Publishers Weekly Review (8/17/09):
Conoley’s sixth collection-which takes its title from a plot-generating system devised in the 1930s by silent screenwriter Wycliffe A. Hill-is a book of many sources (ancient and contemporary, cerebral and tabloid) that all point toward cinema. Archie, Betty and Veronica appear in one poem, while another features the less likely trio of Walt Whitman, Paul Bunyan and Aristotle, all of them eerily imprisoned by an elaborately illusive studio system. There’s an atmosphere of decay throughout, replete with “chambers dim with histories,” and “locusts/ without end.” At its best, the book reads like an exceptional film noir projected onto the mind’s eye. “The world is a weird luminescence,” writes Conoley. “A greenish glow, unhinged,” Experimental poetry fans and cinephiles will find much that haunts and stimulates.
THE PLOT GENIE–in its momentum, imagistic vitality, and cinematic and often improvisational arc–resembles the movement of a film more than of a poetry collection. Rich in scene, spanning and recombining a wellspring of story–both visual and literary, old and new–into a simultaneous present, these poems also examine our culture’s endless hunger for and production of narrative. THE PLOT GENIE culls and questions what it is that holds any narrative together, and exposes some of the ways that characters behave and take shape when inhabiting a construct created by ideas. At its core, this collection looks at the ways in which we are recreated, inspired, aroused, and persuaded by the power of the stories that we listen to, tell each other, and find ourselves within, searching for human enchantment and meaning.
The inspiration for this book is a plot-generating device created in the 1930s by an ex silent screenwriter, Wycliffe A. Hill. The original “Plot Genie”–used widely by Hollywood writers until the late 1950’s–relied on a numerical game of chance, including a cardboard spinning wheel used to divine character traits and plot points. A murky underworld constantly created and recreated, peopled by hapless figures waiting to be “dialed up” and sent along multiple and fragmentary narratives, Gillian Conoley’s THE PLOT GENIE includes characters of her own invention, contemporary film actors stripped of their veneer by the rapid, shape-shifting powers of the plot genie, and characters from other, older texts, such as Frankenstein. All are ruled by the insatiable plot genie, who herself becomes a character, a force neither fully in charge nor culpable, much like our leaders or guides today. In the plot genie’s world, as in ours, the demands put upon characters by the plots in which they participate can be very high, and very hard to appease.
Gillian Conoley was born in 1955 in Austin, Texas, where, on its rural outskirts, her father and mother owned and operated a radio station. She is the author of six collections of poetry, including Profane Halo, Lovers in the Used World, and Tall Stranger, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her work has received many prizes, including the Jerome J. Shestack Poetry Prize from The American Poetry Review, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and a Fund for Poetry Award. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, novelist Domenic Stansberry, and their daughter, Gillis. Poet-in-Residence at Sonoma State University, she edits VOLT.
Praise for The Plot Genie:
Gillian Conoley’s exhilarating new book, The Plot Genie, is a multi-storied, imaginary archaeology of contingency, eventfulness, and truth. She has created a complex confabulation, a comedy of realities–realities circulated by chance. The Plot Genie is simultaneously a speculative exploration of this reality–circulation and an assemblage of story elements produced at the intersections of its competing centripetal and centrifugal forces. Near the middle of this brilliant book’s title poem, Conoley writes that “Destiny is a world apart.” True. And reality is after it.
The myriad magical possibilities! This is what drives Gillian Conoley’s brilliant, always inventive, new collection. Inspired by a 1930’s device, The Plot Genie offers up options: enigmatic characters who refuse coherent narrative, graphic action that refracts innuendo, a Handsome Dead Man laughing in the sun, Artaud, Tom Sawyer, a tiger–all tightly carved, with crackling phraseology and a flagrant zeal that’s captured perfectly in her epigram from Rimbaud: “Quick! More lives!” They’re all here.