The Vargas-Vargas Affair, the Brooklyn Rail

Check out the Brooklyn Rail for a long poem I wrote about an evil twin. Which is evil? Neither, surely. But at least one is a lying, conniving sociopath.

Click to read The Vargas-Vargas Affair.

I wrote this poem as I write all my poems: music first, then meaning. A few minutes in & I’m thinking, another narrative poem? Really? But here’s the thing with my narrative poems: musically, the all originate in the lyric mode. The sounds the words make create the original tension for me, always, & what initially comes out is often a string of like-sounding slurs & slurps, & train-into-car wrecks (rack & pinion), etc…. Then comes sense, & then (if I sense an autobiomythography rising up) a sensibility. A voice. Then I take each line & make it work for its money, cutting back always as I write, stingy for a clean line that a) makes the most of its music, b) creates friction, tension, & urgency, & c) feels unique enough to drive me forward in its writing.

& then I write like that for 20 or so pages. Or until something breaks, feels unnatural, or like I missed something. I’ll go back later that day, or the next, & find the point the magic seemed to stop for me & start from there, cannibalizing all those misguided lines that appeared after the break. & do that for a few months. Seriously, each day, when I can bear it, for a few months. Until it sounds like it took me a lonely weekend with a working coffee pot. Pound the lines, work the linkages & entendres, make it so poetic they’ll call it prose.

Bu yao xie xie. That’s one of the first Chinese phrases I had to learn on the streets of Beijing. It means “No want, thank you.” Do you know what’s anathema to publishing houses & presses big & small & magazines big & small? That which falls between poetry & prose, which borrows from both but which is neither. “Boo yow, shay shay.” No want.

But that’s the kind of stuff that’s closest to my heart. Some of our major writers lurk in this field. Cormac gets close to it. Ondaatje maybe closest. DeLillo, oh, right there sometimes. But it’s pounded out & it’s rare, because it’s risky. These authors were for the most part ignored by readers, praised by critics, until they weren’t. Sometimes it takes a good film. But in the beginning, it’s a few thousand readers if you’re lucky. Which is lonely but gives you a certain amount of freedom. I remember reading those first few novels from Cormac after finding the first in a used bookstore. I was hooked. Later I read what David Foster Wallace wrote about his work after naming “Blood Meridian” one of the top 5 under-appreciated novels (at that time). Apparently Wallace’s own copy was so heavily annotated in red ink the book was rendered unreadable (a bit of hyperbole, I’m sure).

I have stories I could tell about agents. About editors at big publishing houses. About friends who’ve told me what doesn’t sell, or wouldn’t sell, or isn’t particularly interesting. Lyrical fiction. Anything that smacks of the poetic. Anything that could possibly call attention to the act of its creation.

Bu yao xie xie. Do not want.

But I’m seeing light at the end of that particular tunnel. I’m seeing a lot more of this sort of hybridization & mixing in the submissions we’re getting a BAP. Full-blown attempts to merge the poles, writers who are hitching their sensibilities to the music of the language first, trusting it to carry them into something interesting: a lyric, an erasure, a 215th generation New York School poem that becomes a sudden Sci-Fi event, even the lowly narrative. But every work is a narrative, really, isn’t it, if it teaches you how to read it, where it comes from? Everything tells the story of itself.

I hope you like the Vargas-Vargas Affair. It was a fun piece to write.