rumors running through realms

Adam Golaski and I get together every other month or so and share all the big highs and big lows and all the little stuff of our lives. It’s been a privilege to be part of his over the last — what? decade? One of the biggest of highs in this ongoing time has been reading each new installment of Green — Adam’s faithful and idiosyncratic translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight — as it came to life online. Since late 2008 I’ve had the pleasure of publishing “Green”-in-progress on Open Letters, and this month is especially exciting as for the first time the entire first fitt of the poem is available online.

In this portion of the poem, Sir Gawain accepts the Green Knight’s challenge (that he strike the knight on the neck with an ax, and that, should the knight survive, the knight, in one year’s time, may strike Gawain in return). The poem, at this point is cinematic: we pan back as the Green Knight dismounts his Green Horse, we shuttle forward as the giant “let his naked neck bear readiness,” and

Gawain gripped th’green knight’s axe’nd raised it high—
left foot firm t’th’ground—
swift on th’naked neck, Gawain let it down

That man’s sharp stroke shattered the bones
+ sank through th’fair flesh + sheared th’neck in twain—
the blade of bright steel bit the ground.

What happens next? Not at all what you’d expect.

Also in the August issue: A fun new poem by Stephen Sturgeon, a fascinating account of the new 12-hour Demons, Elisa’s new column — about what money does to your nose — and lots, lots more interesting stuff. And thank yous are due from me to the rest of the editorial staff — Steve, Rohan, Greg, Jeff, and Sam; I’ve been mostly gone from the magazine for the last couple of months but — I hope — that hiatus is through.

the marquis is full

Shafer Hall, your reporter, and our Muse

On of the things that makes life on earth rewarding and worthwhile: Shafer Hall’s laid-back, inspired, truth-telling poems: I love Shafer & have been a worshipful fan of his work for a long while. Sometimes I throw my 2c in but mostly I just sit back and bask in it. Since 1999, Shafer and I have been collaborating on little projects, and this week, as it happens, Bill Walsh was kind enough to post an interview with us about our process of togetherness the blog arm of the Kenyon Review. In answering his excellent queries, we aimed, as always, to amuse.

How does the physicality of writing play out when you’re collaborating?

We don’t have the physicality of a team like Josh Beckman and Matthew Rohrer, but anyone who knows us would admit that when we get started, we are slow to slow down.

We write from our individual desks (or we used to, before Shafer had an iphone), so when we are physically present behind them, respectively, at the same time, we tend to get more done. In many ways, our most productive period was the year when Shafer worked as an analyst at Standard & Poors, and John was frantically freelancing in Daniel Ellsberg’s old dining room in Cambridge. Consequently, so you could say the best periods for our poetry have simultaneously been the worst for our actual bodies.

& speaking of poetry, this man is insane. Still, I’m excited to read his interview with my friend Maureen, which I guess will be up on the new Jacket, when there’s a new Jacket.

Rohan, Grace, and yrs tru

I live my life with near-constant tinnitus — a roaring in one ear — and all I can say about Grace Talusan’s wonderful new review of Under the Small Lights in The Rumpus is that it somehow, magically, made that roaring disappear for an entire day. And come to think of it there hasn’t been much roaring today either.

I spent my early twenties haunting the same bookstores and cafes in Boston as Jack does, trying to be a writer. Like Jack, I could be insufferable at times. With a fresh nose piercing, chain-smoking over a mix of Alanis Morrisette, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana, I talked in circles about all my hard life choices—where to live (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, or Eugene), which guy to date (one summer, I strung along four at once), what to do for money while I wrote the book that would make me rich and famous (teaching or stocking shelves). I was all promise and passion, but too inexperienced to comprehend the gulf between my ambitions and my skills. I never once considered how privileged I was even to have these choices, to be able to ask the question Who do I want to be and what do I want to do in the world?

I love it when reviewers — of any book — add personal notes like this, and I wonder how in heaven’s name I’ve avoided running into Grace for all this time.

Also worthy of note: Rohan Maitzen’s thoughtful reflections on Under the Small Lights and my own reflections on its genesis, both on Open Letters blogs, Novel Readings and Like Fire, respectively.

Rohan notes:

I also found myself thinking, as I read, about something Claire Tomalin said about George Eliot: “She writes about sex perfectly,” Tomalin says; “She never mentions it at all. I mean, who needs the penis and the pubic hair? Sex isn’t that–sex is the feeling.”

I couldn’t agree more, although I’m not clear whether Rohan is implying I did or I didn’t include too much … either way, of course, it’s a potential selling point.

Boston Return

I tried to periodically follow along with the East Coast on the flight up from NC (Delaware turns out to be endless), surprised by how close Long Island lies to Connecticut and equally surprised by how much water cuts up Rhode Island. We landed in Boston just before dusk, drank a couple of white wines, and carried our luggage to the esplanade in time for the fireworks. Deep into the crowd, we caught the top half of the show over the the trees at Chestnut and Mugar, engulfed in people from all over the city waving lights and shouting for lost friends. There were lots of patriotic melodies beforehand, of course. “Geeze,” said the woman next to me in the flag t-shirt, “They really know how to milk it.” I have to say the bus ride home at the end of the night was my favorite — all walks of life in a good mood: a little girl play-punching her father’s face next to us, awkward couple texting each other in front, huge brother and sister smiling toward the street. And I’m relieved like as a loose balloon to be back on the porch with my legal pad and my mechanical pencil, writing a story about Hollywood.

I was also pleased to see this nice plug from Dan Wickett and this really, really lovely review from Lisa Peet on Amazon. Now let’s see if we can get some review-site play …

80 degrees, 80% humidity

I’ve come now from Chicago (where I had a good time reading with Martin Seay and his lovely lady wife) to North Carolina — the sleepy/touristy burgh of Henderson, just outside of Ashville. The Ashville airport appears to be still under construction (lots of exposed plaster and backhoes) but the surrounding area is refreshingly nature-stuffed with misty mountains on the periphery and fireflies rising at night from the darkening lawn to the trees. I’m here with Elisa’s family, to celebrate her mom’s 60th birthday, fresh from celebrating my own sister’s 30th in Chicago (which was also a real good time — Happy Birthday, Erin!)

(Beside me, on the rented countertop of this rented cabin in “Forrest Hills,” sits a jar-jar binks mousepad — it is hypnotic).

Whilst I explore Chimney Rock, etc, please check out this awesome audio post & plug of Under the Small Lights Jason Behrends put up on Chicago Now: Jason was a gracious and generous host & MC for Martin, Kathy, & I the other night and I’m really happy to count him as a new friend.