Paul, Jim 1950-
PAUL, Jim 1950-
Home—1170 Guerrero St., Loft, San Francisco, CA 94110. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Harcourt, 6277 Sea Harbor Dr., Orlando, FL 32887.
Wallace Stegner award; Guggenheim fellowship.
Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon, Villard Books (New York, NY), 1991.
What's Called Love: A Real Romance, Villard Books (New York, NY), 1993.
(Translator and annotator) The Rune Poem: Wisdom's Fulfillment, Prophecy's Reach, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1996.
Medieval in LA: A Fiction, Counterpoint (Washington, DC), 1996.
Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2003.
Contributor of articles and poetry to periodicals such as New Yorker, Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Paris Review, and San Francisco Chronicle.
Poet, novelist, and journalist Jim Paul seeks answers to basic human questions in his fiction and journalistic pieces. In Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon Paul explores reasons and methods for waging war. In What's Called Love: A Real Romance, he unflinchingly analyzes a failed love affair to explore the basic attractions between a man and a woman. Medieval in LA: A Fiction contemplates what it means to be "modern" in a contemporary American city. Through them all, Paul lifts observations and lessons and honest emotions from his own life to illuminate the messages in his books. "Paul's erudition is tempered by a cheerful mischievousness, a learned joie de vivre that is reflected in each of his books," observed Donna Seaman in a review for Booklist.
In a triumph-ending-in-tragedy scenario, Paul came and went as the director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center in the space of little more than a year. Hired in 2000, Paul was dismissed from the job approximately fourteen months later, wrote Tim Vanderpool in Tucson Weekly Online. Paul's dismissal was not because he was incapable of doing the job, or of raising the profile of poetry in Tucson and in Arizona, or because he was didn't "attract internationally acclaimed poets to the center's highly popular reading series," Vanderpool wrote. "Nor was he dismissed for failing to keep the institution vibrant and contemporary, or for not tapping innovative ways to make poetry relevant to broad-ranging groups in the community." Though there were no reliable sources that could say exactly why Paul was fired, Vanderpool concluded it was because he placed poetry above fund-raising in a college atmosphere that placed a higher priority on fund raising, a community "more interested in monuments than cutting-edge culture or thought."
Paul's Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon "reminds us that however sophisticated" modern weapons, "war is still about spilling blood with machines created for that purpose," noted Jon Meacham in a review for the Smithsonian. "In this account of how he and his friend Harry built a catapult to hurl rocks into the Pacific Ocean, Paul explores why our species has always felt compelled to make such machines." While on assignment in Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, Paul picks up a piece of Red Creek quartzite, a heavily ancient rock, and is struck quite inexplicably with the notion to construct a catapult. Paul talks his friend Harry into playing along with the whim. To fund their project, Paul makes a successful application for a $500 grant from California's Headlands Center for the Arts, in exchange for a talk on the device. Harry and Paul dive into the research, construction, and set-up of the elaborate and ultimately deadly machine, having great fun in the process, and setting the stage for what Christopher Lehmann-Haupt called in the New York Times a "sneakily profound book on the links between human playfulness and aggression." A Kirkus Reviews critic called the book "a pleasant diversion, then, but hardly a book to crack the castle walls." Meacham remarked that Paul's narrative "voice is quirky, and he emerges as a man you'd like to spend the day with," concluding that "It is sad to see the book end and the catapult fire, for Harry and Jim are very good company."
What's Called Love: A Real Romance is "a minutely detailed record of the author's unrequited love affair" along with ruminations on love and lovers from literary sources such as Stendhal, Petrarch, and the Song of Solomon, commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Paul, nearly forty years old at the time, convinces the French Tourist Office to sponsor a month in France for him and his lover, mysteriously referred to only as L, as they ostensibly prowl France as travel writers. The real reason, however, is that Paul arranged the trip to make L, fourteen years his junior, fall in love with him for real, as he is with her—so real as to become immediately marriage-minded. The attempt does not work, however, and although it is "narrated with style and sensitivity," Paul's efforts to win L's affections ultimately make the story "painful" and turn it into an "account of a sorry ardor," a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted. "Paul is a gifted stylist, lilting and sensitive, and here he has the makings of a possibly fascinating story—a romance in which reality beggars fiction," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic. But the reality of the story does not fulfill the potential of the fiction, and the text contains "evocative passages followed by painful strains that attempt to turn superfluous nothings into literary gold," remarked Brian Geary in Library Journal.
