Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On the Corner of Poetry and Novel--A Meditation on our Friday (5/14) Event with Travis Nichols and Aaron Michael Morales

As I read Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder (preparing for our joint event with Travis Nichols and Aaron Michael Morales this Friday), I thought of the structure, the wordplay, the way the images repeat. I looked at the jacket and it said "novel", but my brain reads poetry.

Indeed, Nicholas is an editor at the Poetry Foundation. And it's clear that this has had an influence on his storytelling style.

The story is told as a series of letters to Luddie, a Polish woman who saved the narrator's grandfather during the war. The narrator, unnamed, does refer to himself as "Madame Psychosis." His girlfriend is Bernadette. MP and Bernadette hope to accompany Grandfather back to Europe.

The story is punctuated by memories and asides. Ed Park said Nicholas put the "pistol" in "epistolary." Don't you wish you thought of that?

Here's a sample from the plane trip:
Then, the yellow pills wore off.
Then, the baby boy was still wailing
Then, the baby boy was blue in the face.
Then, the other passengers were not wailing with blue faces.
Then, they were staring at her with red faces.
Then, the man she was married to stared at her with the reddest face of all, and he kept scooping cocaine from his shoe and snorting it.
The radical daughter looked out the window and became terrified
Off we go into the wild blue yonder
Climbing high into the sun.

Here's another fragment:
Something is wrong this morning.
I feel it.
Something is wrong, but as I walk down the hallway to Bombadier's room I don't know what it is. A witness observes without imagination, I think. A witness is purse sense.
I hear a warble and a screech.
Something is wrong.

This is not the conflagration of story and novel. For that, we have another guest (Aaron Michael Morales), whose Drowning Tucson is a very dark interconnected series of vignettes on the mean streets of Tucscon. Very Mean. I did a lot of shuddering as I read it.

But Nichols novel does not really incorporate the short story form. This is a driving narrative, with a couple of asides, of three people traveling to Poland to find out the truth about Grandfather's war, and perhaps of war itself. I kept thinking, "Poetry, poetry," but by the end of the story, I thought, "OK, novel too."

For more, read this interview with Nichols in Rob McLennan's blog.
And here's one with Morales in La Bloga.

Or ask Nichols yourself when he appears with Morales this Friday, May 14th, at Boswell. Oh, and if it looks like I'm spending more time on one author than another, I should mention that Stacie and I put together a separate press release to Latino cultural organizations for Morales so this blog was partly an attempt to right the imbalance!

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