Month: May 2021
What lies in store for the Silver brothers? Recovery or turmoil?
In this video, I answer the question, “What is The Brothers Silver about?” For more, link to thebrotherssilver.jampole.com/about-the-book/
Jampole’s deep and intense interest in the possibilities inherent in the use of the English language is evident from the very first page,” says Midwest Book Review about “The Brothers Silver”.
WINNING BY LOSING, LOSING BY WINNING
Coming from a family that prized athletic competition has made me often explore in fiction and poetry the differences and similarities between winning and losing, in sports and in other human endeavors. One notion that has haunted me is winning by losing, or losing by winning. Victories that cost the victors so much that they soon lose the war. Victories that help the overlords, but not those who did the actual fighting. Victories that bring the hollow feeling that the winner will have to do it all over again the next day. Perhaps my favorite poem among these musings on defeat and victory is “The Wrestler.” In it I toy with the Hindu idea of pursuing the perfection of your actions in battle instead of focusing on the final outcome, a concept most compellingly presented in the chapter of the Hindu epic Mahabharata called Bhagavad Gita. America has cheapened the complexities of the Bhagavad Gita into the often spouted but rarely believed homily, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”
Like most of my poems, none of the voices in “The Wrestler” is the poet. Narration of the poem is shared by an omniscient narrator and the thoughts of the main character. The elision back and forth between the two voices approaches the fictional device called free indirect discourse, which Flaubert essentially perfected in Madame Bovary, and has served as a cornerstone of experimental fiction ever since.
“The Wrestler” was published a few years’ back in Ellipsis. The basic story is one of adolescent rebellion—a young man, having proven that he is the best wrestler, allows himself to lose a championship match because it’s more important for him to see the disappointment on his father’s face than to win. I use the same story in a quite different context in my novel, The Brothers Silver, which Owl Canyon Press is releasing in less than a month.
His wrestler’s arms elevate
his dying father from the bath,
towel the anorexic wheezing flesh.
His wrestler’s fingers ram at buttons
swelling narrow holes of flimsy night clothes,
like punching bolts through steel, one shot,
one shot, one shot, and then you’re done
and then your pill for pain, and then your
noisy sleep, snores and disconnected words,
sling-shot carp on what I have and have not done.
In one of many rooms of father’s empty house
his wrestler’s legs incline and hands release
and slowly father rotates off his wrestler’s frame
onto bed and wakes, mutters lost championship,
then falls to sleep again.
Why high school wrestling thirty years ago?
So much has happened.
I wrestled the ladders I climbed, wrestled
the metal I welded, wrestled the bread I baked,
all a giant wingless loving-hating angel
I could never conquer, so I held on
and holding on, I could never lose,
and the angel was you.
Fetal cradle quivers porridge steam,
father hisses cold, I’m cold.
His wrestler’s hands corkscrew clumps of flesh
through a second set of sleeves,
then spreads the leaking body out again.
Is his father finally falling into deeper dreams?
You mythed yourself as Krishna teaching
way of works for men of action,
to me, Arjuna, perfect incarnation,
slaying Bhisma, Karna, armies of Kurus.
On my own I found performance with no thought of prize,
control, control, control, relinquish.
Enter other sons, boxer, goalie, fullback,
and smoke cigars outside the room,
last vacation renovation new investment,
exhale the fumes beyond a fan,
remember father’s backdoor laughing smokes,
elaborate athlete handshakes to the wrestler,
younger brother, you the man, you the best
to volunteer for nursemaid work,
a big, forgiving man, after years of silent rift.
Great warriors always winning;
my deeds could never match.
Often thinking, never saying
I look like you, but I’m not you.
You said talent isn’t everything.
You called it my pattern:
wrestle and relinquish quit school,
wrestle and relinquish quit the rigs,
wrestle and relinquish quit the marriage
quit and drift, quit and start, quit and switch,
quit before the winning, wrestle and relinquish.
Alone in stale tobacco lamp glow:
painful diapasons pierce the wrestler’s thoughts
that coast to feeble huffing once a shout,
meager bone once buck ram strapping,
restless drift once righteous resolution.
Sleeping father, dying father,
mythless thing itself, here is act itself:
Circle, take down, near fall,
defensive escape, defensive reversal,
I’m up eight-zip, another takedown,
you’re yelling pin, pin, pin,
reverse, takedown, near fall, control,
you’re waving rolled-up program,
eleven-oh, be careful now,
fifteen points an automatic win,
control, control, control,
he escapes, I reverse again, fourteen-two,
circle, play out clock, seconds left, twelve, ten,
you’re shaking someone next to you,
that’s my son, that’s my son,
five seconds, I’m winning eighteen-four,
everyone knows who’s best, everyone knows,
circle front of you, now I make my perfect move,
collapse the knee, roll to right, pull him over,
careful, let them think it’s him,
heave my shoulders back and down control
relinquish touch the mat I’m pinned I win.
Published in Ellipsis #44 (2008)
Don’t assume the speaker of a poem is the author. often, it’s someone else; sometimes it’s many voices
One of the most central issues in writing anything is voice, at least for me. When beginning a piece, I always ask myself, who do I want to do the talking in this poem or story? Is it a man or a woman? How old? What are his or her major concerns? Quick to anger or patient? Socially aware or a dunce? Educated or not? Humble or fat-headed? Any accent or speech impediment? If I’m writing in the third person, I ask myself whether the all-knowing narrator is a character in the story, and whether he/she/they/it can spy into the hearts of just one character or many characters?
Consequently, unlike many contemporary authors, you cannot approach my work thinking that the “I” speaking represents me. My “I’s included famous composers, images in paintings, people with Parkinson’s disease, adulterers, suburban dads, and characters from fiction, among many others. I have also used collective voices, such as the collective voice of hunters, survivors of war and pestilence, and losers of athletic competitions. I have even written material from the point of view of animals and plants.
