwon’s essay “Conspirators” is a luminous telling of the part-thrill, part-drain of falling for a travel writer on a subway ride on Halloween. Quintan Ana Wiskwo’s potent dreamscape, “Coyote on Holy Mesa,” asks: “What is buried in our soil that is not yet dead? . . . What part of the story has not been mistold?”

Each essay reckons with contradictions, consequences, and risks. The moving, muscular collection holds an unexpected sort of magic, a sparkling nudge to stay open to change.

Jill Osier.

Yale honors younger poets

“Beginning is not an origin,” writes Yanyi in The Year of Blue Water,’’ winner of the 2018 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. The collection of mostly prose poems, slated to be released March 26 by Yale University Press, was chosen by Carl Phillips and shines with the real — ramen, the feminist Internet, silence, the violin. It candidly and directly explores gender, racism, the ways we begin ongoing metamorphosis, as well as “the impulse to hide how much space you need. The impulse to hide what you need.” Throughout, Yanyi is in conversation with Louise Glück, Robert Hass, Agnes Martin. The lines hold power in their understatement and simplicity, a glittering sort of matter-of-factness. The Yale press recently announced that this year’s winner was Jill Osier’s collection, “The Solace Is Not the Lullaby.’’ It will be published next year. The contest is open to emerging poets who have not published a book of poetry and who live in the United States.


‘Inspired’ event for Mass Poetry

Mass Poetry holds its annual fund-raising event, Evening of Inspired Leaders, on March 25, bringing notables to the stage to read a favorite poem. WBUR’s Meghna Chakrabarti will emcee, and participants include singer Amanda Palmer, author Neil Gaiman, Boston’s chief of arts and culture Kara Elliott-Ortega, Broad Institute president Eric Lander, Boston Public Library president David Leonard, Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer, Massachusetts State Senate President Karen Spilka, 2017’s National Teacher of the Year winner Sydney Chafee, and others. The event takes place at 7 pm at the Huntington Theatre in Boston. Tickets are $25-$250.

Coming out

How To Love a Country’’ by Richard Blanco (Beacon)

“A Change of Time” by Ida Jessen, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken (Archipelago)

Zora and Langston: A Story of Friendship and Betrayal’’ by Yuval Taylor (Norton)

Pick of the week

Julia Caudle at An Unlikely Story recommends Literary Landscapes: Charting the Worlds of Classic Literature,’’ edited by John Sutherland (Black Dog & Leventhal): “Equally descriptive and analytical, ‘Literary Landscapes’ travels across the literary canon to show how place has shaped literature’s most famous stories and how place becomes a character itself. Not to mention, the beautiful illustrations.”

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Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at