Detail from I'M FROM NOWHERE book cover
fiction

Lerman: Climate anxiety that is ‘subcutaneous—felt but barely articulated’

One of my favorite author-written Forewords is to Lindsay Lerman’s I’m From Nowhere. A decade before the publication of her book, she had moved from Toronto to Istanbul, where she was a research assistant and taught English. She didn’t really speak Turkish, and she lived in “relative isolation” in a little apartment. Of this period in her life, she says:

…I was given permission to abandon myself, and to recreate myself as I saw fit. I didn’t have enough to ask myself: What will you do? And I did not have the dangerous lure of doing the usual shit to distract myself from the question. I was fortunate to be there, in Istanbul, no matter how maddening and difficult it was, but anyone who has abandoned and recreated themselves out of necessity knows that it’s not quite fun, that it feels like death—is death—and of course it’s beautiful, but beauty hurts.

Did I have the luxury of shattering, or the sudden absence of the luxury of habit and inhabiting recognizable norms? Probably a bit of both.

Lindsay Lerman, I’m From Nowhere. CLASH Books, 2020. Foreword, p. xiv.
Book cover for Lindsay Lerman's I'M FROM NOWHERE

Those of us who have moved far away or otherwise gone through a period that feels somewhat like a hiatus or personal reinvention might relate.

Much twentieth-centry literature imagined that “personal crises could often be neatly separated from political crises,” and “all the books I read that inhabited that fantasy world made me sad, not in the deep reckoning-with-reality kind of way, but sad in the way you feel when you watch someone walk unwittingly into danger, knowing you can’t stop them.”

In this book, she acknowledges that “the issues related to ‘climate’ are subcutaneous—felt but barely articulated…I don’t necessarily like the way we continue to carry on as we make the world less and less inhabitable, and as we see fresh evidence of it each day. But…we are allowed to create characters and milieux that we find disagreeable, or troubling, or don’t fully understand.”

Standard
A red car, 1920s-style. Detail from the book cover of THE PURSUED AND THE PURSUING by AJ Odasso.
fiction

2021 Gatsby reboot: ‘The Pursued and the Pursuing’

Book cover of "The Pursued and the Pursuing" by AJ Odasso

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby entered the public domain in the United States this year, making space for this sequel by AJ Odasso, The Pursued and the Pursuing. In this version, Jay Gatsby survives the bullet from Myrtle’s husband, and during his recovery he rekindles his old feelings for Nick Carraway (who narrates the original novel as well as this sequel). Jay and Nick reveal to each other that, in addition to having tried to settle down with women, they had brief affairs with other men, but they have never stopped thinking about each other.

That the newspaper has already run an obituary for the socialite Jay Gatsby gives him an opportunity to reinvent himself as—or, more accurately, revert himself to—his James Gatz identity. He and Nick have lots of sex, live as partners, and are cavalier about their obviousness, so people in close proximity tend to pick up that they are a couple. Meanwhile, Jay’s old girlfriend Daisy Buchanan gets back in touch. Jay and Nick don’t much care for her or her husband Tom, but they adore her teenage daughter Pam, who has her own sexuality and gender journey and becomes like a surrogate daughter to them. Thus they spend the 1930s.

Odasso’s voice in this novel is different from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, especially in the homoerotic escapades and related discussions which feel much more modern, but neither is it entirely dissimilar from Fitzgerald’s. It’s an homage, and there’s some artistic continuity in the setting, the language, and the rhythm of the sentences. It’s a good balance between familiar and speculative, breathing new life into old characters.

Do we need a gay Gatsby? Yes. Yes, we do.

The ending draws the novel gently to a close. At that point, the story feels not quite wrapped up, but perhaps nothing needs to be wrapped up. Instead, the ending draws us to a very particular place we need to be.

I received a free advance review copy from NetGalley.

Standard
The characters Gemma and Tom sit on the bed, talking to each other, in Vivarium.
film

‘Or Hell?’

In Vivarium, Gemma and Tom are trapped in a malevolently enchanted and otherwise uninhabited housing complex with a demon child. Tom begins digging a large pit in the yard as if it could become an escape route. Later, Gemma asks him where he plans to go via that tunnel. “Australia? Or Hell?

At this moment, in my viewing, the characters stopped moving and speaking. It seemed they were deeply contemplating the possibility that there was no way out of their predicament. As they did not resume moving or speaking, I wondered if the demon had stopped time, trapping them in Hell where they stood. The pause was inordinately long. I’d never seen such a pause in a film. The actors seemed not to be breathing. Was the film director forcing us to look for clues in the visual composition of the scene?

