A romp through 1970s academia

Calgary Herald New Condos - - Books - RON BERTHEL

John Skoyles The Per­ma­nent Press

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, N.Y., 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 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.

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 neigh­bour’s de­crepit dog 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./

A Move­able Famine

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