Sunday, November 29, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 10 (Shusaku Endo)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Endo, Shusaku

I think this may have come from the trove of my brother's high school books that eventually ended up in my collection. I am sure I never read it. Oddly, I was talking about its author the other day when writer Ha Jin was in town to speak in the Babel series.

I took him to Niagara Falls in the morning and on the drive back to Buffalo we began talking different international writers that might do well in the Babel Series. Somehow this drifted into us sharing two slightly embarrassing stories.

My story was that I had once written a grant that included a list of possible writers I would invite to Buffalo if I were to receive said grant. My list included W.G. Sebald, who, unbeknownst to me, had been dead for three years at the time I wrote the grant.

Ha Jin then told me a story of being the judge for some international fiction award, and submitting the name of Shusaku Endo, who, unbeknownst to him, had been dead for two years, thus disqualifying him for the prize.

I love the cover. (Of course you do, Catholic Boy!)

from Silence

News reached the church in Rome. Christavao Ferreira, sent to Japan by the Society of Jesus in Portugal, after undergoing the torture of "the pit" at Nagasaki had apostatized. An experienced missionary held in the highest respect, he had spent thirty three years in Japan, had occupied the highest position of provincial and had been the source of inspiration to priests and faithful alike.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 9 (William Empson)

Empson, William
7 Types of Ambiguity

Great title. Great cover. Interesting ideas.

Unreadable book. For instance:

from Chapter 1

The important meanings of this sort, as may be seen from the example about the cat, are hard to isolate, or to be sure of when you have done so ; and there is a sort of meaning, the sort that people are thinking of when they say * this poet will mean more to you when you have had more experience of life/ which is hardly in reach of the analyst at all. They mean by this not so much that you will have more information (which could be given at once) as that the information will have been digested; that you will be more experienced in the apprehension of verbal subtleties or of the poet's social tone; that you will have become the sort of person that can feel at home in, or imagine, or extract experience from, what is described by the poetry; that you will have included it among the things you are prepared to apprehend. There is a distinction here of the implied meanings of a sentence into what is to be assimilated at the moment and what must already be part of your habits; in arriving at the second of these the educator (that mysterious figure) rather than the analyst would be helpful. In a sense it cannot be explained in language, be-cause to a person who does not understand it any statement of it is as difficult as the original one, while to a person who does understand it a statement of it has no meaning because no purpose.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 8.2 (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

The Early Lectures
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Emerson, Ralph Waldo
The Early Lectures

I think I bought this online. I remember it took a very long time to find a reasonably priced copy. I did not throw away the dust jacket. It came without one. Sadly, for all the work I put into to finding and reading it, I remember almost nothing about the early lectures, except that I could find no way to put them to use in my dissertation. This may account for the haggard look on my face in the photo that accompanies this entry.

from Michel Angelo Buonaroti

There are few lives of eminent men that are harmonious: few that furnish in all the facts an image corresponding to their fame. But all things recorded of Michel Angelo Buonaroti agree together. He lived on life: he pursued one career. He accomplished extraordinary works. He uttered extraordinary words and in his greatness was so little eccentricity: so true was he to the laws of the human mind that his character and his works like Isaac Newton's seem rather a part of Nature than arbitrary productions of the human Will. Especially welcome is his life as [one] which belongs to the highest class of genius inasmuch as it contains in it no injurious influence. Every line in his biography might be read to the human race whit wholesome effect. The means, the materials of his activity were coarse enough to be appreciated, being addressed for the most part to the eye, the results sublime, and all innocent. A purity, severe and even terrible, goes out from the lofty productions of his pencil and his chisel and still more from the perfect sculpture of his own life which heals and exalts. "He nothing common did or mean," and dying at the end of near ninety years had not yet become old but was engaged in executing his sublime conceptions in the ineffaceable architecture of St. Peter's.
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher

Monday, November 23, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 8.1 (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Selected Writings
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Emerson, Ralph Waldo
The Selected Writings
Of Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am sure I bought this in graduate school, possibly for a course with Susan Howe. That's all I remember. At some point I must have thrown out the dust jacket. I have a habit of doing that. I can't stand reading hardcover books with the dust jackets still on, so I usually take them off while I am reading. Nowadays, I keep the jackets in order to allow them to perform their function of protecting the books from dust, but there was a time in my reckless and carefree youth when I would take them off and throw them away, willy-nilly, without a thought for the future. In this case it provided for an interesting photo, as I had to shot the spine in order to reveal the title to the camera.

