NER Vermont Reading Series | July 22, 2015


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.

New Books for the New Year from NER Authors

coffey“Once I started reading these stories, I couldn’t stop. They absorbed me thoroughly, with their taut narratives and evocative language—the language of a poet.” —Jay Parini, Middlebury College D. E. Axinn Professor of English & Creative Writing and author of Jesus: The Human Face of God and The Last Station

NER congratulates contributor Michael Coffey on his first collection of short stories, The Business of Naming Things (Bellevue Literary Press, 2015), which includes his story “Sons,” originally published in NER 34.1. Coffey’s essay “Waiting for Nauman” has appeared in our online NER Digital series, as well.

Publisher’s Weekly: There is no conventional narrative here… This collection which features first-, second-, and third-person narration, is vibrant and unsparing.

Edmund White, author of Inside a Pearl and A Boy’s Own Story: “Michael Coffey brings us so close to his subjects it is almost embarassing. Whether he’s writing about a sinning priest or a man who’s made a career out of branding or about himself, we can smell Coffey’s protagonists and feel their breath on our cheek. Like Chekhov, he must be a notebook writer; how else to explain the strange quirks and perfect but unaccountable details that animate these intimate portraits?

Michael Coffey has published three books of poems, a book about baseball’s perfect games, and co-edited a book about Irish immigration to America. He is a former co-editorial director of Publishers Weekly.


watch me go“Mark Wisniewski has constructed a fabulous noir that touches on the third-rail of American life and the inside rail at the track. His voice is down-to-earth and sharp, delivering swift, salty pages concerning murder and jails, justice and damaged souls.”—Daniel Woodrell, PEN Award winner and Edgar-nominated author of Winter’s Bone

We are pleased to announce the publication of NER contributor Mark Wisniewski‘s newest novel, Watch Me Go (Penguin Putnam). His story “Karmic Vapor” appeared in NER 25.1.

Mark Wisniewski has published two novels, Show Up, Look Good and Confessions of a Polish Used Car Salesman. His stories have appeared in a number of publications including Southern Review and Antioch Review.

“The pure, muscular story-telling of Mark Wisniewski’s Watch Me Go made it irresistible.”New York Times bestselling author Salman Rushdie


muldoonCongratulations to NER contributor Paul Muldoon on the publication of his newest book of poetry, One Thousand Things Worth Knowing: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015). Muldoon, originally from Ireland, is Howard G. B. Clark ’21 Professor at Princeton University and poetry editor of the New Yorker. His most recent collections are Moy Sand and Gravel, for which he won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Horse Latitudes (2006), and Maggot (2010). His essays on Fernando Pessoa, Emily Dickinson and Seamus Heaney have appeared in NER 23.4, 24.2, and 34.2, respectively.

“. . . another wild, expansive collection from the eternally surprising Paul Muldoon, 2003 winner and poetry editor at the New Yorker. ‘Watchfulness’ is the buzzword surrounding this one, and it seems as great a place as any to start the 2015 reading year.” —Publisher’s Weekly


sandoperaIt is with pleasure that we announce the release of NER contributor Philip Metres‘s newest poetry collection, Sand Opera (Alice James, 2015), an exploration of war in the modern age through examinations of the Abu Ghraib prison, childhood perspectives, and the role of the US government. Metres is the author of A Concordance of Leaves, abu ghraib arias, To See the Earth, Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront Since 1941, and other books. His work has appeared in Best American Poetry and has garnered numerous awards, including two NEA fellowships, four Ohio Arts Council Grants, the Arab American Book Award, and a 2014 Creative Workforce Fellowship. He teaches literature and creative writing at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Metres’s translations from Russian were published in NER 34.3-4, and his poetry has appeared in 22.3, 23.4, and 25.4.

“Phil Metres transforms our prostrate sorrow and gracious rage against the banal evil of the administered world into aria and opera.” —Fady Joudah, author of Alight and The Earth in the Attic


NER DIGITAL | Waiting for Nauman | Michael Coffey

NER Digital is New England Review’s online project dedicated to original creative writing for the web. “Confluences” is a bi-weekly series in which we present a writer’s encounter with a work of art such as a book, play, poem, film, painting, sculpture, or building. We launch our series with Michael Coffey’s “Waiting for Nauman.”

Bruce Nauman, Square Depression Photo by Rebecca Smith
Bruce Nauman, Square Depression
Photo by Rebecca Smith

I never wanted to go to Germany. So much unimaginable blood and death and guilt there. I didn’t need it. But my wife, Becca, is an artist, and we decided to go to Germany for art—to visit the once-every-five years documenta show in Kassel and the once-a-decade Skulptur Projekte in Münster, a lovely Catholic city that had been mercilessly bombed in the war, but which now bristled, shone, and surprised with permanent sculptures added to the cityscape every ten years.

I didn’t like Kassel, our first stop. The art show was spread all over and we went from room to room and building to building and saw the kind of art you can see in trendy Chelsea galleries. Then, a long walk up an absurdly steep hill through a small forest cut by a terraced waterfall to a gaudy palace once inhabited by Kaiser Wilhelm. Dull old masters there, and no fun to look down upon the town from such a redoubt—a view of a quaint city that had once been a local subcamp of Dachau.

Doubtful of what I might find in Deutschland, I’d determined to reread Beckett’s trilogy during the trip—I had a scholarly interest in Beckett’s second stay in Berlin, in 1936, when he was looking at art and hiding out from some legal contretemps and a romantic humiliation back in Dublin. On the train from Kassel to Münster, I was nearing the finish—the end of The Unnamable—which I knew contained a hideous image—a creature of sorts, a single thorax, with vacuoles at either end, one unlidded eye, a large worm with human consciousness—sited in a place that had eluded my ability to envision it.

