Jennifer Egan received the Pulitzer and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and all of the other Prizes for her remarkable novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad. When she accepted the L.A. Times Book Award (pictured: David Ulin, Jennifer Egan, Brighde Mullins), she spoke about the fact that she’d write even if no one paid any attention, because she loved writing. She reminded me of my poetry teacher saying over and over “the only thing that really matters is your relationship to your work.” Or, as John Ashbery puts it—“He danced on the bridge for the feeling of dancing on a bridge.” Adrienne Rich has written that “you must write, and read, as if your life depended on it.” Our lives do depend on our ability to to make things, and to make things is an act that is audacious, difficult and necessary.
I have always loved opening up a book and seeing a map. The map’s a promise of a world, a landscape. “Terrain determines tactics,” is one of my favorite quotes– Kenneth Burke said it, and he’s talking about context. Place is context.
Two books by recent MPW graduates have crossed my desk in the past week, and both have to do with place. The first is a collection of short stories by TONI MARGARITA PLUMMER, “The Bolero of Andi Rowe” (Curbstone Books, Northwestern University Press, 2011).
When you open this award-winning first collection, there’s a hand-drawn map of Los Angeles and its environs– the San Gabriel Mountains looking as mystical as the mountains that the Fellowship of the Ring charts. Underneath the San Gabriel mountains is a webby network of freeways– the 210, the 10, the 605, the 5, the 110.
“Inez Suarez didn’t have a man…No, what Inez Suarez had was Los Angeles,” notes the narrator in “All the Sex is West,” the third story in the collection. It’s an impressive debut, with a blurb from Sandra Cisneros on the cover (see below)
The other book is a collection of poems by BRIAN McGACKIN, entitled “Broetry” (Quirk Books, 2011). This first collection of poems has some riffs on canonical poems– nods to William Carlos Williams (see cover, below) as well as Frost et al. But there are homages and contemplations of Los Angeles, as in this poem, “The Clown Outside the Furniture Store” which catalogues a list of neighborhood characters including:
The guy twirling a Little Caesar’s Pizza
sign on the corner of Lankershim and
Vineland. Two of the five homeless dudes who
hang out under the overpass….
My Jiffy Lube guy. Jessica Alba.
All actors. This town is ridiculous.”
So add two MPW graduate takes on Los Angeles qua Los Angeles.