A weekend party in Hollywood forms the backdrop for Medieval in LA: A Fiction, When Jim, a medievalist, spills tomato juice on his white pants during a flight into Los Angeles, the minor accident triggers a dizzying round of thought and contemplation about how "the habits of mind have not caught up with modern science," Seaman observed. Throughout the weekend party and his interaction with friends, Jim muses on the evolution of thought and modern concepts while considering the contributions of prominent thinkers such as William of Ockham, Bertolt Brecht, and Moses, as well as popular-culture influences from Bob Fosse and King Kong to Jessica Lange. Paul "effectively packages sophisticated insights in a breezy, seemingly casual narrative that could not be less pedantic," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "This is a cerebral journey wherein living characters are likely to receive less description than what they order for dinner, and wherein historical characters come to life in an apparent dialectic between medieval and scientific," observed Kerry Ahearn in Western American Literature. For Robin Cerwonka, writing in Bloomsbury Review, "Medieval in LA is more like sitting down for coffee with an old friend, who shares his train of thought through the centuries, revealing that you were there all along, too."
Love is once again at hand in the plot of Paul's novel Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots. David is a reclusive poet, a writer of experimental verse that is deliberately obtuse and impenetrable. He has all but sealed himself into his apartment, wearing earplugs to block out the world and rarely venturing out or even seeing the light of day. When his father gives him a rare parrot as a gift, David's monk-like lifestyle is disrupted by the noisy and cantankerous bird. In frustration, he opens the window and lets it loose in the city, but is immediately stricken with guilt. He sets out to find it and discovers a flock of wild parrots living within the city limits. As if answering a calling, David temporarily abandons his poetry and throws himself into learning about parrots. While David educates himself, Fern, a parrot researcher, has landed in Ecuador to take a job at a local wildlife reservation where she can study the Aratinga erythrogenys, coincidentally the same species of parrot David released into the outside world. Fern finds out too late that the reservation and its director, Dr. Qualles, have nefarious backgrounds and ties to the black market in exotic animals. She loses her job, but finds refuge with some Peace Corps friends in a nearby village. Back in the United States, "a few unlikely events leave David homeless and shipbound for Ecuador, where a mutual acquaintance sets up a meeting between him and Fern," noted a Kirkus Reviews critic. A romance blooms brightly while they seek to stop Dr. Qualles and his illegal animal trade.
Paul "writes prose that's about as clear and meaningful as I've read in quite a while, brimming with enthusiasm and a good-natured curiosity about the world around him," wrote Rob Thomas in the Capital Times Online. "Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots is a marvelous book, a gentle and funny love story in which ornithology happens to play a major role." A Publishers Weekly critic noted that "Paul's story successfully weds an odd theme—the ethology of parrots—to the perennial fascinations of human courtship behavior." Despite a feeling that the romantic elements were too convenient and contrived, the two main characters, Fern and David, "are so likeable, readers very likely will set aside any skepticism and just be glad for their happiness," noted Karen Holt in a review for Booklist. "This kind of stuff could be sheer cornball in the wrong hands," Thomas commented, "but Paul has a subtle and witty touch with the material."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bloomsbury Review, July-August 1996, Robin Cerwonka, review of Medieval in LA: A Fiction, pp. 15, 24.
Booklist, April 1, 1993, Donna Seaman, review of What's Called Love: A Real Romance, p. 1402; June 1, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of Medieval in LA: A Fiction, p. 1677; May 1, 2003, Karen Hold, review of Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots, p. 1581.
Entertainment Weekly, June 27, 2003, Emily Mead, review of Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots, p. 141.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1991, review of Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon, p. 459; February 15, 1993, review of What's Called Love: A Real Romance, p. 210; May 1, 2003, review of Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots, pp. 636-637.
Library Journal, May 1, 1991, Robert H. Donahugh, review of Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon, p. 98; April 15, 1993, Brian Geary, review of What's Called Love: A Real Romance, p. 127; April 15, 2003, Mark Kloszewski, review of Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots, p. 126.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 25, 1993, Dick Roraback, review of What's Called Love: A Real Romance, p. 6.
New York Times, June 6, 1991, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon, p. C17.
Publishers Weekly, April 5, 1991, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon, p. 127; February 22, 1993, review of What's Called Love: A Real Romance, p. 72; April 8, 1996, review of Medieval in LA: A Fiction, p. 57; May 5, 2003, review of Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots, p. 193.
Smithsonian, October, 1991, Jon Meacham, review of Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon, pp. 173-175.
Western American Literature, winter, 1998, Kerry Ahearn, review of Medieval in LA: A Fiction, p. 415.
Arizona Daily Wildcat Online,http://wildcat.arizona.edu/ (November 30, 1999), Daffodil Altan, "Award-winning Poet Named Director of UA Poetry Center."
Ruthless Reviews Web site,http://www.ruthlessreviews.com/ (March 14, 2004), review of Medieval in LA.
Thumbnail Book Reviews Web site,http://sprg.ssl.berkeley.edu/~jmcd/book/ (March 14, 2004), John Q. McDonald, review of Medieval in LA.
Tucson Weekly Online,http://www.tucsonweekly.com/ (March 15, 2001), Tim Vanderpool, "Poetic Injustice: The Fired Director of the UA Poetry Center Learns He Shouldn't Build an Audience Faster than a Bankroll."*