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Posts by John Cotter
As I read all these pieces about Jeff Koons online lately, particularly the obligatory descriptions of that amiable idiot as the new Andy Warhol, I think of this passage from Gary Indiana’s (bowdlerised but still excellent) Andy Warhol and the Soup Can that Sold the World:
The single most devastating lesson of the 1960s and early 1970s was that progressive institutional change in American society would not be permitted to happen. It took a long time for the lesson to sink in everywhere, and whether or not it has bearing on Warhol’s eventual embrace of “Business Art,” his work became the mirror of an unameliorated capitalist ethos, at ease with portrait commissions from the Shah of Iran and taped reflections of Imelda Marcos; making the world safe for Andy Warhol involved making Andy Warhol safe for the world.
Like all real readers, I always have more than one book going at a time, and of course they converse. So from now on, here and there, I’m going to post a few notes, in no order, about the experience of reading one through the other.
For years I’ve owned a falling-apart copy of Kenneth Rexroth’s translation of The Greek Anthology, dipping into it here and there. Whatever ill-defined force conscripts us to re-open books made me take The Greek Anthology down from the shelf and carry with with me for the last week and a half. Like Spencer Tracy in the final moments of Inherit the Wind, I left every room with two books in my hand. I was also carrying and reading a Conduit #24, a new issue of one of my favorite poetry magazines. I’d switch of between them, depending on my mood — did I want something 2,500 years weathered or something written by the people I knew?
So what’s the difference between them? It sounds like a specious question, but it’s worth asking plainly. The Greek poems, like anything ancient, have had their allusions worn smooth by time. When Sommer Browning in Conduit makes a poem full of proper names (e.g. “When you were with Emily I was with Matt and when you were with Sarah I was with Paul”), the people she mentions may be as unknown to us as Eumelos and Smerdies in The Greek Anthology. Then again: the last line in that long list reads: “and when you were with Eliza I was with Noah.” As up until now, the poem has followed a set pattern (when you were with X I was with Y) the reader has come to imagine that it might be a poem to Sommer’s current partner. But in this case her current partner, her husband, is Noah, and so there’s the joke. She’s writing to someone else entirely, their relationship entirely unclear. But what happens when 2,000 years go by, and we don’t know anymore who Noah is? What weight does the poem still swing? I love Joshua Ware’s new poems (from his Impossible Motels, which are exactly what they sound like) but how would my experience of them fare if I didn’t know who and what had inspired them?
That was the question Cephalas had to contend with when he assembled The Greek Anthology in 10th Century Byzantium out of a whole millennium of short poems in the language. The poems had to stand regardless of who they were about, or who wrote them. And what’s surprising is how reliably they do:
Here is Klito’s little shack.
Here is his little cornpatch.
Here is his tiny vineyard.
Here is his little woodlot.
Here Klito spent eighty years.
It’s silly to pretend that if these English version were to appear today, in the pages of Conduit 24, shorn of all context, that they’d be a tenth as successful as they are now. But that’s not the point. The jokes you share with the very young or the very old may not be as funny as the third round of belly laughs with your good friends the night before, but you enjoy them more because you’re connecting across a chasm, and those connections feel wonderful. They treat our generational loneliness.
So many of the Greek poems sound like interrupted conversations (“Good God, what a night it was…”). Some feel far away and oracular (“Time’s fingers bend us slowly / With dubious craftmanship, / That at last spoils all it forms”) but some are painfully immediate. That sense of immediacy across time is what people mean when they speak of a classic. When I lived in Cambridge and I was making poor life choices I used to wake up at 4am and walk the streets of Harvard Square barefoot. The narrator of this Petronius poem says it’s lust that wakes him and that’s good enough:
First I ran, and then I lingered,
And at last I was ashamed
To be wandering in the empty streets
The voices of men,
The roar of traffic,
The songs of birds,
Even the barking of dogs,
Everything was still.
Contemporary poetry, or at least the poems in Conduit 24, aren’t like that. Generally, I’m sympathetic to lamentations about the state of new poetry: the bland jumpiness, pseudo-naivete, in-gaming. But there plenty of exceptions, and there are times when, god help me, jumpiness and in-gaming work. (And the thing you always hear about rhyming and memorization is a canard: I have plenty of these Greek poems by heart and their language couldn’t be more plain; as Clive James once rightly pointed out, the real tribute of memorization is that it’s an artifact of extended engagement). This, by the late Kevin Joe Eldridge, the second poem in the magazine, is as plain and haunting as anything in the Greek book:
An Indian gives me a ride in his Datsun.
