Longmire writer Craig Johnson calls this classic a “literary napalm” — Orange County Chronicle

Joshua trees burning in California wildfires create striking cover image for “High Desert,” a new collection of poetry by poet, editor and translator Andrei Nafis-Sahli.

“A lot of the fire poems I write revolve around fires in 2019, when you get up in the morning and brush the ashes off your car, so I think it’s almost a foregone conclusion that I’ll end up writing about fires given the circumstances. In the past Several years have happened in our state,” Naffis-Sahely said. “I think fire is a destructive force, but at the same time it’s always associated with the idea of ​​rebirth, and essentially, you can’t really be reborn without fire, right?

Naffis-Sahely told me that there is an English proverb that poets don’t drive—“You and I both know that’s simply not true in America. Poets definitely drive, and they write a lot about it.”—and sit Being behind the wheel exposed him to the beauty and danger of the California landscape.

André Naffis-Sahely is the author of the poetry collection “High Desert”. (Image credit: Nina Subin / Courtesy of Bloodaxe Books)

“So while I was writing the book, I was driving for the first time in my life, and I saw fire everywhere,” he said. “Deserts tend to be very brutal, it destroys anything left by humans, it completely destroys buildings. The wind blows and all traces of human activity disappears far more than other types of ecosystems,” he said.

“It was also fascinating to me because one of the big differences between the Arabian desert where I grew up and the California desert where I spent a lot of time was actually no fire. Because there was no fire at all,” the poet Say. “We have a dust storm.”

Instead of talking to me in the desert, Naffis-Sahely was in London, where he spent part of the year as editor of London Poetry magazine. Born in Italy to an Iranian father, an architect and activist who fled the 1979 revolution, Naffis-Sahely, an Italian mother, grew up in Abu Dhabi and moved to the UK as a teenager. He said he might have stayed there had he not met his wife, author and educator Zinzi Clemmons and moved to the United States in 2014.

Since then, he has taught at Whittier College at Occidental College and is a writer-in-residence at UCLA, and as we spoke, he and Clemons were preparing to return to California and spend time at UC Davis. tenure, they all teach there now. (And full disclosure: When I was preparing to interview Naffis-Sahely, I realized that he and I had met for a few minutes on the campus of Occidental College, which I didn’t realize when I started reading his work.)

The poet’s decision to move to the United States to be with his wife fuels one of the most powerful poems in the series, “Welcome to America.” Written in the voice of an immigration agent, the poem is a barrage of accusations and insinuations – “I’ve seen too many of your passports/stamps”, “Why did she want you?” and “I love thrillers/and mysteries and plots/ A little” – the poet said this was addressed to him in real life.

“The original title was ‘what the immigration officer told me’ because that’s basically what happened. That poem was almost a direct transcript of a conversation I had during multiple questionings at airport security,” Nafis-Sa said Hurley said he said the agents couldn’t believe the poet would move to America to love. “They did print my poetry and prose” and it was futile to try to find other motives.

Joining his previously published collection “The Promised Land: Poetry in a Mobile Life” and the booklet “The Other Side of Nowhere”, “High Desert” from British poetry publisher Bloodaxe Books mixes works about Los Angeles and California The poetry found in the desert evokes the voices of 19th-century scholars and labor activists, as well as figures such as General George S. Patton and Richard Nixon, in their own words.

This isn't Bisbee, it's an infrared scene from the wooden building cemetery in Bodie Historic State Park.  (Getty Images)
This isn’t Bisbee, it’s an infrared scene from the wooden building cemetery in Bodie Historic State Park. (Getty Images)

A poem in Los Angeles, “Maybe People Don’t Want to Live, Let Live,” evokes the life of Arthur Lee, the leader of the great Los Angeles band Love in the 1960s.

“As you know, for Arthur Lee, he had a lot of California in his life, especially Los Angeles. In his life, you really saw Los Angeles from where he was in the 50s all the way to the early 20s before he died. change,” said the poet. “I love his music. The more I get to know him, the less there isn’t as much in there as I would like; I think people should write more books about Arthur Lee.”

In the poem “In the Graves of the Laborers,” he describes an unforgettable visit to a cemetery in Bisbee, Arizona, where the best cemeteries “belong to cattle thieves, murderers, and bushbreakers.” But hidden in the back corner are laborers and labor organizers, with the tombstone “time/making most names illegible.”

