Professor Patrick Madden of Brigham Young University reads from his latest book of creative nonfiction essays, “Quotidiana,” and his forthcoming book, “Sublime Physick” at this semester’s first English Reading Series.
PROVO, Utah (Sept. 12, 2014) When considering what makes an essay, references to Rush, Bette Midler, or eBay auctions for the remnants of Michael Martone’s water bottle typically don’t come to mind. At this semester’s first English Reading Series, BYU English professor Patrick Madden presented a selection of his uniquely crafted essays, inviting new perspective on creative nonfiction writing and essay form.
At the beginning of the reading, Madden’s work was described by BYU MFA student of creative nonfiction, Elizabeth Brady. She said, “Every time I read an essay of his I feel a little escape, a reprieve. His essays pull his readers to a place where we examine what it is to be a human here on this earth, and when finished, we come back into our own lives with a little bit more wonder.”
Madden’s most recent work is Quotidiana, a book of personal essays published in 2010 detailing everyday, commonplace moments and infusing reactions and perceptions of these moments with a greater sense of awe and appreciation.
The form of Madden’s reading itself indicated the style of much of his own essay writing. He also shared select essays from his forthcoming book, Sublime Physick, to be released in 2015. Of his new book he said: “Its undergirding metaphor is that we take from the natural world and the world of lived experience ideas that bring us into the realm of metaphysics or even spirituality.”
Madden shared what he described as “an aborted essay on distance.” He said, “I can be a bit verbose at times and I’m trying to counteract that, so I’ve taken to writing intentionally unfinished essays,” an experiment he said was inspired by essayist William Hazlitt.
Madden began his reading of his essay on distance, and, true to his style, humorously interrupted his reading with a recording of Bette Midler’s song, “From a Distance.”
Reading from his essay he said, “I’ve discovered time and again that what original thought I thought I had thought was long ago thought better and expressed more eloquently by another thinker more intelligent and more elegant.” He continued to digress about Bette Midler’s success, comically lamenting that his own take on distance had in fact been expressed already by this award-winning song. Then, true to his “aborted essay” form, the essay ended abruptly, mid-thought.
The final aspect of Madden’s presentation at the English Reading Series included an interactive reading of his essay entitled, “Michael Martone’s Leftover Water: Imbibe Literary Genius (Dozens of Authors) in One Swig!” He created this essay from an auction he conducted on eBay, in which he auctioned off water bottle remnants of English professor Michael Martone of the University of Alabama.
Madden explained that Martone claimed to have drunk the leftover water of dozens of famous writers. By buying his water we are really buying the literary greatness of these authors as well, all contained in one bottle. Reading from the essay he said, “Perhaps a part of [Martone] believes that some of the talent and skill will find its way into his own metabolism through this communion with greatness. It is a kind of inoculation by means of this tainted fluid, with the cooties of the greatest.”
In the middle of this reading a student abruptly raised her hand and persistently waved it in the air until she was acknowledged by Madden, a behavior that provoked confusion and disbelief from the audience. Upon receiving his attention, she said, “Sorry to interrupt, but a question about the product. Um, does he floss?” This haphazard interaction intentionally fabricated by Madden launched his essay into a series of amusing student questions about Michael Martone’s water bottle, to which he gave unconventional responses.
Contact Patrick Madden for more information about Quotidiana and his forthcoming book, Sublime Physick.
—Sylvia Cutler (BA English ’17)