Sunday, November 04, 2007

Francis Raven, "Thanks for Letting Me Read"

Francis Raven

Thanks for Letting Me Read Your Book

The manuscript is politically engaged; the only problem is that it lacks poetic virtuosity. I just don’t think the poetry is strong enough. The use of Arabic and Hebrew is a nice addition, but sometimes it is used to carry the poems, which it cannot do. The work of Rodrigo Toscano (especially the Disparities published by Green Integer) is similar and better. A slightly more experimental approach, and more language from political economics, might have served the author well.

I really wish I could see these plays (“Eating Proust” was especially clever). I’m not quite sure how I’m supposed to read them on the page. It seems like if they were well staged they would be great, but they’re not plays to be read on the page, as far as I can tell (but I’m no expert audience member).

I have to say if the point of the poems was to explore the concept of moral motivation they should not have been poems. The author has no virtuosity, merely ideas. Beyond that, she has no appetite for talent. Merely ideas mean philosophy, but I actually don’t think the ideas are strong enough to be counted as philosophy. Perhaps the manuscript could be saved by a framing device that makes fun of the hyper-seriousness of the verse. (See Stephen’s windbag speeches in Portrait of An Artist. Yes, I too thought they were the best parts of the book when I first read it).

The beginning wasn’t compelling. There were many typos in this manuscript. But I’m also not the best reader of creative prose. I don’t get what it is that is supposed to be compelling, but even if it takes a long while to get into a novel you still want to get into it. I didn’t really want to in this case. I’m not saying that it doesn’t have potential, but it needs quite a bit of editing to take it to the next stage. I don’t really know what the author wants from the reader. Maybe it’s supposed to be like Raymond Carver, but it’s a little too sweet and without the correct sort of brutality.

A poetic exploration of the war in Iraq (the election in California) is a great idea. The notes were a great help in working through the text. The Arabian metaphysical poem is accomplished well, but not masterfully, by Shullex. My worry is that such a poem has to be expertly executed and that Shullex falls a bit short in this regard. This type of poetry is direct, spiritual, and political. It seems it could use some condensation and editing in the last section. Such a line as “In Iraq they wash clothes with strange fluids and then there is gunfire over a ballot box in Palm Springs” could be edited down into something more poetic. That said, it does seem to be a good match in other ways for the Exploding Press’s current schedule: it is political, mixes the journalistic and the poetic, and the high and low.

I enjoyed the stories in Michael Olix’s collection, but didn’t find them essential. This fact made me think that the manuscript wasn’t appropriate for the Essentialist Community’s current roster. The country and rural farming life is an important subject, but many of the stories seemed just stories for stories sake. I wish they had been more infused with political motivation, less boring, and perhaps a little sharper (but I’m not a short story writer, so I don’t really understand the craft of such works).

I’m afraid I didn’t think a lot of the poems worked. Lines like, “you are the lover in the shyly lit sky” didn’t capture me and I found many other lines trite or non-innovative. The poems really just aren’t worked over enough. I found that some of the “experiments” had been done many times: letters, diary entries, and dream sequences are especially overused. However, the theme of hair loss is a very good one that could be further used to better effect. I wished there had been more actual research into this topic as opposed to introspection.

I love the idea of poems as patent applications, but I’m just not sure it merits an entire volume (the shortness of the manuscript is an indication of this fact). Most of the applications themselves are pitch-perfect, but I think the applications would be better suited as part of a longer work. I also didn’t think that the “formal complaints” worked. They seem a little self-important or narcissistic. While the applications are an example of formal experiment that doesn’t feel like one any more, the diary should also have been taken as a more formal experiment for it to work (it still feels like it was taken from his actual diary). I think that this work has great potential if it is given a larger framework and clearer idea of how the applications and the diary entries fit together into a poetic exploration of intellectual property law as a whole.

I wished that the collection hung together a little better. This seems like a flaw indicating that Mope Press shouldn’t take it. I also don’t see it bridging contemporary divides in literature. I love all of the water and seasonal references. Let me repeat, the writing in this manuscript is very strong. But a lot of it seemed like 4th generation (or whatever generation we’re on) New York school poetry, and while that is what I love I’m not sure we need more of it.

Francis Raven, http://ravensaesthetica.blogspot.com/.

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