For 200 miles we say nothing.
I can’t help feeling our silence
is like the silence between old friends.
He lets me out for no reason,
no civilization in sight.
And it goes on like that: a series of short, probably true events that, now that he’s died, read like an epigraph.
Daniel Tiffany from a poem called “Ondine” (named for the Neil Jordan flick?) does something entirely different from the Greeks, and completely worth doing:
Here’s the start of it:
At the subway entrance
a frighted woman appears.
Behind the guide,
tinted by the Earth’s
a starlet appears.
People crowd into the automat on the corner.
The flanking and flirting is that of many flags
at the gate of a monastery in flames.
Protected by a nebulous god
she crosses the street.
Here we have a lot that’s great about new poetry. First: old poetry is there. The heroes crowed each other at the gate. There’s Trojan mayhem in a Hopper painting and Helen walks away free. But then there’s the beautiful indeterminacy of new poetry. Do the two stanzas at the start of the poem refer to the same woman or to different women? This kind of indeterminacy is valuable and it is unknown in The Greek Anthology.
On further reading, correspondences between the two books multiply. Paulos Silentiarios’ lament could be the masculine call to Paige Taggart’s response, both in a kind of passionate extremis (his mind is on her, her mind is elsewhere). Let’s skip 1,500 years in a few lines. Paulos first:
Eros has changed his quiver
For the fangs of Kerberos,
And I am hydrophobic.
The sea smell of her body.
Her skirts rustle in the stream.
I go blind staggering drunk
With the very taste of wine
That calls back her sleep drugged lips.
Now Paige Taggart (beginning midpoem in “And beyond thought and idea”)
… you are young thoughts
there are bills to pay and fire-escapes
to climb without reason into the
brass night, whatever, when you ring
my neck with anger it’s also just
the weather being cancelled from
continuing, I know as much as you
know that there’s no void to turn against
and with free will, it will keep turning.
But whatever their harmonies, death is the discord between the little books. Maybe death was closer to the Greeks — they routinely came into contact with it an we really don’t. Still, they often lived into their 90s, and we see more death on TV in a month than the average Athenian saw in a year. So why is death seemingly everywhere with the Greeks and seemingly nowhere with us? It’s the dark background between all the soft skin and the rustling money and the red wine, but it isn’t here in Conduit (neither, oddly, is there much love or money, illustrations of dollar bills between the poems to one side). So many of the poems in Conduit seem to be about negotiating the haunting but decidedly minor vicissitudes of modern life: arrangements of light, the touch of trees, pop songs, déjà vu. Passion is muted, made pocket-sized, as if in deference to the insignificance of a single person’s emotion in such a loud and crowded world. (From Elisa Gabbert & Kathleen Rooney’s “The One About Spit Takes”: “A little misdirected fury walks into a bar. It’s a little furry. The misdirected furry rolls a peanut across the bar with its nose”). It’s genuinely funny, but the Greeks could be funny too (the Emperor Julian’s poem “On Beer” reads, in its entity, “You call that wine? / I call it mush.”) And they didn’t mind getting personal There are insults in these poems I cannot repeat without incurring misdirected wrath (they were not politically correct, those Greeks). And they knew dark humor long before a bunch of late-1960s novelists discovered it:
Dead, they’ll burn you up with electricity,
An interesting experience,
But quite briefly illuminating–
So pour the whiskey and kiss my wife or yours,
And I’ll reciprocate. Stop fretting your brains.
In Hell the learned sit in long rows saying,
“Some A-s are not B-s, there exists not a B.”
You’ll have time to grow wise in their company.
Of course the Greeks had no pop songs as we know them or nature poetry as we know it post-Petrarch and of course poems of pure longing or pure passion or pure dread are often laughed away by contemporary editors (and would have been laughed away by me, when I was a poetry editor for a couple of years) but the Greek poems lose none of their power for all that, indeed they gain from it.
Childhood is also present in the new poems as it wasn’t for the Greeks, perhaps because we have a different conception of it now: childhood is more relevant, perhaps because of our endless adolescence. The Greeks wrote about children, but never as children. Conduit 24 like a child’s bedroom, comes with winsome clocks and the tiniest earthquake. “My parents have never told me / one dream they’ve had,” writes Joe Colburn, in an absurdest poem about a dog in the shape of a dog (this is one of the more aimless and drifting poems in the mag). Perhaps we simply have more neurosis (a holdover from Christianity, that) and knick-knacks and ego-states. So do the Conduit poets put themselves in danger of missing the forest for the trees? Most certainly. But the trees are worth seeing on their own.
