Hide Your Wings, Red Boy

One of my favorite books is Autobiography of Red. The sequel, Red Doc > , continues the modern-day, fragmented telling of the relationship between mythological characters Geryon and Herakles in a different format and with changed names, yet maintains in its narrow columns of prose poetry a bittersweet love story.

As older men, Geryon, now known as the musk oxen herder G., and Herakles, the war veteran Sad But Great, meet again accidentally after an artist named Ida takes G.’s favorite ox for a precarious ride through the city. Like Autobiography, Red Doc>‘s narrative is beautifully disjointed and sparse, the details of past and present revealed mostly in essence:

What ever
happened to your
autobiography says Sad
you were always fiddling
with it in the old days. I
gave it up says G.
Nothing happening in
my life. They look at one
another and start to laugh.

Arguably less accessible than Autobiography, Red Doc > is a masterful work of prose poetry, an often polarizing, seemingly contradictory form. In a recent The Guardian interview, the author, Anne Carson, replied with a line from Red Doc > when asked of her definition of poetry: “If prose is a house, poetry is a man on fire running quite fast through it,” which doesn’t make immediate sense given her writing style, yet I get the essence. Maybe that’s the point.

IMG_0186 I saw Anne at my Alma mater on April 10, 2013 for all of 180 seconds between the backs of necks and earlobes of other attendees. I knew she was soft-spoken, given what I’d read of her introverted nature, but even with a microphone, I had trouble hearing her through the sound system; I went to a closer entry point only to be told by the graduate programs director the way was shut. Luckily, we live in the age of streaming video, so I was able to catch Anne’s UC Berkeley reading some weeks later, sans backs of necks and earlobes.

Cirque Du Work

PrintLife can be fabulously challenging and ridiculously fun all at once. Since the last entry, I’ve managed to have three notable writerly experiences and a string of personal battles that have resulted in me walking taller against the rain, as it were.

On March 16, I was a panelist in the “Day Job” slot of the annual Mills College professional development conference for writers and scholars titled “Cirque Du Work.” Our talk was mainly about how we, as working writers, balance creative time with the demands of a career. I was an audience member at Cirque Du Work (then known as Pitch Fest) as a Mills graduate student in 2009, in awe at the alums who had become published authors, so it was pleasantly surreal to sit behind a tableclothed desk on stage with my bottled water and wireless mic, speaking and answering questions about my writing process and career.

The discussion was lively and flowed smoothly due to an interesting crowd / panel dynamic, which I credit to the organizers and, perhaps, good fortune. I came away from the experience energized and happy to have been around such creative people.

The next week, I was asked to judge  a fiction writing contest. I won’t say which one or comment on the stories on the off chance someone reading this post entered the contest, but I will say it was an honor to be considered a writing authority.

Judging fiction is odd because the question of “What is good or award-winning fiction?” never seems to be answered to satisfaction. So, to avoid further complicating the matter, my criteria was kept simple, balancing gut responses with technical aspects in relation to what I thought each writer tried to accomplish.

What has made my writing more compelling over the years is a focus on clean, true lines. My favorite writers are Anne Carson, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, N. Scott Momaday, E.B. White, Lorine Niedecker, and several others, because their works are often engaging and descriptive without the words being forced to do too much.

Last week, I finally wrote into the novel after what seemed like months of not having done so. No, the heavens didn’t move to shine down divine light on my manuscript, but I felt what I wrote was quite marvelous.