Inside the book I found a bookmark advertising a documentary film screening for "Crossing the Line/Sobrepasando la linea: A documentary by Bill Jungels following the struggle of workers in Mexico, the US and Canada against the negative results of free trade." It was a benefit showing at a place in Buffalo called, El Buen Amigo. I don't recall where I got that, either, and I don't think I saw the film.

The bookmark was between pages 184 and 185, marking a spot in the essay "Spiritual Laws" from the first series. I will take today's excerpt from page 184:

Human character evermore publishes itself. The most fugitive deed and word, the mere air of doing a thing, the intimated purpose, expresses character. If you act, you show character; if you sit still, if you sleep, you show it. You think, because you have spoken nothing when others spoke, and have given no opinion on the times, on the church, on slavery, on marriage, on socialism, on secret societies, on the college, on parties and persons, that your verdict is still expected with curiosity as a reserved wisdom. Far otherwise; your silence answers very loud. You have no oracle to utter, and your fellow-men have learned that you cannot help them; for, oracles speak. Doth not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 8 (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Representative Men
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Emerson, Ralph Waldo
Representative Men

I think I may have bought this online. One of the chapters of my abandoned dissertation, which was looking at poets writing prose about history, was to have touched on this book. I never got around to that chapter, partly because this book so frustrated the seemingly simple concept of a poet writing prose about history.

Emerson was not a historian, and this book is more an act of imaginative philosophizing than it is a useful historical document. ("I simply experiment, an endless seeker, with no Past at my back." How avant garde is that!). I spent several months reading Emerson and found myself more confounded with each passing day, eventually shifting to another chapter for lack of any ability to frame his work within the bounds of whatever argument I was trying to develop.

For example, today's excerpt, from The Uses of Great Men:

Each material thing has its celestial side; has its translation, through humanity, into the spiritual and necessary sphere, where it lays a part as indestructible as any other. And to there, their ends, all things continually ascend. The gases gather t the solid firmament: the chemic lump arrives at the plant, and grow; arrives at the quadruped, and walks; arrives at the man, and thinks. But also the constituency determines the vote of the representative. He is not only representative, but participant. Like can only be known by like. The reason why he knows about them is, that he is of them; he has just come out of nature, or from being part of that thing. Animated chlorine knows of chlorine, and incarnate zinc, of zinc.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 7 (Ralph Ellison)

The Invisible Man
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Ellison, Ralph
Invisible Man

I think I bought this in the mid-nineties at East Village Books, which, I was happy to see on my last trip to the city, still exists. I paid 2.75 for it. I started off thinking I was going to write about my imagination of Harlem, but I keep thinking about how the issue of race played out in my childhood in the DC suburbs.

My growing up has a strange lack of specificity about it. I was born in Detroit, to a mother from there and a father from Brooklyn; moved to Los Gatos, California when I was 2, then to Vienna, Virginia when I was 7. I was raised, for the most part, there, in "Northern" Virginia, which is a moniker whose existence is an attempt to distinguish it from the rest of Virginia, which is southern in all the worst ways.

Which isn't to say that northern Virginia wasn't southern, just that a lot of people who lived there didn't want the taint of the south's racial history to be associated with the place, so they modified the name. Nonetheless, I recall a lot of racial division growing up. I remember it was still acceptable to use racial slurs on the playground, in front of teachers, as long as you pretended you were only joking and as long as the person being slurred pretended they were in on the joke. They always did.

I remember there was a kid named, I think, Brian, who was one of two black kids in our entire elementary school. He was thin and tall and wore glasses and he always seemed pissed off. When we played dodge ball he would throw the ball as hard as he could and he would always aim for the head. Several times he hit me in the face and it hurt like hell. Kids were always calling him names and mocking him until one day he got so mad he decided to demonstrate his strength by kicking through the safety glass on one of the school doors. I remember his leg was all cut up and bleeding and I think he got suspended from school.

