LETTING THE POET SPEAK FOR HIMSELF

I had long been perplexed why my modern American poetry class in the late ’60s had spent so much time on Edwin Arlington Robinson, especially since we never got up to more pressing figures like Kenneth Rexroth, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, or Gary Snyder.

I made a jab at this plaint in my Daffodil Sunrise novel, where our budding photographer was panicking while typing away on his take on Robinson.

More recently, when reworking that manuscript into Daffodil Uprising, I found myself running with the poet more fully.

For one thing, I had to admit he was more contemporary than I’d allowed back in college. His lines and insights are clean, prescient of new approaches, even snippy.

For another, he could be bitter, sarcastic, depressed – as were many beats and budding hippies.

Edwin Arlington Robinson. I still think he looks like a proto-hippie.

His parents themselves weren’t that far from bohemian, either. His mother couldn’t even come up with a name for him, after all, and that fell to a circle of “summer people” visiting Maine. They put names in a hat or whatever and the slip of paper that came up was Edwin. The woman was from Arlington, Massachusetts. Bingo. We have a middle name.

His eldest brother went from being a successful businessman to bankrupt and alcoholic to die in poverty with tuberculosis.

His other brother, a physician, became addicted to morphine and died of what might have been an intentional overdose.

Living the past 31 years in northern New England, I’m now familiar with the culture Robinson grew up within. Gardiner, Maine, is a few hours up the road from us. I have friends whose roots are there.

Without giving a spoiler, let me say Robinson is now an active figure in the new novel. He infuses some wonderful, if sardonic, perspectives to the younger generation, and becomes a foil for similar spirits from the Edwardian past that sway the photographer’s girlfriend, too.

Would he talk this way, though? Who knows.

By now we’re dealing with fantasy, anyway, and that’s so unlike the concrete details of his verse. Again, we’ll excuse ourselves with poetic license.

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LIVING IN MULBERRY ROW

As writers, most of us start with particulars we’ve known and try our best to abstract them – that is, make them more universal.

The dorm quad I now call Mulberry Row in my novel Daffodil Uprising is loosely based on one where I lived, though there was none of the clandestine financial intrigue I create to symbolize the old-boy network and its manipulative contortions. No, when I lived there, it was all simply a tad dowdy.

The dining hall, too, was far from the gloriously remodeled Annenberg Hall in Harvard’s great Memorial Hall – everyone who peeks in seems to utter something about Hogwarts – but it had its own low-key potential.

When I drafted the earlier novel, I had no idea what was about to happen in reality. The quad has since been renovated and refocused. From this distance, it all looks pretty exciting, actually.

I’ll assume the fictional benefactor Mildred Chouthonian would be proud.

My room was at the corner of the building at the right, in the center of this photo.

 

The dining hall looks much more modest all these years later, but it’s definitely been spiffed up.

TEN WAYS THIS ‘DAFFODIL’ IS NEW AND IMPROVED

My new novel Daffodil Uprising is a meatier, more emotional work than its earlier incarnation, Daffodil Sunrise.

Here are ten reasons.

  1. The people and events are now seen from Cassia’s perspective. Just look at her snide commentary for amusement and relief. Really.
  2. Many of the characters have been renamed, starting with the one who would become her father in What’s Left. They’re more fully developed, for sure. In the previous version, the dorm inmates ran as a pack. Now they’re spread out by age and interests, and three of them serve as wise elders for the newbies.
  3. Her father’s reasons for coming east to Indiana are more clearly defined. As a photographer, he’s part of a fast-track program in the fine arts.
  4. Two new characters introduce elements of fantasy and paranormal. The Victorian elements in the earlier version are now amplified.
  5. The focus in now more on their emotions in reaction to the happenings.
  6. The story is now character-driven, more than erupting from the plot.
  7. This is about boyz, especially, trying to make sense of a confusing world, even before they get to the girls.
  8. This version, for all of its light playfulness, is now more baroque and brooding. That matter of loving a flower child, for one, is far more difficult than you might imagine. Or, for her, that matter of sticking with someone as flawed as Cassia’s future father could produce a really baffling relationship.
  9. More dark sides of the era are introduced. It’s not just early questions about vampires or ghosts on the campus, but the violent fringe of the time, too. Just what are they to make of the protest bombings or the drug overdoses, for instance? Or their failure to live up to the responsibilities of living together?
  10. This is clearly focused on the Sixties rather than reaching out into what would come after. It’s the making of a hippie, in particular. Hey, just don’t blame him.

