Combining genres: Poems come wrapped in Carol Goodman's mysteries
By: Kay Day
November 19, 2006
Most poets are happy to see their work find readers through literary journals and Internet sites. But Lee Slonimsky's sonnets are reaching a different kind of audience through Carol Goodman's popular mysteries. Slonimsky and Goodman have been married for six years; they've known each other twice that long.
"When we met," he recalls, "Carol started out as a poet and I started out trying to do fiction." As the two pursued writing, their preferences reversed. Slonimsky now focuses on poetry while Goodman writes fiction.
Familiarity with both genres enabled the two writers to merge their talents in Goodman's last novel, The Ghost Orchid. The mystery weaves two stories together, one in the present and one in the past. Goodman's character Zalman Bronsky is a poet who happens to write perfect sonnets. The sonnets expand the characters and plot as well as the setting: Bosco, an artists' colony in upstate New York. Bosco contains Renaissance Italian gardens; some of the poems relate to features like the elaborate fountains and statuary.
The collaboration between poet and novelist resulted in a unique work. The poetry speaks to the fiction and vice versa. The novel, Goodman's fourth, consistently ranks well in terms of sales at online sites. And there's a new collaboration around the corner, due out in spring 2007. "The collaboration was the result of a lot of attention to detail," Lee explains. "I'm the first person to read her books. I give her a reaction."
Goodman's The Sonnet Lover, forthcoming from Ballantine Books, features a main character whose life revolves around a 16th-century sonneteer. " I got a chance to write quite a few poems for The Sonnet Lover," Lee says, "mostly in the persona of Ginevra de Laura, a fictional 16th-century Italian woman poet with a tragic life who might have--in the novel, of course--been Shakespeare's Dark Lady. This was a really remarkable experience for me as a poet."
Slonimsky says he's written poems since he was in college. "I got to the point I was interested in writing and wanted to express myself. There was some influence from the rock music of the time--Bob Dylan, The Doors--being creative with the language."
He credits Prof. Daniel Hoffman, who taught in the University of Pennsylvania graduate program Slonimsky attended, for leading him to the enduring form used skillfully by poets such as Rhina Espaillat and Seamus Heaney.
In his "other" life, Slonimsky manages an investment partnership. But the first thing he tackles every day is the writing. "I take a walk before the market opens. I try for the first two or three hours of every day to write a poem and work on it intermittently throughout the day." He says he thinks in numbers a lot. "I tend to make numbers out of anything; I even count stairs."
His second book, Pythagoras in Love, will be published by Orchises Press in January 2007. X.J. Kennedy provided a blurb for the cover, calling the poems "mathematical metaphors in the natural world."
A stroll through the new collection confirms the description. Slonimsky is an accessible poet, yet he achieves layers of complexity. His voice is distinct; read enough of his poems and you'd know his work anywhere. In "The Cloak," the speaker muses:
The way late sunshine glances off these stones
caressing granite with its western light,
and whispering affection to earth's bones
with radiant bronze lust that would invite
hot rapture in the living, soothes him now ...
He says he writes almost entirely in form. "But I don't believe only strict form is poetry; I'm not a philosophical formalist." He uses variations sometimes.
Slonimsky says he and his wife will definitely do some readings and book events, and possibly create a Web site for the new novel. In an interview with Baker Books, Carol Goodman called her husband, "my favorite sonneteer."
That affection is mutual. Pythagoras in Love carries a three-word dedication: "For Carol, Beloved."
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