"A Moveable Famine" (The Permanent Press), by John Skoyles
In an autobiographical novel, which parts are fiction and which are fact? Only the author knows for sure. But when such a work is as entertaining as John Skoyles' "A Moveable Famine," it hardly matters.
Skoyles is a professor at Emerson College in Boston, with several volumes of poetry and a memoir to his credit. In this, his first work of fiction, he invites readers to join him on a romp through 1970s academia, from his bath-time introduction to poetry in his parents' white-collar home in blue-collar Queens, New York, to his circuit of post-grad poetry workshops and classes, from Texas to New England.
Nearly everyone is at least a little quirky — these are poets, after all! — including one particular master of the malaprop, who refers to "a chug of wine" and that staple of Russian literature, Pushpin.
These poets, students and teachers do plenty of bed-hopping and bar-hopping, with occasional breaks for poetry-related activities — you know, reading it, writing it and teaching it.
And as if academic and social stresses weren't enough, Skoyles seems always to be confronted with some new health dilemma or short-circuited romance.
Skoyles' prose is chock-full of images that must have been drawn from the poetic corner of his creative mind: a woman he admires "passed through ... like a fragrance"; a teacher's goatee "hung from his chin like the tongue of a shoe"; and a Chihuahua's "eyes bulged as if overinflated."
Although much of the narrative focuses on offbeat goings-on and their equally offbeat perpetrators, Skoyles includes an oddly touching episode about his role as research assistant to the highly respected poet and teacher Mitchell Lawson, who is staunchly devoted to his neighbor's decrepit dog (named Uncle) and inconsolable when the pooch's demise seems imminent.
There may be no rhyme in Skoyles' poetry, but there's every reason to read his delightful book.