Poems in practice and in theory

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

“When I write what I would call non-fiction or an essay or just pure prose, I really try to be specific,” Gabbert says. “I’m not lying, I’m really telling you what I think. There is very little distance between my character on the page and who I really am. And then when I write poetry, this character really takes on more weight. I definitely create more distance, and it really feels more like fiction or even more theater, I might say. I’m really creating more of a character that’s going to speak this monologue that 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, opposed to Mao’s Cultural Revolution, made waves in China when it was first published there in the 1990s.

“It was controversial mainly because of the sex, there’s a lot of sex in the novel,” Johnson says. “Sex isn’t really depicted in graphic detail; it’s not Henry Miller or anything like that. It’s more like they’re having sex to make a point: that they’re independent people and won’t be trampled on by the state. And it’s very humorous – he talks about sex using all sorts of euphemisms, like “befriending”, stuff like that. It’s meant to be a kind of parody, a somewhat absurd version of a romance.

Also in 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”:

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this episode and the book review podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected].


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