Nocturnes at Franklin Park
1. Readers Scott McClanahan & Blake Butler, just chillin in the VIP section at Franklin Park. Is that a Swans shirt I see peeking out from Butler’s button-down? 2. Poet Abigail Welhouse, who is a publicist for OR Books, & Franklin Park alum Eliza Snelling.
Franklin Park Reading Series went nocturnal for this month’s edition in order to celebrate the release of Blake Butler’s new nonfiction book Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia, which came out yesterday. Five readers shared their thoughts on the theme and the results were everything from eloquent to strange to hilarious.
1. Three literary men and their eyeglasses: Christopher Swetala of GQ, Joel Whitney of Guernica, & Paul Morris of Bomb. 2. Reader Sara Rose Etter & Joseph Riippi, who is the author of The Orange Suitcase. Etter was telling me how although her parents are very proud of her, they don’t exactly like her work.
Robin Beth Schaer was the first reader. A poet who has been published in Guernica and Tin House, her work used scientific, naturalistic language. She did a great job in sticking to the theme, including poems named things like “Insomnia” and “Nocturnal.”
Sarah Rose Etter shared her story “Tongue Party” with us, which is the title story of her chapbook that won Caketrain’s 2010 chapbook competition. She opened it up by telling us that she had been talking to her father beforehand and had asked him what she should say. He told her that she could say she was going to read a great piece of literature and then read War and Peace, or she could be honest and tell us she was a creep. This immediately won me over because I really like female creeps, and then it only got better from there. “Tongue Party” tells about the preparations of a young (too-young-to-drink young) girl and her father before they go to the daughter’s place of work, and also jellyfish. The story managed to build tension and subvert expectations without being gimmicky, and was really, really weird, and, yes — creepy — on top of it all. My boyfriend and I(he’s a musician, not a writer-type, but he’s sweet enough to let me drag him to more than his fair share of readings) enjoyed it so much that we scrambled to the toll-booth fund in his van to come up with enough cash to buy the chapbook. Which I read immediately after the reading, and so now I can tell you that Etter is definitely no one-hit-wonder, and that you should definitely check her out if you haven’t already.
Scott McClanahan was the last reader before the break, and if I hadn’t already blown my praise wad, I would do it here. He is truly an amazing reader, and if you haven’t seen him live then you’re really missing out, and should probably at least watch him on YouTube. The piece he shared involved chanting, a story about a boy riding his bike, and walking away from the mic to get closer to the crowd. It ended with the loudest applause I have ever heard at Franklin Park, or any reading I’ve ever been to, for that matter.
1. Alexander Chee at the mic.
Alexander Chee read first after the break from his “so close to forthcoming novel,” The Queen of the Night, which heavily features the subject of nocturnes. The passage he read told the story of a maid who was preparing her lady for meeting the empress. Apparently the ladies were required to pack and wear twenty-eight different outfits, and nothing could be repeated in front of the empress, including shoes and accessories. His reading voice was very calm, and it was evident that a lot of research had gone into the novel.
As if to remedy the calmness that had enveloped the crowd by Chee, Blake Butler, who is the editor of HTML Giant, read in an aggressive, loud voice. While I have seen Butler read before and his reading style definitely tends to lean to the assertive side, he took it to a new level on Monday, which I suspect may have been influenced by one or two cocktails. The portion he read from Nothing featured pink balloons and very clearly described the bleeding-from-one-day-to-the-next quality that having insomnia gives to life.
Next month at Franklin Park is something totally lame and not worth going to: the theme is going to feature some literary magazine called Electric Literature, and some writer named Jim Shepard is slotted to read. I’m totally not excited already.
by Sarah Rose Etter
by Scott Mcclanahan
by Alexander Chee
Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia
by Blake Butler
— Julia Jackson writes fiction and is the editor of Electric Dish. She has an MFA from Brooklyn College.