Wednesday, October 02, 2013

A ZIPLESS Anniversary: Erica Jong's 'Fear of Flying' turns 40

It was the only book my mother would read with the cover folded back, and the only one she carried away when she finished reading. 

Being a writer herself, she devoured books until their covers were creased and tattered, until the pages were folded and torn, bindings nearly bifurcated. 

This one particular book, having consumed it so completely, at some point it split right down the middle. She reconnected the two parts with multiple layers of Scotch tape: that's how I knew how to find it once she tucked it away in the 'J' section of the umpteen books she had alphabetized on her shelves. Of course I read the back cover, but it wasn't until my Senior year at Barnard, - coincidentally Jong's alma mater - that I read 'Fear of Flying' with my mother's same voraciousness. 

When I was just out of college, I met Erica, and felt an immediate, electric kind of connection, as I had with Isadora Wing. And as my mother had done, I would carry "Fear of Flying' with me for months, with the binding creased hard down the middle, my black inky notes scrawled in the margins. 

I would soon dive headlong into Erica's poetry, 'Half Lives', 'Fruits & Vegetables', 'Loveroot'. It was with 'Becoming Light', a collection of Jong's poetry released by Harper Collins in 1992, that I began to dig more thoroughly and fervidly into Jong's verses. I found myself within those pages.

'Zipless' was the fruit borne from that experience, an album which focused my thinking on the fact of my femininity, of my gender and sexuality, of the relationship between pen and paper, the synergies and differences between a Poem and a Song. That process of reflecting, revising, and reconstructing Erica's poems into song was a kind of rite-of-passage for me artistically. I approached the task with a zeal and exuberance that has never left me.

I think everyone who has read 'Fear of Flying' comes out of the experience changed somehow: feeling either self-affirmation — that an intuited, hidden truth has been uncloaked — or transformed — that some new truth has been uncovered. In either and both cases, the change is permanent: the world stands still, but you keep moving, and there's no returning once you've boarded that Zipless train.

1 comment:

Laura Durnell said...

I just found this, Vanessa. I too read Fear of Flying with the same abandonment. It changed my own trajectory and acceptance of myself as an artist when I was 19. I then fell in love with her poetry as you did. As I work on my first novel (third attempt. I have published short fiction), I carry the word Erica has inscribed in my books of her when she comes to Chicago for readings: fearlessly. I am on the Zipless train now as I write my novel that deal with serious subjects, one of which that is often not addressed in the mainstream.