“Of course it means you are going away from us for good,” she said with a sigh. “But that don’t mean I’ll lose you. look at my papa here; he’s been dead all these years, and yet he is more real to me than almost anybody else. He never goes out of my life. I talk to him and consult him all the time. The older I grow, the better I know him and the more I understand him.”
– My Ántonia
“He had a lot of funny stories to tell her about their old Paris chums. all of them in loony bins or sanitariums, the ones who weren’t on Nembutal.
‘I used to look for my friends in the society columns,’ he intended to say tonight. ‘Now I look for them on the barbituary page.’”
– Dawn Powell, “Every Day is Ladies Day”
“Her smile, not permanent, expressed many complex feelings and was the cause of much debate. Her smile is “‘ know what’s coming’; her smile is ‘I love to acquiesce’; her smile is ‘On the verge of tears’; and so on” — Adam Golaski, Color Plates
“The first non-farmers were probably craftsmen producing pottery, tools and other specialized items for the community. But ruing groups, probably religious at first and then political rapidly took over the distribution functions. Societies emerged with large administrative, religious and military elites able to enforce the collection of food from peasant farmers and organize its distribution to other parts of society. In parallel, unequal ownership of land, and therefore of food, rapidly changed.
In its broadest sense human history in the 8,000 years or so since the emergence of settled agricultural societies has been about the acquisition and distribution of the surplus food production and the uses to which it has been put.”
– Clive Ponting, A Green History of the World
“I am trying to make the past interesting to you. I am trying to make my own life seem real to you. My father was unable to make his own life seem real to me. When, finally, the important question about my father arose: is my life like my father’s, I found no answer. One day–how can you imagine this?–you’ll ask the same of my life. I want you to be able to picture my life. To lay that picture upon yours, two texts on tissue paper. When you come to ask the question, you will see me as very old, a skull above my shoulder as clear a death-portent as any death-portent could be, and you’ll wonder, how could that man have been a man? However could he have gone to work and married and had a son? You’ll wonder, have I been different enough to avoid his fate?” — Adam Goalaski, Color Plates
“Nor was this appropriation of any parcel of land, by improving it, any prejudice to any other man, since there was still enough and as good left; and more than the yet unprovided could use. So that in effect there was never the less left for others because of his enclosure for himself. For he that leaves as much as another can make use of, does as good as take nothing at all. Nobody could think himself injured by the drinking of another man, though he took a good draft, who had a whole river of the same water left to him to quench his thirst; and the case of land and water, where there is enough of both, is perfectly the same.”
– John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government
“He could pass for thirty-five as long as no one that age was around.”
– Dawn Powell, “Every Day is Ladies Day”
“Some of the West’s best writers, from Dostoevsky and Conrad and Malraux to Mary McCarthy, Heinrich Boll, Doris Lessing, Alberto Moravia, Nadine Gordimer, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, have tried to read the minds of what Don DeLillo in Mao II called “men in small rooms.” All they’ve done is make those minds seem almost as interesting as their own, which of course they aren’t. The kamikazes of Kingdom Come – the skyjackers, land miners, thumb-screwers, militiaman, death squads, and ethnic cleansers; the bombers of department stores, greengrocers, and abortion clinics; the Pol Pots, Shining Paths, and Talibans – have stupefied themselves. To imagine otherwise is to be as ethically idiotic as Karlheinz Stockhausen, the composer who told reporters in Hamburg on September 16 that the destruction of the World Trade Center was ‘the greatest work of art ever.’” — John Leonard, Reading for My Life
In a role reversal, the dramatis personae
are left to the end of the book. Nameless
shadows and no signifiers, no different
from what you ear each day while
strolling around the pier, where the orphans,
also nameless, have discovered a new racket:
inspirational sayings carved into clam shells.
