Which Way to the Exit?: Granta Issue 118 Launch Party at McNally Jackson

1. Can you guess who the comedian is? You’re right, it’s Katie McKenna! Beside her: John Freeman, stone-faced editor of Granta. 2. Peter Yeoh, Asia editor, Glass magazine, and Christie Grotheim, writer and graphic designer. I told them to look like they were having fun.

I showed up at McNally Jackson last night to attend The Way Out, the launch party for Granta 118: Exit Strategies. For John Freeman, Granta editor and the evening’s emcee, the title suggested the precise way to end a poem so that “meaning echoes around you.” For me and an embarrassed audience member, it was exactly what we were wishing for — but not because of the poetry. I spilled wine on two people before I’d taken any pictures. The other person fell out of her chair and into a puddle of wine mid-reading. As John said later, “Our poetry knocks people over.” He was right. I’m glad I didn’t run out in shame.

1. Family/friend matters: Angela Lang; web editor, writer, slightly blurry; Luz Marambio, supporting her sister (get it?); Soledad Marambio, exhausted from reading in two languages. 2. Rowan Ricardo Phillips, poet, critic, translator, dashing dude. He complimented my blazer! Beside him: Joel, designer and illustrator. I’ll admit it, I made them stand together.

Sophie Cabot Black began the evening with her poem “Pay Attention,” from a cycle on her “ongoing bout with atheism.” Black’s poem was inspired by her young daughter’s curiosity about the unknowable, and is suspended by a childlike sincerity that calls out to a God who may not be listening: “You are nowhere to be found, who make no noise.” She also read a love poem and a poem about financial crisis, both which tried to understand the inscrutable. If Black doesn’t answer questions, her interrogations make for subtle, delicate poetry.

Next was Paula Bohince reading her poem, “At Thirty.” Bohince explained that her Granta contribution followed her decision to escape the stress of the city and move back into her mother’s house, “feeling like a total failure.” Bohince mixed relaxation with resignation, presenting afternoons of microwaved food and naps and a poignant image of swimming among “patients doing recovery exercises.” I wish my visits to my mother were so productive.

1. In front: Poets Paula Bohince and Sophie Cabot Black. In back: the guy whose wine I knocked over. 2. John Freeman, Granta editor and master of introductions.

Ishion Hutchinson followed with “Station,” a poem describing a man haunted by the ghost of his father in a subway station. Hutchinson’s verse is alliterative and musical, with a Baudelairean darkness: “Stranger, father, cackling rat,” the speaker calls into the darkness of the station. I’ll think of Hutchinson’s image of a ghostly train pulling in on “its cold nerve of iron” while I wait at night for the Q. He told me he doesn’t write about New York because he’s too tempted to write about the subway, but “Station” offers a chilling perspective on a ubiquitous experience of the city.

Soledad Marambio was next, reading “sleeping far from home,” which appears in Granta’s Online Edition. She read the poem both in its original Spanish and in Granta’s English translation. But don’t be confused: “You can think of it as one poem, but it is two,” she said. Her poem, four minimalist sketches of a woman awakening away from home, was tantalizing in both languages.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips ended the evening with poems for Granta’s Online Edition. I liked “Abbington Square Park” so much that I’ll let its first lines speak for themselves: “I once had had a thought/ About a thought I once had had/ About whether it was natural/ For nature to seem so natural.” Phillips’s verse is full of word play and philosophical speculation. “Birds of Fire” asks whether the sun and moon are real, or whether the sky is just “the mind’s conjugation of ‘to live’/Or the brain’s long division of ‘to die’?” Both poems are in his forthcoming collection, The Ground, which I can’t wait to order.

Based on last night’s poetry, Granta is keeping up its reputation of being consistently stellar. I’m adding “Exit Strategies” and each poet’s collection to my ever-growing reading list, and you should too. Also, go to Granta’s next reading — even the folks covered in wine had fun.

Granta: The Magazine of New Writing #118: Exit Strategies

by John Freeman


— Sam Gold spends so much money on books that soon he’ll have to start eating them. His favorite episode of The Twilight Zone is “Time Enough at Last” because he doesn’t wear glasses.

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