It turns out that the pilot who invented skywriting, Art Smith, was from my hometown. I have been working to complete a book of very short stories called The Complete Writing of Art Smith, The Bird Boy of Fort Wayne, edited by Michael Martone. To that end, I have found I have been reading the history of early aviation including a charming biography, Art Smith, Pioneer Aviator by Rachel Sherwood Roberts, and about flight itself. I remember reading William Langewiesche’s individual essays first published in The Atlantic but now have discovered them again in his book Aloft: Thoughts on the Experience of Flight. “The Turn” is quite something.
From airplanes to trains. I love tracking Thomas Sayers Ellis’s posted photos of the Northeast Corridor rail traffic on the facebook’s feed. So when I am traveling myself, I carry with me his mixed consist book of rolling stock, Skin, Inc.: Identity Repair Poems. The book collects some of the fine photos with stunningly sudden graphic word switching. My companion book while moving is Maurice Manning’s new one of poems, The Gone and the Going Away. For me, the significant American drama is the one that pits stability and rootedness against mobility and velocity. While I am moving I like to hold still.
I first worked with Chinelo Okparanta, writing together on the Greek island of Kerkyra. Wait. What? Too long a story to explain here, but it was there, drifting in the Ionian Sea, that I discovered the short stories of Okparanta. The stories are now collected in Happiness, Like Water, and I am very happy indeed. I see again I am drawn to the conflict between the stable and the fluid, place and the displaced. I couple Happiness, Like Water with Katherine Boo’s exquisite reporting of contemporary India, Behind the Beautiful Forever: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. There is no frigate like a book.
Finally, I just want to mention two books I received on my birthday. The Man in the Bowler Hat: His History and Iconography by Fred Miller Robinson that promises to be a fusion of social and cultural history and connects to my other gift book—I asked for it—Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible. Though I am very taken with Tim Gunn’s encyclopedic fashion knowledge, I am more interested in his pedagogy practiced on Project Runway. I like to explore the differences between the workshop’s admonishment that “This doesn’t work” and Mr. Gunn’s suggestion to “Make it work.”
“Make it work,” there is a poem right there.
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