. . . on Friday (February 4, 2011), 12 noon-1:15 p.m., in the Delaware Suite, Lobby Level of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, with Elizabeth Willis, Evie Shockley, Ed Roberson, and Adrian Blevins. Book signing by me 2:30-3:30 that afternoon, tho I plan to go up to the WesPress booth right after the reading, and I expect that Elizabeth, Evie, and Ed will be there, too, and maybe Rae Armantrout.
. . . which is suitably noir-ish and indeterminate, not unlike the contents (which see, right above).
If you click on the cover, it will take you to a description, blurbs, etc. You can also order the book then-and-there (unless you're going to AWP, where you can buy it at a discount - unless, of course, you want one less book in your suitcase, in which case, you should order it). I think that you will like it, in a pity-&-terror-cathartic sort of way.
In fact, if you think you're going to buy it anyway (and I do hope you do), then please go ahead and order it, so that Wesleyan will want to publish my next book, which is called No Soap (about my mother's life and times up to mid-1947). You can read the first chapter of that book here. If Wesleyan likes it, and publishes it, you will get to read the rest of it. So, if you like the first chapter of No Soap, and want to read the rest of it, please order Things Come On. Plus which, if you order it now, you will completely forget about it, and it will show up on your doorstep in February, when you undoubtedly will want a surprise of any sort.
A friend asked me about Abayomi Animashaun's poetry reading last night. I answered - and figured I might as well share it:
I think Abayo's book The Giving of Pears is much more interesting than your run-of-the-mill representational narrative verse. For one thing, he's keenly aware of sound - incl. cadences of sentences - and thinks about line-breaks. He read wonderfully (and slowly). Secondly, he uses his imagination. The poem rarely stays in one locale (or even in one apparent reality) for long. [indeed, many of his poems have a surrealist - or magical realist - aspect] Thirdly, I really like the way he handles the Nigeria/America thing - with a light touch - matter-of-fact, but again, taking it places you don't expect.
"Grounded in situational practice: that is, there are no a priori determinations regarding specific use of style, technique, form, order. Importantly, this is not a lack of aesthetic theory. In a sense it is theory theorizing upon theory. The indeterminate is never, here, transcendentally indeterminate: rather it maintains a connection to the determinate of its being claimed in the first place. Just as the unknowable is only and merely something a person may come to know, this indeterminate is something that may very well be tethered to a forthcoming determination."
- Brent Cunningham, quoted in A Tonalist, by Laura Moriarty (Nightboat 2010).
It's one thing to not be aware that your literary friends are, in fact, a coterie. It's something different, however, to start self-consciously thinking of your literary friends as though they were a coterie. This latter procedure can produce some useful and principled results. See, for instance, the "coda" to A Tonalist, by Laura Moriarty, where she makes a good case for interpellating friends and strangers into a "movement" she's thought up - one that is especially a Bay-Area phenomenon. A Tonalist values the contingent (not nec. continent) and fictional nature of coteries, one gathers. I'd sign on, but I can't, and it would defeat the point anyway.
I'm zipping around trying to find books, clothes, etc. for my second day of teaching primary school math. I stop at my apartment. The dog is there, a pug. But somehow this is only half the dog. What happened to the other half? A black and tan miniature dachshund - really, really miniature - is submerged in the water dish. Suddenly I realize I haven't been home for days. I pour out some food and apologize to the pug. "I don't know how he died," the pug says, matter-of-factly, nonchalant. "I guess he fell in the water dish and drowned."
Being "in" a coterie means not thinking of yourself as being in a coterie. You might be vaguely aware of it as a "community" or "group of friends," but it's the nature of coteries to be like the water to the fish. And wondering why all those people on the other side of the glass are excluding you from their coterie.
Then there are the fish in the next tank over - now there's a coterie. They're so exclusionary. Those are BAD FISH. Nobody would want to be in their tank.
When there is money (or jobs, publication opportunities, etc.) at stake, everything gets a little more intense. And when you start writing about your coterie's exciting adventures, recording their bons mots, and referring to them by their first names, you've started writing to your coterie - and only them. The people on the other side of the glass have gotten bored and gone home.
"Bayle is suggesting that any merely truthful account of mankind is liable to take on the appearance of a slander simply because the usual run of mankind is more likely to be ignoble than noble, and that the truth itself is therefore more than likely to take on the aspect of a calumny."
A former student is telling me about the beautiful place in Oregon where he's gotten a job. I grow increasingly jealous and despondent, until he tells me his partner complains about it all the time, b/c the wind blows the waves the wrong way, in that place.
The Green Party has taken over and appointed me acting governor of Denver, which is a Chinese province. I'm buying horse stuff in preparation to flee. I/we are trying to get out of Alaska once and for all.
