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  • Erik Mauritzson
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A Moveable Famine


A Moveable Famine

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Quick Overview:

A Moveable Famine by John Skoyles
ISBN 9781579623586
256 pages


This is the story of a boy from working class Queens who discovers poetry, an unlikely obsession that leads him from a Jesuit college's all male, sex-starved campus to the St. Mark's Poetry Project, and then to the Iowa Writers Workshop. He makes up for his previous lack of romance while at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and goes on to teach at two colleges, with a stay at Yaddo in between. John crosses paths with Raymond Carver, Robert Creeley and John Cheever, and receives guidance from mentors like Stanley Kunitz and strangers like Allen Ginsberg. A Moveable Famineis, ultimately, the portrait of an individual and an age. Above all, it is a book about identity.

"Poet and Ploughshares editor Skoyles (The Smoky Mountain Cage Bird Society) launches this crackling autobiographical novel with a brash preface 'bemoaning... the wasted lives of everyone who [does] not see the world through the lens of poetry.' This passion for the poetic life is treated with both mockery and sympathy, as we follow Skoyles from Queens, N.Y., to the famed Iowa Writer's Workshop in Iowa City; the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass.; and the Yaddo artist colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Witty vignette by witty vignette, drink by stiffer drink, this leisurely paced autobiography chronicles the peculiar codes of the 'claustrophobic,' competitive workshop culture and the 'extracurricular activities at poetry's finishing schools.' Its structure is pleasurably slack, casually zooming in on those writers living 'grant-to-mouth.' Quietly emerging from this raucous, entertaining book is a portrait of the aesthetic education of a poet and a fond tribute to his 'colony-hopping' fellows: 'Many were eccentric, some were slightly mad, but all were thoroughly human.'" --Publishers Weekly, starred review (book of the week)

"Skoyles presents a sharp snapshot of an era while employing thoughtful themes of self-doubt and the search for mentorship. Poet John Skoyles' autobiographical novel reveals his coming-of-age as a writer, from his days at the Iowa Writer's Workshop to his fellowships at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and at the Yaddo mansion in Saratoga Springs. Brushes with literary icons, including Allen Ginsberg and Raymond Carver, seamy anecdotes from the early 1970s and 80s, and everyday collegiality as well as rivalry merge to create an episodic tale of ambition. Chapters set in Provincetown take a leisurely, slice-of-life approach. Skoyles emphasizes social gatherings rife with non-sequiturs, along with sexual misadventures. Scenes with writers such as Alan Dugan, Gregory Corso, and Robert Creeley underscore the work center's high-spirited environment. Stanley Kunitz in particular emerges as a well-drawn guide given to making wise remarks, including the advice that the ending of a poem 'should be a door and a window' and that poets should 'live in the layers/not on the litter.' The book's focus on the inner sanctum of a masters-in-fine-arts program and on the wilder side of elite residencies may seem narrow, but Skoyles seldom preaches to the choir. With a narrator who is seemingly shepherded along by luck, A Moveable Famine offers a gently satirical, funny take on a world marked by eccentricity." --ForeWord Reviews
"A series of anecdotes both laugh-out-loud humorous and searingly poignant, Skoyles' narrative is at once fast-paced and poetic. Skoyles is both modest about his accomplishments and adept at noting them in understated prose. Fame, or its more modest brothers, respect and admiration, pop like air bubbles above the narrative's ebb and flow. His narrative feels alive. And satisfying, too. If not a feast, no famine, either. Recite his words aloud and a reader tastes them on lips, teeth, tongue. Yum." --NY Journal of Books
"Not the dark and moody work you might expect but shot through with a sense of humor—and wonder." --Library Journal (Top 30 Indie Fiction Pick)

JOHN SKOYLES is a Professor at Emerson College in Boston and the Poetry Editor of Ploughshares. He is the author of two non-fiction books, Generous Strangers (1999), and Secret Frequencies: A New York Education (2006), and four books of poetry: A Little Faith, Permanent Change, Definition of the Soul, and The Situation. He has received two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as fellowships from the New York and North Carolina Arts Councils. He has taught at Sarah Lawrence College and Warren Wilson College, where he directed the MFA program. He has also served as Executive Director of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, where he had a been a Writing Fellow. His work has appeared in numerous journals including The Atlantic, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, and Slate, and he has been a guest columnist for The Boston Globe.

Additional Information

Author John Skoyles
SideBarText No
BookType Cloth