Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writers on TV feature interview: kevin mcpherson eckhoff

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Poetry about television isn’t something you see done often, but kevin mcpherson eckhoff pulled it off in his chapbook “Game Show Reversed” (Bookthug).

As the title suggests, the long poem is a transcription of an early episode of Wheel of Fortune flipped on its head, so the reader starts at the end with the credits (can’t you see them in your head already?) and announces the winner before you even meet her. (Spoiler: it’s Lynda!)

I asked Kevin to tell me a bit about the chapbook and his gameshow-watching habits. Check out their biography his latest collection out from Bookthug this spring.

Are you a big daytime TV watcher? What do you enjoy about this kind of show?
I have been. When I was about 3 to 5, I would watch The Price is Right, People’s Court, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune with my babysitter’s elderly parents during “naptime”. So there’s this nostalgic moldy fuzz around daytime game shows in my brain-hole. And I can’t say whether or not my toddlerself detected or appreciated this angle, too, but my retrospective adultself can appreciate the edge of improvisation in these kinds of spectacles, the potential for unscripted goofs and gaffes. Confession: at the moment, I’m not even a binge online TV watcher. The last show I watched was a few episodes of Short Poppies some months ago. I liked it.

Why write about TV? Why Wheel of Fortune specifically? 
It’s relatable? It’s reliable? It’s rotatable? Like the clouds, TV is one of those casual, safe conversational topics that can eventually morph to reveal the insidious shapes of culture or psychology. It contains all the fbeauty and fugly of our systems. Does that sound believable? As for why WoF specifically, I think I may have assigned backwards transcription as a class writing exercise, realized I hadn’t tried it myself, and then tried to figure out what kinds of texts would befit the process. The silly, simple idea of reversal of enutrof is what led me to this version of Merv Griffin.

What effects does the transcription from one medium to another present? To phrase another way: words vs. pictures - discuss. 
Ah, well, just like any/most representations of realness, the transcription works, maybe, as a reduction of the original experience, but one that highlights certain facets or facts of it. For my eyes, the text-only translation strips much of the spectacle from the language and alienates the words from their identities/products/narrative…which is, like, totally boss. But I don’t really know. Is that even true? And even if so, is that enough: to extract language from systems of power? To suggest some kind of subversive perception? Where’s my example to quote from the book?

The creative joy of working with existing text equals my being a reader and writer simultaneously! And getting to make sculptural decisions, such as whether or not the characters’ disfluencies enter the writing. In my interpretation, they do, and they’re a wondrously awkward antidote to the visual sheen of the set, the lightning, the make-up, et cetera.

What inspired you to spin the wheel backwards? What does the reverse order bring out for you? And what role does fate play in all of this?
By beginning with the climax, the slow-mo backwards play-by-play, sentence-by-sentence, of Game Show Reversed might fetishize the starting line, eh, and the introduction of its three human characters becomes the reward. Meanwhile, fate’s cause and effect threads get all screwy as it exits the show altogether and hops over to the page: now the text is a game with readers as contestants, and if fate lets them find pleasure or meaning in the inverted narrative, then they win, just like Lynda!

There are some great little moments in there: "I’m going to put this all in book form. I have a lot of long stories." Did you choose this particular episode intentionally or at random? 
I wanted to find the first syndicated episode featuring Pat and Vanna, in part, because its calendar distance from now might give me the least familiar instance of the most familiar version of the show. However, the first episode I easily found online was actually the third, I believe, and as I was listening/typing that very line about putting it all into book form, I knew fate had given me the winning episode.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Carey Toane

Carey Toane is a librarian, journalist and poet. Her first collection of poems, The Crystal Palace, was published in 2011 by Mansfield Press. She lives in Toronto, where she is currently working on a collection of poems inspired by and dedicated to Twin Peaks. Follow her on Twitter here.

You can contact Carey throughout the month of May at writer@openbooktoronto.com

Go to Carey Toane’s Author Page