Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 15.4 (Paul Celan)

Celan, Paul
Ian Fairley, Tr.
Two Volumes:
Fathomsums and Benighted

I bought this (at Talking Leaves) mostly for the short second volume, Benighted, which is a sequence of eleven poems Celan wrote in 1966, plus four others from the same period. It was originally published in an anthology of 'abandoned' works by several major authors, including Nelly Sachs and Samuel Beckett. According to the translator, the poems were not in fact abandoned but rather intended for publication in the wake of Fadensonnen, and are now published (though not all of them here) as a separate volume comprised of 35 poems.

This book served another useful purpose for me in that I wrote the first poem in To Be Sung, "Dark Time," by reading through the translator's introduction to Faddensonnen. My memory is of having lifted lines directly from the introduction and into the poem; however, comparing the two now it appears that I was lifting, then reshaping what I lifted quite dramatically.

Here's the first poem from Benighted (Eingendunkelt), in English and then in German:

against the smokescreens,
the hanging lantern burns
for us, below

Many-branched fire,
seeks now its iron, hearkens
to where, from neighboring flesh,
a hissing


minutes spell out
the glimmering,

den Vernebelungen zuwider,
glüht sich der hängende Leuchter
nach unten, zu uns

Vielarmiger Brand,
sucht jetzt sein Eisen, hört,
woher, aus Menschenhautnähe,
ein Zischen,


liest sich, minutenlang,
die schwere,

Monday, March 30, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 15.3 (Paul Celan)

Celan, Paul
Hamburger, Michael, Tr.
Poems of Paul Celan

In an earlier blog entry, I wrote about and posted Charles Bernstein's poem, "Death Fugue (Echo)," which takes its title from what is probably Celan's most famous poem. I heard Charles read his "Death Fugue" at a reading in Buffalo in 2001. His discussion of Celan's poem by way of introducing his own inspired me to look up the original, which I found in this translation. I think I bought it at Talking Leaves, but I can't be sure.

I like Hamburger's selection because it contains so much of the earlier work, before Atemwende, Fadensonnen and Lichtzwang. While the sensibility is there throughout Celan's work, the earlier poems have a kind of directness about them that is very different from the dense, inward, later poems. Having cut my teeth on the most difficult work, it was kind of eye-opening to read this other Celan, who spoke with an intense clarity and with a much more public voice than his later incarnation. There's an amazing recording of him reading "Todesfuge" (as well as about ten others) here:


I am a big fan of the collection, Die Niemandsrose, or "The No One's Rose," which phrase I ripped off and riffed on in a poem in my first book, and which contains one of my favorite Celan poems, "Tübingen, January," which is about a visit Celan made to Hölderlin's tower in Tübingen (in January).


Eyes talked into
Their--"an enigma is
the purely
originated"--, their
memory of
Hölderlin towers afloat, circled
by whirring gulls.

Visits of drowned joiners to
submerging words:

should a man,
should a man come into the world, today, with
the shining beard of the
patriarchs: he could,
if he spoke of this
time, he
only babble and babble
over, over

("Pallaksch. Pallaksch.")

John Felstiner's translation is a bit different and a useful comparison, with its weird echo of Poe at the end:

Eyes talked in-
to blindness.
riddle, what is pure-
ly arisen"--, their
memory of floating Hölderlintowers, gull-

Visits of drowned joiners to
plunging words:

Came, if there
came a man,
came a man to the world, today, with
the patriarchs'
light-beard: he could,
if he spoke of this
time, he
only babble and babble,
ever-, ever-

("Pallaksch. Pallaksch.")

Finally, here's the poem in the original:


Zur Blindheit über
- redete Augen.
Ihre - ‘ein
Rätsel ist Rein-
entsprungenes’ –, ihre
Erinnerung an
schwimmende Hölderlintürme, möwen-

Besuche ertrunkener Schreiner bei
tauchenden Worten:

käme ein Mensch,
käme ein Mensch zur Welt, heute, mit
dem Lichtbart der
Patriarchen: er dürfte,
spräch er von dieser
Zeit, er
nur lallen und lallen,
immer-, immer-

(‘Pallaksch. Pallaksch.’)

According to Felstiner, that last phrase is something Hölderlin used to mutter in later years. Sometimes it meant "yes," other times, "no."

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 15.2 (Paul Celan)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Celan, Paul
Joris, Pierre, Tr.

Looking over yesterday's mess of a blog entry, I realize I need to take a few more minutes to revise my sentences before hitting "post entry." I went back and revised it a bit this morning. I bought Lightduress at Talking leaves at the same time I bought Threadsuns, probably in 2004.

As I noted before, Celan's books were always close at hand when I was writing To Be Sung. I stole a lot -- lines, ideas, images, rhythms. Reading them again, I experience the strange and pleasurable sensation of having written them myself.

If only...

gray parrots
say mass
in your mouth.

You hear the rain
and guess that this time too
it's God.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 15.1 (Paul Celan)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Celan, Paul
Joris, Pierre, Tr.

After Breathturn, several years went by before Threadsuns and Lightduress were finally released by Green Integer. I remember constantly checking the Amazon stocks to see if they were finally available. This went on for several years, during which time I bought a couple of other translations to feed my Celan jones -- one by Ian Fairley and one Michael Hamburger. When they finally did come out, I bought them at Talking Leaves.

Threadsuns contains the poem, FRANKFURT, SEPTEMBER, which ends with the famous line: "the glottal stop/sings." Wikipedia defines "glottal stop" as follows:

"The glottal stop, or more fully, the "voiceless glottal plosive," is a type of consonantal sound which is used in many spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ʔ. The glottal stop is the sound made when the vocal cords (vocal folds) are (1) drawn together by muscular action to interrupt the flow of air being expelled from the lungs and then (2) released as pressure builds up below them; for example, the break separating the syllables of the interjection uh-oh. Strictly, the perception that it is a consonantal sound is produced by the release; the closure phase is necessarily silent because during it there is no airflow and the vocal cords are immobilized. It is called the glottal stop because the technical term for the gap between the vocal cords, which is closed up in the production of this sound, is the glottis. The term "glottal stop" is one of rather few technical terms of linguistics which have become well known outside the specialism."

As abstractly appealing as the glottal stop concept is, I have never liked the way the phrase sounds in the poem. At one point in my Celan reading, I tried and failed to teach myself German. I also tried my hand at some rough translations of some of his poems, but eventually gave up. However, I did run the final line of this poem through the Babelfish translation engine, which spit out the following: 

"the caught larynx/sings" 

"Caught" is still kind of harsh, but I like the slant rhyme of "larynx/sings." A slight variation of this became the last line of the last poem in my first book.

Here is original:


Blinde, licht-
bärtige Stellwand.
Ein Maikäfertraum
Leuchtet sie aus.

Dahinter, Klagegerastert,
tut sich Freuds Stirn auf,

die draußen
hartgeschwiegiene Träne
schießt an mit dem Satz:
Zum letzten-
mal Psycho-

Die Simili-

Der Kehlkopfverschlußlaut

And the Joris translation:


Blind, light-
bearded partition.
A cockchaferdream
floodlights it.

