Archipelago: “Lasse is dead. He committed suicide yesterday.”
In 2005 my friend and colleague, Lars Bjuvberg, committed suicide in Stockholm. Lars and I weren’t all that close, but his death hit me in a way that I still don’t fully understand. Perhaps it was as simple as the fact that someone so very talented had escorted himself off this mortal stage.
Or perhaps it was more complicated – as I learned more about the story, I found myself empathizing with him and understanding his decision. I had written about suicide before, and in ways that perhaps suggested something about my own relationship with what many regard as the gravest of human sins.
I found that I had to write about it. And by “had to,” I mean that literally. I was emotionally incapable of letting it lie. Poetic elements began suggesting themselves, but I was also keenly aware of Lars’s love of theatre. Since he was Scandinavian, I also found myself thinking of the dark realism of Ibsen and Strindberg. As the e-mails flew back and forth between myself and some of our mutual friends and co-workers, I realized that their voices were important to the play, as well.
Over a couple of weeks, “Archipelago” came together in a way that was as clear and organic as it was unconventional and tortured. It remains the single most painful writing exercise of my life, and its form was distinctly unlike any poetry I had ever seen. I had been reading Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, a novel that shattered so many of the conventions of fiction without damaging the fabric of the narrative, and I realized that I could perhaps do something similar in poetry.
The result is part poem, part play, plus some actualities (real e-mails from my friends, newspaper clippings, etc.), prose lifted from blogs and comment threads, and even a few photographs. These elements weren’t gimmicks or add-ons – they were integral to the very fabric of the work.
I had no hope that any poetry journal would ever accept it. If the length of it didn’t scare them away, the task of integrating all the formal complexities into their publication process certainly would, and this is assuming that they even got it or liked it. (One editor I had submitted it to a few years ago was confused because some of the e-mail sections seemed too much like real communications. Duh.)
And then I discovered a new journal called Uncanny Valley. They had a very open mind about form and length and innovation. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a more ideal venue for something like “Archipelago.” I was ecstatic when they accepted it, and finally I was able to see my tribute to my colleague and friend in print in their inaugural issue (September 2011).
I encourage you to grab a copy of UV, and in the meantime I’m offering it up my readers here, at Scholars & Rogues and over at my Samuel Smith Poetry community on Facebook. I hope you enjoy it, and I invite your comments.