Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Back on the Blog

If you read this, say hello.

Not that I've been in Tangiers, but I have been hither and yon these past few weeks. First I graded a stack or three of student papers and exams--gee, that was fun and a half!--the nadir of which must have been the essay which thought that Yeats' "When You Are Old and Grey and Full of Sleep" was about a prostitute. (The "fire" she's nodding by in stanza one is, my student hazarded, the fire of hell, which waits to punish her for the sexual promiscuity she displayed by letting so many men love her "moments of glad grace," nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Let's just say that when this lady would bend down "beside the glowing bars," all the drinkers at those bars got quite a show!) I've never actually wanted to advise a student to go out and get laid, then, damnit! before revising a paper, and I'm sure I never would, but this time, I came mighty close.

(By the way, Mark, if you need more evidence that an interpretation of a poem can be wrong, but wrong, I might just be able to snatch a copy of this one from the stack before my student picks it up. If she does. Which she probably, blessedly won't.)

I then hit the road to visit my brother and his family for Thanksgiving, down in Hudson, OH. While there, I worked some email mojo to get myself onto a conference panel for the first time in about five years. I left the circuit deliberately as soon as I got tenure. It was hard on my wife and kids for me to be gone, and other than the chance to hang out with friends, I saw no point to going. (Would it advance my career? Not really--I had nowhere I wanted to go! Would it introduce me to new ideas? Perhaps, but less efficiently than reading an essay or two.) Now that I have a new field to map and plough, though--Romance Fiction, hurrah!--I need to get out and hear what the discourse really sounds like, viva voce, to meet the relevant scholars (and, better, the irrelevant ones?), and generally to figure out my place in this new critical landscape. So off I go, this April, to the Popular Culture Association's national convention in Atlanta, to give a talk on Emma Holly at one of their "Eros and Pornography" panels. Yum.

Once I got home, I stuck with the Romance gig for another week or so. You see, the RWA (Romance Writers of America) sponsor a $5000 grant competition to foster the serious academic study of genre romance, and I decided months ago to apply. Keep your fingers crossed for me, everyone: I'd say that Teach Me Tonight (my proposed book on romance) sounds as fun to me to write as any of the poetry projects I've been kicking around for the past few years, and no less interesting, too.

In fact, reading romance novels "one by one," as I described it in my proposal, feels to me an awful lot like reading poems--or, at least, I find myself thinking about the two genres in more similar ways than I'd have expected before this project began. Thus, for example, as I read Eloisa James's latest, Kiss Me, Annabel, I found myself opining to the Missus that this novel's aesthetic was utterly different from that of, say, Bet Me, by Jennifer Crusie. The Crusie aspires to what Helen Vendler calls "complete centripetal coherence"; every episode, every nonce touch (the nicknames, the snowglobes, the chicken marsala) has a complex but mappable connection with something else in the book, so that the whole has a kind of clarity and elegance of design that I quite enjoy. The James, by contrast, is proliferative, almost Rococco, in structure; it leaves loose threads a-dangling all over the weave, not least because it's part of an ongoing series of novels about a set of sisters, rather than a stand-alone text. If I knew more about soap operas, or at least the critical discourse around soap operas, I might be able to draw some connections; for now, I'd say that the Crusie feels like a single lyric, polished and ready for New Critical attention, whereas the James feels more like one sonnet drawn from a messy, maddening sequence, like the Rime Sparse, or maybe (l'havdil) like a single Canto?

Once I finished the RWA grant ap, I got busy with my stack of novels about poets--more on which later, I promise--and with a couple of very interesting poetry-related social engagements. More on both after some coffee and a big plate of salami & eggs, I think.

1 comment:

Mark Scroggins said...

Welcome back, old man!!!

Having just graded me own stack of finals -- in which one student is convinced that Jason hates his niece Quentin because she's named after his dead brother Quentin, who got to sleep with her mother Caddy first (before Jason, who wanted to), and another thinks Quentin and Caddy are the same character with two names (not to mention the one who introduces a cute little mutt -- "Benji" -- into the novel) -- I can attest that misinterpretation also occurs in reading fiction.