Behind it, complaint-rastered,
Freud's forehead opens up,

the tear, hard-
silenced outside,
links on with the sentence:
"For the last
time, Psycho-

The imitation

The glottal stop

And for comparison, Ian Fairley:


Blind, aureole-
bearded hoarding.
A maybeetle dream
illumines it.

Behind, rastered by lament,
Freud's gaping brow,

the lamina-
mute tear
"'For the last
time psycho-

The mimic

The glottal stop

I just found my own translation, which is probably a cobbling together of the other two combined with a little bit of Babelfish.


Blind, light-
bearded backdrop.
A maybeetle’s dream
Lights it up.

Behind it, lament-screened,
Freud's forehead opens,

those outside,
hard-silenced by tears,
fire off for the record:
‘For the last
time Psycho-

The Simili-

The caught larynx

or how about this:

The voiceless glottal plosive


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 15 (Paul Celan)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Celan, Paul
Joris, Pierre, tr.

This is the first of eight Celan books on my shelf. It is also the first one that I read. I think Pierre Joris informally visited Charles Bernstein's class in 1998 -- yes, I remember now -- it was when Allen Fisher visited. His next stop was SUNY Albany, so Pierre drove up to retrieve him. I was about to say that that was the first time I had heard of Paul Celan, but it wasn't.

I remember I handed Pierre my first chapbook, The Necessary Elephant, and asked him when the other translations were coming out. He gave me this slightly pained look which I came to recognize as the "forthcoming Sun & Moon book" face, which communicated the unique combination of hope and frustration, anticipation and desperation, that Sun & Moon authors often experienced as they waited for the their books to come out. (The "Green Integer" face is much more relaxed, I am happy to report.)

I am sure I bought Breathturn at Borders in Sarasota in December 1997, the first time I visited my mother after she had moved there. That was two months before Allen visited Buffalo. I remember when I bought it, but I don't remember why was interested in buying a book by Paul Celan at that particular time.

Wait, I do remember: I bought a book of criticism/theory at Talking Leaves called Poetry as Experience, by Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe. I bought it because I liked the title. It's essentially a book-length reading of two Celan poems, "Tübingen, January" and "Todtnauberg." I had no idea who Celan was, but I discovered I really liked these two poems.

I don't recall much of the Lacoue-Labarthe book, but I do recall telling Ben Friedlander, who I had just met, that I was reading the book, and I remember him voicing an objection to it, though I don't recall what that objection was. I didn't know at the time that Ben had worked with Pierre on translating some of the German citations in the footnotes of Breathturn.

Anyhow, there are several poems in this book that I keep going back to. This famous one later helped me get my first book going.

above the grayblack wastes.
A tree-
high thought
grasps the light-tone: there are
still songs to sing beyond

Friday, March 27, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 14 (Catullus)

Gregory, Horace, tr.
The Poems of Catullus

In case you are interested in my process with regards to this blog (of course you are!), it generally follows thusly. I work in groups of 4-6 books at a time. I remove the whole group from the shelf, then photograph them individually using the iSight camera on my MacBook Pro. Most of the time, this happens quickly, though I sometimes have to photograph a book several times to make the title legible.

When I first began this project, I often held the book at strange angles to deflect the light of the screen and/or the flash, which often washed out the cover or some part of it. Now I tend to us the desk lamp as a de facto flash mechanism, which has to some extent standardized the quality of the photos. I rarely have to tilt them or hold them close to or far from the screen in order to get a legible shot.

After I photograph the books, I set them to the left of the computer on the desk, in order, as I intend to write about them. I upload the covers to flickr, one at a time, on some occasions two at a time, but rarely ever more, unless they are all by the same author and I can write about them in no particular order. This is because I find it hard to predict what order they will appear in on my flickr photo stream when I upload more than one.

There is often a lapse between the first upload and the next blog entry. This lapse is caused by the fact that I normally upload a cover after I have just finished blogging one, and I don't normally write two blog entries in a row. So, I write, I upload, then I go about my business until I have some time to write on the next cover. I can't say I think much about them during this little interregnum, but sometimes I do, especially if there is a strong memory associated with a particular title.

I blog directly from flickr because I like the way it formats the photos on Blogger, but I immediately head to my Blogger dashboard after writing in order to edit in formatted text, make final edits, etc. You can't do any formatting from flickr, so all of the bolding and italicizing happens after I have posted the info. (If you ever read a new entry with no formatting, you can be sure that I am busy editing the entry while you read and that it will be reposted with changes in a few minutes.)

If I feel I need to re-write, I then save the post as a draft so it disappears until I post again. Normally, I don't revise beyond the final posting, but sometimes I notice embarrassing errors or unclear statements that I go back and edit after the fact. After posting, I grab the link to the post and put it under the photo in my flickr photo stream, return the book to the shelf and upload another image. When I get through a stack of titles, I remove 4-6 more and start the process all over. 

Which is all a round about way of telling you that when this particular stack was taken from the shelf earlier in the week (it began with Angela Carter), I knew Catullus would be the last book in the lot. I read this volume when I bought it, but hadn't looked at it since. I am pretty sure I purchased it at Rust Belt Books.

It so happened that same day that Brandon Brown posted a "talking point" to his blog, whom he has spent some serious time reading and translating. Curious, I asked which poems he liked, and he pointed to three (2, 2a, and 3) which involve a lover (man), his love interest (woman) and her pet sparrow.

Anyhow, I read through about the first 20 of these and then compared them to the Zukofsky translations. They both have their strong points, though I find the Gregory translations a bit more readable, if somewhat less faithful to the meter and lineation of the original. Here are two versions of number three, for comparison's sake:



Dress now in sorrow, O all
you shades of Venus,
and your little cupids weep.

My girl has lost her darling sparrow;
he is dead, her precious toy
that she loved more than her two eyes,
O, honeyed sparrow following her
as a girl follows her mother,
never to leave her breast, but tripping
now here, now there, and always singing
his sweet falsetto
song to her alone.

Now he is gone; poor creature,
lost in darkness,
to a sad place
from which no one returns.

O ravenous hell!
My evil hatred rises against your power,
you that devour
all things beautiful;
and now this pitiful, broken sparrow,
who is the cause of my girl's grief,
making her eyes weary and red with sorrow.


Lament, o graces of Venus and Cupids,
and cry out loud, men beloved by Her graces.
Pass here, it's dead, meant so much to my girl, the
sparrow, the jewel that delighted my girl,
that lovable in her eyes she loved them less:
like honey so sweet he was sure to know her,
with her ever as a girl's with her mother;
not seizing a moment to stray from her lap,
silly crazy to hop up her and down there,
one endless solo to his only goddess.
Who now? it's hard to walk thru tenebrous flume
down there, where it is granted not one comes back.
On you the curse of the blind and dead shade
Orcus, hell that destroys all beautiful things:
so you stole my beautiful sparrow from me.
Why pick evil? why my little fool sparrow?
It's your doing--my girl's own, darling's sweet
excellent eyes a little swollen and red.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 13 (Rosario Castellanos)

Castellanos, Rosario
The Book Of Lamentations

Lori bought this a few years ago at the Niagara Falls outlet mall ($4.50), accompanying me on one of my cheap paperback book-buying binges. I remember her lying next to me reading it in bed over the course of several weeks. Tonight, I asked her if she liked it, thinking that if she did, I might order it in the original Spanish. She said she remembers the cover and the title, but has no memory of ever having read the book.

