I have set myself up at Norman Mailer’s bar to write this. There were pigeons that allegedly gathered around Mailer’s house, and he is alleged to have claimed they were the reincarnated souls of WWII fighter pilots, as they flew in formation. Such a take on metempsychosis could only be formulated at a bar, so that’s where I sit. (Since the bar is currently without spirituous drinks these days, I don’t imagine I’ll be doing any such theorizing.) It is high tide, so the water comes almost to the edge of the deck on the other side of the window, and much bobs in it: pelagic birds, humans, buoys, boats tethered to buoys. I try not to drift into the vista, but this proves difficult, the middle distance being so serenely enrapturing here: it protracts into abstracted gazes my casual glances. But this is to the good: after staring at the wall of the next building over in San Francisco for many months, the bay is an ongoing epiphany. I spend the hours staring out across it from various vantage points: the local library, which has an entire schooner on its second floor, assembled there by a man who absolutely fulfills the stereotype of “sea captain”; the decks of cafés and restaurants; the beaches; this bar. Contra Joyce, it is a grayblue, thoughtloosening sea I find each time I look up from my handwriting, a typeset page, this screen.
Michael Rutherglen is originally from Charlottesville, VA. He is the recipient of a 2012-2013 Amy Clampitt fellowhsip and 2008 Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. His work (sample here and here) has been published in Poetry, The Antioch Review, and 9th Letter. Visit The Winter Anthology, a nascent collection of 21st century international literature of which Michael is a founding editor.
Michael is also a Mailer Poetry Fellow. He is using the month of residency to work slowly and steadily on his current manuscript.
tide is up
That’s Norman Mailer’s writing desk y’all—and more about where I was going with that in a minute. When the Guardian asked writers to provide “rules for writing,” several of them had bracing advice. For instance, Anne Enright: “The first twelve years are the worst.” But the rule for writing that seared itself into my brain was the following one from Jonathan Franzen: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” Which raises the immediate question: why am I doing this instead of writing my novel? Why am I writing a blog entry when I should be working in the quiet privacy of my page-in-progress? Franzen is of course famous for practicing a form of sensory deprivation so extreme that it was later imitated by CIA interrogators at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Indeed, so acute was his regimen that the writer’s permanent contribution to the English language has been the use of the phrase “to pull a Franzen,” as in stripping your equipment of anything extraneous, wearing earmuffs and, if possible, a blindfold, etc. But I’m really, really opposed to torture anywhere. So, I’m inclined to exchange the image of the dull study above with the view, below, available from Mailer’s bar. The two spaces are divided by two flights of stairs, but the latter opens to an incredible vista. No more the naked and the dead, no sir. If you were to sit at the bar, inspiration would come in unending waves. New ideas lapping against the edge of your imagination, a stray thought rising to kiss your page. Or so I think. I intend to find out for myself as soon as I have finished this blog, unplugged myself from the internet, and sat down at the bar with an empty page. Nothing between me and the blue ocean except for a short stretch of sand and a pleasant drink.
Amitava Kumar can be found rather easily on the internet: enjoy his blog and follow him on twitter @amitavakumar. He has written about real torture in his last book, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm A Tiny Bomb.
Amitava has also written widely in nonfiction, fiction, and academic work. As a Mailer Fiction Fellow, he is using the month of residency to work on a second novel.