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Welcome, Geoff Bouvier!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired over the past twelve months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Geoff Bouvier, whose epic poem Us From Nothing is due out in 2024. 

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our June Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. 

 

 

The Author

Geoff Bouvier has previously published two books of prose poetry, including the APR/Honickman Prize-winning Living Room. He served as the Holloway Lecturer in Poetry at the University of California-Berkeley and he has written long-form magazine journalism, publishing over 50 cover stories. His prose poems have appeared in numerous journals including American Poetry ReviewBoston ReviewDenver Quarterly, and New American Writing. He is currently an Instructor of Creative Writing at Virginia Commonwealth University and a faculty member of the writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

 

 

 

On Writing Us From Nothing

I love stories about everything. Epics. Origin tales. Books that help us see ourselves as interdependent, interconnected, having a purpose, and having a place. Back in 2016, as the world seemed to really begin falling apart this time, I was overcome with a need to figure out how we got here, where we might be headed, and why what seems to matter, matters. I started curating, researching, drafting, and editing linked poetic micro-essays about the milestones that scholars, experts, friends, family, and I myself deemed to be the most significant occasions of the past, present, and future. Us from Nothing became 105 cantos of an epic poem about us – a brief history of humanity. As I worked my way through this project, trying to bring the past to life in a holistic context, I got married, immigrated to Canada, survived a pandemic, watched climate change worsen and political divisions widen, and I repatriated back to the United States, and the whole time, the central messages of my book grew more focused and seemed more urgent: we’re all on the same home team, though we’ve hardly ever acted like it, and the best hope for our species is to collaborate fairly, share resources equitably, and come to mutual understanding before it’s too late.


Excerpts

 

3200 Before Common Era: Writing

It’s the real Year One. The dawn of fact. First moment in history. The beginning of collective memory. From this day forward, we are being recorded.
          “Good morning.” It’s Kushim, proud Sumerian, honored Uruki accountant. Today Kushim will pray for the grace of Inanna as he shuffles through the dusty streets to visit taxpayers. At every house, he sharpens his reeds and wedges them into wet clay slabs, indenting lines that take a whole day to harden, even in sun.
          Kushim documents the matters of the state, with no statesman present. He documents transactions of the Leaders of the Plow, the Leaders of the Lambs, the Leaders of the Law, and the other leaders, grain-grinders, metalworkers, potters, butchers, bakers, brewers, ditch-diggers, sewage-haulers, taxpayers all. Kushim documents our goods and provisions, our cows, geese, goats, pigs, barley bushels, carven beads, and bits of copper and bronze. He documents the priest-kings’ plots of land.
          In 5,000 years, we’ll still be reading Kushim’s words, though the hand he used to write them no longer moves.

 


3100 Before Common Era: Money

Barley smells nutty sweet. Its fragrance infuses the air of Mesopotamia. Sumerians have always hulled its seeds, cooked up heady stews, and dried whole stalks to soak in barrels for malt.
          Now the priests of Ninlil decree barley the blood of society, and the barley flows in bundles from farmers to servants to merchants, as a go-between for services and goods. Before, a singer sang for beer, the cobbler traded shoes to eat the butcher’s meat, the barber sheered a head to dress in shepherd’s wool or sleep a night in bed. But this new priestly sorcery – money – makes exact change out of songs, food, shoes, clothing, shelter, even sex and salvation.
          Money conjures real currency from simple barley, turns all to commodity, and leads us by an invisible hand into debt, talents, debt, shekels, debt, mina, debt, staters, debt, dollars, debt, drachmas, debt, rupees, debt, yen, debt, bitcoin, debt.

 


3000 Before Common Era: Time

A Sumerian man extends an arm, palm faced outward, as if to motion stop, except he’s measuring. Up and down the middle of the sky, the Sun’s path over Sumer equals twelve hand-lengths. Call those dozen lengths of hands the hours.
          Sumerians also tally hours on the ground. Upright objects in daylight throw consistent shadows. Draw a ring around a twig, divide the circle into twelves. From dawn, the Sun will dial along a dozen hand-length hours.
          For a million generations, every life has led through luck and strife to random death. Now we’re telling time. We script a human regulation to nature’s open rhythm.