I started poking around on the web to find out more about it -- it's original title is Oficio de tinieblas, which translates more like, "Evening Vespers," or, more literally, "Dark Mass." "Book of Lamentations" is a good title, but it only covers half of the original.  That is, it gets at "oficio," which is a religious service, but excludes the literal meaning of "tinieblas," which is "darkness."

It begins:

San Juan, the Guarantor, he who was there when the worlds first appeared, who spoke the yes that started the century on its way and is one of the pillars that keep stable what is stable, stooped down one day to contemplate the land of men.

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 12.1 (Ernst Cassirer)

Cassirer, Ernst
The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms: Volume 2: Mythical Thought

See previous entry. I have nothing else to say about Ernst Cassirer. (I think that rhymes, but I can't be sure).

Although I do want to recount an experience I had last night while sitting in Talking Leaves...Books, where Davd Landrey launched his new book of poems from Spuyten Duyvil, Consciousness Suite.

One of the pleasures of poetry readings, as opposed to, say, fiction readings, is that I can allow my mind to wander out of poems without feeling like I missed something when I wander back in. I often think of poems I would like to write while listening to other people recite theirs, or I just let my mind wander over my surroundings, listening to a line here and a line there, occasionally taking in a whole poem.

At a fiction reading, I always feel like I have to pay too close attention to the story and that if I drift off for a moment I'll miss some crucial thing, disrupting both my listening experience and my experiencing of my own thoughts.

Sitting in a great bookstore like Talking Leaves, surrounded by books, is a double pleasure in that while I am drifting in and out of the poems, I can let my eyes wander from title to title, book to book, imagining books I might like to read, remembering books I have already read or which I already own. If all the bookstores ever do disappear, this will surely be one of the many pleasures I will get all wistful and misty-eyed about when telling some young whippersnapper what these places were like.

I wrote my previous blog entry, in which I appended a correction to my memory of a past situation to the end, just before heading out the door to David's reading last night. Which is to say, the act of remembering was on my mind when I left for the reading. As I listened to David's poems, which tend to probe the mind and its thought processes with tender, humorous music, my mind drifted off in one direction, while my eyes scanned the titles on the theory shelf to my right.

I started thinking about this blog and the act of remembering, of how I keep discovering that my memories are either vague, or false, or mis-remebered, but mainly how they all seem somehow constructions of a past to which I can't ever really have access.

I started thinking about all the books on the shelves and how all the books directly or indirectly attempt to construct reality, either in a forward looking manner that eventually becomes the past (literature, philosophy), or in a rearward-looking manner that attempts to reclaim or reconstruct the past (history, criticism).

I started thinking that the past and the present and the future are never recoverable, are forever just out of reach, and that everything -- every single motherfreaking thing we think we know -- is a fabrication.

And for a few minutes this made me very, very sad.

And then I drifted back into listening to David's poems, probing the inner workings of consciousness, and I began to think that this is why we (or, at least, I), make poems in the first place. That is, I fabricate in order to understand, and what I make is my understanding of what and who and where and how (and sometimes why) I am at a given point in time.

And all those people sitting in the room and all the books surrounding us and all those words pouring forth from David's mouth were not so much reconstructions of a past or present or future reality to which we can have access as attempts to fashion and share a world to which our connections are often invisible.

Which might explain the reaction I had after the reading to Chaplin's 'City Lights,' which Lori and I watched on the couch among my books and all the boxes that contain the cabinets that will one day make up our kitchen and the animals and the photographs and the posters and broadsides and all the things that dress up our lives here in Buffalo.

At the very end, when the blind girl that has regained her sight sees the little tramp, but doesn't recognize him until she touches his hand, I lost it completely -- just started bawling. I tear up pretty easily watching things, but nothing like this. I guess I am getting sentimental in my middle age. Or maybe just confused about the fact of having lived, and being aware of having lived, yet not really knowing if what I think I have lived is anything more than what I have made out of it.

If I remember correctly, this digression is somehow related to my memory of the post-Kantian idealism of Ernst Cassirer.

But who can know such things?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 12 (Ernst Cassirer)

Cassirer, Ernst
The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms: Volume 1: Language

Looks I bought only two volumes of this three volume work. I feel like I bought it in New York at 7th St. Books, but I could be mistaken. I apparently read it at some point, because there are underlinings throughout, but I remember very little. This is becoming a theme with my reading. I remember very little about my life at the time I was reading this book. I have a vague memory of having learned at some point that Duncan was interested in this book. Flipping through, it seems like a good read. Extremely clear for a book of philosophy.

Here's the opening:

Philosophical speculation began with the concept of being. In the very moment when this concept appeared, when man's consciousness awakened to the unity of being as opposed to the multiplicity and diversity of existing things, the specific philosophical approach to the world was born.


My friend P., whose misgivings about the writer's group lead me to voice my own, tells me that it was not in fact me that convinced him to join the group in the first place, but rather our friend, J. (The Bard). I guess I am confusing that conversation with another, in which I implored him to remain in the group once he'd decided to live. This had the reverse effect of convincing me that I too needed to leave, which realization effectively ended the group after the next meeting. So much for memory.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 11 (Angela Carter)

Carter, Angela
The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

I am pretty certain that I acquired this book from my old friend J. For "acquired" read "stole" or possibly "borrowed and never returned."

J. was a college friend at Fordham. We always tacked on the epithet "The Bard" to his name because he was at that time what we all imagined a poet to be. He wrote beautiful songs around the clock and sang them on a beat up old acoustic guitar at the coffeehouse on campus. He edited the "alternative" campus literary magazine. He won the English Department poetry award seemingly every year. And, of course, he seemed to have come out of the womb doing all of this, which made everyone jealous of all that natural talent seemingly oozing from his every pore.

After college, we formed a writer's group that met once a week at J.'s apartment on Jones St. in the West Village. This was my first experience in literary social formation, and although I am grateful for the experience of having had my work held up to close scrutiny, I left the group, and was left by the group, with a bad taste in my mouth. Most of this had to do with the fact that a pecking order quickly formed with regards to whose opinion was more valued, whose work was considered superior or inferior, etc. (Admittedly, my bitterness stems from the fact that I was at the bottom of both hierarchies).

I was also amazed and crippled by the fact that several members of the group, all of whom were fresh out of college, began to feel that they owned certain stylistic tics or literary strategies and that no one else in the group could use them. Often, people said things like, "Mike, that's a J. line or an S. Line. You need to change that." For at least a year after I left the group I found myself questioning every line I wrote, asking myself if I had stolen the idea from someone else. 

