Guest Blog by Barry Marks: When Someone is moved by your writing but doesn't get what you intended to communicate

Guest Blog by Barry Marks: When Someone is moved by your writing but doesn't get what you intended to communicate

The fact is, once we throw a word or any sort of communication into the wind, whether at someone specific or not, we no longer control it. Each receiver can find things in it, consciously intended or not, that I think are every bit as valid (and “true”) as what the transmitter THOUGHT he/she intended.

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An interview with Barry Marks

Dividing by Zero cover - designed by megan cary

Negative Capability Press is happy to announce the release of Dividing by Zero by Barry Marks – Birmingham, Alabama attorney and author of the 2010 Eric Hoffer Award Finalist Sounding.

Dividing by Zero is a a riveting volume of poems, stories and narratives that weave a complex tale about a man, Raymond Shaw, who commits suicide and his daughter L. The unique structure, which Marks uses to tell both L. and Raymond's story, is inspired by the Talmud – the Jewish Rabbinic text that contains statements of religious law, case histories and interpretative notes on each page. 

This title is available through your local independent bookstore via IndieBound or on Amazon.com and will soon be available for distribution through SPD (Small Press Distribution).  

Barry, Negative Capability Press is proud to publish Dividing By Zero.  I think a lot of our readers would be interested in learning more about the book, especially your thoughts about the process as you wrote it.  

We don't usually ask this about poetry books, but what is Dividing By Zero about?

 Well, it isn't exactly a poetry book and there is a story. A daughter finds her father's unpublished poems, work he never shared. She resolves to publish it along with a strange narrative he left about his life and her own stories and memories of life with him.

The book combines poetry, fiction and personal remembrances. Did it start out that way?

Yes and no. Years ago, I was introduced to the Talmud, a centuries-old rabbinic text in which each page contains a statement of religious law and case history, augmented with commentary in the margins by half-a-dozen rabbis and scholars.

That seemed to me to be a wonderful way to express something difficult to describe, be it the law or human experience. How can we state the "truth" unless we can see it from many perspectives at once. A sort of written cubism seems necessary to address the mystery of truth.

 As I assembled poetry for a new book, I kept feeling that something was missing and that there should be more than just poems. One day, I remembered the Talmud and it mushroomed from there. I decided I wanted to present multiple points of view, but more than that, multiple modes of written communication, not only poetry and what it can share, but fiction and its allegorical message and narratives with their often flawed perspectives.

The poems are at first funny, then increasingly thoughtful and finally downright somber. Are you saying that this is how life is?

 No. Bear in mind that the conceit is that the poets daughter assembled these poems. In some ways, the order reflects what she saw her father's life and her hopeful belief that he became more empathetic at the end of his life.

Tell the truth, are you Raymond?

I hope not. Who we are and what we are really like is best told by those who love us. Ask my children, especially my youngest daughter.

You say in your preface that none of your characters resemble real people and none of the events described in the book ever happen. Yet you call this a true story. How can that be?

This goes to the heart of the book. As it developed, I realized that I was trying to tell a story not by a simple first or third person narrative, but by the emotions, perceptions and reactions to experiences of the characters.

 If I ask you "what did you do today?" You will say, "I got up slowly,  ate breakfast, was late for work but got there before the boss noticed." But what you experienced was not just those factual events. No one stood behind you saying, "You're up, you are eating, you are rushing to work..."

What you experienced was more like: sleepy....awake...disoriented....hungry... full...anxious... scared....relieved." In fact, it might be more accurate to tell a story about a knight who awakens from a witch's spell, shakes his hunger with food from a basket left by fleeing peasants, thinks himself in a strange kingdom where he does battle with a fire-snorting dragon with a great glass eye, who he vanquishes without realizing that he is in the present and he has done battle with a bus.

 Of course that is a silly story that has nothing to do with what actually "happened" but is it really like what you experienced in many ways?

 Cliché alert: I am asking for your definition of truth.

Would you call this book experimental?  I am thinking here of some of the work published in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing, edited by Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith.  Your book makes exciting use of typography in portraying the worlds of father and daughter.

 When I hear that word, I think of a confusing, boring, book that is either academic or downright impossible to understand. I hope this book is fun, accessible and worthwhile whether or not the reader "gets" what I am trying to do.

 As I assembled poetry for a new book, I kept feeling that something was missing and that there should be more than just poems. One day, I remembered the Talmud and it mushroomed from there.

In the case of your book, I’m sure your realize that from the process form initial manuscript to finished product was not a quick one.  We went through many edits and back and forth exchanges in terms of content and format.  Would you please comment on the revision aspect of editing and publishing?

