Honest to god - check it out. When the publicist for Wesleyan told me they were reviewing it, I braced myself. But never a good idea to prejudge periodicals or people.
Martin Rubin, the reviewer, is very generous, but extremely eloquent, insightful, and specific. I am o'erwhelmed. I am very grateful for the attention, not to mention the kind words.
He does take me to task a bit (albeit politely) for the less-than-glowing portrayal of Richard M. Nixon. Fair enough. Everything in the book is working on two levels: the political/historical and the emotional/biographical. So sometimes a Nixon is more than a Nixon. "Nixon for us had always been the cancer, the cancerer," I wrote at one point. The "for us" (meaning my family) is crucial in that statement - I was pre-disposed to overdetermine him. The fact that the extent of his and his associates' malfeasance appeared during the worst period of my life did nothing to counter-act that predisposition.
The cover-up of Watergate and the cover-up of breast cancer is a much more telling analogy/homology for me than Dean's "cancer on the presidency" bit. And there's really something about Nixon's potty mouth, as revealed in the tapes, that jibes with the filth and indignity of dying from cancer in the early 70s (or before). As someone (I forget who) once put it - "he is the Id" (the RMN on the tapes, not the one in public). It's not just that he uses the F-bomb a lot, but that he uses it transitively to refer to his enemies. It was almost like someone's medula oblongata had its hand on the Button for at least a few months there.
Having said that, the Constitution's the Constitution, and I'm fer it. If you try to subvert it - whether you're using the CIA and IRS as your personal political secret police force, or you're trying to pack the Supreme Court with your cronies - I'm agin' it.
I also should say that I happen to agree with Rubin's negative assessment of much "experimental" writing, in the first paragraph - that it is stale and predictable. Which depresses me, since I like experimental writing in general - and much of it is fresh and surprising. I don't necessarily think that it's bad to innovate for the hell of it - to see what happens. If it doesn't work, move on (or maybe if it does work, move on - like Oulipo). But it's true that a lot of experimental writing isn't. It's simply hewing to a different convention than "mainstream" or "academic" or "confessional" poetry - a type of writing that I tend to find even more boring than the most precious and formulaic "experimental" work. Which is to say that familiarity breeds contempt in literature no less than other spheres of experience.
Fortunately, there are writers who are smart, know their theory, understand the ideological stakes, but who still let the radio signals through, no matter what they say. That's why god gave us revision - to give the left side of our brain something to do after the first draft.
Kevin Varrone's BOX SCORE: An Autobiography of Zeroes - [I'll be delivering this talk in Ottawa, Kansas on Friday. In the meantime, I highly recommend Kevin's book; I've read it a dozen times now, and it has rew...
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