(Thankfully, I discovered Jackson Mac Low, who freed me)

Eventually, I brought another friend, P., into the group. P. was even more sensitive than I, and about three times as volatile. After about three or four meetings, he unloaded all of his misgivings on me with such force that I went to the next meeting and effectively ended the writer's group. I think we all continued writing in some form or another afterward, but the writing took surprisingly different forms: one almost silent member of the group became a pretty successful playwright, another a press officer for an NGO, another an editor for a conservative think tank journal, another a grant writer at a university, another a high school English teacher writing and occasionally publishing on the side.

If I did take away something positive from that group it was that I learned not to be in love with anything that I write, and that when I am in love with something it is probably garbage. It was the beginning of looking at my own work objectively.

One of J.'s other firsts was that he discovered the one professor at Fordham in 1990 who taught postmodern fiction and theory and he actually took the course. He was also the first man I had ever met (and possibly the last, come to think of it) to publicly declare himself a "Marxist-feminist." I remember he had a Siamese cat named Cleo he found at Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park (hence, the name).

I am almost positive this book belonged to him, but one can never be sure of such things. I love the opening:

I remember everything.
I remember everything perfectly.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 10 (Rachel Carson)

Carson, Rachel
The Edge of the Sea

This is one of Lori's books. I seem to recall she has a copy of Silent Spring as well. I can picture it in the upstairs bookcase in our last house, on a middle shelf on the right side, behind the glass doors. It didn't make it to this shelf, at least not yet. I wonder where it is.

From the Preface:

Like the sea itself, the shore fascinates us who return to it, the place of our dim ancestral beginnings. In the recurrent rhythms of tides and surf and in the varied life of the tide lines there is the obvious attraction of movement and chance and beauty. There is also, I am convinced, a deeper fascination born of inner meaning and significance.

When we go down to the low-tide line, we enter a world that is as old as the earth itself--the primeval meeting place of the elements of earth and water, a place of compromise and conflict and eternal change. For us as living creatures it has a special meaning as an area in or near which some entity that could be distinguished as Life first drifted in shallow waters--reproducing, evolving, yielding that endlessly varied stream of living things that has surged through time and space to occupy the earth.

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 9.1 (Anne Carson, Sappho)

If Not, Winter
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Carson, Anne
If Not, Winter

I suppose this should be filed under Sappho, but it is so heavily marked as an Anne Carson production that I filed it under her name. I bought it a few years ago at Talking Leaves on a whim, having never read Sappho or Anne Carson (to be honest, I still haven't read much poetry by the latter). I have a memory of having lifted a line from one of these translations for a poem of my own, but I can find neither the poem I wrote nor the line that I lifted.


Dead you will lie and never memory of you
will there be nor desire into the aftertime--for you do not share in the roses
of Pieria, but invisible too in Hades' house
you will go your way among dim shapes. Having been breathed out.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 9 (Anne Carson)

Carson, Anne
Economy of the Unlost

Purchased online a few years back, this book probably belongs in the Paul Celan section, as I bought it when I was reading about Paul Celan. There are some good reasons not to put it in the Celan section, the most significant being that this book is primarily about Simonides of Keos and only tangentially about Paul Celan. Given that Carson is a classics scholar, this is not surprising. I don't remember much about the essay other than that I was disappointed at how little I learned about Celan or his work by reading it. I would also like to state for the record that this is one of the most pretentious, academic, non-signifying titles for any book I have ever read. There, I said it.

From the prologue, "False Sail":

Humans value economy. Why? Whether we are commending a mathematician for her proof or a draughtsman for his use of line or a poet for furnishing us with nuggets of beauty and truth, economy is a trope of intellectual, aesthetic, and moral value. How do we come to take comfort in this notion. It is arguable that the trope does not predate the invention of coinage. And certainly in a civilization so unconditionally committed to greed as ours is, no one questions any more the wisdom of saving money. But money is just a mediator for our greed. What does it mean to save time, or trouble, or face, or breath, or shoe leather? Or words?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 8 (Lewis Carroll)

Carroll, Lewis
The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll

The place that I purchased this book a decade ago in Buffalo no longer exists. It was one of those places that I am not sure ever existed. On Main St., which ten years ago was mostly abandoned (still is, but has some life coming back to it in places), there used to be this big empty warehouse type of building. Inside there was an almost completely invisible antique store that had piles of books and records that sold for a dollar. I think I only went there once. It was gone the next time I passed it, and remained empty until a year or two ago, when a Budget Truck rental franchise opened up.


'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 7 (Truman Capote)

In Cold Blood
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Capote, Truman
In Cold Blood

When I taught high school in the East Village, I found myself constantly looking for books I thought would interest the students enough to keep them reading on their own. I thought I had struck gold when I chose In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. I figured a lurid, well-written, true crime story would be sure to captivate my students.

Well, I was wrong.

If you have ever read the book, you know that the writing is crisp, but that the action is muted for about eighty percent of the book. It contains a lot of description, a lot of detailed information about the people involved, as well as about the investigation. My clearest memory of teaching this book involves me coming to class each day and having to listen to my students complain about how bored they were with this book. Even showing Richard Brooks' film version bored them (they hated black and white films). I think I may have eventually given up on the book because I couldn't even get them to read it in class. Alas.

It begins:

The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call "out there." Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clean air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 6 (Norman F. Cantor)

Cantor, Norman F.
The Civilization of the Middle Ages

Purchased online a few years ago when I was reading books about the Middle Ages. They all seem to blur together in my memory. I couldn't begin to tell you what I learned from this one as opposed to what I learned from one of the several others I read. I suppose that is why I am not a historian. I notice that it does have a useful list of books to read, as well as a selection of films the author feels accurately invoke the ambience of the Medieval period. In fact, looking over this list, I now recall that I went to see The Return of Martin Guerre, starring Gerard Depardieu and Nathalie Bye, after having read it. There. See. I do remember something.

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 5.3 (Albert Camus)

Camus, Albert
Resistance, Rebellion 
& Death

I think I bought this back when I lived in New York. I think I bought it at 7th St. Books. I think I bought it because I liked Camus, but also because I liked the title. I think I read the book cover to cover. I think I don't remember anything about it. I think I will make today's entry excerpt-free and brief so I can move on to another author. I think I like Camus a lot less than I used to, even though I haven't read him for years. I think I don't feel like stopping typing at the moment. I think I am enjoying feeling the keys tapping beneath my fingers. I think I am also enjoying the soothing repetition of the words I think I think I think I think I think dancing through my brain as I type. I think this might have to do with the fact that lately we've been watching a lot of movies with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, in which I get so caught up in the rhythms of their dancing that I find myself bobbing my head up and down and tapping my feet on the coffee table while we're watching the movie. I think Lori would say I do a version of this no matter what movie we are watching and that it has nothing to do with watching musicals per se but rather with my ADHD, which causes me to constantly rhythmically tap and bang my fingers, toes, hands and feet, regardless of the circumstance or the film at hand. I think I think that is it, yes, that is it, I think. I think I think I like to tap tap tap the rhythm of the words I think I think I think I think I think on keys. I think I like the feel. I think I like the sound. I think I like the words. I think I do, yes, I think I do.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 5.2 (Albert Camus)

The Plague
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Camus, Albert
The Plague

This Modern Library College Edition seems quite old, and is in pretty bad shape. Lots of water damage to the top edge, very yellow pages. I think I actually got this from my parents bookshelf. I don't know to which parent the book belonged, and I'd have a hard time guessing. My parents both read quite a bit, but neither had overly literary tastes in reading.

