Thursday, October 29, 2009

Aimless Reading: Literary Magazines, Part 1 (AERIAL 6/7)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Rod Smith, Editor

I think I bought this at Talking Leaves...Books, but I am not sure. I may have bought it for one of Charles Bernstein's classes. It's a reminder of how good a well made, thoughtfully designed, and carefully edited book actually feels in one's hands. Flipping through it again I am struck mostly by its physical presence. I have no beef with anything in the digital realm, but when I am asked why I prefer reading books to reading online and so forth, I have to point to objects like this one, which probably took several years to produce, but which still feels fresh more than a decade later, mostly because of the care that was take putting it together in the first place. Way to go, Rod!

from John Cage, Art Is Either A Complaint or Do Something Else

These texts come from statements by Jasper Johns, taken from Mark Rosenthal's Jasper Johns Work Since 1974 (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1988), which follow. They are not about Johns' statements and because of the way they are written, other statements are produced.

Old art offers just as good a criticism of new art as new art offers of old.

I don't want y work to be an exposure of my feelings.

Art is either a complaint or appeasement.

The condition of a presence.
The condition of being there.
its own work
its own
its shape, color, weight, etc.
it is not another (?)
and shape is not a color (?)
Aspects and movable aspects.
To what degree movable?

The idea of background
(and background music)
idea of neutrality
air and idea of air
(In breathing--in and out)

Satie's "Furniture Music" now
serving as background for music
as well as background for conversation.
Puns on intentions.

Take an object
Do something to it
Do something else to it
" " " "

One thing made of another. One thing used as another...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's: Stats

The D's
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Well, that was the end of the "D's."

Here are the stats for "D" at the present:

45 Authors
102 Volumes
98 titles

Interlude coming over the next week or so before I move on to "E." I think I'll mix in some magazines, anthologies, reference books and maybe an artbook or two for good measure.

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 45 (Lawrence Durrell)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Durrell, Lawrence

I am not sure where I bought this. Probably at East Village Books in New York. I have never read it, but I can remember why I bought it. After college I often used to wander around in bookstores trying to figure out stuff to read -- I knew what I was supposed to have read in terms of the British canon, but beyond that, I hadn't much of a clue. If I saw something often enough in bookstores I liked, I would make a mental note to read it.

I used to see the four novels of the Alexandria Quartet (this is the first) on the shelves of just about every bookstore in New York. It was always there and it was always nicely packaged and over time I began to get the notion -- purely judging by its cover -- that it was something I should read. One day I must have found it used and made the purchase. I think I may have tried to start reading it, but I never really got anywhere. I don't even know what it was about the packaging of the Quartet that made me think I should read it in the first place. Some marketing person somewhere must have been able to tap into that irrational part of my brain that told me it was important to have read this book. Like a drone, I followed the order.

From Justine

The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. IN the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of Spring. A sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in sheltered places, and now the wind unpacking the great planes, ransacking the great planes...I have escaped to this island with a few books and the child--Melissa's child. I do not know why I use the word "escape." The villagers say jokingly that only a sick man would choose such a remote place to rebuild, Well, then, I have come here to heal myself, if you like to put it that way...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 44 (Marcella Durand)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Durand, Marcella

Got this in the mail fairly recently from the fabulous Erika Kaufman, publisher of Belladonna Books. Sadly, I haven't read it yet. I've met Marcella a couple of times. She really helped me out a few years back when I wanted to bring John Ashbery to Buffalo. She worked as his assistant and so helped me contact him and put together a trip to the Queen City to read at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. I remember calling her up at John Ashbery's apartment and smiling to myself when she cheerfully answered, "The Ashberys."


it takes a color to lift the eyes
like finding something "pure"
a field of verveine perhaps, if that's possible
if it were, I would write away for it
yellow stretches to the horizon
stretches as if it had started from a concentrated area centralis
in the domesticated breeds, that center of ganglions allows a certain kind of vision
unlike a horizontal "stripe" of nerves better for long-distance hunting
maybe that's what aligns us with the far edge of the horizon
and allows us to see what sort of sea is there
like we know what kind of retina we possess
where our ganglion-bundles are, that might "limit" us
as if we weren't that horizon over the other horizon
writing away from the edge toward another edge
a strip meting another stripe
that sense of falling off--or shearing away
a yellow like no other yellow; it's still water
and a plant, pollinating in sunshine
something passes by and throws a shadow

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 43.8 (Robert Duncan)

Duncan, Robert
a little endarkment
and in my poetry
you find me

Last Duncan entry. I think I received this in a package of Poetry Collection giveaways, either from Michael Basinski or Matt Chambers. It's an interview with Robert Duncan from Naropa in 1978. I don't think I have ever actually read it. I am just going to leave an excerpt today, as my brain is fried after a couple of electric days hanging out with Eileen Myles.

from a little endarkment

RD: Obedience is obedience to what's going on in the poem that we have and that one is just fine. Meanwhile, our whole life obedience I also talked about, that I wouldn't let a poem, for all of how wonderful it is as it comes in there, come in and interrupt if part of my obedience, is in household or something that I obey. I obey it.

Anne Waldman: Household?

RD: My household. But I obey it because it's not laid on top of me, it doesn't come at all, as in Burroughs thing, "lean, lean, lean." It never leans on me. What it is, is more genuinely me than I most of the time can be without it. And that household can tell me more about the poem because the poem can promise us all these pictures that we get of being a power or something. I hated it when my mother laid on it "That's not really you" but there is another feeling we've got in us. I'm really talking now. That's a wonderful feeling. OK, now we have enough confidence. We haven't started talking about confidence. But as we were talking earlier because we're aware that you begin and you're obedience t a poem that begins. A poem can do various things and what if the poem comes forward and the poem is a big monster wipe-out that promises you that you'll be addressing thousands and that you're going to be about bigger than Shakespeare when you finish and I don't mean it's fake. What if it's real!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 43.7 (Robert Duncan)

Copy Book Entries
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Duncan, Robert
Copy Book Entries

I think this was given to me by Joel Kuszai, who published it on Meow press, the chapbook series he ran in Buffalo in the nineties. I first met Joel through Charles Bernstein. I had contacted Charles after deciding to come to Buffalo to study in the poetics program. He immediately put me in touch with Joel. After a few weeks of back and forth, we finally got together. He took me for a pizza at La Nova, which was about a block from his apartment. I remember we ate this horrible pizza with steak and all kinds of other strange things on it. I have never has the courage to eat there again.

