Sunday, April 24, 2022

Aaron Angello

Aaron Angello is a poet, playwright, and essayist from the Rocky Mountains who lives and feels remarkably out of place in the charming, but very Eastern, town of Frederick, Maryland. He received his MFA and PhD from the University of Colorado Boulder, and he currently teaches writing and theater at Hood College.

Angello's new book is The Fact of Memory: 114 Ruminations and Fabrications.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Currently, I’m teaching, so I am pretty much rereading what I’m teaching. Fortunately, though, I’m teaching a great class I’m calling Weird-Ass Books: Formal Experimentation in Modern and Contemporary Fiction (cool, right?), and I’ve included some books that I haven’t read in a long time, so it’s a great excuse to reread them and experience them again. Here are the most recent books I’ve read:

Autobiography of Red – Anne Carson

This novel in verse takes as its starting point the surviving fragments of the ancient Greek lyric poet Stesichorus’ Geryoneis – a retelling of the story of Heracles and Geryon, from the perspective of the red, winged monster (in addition to being a great poet, Carson is a classicist and translator of ancient Greek texts, including the best translation of Sappho out there, in my opinion). Carson sets the story of Autobiography of Red in a modern world that is both very recognizable and mythic. In her version, Geryon is a boy who just happens to be red and winged. He is also sensitive, a developing artist, a bit broken, and prone to fall in love with the very handsome and insensitive Heracles. Because she chose to write the novel in lineated verse, Carson allows herself freedom to move away from descriptive formulations more typical of the novel. Instead, she consistently surprises the reader with her shocking synesthetic descriptions of otherwise ordinary things:
“Heracles lies like a piece of torn silk in the blue” (54)

“He would remember when he was past forty the dusty almost medieval smell / of the screen itself as it / pressed its grid onto his face.” (36)

“far from the freeway came the sound / of fishhooks scraping the bottom of the world” (44)

“Children poured around him / and the intolerable red assault of grass and the smell of grass everywhere / was pulling him towards it / like a strong sea.” (23)
And she is amazing in the way she plays with verbs:
“his mother / rhinestoning past on the way to the door. She had all her breasts on this evening.” (30)
She gives Geryon the condition of synesthesia, which opens more opportunities for us, as readers to not just intellectually understand what she’s describing, but to have an actual experience, to respond, bodily, to the strangeness:
“It was the year he began to wonder about the noise that colors make. Roses came / roaring across the garden at him. / He lay on his bed at night listening to the silver light of stars crashing against / the window screen.” (84)
As a writer, I love that this book reminds me of the value of strangeness. I will, no doubt, revisit this book many times over the course of my literary life.

Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov

This is a really fun novel, presented as a scholarly edition of a 999-line poem written by a very Frost-like old poet named John Shade. The protagonist (?) of this novel, though, is the editor of the poem, Charles Kinbote, whose story is told in the notes to the poem. Kinbote may or may not be the exiled king of the possibly made-up nation of Zembla, and he may or may not have been friends with the esteemed old poet, to whom he may or may not have been telling stories of his (or the king’s) experiences escaping the mysterious Shadows and their hired assassin, Gradus. If you thought Humbert Humbert was the ultimate unreliable narrator, give Kinbote a shot.

If on a winter’s night a traveler – Italo Calvino

A colleague of mine in grad school once referred to this book as “po-mo bullshit,” and I suppose it is, but it’s also a lot of fun. Told in the second person (yup), You, the reader, sit down to read Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, but You soon realize that the book only contains the first chapter of the novel! So, You go to the bookstore to complain, and You meet a second reader, and the two of You are off on a quest to read the rest of the novel. Unfortunately for You (but fortunately for us, the readers – of the reader…), You don’t ever read more than the first chapters of several different novels.

If you’re into nerdy grad school stuff like poststructuralism and Barthes and narrative theories and reader-response theories, you’ll love this book. If you’re not, you might still dig it. But you have to be into po-mo bullshit.
Visit Aaron Angello's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Fact of Memory.

--Marshal Zeringue