Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I am in NYC this week for the PEN World Voices festival, so I won't be blogging about my books. However, I will be blogging about the festival as a correspondent on the PEN blog, and I'll post links to my entries over there, in case you are interested.  If not, I'll be back to regular blogging on my books either Sunday or Monday, depending on my stamina!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 31.2 (Joseph Conrad)

Heart of Darkness
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Conrad, Joseph
Heart of Darkness

I am pretty sure this is my high school copy of this book. Or it could be my brother's high school copy, pilfered on a trip home to visit my parents when I was in college. Either way, it is not in very good shape. I feel as if know the story well, despite the fact that my memory of the book itself is pretty sketchy.

Last year, when I introduced Chinua Achebe in Buffalo, I mentioned that he had caused a stir in the seventies when he said in a lecture that Conrad was a "bloody racist." After I mentioned the controversy in my introduction, Achebe came out on stage (in a wheelchair) and very good-naturedly mentioned that this one comment, out of everything else he has ever said about literature, has followed him throughout his life and that he felt compelled to address it each time.

He said meant this simply as a statement of fact, not as a condemnation of the writing or of the importance of the work. His main point was that Conrad's racism was so "thoroughgoing" that one cannot discuss his work without discussing the fact of his racism, both as a manifestation of the culture of his time and as a peculiar attribute of the writer himself.

He then mentioned that as one proof of this, no African character in the book ever said more than six consecutive words. His reading of Conrad and other Eurpoean writers writing about Africa led him to determine that Africa needed writing by, for and about Africans -- Things Fall Apart was the result.

You can read the 1975 lecture here:


Here's the famous death of Kurtz from the novel:

"His was an impenetrable darkness. I looked at him as you peer down at a man who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines. But I had not much time to give him, because I was helping the engine-driver to take to pieces the leaky cylinders, to straighten a bent connecting-rod, and in other such matters. I lived in an infernal mess of rust, filings, nuts, bolts, spanners, hammers, ratchet-drills -- things I abominate, because I don't get on with them. I tended the little forge we fortunately had aboard; I toiled wearily in a wretched scrap-heap -- unless I had the shakes too bad to stand.

"One evening coming in with a candle I was startled to hear him say a little tremulously, 'I am lying here in the dark waiting for death.' The light was within a foot of his eyes. I forced myself to murmur, 'Oh, nonsense!' and stood over him as if transfixed.

"Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. Oh, I wasn't touched. I was fascinated. It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror -- of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision -- he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:

"'The horror! The horror!'"

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 31.1 (Joseph Conrad)

The Secret Agent
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Conrad, Joseph
The Secret Agent

Purchased for a summer course in college called, "Politics and the Novel." What sticks out now in my memory of the class was how apolitical it actually was. The theme was more about how political processes are depicted in fiction than about the politics of the novels themselves (or the politics of their authors, for that matter). Even when we read novels that have become lightning rods for criticism by post-colonial theorists, like Mr. Johnson, by Joyce Cary, they were dealt with in almost purely novelistic terms. I remember purchasing more of the course books than I actually read, which was almost always the case in school.  I did read this one, as well the Cary, and, I think, July's People, by Nadine Gordimer. Speaking of which, my 72 year old mother is heading to South Africa thursday for a three-week travel stint. Way to go, Mom!

The Secret Agent begins:

Mr Verloc, going out in the morning, left his shop nominally in charge of his brother-in-law. It could be done, because there was very little business at any time, and practically none at all before the evening. Mr Verloc cared but little about his ostensible business. And, moreover, his wife was in charge of his brother-in-law.

The shop was small, and so was the house. It was one of those grimy brick houses which existed in large quantities before the era of reconstruction dawned upon London. The shop was a square box of a place, with the front glazed in small panes. In the daytime the door remained closed; in the evening it stood discreetly but suspiciously ajar.

The window contained photographs of more or less undressed dancing girls; nondescript packages in wrappers like patent medicines; closed yellow paper envelopes, very flimsy, and marked two and six in heavy black figures; a few numbers of ancient French comic publications hung across a string as if to dry; a dingy blue china bowl, a casket of black wood, bottles of marking ink, and rubber stamps; a few books with titles hinting at impropriety; a few apparently old copies of obscure newspapers, badly printed, with titles like the Torch, the Gong--rousing titles. And the two gas-jets inside the panes were always turned low, either for economy's sake or for the sake of the customers.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 31 (Joseph Conrad)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Conrad, Joseph

Don't know where or when I bought this and I haven't read it.

It begins:

In the time of Spanish rule, and for many years afterwards, the town of Sulaco -- the luxuriant beauty of the orange gardens bears witness to its antiquity -- had never been commercially anything more important than a coasting port with a fairly large local trade in ox-hides and indigo. The clumsy deep-sea galleons of the conquerors that, needing a brisk gale to move at all, would lie becalmed, where your modern ship built on clipper lines forges ahead by the mere flapping of her sails, had been barred out of Sulaco by the prevailing calms of its vast gulf. Some harbours of the earth are made difficult of access by the treachery of sunken rocks and the tempests of their shores. Sulaco had found an inviolable sanctuary from the temptations of a trading world in the solemn hush of the deep Golfo Placido as if within an enormous semi-circular and unroofed temple open to the ocean, with its walls of lofty mountains hung with the mourning draperies of cloud.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 30 (CA Conrad)

Deviant Propulsion
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Conrad, CA
Deviant Propulsion

Not sure whether this was a purchase or a gift. I acquired it on April 20, 2006, after a reading by CA Conrad and Buck Downs at Big Orbit Gallery in Buffalo. It was one of the first year's installments of Kevin Thurston's Small Press Poetry Series. The inscription reads:



Thanks for bringing us to Buffalo -- I saw Niagara Falls for the first time today. DELICIOUS WATER POWER!

Thanks much

CA CONRAD (sketch of flower)

I have since been following Conrad's work online and in print with glee and admiration. A few notes:

1. Conrad's fingernails are usually painted black.
2. After he left Buffalo, I asked him in an email about a poem he had read, whose title had a somewhat obscure sounding number in it. He sent me an extremely detailed email explaining the number's significance to astral projection and how the poem itself was an exposition of CA's own experiences with said process. I wrote and rewrote a poem in response to this that I hoped to dedicate to CA. I ketp sending him drafts and revisions of the poem. Then it got cut down to size and I made it part of another poem without a dedication. But those words are still secretly dedicated to Conrad.
3. I usually ignore what is going on on the poetics listserv, but somehow when Conrad gets going, I can't ignore him. Kudos, CA.
4. Conrad always responds enthusiastically to my work, which makes me happy.
5. I always respond enthusiastically to Conrad's work, which also makes me happy.
6. I am waiting for Conrad to send me a copy of his new book with an all new inscription so I can put it on the shelf next to this one. If it arrives at my doorstep before I get to the end of the C's, I promise to write about it on my blog.
7. My home address is 112 Norwood Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14222
8. Thanks in advance, Conrad. I can't wait to read The Book Of Frank.
9. Or my friend Charles Alexander, publisher of said book, can send me a review copy.
10. Either way, I'd really like a copy.
11. Really.
12. No kidding.
13. I think CA COnrad is terrific.
14. Really.
15. No kidding.
16. Have you seen the video of him reading in a bathtub?
17. Have you read the Dear Mr. President Poem?
18. He read that at the reading in Buffalo and made us all laugh.
19. It was spring, but the flowers weren't yet in bloom.
20. Come to think of it, it was three years ago this past Monday.
21. This past Monday, I was with Charles Alexander, publisher of Chax Press -- in Buffalo, no less!
22. Whoa!
23. It feels like more than a coincidence, don't you think?
24. And the previous Thursday, I took Tisa Bryant and Dana Ward to Niagara Falls for the first time.
25. They were reading in what will have been the last reading in the Small Press Poetry Series before it moves in the fall to a new location, with a new concept, a new time, and a new name.
26. Four years is about as long as any series should last in the same format.
27. Next year, it's going to be different -- bigger, better, more fun, and I hope it will include CA Conrad, though there will not be a bathtub for him to read in.
28. Unless he brings it with him.
29. That might be a little to much to ask.
30. Gee, I hope he sends me his book.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 29 (Shanna Compton))

Compton, Shanna
for Girls (& others)

I bought this at a reading the author gave in Buffalo alongside Jennifer L. Knox and Aaron Belz about a year and a half ago. According to the inscription, this was the first copy of the book sold. It was a very fun reading and I remember taking lots of photos, all of which are on my flickr page. I especially like the one of Shanna counting my money.