Joel then took me to the little workshop he had set up in his apartment and handed me about a hundred chapbooks he had published, of which this is one. I remember he sort of filled me in on who was in Buffalo and what they were doing and also about whatever (usually very strong) opinions he held of them. It was an intro into this new world for which I was and am grateful. Pretty soon Joel had introduced me to pretty much everyone that I hadn't met on my own.

He was also an organizer who, like his pal Taylor Brady, had an interest in forming collectives. Along with Taylor he founded the Buffalo Small Press Collective, started a listserv to discuss things related to the collective, and then taught everyone how to do basic HTML so we could start out own online literary endeavors (in 1997!).

I have lots of scattered memories of Joel, like of the many passionate and at times exasperating diatribes he posted to the listserv. Like of the party he threw for Kevin Killian and Dody Bellamy in his back yard. Like of the time I mentioned to him that I had gotten a reading at the Ear Inn Series and he gave me a skeptical look that felt somewhat disapproving. Like of taking me to my first Buffalo party, where I felt totally out of place, but happy to be there. Like of driving to London, Ontario to read with Bill Howe and cris cheek and Eleni Stecopoulos and Taylor Brady and how Joel came with us but chose not to read and how he had that same skeptical look on his face after the reading and how I could never quite read what it meant.

Anyhow, I think this chapbook, transcribed from Duncan's notebooks by Robert Berthof, was published as part of the Robert Duncan conference that took place in Buffalo the year before I arrived. Many of the entries in the book concern the composition of "Often I Am Permitted To Return To A Meadow."

1 July 1962

The dream that was called the Atlantis dream remains emblematic and puzzling. Had my parents been Freudians rather than Theosophists they might have called it my birth trauma dream. My mother had died in childbirth and she may have been an actual counterpart of the mother-country that had been lost. Yet the figures of the dream remain as if they were not symbols not primeval figures themselves of what was being expressed or shown.

First there was the upward rise of a hill that filled the whole horizon of the scene. A field of grass rippled as if by the life of the grass itself, for there was no wind while each blade owed to the left or East. The seer or dreamer then was facing north. There may have been flowers, day's eyes -- the grass was certainly in flower. The filed was alive and, pointing that way, across the rise of the hill to the East gave a sign.

Then, in a sudden, almost blurred, act of play, there was a ring of children--sometimes they are all girls, sometimes there are boys and girls--dancing in the filed. They have chosen someone who is "it" in the center, but no one appears there. The Dreamer is in the Center, the "I"--and first here I realize that this "I" is myself and second that I am a king or victim, and that in dreaming that I am a king or victim with the circle of dancing children.

Ring around of roses
Pocket full of posies

or is it poses?

ashes, ashes
All fall down...

In the third act, but it is the second part of the dream for the Field and its Dancers belong to the other section as one, I am shown a cavern underground. A throne room? There is a stone chair upon a dais. Seeing it as the King's chair, or even, in some dreamings of this dream, finding myself a King in that chair, there is no one there. A wave of fear seizes me, great doors break from their bars and hinges and under pressure, a rush of water floods the cavern.

all things have gone wrong--

Friday, October 23, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 43.6 (Robert Duncan)

Duncan, Robert
The Truth & Life of Myth

This looks to have been another rescue from the Just Buffalo library sale. I think I read the version in Fictive Certainties, but I might be wrong. We are getting near the end of the D's -- should be finished in a few days. After Duncan, I think there are only two more books. I am not sure what to do for an interlude between letters this time. I am thinking I might do a few little magazines or anthologies. I feel like I have hit a patch lately where I am finding it difficult to draw memories out when I write these entries. It's not that I have run out of them, but rather that I have hit a group of books about which I remember little outside their content and/or their points of purchase. I am not disheartened, though, because I can look forward in the alphabetical arrangement of my books and see that there is still plenty left to say. (Although the voice of Kevin Killian asking if I was telling all the best stories too early in the alphabet sometimes haunts me when the well runs a little dry.)

from The Truth & Life of Myth

For Dante, for Shakespeare, for Milton, was the poet-lore handed down in the tradition from poet to poet. It was the very matter of Poetry, the nature of the divine world as poets had testified to it; the poetic piety of each poet, his acknowledgment of what he had found true Poetry, worked to conserve that matter. And, for each, there was in the form of their work--the literary vision, the play of actors upon the stage, and the didactic epic--a kind of magic, for back of these forms we surmise distant origins in the rituals toward ecstasy of earliest Man. Once the operations of their art began they were transported from their sense of myth as literary element into the immediacy of the poem where reality was mythological.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 43.5 (Robert Duncan)

Roots & Branches
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Duncan, Robert
Roots & Branches

I think I bought this at Rust Belt Books. It's pretty chewed up, despite the fact I have only ever read a few pages of it. I apparently bought it for $4. I tend to prefer Duncan's shorter, more concise poems, like the title poem to this volume. It always makes me think of Jonathan Skinner.

Roots and Branches

      Sail, monarchs, rising and falling
orange merchants in spring's flowery markets!
messengers of March in warm currents of news floating,
      flitting into areas of aroma,
tracing out of air unseen roots and branches of sense
      I share in thought,
filaments woven and broken where the world might light
      casual certainties of me. There are

      echoes of what I am in what you perform
this morning. How do you perfect my spirit!
      almost restore
an imaginary tree of the living in all its doctrines
      by fluttering about
intent and easy as you are, the profusion of you!
awakening transports of an inner view of things.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 43.4 (Robert Duncan)

Duncan, Robert
Fictive Certainties

I think I bought this at Talking Leaves after having met with Robert Creeley. We were talking about some aspect of my poetry and he pulled this book out of his blue plastic suitcase and said something like, "Well, as dear old Robert Duncan said..." and began reading from the essay, "The Truth and Life of Myth."

