Sunday, January 30, 2011

31. Autographing books, readings, } & where to when.

Immediately following: a few happenings tied to the upcoming Association of Writers & Publishers (AWP) conference in Washington DC next week.

Wednesday, Feb. 2nd. I will read poetry at Busboys & Poets with James Capozzi, Geoffrey Gatza, Matthew Klane, Adam Liszkiewicz, Marjorie Maddox, Brittany Perham, Sarah Sarai, Jon Thompson, Daniel Tiffany, Sam Truitt, and Bryan Walpert; we’re hosted by the journals Free Verse, Reconfigurations, and Word For/Word.

Thursday, Feb. 3rd. I’ll be hosting with Flim Forum Press (and quite a few others) a reading with Jennifer Karmin, Charles Alexander, Amy Allara, Andrea Bates, Joe Elliot, Laura Moriarty, Hoa Nguyen, Sarah Suzor, and James Belflower,. [James Belflower, by the way, will host (with Anna Eyre) me and John Cotter in Albany on the 13th as part of the Yes! Reading Series.]

Friday, Feb. 4th. At the Rose Metal Press table in the AWP book fair, I will be available to autograph copies of Color Plates (or whatever) from 10:30am until it ceases to be reasonable for me to sit at the RMP table with an uncapped pen.

Saturday, Feb. 5th. The AWP book fair is open to the public from 8:30am until 5:30 pm, and there are three tables I would like for you to visit: the aforementioned Rose Metal Press table, the Flim Forum Press table, and the Open Letters Monthly table. The Flim table, by the way, will be a nexus of the new, sure to be graced by poets your children and grandchildren will one day ask about. “Dad, did you ever meet Jessica Smith?” they might ask. And won’t you feel lame if the answer is, “Uh, nope.” Open Letters Monthly will be selling copies of their anthology, which includes an essay of mine about the poet Paul Hannigan.

[photo: Jennifer Karmin reading from Aaaaaaaaaaalice (with Jessica Leigh) at last year's AWP book fair.]

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

30. Books that aren’t } and books that do.

After Christmas John Cotter asked me if I’d heard of Lance Olsen and I thought THAT name rings a bell but why say so? I said, “I’m not sure,” so John told me all about Olsen’s Calendar of Regrets (SEE John’s review at OLM). What I wish I’d said when John asked if I’d heard of Lance Olsen was, Uh, yeah. I’m in a book with Lance Olsen.

That is, ahem, The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature, edited by Ben Segal and Erinrose Mager.

Ben and Erinrose pitched it so: “The Catalog is to consist of a series of blurbs/short descriptions of books that do not exist. In order to compile that Catalog, we have asked many of the writers, theorists, and text-makers we most admire to imagine that they’ve just read the most amazing book they’ve ever encountered and then write a brief blurb about the imagined text.”

An advanced e-copy was sent to me so I might splendor on its grass before the actual encounter (the Catalog will be at the AWP conference). I’ve been doing. Let me mention a few I especially liked. Matt Bell’s “The Big Book of Infinitely Possible Timetables,” which sounds like the Catalog’s cousin and is similarly interested in the impossible, specifically, the wish to be in all of our possible lives. There are a number of impossible books described—my contribution is such a one; the Catalog lends itself to the improbable. Such as “The Slow Book,” by Shelly Jackson, which imagines a book that is written over the course of centuries (her blurb reminded me of John Cage’s “ORGAN2/ASLSP,” currently being performed as slowly as possible—for 639 years—in the church of St. Burchardi in Halberstadt), or Ben Mirov’s “Inadequate Pillow,” about a book that’s literally all things and nothing. Then there are books more possible. Mallory Rice’s “Hugging in the Kitchen” describes a novel made of the moments after the protagonist cries. I noticed frequent furniture moving in these blurbs. There are a few the-book-as-me blurbs, including Diane Williams’. There’s a lot of language that can’t be read. Lots of incredible cities, too, like the beautiful “Haven” by Evelyn Hampton I’m sure other patterns will becomes apparent to careful readers.

The blurb most unlike all the others: “The Gardens of Krakov” by Brian Reed. I like it most of all the blurbs.

By now you’re suitably interested.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

29. A long story written } with teeth.

While swimming Thursday afternoon I met three booksellers, members of the ABA and attendees at the Winter Institute. I tread water while these women from Illinois, all owners of independent bookstores, asked me about Color Plates. Thus began (for me) two days in the mighty Crystal City of being introduced to booksellers. A few hours later I joined Meg Taylor (from SPD) and Abby Beckel in a ballroom occupied by authors signing their new books for booksellers. We did our best to politely ingratiate ourselves with the crowd. The crowd was kind to us. We took a few books. I did meet Tim Wynne-Jones and he was eager—eager!—to speak with me about Nightfall and the Bay of Fundy. Afterward, a quiet Chinese dinner with Meg and Abby.

