Review: You Can’t Go Home Again

This is a sister review to my review of Max Perkins Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg.  When that book was finished I had a list of about five books I wanted to read, and the first one that I managed to get at the library was You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe.                                                                                                                                                                                         First of all a disclaimer. I don’t review books negatively.  If I write a review here, or elsewhere, I only write positive reviews. If I can’t write a positive review I say nothing. I got into that habit with poetry. There is a lot of poetry I just don’t get and there are a lot of people who don’t get the poetry  or prose I write. I have a spreadsheet full of rejections to prove that. But, some do like what I write.  I refuse to be critical of another writer on a public forum because it may be a work that just doesn’t resonate with me.

800px-Thomas_Wolfe_1937_1
Thomas Wolfe photo by Carl Van Vechten Van Vechten Collection at Library of Congress

Now to Thomas Wolfe and his book. As to the author I will be brief, and refer you to A. Scott Berg’s biography of Max Perkins, or to one of the many biographies (which I have not yet read) of Thomas Wolfe who lived a short life from 1900 – 1938. He was a big man with big appetites and was rather notorious for writing novels which were essentially, fundamentally, chapters out of his own life.  My opinion is that all writers do that, including me, but he was more blatant about it than most, and wrote when the world was a wee bit less litigious than it is now. If you read A. Scott Berg’s biography of Max Perkins you will recognize many of the people mentioned in that work.

The book itself is fantastic. A rolling, rollicking, ramble of stories connected together. I have never read anything like it.  A little bit like stream of consciousness, and a bit like Faulkner only with shorter sentences. But it works. It reads to me like life is. It reads to me like the way life comes at us is as we live it.  There is a plot,maybe, but often it is not all that clear exactly what the plot is.   I see my life like that.  As  one scene after another loosely connected which from certain vantage points manages to have a certain coherence, and perhaps even develops a certain meaning.

In the book the characters are so sharply defined, and undoubtedly taken from Wolfe’s own experiences.  One of the most compelling, in kind of a creepy way, is Judge Bland who is now blind but manages to “see” what is going on all around him. He was a person of some promise who unexpectedly turns into some kind of  malevolent creature. Reminds me a little bit of Gollum from The Hobbit. But I digress.

What is the story line?  The main character, I won’t use the word protagonist since this is not an English Lit class, becomes a big city New York  writer who pens a best seller using the backdrop of his hometown and it’s citizenry for material. Place and persons are only marginally disguised.  Yes. He really did do that.  It is magnificent. However, there is a price to pay not only for fame, but for writing a very public best selling novel which is in essence a gossipy tell all of your hometown.

You can’t go home again.  Not really. But you can revisit your version of what it was like in your mind, or you can put it on paper like Wolfe and every other write does. Highly recommended.

 

Advertisements

Review: Max Perkins Editor of Genius

If you are a writer, or if you aspire to be one, read this excellent biography. If you are a lover of good literature, or a history buff, read this book. In my opinion Maxwell Perkins was the most influential editor in American literary history. In case your English literature class was woefully deficient, thankfully mine wasn’t, he was the editor of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe (the first one not the one who wrote Bonfire of the Vanities), Ernest Hemingway, and James Jones. A pantheon of American literature the likes of which we have not seen since. And that is just a partial list. More than editor. He was in essence an essential collaborator to writers who might not have been as successful without him.

img_20180826_0116461892.jpg
Max Perkins Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg

This book provides a lot of inside information on the writing and editing process. That itself made it worth my time. Knowing how to take a jumbled inchoate manuscript from the scribbles of someone like Thomas Wolfe and help the author turn it into a piece of genuine literature is a rare art. Back in the day an unknown writer could waltz into the Scribner building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan with their manuscript, and had a much better than even chance of seeing the man himself. Many were asked to tea. Compare that to today when charlatans abound in the publishing business and most publishers want to see an edited manuscript before they will look at it.

A. Scott Berg’s work takes us deep inside Scribner’s publishing house (which started as a publisher of religious books), and the storied rise of Max Perkins and the writers he worked with. The book starts slow, because the author takes his time in building the foundation. It picks up steam as it goes along, and I finished the last half of it today because I couldn’t put it down. I had tears in my eyes the last few pages. I cannot ever remember when I have been moved so powerfully by a biography. I suspect never.

A poem, perhaps a dirge, for our times.

girl at the window.png

The Children of Hegel

Whoa...

I need to catch my breath
as I look out the window of an ancient childhood
take inventory of the moment ponder the question:
what is this world we have become?
as we wound our way through
the serpentine flow of history
which started as a clear stream, with direction
only to slow to a trickle
then halt in a moribund morass of sludge
which has ground we the people to a halt, and history no longer flows free
but threatens to backup like a sewer
and we the children of Hegel are stranded stuck
stuck
in an eternal synthesis
in a fused bipolar cycle which is the
worst of both worlds
no thesis, and no antithesis
Marx, Hegel, and Fukuyama never saw it coming
the sucker punch of technology - Heidegger’s enfolding
and we have become the slave of it
what we failed to envision
is the possibility that good might fail
and that in the end, before the end of times
that evil would prevail
fed fat on the cancer of malignant capitalism
we descend anew into the Dark Ages
the questions remains...

