By Ian MacAllen on Thursday, November 8th, 2012 at 4:41 pm
Despite the heavy wet snow, the turnout at The Strand required staff to unfold extra seats. The main event was Rebecca Dinerstein’s book of poetry, Lofoten, a collection written above the arctic circle during a year living in Norway. Adam Wilson’s novel, Flatscreen, was released in February of this year.
Wilson started off the event. As he took the stage he began with some self deprecating humor, the same sort of humor present throughout his novel. His narrator’s voice closely resembles Wilson’s. His performance is obviously well practiced. He reads with the cadence of a poet. His written prose is often short, often fragmented. But in performance, the words flow naturally and with rhythm more similar to lyrical poetry than prose. This is not an accident, he’ll explain later.
Wilson read the first chapter from his book. The Strand requires a book purchase to attend events. I picked up Wilson’s book, the novel, and read for the first few chapters waiting for the reading to begin. Wilson’s performance certainly enhances his prose, but even without his voice, the novel reads quickly, paced well, either because of or despite the sometimes technically imperfect prose. Still, the narrative manages these unexpected grammatical choices with humor, a way of carrying the text even when the prose is broken.
Rebecca Dinerstein then takes the stage exuding a certain kind of confident innocence. She is young, and all this–publishing, reading, performance–seems still to awe rather than tire her. She is appreciative. She begins by explaining that Lofoten is divided into the light and the dark, much like the seasons north of the arctic circle where the collection was written. In winter, perpetual night is broken only by a hazy dawn and summer is a manic expression daylight.
The first poem she reads is dedicated to the last letter of the Norwegian alphabet: Å. This letter is only found in the Norwegian alphabet, she explains.
She reads the poem “Crescents”, first in Norwegian and then in English. The collection is presented this way, as a dual language book. Spoken Norwegian comes across like a drunken pixie attempting to sing but caught constantly mid-hiccup. (This is not a slight to Dinerstein, but rather on the whole of the Norwegian language). From there, she reads a poem dedicated to a dog.
When she concludes, Wilson joins her onstage to lead her in conversation. He starts off asking about her, since his copy of her book has her biographical information exclusively in Norwegian. She grew up on 9th Street, in Manhattan and then escaped to the solitude of Norway after finishing at Yale. Dinerstein explains that she had received a grant to write nothing but poetry for a year (she admitted to cheating and writing some). She took up residence in an artist colony populated by one other person, a painter, Olf. The colony, a former insane asylum, could have housed many more than two, and she ended up with entire floor to herself. The long corridor she lived in had dozens of empty rooms — and empty bathrooms, each of which she tried out, just like Goldilocks.
Wilson then says that both the book of poems and his novel have a common theme of isolation running throughout. For him, his novel came from a time living with his parents, imagining “people who grew up on the internet, on television, without any understand of having social connections.” Dinerstein’s isolation comes from a different place. She arrived in an alien world, unable to ski, unable to ride a bike and disliking fish — the three tenets of Nordic society.
The audience then had a chance to ask the authors questions. In response to a question about the inspiration for his novel, Wilson explained that his narrator is “who I might have turned out to be if I hadn’t gotten my shit together.”
The poetic cadence of Wilson’s performance also came up. His primary interest is in language, a point evident in reading Flatscreen. He enjoys pushing language around, abusing it, and creating sounds. Still, he says he is “not a good poet.” He reads a lot of poetry and allows hiphop to influence him.
Finally, in the most unexpected twist, Wilson cited Paul Beatty, author of the novel, The White Boy Shuffle, as influential in his own writing and use of language. Beatty’s narrative follows the story of a young black kid moving from an affluent neighborhood to a poor one, fitting in nowhere, but then achieving success in sports and in poetry. The White Boy Shuffle is a text concerned with defining personal identity, both in terms of race and class, an odd source for Wilson given his character’s solid status as a white, middle class loafer.
Rebecca Dinerstein and Adam Wilson
Adam Wilson reads from his novel Flatscreen
Rebecca Dinerstein reads from her collection of poems, Lofoten
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