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Johns Hopkins: Poetry and Fiction

John T. Irwin, General Editor

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The Conference on Beautiful Moments

Stories by Richard Burgin

The Chicago Tribune has called Richard Burgin “among our finest artists of love at its most desperate,” a critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer dubbed him “one of America’s most distinctive storytellers . . . I can think of no one else of his generation who reports the contemporary war between the sexes with more devastating wit and accuracy.” Through an extraordinarily vivid and variegated set of characters, The Conference on Beautiful Moments, Burgin’s sixth collection of stories, continues his daringly dark yet often humorous exploration of these themes, as well as our mysterious quest for truth, success, and identity. In the gently satiric “Jonathan and Lillian,” a movie star throws a dinner party with very different meanings for her biographer, her butler and ex-lover, and herself. In “Cruise,” an aging straight man befriends a young gay man. Together they meet on their cruise ship’s deck to confess to each other “the worst thing they have ever done.” In the title story, a journalist sent to investigate a conference formerly devoted to discussing beauty in the arts discovers it has turned into something considerably more sinister. In The Conference on Beautiful Moments, Burgin writes with equal compassion and insight about the homeless and the wealthy, prostitutes and businessmen, an autistic child and an art forger. His characters are masterfully illuminated by their interior narratives, which burst sharply into conversations at once intimate and calculated.

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Couldn't Prove, Had to Promise

poems by Wyatt Prunty

In Couldn’t Prove, Had to Promise, Wyatt Prunty ushers readers into a seesaw world, one that teeters between small fables of childish misgivings and adult assurances. Alternately shadowed and illuminated by nostalgia, this deft, witty volume brings together seventeen of Prunty’s recent poems, seven of which have been previously published in Poetry, the Hopkins Review, the Kenyon Review, and Blackbird. In “Crescent Theater, Schenectady, NY,” a silent-movie accompanist reads his foreign newspaper after work as he listens, ever the outsider, “to his children using English / For everything they wish.” In “Rules,” a small girl, told she can’t go to the school nurse “every time some bad thing happens,” plaintively wonders, “Where do you go?” And in “Making Frankenstein,” a boy who has cajoled his parents into letting him see The Curse of Frankenstein wakes to a nightmare. His father bans horror films as “too anatomical”; “What’s anatomical?” the boy wonders. Given a book that catalogs diseases, the worst of which come “from intimate contact,” he is horrified by his father’s explanation of grownup intimacy: “That’s how you made your way into this world.” Moving from a wry portrait of a husband—musing on mortality—whose Christmas tie lands in the gravy, to “Reading the Map,” which grapples with the cartography of love, to “ad lib,” a farewell that redefines farewell, these poems burnish the small triumphs and fears that fill our daily lives with humor and pathos. The book closes with a long, four-part poem, “Nod,” which transports readers to a parking lot in July: an asphalt-as-inferno where Cain the cracker, or adversary-as-initiator, the pleuritic voice of disappointment, names the ways inversion makes a lie reliable and works people best as, like a joke or discount price, “It makes you feel you’re getting more by giving less.” Funny, raw, and colorfully musical, “Nod” plays what teeters, like a tuning fork.

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Don't Think

Stories by Richard Burgin

Five-time Pushcart Prize winner Richard Burgin’s stories have been praised by the New York Times Book Review as "eerily funny, dexterous, and too haunting to be easily forgotten," with "characters of such variety that no generalizations about them can apply." In Don’t Think, his ninth collection of short fiction, Burgin offers us his most daring and imaginatively varied work to date. The stories explore universal themes of love, family, and time, examining relationships and memory—both often troubled, fragmented, and pieced back together only when shared between characters.

In the title story, written in propulsive, musical prose, a divorced father struggles to cling to reality through his searing love for his highly imaginative son, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. In "Of Course He Wanted to Be Remembered," two young women meet to commemorate the death of a former college professor with whom they were both unusually close—though in very different ways. In "V.I.N.," a charismatic drug dealer tries to gain control of a bizarre cult devoted to rethinking life’s meaning in relation to infinite time, while in "The Intruder," an elderly art dealer befriends a homeless young woman who has been sleeping in his basement.

Together, the nine stories in Don’t Think illuminate the astonishing fact of existence itself while justifying the Philadelphia Inquirer’s assessment that Burgin is one of America’s most distinctive storytellers.

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The Empire of the Dead

Tracy Daugherty

In the spare and deliberate stories in The Empire of the Dead, through situations both comic and bluntly melancholy, the future remains open for people—but at an indeterminate cost. Daily, characters weigh their indecision against the consequences of choice. Through a series of five linked stories, we meet Bern, a New York City architect yearning for a return to “first principles”—the “initial euphoria, the falling-in-love” that led him to consider a life devoted to sheltering others. In his ministrations to colleagues and friends, his memories of magical building feats now in the past, he learns the limits and the expansiveness of joy and need. In another tale, we meet a young painter in a Gulf Coast refinery town struggling to differentiate beauty from affliction. His sister’s encounter with the singer Janis Joplin causes him to reconsider the nature of saintliness. And in the novella “The Magnitudes,” a planetarium director, grieving over the unexpected loss of his parents, must learn how much of the universe—both the real sky beyond his reach and the firmament cast upon the planetarium dome—he can control. Like the other characters in Tracy Daugherty’s masterful collection, he moves through spaces at once sacred and spoiled, within cities, deserts, and other strange environments, reckoning, taking soundings, trying to find firm footing in the world.

