Saturday, January 29, 2011
Vulnerability and Awe and Trouble
Here's more of that Q&A with Jim Cihlar (see previous post for more):
J.C. Critics have praised the poetic quality of your prose style, calling it dreamy, lush, and evocative. The first chapter of The Burning House was first published as a poem in The Literary Review and on Verse Daily. You use techniques commonly associated with poetry: ellipsis, imagery, and compression. How do the two genres inform each other?
P.L. I'm not very good at sticking to my category. My MFA is in fiction, but I mostly hung out with the poets back then. With a few exceptions, I still hang out with the poets. I love the attention that poetry asks of its readers--you can't read a poem with one eye on the Twitter feed. It asks for complete immersion. It's a bit of puzzle, a problem. You must work. You are implicated in that work. And I love the space it gives to the reader. A good poem doesn't tell you how to think and feel. It honors ambiguity, contradiction. I've always wanted to write prose that does those things.
J.C. Your books honestly portray human sexuality wherever and whenever it occurs, even in unconventional instances. In The Burning House we see the sex-lives of high-school sweethearts as they enter middle age. Isidore’s attraction to his wife’s sister may be a metaphor for nostalgia, but it is also an accurate snapshot of how the body thinks. Perhaps due to our Puritanical origins, American literature hasn’t always deglamorized sex, and yet your characters’ matter-of-fact attitudes makes desire normative, neither ignoring nor enhancing its relevance to other aspects of the human experience. Is this a conscious mission in your writing?
P.L. I think we've all read the kind of fiction that pretends desire is a little less interesting than tying our shoes in the morning. A tasteful ellipses, an excuse to clear our throats, something hurried through, subordinate to the drama at hand. I do think most of us care about our sex lives more than we're willing to admit, and I want to make sure I make a space for all that. It would be dishonest not to do that. I don't have a particular agenda, but I am interested in the whole unwieldy, interior nature of it: theater of vulnerability and awe and trouble.