Review of Jennifer Natalya Fink

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the first Lannan Fellow reading series of Fall 2011. The Lannan Center hosts seminars and readings by various authors on Tuesday evenings throughout the year on the Georgetown University campus in DC. The events are all free and open to the public.
The first reader was experimental fiction writer Jennifer Natalya Fink, who read from her collection of short stories, 13 Fugues, which pulls from the psychological theories of Freud to fictional character building and the autobiographical (i.e. “Bikini,” a short story that reveals a young girl’s going through puberty while vacationing in Brazil). Some literature is only meant to be read on the page, and some authors are able to excite their readers through oration. Fink does just that with the performative aspect of her poetry; in a smooth voice she is able to sing out the chorus to Roller Coaster of Love, then bring the reader back into the narrative of controversial and erotic scenes between two females, to inviting audience participation in asking us what oxyuricide (or some other derivation of a “cide”) means as if she were a game show host.
Layered over the deliverance of her work is the rhythm and sound compacted into each story. Though it is not contrived to be, one may recognize portions of her work as what is known as a fugue (in music) in which two voices in a composition intertwine to share a theme. Certainly the voices of narrator Tanya Irene Schwartz and her female counterpart, Jane, intertwine to the point where the voice of each female character blends as one, indistinguishable voice. Fugue may also be recognized as a counterpoint, in which Fink’s story has plenty. There are fascinating shifts of point of view and passages of time. As a poet, I would not have recognized this as a genre of experimental fiction, rather I would have identified her work as poetry. In the seminar before the reading, iconic poet Fanny Howe (who introduced Fink) mentioned of her work that it is like poetry with a focus on sound, tone, and the individual line, but Fink is not like a poet in the sense that there is a desire and care toward narrative and the elements of tragedy.
During a Q&A after the reading, Fink had fantastic responses of her inspiration of letting it all in (observations, the personal, etc.) and leaving nothing out as part of her process. She then pays close attention to the sound of what she has written during stages of revision and cuts out any part of her writing that is not fitting into the structure or music of the whole. When asked whether the religion aspect of her writing was more subversive than eroticism, she said yes. Religion after all is frightening, and though given her Jewish identity, she is not a self-prescribed secular person. If you have not yet read the book and want to imagine the comparison, imagine an erotic scene of two sisters playing obstetrician or the line “She imagines herself skinned and tanned and stretched around Jane like a shawl.” While Fink’s writing is not shy, it does more than to shock; her writing comes across as honest.  I learned that part of Fink’s inspiration was reading the poet Anne Sexton, who experienced fugue states. Of course, my vested interest (for those who may have read a few blog posts of mine) and curiosity peaked when Fink claimed Anne Sexton as a misread Language poet.
You may check out the description of 13 Fugues and purchase the book at Dark Coast Press. Poet Robin Robertson is set to read in the Lannan series on September 20th.

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