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In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus

New and Selected Poems, 1955–2007

X. J. Kennedy

For more than half a century, readers and listeners have taken special pleasure in the poetry of X. J. Kennedy. In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus is an ample gathering of his best work: memorable songs, startling lyrics, poems that tell poignant stories, character studies that vie with those of Edwin Arlington Robinson. A master of verbal music, Kennedy has long been praised for his wit and humor; as this collection reveals, many of his poems also reach surprising depths and heights. Donald Hall comments, "many of Kennedy's poems are wit itself. His wit is his way of understanding. No one else writing is capable of the effects in which Kennedy specializes." This book skims the cream from several slim volumes and six past collections including the prize-winning Nude Descending a Staircase, Cross Ties, and The Lords of Misrule. It restores to print over fifty poems unavailable for decades and adds more than two dozen new poems collected for the first time. Kennedy has long occupied a unique place in American poetry; In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus now offers the first comprehensive collection to span his entire career.

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In Late Light

poems by Brian Swann

There is a clearing by a certain stone where images flow and are worth stopping for. I have stayed there almost all day in silence until night remembered what belonged to it and its shadows started to take back its own. I’ve found it hard to walk away as starlight infused daisies and the stone itself began to feel like a star so, although what I have done with my life may not be much, for a while it seemed to be in line. The poems of In Late Light situate objects and experiences (both large and small, concrete and abstract) within Brian Swann’s perspective of the natural world. Sixty-two poems presented in four sections explore his life—from early days to the present—evoking friends and family on two continents. His sharp, bright imagery affirms the unique beauty of our world and explores its invisible mysteries.

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The Jew of Home Depot and Other Stories

Max Apple

This is the first collection to appear in twenty years from one of America's best short story writers. His thirteen stories are marvelous—funny, heartbreaking, and wise by turns, and on occasion all three at once. Praise for Max Apple: "Apple may not be as well known a humorist as Russell Baker, Calvin Trillin, or Garrison Keillor. But he should be. He belongs in the same crowd."—Newsday, reviewing Free Agents "Apple is an amiable, good-hearted, sweet-tempered writer whose short pieces occupy an agreeable territory somewhere between fact and fiction."—Washington Post Book World, reviewing Free Agents "A tender, tough, and totally compelling account."—USA Today, reviewing Roommates "The slim, sweet slices of this particular Apple pie are always served warm and contain generous amounts of humor, off-the-wall inventiveness, and down-to-earth intelligence."—Cleveland Plain Dealer, reviewing Free Agents

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The Lousy Adult

stories by William J. Cobb

In The Lousy Adult, William J. Cobb reveals a world where love and respect collide with achievement and desire, a world where people often get what they want, yet must pay the price of alienation, remorse, and retribution in order to obtain it. In “The Sea Horse,” a teenage boy defends a battered woman against her abusive husband while he deals with the loss of his own parents. In “Warsaw, 1984,” a young man travels through Europe and ends up in a relationship in a country he can’t understand. The Lousy Adult presents ten short stories about defrocked priests, guilty electricians, hardened mothers, and other colorful characters who portray the complexity of the human race.

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The Night Guard at the Wilberforce Hotel

poems by Daniel Anderson

The poems in The Night Guard at the Wilberforce Hotel navigate the evanescent boundaries between the public and the private self. Daniel Anderson’s settings are often social but never fail to turn inward, drowning out the chatter of conversation to quietly observe the truths that we simultaneously share and withhold from one another—even as we visit friends, celebrate a young couple’s union, or eavesdrop on the conversations of others. These twenty poems include meditations on teaching hungover undergraduates, wine tasting among snobs, and engaging the war on terror from the comfort of the suburbs. They are alternately driven by ornamental language that seeks to clarify and crystallize the beauties of our common world and the poet’s faith that fellowship ultimately trumps partisanship. Even as they weigh and measure the darkness of the heart and the sometimes rash and stingy movements of the mind, the poems refrain from pronouncing judgment on their characters. As much as they ponder, they also celebrate in exact, careful, and loving terms the haunting and bracing stimuli from which they originate. Praise for Drunk in Sunlight "His poems are lusciously detailed and his voice is fully developed."—American Poet "Milieu, narrator, and the dreads and yearnings concealed in both, compose much of the book's interest. But there's another important feature of these poems, and that is Anderson's skill with versification."—Poetry

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Ocean State

stories by Jean McGarry

The stories of Ocean State roll over the reader like a wave. Family pleasures, marriage, the essential moments and mysteries of a seemingly ordinary world that break into magical territory before we can brace ourselves—Jean McGarry puts us in life’s rough seas with what the New York Times has called a “deft, comic, and devastatingly precise” hand. Praise for Jean McGarry "A gifted observer, records with fidelity the daily minutiae of life and introspection."—Publishers Weekly "Ms. McGarry's stories have the feel of paintings by Edward Hopper. Her characters are solitudinous and lonely, rarely funny, but they often carry with them, even in their defeat, a certain dignity. She is a writer who honors the human condition."—Baltimore Sun "McGarry's thickly layered prose, with its stunning emotional accuracies, is always just on the verge of exploding into dream or fantasy."—Women's Review of Books "At her best, McGarry illuminates our quirky, flawed selves and neighbors, and makes us nod even as we sigh."—Providence Journal "McGarry's prose is fresh, her plots unpredictable, and her dialogue shimmeringly wry . . . Reading McGarry's stories is to be surprised and delighted."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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