– Maureen Thorson, Applies to Oranges
“[on common land] the rational heardsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his heard. And another; and another … But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational heardsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his heard without limit–in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all”
– Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons”
Elisa and I wrote some poetry and read it along with Daron Muller and Eleni Sikelianos and quite a few others at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art last week. The idea was to write poetry based on the non-narrative films. The picture above makes it seem as though Elisa and I were the only ones there. She and I wandering the gallery and reading to each other would have been another kind of night — a better kind? — but I was pretty honored to be included and so I wrote a poem for the first time in a few moons. (Imagine every second line indented 3 or 4 spaces … the formatting on Wordpress murders me)
after an instillation by David Fodel and Paco Proano
You are a lie of light;
a satori machine
who makes gods of geegaws.
The glass harmonica
is pitched to obscure
the rattle of teacups
ten feet away.
Make your smoky poly-
carbonate a spiritual
filter for what hovers
in back of you.
Don’t worry patterns,
they convert at a touch
not your touch. The picture
Kick the stone of your
soul down the road:
advance the track.
Perhaps my disappointment this morning was inevitable. Virginia Woolf observed, after seeing an Old Vic production of Twelfth Night: “The fault may lie partly with Shakespeare. It is easier to act his comedy than his poetry, one may suppose, for when he wrote as a poet he was apt to write too quick for the human tongue. The prodigality of his metaphors can be flashed over by the eye, but the speaking voice falters in the middle. Hence the comedy was too out of proportion to the rest.”
This was certainly the case when E. and I took in Twelfth Night at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival last night. It was played in the giant courtyard called the Marry Rippon outdoor theater. Half the lights were out (there was a plaintive announcement about this early on — they’ve got the money to fix the lights, but they’ll need to be sent away — that just made us root for the actors all the more). Like a number of directors do, Director Philip Sneed chose to open with the shipwreck rather than “If music be the food of love,” and it was instantly clear, from, “What country, friend, is this?” that this was going to be a production that tried as exhaustively as possible to make the text and the action understandable to the audience: words enunciated precisely, words changed when they weren’t clear (’sardines’ for ‘pilchards’, ‘learn’ for ‘con’) and long sentences trimmed. There was miming and big gesturing, every opportunity for physical comedy dealt out to the last card (should we mishear Fabian’s slow, shouted “you will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard” the actress helpfully drew her hand down sir Toby’s face and came to a point, whereupon he shivered). This can be a good thing, and there was a side of Shakespeare who would have spat his wine laughing at the good fun of it, but for all the dramaturg’s talk of “Appolonian-Dionysian dichotomies” in the program note, it was a strikingly one-sided production. Dionysus ran unopposed.
Let me stress that a production of Twelfth Night without buffoonery and silliness is really no production at all, but the play is not a farce. While it’s clearly not Titus it’s not Comedy of Errors either. Shakespeare took great pains break the comedy’s fall with some real pathos. Sebastian and Viola have lost one another and presume the other dead. If you dispatch with this grief quickly (and most directors do) then you at least need to address the darker side of Malvolio’s humiliation. In every production I’ve seen up until now, the imprisoning of Malvolio in the dark house and his subsequent promise of revenge has been played as a sobering tonic — the audience’s sympathies are headed that way anyway and so a shrewd production will lean that way with them. See also Shylock’s misfortune, Caliban’s poetical descriptions of the island, etc. Shakespeare is notorious for humanizing his comedy villains. That’s what keeps the audience on its toes, keeps the moral texture of the play complex, stops it from degenerating into bear-baiting. We may hate them or laugh at them but they are multidimensional nonetheless, possessed of organs, senses, dimensions, affections, passions. They bleed. And this turns the finger back at us, and it’s one of the many reasons we feel ourselves drawn to the plays time and again: we keep learning things about ourselves, how easily and foolishly we can react, the wages of laughter. “Pleasure will be paid,” as Feste puts it. But Malvolio at the Colorado Shakespeare festival remained a laughing stock from the moment he entered to the moment he romped away. Some of this fault can be laid on an oversensitive audience, or on Tim McCracken’s performance, which played the comedy of the garters and stockings so flouncingly we weren’t later able to see him as real, no matter what paints he put into it. But it’s also the fault of Jake Walker’s Feste, who hams before the gate of the dark house, leaping back and forth in front of it and spinning on his heel so that the audience can barely see past him to get any sense of the torment inside. I might have widened window in Malvolio’s prison, shown some squalor.
