I am not being long-winded. I am cutting and pasting dangerously.
Here is what I wrote about Eric LeMay’s In Praise of Nothing from Emergency Press in an essay in a collection I’m writing about finding beauty in the gutter:
I woke up this morning, having gone to sleep thinking about some lines Eric Lemay wrote in his book, “In Praise of Nothing.” He’s writing about returning to Ohio as now-married man, having grown up in this town in Ohio (Athens?) but had moved to New York for a decade or so. The essay is about how he feels like two people at once, or, rather, feels as if his old self was never interrupted. That his old life and his current life are parallels, nearly one-in-the-same, but different because he observes both selves as if from outer space. He witnesses his past life and his current life from a dissociated distance. “Every time we went [to the lake] I wondered if I’d entered that pattern, if I was my younger self or the self in my swimsuit.” But that sense of dislocation, of dissociation falls apart when a thunderstorm hits at the lake he visited in his past life, at the lake he is visiting in his current life.
One afternoon while we were there at that lake a thunderstorm came up. It was like a message from a far-off country that I’d once lived in and left for good. The momentous feeling that arrives with an electrical disturbance over a lake in America hasn’t changed in any important respect. This was the sublimes, still the sublime. The whole thing was overwhelming, the overcast clouds that rolled in and the general worry on the beach about whether it’d rain. Then before long (there was no question now) a dark greening of the sky, and a lull in everything that has made life tick; and then the way the leaves suddenly turned up and showed their silver sides with the coming of a breeze across the water, and the premonitory rumble (67).
There is no more wondering who is who. The essay ends with LeMay saying, “suddenly I felt the joy of my youth.”
In the feeling, in the moment, in the beauty of those leaves-turned-silver, the fractured self comes together in one trembling, unified mass. It didn’t matter if it was the LeMay or any other book or painting or actual silver shimmering. What mattered was the notice.
I already wrote here about Zoologies, but here’s something I wrote in an essay about “Fiction Is Just Nonfiction That Hasn’t Happened Yet”
Are dreams nonfiction? In Alison Hawthorne Deming’s collection of essays, Zoologies, she intersperses dreams between her experience and research driven essays on animals. The experiential essays attempt to hold still the rapidly decaying world, even rejoicing in the crush of beauty against annihilation. But every six or seven essays, Deming will dip into a dream.
I recently dreamed of a woman who was holding a cougar kitten in her arms, its head resting beside her cheek, as a mother would carry and comfort a human baby with unbridled tenderness. She was a no-nonsense woman with close-cropped hair and khaki clothes, the kind of woman who might show up on television to introduce zoo animals to a populations starving for animal beauty. In the dream a group of friends or colleagues were in the room. Some were surprised to see a cougar in their midst. Another said, Oh, yes, they walk through this yard all the time. Another replied, Well, sure, but you know they’re endangered. The woman cuddling the cougar said, I don’t think I will miss them when they are gone. The dissonance between her actions and her words woke me from the dream. I wasn’t angry at her and I did not judge her for the statement. I knew her life was full of many concerns that took precedence over imagining such a loss and holding it close (Zoologies 88).
She renders this dream-scape so realistically, so representatively, so mimetically. The dream, a cluster of paradoxes and inconsistencies, tragedies and sentimentalities, doesn’t make sense. But the scene makes sense. You can picture the woman. You can picture the cougar. The dream is where the real stakes are best represented. In other essays, Deming uses equally precise and illustrative language but it’s the wildness of the dreams that require a focus so tight that the wildness of the dream is made tame. Is it nonfiction? Maybe. The dream is at least rendered true. The language and syntax is that of organized narrative. The dream, and what’s at stake in the dream, cannot risk being unseen. So she turns what might have been a paratactic dream, using hypotactic sentences, into a cinematic scene. She evokes the television. She makes sure her reader is sure to see it.
This Are the Tweets I tweeted about Ander Monson’s Letter to a Future Lover in backwards order—which I just started so have only tweeted bits from early on in the book:
(Last one for tonight). "Still, I want to know your name, what makes you go, why you play this strange." "The Defacer" @angermonsoon
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be remembered." From @angermonsoon 's Letters To a Future Lover--"Dear Bound."
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of them. To be a deer is to be infested. To be a dear is to be infested by another, to be written to, to be addressed, to... @angermonsoon
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"Everything is a carrier. Like words, most deer, whether farmed or wild, cay parasites, echoes of meaning and memory..... @angermonsoon
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This is what I wrote about BJ Hollars Dispatches from the Drowning in an upcoming review in Diagram:
And that’s the question that propelled me through the entire book. If, in nonfiction, we’re not scouring for fact, not trying to decide what details are accurate and what invented, then why read? Or, then, does one turn on one’s fiction brain and read for plot and character? Hollars already admitted you will find sustained versions of neither here.
These are the books upon which I haven’t written but hope to next year:
T. Clutch Fleischmann’s Syzygy on shadows, light and extra-curricular dating.
Matthew Gavin Frank’s Preparing the Ghost on food, obsession, and wanting to touch stuff you probably shouldn’t touch.
Eula Biss’s On Immunity which is an excellent book but not very genre bending which is fine but strange to me that it’s not. Still, I loved this book for its research and its careful polemic and its very gorgeous writing. Maybe the excellence of those three things make it a hybrid?
Justin Hocking’s The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld for its water-wise obsession and its wondrously well-woven whales.
Dinah Lenney's The Object Parade for its synecdoche and its metonym.
Barrie Jean Borich's Body Geographic for its maps and its love songs.
What I’m looking forward to reading next year:
Steven Church’s Ultrasonic
Ned Stuckey-French’s The American Essay in the American Century
Jill Talbot’s The Way We Weren’t forthcoming from Counterpoint.
John Gallaher’s In A Landscape which is supposedly poetry but I would like to read it as both essay and poem.
William Bradley’s Fractals from Lavender Ink Press.
Patrick Madden and David Lazar’s After Montaigne (in which I have an essay but haven’t read the other essayists’ essays).
Andy Fitch’s Sixty Morning Walks from Ugly Duckling Presse.
And all the books listed here that I haven’t read yet!
NICOLE WALKER’s Quench Your Thirst with Salt won the Zone 3 Award for Creative Nonfiction and was released in June 2013. She is the author of a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg (Barrow Street 2010) and edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, (Bloomsbury, 2013) and with Rebecca Campbell—7 Artists, 7 Rings—an Artist’s Game of Telephone for the Huffington Post. A recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment from the Arts, she’s nonfiction editor at Diagram and Associate Professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona where it rains like the Pacific Northwest, but only in July.