Here's the first poem:

Opening Address

We shall now begin
the study of girls
upon whom the universe
bestows fullness
in all the right places.

A vigorous strength
can belong to a real lady
& her natural waist.
Young men ought to be taught
to appreciate her unbound form.
& exquisite mental

There is much to say
upon the body & mind
of young woman
& so I present you
47 chapters to follow
after this gentle foreword.
I will endeavor to illustrate
more delicate matters
in a manner suitable for
even the most innocent.

Here it befalls us to wonder
upon this first astonishment:
a girlhood is an extreme gift
of boobies & hips
of blossom lips &
the good sense
not to use any of them.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 28 (Stephen Collis)

The Commons
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Collis, Stephen
The Commons

Given to me by the author when he read in Buffalo -- either last year or the year before. I remember we spoke about how we had been in the same place at the same time on two or three different occasions, but had never met.

You can read the first poem in this book here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 27 (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor
Selected Poetry and Prose

I purchased this four or five years ago at Rust Belt Books. Not having thought about them much since I had studied them in college, I began re-reading the Romantics a few years ago. Not just re-reading, but memorizing and reciting Romantic poetry to myself when I came home on my lunch breaks.

The only one I memorized by Coleridge was Kubla Khan. It's prosody is quite rich and its a pleasure to recite oneself of an afternoon over an overlong lunch in one's kitchen, circling around the island again and again and again, taking an occasional sip of coffee or a bite of one's lunch, but determining to get the order right before going back to work, and one day doing so, and feeling quite proud as one recites "For he on the honey dew hath fed/and drunk the milk of paradise."

Borges considered this the greatest poem in the English language, for what it's worth.

In college, most of my attention focused on "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." I wrote a paper on it, as I recall. I remember looking up the words "interlocutor" and "auditor," both of which were used to describe the wedding guest in the various critical pieces I was reading at the time. I also learned the words "eftsoons," "aver," "slake," "gossamer," "dank," "charnel," "seraph," "shrive," and "bower."

I also remember being told by a professor with all the literary outrage he could feign that somewhere the culture had got it wrong in its bastardization of the line "water, water every where/nor any drop to drink" into "water, water every where/and not a drop to drink."

The horror. The horror. 

Kubla Khan

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A might fountain momently
 was forced :
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail :
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean :
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war !

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves ;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware !
His flashing eyes, his floating hair !
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

In My Absence

Sorry for the delay in posting -- it's been a crazy week:


Picked up Tisa Bryant at airport. Went to dinner with Tisa, Aaron Lowinger, Dana Ward, Tom Orange and Barbara Cole at India Gate.


Breakfasted with Tisa, Tom, and Dana, then drove Tisa and Dana to Niagara Falls and back, then took Tisa to do a reading at Buffalo State, then to Rust Belt Books, where the two of them read.


Drove Tisa to the airport, then spent all afternoon writing an intro for Isabel Allende. Picked Allende and husband Willie up at the hotel in the evening for her Babel event. Introduced Allende and then performed live Q & A in front of 1400 people. Took the two of them to late dinner at local Greek restauarant and then back to their hotel.


Drove Allende and Willie to Airport. Watched the Yankees get decimated by the Indians. Went to mind-blowing Cecil Taylor concert with Aaron Lowinger and Becky Moda. Another late night dinner at Pano's with Aaron.


Picked up Charles Alexander and Brenda Iijima at hotel and took them to the Western New York Books Arts Collaborative building, then to a party at the home of Jim and Lauren Maynard, then to a reading by Richard Owens, Anna Moschovakis, Jay Millar and Kyle Schlesinger at the Karpeles Manuscript Library, then went out to Staples bar.


Spent all day (10-5) at UB Poetry Collection listening to keynotes, roundtables and panels on small press publishing. Went to reading by Mike Basinski, Brenda Iijima, Andrew Rippeon and Charles Alexander and then to the Hardware Cafe.


Woke for an early meeting with major funder of the Babel series and then worked all day. Ate lunch with Aaron Lowinger in order to start planning out poetry series for the fall. Hope to sleep tonight and begin again tomorrow.

Back to Aimless Reading any minute now...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 26 (Andrei Codrescu)

Codrescu, Andrei
The Muse is Always Half-Dressed in New Orleans

I am certain, absolutely certain, that this book was a birthday gift given to me on October 26, 1995 by my friend, Valerie. 1995 was a crazy and eventful year. In August, I returned to New York, where I had sublet my apartment in the East Village to some friends, after having spent a year as a volunteer teacher in Ecuador.

Part of the reason I ended up in Ecuador in the first place was because I had been madly in love (or completely obsessed, take your pick) for about five years with a woman I had met in college. We had had an on-again-off-again friendship that never quite requited, as it were.

At the end of my second year teaching high school, I knew my teaching career was coming to an end, and decided I wanted to go abroad somewhere to learn to speak a language. This woman, E., was teaching in Ecuador that year, so I went to visit her and almost immediately decided to do a volunteer year myself, despite the fact that she would be moving back to New York.

It was a fairly laid back volunteer program. I simply wrote a letter to the priest that ran the place saying that my Spanish was pretty good and that I wanted to volunteer. I received a letter back asking for my flight information and telling me what I needed to bring with me.

In the morning I taught gym to boys and girls or arts and crafts for girls (boys were out working shining shoes in the streets to earn money for their families at this hour). In the afternoons, I tutored children of all ages in reading, writing and math. In the evenings, I taught adult education, which included reading, writing, and math, with a little bit of history and culture thrown in for good measure.

During one of my adult education classes, I was trying to teach the adults geography. The reason I was doing this was because Ecuador and Peru had just declared war on each other and a lot of the men were signing up for military service or getting drafted, so I thought it might be a good idea for them to learn where Peru was and where the disputed border between the countries was. I brought a globe to the class and, beginning at at the macro level and moving toward the micro -- planet, continent, nation, city, etc. -- tried to give them a sense of the world. I first showed them where New York, where I lived, was, and then where Quito was, and tried to give a sense how much distance was between them.

An older Quichua woman with no teeth raised her hand and asked, What's that, teacher? What's what? That thing you are pointing at. It's a globe, a map of the planet earth. The whole planet? Yes, the whole planet. It's round? I am sorry, again? The earth is round? (Holy shit!) Yeah, it's round. Oh.

When I returned to NYC in August, I saw E. at a party, and something had changed. She wanted to requite, and we did, and it was great for thirty days, and then less great for another thirty, and then hell for another thirty and then the relationship was over, ushering in several years of depression, exacerbated by the death of my father a year later, a move to Buffalo and another ill-fated relationship a year after that.

