At AWP David Rigsbee gave me a copy of his 2011 collection, The Pilot House, on the cover of which is Jill Bullitt’s ghostly painting, “War Dead.” No wonder this book took the Black River Chapbook Competition. The poems within are spare, quiet, surprising in their sudden incisions and intensity. I have been savoring them a few at a time.
Vincent Cellucci’s ear for the music of his beloved New Orleans is earthy and pitch perfect, in An Easy Place / To Die. This book, too, was given to me by the author at AWP. These poems, so dense with references, and so smart they stop me in my tracks, run the risk of turning off the casual reader. There are other contemporary poets I simply don’t read because I can’t find any access point in their nonlinear, non-narrative structure. I love many of John Yau’s poems because they find a place to stand with one foot in each world. Cellucci manages to walk that tightrope between deconstruction and through-line, enough to keep me on the edge of my chair.
I’m subject to the emotional impact of writing, to a fairly extreme degree. I do not read particularly gory books anymore because the violent images stay too well in my mind’s eye. And I tend not to read books that drain me. That’s a pretty big generalization and one I have barely analyzed–it’s more about an instinctive or intuitive response to a writer. But I like taking workshops that require me to read outside my comfort zone, and right now I’m reading Max Frisch’s Montauk, a book I would not have gotten past ten pages otherwise. I just read a passage more than twenty pages long, in which Frisch details a decades long friendship, and it was worth the discomfort of the preceding portions of the book.
I saw Being Flynn, the movie version of Nick Flynn’s first memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. It’s worth seeing, and even more, the book is worth a read. It’s shocking to see homeless men on the big screen–there is almost nothing in the popular media on the subject of homelessness. The book is a searing meditation on fathers and sons, on identity, responsibility, on what healing is possible in a ruptured parent-child relationship. The movie manages to translate some of that successfully. Flynn’s real life partner plays a role in the film and Flynn himself has a brief cameo. DeNiro looks as if he was born to play Flynn’s father and Julianne Moore is luminous as ever as the mother. Paul Dano’s young Nick is satisfyingly understated.
I’d say I am a lazy reader but it’s not that simple, because Cellucci’s poems are anything but an easy read for me. Yet they had the miraculous effect of restoring my spirit at a moment when I was simply done in. The mysterious ability of art to nourish the soul is something I believe in. Frisch, in Montauk, rejects the notion of any larger motive and says he writes purely for himself, though in order to do so he must imagine readers. I drink in art, and I write, for both reasons. I am foolish enough to believe that Art is important in the world, though not foolish enough to believe that my personal efforts on behalf of Art will necessarily make a contribution. I work at my art because I must, because I can’t tolerate, can’t make meaning of life, without the steadying pulse of art beneath the skin of days.