I just finished a novel that I want to recomend. It is entitled American Poet, written by Jeff Vande Zande, who started out writing poetry but now focuses on fiction. The novel centers around Denver Hoptner, a recent college grad frustrated with his hometown of Saginaw, MI, as he struggles to find a job with his B.F.A. in poetry. Anyone who graduated college with a fine arts degree can probably relate to the protagonist’s sense of isolation and doubt.
The novel is loaded with well-crafted scenes that anyone involved in a writing community can relate to. One of my favorites is an open mic scene that spans a few pages and includes a writer who insists on being called Coyote and howls after every poem. I am sure most of us have suffered through open mics just as painful, if not more so. In another memorable scene, Denver is interviewed by a bank manager for a teller position, and the manager pokes fun at his B.F.A. in poetry, saying the poetry stuff is a real “head scratcher” to most people. The employer’s comments follow a moment in which Denver tries to explain to the banker a course he took in scansion, making chopping motions in the air with his hands to try to explain dividing poetic lines into feet and leaving Denver to comment, “The face he made suggested he was trying to figure out what mental disorder I might have.”
The story also highlights father/son relationships, specifically the relationship Denver has with his blue-collar father, which evolves as Denver changes for the better throughout the novel. The book also cautions against writing programs that breed writers who care solely about publishing credits rather than building community and supporting other writers.
I am writing a review of the book that will eventually appear over at PANK. When the review is live, I will post a link on here. Until then, you should check out the book, which is available here.