Friday, July 14, 2006

Your Encephalograph, Dear Reader, Not Your Applause

1. In a recent Paris Review interview (which I highly recommend – Charles Simic interviews James Tate!), Peter Carey says that there’s no reason to read reviews other than “vanity or insecurity.”

2. derek beaulieu sent me a lovely review of our frogments from the frag pool from Calgary’s FFWD. The review said that the books is "perhaps profoundly, a delightful book of poetry."

I now have that tattooed on my biceps which I flex constantly at passersby.

3. Are vanity and insecurity the only reasons to read reviews of one’s own work?

4. No.

5. End of blog post.

6. More: I do have an insecurity guard, walking beside by limo, constantly listening to advance signs of threats and situations. Cf. Don DeLillo’s marvelous Cosmopolis.

7. Vanity? Vanity? Vanity?

8. But really, I often do value reviews. Why? My vanity and insecurity. But I think primarily because I want an echo back from my audience, my readers. One writes a book and then one wants some response, some feedback. Imagine telling jokes everyday and never hearing anything from your audience, neither groans nor guffaws. I’d like a thoughtful response. I’d like to know that someone “gets it,” that they understand what I was trying to do. Perhaps they understand implications that I wasn’t aware of, perhaps they can offer a perspective on the work different than mine. Though of course I want to hear things that tell me that (as on the back of DeLillo’s Underworld, which I’m reading) “this is one of the great novels of the century,” I’m interested in thoughtful critical feedback. I’m interesting in hearing what I could have done with my book, parts that are perhaps misguided, or – perhaps most usefully – things to consider.

9. I have had terrible reviews. But my response is always equaniminous and gracious about those stupid, fetid, nano-minded critics with their horrible, horrible, hurtful, stupid, stupid, subliterate squibs. Actually, as long as they seem to have actually read and considered the book, I’m OK. And no personal attacks.

10. I once had a review of my brilliant Doctor (“this is one of the great books of the century”) Weep in an important journal. Was it Chapbooks in Ontario? Blokes in Canned Adder? Boks in Kanata? The review said that

“The entire book, divided into vignettes (these divisions must make sense to Barwin alone)...”

Perhaps you might hate the book, but the stories (vignettes isn’t the correct word) in this book arrive at very clear endings and for the most part, have very clear beginnings. Perhaps the middle is awful, but I can’t imagine that this reviewer read the book carefully, at least, based on the above quotation. That kind of review makes me veer from my usual eqaniminiousness to the point where I pitch small animals at passersby, writing the name of the reviewer on my chest in blood while screaming the name of the reviewing journal into my doctor’s stethoscope. Oh. And I also make sure to abduct the reviewer, tie them to a moving airplane which, pilotless, I send out over the Rockies, a tape recording of my voice reading my book blaring louder than the decrescendo-ing whirr of the engines as they run out of gas over somewhere sharp and cold.

11. It’s easy for Carey to dismiss reviews. He does say he reads them, though often getting people to read them first, steering him away from one’s that wouldn’t be good for him. He gets lots of feedback.

For writers like me (Kafka, Beckett, John Grisham) who don’t either sell many books (at least the adult ones) or have critical articles written about them, and frequently don’t hear hardly anything from readers, reviews (and here I’m including those of the blog kind) provide me some feedback, some idea that people have actually read the book. Further, that they have engaged critically in the reading and have something to say. This is an inspiring and helpful echo.

12. If I could get sent encephalographs of my readers as they read the book, I’d be delighted. I’d much prefer these to all those boring cassettes of audience applause that I’m perpetually getting sent in the mail.

13. The picture is of Pulpit Rock in the Blue Mountains of Australia, the place where I heard the very best echoes.

(Though when I yelled, "Barwin," I didn't hear back, "The best writer this century." Damn. Perhaps my hearing was off.)

1 comment:

cpannell3 said...

Hi Gary, I understand that you'd like to get more reviews. We'd all like to get more reviews. Here's mine.

I've read every book of yours I could buy, steal, or otherwise lay my hands on. In 2002 I had the honour to introduce you to a poetry audience. Here's what I said at that time (cut and pasted from my speech note, without alteration) . . .
Although Gary Barwin lives in Hamilton, he rightly belongs to the country, if not to the world. He’s been writing professionally for twenty years, his first publication coming in Event magazine in 1982 with a poem entitled “Orange You Glad.”

Since then he’s created for us five full books of poetry, two works of fiction, four children’s books, and has appeared in nine anthologies. He’s also published over fifty chapbooks and has hundreds of magazine credits for his poetry, fiction, articles, and reviews. He’s very active as a composer and a performer. He gives the most electrifying and interesting readings I’ve ever witnessed.

He’s won several awards for his children’s fiction. His previous collection Outside the Hat from Coach House Press — won a Surreal Web Award when it was published in an on-line version in 1998. That same year, Gary was also the winner of the Emerging Artist Award in Literature from the Hunter Foundation and the Ontario Arts Council. Gary’s most recent book — which came out from Coach House early this year — was modestly entitled Raising Eyebrows.

But no matter how long he’s been at it or how distinguished his career to this point, what I’m looking forward to tonight will be the poems themselves and how Gary will perform them. This won’t be just a reading, folks. This will be great writing which is surreal, breathtaking, and beautiful. And the energy of Gary’s art will astound you. The Hamilton Spectator has said, “Barwin likes to drive language through the guard rails and into oncoming traffic.”

Every time I know he’s doing reading, I want to be there. Whenever I hear him, he shakes every preconception I might have about what’s possible in poetry, right out of my brain. Please, let’s welcome one of my favourite writers to the stage, Gary Barwin!