Hello internet. Noah here. These days, the mail brings book after book. They pile up. In corners, on tables, in boxes when I get around to it. It’s amazing, really. We’re all doing this thing and doing it so vigilantly. I wish I had time to read each and every one. It feels like I used to. A little over a dozen years ago, after an otherwise amazing night together, I remember being struck with the sudden need to leave a new lover’s apartment, to return home: to read. That I then had the privilege to set the wildly cockamamie yet nobly obsessive goal of reading at least one book a day from the 811 section of Smith College’s library strikes me now, what with a baby who yesterday turned 10 months old, as both lucky and laughable. Yes, I actually put on my clothes and walked home in the dark to read my daily book of poems. Needless to say, that particular lover never called me back. I bring this up because now, when my wife and I have spent the better part of our day and into the evening hours, then the early part of night taking care of our baby, and then, when exhausted, we just want to have a drink, cue up something on Netflix, relax, etc. the furthest thing from my mind is the poetry book I haven’t read that day.
Yesterday was different. I’m totally thankful for all the review copies that arrive for The Volta, but it’s a fraction that we’ll ever be able to cover. All publishers know this. I work on two presses, and have learned that one can count on about a 0-5 percent return on review copies, this to say for every 100 review copies sent out, expect anywhere from none to five reviews. Of course, sending out these copies can result in the sort of boon that easily goes undetected, from books entering syllabi to the invitation of authors to read in places otherwise remote. All to say that among the deluge yesterday, a review copy of a book that I’ve been waiting for did arrive. Andy Mister’s Liner Notes. I wanted to read it right away. But I had the baby. Then my wife got home from work and I got to relax a little and didn’t want to read anything. Then I put together a few packages of books to send out from the presses that I work on. Then it was already late. I still wanted to read Mister’s book, but I cued up something on Netflix instead. Babies will do that to you.
Some years ago I’d read a long excerpt from Liner Notes in a journal, I can’t remember which, but the thing was amazing, really. So it was that lingering sense of awe at the work that drove me straight into it this morning when our nanny arrived. See, I pay for a few hours each morning to be myself, to be (sort of) by myself, to remember that I’m a being outside of this baby that as I type this is playing in the room downstairs with our nanny.
So, this morning I paid for the freedom to read Andy Mister’s book from cover to cover. There are so many other things I should have done (Chris, I’ll get you those interview questions asap; Ruth, I’m almost done with the research/ creative statements; Nick, the blurb is coming soon; Josh, I doubt I’ll get that Caron essay to you in time; I’ll have the review edits in the next month to you Julia, Ryan, Craig, Matt, etc.), so many of the things that stand in the way of real work, that are real work, that define through either connection or alienation whatever shaky sense of a self I’m now operating with as a new dad. But this is all apropos. Really. It is.
Mister’s book is a poet’s memoir, a series of discreet yet interlocking paragraphs that oscillate between the suicide of so many of our rock-star idols and the loneliness at the core of how we mistakenly use their celebrity to attempt to build something of our own sense of self-worth. That’s part of it anyway. There’s more. There’s the pain of familial alienation, the fear of artistic or economic or erotic failure. The desire to connect. And ultimately, the construction of a self that’s so intimately portrayed, one can’t help but feel not so much for the “I” here as along with the “I”.
At the center of this 60-page, book-length work, Mister offers this paragraph:
We don’t want writers to tell us about their lives, we want them to show us something about our own. Maybe that’s why I’m ashamed to tell you about my life. The irregular appearance of points on a surface. Maybe that’s why no one talks about themselves in poems anymore. I was at a party and this guy kept interrupting himself, saying, “But me, me, me, it’s all about me, anyway…” in an ironic, self-deprecating way. But he said it many times to different people so all night he really was talking only about himself. Maybe that’s why we get tired of our own lives: they’re all about us.
You can be a poet whenever you want but you’re going to have to live in prose, and realizing this is sad and glorious and a grand, grand motherfucking relief. I don’t know Andy Mister, really. We’d met once, a decade ago. But just as his book explicates the difference between the life we think our heroes are living and the utter solitude and dejection they really suffer, just as it recreates those moments of intense remoteness and removal from one’s self as much as from one’s family, peers, and lovers, it also does something entirely different, something unexpected, something authentic: it connects you to the same culture whose sense of disconnection it worked so hard to document. Maybe it’s because we’re the same age, and share some of the same cultural touchstones, but reading this book that’s so informed by loneliness made me feel so much less alone. Hell, it made me feel. That means something.