Ugly Duckling Presse (2010) ,88 p.
Reviewed by Laura Wetherington
What do you get when you cross David Antin’s talk poems, William Carlos Williams’ Paterson, and Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”? Ten Walks/Two Talks. That’s what. This book by Jon Cotner & Andy Fitch composed in four parts, depicts the urban ecosystem as its living, breathing protagonist. Here New York plays the hero. A constellation of character sketches, including, “two blonds…thrilled to be tall,” the “guys losing hair color, sporting metallic tones, with refined but somewhat stodgy taste in music,” and a “scared spaniel” form the aleatory action of the book. The reader is met with meditations about American Elms and references to Thoreau and Emerson; the writer is met with a guy carrying a load of bricks. Everything and nothing happens in this book. That’s the beauty of it. That, and the artistic recollection of the scenes. In addition to the Hiroshige frontispieces, there are brilliant washes of color throughout the book. The authors’ cogitation of the lavender sky evolves into conversation about Japanese paintings. Descriptions of the city contain this precise attention, like when we find “one Asian girl in gold tights and sneakers” who “helped an ancient couple cross Catherine. Upon close inspection all three looked gray.” I can imagine these lines coming from the study of a painting. But no, this is these men’s lives, recorded in technicolor and consonance.
The four parts (Early Spring, Early Winter, Late Spring, and Late Winter) alternate between promenades and conversations. The conversations were recorded and later formatted into an alternating dialogue, which, formally, doesn’t do justice to the sometimes-simultaneous talking. There are points when the authors’ sentences collide, and I wonder what other layout could have better reflected the movement of the conversation. That aside, (or perhaps partially as a result of the way the two’s sentences fold into each other in this alternating, democratic way) when these guys are talking to each other, the “I” becomes indistinguishable in a productive way. This melting-pot of the first person pronoun in the talk sections, combined with the ambiguity of the first person authorship in the walk sections, furthers New York as the principal figure. Cotner and Fitch are in the city and a part of it—both the seer and the seen. In this way the book is almost Whitmanian in its expanse and envelopment of every man, except that the purpose of this book is not to name a new America, but rather to record the haphazard events that make up two people’s lives as they move through busy streets (or sip tea at Whole Foods.)
The book is poetic, eclectic, meditative, and revealing. I am left feeling like a voyeur—eavesdropping on a friendship. And I feel strangely a part of that friendship—like I’ve made two new friends whom I can’t wait to hear from again soon.