Publications on the Web
(from Vitreous Hide)
(from what most vividly)
Videos of Readings
Vitreous Hide book launch in New Orleans (full)
For shorter excerpts see YouTube.com/MichaelTodEdgerton
Free iTunesU Download (scroll down to #111)
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The Next Big Thing Self-Interview ProjectThanks to Kate Schapira for tagging me for this!
What is the title of the book?Vitreous Hide
Where did the idea come from for the book?See “Who or what inspired you to write this book?” below.
What genre does your book fall under?Poetry.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?It would be rewritten as an opera for film and would star either the openly gay and very yummy tenor Noah Stewart or hottie Jonas Kaufmann as Narcissus. “Barihunks” Ildebrando d`Arcangelo and Erwin Schrott would compete for the part of Orpheus (either, I think, could bring the right kind of innocuous cockiness to the role…so many of the guys I tend to be attracted to have that…for better or for worse).
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?“Willing the word to become flesh, the poems in Vitreous Hide both reveal and enact yearning—for love, for the beloved, for the words to transform beloved image to beloved substance.” (Thanks, Kate!)
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?The first versions of the oldest remaining lines in the book were written in 1998 or ’99. They come from a poem originally titled “Blink” after the man with whom I spent a night of philosophical debate and sex (he told me that we postmodern types were all just disappointed Romantics; it struck me and struck me inwardly as true even as I outwardly denied it). They’re in the same poem as the newest lines, from 2012, “In place (of place). Two male dancers and revolving screen.” I sent the very first version of what I thought was Vitreous Hide’s finished, book-length form out late in the summer of 2004, just before heading to Brown for grad school. I sent it, as it happens, to the now defunct Georgia Contemporary Poetry Series competition, long before I ever knew UGA had a PhD program with a creative writing track (and long before I ever thought I’d find myself applying for one). I revised, gutted, added to and rewrote it radically over the next two to three years, and was pulled back into it every so often over the past five, much as I wanted to be done with it.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?As many other poets do, I usually start with a phrase or two and the rest follows. There’s often a certain associational, even anagrammatic logic to it, chasing after lines of sonorous and semantic transmutations.
I hated including the mythic element; it’s extremely worn territory. But I watched Cocteau’s film Orpheus for the first time since high school (I wish I could remember what I thought of it then!) for Michael Gizzi’s “Improvisatory Literature” class at Brown, in the spring semester of 2005, and the first version of “Orpheus struck by Narcissus struck by the face of a beautiful boy. Split screen projection on the unsinging skin of things” came from that assignment. The idea of pairing Narcissus with Orpheus came from the famous moment when Cocteau references the Narcissus myth. Orpheus stands longingly flush against the mirror (portal to the underworld) in his bedroom; the camera zooms in on his face and then slowly out again, and he is lying down, the mirror now shaped like a pool of water. And, of course, when he goes through the mirror, it turns to water (same in Blood of a Poet). I still think it’s one of the best poems I’ve written. The other Orpheus and Narcissus poems followed from it, and then brought some of the other poems into their orbit (and initiated one of the many rearrangements and a few small revisions of the poems). “Invertebrated. Face in the door in the mirror,” for instance, is a retitling of one of the oldest poems in the book and pre-dates the Narcissus poems.
Philosophically, part of what I wanted to accomplish was to correct what I felt was a misreading of the Narcissus myth, one that, scapegoating homosexuality for the narcissistic component of all love, read over the fact that Narcissus actually falls in love with what he experiences as an other, a male water nymph, and not himself. Echo’s mirroring voice and Narcissus’s other-image in the water sides with Lacan’s idea that there’s an element of fantasy projection in all love and that if you blow its cover you blow up the support for emotion. So battling a certain homophobic construction of same-sex sexuality as non-relation was part of what I was thinking about. Theory was rattling (around in) my head, and the competing forces of Lacan’s and Irigaray’s theories of love and the encounter play themselves out in some of the work in Vitreous Hide. My gut was with Lacan, but the disappointed Romantic in me yearned for the more direct and authentic connection (to largely misconstrue it…) I saw in Irigaray’s Ethics.
The dedication speaks to the final motivating force. Kevin Killian had written a more than page-long, very praising rejection letter of the manuscript, including along with his appreciative remarks the same critique I’d heard from others, including Forrest Gander, that there weren’t enough bodies in the poems, only “body.” While I still think this critique misses the point to a degree—Narcissus’s alienation from the muck of the world is so much a part of the book, the non-placed place from which it comes—I did think that a movement in that direction would improve the manuscript. I’d thought, in fact, that I’d already made it, but obviously Kevin didn’t agree, and so I looked back over it for a millionth and third time. When reading “In place,” the most explicitly erotic poem in the book, I realized that it left the speaker in a place of aloneness and yearning, and that the final gesture towards contact and consummation I’d made with the final poem in “Aubade” was insufficient and ambiguous. My own life had shifted with my partner Greg’s entrance into it, and I wanted the book to have a similar shift in the end. So I gave it something like a “happy ending.” I realized immediately that with this revision, “In place” now would have to be the final poem of the book; “Aubade” had held that position for years—it was so bizarre to move it and to look at “In place” at the end! I also threw in a “cock” for Kevin; I hope he likes it.
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?I don’t know. It’s really good. Fur reels. Okay, at least believe Cole Swensen (“gorgeously lyric…a book of big ideas and big feeling…a real delight for both ear and mind”), Donald Revell (“brilliant to announce that myth and the perils of myth are flesh of our flesh”), and Mr. Killian, himself (“the gay erotics of this work…have no equivalent in modern American poetry”). Or, you know, check out the sneak peek: http://amzn.to/VnWTTN.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?The New Orleans-based press Lavender Ink published Vitreous Hide in January 2013. You can buy it directly from the press and support small press publishing.