Sunday, June 22, 2008

All over Alex

Way back in the spring, I started to read The Rest is Noise, a history of twentieth-century music by the delectably wordy Alex Ross. (The man knows more words than I do! How can I not go weak in the knees?) The book was excellent, but about 70 pages in, I put it down. I can't remember the exact reason, but I think my attention may have strayed to Michael Chabon, another delectably wordy man who had the further attraction of stringing his words into fictional narrative. Phew. Is it hot in here?

On Friday, I returned to Alex. Since then, I've been wandering around in a Ross-induced stupor, swilling chapter after chapter. I like to keep the book within visual range. I like to retire with it to bed.

This is more serious than mere word-lust. It took me a while to figure out what was happening, but reading The Rest is Noise kicks up the same itch behind my ears I get when I read poetry. In fact, I've had to relinquish Alex to the mid-century American avant garde in order to go hammer out a strange question and answer poem about Strauss. Typically I write poetry when I read poetry, not when I read what gives?

What gives is the peculiar genius of The Rest is Noise, which is that, for all its footnotes and historical anecdotes, it's essentially a collection of poetry. Like poetry, narrative is replaced by narrative fragments, hints at larger stories. Like poetry, elements are collected and brought into contact with one another so that the correspondences and disjunctions between them are evident. As in poetry, the author isn't so much creating as discovering, holding up to the light some hunk of the world.

Poetry, much more so than prose, is about listening. I'll listen with you anytime, Alex.

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