On last night's marvelous reading of Corrine Fitzpatrick and Andrea Lawlor
JUST ANNOUNCED! The remainder of the QT season--which will take place in Dixon Place's brand new swanky space on Chrystie Street--is as follows:
Wednesday, November 19:
SILAS HOWARD [By Hook or by Crook (and other films)]
TISA BRYANT [Unexplained Presence (Leon Works)]
Tuesday, December 9:
Triple book party!!! with
DOUGLAS A. MARTIN
[Your Body, Figured (Nightboat)]
MATTILDA BERNSTEIN SYCAMORE
[So Many Ways to Sleep Badly (City Lights)]
MAGDALENA "NO MIDDLE NAME OR INITIAL" ZURAWSKI
[The Bruise, winner of the Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize (FC2)]
Now, the intros:
ON ANDREA LAWLOR
Claude Lévi-Strauss writes, “What gives the myth an operational value is that the specific pattern described is timeless; it explains the present and the past as well as the future.” Andrea Lawlor’s smart and engrossing Pocket Myths series, which invites artists across disciplines to provide new takes on major themes and characters from Greek myth, has for the past several years been putting that assertion to the test, yielding work that has been beautiful, meaningful, engaging, humorous, and provocative.
Lawlor’s own stories set myths in societies more familiar (to me, at least) than ancient Greece: long-closed dyke bars in Park Slope, grad-student parties in small towns. Often her characters behave disconnectedly, as if compelled, driven along by the force of ancient plotlines, structures, fantasies, and drives, but dressed here in language that glistens with energy and intelligence and heart.
Lévi-Strauss also writes of myths as language that exists above the linguistic level, inoculated by its enduringness against the effects of any particular translation. But Lawlor’s language is highly relevant here: If her writing uses the myth as a kind of eternal engine, the myth in turn luxuriates in the enchanting chassis of her wicked humor, the sharp social commentary she laces through the myths’ retellings—in short, her impeccable craft. Lawlor’s stories propel me through them in a way that few works of fiction do: with an inexorable thrust.
ON CORRINE FITZPATRICK
There’s a rigorous aesthetics of subtraction at work in Corrine Fitzpatrick’s stripped-down poetics. This is most overtly visible in Zamboangueña, a chapbook that came out this year and consists of taut, sly stanzas culled verbatim from her grandmother’s storytelling, built as much from what Corrine leaves out as what she includes.
This principle also animates her recent poems, one of which begins with a sentence that, read quickly on the page, seems at first to say “in this world there are problems,” and then you realize, a bit late, that you’d read it wrong; it says not world but word. And herein lies one of the chief problematics—or, as it appears in the line, post-subtraction, “problems”—in Corrine Fitzpatrick’s poetry: that to travel from experience to poetry, from world to word, can seem a function of diminution, of winnowing. Her work explores the aesthetic, intellectual, and moral challenges this leaves us with.
The vehicle, the medium of this movement, is perception, a process whose conditional and unstable character plays a key role in these poems (“throw specifics into doubt”). A siren, which could be a sound or a woman or both, dopplers itself out of form; a changing angle of light alters a landscape, as does a simple bodily movement: “turn conducts my view.” What can be counted on?
These poems’ caution, and their considered and erudite skepticism, exists to challenge the same tendencies in ourselves, their readers. Too, the poems seek ways to challenge this outlook. “I speak to you,” one poem begins, courageously setting aside momentarily all the ways that assertion could be undone. Another poem’s title, “emptiness has something to shout,” evinces a similar determination to escape paralysis or muteness without relinquishing theoretical and critical rigor.
The urge to subtract, as gracefully rendered in Corrine Fitzpatrick’s thoughtful, critical poems, leads us to explore by what terms we might attempt, through all our changing perceptual and intellectual frames, to build.