When my friend Valerie gave me this book, I think I was in the second thirty days of the relationship, "The Descent Into Madness." I had never heard of Codrescu at the time (didn't and don't very often listen to NPR). A few years later, in 2003, he was supposed to come to do a Valentine's day fundraiser for Just Buffalo, but got sick and canceled at the last moment.

Thankfully, Robert Creeley was still alive and still in Buffalo. I called and asked if he could stand in, as we had already sold 200 tickets to the event. He graciously agreed, and then gave one of the most amazing readings I ever saw him give. He read 20 or so poems he had written to his wife Penelope each year on Valentine's day. At the end, he talked a little about the war that was about to begin in Iraq, and then recited "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold. There wasn't a dry eye in the house after that.

You can read an excerpt from Codrescu's book by clicking here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 25 (Joshua Clover)

Clover, Joshua
Madonna anno domini

My memory regarding the acquisition of this book has a big hole in it. I got it when I lived in New York, of that much I am almost sure. It was published in 1997, so it must have been during my last year in the city. I feel pretty certain I did not pay for it, but I can't be sure. I have a strong feeling that it was a gift, but I can't remember who gave it to me. I want to say it was my friend D., about whom I wrote previously as having a nice little side business plucking books from the editors' shelves at the publishing house where he worked and selling them at the Strand. But he did not work for Louisiana State University Press, so there goes that theory. The dust jacket still marks the page where I must have stopped reading (29), but I have no memory of having read it. I have a vague memory of conversing with some friend or some group of poets about it's having been chosen for the Walt Whitman Award by Jorie Graham. I have no idea who I was speaking with.

To sum up: I may or may not have been given the book as a gift, it may or may not have been given to me by D., I may or may not have read up to page 29, I probably had a conversation about an award it received and I almost certainly possibly maybe acquired it in 1997, when I still lived in New York.

I know, who cares? I do, dammit. I do.

Here's the first poem from the book:

The Nevada Glassworks

Ka-Boom! They're making glass in Nevada!
Figure August, 1953,
mom's 13, it's hot as a simile
Ker-Pow! Transmutation in Nevada!
Imagine mom:pre-postModern new teen,
innocent for Elvis, ditto "Korean
conflict," John Paul George Ringo Viet Nam.
Mom's one state west of the glassworks, she's
in a tree K*I*S*S*I*N*G,
lurid cartoon-colored kisses. Ka-Blam!
They're blowing peacock-tinted New World glass
in southern Nevada, the alchemists
& architects of mom's duck-&-cover
adolescence, they're making Las Vegas
turn to gold - real neon gold - in the blast
furnace heat that reaches clear to Clover
Ranch in dry Central Valley: O the dust -
It is the Golden State! O the landscape -
dreaming of James Dean! O mom in a tree
close-range kissing as in Nevada just
now they're making crazy ground-zero shapes
of radiant see-through geography.
What timing! What kisses! What a fever
this day's become, humming hundred-degree
California afternoon that she's
sure she could never duplicate, never,
she feels transparent, gone - isn't the heat
suffocating - no, she forgot to breathe
for a flash while in the Nevada flats
factory glassblowers exhale...exhale...
a philosopher's stone, a crystal ball,
a spectacular machine. Hooray! Hats
off - they're making a window in the sand!
Mom's in the tree - picture this - all alone!
Unforgettable kisses, comic-book
mnemonic kisses. O something's coming
out of the ranch road heat mirage, that drone -
an engine? Mom quits practice & looks
east, cups an ear to the beloved humming,
the hazy gold dust kicked wildly west
ahead of something almost...in...sight, Vroom!
It's the Future, hot like nothing else, dressed
as sonic-boom Cadillac. O mom!
This land your land This land Amnesia -
they're dropping some new science out here,
a picture-perfect hole blown clear to Asia:
everything in the desert - Shazam! - turns
to glass, gold glass, a picture window where
the bomb-dead kids are burned & burn & burn

Friday, April 17, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 24 (Marten Clibbens)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Clibbens, Marten

One summer in Buffalo, Kevin Thurston got the idea -- since so many poets own houses in Buffalo and all of those houses have huge attics -- to start a spring and fall reading series called "Panic in the Attic." I think a total of four or five readings took place. Two were in Kevin's attic, on or two were in Ethan Paquin's attic (I read there myself), and the last one that I remember was an autumn reading in Ted Pelton's attic that featured Martin Clibbens and -- I can't remember who else. Martin Clibbens lives in Buffalo and has been writing poetry here for quite a while. I believe this reading was a launch of sorts for this book. I am pretty sure I acquired the book at that reading. Or maybe I didn't.

Here's a short piece from the book called, "Neruda":

Lost in listening:
the night immense,
a mural of shadows.

How many, she thought,
the street devours,
the wave disdains,
the light forgets.

Minutes like leaves:
winter awaits.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 23.1 (John Clarke)

In The Analogy
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Clarke, John
In The Analogy

Purchased at Talking Leaves around the same time as the previous book. I worked with Carke's widow, Cass, for about ten years at Just Buffalo. We used to sneak out of the office every half hour or so for a smoke on the roof or in the stairwell or downstairs on the sidewalk. I quit smoking in 1999, though, so that ended the smoking camaraderie.

I remember it was Cass who told me about the September 11 attacks. Just Buffalo's director at the time, Ed Taylor, had just left his position, and the board had yet to hire a new director. Cass was put in charge for three or four months, and I took on some more responsibility in order to help keep the ship afloat, including actually working out of the office a few hours a week.

My recollection of that morning is either that 1. I called in to say I was going to be late or that 2. Cass called me about some other unrelated matter or that 3. I called Cass about some other unrelated matter. I was pretty groggy when we spoke, but I remember she said in a very nonchalant manner that she had heard on the radio that a plane had crashed into the WTC and then continued talking about whatever the subject of the phone call happened to be.

In fact, her tone was so nonchalant that I distinctly recall heading back to bed after she told me, then thinking that maybe I would go turn on the TV to see what she was talking about. Peter Jennings appeared describing events and you could see behind him that the first tower had fallen and there was this huge cloud of smoke filtering up from the ground.

He began describing what he had seen when the first tower had fallen. While he described that, you could see the second tower begin to fall on the screen behind him. He didn't seem to be aware that it was falling and I had this disturbing feeling that even though I saw it falling it wasn't really falling because Peter Jennings hadn't yet said, "The tower is falling." And then he saw and I saw him see it and then he said something like, "Oh, Lord."

Here's a one of the sonnets from this collection:

Extending the Invisible Hand into an Arm

"Though we hear the various reports of his existence we can never find the young wizard who is able so they say to graft the soul of a young girl to the soul of her lover so that not even sharp scissors of the Fates can ever sever them apart."

-- Harry Crosby

"If anyone tries to murder you, call me!"

Stendhal, Memoirs of egotism

"The telephone began, for Valentine, to assume an aspect that, years ago it had used to have--of being a part of the supernatural paraphernalia of inscrutable Destiny."

--Ford Madox Ford, A Man Could Stand Up

"Neve tell."

