Friday Staff Pick: The Manuscript Found in Saragossa


The Manuscript Found in Saragossa

Jan Potocki

I discovered this book the wrong way around-I picked up a VHS of the movie because it come with recommendations by Scorsese and Coppola on the cover. An ingenious twisted Polish new wave classic awaited me! But the book? Of course the book is even better than the movie, more otherworldly, sly-er, smarter, more hilarious and deeply moving.
—Recommended by Layla, City Lights Books

Alphonse, a young Walloon officer, is traveling to join his regiment in Madrid in 1739. But he soon finds himself mysteriously detained at a highway inn in the strange and varied company of thieves, brigands, cabbalists, noblemen, coquettes and gypsies, whose stories he records over sixty-six days. The resulting manuscript is discovered some forty years later in a sealed casket, from which tales of characters transformed through disguise, magic and illusion, of honor and cowardice, of hauntings and seductions, leap forth to create a vibrant polyphony of human voices. Jan Potocki (1761-1812) used a range of literary styles – gothic, picaresque, adventure, pastoral, erotica – in his novel of stories-within-stories, which, like The Decameron and Tales from the Thousand and One Nights, provides entertainment on an epic scale.
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Planet News

“American racism has many moving parts, and has had enough centuries in which to evolve impressive camouflage.”
Teju Cole / Black Body: Rereading James Baldwin’s “Stranger in the Village” via The New Yorker



alternate names for black boys
By Danez Smith
1. smoke above the burning bush
2. archnemesis of summer night
3. first son of soil
4. coal awaiting spark & wind
5. guilty until proven dead
6. oil heavy starlight
7. monster until proven ghost
8. gone
9. phoenix who forgets to un-ash
10. going, going, gone
11. gods of shovels & black veils
12. what once passed for kindling
13. fireworks at dawn
14. brilliant, shadow hued coral
15. (I thought to leave this blank
but who am I to name us nothing?)
16. prayer who learned to bite & sprint
17. a mother’s joy & clutched breath
Source: Poetry Magazine (March 2014).

“For example, I remember reading Hemingway and loving his work so much—but then at some point, realizing that my then-current life (or parts of it) would not be representable via his prose style. Living in Amarillo, Texas, working as a groundsman at an apartment complex, with strippers for pals around the complex, goofball drunks recently laid off from the nuclear plant accosting me at night when I played in our comical country band, a certain quality of West Texas lunatic-speak I was hearing, full of way off-base dreams and aspirations—I just couldn’t hear that American in Hem-speak. And that kind of moment is gold for a young writer: the door starts to open, just a crack.”
George Saunders via Bomb Magazine

“When I read Flannery O’Connor, she really took the lid off my skull. Her blending of the grotesque and the comic as well as her reverence for mystery really affected me.”
Night Vision, Geoff Mak interviews Karen Russell – Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics

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Throwback Thursday: The Meaning of Freedom by Angela Davis

meaning of freedomBorn in Birmingham, Alabama (referred to as the Johannesburg of the South) in 1944, Angela Davis experienced life on the front lines of the American Civil Rights Movement. A one-time member of the Communist Party and associated with the Black Panther Party (thought never an official member), she has a deep understanding of the United States’ association with the fear of blackness, as well as Communism; in fact she recalls receiving hate mail suggesting she return to both Africa and Russia. She is most known for her ongoing work against all forms of oppression, and is particularly keen on the critique of institutionalized inequality. Much of her current efforts are directed toward the appalling state of the United States justice system. Though to call her an activist is hardly enough; she spent time teaching at UC Santa Cruz, San Francisco State University, and Syracuse University and has delivered lectures across the globe, and continues to do so.

Rather than something that can be granted by law, Davis calls freedom a “collective striving” and uses her historical insight to bring to light the interconnectedness of issues facing social justice movements as a whole. In her collection of speeches, The Meaning of Freedom And Other Difficult Dialogues, published by City Lights in 2012, Davis discusses sexuality, power, racism, immigration, class, and incarceration—demanding a new way of thinking. Alain Badiou once said of the potential state of philosophy,

“We can imagine two cases. First case: a new dawn of creative experiments in matters of science, politics, art or love is on the verge of a new evening for philosophy. Second case: our civilisation is exhausted, and the future that we are capable of imagining is a sombre one, a future of perpetual obscurity.”

from Philosophy For Militants

Like Badiou, Davis too believes in a new dawn of philosophy, but like too few of our planet’s thinkers, she is dedicated to not only the widespread instigation of these important discussions, but also defining the actual steps we need to take as a society to achieve this desired change. In her foreword to The Meaning of Freedom, Robin D.G. Kelley beautifully honors Davis’s accomplishments, ending with the conclusion that

“She still believes in social movements, in the power of the people to transform society, and in a non-capitalist path.”