Written on a plaque in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History: “…using its front teeth and claws, this palcocaster dug its burrow in soft sediment. After its death, sediment filled the hole and preserved the beaver’s skeleton.” Behind the glass a corkscrew of stone—a petrified tunnel—that culminated in a burrow full of its maker’s fossilized bones. I found this affecting. I spent half of Friday in the museum, and most of that time among the bones of prehistoric mammals. I was similarly affected by a phrase that finished the Museum’s narrative on the evolution of horses: “…merely the current stage in a long and complex evolutionary history.”

All this and reading Andrew George’s translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh—now my favorite of the translations I’ve read—put me in a peculiar frame of mind for my second night of the ABA’s Winter Institute, where I was scheduled to autograph copies of Color Plates for booksellers. I had no idea what to expect and was surprised when people eagerly came up to me, already excited about CP, and in some instances urging me to come read at their store. We ran out of copies before we ran out of interest. Much of this excitement was due to a presentation Meg gave Friday morning—while I was sitting in the shadow of an Irish Elk, wondering (as I often do) about its antlers.

Ralph Nader sat next to us and signed copies of his book. He and I did briefly touch on the subject of our (essentially) two-party system, but he was preoccupied by a sour stomach. Bad cream, he thought. Ginger ale and cheese, he thought, would settle things nicely. I’m wasn’t so sure. Ginger ale, yeah, but cheese? He also praised a set of legal books, designed to help non-lawyers navigate the law. You know, write your own will. The three of us were invited by the publisher to join Mr. Nader for dinner, but he and his publisher left a couple hours before we could, so—a missed opportunity. Mr. Nader seemed exactly as he seems on television, etc.

Saturday, today, I went back to the Natural History Museum. I considered my many other options, but realized I wanted to be there, and in those thoughts. I was particularly interested in the “mammal-like” reptiles. Dimetrodon! My brother! I dwelled a long while beneath the prehistoric whales—the subject of one of my better elementary school papers. (I fondly recall an afternoon spent in the Boston Aquarium library, photocopying papers on the subject.) I confirmed that I like crinoids. I will write a slim volume about crinoids.

Perhaps in a few years I’ll be autographing copies of my crinoids monograph for booksellers attending the Winter Institute. Perhaps in a few million years someone will put my bones in a museum.

Monday, January 17, 2011

28. SPD will feature } me.

Thursday will find me on the train to DC again, but not for a reading—Small Press Distribution (SPD) has asked me to represent them as their “featured author” at the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute. I’m still trying to get my head around what that is, but I gather copies of Color Plates will be put into the hands of hundreds of Independent bookstore owners, and I’ll get the chance to meet them all.

Friday appears to be small press day at the Winter Institute. I’ll be autographing Color Plates in a room with just three other authors: Sharyn Wolf, Alexander Maksik, and Ralph Nader.

Also in attendance at the Winter Institute will be Tim Wynne-Jones, who—if it’s the same Tim Wynne-Jones—wrote several radio scripts in the ‘70s and ‘80s for Nightfall and Vanishing Point, including one of the most mysterious and beautiful episodes of Nightfall, “The Road Ends at the Sea,” set in a lighthouse on the black rocks of the Bay of Fundy.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

27. In the pages of } Paul Hannigan.

Spent the last three days in Brunswick, GA. with the papers of the poet Paul Hannigan. The second such trip. I had the feeling that I was seeing the future.

On the way home, at a restaurant in the Newark airport, I wrote a letter to a friend and felt as I was writing that the tone wasn’t mine at all but Hannigan’s.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

26. Color Plates loves } Worse Than Myself

I don’t know what it means to be on the Small Press Distribution (SPD) bestseller list, but Color Plates is on that list. In September, the month the book was published, CP was no. 7, just below the Starcherone Books title Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting; CP moved up to no. 2 for the October / November list. The result of that activity: CP is no. 26 on SPD’s 50 bestselling titles in 2010. Right now, SPD is promoting their top 50 with the “Kiss-Off 2010 Sale”—use the code “kissoff” and your copy of CP will be shipped to you for 30% of the cover price, which is, uh, $11.16 + tax and shipping.

Brian J. Showers informed me that he and I were among the Speculative Fiction Junkie’s “top 5 reads of 2010”—I for Worse Than Myself and Brian for The Bleeding Horse & Other Ghost Stories. I recently came across a review of Datlow's first best of for Night Shade, that dwells enthusiastically on “The Man From the Peak,” a story from that collection. Thoughtful reviews take time to write. I do appreciate the effort.

At about this time in 2008, I was in a branch library in Harrisburg, PA, revising and writing the stories for Worse Than Myself. At that library, in a box marked $1 CDs, I made some finds: Mono’s Walking cloud and deep red sky, Flag fluttered and the sun shined, a beautifully designed Gregor Samsa EP, a Naxos recording of Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, paired with “Three Olden Style Pieces” (which are excellent), Albedo 3.9 by Vangelis, and set fire to flames’ signs reign rebuilder. That library also had a heap of 331/3 book/CD sets. I read Chris Ott’s book about and listened to Unknown Pleasures. Joy Division doesn’t mean much to me, but at that moment, it was absolutely the right record.