Looking for the sublime in art, music, and words

How To Read Music

Vol.53 Issue 03
Cover of TLR's "How To Read Music" issue

Buy the ebook
A dot and an angosturian dash with an hermaphroditic hypodermic hyphen is all that’s needed nowadays, with maybe a word here and a blind spot there to help heavy-heads out of their frowsty mental beds. Here’s a poem, believe it or not:
— From The Readies by Bob Brown, 1930


Minna Proctor

Making art is about capturing the ineffable and articulating the unspeakable—facing the whole of everything, and selecting just those elements that will, with some combining and shaping, become something new.

In this issue, we assume all of the arts (literature, music, photography) have a common apparatus that sets them into motion… among artists, there is a creative denominator. We also assume that audiences—we readers, listeners, watchers—bring another creative impulse, a receptor denominator, to reading, listening, watching. We also assume that none of this can be taken for granted and that the making and receiving of art is a way of practicing the sublime.




Judy Rowe Michaels
the birds that night

A.P. Sullivan
Opus Contra Naturum
Sixth Epistle of the Virtual Apostle
Painted Walls of Mexico Calendar
So Dear, What Then Do You Think’s Happening in the Painting?

Nicholas Samaras
Psalm for the Song and the Singing
The Kidnapped Child Learns the Fundamental Structures of Music Theory

Dan Gutstein
For evening
One train pushes second train

Daneen Wardrop
A Walk Is a Way Not To Ask
A Balcony for Elegy
Speak to Wish

Nina Soifer
To the Writer on the Elevator

Jørgen Leth
Boredom: Seven poems around a theme
Translated by Martin Aitken

Maxine Patroni
The Problem of Describing Unrequited Love
A Poem about Wind

Peter J. Cooley
Rijksmuseum: Poem One
Caravaggio, “The Supper at Emmaus,” The National Gallery, London

Laura McCullough
Sometimes I Ache for Disambiguation
Women and the Syntactical World
God Is Queer

James Richardson
The Stars in Order Of

Robert Carnevale
Snow on Snow
Nothing To Say

Kelly Cherry
What the poet wishes to say


Percival Everett

Elena Poniatowska
Translated by George Henson

Noah Elliot Blake
How Saying Is Sometimes Saying All Is Right in This Universe
A Moment of Genius
Our Father’s Brain
You May Tell the Story of Your Aunt’s Death

Kelly Luce

Polly Buckingham
Monster Movie

Alex Stein
Blackberry Thickets: A Conversation with Josan
The Mundane, the Glorious, the Cat Familiar: A Conversation with Katy Byrd

Rachel Swearingen
Woman in Blue

John Oliver Hodges
Troutsky’s Parade

Aaron Shulman
Guide to the Boulevard of Foreseeable Museums

Marco Candida
Dream Diary
Translated by Elizabeth Harris


Alex Abramovich
Too Far Gone?

Katherine Lien Chariott
Daughters Made of Dust ‹Collateral Damage› Chip Livingston
Trashing Andy Warhol


Thomas E. Kennedy
In the Company of Angels
By Andrew McKay

Gilbert Sorrentino
The Abyss of Human Illusion
By Jeff Bursey

Alina Bronsky
Broken Glass Park
By Marion Wyce

Mary Jo Bang
The Bride of E
Louise Glück
A Village Life
By Renée Ashley

Maurya Simon
The Raindrop’s Gospel: The Trials of St. Jerome and St. Paula, A Novel in Verse
By Paul-Victor Winters

Maile Chapman
Your Presence Is Requested at Suvanto
By Jody Handerson

Anne Carson
By Ted Hamilton

Tess Gallagher
The Man from Kinvara
By Abigail Deutsch



Minna Proctor
Interview with
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein



Sharon Harper
Moon Studies And Star Scratches no. 5
June–September 2004. Saratoga Springs, New York; Middlesex, Vermont; Johnson, Vermont; Eden Mills, Vermont; Greensboro, North Carolina
(© 2004 Copyright Sharon Harper. Courtesy of Galerie Stefan Röpke, Cologne and Rick Wester Fine Art, New York.)

Long exposures in harsh climates, sunbursts, even skydiving—Sharon Harper’s dogged and sometimes daring working method lies somewhere in the midst of art, astronomy, and Outward Bound. Her large-format photographs are logical, understated, and bluntly expressive of the most inarticulate, moody mind states: the oneiric limbo of racing through the European countryside on a high speed train. The unsettling awe of a foggy shore at twilight. The startling hypnosis of a slowly shifting, starry night. The exquisite omen of darkened branches against a stormy sky, cracked suddenly by lightning. All of this she aptly bundles into the category of the sublime. And for man, standing always at the foot of the sublime looking up, art is the most potent, though approximate and abstract, response.