They look down upon him . . . he’ll have to climb to meet them . . . The slopes are gentle that meet where he lies, they flatten out under him . . . . This grey to begin with . . .  a nice grey, of a kind recommended as going with everything, urinous and warm.

We checked into our hotel and set out to see what we could on our first day. We had a map of art works and locations. Some were bells that chimed at intervals where buildings once stood; one was a recorded chant beneath a bridge. Another was an encampment of objects such as a routed circus troupe might leave, on the side of a hill. Jenny Holzer had a granite bench in a park with an antiwar inscription.

In late afternoon, we rode bikes looking for a Bruce Nauman work. It was supposedly near a small campus on the outskirts of town. After canvassing the site once and finding nothing, we checked the map, and tried again. And there it was, an empty space, a plot of sorts, in the ground: Nauman’s Square Depression—four concrete triangular planes sloping from ground level to a vertex in the center about six feet beneath ground level. The place of the unnamable.

The first light rain all week began to fall. I waited for some visitors to the site to leave, and slowly they did, so I could have Nauman’s work to myself. I walked down his Square Depression. At first, walking toward the center, I felt I was entering a drain or a spill catch. When I arrived at the bottom, however, I looked up, as one will. The sky sat above me, stilted by the four cardinal points. I was in an architecture of both earth and heavens. No longer a sluiceway but a kind of reverse temple, reaching down—a conceptual verso to the sacrificial altar to Zeus. The sky above was gray. Becca stood on the apron at the top; she took my picture. I felt for the moment invisible in Germany but in it, six feet under but alive, hidden from all but my wife and the eye of the sky, just me there. I have the photograph.

Then we walked down toward a body of water; saw a frank Donald Judd piece there—two chest-high, foot-thick concrete rings, one inside the other, set on a gentle slope; and a sublime redwood pier built by Jorge Pardo that angled out from shore to brave the middle of the long, narrow lake. We wandered to the end of the pier and sat down. It was evening. Lights came up in Münster, streetlamps counting off their measures and car lights winding their way along the lake drive into town. I wanted to live right there, on the water, in the words we spoke about what we had seen that particular day—the art, the fourteenth-century Catholic cathedral, half-destroyed by the RAF in 1945, rebuilt with the help of the citizens of Coventry. We felt ourselves very much in a world of history—frozen, broken, yet restored. Something horrific had been pounded out here in Münster, perhaps in all of Germany. The dead souls that flew, that flew above us in the dark I couldn’t see, but I knew they were there. I could imagine them. It was Nauman’s piece that made me look up.

Michael Coffey’s collection of stories, The Business of Naming Things, will be published by Bellevue Literary Press in January 2015. His most recent pieces in NER include “Sons,” in NER 34.1, and “I Thought You Were Dale,” in NER 32.3. 

The idea of a trout

Trout, Grouse, Tomatoes (Boston Public Library)

Creel by Michael Coffey

The worms were there at the corner of my grandfather’s garden, near the burn barrel, wanting me to dig them, bring them to some other wilder reality, in this case a cold April morning in the Adirondacks. I’d fetch the round-point shovel out of the garage and bring the green bait can, if I could find it, or use one of the slender Prince Albert tobacco cans my grandfather had discarded, a small red tin flask with a snap-top. I’d turn over a half-dozen shovelfuls of rich dirt like fudge and wait to see the purplish worms slowly squirming, sometimes only their tips visible, nosing around blindly in the fresh cut of air. One after another I’d pry them out with my fingers and into the can they would go, with a little tuft of grass and the black dirt to keep them alive.

I’d walk up the abandoned broken-up pavement that ran along the brook. In the trees it was dark and the only sound was the rushing of the brook, high with snowmelt off the mountain. I’d look for those pools Dad told me held the promise of trout, as if they were lingering there, holding themselves steady and unseen beneath the surface, waiting for feed to wash through. Kneeling on the bank, I’d bait the hook, a process that began first with trying to extract a worm from the can—they all seemed to know how to burrow in and disappear. But one would soon be captured, and though it writhed in my hand, the barb sounded it into surrender, as his body against its will became the meat sleeve of the metal shaft, Eagle No. 9.

The idea of a trout is pure muscle, muscle twitch defined against the press of the water, redefined at the end of the pole in my hand when it flips into the free, wary air, snapping back and forth. When it came, it was like some stranger suddenly touching me intimately or somewhere where I did not control the reflex—a swab stick on my tonsil, the hammer tap below my patella from Dr. Ganong. I’d start marching in a controlled panic, my sneakers splashing to land the catch in the brush. I didn’t care if the reel got wet or if the line got tangled as long as I got that trout, its green silvery red-speckled body in furious spasm, hung up there on a branch.

I’d learned to palm the sticky cold fuselage in one hand and with the other remove the hook as humanely as I could. The blood was thin, a smear of it. It smelled fishy; the worm was there, limp as a soaked shoelace slinking out of a gill. With a slight crunch the hook was extracted and the trout, its eye dull and disbelieving, dropped into my creel, the top shut fast. It whopped around in there for a good half hour while I recomposed myself, untangling my line, and fantasizing how many more I might get, until I didn’t hear the trout moving anymore in the creel, only the roar of brook and some stones tumbling.


NER Digital is a creative writing series for the web. Michael Coffey’s story, “I Thought You Were Dale,” appeared in NER 32.3. He is the author of three book of poetry and is is co-editorial director at Publishers Weekly.