A prizewinning poet confronts the challenges of creative nonfiction and the struggles of his career in a collection of high-concept, densely packed essays.
Both the title and the concept require explanation. As Blanchfield (A Several World, 2014, etc.) explains in the opening “Note,” “a proxy in one sense is a position: a stand-in, an agent, an avatar, a functionary.” It might provide an approximation of an identity, as many of these essays that verge on memoir do, yet it is never exactly the same thing. The essays also offer approximations of sorts, as the author appropriates the concepts and words of others, sometimes in paraphrase, sometimes in direct quote—though he acknowledges, “I decided on a total suppression of recourse to other authoritative sources. I wrote these essays with the internet off.” In other words, he wrote from memory, another dimension of identity, and only afterward checked what he had written against the sources, resulting in a final section titled “Correction,” which, at 20 pages, is longer than any of the essays. Following each essay title is the same subhead, “Permitting Shame, Error and Guilt, Myself the Single Source.” Since the author organizes the essays in the order written, loosely following a chronological progression through his life, he suggests, “whatever development can be tracked may correspond to what might be called a self. They are not the same thing. This is a book braver than I am.” Blanchfield describes himself as “a poet’s poet” who has cobbled together a living through adjunct and visiting poet teaching assignments. His homosexuality caused a rift with his fundamentalist mother, with whom he had been very close, and the broken marriage that bore him had him take a new surname (and identity?) when his stepfather adopted him. He writes plenty about his sexual proclivities and relationships, including the longest and latest one with a former student, but even more about the essence of poetry and the relationship between writer and reader.
Often illuminating and occasionally impenetrable.