By art here one means tools, craft, systems—not inspiration. Paradoxically, photography, perhaps the most mechanical of mediums, has a closer relationship with chance than with system. Photography has historically prized the vanishing, captured, precise moment. But Harper’s work, especially the recent projects Moon Studies and Star Scratches and One Month, Weather Permitting, is durational. It has everything to do with the passage of time, of movement and shift, and the uniquely technical aspects of traditional photography. As she has written, these images “are not available to the eye until they are fixed on some photographic material.”

Harper’s signature “star scratches” are made from the shifting patterns of the open sky as revealed over repeat exposures on subsequent nights on large-format negatives. She trains the camera’s deliberate view on nature’s elusive breadth to suggest a specific emotional experience, and by virtue of inevitable mishaps—light leaks, cloud cover, windy nights—evinces how “the sublime resists imposed structure.” Her newest series, One Month, Weather Permitting, uses long, multiple exposures to capture the stealth but distinct movement of celestial bodies over Banff, Alberta. The images reveal strong, insistent star trails and a capricious—utterly alluring—moon.

Her project log discloses a month of cold and foggy nights in Banff. The September 18 entry reads: “0 Exposure; Rain, Snow.” The next night: “50 minute exposure; 3 hour and 20 minute exposure (No Moon. Moving Clouds.)” Two good, long exposures followed on the night of the 20th and a single 45-minute one on the next. The entry concludes: “Original 4×5 silver gelatin negative.” The picture itself is one of the sparest in the series: four extremely distinct and randomly intersecting perfect lines and a dense grey backdrop cross hatched with many faint traces, like cat hairs left behind on an occasionally preferred dark seat cushion.

Two weeks later (October 5 and October 6), a combined ten-hour exposure over two moonless, overcast nights gives way to a tequila sunrise-tinted glow; the star scratches slice out of the light like shooting embers. If the scratches were less provocatively askew in their relative trajectories, the scene would look like a shot from the lurid storyboard of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris. The trails, Harper writes, “suggest the illusion of scratches made directly onto film.” Here is a physical language, a manifest footprint, for those miracle points of light composed of nothing more palpable than gassy explosions. She calls these “chance compositions” because they are ultimately subject to unyielding nature, but while dominated by the whims of shifting skies, what we’re actually looking at is a “strictly photographic” phenomenon. These images drag the universe down to touch us, but we’ll never see them in nature.

—Minna Proctor


(This article was commissioned by and first published in BOMB Magazine, Issue #111, Spring 2010. © Bomb Magazine, New Art Publications, and its Contributors. All rights reserved. The BOMB Archive can be viewed at www.bombsite.com.)


Alex Abramovich is a writer and editor in NYC.


Martin Aitken is a translator whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in PRISM International, Calque, AGNI Magazine, and The Boston Review.


Renée Ashley is the Poetry Editor of The Literary Review.


Noah Elliot Blake is an MFA candidate at The New School. He believes it essential to eke out a moderate amount of affection with his bio. He offers that today you look very nice.


Jeff Bursey (Books) writes for journals in Canada, the UK, and the US. His first book, Verbatim: A Novel, comes out in the fall of 2010.


Marco Candida, a young writer from Tortona, Italy, has published four novels in the last three years, including Il diario dei sogni, excerpted here. This excerpt from Dream Diary is his first work to appear in English.


Robert Carnevale’s poems have appeared in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and The Alaska Quarterly. He teaches writing and literature at Drew University and Kean University.


Katherine Lien Chariott’s fiction and nonfiction is published or forthcoming in Sonora Review, upstreet, Columbia, and Artful Dodge. She lives in Shanghai.


Kelly Cherry is the author of nineteen books, eight chapbooks, and two translations of classical plays. Girl in a Library: On Women Writers & the Writing Life and The Retreats of Thought: Poems were both published in 2009.


Peter Cooley lives in New Orleans, where he teaches creative writing at Tulane University. He has published eight books of poetry, most recently A Place Made of Starlight and Divine Margins. He is currently finishing a new book, Night Bus to the Afterlife.


Abigail Deutsch is a writer from New York. Her work appears in The Los Angeles Times, n+1, Bookforum, Poetry, and other publications.


Percival Everett has written some books. If you write long enough, you win an award or two and so he has. He is Professor of English at the University of Southern California. His story “Little Faith” appeared in TLR Loss Control and in our 60th Anniversary Issue, Current Events.


Jesse Freedman’s reviews have appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Journal of Jewish History.


Dan Gutstein works at Maryland Institute College of Art. His first book, non/fiction, is due out this spring. His poems and stories have appeared widely in journals and anthologies.


Ted Hamilton is a writer interested in the possibilities of joining classical sensibilities to modern form. He is descended from the Italian bard Camillo Querno.


Jody Handerson has a widely varied background in the visual and performing arts. She currently applies her literary talent as a technical writer and editor for an environmental consulting company. She is a contributing editor to The Literary Review.


