Barrett Warner Can’t Do Anything

Flamboyant Tree is the title of my collection of essays about art, motion, theater, parimutuel wagering. There are farms. Museums. Relationships. Cities. Lamentations. Mutilated forearms. Except they are not yet collected. Not even ringed in a binder. Some, online at Entropy Magazine and The Common. Some off (Howard County Times, Chattahoochee Review).

One is in my pocket, waiting for the murderer to die.

And I’ve written thirteen stories in a blank volume called Love Letter Delivered by a Bulldozer. I write maybe 1-2 a year, and publish maybe 3 stories in five years. Some have won prizes (Salamander), and for the Gargoyle Magazine story, “Ha Fucking Ha,” I was picked up for questioning–a person of interest. I never knew that disinterest could be so hard to prove.

I also have a novel-length novella, meaning it only builds to one crescendo. “Call me when you have two more crescendos,” my agent said. Red Monday is a bilingual melodrama stalled in El Salvador, Maryland, and a cave in Tribeca. I made the mistake of writing the ending before the middle part was done, and the ending is so tragic that even its prepositions–its abouts, its aboves, its acrosses–break my heart to the point of scrivener paralysis.

I so adore creative non-poetry–writing that goes all the way across a page. It’s one reason I cling to an unfinished Tuberculosis memoir, My Thousand Year-Old Disease. I should have called it trying to remember what you can’t make up. Gerald Sarnat calls the genre Meme-War.  The same old war.

Last year, I sent it to Erik Shonkwiler at Alternating Current. That man is smart, and intelligent–two different things–and…

He called it ‘inscrutable.’ He said, ‘consider adding plot.’

Instead, I wrote a writing craft book called Inscrutable: Notes on Revision. I keep fussing over the paragraph about Robert Frost. Should I mention the bridge? Or the motorcycle guy? The way he filled his helmet with water and splashed his face?

Inscrutable will probably never appear.

The problem is not having any way to sample it. They don’t have sign up sheets for open mic craft lectures where queues of trembling souls looking a lot like me take a few minutes to beat the subject-verb-direct object out of the dead horse. Even now, one of my flamboyant look-a-likes is spitting over the mic, “If a bridge is covered, then it’s called a covered bridge. If a bridge isn’t covered, it’s not called an uncovered bridge.”

Why does existence in the positive invite us to modify our noun with a word like covered? When will we modify nouns for negative existence? —Robert Frost–a bridge–uncovered, uncovered, uncovered–or else the Lagunitas way, “blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.”

I was recently asked to write a play for a Contemporary American Theater Festival at a small college inundated with hills and creeks and rammy bistros on a Main Street tinkered with fair trade boutiques. Disambiguation with Convex Mirror is 80 minutes long, only 20 minutes and a pistol shot away from payday.

A poetry manuscript might be my third book. Six months ago I was calling it Snow, If You Melt for Me I’ll Give You Something. That seemed a little selfish. A little transaction-based. Almost creepy. I changed the title to Latitude Zerowhat the equator signifies to navigators, to honor my hard-won feelings of utter ambivalence toward the searching parts of life.

And yet, my heavens, the pride I felt the night I became a shellback!

The Batworth Stone band wrote a Stroll song for me a few months ago. So now, I call the manuscript Mawkish Stroll. It has two sections: Feverish Attempts and Undecided Character, and is dedicated to William Gass, who isn’t the first stranger I ever wrote all my secrets to.

I haven’t any illusions the book will ever surface.

No, I don’t believe in God, and I don’t believe in plot either. But I feel surrounded by editors and agents who believe in plot AND don’t believe in God. That’s like, not believing in God, but with your fingers crossed behind your back.

Sorry my swerves mess with your religion. Sorry if the revolution got in the way of your horse show.

I’m just one of those who spent too much time online looking for a lost twin. I picture they / them as someone who never held back as I always do. Someone who would have wrestled me to the ground after school, saying, Who’s the better twin? as I squeaked out, You! You are the better twin!

Finding them was a lucky hit. I know what you’re thinking, that to believe in luck is to deny the existence of God. Or vice versa. And I was so damn lucky. The truth is that I still believe in various descendants of Abraham when the lucky bag runs out.

