Sarah Avery (dr_pretentious) wrote,
Sarah Avery

Sorry We Are Sold Out Of Sad Little Breathing Machine

No, that sign wasn't from a medical supply shop run by recent immigrants. It was from the booksellers' tent at the poetry festival. The unlikely combination of words moved me to buy Mattea Harvey's second book, which has the equally unlikely title Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form.

Good titles ought to be rewarded. Remember when Cornel West's Race Matters came out, how every academic press sprinted to get some book out there with a rip-off title? Gender Matters, Empire Matters, whatever, they all looked like interchangeable fakes to me. A book should have a name of its own--a name such that, were there a single index of all the titles to all the written works in human history, a reader who had read your book but forgotten its name would recognize the right one immediately. The feminist essayist Carol Queen is a master of naming. Once you've read the table of contents in Real Live Nude Girl, you can see it.

Naturally, I bought more books than I meant to while I was at the poetry festival. A dozen new volumes. When am I going to read them? No clue. Don't care. The book I'm most excited about is a selected poems of Ko Un, Korea's preeminent poet. For a year I lived in Korea, and it was a pivotal year, but I know nothing about Korean literature. Ko Un came this year to the Dodge with his two translators--an American poet of note who had translated his poetry, and a young Korean girl who could do simultaneous translation for patter and Q&A. What an odd experience that must have been for him, that it should take three voices to bring his work across the chasm to us. He writes these compact poems packed with images that kept making us gasp. Three thousand gasps at once--imagine hearing that greet your poem. And he has that classic Buddhist sense of humor, a non-attachment to norms and expectations that would be profane were it not so compassionate. I expect to like him on the page.
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