Friday, November 27, 2009
What I'm Reading: The Oxford American Issue 66
Well, I'm finally reading The Southern Lit issue of The Oxford American, which has been out for several months now. While the issue is fat with wonderful stories and poems steeped in the southern literary tradition, an essay by Rick Bragg titled "Upending the Muse" stands out to me the most. I can't help but quote from it here and recommend you read it (available online) as soon as possible. (Of course, I may be so far behind on my reading that this is old news. If so, consider a re-read.)
"Upending the Muse" is an exploration of not only regional issues in writing, but class issues as well. In essence, Bragg explores the Romantic idea of the muse, which in the South seems to mean writing on the veranda in riding boots while drunk in order to court that wispy beauty, muse. This is a muse that eludes Bragg, perhaps, he wonders, because he has not been "better bred." He writes, "The muse, it seems to me, is watered in juleps and fanned with old money." Later, he adds, "Or maybe, just maybe, it's all an invention by the rich folks--a kind of pink-buttoned-down plot--to keep this writing thing to themselves."
As for the legend of great Southern (male) writers writing while drunk, Bragg admits this: "And I don't write at all, drunk. I can fight drunk and fish drunk, but I have to be clearheaded to drive cars, explain myself to my wife, and move a semicolon." (This may be my favorite quote of the entire article.)
Bragg also talks about writing to support oneself, writing on a deadline in order to meet a contract in order to get paid in order to eat. The Romantic idea of the muse does not fit with this reality in any way shape or form. Bragg is also quick to point out that this kind of work, writing for a living, is nowhere near as physically demanding as "roofing, or toting cement blocks, or wiping tables at a Waffle House."
Finally, the piece ends with a vision of Bragg's muse, "not a fairy at all," but "a hairy, goatlike beast, something you pin down with a boot on its neck, just so you won't be so goddamn lonely during this hateful process. And at night, when you believe you are done with it, it bumps and growls from underneath your bed."
Thanks to Bragg and the OA for a great read on a sunny long weekend, alas I have no veranda on which to lounge while finishing the issue.