My father liked to read history and biography and memoir, and had a special place in his heart for books that related very specifically to his own life. He liked to read books about growing up in Brooklyn. I remember a book on his shelf called, When Brooklyn Was The Whole World. He also had a book about the Brooklyn Dodgers called The Boys of Summer. I remember he also had James Cagney's memoir, Cagney by Cagney. 

My father worked his whole life in the automobile industry - first for Hertz, then at Ford Motor Company, where he met my mother, who worked as a secretary in Lee Iacocca's secretarial pool. Iacocca was a big hero of his, and I remember he had Iacocca's memoir on the shelves.

When he read literary works, he tended to read Irish authors. He once bought me a copy of a book containing three memoirs by Yeats, though I don't think he read them himself. He owned Frank O'Connor's memoirs, I recall. Of course, the big Irish sensations of the 90's -- Angela's Ashes and How The Irish Saved Civilization -- were among his faves in the last few years of his life.

My mother, on the other hand, read (and reads)  mostly mystery novels and books on religion. She was a big fan of Tony Hillerman back in the 80's. I can picture a whole slew of religiously themed books, but I can't recall the titles of most of them. I remember she owned the Seven Story Mountain, by Thomas Merton, which I had for while, but never got around to reading, and a copy Augustine's Confessions, which I now own. I remember seeing C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters on the shelf. I loved the Chronicles of Narnia as a kid and I remember my utter disappointment upon cracking open Screwtape in the fifth grade only to discover it was not one bit like the Chronicles. Actually, she's a much more diverse reader now.  She tends to read a lot of the big book club picks nowadays.

Other books I can see on my parents shelves:

Or I'll Dress You In Mourning
Alcoholics Anonymous
12 Steps and Twelve Traditions
The Bourne Conspiracy
The History of Civilization
The World Book Encyclopedia 1978

Anyhow, one or both of them read The Plague. I read it somewhere along the way. I have much clearer memories of reading The Stranger, though I think I liked this novel more. This edition has little icons at the heading of each chapter containing a hooded skeleton with what looks like a machete or a sword above raised above its head.

Here's an excerpt:

The Prefect greeted them amiably enough, but one could see his nerves were on edge.

Let's make a start, gentlemen, he said. Need I review the situation?

Richard thought that this wasn't necessary. He and his colleagues were acquainted with the facts. The only question was what measures should be adopted.

The question, old Castel cut in almost rudely, is to know whether it's a plague or not.

Two or three of the doctors present protested. The others seemed to hesitate. The Prefect gave a start and hurriedly glanced toward the door to make sure it had prevented this outrageous remark from being overheard in the corridor. Richard said that in his opinion the great thing was not to take an alarmist view. All that could be said at present was that we had to deal with a special type of fever, with inguinal complications; in medical science, as in daily life, it was unwise to jump to conclusions.

Rieux, who had said nothing so far, was asked for his opinion. We are dealing, he said, with a fever of typhoidal nature, accompanied by vomiting and buboes. I have incised these buboes and had the pus analyzed; our laboratory analyst believes he has identified the plague bacillus. But I am bound to add that there are specific modifications that don't quite tally with the classical description of the plague bacillus.

Richard pointed out that this justified a policy of wait-and-see; anyhow, it would be wise to await the statistical report on the series of analyses that had been going on for several days.When a microbe, Rieux said, after a short intermission can quadruple in three days' time the volume of the spleen, can swell the mesenteric ganglia to the size of an orange and give them the consistency of gruel, a policy of wait-and-see is, to say the least of it, unwise. The foci of infection are steadily extending. Judging by the rapidity with which the disease is spreading, it may well, unless we can stop it, kill off half the town before two months are out. That being so, it has small importance whether you call it plague or some rare kind of fever. The important thing is to prevent its killing off half the population of this town.

Richard said it was a mistake to create too gloomy a picture, and, moreover, the disease hadn't been proved to be contagious; indeed, relatives of his patients, living under the same roof, had escaped it.

But others have died, Rieux observed. And obviously contagion is never absolute; otherwise, you'd have a constant mathematical progression and the death-rate would rocket up catastrophically. It's not a question of painting too black a picture. It's a question of taking precautions.

It comes to this. We are to take the responsibility of acting as though the epidemic were plague.

It doesn't matter to me, Rieux said, how you phrase it. My point is that we should not act as if there were no likelihood that half the population would be wiped out; for then it would be.

Followed by scowls and protestations, Rieux left the committee room. Some minutes later, as he was driving down a back street redolent of fried fish and urine, a woman screaming in agony, her groin dripping blood, stretched out her arms toward him.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 5.1 (Albert Camus)

Camus, Albert
The Myth Of Sisyphus

I don't know where I bought this, but it appears to have been a library copy. I can't tell which library system it is from. I remember a philosophy teacher somewhere along the way mentioning that Camus said that the only truly serious philosophical problem is suicide. That sounded really serious to me when I was sixteen.

I don't think I actually read the book until I was in my early twenties, by which time I had read of quite a few other philosophical problems, most of which struck me as being more serious than the problem of suicide. Suicide, of course is a very serious psychological problem, a very serious moral problem, a very serious sociological problem. I don't see how it is a serious philosophical problem.

I find Camus' essays to be rather more moralistic than philosophical. They do not concern the way things are, but rather the way a person should act, which is how I would distinguish between the two. The opening of the essay more or less admits as much, attempting as it does to make the moral argument the philosophical one, or at the very least claim that the philosophical one is of lesser significance:

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental questions of philosophy. All the rest--whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories--comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer. And if it is true, as Nietzsche claims, that a philosopher, to deserve our respect, must preach by example, you can appreciate the importance of that reply, for it will precede the definitive act. These are facts the heart can feel; yet they call for careful study before they become clear to the intellect.

If I ask myself to judge that this questions is more urgent than that, I reply that one judges by the actions it entails. I have never seen anyone die for the ontological argument.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 5 (Albert Camus)

The Stranger
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Camus, Albert
The Stranger

One summer in college I decided I wanted to try my hand at being a writer, so I went home and spent 3 months in my parents basement reading, writing and playing guitar (and smoking like a chimney, natch). I didn't have a great sense of what to read, so I just started reading all the novels I hadn't read in high school -- Steinbeck, Hemingway, Camus, Salinger, Richard Wright. I think I read something like 50 novels that summer, which at least made me feel I had "caught up" on what I had missed in high school. That is also how I came to own my brother's copy of this book. Since he went to the same high school, he had all the same books I was supposed to have read (he had read them, being, as he was, a much more diligent student than I) on his shelf, so I just read what was there.

