The Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures will present an evening with author Dr. Aaron Poochigian, celebrating the release of his book “Mr. Either/Or” at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19 in Room 121 of McLane Hall at Fresno State. 

Dr. Aaron Poochigian, author of verse novel "Mr. Either/Or"Poochigian, pictured, teaches Classics and Humanities for the department. Poochigian earned a PhD in Classics from the University of Minnesota and an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. His book of translations from Sappho, “Stung With Love,” was published in 2009. “The Cosmic Purr,” a book of original poetry, was published in 2012.

We asked Dr. Poochigian some questions about his latest book.

Question: Can you explain to those who might never have heard of a verse novel before how that differs from a regular book?

Answer: “Mr. Either/Or” differs from typical novels in a number of ways. Think of the book in terms of a “first person shooter” video game and an action film. The hero of the novel is “you” — “you” are an undercover spy in New York City. You encounter the world through his eyes, as in a video game or in those “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” books I read when I was a kid.

Second, I like to think of “Mr. Either/Or” as an “upgrade” to prose fiction in that the poetry provides a sound-track as in a film by alternating between free-rhymed lines for the exposition and the pounding rhythms of Beowulf for the action scenes. I just re-watched the film “The Matrix” the other night, and I was struck by the music in that film. The music and rhythms of “Mr. Either/Or” work in a similar way—the movements of the characters are not so much everyday movements as choreography. The whole poem is like a dance from beginning to end, like the fight scenes in “The Matrix.” This dance, when joined with the noir atmosphere, combine to make the book a unique sort of urban fantasy set in New York City—the sort of world I dreamed about while living there.

I just re-watched the film “The Matrix” the other night, and I was struck by the music in that film. The music and rhythms of “Mr. Either/Or” work in a similar way — the movements of the characters are not so much everyday movements as choreography. The whole poem is like a dance from beginning to end, like the fight scenes in “The Matrix.” This dance, when joined with the noir atmosphere, combine to make the book a unique sort of urban fantasy set in New York City — the sort of world I dreamed about while living there.

Q: Do you just write poetry, and do translations? Or prose too?

A: I think of myself as exclusively a poet and translator of poetry. I do, of course, write prose for scholarly introductions, emails, interviews, etc., but I do not think of myself as an artist in prose. Who knows, though? I have just written a piece for TripFiction.com about the setting of “Mr. Either/Or” in Manhattan. I spent time polishing and polishing it as if it were one of my poems. Perhaps more attempts at prose-artistry will follow.

Q: Can you give us some background into your teaching here at Fresno State?

A: In my Mythology and my World of Athens classes, I have the pleasure of teaching literature that I consult daily for my own work and that I love passionately. Right now, for example, I am teaching Euripides’ “Bacchae” in translation while working on my own translation of the play for a production at the Getty. My efforts to make this ancient text accessible to students in the classroom have complemented my efforts to make a translation that will be accessible, on a first hearing, to a theater audience. I am lucky in that my teaching and my creative work so closely correspond.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

A: “Mr. Either/Or” is different from my other work in that it is narrative and action-oriented. Because the hero “you” is a twenty-something, I had to charge the book up with his slang and idioms — with living language, the language of today and tomorrow — and his way of thinking and speaking brought my whole poetic style up to date. “Mr. Either/Or” taught me that poetry can be about anything — anything from shopping at Walgreens, to molemen living in subway tunnels, to alien invaders.