That year I reread Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and came upon these lines: “The sadness was form, the happiness content. Happiness filled the space of sadness,” and that formula entered me, allowed me to write about love properly, and has never left. It’s the richest sort of advice and it keeps giving and changing and revising itself in each new narrative. Every life ends, and everything runs toward its end, but in the meantime, how much happiness can be withstood? Narrative, or at least one type of narrative, seems to be about just that, and it’s the deepest sort of quest for a writer—to find the perfect sad ending with so much happiness in it that it is almost indistinguishable from a happy ending.
Poetry is part of everything. You can’t have a really good work if it’s not touched by poetry. Poetry manifests itself in millions of ways: as rhythm, metaphor, mood. Sometimes it’s a type of emotional outpouring or necessity that’s not expressed through characters but through feelings. To me, poetry is the tragic sense of man. It’s a way of seeing things in the most complete way, the most absolute, and, to a certain extent, the most perfect. Where there’s no poetry, there’s no beauty, and without beauty no kind of artistic work can exist.
Thanks to the North Carolina Writers’ Network for this fun interview. It’s not every day that I think about the fictional character with whom I’d like to have a torrid but guilt-free affair!
At the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2013 Fall Conference, I’ll sit on Saturday’s “Brilliant at Breakfast Panel Discussion” titled “How to Work with a Publisher (So They Want to Work with You)” along with my Ecotone/Lookout colleagues Anna Lena Phillips and Beth Staples. I’ll also sit on Sunday’s panel, “Agents and Editors,” along with Michelle Brower of Folio Literary Management, Paul Lucas of Janklow & Nesbit Associates, and Christine Norris of Press 53.
I posted this poem here years ago, but it remains a compass for me, a reminder that we don’t fail at love; sometimes we just come to the end of triumph.by Jack Gilbert via The Academy of American Poets
Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.
Have I mentioned how excited I am about Lookout’s next project? Astoria to Zion includes twenty-six stunning stories from Ecotone's first decade of publication, with a foreword by NBCC winner and Ecotone contributor Ben Fountain. To top it off, I had the opportunity to work with the terrific design team at Stitch on the cover. We’ll launch the book officially at AWP in Seattle, and I look forward to seeing you at the off-site event! If you’re a blogger or reviewer and would like an ARC, please be in touch. My address is listed on my UNCW faculty page.
After uploading the ARC yesterday, we’re one step closer to the March 2014 release of Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone’s First Decade with a foreword by Ben Fountain.
[Lookout intern Katie Jones putting the finishing touches on the ARC back cover.]
I’m a huge fan of Coralie Bickford-Smith.
Anything Coralie Bickford-Smith, all of the time.
Thanks to Ecotone’s lovely managing editor Sally Johnson for this generous interview about the magazine, in which she mentions Lookout Books.
Hey, Key West, thanks for coming out and listening last night. And thanks to Jonathan Woods and Jessica Argyle for organizing such a fun and inspiring event.
I’ll be reading from work in progress at 7 p.m. tomorrow, May 16, as part of the monthly Walk on White series, sponsored by The Studios of Key West. Come out to hear poems, flash fiction, and more, as well as to tour the studios of my fellow AIRs, Christina Pettersson, Sasha Wortzel, and Chihiro Amemiya.
Media Alert: Chefs & Local Food Advocates Headed to Washington to Support Food Stamp Nutrition Incentives at Farmers Markets →
So proud of my man—the genius behind The Kitchen in Wilmington—who is off to D.C. this week to join Wholesome Wave and more than a dozen chefs including Tom Colicchio and José Andrés to encourage lawmakers to support legislation that would provide federally funded nutrition incentives in the farm bill to empower food stamp recipients to buy healthy, locally grown, fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets.
This was the experience of the marathon for me. It was a rare, rare moment when the city seemed truly whole; when people came together—for free—to watch an event, and they cheered the back-of-the-pack plodders as enthusiastically as they did the whippets who led the way. I was so moved by it that I was choked up for most of the twenty-six miles, seeing this crazy display of community and generosity … Beside the fact that it has such an ancient pedigree, the marathon has a special kind of purity. Anyone can do it; anyone can watch it; everyone loves it. I’m sure rural marathons and small-city marathons are great, but the special thing about big-city marathons, like New York and Boston, is that they are occasions when the clashing and whirring of urban life quiets, and everyone stands together to see a bunch of people trying to do something very simple that is also very hard. It’s marvelous.
— from “Homemade Marathons” by Susan Orlean, The New Yorker
Happy publication week to Lookout’s latest author and true creative force, Ben Miller, whose River Bend Chronicle: The Junkification of a Boyhood Idyll amid the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa came out on Tuesday. His memoir in essays is Lookout’s fourth offering and debut nonfiction book.
Already it is getting terrific reviews:
“Funny and beautifully crafted … Miller’s affecting chronicle reveals the often messy ways that families fall apart and the way that writing acts both as remembrance and redemption.”
“What Miller presents is a kind of forgiveness, brave, heroic, and largely uncharted by male writers … he lends empathy and strength to a story that could otherwise be just one of victimhood.” —ForeWord
“Few writers have given more compelling voice to their memories of a particular place. The Great American Midwest will never look—or feel—the same.”
—Jackson Lears, author of Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877–1920
“Miller’s imagination is astounding in its breadth and detail, but it is the heart behind the words, the emotion he brings to the smallest moments, that makes me such an admirer of this writer and his work.”
—Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief
If you live in New York, please come out to KGB on Tuesday, March 19 at 7 to hear Ben read from the book. I got a sneak listen at AWP last week, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
(photo l to r): me, Ben Miller, Anne Pierson Wiese, Beth Staples)