Just One Question for Scott Garson

9 Apr

Just One Question is a new series in which I pose just one question to a Hot Pants author about their work. In the past, I have featured Myfanwy Collins and Ethel Rohan.  In this episode, I ask Scott Garson about his collection American Gymnopédies. Recently re-issued by Lit Pub Books, the book was praised by Jim Heynen as a “wonderfully original work.”

Jennifer: There must be something about America, and the cities your characters inhabit, that is very interesting to you. What did you hope to communicate by titling the book and the pieces with place names?

Scott: First, thanks for the opporturnity, Jen!  What I’ve found about questions like these: you think you know what the answer will be, but then you don’t. So let’s see…

Maybe the most honest response would have to start with the other side of the equation—the ‘gymnopédie’ thing. I’ve always loved the Satie pieces and championed them, in an I-stand-for-this way. I like how unclassifiable they are within classical music. I like their sound—how they feel like they’re ruled by form but at the same time impressionable, open. So one day—several years ago, this was—I wondered what a gymnopédie would be like as prose. I wasn’t analytical about it; I just started playing around. But what I found pretty quickly was that the atmospherics were tied to France, and particularly Paris, and maybe more particularly yet the old French film DIVA (which could be where I first heard the music). I didn’t want to write Paris, so I entered as a kind of intercession the word ‘HOUSTON.’  That’s how the first one started, the “Houston Gymnopédie.”

Close to fifty American cities are represented in the new edition. Some of them are places I’ve lived, but many of them—probably the majority—are places I’ve never even been to. Houston is decent example. I’d been there once, spent a weekend with the family of a girlfriend toward the end that relationship. They lived somewhere in the city’s apron of residential districts, in a wide and fairly featureless place. I was studying for GRE’s; my stay was both boring and fraught. But when I started doing the “Houston Gymnopédie,” none of that was in my head. Houston seemed like a chance. It was wide open. I remembered the incidental bar sounds of the opening of a Townes Van Zandt show recorded there. That set me going.

Getting back to the particulars of the question…  I knew that this book would end up saying something about the United States, but I didn’t ask what. That’s true and easy to say and probably not so interesting. Here’s something else: some places I had to include. Like Manhattan: I wrote one under that title. It sucked. I had to try others. And why? Maybe in part I wanted to deal with the ‘big’ spots—the ones that seem clearly enmeshed with the way we imagine the country. But maybe in a somewhat different sense I wanted the force of New York as I’ve always seen it. For me, New York City is a catalyzing place. If the gymnopédie form holds openness, some cities can seem double that, maybe, unlocking us, triggering change.

Scott blogs at Patterns of Silver Light and So Forth and his book, American Gymnopédies, can be purchased at The Lit Pub.

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One Response to “Just One Question for Scott Garson”

  1. myfanwycollins April 9, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    Reblogged this on myfanwy collins and commented:

    Love this.

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