Hey, there, Story366. Happy Friday to you. I hope you’re having a great start to your Fourth of July weekend.
Today is July 1, and 183rd day of the year, which marks the halfway point of the Story366 project. That’s a lot of stories read—two to four a day, on average—and a lot of essays written. I wish I had something really interesting to say about the project to mark the occasion, but really, I don’t think it’s all that interesting to the lot of you (let alone me) to pontificate too much on the nature of the project at this point. Early in the project, I marked milestones, after a week, a month, etc., but I’m clearly going forward with it at this point. Barring some injury, emergency, or tragedy, I will complete the second half on schedule, and before we all know it, I’ll have to figure out where the blog goes from there.
The family and I aren’t headed anywhere this year for the holiday, deciding to lay low instead. We’ll be heading back to Chicago a couple of times more this summer, just not this week, as we’re enjoying our home, our day-to-day. We will find a fireworks display in Springfield or a neighboring town, one that will most likely include a festival, some games, some rides, maybe some deep-fried dough covered in powder sugar; if God exists, there will be fried cheese curds.
What we won’t be doing is buying our own fireworks. Every parking lot in town has a tent set up with folding tables underneath, fireworks for sale aplenty. Neither Karen nor I are huge fans of lighting things and watching them explode, which might come from our parents. My mom is/was an old-school fireworks hater, someone who has a million times cited a girl she went to grade school with who lost fingers lighting firecrackers. My mother would just as likely have given me a bazooka or a Penthouse as she would have fireworks, and that NFL player who lost half his hand last year, Jason Pierre-Paul, is a living, modern testament to my mom’s fears. For me, it’s the money as much as the finger-losing, the same reason I don’t go to casinos or buy lottery tickets, spending money for the sole purpose of immediately losing it. Karen’s mom, a fifty-year ER nurse, has relayed more than her share of fireworks disasters, most more graphic than anything she cared to share. About six years ago, at private display in my sister’s neighborhood, the host—an off-duty Indiana state trooper—shot a pretty big rocket into a little girl’s lap, giving her second- and third-degree burns; our oldest son was in the back of the crowd, another twenty feet back, but it could have been him almost as easily. All in all, we have become those parents, like our parents, the kind who deny their kids fireworks, no matter how many little stores we pass, how much they beg (and actually, they don’t). Does that make us uncool? Wouldn’t be the first thing.
What does this have to do with today’s story, “The Hospital for Bad Poets” by J.C. Hallman, from his collection The Hospital for Bad Poets, out from Milkweed Editions? Nothing, really, like so many of my lead-ins this year. Considering the title, and that Karen is a poet, I don’t feel safe making even the slightest connection between the story and my home life. So, here we are, discussing Hallman’s story, a rough transition between salutation and the business.
“The Hospital for Bad Poets” is straight-up satire, a real tongue-in-cheek piece that made me laugh out loud a whole lot. The story is told from the POV of this poet, a guy who’s just getting started in his craft. First, we get this pretty epic epigraph from Nietzsche, something about dumbasses turning wisdom into a poorhouse and hospital for bad poets. Hallman takes this quotation and runs with it, as the story begins with our hero being discovered by a couple of paramedics on the floor of his hovel of an apartment. The joke is that our protagonist isn’t injured or sick, but has been writing bad poetry, necessitating this emergency response. The paramedics, who work at the hospital for bad poets, do a series of tests, ask a bunch of questions, and determine that our hero is indeed a terrible poet—the draft stuck inside his typewriter is the best indication. Despite his protests, claiming to be new at his craft, they take him to the titular hospital for further treatment and observation.
Once at the hospital, Hallman has a bunch more fun with the parody, as every scene starts to mirror hospital dramas, only more poetry-centered. One scene in particular, a doctor making our guy spout famous verse between deep breaths, takes its shots at workshops, a team of poetry interns critiquing our hero’s delivery, hitting on every on every cliché, including a recommendation to pursue law instead. Nothing poet or poetry is left untouched, Hallman squeezing every ounce of his premise into his story. Yet, as a short piece, the joke never outstays its welcome, the satire running its course without mugging, without pressing. Hallman knows when to stop, his point made, perfect delivery and execution.
The next story I read, “Double Entendre,” was also about writing, a super-meta story about writing erotica, one that combines a basic sexual encounter with exposition and some real fiction craft and theory. Wondering if the whole book was about writers and writing, I read on, taking on the first story, “The Epiphenomenon, ” then “Savages.” Neither is about writing or writers, but each has a cool, experimental, meta voice, making me think that Hallman is the type of writer who takes a lot of chances, wants to tell stories differently, and has an endless imagination.
And really, I can’t pay J.C. Hallman a higher compliment, as those are all qualities I admire in a book, aspire to as a writer. I love The Hospital for Bad Poets, a fantastic find, a great way to end my first half.