In 1968 when Lilia and I went from Sofia via Dublin to join my parents in their exile in Menasha, Wisconsin I came to learn the name of a young writer who had just taken up teaching at Lawrence University (then College) in nearby Appleton, Mark Dintenfass. In the following year he would publish a novel MAKE YOURSELF AN EARTHQUAKE. I never met MD as I was teaching seventh grade at St John's Polish Catholic Church School and getting ready to escape to Hollins College via George Garrett and Chad Walsh. I did go to listen to Kenneth Burke, I think in that year, but I might have gone to see Burke a few years later up in Appleton...
MD typified what I thought was going to happen to me: I would contrive to publish a novel, have some sort of MA and end up teaching and living out my life as a writer in residence at some leafy college like Lawrence, teaching a writing course, teaching a course of my own creation on writers I liked and meeting visiting writers... having a house within walking distance of the college... growing old with many trips to Europe and eventually a second home somewhere or other to provide a contrast to the winters of Wisconsin or the north or maybe it would be the reverse in terms of weather if i lived in the South.
Of course that did not come to pass. The white male writer with tenure at a small college is now nearly an extinct creature having been replaced by various women and the far more fashionable and necessary ethnic writers of whatever sex.
The occasion for these "thoughts" was finding MONTGOMERY STREET by Dintenfass among the books in my storage unit. It is a surprisingly good book that is of necessity and sure fragmentation as his narrator assembles a possible film from his memories of growing up in Brooklyn.
Of course like all of Dintenfass's books---THE CASE AGAINST ORG, OLD WORLD NEW WORLD, A LOVING PLACE, MAKE YOURSELF AN EARTHQUAKE--- it is out of print and I went to the computer to see if he was still among the living. On the jacket of MONTGOMERY STREET there is a photogrpah of a chunky dark haired man with dark glasses, heavy eye brows and brooding moustache.
MD is still among the living at least according to an article from the Lawrence University magazine: which writes of his many years of teaching and how twentyfive years ago the novels stopped and he was teaching writing, directing plays and is now a professor emeritus: it is mentioned that his favorite novel came within a few thousand copies of making the NY Times best seller list... one or two students talked about him as a good teacher and he remembered playing softball for Lawrence for 20 years. His hair is now white or gray; he has softened at the edges and he is remembering that one of his novels came within a few thousand copies of making the New York Times best seller list
I have not been able to write of my parents' exile in Menasha,Wisconsin and I do not use the word exile lightly as it was an exile from Patchogue and my father's job in New York City. He was sent there by the American Can Company which owned his flesh as was very common back then.
Menasha is a factory city on Little Lake Butte des Mortes... a city of taverns, factories, next door to Neenah home of Kimberly Clark and a museum devoted to paper weights. My father and I went up to stand by the grave of Joe McCarthy who is buried in Appleton... I published a poem or two in the local newspaper... I remember Roger who worked part time at the funeral parlor who had the job of making sure that eyelids did not pop open during viewings... he had taught eighth grade in the same school and his mother listened to country/western music...
All writers prepare today to be forgotten if they have any brains about them. The books are on library shelves. The books are in the fewer and fewer second hand book stores. The books are in the rather insulting or humiliating listings at Amazon where prices start at .01 cents plus postage.
If a book does not generate some sort of critical response it is doomed to disappear into the...
One could write and essay on MONTGOMERY STREET and nothing would happen... maybe MONTGOMERY STREET would no longer retail for .01 cents for brief moment.
One could celebrate the quality of the writing, the writing as an attempt to deal with the persistence of memory and the attempt at shaping of memory into film.. and while the novel leaves it open at the end, the reader is left with the exhilarating feeling that this book is an actual real substitude for what would only be a very derivative movie... MD creates in MONTOMERY STREET that miracle of demonstrating that the read word has advantages over the word that has been used to provoke moving pictures...
I wonder if MD ever tried to describe the winters in the Fox Valley where Appleton along with Menasha and Neenah are? Did he try to describe the smells of the paper manufacturing plants? Did he try to describe the go-go bars up on the highway or the taverns that seemed to be on every corner of those cities? Did he think of Glenway Wescott who came from near there in Kewaskum and wrote a book of stories GOODBYE WISCONSIN and just maybe the great American novel if such needs to be mentioned, THE GRANDMOTHERS? Did he think of Lorine Niedecker also living nearby and working in hospitals as a cleaning lady while corresponding with Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky?
Or did he think too much of Brooklyn or waste a lot of time thinking about being so far away from...
Or has he been saving himself, for that moment when he will be free of students, and now able to once again...