Unlike some of the other comedies, Twelfth Night doesn’t begin in a sane world and descend into chaos. Illyria is a carnival place from the start (hence the title: a Twelfth Night is a feast of fools, an up-is-down festival of madness celebrated on January 6th, twelve drummers drumming, etc.). But pure foolishness has nothing to tell us, and so Shakespeare has carefully seeded reminders of a different kind of life throughout the story. See the songs: from “What is love?”: “‘Tis not hereafter: … youth’s a stuff will not endure.” or take the song “Come away, come away death,” which Orsino uses to indulge his self-pity. Most Orsinos are right to play it for laughs (as Geoffrey Kent in his excellent performance does here), but it is a dark song. Antonio’s capture is fraught, or should be for Antonio, as indeed is much of the revelry that so delights us from Toby and Sir Andrew (no bullet can pierce the heart like Sir Andrew’s “I was adored once,” in the right place, to paraphrase Virginia Woolf).
The character of Feste especially is a trickster of some darkness. He empties everyone’s purse, arrives and goes in his own time, and like a lot of Shakespeare’s fools he tells truth to power. His job to take us out of ourselves, yes, but then to return us to the reality of our own worlds, delighted but perhaps wiser. See his last song. The rain rains every day, even in Illyria. His is not an easy part: there should be shrewdness there, worldliness, and an equal pleasure in inflecting chaos and in saying sooth, sometimes doing one by doing the other. There is a lot to be picky about in the film transition Trevor Nunn’s staging of Twelfth Night in 1996, but his casting of Ben Kingsley as Feste was inspired. Kingsley’s Feste knows something you do not, and there are a hundred things more important to him than making you laugh. Last night, Jake Walker’s fool wanted only to make me laugh, and he leapt and shimmied and jearked himself around the stage in hopes of it. Pretty frequently, the audience rewarded him. Maybe his performance didn’t begin this way, maybe it evolved this way over the course of the month (we’re near the end of the run). But even sweet dishes can be too sweet, and the best laughs come as a break in tension, a relief. If we want something more than laughter, we’ll need a little vinegar.
Everyone who knows me has heard me go on about my grandfather. A colonel under Patton, he retired at age 60 and spent the next 30 years of his life raising me and giving me more as a model and guide than I had any right to have. I picture him now in one of two places: the living room of his big Edwardian house in Norwich or the main room of the beach cottage where he and my grandmother spent the summers. After a morning at the beach, or before he set out for the day, he’d collapse into his chair in the center of the room, beachbottleglass lamp to his left, open door to the porch on his right, light and gull sounds coming through. He always had a book or a magazine beside him or on his lap (I still run across things all the time I wish I could send on to him, talk to him about; then there’s that arresting moment when I realize that he’s gone — nothing to do with that feeling, no place it goes), and beside the book or the magazine, and maybe a highball glass of iced tea with fresh mint floating on top of it, that black telephone. Of course I moved away from Connecticut when I was 17, and though I was back at the cottage at least a couple of times a summer (I can remember so perfectly how the place felt, drawers and doors hard to shut because they were swelled with the summer humidity, smell of must and sandalwood and the salt from the ocean, the low ceiling and the steep staircase and the deep darkness when night fell) the way I talked to him most often was through that black rotary phone. It had a satisfying heft to it, and it chimed when jostled.
When my friends Jeff and Maureen got married down that street from that cottage at Harkness Memorial State Park, a bunch of us stayed overnight at the cottage, which had been all but abandoned by then, my grandfather gone and my grandmother no longer making the trip in summer. We took the fallout pills that the Millstone nuclear plant had sent to all the nearby homes in the ’70s and sat around waiting for what turned out to be mostly iodine to have some effect. Meanwhile, Shafer took picture after picture of that phone. He seemed to connect with it, not just as a pleasingly shaped object but as something more, an symbol potent with duende. When we cleaned out the cottage two years later I put the phone aside to save for him. Last month I mailed it out to Houston as a housewarming present. So imagine my pleasure to find this poem on his blog tonight.
I miss you old man.
IF THE COLONEL EVER CALLS
by Shafer Hall
If late at night there is a ringing
and it’s the Colonel, don’t be frightened.
Remember that the funny twists
of the heron’s neck are posture too.
Perhaps the hair on your cheeks
is bristling? But the Colonel was clean-shaven.
The Colonel’s prayers were more communication
than supplication; the old phone
is more of an appliance than a relic.
If the Colonel asks for a report, tell him
everyone’s fine; the rocky island in the bay
is white with birds.
