Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Comic Intensification

This residency with poet and writer Jefferson Navicky is very quiet compared to the last. And wry. I think of Wesley McNair’s locution that in poetry it is not comic relief but comic intensification.   

Jefferson applied for a Harbor Residency to write a bear play, about a bear who wanted desperately to become an actor. It was just an idea, but he wrote the Opera House about it and talked about it in his Skype interview. For weeks beforehand he thought he should begin it, before the residency—but he never did.  So it goes in the world of making art. So the bear goes back into hibernation.

Instead he revised two pieces he has been working on: a novella, and a short story called “Bird Baiting” that he read to us on the last day of his residency. The story comes from a dream. He says it felt like a dream that was given to him so he wanted to do something with it.

We talk about dreams, about reading our own work like a dream—Jefferson: with care, so that the whole thing doesn’t come tumbling down. I am thinking about Wes McNair again, as his term as our beloved Poet Laureate come to a close. Wes said something like if you get stuck you are not feeling the work deeply enough, entering it fully. When Jefferson gets stuck he asks Sarah Yanni, his wife, to send him writing prompts. Maybe this is a more John Cage approach of randomness—or maybe Sarah provides his way in. He tells us that responses to her prompts are sprinkled through this story he reads to us—but I can’t pick them out. I wonder if others can?

Here is a poem by Jefferson Navicky, a response to the ‘Bio’ we all have to grit our teeth and write now and again.


            You make my life sound so exciting! I’m excited just to hear about my life, just the way you say it, the way you articulate my phrases…it makes me think…who the fuck is that? Because that’s not my life. I didn’t do those things. Or if I did, they were so long ago I don’t even remember them - curse the internet and its digitally ubiquitous memory! And those people never said those things about me. Or if they did, they were talking about some other person who punches the time clock with my card.
            Me? I just ran out of eggs this morning. And I typed too much last night so that now my wrist hurts. When did I get so feeble? I don’t know what to have for dinner tonight. I never do! I put it off every night, hoping my wife will say, ah fuck it, let’s go out! My hands smell weird, like cheese, I guess, or that stuff that gets wedged and grows between your toes.
            Isn’t it funny, it’s like I watch myself walking down the street today. And I say to myself, hey great shoes, buddy, I like those pants, where’d you get them? You look like a tree frog who’s got a nice tailor. In a good way. You look NPR sexy.
            And then I think about my father. Specifically when he brought my brother and me back to his hometown. We visited all his family, including Uncle Al, the octogenarian who may or may not have been a real uncle. My brother, nine years old, sat in a chair and Uncle Al started talking to him, only him, as the rest of us silently watched. “You look good. Your family’s handsome. Great kids. How you been?” Stuff like that. My brother looked like he might cry. My father realized what was happening and interrupted. “Uncle Al, that’s my son. I’m over here.”
            You hear that?
            That’s not me. It may look like me, may sound like it’s me, but it’s not.

            I’m over here.