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In Dark Ladies & Other Avatars, her debut poetry collection, Joan Roberta Ryan pays exquisite attention to seeing, eating, feeling, reflecting, and remembering — acts of attention that define what it means to live fully and well. Lit up by sparkling specificity and wit, these beautifully crafted, mostly free verse poems focus on both lovely things and disturbing things. Ryan’s subjects range from contemplations of literature and art, to heart-breaking poems about a sister’s mental illness, to appreciations of family members and their prized possessions. Most touchingly of all, the poet writes of long-married love and the art of domestic life. Ryan’s language is erudite, but her poems are never obscure. Even when she deploys unusual words, such as “akathisia” (a movement disorder) and “anosmia” (loss of the sense of smell), she does in the service of exactitude; readers get to increase their vocabularies in the bargain. Ryan incorporates subtle half-rhymes and enlivening tonal changes. She writes smart poems with heart. More… “The Dark Lady Ryan”

Lynn Levin teaches at Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. Her published works include four collections of poems, the latest of which is Miss Plastique (Ragged Sky Press, 2013). She is co-author of the craft of poetry book, Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets (Texture Press, 2013) and the translator, from the Spanish, of Birds on the Kiswar Tree (2Leaf Press, 2014), a collection of poems by the Peruvian poet Odi Gonzales.
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June can be the cruelest month in London . . . if you originally come from Spain. At this point in the year, most cities in the Iberian Peninsula showcase a splendid sun: a warning of the blazing summer that is to come.

But this was not the case in the gayish Soho district. It was a rainy and chilly afternoon as I hurried along, weaving my way through the crowded Shaftesbury Avenue. I was late for my coffee with Robbie Rojo, a tanned and good-looking expat from Cadiz who I knew well from the internet. Still, I had almost no knowledge of him. This is usually the case with porn stars. If you have seen them in action, you know very intimate details about them, but you have almost no idea about who they really are. “Will his demeanor be as wild as his performances on screen?”, I wondered as I looked for him in the Starbucks of Wardour Street.

What brought us together on that gray London day were intellectual concerns. For a long time, men have commercialized the female body through the media, especially in porn. A Netflix show, Hot Girls Wanted, has recently brought many of these stories to light. But what about those men who become objects of pleasure for other men? “Who is the person behind the body? How do you live your life when you become an object of desire?”, I asked Robbie on Facebook. He found my highbrow doubts amusing. He was the first of many. Over the past year, I have been in touch with a good number of gay porn stars. Much maligned sometimes, yet also secretly imitated and revered, these men had many things to say about the ups and downs of a profession greatly transformed by the internet in recent years.

More… “Sacred Monsters”

Ernesto Oyarbide is presently reading for a Dphil in History at the University of Oxford. He regularly writes on contemporary issues around cosmopolitan culture, human identities and anything digital.
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In a certain way, Punpun seems like a normal, if rather put-upon, kid. Sure, his dad is an abusive ne’er-do-well who abandons his family and his mom is a neglectful lush, but Punpun himself seems like a rather average, likeable youth. He craves sweets, is both curious and terrified about sex, enjoys hanging out with his friends, and pines arduously for Aiko, the cute girl in his class.

Of course, one glance at Punpun will instantly show you what separates him from the rest of the crowd. Unlike most of the cast in Inio Asano’s Goodnight Punpun (two volumes thus far), who are drawn in a relatively realistic fashion, Punpun and his immediate family are delineated as what could best be described as little bird ghosts: two stick legs, an upside down U for a body, two dots for eyes and pointy little beak nose — a childish scrawl interacting with a photorealistic world. It’s not necessarily the most original way to convey a character’s alienated relationship with society, but in Asano’s hands it remains an odd and striking method.
More… “The Passion of Punpun”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
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The railway combined rapid movement and the possibility of transportation across large distances. As difficult it is to imagine today, in the age of jet travel, the transition from stagecoach to train was a rocky one. In 1843, after the railway lines from Paris to Rouen and Orléans had been inaugurated, German-Jewish writer Heinrich Heine wrote:

What changes must now occur in our way of viewing things and in our imagination! Even the elementary concepts of time and space have begun to vacillate. Space is killed by the railways, and we are left with time alone. … I feel as if the mountains and forests of all countries were advancing on Paris. Even now, I can smell the German linden trees; the North Sea’s breakers are rolling against my doors.

In the words of cultural historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch, the railway created “a revolutionary rupture with (all) past forms of experience.” His book The Railway Journey remains the eminent source. The railway freed travel from the constraints of human and animal muscle power (and stench) and — to the extent that the network expanded — from geography itself. It also introduced a number of new sensory and psychological experiences. In this context, the mechanical vibration from the engine was seen as particularly threatening, often inspiring fears that the train would derail. Drivers complained about “the trepidation of the machines, the regular but perpetual movements that it transmits to the entire body and to the lower extremities in particular,” as a French article about influences on the health of train conductors recapitulated in 1857. Some early drivers came up with arrangements to cushion the shocks and jerking vibrations, but over time they got used to them. First- and second-class passengers profited from upholstery, but for some time they still suffered from fatigue as a result of the unfamiliar movements. Train passengers also experienced a sensation of disorientation, but gradually got accustomed to the new mode of travel.