Gombrich on taste (via Herr Golaski):
The old proverb that you cannot argue about matters of taste may well be true, but that should not conceal the fact that taste can be developed. This is again a matter of common experience which everyone can test in a modest field. To people who are not used to drinking tea one blend may taste exactly like another. But if they have the leisure, will and opportunity to search out such refinements as there may be, they may develop into true connoisseurs who can distinguish exactly what type and mixture they prefer, and their greater knowledge is bound to add to their enjoyment of the choicest blends.
Admittedly, taste in art is something infinitely more complex than taste in food and drink. It is not only a matter of discovering various subtle flavors; it is something more serious and more important.
I’m taken by this description of a wedding reception (or is it a tempest-tossed barque?) in M. John Harrison’s The Course of the Heart.
The Marquee was warm enough, but its floor tilted sharply to the left, so that everyone sitting at that side felt as if they were sliding out of it. The supporting poles, dressed with yellow and white ribbon, creaked uneasily in an offshore wind which that evening had bulged and slackened rhythmically; the electric chandeliers swayed. Halfway through the meal, the tennis court had begun to squeeze itself up through the coconut matting. Apart from Lucas and Pam, I didn’t know anyone there. I sat on my own with my back against the tent, drank some champagne, and stared up into the roof where, far above the central tables on which the ruins of the buffet lay scattered among yellow bows and springs of artificial flowers, a bright red helium balloon was trapped. Four or five children were staring up at it too, heads tilted back at an identical angle. Events seemed to have piled up against all of us.
Is the title a pun on coeur? The Hearts of the Heart? And it’s so perilously close to The Curse of the Heart that you keep looking and re-looking to make sure that isn’t it after all.
I’m starting my fiction class today and I’m suddenly sorry I didn’t include one of Harrison’s stories on the syllabus. He’s the kind of writer who’s books pass urgently from hand to hand (Course of the Heart was, in fact, handed to me) and he’s a tight and tricky blogger too: http://ambientehotel.wordpress.com/.
Never switch on the Mac in the night to make a note: by the time it’s woken up you’ve gone back to sleep again. You’ve forgotten who you were, let alone what he was thinking.
His Light changed the way I think about science fiction and has to be one of the major books of the last decade. Go read him.
and I’m home from a dozen Christmas visits and a half-dozen airports. Home to a great conversation with Andrea Dupree at Lighthouse Writers Blog about staying on task and lessons learned:
Q. You’ve said in other interviews that your novel was borne out of a desire to “write about identity and the formation of that identity.” You took on, like Eugenides in The Marriage Plot, college age kids in love with ideas and books and each other. Do you feel you came up with new ideas about identity formation by writing the novel? Did anything surprise you?
I think I was more of a utopianist before I wrote the book, more closely allied with some of my characters’ aspirations. I was younger. Then, as I wrote and re-wrote the book, I watched as they relentlessly disassembled one another’s dreams. Jack, my protagonist, tries to step into his friend Bill’s life by impersonating Bill as best he can. His friends Paul and Corinna assume they can marry young and settle down in a respectable little village and both security and happiness will arrive at their door.
Did I learn anything? I suppose I learned how you can’t custom design your own life because the world has its own ideas for you, thrash against it as you will. And even when you achieve what you were struggling for you find it’s different from what you’d expected. It was about 1994 when I first started browsing bookstores, fingering those fiction spines and wishing my own book was tucked in between them. That’s what I wanted my life to be, an integration with those voices. Flash forward so many years and it turns out the road I was running didn’t take me where I expected it would. That old bookstore I used to browse is closed, I live in a different city, and all of the books on my own shelves are new. Astoundingly, it turns out I didn’t want to publish a novel after all, or rather, I did, but I wanted to do it exclusively in 1994. I wanted to be 35 and accomplished in 1994 instead of 18 and oblivious. But of course I wasn’t a real person yet, just an aspirant. The characters in Under the Small Lights are like that too.
The body of the chat (and a louche picture of this writer) can be enjoyed more fully here: http://lighthouseblog.org/2012/01/08/real-people-weird-creatures-novelist-john-cotter-on-life-and-fiction/.
And if you live in the Denver area and you’d like to take that workshop we’re talking about, you can sign up here: https://lighthousewriters.org/workshop/detail/id/489/
We’ll read stories from Maureen McHugh and P.G. Wodehouse and other unlikely workshop specimens and we’ll be writing and jawing our hearts out. It’s Saturday afternoons in January and February, and a little bit of March.