After a minute or two, I tried the remote and realized that the film had simply frozen. The dialogue in Vivarium doesn’t really pause here.

But let me know if you see clues in the picture, anyway.

The characters Gemma and Tom sit on the bed, talking to each other, in Vivarium.
Standard
A white locomotive approaching on yellow train tracks on a blue background.
nonfiction

‘Now Departing From Track 1’: Introduction to ‘Ten Past Noon’

Ten Past Noon: Focus and Fate at Forty, published in 2020, is Tucker Lieberman’s hybrid nonfiction work about “war, racism, gender, time, mortality, free will, money, argument, information architecture, and why a writer might not finish a book.” Now, you can read the introduction, which explains what fuel the train runs on. I’m pleased to share the introduction online, and I hope you’ll be curious about the rest of the book, too.

Standard
Daniel Bailey
Uncategorized

‘There’s this constant rising and falling’: A conversation with Daniel Bailey

I interviewed Daniel Bailey about his new poetry book, A Better Word for the World, published by Apocalypse Party (2021).

First, listen to him read a couple poems from the book:

Daniel Bailey reads his poem: “Landscape in Urgent Care”
Daniel Bailey reads his poem: “The Unplanned Upon Morning”

When did you know you had an idea for a collection, and what was it like putting it together?

This is a book that came together over a period of about seven years. The poems were written in spurts that ranged from several days to several weeks to several months. These periods of writing typically produced poems that were formally and tonally similar. The earliest, including the section starting with “Orb-Weaver,” happened in a night on which I gave myself a piece of paper laid out on the floor for each poem, and I moved from page to page, adding a line at a time. Another couple sections (first and third) were written over a longer period of time. The original intent was for these sections to be their own, shorter collection, which I was calling National Dust Day. These poems were written on copy paper with a sharpie, in all caps, and with no line breaks. The intention was to slow down my thought and compose one liners and non-sequiturs and purely be a vessel of uninhibited thought. Later, I opened a Google doc titled “waterfalls” and mostly wrote into that to complete the remainder of the book. Not long after, I realized that the result of “waterfalls” and everything else felt like it all belonged together, and it became A Better Word for the World.

I sense a range of emotions, even just moving from line to line within the same poem. When you think of this collection, is there one particular feeling that stands out for you in your memory?

I’ve always been a big fan of Poe’s concept of “unity of effect,” even though I definitely stray from the intended effect. I’ve always wanted my poems to move the reader into uncharted psychological and emotional territory through an embrace of any emotion that might imbue a line and build unique contrasts. While Poe may have been writing toward melancholy in one piece and horror in another, my aims are vaguer. It’s that trance-like feeling that I get when I really let language control me.

The section beginning “Orb-Weaver” has nine poems which are tied together by woodland scenes with a lake or a river. Water is also mentioned throughout the rest of the book. The river reminds me of the book’s cover. How did you decide to use this central image of water?

I just love water. I love drinking it. I love wading in it. I love thinking about it. I hate when people capture it in pools and torture it with chlorine. Every one of my river memories is positive. Last year, I told a friend I had finished a book of poetry. He said, “Oh yeah, what’s it like?” I said, “It’s like my poems, I guess. It’s about rivers and the water cycle and whatnot,” which is not all it is, but you read it correctly that I was thinking a lot about rivers. I just love them. They’re calming to me. I prefer a good river to the ocean. I love how water is so essential to life and that there’s this constant rising and falling. We would die without it. It’s the ultimate drama that most people aren’t really thinking about on a day-to-day basis. For a moment, I wanted to title the book The Evaporator and the cover could’ve been a picture of me mimicking Jackson Brown on the cover of The Pretender. When I approached a close friend about potential titles, they told me they’d be more inclined to read a book called A Better Word for the World over a book called The Evaporator. I like both titles, so I don’t know if that was a moment of weakness. Maybe.

Your poem “I Was a Swamp” begins: “In a previous life, I was a swamp / and now in this life driving into a large city / feelings like driving into the internet.” I read this poem as describing a double loss: the swamp was perhaps unfairly perceived as an impure, compromised body of water to begin with, and now there’s no nature left at all, just guilt and alienation. Is there any way to go back and reclaim the swamp?

I think that loss of the swamp came from learning about all the man-made threats facing the Everglades. I liked the contrast between swamp and city and the idea of a reincarnation that can be something much broader than the movement of a soul from one biological body to another. I don’t know about reclaiming swamp. Ecologically, I think once a swamp is gone, it’s gone. There’s just the memory of it. I imagine many people would view swamps as dirty (impure) and inhospitable (to humans) environments, which is a big part of the reason I think they’re cool. I need to get to the Everglades at some point. Composition-wise, I actually started this one in the Notes app while riding in my parents’ car through the interstates of Atlanta on the way to the High Museum of Art to see Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors.