I've always preferred philosophical literary works, whether poetry or plays or novels, to other kinds, and I think The Stranger was my introduction to this kind of book. It may not be a desert island favorite, but it's certainly been an important book for me. Here's a passage I underlined:

I remembered a story Mother used to tell me about my father. I never set eyes on him. Perhaps the only things I really knew about him were what Mother had told me. One of these was that he’d gone to see a murderer executed. The mere thought of it turned his stomach. But he’d seen it through and, on coming home, was violently sick. At the time, I found my father’s conduct rather disgusting. But now I understood; it was so natural. How had I failed to recognize that nothing was more important than an execution; that, viewed from one angle, it’s the only thing that can genuinely interest a man? And I decided that, if ever I got out of jail, I’d attend every execution that took place. I was unwise, no doubt, even to consider this possibility. For, the moment I’d pictured myself in freedom, standing behind a double rank of policemen—on the right side of the line, so to speak—the mere thought of being an onlooker who comes to see the show, and can go home and vomit afterward, flooded my mind with a wild, absurd exultation. It was a stupid thing to let my imagination run away with me like that; a moment later I had a shivering fit and had to wrap myself closely in my blanket. But my teeth went on chattering; nothing would stop them.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 4 (Sophie Calle)

Calle, Sophie
Le rituel d'anniversaire (LIVRE II)

I guess this book properly belongs with the art books. I probably put it where it is because it's so small I was afraid it would get destroyed among all the oversized books in the art book section. It was given to both me and Lori as a gift by Isabelle Pellissier, sometime between 2001 and 2003. We were living in our first apartment together, I recall, and Isabel gave it to us after she returned from a visit to Paris.

It was Isabelle who introduced the two of us in 2001. I first saw Lori at Isabelle's studio in the fall of 2000. Also the site of many poetry readings organized by her husband, Jonathan Skinner, Isabelle's studio was housed in the Tri-Main Building, a former windshield wiper factory converted to artists studios and offices. Just Buffalo was housed there from 1993-2005. Before it was a windshield wiper factory, it was a bomber engine factory during WWII and before that it was a Model A car factory.

Isabelle was holding an open studio one night when this cute blonde walked in that I had never seen before. The poetics community was rather small, and everyone knew everyone else, so when a stranger walked in the room, she stood out. I asked Isabelle about Lori, and her immediate response was, You two have to meet! You would be perfect for each other!

Turns out I didn't see Lori again for another 4 or 5 months. Not only that, but after Lori left that night, I met another friend of Isabelle's, who I dated briefly. We were not perfect for each other. Neither was the other woman I dated during this interregnum, who I broke up with after two dates with Lori.

After several months had passed, Isabelle finally got around to putting Lori and me in the same room together. It was a poetry reading. Simon Pettet read. I am sure he read with someone else, but I don't remember who. (Little help, anyone that was there?). I saw her across the room, but waited for an introduction from Isabelle, which was a long time in coming.

In the meantime, Jonathan Skinner actually introduced me to a friend of his he thought I might like. I was too distracted to pay much attention, though, and said something really rude when Jonathan said, This is so and so, who I told you you should meet. I think my reply was, Why?

After a while, Isabelle, who is French, asked me, Have you spoken to Lori? I said I was waiting for an introduction. She said, What is an introduction? Then, with the kind of contempt only the French can display, You want me to say, Mike this is Lori, Lori this is Mike? This kind of introduction. Yes, I said, that is an introduction. She took me violently by the hand and dragged me over to Lori, who was being shown a collection of photographs of Mardi Gras revelers baring their breasts by a certain professor at SUNY Buffalo.

Mike, this is Lori, Lori, this is Mike. Ça va? then she walked away.

Lori and I spoke for a couple of seconds, but said professor was coming on pretty hard, so I backed off and got her phone number from someone else. I called a couple of days later, and the rest, as they say, is history...

Le rituel d'anniversaire (LIVRE II) is in French, which I can piece together, but not very coherently. For 14 years, from 1980-1993, Sophie Calle threw herself a birthday party at which she invited one person for each year she had been alive, plus one stranger chosen by one of the guests, who represented the hope of the future. She chose not to "use" the gifts, but rather to collect and display them in display cases as sculpture.

She says in her intro that the character of Maria in Paul Auster's Leviathan is based on her and that all of the rituals Maria performs are based on her own, except for two that Auster invented himself. Calle took this as a challenge and went on to perform the two rituals that Auster had invented. I found them described (or, I guess, translated) on another blog thusly:

The life of Maria and how it influenced the life of Sophie.

In Leviathan, Maria puts herself through the same rituals as I did. But Paul Auster has slipped some rules of his own inventing into his portrait of Maria. In order to bring Maria and myself closer together, I decided to go by the book. The author imposes on his creature a chromatic regimen which consists in restricting herself to foods of a single color for any given day. I followed his instructions. He has her base whole days on a single letter of the alphabet. I did as she does.

To be like Maria, during the week of December 8 to 14, 1997, I ate Orange on Monday, Red on Tuesday, White on Wednesday, and Green on Thursday. Since Paul Auster had given his character the other days off, I made Friday Yellow and Saturday Pink. As for Sunday, I decided to devote it to the full spectrum of colors, setting out for six guests the six menus tested over the week.

Menu imposed:
PurÈe of carrots Boiled prawns Cantaloupe melon
Paul Auster forgot to mention (drinks, so I allowed myself to complete (his menu with:
Orange juice

Menu imposed:
Tomatoes (Steak tartare (Pomegranates
I completed the menu with:
Roasted red peppers (Lalande de Pomerol, domaine de Viaud, 1990

Menu imposed:
Flounder (Potatoes (Fromage blanc
I changed this menu, because I was not satisfied (with the yellow color of the potatoes, and added:
Rice (Milk

Menu imposed:
Cucumber (Broccoli (Spinach
I completed the menu with:
Green basil pasta (Grapes and kiwi fruit (Mint cordial

Since no color was prescribed (for Friday, I chose yellow.
Afghan omelette (Potato salad ("Young Girl's Dream" ((Banana, mango ice cream) (Pschitt fizzy lemon drink

Since no color was prescribed (for Saturday, I chose pink.
Ham (Taramasalata (Strawberry ice cream (RosÈ wine from Provence

Lots were drawn for the menus and everybody acquitted themselves conscientiously, if without enthusiasm, at their task. Personally, I preferred not to eat; novels are all very well but not necessarily so very delectable if you live them to the letter.

To be like Maria, I spent the day of Tuesday, March 10, 1998, under the sign of B for Big-Time Blonde Bimbo; Tuesday, February 16, 1998, under the sign of C for Calle & Calle in the Cemetery; Thursday, March 19, 1998, under the sign of C for Confession; and Saturday, March 14, 1998, under the sign of W for Weekend in Wallonia.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 3 (James M. Cain)

Double Indemnity
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Cain, James M.
Double Indemnity

I am pretty sure I bought this at Talking Leaves for the previously discussed film course in graduate school. I think my memory of the film, which I saw long before I ever read the novel, clouds my memory of the book. Or maybe I didn't read the book at all. I am pretty sure I read the book. Or maybe I didn't read the book. Or maybe I did. Did I read the book? Have I read any books?

