Saturday, July 19, 2014
Creakish From Age
my second short story collection YOUR BODY IS CHANGING. Tom Franklin was working on SMONK at the time, and SMONK was going to come out first, and Tom had the idea - which didn't last long - that SMONK was going to be titled or subtitled THE ALABAMIAD: BOOK ONE and then my book would be THE ALABAMIAD: BOOK TWO. A dumb old idea I still like. James Whorton came up with the title. I think I asked him what he'd call a book about everything ever in the state of Alabama and I believe he said without even a second of hesitation, "THE ALABAMIAD." But that's not why I called you here! One of my ideas was to start THE ALABAMIAD with 88 epigraphs about Alabama... what Melville did with whales in MOBY-DICK. And I found them! (Though now I have lost them.) Let me say I got out my copy of MOBY-DICK and counted the epigraphs by hand, so I'm not sure there are exactly 88 epigraphs in MOBY-DICK, nor do I even remember if that's the figure I came up with back then, but it sounds right. I think I was reading a book about FINNEGANS WAKE at the time, in which I learned (I think) that James Joyce had hidden a mention of every river in the world somewhere in the text of FINNEGANS WAKE. Knowing there is an Alabama River, I thought, yeah, why not get an epigraph for THE ALABAMIAD from FINNEGANS WAKE? (I got one from MOBY-DICK, too, of course. I'm sure you recall that poor ill-fated Pip the cabin boy is from Alabama.) Anyhow, that's how I dug around and came across, "With her halfbend as proud as a peahen, allabalmy, and her troutbeck quiverlipe, ninyananya." But that's not why I called you here! Yesterday when I was at Lee Durkee's house, he was telling me how he'd like to get on some Shakespeare search engine and find every mention of owls in Shakespeare for me. Now, I've stumbled on the owls in HAMLET and MACBETH kind of naturally, and I was afraid a search engine would be cheating, but then I recalled the FINNEGANS WAKE search engine where I found Alabama all those years ago. And I thought, you know, I should use it to hunt up some owls in FINNEGANS WAKE. There are plenty! "Owlets' eegs (O stoop to please!) are here, creakish from age and all now quite epsilene..." Just one of many examples. I don't think this is cheating because I'm never going to read FINNEGANS WAKE.