NER Vermont Reading Series | July 22, 2015

Categories: NER VT Reading Series, Readings


The NER Vermont Reading Series and the Vermont Book Shop are pleased to present Michael Coffey, Penelope Cray, and Rebecca Makkai, who will read from their poetry and fiction at Carol’s Hungry Mind Café. From as far as Chicago and as near as Shelburne, these three writers represent an extraordinary range of literary imagination. Join us at Carol’s Hungry Mind Café (24 Merchants Row, Middlebury, Vermont) on July 22nd at 7:00pm. Books will be available for signing.


Coffey by Nancy Crampton

 Michael Coffey is the author of three books of poems and of 27 Men Out, a book about baseball’s perfect games. He also co-edited The Irish in America, a book about Irish immigration, a companion volume to the PBS documentary series. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in NER and NER Digital, and his first book of fiction, The Business of Naming Things, is just out from Bellevue Literary Press. He lives in Manhattan and Bolton Landing, New York.



 Penelope Cray’s poems and short shorts have appeared in such literary magazines as Harvard Review, PleiadesBartleby Snopeselimae, and American Letters & Commentary, and in the anthology Please Do Not Remove (2014). She holds an MFA from the New School and lives with her family in Shelburne, Vermont, where she operates an editorial business.


Makkai photo-cropRebecca Makkai is the author of the new story collection Music for Wartime, as well as the novels The Hundred-Year House and The Borrower (which has been published in nine translations and chosen as a Booklist Top Ten Debut). Her short fiction, which has appeared in NER, was featured in the Best American Short Stories anthologies in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. The recipient of a 2014 NEA Fellowship, she teaches at Lake Forest College, Northwestern University, and StoryStudio Chicago.

Mid-Week Break | Cara Blue Adams Reads at Bread Loaf 2014

Categories: Audio

Cara Blue Adams reads her fiction at the 2014 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. 

Cara Blue Adams‘s stories have appeared in Narrative, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Kenyon Review, Epoch, and the Sun. Her essays and criticism appear in the Rumpus, Ploughshares, and The Little Magazine in Contemporary America (University of Chicago Press, 2015). She has been cara%20bwawarded The Missouri Review William Peden Prize and The Kenyon Review Short Fiction Prize, together with scholarships and fellowships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the VCCA, and she was recently named one of Narrative’s “15 Below 30.”

Raised in Putney, Vermont, Cara earned an MFA from the University of Arizona and went on to serve as editor of Southern Review. She now lives in Conway, SC, where she is an assistant professor of creative writing at Coastal Carolina University.

All Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference readings are available for free on iTunesU. Want to hear more? Visit the the Bread Loaf website.

Mid-Week Break | Marianne Boruch Reads at Bread Loaf

Categories: Audio

Marianne Boruch reads her poems at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.



“Mud Fest”


Marianne Boruch‘s eight poetry collections include Cadaver, Speak, and The Book of Hours, a Kingsley-Tufts Poetry Award winner (Copper Canyon Press). She’s also the author of two essay collections, In the Blue Pharmacy and Poetry’s Old Air, and a memoir, The Glimpse Traveler about hitchhiking in the early 70’s.

Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Poetry, London Review of Books, American Poetry Review, The Nation and elsewhere. She is the recipient of fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as artist residencies at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, Yaddo, and the MacDowell Colony, as well as at Isle Royale, our most isolated national park. A 2012 Fulbright/ Visiting Professor in Edinburgh, Scotland, she is the founding Director of Purdue University’s MFA program where she still teaches, in addition to teaching in the low residency Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Marianne’s work was first published in NER in 1990 (13.2) and 1994 (16.4) and her literary criticism “The End Inside It,” selected as a prose feature by Poetry Daily, appears in NER 33.2.

All Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference readings are available for free on iTunesU. Want to hear more? Visit the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Website.

NER CLASSICS | Preparations for August | Cate Marvin

Categories: NER Classics, Poetry

Cate Marvin‘s poem, “Preparations for August,” appeared in NER 22.2:








Like drinking perfume, or chewing anise tablets,
I pour within myself a fragrance, so my breath
may smell of rose, my skin like pale citrus.
It is an act of doing, of pre-doing, what is called

preparation. No need for the silken dress, or green
beads of glass studding the neckline. To breathe
another’s breathing, all that’s done is to inhale.
What youth was to me was thrown away with

the porcelain cat whose neck, once broken, was
squiggled with a line of crack and glue. I may have
thrown it out, but I return my mind to it, just as
I return to you in thought. The briefest letter breathes

warm breath on my neck. I am tempted to call
the airlines to make reservations I’ll never afford.
What I want is for someone to come at my calling,
no matter the cost. I require desperation, sweat, and loss.

