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  • An Interview with Ben LernerBy Talia Blatt Tadgh Larabee Mira Alpers
    Ben Lerner is an American poet, novelist, and critic. Among other awards, he has been a Guggenheim Fellow, received a MacArthur “Genius Grant,” and was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction as well as the National Book Award. On August 25th, three members of the Advocate’s fiction board – Mira Alpers, Tadhg Larabee, and editor Talia Blatt – met Lerner at the 15th Street entrance to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. We discussed Lerner’s recent, trilogy-concluding novel, The Topeka School, an intergenerational and autofictional bildungsroman. We found ourselves playing with twigs and making knots in leaves of grass. (Whitman made an appearance in the conversation.) This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for brevity and clarity. We wanted to condense it more, but everything he said was so good we just didn’t know what to cut. Mira Alpers: Obviously debate is a spoken form of communication. I was wondering if you found it challenging to take the intricacies of pacing and tone, and translate that into your novel, representing in written communication the ways in which communication breakdown happens in speech. Ben Lerner: When I went to college, I thought literature would be the opposite of high school debate. That the opposite of the weaponized eloquence that reduces people to winners and losers would be this literary relation to language, interested in ambiguity and nuance. And that was true, in a way. But it turns out that a lot of avant garde linguistic practices were actually similar to the weird thing called the spread, where you push language into this glossolalic, cultic ritual. It becomes asemantic; it becomes embodied. It’s like Kurt Schwitters' dada-esque performance. In a funny way, the extremes of debate lent themselves really well to literary representation, because they were actually like scenes of experimental poetry. So I felt like I had the resources to dramatize linguistic collapse more than I maybe had the resources to perform…
  • Smoking GlassBy Juliet Coe
    Should I write it like a letter? A letter that goes on and on until you get tired of it? Until you stop reading, stop making eye contact in the hallways, stop slipping easily into conversations, into green lakes, in and out of clothing. I’m out looking for you on all the street corners. I’m out looking for you under the dumpsters and cactus pots. I’m out looking for you inside your skin, I keep poking past your teeth and down your throat, looking for the music, but I don’t find it there. I don’t find it. In September, before anything had died, we struck out at the afternoon like a hand-rocket. We sparked against it. It was me and you and Angela, back before she was Angela, and I felt like even in the city we could find grass anywhere. We could start a farm right there in Central Park. We could be the apiarists of the Metropolitan, lay eggs in the White House, intent as spiders, one by one. So we got blue ring pops. And the cashier said, God you kids are young, and we laughed at him and asked for a light, and because we were young he gave it to us. He told us to watch his chihuahua, he kicked her right out with us. Amy, with the squishy, straining face. Who nursed a mouth full of shark teeth, who had to be back before midnight or she’d turn into a pumpkin or something worse. That's how I’ll remember it, blue candy and cigarettes and that shocking bubble of contentment. All through the day I clung to its soapy surface, the soapy surface of contentment, and I pressed my face into the colors, and I didn’t think about slipping off. We dragged her down through Central Park, Amy, wheezing barks like an old Iggy Pop. You said, When did people watching us start to feel like a compliment? And I thought: soap bubble, soap bubble. In Central Park we found a man selling gushers and good advice. Amy came with a stipend, 20 dollars for a whole day of fooling and wrapping her tail around our fingers. Hair in the ring pops. There's this big tree over by W. 77th that we flop under…