Gould vs. Perahia

Fellow Parlor Press poet Ethel Rackin has tagged me to take part in the Next Big Thing, a series of self-interviews that leaps from poet to poet. You can read Ethel discuss her new book, The Forever Notes, in her NBT self-interview here. It was intriguing to revisit some of the ideas and influences that were rolling around in my head while writing Contrapuntal. Here’s what I came up with:


What is the working title of the book?

The title for the book revealed itself to be Contrapuntal, but for a while there I thought it wanted to be called Canto Fermo.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’m not sure, but I’ve always admired book-length poems – books by Olson, Williams, Claudia Rankine, A.R. Ammons and John Ashbery come to mind. And for Contrapuntal, I was interested at the time with narrative in poetry and how far narrative can bend in a poem before it breaks. Breaking is, of course, much more interesting.

What genre does your book fall under?


What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Remember in Adaptation when Charlie Kaufman’s brother Donald was writing a script for a thriller called The Three in which the killer and the cop are one person (their mom called it “psychologically taut”), the film version of Contrapuntal would be like that, but worse.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

In the intro to some poems in Boston Review, Mark Strand described it as “a drama of the subtle transactions between both self and self and self and other, presenting two distinct but overlapping narratives. One is allegorical, in which a piano-playing guru named Tim, a pharmaceutical cure-all called ‘T’, and the laboratory where it’s produced are all elements in the formation of a self (the speaker) seeking unity. The other thread concerns a past self and a present self who overcome various vicissitudes in order to merge in the voice of the poet.” Not exactly one sentence, but there you go. Meanwhile, isn’t Darker an incredible book? I think so.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About three years of writing and throwing out, writing and throwing out, and then spreading pages out on the floor and being generally confused.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Bach. Specifically his Goldberg Variations as played by Glenn Gould. I thought for a while that Gould’s was the gold standard, but now I agree with NPR’s Ted Libbey that Murray Perahia’s recording is the best. I listened to that on repeat while writing the first draft. I was fascinated with the separate identities the right and left hands had on the piano. They are unique and fascinating in their own right, but they come together in a really amazing way.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Since I’m not exactly sure what might be of interest to this faceless, nameless “reader,” I’d like to take this opportunity instead to recommend some books that I really love right now: Why Does the World Exist? by Jim Holt, Circle’s Apprentice by Dan Beachy-Quick and Sea & Fog by Etel Adnan.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Contrapuntal was just released by Parlor Press in the Free Verse Editions poetry series, so neither.

My tagged writers for next Wednesday are:

Farrah Field
Katie Jean Shinkle
Hanna Andrews