Unlikely Books is proud, and more than a little heartbroken, to present Definitions of Obscurity, the new book by Vernon Frazer and the late Michelle Greenblatt.
Definitions of Obscurity is an expansion of Vernon and Michelle's 2011 e-book, Dark Hope, available from The Argotist Online. Vernon and Michelle worked together with cover artist Cecilia Ferraria to create this new edition. Vernon explains their process, and reads two poems from the collection, in this video:
Vernon Frazer describes their process in his Introduction:
The work that became Definitions of Obscurity began with a fan letter from Michelle Greenblatt early in December 2005 that led to the most gratifying literary collaboration of my life. Within a month of very personal email exchanges came her request to do a "small collaboration." By mid-January we were emailing passages of our first poem together.
We never established a formal working method, such as trading one line or stanza at a time. Michelle sent me as many lines as she felt comfortable writing. In turn, I sent back as many lines as I felt I needed to move the poem forward. Our styles, while different, proved surprisingly compatible, partly because of our shared literary interests and partly because each of us understood that our biochemical conditions created similar problems for us socially and physically. While she coped with a body that wrestled against a bipolar condition and fibromyalgia, I lived as a two-time Cancer survivor who learned during his mid-life crisis that he had lived with undiagnosed Tourette Syndrome since age six.
Our medical conditions prepared us for working in the dark areas of the human spirit. Michelle's emotional demons lived vividly within her. Whenever her inner Lautremont appeared on the page, my own verbal night shaped complementary shadows. We shared a rapport that ran the emotional continuum from demonic darkness to ecstatic light, linked through our shared love of language.
Michelle enjoyed exploring the possibilities of language as well as the extremities of personal experience. Although she could write with the brashness of a female Bukowski, she could explore the limits of language with equal bravura. By the time we collaborated, my own work had evolved from its origins in Beat literature and Olson's projective verse—with my own dash of Bukowski—into a realm of abstraction analogous to improvising free jazz with words and space.
Throughout our year of exchanges, we found ourselves uncommonly attuned to each other's phrasing and rhythm. Although we wrote and used space differently in our own work, together we synthesized our separate and unique voices into work with a distinctive voice of its own. If one of us moved in an unexpected direction, the other would enhance the context.
The collaborations lasted roughly a year, then ended when Michelle's health problems prevented her from writing consistently enough to maintain a poem's momentum. While she stepped back from the active literary scene, I placed the poems we wrote in a number of magazines, then approached Jeffrey Side with the chapbook Dark Hope.
When Dark Hope appeared as an Argotist ebook, the rapport Michelle and I shared astounded me as I reread the work. Her lines and mine intertwined as one. Although I can identify several passages as distinctly hers or mine, most emerged from our creation of a voice that synthesized or styles without sacrificing them.
Unfortunately, while I was preparing Dark Hope for publication, an undiagnosed parathyroid condition impaired my ability to work at my customary level of competence. After surgery relieved my fatigue and my inability to think clearly, I realized I had failed to include about two-fifths of the poems we had written together. When the opportunity arose to reprint Dark Hope, I added the omitted poems to Definitions of Obscurity. Like Michelle, I love the printed word and seeing our work in print together gives me a special pleasure.
shined too brightly.Dark HopeAs Jeffrey Side notes in his Foreword, this book came together at a time when I experienced tremendous personal loss. My wife, Elaine, and I shared a closeness and joy I never thought possible. In a grim coincidence, I learned of Michelle's passing the same day I learned Elaine would have to resume the immunotherapy treatment whose side effects took her life five weeks later. That day, even Dark Hope shined too brightly.
May reading Definitions of Obscurity give you the joy I shared with my collaborators in love and literature.
Check out what people are saying about Definitions of Obscurity:
"Definitions of Obscurity is at once a story (a poetic history, even) and an eulogy to the interaction between two poets, Vernon Frazer and Michelle Greenblatt. As a verbal memorial of shared emotions in language that covers its content, it leaves open the question of a 'going' towards a transcendent epiphany. It could be said, and perhaps will be said, that Definitions of Obscurity is a 'now' incarnated from Ancient Greek drama into the 21st Century."
"By definition, collaboration is forever. Frazer & Greenblatt climbed to that sweet shelter in eternity here in great sound structures swelling with pat as well as nonplussed attention, the kind that hears deeper and further and never wants to let go—not for any claim—holding to the inner ear, knowing someone's finally arrived to catch and reward that otherwise hollow chamber. Rewarded by knowing the unownable and communally unknowable, the 'twist' that was ventured, gained, and won by an original two—begs us listen for our 'selves' beyond the 'solid rain.'"
"Vernon Frazer and Michelle Greenblatt's poems flow with internal chemistry. These poems are written with life, emotion, and darkness with force. Their words meld together effortlessly between the two writers. Both take risks with language that simmers its slow burn onto the page where the poems are energized. Immerse yourself in this brilliant little gem."
"Who knew obscurity could have so many bright and precise aspects. Frazer and Greenblatt cover a wide range of experience and imagining, never failing to be expansive, intriguing and fresh."
"Vernon Frazer's and Michelle Greenblatt's collaborative verses read like symbolistic journal entries scripted by kindred souls who fluidly finish each other's sentences. The brutal scars of the psyche are searingly evident in their lines, whose jagged spacing seems to indicate a sharp desire to escape from the claustrophobic content of these bleak ruminations. The poets take refuge in fantasy-scapes, lacing their verse with supernatural scenes, where hallways of empty mirrors reflecting each other reveal an acute terror of looking for the self among them. For it is the self that is so torturously fragmented, and that seeks seamlessness. However, as subatomic harmonies break up heaven into little chinks of starlight, we are reminded of the principles of symmetry, which aims to balance an otherwise perverse universe. Vernon Frazer and Michelle Greenblatt created their own sacred symmetry with their collaborations, and we are privy to their secret exchanges."