More… “Adventure and Pain…”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.
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A pro-surfer friend described Sayulita as a kid-friendly artist hamlet where you can surf in warm water year round, gorge on heaping plates of Mexico’s best fish tacos for two bucks, and have your morning latte. I was on the prowl for an unsanitized destination to get my son, Kai, his first passport stamp (which meant no Club Med within spitting distance). Yet I also craved a reasonably safe vacation spot to relax with my four-month-old baby. As it turned out, Sayulita fit the bill.

Though the community originated as a coconut harvesting and fishing village, after the highway from Puerto Vallarta was completed in the 1960s, surfers — hearing rumors about an epic right and left reef break — sojourned to Sayulita for waves without the masses. Today, Sayulita, located on Mexico’s newly rebranded Riveria Nayarit, is one of those beach towns that travelers whisper about for fear it will wander the road of Mexico’s other former fishing “villages” (locals are adamant about their hamlet not becoming another Cabo or Cancun). Yet even as the town swells with enough American travelers that I scratched my head and wondered how so many people know about this intriguing mix of surfers, funky galleries, local families, gourmet eateries, and rich Mexican culture, Sayulita still feels like a secret. More… “Shifting Expectations in Sayulita”

Michele Bigley is a world traveler, travel writer, and public speaker. She writes guidebooks about California and Hawaii and has contributed her travel writing to national and international outlets. She was a featured travel expert for CNN’s On the Go.
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Playboy announced yesterday that it will be covering up a bit after over 60 years of publication. In response the surge of nude and pornographic content available for free online, the magazine that took sex to the front page will not feature nude women beginning next March. Maybe now people really will just read it for the articles. (The New York Times)

Alaska and at least nine U.S. cities followed the lead South Dakota took in 1990 and celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day yesterday instead of Columbus Day. Activists argue that honoring Christopher Columbus honors a history of Native American and African American subjugation. Supporters say that the U.S. would not be the way it is today without Columbus. (USA Today and Heavy, Inc.)

About a month ago, Elisa Gabbert meditated on the word “pretty” for the Smart Set. Now, the Guardian is taking a long, hard look at “ugly.” (The Guardian) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.
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He swiveled around on his bar stool and leaned close to me and put his hands down my shirt. They gave off little sparks. I leaped off my stool like someone escaping flames.

“What the fuck are you doing? I’m married?”

“So what?”

He obviously had no respect for the institution.

Harriet Levin Millan’s debut novel, How Fast Can You Run, based on the life of “Lost Boy” of Sudan Michael Majok Kuch has been selected as a Charter for Compassion Global Read. She’s the author of two books of poetry, and a third to appear in 2018. Among her prizes are the Barnard New Women Poets Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing at Drexel University…. More…

All is not well. But we do not see that at first. The white house and the white picket fence are in perfect order. The sky is blue and bright. The flowers are red and yellow. The grass is green. We’re surrounded by primary colors and clarity.

“David Lynch: The Unified Field” Through January 11, 2015. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA

The man watering his lawn doesn’t notice the kink in the hose. The water pressure is building. The pressure in his neck builds, too. Suddenly, the man grabs his neck and falls to the ground. He is having a heart attack, or a stroke. The water from the hose shoots into the air as he falls. The man’s little dog bites ferociously at the stream. The camera pans down into the grass, into the muck… More…

When I read Marguerite Duras’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Lover, I was twenty-four years old, just finishing my MFA in writing and wondering what I would do next with my life. I stared at her cover photo on the book jacket. She was seventy, wrinkled, yes, yet more so than any human being I had up until that point laid eyes on: wrinkles marking her face in every direction, while tough like elephant hide. I was horrified; panicking I consulted my mirror for telltale signs of aging. There were bags under my eyes from staying up late or drinking or a combination of both. I checked my driver’s license photo where I’m smiling. Were they laugh lines or crow’s feet? Like all women just ending a marriage, I was suddenly single, yet I was on the clock. I couldn’t believe that I had wasted all that time — four years dating, getting… More…

I grew up in a world that some people might consider a paradise. Or was it more like hell? In any case, I was regularly surrounded by naked strangers. Sometimes I knew these encounters were coming my way, while other times they took me by surprise.

The scene was Europe in the early 1970s. I can remember long-haired students running naked through the streets of West Berlin, my home town. These “streakers” were so fast that those in the vicinity only glimpsed them for a moment. As far as I can recall, the streakers’ physical exploits were not tied to any political agenda. I think they simply enjoyed shocking or provoking people by intentionally pushing boundaries – but I was too young to have an opinion about it or even find it all particularly interesting.

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays…. More…