--Fielding Dawson, The Greatest Story Ever Told"

No matter who you afre or where you are
in the world, no matter how much money
you have or how many hostages taken,
no matter what luxury and/or emergency
you're in, when you pick up the phone
you hear the same dial tone I hear
right here tonight, so who needs Death
to level us all out, is his voice more
common than the one we've known almost
as long, "whatcha doin'?" You can hire
someone to push the buttons for you
so you never have to listen, but just
the same, isn't it better to bear this
unflagging drone than her obscure echo?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 23 (John Clarke)

Clarke, John
From Feathers to Iron

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books about a decade ago. John Clarke was a poet, jazz musician, and professor at SUNY Buffalo. He died about 5 years before I arrived here. He was a faculty member from the mid-sixties onward and started around the same time as Olson was here. Along with George Butterick, Fred Wah, and several others, he was part of the Olson inner circle. These lectures, though grounded heavily in his interest in Blake, reflect a world view that is very in tune with Olson's--there's an abiding interest in a kind of deep mythopoetic excavation.

Here's a snippet from one of the five talks collected here, titled "The Disappearance of Ordering Intervention: Crete and the Regulation of Perfective Action":

"...labrys is the "lightning axe," perhaps an ancient Libyan emblem for for what Blake called "winged life"...,as opposed to the "endless labyrinth of woe"...inaugurated at the loss of the Cretan "gesture of epiphany." With the "Triple Goddess," the imagination gets the moon and thinks it has got Hecate. Graves has done so much great work, but where are the great poems? The Island is not in the moon, but "behind the Western sun." Still there are only three steps from feathers to iron, but the steps one takes can be made more efficiently by not taking the politics of what you want so badly and leaving it at that.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 22.3 (Geoffrey Chaucer)

Chaucer, Geoffrey
Howard, Donald R.
Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World

Purchased online a few years ago.

Another partially read literary biography.


Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 22.2 (Geoffrey Chaucer)

Chaucer, Geoffrey
The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer

I think I plucked this from the Just Buffalo shelves just before we sold the JB library to Rust Belt Books. I'd say there is a pretty strong likelihood that it once belonged to Just Buffalo founder Debora Ott. It has the feel of a college textbook that would have been used by an English major circa 1972. I don't think I've ever opened it. I just grabbed it to have around in case I need to refer to it. I haven't yet needed to until today.

I just opened it to the Chaucer pronunciation key, part of which reads quite like a poem:

like a in "father"
like a in Ger. "mann"
like a in "fate"
like e in "there"
like e in "set"
like a in "about"
like i in "machine"
like i in "sit"
like o in "note"
like oa in "broad"
like o in "hot"
like oo in "boot"
like u in "full"
like e + i
like ou in "house"
like e + u
like e + u
like oy in "boy"
like o + u
like o + u
like o + u

Monday, April 13, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 22.1 (Geoffrey Chaucer)

Love Visions
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Chaucer, Geoffrey
Love Visions

Purchased for $3 at the NFOMDBS. Unread. Memory-free.

From the Book of the Duchess:

I have gret wonder, be this lighte,
How that I live, for day ne nighte
I may nat slepe wel nigh noght,
I have so many an ydel thoght
Purely for defaute of slepe
That, by my trouthe, I take no kepe
Of no-thing, how hit cometh or goth,
Ne me nis no-thing leef nor loth.
Al is y-liche good to me --
Ioye or sorowe, wherso hyt be --
For I have feling in no-thinge,
But, as it were, a mased thing,
Alway in point to falle a-doun;
For sorwful imaginacioun
Is alway hoolly in my minde.
And wel ye wite, agaynes kynde
Hit were to liven in this wyse;
For nature wolde nat suffyse
To noon erthely creature
Not longe tyme to endure
Withoute slepe, and been in sorwe;
And I ne may, ne night ne morwe,
Slepe; and thus melancolye
And dreed I have for to dye,
Defaute of slepe and hevinesse
Hath sleyn my spirit of quiknesse,
That I have lost al lustihede.
Suche fantasies ben in myn hede
So I not what is best to do.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 22 (Geoffrey Chaucer)

Chaucer, Geoffrey
The Canterbury Tales

Here's a Canterbury Tale:

I played soccer from the age of seven until the age of fourteen. The first league I played in was the P.A.L in Los Gatos, CA. Out team was called the "Spartans," presumably after U.S.C., but who knows, maybe the coach was a classics scholar. Our reversible uniform jerseys were orange and blue. They were made from a very soft nylon, punctured with tiny air holes. I loved the way those shirts felt. I only played one season in California before my family moved to Vienna, VA because my father had been transferred there (he worked for Ford).

My father immediately registered me in the Vienna Youth Soccer League. My team was called "The Red Tornados." Our jerseys were constructed of heavy cotton with wide white and red vertical stripes. Due very little if at all to my own soccer skills, which fell in the modestly above average range, this team was possibly the greatest soccer team in the history of Vienna Youth Soccer.

The Red Tornados won the championship. The following season, we were given solid maroon jerseys with white collars and were called "The Maroon Tornados." We won the championship again. After that, they gave everyone in the league heavy cotton, reversible jerseys, bright yellow with a green collar on one side and solid green on the other. We changed our name again. This time were just "The Tornados." We won the championship anyway.

That was the end of the Tornados. After that, they took all of the best players and formed a traveling soccer team. The traveling team had red jerseys and black shorts. They were called the Dynamos. I didn't make the traveling team. We got a new coach, and about half the players on the team were new. Our new name was "The Darth Vaders." We sucked.

After that year, they created a sort of minor league traveling team, The Rockets, which basically took the rest of the good players off the team. I tried out for the Rockets, but didn't make it. The following season, I played on an all new team -- new players, new coach, everything. Because the entire league had had all of it best players harvested by the traveling league, I was now one of the best. I was the star of the team. We won the championship, I scored the winning goal. The coach gave a speech about how they couldn't have done it without me. Etc.

But I had ambition, I wanted to make the traveling team. I wanted to play for the Dynamos, but they were just too good for me. I did make the Rockets that year, and thus ended my glory days. I became an average player again.

I was more than a little heartbroken at discovering I wasn't as talented as my peers. I was by now in the eighth grade, and the changes of puberty and so forth had made me terribly insecure. I was short, thin, underdeveloped in every way, weaker than most of my friends, and I had no known talent that set me apart from anyone, nothing upon which to hang my proverbial hat.

By the end of my eighth grade year, I had changed a great deal. I had started smoking, drinking, getting high, popping pills, etc. I used to buy speed with my lunch money -- six hits for a dollar -- and take it at the beginning of the day, which would leave me very not high and also very hungry by lunchtime. My grades began to suffer, and I sort of lost interest in sports. (After school special, anyone?)

Another habit I picked up was video games. There was a little hobby store in town called Executive Hobby. I don't know why they called it that. They mostly sold Dungeons and Dragons paraphernalia. They also bought about five video game kiosks: Space Invaders, Asteroids, Defender, Scrambler, and Pac Man. I spent all of my time and all of my money there. My habit got so bad that I began stealing from my mother's purse on a regular basis in order to keep it up. 

I once got the all-time high score on Scrambler. The owner and everyone else there cheered for me and they wrote my name on a card that they stuck to the top of the machine.

It was about a mile walk from our house to Executive Hobby, and one or another of my clever friends taught me how to hitchhike. Whenever I walked to the hobby store, I would stick out my thumb to see if I could get a ride. Sometimes I did, other times no. In the spring before I graduated middle school, I was hitchhiking with a friend one day when we were picked up by the mother of the star of the Dynamos, Mrs. T. She was a very animated Philipino, and she was also the Team Mother.

She never even questioned the fact that we were hitchhiking, just asked us where we were going. She then very excitedly told me that the Dynamos were traveling in the summer to play four games in England, and that they needed two more players to fill out the roster, and that if my parents would let me go, I could be on the team. It's highly likely that I got out of the car and ran back home to demand that my parents allow me to go to England with the Dynamos.