I remember my neighbor, Mr. C., encouraged me to take up wrestling, as he had a son who was a champion wrestler. I did, but I hated it, and took up basketball instead. When I told him, his response was to say, in a deep drawl, "Basketball, that's a nigger sport."

My elementary school, which was 95 percent white, was a stone's throw from another elementary school that was 95 percent black. That school was located in a neighborhood that was also mostly black. All of the white people referred to it derisively as "Little Africa." It was marked off in our imaginations in much the same way as Harlem (or nowadays Detroit or New Orleans) was marked off in the imaginations of most white people in America -- as a dark, foreboding, scary, desolate place filled with dark, foreboding, scary, desolate people. It was made clear that one should not go there. Ever. We were taught to look at it as being a kind of shameful blight on our fair little suburban village.

My father was an extraordinarily complex man when it came to race. I have been trying to figure him out my entire adult life. On the one hand, he was kind of a classic Brooklyn guy from an ethnic (Irish) part of town. Almost anyone who grew up in New York at that time (40s and 50s), of whatever ethnicity, had a similar suspicion of people not like him or herself. For my father, Irish Catholics were all okay unless they proved otherwise. Each gradation of difference away from his own demographic cast another level of suspicion upon a person he didn't know. Thus, many of his friends growing up were Italian -- they had the Catholic thing in common, so they were partly above suspicion.

His most persistent prejudice was probably against Jews, but mostly as an abstract concept. I am not sure he even knew anyone who was Jewish, but he used the term "Jew" derisively to denote anyone who he thought was trying to take his money. I don't think his prejudice went much deeper than that, but there it was.

On the other hand, he had an enormous soft spot for Native Americans. He donated money to various Native American charities and spent an increasing amount of time in his later years visiting the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He once used his auto industry connections to secure a van and a driver for the dialysis center on the reservation so that people could be driven there on the days they had treatment instead of having to sleep outdoors near the center because they had no mode of transport and lived a long ways away.

His relations with African Americans were and are equally baffling. Almost all of his employees (he owned a small rental car company in DC) were black, and some he was quite close to. But I don't think he ever invited any of them to our house, and I don't think he would have. When he died, suddenly, about 5 years after selling the business, my mother didn't have a single home phone number for his former employees.

Another complicating factor was the fact that my father was a recovering alcoholic. He worked tirelessly to help other alcoholics recover from their disease, took meetings into prisons and rehabs, sponsored seemingly hopeless men of all races. Almost all of the people who worked for him were in recovery and almost all of them started out working in the garage washing cars right after getting out of prison or rehab. As they remained sober and became more responsible, some of them moved out of washing cars into managing the parking booth (and the money). Eventually, the most responsible workers made it into the office to work as rental agents.

My father was the only one who would hire them, given their background, and they were appreciative of the chance he gave them. They were also afraid of him because he had a terrible temper and brooked no dissent. He paid them all minimum wage and was incredibly stingy with raises, even when people had worked their way into the office. I've never been able to sort out in my head the place where his samaritanism left off and the exploitation of his workers began.

In the summers, me and several of my college friends (mostly white, all middle and upper middle class) worked for my father. I remember one incident in which some of my father's full-time employees, all of whom worked in the office year round, saw the paycheck of one of my friends and discovered that they were making less per hour than he was.

People were pissed off, but they were also terrified of my father, so they let me know what they had discovered and hoped I would bring it to him. I did, and he immediately made excuses, saying that the pay scale for working at the airport was higher than working downtown, or some such. He didn't seem to see a problem in paying my friends more and he refused to see how someone might perceive that there was a racial (or class) dimension to this disparity.

I have tried to figure out a way to reconcile all of his contradictions over the years, but there really isn't any way to do it. He was a complex person, as are most people, and his prejudices were determined by different factors, some of them social, some of them economic, some of them personal.

