Monday, November 29, 2010

Hunting Is Painting

I am very pleased to announce the official release of the first book by the very first Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer, Jessica Savitz's Hunting Is Painting. Here's what I said about Jessica's work last year:
There were a number of challenging and exciting manuscripts submitted for the first annual Plonsker Fellowship at Lake Forest College, and it wasn’t easy to choose among them. But the manuscript submitted by Jessica Savitz, with its arresting declarative title, Hunting Is Painting, leaped from the pile with its deeply and authoritatively strange configurations of lush lyric language that comes close, often, to the condition of song in its use of refrain and repetition; like Gertrude Stein with a larger vocabulary. The poems follow the rigorous logic of the book’s title, a metaphor or allegory of “gun as microscope,” or as she declares with horrifying and truthful matter-of-factness, “Slaughtering the animal / Was like freeing him with a knife / From a little trap.” The hunter’s attributes of ruthlessness, canniness, and respect for one’s prey, formulate the book’s remarkable aesthetic, which concentrates its attention on facts—of personal biography, of animals and their habitats, of artworks and artists—and bring them suddenly into higher resolutions, new configurations. Some of the poems remind me strongly of Whitman in their readiness to empathize with fellow creatures, human and nonhuman. At the same time there’s a predatory fierceness that startles and clears the eye, so that this poet is one who can recognize that “the dying arrangement is a living being” (“dying and animate / to direct light, or to create privacy”). With sharp, sometimes appealingly goofy wit, the poems confront us with the necessary violence of sensemaking: we kill what we notice, and what we do not. But our gaze preserves the objects of the world even as it pierces them, and they in turn pierce us. I get news from these poems about our condition, and about the price artists are all too willing to pay for a snapshot, a painting, or a poem. They innovate upon their own necessity, and bring us closer to the real.
A year later I can affirm that the book is odder, more beautiful, more whimsical and affecting than I first found it. And it has wider ranging subject matter: one of my favorite sections now has to do with the happily doomed love affair of a couple named Snodgrass and Cleo. It's a treat, any way you slice it.

The book is distributed by Northwestern University Press and it's also available on Amazon. Interested would-be reviewers should backchannel me.

And: this is a fine opportunity to remind writers under forty of fiction and hybrid prose that the 2011 deadline for the fourth Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer's Residency Prize is April 1, 2011. The judge will be Kate Bernheimer, prolific author and editor of a remarkable anthology of fractured fairy tales, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, available now from Penguin Press.

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