It begins:

I drove out to Glendale to put three new truck drivers on a brewery company bond, and then I remembered this renewal over in Hollywoodland. I decided to run over there. That was how I came to this House of Death, that you've been reading about in the papers. It didn't look like a House of Death when I saw it. It was just a Spanish house, like all the rest of them in California, with white walls, red tile roof, and a patio out to one side. It was built cock-eyed. The garage was under the house, the first floor was over that, and the rest of it was spilled up the hill any way they could get it in. You climbed some stone steps to the front door, so I parked the car and went up there. A servant poked her head out. "Is Mr. Nirdlinger in?"

"I don't know, sir. Who wants to see him?"

"Mr. Huff."

"And what's the business?"


Getting in is the tough part of my job, and you don't tip what you came for till you get where it counts. "I'm sorry, sir, but they won't let me ask anybody in unless they say what they want."

It was one of those spots you get in. If I said some more about "personal" I would be making a mystery of it, and that's bad. If I said what I really wanted, I would be laying myself open for what every insurance agent dreads, that she would come back and say, "Not in." If I said I'd wait, I would be making myself look small, and that never helped a sale yet. To move this stuff, you've got to get in. Once you're in, they've got to listen to you, and you can pretty near rate an agent by how quick he gets to thefamily sofa, with his hat on one side of him and his dope sheets on the other.

"I see. I told Mr. Nirdlinger I would drop in, but-never mind. I'll see if I can make it some other time."

It was true, in a way. On this automobile stuff, you always make it a point that you'll give a reminder on renewal, but I hadn't seen him for a year. I made it sound like an old friend, though, and an old friend that wasn't any too pleased at the welcome he got. It worked. She got a worried look on her face. "Well-come in, please."

If I had used that juice trying to keep out, that might have got me somewhere.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 2 (John Cage)

For The Birds
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Cage, John
For The Birds

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo used to have an amazingly comprehensive bookstore, covering everything from visual art to dance to music to literature. Of course, comprehensive bookstores have a hard time making money, so they eventually pared it down to about half the size, replacing the books with games and trinkets and souvenirs. It's still pretty good for art books, though. Anyhow, I bought this book of interviews with John Cage there. I am pretty sure I read it at some point, but I'll be damned if I can recall anything very specific from it.

A random snippet from Cage, talking about conceptual art:

Even when I tell myself that I could have had this and that experience, if I didn't experience it, it is lost to me! But I don't think you have to then deprive yourself of experiences. When I gave the first performance of the 840 repetitions of Satie's Vexations in New York with several other pianists, there was the usual amount of publicity before the concert, and many people were aware of what was going to happen. Most of them didn't want to come, because they thought they knew what would happen. And even those of us who were playing thought we were headed for something repetitive. We others, the pianists, indeed had to know what was going on. But this is what happened. In the middle of those eighteen hours of performance, our lives changed. We were dumbfounded, because something was happening which we had not considered and which we were a thousand miles away from being able to foresee. So, if I apply this observation to conceptual art, it seems to me that the difficulty with this type of art, if I understand it correctly, is that it obliges us to imagine that we know something before that something has happened. That is difficult, since the experience itself is always different from what you thought about it. And it seems to me that the experiences each person can have, that everyone is capable of appreciating, are precisely those experiences that contribute to changing us and, particularly, to changing our preconceptions.

R.I.P. Mama Cat (1992-2009)

Just about the sweetest cat that ever lived. We had to put her to sleep to night after a long, heroic battle with age and various other diseases.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 1 (Olivier Cadiot)

Red, Green & Black
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Cadiot, Olivier
Bernstein, Charles, "trans."
Red, Green & Black

In Sarasota, Florida, where my mother lives, there is a "remaindered book" store across the street from a multiplex cinema, where I have often browsed before going to see movies.

My mother moved to Sarasota in 1997, almost immediately following the sudden, unexpected death of my father. We all thought she had gone off the deep end when she sold the house and car and pretty much everything else she owned and left Northern Virginia, where she'd lived for 21 years, for Florida, where she knew almost no one. In hindsight, her logic was sound. She told us, "If I have to start over, I might as well go all the way."

I moved to Buffalo at roughly the same time. I was opposed to her moving to Florida, mostly because I couldn't imagine wanting to visit her there. My first visit was at Christmas in 1997. I remember we saw a slew of mediocre Hollywood films at the multiplex, including Titanic, As Good As It Gets and Good Will Hunting.

One day, I went to the bookstore across the street and sought out the poetry section, which was neatly hidden toward the rear of the second floor. I have to say I was struck dumb by the poetry titles they had, not to mention the fact they were all less than five dollars. One of them was this book. I also found Susan Howe's Europe of Trusts and Singularities, Charles Bernstein's chapbook, Senses of Responsibility, and Odes of Roba, by Clark Coolidge. I think I got all of them for twelve dollars!

I have returned to the bookstore every year since 1997, but I have never again found an interesting book of poetry. Alas.

You can actually read the whole book online here:


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Aimless Reading: Anthologies, Part 3 (Comprehensive Anthology Of American Poetry)

Aiken, Conrad, ed.
Comprehensive Anthology 
Of American Poetry

During the Poetry of the Forties Conference in Orono a few years back, Theodore Enslin took part in a panel on Zukofsky, alongside Robert Creeley, Mark Scroggins, Barret Watten, Bob Pearlman and Lyn Hejinian. He talked about how he had originally studied music under Nadia Boulanger, who had encouraged him away from composing music and towards the writing of poems.

Before beginning what he called a "correspondence course" in poetry with Zukofsky, he spent a year or so studying under Conrad Aiken, who, he said, taught him little but "how to drink." I am pretty sure it was Enslin, but it might have been someone else at the conference, who brought up Aiken's Comprehensive Anthology of American Poetry in very unflattering terms. I don't remember what was said, but there was a lot of derisive laughter. (Deservedly so, it turns out).

On my way home from Orono, I stopped for a night in Gloucester, where I visited with Gerrit Lansing, then moved on to New Haven, where I spent a couple of nights visiting with Nancy Kuhl and her husband, the literary outlaw Richard Deming. One afternoon we wandered into a used bookstore/coffeeshop, where I happened to notice a copy of the Aiken anthology on the shelves, which I immediately purchased.

It's not a bad anthology on the whole. It is made ridiculous, however, by the inclusion of some truly wretched poetry. I can't imagine some of these bad poems would even pass the "what if I put a good poet's name above the poem" test. They are just really, really bad. The following fine specimen of misogynistic doggerel was penned by one H. Phelps Putnam, who apparently once had an affair with Katherine Hepburn.

About Women

Fair golden thoughts and lovely words--
Away, away from her they call,
For women are the silly birds,
And perching on a sunny wall
They chirp the answer and the all;
They hold for true all futile things--
Life, death, and even love--they fall
To dreaming over jeweled rings.