Another dynamic was occurring at home simultaneous to this one. My parents, as I have mentioned previously, were planning to send me to a Catholic high school. They really wanted me to go to Gonzaga, but were willing to send me to Bishop O'Connell if I so chose. I put up such a stink about being separated from my public school friends that my parents became convinced I was going to deliberately fail the entrance tests to both.

When I came home to ask if I could go to England, we somehow found a mutual point of agreement -- a sort of passive blackmail from both sides. The implicit threat of my failing the test gave me a modicum of leverage against their holding the purse strings that would pay for me to go to England with the Dynamos. They told me that if I were accepted to Gonzaga and O'Connell, I could go to England that summer to play soccer.

I scored in the 99th percentile on both tests, as I recall.

I think we went to England in July or August. I was reunited with my old teammates, as well as some new ones. There was also a new assistant coach, an Armenian man named, Mr. P. He was one of those coaches that ride people non-stop, picking apart every mistake you make on the field -- and he did so in much the same way my father did, which is to say he was constantly yelling at me.

We stayed in a little village in Kent called Longfield. It was a very sleepy little hamlet that had a football club called the Longfield Tigers. This was the equivalent of the P.A.L. or Vienna Youth Soccer, with two exceptions. First, play continued into middle age. Second, and more importantly, the team was not based out of a community center or police department. It was based out of a pub. Every game began and ended in the pub, including the ones we played.

On our first visit, the coaches let us drink a little beer, and they also let us play the slot machines in the pub. On our second visit, they realized that this was not such a grand idea, so they banned alcohol, except for Shandies (a beer and seven-up mix), and they banned the slot machines.

I was staying with a nice family that had no players on the team. At night, I would smoke in my bedroom. No one said anything about this, but I guess they told the coach, Mr. S, because he let me know he knew later on.

This was 1982, so British punk and new wave were still pretty visible among the younger set. I remember meeting a bunch of punks in the village, who introduced me to the Cure's album, Pornography, which had just been released. One day, they took me on a double-decker bus to a place called Gravesend, where there was an arcade frequented by all sorts of kids with green and red and purple hair, and where I could play and smoke to my heart's delight. It was kind of like how I might have imagined heaven.

It could also have looked like a pub with a slot machine where 13 year olds could smoke and drink and gamble to the wee hours o' the morn. I can remember a night where I was very happy. I was standing at the slot machine with a pint of Guinness and a cigarette hanging from my lip. Yeah, kind of like heaven. Until in walked Mr. P., who immediately took me outside and in his thick Armenian accent began to yell.

What am I going to tell people when they ask me is Michael a good boy? Should I lie to them and tell them you are? etc.

Then things really got ugly. On a day between games, we went to London. I don't remember much of what we did beyond taking a train into the city and watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I remember all the pigeons in Trafalgar square. We may have gone to a church or two. At the palace, I spent a considerable portion of my money on souvenirs. Somewhere along the way I lost all the souvenirs, as well as my camera. I was very upset. I became sullen. Mostly this was because I didn't have any more money to buy a camera or to replace the souvenirs, so I was not going to have anything to bring home to prove I had been there.

Next day, we went on another trip, this time to Canterbury Cathedral. I remember feeling kind of awed by the place, even though I knew almost nothing of its history. At one point I wandered alone into the gift shop. I saw a glazed coffee mug that I liked, which bore a cross and the words "Canterbury Cathedral" on the side. Since I had no money, I decided to steal it. I put it in my coat and walked out of the store. When we got back together with the group, I bragged about this to a few of my friends, one of whom was the son of a grocery store owner, and was violently and perhaps biologically opposed to shoplifting.

He immediately ran and told his father, who ran and told Mr. S. No one said anything at first, but they sat me out of the next game. And the one after that. We then went on a side trip to Paris, where we got into all kinds of trouble for stealing all the toilet paper from the maid's closet and using it to carpet bomb pedestrians five stories below us on the street.

When we returned to England, Mr. S took me aside and told me that everyone knew I stole a mug and that I was smoking and drinking and gambling and that I was through with Dynamos when we got back to the states. He was very, very angry, though he didn't yell at me. He let me play the last two minutes of the last game. It was probably the last time we ever spoke.

But the mug made it home with me. I can remember using it each morning to drink coffee with milk and lots of sugar in it, and dunking my buttered slices of wheat toast in the mixture. I think I had it into my mid-twenties, when I dropped it on the kitchen floor of my apartment in the East Village and it broke. I was very sad when it broke, but there was no point trying to fix it. It had shattered into a million pieces, so I swept it up and threw it away.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 21 (Bruce Chatwin)

In Patagonia
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Chatwin, Bruce
In Patagonia

Another purchase from the NFOMDBS. I bought this because I heard Werner Herzog mention it when he spoke in Rochester several years ago. He was the telling the story of when Lotte Eisner, the famous film critic, was dying. Herzog decided to walk from Germany to Paris, telling himself that she would live until he arrived -- and she did. I don't remember the connection to this book, but I remember him mentioning it soon thereafter. I still haven't read it, though. Sorry, Werner!

From In Patagonia:

In the morning, black petrels were slicing the swells and, through the mist, we saw chutes of water coming off the cliffs. The ladies' lingerie salesman from Santiago had got out of hospital and was pacing the foredeck, chewing his lip and muttering poetry. There was a boy from the Falklands with a seal-skin hat and strange, sharp teeth. '''Bout time the Argentines took us over," he said. "We're so bloody inbred." And he laughed and pulled from his pocket a stone. "Look what he gave me, a bloody stone." As we came out into the Pacific, the businessman was still playing La Mer. Perhaps it was the only thing he could play.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 20 (Owen Chase, et al)

Chase, Owen
Nickerson, Thomas
& Others
The Loss Of The Ship Essex,
Sunk By A Whale:
First Person Accounts

Purchased at the NFOMDBS for $3.00. Owen Chase was the first mate on the Whaleship Essex, which was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale. Chase's account was one of the main sources of inspiration for Melville when he wrote Moby Dick. He apparently read the book as a young man working on a whaling ship, then acquired a tattered copy of his own twenty years later while writing the book. I bought it in grad school after reading Call Me Ishmael lead to reading Moby Dick, which in turn led to the purchase of this account. I am not sure I ever actually read it.

I don't feel like typing an excerpt this morning, so here's the Wikipedia version of events

The Essex left Nantucket in 1819 on a two-and-a-half-year voyage to the whaling grounds of the South Pacific. On November 20, 1820, the Essex encountered a sperm whale that was much larger than normal, which rammed the ship twice and sunk it while the men were pursuing and killing other members of the whale's pod. The ship sank 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 km) west of the western coast of South America. The twenty-one sailors set out in three small whaleboats, with wholly inadequate supplies of food and water, and landed on uninhabited Henderson Island, within the modern-day British territory of the Pitcairn Islands.

On Henderson Island, the men gorged on birds, fish, and vegetation. They found a small freshwater spring. However, after one week, they had exhausted the island's natural resources, and concluded the island would not sustain them any longer. Most of the Essex crewmen got back into their whaleboats. Three men, however, opted to stay behind on Henderson.

Excessive sodium in the sailors’ diets and malnutrition led to diarrhea, blackouts, enfeeblement, boils, edema, and magnesium deficiency which caused bizarre and violent behavior. As conditions worsened, the sailors resorted to drinking their own urine and stealing and mismanaging their food. All were smokers and suffered severe tobacco withdrawal once their supply ran out.