It’s a bird-feathered room, a silky-walled space
where we ought to meet. Likely it’ll be blank walls in a hotel room
I’ll remember as extravagantly green-hued.
I have always been jealous of anyone who wants you.

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Mid-Week Breakl | Titi Nguyen Reads at Bread Loaf 2014

Categories: Audio

Titi Nguyen shares an excerpt from her piece “Because We Share Bodies” at the 2014 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Scholar Reading.


Titi Nguyen‘s essays have appeared in Threepenny Review, the New York TimesTin House blog, Paris Review Daily, Witness, and elsewhere. She earned her BA at Sarah Lawrence College and her MFA at Bennington College. She received Crab Orchard Review‘s inaugural Feature Award in Literary Nonfiction. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, and raised in Massachusetts, Titi currently resides in New York City.

All Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference readings are available for free on iTunesU. Want to hear more? Visit the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Website.


NER Classics | Experiences of the Void | David Guy

Categories: NER Classics, Nonfiction

David Guy’s essay, “Experiences of the Void,” was published in NER 16.2:

When I look back on mBeyond Mechanics - Marendo Müllery beginnings as a writer, when I consider the question of what writing really is, I always bring to mind a place called the Pittsburgh Academy of Medicine, a society of physicians which met in a huge ancient house in a rundown part of the city, with an extensive medical library in the basement. My father was an officer in the organization, and had gotten my brother and me summer jobs there, dusting books or watching over the place while the regular librarian—an ex-lawyer and recovering alcoholic named Allen Lynch—was on vacation.
     The basement was huge, and filled with the kind of heavy glassed-in wooden bookcases that distinguished houses used to have in the early years of the century. The floor was a creaky hardwood, lined with rubber mats where you were supposed to walk. The building ran down a hill, so there were windows not only in the basement—high wide windows that let in plenty of light—but also in the sub-basement, a dank dark place with a cement floor and stone walls that housed some of the older books and also contained an extensive library on sex.

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Midweek Break | Cheryl Strayed Reads at Bread Loaf

Categories: Audio, Nonfiction


Cheryl Strayed brings her voice to “Dear Sugar,” the advice column she has written for many years. Here, she reads selected columns in the Bread Loaf Little Theatre, dispensing advice to which we can all relate.

See more about Cheryl Strayed and her column at

All Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference readings are available on iTunesU. To hear more, please visit the Bread Loaf website.

NER Digital | Sean Warren

Categories: Confluences, NER Digital


Rondanini Pietá | Sean Warren

In Milan, the travel books direct us first to Leonardo’s Last Supper, the opulent fresco of high Renaissance color faded by moisture and rattled by Allied bombs during World War II. Contrary to Michelin, Lonely Planet, and the rest, however, I recommend—no appointment necessary, as with the Last Supper—a visit to the Sforza Castle, where there stands in splendid isolation a sculpture of such muted mystery and power that it is liable to alter your perception of reality, and of life and death, in a way that Da Vinci’s masterpiece will not: Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pietá.

I saw the sculpture in person for the first time several years ago, while on a bus tour of northern Italy whose trajectory ran from Venice to Turin. But more than a decade before, I had gazed upon a black and white photograph of the Rondanini in the last pages of the profusely illustrated biography of Michelangelo from the ’60s Time-Life series of artists’ lives, which I had picked up second hand at a bookstore in Van Nuys, California. Not only did the sculpture in the photograph look so much more diminutive than the artist’s David and two previous Pietás, but its otherworldly detachment seemed like a repudiation of the sublime athleticism and anguish of those more celebrated works.

Cut to Milan, day three of the four-day bus tour. Willi, our German guide, had arranged for lunch, followed by a little shopping, and then to see the The Last Supper. When I told Willi that I would be spending my time instead at the Sforza Castle and asked him how to get there, he answered by saying he wouldn’t hold the bus if I weren’t back in time, and walked away.

Although I had a city map, I had no idea what the Castle looked like, got lost riding the street cars and, having forsaken lunch, began to suffer the desperation of the hungry, dehydrated, bladder-challenged tourist searching under a severe time constraint an object of profound personal pilgrimage. Eventually, I found myself standing before the imposing, crenellated walls of a medieval fortress. Along with the Bargello in Florence, the Sforza Castle is the most un-museum like of buildings. After finding the entrance and purchasing my ticket, I speed-walked through centuries of Lombardian armor and pennants and statuary and comparatively unrenowned paintings—and then, in the last space before the museum shop, there it was.

