Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A NEW STYLE OF READING (or How to Poeticize Prose in a Roundabout Way)

Was talking to my friend Allen Sutterfield (aka Adze) over the phone this evening for close to an hour and a half. We had one of those great conversations that brought out of dormancy insights of 17 years ago. Having come home from China where he taught for four years, for the last 20 weeks (to this day, he tells me) he's been staying with his mother in her mobile home in High Ridge, Missouri. In her late eighties, she still quite hale, but has trouble getting around, doing chores, etc. - so he has been helping her with that, although considerably worse for wear himself, having recently recovered from a gall bladder operation whose complications had him return to hospital just a few days ago. Understandably, he has not been in the best frame of mind to focus on things literary… despite the apparent tranquility, interruptions are frequent. Most of his writing (as well as computer, artistic materials) are stashed in Toronto. He has virtually no contact with other writers or artists of any kind in High Ridge, even virtual contact, as the closest internet access is quite a few miles away. Recently he acquired an anachronism from his sister, a used (of course) IBM typewriter, but has felt little motivation to pound things out. Nevertheless…

There at her house, he found boxes of 300 books, a fair number of which he had bought in the early 60's before he dodged the draft, including quite a number that to his surprise he had never gotten around to reading in any shape or form (quite a number he re-bought in Toronto and still hadn't gotten around to reading… his personal library numbered some 6,000 books…) Then he got the idea: since it was obvious he would never get around to reading many of these if he read them one at a time, why not read them ALL AT ONCE? To do this, he batched them into twenty-five groups of ten, mixing novels, poetry, and non-fiction prose in a random assortments. Then he'd read a batch every day or two, but just one, two or three pages from each book. Shorter books, when finished, would be replaced by remainders in the pile. The juxtapositions, he said, jumping from one style/genre/age to another, have been highly stimulating, to say the least. Today he started reading a batch he hadn't read since December 8. It included Thomas Sterne's Tristam Shandy, Thorough's Walden, my book (Guatemala & Other Poems), Hardy's Mayor of Casterbridge, one of Proust's volumes, Kenneth Patchen's love poems, a book by Agatha Christie, and Chaucer's Troilus & Cresseida, the Bible, and irony of ironies in this reading experiment, The History of Reading by Alberto Manguel. To his surprise it was easy to keep track of the characters in the novels because the previous reading had been so intense. Indeed, using this approach, he said, prose is poeticised, because the abrupt juxtapositions highlight stylistic & other assumptions. He even finds himself forming quite evolved impressions from authors of which he has read say, thirty pages. Take ten books you haven't gotten around to reading and try it yourself, he said.

Meanwhile, I myself finished my stint marking (we had quite a laugh sharing some choice student faux pas… which I won't share here, because I signed a vow against this kind of thing…), and have resumed teaching English evening classes, this time to an intermediate group at Marymount Adult Centre. This will give me time to get back to reading, writing and … blogging. Expect more entries in coming days!

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