Sunday, January 21, 2007

Case Notes 1

The portion of the story that remains after the other components have been dissolved by churning. The woman attends the night game to watch the snow fall near the lights. Only the body of the protagonist is undergoing change. A whistle sweeps the town of meaning.

Ben Lerner
Angle of Yaw, p. 25.

"Dusting for Prints" was probably the first Kate Greenstreet poem I read. I read it in Diagram (4.6) on or around December 10, 2005. About a year later, I read it again but this time in her new book case sensitive. As it turns out, Kate wasn't making her author note in Diagram up:

A woman is driving coast to coast. She is listening to a book on tape, a murder mystery. The poems she's writing in the motels each night combine mystery matter with observation and memory. Later some of those poems will become a chapbook called Where's the Body? A collection of this character's chapbooks form the manuscript case sensitive, my attempt to make the kind of mystery I'd like to read, with all the stuff that I don't need (the murder, etc.) removed.

So there is the natural question: what is the relationship between the "woman" in the first sentence and the "I" in the last. "She" is writing the poems, but so, presumably, is Kate Greenstreet. Where, indeed, is the body?

We know that Where's the Body is collected in case sensitive. So we are to imagine that a fictional chapbook was fictionally published. However, case sensitive also includes the poems "Learning the Language" (in the chapbook/section Book of Love) and "Bridge" (in Diplomacy). These also appear in Kate Greenstreet's very real chapbook Learning the Language. which does not appear in the present "collection of this character's chapbooks." Did Kate Greenstreet steal these poems from her character and publish them as her own, or did her character steal them from her?

Question: did Kate Greenstreet ever drive coast to coast listening to murder mysteries on tape and writing poems in motel rooms? What was she doing? Research for a poem?

Here's another detail. Perhaps it is insignificant, perhaps it is crucial. Like the other "chapbooks" in case sensitive, Where's the Body has endnotes. The first line of the first poem, "Begin with who was killed and why," is attributed to Gillian Roberts' You Can Write a Mystery (1999), which seems to be a real book. This may be perfectly innocent. But there is something else: the endnote informs us that the line has been "used with the kind permission of Writer's Digest Books." Did she really need permission? Since she has even provided her source, wouldn't it be "fair use"? Even if she hadn't provided the source, would a line like that really constitute plagiarism if it had been simply appropriated? She puts the line in quotation marks and endnotes it. But the rest of the book is full of unreferenced quotatations. Why offer a reference here?

The answer must be that it accomplishes a specific literary effect. But we must now ask: did she really ask for the publisher's permission? Like I say, she probably didn't need it. But perhaps she would get in trouble for claiming to have done so if she really hadn't. So she asked for permission in order to accomplish the literary effect of appearing to have asked for permission?

It's all very strange. Suspicious.

Elsewhere in case sensitive, she (who?) says, "A story has to leave out nearly everything or no one can follow it" (p. 29). This is a bit like Ben Lerner's "churning" (see epigraph, where it is used without permission.) The process is not so much that of plot development: "Only the body of the protagonist is undergoing change."

One last detail before the chapter ends in suspense: the endnote does not provide a page reference. Google turns up only this.*

Note: no endnote.

I think this story knows it's being followed.

*Update: the original link went dead, but I found another online version of the poem, which was originally printed in Conduit 15 (Fall 2004). Also, while Google did not return Roberts's book back when I wrote the post, it does now tell us that the quote appears on page 36.

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