Albany Journal – 7/12/12

I went to the Wirters Institute last night not expecting much.  But I found something much better – Rossana Warren and her wonderful, skillful poetry, and Margot Livesey’s incredibly well-written novel.  The writer Honor Moore introduced Warren, and as it turned out, I found Warren’s work to  rely upon the postulates and axioms of sound, bringing nature and its sounds together to form the basis of her poetry.  It’s amazing, because never have I known that there are so many types of trees and types of plants and flowers before, and the way Warren pens it, they all make some sort of natural sound in the forest -consonance and assonace  and aliteration for the incredible soundwave that comforted the audience with soothing and clear words.  I recall how my poet friend Robert Milby from Orange County, New York, who took me to the trails in the Catskill forest and showed me each tree, plant, and shrub, and identified them by name.  I figure it is wise for the poet to know the names of all of these natural wonders, because more often than not, natural settings tend to attract the poet into writing all about them.  Similarly, Warren’s work is really heavy with nature – its sounds and its many parts.  I never expected a poet to take me by surprise, but Rossana Warren’s work really did that.  It was a pleasure listening to her.

Margot Livesey similarly uses poetry to write her novels.  Like Warren’s work, Livesey writes in the same style, but much of it is centered on character and plot – as a novel should be – rather than poetry.  She too used all types of plants and flowers in her work to describe country landscapes and the terribleness of what happens to a young child when she is shipped to live with another part of family.  Livesey said in the middle of her reading that she wanted her work to be a literary conversation with Charlotte Bronte, and from the country landscapes of Scotland in her novel, I believe she succeeds in delivering the sensibility of Bronte along with the secrets kept by the underlings of manor homes that inform us of how terrible it is for the young child she creates.  It really was a privilege to hear her, and when I mean ‘hear her,’ I also mean listening to her for a change instead of her words going in my one ear and out the other.

I did feel a little awkward being by myself at the reading.  The usual faces of Don Faulkner, Mark, and Suzanne from the Writers Institute administration were not there, which means that they are probably resting up for William Kennedy’s reading which should come really soon.  I think a lot of people are looking forward to that.  Kennedy is one of those bare-boned novelists.  He must find literary tricks a writerly cop-out, as he usually writes in the new, contemporary style that he has learned, but with the usual muscular prose that he has been accustomed to using.  Unfortunately, I will be missing Kennedy read this summer.  Maybe next summer.

I’ve also come to know that a lot of the real hard-core and active book readers these days is women.  I think the ratio of women to men at last night’s reading was about 3:1.  I think they’ve overtaken the industry, and for a lot of us writers, perhaps there is no hope unless we begin to appeal directly to this audience.  Women are strong advocate of reading, which certainly helps a great deal, but I don’t think they respond well to strong male writers.  It used to be that meny men were writers and readers.  But nowadays, one has to be sensitive enough as a female to get something through.  Believe me, I’m not criticizing women here, but what I am criticizing is how men are no longer readers as they have become  masters of science – things like construction, math, engineering, and generally hard physical labor, and especially these days – soldiers.  Men definitely don’t read books anymore, or at least the men I know, and it gets to be somewhat lonely being a male-author writing against the tide of feminization.  Sometimes it gets too much, but I certainly can’t criticize how females have brightened up the literary scene.  It’s a question of – would you like your house neat and clean, or do you want to leave it a dirty mess?  Hint: Most men would leave their rooms messy.

Well, in other news, Lisa hasn’t called me back after I left a couple of phone messages.  I figure it’s kind of over for us romantically, as she wants to be friends anyway – just friends being the clue that I should really move on, which is what I plan to do.  Lisa and I will always be friends, though, since it is definitely a plus to have female friends.  It’s supposed to be another hot 90 degree day today, and my day, in fact, hasn’t really started just yet.  I got up really early in the morning, and then I fell asleep after having a bite to eat, and suddenly it’s the afternoon.  I do have plenty of work to do, as Hans Laverge emailed me my newly-edited manscript and outlined changes that need to be made.  Even though Hans never went to writing school at all, and is instead a global business man, he is so sharp and well-educated in novels.   The comments that he sent me were right on target, and so it will take me a while to revise the work.  Revision has never been my forte, but now I definitely have to wrestle with the manuscript and change plenty of things.  It is a long novel after all, so it will take me a lot of time.  I’m not going anywhere soon anyway.  ‘I’m producing time,’ as they say on the African continent – but this time I’m filling it with work.

Harvey Havel is the author of five novels. This past spring, Stories from the Fall of the Empire, his sixth book and his first collection of short stories, was recently released by Publish America. Later this summer, Two Tickets to Memphis, his sixth novel, is forthcoming from Publish America as well. Havel has previously taught Writing at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey and also at SUNY Albany and the College of St. Rose, both in Albany, New York. Born in Lahore, Pakistan in 1971, Havel now resides full time in Albany, New York.