potentiality

Several interesting possibilities may be coming up, but for now they are all potential energy. It’s been a busy few weeks and I hope that some of the work pays off, but I also know that sometimes it just doesn’t.

One of the projects that I know will pay off is getting ready for our second visiting writer TJ Beitelman, who just birthed a novel into the world. Good stuff! Has a mood not unlike Lynch directing some O’Connor or McCarthy. He’s going to be great with my students and I’m excited to hear the conversation.

I unfortunately abandoned the first title in our Great Books of the 21st Century reading list. American Gods just wasn’t for me and felt like a total chore reading. I’ve only read some of Neil Gaiman’s short fiction and have liked it and I find him inspiring as an artist and fellow human being, but I just couldn’t manage Gods.

I think the group is set to discuss my failure and to start The Book Thief.

I’ve written a little about this elsewhere, but I was totally flattered to have my project Little Billboards get a nice mention from the Found Poetry Review.

I think I’m still working in the spirit that I started the project. While I haven’t abandoned “traditional” haiku formats, I’ve been having a lot of fun working in found poetry/humument territory. I wish I had time to do more sound poems (or whatever they are). Regardless, I’m trying to update two to four times a week. I was a bad art student once, but this project has been a great excuse to play again. My two-year-old daughter often helps or works alongside me. The good stuff’s probably hers.

One of the more interesting titles I wrote and worked to this past week:

 

 

a new denomination ain’t a thing but a name

A highlight of my week was having Abraham Smith jump-start the visiting writers series I’m developing for my school. On the day he spoke his new book came out and we got to hear him read from his own work and from greats like Dylan Thomas. I hope my students enjoyed interacting with him as much as I enjoyed their interactions. A great day at work.

There’s so much in the hopper right now. I’ll elaborate as I can.

The Five Hundred is a cool website that I’m currently using to work some fiction muscles. The way it works: Every month you get a prompt for a five hundred word flash fiction piece. Contributors are kindly workshopping each other’s pieces. And that’s it. This month there was a bonus one hundred word prompt, so I wrote a ghazal. I’m pretty happy with it. You can read it here. I still consider much of my fiction apprentice work and some of it makes me cringe. But, what the heck, you can read my response here. Check out some other work on there, too. As someone without access to or time for MFA courses, this site came to me at the right time.

I’m still writing with music. More inspiration in sound from this week:

The Sadies:

Lots of John Fahey:

And Abe Smith himself turned me onto Washington Phillips:

 

 

 

 

 

you’re never too old to apprentice and 7+ pieces of audio inspiration

In order to hone my fiction chops, I decided to join The Five Hundred, a site that presents a prompt every month with the outcome being some form of flash fiction between 400-600 words. Next week, I’ll have a ghazal (based on a “bonus” 100 word prompt) and flash fiction piece called, “In the Cup of the Beholder.” Once the pieces go live, the writers treat the site as a workshop. I may not be able to submit each month, but I think I’ll enjoy the challenge.

Jeff McLeod suggested The Five Hundred. Thanks, Jeff!

With a two-year-old and a week-old newborn in the house, my writing time and process changed a little over the past few weeks. One, I’ve been mostly writing on a computer rather than in the notebooks I’ve kept for twenty years. It feels faster and time is something I’m short on. I don’t know if the quantity improves the quality of the writing, but I always write a lot and throw a lot away. The process feels more streamlined now.

And two, I wrote with music. In the past, it was pure distraction from writing. Maybe it’s all the life changes, but composing with music felt right, but I could only listen to certain pieces. With that in mind, I thought I’d share those here.

The prompt for the fiction piece was “Tear it down and try again.” One of the things I like about writing is research. This can send me into a spiral that I have to get out of quickly or else I won’t write anything. Initially, the prompt pushed me into writing an essay about the self and zen and I eagerly pulled book after book from my shelves until I realized that the topic was interesting, but not something I was prepared to turn into fiction. I abandoned that and looked at the Book of Revelations instead, which made me think of this classic by Son House:

Even though I mostly listen to instrumental music, Clarence Ashley’s version of “Coo Coo Bird” was on repeat. Maybe the droning effect of old time banjo kept this track from being distracting:

Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies:

Frescobaldi’s Fantasies: Book 1:

Vandermark 5: “New Acrylic”

Secret Chiefs 3: “Balance of the 19”

Also SC3: “Tistrya”

These artists share no blame in what they inspired.

a farewell to Papa, for now

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
Hemingway,  New York Journal-American (11 July 1961)

I’m lucky enough to have at least one friend who will devote time to reading projects. We just finished our Hemingway list started a year-and-a-half ago. Our goal was similar to the Vonnegut project: read the author’s works in chronological order. With Hemingway, we skipped the poems, letters, biographies, etc. and went to the book-length prose–fourteen books total.

Overall, what I find interesting in doing these extended readings of a corpus is how much these writers do that doesn’t fit with the generalizations often presented as critical summaries. These are necessary evils, I suppose, but they are also a shame. I know I’ve made assumptions about understanding someone’s work based on little evidence. For example, I remember the anthology commercials that played three seconds of every song and I assumed I “got” acts like Buddy Holly from those brief samples. I didn’t, and when I finally put the time into listening to Holly, I was pleasantly surprised about what I found.

With Hemingway, one of those stereotypes is his concise, sometimes telegraphic and repetitive, style. I believe he was a master of style, despite his quote about “masters.” He had plenty of quirks, some I like and some I don’t, but he wrote plenty of sentences longer than five words. There’s quite a range of syntax and diction in his work. Another benefit of reading through so much of someone’s work is you get to see the masterpieces and the mistakes. Our “masters” are human, after all.

