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Poems in Practice and in Theory

Elisa Gabbert, the Book Review’s On Poetry columnist, visits the podcast this week to debate writing about poetry and her personal forthcoming assortment of poems, her fourth, “Normal Distance.”

“When I’m writing what I would call nonfiction or an essay or just pure prose, I’m really trying to be accurate,” Gabbert says. “I’m not lying, I’m really telling you what I think. There’s very minimal distance between my persona on the page and who I really am. And then when I’m writing poetry, that persona really takes on more weight. I’m definitely creating more distance, and it really feels more like fiction or even more like theater, I might say. I’m really more creating a character that’s going to be speaking this monologue I’m writing.”

Ian Johnson visits the podcast to speak about his evaluation of “Golden Age,” a novel by Wang Xiaobo lately translated by Yan Yan. The novel, set in opposition to Mao’s Cultural Revolution, made waves in China when it was initially printed there in the Nineties.

“It was controversial primarily because of sex, there’s a lot of sex in the novel,” Johnson says. “The sex is not really described in graphic detail; this isn’t Henry Miller or something like that. It’s more like they’re having sex to make a point: that they’re independent people and they’re not going to be trampled by the state. And it’s very humorous — he talks about sex using all kinds of euphemisms, like ‘commit great friendship,’ stuff like that. It’s meant to be a sort of parody, a somewhat absurd version of a romance.”

Also on this week’s episode, Elisabeth Egan and Dave Kim speak about what persons are studying. John Williams is the host.

Here are the books mentioned in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

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