Monday, October 29, 2007

Once More With Feeling: PBC Discussion of The Pajamaist

Note: Here's the *real* Poetry Book Club discussion post, after my silly initial posting 5 days early. I guess I was just too excited to discuss this book. Enjoy!

Discussion Questions

Overall, did you like the book? What about it did you like?

Were there specific poems that spoke to you? Which ones? Why?

Was there anything that confused you about the overall book? What was it?

Were there any individual poems that confused you?

How would you describe the author's style? How did he use language to convey images, ideas, or voice?

How would you describe the structure of the book? Did you see any sense of movement or progression from one poem to the next?

Would you choose to read this author again? Why or why not?


...deb said...

I'll dive in. And look forward to hearing other's thoughts, especially since I had a tough time reading this book. (Must be my turn :-) )

I wasn’t as keen on this book as I have been on the others (or better said--I wasn't wanting to try his style out). He was hard to read. I had a tougher time embracing it, though there were some poems that spoke to me immidiately, that I could connect with. I had a time sorting out themes and messages (I never quite did—to be honest). Perhaps those themes aren’t important, or perhaps they are incidental to his innovative language use and form. Perhaps they are oblique and not meant to be understood. I think it was harder for me to read because his phrasing is so cryptic. Many lines read as though they ought to be sentences, but then they disappeared, or they bent back on themselves. (This is the crux of what I think of the poems--the bending.)

I noticed a lot of phrase or word repetition within a line or or soon after. It was interesting but made for difficult reading.

I am not sure how to interpret a number of poems. I can say I liked some better after rereading them (example: the Noelle series--I didn't like them after my first reading. I did after the second time through)—it may be I needed to immerse in his language and pacing in order to accept the diction and style. I think I may have benefited had I read it aloud with a group and immediately discussed the work.

I liked the first poem, Dream Job, especially. Perhaps that one spoiled me for the others. It was accessible. The phrasing was pretty simple, and what he said resonated with me. Canada was another favorite. January seemed to be the best example of what many of these poems embodied: fragments that read like complete esntances, but are not. (I start reading what seems like clear syntex, then--wham--I am left behind. Or my mind tries to fill in words that just aren't there. I have to read closely. (Not normally difficult for me.) But he defies expectations. Sometimes I liked it. Sometimes I didn't. The phrase repetition adds or creates a familiarity, a mantra-like calm inducing fog, that isn't calming. Many time he used repetition not for emphasis but for contrast. Now that is tricky.

I liked the irony of the pattern phrases in Tonight You'll Be Able. Self-depreciating self-help.

I liked Broklyn With A New Beginning. I liked The Book of Oxygen. I could read it in a flow, a torrent, even if I didn't completely understand it. I wasn't confused.

(I like rhythmic and lyrical. Confused and disjointed is uncomfortable.)

I liked "Lazy Comet. Hurry" the least. I tried it several times, but could never enjoy or understand anything that he might be trying to achieve. I had a difficult time with his mixed tenses and actions.

I'm not sure I would read Zapruder again, or not without a bit of an introduction to him and his work.

Here’s a link to an interview at The Southeast Review: I haven't read it yet. I should have found this sort of thing first...oh well. I am still glad to be reading outside my comfort zone.

I'll be checking back to see what others think. (Probably not until Wednesday.)

Jessica said...

Hey ...deb,

Thanks for your comments. I'm sorry to hear that you didn't like this as much as the other books. It sounds very much like its a stylistic issue. I would agree that Zapruder's style is very strong.

There are some real strengths to his style -- he is able to convey a quirky, intelligent, ironic voice very effectively. I think that's something that is difficult to pull off without sounding precious, precocious, or too abstract. I personally really like his use of antisyntactical sentence structure (his sentences, not lines, sound funny and bending as you point out) because it makes me analyze what he's trying to say. By putting x word here, rather than in its right place, he may be trying to illustrate a different or new meaning. I also like the way he uses modifiers as verbs, or verbs in unusual ways. (He used excruciate as a verb in one poem, and it is so rarely used in this way.)

But his style does have a downside. He is incredibly dense -- I felt like I had bit off more than I could chew in many of his poems, which is why I'm glad that I read this book over a series of days. (In fact, if PBC has taught me anything, it's that poetry is something you need to take time to read. You'd think I'd know that by now, but oh well.) There were times when I just wanted to say to the author, "Oh come on, just say it already."

I think we liked some of the same poems, but I'll just list my faves. "There is a light," "Canada" (Great opening lines), "Haiku," "The Pajamaist" (Probably my total favorite), "Tonight You'll Be Able," "Kill Van Kull" and "the Book of Oxegyn."

There were parts of 20 poems for Noelle that I liked. In fact, on the 16th section of thsi (pg 38 in my book) I wrote "clear!" next to it because I think I got it on the first try. (As much as one can get it.)

I wonder who his influences are. To me, he seemed very e.e. cummings-esque, and also wallace stevens like in his use of vocabulary. I'm going to do a little research on him and see what I can find.

I look forward to what everyone else comes up with for this discussion too.

Question for the group: Did we get the 9/11 references/themes that are described on the back cover? I think I got a little of it in the Noelle poems, Oxegyn, and the Brooklyn poem, but nowhere else. Just curious if anyone has a perspective on that.


Jessica said...

Here's a link to a small Zapruder/Pajamaist piece:

And here's an interview with him that I've read about a third of:

And now I have to read in bed. :)

...deb said...

Funny, my first thoughts were that I didn't really like the book. But I did find poems that touched me, that I responded to.

I'd like to go back and read after hearing your thoughts--though I am still not sure I could see the meaning in some of them. (I am not sure I will have the time to much follow-up though, nice thought that it is.)

I'll try to read some of those links. I travel to Texas for a week plus. Work seminar and family visit, so perhaps I will find some time then.

Thanks for hosting PBC. Even when I don't absolutely love the work I find gems I do, and always instruction. I think this reading is improving my work--and honestly, that is what I am really after :-) .

jonas said...

Thank you so much for your discussion, I missed it, I missed it, I. Sorry. I am the feeling-guilty-writer in the corner who voted and pushed and kicked for this book to be read and then curled up with life and shut the door to the magic carpet ride world of language and vision and finding a place in it.

I had a very hard time with the syntax for a while but then found some rhythm.

I think I took notes, let me look around here.

Next time I look forward to playing.