Some poems address a “you,” as in “The Evaporator,” which imagines your own sudden death and says: “And now you sit here / with these words that do not exist / And yet all seasons simultaneously greet you”. Who is the “you”? Are you addressing yourself in a detached way, or are you speaking to someone else? Maybe the reader?

I’ve always viewed “you” as the most flexible of all the pronouns. In the context of a poem or song, it has such an inviting aura for both the reader and the poet (as well as any other “character” of the poem). My poems definitely fall in line with Keats’ concept of negative capability, and my use of “you” is a huge part of how that plays out. I don’t find myself to be a very interesting person, so the possibilities allowed by the imagination and by the plasticity of language are the biggest factors as to why I write poetry and not fiction.

Daniel Bailey's face inside a box at Kusama's Infinity Mirrors art exhibit.

Do you have a favorite poem in this collection, or one that feels like the heart of the collection?

I mentioned earlier that I had strongly considered “The Evaporator” to be a titular poem. It’s easily the poem that I have the fondest memory of in terms of composition. What I did was I folded several pieces of copy paper together and drove to a nearby park that straddles the Middle Oconee River. I slowly walked through the park, writing a line or two at a time, just whenever a new line revealed itself to me. Then I went and wrote the poem “Worry Stone,” whose first line contains the book’s actual title. I mentioned the Jackson Browne album/song earlier, but I came up with the title long before writing the poem and coming up with the silly Jackson Brown concept (glad I didn’t do that). I had recently read Kafka’s short story “In the Penal Colony,” which largely revolves around an officer of said penal colony describing, in great detail, a machine built solely to torture and kill prisoners. It’s a really gripping and horrifying story, but I loved the idea of writing a poem that rigorously described a machine, though with a less grisly purpose. I couldn’t figure out what kind of machine that would be, so I decided to write the title on the front of the makeshift copy paper book and forced myself to live up to it. What resulted was easily my favorite hour of writing that I’ve ever experienced, even though it doesn’t even attempt to describe a machine called the evaporator.

What do you want readers to bring to their experience of this collection or take away from it?

I think I can mirror a previous answer: the one where I brought up Poe’s “unity of effect.” I think the ultimate reward would be to know that the reader came out of a poem feeling something impossible to name, something new. Something that would have to have a different name for anyone that feels it. In his book Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema, Andrei Tarkovsky says, “When I speak of poetry I am not thinking of it as a genre. Poetry is an awareness of the world, a particular way of relating to reality.” I really relate to that idea. I write poems to relate to the world and discover new portals of being. I hope that my poems allow the reader to do the same.

Daniel Bailey against a colorful dotted background at Kusama's Infinity Mirrors art exhibit.

Who are your poetic influences?

My poetry sprang from writing songs in my bedroom as a teenager, so definitely songwriters, especially Dave Berman and Bill Callahan. Eventually, I started writing more when I went to college and couldn’t afford the privacy to write songs and not have people complain about the noise. It was in an introduction to poetry class taught by Peter Davis that I really discovered that poetry was my thing. Peter Davis is a unique poet. He showed me that a poem can do just about whatever it wants.

As far as poets, Frank O’Hara and Frank Stanford are probably the biggest: Stanford for his propulsive energy, darkness, and motion. And O’Hara for showing me that it’s ok to write in the way that one speaks. My influences are pretty eclectic, and they really can’t be limited to poetry. I’ve felt inspired by James Tate, Aase Berg, Heather Christle, Jason Bredle, Molly Brodak, Sam Pink, Blake Butler, Jennifer L. Knox. I could name so many.

I also feel very inspired by cinema, particularly the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, who I mentioned earlier, and Werner Herzog for his dedication to “ecstatic truth.”

Will you be able to do any in-person readings this year?

Yes! I won’t be doing a reading tour or anything that extravagant, though. My friend Laura Theobald (who also designed the cover to A Better Word for the World) has a poetry book called Salad Days set to release from Maudlin House in September. I read it last year when Laura and I exchanged manuscripts during the early part of the pandemic. It’s very good. We both live here in Athens, Georgia, so she asked me to read at her release party. So, I’m excited about that, especially since various life situations have prevented me from doing my own thing. And I’m not an extremely social person, so that will probably be the first “normal” thing I do since before March last year. At the moment, details aren’t set, other than that it will occur in Athens, but I look forward to it.


Check out the book: A Better Word for the World. You can find the author on Neutral Spaces and Twitter.

Standard