My spouse, Chris Gavaler, and I met while working on a Rutgers undergraduate literary magazine, The Anthologist. We were both chiefly poets then, shaping each other’s opinions in long Sunday night arguments over submissions (and sometimes over a twelve-pack). After graduation, we moved in together, after which followed many years of reading each other’s drafts; helping each other revise and sometimes hurting feelings in the process; sharing info on magazines and presses; and encouraging each other to persist when trying felt futile. I earned a PhD and dragged him to a small town in Virginia. He earned a Masters in Education, taught high school, went on to an MFA in fiction writing, then started in teaching in the English Department I’d joined years before. What we’re working on, as writers and teachers, usually varies wildly. But there have been synchronicities.
In May, I published Poetry’s Possible Worlds, a big milestone: in process and genre, it blends my scholarly training with a newer commitment to creative nonfiction, and it gestated for 10 years. His newest book, The Comics Form, is likewise the culmination of many years of teaching, writing about, and making comics. It begins with the question “What is a comic?” and encompasses comics’ history, style, conventions, and formal qualities. The book’s own style–clear and precise but intensely philosophical and theoretical–is very different from anything I’ve been up to lately. It amuses me very much that he, the MFA, has the deepest scholarly publishing record in our department, and I, the PhD, have the longest creative vita (although he gives me stiff competition). Somewhere along the way, we crossed paths and raced off in our own directions.
Just as he’s a recurring character in my book, though, I make some cameos in his. Chris takes photographs of me–some of them at poetry-readings!–and transforms them into image-texts. He works similarly with other family photos AND a professional headshot of himself to illustrate degrees of abstraction (I think the piece below middle makes him look like the Goblin King).
One of the poems in The State She’s In also shows up in his chapter called “Sequences.” I originally devised “En Dehors Garde Bingo” for a digital exhibit of experimental scholarship on the modernist poet Mina Loy. It was very much inspired, too, by Fatimah Asghar’s amazing “Microaggression Bingo.” What Chris observes about my piece is its resistance to sequence: the sentences “may be read in any order, which is a significant aspect of the poem’s aesthetic qualities.” For me, he says, and for Andy Warhol’s Marilyn silkscreens (what company!), “Order does not matter.” As I revisit the poem now, I’m not sure that’s quite true. I placed an initiating moment in my poetic life in the bingo card’s upper-left corner, where a comics reader would begin the Z-pattern reading approach conventional to the form; I made the lower right corner as punchy as I could because it’s the clincher. (The fact that I even know about Z-path reading, enough to try and exploit it, is an example of cross-influence. Chris nudged me to read The Watchmen, Cerebus, Dark Knight, and other comics early on; he loved the genre but my experience with it was pretty limited.) His core insight into my weird poem, though, is right on: we read, watch, or listen in the sequence prescribed by the medium, but some poems demand nonlinearity. A damaging world order lurks behind racial microaggressions and gendered harassment, but those experiences bombard you in a seemingly random way, as bingo poems do.
The Comics Form would be expensive for a casual reader–so goes scholarly publishing–but I hope you’ll consider ordering it for your local or university library. You can also read the conclusion here.
Otherwise, I’ve been reading poetry collections for the #sealeychallenge and novels for potential future courses, as well as revising my own novel ms, a process that largely consists of rereading. My goal for the Sealey project isn’t to read a book of poems per day, but two per week. I’m gravitating, I find, toward books I want to read because I know the authors at least a little.
For now, I just want to call out the lovely new chapbook by one of my favorite poetry bloggers, Ann E. Michael. Ann and I have only met in person a couple of times, but through her poems and posts, I have at least the illusion of knowing her character–distinguished by intellectual curiosity and generosity–pretty well. Those features distinguish the poems in Strange Ladies, too. Many center on mothers, daughters and the tangles of inheritance and conflict that bind them. The subject is important to me, too, especially lately. A special nod to one of the strangest poems it contains, “Brain-Stone,” originally published in Coe Review and my current favorite. Oh, and this is a book you CAN afford: $10 here!
6 responses to “Not only close but intimate reading”
Ann’s poem reminds my of https://www.ndbooks.com/book/extracting-the-stone-of-madness1/
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Oooh, that sounds interesting. Sounds like there may be a legend I’ve never heard of behind it all.
[…] Lesley Wheeler, Not only close but intimate reading […]
Thanks so much for recommending my chapbook, Lesley. It means a lot that you appreciate its strangeness and the complicated aspects of the personas and persons of the poems. Many congratulations to Chris for his book! We need scholarly work on “new” literary forms, as my experience with each new freshman cohort seems to suggest.
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I very much like that Ann Michael poem, and the “bingo card” poem concept seems fascinating. I’m unable to read it as I’m reading this blog right now (vision and device issues) but I want to see how it’s realized later.
As to mystic stones in gardens as in Michael’s poem, I thought of the druid stone in Hardy’s “The Shadow on the Stone.”
Best as I could find in short research on that poem was again no exact myth, but an actual stone that was found in Hardy’s garden to which from the age of the druids was a handy, specific attribution. But like you, I think a symbol like that which works so well must have worked into some folklore.
Wishing you the best for the rest of the summer.
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[…] thanks to Lesley Wheeler for giving my chapbook Strange Ladies a mention on her blog! Given the circumstances of the past month or so, I have not been on the ball about promoting the […]