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Richard Brautigan Is the Answer

September 28, 2022


Our book club met last night. We were to have read a short story and be prepared to share a summary and any other information we wanted with the group. I thought about a selection through the month but hadn't pinned anything down. With one day to go, I thought I had better get serious. I spent at least an hour looking through online short story sources. Should I reread a favorite? What if I didn't like a new author? What if I read a story and it was pointless? I was becoming frustrated, but as I went to close a web page, my mind caught on a thought, "Share a Richard Brautigan story." How could I have even wasted time thinking of sharing anyone else? I shared a few stories, but this one is my very favorite.


My love affair with Richard Brautigan began in 1987. First-year teachers are often given tasks that those with seniority do not want, and I was assigned to be the liaison between the school district and poet-in-residence, Tony Hoagland. (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/tony-hoagland) This meant attending the creative writing sessions he held with students at lunch. In one meeting, he shared the Richard Brautigan poem "A Good Talking Candle."

I asked Tony about Brautigan, and he was indignant that I had never heard of him. In my defense, I explained that I had "just" graduated with a traditional (and conservative) degree, that did not include Brautigan. I don't like being made to feel like I am ignorant, and that summer, while I was at Northern Arizona University taking library science courses, I read every Brautigan book in the library. I fell in love.

He was unlike any other author I had ever read. He was a metafictionist (metafiction - (mĕt′ə-fĭk′shən) n. Fiction that deals, often playfully and self-referentially, with the writing of fiction or its conventions): appearing as a character in his own books, combining genres (The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western), and telling really unusual stories. (The Scarlatti Tilt - "It’s hard to live in a studio apartment in San Jose with a man who’s learning to play the violin." That’s what she told the police when she handed them the empty revolver.) He was a master of metaphors and similes, creating unique and beautiful poetry.

I bought every Brautigan book I could find. I own at least a copy (some first editions) of every one of his books, and copies of most books that have any reference to him. Because my obsession began before the Internet was really a "thing," I went to libraries and fed dimes into copy machines and copied every article I could find. I still have that huge binder. And I'm sure that I know more about Brautigan than Tony Hoagland ever did.

In 1994, when I was pregnant with our daughter, we were thinking of naming her Brautigan Leigh, and calling her Leigh. We didn't follow through with that, afraid people would say, "There goes that broad again." Our daughter, Leslie, often tells me how grateful she is we didn't go with Brautigan.

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Last week, I received a lovely, long letter from a dear friend. Three single-spaced typed pages. And I thought that I didn't know where I would find the time to write such a long letter in response. The words "small portions" came to mind. Shakespeare? I wasn't sure. Google. And when I saw that it was Brautigan's, I thought, "Of course." And I was happy that my subconscious remembered Brautigan's words.

I will send small portions of my life to my friend on postcards until I have replied to her letter. It is all I can do "tonight."

I cannot answer you tonight in small portions.

Torn apart by stormy love's gate, I float

like a phantom facedown in a well where

the cold dark water reflects vague half-built

stars

and trades all our affection, touching, sleeping

together for tribunal distance standing like

a drowned train just beyond a pile of Eskimo

skeletons.

Richard Brautigan

_____

And finally, I wasn't sure what to write about in my blog this week. And then I realized, that once again, Brautigan was the answer.


NOTE: The postcards are ones that I have created and had printed. I have limited quantities of them, but if you would like one, let me have your address, and I will get one sent to you. If I run out, you may have to wait until I get more printed.

If you would like to know more about Brautigan, please follow this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Brautigan

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