Wednesday, September 03, 2003
Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond to yr questions about my comments on Bukowski, fiction, & the rest. Life, you know, intrudes. Looking back at this entry prior to posting it, I feel like an egomaniac having written at such length about me, me, me, but since you proposed the questions to me via blog, I figured my response should go the same route. Hopefully that was the right call.
Anyway. I don’t know that there was one single moment where I started to find Bukowski less engaging, but the progression was pretty far along by my mid-20s, so trying to recall the reasoning behind it is already a wee bit tricky. I think there are a couple of reasons for the relative lack of interest, tho. For one thing, I probably just overdid it w/ his work, reading everything I could get my hands on, which is an almost certain recipe for burnout – esp w/ a figure like him, who’s seen every seemingly every scrap of paper he’s ever scribbled notes on come into print at some point. Reason two: he appealed to me most when I was an angrier person more prone to all manner of self destruction – it’s easy to use his work as a distorted mirror if you’re in that mental space. But seeing as how the last X number of years of my life have been a continual effort to get healthy in every sense of the word, his work rarely seems useful to me now on a personal level – the way I read him, there’s a vibe there, if I can get a little hippie-sounding, that I don’t want to be around very often, just like I have no interest in being around really riled up or boozed up people anymore (explaining, of course, why I disappear from LaTazza these days just as the party gets cooking by most standards). It just does nothing for me.
In terms of the “sloppiness” that I referred to... I got bored w/ most first-person narrative poems somewhere along the way, & Buk tends to fall into this camp. To keep me engaged, something really fresh has to be happening w/in the form of the poem itself – I think of Brett Evans’s work as an example there. His poems may be telling tales about working in an office or dancing at a party, but the presentation is always sharp & engaging, & there’s attention to torquing the language that’s pinning the narrative together for me – it’s like Brett creates this great screen that I’m trying to peer into, & even if I can’t quite make out the details, I’m intrigued by the shadows at play. Plus, I think working as an editor & simply making myself read more closely has made me really nitpicky about issues like line break, word choice, etc., & there are times where I don’t see Buk’s logic in those areas, & that tends to trip me up.
Overall, there’s much for me to admire in his work, but on a certain level, I feel like after the first reading of one of his poems, you’ve got it, you know? & I’m generally looking more for an aesthetic / intellectual challenge than a quick fix these days. I’ve read fewer poets in the last year than I’ve probably ever read before, but I’m making an effort to read more closely & really study the person’s work as a whole – in terms of more established writers, we’ve already talked Craig Watson a bit… but just to give you some context, it’s also been Rae Armantrout, Norma Cole, Michael Palmer. In each of those cases, I need to keep going back & circling around the work to feel like I’m making headway. I feel like there’s a continual process of intellectual payoff for me there, whereas Buk for me tends to be primarily a quick emotional burst.
Keep in mind: this is all my personal reading experience. I absolutely hate poetics statements that’re written prescriptively – “You must do this as a reader or writer b/c I do this!” Not my goal here at all. To each his / her own reading pleasures, guilty or no.
Fiction: You’re not the only poet I know who has some apprehensions about the genre, but I’ve personally never had those reservations. I mean, I guess I don’t care for most fiction, but I don’t care for most poetry, either. But here's my pitch for what I like. In addition to reading fiction by poets, I do tend to favor authors who I think bring a poet’s attention to language, whatever that may mean. These days I’m especially fond of writers like David Markson, Laird Hunt, Ann Quin, W.G. Sebald… I think Gil’s fiction pieces in “Pact” are extraordinary as well. Beckett’s short fiction is astounding to me. Poe & Kafka, to pick two other names from the ether, point in some interesting directions as well, right? There are so many options beyond the 1950s-era “New Yorker” story, you know? All that said, I’ve always taken great pleasure in a solid straight-ahead narrative, & my last two reads have been just that. Read Richard Yates’s “Revolutionary Road” recently, which is a sharp-eyed critique of mid-20th Century suburbia & the discontent that was already brewing there. Nothing avant-garde about the book. Completely astounding to me how he set up & knocked down the characters like a true pro – a tightly constructed, really satisfying book. Also just finished Walter Mosley’s “Devil in a Blue Dress,” which I’m teaching this semester in Intro to Lit. Great characters, plenty of action, a real bang-up pleasure.
I’m curious to hear the thoughts of other folks here, esp in terms of prose / fiction / whatever. Is there an aversion to the entire genre? If so, where does that feeling come from?