SPECIMEN DAYS: There's a reason for the title of this post, which will become clear as you read on. I'm just back from my reading in NYC, which was brilliant. Not just the reading, but the trip itself...short as it was.

The trip up to NYC was unremarkable. I decided to drive myself to the Atlanta airport and park in the lot (which costs less than a taxi). The kiosks at the airport where you run your credit card through and it spits out a boarding pass are a great invention. Travelers always seem to be a bit tentative about using them, and there's never a line. Getting through security was fairly easy. I had a bit of time to wait at the gate and then we were off. Had a wing seat (extra leg room!) and we actually got in a bit early to LaGuardia.

The reading at Cornelia Street Cafe was that same evening, but I had a few hours to kill, so host Jackie Sheeler let me drop off my bag at her office, which gave me time to do what I call a Woody Allen walkabout. The cafe was about 12 blocks aways from Jackie's office, so I sauntered down 6th Ave. (Avenue of the Americas), grabbed a slice of pizza at Union Square, window shopped and popped in to the big Barnes & Noble. There's something about walking in NYC, as Woody always says, that helps clear your head and energize you at the same time. I do love the energy of NYC and the diversity of people you meet on the street. It was a beautiful, sunny day and pretty hot, so stopping into the B&N was a bit of relief.

At B&N, I picked up Michael Cunningham's new novel, Specimen Days. Since I had about an hour to kill before I needed to be at Cornelia Street Cafe to meet with the editor who had me doing the rewrites of my own novel, Conquering Venus, I plopped down at this big window in the B&N that had a commanding view of 6th and tucked into reading Specimen Days. I was mesmerized from the first sentence. I don't think I looked up from the book once, and then I heard someone say it was nearly 5 p.m. I purchased the book and hustled down to Cornelia Street Cafe, where I took a seat at the bar, ordered a glass of wine and dove right back into the book as I waited for the editor to arrive.

Jackie showed up just before 6 p.m. with my bag in tow (bless her) and went downstairs to set up for the reading and I stayed at the bar waiting for the editor. He came in and we chatted for a few minutes and I turned over the rewritten first half of Conquering Venus, which I'm quite proud of. It's lean and mean and I have fingers and toes crossed that this rewrite and my eagerness to work with this particular editor and publishing house will finally see the novel make it to print. Jackie was kind enough to sing my praises to the editor, and I hope he took it to heart. I've sold over 600 copies of Better To Travel and traveled all over the country to promote it. If I can sell that many copies of a self-published book of poetry on my own, I know I could sell the hell out of Conquering Venus. I just need someone to give me the chance, a little support and turn me loose to sell the hell out of this story.

The Pink Pony West reading series Jackie has curated for the last six years always attracts an impressive audience, who write great poetry. When I came last year, I was blown away by these folks, and it happened again Friday night at Cornelia Street. I did mostly new work and cuts from the HalfLife Crisis cd, and wound up selling a number of copies. The audience is always appreciative and they are vocal about what they like and don't like. A great night, and a fantastic way to cap off my readings before I take my mini-sabbatical for the rest of the summer.

After the reading, Jackie and I went to this big restaurant/bar in Chelsea to meet some of her friends for drinks. I hit it off with her friend Diana (a Kate Bush fan...hooray!) and we all hung out for awhile talking about a myriad of topics. Then we headed back up to Jackie's apartment in Harlem, which is undergoing a regentrification you wouldn't believe. Jackie's apartment is so incredible and HUGE! We sat around and talked for awhile, but I finally had to sack out. I was exhausted. I read a little more of Specimen Days and went to bed.

The next morning, Jackie drove Diana back to her home in New Jersey and that gave me time to wake up and have the place to myself to grab a shower and start the day. I realized that I was almost finished with Specimen Days and didn't want it to end. Jackie returned and we walked a few blocks to a diner for breakfast. The service was lousy, but the food was good. I had a chance to talk to Jackie about her new CD with her band, Talk Engine, and find out more about her in general. She's had a very interesting and sometimes hard life, but she's a rock star now. Her talent and energy and that New York moxie just blows me away. We're working on bringing her down to Atlanta for some readings. Get ready, Atlanta! Jaxx is going to blow you away!

We had some time before I had to go to the airport, so Jackie took a nap and I finished Specimen Days. There was something beautiful and perfect about reading this novel, which is set in NYC, while actually being there in the city. Cunningham is a lyrical writer; every sentence is poetry. The novel also made me want to reconnect with Walt Whitman, whose poetry is the connective tissue between the three stories in the book, and his Leaves of Grass. The novel is essentially about reincarnation and how the three main characters manifest themselves in different eras. It's also about the decay of society, the wish to reconnect to nature, a call for tolerance and a warning of where we might be headed as a society. Other than having three stories and a literary lion as inspiration, this book is about as far from The Hours as you can get. Of course, some of the reviews can't help but compare it to the Pulitzer Prize-winner, but this is just as good. It's not better and it's not lesser. It's on the same equal footing, which is quite a feat after penning something as masterful as The Hours.

Jackie dropped me off at the airport early and the plane ride home was nightmarish. There was mechanical problems, which meant we were nearly an hour late departing. The plane was full of screaming children and then we were in a holding pattern over Atlanta. However, this did not diminish the trip. It was fabulous. Many thanks to Jackie for her hospitality and her input on the new poetry collection I'm putting together. I'll be working on that the rest of the summer during my hibernation period. I'm going to be scarce, so the best place to find me will be on this blog. I'll keep it updated regularly and maybe even post some work in progress. The only thing planned for the rest of the summer is the Rep & Rev Writing Conference in August and ocassionally popping in to Java Monkey.

I leave you with a bit of Whitman:

I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.


Anonymous said…
Enjoy the time off!

Mistress of CorgiManor said…
Wonderful report, Collin, and I was looking forward to it. Now you've got us whetted for Jackie you must get her down here to the South so we can enjoy her talent and indulge her in our hospitality.

Thanks for keeping us updated on Conquering Venus. I think of it more than you know. Can't wait til you come to Spain to promote it!


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