Ander Monson’s ‘Letter to a Future Lover’ Reviewed by Kelly Lydick

 

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Letter to a Future Lover:
Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries

Ander Monson

ISBN 978-1555977061
Hardcover
Graywolf Press, 2015
$22.00

Review by Kelly Lydick

 

Dear Ander, Dear Bibliophile, Dear Guardian of the Supreme Art,

I’ve always thought that reading and writing were the ultimate escape arts: a room with a view, a typewriter, no telephone, no TV, and a stocked pantry that would afford the benefit of not having to leave that room for days on end, absorbed in another world seemingly more interesting than what lay beyond those four walls.

As a child, I used books to escape the present moment, preferring an adventure story to a stint on the monkey bars, or the pointlessness of a game of hopscotch. The book was a thing of reverie: a jewel, a tool, a living, breathing portable world. Unknowingly, and internally, I asked the same question that you asked: “Does our reading life balance or subvert our waking life?” 

An odyssey of linguistic complexity, your book, Letter to a Future Lover, appears to me as part catalog of experience, part treatise, and part question, a compendium of letters and errata, proof that we read and write to understand life. In “The Erotic Ocean” of your mind, indeed “every sentence is a corridor”; professed avid readers should immediately be captivated by the power of this book.

It’s as if it forges a kind of neuro-linguistic map stringing together not synapses, but words, building into book form the landscape that lives inside you and your mind. It is wholly fascinating and at the same time enlightening; as both art and artifact, the book is a self-reflexive question that answers itself.

Thus this route underground goes nearly two miles into darkness, punctuated by traffic-on-manhole ring and the occasional animal clatter beyond your vision. What heart of words might be found here? This detour is an incision into another’s skin, trying her—or him—on for an afternoon, a paragraph, a page, and just like this you might become one of the many other lives you imagine must be out there, just on the other side of consciousness. How can we ever understand another? We are so interior. A trace like this might guide us or lead us completely into darkness.

Like an ode to all things language-related, Letter to a Future Lover makes use of a “meta-“ language, without discarding tradition. I think about how early poetry was set against music, sung alongside the lyre, and only later extracted to become a thing unto itself, which inevitably forced the poet’s choice of words to rely not upon the rhythm or melody of music, but rather the rhythm and inflection of the voice, proud and demure syllabic sounds floating in the air when dared to be read aloud. Eventually, everything will have a “meta-” existence, I think.

But what of the impetus to write? Writers are tethered between the ego’s drive to remember and the impulse to create (perhaps a spiritual act), that is accomplished by directing inspiration from some place outside of the self and wielding it onto paper.

I could confess anything here to you, knowing as I do that our connection is a long, thin strand. If you are here, in these Kirby Pages, then you hope to live more creatively. I hope you will do the same. Write me here. Write someone here. Write yourself into being here. I mean here you should write yourself into being. We are not who we are until we write ourselves and come to life.

I suspect that this is, at least in part, what every author aspires to do: lead the reader into a space that is at once outside of the self and simultaneously of the self, imaginary and known, purposefully constructed, creatively composed. Do you believe this is part of the task of a writer?

Everything’s Rings makes me wonder if you also believe in the reality of a quantum world? And maybe if this is the case, then the way a writer sees himself or herself is also a question subject to the quantum of all experience. If a writer could observe all that they do when they write and incorporate that observation into each new consecutive work, it could explain how writers evolve their craft over time. In this way, observing the observable becomes its own art form, which I think would be called “praxis,” don’t you?

Everything’s rings, a circle around where I’m form and where I am. We cannot get away from from. You know. Where we’re from is where we’re from. We can punch it down like rising bread but not shake its stink from us. Form where we are we might think it silly, strand, that place of origin, why would anyone live there, fall in love there, fall in love with it? But what do we know? How can we plat how it rewired us?

Every sentence is a ping where I am from, bit pulse sent to test a circuit, check to see if someone or something’s listening on the other end. The response could be a year or a century from now, but still we make the call.

