Sunday, April 17, 2022

"The Fact of Memory"

Aaron Angello is a poet, playwright, and essayist from the Rocky Mountains who lives and feels remarkably out of place in the charming, but very Eastern, town of Frederick, Maryland. He received his MFA and PhD from the University of Colorado Boulder, and he currently teaches writing and theater at Hood College.

Angello applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, The Fact of Memory: 114 Ruminations and Fabrications, and reported the following:
This is page 69:
Almost I moved into an apartment at 345 E 12th Street, in the East Village of Manhattan, in 1994, when I was twenty-one. Seven years later, I was living in Los Angeles, but I was in Colorado recording an album. During downtime in the studio, I read a book called Dream Brother, a biography of both Tim and Jeff Buckley. I had come to Jeff Buckley’s music late, only a few years before, sometime around the time he jumped, fully clothed, into the Mississippi and sang songs as the current pulled him toward his watery death. How I used to romanticize such things. I sat in the control room and read that Jeff Buckley, my musical god, had lived at 233 E 12th Street, a block from my old apartment. He moved there three or four years before I did, and his album Grace was released in 1994, so it’s likely he was no longer in that apartment. But he could have been. He could have been living a block away from me. He could have walked into Sin-é, sat down and had a beer while Nicole and I sat two tables away making snide comments about the grungy singer-songwriter who was performing that night. We could have passed each other on the street, Jeff Buckley and I, eaten at the same café, sat smoking cigarettes on the same bench in Tompkins Square. I had entered his world right as he was leaving it, becoming the Jeff Buckley that I would come to know a few years later via a secondhand CD. I remember reading that biography in the recording studio in Colorado, reading that he once lived a block from me, and being devastated by the prospect of nearness, by how frequently we’re on the wrong sidewalk.
The Fact of Memory: 114 Ruminations and Fabrications is a collection of very brief lyric essays and prose poems that, on the surface, aren’t directly related to each other. Each of the 114 pieces is a reflection on a word from Shakespeare’s 29th sonnet. However, when taken together, the individual pieces form a kind of fragmented memoir, a complex, cubist self-portrait. I don’t know if McLuhan was imagining a book like this when he suggested the test, but we’re going to try it out and see how it goes. The entry/essay on page 69 is titled “Almost.” It is from the line in the sonnet that begins the third quatrain, and is thus the volta, or turn, in the poem: “Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising/happily I think on thee.” It’s this moment, in the sonnet, that the speaker in the poem shifts their perspective from one of disgust with the self to adoration of the beloved, and it’s interesting that this test lands on a word at this point of the poem. This mini-essay also records a moment of turn, of transition, from a kind of blissful lack of awareness to the sadness of recognition, from presence to longing, from looking forward to looking back.

Though I can’t really say this essay is representative of the book stylistically, it does explore a lot of themes that recur throughout it. The sense of place here and the easy movement between locations – remembering the East Village from a recording studio in Colorado while living in LA (all of this being remembered in Boulder, several years later) – is very much a mode in the book. The places that formed me are prominent throughout, and the slippage between them is consistent, as it is in my memory.

Nicole shows up quite a bit as a character in the book; sometimes she’s named, more often she’s not. She was my partner for much of my twenties. We moved to New York together and became artists together. She appears briefly here, but she is always there, a consistent part of these Manhattan memories.

And then there’s the music. Music plays a prominent role in the book and in my life, not only because I was a musician, but also because I, like all of us, have quirky and very specific soundtracks to my memories. Songs work as catalysts of emotional memory for us more powerful than any madeleine. As one can read in the essay, Jeff Buckley’s music became incredibly important to me during the years I lived in Los Angeles, after I’d moved away from New York. He was what I aspired to be as a musician, though I was never even close to as good as he.
Visit Aaron Angello's website.

--Marshal Zeringue