The Season Is Over: Rob’s Final Post: Part I

By Rob Casper

So the season is over for our collective teams. I was walking home last week when I spotted the Cardinals-Packers playoff game on in our local bar. Standing outside in the cold, I followed the waning seconds of regulation but decided to give up right before the last play — I said to my wife, “This is boring,” after waiting through a couple of timeouts. Which was premature, considering the 41-yard touchdown Aaron Rodgers threw. Had I seen that, I would’ve rushed home only to catch the Packers lose in overtime. (I certainly did follow the post-game scandal about NFL overtime rules, which cost the Pack in consecutive playoff losses.)

So what’s the moral? I don’t know. Because of Football Book Club, I’ve probably paid more attention to the NFL — certainly I’m more aware of how difficult it is to avoid. I can’t wait until the off-season, so that while walking past bars or in the airport or at the gym I’ll catch snippets of basketball games instead.

I also ran out of steam with our reading list, before I made it through our “regular season.” I can say this, though: How to Be Happy made me want to extend my poem analogy of my last post on Here. If the latter worked like a poem, the former reminded me of prose poems — snippets of narrative powered by strange and surprising leaps. For instance, here is “The Emotion Room:”

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 8.20.40 PM

And here’s a poem — lineated, but for all intents and purposes working as a prose poem — from the recently published Dome of the Hidden Pavilion by James Tate:

“The Furnace”

The doctor told me to go home and get some rest. So
I went home and the furnace blew up. I called the repair-
man right away. A few hours later he came in his truck
and worked for the rest of the day in the basement. When he
came up he was black with soot. “What do you think,” I
said. “I couldn’t find it,” he said. “What do you mean
you couldn’t find it? You look like you’ve been inside of
it for a few hours,” I said. “Well, I was, but when I came out
it was nowhere in sight. It was completely gone,” he said.
“But look at you. You’ve been somewhere dark and dirty,”
I said. “Dark and dirty, that’s a nice way to put it,”
he said. “Well, how would you put it,” I said. “Black
lace,” he said. “Black lace? I don’t think I know what
you mean,” I said. “There are roads everywhere and none
of them will get you out,” he said. “But how did you get
out?” I said. “I never said I was in,” he said. “I don’t
understand,” I said. “Neither did I,” he said.

Both begin with the premise of a protagonist who is seeking help. And both tell a seemingly simple story. But each turns to the fantastical — in the case of the “The Emotion Room,” via metaphor. In fact, the piece begins and ends with flat description/imagery (i.e., the orange slices and water). But by the third panel, we know our usual sense of the world is about to be torqued, and the following images reframe emotional release as a physical purging. There is an elegant simplicity to the metaphor, though the emotions themselves could hardly be more disgusting.

Speaking of disgusting, “The Furnace” gives us a soot-imbued reality. According to the OED, soot consists largely of “amorphous carbon, produced by the incomplete burning of organic matter.” There’s something wonderfully vivid about the descriptors this definition relies upon — scientific ones at that — when applied to what happens in Tate’s little tale. And what happens is a gradual enlarging of our amorphous, incomplete sense of how things work — through scene and characters and a bit of plot, but really through dialogue. As they talk, the protagonist works to understand his repair-man doppelgänger, yet finds himself deeper and deeper in a psychic space he cannot reason out of. I also love the way the repairman’s description has the feel of being created on the spot — we get to witness the transformation of his experience into language.

While the above sounds more like contrasting and less like comparing, I’d say they come from a similar source. But instead of explaining that, let me turn things around a bit — here is the page following “The Emotion Room” in How to Be Happy:

two.jpg

And here, one of my wife’s favorite poems — by the late Russell Edson

“Counting Sheep”

A scientist has a test tube full of sheep. He wonders if he should try to shrink a
pasture for them.

They are like grains of rice.

He wonders if it is possible to shrink something out of existence.

He wonders if the sheep are aware of their tininess, if they have any sense of scale.
Perhaps they think the test tube is a glass barn . . .

He wonders what he should do with them; they certainly have less meat and wool
than ordinary sheep. Has he reduced their commercial value?

He wonders if they could be used as a substitute for rice, a sort of woolly rice . . .

He wonders if he shouldn’t rub them into a red paste between his fingers.

He wonders if they are breeding, or if any of them have died.

He puts them under a microscope, and falls asleep counting them.

I like how Davis uses dialogue — as a kind of flatness, like the description in the first/last panels of “The Emotion Room.” I also admire how her images lead us to “a small mortal man he’d hidden inside his own good, strong body” — but I’d argue the description could almost exist on its own. Jumping to “Counting Sheep,” the line “He wonders if it is possible to shrink something out of existence” makes me want to ask, “I wonder if you could release your emotions like oily toxins from your skin?” I also appreciate what Edson packs into this poem: a celebration of invention and wonder, yes, but also an exploration of our not-so-laudable impulses. And its final line brilliantly melds scientific inquiry of the surreal sort to that age-old mental exercise meant to lull us into unconsciousness.

Clearly I could go on with How to Be Happy — writing this is NOT lulling me to sleep! But I have a Part II to write, on River House

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