A student reading poetry aloud in 1950s Mexico
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The proxy war in Syria between Russia and Turkey is only the latest of many clashes between these two great powers. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 left its mark in Anglo-American literature and culture, when it inspired the British songwriter Percy French to write “Abdul Abulbul Amir,” a comic ballad about the fatal duel between an Ottoman soldier and a Russian soldier:

The sons of the Prophet are brave men and bold
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
But the bravest by far in the ranks of the Shah,
Was Abdul Abulbul Amir …

Now the heroes were plenty and well known to fame
In the troops that were led by the Czar,
And the bravest of these was a man by the name
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

More… “The Re-Enchantment of Poetry”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
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Anton Chekov, master of internal conflict
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The truth is, almost all of us want more than just one thing. The child who wants water also wants to share it with his mother. The mother wants her child to have water and also food.

Take a look at Chekhov’s stories. Maybe you already have and are already acquainted with his distinctively realistic stories. Anton Chekhov was a doctor and a writer. His writing included four plays and many short stories, almost all of which are justifiably described as great. He had a particular ability to capture the Russian culture in the second half of the 19th century: Its mixed mood of melancholy and ennui, of longing and not being willing to do anything about it. Sometimes his work approaches satire — there is a long tradition of satire in Russian fiction — and indeed he wrote satirical pieces to earn money for his college tuition, but far more often, as he begins to write longer stories, his work is leavened by the delicacy of his descriptions and the efficiency of his narratives. His characters are so real that one remembers them as one remembers people in one’s own life. Most of us in this country have to read his work in translation, and we are fortunate that excellent translations are available.
More… “Desire is Complicated”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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Real people are conflicted. So was Hamlet.
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It is standard advice to state that the main character or characters should want something. That it is wanting — desire — that motivates characters to act and action that creates the story, novel, perhaps even the persona in a persona poem. It’s not bad advice; genre fiction can get a lot of mileage from it. But if you are after something that goes deeper than the usual mystery novel, sci-fi, romance novel, or YA book, note that characters don’t always know what, or which, they want. They want to rob a bank but also fall in love. They want to fall in love but also rob a bank. Humans are ambivalent, and if characters are to come alive for a reader, they need to be ambivalent too. Sometimes they want what they want and at the same time do not want it. They are conflicted. The conflict within the character creates a subtler drama, a deeper layer of meaning. The reader ponders the character’s choices, the various possibilities open to the character. The reader is now paying attention to the character, not just what the character does, but what the character feels, what the character believes.
More… “Everybody Wants More than Just One Thing”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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In Zegoua, a town in southeastern Mali, I stand on the patio of my hotel where the border — between Mali, a country at peace, and Cote d’Ivoire, divided by war — bumps the concrete. I am the lone guest in this two-story, white-washed building with a top floor that resembles the bridge on a steamboat. The flags of Burkina Faso, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, and France hang above the hotel entrance, stuck in the heat.

A Malian named Hamidou Sakara, who runs the hotel, and I are listening to a call-in trivia show on Radio Bamako, broadcast from the capital city. The program’s topic is African geography. The host tosses out a question. “What physical feature marks Mali’s border with Senegal?”

“It’s the Faleme River,” Hamidou says.

A man calls with the same answer.

“Well,” says the host, “the River Faleme forms nearly the entire border with Senegal, but a… More…