I remember a story Rosmarie Waldrop once told me about Duncan. She and her husband Keith were living in Michigan and they threw a party in their home, presumably after a poetry reading. One of the poets there was Robert Duncan. The other was, of all people, W.D. Snodgrass. Both were such outsize personalities that they had to be separated into different parts of the house, each with their own private, captive audience. Snodgrass, who was at the time interested in singing, I think, Medieval or Renaissance songs while playing the guitar, was put on the porch with his audience. Duncan, who was known for his logorrhea, was put into the living room, where he could discourse uninterrupted, to his own. Neither shared the same room a throughout the whole party!

from The Truth and Life of Myth

Myth is the story told of what cannot be told, as mystery is the scene revealed of what cannot be revealed, and the mystic gnosis the thing known that cannot be known. The myth-teller beside himself with the excitement of the dancers sucks in the inspiring breath and moans, muttering against his willful lips; for this is not a story of what he thinks or wishes life to be, it is the story that comes to him and forces his telling.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 43.3 (Robert Duncan)

Stein Imitations
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Duncan, Robert
Writing Writing
A Composition Book
Stein Imitations
For Madison 1953
(Trask House Edition)

Purchased, I think, at Talking Leaves...Books.

Well, this is a pretty lighthearted book for Duncan. While there might be some surface resemblances between the repetition Duncan employs in these poems and the work of Gertrude Stein, the similiarity stops there. These are DEFINITELY Robert Duncan poems. Even in the snippet of a poem below, his archaic ear makes itself felt. I can't imagine anyone but Duncan in the 20th century crafting a phrase like "a nose in a/handkerchief hidden." I guess there must be something to the idea that the great poets can't hide themselves -- their language always betrays them.


Out the soft-toothed cloud, out
the miser, out the mile-high regret.
And a, a no thing nosing nothing.
A no thanks of a nose in a
handkerchief hidden. Enuf, enuf
of such cloud cottony stuff. Snuff.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 43.2 (Robert Duncan)

Ground Work
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Duncan, Robert
Ground Work

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I bought this after having read Nathaniel Mackey's essay on Duncan, in which he discusses "Santa Cruz Variations" quite extensively. Reading the poem after having read the essay was a strange experience in that I found I actually liked Mackey's essay on the poem more than I liked the poem itself.

Ben Friedlander made a point on his blog the other day that he had trouble with Duncan because he had too deeply imbibed T.S. Eliot. I am not sure what he meant by that exactly, but there is something in Duncan's work that I, too, resist, or which resists me. I think it has something to do with excess. Duncan is very much a poet of the "more is more variety." You could put Olson in this same category; however, there is something essentially different about their excesses.

Olson's excess is almost entirely an excess of the material (world). He manages to create a form in Maximus that allows him to continually discover new information and then add it into the mix, leaving it more or less unchanged. The experience of reading Olson, for me at least, is one of discovery. I feel as if I am with the poet as he stumbles on some new piece of information and I often feel the same frisson as he must have as he placed it into the poem to let it resonate with other pieces of information information.

Duncan's excess, on the other hand, is a kind of subjective excess. In his poems, the material world stimulates an internal and seemingly infinite process of subjective response. At a certain point in almost all of his longer works, I wish he would turn his attention to something else. He rarely does. It reminds me of what I spoke about the other day in the letters to Levertov, in which he just erupts and the words and associations and so forth just keep coming and coming and coming until he, to my mind at least, wears out both the original impulse and the reader's attention.

This often results in a kind of narcissism. Or better, this kind of narcissism often results in a kind of self-reflexive writing that I find tiring. The poem ultimately winds its way through a tangled web of associations to a place where it is always about its own composition. In Olson, composition seems to be the means, whereas in Duncan it is the end. Maybe that is Ben's point -- that in Duncan, as in Eliot, you have what feels like a closed, internalized symbolic system, whereas in Olson you have one that is essentially open.

Here's a recording of Duncan reading "The Dignities" from Ground Work II on PennSound:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 43.1 (Robert Duncan)

Duncan, Robert
The Opening of the Field

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. For someone who is basically lukewarm about most of Duncan's work, I sure do own a lot of his books. This one is probably my favorite, or, at least, it contains my favorite poem of his, that is, the most famous of his poems, "Often I Am Permitted To Return to a Meadow." I would put that one in my personal poetry anthology for sure.

One of my favorite teaching experiences involved using that poem. I was teaching a comp class in grad school in which I was teaching the students a lot about literature and very little about composition -- a common ailment among grad students. Anyhow, we sure had fun not learning about comp. We spent six whole weeks focused entirely on "Often I Am Permitted To Return to a Meadow."

In the first week, I gave the students some ancillary reading on Frances Yates and classical memory systems, then asked them to imagine the poem as a memory system and then to devise some sort of visual representation of the poem as a memory system using whatever plastic medium they desired. They also had to show how each of the mnemonic devices within the system would help someone remember the individual lines of the poem in order to recite it by heart. They then had to recite the poem from memory.

Following that, we started discussing the concept of close reading. I asked them to do a reading of the poem and to present it before the class. They were allowed to interpret the poem however they saw fit, but without reference to any criticism. One kid, who was an evangelical Christian, gave an amazingly thorough and wrongheaded reading of the poem as being about personal redemption through Christ. I gave him an A for effort, as it was the most carefully thought out paper in the class.

Finally, I gave them some sections from Duncan's notebooks and various other critical pieces related to the poem and assigned them a research paper. I think I probably should have quit at the previous exercise, but I was having too much fun. "Often I Am Permitted To Return to a Meadow" really lends itself to all kinds of interesting activities and I wanted to take a single lyric poem as far as I could with this class.

I remember it all very fondly. Whether the students do or not is another story entirely.

Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow

as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,
that is not mine, but is a made place,

that is mine, it is so near to the heart,
an eternal pasture folded in all thought
so that there is a hall therein

that is a made place, created by light
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.

Wherefrom fall all architectures I am
I say are likenesses of the First Beloved
whose flowers are flames lit to the Lady.

She it is Queen Under The Hill
whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words
that is a field folded.

It is only a dream of the grass blowing
east against the source of the sun
in an hour before the sun's going down

whose secret we see in a children's game
of ring a round of roses told.

Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
as if it were a given property of the mind
that certain bounds hold against chaos,

that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 43 (Robert Duncan & Denise Levertov)

The Letters
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Duncan, Robert
Levertov, Denise
The Letters
of Robert Duncan
& Denise Levertov

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books a few years back. I wrote quite a bit of my last book while reading these letters, some of it in the generous margins around its pages. It's one of the most thorough, engaging and dramatic literary correspondences I have ever read -- kind of like reading an epistolary novel.

I picked it up after having put down the Ekbert Faas biography, which used Creeley's first wife as the ultimate authority on his skewed view of the poet. Opening the first few letters to this book served as a useful counterbalance to that perspective, as the letters begin with the two poets gossiping about Creeley and his first wife and how they don't like her and feel like she is ruining him as a writer. An equally subjective viewpoint, no doubt, but one that at least complicates the simplistic views of the biography.

And boy is this book filled with gossip! One of my favorite narratives embedded in the letters is about Creeley and Kenneth Rexroth. In the late fifties Creeley ran off with Rexroth's wife and children to New Mexico. Through the letters we hear that Duncan's partner, Jess, will no longer allow Creeley to darken their door. Duncan at first goes along with this and so does Levertov. A few letters describe their outrage. But then something changes. Rexroth's behavior begins to displease them both, and then they also shyly come to the conclusion that Creeley is the better poet, which conclusion seems to absolve him of some of his wrongdoing. Eventually Creeley is in and Rexroth is out. A true poet's court.

But of course the narrative arc of this correspondence is really about the dissolution of this friendship over their views on the role of poetry in relation to the Vietnam war. Even though I knew it was coming, was basically waiting for the argument to begin and the friendship to end, the vitriol that eventually erupts from Duncan's pen came as quite a shock.

There are hints here and there of tension, but when it finally comes -- wow! And I think a volcanic eruption is the proper metaphor -- it has the feeling of being both intentional and involuntary at once. It's obvious that Duncan has been wanting to say something and that he intends harm, but once it begins, it feels like he loses control over it and that the bile spewing forth overwhelms even him. This is especially evident in the postscripts to the letters. He rages, apologizes, asks for forgiveness, then after signing off writes "p.s....." and starts attacking again.

Also interesting is the counter-narrative that Levertov develops in her later letters to Jess, in which she describes this not as a political difference but rather as the apprentice breaking away from the master and the master refusing to let go. She comes to see the whole thing in terms of an interpersonal/psychological power struggle disconnected from politics. I think she is mostly right, as Duncan himself commits many of the same poetic "sins" of which he accuses Levertov, albeit in different form, so his accusations, however true some might be, feel somewhat hypocritical.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Eoagh Number 5



Tenney Nathanson
Cole Swensen
Steve McCaffery
Barbara Henning
Anne Waldman


Nothing is in Here, by Andrew Levy


An Interview with Kevin Killian, by Tony Leuzzi
TEXT FOR A CUL-DE-SAC, by Wystan Curnow & Lawrence Weiner
The Functional Art of Bruce Nauman, by Jessica Hullman
A Topological Memoir by Penelope Bloodworth
Poetic Ecologies in Bruxelles, by Arpine Konyalian Grenier
Composition as Exposition: A Case File, by Bill Marsh
Paradox: The Diminishing Increase of an Author, by Tom Clark
Field Poetics (a compleat history of de-individualizing practices), by Donald Wellman
Raymond Roussel’s (New) Africa, by Louis Bury
Iterative View (of Brent Cunningham’s Bird & Forest), by Jesse Seldess
Double Review of Amy King, by Matthew Rotando
Review of Brenda Iijima’s Rabbit Lesson, by Geoffrey Olsen
Metapoetic Speculation In/On Tom Beckett’s “This Poem,” by Thomas Fink
Reading Julian Poirer’s Poetry, by Filip Marinovich
Review of Joseph Lease’s Broken World, by John Chavez


Samuel Ace & Maureen Seaton, William Allegrezza, Renee Angle, Robyn Art, Ari Banias, Emily Beall, Roberto Bedoya, James Belflower, Graeme Bezanson, Carlos T. Blackburn, Kate Broad, Julian T. Brolaski, Ethan Saul Bull, Tetman Callis, Sean Casey, Stephen Chamberlain, Cheryl Clark, Kate Colby, Thomas Cook, Lisa Cooper, Barbara Cully, Mark Cunningham, Shira Dentz, Amanda Deutch, Michelle Detorie, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Moses Eder, Will Edmiston, Thomas Fink & Maya Diablo Mason, Greg Fuchs, Kristen Gallagher, Lawrence Giffin, Giles Goodland, Noah Eli Gordon, Stephanie Gray, Arpine Grenier, Gabriel Gudding, John Harkey, Jeff Harrison, Nathan Hauke, Stefania Heim, Derek Henderson, Michael S. Hennessey, Chelsea Hodson, N. M. Hoffman, Erika Howsare, Paolo Javier, Adeena Karasick, Michael Kelleher, Vincent Katz, Amy King, Paula Kolek, Mark Lamoureux, Dorothea Lasky, Gregory Laynor, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Ruth Lepson, Joel Lewis, Eric Lindley, Hillary Lyon, Kimberly Lyons, Jami Macarty, Majena Mafe, Jill Magi, CJ Martin, Filip Marinovich, Kristi Maxwell, Rachel May & Joshua A. Ware, E.J. McAdams, Pattie McCarthy, Chris McCreary, Nicholas Messenger, Benjamin Miller, Carol Mirakove, Rajiv Mohabir, Emily Moore, Glenn Mott, Uche Nduka, Gale Nelson, Maurice Olivier, Geoffrey Olsen, Monica Peck, Jennifer Petersen, Lance Phillips, Siri Phillips, Nick Piombino, Lanny Quarles, Jessy Randall & Daniel M. Shapiro, Karin Randolph, Karen Randall & Ross, Priddle, Michael Rerick, Christie Ann Reynolds, James Sanders, Sam Schild, Kyle Schlesinger, Morgan Lucas Schuldt, Paul Siegell, Sandra Simonds, Joel Sloman, Rick Snyder, Alan Sondheim, Leah Souffrant, Sparrow, Christopher Stackhouse, Elizabeth Kate Switaj, Eileen Tabios, Paige Taggart, Anne Tardos, Jeremy James Thompson, Elizabeth Treadwell, Matt Turner, Mara Vahratian, Nico Vassilakis, Andi Werblin, Sara Wintz, and Deborah Wood


Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 42 (Martin Duberman)

Black Mountain
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Duberman, Martin
Black Mountain:
An Exploration in Community

A few weeks after Creeley died I started reading and re-reading all of his books. I also read the wretched Faas bio, as well as Tom Clarke's take on the form. Duberman's BM followed. I had been meaning to read it for years, but had not. I think I bought it online. It looks like I only got about halfway through.