This book was in many ways a collaborative effort, which is how the editorial process should work. After talking to you and seeing your comments, I rethought the format (there were four elements at one time, instead of three) and at a couple of points, had to ask myself what I was really trying to do. Even when I disagreed, rethinking and responding to challenge made it a better book. 

Part of the challenge was the fact that the format demanded synchronization of poems, stories and narratives. I didn't want them to be too close. I did not want the narrative to explain the corresponding poem or what was going on as one or the other was written. Remember that this is L. assembling her father's work and her own and I didn't want it to look contrived. Nevertheless, when a poem was deleted or replaced, I often had to reorganize the narratives and stories around it.

 I have to tell you a funny story. Just as I thought I was done, about 6 months ago, I read a book on Maxwell Perkins, the Scribners editor who guided Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe, Lardner and others. While I didn't fancy myself one of those guys, reading about the torturous rewrites, and passionate arguments made me feel terribly guilty. I put the book away for a month, came back to it and dropped, moved or revised 30% of what I thought was perfect. 

Emily Dickinson is dead.  We can’t sit back and assume that even after we cease to be, someone will pull poems from our dresser drawers and gift them to the world.  How important do you think social media and marketing is to the poet today?

 It depends on what the poet wants. Once again, I'll turn to the book. If we want to be Raymond and put our work in drawers, then we deserve what we get out of it. If we care enough to want to share, if we want to be really serious about doing our best, then having it read is important. 

Sure, you can get carried away. I detest social media and marketing my work sometimes feels degrading. But when I read to an appreciative audience, I can see what works and what doesn't and really hear myself for the first time. When someone I don't know writes to me or stops by a reading and gives me feedback, I feel less like a strange little man hiding away scribbling and more like an artist true to both his craft and his humanity. OK, that was inflated, but if we don't get our work out there we risk being Raymond.

Now, Barry, what next?  Do you have thoughts about what directions you want your writing to take?  

Of course, I have a couple of dozen new poems, one or two of which are pretty good. ( You know, the book contains less than 10% of what I wrote during the period since my prior book was published). I may do another book of poetry in a couple of years.

I'm still toying with the idea of a book that combines poetry with experience/commentary/prose - perhaps more directly related than DBZ and more Talmudic. It would take a lot of work and I would want a serious, action-heavy plot. I have the first chapters and/or outlines of several novels I never got around to.

On the other hand, I'm working on a chapbook of minimalist, visual and funny very short poems. Really stupid stuff. I may let that part of my brain take over for a while!

John Crowley's Birthday

DECEMBER 1: NEGATIVE CAPABILITY celebrates the first day of December, 2014. It is John Crowley’s birthday. He was born this day in 1942. He is a writer of science fiction and fantasy as well as mainstream fiction. Perhaps his best-known novel is Little Big. Crowley is also a Documentary film-maker.

“The Universe is Time’s being,” he says. Negative Capability thinks about time and it’s passing as we begin a new month and into the celebrations of the season. We have gathered some of Crowley’s quotes as we ponder our “walkings-up” and greet the months unexpected surprising.

“There was after all no mystery in the end of love, no mystery but the mystery of love itself, which was large certainly but as real as grass, as natural and unaccountable as bloom and branch and their growth.”
― John Crowley, Little, Big

“Time, I think, is like walking backward away from something: say, from a kiss. First there is the kiss; then you step back, and the eyes fill up your vision, then the eyes are framed in the face as you step further away; the face then is part of a body, and then the body is framed in a doorway, then the doorway framed in the trees beside it. The path grows longer and the door smaller, the trees fill up your sight and the door is lost, then the path is lost in the woods and the woods lost in the hills. Yet somewhere in the center still is the kiss. That's what time is like.”
― John Crowley, Engine Summer

“But life is wakings-up, all unexpected, all surprising.”
― John Crowley, Little, Big

A Thanksgiving Cento


(A Cento by Sue Walker)

Thanks for
Bells with their stentorian tongues,
the relic of a summer barely gone,
river fog, wandrin’ damp and pathless under a flower moon,
goldfish, frogs, and lilies and wild plum thickets.

Thanks for
Ham and roast turkey, stuffed eggs and watermelon pickles,
old warriors, vests covered with patches,
a gypsy dressed in dreams wearing a white cat,
a drawer of tarnished knives.

Thanks for
A time before airboats and outsiders,
a soft urgency for sleep,
the tracery each beat and breath provides;
may I never be ungrateful for any shelter, any mouthful of
food or sip of water, any friendly gesture, any offer
of help, any touch of understanding.