“As I walked through the cemetery, you would see the elements were basically just rubbed off on the headstone to the point where you could barely make out the names,” he said. “Part of the impetus of these poems is, well, you might not be able to capture the whole content of that moment, the whole content of that existence, but you can at least make a very limited record of it before it’s completely gone.”

Naffis-Sahely and I discussed a range of other topics—from the great California poet Robinson Jeffers to haunting stories about buildings eroded by sand and elements—and when we wrapped up, I asked him if he still had What would you like to share about “High Desert”.

“You know, maybe politically, I would say this: My father was Iranian; he left Iran in ’79 because he was essentially a leftist activist. Like a lot of people with that background, he Exiled. So I think part of that is a tribute to him and his brand of politics. You know, we’ve always had a little bit of a legacy of left-wing politics in the family,” he said, adding that the book was “I talk about family The way of history, but in a different way.”

• • •

What fiction or non-fiction do you like? If you have any book recommendations, please send them to epedersen@scng.com and they may appear in the column.

Thanks as always for reading.

Craig Johnson reveals what he considers ‘literary napalm’ book

Craig Johnson is the author of the Longmire book series, which
Craig Johnson is the author of the Longmire series of books, of which Hell and the Return is the latest. (Photo by Adam Jahiel/Courtesy of Viking)

Craig Johnson is the author of the best-selling Longmire mystery series, which has also been adapted into a Netflix series. He lives in Eucross, Wyoming, a town of 26 people. The latest Langmeier novel, Hell and Return, is out this month.

Q: What can you tell readers about your new Longmire book, Hell and Back?

I think, after 18 Longmire novels, it’s time for a change, and Hell And Back certainly did. The fine sheriff finds himself in the middle of a snow-covered street in Plattsburgh, Montana, a town notorious for the fiery deaths of 30 young Native boys at a local boarding school. Walter doesn’t remember who, what, or where he is, leading him to investigate himself before trying to discover why he was there.

Q: This is your 18th Longmire novel. What were the challenges of writing a character in as many books as you have?

Any long-standing series needs some revamp from time to time, which is an adventure in itself because you’re tampering with the formula for success, and some loyal readers might not appreciate that. I’m lucky because I have very keen readers and a great publisher in Viking/Penguin, which gives me a lot of literary freedom – so I can take my chances.

Q: What is the most unexpected benefit of your writing success?

I can walk into a hardware store in Buffalo, Wyoming and buy anything I need. Now, that might not sound like much, but for someone who’s been straightening nails for most of his life, it’s pretty awesome…

Q: What are you reading now?

I’m reading Jim Thorpe’s biography “Lightning Lights” by David Malanis and “Traveling with George” by Nathaniel Philbrick – we are lucky to live in a place where so many Outstanding writers turn their talents into non-fiction. I’ve also been lucky enough to get a pre-read copy of T. Jefferson Parker’s forthcoming “Rescue,” which is always a treat.

Q: How do you decide what to read next?

Well, I’m an indentured servant studying Langmeier’s novels, which is amazing, but other than that, I’m just following my interests and good writers. There are only two types of literature, good writing and bad writing. I try to avoid bad things.

Q: Do you remember the first book that influenced you?

“To Kill a Mockingbird” takes me back to my childhood – it’s literary napalm that sticks and burns. Another is the “Grapes of Wrath” that people are still trying to ban everywhere. I have to smile every time I visit the Steinbeck Center in Salinas because I’m acutely aware that in the ’30s they used to burn this man’s book in the town square across the street.

Q. Is there a book that makes you nervous to read?

The sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Go Set a Watchman,” and I can’t help but think that Harper Lee doesn’t want to publish this book.

Q. Do you listen to audiobooks? If so, do you have any recommended titles or narrators?

Anything George Guidall reads – he’s the king of audiobooks. I live on a ranch with a population of 26 in the nearest town and I have an old CD player and I have a Guidall on for the horses at night. While the horse was eating, I sat on a stool in the stable and asked him to introduce me to world literature. I talked to him once and we discussed the importance of audiobooks, especially in the American West, and how people rarely finish an album in their car, but they do a chapter in the parking lot or in the driveway. Also, he records my book…

Q: Is there anything about your book that nobody knows about?

The horrific fire depicted in “Hell and Return” was actually modeled after the 1959 boarding school fire in Wrightsville, Arkansas, when 21 African-American boys burned to death – the doors were locked from the outside, Some of the kids were actually locked to the radiator.

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