The body of water that runs by the neighborhood is in fact a river, but everyone used to call it longkau— a storm drain. The Hokkien word has a crispier edge than the Mandarin longgou. Calling it a river would require a proper name, a division into upstream and down. Nobody knew about that stuff, so we went with what was the easiest. Anyway, a name is just a name, and it was kind of endearing after you got the hang of it. The neighborhood does have a proper name: Dakota. There’s a place called Dakota somewhere up north in the States, but that’s not what we’re named after. No, our origin story is local and commemorates the crash of a Dakota DC-3 aircraft nearby. Maybe by giving the neighborhood a name tinged with disaster and exoticism, we were also foretelling its premature demise.
He is Risen signs go up in the neighboring yards, making sure I remember Easter.
On Easter in 1865, Union troops attacked Columbus, Georgia, the city closest to my current address. This was the Civil War’s last battle, and useless. The Confederates had surrendered in Virginia already, but, this far south, neither side knew.
Viet Thanh Nguyen visited Amherst College in February 2022 in the joint roles of Presidential Scholar and LitFest headliner. In his live conversation with The Common’s editor-in-chief Jennifer Acker, he deployed humor and refreshing honesty to discuss his path to publishing his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer and its best-selling sequel The Committed. The conversation touched on the complexities of Vietnamese diasporic identity as well as his desire to expand the world of literature to encompass critical thought, breaking through the traditional literary bubble to allow for politics, history, and more. This interview is a collaboration between The Common and Amherst College’s LitFest and is an edited and condensed version of the live conversation.
Belonging Is a Complicated Thing: An Interview with Viet Thanh Nguyen
This month we welcome back TC contributor NATHAN McCLAIN, whose new collection, Previously Owned, will be published by Four Way Books next month.
Nathan McClain is the author of two collections of poetry—Scale (2017) and Previously Owned (2022)—both from Four Way Books, a recipient of fellowships from The Frost Place, Sewanee Writers Conference, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and a graduate of the M.F.A. Program for Writers at Warren Wilson. A Cave Canem fellow, his poems and prose have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Guesthouse, Poetry Northwest, Zocalo Public Square, The Critical Flame, and the Plume Poetry Anthology 10. He teaches at Hampshire College and serves as poetry editor of the Massachusetts Review.
Where the View Was Clearer
Had I not chosen to live there—
among the oaks and birches,
trees I’d only ever seen in poems
until then…spruce, pine,
among the jack-in-the-pulpit
(though I much preferred “lady slipper”),
August 2022 Poetry Feature: Nathan McClain—from PREVIOUSLY OWNED
Divided Heart: painting on slate, Jess Richards 2014.
Wellington, New Zealand
Stained light shines on breath-less angels
who occupy a stone heaven-on-earth without living for touch
without having felt another human enfolding them against soil.
Only the winged can lift themselves so high
but freeze half-way to the clouds
locked in cold bodies, solo-flight paused.
“It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth.” —Isaiah 40:22
In the cosmology of Patrick Burke, a flat-Earth believer, humans can spoon-eat uranium flakes like Cheerios.
The Hubble Space Telescope never existed, nor did dinosaurs. Hiroshima was dynamited, the Titanic sunk for insurance, and New Orleans flooded by government agents.
Earth—our sapphire speck, our pale-blue lifeboat in an ocean of dark—does not, after all, perch on a Milky Way tentacle. Earth does not spin like a Dervish; rather, its plane reclines and stretches beyond the thousand-mile-thick ice wall encasing us. The land reaches out, sprawling with undiscovered countries and unimaginable lifeforms. At some point, the world meets sky, earth bleeds into atmosphere, and God lives at that nexus of matter waiting for us.
In recent years, female filmmakers have been carving out a space for themselves in the American West, redefining a genre and a place that is has historically been depicted as the terrain of lonely male cowboys and vigilantes. There have been period pieces like Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, and Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff and First Cow, as well as contemporary stories set in the west, such as Chloe Zhao’s The Rider and Nomadland, and Reichardt’s Certain Women. These films bring a new realism to the western as they widen the lens to center female characters and to incorporate themes of friendship, romance, and community.