Thursday 14 July 2022

Ed Lyons

Ed Lyons has been writing in different styles and different subjects for over 40 years. He is a regular contributor to Poems from the Heron Clan, and has appeared in Albatross, A New Ulster, and Lothlorien Poetry Journal. Ed lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

Well, when I have inventory I can't sell, I might donate some to the many little libraries that we have here in Winston-Salem. Free books for neighbours who can't afford them. Well, the last time I did this I lucked into three banned books. We've had a controversy about that in America. I got All Quiet of the Western Front (banned in Nazi Germany), The Gulag Archipelago (banned in the Soviet Union) and Fifty Shades of Gray (inappropriate). I'm working through the second right now. The Gulag Archipelago is an an attempt to recover an erased history, and not a novel.

A book you have read more than once.

I'll talk about On the Road, by Jack Kerouac. It's about his transcontinental travels in the US and Mexico, often with his friend, the real life Neal Cassidy. He writes about numerous other friends as well, adding up to a portrait of the beginning of the Beat Movement. They were at first a group of college Rimbaudians and after that, just plain free spirits, and it is always a rush to read about their high and low times. Kerouac invented a famous technique for storytelling which he called "spontaneous prose." He would set his typewriter up, eat Benzedrine, and type at the speed of thought for days on end. On the Road was written on a teletype roll in three weeks, but this only after years of trial and error.

What is a book you loved reading as a child?

I had some pocket books on meteorology and astronomy. I taught myself to predict weather and find the constellations and planets. I could identify clouds and track hurricanes. I was also interested in aviation and could identify anything at the airport, as well as explain to a first officer how to fly his plane. I thought I would do something scientific with my life, but I had trouble with math.

A book yet-to-be-released which you are looking forward to reading.

The yet-to-be released book I look forward to reading is Anne McMaster's collection of poems in Ulster Scots. I pressed her for an example of the language and she showed me a poem that was simply stunning. She really stole from the ancients! Anne explained the language to me. It's based on Northumbrian dialect Old English while the English language is based on Mercia dialect Old English. That's why I can read Ulster Scots pretty well, while having to work many lessons to get anywhere in Irish.

A book that you feel is underrated and deserves more attention.

An underrated book that is dear to me is Look Homeward, Angel, by North Carolina's Thomas Wolfe. The novel is about growing up in Altamont, which in real life is the mountain city of Asheville. North Carolina is never named, and it's towns and cities have aliases. Winston-Salem is not named at all, but it's such a distinctive city it's plain where it's described.

The protagonist, Eugene Gant, grows up in Altamont around the turn of the last century. The descriptions of the city and environs, its inhabitants, and the boy's own family dynamics, are vivid and the people are real, and often signalled by some personal quirk or tic. Time unfolds slowly, as in a dream many times, as prose approaches the condition.

Professors tend to shy away from Look Homeward, Angel, because it's long and dense and hard to fit in with the American canon. It is all that, but the alert reader will note that the style is working off Joyce. Because it deals with the same subjects as Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist, and Ulysses. Only in a different city. Jack Kerouac thought Look Homeward, Angel the Great American novel, and modelled his first attempt on it. Which didn't work. Kerouac had to find his own voice.

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