The Rondanini Pietá was not diminutive as I had imagined, appearing slightly larger than life. The dead Christ’s smooth, bare legs rise from the base of the statue in a finished state; his knees are particularly well-articulated. But as the legs rise into the hips and the hips into the torso, the marble becomes rougher and the chiseling more visible until, from the shoulders up, Christ and Mary, who is supporting his corpse from behind, look to be, at first glance, almost featureless. Gradually, however, I was drawn into the ostensibly hollow gazes of the two figures and their anguish, loss, and tenderness. What makes these emotions more compelling for me than in Michelangelo’s more realistic Pietás is that the Rondanini seems on the verge of succumbing, like the bodily Christ, to the physical dissolution of death: This is not merely a scene of death, but of death becoming, which reminds us that death, like life, is an organic state. And yet, in the midst of death’s dynamic crumbling, mother and son’s eyes, only three of them, remain open. There is something inextinguishable at the back of their gazes, perhaps a light transcending human emotion and decomposition that Michelangelo saw as an old man standing on the brink of death himself.

These mysteries that I had first seen in a photo, were profoundly enriched by my in-person contemplation of the Rondanini. But I was completely unprepared for the startling momentum shift in the work that is visible only when viewing it in person from the side or back. From the front Mary appears to be supporting the body of her son in the convention of the genre. But walk to the right of the statue, stop at a ninety degree angle, and see how it changes: Instead of Mary supporting her son, Christ is lifting her in a surge of wave-like energy. This surge is further evident from the back of the sculpture where Mary, whose legs are merely sketched in the marble, seems to be wrapped around her son’s shoulders as he prepares to lift them both away.

At some point in absorbing myself in this last work of Michelangelo’s, so suffused with life and death and eternity, I looked at my watch. My tour bus had left for Turin. After the panic of missing it had subsided, I settled in to spend a little more time with my Rondanini. I recalled reading the comment by an American author of European guidebooks that the sculpture was unfinished, which seemed to ignore the fact that Michelangelo had labored over it for almost a decade before his death. Although I thought the guidebook author wrong, his mistake was perhaps excusable: After being overrun by the torrential vitality of the artist’s other work, would it not be natural for most observers of the Rondanini to conclude that the old man, then in his eighties, simply lacked the energy or focus to properly finish it?

In my view, however, the sculpture is not only finished, but its technique speaks to the obsessive and alienating materialism of our own times with the disorienting eloquence of Picasso or Matisse. The Rondanini’s dissolving forms, its blurred gazes, its startling, wave-like surge of energy that becomes apparent only after a prolonged, in-person viewing—all these are the hallmarks of a work that points toward the dissatisfaction with realistic representation that is perhaps the most significant aspect of our own modern art.

After immersing myself in the Rondanini for over two hours, drifting between reflection and an extra-rational state that some may call meditation and others prayer, I awakened to the challenge of having to train out of Milan and find my tour group in Turin. My last thought before leaving the sculpture behind was an incredulity at how not more than a handful of museum-goers had visited the Rondanini during my stay. But had the small room been thronged, my visit would have been much shorter and less intimate.

Therefore, instead of asking why the Rondanini remains so obscure, let us head to the Sforza Castle and, in the gratifying absence of the vast majority of art-going tourists who have chosen to gaze upon The Last Supper, witness for ourselves the magnitude of what they are missing.


Sean Warren’s short story, “The Last Romantic,” appeared in NER 35.2, and is part of a novel, My University: The Early Life and Times of Tom Powers, United States Navy. He writes and teaches in Portland, Oregon.

NER Digital is New England Review’s online project dedicated to original creative writing for the web. “Confluences” presents writers’ encounters with works of art such as books, plays, poems, films, paintings, sculptures, or buildings. To submit an essay to our series, please read our guidelines.

NER Classics | In the House of the Child | Ira Sadoff

Categories: Fiction, NER Classics

Piano Silhouette Ira Sadoff’s story, “In the House of the Child,” appeared in NER 22.1:

I. Now the marriage bed is a nightmare: a king-size bed with a little prince in it. That’s how it feels: dark, even with the night light on in Randy’s private bedroom. Such a big house, with four bedrooms and a big deck opening out onto a field and a garden his wife had planted with flowers and herbs. He’s made a vow that no other woman will live there, live in their house. Just like that, his mind fills with dark thoughts. There are not enough magazines in the world to stop it. Not enough old movies. There are not enough bridge hands, there’s not enough golf to fill in the gulf when Randy’s sun Leo is at Quin’s apartment. Sleeping, except for dozing on and off somewhere between two and three in the morning, is out of the question. Quiet is his enemy. Even when Randy was a child, he couldn’t have enough noise in the house. Sometimes he did his homework listening to the radio with the TV on, and often he talked on the phone to whichever friend was sufficiently inert to listen. It worked. Why fix what’s not broken? Because now it was broken.

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