The Art of Distance No. 21

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The Art of Distance

In March, The Paris Review launched The Art of Distance, a newsletter highlighting unlocked archive pieces that resonate with the staff of the magazine, quarantine-appropriate writing on the Daily, resources from our peer organizations, and more. Read Emily Nemens’s introductory letter here, and find the latest unlocked archive pieces below.

“It’s been a year of storms—political, viral, and, this past week, meteorological. At the Review, two of us lost power for a couple of days after Hurricane Isaias. But to paraphrase Emily Dickinson, the Daily—and our social media, our virtual events, and the production of the quarterly—could not stop for that. I felt lucky to be part of a team that didn’t hesitate for a second to offer help. Hopefully, as far as readers could tell, TPR didn’t miss a beat. And so I’m thinking a lot right now about the power of community. Throughout the pandemic and the attendant lockdown, through all the political agony, through the many major and minor crises of the past months, friends, kind strangers, public commentators, essential workers, shopkeepers, artists, and activists have been unusually generous with their time and energy, whether raising a virtual glass over Zoom, taking to the streets in solidarity, sending a donation where it’s needed, or helping to clear fallen trees. I hope you, too, are feeling the love of your community right now, and I hope these unlocked pieces from the Paris Review archive offer some much-needed respite or an opportunity to think deeply about what it means to support one another. Unlocked this week is all the work TPR has published by a writer who has been very much a part of this year’s pressing conversations, the poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong. Stay safe, and happy reading.” —Craig Morgan Teicher, Digital Director

Cathy Park Hong. Photo: Beowulf Sheehan.

Cathy Park Hong has been a regular Paris Review contributor for more than a decade. Her poems combine whimsy and humor with precise and often gymnastic linguistic manipulations to interrogate how words convey and carry history, community, and, most pointedly, racism. Her nonfiction debut, Minor Feelings, which came out earlier this year, is part memoir, part work of social criticism that explores Asian American identity and broadens Hong’s investigation of how language upholds—but also has the power to fight—hate and racism.

The Review has published Hong’s poems in three issues, and in 2020, Hong became not only a Paris Review author but an interviewer as well, conducting the Art of Poetry interview with Nathaniel Mackey in issue no. 232. But perhaps the best place to start your deep dive into Hong’s work is with this Daily excerpt from Minor Feelings, a meditation on the comedy of Richard Pryor:

In Pryor, I saw someone channel what I call minor feelings: the racialized range of emotions that are negative, dysphoric, and therefore untelegenic, built from the sediments of everyday racial experience and the irritant of having one’s perception of reality constantly questioned or dismissed.

These five poems, published since 2009, showcase Hong’s insight into the histories of words, her formal dexterity, and her ever-alert social conscience. They’re also always armed with irony and humor. Here are the first lines of each to whet your appetite for more.

Happy Days

“Garçon, you snore so rhapsodically but hup hup … ”

Trouble in Mind

“A heartvein throbs between her brows: Ketty-San’s … ”

The Vanishing

“I want to write like a man, probing … ”

From ‘Fort Ballads’

“The whole country is in a duel and we want no part of it … ”

Abecedarian Western

“Ate stew, shot a man … ”

Finally, there is Hong’s interview with the poet, novelist, critic, and National Book Award winner Nathaniel Mackey. In The Art of Poetry No. 107, Hong and Mackey find themselves to be fellow travelers along many roads, discussing their shared passions for postmodern poetic practice, the insider language of subcultures, and much more. At one point, they delve into the ways their poetry and criticism overlap. Mackey explains:

I’d say my criticism has informed my poetry very organically and intimately. It’s no accident, no coincidence, that the various writers and artists whose work is addressed in my criticism are those who have informed and influenced my writing. I went to school in their work. My criticism might be said to be my class notes.

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