There is a wonderful article by John Latta at his blog about Marianne Moore, Gary Lutz, and their aesthetics. “…it occurs to me that the inheritor of…Moore’s lovely rhythmic sense…is Gary Lutz.”
Gary Lutz is easily one of my favorite writers. I’ve read each of his collections at least twice, and I find myself revisiting stories from them from time to time; and I’ve sought out and found much, I think, of what has yet to be collected, like small pieces in various issues of The Quarterly, and elsewhere. There is, for instance, HEARTSCALD, collected at Sleepingfish, which is “constituted of phrasing from pieces by Lutz, as well as from interviews with him, that appeared first in The Believer, Bookslut, Detroit: Stories, The Quarterly, Sleepingfish, 3rd bed, and Wag’s Review.” And then there are Gary Lutz’s infamous letters to the editors of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, like one entitled “Borrowed Phrasing” from May 8, 1988, where he witheringly criticizes “Seen,” presumably the paper’s celebrity-sighting column: “The column’s weekly roll call—recorded in illiterate, sycophantic, cosmetology-school prose—does a handsome job of perpetuating the image of Pittsburgh as the city with a simper on its face.” (I suspect that these same editors edited away Lutz’s use of the serial comma in his letter before they published it.)
Gary Lutz, a masterful prose stylist, is the author of three short-story collections: Stories in the Worst Way, I Looked Alive, and Partial List of People to Bleach. A fourth, Divorcer, is forthcoming from Calamari Press. On July 14th, he will be reading at the Soda Series in Brooklyn with Mary Caponegro and Tim Horvath. From my forthcoming review of I Looked Alive:
Unlike most people’s stories that appear clean and remedial in their telling, Lutz’s have already been lived in, occupied for a long time, and they have a stifling air similar to the curmudgeon’s den in Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, where no one dusts, no one keeps house, and the whole enterprise stinks with the ancient odor of paper and page. Their minds ragged and rugged from overburn, Lutz’s unloved, unlived, destitute narrators squawk their findings: “It is said, isn’t it, that you “make” love because it’s otherwise not really there?” (“I Have to Feel Halved” p.45)
In this interview, we spoke mainly about his new story in the 2011 NOON, “To Whom Might I Have Concerned?” A wonderment of dazzling sentences and rigorous thought, it is 27 pages, one of his longest stories.
“Dining Room” from Selah Saterstrom’s The Pink Institution (Coffee House, 2004):
“Willie called his daughters into the dining room. He picked up a dining room table chair and threw it into a closed window. The window shattered. He said, ‘That’s a lesson about virginity. Do you understand?’ to which they replied, ‘Yes sir.'”
Okay, wow, I’ve probably quoted this passage here on Big Other like six or seven times. What I love here is the economy of language. Yes, this is a poem, but it’s also a full story. We learn so much about Willie, about his daughters, about their psychologies. And I love the deadpan delivery, the sonic pleasures (called, daughters, dining, picked, dining, closed, window, window, shattered, said, do, understand, etc.).
from Lydia Millet’s My Happy Life (Soft Skull, 2007):
“Then he sprayed a can into the bag and tied it around his neck over his head. Flopping, he danced. With his face pinkly invisible. We could see his mouth stretched like an O between the letters of the pink writing on the bag, A&P. When he fell down and we were all of us crying, I, being the oldest, called Children’s Protective Services and said, ‘Mr Rubens put a bag on his head.'”
When I first read this book, and when I came to this passage, I think I had one of those formative moments. I liked reading again. I mean, I like to read, but I don’t always love what I read. I think so many students are forced to read books they don’t like, and then they’re taught “how” to read those books (probably as if there is a right or wrong way), and then they grow up hating reading. I was lucky. I had a few great English teachers, and I grew up reading, enjoying reading, long before that. But then there are those moments in my adult reading life where I feel like I’ve discovered something new about reading. That’s what this book did for me. And it has to do with the phrasings. What does it mean, out of context, that “Mr Rubens put a bag on his head”? Maybe it’s funny. Certainly “Flopping, he danced” is kind of funny. But not in this context. I love the simplicity of language, the precision of clarity, and yet the multi-layered reading experiences one can have.
Our fifth reading and conversation is Sunday with Nick Ripatrazone, Robin Beth Schaer, Brenda Shaughnessy and Anthony Tognazzini. You can RSVP here.
Our sixth will be on March 20th with Michael Leong, Mike Young, Dylan Landis, and Janice Shapiro.
Upcoming readers include Steve Himmer, Joseph Riipi, Tim Horvath and Gary Lutz.
Nick Ripatrazone is the author of Oblations (Gold Wake Press 2011), a book of prose poems. His work has appeared in Esquire, The Kenyon Review, West Branch, The Mississippi Review, Sou’wester, The Collagist and Beloit Fiction Journal. He will graduate from the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark in May.
Robin Beth Schaer’s poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Denver Quarterly, Washington Square, Tin House, and
Prairie Schooner, among others. She has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Saltonstall Foundation. She teaches at Marymount Manhattan College and works as a deckhand aboard the Tall Ship Bounty.
Brenda Shaughnessy was born in Okinawa, Japan, in 1970 and grew up in Southern California. She received her B.A. in literature and women’s studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and she earned an M.F.A. at Columbia University. She is the author of Human Dark with Sugar (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, and Interior with Sudden Joy (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999), which was nominated for the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry, a Lambda Literary Award, and the Norma Farber First Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Bomb, Boston Review, Conjunctions, McSweeney’s, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Yale Review, and elsewhere.
Anthony Tognazzini’s work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Sentence, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Quarterly West, the Hat, and the Alaska Quarterly Review, among other journals. His collection, I Carry A Hammer in My Pocket for Occasions Such As These, is available from BOA Editions. He lives in Brooklyn.
A Gary Lutz interview is always an event, an event horizon, really, a boundary, too, beyond which a reader, like me, cannot resist its almost gravitational pull.
I’ve read about half of Hempel’s collected stories but none seem so seminal as this one. It’s one of her longer stories, 34 pages, and it hums along quite confidently after this wonderfully evocative and lyrical opening paragraph:
We did it twelve times–made love, all of us, to one another twelve times, the two of them doing everything two people could do to me twelve times. I was going to say only twelve times, but it wasn’t “only,” was it? It was wonderful.