“. . .it is characteristic of American genius that the casual eye does not easily distinguish it from charlatanry. Purity of intention lies at the center of American achievement. Modern American writing is about honesty. The American tradition is to offer discovery, not virtuoso performances.”
“A satisfactory novel should be a self-evident sham to which the reader could regulate at will the degree of his credulity.”
“For every ten jokes you acquire a hundred enemies.”
In 2008 I had the idea to write a fiction about a poet that eventually became a novel about poets and poetry as embodied in that poet. I was originally going to call it “The Poet” because I had just seen The Wrestler and it occurred to me that it could have depicted Ted Berrigan’s life if he hadn’t been a poet—an exaggeration, of course, but then hyperbole is the poet’s inkwell.
My models were 18th Century novels, Swift, and Sterne, and somewhat later, that other Irishman, Flann O’Brien. And in the tradition of the picaresque, the peregrinations of Jack Kerouac. I also kept in mind the enigmatic novels of the two Raymonds, Roussel and Queneau. Oh, and the new guy, Bolaño.
It took about a year to get up to speed, compile notes and quotes, , anecdotes and routines. I felt that I had to subvert and eliminate any autobiographical material. It had to be pure fiction, completely made up without a shred of truth, but true to itself and its organic unpredictable development. Such chaos required a structure to contain it, and that structure was a calendar year partitioned into four basic units: a day in the life of, a week in the life of, a month in the life of, and a year in the life of American genius. Given that it is about an older poet whose friends and associates are dead or dying, Ode To Sunset seemed like a fitting title. True, I was given a beginning and an ending in the instant of my determination. I only had to fill the space in between those two points.
As it turns out I have a lot to say about poets and poetry in all its silly confusing aspects that makes the human out of the inhuman in a running commentary (it is a picaresque fiction after all) on all the various self-delusions that go into taking yourself seriously, inevitably failing and being foolish. Who and what is a poet? I can’t claim to have answered that but I spend over six hundred exploring the idea.
I considered the first hard draft complete five years after I started on writing A Year In The Life Of American Genius, in 2013. I then set up the Ode To Sunset site on WordPress and posted the novel in installments, revising and tightening the threads as I went along. I enlisted my friend Robert Feuer, journalist and DJ, to help with proofing and asking the necessary questions. The novel was posted regularly over a two year period, from 2014 to 2016, usually on a monthly basis, although the “week in the life of” section was posted in once-a -week installments. After the entire novel was posted on the Ode To Sunset site, I made the novel available as a draft manuscript pdf file available to anyone who had the curiosity and the energy to give it a try.
Every year or so I reread the novel and invariably catch a few typos or computer edits that grew back or were previously overlooked. Aside from the obvious maintenance, Ode To Sunset seems to get better with age, although that might just be nostalgia on my part. Nuances crop up that were beyond my original imaginings, correspondences crackle as unconscious undercurrents, and not surprisingly reinforce my original intent to write this fiction.
In 2018 I started posting excepts of my poet-centric novel on another blog, Parole, the blog of The New Black Poetry Society. Anyone not eager to dive into all 648 pages of the manuscript can sample bits and pieces on one of the Society’s blog pages by clicking on this link: Ode To Sunset.
Anyone interested in tackling the complete novel can access it here at Ode To Sunset Complete.
Over the years I have also designed several covers for the novel which can be viewed in the gallery below.