A novel in verse … and the writing thereof

Backwards in time

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 by

Back to Landscapes, my recent additions, and their advisability or lack thereof.

Last Sunday (Rewriting it Wrong) I promised to post more on these topics “tomorrow.” But that afternoon I went to a concert and met Joan Guenther and got all fired up about language poetry and Saussure and critical theory and all. Which was great fun, and distracted me for a few days from the possibility that I’ve been headed at a great clip in several wrong directions recently. But it’s time now to try to corral myself and get back on track.

As I said in that long-ago post, the two problems I’ve been hearing about most often were a lack of sensuous detail, and problems following the timeflow in the first chapter.

Time and chronology are an issue throughout Book I (and probably beyond), since there’s a lot of bouncing about in time. But they’re especially problematic in the first chapter, in which a couple of pairs of poems proceed chronologically, but which overall moves backwards. The first poem, about Linda’s family and life in general, doesn’t count, as it’s not an event, not narrative. But after that, the poems move from the end of the week during which the Japanese surrender, backwards to the day they they do so, and backwards again to the bombing of Hiroshima.

I didn’t plan it this way; it’s just how it happened. But I’m reluctant to change it. I like opening with Why I Married the First Man Who Asked Me, both the title and poem, and it’s a natural movement from that to How I Met Him. The penultimate poem in the chapter, Downtown, about San Francisco on VJ day, and its rapes and riots, ends with one character saying in astonishment, “I thought it was a party,” which again leads directly into the next poem’s title, Not for the Japanese.

I don’t see how I can change the poem order without losing something important.

What should I do, then, about the fact that some people are getting confused? I’ve tried to keep things straight by mentioning what day of the week it is, and by including phrases like “the week before” and so on. But I’ve worried that the reader feels obliged to notice and keep track of these days and markers, without its being easy to do so. It that’s the case, then they are more distracting than helpful. I certainly don’t want people to feel they need to download a calendar of 1945 in order to read the book.

On the other hand, I wonder whether perhaps I shouldn’t clarify everything for the reader. I keep thinking of books in which things are not made plain—Ulysses, as an extreme example. Or take the Sound and the Fury, in which there are two characters with the same name, one male and one female, and you just have to figure this out bit by bit, and the first part of the book—the first, mind you—really is a tale told by an idiot, but you’re not told that either, you have to figure it out. I loved that book.  I loved it immediately and completely, and I loved the first part most.

So there’s nothing wrong with making the reader work. But who am I to be comparing myself to Faulkner? Agh. So I don’t know if I’m being a pompous fool, needlessly (deliberately?) obfuscating the obvious to show how clever, how abstruse I can be. Yuck. On the other hand, if I clarify too much, am I just pitching to the lowest common denominator?

This has gotten long enough, so I’ll go into the gory details of what I changed–tomorrow. Unless I meet another great poet and get distracted again.