It was such an honor when jubilat's Rob Casper, Christian Hawkey, Michael Teig and Kelly LeFave chose to reprint THE LOST EPIC OF ARTHUR DAVIDSON FICKE, The Author's Annotations, Commentary, & Notes of Reference for A Millennium's Teardrop
(rescued by James Tate and Dara Wier). We were fond of our little book.
Originally published by Waiting for Godot Books in 1999 (Francine Ness and Gary Oleson, since 1979 have collected and sold first editions of 19th and 20th Century and rare photographs, located in Hadley, Massachusetts, you can visit their collection by appointment) in several iterations ranging from deluxe (limited to 130 copies) to trade (250 copies), designed, printed and hand bound by the fine book designer Carol J. Blinn of Warwick Press in Easthampton, Massachusetts. The little books or booklets are beautiful, with extravagantly well-made insides and outsides, the deluxe edition with gold leaf swirling through its marbled wrappers.
For several years and especially during the decade of the 1990s it had become almost the rule that close to all poetry books would come with their own pages of "Notes." These would often reveal the poet's sources, or the poet's recent or lasting influences, or the poet's predilections or prejudices, philosophical affinities or aesthetic allegiances.
Sometimes these might go on for several pages making up on their own a kind of prose addendum commenting on or somehow or other maginifying interest in the poems preceding. Because so many of these books-ending-in-notes were in the air, on our shelves, in our hands, before our eyes, we felt the sensation one feels when one observes a kind of genre of its own deserving exclusive attention. The didactic* prose sub-genre of the Note.
So we decided to write a book of notes for a book we'd never read, much less written, composed or otherwise experienced, and a book which would in all likelihood never be written. We didn't talk about the imaginary book for which we were going to be writing notes. We didn't settle on anything. We didn't suggest or hint or point or nudge or imply or lead one way or another. We parted ways, aiming directly to write notes.
A little bit this reminds me of the game "dictionary" and another unnamed game I used to play with friends, one in which we made up the first sentences of novels. I know of some people who do something like this in a game involving inventing imaginary first lines for poems.
We had our assignments but we didn't know much about what our assignments were for. We had a vague sense of the form: everybody knows how "notes" attached to the ends of books can sound, from extremely flat and formal, to egregiously and unnecessarily didactic and everything both and in between. Sometimes it's a great luxury to have something to write for no reason much beyond writing it. Of course, often what starts out with this superficial freedom from the dictates of content, changes along the way. An inkling maybe just barely begins to situate itself among one's infinitely open and seemingly random choices. Meaning creeps up on you, and there's no stopping it, not that you would necessarily want to stop it anyway.
We split up, headed to our separate studies, and we started writing our notes. One thing about how we were writing in those days was how we could always hear one another typing; we both used IBM Selectrics (Jim's was brown, mine was blue) and as everyone knows they are extremely loud machines. Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam bam. Even the sound the machine makes as it's turned on feels like the originating flourish of a consequential action. And announcement. Some kind of fanfare. An ignition. And then the just barely slightly humming not quite silence just deep enough to be felt in one's blood, just around and in one's heart, a very very fine buzzing in one's brain, while the machine's sitting there, eventually beckoning impatiently, waiting for you to do something with it it was meant to do.
When actual typing began at first it was sound as if one had just exploded over a starting line.
Compared to almost inaudible laptops, a Selectric's character and personality is loud, insistent, tenacious. A Selectric wants to be so much more in on the action, acknowledged, and so much more actively present. Working with a Selectric is so much more like it than working on a Selectric.
So we did. We wrote for a few hours, able to hear one another exploding into starting a little, then stop, pause, idle around, machine humming, pretty soon interrupted by rock solid non stop key knocking bursts, sometimes a rush, more often a steady slightly inundating intermittent unceasing mindless recording.
(I don't know about mindless) (more like unconscious, in the way we like to say when we are doing something we long to be doing and like to be doing, we say we get lost in what we're doing)
And then one of us turned off our machine and walked downstairs. And later, so would the other of us follow. We exchanged pages. We read what each of us had written. We had a smoke. We returned to our typewriters, we wrote some more. It was a lot of fun doing this kind of writing, it was an interlude, just something to do for some reason we didn't know much about until one or the other one didn't want to do this anymore.
And so it went on for about a day and a half when we agreed we had plenty enough notes to go around. For some reason I no longer remember we decided to cut our pages up into individual slips, one note per slip, shuffle them up all together, lay them out on the dining room table and see what they seemed to be saying.
We didn't talk about what we were doing. We watched. And then we assigned one another the job of writinga a preface and a postscript. We returned to our separate rooms, exchanged pages and completed each piece without comment.
And that's how THE LOST EPIC came to be. Not anything big or fancy, pretty modest really, but a real delight to write, we agreed about that. So much so we immediately thought we should do another something or other together. We were going to call it MURDER IN PET FOOD CITY. I think one of us wrote a sentence or two, one of us followed that up with another sentence, and that was that; we never officially collaborated again.
*didactic, not as in pedantic, ha, more so as in the name of the panels or placards attached to the walls of museums, some useful, it's nice to know dates, it can even be good to know locations from which a piece is on loan when it is on loan, some maddeningly backward or crude