Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Look Homeward, Angel

I have few remaining illusions, but here are two of them. I have always hoped to return to my hometown of Jackson, Michigan, and to my undergraduate school, Albion College, and give readings. Even at the age of 54, I am naive enough, or stupid enough, egotistical enough, or dreamy enough (who knows what defects of character go into such a calculus?) to believe that I have something to say at places that have meant something to me, that what I have to say is worthwhile--perhaps even of some lasting value; that someone in those places might want to read my books and hear what I have to say.

So yes, I have asked for readings over the past eight years. I have, in fact, begged for readings. At Albion, I have been brushed off, ignored, and was finally told several years ago that decisions about who comes to read are "so political--we'll see." So I gave up on the English Department at Albion and sent copies of my books to the History Department (I was a History major) and asked for a reading. I heard nothing back. I sent copies of my latest book to the Public Library in Jackson, and heard nothing back. Finally, I sent a copy of Figured Dark to a small bookstore/coffeehouse in Jackson. I volunteered to recruit a well-known fiction writer to come with me to help assure an audience--though, frankly, I have enough relatives in town to pack the place. I was told that while they could not arrange an actual reading, I could appear for "Local Author Day" in April and sell books, with perhaps a ten-minute opportunity to make a presentation of some sort during the course of the day. In other words, I could participate in a four-hour Gong Show with the women who compiled a mimeograph cookbook of "Favorite Macaroni Dishes of the Methodist Church Altar Guild" and the self-publisher of a book about how the author was abducted by Martians and given an anal probe.

No, thanks.

And yes, I made it clear that I would read for the American poet's standard wages (i.e., nothing) and that--no problem--I would bring my own books.

Is it any wonder that Weldon Kees stepped off the Golden Gate Bridge?


Shown is "Thomas Wolfe's angel" from the cemetery at Hendersonville, North Carolina. Wolfe's second book was You Can't Go Home Again, published after his death.


Blogger Suzanne said...

Their loss. Their Big loss, I might add. Hey, one of the poems in my book takes it's title from Look Homeward, Angel.

8:02 AM  
Blogger Leslie said...

Crazy. Just crazy.

Of course, I have only ever set foot in the city where I did undergrad once in all the intervening years, and even that was a mistake. So, you know, the way the world works, I'll probably be invited back someday...

10:55 AM  
Blogger Leslie said...

And stay the heck away from bridges.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Andrew Shields said...

I have relatives who lived in Jackson from at least the 60s on: the Robbins family. My Uncle Dan, my Aunt Barb, then Gayle, Rick, Mike, and Scott. Did you know them by any chance? I'm not sure about all their birth years, but Gayle should be about the same age as you.

3:27 PM  
Blogger Justin Evans said...

For the one (count it at least twice) reading I have ever done, this is the list of relevant and interesting information:

1. I had to beg a local bookstore.

2. they would not carry my book, as it was only a chapbook.

3. I bought and prepared all food which showed up, including enough bottled water to last any crowd three readings.

4. I had to provide the chairs.

5. The only non-relatives present was one friend from high school, my old scout master, and the book store owner who was there to make sure we didn't tear up his store.

6. The town where I did my reading was the town I was raised in, and is officially known as "Springville, the ART CITY."

Lemme just say I know exactly what you are feeling, though I only have two chapbooks to my name. I doubt I will ever be asked to read anywhere. Ever.

5:46 PM  
Blogger Karen J. Weyant said...

I've only done three readings -- and they were not really my readings. I was the "opening act" for three other more "big name" poets, so I had a captured audience.

As for your undergrad school, it is their loss. I would think they would want to have boasting rights.

5:55 PM  
Blogger Talia said...

What fools. I'm glad IUSB didn't turn you down--or rather, you didn't turn us down.

8:27 PM  
Blogger brian salchert said...

The one time I participated in the
Wisconsin Poets-in-the-Schools
Program, I gave a reading in a
high school cafeteria during the
lunch hour. I know this because
at some point thereafter I wrote a
poem about it. Or maybe I don't
know it, and just imagined it via
the poem.

10:59 PM  
Blogger Hannah said...

You can come read at The New School anytime you want!

11:23 PM  
Blogger Jilly said...

Stay away from the Zilwaukee Bridge.

(That's the closest bridge to you that I can think of hahaha.)

12:39 AM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...

Thank you all for your kind comments. I have a "PLan 9 From Outer Space" idea percolating in my head for readings in both places. We'll see.

Andrew--I knew some Robinsons in Jackson--nice people!--but not the Robbins family.

And not to worry. If I jumped off a bridge in Jackson, I'd hit the concrete. They cemented over the river years ago and made it flow underground.

I'm telling you, it's a classy place.

5:29 AM  
Blogger lynn said...

Groan,reminds me of my efforts to arrange reading a little further down the road: Ann Arbor- Ypsilanti. Niether city's library was encouraging, nor any of the bookstores. I made calls, promised an attendance minimun (family) left copies of reviews...
The Ypsilanti paper, a weekly, was interested in an interview...but after I spent time & care on my responses to their questions, I never heard back. I think they may have folded. Still I'm surprised at Albion, what with your level of "poetry cred."

All this angel stuff, I am staying at a place that used to be called the Mission of Angels, and has them incorportated all over the premises. I put a two on my blog a couple of weeks ago---now more angel business. Vibes.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Matthew Thorburn said...

Hey Greg, when my book came out I skipped the local bookstores and schools in Lansing and instead had my own party/reading at a local coffee shop. (We rented out the place and bought everyone coffee and snacks.) Not as sweet as being invited to read somewhere, I'll admit, but a better venue for the all-friends-and-family crowd than a bookstore, it seemed to me -- and the free muffins and coffee did seem to encourage book sales!

Or else I'd say (as others here have), "Their loss!" and head for Ann Arbor and/or K'zoo. Shaman Drum and the Athena Bookshop are two great places to read.

1:43 PM  
Blogger Montag said...

An amusing story. I guess it's poetic hubris, and our memories of home - our good memories, our pleasant memories - conspire to afflict us.

I think it would make a good short film.

7:53 AM  

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