An entire book about a particular place. A place I could say I've never had the slightest desire to visit, mostly because of the heat and humidity, in which I can't function (and frequent tornandoes) but thanks to this online gem of a collection from Tuscaloosa writers I can do so vicariously, and enjoy some extraordinarily good writing in the process.
It's not just about Tuscaloosa, it seems to me; it's also about place. How we look at it, fit (or don't fit) into it, what draws us to it, keeps us there, gnaws at us in its absence, drives us maddingly from it; what makes us love and hate it at the same time.
We all have some place we carry with us, think and sometimes write about, named or unnamed, reminded of through words or images or happenstance. The actual place may even no longer exist--it could even be imaginary. But we (and readers) can go there, absorb ourselves in the landscape, recognize experienced parallels . . . remember. These Tuscaloosa writers--their words took me there immediately.
"Heat, like a needle driving straight for the vein . . ."
-- MC Hyland, "Tuscaloosa Notebooks", p. 178
You yawning stretch of sky
pressing flat these houses.
Absence rooted in your soil
grows down until plowed.
Town like gasp of damp air
flung across bloated river . . .
-- Pia Simone Garber, "To Tuscaloosa", p. 65
This mess is masterpiece, this shiver;
wool of wood-burning moon scarved
around lace rock and cobwebbed arch,
the branches of dream walking . . .
-- Pia Simone Garber, "Late Harvest", p. 66
Tornadoes happen there; but rubble is universal, as is loss:
idleness a function of power
time a sum of everywhere you can help
ours is the fourth rubble on the left
at the magnolia lying across the road . . .
-- Juan Carlos Reyes, "The Bama Bolero", p. 37
Of frustration with incomprehension, that has unusual consequences (e.g., for the over- or under-used comma):
What one thing that you have learned in this course has proven most useful? . . . one thing . . . be specific: one word.
This is how I make a difference. . . What if--I gave them a word they could use to compare things--? It could pry open their perspectives, cause them to view, to consider, two things at once."
-- Jennifer Gravley, in "Statement of Philosophy", p. 80.
And of comings and goings:
I want to tell you how to leave
this place for the last time.
I want to tell you: leave
the chipped red bowl
beneath the crack in the drywall.
Or the rain next month will drown
all this room has to offer
its new family.
. . .
what is it to leave a place
for the last time? . . .
-- Brooke Parks, "Residual", p. 130.
Thank you, writers of Tuscaloosa, for a very enjoyable read.
You can read Tuscaloosa Runs This online here. And download as a pdf file (with a larger font) here.