august 16–31, 2023


  • The Penguin Anthology of the Prose Poem, edited by Jeremy Noel-Tod
  • Evelyn Waugh, Decline & Fall
  • Evelyn Waugh, Vile Bodies
  • Alan Garner, Red Shift
  • Christian Wiman, He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, the Faith of Art
  • Claire Dederer, Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma
  • Erik Davis, High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies


  • Museo, directed by Alonso Ruizpalacios
  • Hail Satan?, dir. Penny Lane
  • The Last of Sheila, dir. Herbert Ross

The Penguin Anthology of the Prose Poem is a decent idea: a good general anthology of the history of the prose poem. There’s an interesting structural arrangement: it’s arranged in order by date, reverse chronologically, starting with the present and working its way back to the French 19th century. Predictably there’s a bit of jiggery-pokery over what a prose poem might consist of. Aside from arranging the poems in date of publication, however, there’s no historicizing whatsoever; one looks in vain for author bios or real contextualization. Instead, the prose poems are allowed to breathe free; unless you flip forward to the end of a poem, you might not know who it’s by when you start it. These aren’t terrible ideas in and of itself; however, the anthology sags under its persistent attempts to make an argument for the history of the British prose poem, almost all of which could be cut without great loss. I can imagine that it’s tempting to avoid the “first the French, then the New York School, then everybody” narrative! But the obvious highlights that everyone knows shine much brighter than the filler around them. 

Claire Dederer’s Monsters is a useful way of thinking about art and the people who made it; it worked especially well after re-reading Evelyn Waugh’s first two books, inspired by the LRB piece. I don’t think I’d actually read Decline & Fall since being assigned it in college (!); now the two books struck me as splitting the difference between Ronald Firbank and Henry Green without being as serious as either. There’s gratuitous racism in Decline & Fall: a punchline at the end of the chapter is that a main character’s boyfriend is . . . Black, which is clearly meant to be hilarious. A chapter or so of received minstrel jokes follows. Homophobia is used in the same way in Vile Bodies: a gay secondary character is meant to be a funny distraction. It’s hard to imagine any reader getting around this now – it struck me as odd that this wasn’t mentioned in Seamus Perry’s piece – read with Remote People, Waugh’s account of a trip to Ethiopia, written between these two, it’s hard not to see Waugh as repellent. 

I came to Erik Davis’s High Weirdness looking for contextualization of Carlos Castaneda, and an understanding of how people came to take him seriously. There’s a bit of that in this book, a very thorough investigation of Terrence McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson, and Philip K. Dick’s visionary experiences during the 1970s; I think I liked it most as a compendium of pointers to interesting things. I’m not quite convinced of the importance of McKenna and Dick’s attempts to think through what happened to them – the novels that came out of Dick’s experiences are interesting, though I’m not sure that context makes them deeper. Wilson’s work mostly passed me by, except through secondary adaptations – I can’t tell if reading through that would be worthwhile or not. 

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