How to Become a Writer by Lorrie Moore
This is that story that has all the students spending weeks writing in second person point of view. Especially graduate students, in between their odd huddling in the corners of the hallways; their walks down the hallways (more a swaying, as if drunk); their occasional walks into the hallway walls while squinting at cellphones or the pages of a thick book, thud. So freely lost as to actually glow. They who paw at dandelion cotton in the air and will faint at a smile or free pizza in the lounge. Possibly they make me feel like a bloated spider (especially on days of chilly weather or pain of the big toe) . . . I remember that one Lorrie Moore story where everything just explodes. An elderly woman walks into a laundromat and explodes. A baker hands over a strawberry cupcake to a young boy—and then ka-boom! A couple is in love and going to marry, I think on a paddlewheel river cruise ship, maybe in Connecticut? But anyway, they explode . . . Is that story in second person? I forget. But Moore hates that, in interviews, the point-of-view thing. She's known to be prickly as a jackfruit, but who are we to say? We grasp the author about as well as a passing cloud. I like her, though, I do, one of the few writers labeled as witty and damn if she isn't:
An eyelid darkening sideways.
World as conspiracy.
Possible plot? A woman gets on a bus.
Suppose you threw a love affair and nobody came.
I'd share a beer with Lorrie Moore, if I were allowed beer . . . (allowed: what absurd phrasing!) So an O'Doul's or a kombucha, though both contain trace alcohol. "It's like a heroin addict shooting saline into his veins," says my therapist about nonalcoholic beer. Talk about dramatic. I hate my therapist. His face like an overly ripe fruit. Shiny. The yellow notepad, eyelid darkening . . . I hate the term therapist. Words are noxious . . . they float without flesh, truly; tawdry specters, indecency . . . I wish I had made love this morning or at least last evening, but I didn't make love this morning. Or last night. Yes, but you did grab your scampering rat terrier by the front right leg (an achievement in itself—a bit like catching a dream). And then hugged her writhing crazy body tight, into your arms and squeezed her against your body, where she calmed and then sort of sighed and licked your face. Her heart pit-pattering against your chest, so alive. Patter/Patter. Patter/Patter. You felt warm in that instant. Now didn't you?
The Writer by Richard Wilbur
There's a ship metaphor, lots of ship verbiage, sort of a riff on nautical jargon that I appreciate. I can't really capture (maybe capture isn't the correct term, but it's all I can think of currently) the feeling of canoeing, especially in a red canoe, alone (or at least with someone who isn't loud), but those who know it, know it. The way you feel like the edge of the mirror, light into shadow, the mysterious and unknown, etc. Possibly some aspect of water itself, shimmering mercury. Still glass. A thrum beneath the boat, the ear. Pulse and oscillation. You can get awfully tired of someone pointing out your body contains the same percentage of water as the planet Earth, your thumbprint a mathematically identical whorl as the Milky Way—until you near a pond or babbling stream or the rain sweeping off a roof, maybe in late October. A sobering splash of cold water on the face . . . Ever paddled? Ever hoisted an anchor, hand over hand, the wet rope from the lake or river bottom? Lustrous green algae—so alien, yet familiar . . . A thousand lily pads. Ever hooked a heavy fish on a light line? The drag screaming out, quite exhilarating. A grunting weight. Then the adrenaline burning off. Peaceful, I suppose . . . And afterwards, we find the young woman alone, in an upstairs room, struggling to write (A commotion of typewriter keys/Like a chain hauled over a gunwale) and a bird appears, naturally. Poets like birds. I'd say maybe 28% of poems contain birds, or at least feathers, wings, gossamer, or grace—the natural state of birds, and actually unobtainable by humans. The bird thrashes desperately! Into walls! Into ceiling! And tumbles ass-over-kettle onto the floor, a tattered glove . . . That's the most striking image, no doubt: the one glove. Iridescent. Humped and bloody. After that, the bird shakes it off, lifts its head; finally figures out the waterfall of sky (I mean the window, of course) and flies.
8 Count by Charles Bukowski
I know basically seven things about Charles Bukowski. First, whenever a student reads Bukowski's work and comes to class and says, "I could write like him," I always wait a beat and then respond, "Go right ahead." (This does moot for teaching evaluations but provides balm for the soul.) Second, I once lived in Michigan (as you may know, though I can't imagine why you would) and was either separating from my wife or getting back together (forgive me, it was fog) and I remember untacking from the wall, rolling up, and packing a limited-edition black-and-white poster-sized signed photo of Bukowski drinking a Dos Equis in a very spare (one small fridge, one tiny stove, bare walls) kitchen. This poster and indeed the entire box of books/bottles/special-to-me items apparently blew out of my Toyota pickup heading south (or maybe north) on Highway 69. It rests now with regrets, lost eyeglasses, the energy to leap out of bed and into the future a second before the alarm sounds, slow deer, and so on . . . Fog. The third thing is Bukowski made a miracle. He escaped his destiny (graveyard shift, sorting mail) through imaginative words, a powerful thing, redemptive. A hope for all. Fourth, Charles Bukowski was often a misogynistic toad. With occasional toad-like writings and toad-like behavior and even sometimes, might I say, a toad-like physical appearance, as if actually having crawled, quite hungover, from under a very wet and very old and very large garden stone (if you'll excuse the cliché). The other things about Bukowski I forget. Thunder shakes the walls, a shuddering and growling . . . a cold November rain either coming on or not: I trust the weather app about as much as I trust an email. Or a fellow driver . . . I finish this thought and fold up the laptop and put on my jacket and walk out of the windowless English building and past the new Recreation Center (a flying saucer of glittering glass and steel: they told us it's required for student recruitment . . . ), across the parking lot towards my Subaru and there on the sidewalk is a young man and young woman, hugging and crying. He's straddling a bicycle and leaning down; she's standing. They both wear balloon-size headphones (hers silver, his a vivid pink) and just keep hugging, holding tight and shaking a bit and crying. I pause, then turn. Then I pause again and glance back: the rain is beginning, fat drops spotting the pavement, and the woman looking up into the sky. The man bent forward at odd angle, wavering, as if facing a stiff wind: I can't tell, this leaning, either to dismount the bicycle entirely or he's just about to pedal away.