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ONE WAY TO NAME A CHARACTER

Those highway signs can often take on whimsical readings.

One poetry journal, for instance, took its name from an exit marker of the Interstate crossing from Pennsylvania into Maryland: Northwest Rising Sun. It was for two different towns. Everybody knows the sun rises in the east, not the west. Still, a great name. It pays to be alert.

Likewise, orchestral conductor David Zinman was recording with humorist P.D.Q. Bach (in real life, Peter Schickele) but found his contract with another label prohibited him from using his own name on this project. What could he use instead? Inspiration struck when he was driving on Route 128 outside Boston. That exit sign read Newton Wayland.

More recently, while updating and seriously revising my previously published novels, I set about renaming many of the characters for a better fit.

I’ve passed this sign hundreds of times and often thought it sounded great as a possible character, if only I had the right situation. And then, as I reworked the volume that now stands as Daffodil Uprising, I had the perfect guy to go by the name: LEE MADBURY.

The sign along U.S. Route 4.

 

 

TIME TO BLOW THE DUST OFF A FEW STACKS

As my wife and I started listing what’s keeping us busy these days, we were both surprised to find that one thing – one important thing – was missing.

What we both realized is that regular reading … as in books … had been pressed out of our schedules.

Instead, we’ve been doing bits and pieces of reading online. It’s just not the same as luxuriating in a deep volume.

How about you?

REWORKING A TEXT

When several of our lifeguards were complaining about their high-school term papers and having to meet the length requirements, I decided to show them a couple pages of my novel in progress, the book that’s emerged as What’s Left.

They were blown away.

It wasn’t any different from what I’ll assume all serious writers do. Just look at the examples in the Paris Review’s acclaimed author interviews. I remember my own shock at the first few I saw – what, we don’t write flawlessly the first time? Oh, the folly of youth!

Well, nowadays we don’t always work from typescript or even printouts – what I showed the teens-to-whom-I-fully-trusted-my-life had now become the exception. I should have photographed some for posterity but instead trashed them during a purging of my studio under the rafters.

Few readers imagine how thoroughly a serious writer or editor will rework a text – major sentences, even paragraphs, are struck out, new words and notes are scribbled everywhere, even fresh pages of inserts are taped to one side or the other of the page.

Tell them this is from the fifth or seventh revision of the manuscript, they’re even more incredulous. The discarded material is a flood compared to the drop or two they struggle to compose.

As the saying goes, inspiration goes in the first draft, genius comes in the revisions.

As we might add, if one’s lucky.

TEN WAYS THIS ‘DAFFODIL’ IS NEW

My newest novel, Daffodil Uprising, is a thorough revision of the earlier Daffodil Sunrise. Nearly half of the original book has been excised and replaced by twice that amount of new material, for good reason.

Here are ten of the big differences.

  1. The events and characters are now seen through the eyes and snarky voice of Kenzie’s daughter a generation later. They are Cassia’s discoveries about her father’s college years in the turbulent 1960s, pro and con.
  2. As the subtitle says, the focus is on the making of a hippie. The college and its good-old-boy network of abusive power and greed earn much of the blame.
  3. Kenzie’s growth as a budding photographer gets fuller attention, along with his artistic advances. It’s his basic reason for coming to Daffodil, after all.
  4. His girlfriend is a much more complex and troubled creature. She has good cause to be chafing in her relationship with him. And he, in contrast, is so truly naïve. Something’s got to give.
  5. Most of the characters have been renamed and are more uniquely defined. They and their actions have new grounding in everyday life.
  6. Kenzie’s buddies are no longer a pack of emerging radicals in action but rather a lineup of widely varied boyz stumbling along in a confounding environment. His dorm’s underground traditions are handed down through a band of quirky seniors and juniors who serve as wise elders and guides to neophyte freshmen like Kenzie. It’s a colorful crew – one that teaches him as much or more than his professors, in fact.
  7. The narrative’s giddy, upbeat, and sometimes sophomoric youthful optimism is now countered by darker forces of oppressive greed, violence, and despair. Bad drug trips and protest bombings accompany the scene.
  8. There’s now an element of Goth. This is a college campus, after all. Why should Hogwarts be all that different?
  9. There’s also a strand of the paranormal. You ever live in a creepy old apartment building or have the subject of a term paper start talking back to you?
  10. The work now stands in fuller correlation with What’s Left, a generation later, and the two other novels that follow him after college.
Daffodil Uprising

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