On Browsing through the Books on Margaret Atwood’s Shelf
I first posted this article on one of my older blogs exactly 2-1/2 years ago, on September 23, 2014. I wrote it after disappointment with where my poetry was going, but at the point where I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. I didn't know what was coming next.
When I decided to start a blog on this new website, I re-read my old article. It was amazing to be able to see again through those eyes, and I thought re-printing the essay here would be a perfect signpost for new beginnings.
For you I wish that these poems were rubies,
borne by my own caravan from Xi’an out of Shaanxi,
through Persia, along the northern Silk Road
— S. Peralta, from Twelve Stones on a Necklace
Friends, most of you who visit this blog know me as a writer of verse. I’ve spent the last few years actively working with poets’ communities, writing columns on structure and form and metaphor, publishing poetry books both in print and as e-books, with some small success. It’s been an amazing part of my life, due in no small part to the readers, like you, who found something to like in my work.
Last year, I found myself in a bookstore, admiring the poetry of Margaret Atwood. She has, at last count, around twenty volumes of poems.
From the shelf I pulled out The Journals of Susanna Moodie and leafed through pages of indescribable beauty, pain, insight. Every poem was a poem I wish I’d written.
And yet, of Atwood’s array of volumes on the shelf, all iconic titles – The Edible Woman, The Journals of Susanna Moodie, Surfacing, Life Before Man, The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, MaddAddam – none were poetry, save one.
Or are they? Atwood’s prose reads beautifully, almost as if it was poetry.
Reading the works of other authors, works like Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Sandman by Neil Gaiman, I have come to believe that poetry can be found everywhere, even in the novel.
Telepathy is like radio. When you first tune in, you’re flooded with static, ambient noise, the almost-too-strong blare of someone else’s song. Knowing roughly where you want to be – the music you’re looking for – you ignore the static, turn the dial to scan for that frequency that will bring you the swell of strings… Slowly, you push into the envelope of the target’s thoughts. Perhaps you go a little too far, and the signal drops, enough that you know you’re vectored away. You reset triangulation, back up just a touch, and you’re there. Mozart.
— S. Peralta, from Trauma Room
That extract is from Trauma Room, a short story set in the world of a novel that’s been simmering in my mind for the last little while. It’s a novel of speculative fiction about a telepath – a man able to breach the labyrinth of the human mind – called Labyrinth Man.
Folks, as with you all, I juggle a day job, and family, and my writing life… and many other things as well.
I sit on corporate boards, write songs for bands, and lately I’ve paid forward what small success I’ve had in poetry by investing in over 50 independent films, including as associate and executive producer of several films, one of which just premiered in London.
Some of you will know that I’ve tried to write novels – some in verse – but over the years, I’ve failed again and again.
I admit to watching in envy as some of my friends completed their novels, and I struggled. (I still bought their books, though, and some were excellent.)
Last year, in that bookstore, I looked at that shelf, at Atwood’s array of celebrated novels, her neglected poetry volumes, and despaired. Until now.
Somehow the world of Labyrinth Man has taken a life of its own, a life that encompasses both prose and poetry. And I have to embrace it…
Come with me on this journey – the best is yet to come.