I found the portraits of the various students and faculty to be compelling, but, frankly, I found the overly-detailed discussions of faculty/student politics numbing. One reason I chose to leave academia in the first place was that I could not imagine spending the rest of my life attending faculty meetings and having to listen to the petty rivalries and jealousies of the individual members time and time again trump both their own better natures and the good of the department as a whole. I think about the only thing that rivals the outright torture of listening to a faculty meeting in person is reading about one in a book-- even if the faculty does include a lot of my literary and artistic heroes. At least you can close the book.

Gotta run -- no excerpt today!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 41 (John Dryden)

Selected Poems
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dryden, John
Selected Poems

Purchased for $4 at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall discount book store. I am not sure I have read this volume. I bought it more for reference than anything else. I did read Dryden in college. I took a grad course as an undergraduate called "The Augustans." It was taught by an elfin man named Chris Gomez, who was an extraordinarily demanding professor. I recall we read thousands of pages of poetry and drama: Dryden, Pope Swift, Aphra Behn, the Grub Street poets, Addison, and so on and so forth. We had a mid-term as well as a final, plus two research papers.

One of the exam questions involved us memorizing Dryden's, "To The Memory of Mr. Oldham." In the exam we were required to transcribe the poem by memory and then to answer several questions about it, none of which could be answered without a correctly rendered text before us.

One assignment, which I rather liked, was to attempt to write an imitation of an Augustan poem. He taught us all about heroic couplets and the various other elements of Augustan verse and asked us to write 10-20 lines of our own. He then wrote us each a detailed critique of our efforts, pointing out the areas in which the poems succeeded in imitating the form and also the areas in which they failed. He told me that I was the only person in the class who wrote a "real" poem and that he was very impressed. However, he also said that my poem bore almost no resemblance to an Augustan poem and was more in the mode of a metaphysical poet like John Donne because it contained the unfolding of a complex metaphor the likes of which would have been anathema to an Augustan.

He then went on to interpret the metaphor as an anti-abortion screed (which it was not), because there was a line something like "lucid generation swell." I guess you can only hope for so much, even from the most scrupulous reader.

To The Memory of Mr. Oldham

Farewell, too little, and too lately known,
Whom I began to think and call my own:
For sure our souls were near allied, and thine
Cast in the same poetic mold with mine.
One common note on either lyre did strike,
And knaves and fools we both abhorr'd alike.
To the same goal did both our studies drive;
The last set out the soonest did arrive.
Thus Nisus fell upon the slippery place,
While his young friend perform'd and won the race.
O early ripe! to thy abundant store
What could advancing age have added more?
It might (what nature never gives the young)
Have taught the numbers of thy native tongue.
But satire needs not those, and wit will shine
Thro' the harsh cadence of a rugged line:
A noble error, and but seldom made,
When poets are by too much force betray'd.
Thy generous fruits, tho' gather'd ere their prime,
Still shew'd a quickness; and maturing time
But mellows what we write to the dull sweets of rhyme.
Once more, hail and farewell; farewell, thou young,
But ah too short, Marcellus of our tongue;
Thy brows with ivy, and with laurels bound;
but fate and gloomy night encompass thee around.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Literary Outlaw Richard Deming Reads in NYC Tonight!

Go see it!

The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church

131 E. 10th St. New York NY 10003
212-674-0910 |

Richard Deming & Dmitry Golynko

October 12, 2009
8:00 pm

Richard Deming is a poet and a theorist who works on the philosophy of literature. His poems have appeared in such places as Sulfur, Field, Indiana Review, and The Nation, as well as Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present. He is the author of Let’s Not Call It Consequence (Shearsman Books), winner of the 2009 Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. About Let’s Not Call It Consequence Susan Howe has written, “Deming restlessly calculates the split between promised and actual experience. The poems in his impressive new collection balance at an edge of danger syntax can only shadow.” Currently a lecturer at Yale University, he is also the author of Listening on All Sides: Toward an Emersonian Ethics of Reading (Stanford University Press).

Dmitry Golynko was born in 1969, in Leningrad, USSR. He currently lives in St. Petersburg, Russia where he is a poet, scholar in Visual Ethics and Biopolitics, and a literary and art critic. He is also a scientific researcher at the Russian Institute of Arts History in St. Petersburg. In 2004-2005 Golynko was a visiting professor in Cheongju University’s Slavic Department in South Korea. He is a member of Moscow Art Magazine editorial board and a professor at the University of Film and Television Studies (St. Peterburg, Russia). His books of poetry include Homo Scribens (St. Petersburg, Borey-Art,1994), Directory (Moscow, Kolonna Publications, 2001), Concrete Doves (Moscow, New Literary Review, 2003), and As It Turned Out (New York, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2008). In to addition poetry, Golynko regularly publishes essays on contemporary literary process and cultural phenomena. In February, 2005 Golynko was writer-in-residence at Literarischer Colloqium in Berlin, Germany. In September 2007 he was an award-winning writer at CEC ArtsLink-Open World program. He is a CEC ArtsLink Fellow for 2009, CEU (Budapest) Fellow for 2010, and DAAD (Berlin) Artist-in-Residence for 2010-2011. Golynko’s poems and essays have been translated into English, German, French, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Swedish and Italian.

