Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Does anyone else have the experience of enjoying the latter half of a book more than the first? This seems to happen to me all the time, and I must confess I'm a bit mystified as to the cause. Often, I'll feel lukewarm about the first ten pages of a book--and then, gradually, through persevering, come to realize that I'm in the middle of a genuine-like poetic experience. This happened to me most recently with Susan Wheeler's Ledger. In the first section, I was thinking, OK, intriguingly involuted descriptive language, a pretty palette, but so? and why so much weight on the money metaphor? But by the end of the book, after the first few longer, and more disjunctive or experimental, pieces, I was in awe, I was ready to sell things for a bit of whatever currency the book was printed on or with. I was ready to write my name in red ink on its back page as I watched the money metaphor metastasize (and alliterate), colonizing every last bit of interpersonal space. The book's slamming.

Now, I might chalk up this experience--let's call it front-boredom--to the need to learn a particular poet's language, except that on rereading the initial poems, it's often the case that I still don't really care for them. This mystifies me because, when showing my manuscripts to others, I'm often told to front-load the book as much as possible, put the best poems first, since I can rearrange the manuscript later if it gets taken. Now, certainly with an established poet there isn't as much need to grab a first reader, and so avoid the gong, but this happens with first books, too. Are these poets forsaking the practice of front-loading? Are they committed to a genetic or developmental narrative, wherein the final poems demonstrate a fuller command of or flexibility within their material? Are people doing what is often the case with 19th-century novels, where the writer throws all her resources into the task of boring you to death in the first 100 pages, so as to scare away the unworthy and make the consequent rewards all the more pleasurable. Is this about me? Do I just have bad taste respective to the taste of the poets I like?

It's because of this experience that I sometimes must force myself to read collections cover to cover, rather than skipping around after the first few poems and searching for something I like. If I do that, I might bounce around in a book for years without surveying its pleasures. Should I start reading the last five pages, then the first five, first?

Speaking of beginnings, I watched the premiere of the new season of Six Feet Under last night, and found it a bit of a mess, a bit tired, and despite all the fine writing, less successful at warding off the melodrama that the fantastic acting always flirts with and yet usually escapes. It's probably a good thing that the show's been cancelled; I want to see these actors get the challenging movie roles they deserve. Especially Lauren Ambrose; the girl's brilliant, and getting sexier and sexier.

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