Will we emerge or destroy the very foundation 
of the earth we stand upon?

Two issues. Heidegger warned that technology might not be what it seems.  He sensed something sinister in it, and wrote about it in The Question Concerning Technology. He called it an enfolding. I hope to have a lot to say about that later in future posts.

The second issue.  A nation of vision, strength, and no little amount of moral integrity has become a debauchery of greed and indulgence, and we are ruled by a plutocracy.  Reagan’s light on a hill (say what you want at least he was no cynic and believed the rhetoric) is now a dim, and flickering, flame.  We are fading, and the grand experiment in democracy is in peril.  Oh, I know, we were never perfect.  Far from it.  But we thought we could be. We had that audacity.  God bless us for that.  We believed we could become something good, and better all humankind.

I must say a word about capitalism.  Note I used the term malignant capitalism which I want to define rather narrowly.  The one lesson America has not learned is moderation. Everything is supersized, everything is breaking news, everything is over the top.   Capitalism in and of itself is not malignant.  But, when it becomes the focus, and when the business of America is business (or making money – there is a difference and that is our present state) something bad happens. Unchecked, and monitored it becomes grotesque, and the traits of it that were virtuous become a vice. Just like the hunting rifle of old has turned into a weapon, and dangerous parody of what it once was.

 

 

Time

pocketwatch

Funny thing about time isn’t it?  We enter time  from eternity and then return to the infinite when we are done here.  In time are all born, and we all die.  Also, here in Missouri the Indian people lived before the time when white men came and drove them out.  I knew I was Native American on one side of my family, but was surprised to find out, from a surprisingly detail genealogy, that I was native American on both sides. I am 1/16th to the tribes reckoning, and they think I  had a great grandmother who was “full blood” but they couldn’t prove that at the time. 

These poems are from the time in my life where I was searching the nooks and crannies of my Native American relations. Time for some poetry with a little Indian flair!

My Death Song

as I face death
I ask You 
the Great Mystery
grant me the kindness
of no fear
that the final moments
are not seized by terror
but grace and good will
with someone to hold my hand
that is not paid 
to be there
and that my relations 
come quickly 
to greet me as I
step out into
the next journey 

Going to Water

(based on the practices of Cherokee Medicine Man Rolling Thunder)

my favorite way
to go to water
is when it is raining lightly
just above a drizzle
then the water is more powerful
the medicine quicker
as the current foams white
upon the higher rocks
in the small creeks and streams
that are common here in Missouri
you wade shoeless into the water
and face downstream
then will pray to the Great Mystery
that the water will carry away
the debris 
I like to raise my hands as I begin
but that is optional
just watch the ripples and currents
carry your burdens away 
leeching the salt 
from you wounds
you will feel
the water pulling away
what you don't need

Two Poems: Sleep & After the Flood

riding-the-mule

What is reality?  In some ways sleep is just another form of reality, and consciousness and unconsciousness commingle.  It gets slippery and we loose our way. Trumpism is an example of what can indeed happen here. How surreal is it to see a Donald Trump sitting in the Oval Office?

When reality shifts, after the flood, there is a rebuilding.   I am from the Show Me State, and we are as stubborn as mules. There will be another day, and in the meantime it is at least, well… interesting.

Here are the poems, and later next week some poems of protest as well as defiance:



Sleep

sometimes when I am awake
I sleep
sometimes when I sleep
I am awake

seems as if
I cannot
make up my mind

or perhaps

I have made this bed
and the decision
to lay in it

I am awake
sometimes when I sleep
I sleep
sometimes when I am awake

or perhaps
it is the other way
around

After the Flood

during the deluge
all you could do was
close the hatches
weather it out
wait for the sun
which would finally come

then one day
after the flood
the dove
did not come back
the waters withdrew
and the finger of G-d
wrote against the sky
using a prism of light
a sign for us
to start over
to begin anew

everything
that happens now
comes from then
so we are all
after the flood
children of survivors

The Last Poem

Among other things I will be previewing poems from my new chapbook  After the Flood. As the good book says “So the last shall be first, and the first last….”  So it is here.

The Last Poem

who will write
the last poem?

will anyone read it?

perhaps it will just remain
behind
abandoned as
an unread artifact
that will never be
recited
or, for that matter, rejected
by editors – a defacto still birth

for this last poem we should hope
it has the élan
to be composed
in pica or elite
typewritten
with mechanical keys
rhythmically striking
a staccato tatoo
a bell sounding
at the end of the line

or better yet
written with a freshly sharpened
yellow wooden pencil
with that schoolroom smell
scribbled on real paper peppered with shavings