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From the Archive: “Rhyming Action” by Charles Baxter

For the last three hundred years or so, prose writers have, from time to time, glanced over in the direction of the poets for some guidance in certain matters of life and writing. Contemplating the lives of poets, however, is a sobering activity. It often seems as if the poets have extracted pity and terror from their work so that they could have a closer first-hand experience of these emotions in their own lives. A poet’s life is rarely one that you would wish upon your children. It’s not so much that poets are unable to meet various payrolls; it’s more often the case that they’ve never heard of a payroll. Many of them are pleased to think that the word “salary” is yet another example of esoteric jargon.

Charles Baxter and MQR

I was stunned by the long first paragraph of “Harmony of the World.” I set down the story and took a deep breath, thinking that if the rest of the story were this well written and as secure in its rhetorical structure, this narrative would fulfill Milton’s prescription for greatness. It would be read appreciatively a hundred years hence, just as in 1980 we read short fiction by Henry James and Stephen Crane, and poems by Emily Dickinson.

Fall 2015

A special section pays tribute to the work of Charles Baxter: Laurence Goldstein tells of discovering Baxter’s first submission to MQR, Matt Burgess discusses “Forbearance,” Michael Byers lays out a Baxterian taxonomy, Matthew Pitt discovers Baxter’s affinity with Wile E. Coyote, Joan Silber analyzes his use of melodrama, Valerie Laken explores “Minnesota nice,” and Jeremiah Chamberlin interviews the man himself.

Fiction from Beth Thompson, Garret Keizer, Ronna Wineberg, Maria Adelmann, Laura Lampton Scott, Jane Ratcliffe.

Poetry from Timothy Liu, Alessandra Lynch, Raymond McDaniel, Deborah Pope, Durs Grünbein.

“Forbearance,” by Charles Baxter

* fiction by Charles Baxter *

With a tiny advance from a publisher and a six-week deadline, she felt like a caged animal hopping on electrified grates for the occasional food pellet. Her professional reputation was at stake: after this volume was published, she would probably be held up to ridicule in the New York Review of Books for her translation of this very poem. She could already see the adverb-adjective clusters: “discouragingly inept,” “sadly inappropriate,” “amusingly tin-eared.” One of the few Americans who had any command of this dialect, she belonged to a tight little society full of backbiters.