Book Review: A Kind of Poetry, The Fact of Memory, by Aaron Angello

The fact of memory: 114 Ruminations and fabrications
By Aaron Angello
Pink metal press

In a piece called “Think”, Aaron Angello recounts two conversations about what makes a poem a poem. In one, Angello argued that a poem is something the poet or reader decides to call a poem. As simple as that.

In the other, an established poet told him that a poem is a way of thinking and can only occur in lined verse. If, she says, a poem expresses an idea that can be expressed in prose, it is not a successful poem and it is not even a poem.

I mention it because I want to suggest that Angello The fact of memory is a kind of poetry, even though it is written in prose without verse or verse. Before I go any further, let me give you some background.

The fact of memory is a one-of-a-kind book published by Rose Metal Press, founded by Abigail Beckel and Chicago author Kathleen Rooney and specializing in “hybrid genres”. I suspect this may be the very first book consisting of what its subtitle defines as “Ruminations and Fabrications”.

The book grew out of a writing workshop that Angello attended in which writers had to carry out some sort of daily practice. For Angello, a playwright, actor, stuntman, singer-songwriter, and poet, the practice had to do with Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 29,” specifically its individual lyrics.

He took a sketchbook, and he put each word of the poem, in order, at the top of its own page, so 114 words on 114 pages. Early every morning, he would sit in the same chair in his apartment, look at the word of the day, think about it, and then write.

Usually I had no idea
what I was writing.

“Usually I had no idea what I was writing. For the most part I started from a place in what I like to call “beyond consciousness”, a place where I didn’t “know” what I was composing, so to speak… I didn’t care even if it made sense. My only rules were that I had to write in prose, I had to fill the page, and the piece couldn’t spill over into the next one.

Angello’s efforts to write from a place beyond reason, logic and sense are what make The fact of memory a kind of poetry for me. He manages to say what cannot be said in normal prose with its demands for clarity and coherence.

The gates of creativity

In the years since the project ended, Angello tinkered with the parts, editing, rewriting and cutting, and the result is The fact of memory with its 114 one-paragraph, one-page entries. You could describe them, I suppose, as prose poems, but calling them ruminations and fabrications is more appropriate. Angello calls the book “a kind of long lyrical essay”.

Other than providing the 114 words, Sonnet 29 is not significant on its own. I mean, it’s not like Angello tries to echo Shakespeare’s ideas in his writing. Indeed, he notes, “the experiment would probably work just as well, regardless of the source.”

The individual words of the sonnet are simply the doors through which Angello entered an unusual and exceptionally rich creative space.

Seventy words are only used once in Shakespeare’s sonnet, but there are words that come up often, such as “and” (six times), “with” and “my” (five times each) and “I” and “like” (four times each). It’s interesting how Angello’s response to the same word is drastically different at different places in the book.

I held the cloud in my hands
all the way back home.

For example, at the beginning of the book, the word “my” prompts Angello to imagine himself driving in his parents’ car through a mountain fog. “My dad rolled down the window excitedly and yelled at me, ‘Aaron, quick, grab a handful of cloud. “…I held the cloud in my hands the whole way back.” And kept him as a pet.

Later in the book, the word “my” causes Angello to write on a papier-mâché bowl on his bookshelf which has become “a vessel for the small and the significant, the shimmering minutiae that conjure up whole worlds”. There’s an arrowhead and someone’s gold tooth found in a parking lot and a subway token and “a stone a child gave me – a ‘fairy tear’.”

This stone is an example of objects, events and people that appear in more than one of these ruminations and fabrications. He is originally mentioned in an article titled “With” in which Angello writes that he once had a job in Los Angeles in which he dressed as a pirate and fought with swords at children’s birthday parties. . After one, it happened:

“The boy whose birthday it was, who had just turned five or six, came running towards me, his mother running after him. “Here,” he said, catching me and handing me a clear, polished stone with an orange swirl on it. “It’s a fairy tear,” he told me. His mother, who was suing him, said it was his favorite thing.

The book’s subtitle warns the reader that not everything in Angello’s book is true. This cloud story, for example, is obviously a fabrication. Both mentions of the “fairy tear” seem to ring true.

Recreate a memory

And yet, how accurate is memory? It’s a question that Angello addresses in an author’s note at the beginning of his book:

“Memory is always, to some extent, a creative act. The fact of memory, one might say, is that it is never quite factual. We are not accessing a file that has been stored in our brain. Not really. Instead, we recreate a memory each time we recall it.

Even our facts are suspect.

A striking aspect of The fact of memory This is how these 114 pieces brought together reflect in an impressionistic and fractured way the person who wrote them. Angello writes, “Yet here I am, examining every inch of myself in the pages of this book. Wisps of clouds gather, then disperse.

Taken together, these 114 pieces do not include a Wikipedia entry on Aaron Angello or a resume or autobiographical essay. Instead, they poetically fit together in a unique and original portrait – a portrait of his experiences, thoughts, imagination and much more. The reader gets to know the writer in a direct and almost visceral way.

Clearly, a significant moment in his life was the night he and three college friends, one of whom became lovers, threw a quiet party on a New York rooftop. Four times in the book, Angello refers to this feast and always with an elegiac touch. In an article titled “Curse”, Angello writes about how knowledge can ruin a memory and end:

“We are broken when we realize that night at the college party where we sat on the roof, drank cheap beer and talked in bad French accents, shivering in the cold – when we felt our bodies shaking and breaking into pieces every little bit – that it was just, you know, biology.

Yet Angello questions how real this important memory is and comes to the conclusion: “Everything we know about ourselves and our world is fiction. Our whole past, our vast bank of stored experiences, is a massive, unfinished novel in fragments.

Forget the fabrications we invent. Even our facts are suspect.

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