One by one, the men of the Essex died. The first were sewn in their clothes and buried at sea, as was the custom. However, with food running out, the men resorted to cannibalism in order to survive, consuming the corpses of their dead shipmates. Towards the end of the ordeal, the situation in Captain Pollard's boat became quite critical. The men drew lots to determine who would be sacrificed for the survival of the crew. A young man named Owen Coffin, Captain Pollard's young cousin, whom he had sworn to protect, drew the black spot. Lots were drawn again to determine who would be Coffin's executioner. His young friend, Charles Ramsdell, drew the black spot. Ramsdell shot Coffin, and his remains were consumed by Pollard, Barzillai Ray, and Charles Ramsdell. Some time later, Ray also died. For the remainder of their journey, Pollard and Ramsdell survived by gnawing on the bones of Coffin and Ray. They were rescued by the Nantucket whaling ship Dauphin 95 days after the Essex sank. Both men by that time were so completely dissociative that they did not even notice the Dauphin alongside them.

Benjamin Lawrence, Owen Chase, and Thomas Nickerson survived through similarly desperate measures, and were rescued by the British merchantman brig Indian 93 days after the Essex sank. Pollard, Chase, Ramsdell, Lawrence, and Nickerson were reunited in the port of Valparaiso, where they informed officials there of their three shipmates stranded on Henderson Island. A ship destined on a trans-Pacific passage was ordered to look for the men on Henderson. The three men were eventually rescued, although they were nearly dead.

By the time the last of the eight survivors were rescued on April 5, 1821, seven sailors had been eaten.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 19.1 (Raymond Chandler)

Chandler, Raymond
Later Novels & Other Writings

If you look right under the word "Letters" on the cover of this book, you can see the gluey remains of a price sticker, which likely means that I bought this volume at the Outlet Mall. I deduce from this that my first theory from the last post was correct -- I bought this volume at the Outlet Mall before I bought the first volume, then, my addiction to Chandler growing daily, I bought the other one online. I am not sure how this applies to my theory about Hammett. I have a while before we get to 'h' in order to figure it out.

This volume contains, The Long Goodbye, my favorite Chandler novel. I am not sure I can ever forgive Robert Altman for what he did to this book on film. Elliott Gould as Marlowe? Please. The only excuse he has is that it was the 1970s and everyone was really, really high. 

From that novel:

"I was in the commandos, bud. They don't take you if you're just a piece of fluff. I got badly hurt and it wasn't any fun with those Nazi doctors. It did something to me."

"I know all that, Terry. You're a very sweet guy in a lot of ways. I'm not judging you. I never did. It's just that you're not here anymore. You're long gone. You've got nice clothes and perfume and you're as elegant as a fifty-dollar whore."

"That's just an act," he said almost desperately.

"You get a kick out of it, don't you?"

His mouth dropped in a sour smile. He shrugged an expressive energetic Latin shrug.

"Of course. An act is all there is. There isn't anything else. In here--" he tapped his chest with the lighter--"there isn't anything. I've had it Marlowe. I had it long ago. Well--I guess that winds things up."

He stood up. I stood up. He put out a lean hand. I shook it,.

"So long Señor Maioranos. Nice to have known you--however briefly."


He turned and walked across the floor and out. I watched the door close. I listened to his steps going away down the imitation marble corridor. After a while they got faint, then they got silent. I kept listening anyway. What for? Did I want him to stop suddenly and turn and come back and talk me out of the way I felt? Well, he didn't. That was the last I saw of him.

I never saw any of them again--except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 19 (Raymond Chandler)

Chandler, Raymond
Stories and Early Novels

I am pretty sure I purchased this at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall discount book store, but I don't see a price tag on it. I have a vague memory of having purchased one of the two volumes of Chandler's work there and then having bought the other online. It's also possible that I am confusing this scenario with my purchase of the two volumes of Dashiell Hammett's work, also published by LOA. It might also be possible that I did the same thing for both authors. O, memory.

I read both volumes of Chandler's work a few winters back. In fact, reading Chandler and Philip K. Dick marked the beginning of my becoming interested again in novels. From 1996 to around 2006, I pretty much stopped reading novels altogether, favoring poetry and philosophy and history. Seeing the Chandler volumes on the discount shelf, I decided that it might be fun to read some genre fiction, which I had done very little of in my life. The only other crime novels I had ever read were In Cold Blood and a book called .44, by Jimmy Breslin and Dick Schaap, which was a fictionalized account of the Son of Sam killings that I read in high school.

Around that same time I also bought Ubik, thinking along the same lines that I had never read any science fiction. Over the course of that winter, I read 5 or 6 Dick novels, all of Chandler's novels and all of Hammett's novels. This volume seems to collect short stories as well. I don't think I read any of those. I like novels, but beyond Borges I have yet to develop a very strong taste for short fiction. I don't thinking the absorption lasts long enough in short fiction. I want to go far out when I am reading, and preferably stay there!

From Farewell, My Lovely:

"She was a killer, I said. "But so was Malloy. And he was a long way from being a rat. Maybe the Baltimore dick wasn't so pure as the record shows. Maybe she saw a chance--not to get away--she was tired of dodging by that time--but to give a break to the only many who had ever really given her one."

Randall stared at me with his mouth open and his eyes unconvinced.

"Hell, she didn't have to shoot a cop to do that," he said.

"I'm not saying she was a saint or even a halfway nice girl. Not ever. She wouldn't kill herself until she was cornered. But what she did, and the way she did it, kept her from coming back here for a trial. Think that over. And who would that trial hurt most? Who would be the least able to bear it? And win, lose or draw, who would pay the biggest price for the show?An old man who had loved not wisely, but too well."

Randall said sharply: "That's just sentimental."

"Sure. It sounded like that when I said it. Probably all a mistake anyway. So long. Did my pink bug ever get back up here?"

He didn't know what I was talking about.

I rode down to the street floor and went out on the steps of the City Hall. It was a cool day and very clear. You could see a long way--but not as far as Velma had gone.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 18 (Miles Champion)

Three Bell Zero
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Champion, Miles
Three Bell Zero

Given that I have only met Miles Champion three or four times, I seem to have an inordinately large number of memories about him. So, I'll list them.

1. Back in the late nineties, I used to either begin or end my readings with a prose poem called "Democracy in America." I had it memorized and would read it very quickly. Whenever I performed it, people would ask me if I knew Tom Raworth or MIles Champion. The answer was always no, though I had read Tom's work.

2. I used to confuse Miles Champion with a local New York City sports news anchor named Sam Champion. Sam Champion and Miles Champion are not, as far as I know, related. I like Miles better.

3. Miles read in Buffalo with Brian Stefans in, I think 2000 or 2001, which was when he gave me this copy of Three Bell Zero. He did so after I told him I was so broke I couldn't afford books. I thought that was very kind of him. Brian gave me a copy of his book, too. I thought that was also very kind. I should try that line at Barnes and Noble.

4. During that same visit, we drove to Niagara Falls with Jonathan Skinner, Isabelle Pellissier, and Brian. It must have been 2000 because Lori wasn't yet in the picture. We got pulled over crossing the border into Canada after Jonathan responded to the question, "Where do you live?" with "We are just going to Niagara Falls." They searched Isabelle's Volvo while we stood around outside. We were not allowed to go to the bathroom until they finished. Eventually, one of the border guards emerged from the car with a little drawstring linen bag full of white powder. "What's this?" he asked. "Soap." They let us go.