In acknowledgement of the thousands who have spent the last few months, years, and decades in the streets supporting those who are unable to have a voice due to incarceration, or because they have lost their lives at the hand of an over-militarized aristocracy, please enjoy this excerpt from Angela Davis’s writing. Continue reading

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Allen Ginsberg on Henri Michaux

interimpadIn September of 1967 the first and only issue of Interim Pad was released by City Lights and sold for just a dollar. The journal was a collection of essays and poems edited by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and printed on yellow card stock held together by two staples. Flipping through Interim Pad is an experience that immediately reminds us of the DIY ideology that continues to provide the solid ground upon which City Lights was built. This collection includes a piece by Allen Ginsberg in which he recalls a few brief encounters with Belgian-born, Francophone poet and artist Henri Michaux, who had written extensively on perception and consciousness—and particularly altered consciousness—which is what brought these two together in the first place.

Ginsberg writes,

“I sent Michaux a polite note around the corner from Rue Git0Le-Coeur where I stayed, I said I was a jeune poete Americaine who had much experience in the same hallucinogenic field as himself, and would like to exchange information with him”

And as simple as that, their acquaintance in Paris began. The two shared a genuine curiosity for one another; Ginsberg being the jeune poete Americaine seeking those French elders who had been experimenting with consciousness for years, and Michaux, unaware that a generation across the pond was doing some extensive research of their own. Though the descriptions of Michaux provided by Ginsberg are short, one can’t help but notice similarity in their spirits.  It’s often overlooked that surrealism was a direct influence on the Beat Generation, and that City Lights has been publishing international work in translation since its inception.

Ginsberg continues his description below.

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Police State Repression of Black America

by Mumia Abu-Jamal

ABUJAMAL(col. writ. 8/11/14) © ’14 Mumia Abu-Jamal)

Once again, a Black unarmed youth has been killed by a cop.

And while the facts surrounding the shooting are presently unclear, what is clear is that a cop shot 18-year-old Michael Brown 8 times.

According to at least one eyewitness, Brown was shot as he stood with his hands up in the air.

To anyone who knows American history, this is not a rarity.

It is the result of a systematic function of police across the country, to repress, track and target the nation’s Black population.

That has been the case for generations.

We shall see voices trotted out to call for calm, as outrage arises in Black hearts in response to outrageous treatment. Never do those calling for calm become voices calling for true justice, for justice is equality; and who dare demand that cops be treated like the people that they oppress?

For they have no influence over the repressive forces, and in fact, no political office in America does. They have been bought off, paid off – or both.

Listen to the voices of ‘Black’ politicians.

Indeed, listen to the voices of white politicians.

Listen to the raging silence.

Needed in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri – and in every Black community in America – are independent, and uncompromising Black revolutionary collectives – determined to protect the lives and wellbeing of Black people –period.

Existing political structures – silent in the face of these outrages –have failed us, and cannot be made to serve our interests.

It’s time to learn from this, and build for our future necessities.



Mumia Abu-Jamal is the author of many books, including Live From Death Row, Death Blossoms, All Things Censored, and We Want Freedom. He has been living in a Pennsylvania prison since 1982 and sentenced to life without parole.

Two works by Mumia Abu-Jamal are published by City Lights: Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the U.S.A. and the forthcoming Writings on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal, edited by Johanna Fernandez with a foreword by Cornel West. That book will be out early 2015.

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Review: The Living Method by Sara Nicholson

by Jackson Meazle

living methodSara Nicholson‘s debut, The Living Method (The Song Cave, 2014), doesn’t cease to amuse or elude me. The poem’s movement from one image-thought to the next possesses an air of elated mystery. Like Rilke’s vertigo, her vision of the outside lingers over naming and describing through constantly new eyes.

The house will be what it is not—a song—
a song is not like a house but it could be.

We must not think of ourselves as inhabitants
but as workers who descend

who will wait without fluency for the water
that does not answer us, for the water

that does not build along with us.
One dwelling.

