Poetry News

Andrew Durbin & Lucy Ives Discuss the Poet's Novel

By Harriet Staff
Andrew Durbin, MacArthur Park, cover

Lucy Ives and Andrew Durbin are both new novelists, having written Impossible Views of the World (Penguin, 2017) and MacArthur Park (Nightboat, 2017), respectively. Poetry Society of America spoke to both of these lovely people about their processes; and in turn, they interviewed each other. "For me, writing a novel more closely resembled writing an essay," says Durbin, while Ives's Impossible... "has the appearance of a traditional novel, in that elements such as 'plot' and 'character' are readily identifiable." Moving further down into it:

Andrew Durbin: Do you think of Impossible Views as a poet's novel? I don't quite see your new book as part of that odd genre (I cringe at the term since I've never been quite sure what it means, really), but I'm interested in the history of poets writing novels and those novels being called this specific-ish thing, the poet's novel. Did any of that come into play as you wrote?

Lucy Ives: Thank you for asking me this question. I feel a little embarrassed because I definitely have not succeeded in writing a poet's novel with Impossible Views. I've done other weird things that interest me, like making it very difficult to determine the novel's genre, but I haven't written something autobiographical or even really experimental—at least, not in the sense in which I believe that term is usually employed with respect to poet's novels, so called. I am very interested in mimicry and satire, in the ways in which the tropes of the realist novel can be warped and reworked to serve new ends. I'm always thinking about travesty, in a literary sense, and I guess you could say that Impossible Views is me writing my way into the field of the novel. It's an extremely silly book but I'm quite serious about what it does at the level of form. I should note that, in deference to the tradition of the poet's novel, I did include one character in Impossible Views who is a poet and who is writing a poet's novel—so that anyone looking for a poet's novel in my book would not be disappointed.

At risk of annoying you, I wanted to ask, would you ever write a poet's novel? Have you? What kind of novel are you writing with MacArthur Park if it is, as you note above, like "writing an essay"? Are there any important precedents for you, whether novels or other, here?

Andrew Durbin: You're incapable of annoying me! I'm not sure I have. If one tradition of the poet's novel is a text that dispenses with most of the straightforward aspects of fiction (like a plot or recognizably distinct characters), as in the novels of Leslie Scalapino and Renee Gladman, for example, then no, I haven't done that and probably won't. But following the New Narrative poets, many of whom wrote great novels (usually about narrative), then I could see MacArthur Park fitting in that lineage, since my book is, on some level, about writing a book. In the end, the novel is something of a happy accident. I initially wrote many of the parts—the chapter on Tom of Finland, the final section in London and Vienna—as separate from one another (I had originally imagined a more disjunctive book). But then, as I sat with them over the years, I found that these pieces belonged more tightly together than I had first realized, since they were each linked by a speaker (me, not-me) with like-minded concerns about art and community in the age of climate disaster. The book came in through the back door rather than the front...

Read on at PSA.

Originally Published: October 4th, 2017