Saturday, October 13, 2007

"Above the Fall Line", a Reading by Amy Blackmarr

Amy Blackmarr is as much a reader as she is a writer. Listening to her there is the feeling that she has done this many times. And indeed she was quick to let it be known that this, not writing and selling books, is her bread and butter. I think she joked that, “The destiny of genius is poverty”. I liked that. I like being reminded that I should not expect to make a lot of money as a writer; that if I am planning on doing this, I’d better damn well like to write; and read. Blackmarr was confident about her genre as she talked about what it means to be a writer of place. Her goal, she explained, is to discover the particular genius loci of a place. And while I still need to look genius loci up in the dictionary, it seems to mean capturing the essence and soul of a place, through your senses, and to be able to convey those very intimate details to the reader, and to write about a place so that the readers can put themselves there. Blackmarr recalled driving down a road, seeing a snake caught in the beak of a hawk, and remembering that at the time, she felt just like that. Only she couldn’t tell if she was the snake or the hawk. “An image becomes an essay,” she says, “inner and outer landscapes reflect each other”.

From a collection called Above the Fall Line, she read a piece called, “Love and Kudzu”, which speaks honestly about a woman who may have let the right guy slip away because of her own indifference, and then later seeing her mistake. Blackmarr slips easily from first to second person obviously without even noticing. When asked about this, (and she took questions like a well-oiled politician), she explained that employing second person was a way of distancing herself, a narrative distance. Although she says, “when you write in first person you have to remove yourself, or the emotional weight will steal the power”, writing in second person, she says, immediately connects her to her readers. But in this essay that at times sounded very much like a memoir, Blackmarr says, “In the personal we find relationships to each other”.

While I am still trying to define my own writing process, by comparison, Blackmarr’s process sounds anal. After learning that writer’s block does exist, the key to dealing with that she said, was to establish a pattern, a structured routine or a particular period of time. On weekends, she doesn’t write at all, but the other five days of the week, from ten until two she has no connection with anyone and she writes. When asked about influences she claims that Charles Dickens taught her a lot about narrative, and that Ray Bradbury is “incredibly eloquent”, suggesting that we all make a point of reading Dandelion Wine. Short story writer, Ray Carver she says is “brief in presentations but deep in his thinking”. Barbara Brown Taylor and Richard Selzer also make her list of influences.

Like a lot of writers, Amy Blackmarr says she is never happy with her work, never satisfied. But she likes that as a personal essayist she is not obligated to write in a linear narrative. “Your life is your work and your art, and it take your whole life to create”.

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At 9:57 PM , Blogger BLUE said...

hmmm ... chewing on this one real hard: "the destiny of genius is poverty." [break] [beat] [breath] but is the poverty and lack of material resources or an impoverishment (beat-down/ostracism) of spirit after a usual alienation from the known social world? thinkin' on it really hard ...


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