The New York Novel
Found poem from the essays of James Wood and Zadie Smith
I. Tell me how does it feel?
The Stendhalian mirror would explode with reflections
were it now being walked around Manhattan.
A great rock musician who played air guitar in his crib; a talking dog, a mechanical duck and a giant octagonal cheese; a terrorist Islamic group based in North London with the silly acronym Kevin; a nun obsessed with germs who may be a reincarnation of J. Edgar Hoover.
Hysterical realism is a perpetual motion machine
that appears to have been embarrassed into velocity.
Young American writers of any ambition imitating DeLillo – his tentacular ambition, the effort to pin down an entire writhing culture, to be a great analyst of systems, crows, paranoia, politics, to work on the biggest level possible
“Knowing about things” has become a qualification,
a wealth of obscure and far-flung social knowledge.
Topicality, relevance, reportage, social comment, preachy presentism and sidewalk smarts. Macro-microeconomics. The way the internet works. Maths, philosophy. The sonics of volcanoes. How to make a fish curry in Fiji. Terrorist cults in Kilburn. The New Physics! And so on.
The result? Novels of self-consciousness with no selves in them
Books that know a thousand things, but not a single human being.
II. This is how it feels to me.
I might be sitting in my Kilburn bunker
planning some 700-page generational saga
set on an incorporated McDonald's island north of Tonga.
I am sitting here in my pants
looking at a blank screen, finding nothing funny,
scared out of my mind like everybody else
smoking a family-sized pouch of Golden Virginia.
I want to defend the future possibility of some words
appearing on pages that will be equal to these times
and to what I feel and what you feel; that is, this fear
that has got us all by the throat. These are hysterical times.
Be more human? I sit in front of my white screen
and I'm not sure what to do with that one. Are jokes inhuman?
Are footnotes? Long words? Technical terms?
Intellectual allusions? If I put some kids in, will that help ?
We are more like a useless irritation: the wrong words,
the wrong time, the wrong medium. Sick of sound of own voice.
Sick of trying to make own voice appear on that white screen.
Sick of trying to pretend putting words on blank page feels important.
It will take empathy, which I still contend is largely a matter
for the intellect. Your brain must be up for it, for making
that necessary leap. At the moment my brain feels like cat food.
words: Jenni B. Baker, Washington DC (website / The Found Poetry Review)
image: '2/44 facets', a found image by D. Lang, Germany (virtual notes / 44 facets)
another New York reflection: New York (#20)