Reading’s Still A Thing I Sometimes Do.
February 17, 2010 § 4 Comments
Museum of Accidents by Rachel Zucker (Wave Books 2009).
This book made me want to draw a Venn Diagram, with Zucker on one side & me on the other.
The overlapping middle would read “Jew; lady; has The Anxiety; likes Ginsberg & Dickinson & sex.”
Not overlapping at all would be, on the Zucker side, the words “Loves babies; has babies (three); is a doula; has been married at least once.”
Though I have no grounds to assume anything about Zucker, I imagine my un-overlapping section would say “Loves nachos; is having nachos (now); is often asleep; has been craving nachos.”
Zucker’s book has been getting a lot of attention recently. It’s a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, it’s been on a bunch of “Best of 2009” lists, & last week it made it to the List of Stuff That’s Too Big to Fit in My Mailbox So It Has to Be Left out on the Porch (2010). Big as in wide. Wide as in the landscape-orientation poetry coup against “the tyranny of the [right side of the] blank page” that’s becoming increasingly prevalent in poem-world (see D.A. Powell’s Chronic, also a NBCCA finalist). I like big &/or wide books. So I rescued it from the porch & read it.
Then I read what’s been written about it. The Believer said “Rachel Zucker may be Generation X’s likeliest heir to the confessional legacy of Sylvia Plath, Louise Gluck, and Sharon Olds.” First I was all, Someone’s been rifling around in fifteen-year-old me’s bookshelf. Then I was all, What, shut up.
All this to say, I’ve got a complicated-ish relationship to the above poets, as I imagine most people do with their earliest poem-loves, or with really early relationships that crashed & burned in glory-blazes as they do. When I read these poets now, I’m embarrassed, & I’ll take some guesses as to why: they turned me on so much when poetry was still new to me that I looked right past some clear & obvious flaws, flaws that were flawed in the way that nachos are flawed—that is, they’re only flawed if they’re all you eat; I wrote many poems, bad ones, in the service of imitation & these are poems I don’t like to remember having written; I’m still untraining myself of some bad habits I picked up as a result of my anemic confessional-only diet & because that’s difficult, these habits—which were bad in me but not bad necessarily in others—still look too much like weakness; no matter how little of these poets I read now, it still feels like oversaturation, brain being stuffed a little with poem & a lot with self-loathing upon consuming poem, a la binge eating.
I’m just going to go ahead & assume that other writer-folks have similarly unhealthy relationships to their firsts. & also that I’m not the only one who wants to be forgiven for woeful early dating errors. (Dear A., I’m sorry I refused to dance at Homecoming & that I made you wait around so often while I vacuumed the store.)
So. When I read Zucker’s book, not even knowing she’d been likened to the above poets, I had some knee-jerk reactions that I think I can mostly explain away as having more to do with my own evolving bias than anything else. & despite it all, I enjoyed the book quite a bit.
The poem “Hey Allen Ginsberg Where Have You Gone and What Would You Think of My Drugs?” is probably my favorite in the volume, & can, like several poems in the book, be seen as a microcosm of what Zucker’s doing across the whole collection. “Hey Allen Ginsberg…” has a lot of ideas in play: anxiety, medication, Jewish-things, obsession, family, the tradition of the long rant-poem written by the likes of the poem’s addressee, etc. etc. etc. The poem is concerned with what it means to be “chosen” (considered in the contexts of Judaism; the anxious; the “healthy” [drugged/undrugged]; those who live relatively untroubled, suburban lives). It’s consumed with the worry that maybe when we choose the path to “health” we’re choosing to leave behind a thing for which we were chosen, an active if troubled intelligence, a right to dysfunction, something. Something like the gradual assimilation of the synagogue from a decentralized, chatter-filled room into an austere, pew-&-altar-having Church-like place of worship. Holier, maybe, cleaner, maybe, but a little sad & full of ghosts. The idea of one’s brain-meds stifling one’s artistic drive may not be new, but the way she involves ideas of cultural assimilation & considerations of the longpoem makes the her undertaking both impressive & relevant to a lot of stuff I care about.
You could say I was inspired. This is a long-ass blog post.
How Some People Like Their Eggs by Sean Lovelace (Rose Metal Press, 2009).
I started this in bed & finished it on the elliptical machine at the gym, a fact I think Mr. Lovelace would appreciate, as he’s been known to blog about things like reading while running. Ever since I read the title piece from the above collection in Hayden’s Ferry, I’ve been reading everything by this guy that I can get my hands on. I haven’t been disappointed. His prose is whimsical & surprising & the clouds are shaped like interesting things like malaria. Two problems with this book: I wish it were longer, & it won’t make the hurting in my once-broken foot go away. I have a suspicion that if the former were true, the latter wouldn’t bother me so much.
So go support small presses & buy it, but only if you aren’t going to use it to soothe your weak feet-bones. & if you are, you’ve been sufficiently warned.