The Book I Will Write by John Henry Fleming is a serial novel-in-emails about a would-be writer named John Henry Fleming who is desperate to publish a book. THE BOOK I WILL WRITE is a work in progress; readers are invited to make comments and influence the outcome. Fleming has been exchanging emails with an editorial assistant at Knopf, Mary Ann Lankowski, under the nose of her boss, Senior Editor Roberta Hollymore. Here is Fleming’s latest reply.
“AN ONOMATOPAEAN,” OR “MICHAEL JACKSON: THE END OF POETRY”
Ms. Mary Ann Lankowski
New York, New York
I hope you had a nice weekend. I decided to stay at home and plan out my novel. More about that later.
I’m sorry your Michael Jackson experience wasn’t what you’d hoped for, assuming you’d hoped for anything good. I have to admit my own Michael Jackson experience has been pale. By that I mean I don’t know really know who he is, except that your mentioning him made me recall the experience of overhearing his name in a coffee shop some years ago.
I’d come to the coffee shop to gather notes for an ill-fated poem meant to replicate with words the joyful sound of a cappuccino maker’s steam-release. I was going to call this poem “An Onomatopaean.” I never got past the title. As I sat at my table that afternoon with my pen ready to receive the muse in the form of steamed milk, two customers spoke loudly about what I have to believe is this same person, Michael Jackson. I gathered he was an entertainer who’d just died. The customers’ raised voices interfered with the sound of the cappuccino machine. It was as if my muse had lost her way and bubbled out onto the floor.
More or less the same thing happened two minutes later, and again two minutes after that, until my experience of the cappuccino-steamer sound had been altered forever. I could no longer appreciate the sound with the same purity and innocence I’d had only a few minutes before. It would forever be associated with the death of Michael Jackson. To this day I avoid coffee shops with cappuccino makers.
Later, I considered writing a poem titled “Michael Jackson: The End of Poetry” but feared it would be misinterpreted.
I’m seriously considering writing the tomato stew novel, but the character of the pop culture icon might be a problem for me, and here’s why. I don’t watch TV or listen to the radio, and when I go to the movies, I generally sit in back mulling over the experience of Isolation in a Crowded Room, a modern condition. I take notes. Sometimes I’m escorted out of the theater by an usher. I feel then that a human connection has been made, though the usher rarely seems improved by it.
For a time, I was aware of the pop culture icon named Madonna. I had a friend, a girl I knew in high school, who invited me to sit in her parents’ car with her and listen to Madonna CDs until either the car battery died or her parents discovered us and sent me home. I endured the entire Madonna oeuvre for months, hoping that one day this girl’s affection for the singer would transfer itself from an electronically-reproduced voice to the warm, impassioned body sitting beside her. In the car. In the dark. In the garage.
This didn’t happen. Who was this Madonna and what was the nature of her hypnotic powers?
Later, I heard she got her shtick from Madeline Kahn, which made me appreciate Madeline Kahn’s movies better.
In any case, I think I’m going to move forward with the tomato stew idea. It encourages me that both you and Ms. Hollymore saw fit to comment on it. I’m going to get on the internet now and search for suitable pop culture icons who could reasonably be depicted as tomato growers and stew makers. Unlike “An Onomatopaean,” my novel is off to a good start with a warm association. Namely, you.
John Henry Fleming