Thursday, August 23, 2007

Kerouac's On the Road 50 Years Later

Kerouac's On the Road 50 Years Later:

2004 NPR story on the scroll
Photo of the scroll from Christie's
David Havird Essay on James Dickey in Spring 2000 Virginia Quarterly Review
Charles Murray in The American on why the SAT should be abolished (Murray is a libertarian who works for the American Enterprise Institute and co-authored the controversial book, The Bell Curve
Site for the very cool Found Magazine
Brad Land's Goat as the summer "Big Read" at Coastal Carolina University:

Monday, August 13, 2007

Brad Land's Pilgrims Upon the Earth

I just finished former student Brad Land's first novel, Pilgrims Upon the Earth. This one follows by three years his wildly successful memoir, Goat, which we used in fall 2005 as a common text for our freshman classes at Francis Marion University, his alma mater. Students (and critics) raved about that book, and I was proud of the fact that Brad made a start on it as a final project for my Literary Nonfiction class. He went on to UNC-Wilmington, where his MFA was in nonfiction, and the harrowing story that became Goat was his thesis.

From the get-go and to an astonishing extent, Brad had a distinctive but unaffected style. He would say, I know, that this voice, veering between the florid and the clipped, has been honed and tempered by the likes of novelist Cormac McCarthy and poet Jack Gilbert, also affected by the lyric essay as exemplified by John D'Agata plus many others. But Brad's language is distinctive and only occasionally tips over into the precious.

Pilgrims tells what is on the surface a pretty basic story. Terry Webber, whose mother commits suicide shortly after his birth, lives with a sympathetic but ineffective millworker father in South Carolina. Terry is a dopehead and a slacker but is rendered endearing by his off-kilter, sensitive take on the world around him. He falls for Alice Washington, the two embark on a journey to visit her sister, and Alice has a fatal accident. This rocks Terry's world and seems all the more wrenching for the flat, matter-of-fact indiscriminate approach he seems to adopt toward this and other events, both minor and major, in his life. He engages in petty crimes with his mates, gets kicked off the soccer team, intermittently reconnects with his dad, and finally lights out for the territories, in this case Colorado and Alice's sister, the destination they had in mind when it all came apart.

There is an enigmatic sort of redemption or hope or something kindled by the novel's end. But what emerges best of all and keeps the story rolling is Brad's sometimes zany and always inventive language, a diction and kick that reveals an entire world-view, albeit a sometimes jaded, maddeningly passive-aggressive one.

Searching "Brad Land" on the web still gives you a ton of Goat references and only a few for this novel. But presumably that ratio will alter this fall when his book tour kicks off. I could see hordes of young people getting into this one, just as they did Goat, even if the subject matter is not as vivid and immediate.

Reviews of Pilgrims Upon the Earth:

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Maxwell Autrey Driggers

My grandson Maxwell Autrey Driggers was born at 1:13 a.m. August 7. He weighed in at 8 lb. 10 oz., large enough but smaller than his 6-year-old sister Amelia (9 lb. 6 oz.) and 3-year-old Boyd (10 lb. 6 oz.). Nell was induced and labored for some 16 hours. Max and Nell will be home today. Janne and I are here in Ocean Springs for several days trying to help with the transition.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Poem a Day

No Certain Claim
(villanelle, poem for July 31, 2007)

The restless waiting holds me like a spell.
My daughter’s son will take my father’s name.
Which door will open? None of us can tell.

The summer’s long demise, its ghostly knell
sounds out, and nothing stays the same.
The eager waiting holds me like a spell.

Some days I pass like heaven’s infidel,
a lonely wanderer, no certain claim.
Which door will open? None of us can tell.

I hear my mother’s voice, clear as a bell,
call out to me, her world a shrinking frame.
The awful waiting holds me like a spell.

Grandchild and parent, each within a cell,
will find the key to this confining game.
Which door will open? None of us can tell.

These lonely vigils: who can stand them well?
I keep my peace and feed the earthly flame.
The endless waiting holds me like a spell
Which door will open? None of us can tell.

I've written a poem a day since July 1. This perhaps crazy and compulsive mass production started as a mutual challenge with my colleague Beckie Flannagan to write a daily poem, start to finish, for a month. Now, we're well into August, and the poems keep coming. Naturally, some of them are pretty bad, while others show some promise. No doubt some will remain buried in the depths of my poetry drawer. Others, though, I will certainly revise and send out. Among the 34 poems produced to date are three sonnets (July 13 and 20, August 2), a sestina (July 28), and a villanelle (July 31).

I'm not sure how long this will continue. At some point, certainly once I get into the thick of fall semester, I'm sure I'll want to spend more time evaluating and revising what I've done. Still, the past month's work reinforces what I've long known about the habit of writing and the importance of regular, if not daily, word work. William Stafford started each day with poetry writing, and many others have done the same. It's difficult to write strong, publishable poems, but it's not hard to write daily, especially once you've designated a time and place to do so. It's a lesson I try to teach all my students. The often-quoted Latin phrase for this is "nulla dies sine linea" (never a day without lines).

Ilija Melentijević, a Serbian who maintains a blog called "Nulla dies sine linea", applies this slogan to his art: "Never a day without a drawing." The writer and writing teacher Don Murray wrote and sketched daily (see my blog entry on Murray for 4 January 2007).

See the flickr page that attributes this dictum to Pliny, the Elder.
Ron Silliman's blog , 3 August 2007, contains a good discussion of rhythm and change in poets' work, esp. as applied to John Ashbery