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 40.1 (Johanna Drucker)

The Visible Word
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Drucker, Johanna
The Visible Word:
Experimental Typography
and Modern Art

Purchased for the same class mentioned in the previous entry. Another incredibly useful study of the materiality of the letters of the alphabet, this time within the context of early Modernism. I recall at the time I read this that most of the people studying in Buffalo were interested primarily in the materiality of the signifier rather than, say, the materiality of the printed letters on the page. Many of the students who would later make Buffalo a hotbed of typographic activity -- Kyle Schlesinger and Michael Cross and several others -- had not yet arrived.

It would be interesting to chart the progress of the discussion of the materiality of language in Buffalo from, say, 1995-to the present. When I arrived in 1997 the discussion was largely theoretical and grounded in a notion of the signifier as the battleground for materiality. L=A=N=G=U=G=E writing and its attendant practices and theories tended to dominate much of the discussion and so the whole notion of materiality had more to do with how meaning could be made more opaque as a means to decouple current practices of signification from capitalist commodification. Even the discussion of visual practices seemed to have as their aim a form of signification that was semantic at its core.

As people like Kyle and Michael arrived, the discussion changed to focus less on the signifier and more on the building blocks of the signifier and the signified, that is, the alphabet and the multifarious strategies for working with language as a visual medium. What had existed as a more theoretical discussion began to take on a more practical cast manifested in the printing of books, broadsides, chapbooks, postcards, etc. using hand presses and other older technologies. A whole range of letterpress printing practices grew up in Buffalo during the latter half of that period that continues to this day in the work of people like Andrew Rippeon and Richard Owens.

(As I write this I suddenly feel a little nostalgia for the more theoretical discussions of these questions, which these days seemed to have been subsumed in the real world practice of making stuff with type. Given a choice, I would always choose making over theorizing, but then I guess good theorizing can be considered a form of making, and vice-versa, couldn't it?)

Outside the university, there has always been an interest in these things, especially among people like Rich Kegler, founder of P22 Type Foundry, as well as the Western New York Book Arts Center. Just Buffalo Literary Center, where I work, just moved some of its operations into the WNYBAC and so much of what we do is beginning to entwine itself with typographic practice past and present. And a crucial local figure in all of this is Hal Leader, owner of Printing Prep and Leader All Surface Printing. Hal kept a working Vandercook press going in his building under the name of The Paradise Press for years, making the shop available to people like Rich and later Kyle to hone their fine printing skills.

Read an excerpt from The Visible Word here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 40 (Johanna Drucker)

Drucker, Johanna
The Alphabetic Labyrinth

Purchased in the fall of 1997 at Talking Leaves Books for the first course I took with Charles Bernstein. He called it "Textual Conditions." I recall that on the first day of class we went around the room introducing ourselves. Charles asked each of us to state our names and then describe our very first "textual experience." Ba-dump-bum. I think I talked about seeing the lyrics in my head to Frank Sinatra's cover of Jim Croce's "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," which my father used to play repeatedly on an eight track tape in the car when I was a kid.

I don't think Drucker visited, but this book became a key focus for the class, introducing us to issues of visual textuality, the materiality of language, and so forth. We read a lot about textual scholarship. I remember we had, as always, lots of visitors in the class. We had a visit from textual scholar Randall McLeod, aka, Random Cloud, who showed us a machine he had invented to aid him in his work. Kevin Killian and Dody Bellamy were the first readers in the series that year. Jackson MacLow spent about a week here around the time of his 75th birthday. Marta Werner gave a talk on textual scholarship in Dickinson. Alan Halsey and Geraldine Monk visited from England. David Bromige, Caroline Bergvall, Steve McCaffery, and Laura Moriarty all either read or visited the class or both. Joan Jonas came to class and showed us some of the videos she made in in NY in the early 70's. I remember also looking at pictures of the cave paintings at Lascaux and reading Bataille's essay about them. I met all kinds of future friends in that class: Taylor Brady and Ben Friedlander and Alicia Cohen and Yunte Haung and Brent Cunningham and Graham Foust and Joel Bettridge.

I was also more or less introduced to the internet in that class. In NY, I had the internet at several of my jobs, but I didn't use it much and I didn't much understand it. I didn't have email until I got to Buffalo. Charles' class made the first use of the internet I had experienced. It was a very transitional moment in tech history.

Everyone was still on dial-up. Many students still printed their papers at school using the university computer lab. The internet was still very text-based. Very shortly, the internet became both the vehicle for and the central subject of our discussion on textual conditions.

from The Alphabetic Labyrinth

In some form or other the letters we recognize as the alphabet have been in continuous use for more than three thousand years. Currently, the alphabet is more widespread than any other system of written language. A full account of its origin and development has only bee pieced together during the 20th century, and the obscurity of this history through the many centuries of its use has fostered much speculation about the origin and symbolic value of the letters. Thus, in addition to serving as an efficient means of representing many spoken languages, the alphabet has also served as a set of symbols whose distinct visual characteristics have provoked a plenitude of imaginative projections. These symbolic interpretations of the visual forms of the letters of the alphabet provide a rich record of cultural history and ideas which interweave the domains of philosophy and religion, mysticism and magic, linguistic and humanistic inquiry.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 39 (Theodore Dreiser)

Sister Carrie
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dreiser, Theodore
Sister Carrie

I think I bought this for a course in college called, "American Literary Realism." It was one of the first courses I took as an English major. I don't think I even knew what "realism" was when I took it. I remember it being defined as a reaction against the "romanticism" of writers like Poe, towards whom the professor, as were almost all of my professors until I met Susan Howe, was contemptuous. I didn't know what romanticism was either, but her contempt made me want to read Edgar Allan Poe right away.

While I liked the professor -- she was one of those classic first wave feminist scholars who spent most of her career unearthing female authors of the nineteenth century and bringing them to publication -- I found ninety percent of the reading, including Theodore Dreiser, how shall we say, not to my liking, or better yet, a total bore. I think the only novel I enjoyed reading in the class was Huckleberry Finn. I guess American Literary Realism just wasn't my thing.

Now that I think about it, "American Literary Realism" was the course in which I met, B., a woman with whom I immediately formed a friendship, which blossomed into an unconsummated passion/obsession lasting many, many years, and which eventually became a brief, explosive and psychologically devastating (for me, anyhow) relationship. I spent most of that semester thinking romantically about her instead of thinking analytically about American Literary Realism.

