The DNA of Place: On Richard McGuire’s ‘Here’
By Rob Casper
So we’ve reached week 13 in the NFL season — time enough to think of how FBC has changed my life. I’ve read a whole lot of books I never would’ve known of, or otherwise found the time to break open. Which has led me to more reading — right now I’m reading Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken and Kay Ryan’s brand new poetry collection, Erratic Facts (the title alone is a showcase of her genius lyricism). That said, I’m still paying a lot of attention to football. I’ve lamented the crazy downward turn of the Pack, celebrated the Pat’s sole loss of the season, wondered if the Hawkeyes would/could stay unbeaten, etc. It seems as if reading hasn’t replaced football — not like those rebellious college years when I didn’t own a TV, and the Internet didn’t make following football so damned easy.
Speaking of thinking about the past, I was wowed by Here. Sometimes a work of art takes a simple idea and runs with it, to great effect — the examples are too numerous to mention, but I can’t think of something like Richard McGuire’s book. To create a whole book from one frame and not only show how much happens within that frame across time, but weave together all of that happening…I’m just going to say it — it’s poetic. That’s a first for me, as I usually can’t stand when something is compared to poetry (and almost always by those who don’t pay poetry much attention, if at all). But only poetry uses the limitations of its form to move as quickly as Here does across time. By contrast, in fiction there’s just so much narrative structure/detail to get in there — hell, look at Speak. The best part of that book, to me, was its ability to jump around and so create a sense of the grand ways our stories connect. Plus, that jumping around propelled the plot — or, it delayed the plot in ways that heightened my sense of expectation.
The same delays happen in Here — I wanted to know what happened — but really what I’m left with are a catalog of images, playing against each other, informing each other. And I’m left with that sense of how much I miss in one life, what beauty and tragedy and complexity I don’t look to see, or know to know. For instance, what else happened in this room I’m in, my now-office, typing this up? And what are the stories behind the stories — the stories built in to the DNA of this place, and of me? Are they more like interconnected images — still moments that beg a narrative structure which can never be complete? Maybe that’s what I mean by describing Here as poetic: its form shows that even the most limited of frames can never be definitive. Poetry makes good on that unknowing, and creates a concise and compelling form to speak of it.
This gets me back to the FBC and why I love it. It’s not just about all of us of reading through the season, but having to write through it. Even if I’d come across Here without FBC, I wouldn’t have thought of the above — wouldn’t have come to such conclusions, which frankly surprised me! To share that kind of thinking-through-writing, about writing, with a pair of good friends and a pair of otherwise total strangers — there’s the real reason for our blog.