This seems to make everything timeless, which is the purpose not just of the writing, but also of the library—at least in some way.

I do think that a library is much like a museum, except that everyone can take out all the artifacts, bring them home, sit with them for a while and contemplate their meaning, mull over their thoughts about it, discard the ideas that don’t make logical sense, explore a greater depth of meaning and arrive at a new conclusion, and then bring the artifacts back when they’re done. Can you imagine if the British Museum allowed you to check out their artifacts? I’d have the Rosetta Stone as the centerpiece for my next cocktail party. Or, can you imagine if the museum had a discard sale? I think that would be called more than a “revisionist’s” history, don’t you?

I am curious: if you could check out any artifact from any museum on the planet, which would you choose? And why?

I find it a fascinating act to borrow an artifact that you know someone else has already borrowed, especially if you knew who previously has checked it out. As you say in Everything’s Signed, there are particular instances in which an existential awareness washes over a person who is contemplating the author of a book, or the previous borrower of the book. A mysterious landscape of time and unknown persons are often evoked through the handling of a library book—a sensation not unlike that evoked by ruins. One may think: Whose hands have held this book?

Everything’s Signed by brain or hand or heat, Denis Wood. That signing is a map. Your hands were on this edition, in a room somewhere, your Boylan Heights, or in Los Angeles.

Do you wonder what Denis Wood looks like? Have you met him before, perhaps on his book tour? Does he sign his books with a ballpoint pen or a Sharpie? You can tell a lot about a person by the way they sign their name. I suspect he used cursive writing, which is no longer taught in the public schools.

But reading his writing is almost the same as having a conversation with him, isn’t it?

Your maps sear the eye because they essay: they show—they are—a brain operating on the world. Through them we experience place—but also self as it sees a place. They venerate the I through the action of the eye. Boylan Heights is singed by you, what you saw there, what you made of it; it’s signed by you, and that’s what keeps us here with your inventions, your associations.

It’s like you and I having a conversation in this letter, but not really having a conversation because it’s only a letter. The recursive nature of this communication loop between me and you—me reflecting on writing, you reflecting on writing and reading, me reading your book about reading and writing books, me reflecting on the importance of your book—holds enough of its own metadata that we don’t really need something the size of the Internet to hold it all. And, why would we want to experience it that way anyway? We are already fractalized.

As soon as we encode metadata somewhere ]out there[, it changes the way language is experienced [in here]. I think that must be why writing is the supreme art. It was meta before there was “meta” and no one even really realized it was “meta” at all. The act of doing was the writing, the meta, the only experience of the experience itself. And, “Like mirror script, to read requires reflection, asks us to see ourselves holding the page.”

Like you, I love the way that reader and writer become one in the ethers of the act of reading: a fusion, a rendezvous, a meet cute, a secret agreement of a symbiotic excursion from cover to cover, snug together like two lovers sharing a cup of cocoa by the fire on a snowy February night.

You and I are connected at this point, the point exactly of our brains in this moment sharing this sentence, this breaking of silence, this semiautomatic fan rattle hum. You are I, in this trench of I this rut of broken thought, such as it is, I made. The sentence is both silence and separation from it—unspoken unless you are speaking it, stitching your voice to mine, your locus voci with my own.

I am enamored and enveloped by the meta of the meta of the meta of it all, my personal identity shrinking further and further into the nebulous idea of “self,” and melding into the text, an amalgam of thought pressed against thought, thought echoing thought, emotion mirroring emotion. It’s in this moment that characters who are not me, become me, and I become some other “me” but not necessarily them, either.

If not of books, if not of boxes, if not of libraries or echoes, if not of lines of text paper-chained together, then of what are we composed?

But I’m sure it’s not enough to think only of composition in terms of the amount of space something inhabits. Do you think that writing and reading really inhabit physical space? Or just take up time and breath?