5. On the way to the Falls, we drove along the shore of the NIagara River listening to one of Isabelle's french electronica CD's. Miles asked if she could put something else on. "You don't like it?" asked Isabelle. "No." "Why, because it's electronica?" "No. Because it's insipid."

6. I remember hearing that Miles had gotten married and moved to New York.

7. I remember hearing that Miles had gotten a job at the Poetry Project.

8. I remember hearing that Miles was applying for a green card.

9. I remember hearing Miles had gotten his green card.

10. I saw Miles after a star-studded event at the Poetry Project in, I think, 2005. It was one of those events where everyone is so busy trying to be important, or to look important, or to be seen standing next to an important person, that you don't really get to talk to anyone about anything. Miles was tending bar. I talked to MIles and he talked to me. I like Miles. I also talked to Ed Sanders and Anselm Berrigan. I like them, too.

11. I remember hearing Miles wasn't married anymore.

12. I remember hearing Miles didn't work at the Poetry Project anymore.

13. Miles came to Buffalo again in, I think, 2007 or 8. I saw him read at Rust Belt Books. He was staying with Steve McCaffery and Karen Mac Cormack, who wanted to go home after the reading instead of going to a bar. I offered to give him a ride home after we went out. We went to the Founding Fathers Pub. There was a young poet there who had many questions for Miles about writing. I was impressed with how Miles was able to give the kid encouragement without compromising his own aesthetics. He didn't say anything he thought the kid wanted to hear, only told him the truth about his own writing. Later, we sat in my car outside Steve and Karen's house gossiping about every poet on the planet. That was a lot of fun.

14. I should also say that both times that I saw him read, my first thought was that Miles didn't read THAT fast. This was because I was still able to understand every single word he said. Then I listened and listened and thought, "Holy shit, this guy reads fast AND I can understand every word." I was impressed by that.

15. Lastly, I remember Miles telling me about his writing process, which was very different from my own. He told me he writes very slowly, literally a line at a time. Once he writes a line, he sits on it for a while until the next line comes to him. This might not happen for a week, during which time he writes nothing at all. I was impressed by that, too.

Here's one from this book:


Cramped about



admits happy


beyond what

air of

solitude lies

under this


blanket of

flat regard

wasting by


morning float

standard reductions

safe bets

buckled or

sewn across




from fanned

tenderness to

my place


get up

breeze through


out the


again these

border mists

thoughts pass

my body


gives directions

molts lightly


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 17 (Henry Chadwick)

The Early Church
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Chadwick, Henry
The Early Church

I am pretty sure this book belonged to my younger brother, and that he purchased it for a high school religion class. I had a habit of poaching books off the shelves of my parent's home whenever I went to visit after college, which is likely the means by which I came to own this title. I imagine this being taught at my high school in order to give young catholic men an appreciation for the struggles of the martyrs of the early church and to provide them with an opportunity to reflect on their own devotion to the cause of Catholicism. Having thus reflected, these young men would surely find themselves wanting in the religious courage department and would quietly determine to work harder at being better Catholics. This process would renew itself throughout their lives, resulting in large annual donations to the old alma mater and the poor box at the local parish. Pretty clever, those Jesuits.

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 16 (Cervantes)

de Cervantes, Miguel
Don Quijote de la Mancha/Don Quixote

I bought the Spanish version of this at the World Language Center in the Yale bookstore in New Haven while visiting with the literary outlaw Richard Deming. I bought the English version at the Niagara Falls outlet mall discount bookstore for $2. I have never read the English version, but I attempted to read the Spanish last summer and fall. I got all the way through part one and a short way into part two before moving and home renovation and so forth intervened.

My Spanish is pretty good, but Don Quijote de La Mancha, with its archaic constructions and satirical chivalric vocabulary was truly a challenge. As I've noted before, I've been reading almost exclusively novels in Spanish since last summer, so I figured I would give it a shot. This is one of three books this year that have proved to difficult for me to read. The others are Paradiso, by José Lezama Lima and Rayuela, by Julio Cortázar.

I am currently rereading Nocturno de Chile by Roberto Bolaño, which I read in English. I have also recently reread Estrella Distante, which I also read in English, and the as-yet-untranslated Monsiuer Pain. Before that it was Corazón tan blanco, by Javier Marias. I am waiting for three of the latter's books to arrive at Talking Leaves.

Here's the famous scene with the windmills, which occurs about 50 pages into this 1100 page tome, and is a relatively insignificant part of the tale:

At this point they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that are on that plain.

"Fortune," said Don Quixote to his squire, as soon as he had seen them, "is arranging matters for us better than we could have hoped. Look there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or more monstrous giants rise up, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our fortunes. For this is righteous warfare, and it is God's good service to sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth."

"What giants?" said Sancho Panza.

"Those you see there," answered his master, "with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues (1) long."

"Look, your worship,'' said Sancho. "What we see there are not giants but windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the vanes that turned by the wind make the millstone go."

"It is easy to see," replied Don Quixote, "that you are not used to this business of adventures. Those are giants, and if you are afraid, away with you out of here and betake yourself to prayer, while I engage them in fierce and unequal combat."

So saying, he gave the spur to his steed Rocinante, heedless of the cries his squire Sancho sent after him, warning him that most certainly they were windmills and not giants he was going to attack. He, however, was so positive they were giants that he neither heard the cries of Sancho, nor perceived, near as he was, what they were.

"Fly not, cowards and vile beings," he shouted, "for a single knight attacks you."

A slight breeze at this moment sprang up, and the great vanes began to move.

"Though ye flourish more arms than the giant Briareus, (2) ye have to reckon with me!" exclaimed Don Quixote, when he saw this.

So saying, he commended himself with all his heart to his lady Dulcinea, imploring her to support him in such a peril. With lance braced and covered by his shield, he charged at Rocinante's fullest gallop and attacked the first mill that stood in front of him. But as he drove his lance-point into the sail, the wind whirled it around with such force that it shivered the lance to pieces. It swept away with it horse and rider, and they were sent rolling over the plain, in sad condition indeed.

Sancho hastened to his assistance as fast as the ass could go. When he came up and found Don Quixote unable to move, with such an impact had Rocinante fallen with him.

"God Bless me!," said Sancho, "did I not tell your worship to watch what you were doing, because they were only windmills? No one could have made any mistake about it unless he had something of the same kind in his head."

"Silence, friend Sancho," replied Don Quixote. "The fortunes of war more than any other are liable to frequent fluctuations. Moreover I think, and it is the truth, that the same sage Frestón who carried off my study and books, has turned these giants into mills in order to rob me of the glory of vanquishing them, such is the enmity he bears me. But in the end his wicked arts will avail but little against my good sword."

"God's will be done," said Sancho Panza, and helping him to rise got him again on Rocinante, whose shoulder was half dislocated. Then, discussing the adventure, they followed the road to Puerto Lápice, for there, said Don Quixote, they could not fail to find adventures in abundance and variety, as it was a well-traveled thoroughfare. For all that, he was much grieved at the loss of his lance, and said so to his squire.

"I remember having read," he added, "how a Spanish knight, Diego Pérez de Vargas by name, having broken his sword in battle, tore from an oak a ponderous bough or branch. With it he did such things that day, and pounded so many Moors, that he got the surname of Machuca (3) and his descendants from that day forth are called Vargas y Machuca. I mention this because from the first oak I see I mean to tear a branch, large and stout. I am determined and resolved to do such deeds with it that you may deem yourself very fortunate in being found worthy to see them and be an eyewitness of things that will scarcely be believed."

