Though I've been thinking for a while now about what I could possibly say about Jamestown that hasn't already been said somewhere by somebody (for a few such things, see the collection of links I put together at my own blog), I don't really have any insight into the book that is in any way original or something that readers wouldn't figure out for themselves pretty easily.
I thought about writing a post about one of the things I like most about Matthew Sharpe, which is his first name. I'm in favor of it. Yes, it's a pretty common name, but nonetheless, in my experience, people named Matthew are extraordinarily intelligent, capable of stunning physical prowess, genial and warmhearted, and, well, more attractive than people named other things. But that's based purely on anecdotal evidence and personal experience. And according to this site, "Based on popular usage, it is 14.942 times more common for Matthew to be a boy's name." Does that mean that for every 14.942 guys named Matthew, there's a girl named Matthew? Interesting. Apparently, the parents of those female Matthews did not read down farther on that webpage and see the warning: "When naming your baby Matthew, it's important to consider the gender of the name itself. When people look at the name Matthew, they might ask the question, 'is Matthew a man or a woman?', or 'what is the gender of the name Matthew?' Some names are more gender neutral than others, and some names are more strongly associated with either males or females." (This has not stopped people from wondering if I am at least partially female, and the Gender Guesser usually thinks my writing is female. I haven't tested anything from Jamestown yet, though. I'm kind of hoping Matthew Sharpe's writing comes out as female, and not just the Pocahontas sections. There should be more of us Matthews who are female writers.)
I didn't think there was much material in the Matthew idea, though, and if there was it was probably just silly or even, at worst, embarrassingly narcissistic, so I decided against writing it up for a blog post. Instead, I went to the one page in Jamestown that I had stuck a little Post-It note on. It covered this paragraph:
I used the time to commit to memory one of the sonnets of Olena Kalytiak Davis, last Poet Laureate of the United States -- at the end of the time when there were such things as poets laureate, and states -- an endeavor in which I am indebted to you for allowing me free access to the closely guarded underground vaults of the erstwhile Brooklyn Public Library.
Upon rereading that paragraph, I immediately remembered not only why I had stuck a Post-It on it, but also why I was fond of this book. Because any book that imagines Olena Kalytiak Davis as Poet Laureate is okay by me.
Unless you keep a pretty good eye on contemporary poetry, it's unlikely you've heard of Olena Kalytiak Davis. You might have even thought to yourself, "Why that Matthew Sharpe, what with his fine sense of humor and his impeccable sense of rhythm, he came up with a durn good name in that there Olena Kalytiak Davis. That's a good one, that is. (Not as good as 'Matthew', but good nonetheless.)"
One of my all-time favorite poems is Davis's "Sweet Reader, Flanneled and Tulled", a poem I delight in reading aloud because of its playfulness and its rich, varied, physical sound -- it's a poem that wants to be danced and shouted and sung and whispered all at once.
I first discovered Davis's work when I attended the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in the summer of 2000, where she was also attending. Somebody said to me, "Don't miss Olena's reading!" and I think I said something like, "Who?", but thankfully that somebody, or another somebody, grabbed me and brought me to the reading, and then I understood why I shouldn't miss it. She read with energy and a good dramatic sense, and I was entranced. Those words of hers, those words! I immediately bought Davis's first collection, which is quite different in tone and approach from her more unbridled second, the one with sonnets.
Though I have a stated preference for keeping the U.S. Poet Laureateship in New Hampshire, I would not be against Olena Kalytiak Davis becoming Poet Laureate. In fact, I think she should move to New Hampshire so she can become Laureate soon. Would she be the Last Laureate? Well, in that case we'd probably be living in the world of Matthew Sharpe's Jamestown, and though I like the book, I don't really want to live in its universe. But if that's the only way...