I write mash notes to the future on napkins on planes and in airports and leave them for another future lover. An anonymous space makes us bold. We can hold so few, and only briefly.

Sometimes I feel as if the words assembled on the pages of a book are like pebbles dropped into the still pond of the mind, creating ripples that proceed outward forever and ever permeating the future in ways we cannot even begin to imagine. In this way, Newton’s First Law is obsolete. Certainly, there are some things that would last forever, if we let them. Brevity is a cold shoulder to the vastness of love.

And what of this love in relation to things bookish? A delicate courtship between author and readership? A game of chase for those who relish in the anonymous space between book and self, story and inner emotional landscape, imagination and analytical thought? An affair among those who savor the scent of vanillin cloaking the printed page, who are pestilent about reading on paper instead of a screen?

It’s haunting, the way that digital technology has changed our world, our lives, in every way possible beginning with the book, and ending with the way we configure thought. Or perhaps it begins with the way we think and ends with the way we write? Although Saussure was, after some time largely discredited, I can’t help but believe that he had something right, don’t you? Perhaps he was driven by nothing more than his own love affair with language?

After all, the assembly of language constructs the world: the deep convergence with all aspects of life, the love, the joy, the questions, the fierce struggles. Through this, the reader is every bit the character, the publisher, the distributor, the librarian, the library, the author. Reading asks that an engagement occur between language and page, page and book, book and hand, hand and body, body and brain.

Writing, however, asks an author to be a sculptor, a linguist, a psychologist, a musician, a storyteller, an historian, a rebel, a lover, a politician. Writing is not just a process of creating a document, an artifact, a testimony of peoples fictitious or otherwise, as your book notes. Writing is as much about the creation of the work as it is the complete form, an organism that lives for the sole purpose of disbursing its contents to the reader, present or escapist, fully awakened in the moment, or asleep to its contents but ready to be awakened by that which lives within its pages.

Books like this give the lie to form. It’s not theirs. It’s ours. It’s so easy to forget these are technologies: they’re red but also made; they disappear into the brain but still persist past our best intentions. A poem gets converted to emotion, maybe a remembered couplet, some excitements: Linguistic, sexual, intellectual just the edges of memories of my reading. It holds our old selves in the creases, in the way the dog-eared pages settle on the shelf, our breath, our disappearing skin dusts the margins. It’s easy to forget we’re made of juice and electricity; membrane, fluid; male, female, and the electricity in between; Wonderbra and Spanx, systole and diastole. When we rupture we too disintegrate. Those we love keep bits of us, the bet of us we hope, but then there’s the other stuff that we’d as soon forget.

Truly, it’s a beautiful thing to get lost in a book, throw off responsibility, and escape into the experience of experiencing an experience: the book.

The book offers other forces, subliminal, mysterious, the push of gods or demons from whatever beyond you presently believe in, but it’s more important here to note that we are not our own. Or: not always. Or: we are ours, but we do not know what we contain. IF we could know it all, ourselves, our selves, then our life would be a coma, serious of commas searching for an exclamation point, a program hardly worth running on our mainframes. Could we love the future/could we have the future, lover, if we could know our motivations fully? When we open a parenthesis (How very like a receiver it looks, tilting up to sky (do we ever stop at sentence’s end (or do we somehow go on—

Your comrade in terms, in conjoiners, in syntax, systole and diastole; present lover, future lover, lover of all things printed, all things meta, all things experience, with or without paper,

Your Loyal Reader


LYDICK4X6 cropped copy Kelly Lydick received her B.A. in Writing and Literature from Burlington College, and her M.A. in Writing and Consciousness from the New College of California, San Francisco. Her writing has appeared in ditch: poetry that matters, Shady Side Review, Switched-on Gutenberg, Mission at Tenth, Thema, Drunken Boat, NPR’s The Writers’ Block, and others. She is the author of the chapbook We Once Were, and the experimental work Mastering the Dream. She writes about all things art, writing, and the metaphysical on her blog, Everything is Connected.