"Be that as God wills," said Sancho, "I believe it all as your worship says it. But straighten yourself a little, for you seem to be leaning to one side, maybe from the shaking you got when you fell."

"That is the truth, said Don Quixote, "and if I make no complaint of the pain it is because knights-errant are not permitted to complain of any wound, even though their bowels be coming out through it."

"If so," said Sancho, "I have nothing to say. But God knows I would rather your worship complained when anything ailed you. For my part, I confess I must complain however small the ache may be, unless this rule about not complaining applies to the squires of knights-errant also."

Don Quixote could not help laughing at his squire's simplicity, and assured him he might complain whenever and however he chose, just as he liked. So far he had never read of anything to the contrary in the order of knighthood.

Sancho reminded him it was dinner time, to which his master answered that he wanted nothing himself just then, but that Sancho might eat when he had a mind. With this permission Sancho settled himself as comfortably as he could on his beast, and taking out of the saddlebags what he had stowed away in them, he jogged along behind his master munching slowly. From time to time he took a pull at the wineskin with all the enjoyment that the thirstiest tavern-keeper in Málaga might have envied. And while he went on in this way, between gulps, he never gave a thought to any of the promises his master had made him, nor did he rate it as hardship but rather as recreation going in quest of adventures, however dangerous they might be.

Finally they settled down for the night among some trees. From one of them Don Quixote plucked a dry branch to serve as a lance, fixing on it the head he had removed from the broken one. All that night Don Quixote lay awake thinking of his lady Dulcinea, in conformity with what he had read in his books, how many a night in the forests and deserts knights used to lie sleepless, borne up by the memory of their mistresses.

Sancho Panza spent it thus: having his stomach full of something stronger than chicory water he slept straight through. If his master had not called him, neither the rays of the sun beating on his face nor all the cheery notes of the birds welcoming the approach of day would have had power to waken him.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 16 (Joseph Ceravolo)

Ceravolo, Joseph
Transmigration Solo

When Just Buffalo moved a few years ago, we decided that since all the books on our shelves were mostly gathering dust, it would be best to put them out into the world, so we sold the whole lot to Rust Belt Books. I managed to pluck a few goodies for myself before they disappeared, this Toothpaste Press edition being one of them.

According to the colophon:

This book was designed by Cinda Kornblum. The Centaur type was handset by Allan Kornblum and printed on Strathmore Pastelle text. Of this first edition of 1,100 copies, 100 were numbered and signed by the author, and hand bound at the Black Oak Bindery; the remaining 1,000 were smyth sewn and glued into wrappers at the Laurance Press.

Alas, mine is one of the 1,000 and not one of the 100, but it's still a beautiful example of letterpress bookmaking.

I first heard about Joseph Ceravolo's work when I took a workshop at the New School with Elaine Equi during my last year in New York. Elaine had us all buy the Norton postmodern poetry anthology, which I think was brand new at the time. Each week, one or two people in the class were asked to pick a poet they liked from the anthology and to read a poem by that poet out loud to the class. This would lead to a brief discussion of the poet and his or her work before we got to discussing our own.

One week, a guy in the class read the poem "Ho-Ho-Ho Caribou" by Joseph Ceravolo. Unfortunately, this guy was kind of repulsive and creepy, and he read the poem aloud in class with a thick Queens accent that made it all sound kind of horrible and grotesque. It took me years to actually read Ceravolo on my own and to realize that that creepy guy was really on to something.

Transmigraton Solo

See the black bird in
that tree
trying out the branches, puzzled.
I am up here with you
puzzled against the rain
blinking my eyes.

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 15.7 (Paul Celan)

Felstiner, John
Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew

This 'F' authored book goes under 'C' because it's a biography of a 'C' author. See? It's my library and I'll organize it as I see fit. I bought this one at a remaindered bookstore in Sarasota, which I think is now defunct. I just tried to look it up -- it was called the 'Main Bookshop' -- and got a real estate ad for an empty building.

As far as I know, this is the only biography of Celan in English, or at least it was when I read it. I guess it falls under the category of "critical" biography, meaning it uses the details of the poet's life to illumine the poems. To the extent that that is possible, it's a pretty good read.

If I might digress a moment...

I went to see a performance of Kevin Killian's play, "Celebrity Hospital" last night, performed by many current UB Poetics students. Kevin was flown in for the affair and acted one of the parts. It was great fun.

Anyhow, I was talking to Kevin at the Essex St. Pub after the show (he was still wearing pinkish hospital scrubs from the play, and some stylish red suede shoes) and we got to talking about his biography of Spicer and this blog o' mine, which Kevin told me he'd been reading. He was telling me about how difficult it was to pin down factual information about people, especially about events that had occurred quite a long time ago. How trying to confirm, for instance, that a person was in a particular place in 1946, when that person has in fact no recollection of being there, is one of many obstacles he confronted in the research process.

That got me to thinking (and talking) about this blog. I got to thinking (and talking) about how trying to dredge up memories from my past has made me doubt the veracity of a lot of what I remember. I have at various times placed myself in situations that I was not party to; or confused my participation in one event with my participation in another; or made up some story about some experience I thought I had had, or thought that I would have liked to have had, and told myself and others it was so.

This constant slippage makes me doubt very much that I could be trusted to recount any remotely objective sense of myself or my life to another person. Kevin responded he thought writing an accurate biography of another person might be easier than writing an autobiogrphy, if for no other reason than that you are not the only one responsible for reconstructing memories of events that have occurred.

Which got me thinking further, (though not talking, as I was now home in bed, reading "Midwinter's Day" by Bernadette Mayer) about the different kinds of artist biographies that exist in the world and what they are actually doing. For instance, the Critical Biography takes the work of the artist, usually a writer, as an object of importance equal or very nearly equal to the life lived by that artist. The purpose of such a biography is often, as I stated earlier, to illumine the work with details of the life that produced that work. Critical Biographies assume that the life lived and the work produced mirror one another, even if their mirroring produces an infinite number of distortions the biographer must weed through in order to get to the truth.

Psychobiography, on the other hand, attempts to understand the internal struggles, tensions, motivations, pathologies, obsessions and so forth that drive the artist to produce the work. In this kind of Biography, the work is less important than the artist, and the real goal, it seems to me, is to explain individual genius to the non-genii among us (you know who you are!). It assumes that the work of genius is the by-product of the psychological states that constitute the category of genius.

Another version of biography is the Social Biography. In Social biography, the artist is simply a focal point used to bring into view a particular social and artistic milieu that has either disappeared from the earth or transmogrified into something else the biographer is trying to understand. For instance, one could write a biography of Frank O'Hara which is really about the art/poetry scene in New York in the 50's, or which is about gay culture in New York in the 50's, and so on. The assumption here is that the artist is the most representative figure of a particular social context the biographer would like to explore.

I think the reason I almost always put biographies down long before i finish them is that once I have been filled in on the factual details of the writer's life, I feel sated. I also feel a sense that no matter how many hundreds of pages I read about this person, I am at best going to gain a limited sense of who they are.

In the case of the Critical Biography, I want the writer to do something more than hold the mirror of the life up to the mirror of the poem. In the case of the Psychobiography, I want to know more about the work and less about the artist's oedipal struggles and so forth.

In the case of the Social Biography, which I'll admit is probably my favorite, I often find myself wishing for a more de-centered approach. I always wonder if the artist actually is a useful representative figure, or if s/he is a romanticized one we find convenient to represent a particular time and place, despite being quite unique for that time and place.

Anyhow, I have digressed enough. It was fun talking to Kevin Killian last night. I hope I get to do it again sometime.