My twin, Eugene!–We were born an hour apart, and they were devastatingly handsome. They got all the looks that were supposed to go to me!….. [REDACTED]….. and for killing them in the Loughall Ambush, I will curse the British S. A. S. for the rest of my double life.

The political is so personal, n’est-ce pas?

Few people know about my intense connection to music, which I seldom bare. I have no plans to clap out, but yes to Spanish rock flamenco, yes to gospel, yes to jazz; yes to surbahar at the headwaters of the Ganges, and to greasy piano in the Delta, and Jenny’s squire bass on South Ann Street; yes to Vikingur Ólafsson, and yes to G. I. Gurdjieff (especially his piano and cello suites–more on this later).

Here is a ‘pull quote’ from a music review I wrote:

BrotherGirl’s haunting tenor-baritone vibrato is the perfect wild beast. Her deep and low siren is full of bone and ligament as she paces inside the corners. Playing her “jailed” piano with a hard elbow, and a sure and steady wrist, she makes full use of the piano’s essence—a percussion instrument—without letting that edge completely define her voice.

I learned about ‘pull quotes’ when I published my Andy Warhol essay. The editor at Puritan Magazine said: “If you cannot make a pull quote then we will make one for you and you may not like it.” That editor definitely believed in God.

In the essay,  I couldn’t decide whether to include my phone chat with Andy in 1982, the year of Tylenol and cyanide, and another Mets season finishing eight games under .500. Hey, I was young then. I was living and writing toward what I didn’t know, hadn’t experienced, couldn’t imagine, and was too lazy to research. I had a chin full of punk, and an eye full of pop. Andy’s voice was steady and careful, but dulcet too. An airy texture that found a narrow space between the verb infinitives to copy and to reproduce.

Listening to him, my ear wept for the joy and pain in his voice.

I’ve published 200 book reviews. I’ve even been interviewed about book reviews. Here’s how it works: I notice a book and I buy it. I don’t like to be given a book. I would rather we just fell into the same hole–the book and I–and made small talk together until we were laughing and giving high-fives about indefinite responses to abstract phenomena and making dinner plans at Luna di Mare. (I’ll have the fra diablo and iced tea!).

My publisher at Riot Material has endeavored to liberate me from being so glib, and last  month he put me on critic probation, ha ha.

Here’s the dope: I’d cross any river if a poem were on the other side. That’s one reason I became an editor. My motto: Stop Googling riversHike a hundred rivers. Cross a hundred rivers. Dry off when you’re dead.

Auden was right: never extend your hand unless there’s someone or something worth reaching for. Whether editing the journal, or making acquisitions for the press, or editing someone’s manuscript, I like to believe I’m with a friend, someone in whom I already have an emotional investment. One who isn’t a stranger. One who will forgive my being harsh. One who is the twin who lived anyway…

Editing is intimate, and trust means everything. Trust is so much more important than what me or anyone thinks they might know about anything. It’s a geometric conundrum. Who could have known there was a cave in the triangle below Canal Street? No one could have known.

William Gass once said the word violet is a ‘sexual shudder.’ Maybe he knew about subterranean mystery.

There is a lot I want to do, but completing a manuscript triggers my mortal awareness, making it hard for me to commit to an ending. Sure, I’d like to accomplish something. I’d like to have another book to give away. But I also want to live forever. I want all the play with all the words without ever hearing someone blow a whistle.

I only need two things: I want the Mets to win, and I don’t want to die.

 

from Flamboyant Tree

This two- or three- stanza thing with red blossoms, its light-green feathered leaves dropped to and fro, is a flamboyant tree. Calling attention to itself, no longer giving shade, it stubbornly clutches its seed in crimped woody pods like Scrooge his coins. At peace in desert, and forgiving to the ocean’s mad salt, scarcity is its aphrodisiac–it flowers only during a drought. In a certain growing habitat—a wide sash around the center of the blue planet between Lincoln Avenue in South Miami and the Shining Path in Peru, it thrives on a Gothic lust for mortal awareness.