- Inter-ReviewMichael Martone and Wendy S. Walters Talk with Each Other about Their New Books
bloomington: indiana university press, 2015. break away books. 238pages, paper, $17.00.
louisville, ky: sarabande books, 2015. 152pages, paper, $15.95.
I have always taken exception to the label of “experimental” applied to writing. It just does not work as a descriptor for me because it depends on a foil like “traditional” or, even worse, “normal” as its contrast, its other. So I was very pleased to read the detailed generic work you perform in the “Author’s Note” that opens your book, the finely and suggestively (for me after the scree of mine above) titled Multiply/Divide. The “Author’s Note” maps out three major forms for the pieces that follow, along with the permutation of the various characteristics into even more elaborate or spliced formal structures.
Right? Don’t call me (or you, perhaps?) an “experimental” writer. I like to think of myself as a “formalist,” adept (I hope) at identifying and deploying the many structures, styles, and strategies of language while also manipulating the frames in which the forms appear. [End Page 207]
I appreciate how you tread that minefield of binaries, especially the fiction/nonfiction one as well as the nonfiction/truth category. It always strikes me that prose writers do worry those backward-slashed boundaries while poets breeze right through the porousness (as you characterize it) or ignore them all together. No one ever, it seems, talks of a “nonfiction” or “fiction” poem. No, the more interesting divide for me (and you put it into play right away) is the one between the lyrical and the narrative. The “Author’s Note” prepares me for this. I have been alerted to the fact (ha! fact!) that the following work will resist the existential nature of writing itself. Writing is a sequential medium. It lines up. It has, by nature, a beginning, middle, and end. But I am ready for the lyric. And I am prepared for this cussedness, this desire to resist the linear nature of language. And with that I will “cut” to you.
I wrote the “Author’s Note” to maintain the spirit of accuracy I hoped to deliver elsewhere in the book, but I suppose it does complicate some people’s understanding of genre. The places I write about in Multiply/Divide are, for the most part, real. Because of this, there’s a lot more I can do formally. But when one writes about a world that is wholly imagined, a speculative space, how do you ensure unity between the pieces and approaches? An anthology of characters written by multiple authors creates a set of challenges related to scope, continuity, and structure. I am interested in how you resolved these complications and managed to evoke a place that feels real.
I did note that Winesburg, Indiana moves as a progression of characters, which seems to follow in the tradition of speculative regional anthologies like Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology (1915), Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923), and, of course, Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919). All of these were published early in the twentieth century, and in some ways, offered observation and acknowledgment of the kind of characters also embraced by the Victorian novel—the underclasses and downtrodden. The politics behind this kind of writing would evolve into a social realism, a driving impulse in the most memorable of the late nineteenth-century novels.
But we stand at a very different moment in history. Notable differences between now and then include the casual acceptance of perpetual war; the [End Page 208] decline of the nation as a principal economic entity; the dissolution of local economies; and the dismantling of public institutions including schools, libraries, and universities. These conflicts, while in the background, are still felt. I was especially interested in the portrayal of the university, as one figures prominently in the lives of several characters...