Nicholas Ripatrazone has posted an enlightened appeal for more literary magazines in creative-writing classrooms (over at Luna Park ) - and for students to read them before they submit work to them.
But one part tripped me up. He recalls having stumbled upon some poems by a novelist in a lit mag and comments, "Something about such genre jumping seemed freeing; I would learn that such freedom was endemic to literary magazines."
Endemic? Now, novelists have written poems ever since there have been novels - and there are novels and plays, etc., by poets, memoirs by playwrights, etc. And it's not like literary journals are en masse including "other" or "trans-genre" as a generic category (save with some shining exceptions like Hotel Amerika or Fringe). It's still the Big Three, when it comes to officially approved genres. So, I have to wonder what the excitement here is all about.
A few lines later it becomes clear what Ripatrazone means: "The poem had felt like prose . . . ." Well, in my view, there are way, way too many poems that "feel like" prose - i.e., that interrupt the cadences of prose with arbitrary and unnecessary line breaks. To me, that's not freeing, that's irritating. And the fact that a novelist can do it doesn't make it any less irritating.
I think maybe what's at issue here is the (unconscious?) co-optation of the term "mixed-genre" (or "multi-genre") by the literary establishment. Instead of meaning a text that combines the conventions of, say, poetry and fiction, verse + prose, it comes to mean (get this) - a novelist who also writes poems!
In other words, a term describing a literary trend that is, if not new, certainly coming into its own is re-purposed to describe something that has been going on for hundreds of years. One could come up with a worse definition of ideology.
I keep meaning to write some “book descriptions” (a.k.a. chickenshit pseudo-reviews) – and indeed, I have a stack of books on my desk awaiting just such a fate. But I’ve actually been too busy – a.) working on my writing or b.) getting really depressed about my writing.
But I’m going to break down and write one today – about Gilliam Conoley’s The Plot Genie – not new new (2009), but new enough, right? Anyway, this book is inspired by what I gather were a series of books by Wycliffe A. Hill (his real name?), a silent-film director who titled the series (yep) The Plot Genie. I further gather than it presented one with options for story elements at any given stage of a plot – maybe a 1930s version of hyper-fiction.
That’s what I gather – based on Conoley’s notes in the back. But it’s not a docupoem. It’s a reflection about plot and plotting – about narrative and narrativization – how we tell ourselves about ourselves accordingly – successfully or un.
There is a cast of characters: Comedy Boy, Tyger, Miss Jane Sloane, Handsome Dead Man (I “gather” this phrase actually appears in the original P.G.), Redhead, E., and R. (a couple – either more so or once again – get it?). Where one ends and another begins is sometimes in doubt.
Stories begin in these poems, only to slip into a different story and then a third, fourth, etc. – until there’s really no “story arc” at all – only arcs that form a kind of squiggly curve (or wheel – see p. 24 – I Gather that there might have been some kind of wheel device included w/the original PG – maybe as a random plot-element generator):
drain the pond to see the fish.
Or sometimes tortoises, gulls, empty vials of human growth –
maybe a messenger – a slope nosed boxer on a junket
in a satin cape. In an alley – speaking out the side of his mouth – I am thy father’s spirit,
doomed once more and for a certain time
to walk the earth – quipped
Comedy Boy, darkening the door
And so, “with one journey finished,/ so begins another, and with another over, so starts// the next, asn on, on into//the long intolerable arc,/no hour of doom to come” (this just after a passage from The Postman Always Rings Twice - maybe they are interchangeable). It’s just one damn thing after another – which is what Hayden White would call the Ironic or Satirical mode of historiography, I reckon. Which also means there are bigger stakes, i.e.: “That’s precisely how antagonists wreck one’s mind./ To feel no identity aright except/ one first stirred/ by becoming someone else – // which does not so much relieve/ my hunger to become,// as keep it immortal in me . . .” So the storyteller and character are uncomfortably close, as is that character to all the others. If the story is a wheel, it don’t never stop. “The future is a probe, tied to its fear/ of stopped time . . .” Got to keep the story moving. So get up in the morning. I guess – anyway, I get the sense of a pathological and irresistible demand for plot – for story and more story being drawn out of - language? the subject? the author? – in this book – which I guess is what the 1001 Nights is (are) about, except that Scheherazade stays Scheherazade in that one. The end, for now.
Author of Things Come On: (an amneoir) (Wesleyan University Press’ poetry series, 2011), earth day suite (Beard of Bees Press, Dec. 2010), Of Some Sky (Bedouin, forthcoming), and Poetry and the Public (Wesleyan 2002).