Elizabeth Harris is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of North Dakota. Her translations of Giulio Mozzi’s stories appear recently in The Missouri Review and The Kenyon Review, and in Dalkey Archive’s annual anthology, Best European Fiction 2010.


George Henson is completing a Ph.D. in literary and translation studies at the University of Texas at Dallas. His translations have appeared in Nimrod International Journal, Translation Review, and Sojourn and are forthcoming in the Havana Reader. He is currently completing a translation of Elena Poniatowska’s award-winning novel The Train Passes First.


John Oliver Hodges was a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in 2008. He currently attends the University of Mississippi’s MFA program in writing.


John King, literary rock star, has just wrapped up his MFA in creative writing from NYU, and earned his Ph.D. in English literature from Purdue in 2003. His fiction has appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, Turnrow, Pearl, and Gargoyle. Watch the sky for his next move.


Jørgen Leth is an internationally celebrated filmmaker and one of Denmark’s foremost modern poets. His collected poems were published in 2002, and his most recent volume appeared in 2006.


Chip Livingston is the author of Museum of False Starts. His poetry and short fiction appear widely in literary journals, most recently in Subtropics, The Cincinnati Review, The Potomac Review, and Court Green.


Kelly Luce’s story collection is a finalist for the 2010 Bakeless Prize, and the title story, “Ms. Yamada’s Toaster,” was awarded Tampa Review’s 2008 Danahy Prize. Her work has appeared in The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, The Gettysburg Review, and other journals. She is the current writer in residence at the Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.


Laura McCullough’s third collection of poems, Speech Acts, is forthcoming. She has been awarded two NJ State Arts Council fellowships and is a doctoral candidate in poetry at the University of Essex. Her work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in The American Poetry Review, The Potomac, and Gulf Coast, among others.


Andrew McKay is director of advancement communications at Fairleigh Dickinson University and a poetry reader for The Literary Review. He is currently writing his first book, titled Living Here, which chronicles his experiences growing up in a New Jersey flood plain in the early 1980s.


Judy Rowe Michaels, a poet-in-the-schools for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and poet-in-residence at Princeton Day School, is author of Reviewing the Skull. Maxine Patroni (poem 124) is a New Jersey–based poet. This is her first publication.


Elena Poniatowska is considered one of Mexico’s most important living writers. Her novels include Here’s to You, Jesusa!, Dear Diego, and Tinisima. The recipient of many prestigious literary awards, including the Premio Xavier Villarrutia, Premio Alfaguara de Novela, and the Premio Internacional de Novela R.mulo Gallegos, Poniatowska’s novels and short stories have been translated into English, French, Danish, German, Italian, and Dutch.


James Richardson’s poem Interglacial was a finalist for the 2004 National Book Critics Circle Award. His new collection, By the Numbers, is forthcoming in Fall 2010.


Jena Salon is the Books Editor for The Literary Review.


Nicholas Samaras spent the first part of his life living underground in multiple countries, and he writes from a place of permanent exile. He currently lives in West Nyack, NY and teaches at the Charles Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters in Old Salem, Westchester, NY.


Aaron Shulman has an MFA in fiction from the University of Montana. He is currently in Guatemala on a Fulbright, working on a novel and doing research on violence against women.


Nina Soifer’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Alimentum, Chickenpinata, Thema, Mudfish, Sheila Bender’s Writing It Real, and Calliope, a publication of Women Who Write. She lives in South Jersey where she is a freelance food writer.


Alex Stein is the author of Made-Up Interviews with Imaginary Artists, a genre-bending collection of interviews, interview fictions, and short essays considering the art of the interview as an act of translation. He is at work on a second collection, pieces of which have appeared, or are to appear, in The Agni Review Online, The Bloomsbury Review, and the Kearney Street Press anthology A Tribute to Orpheus II.


A.P. Sullivan is the author of the chapbook Islands of Earshot. His poems have appeared or will be appearing in Salt Hill, Saranac Review, and New York Quarterly, among others. He is currently a high school humanities teacher in Fair Oaks, CA.


Rachel Swearingen’s most recent work has appeared in The Missouri Review, Cimarron Review, and Global City Review. She is a doctoral student in fiction at Western Michigan University.


Daneen Wardrop is the author of a book of poems, The Odds of Being, and three books of literary criticism, including the recent Emily Dickinson and the Labor of Clothing. She has received Seattle Review’s Bentley Prize for Poetry, the Poetry Society of America Robert H. Winner Award, and the Gerald Cable Book Award. Her poetry has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, TriQuarterly, FIELD, Southern Review, and elsewhere.


Paul-Victor Winters is a writer and teacher living in southern New Jersey. Recent poems and book reviews have appeared in The New York Quarterly, Tattoo Highway, and The Literary Review.


Marion Wyce has received an AWP Intro Journals Award in Fiction and had her work performed in the Interact Theatre Company’s stage series Writing Aloud.