We love bookdress. The sheer creativity, the humor, the meta of it just makes us smile.
Speaking of generous writing, Cornelius Eady is performing cuts from Book of Hooks and a bunch of other music and poetry all around the country. From Iowa, an interview on public radio. And on The Rumpus (one of our favorite literary hubs), a great selection from Hooks, “Stone Cold Jane.” You can read the lyrics and liner notes, play the song, and marvel at a photo of the Lit Prof/Roller Derbyist who chose Jane Austen for her roller derby handle. (Who could resist writing her a theme song?) Cornelius and his band, Rough Magic, will perform in Brooklyn, NY at the Poetry Salon April 24th at Greenlight Books, along with Stevie Edwards and Safia Elhillo, or you can catch Cornelius the day before, April 23 in Rochester, NY, at Writers & Books community literary center.
Never mind the robin we found in the street the other day. What I want to say is this: A lot of good writing comes across my desk, and in rare instances the reading and response leads to further conversations. I am at the moment immersed in two such illuminated exchanges and I am grateful for the way they make me think and feel more deeply, with more discernment, about art and about being human.
One of the subjects which has come up differently in each correspondence is the problem of overly smart writing. By this all I really mean is the writer employing language or techniques that go over a given reader’s head. There are several ways one might respond when encountering such writing. You could say, Ugh, so pretentious, can’t you use smaller words? You could say Not my cuppa tea but more power to ya. Or if like me you’ve had these particular criticisms leveled at your own work on occasion, you might say Wow, whilst enthusiastically grabbing a dictionary. You might revel in the luminous intellect on the page as a holy thing, as holy as honest emotion. You might not have come to art in order to be massaged, but more, to be woken up. No, I’m not advocating for snobbery in print. I’m saying that those artists who lead with intellect can be thrilling to read, and can lift our view to places we haven’t imagined. It has nothing to do with being academic (which I am decidedly not). But America is not a country known for its love of intellect. Maybe that’s enough reason to question the hostility in some literary circles, against writing which requires active intellectual work on the part of the reader, and not just emotional, absorptive response.
Which leads naturally into a discussion of audience. What is your goal as a writer? Do you agree with those who say anybody should be able to freely walk off the street and into your poem, your story? Should it be exactly that accessible, that easily opened? Or do you want the reader to work a little, to invest in peeling open the poem? (It’s not of course all that black and white–hardly anything ever is.) Are you a Big Tent reader like me, happy to move between these positions ad lib and appreciate each for its virtues, its pleasures?
That robin probably survived. I’ll save you the painful details, but we think it was the same one who landed on the fence a couple hours later, and stayed very near us. These birds are ground feeders and they don’t seem too quick on the uptake when cars approach, so watch the pavement when you’re behind the wheel. I hope spring has found you, here at the taxing heart of April. It’s coming in fits at the wompus, but finally the forsythia have burst and the daffys are in fine form, the lilac buds are surrounded by little pea green leaves, and after several days in the forties we are actually working today on the screen porch, in the sunshine, birdsong and diesel motors filling the air. Here on the north coast, warm weather means power tools at work in the neighborhood and orange barrels sprouting on the asphalt…
For a little Po Month fun, check out McSweeney’s Daily Haikus from Dan Chelotti.
And speaking of Poetry Month, there are a half dozen more readings upon us which I will likely miss, as I have missed most of the offerings this year. Nothing personal, I’ve just come to accept my own energy rhythms, and I’m too immersed in writing just now and too busy with the press, to pry myself out into the world very much. Are you one of those people who get energized by readings? Who go home and take up a pen–or can’t even wait that long and start scratching out something sparked by the reading while it’s still flowing around you? Or do such events leave you mulling and churning for hours afterwards, processing all the sensory input, the poems, the people, the conversation? If I had ten hours’ more energy each week, I still wouldn’t go out much these days, I’d walk more, get into the woods more, sit with my back against a tree more. Meditate more. Cook more. And then when I finished all those things I’d be raring to go to two or three readings…