Thanks for
Whatever comes of love,
kerosene, gasoline, Maybelline, Vaseline,
beads, brass, candlesticks, cotton sheets,
the sound of Anglo-Saxon laced with Latin.

Thanks for
The calm font of gentleness
when I had given up looking;
I wanted you to kiss me
on the street going to a store.

Thanks for
Belief in the infinite scheme of things
when times like lifted faces changed so slow,
little cataracts of blue ice in the stream gully
for the heart that waits.

Thanks for
The radio controlled turbo race car,
memory more satisfying than cold fried chicken
flowers and silk, girlish folderol
and earrings big as moons.

Thanks for
Gulps from a sun-warmed hose
small bubbles of sound,
mothers, fathers, siblings, lovers—
Ah! Suzette, Suzette.

Thanks for
Hot metal down South: beer cans, oil cans, tin trailers,
rusty barrels of smoking fish,
the gradual acceleration of a bird,
an octant for navigating by the stars
and the whole world looked new-made.

Thanks for
The peach overcome by her own sweet juices
one moment at a time,
reminiscences, poignant memories,
Eudaemonia, the concept Aristotle spent much of his Nicomachaen Ethics discussing.

1. Michael Bassett: “In the Forest of Whispers,” Hatchery of Tongues
2. Vivian Smallwood,:“And Finding No Mouse There,” And Finding No Mouse There.
3. Charles Rodning: Waitin’ ‘Round the Bend
4. J. William Chambers: Collage

5. Joseph L. Whitten: “Remember Rosella Gossett Winkler After Christmas Dinner,” Learning to Tell Time
6. Mary Elizabeth Murphy: “Reflecting Faces, Blama.
7. Philip C. Kolin: “Lunar Equations,” Departures.
8. Lissa Kiernan: “The Thinning” Two Faint Lines In The Violet

9. John Davis, Jr.: Everglades Requiem,” Middleclass American Proverb.
10. Maureen Alsop: “A Willow Tree And often, A River,” Later, Knives & Trees
11. Jim Murphy: “Almost Georgic, Alabama,” The Uniform House
12. John J. Brugaletta: “Itadakimasu,” With My Head Rising Out of the Water

13. Mary Carol Moran: “Vincent Implores Her Husband,” Equivocal Blessings
14. Pat Schneider: “Mama,” Wake Up Laughing
15. Melissa Dickson: “Fourteen Fragmented Quatrains,” Sweet Aegis
16. Michael Bugeja: “Little Dragons,” Little Dragons.

17. Robert Gray: “Sermon on the Mount, Circa 2008,” Jesus Walks the Southland
18. Barry Marks: ‘Finding You,” Sounding
19. Irene Latham: “New Year’s Eve, 1988,” What Came Before
20. Kathleen Thompson: “raising rails,” The Nights, The Days

21. Harry Myers: “Hang Loose,” Let Your Mind Run Free
22. Maurice Gandy: “An Old Mobilian,” An Uncharted Inch
23. Shanan Ballam: “The Porcupine,” Pretty Marrow
24. Vivian Shipley: “No Anesthesia,” Fair Haven

25. Roger Granet: “Christmas Eve,” The World’s A Small Town
26. P.T. Paul: “Cold Fried Chicken In Cadillac Square,” To Live and Write in Dixie
27. Mark J. Mitchell: “She Says Good-Bye To A Hat,” Three Visitors
28. Patricia Harkins-Pierre: “Aunt Janet’s Legs” Prophets of Morning Light

29. Clela Reed: “Five-Thirty,” The Hero of the Revolution Serves Us Tea
30. Sue Scalf: “Star Gazer,” To Stitch A Summer Sky
31. Lloyd Dendinger: “Freud,” Autumn Legacy
32. Clavin Andre Claudel: “Ah! Suzette.” Louisiana Creole Poems

33. Carolyn Page: “Stump Sound Hollow”; Barn Flight.
34. Alison Touster-Reed: “A Little Box of Us,” Bodies
35. Diane Gardner: “Boy With Spinning Top,” Measures to Movements
36. Richard Moore: The Mouse Whole

37. Louie Skipper: “The Other Kind of Silence Left By Wind.” To Speak This Tongue
38. Alexis Saunders: “ The Truth is . . . “ A Place Never Imagined
39. Nicholas Rinaldi: “”Bunker Wedding,” The Luffwaffe En Chaos
40. James Walker, Thoughts On High School & Beyond