Their bodies are uncouthly made,
And heavy swollen like a pear,
And yet their conquered, undismayed
And childish lovers call them fair.
Their honor fills them full of care,
Their honor that is nothingness,
The mystery of the empty air,
The veil of vain delightedness.

Their subtleties are thin and pale,
Their hearts betray them in their eyes:
They are a simple flute, and frail,
With triple stops for playing lies.
These poor machines of life are wise
To scorn the metaphysic glow,
The carelss game that laughs and dies,
The heady grace they cannot know.

Well, give them kisses, scatter flowers,
And whisper that you cannot stay;
We shall have clarity and hours
Which women shall not take away.

Aimless Reading: Anthologies, Part 2 (Cahiers du Cinema)

Cahiers du Cinema
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hillier, Jim, ed.
Cahiers du Cinema: The 1950s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave

I bought this online several years ago. It's a selection of essays from the first decade of Cahiers du Cinema, the film journal where most of the directors of the French New Wave began their careers as film critics. It contains essays by Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette, Bazin, Rohmer, Moullet, et al.

I used this anthology to discover some of the films of the French New Wave, and also to compile a list of other films worth watching. Even the films the New Wavers hated tend to be great in some way or another. If you happen to be hanging around a lot of film snobs, it can also provide a fine gloss to their vocabulary. All the essays that gave rise to terms like mise en scene and auteur are contained in this book.

It's remarkable how much impact Cahiers du Cinema has had. The films they talk about have become a kind of academic film canon, and the terms under which these films are discussed have not changed all that much in 50 years. A little depressing, I guess, or maybe evidence of strong ideas?

I'd like to read it again, as I think I have now seen all the films discussed in these essays, as well as most of the films by the directors of the French New Wave.

(Note to self: reread this book, taking into account the years of accumulated cultural knowledge that have accrued since you last read it, and give thanks that Netflix exists.)

Here's a snatch of Chabrol's discussion of Hitchcock's Rear Window:

In its first few minutes Rear Window presents us with an assembly of rabbit hutches, each of them completely separate and observed from another closed, incommunicable, rabbit hutch. From there it is obviously just a step, made with difficulty, to the conclusion that the behavior of the rabbits is, or should be, the object of attention, since in fact there is nothing to contradict this interpretation of the elements before us. We merely have to acknowledge that the study of this behavior is carried out by a rabbit essentially no different from the others. Which leads to the notion of a perpetual shift between the real behavior of the rabbits and the interpretation that the observer-rabbit gives of it, ultimately the only one communicated to us, since any break or choice in the continuity of this behavior, a continuity multiplied by the number of hutches observed, is imposed upon us. While the observer-rabbit is himself observed with a total objectivity, for example that of a camera which restricts itself to the observer's hutch, we are obliged to acknowledge that all the other hutches and all the rabbits in them are the sum of a multiple distortion produced from the hutch and by the rabbit which is objectively, or directly, presented.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Aimless Reading: Anthologies, Part 1 (Here Comes Everybody)

Gatza, Geoffrey &
Phillips, Lance, eds.
Here Comes Everybody:
An Anthology

One of the few extant copies of this notorious collection of interviews with writers culled from the blog of the same name. It was taken out of circulation almost immediately after production due to numerous issues with permissions and at least one threatened lawsuit. Too bad, because it's enormous and covers a lot of ground among contemporary poets. It was given to me by Geoffrey Gatza as a gift right after it went out of print.

I'll excerpt a bit from the end in which Stacy Szymaszek asks Robert Creeley a question in a 2002 interview:

Stacy: I read somewhere that Gary Snyder said: "In the spiritual and poetical loneliness of America in the 50's you'd hitch a thousand miles to meet a friend." Do you think this level of camaraderie between poets is still culturally possible? Necessary?

Creeley: For me it has certainly been possible and necessary -- to feel a world was possible initially, and then to keep faith with its company. Poets, despite the emphasis so familiar on their "loneliness," are really very social people, fact of community, of ways of saying the world, of bearing witness and testament. Remembering that the fifties were the time of "The Lonely Crowd" and of insistent public "silence" not unlike that presently the case, "the distances," as Jonathan Williams also spoke of them, were often very harsh and corrosive. Yet one held on -- and would gratefully, as Gary suggests, drive hundreds of miles to find a like spirit.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


The B's:

116 Volumes
60 authors

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 60.1 (Lord Byron)

Don Juan
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Byron, George Gordon
Don Juan

Well, this is it for the B's. This book was purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore for the aforementioned class on British Romantic Poetry. It's not in great shape, though it could probably withstand another reading or two in the next few years. Many of the pages are water-damaged, which I think occurred relatively recently.

One of my clearest memories of studying Byron in college is of the professor telling us to pronounce "Juan" as "JEW-in," and not as "Hwan," otherwise the rhyme scheme wouldn't make sense. Apparently, the British don't (or didn't then) fancy being forced to pronounce foreign words correctly, and so anglicized the pronunciation of everything. Imperialist's prerogative, I guess.

I hope I didn't suggest in the last post a dislike for Byron. I only meant to say that I prefer the witty, sardonic, mean-spirited bad boy Byron of Don Juan to the weepy, wispy Byron of Childe Harold. As far as Don Juan goes, I love it. It's one of my favorite books of poetry. I would want it with me on the proverbial desert island. As Stan Apps pointed out in the comment section "It's one of the rare [books in which] poetry is as good as a Bugs Bunny cartoon." I can't argue with that.

I reread it a couple of years ago with great pleasure. It's one of the few great long poems that can be read like a novel. It doesn't require a lot of stopping to track down allusions -- though it does help to have notes, as this one does -- and it's pretty much a laugh-a-minute. Whether he is mocking the church or his contemporaries, his wit is always searing, his rhymes always devilishly clever.

Here's a taste from Canto the First. The rhyming of "Southey" with "mouthy" and "drouthy" kills me every time:


If ever I should condescend to prose,
I'll write poetical commandments, which
Shall supersede beyond all doubt all those
That went before; in these I shall enrich
My text with many things that no one knows,
And carry precept to the highest pitch:
I'll call the work "Longinus o'er a Bottle,
Or, Every Poet his own Aristotle."


Thou shalt believe in Milton, Dryden, Pope;
Thou shalt not set up Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey;
Because the first is crazed beyond all hope,
The second drunk, the third so quaint and mouthy:
With Crabbe it may be difficult to cope,
And Campbell's Hippocrene is somewhat drouthy:
Thou shalt not steal from Samuel Rogers, nor
Commit -- flirtation with the muse of Moore.


Thou shalt not covet Mr. Sotheby's Muse,
His Pegasus, nor anything that's his;
Thou shalt not bear false witness like "the Blues"
(There's one, at least, is very fond of this);
Thou shalt not write, in short, but what I choose:
This is true criticism, and you may kiss --
Exactly as you please, or not, -- the rod;
But if you don't, I'll lay it on, by G-d!