Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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There is history, and there is myth. The first can, with luck and archival effort, be verified. But the second moves the world. For those who want to know the real facts about the author of Through the Looking-Glass, JSTOR awaits, riddled with rabbit holes. For those interested, instead, in a tune to the tone of, some puns and spun fantasies regarding, and general musings on the theme of the man who wrote as Lewis Carroll, this, the most recent Rose Metal Press chapbook contest winner, is swollen with sweet compote, riddles, and ravenous little ouroboros jokes. The real Charles Lutwidge Dodgson thought some, so it is said, about math, which in some parts of the world is referred to in the plural, as maths. Here we’re told, more usefully, that
Lewis Carroll created a game called Round Billiards, which was the game of billiards played on a circular table with no pockets. When someone asked how one wins, Carroll admitted he had never thought about it, only wanting to calculate the angles off a curved rail.
He published many word games, among them one of the first crossword puzzles, although as a joke he made all the letters A’s with the clues all being varying degrees of yawns.
The historic Dodgson suggested new systems of parliamentary representation, supposedly, but Seabrook gives us a more suitable legacy, a Carroll buried “in a coffin made of broken furniture and marmalade jam.” We have bits here about watches and card games and chess, disembodied smiles and heedlessness. There’s a page of mirror-writing laying out a subtle counter-narrative to the straight-type page it faces. Carroll once wrote—in real life, in the realm of the verifiable—that one goes on until one comes to the end, and then one stops. But does not the appeal, the power, even the truth of his work come from a subversion of this seemingly simple statement? A raven just never stops being like and yet not being a writing-desk (Seabrook says plenty about this, variations and midrashim on the theme. For instance: “When the Pope wrote Carroll a letter asking, ‘Why is a raven like a writing desk?’ Carroll wrote a thirty-page treatise explaining the writing desk as an allegory for God. The Pope wrote back asking, ‘What about the raven?’ and Carroll said that answers come to those who pray.”) There’s more here than a joke, and the reference to a piety fat with words seems apt, too, to this myth of a man who wrote of rabbits and hookahs and elixirs for variable size. Seabrook tells a tale of Carroll ordained, giving one and only one sermon, three days in length: “The first day was spent in silence,” but then on the second day Carroll began to stammer, and from the stammer emerged an apology and then a sermon that “went through the night, stuttering over what Jesus might have thought about during the six hours he was on the cross.” Going on until the end, which proves itself to be another sort of joke, a trick of maths, and after which, one goes on, though the clocks can’t be relied upon to offer any accurate, any verifiable, sense of how that going on proceeds. I am bad at calculations, but I’d wager Seabrook’s book will prove timely, to most readers, more than twice a day. Here myth gets the marmalade it deserves, a clever little game going on and on.
Official William Todd Seabrook Web Site
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