No. 79

the AGNI newsletter

The Latest at AGNI Online: Self-Defining Fictions

Welcome to our eighth newsletter. I'm writing from the AGNI basement just as we're packing up to make way for a building renovation. It's dusty work - but the life of the mag goes on. In each newsletter, we offer a short interview conducted exclusively for you - today: Scott Ruescher on revisiting Graceland in poetry after being turned away in real life. As many of you know, we publish two print issues a year - we celebrated the launch of AGNI 79 last Wednesday in Boston. But how to mark the much more frequent publication of new work at AGNI Online? Our answer is before you. Here we give a taste, and on our homepage a feast: you can subscribe to the print magazine, explore a trove of work published online, and learn more about our events (on May 10th it's a daylong festival of European Voices in Translation, with moderator James Wood). Come check us out.


William Pierce

Senior Editor
New Poetry and Prose at AGNI Online
new poetry from Scott Ruescher

...a bucket seat that fits
His lazy ass so perfectly, like a throne does the king's --   
In his hippie town in Vermont, his crab town in Maryland,
His lumber town in Oregon, or his lobster port
In Maine -- 

Read an interview with the author, only in this newsletter
M and V
new poetry from Laura Glen Louis

...Amnesia. You are what you forget
Still, the mother of all muses has a name hard to set

Mnemiopsis, mnemonist, mnemonic, Mnemosyne - such elegance
I should be able to recall: these words all begin with silence...


Read "M" Online

Autofiction in Aubry's No One
a review by Max Vanderhyden
Aubry resists the comfort of conventional storytelling, and the novel succeeds beautifully as a kind of circular exegesis, a text braided through and around the text that preceded it. From A to Z, she traces her father's fictional selves, delving into his manuscript for the referents with which he sought to understand himself: the eternal child and the pirate, James Bond and the clown, the black sheep. She extends these fictions too, finding resemblances to Francois-Xavier in film and literature: the mad poet Antonin Artaud, actors Dustin Hoffman and Jean-Pierre Leaud, a nineteenth-century explorer who shared his name, and (perhaps most aptly) to Woody Allen's famous shape-shifter, Zelig. Francois-Xavier thus emerges as a composite of likenesses, a man caught in an uncertain space between the fictions his mind creates and the real world that reflects and multiplies them. 
Read full review online
Interview"The Ornate Gates of Graceland": a conversation with
Scott Ruescher

Scott Ruescher coordinates the Arts in Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and teaches in the Boston University Prison Education program. Sidewalk Tectonics, his 2009 chapbook from Pudding House Publications, takes the reader on a road-trip from Lincoln's birthplace in Hodgenville, Kentucky, to the site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder in Memphis. Some of his new work appears in recent issues of The Tower Journal, Short North Gazette, and Harvard Educational Review.

Linda Michel-Cassidy: Your poem "Anthem" is very focused geographically, with a real yearning back to a heavily romanticized recent American past. What led you to this time and place?

Scott Ruescher: This poem comes from a series, a vaguely chronological sequence of poems inspired by a visit to Graceland on a day when the place was closed. This happened about twenty years ago - I was there for a half-hour - and I've been thinking about it ever since. I think seven or eight of the poems mark my progress from the city bus that left me off in front of Graceland, to the gate of Graceland itself, to the private plane parked across the street (and the nearby car of a snoozing security guard), to the bus stop where I waited to go back to downtown Memphis a half-hour after arriving.


I have had to use my imagination, and occasionally my Google browser, to visit the actual grounds (they're fenced in, as you'd see in at least one of the other poems) and get into the house. I'm glad the place was closed, because I might never have started writing these things if the museum had been open, and it's been a stabilizing project for me. 


LMC: How does "Anthem" fit into this series?


SR: I started the sequence three or four years ago. All of the poems in this Graceland-inspired sequence evolved from one two-page narrative poem that moved breezily and rather glibly through several stages of the bus trip to and from Graceland and the few minutes I spent at the ornate gate of Graceland. I came to see each stage of the poem as worthy of its own sustained attention. (I might add that an earlier sequence about a road trip from Abe Lincoln's birthplace to the site of MLK's assassination began the same way: two pages of prose morphing into six long poems.)


"Anthem" is a long elaboration of one of those Graceland passages - an entire poem devoted to that single iconic man, a blue-collar Vietnam vet now probably celebrating his 70th birthday or so. I love the feeling of nostalgia, the painful ache and longing I have for things I never managed to experience in person. I was ten years too young for Elvis and the birth of rock 'n' roll - and for the equally enduring bebop jazz movement of the same era - and two or three years too young either to die in Vietnam or to be in the central part of the protest movement. 



LMC: How did your nostalgia take this particular shape? Why the automotive focus?


SR: My father was of an earlier generation, the one that came of age during the Depression and lived through World War II. He was an incredibly affectionate guy - with tons of emotional intelligence, especially noticeable given his macho demographic. During the last of the four decades he spent working in sheet metal fabrication at a coal mining machinery factory in Columbus, Ohio, he befriended a bunch of younger guys who came from the same generation and class as my iconic character in "Anthem." I was interested in evoking a hypothetical "type," a mild version of the anti-hero, not someone you'd see honored in a statue on the town green.


My father and his friends were practical with their minds and good with their hands, and they wouldn't be bothering to go to college to learn about the pathological causes of our involvement in Vietnam. But with guys like these, who were inevitably interested in - no, make that inextricably invested in - cars, you could always strike up a conversation by asking, "Hey, slim, whatchya drivin' these days?" or maybe, "What's under the hood, bud?"


I have been mysteriously drawn to cars in my poems ever since I wrote a short free-verse curse against Henry Ford, titled "Scrapmetal." And yet, cars are practically the root of all evil in the U.S., aren't they? They enabled the white flight from inner cities that perpetuated racism for good and their emissions are behind (or underneath) climate change. If I'm not mistaken, cars and the need to fill them up with gasoline are behind the often heinous foreign policy the U.S. has had in oil-rich countries. With their ability to isolate, with one person per hugely enormous car in unconscionable commuter traffic jams, they're also working to ensure that strangers, perfect and otherwise, don't have to talk to each other the way they would on a chicken bus in Guatemala, say. 



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