Welcome, fellow failures, to our weekly support group.
As you all know, poetry is largely worthless.
How often do you see anyone but “poets” or “earnest” “students” “reading” this treacle anyway. When’s the last time you gave your “mother” a contemporary poetry collection for X-Mas?
You might also be interested to know that writers “suffer” to produce this particular-brand-of-failure. Yup. And this week’s correspondent offers us one tragic example of his wasted youth.
I’ll recount for you one of those innumerable brazen follies of youth which are all somehow required to obtain the badge of becoming old and bitter later on. Since I am most firmly a writer of fiction, I am happy to tell this story of a very minor window of my life and my development as a young author in quick transition from travel writing to poems to an eventual comfort in my own voice.
Four to five months of continuous travel on the road in the US, Canada and Mexico finally eased its pace and I landed in a terse New England mill town a little less than an hour inland from where I grew up on the seacoast in New Hampshire. I lived in a two-bedroom that cost $600 a month, total. I split it with my roommate, a sociopathic surfer and painter who was convinced he had a drug problem, though I never saw him do any drugs. We listened to Creedence and Al Green records. He smoked cigarettes and drew and I read Nietzsche, Lautremont, and Henry Miller and wrote poems and cryptic pronouncements on an old Smith-Corona. I slept on a musty futon mattress thrown into one corner across a badly slanted floor. The entire apartment was slowly tilting down the hill it was built on. One whole half of the town was sliding down toward the river and the bridge that led to the sleeving and plastic tubing factory where I worked throughout that winter.
The girl I was with liked that I called her doll. Doll and I sat up on the wooden floor, downing one cheap double-wide bottle of Cabernet after another, and took turns rolling anything round – corks, quarters, the Creedence records – down the floor until whatever it was picked up steam and hit the heater board, shinning out a ghostly rattle that made us laugh.
That winter I wrote two-hundred poems. It may have been a few more or less. I’d just completed one of those early tombs – the ones all authors have – that forever go unpublished and unread, at least until fame or death, called Station Wagon Nightmares, comprised of select stories from that past year on the road. My natural inclination toward narrative still coursed through me and started to come out in poems that spontaneously gained a peculiar, cohesive structure.
First a narrator, then a full character with increasingly detailed self-referentiality. Sequencing. Doubt. Manners of speaking. His name was Georgis. He was young, and old, may have gone to college. He was drunk, American and very upset.
Georgis wore the world one day like a wet and sopping jacket
And then began his tradition instead of being unhearthed & dishearteningly placid.
These narrative poems ran from the melodramatic to obscure political threats to the coming-of-age questioning of experience.
Somewhere vultures hold a council
To decide upon the flesh of the national carcass.
Rooftop gutter stout brick apartment tower show the ride is free through the sequence of seasons and upwards inflations of real.
You could more or less say it was an imitation of the most humble kind of John Berryman’s Dream Songs mixed with the young prosaic threads of Beat rambling and a Franco/po-mo twisting of long philosophic questions.
Of the winter’s thousands of lines in the freezing, wooden room, less than half took on this new narrative structure. They came together in sixty-four poems that loosely built a body and referred to one another with some skill but mostly with the accuracy of a drunken dart-thrower. What I thought I was doing was culling them down into fine, hand-crafted objects, obviously purified in the fire of my unspoken focus. A few more years of labor, writing, and the not-so-crystalline purview of an older, wiser self revealed that what I had was an infantilized, ambitious, wordy-but-glorious steaming pile of shit.
But hey, it was writing. It was that writing every hour of every day, burning to get to the end like a tiresome chore or a third orgasm. A task with no end.
Naturally, this minor little set called LXIV Poems failed. What emerged from the broken poetics and half-conceived philosophic questioning was the little crackling nucleus of vision. Where my pen went once it was tasked with forging a path, any path. What wasn’t understood until later was that I was beginning to climb up out of the muck and slowly finding the longer, more meaningful approach to my narrative form and its gradual progression into a peculiar type of prose which I still exercise, utilize, and polish with my spit and the bald rag of my hope. Of course, the impossibility that surrounds that hope is what gives me, and hopefully readers, the enlivened ground of possibility in fiction. Without it, we’d all be anthropologists.
I wanted to share a minor moment of transition. Skipping from one stone to the next to avoid the failure of the past that when you are young you are desperately trying to escape. In the grander scheme, I am still too young to have suffered an epic failure. I’ve not yet known that type of complete defeat. Because I have not known it I have the luxury of wondering if it’s any worse than I already feel every day. I’m sure it is. Regardless, I am tempered, impervious and grateful.
If language is a mere act of representation, it fails. If language erupts in freely formed sovereignty to act as a creature itself lost in the deep essential mystery of things, it fails at that, too. The authors fail if they nail it, knowing they’ll never top it again. The ones that I have often been ghostly consoled by say that we never finish work, we just give up, and we abandon it. But, we can then grin with broken teeth as we glance around at the evidence of our survival. I’m years and years out of that town, the factory, the slanted apartment, the booze and those poems, and can only feel that teary joy of God’s love now, as I look back at the increments of freedom that were gained each time I was forced to surrender.
Last week’s #AuthorFail: A D Jameson
Next week: Robin Becker
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Davis Schneiderman is a multimedia artist and writer and the author or editor of eight print and audio works, including the novels Drain, Abecedarium, and Blank; the co-edited collections Retaking the Universe: William S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization and The Exquisite Corpse: Chance and Collaboration in Surrealism’s Parlor Game; as well as the audio-collage Memorials to Future Catastrophes. His first short story collection, there is no appropriate #emoji—with collaborations from Lance Olsen, Cris Mazza, Kelly Haramis, Stacy Levine, Tim Guthrie, Andi Olsen, and Megan Milks—will be released in Fall 2019.
His work has also appeared in numerous publications, including Fiction International, The Chicago Tribune, The Iowa Review, and TriQuarterly.
He is Krebs Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Lake Forest College.