Yep, a writer sits at his machine, thinks, then puts words down on paper, hoping that, when finished, the effort will be worthwhile. Hopefully, someone will like what he or she has written. Perhaps a crowd of someones will. The other day someone named “Amazon customer” posted the following review of my new novel The City Has Many Faces, a love story about Mexico City.
“It is such a delight to discover a new author; one in whose work I recognize some of my own experiences, which in this book are threaded through with new ones and valuable insights. Such is George Polley’s love letter to Mexico City. He conveys a portrait that is, in turn, sad, sentimental, jarring, and heart-warming, through a series of stories linked together as a novel. Joseph Manning, a Minnesotan psychologist, settles in Mexico, where he teaches English, learns Spanish, and opens a clinical practice, all the while developing a relationship with his adopted city. The author recounts the tumultuous history of Mexico City and its inhabitants (a cornerstone of the book) through the aid of spirits–suspend any disbelief and let Gerardo Pulido de los Dios, an Indian Shaman, pull you into his world. Pulido also provides an important lesson: the failure to learn from and to appreciate our elders does us all an injustice. Settle back with a café canela, as Manning introduces you to Felipe Correa, the Giraffe, who, despite painful social anxiety sells grass marketing bags for the family he loves; Sgt. Gomez, the Snake, whose bitterness leads him to cruelly threaten those he has sworn to protect; César Salinas, a man crippled in mind and spirit who finds peace in the Virgin’s smile; Salvador, a young boy who finds hope and joy in his music; and Carmelita Yañez, whose husband left with the coyotes for el Norte. Perhaps the story that touched me most was that of the Ahuehuete tree, also called the “Tree of Life.” During the great flood, the last man and the last woman climbed to its top and thus humanity was saved from destruction; now, a 500 year-old tree is dying, having been under constant assault by greedy and thoughtless humans. George Polley is an excellent writer who ably describes, through his prose and poetry, the sounds, smells, pains, and joys of a complex city. In a final poem, Polley writes: I wish/there was some way/to get/you and Mexico City together./You’d enjoy it.’ I absolutely did!”
Wow! Made my day! This is what all authors live for, the knowledge that someone has picked up a copy of what you’ve written, read it, and loves it. Lucky for me, “Amazon Customer” isn’t the only one who’s loved “a love story about Mexico City.”
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Small press book fairs are interesting, sometimes go off as planned, depending on where they are held, the results ending up as kind of amusing. I participated in several book fairs between 1975 and 1979 while a member of board of the Minneapolis Metropolitan Arts Alliance. For some reason that I was never able to understand, small press publishers insisted on holding these events on college campuses, where the only people coming round were students and professors. They were usually poorly attended. My idea, to hold the book fairs in public places like shopping malls or the open court of a new downtown building, always fell on deaf ears. After a particularly poorly attended day at one of these events, I packet up my things and went to a Chinese restaurant where I wrote the following poem, complete with liner notes for the album cover. Sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders and laugh.
Lament of a small press publisher after having attended a small press book fair. For oboe, viola da gamba and tenor voice, slowly
— dedicated to small press publishers everywhere.
After sitting a long
I went round to
some of the other
and asked “How’s it going?”
I got answers like:
”Oh, slow. I only took in
forty bucks yesterday,” and
“thirty-five bucks since I set up
this morning. Not much,”
and went back and
sat down in my booth,
depressed. After a long
sold one book and one
poster for a total of
four dollars, twenty-five cents.
It’s enough to make
a person ask
philosophical questions of himself.
If I sit here much longer,
my rear end
will grow moss on it
and my eyes will disappear like moons.
Already my elbows have sprouted roots
and my feet, grown flat from
disuse, have fallen asleep.
Outside, Waterman’s kid
is playing Frisbee in the court,
while across from me
his dad is smoking a cigarette and staring
at the stack of books in front of him.
When the red-haired poet
comes by with a bullhorn
announcing: “Lar Burke of the
Lake Street Review is reading in
the Fine Arts Lounge, come and hear
Lar Burke!” and there are only five
or six people standing around, not counting
Waterman and myself, I begin thinking
of Sartre, Camus and Sisyphus and
“What’s it all about, Alfie?”
The most activity around here is
Waterman’s kid, leaping after the
Bright red soaring saucer and the arc
Waterman’s cigarette makes as it descends
to the ashtray, caught between the fingers
of his left hand.
“Lament of a Small Press Publisher” was originally intended as an opera in the Romantic tradition of Beethoven, Wagner and Rossini. However, after considerable difficulty in casting it in so grand a scale, the composer decided to put it in the mode of a cantata for male voices and baroque ensemble. Since this, too, proved to be too complex for so simple an idea, he settled on a small work in Renaissance style for tenor voice accompanied by oboe and viola da gamba, thinking that such could “profitably be sung at Renaissance Festivals and art fairs.” The result is a hauntingly beautiful song reminiscent, in its rich harmonic textures, of the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. The song may also, according to the author’s notes, be accompanied by fiddle and guitar (or flute) “without losing a thing.”
Sometimes you just have to laugh. 🙂