Ah, youth. Or as Dreiser put it...

The gleam of a thousand lights is often as effective as the persuasive light in a wooing and fascinating eye. Half the undoing of the unsophisticated and natural mind is accomplished by forces wholly superhuman. A blare of sound, a roar of life, vast array of human hives, appeal to the astonished senses in equivocal terms. Without a counsellor at hand to whisper cautious interpretations, what falsehoods may not these things breathe into the unguarded ear! Unrecognised for what they are, their beauty, like music, too often relaxes, then weakens, then perverts the simpler human perceptions.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 38 (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan
The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries

I have no idea how I acquired this unread title, which I have owned for many years. I have a vague recollection of having acquired it following a thought process that began and ended with the thought, "Sherlock Holmes, hmm, I should read that." Thought does not always lead to action.

My friend and publisher Geoffrey Gatza is a Sherlock Holmes aficionado. Just the other night, as we were leaving his apartment, after having shared a delicious gourmet meal he had prepared, which included a carrot/coconut/sausage soup, whipped potatoes, creamed spinach, shitake mushrooms, trout and rosemary-herbed steak, followed by a delicious desert of pear nestlerod, I noticed, on a stray bookcase in the foyer, numerous shelves filled with books concerning Sherlock Holmes. It turns out he has watched just about every television and film adaptation of the Holmes stories and even owns an iconic Holmes pipe which he regularly smokes.

Geoffrey has encouraged me to read and to watch all of the Sherlock Holmes material and I still think to myself, "Sherlock Holmes, hmm, I should read that." And perhaps someday I will.

from A Scandal in Bohemia

To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer--excellent for drawing the veil from men's motives and actions. But for the trained teasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 37 (Frederick Douglass)

Narrative of the Life...
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Douglass, Frederick
Narrative of the Life
of Frederick Douglass
An American Slave
Written by Himself

I think this book was pilfered from the shelves of my younger brother. I remember reading it in high school, portions of it anyway, but I think we read it from one of those gargantuan text books that seem to exist solely for the purpose of sucking the life out of every word contained therein and thus turning students away from reading for the rest of their lives. My later success as a student in college (which followed my utter failure as a student in high school) had much to with the fact that I no longer was forced to read from the cramped columns of high school text books. I take great pleasure in owning the books I read and keeping them after I have done so. Libraries are great, but I always feel cheated when I have to give a book I just read back to someone else. I feel like I own it once I have read it. This has at times led me to exhibit a callous disregard for the property rights of others. Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.

from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot county, Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time. A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood. The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege. I was not allowed to make any inquiries of my master concerning it. He deemed all such inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and evidence of a restless spirit. The nearest estimate I can give makes me now between twenty-seven and twenty-eight years of age. I come to this, from hearing my master say, some time during 1835, I was about seventeen years old.

My mother was named Harriet Bailey. She was the daughter of Isaac and Betsey Bailey, both colored, and quite dark. My mother was of a darker complexion than either my grandmother or grandfather.

My father was a white man. He was admitted to be such by all I ever heard speak of my parentage. The opinion was also whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness of this opinion, I know nothing; the means of knowing was withheld from me. My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant--before I knew her as my mother. It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age. Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor. For what this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the child's affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 36.1 (Sean Thomas Dougherty)

Dougherty, Sean Thomas
The Biography of Broken Things

Given to me by the author when he read at Talking Leaves Books with Charles Bernstein in 2002. Inscribed to me. Sorry this is so short today -- no time!

Ghosts You Can Breathe

Among victims is to be everywhere at millennium's end, exhumed and lifted, message bringer, the rhythm such that Lamentation seems like a stand-up comedy routine. But speaking the universe enters a church, out of a desolate place into an asylum, ad everyone I love digs into the earth to find a doorway to walk re-find our everyday words, we must recall The Fall, the failure, fraught, must replace it with a summer evening, a city's opened fire hydrant, the neighborhood children splashing in the dark, till they become the dark itself, those not so distant voices which overwhelm–

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 36 (Sean Thomas Dougherty)

Except By Falling
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dougherty, Sean Thomas
Except By Falling

I think this was sent to me by the author (or by the publisher) in anticipation of a reading he gave for Just Buffalo. It was in either the fall of 2001 or the spring of 2002. That was the year Just Buffalo was without a permanent director. It was a scary time. A lot of funding dried up after 9/11 and not having a point person to raise money made it all the more difficult to do so.

I worked part time and was still in grad school. Lori and I were weighing the benefits of staying Buffalo or possibly leaving. Eventually, we decided to stay, at least for a while, and bought a house. A year passed, and Just Buffalo's board hired a director, who almost immediately made my job full-time. In taking the job, I knew that I was deciding to walk with my masters and not finish the PhD I had begun, but I felt pretty confident I was making the right decision, and still do.

from Except By Falling

Untitled (for GJV 1964-83)

I am reaching back through my body
to tell the death carved out of air.

How it parted as you drowned.
I bend to touch the water's edge.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 35.3 (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

The Idiot
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dostoevsky, Fyodor
The Idiot

Last of the unread Dostoevsky. I think I bought this at Talking Leaves...Books for Lori. I am feeling kind of blank this morning. Like I am still waiting for the caffeine to reach my brain to get it moving. That despite having three espressos already flowing through my veins.

Maybe I'll return to Guatemala once more for inspiration, to the massive market at Chichicastenango; or the bus ride to Semuc Champey; or the Irish guy from New York we met on a bus who owned a construction company and was in Guatemala to learn Spanish so he could speak to his workers, and who was, when we met him, carrying a treasure trove of power tools to the father of one of his workers living in a remote village in the central part of the country, and who bought us dinner at his hotel in Cobán; or the trip to the new age village of San Marcos, where we got very relaxing massages; or to the last miserable days, when we finished off a meal by eating a luscious plate of tomatoes, which made us both sick, all night long rushing to the bathroom, one after the other, and how the next day we arrived at the airport sick as dogs, only to discover that all flights had been cancelled due to an air traffic controller strike, and how we holed up in a nice hotel in Guatemala City for two extra days to recover, before finally returning to the states, where I had to rush to NYC the next day to do a reading with Christian Bok at the Bowery Poetry Club, my first reading with my first book in hand.

from The Idiot

In late November, during a thaw, around nine in the morning, a train on the Petersburg–Warsaw railway line was approaching Petersburg at full blast. It was so damp and foggy that it had just barely grown light; within ten paces to the right and left of the rails, it was difficult to make out anything at all from the carriage windows. Among the passengers were some returning from abroad; but the third-class compartments were more crowded, mainly with common folk on business, from not too far away. As usual, everyone was tired, everyone’s eyes had grown heavy in the night, everyone was chilled, all the faces were pale and yellow, matching the color of the fog.

