Award-winning poet and essayist Brian Blanchfield gave himself a strange set of requirements for his new book "Proxies: Essays Near Knowing" – write essays purely from memory. Do not check book titles or apartment locations. Stay away from Google. Fact check nothing – at least until the end.
“I had this urge to say what I knew, and by that I mean, not only what I knew as a ‘queer intellectual poet’ but also as the son of a Primitive Baptist and a truck driver, and also as this professor without an office, as an adjunct who’s been absorbed and expelled from academia a number of times over the years,” said Blanchfield.
The author is in town Monday night to read at Left Bank Books in support of his new work, a collection of 24 essays. The book covers topics such as apartment sitting, working in and out of academia and the author’s own personal narrative as a writer who grew up in a working-class family in North Carolina.
The book belongs to a new cadre of texts reinterpreting the essay form and personal narratives. Maggie Nelson’s "The Argonauts" examined queer-family making. Eileen Myles' recent publications look at growing up gay in Boston and pursuing poetry in New York. Ta-Nihisi Coates' book "Between the World and Me" considers growing up black and male in America.
Like many of those authors, Blanchfield has won a number of awards. That includes the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and most recently the $50,000 Whiting Award. His most recent poetry collection was long-listed for the National Book Award for poetry. This increasingly positive reception to his work indicates the potential for much broader success.
For him the book was a way to reconnect with writing and a chance to flex different compositional muscles while exploring how he exists as a constellation of his various experiences.
“Maybe it was a kind of wish for integration at that point of my life,” said the author.
Blanchfield will read his work at 7 p.m. Monday at Left Bank Books, 399 North Euclid, St. Louis 63108.