Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mine the gap: anatomy of a lyric memoir

In my former life as a journalist, we had a saying: Gathering string. It meant going out and collecting unconnected facts and figures that led to other facts and figures that led to others, and still others ... all of which would lead to something more, a story that revealed something new or captured an interesting slice of life.

We accumulated. We hoarded our bits of string and twigs for the future, collecting more than we knew we would really need.

Then one day, we decided we had gathered enough. It was time to turn that string into a story.

But what if the string we sought could not be found, no matter how hard we searched? What if the facts and figures were wiped away by death, silence, forgetting?

In her 2006 memoir A Family of Strangers, the late Deborah Tall pulled off the seemingly impossible. She tracked down every piece of string she could, found that it barely fit inside a thimble ... and made it sing anyway. And what of the material not available to her, the material irretrievably lost? She turned those into the gaps that held the book together.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Reality Hunger: A Discussion via Homage

This past Wednesday students from Hamline met to discuss David Shields’ newest book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto under the moderation of professor Barrie Jean Borich.  In the spirit of the book, I am posting quotes from the evening, some of which are verbatim and some of which I edited for clarity, context, or simply because I didn’t catch the full phrase.  I didn’t include everything, and they aren’t necessarily in order, but unlike Shields, I believe attribution is important so I’ve used the students’ first names.  And I apologize if I misquoted someone. 
I think it’s a defensive lyric essay via an attack on narrative fiction.
I would add that it is a personal manifesto or manifestation of what is a viable genre/nongenre.
It seemed to be more personal essaying than cultural manifesto.
It was very crass. “I like this; I don’t like that.” It was egotistical or it comes off that way, could be read that way.  At times I thought, Oh please.
I found it interesting that he left some people, who I consider important and influential, out: Annie Dillard, Katherine Norris, Mary Karr. I tried to read the titles as one long poem but it didn’t quite work.
I found it interesting that he had a section about persona, but I didn’t feel like I knew his persona or whose mind I was reading. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Equation of Erasure

Erasure poetry is a form of found poetry. Here is how an erasure is created. Take a page from any text. Find words that leap at you, words you want to consider, or words that speak to one another. Then cover up or remove the rest of the words, which usually means covering-up or removing most of the words, leaving only a few.

For example, if you cover your unchosen words with a red Sharpie, what remains is a page with selected & scattered words, plus, some horizontal red stripes. Essentially, the act of erasure is one of creating new relationships via form. If erasure were written as a mathematical equation, it might look like this:
(Text + Visual art) – text = Erasure Poetry

Last month, I attended a program about erasure. It was held at the Walker Art Center, and co-sponsored by Rain Taxi Review. While Eric Lorberer gave a brief introduction to the evening and the artists, Travis McDonald, Janet Holmes, and Matthea Harvey, I perused the program-brochure for background information.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mortenson, Lying, Cheating, & Self-Mythologizing

Laura Miller at Salon recently posted her take on the Greg Mortenson memoir scandal. She argues that the fabrications in "Three Cups of Tea" are irrelevant compared to Mortenson's misuse of charitable contributions for his own gain. She writes:
"It's unfortunate that the Mortenson affair is being presented as a publishing scandal rather than a philanthropic one, because the case against the author (the lying) is less compelling than the case against the nonprofit director (the cheating)."
Reading this, part of me wanted to shout: Yes! Finally someone is pointing out how misleading donors was much more damaging than misleading readers. But unfortunately this argument is an oversimplification, ignoring how the lies in the book are inextricably tied to, and led to, the philanthropic disaster.