I like and dislike as many of his men as I do his women and he wrote with sensitivity and emotion beyond simple masculine chest-thumping. He could sometimes write about food and wine as well as he could about war or bullfighting or hunting.

I think Hemingway’s ultimate masterwork is the short stories. I think it was difficult and rare for him to achieve the brilliance of the short stories in longer forms. Then again, I think it’s difficult for any artist in any form to achieve what he does in some of the short stories. Technically, they weren’t part of our reading project since we both had read the collected short stories before making our list.

Here are my top five of what we did read:

1. A Moveable Feast (haven’t read the 2009 edition)
2. Across the River and into the Trees
3. The Old Man and the Sea
4. For Whom the Bell Tolls
5. Garden of Eden

I guess I would argue that these are also his “best,” though that could change depending on the day.

Torrents of Spring:
If you follow the link, you can read a post I made right after reading Torrents. I think I may have been unfair about Hemingway’s humor writing. I think his “satire” (or was this a way of getting out of a contract?) is terrible, but Papa could be hysterically funny sometimes.

The Sun Also Rises:
Hemingway said that he wanted to redeem the lost generation and that he wanted to recreate the rhythms of the King James Bible. Ultimately, I don’t believe he’s successful. We read Lady Brett as a matador and Jake as the bull. This metaphor gets used later and altered. The artist becomes the matador in later works. He repeats “in the fiesta” three times in two sentences. That’s one of the stylistic burps that bothers me in the book.

A Farewell to Arms:
Mostly like this one, too. Some of the dialogue is awful. Catherine is almost grotesque at times. Henry’s decision-making, especially about the baby, just doesn’t make sense to me. The war writing in this book is really good. Many consider this the quintessential World War I novel but I can’t speak to that subject. I feel like Sun and Farewell are the most popular novels, but I just didn’t feel like they were as successful as some of the later ones.

Death in the Afternoon and The Green Hills of Africa:
Overall, really good books. Some of Hemingway’s finest passages are in these memoirs, especially when he veers away from the main subjects of bullfights and safaris. Not great books, but essential for Hemingway fans, I think. Surprisingly good. Death has a section entitled “The Natural History of the Dead” that is one of my favorite Hemingway pieces.

To Have and Have Not
This book is so much fun at first, like a Florida-noir novel or something like that, and then tanks. I read that the opening was originally made of two short stories and they were pretty good as is. The novel brings up some interesting ideas like communism, but Hemingway doesn’t pull off the multiple perspectives in the way that someone like Faulkner could. Uneven.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Across the River and into the Trees, Old Man and the Sea
These books represent three different stylistic peaks for late Hemingway. I think For Whom is the best of the war novels and achieves something stylistically and structurally that he had been trying to do in the novel form since Sun. However, there are some really annoying quirks in this one. The Spanish rendering of familiar address as “thee” and “thou” achieves almost the opposite effect of the one I think he wanted. I understand why he does it, but it’s clunky. The “mucking muck” swearing sections are mucking awful to read and come off as silly. Again, I understand what he is doing, but I don’t think it works ultimately.

Across the River to me is possibly his best “literary” novel. It’s what happens when the war hero faces down his own death coming upon him from within rather than without. I feel like this is a “sleeper” hit, in the way that Mother Night is for Vonnegut. It’s a quiet, beautiful book.

Old Man is the book that I think achieves the KJV style he set out to replicate in Sun. It’s biblical and mythic. The symbolism here is handled at times about as well as C.S. Lewis could handle it, and despite that, the book is a deceptively simple masterpiece.

Islands in the Stream
Islands feels unfinished or at least feels like he hadn’t quite tweeked it enough. He worked on this book for a long time. I think it’s a reversal of To Have but much better. It redeems that work in some ways. There are some, possibly purposeful, stylistic shifts between sections. The third section, where the main character is referred to constantly by both of his names has echoes of For Whom. By the way, I hate that aspect of both books. When I’ve read 400 pages about a character, I will understand if you call “Robert Jordan” or “Thomas Hudson” by his first or last name.

A Moveable Feast
One of my favorite books. Young ex-pats in Paris in the ’20s.

Dangerous Summer
Dangerous Summer is just okay. There’s a lot of extra to make this a book: photos, an intro that goes to page 40 (that’s mostly about Old Man and the Sea [Really?]), the glossary from Death.

Garden of Eden
There’s a lot here for Hemingway fans and some surprises for those who think Papa is just the stereotypical masculine cartoon image that seems to get in the way of his work.

Under Kilimanjaro
After two tries, maybe this manuscript should be left alone. Originally released as the novel True at First Light, Kilimanjaro was later put out as nonfiction. While interesting to read as a Hemingway safari journal, it never hangs together as a book.

Six Word Summaries/Responses
My reading pal suggested we write six-word responses to each of the books we read in celebration of the six-word story often attributed to Papa. Here are mine:

Torrents of Spring: “France was a long way off.”

The Sun Also Rises: Lady Brett’s running of the “bulls.”

A Farewell to Arms: Sometimes the rain isn’t a baptism. (Alternative: “Priest every night five against one!”)

Death in the Afternoon: Writing equals bullfighting without puncture wounds.

The Green Hills of Africa: Writing equals hunting without gunshot wounds.

To Have and Have Not: Should have left the stories alone.

For Whom the Bell Tolls: It tolls for thee, mucking fascists!

Across the River and into the Trees: Where the market becomes the museum.

The Old Man and the Sea: Life is great victory, great loss.

A Moveable Feast: A Gossip Girl for lit nerds?

Islands in the Stream: Sometimes I like the song better.

Dangerous Summer: A posthumous not-so dangerous bummer.

Garden of Eden: Behold! Adam and Eve . . . and Marita!

Under Kilimanjaro: For Hemingway scholars and completists only.