When appropriate, I have always enjoyed creating pieces in which there is more than one voice talking. The first time I attempted a piece of creative writing with multiple voices was “The Death Song of Lenny Ross.” Lenny Ross was a minor figure of mid-20th century American history: He was a child prodigy who won $100,000 on one 1950’s television game show, and $64,000 on another. He grew up to be a key political advisor to Jerry Brown and a college lecturer. But as he aged, Lenny began acting more and more strangely. In old school parlance, he went crazy. He increasingly had obstreperous outbursts, lost his attention span, couldn’t keep a job, and eventually committed suicide at the age of 39 in 1985.
My poem tells the life of Lenny Ross in seven voices, including Lenny’s. It seems like it was yesterday, but the Pittsburgh Quarterly originally published “The Death Song of Lenny Ross” about 30 years ago! One can also find the poem in my first collection of poetry, Music from Words.
BTW (or FYI), my novel, The Brothers Silver, which Owl Canyon Press is releasing on June 1, also unfolds in what one early reader calls a “symphony of voices.” In total, the 12 chapters have 10 distinct voices, each with its own vocabulary and personality flaws. No one tells the whole story, because no one knows the whole story.
THE DEATH SONG OF LENNY ROSS
- Lenny Ross was a Whiz Kid quiz show contestant as a child in the 50’s who later became an advisor to Jerry Brown and held several academic positions.
Dow’s theory analyzes market action.
Fundamentals deal in corporate prospects.
When stocks are good, T-bills suffer,
and when the market shakes its head and shoulders
it’s getting ready to reverse direction.
What a boy you are, Lenny Ross, Lenny Ross!
What a genius boy you are!
And why not you, Lenny?
Why not you to win the hundred thousand
answering quiz-show questions
on stocks and bonds and whatever?
Why not you the youngest?
At five you talked like Walter Lippmann.
At six you built a TV by yourself!
What a boy you are, Lenny!
What a genius boy you are!
Our tort system, from English common law,
changes many features of that older land.
The principle’s the same,
that assets yield to no man save one who has them.
Eschewing class, we’re guided by associations,
men maintaining liberty by joining others openly.
as Tocqueville described, recalling Edmund Burke.
He grasped all aspects of the reading,
wrestling levels none of us had thought about,
as we sat silent, listening to his playfulness
with concepts none of us had heard before.
And yet so kind he was to all of us, his elders,
so patient telling us his thoughts.
What a mind he had, Lenny Ross,
and what a knowledge of the law.
A head that talks, an academic side man,
I know that’s what they think of me.
Great idea, Lenny! What a brain!
I want to be a man of action, commanding heads of state
I want to run for President one day.
I have a master plan.
It’s all up here!
Slow down, Lenny Ross, finish one thing!
I told him that a thousand times, at least,
then watched him stagger back and forth
among his shriveled plants and dusty chairs,
popping frozen peas at open mouth
and throwing out ideas like cannon shot.
And it was up to me to understand
that he had skipped ahead to chapter five.
Slow down, Lenny! I can’t keep up.
But he persisted with a logic of his own.
Here’s the plan:
We’ll write a treatise on the rights of students
and with the money earned, we’ll buy these artists:
Fieldes, Moore and Greaves;
minor works by minor painters.
By lending them to small museums,
their values will inflate,
and then we sell and start a franchise.
I knew his reputation: Fired from Harvard,
bewildered students, uncompleted books.
But those first flowing days in Sacramento,
those synergistic days!
We watched him use a roll of tape and scissors
to cut and splice my program.
The spaceship earth, the new age economics,
the art of Zen applied to government….
It was all there.
If things had turned out differently, Lenny Ross,
you would have been my Commerce Secretary.
A six-month freeze on wages
without a freeze on prices,
followed by a year of frozen subsidies,
after which we send a thousand troops to Spain
as warning to the Sheiks to drop the price of oil.
I’ll send the President a memorandum
when I’ve wrapped my piece on Masons.
It’s full of great ideas.
Don’t call me anymore, Lenny Ross,
I’ve had about enough of you
and your constant chatter leading nowhere.
You can’t keep quiet long enough to love me.
You touch my thigh, then start to babble economics,
then write a sentence down, then phone a friend,
remember I’m in bed and ask me
what I think of Bergman’s latest flick.
I can’t take it anymore, Lenny Ross!
Genius, shit! Just get it up and keep it up for once!
A thermo coupler made of fiberglass
Kabuki language representing social graces
Venture funds investing in technology
In five years’ time, the baby boomers will
Stendhal’s real name was
Juan Gris merely described what he
Sawmills replacing windmills along the Flemish…
You’re back home, Lenny Ross,
and we’ll take care of you.
No more taking jobs and quitting three months later.
No more lying under cars reciting lectures.
You’ll rest awhile, Lenny, and then you’ll see.
You’ll land a cushy job.
…theory of addled value William Cullen
Randolph the red-nosed option underlying
Tinto Ramm Dass vodanya Montana the Puritan
migraine persecution of the Cotton Mather
tell Jerry my name is Gemini
Carter Wilson Picket the symbol of an angry
zero coupon to beat the plowshares into Isaiah Berlin…
My voice now, Lenny,
my voice calm, first time in years,
looking through the waters of the Capri Motel pool,
hearing waves applaud with plastic hands,
smelling chlorine smoke, tasting acrid starlight fruit.
Jump, Lenny Ross.
Remove this yoke of expectation.
jump to freedom…
Originally published in Music from Words (Bellday Books, 2007) and Pittsburgh Quarterly Volume I, #1 (Winter 1991)