 [from “Residence”]

The referent of “house” is in flux, yet she adds new breadth to each expository couplet. As a result, we are shown the collage of the imagination at a steady pace. These poems are not fast and they are not slow. I say this because some readers may believe that the works are at times slowly wistful. They reach mediocre speed running through the book, which compliments the searching kind of music underneath her lines.

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Excerpt from The Violence of Organized Forgetting by Henry A. Giroux

violence of organizedIn The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America’s Disamignation Machine, the newest book published by City Lights, Henry A. Giroux explores the intersections of political power, popular culture, and new methods of social control. Giroux examines how neoliberal discourse (that is economic liberalism, not political liberalism) and the commodification of everyday life constitute an assault on collective memory, civil rights, and public agency. He contextualizes his argument with current events that reveal how institutions of government and business generate false narratives that promote fear, quietism and passivity.

Journalist, broadcaster, and former White House Press Secretary Bill Moyers said “Giroux refuses to give in or give up. The Violence of Organized Forgetting is a clarion call to imagine a different America—just, fair, and caring—and then to struggle for it.”

Comedian Marc Maron recently said on his popular podcast about the book, after visiting City Lights Books, “Holy f*ck, those are some words you don’t usually see together and the poetry of [the title] resonates with me. … I’m like holy sh*t, man, and I’m gonna get this book.  I’m gonna read it.  I’m gonna rejigger my brain and understand it all.” Now you can too.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter Five, “Lockdown USA: Lessons from the Boston Marathon Manhunt”:

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Poetry on a Monday: Majorie Cameron

Cameron, June 2, 1962. Printed, poem and drawing included in Semina 8, 1963 Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica.

Exciting news of an upcoming exhibition on the work of Marjorie Cameron, occultist, artist, poet, bohemian in LA this October at MOCA!

George Herms discussing her work

And catch her in this snapshot of North Beach 1959 in which you can also spot Wallace Berman, Bob Kaufman and others…

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Review: Language Arts by Cedar Sigo

by Jackson Meazle

languageartsWe’ve come a long way by the time the first poem of Cedar Sigo’s new book Language Arts (Wave Books, 2014) is over. It is a prose ode to poets, friends, publishers, and people in general who made the poet who he is as a collective presence. Where one unnamed beloved ends another begins with little hesitation or pause. Here is the peopled world that a poet’s mind can hold. Here and further on, it is a backstage world reminiscent of Robert Altman’s best films. Overheard lines cast into the poems make for a monologue out of probable dialogue.


I have been described as private, that’s other people

 (You never really know) One year I sent everyone

 A slice of the rose for Christmas. It was meant the way

It sounded, withdrawn. Two fires on the high road whistling

The phone only echoes back my voice

Entrenched mirror, high rise pathways,

Pistol unit, sword, english glossing, streetlights

 Sniping back. Mothers lock up your daughters

                                    [from “Plains Pictograph”]

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Poetry on a Monday: Nathaniel Mackey

whatsaid serifatetadVery pleased to share Nathaniel Mackey‘s work today – author of many books of poetry, novels, critical theory, essays, and current professor at Duke University after many years at UC Santa Cruz. His many honors include a National Book Award, won in 2006 for his book Splay Anthem, and the 2014 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

City Lights has three books by Mackey still in print: Atet A.D., an epistolary work spanning a seven-month period shortly after Thelonious Monk’s death to the former Mystic Horn Society’s recording an album on John Coltrane’s birthday; and two books of poetry: School of Udhra (1993) and Whatsaid Serif (2001), both featuring the career-long serial poem Mackey has intertwined into all of his books his entire writing career going back to 1978: “Song of the Andoumboulou”.

From the Poetry Foundation

Born in Miami and raised in Southern California, poet, novelist, editor, and critic Nathaniel Mackey earned his BA from Princeton University and his PhD from Stanford University.
Mackey cites poets William Carlos Williams and Amiri Baraka, in addition to jazz musicians John Coltrane and Don Cherry, as early influences in his exploration of how language can be infused and informed by music. In a 2006 interview with Bill Forman for MetroActive magazine, Mackey addressed the relationship he seeks between music and his own poetry: “I try to cultivate the music of language, which is not just sounds. It’s also meaning and implication. It’s also nuance. It’s also a kind of angular suggestion.”

30 minutes of Mackey on a Monday is a good thing, whether you’re at home or at work. Here’s a reading from 2007 at UC Santa Cruz:

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