In one of the third-class carriages, right by the window, two passengers had, from early dawn, been sitting facing one another—both were young people, both traveled light, both were unfashionably dressed, both had rather remarkable faces, and both expressed, at last, a desire to start a conversation. If they had both known, one about the other, in what way they were especially remarkable in that moment, they would naturally have wondered that chance had so strangely placed them face to face in a third-class carriage of the Warsaw–Petersburg train. One of them was a short man about twenty-seven, with almost black curly hair and small but fiery gray eyes. His nose was broad and flat, his cheekbones high; his thin lips continually curved into a sort of insolent, mocking and even malicious smile; but the high and well-shaped forehead redeemed the ignoble lines of the lower part of the face. What was particularly striking about the young man’s face was its deathly pallor, which lent him an exhausted look in spite of his fairly sturdy build, and at the same time something passionate to the point of suffering, which did not harmonize with his insolent and coarse smile and his sharp and self-satisfied gaze. He was warmly dressed in a full, black, sheepskin-lined overcoat, and had not felt the cold at night, while his neighbor had been forced to endure all the pleasures of a damp Russian November night, for which he was evidently unprepared. He had a fairly thick and wide cloak with no sleeves and a huge hood, just like those frequently used by travelers in winter somewhere far abroad, in Switzerland or, for instance, Northern Italy, who do not reckon, of course, on such distances along the journey as from Eydtkuhnen1 to Petersburg. But what was entirely suitable and satisfactory in Italy turned out to be not quite fitting for Russia. The owner of the hooded cloak was a young man, also twenty-six or twenty-seven years old, somewhat above the average in height, with very fair thick hair, with sunken cheeks and a thin, pointed, almost white beard. His eyes were large, blue and intent; there was something calm, though somber, in their expression, something full of that strange look by which some can surmise epilepsy in a person at first glance. The young man’s face was otherwise pleasing, delicate and lean, though colorless, and at this moment even blue with cold. From his hands dangled a meager bundle tied up in an old, faded raw-silk kerchief, which, it seemed, contained the entirety of his traveling effects. He wore thick-soled boots and spats—it was all very un-Russian. His dark-haired neighbor in the sheepskin observed all this, partly from having nothing to do, and at last, with that indelicate smile in which satisfaction at the misfortunes of others is sometimes so unceremoniously and casually expressed, he asked:


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 35.2 (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

The Devils
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dostoevsky, Fyodor
The Devils

You'll have to pardon the strange angle of today's photo. I normally holster my laptop in a docking station and type on external keyboard, but the other day, while trying to keep the cat from pulling books off my shelves, I knocked over my coffee and spilled it on the keyboard. Now I can no longer use 'v' or 'f' or 'delete' keys. I can't at the moment afford a new keyboard, so I have to remove the laptop from the holster and set it on the desk in order to type properly. I hope no one become unhinged by this sudden change.

I bought The Devils for a summer course in college on Politics and the Novel. We never got to it in class. I never got to it in life, either. Sigh. I think I have more unread books written by Dostoevsky than perhaps by any other author.

So maybe I'll tell some more about our Guatemala trip, on which Lori bought our copy of Crime and Punishment. We took a few day trips across Lake Atitlan while we stayed in Panajachel, where we bought the book. One of the more interesting was a trip a little town called Santiago Atitlán, on the opposite shore of the lake from Panajachel. There's a small market there, but the main reason to go is to visit the shrine of Maximón, a folk saint among the Maya.

They apparently move him from house to house each month, so the shrine is never in the same place. The only way to get there is to pay a little boy to show you the way. When you arrive on shore, several of them appear shouting "Maximón-e, Maximón-e" (it sounds like MA-shee-MO-nay). We bargained with one little boy, who agreed to take us there. He led us away away from the tourist market, through the town market where the locals deal with each other, and then up a narrow flight of urine-smelling steps to a quiet, largely hidden street.

We wandered around a few corners before coming upon a small, nondescript house with a couple of serapes covering a wide doorway. We wondered, after our near bus-jacking experience, if we weren't about to be beaten and robbed, but we entered nonetheless. The room was completely dark, but for a few slivers of sunlight poking through the doorway and a host of devotional candles on the floor at the foot of Maximón.

Maximón is a wooden statue swathed in traditional guatemalan clothes and a cowboy hat. He likes to smoke, apparently, and he has two attendants who collect donations, cigarettes and cash, but whose main job seems to be to keep the deity's cigarette lit at all times. In the room there was also a glass casket with a Christ figure lying in it and an altar behind the statue.

I asked one of the attendants if he could make change from my donation, as I only had a large bill. I also needed to pay the kid who led us there and who sat patiently waiting as we observed the rites. The attendant took my money, then reached inside the deity to retrieve my change. He then lit a fresh cigarette for Maximón, who actually seemed to be smoking.

In front of the saint, a holy man knelt in prayer, chanting rhythmically. Other than that, there was no sound in the room. Hundreds of little balloons were tied to the ceiling. One of them popped and just about scared the hell out of everyone in the room. After a while, our little guide became impatient with us and motioned to leave, so we left. He led us back out to the tourist market it, where we drank from a fresh coconut with a straw before heading back across the lake.

I suddenly feel like I have written about this before. O well.

from The Devils

Before describing the extraordinary events which took place so recently in our town, hitherto no remarkable for anything in particular, I find it necessary, since I am not a skilled writer, to go back a little and begin with certain biographical details concerning our talented and greatly esteemed Stepan Trafimovich Verkhovensky. I hope these details will serve as an introduction to the social and political chronicle of our town, while the story I have in mind to relate will come later.