In 2005 my friend and colleague, Lars Bjuvberg, committed suicide in Stockholm. Lars and I weren’t all that close, but his death hit me in a way that I still don’t fully understand. Perhaps it was as simple as the fact that someone so very talented had escorted himself off this mortal stage.
Or perhaps it was more complicated – as I learned more about the story, I found myself empathizing with him and understanding his decision. I had written about suicide before, and in ways that perhaps suggested something about my own relationship with what many regard as the gravest of human sins.
I found that I had to write about it. And by “had to,” I mean that literally. I was emotionally incapable of letting it lie. Poetic elements began suggesting themselves, but I was also keenly aware of Lars’s love of theatre. Since he was Scandinavian, I also found myself thinking of the dark realism of Ibsen and Strindberg. As the e-mails flew back and forth between myself and some of our mutual friends and co-workers, I realized that their voices were important to the play, as well.
Over a couple of weeks, “Archipelago” came together in a way that was as clear and organic as it was unconventional and tortured. It remains the single most painful writing exercise of my life, and its form was distinctly unlike any poetry I had ever seen. I had been reading Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, a novel that shattered so many of the conventions of fiction without damaging the fabric of the narrative, and I realized that I could perhaps do something similar in poetry.
The result is part poem, part play, plus some actualities (real e-mails from my friends, newspaper clippings, etc.), prose lifted from blogs and comment threads, and even a few photographs. These elements weren’t gimmicks or add-ons – they were integral to the very fabric of the work.
I have no hope that any poetry journal will ever accept it. If the length of it doesn’t scare them away, the task of integrating all the formal complexities into their publication process certainly will, and this is assuming that they even get it or like it. (One editor I submitted it to a couple of years ago was confused because some of the e-mail sections seemed too much like real communications.)