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A little more about Patrick Lawler and this book

Bloglacier(blog-like but at glacier speed) writings—from Jeffrey Ethan Lee

10/02/2006 | 06/07/2006 |



Patrick Lawler’s reading in upstate N.Y.

This past summer I saw poet Patrick Lawler reading near his home turf, upstate NY, and it was totally worth the trip of 234 miles one-way up. (It took 4.5 hours to drive from the Philly suburbs up through the mountains of PA and NY into the finger lakes region near Syracuse—gorgeous dense greenery in great depth, mosses, lush grass, shrubbery, giant trees covering the steep hills and moisture off the expansive lake where people swam.)

I met Patrick at 5 p.m. for an early dinner in Cazenovia’s coffeehouse, which was several times larger than most fast food restaurants. The reading was in the front room—exposed beams, old fat couches, walls of high windows, a dozen cafe tables, and a couple college kids around a guitar. The “dining room” was twice as big and had doors that separated it from the reading/performance space.

Patrick and I tried (in vain) to set up a very expensive Sony handycam on a tripod to record the reading, but the tech guy from the college had given Patrick no memory card! (the idea had been to record the reading for our Many Mountains Moving Press site.)

Patrick was in very high spirits especially when a few of his friends stumbled in on their way to go swimming, happily unaware of the reading at 7 p.m. He had them falling out laughing in no time. One of them bought the new book, too, and then they were off for the lake under the glaring evening sun. Then more of Patrick’s friends came and some of his students. By the time we started there were a good two dozen people— twenty 20 minutes later there were more than thirty, which is pretty F$#^%^$ great for a gorgeous summer evening in upstate NY with school out and people on vacation and/or in vacation mode.

The emcee was very generous to Many Mountains Moving; she said it is one of the few magazines that tells a poet that she has really made it. She also told the audience who I was and that I’d come from Philly just for the event. She also made a nice pitch for Patrick’s three books.

Patrick’s reading was instantly engaging and comic. He read several of the same poems that were in the April reading (the audio is at the MMM Press site). Then he worked up to the more serious and provocative poems. There was one in particular that spliced descriptions of Marlon Perkins from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and the Miss America pageant and a couple other motifs. It was funny, vertiginous, satirical and personal, all at once.

(Later he told me that someone had translated the poem into Russian, so it existed in an anthology in Russian, which he was unable to read.)

This was my first time seeing Patrick read in real life, so it was very enlightening and stirring. I think the audience applauded sincerely for every poem. There was also some hysterical laughter in the audience, especially concerning an autobiographical poem dedicated “to Mary,” in which this Mary character had Patrick hold up a very large boa constrictor that took a great interest in his nose. In the poem, Mary got mad at Patrick for being scared of the boa’s mouth when it had only bitten one person in the nose before, and that was a fluke, after all.

(Afterwards, Mary, who was the hysterical laugher in the audience, told me later that she was “disappointed” that Patrick was scared of this boa etc.)

The reading was a great success, with a good number of books sold.

Now if we can only get the rest of the world to know about him….

It seemed a bit crazy (even for me) to drive that far for a poetry reading, but it was worth it! And it was good that many of the people picked up MMM flyers for our contests and our subscription form etc. There were also a few dozen new site hits to the MMM Press page the day after the reading. So we did well all around, I think.

The next day I was up at 5:30 and on the road to Long Island (nearly 300 miles), visiting relatives in “the empire state.”


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Posted 06/07/2006

I do not think that I met Patrick Lawler until AWP 2005, which was in Vancouver, and MMM was still working on this book at the time, and the process had been taking longer than anyone at MMM had imagined. Nonetheless, Patrick was more than patient; he was extraordinarily open-minded and willing to talk about the ultimate shape of the book. 


I found it to be an extraordinarily poignant, politically provocative and personally challenging book.  Susan Terris, the MMM Book Contest judge, called it "outrageously original," and I was compelled to agree more and more as I understood the depths of the style. I was impressed by how he wrote so felicitously and beautifully about the environment, torture, urban decay, our political/moral obliviousness, our deeply ingrained (little-discussed) somewhat schizoid national melancholia about money, fame and narcissism, and so much else....


Damn, the last time I'd read a book with that kind of scope, it was, swear to God, A Coney Island of the Mind.


Even better, Patrick turned out to be great to work with, and for that I was very grateful.  Better yet, he introduced us to some other wonderful writers, Linda Pennisi and George Kalamaras, and he turned out to be a great reader of his own poems and a very entertaining presenter of his thoughts on, for example, Surrealism.  He was even a sort of a cause célèbre at AWP 2006 in Austin when he talked about Surrealism.  (I have also seen a DVD of his April 27, 2006 reading at LeMoyne College, and it was just stunning.)


It was a blast to have him and his book there on the table at the AWP Bookfair in Austin for Many Mountains Moving.


Though it took a while to work out all the design elements of the book, we are all very proud of it.  Getting to know Patrick's work and Patrick himself have been very inspiring gifts.


—Jeffrey Ethan Lee, for MMM, 06/07/2006