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The Arts
09.03.08

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Phaedra

Summer 'Blizzard'

Bart Schneider's poetry of fiction

By Gretchen Giles


Minnesota's Republican National Convention attracts a raft of pregnant women hoping to give birth in open-air tents on the convention grounds. Anti-choice activists overwhelm the Twin Cities, borne through town on city buses branded with slogans promising that the "Miracle Is Coming." Amid all the ruckus of the McCain nomination, a murder plot is unveiled, a feisty Ani DiFranco–like singer escapes a near assassination and a priceless violin carted casually around by a beautiful blonde with multiple personality disorder is recovered from Nazi sympathizers. Must be time for private eye Augie Boyer to light up a fat one and relax over a few lines of poetry.

Released this summer with a narrative culminating at this week's RNC, Bart Schneider's fourth novel, The Man in the Blizzard, couldn't be more current if he had blogged the thing instead of taking three careful years to craft it. Satirizing the RNC is a delicious task for Schneider, but most of the action takes place earlier this summer, as Augie—an overweight, past-his-prime flat foot with a constant smear of testosterone cream on his belly and a passion for pot, poetry, collard greens and chicken wings—tracks a violinist and her neo-Nazi husband to a cache of instruments stolen during WW II.

Augie's wife, a therapist who's made her name penning a series of books on the efficacy of anger, has left him. His girlfriend is simply too young and beautiful for a guy in his shape. His daughter is a protest singer who publicly casts him as something of a sad sack. All Augie can really count on is a steady supply of Pontchartrain pootie and his two reliable colleagues, the sartorial St. Paul police detective Bobby Sabbatini, a man who always has a volume of poetry tucked into his silk jacket, and Blossom, the former junkie-with-a-heart-of-gold who does Augie's grunt-work and whom Sabbatini woos with regular doses of both breakfast and verse.

And since Schneider has just moved from the Twin Cities to the town of Sonoma, Augie, Sabbatini and Blossom are all coming here, too. Only the author appears Sept. 5 at Readers' Books.

Co-founder in 1986 of the widely revered quarterly literary magazine The Hungry Mind Review, Schneider also launched the literary culture mag Speakeasyand helped to direct the Loft, a lit arts center that paved the way for such as Dave Eggers' 826 Valencia project. Raised in San Francisco, where he received his MFA with a poetry concentration from SF State, Schneider has spent most of his adult life in Minnesota, land of Garrison Keillor's daily radio poem, a place that Schneider feels is more open to the art of the written word than even the Bay Area.

Raised by musicians and with a background as a playwright, he is also acutely aware of language as an instrument. "What you do as a novelist is ventriloquism, putting the utterances of a certain kind of personality in the right place," Schneider explains by phone from Minneapolis, having returned to the Midwest to kick off his book tour. "You give them a series of tics. There's so much dialogue in my books that they tend to be a lot about the sound of the language."

Schneider "sneaked" 15 poems into Blizzard, including ones by Cazadero poet Mike Tuggle and Monte Rio's Pat Nolan, and gives Sabbatini a speech in which he compares most Americans' irrational fear of poetry to our fear of al-Qaida. "It's in character, it's not me speaking exactly. I was having a bit of fun, but I also think that it's absolutely true," Schneider says. "I think that we have this idea of not getting it, as if [poetry] were a thing that yougot, that you just understood, like it was a puzzle that you solved and that was that. You don't look at a bunch of Rauschenberg paintings and say, 'I get that. Exactly!' But people sort of apply that principle to poetry."

With a possible TV deal pending on Blizzard, Schneider has already embarked on a new novel in which Sabbatini and Blossom have moved to Sonoma County. Augie naturally enough follows. "There will be some kind of Slow Food convention that gets radical," Schneider says when asked about the new book's plot. "I'm just talking off the top of my head. I have a lot of respect for things I don't know, and I don't know a lot about Sonoma County.

"To really find out what feels right here, to find what really resonates locally, will be a challenge."

 Bart Schneider reads from and discusses 'The Man in the Blizzard' on Friday, Sept. 5, at Reader's Books. 130 E. Napa St., Sonoma. 7pm. Free. 707.939.1779.


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