I want to judge him, and in some areas it is easy to do, but I find it difficult to make any blanket generalizations about him regarding his racial attitudes. From the outside all of these contradictions are obvious and clear, but to him there were no contradictions at all. He didn't make excuses for his behavior or his attitudes to anyone, just said, "take it or leave it." And so I am left with it. I sometimes wish he were still around to discuss this stuff, as I'd like to think he'd be willing to in his old age, but he's not around, so I brood and blog.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 6.2 (T.S. Eliot)

Eliot, T.S.
Murder in the Cathedral

It's been years since I read this -- I bought it at the Fordham bookstore -- not sure for which class -- probably a class on drama. I must have bought it used, because there are extensive notes written in it by more than one person.

On the inner flap, someone named Ed O'Connor has written a short essay comparing the "theme of loyalty and friendship" in the Murder in the Cathedral to that in A Man For All Seasons.

In another hand, on the title page, "martyrdom" is defined as "the suffering of death on account of adherence to a cause and esp. to one's religious faith." It may be my own handwriting, though I am not quite sure. The fact it is written in cursive, which I more or less abandoned in high school, leads me to believe it is not, but it does look like my handwriting.

Someone has written the no-doubt Prince-influenced phrase "4shadow" in the margins about every ten lines throughout the first act.

There are lots of faded yellow highlighter marks throughout. The word "friendship" is also written often in the margins, as is "loyalty," and there are lots of question marks.

The word "enmity" is underlined and defined in the margin as "mutual hatred."

The word "wantonness" is underlined and defined in the margin as "unrestraint."

The abbreviation "Def" is also written throughout the text in the margin, telling the reader, I suppose, to look something up. Apparently, this reader chose not to share his or her knowledge.

The lines, "The last temptation is the greatest treason:/To do the right thing for the wrong reason" are underlined and marked by a note to "memorize for quiz."

In act II, foreshadowing is marked with the phrase, "4shadow2."

We are also supposed to memorize the line, "Human Kind cannot bear very much reality."

And finally, someone has bracketed off the concluding lines of the play and written in the margin:



I think that one was me. Oops.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 6.1 (T.S. Eliot)

Selected Prose
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Eliot, T.S.
Selected Prose

This, like all of my Eliot books, was purchased back in college. It was purchased for a graduate course I took my senior year on Modernist poetry. We mostly went back and forth between the essays and the poetry of each writer, looking to see what, if any, relation there was between them.

Eliot, to me, is like an ivy league college, that is, a gifted producer of authority. He condemns the lax standards of his time. He bemoans the loss of tradition (and authority) invested in longstanding institutions, especially religious ones. And then he writes from the position of one who would be the bulwark between institutional breakdown and total anarchy. He would save our institutions from the encroaching democratic mobs.

All of which adds up to a pretty successful afterlife as a poet and critic. Institutions take care of their own, ad eternum.

from The Idea of a Christian Society

If, then, Liberalism disappears from the philosophy of life of a people, what positive is left? We are left only with the term 'democracy,' a term which, for the present generation, still has a Liberal connotation of 'freedom'. But totalitarianism can retain the terms 'freedom' and 'democracy' and give them its own meaning: and its right to them is not so easily disproved as minds inflamed by passion suppose. We are in danger of finding ourselves with nothing to stand for except a dislike of everything maintained by Germany and/or Russia: a dislike which, being a compost of newspaper sensations and prejudice, can have two results, at the same time, which appear at first incompatible. It may lead us to reject possible improvements, because we should owe them to the example of one or both of these countries; and it may equally lead us to be mere imitators
a rebours, in making us adopt uncritically almost any attitude which a foreign nation rejects.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 6 (T.S. Eliot)

Eliot, T.S.
The Complete Poems and Plays

Not sure where I bought this. Probably at the Fordham bookstore. I have had it since college, or soon thereafter. They still sell this extremely ugly hardcover . Not that I care, but you'd think they would have sexed up the dust jacket by now. This looks ike it is being marketed to British bankers in 1958.

In college, we studied Eliot the same way we studied Joyce. That is, we assumed that the author was some sort of oracle-genius who had provided us a with a highly complex, highly allusive, perfectly composed code that we as critics needed to crack. It was assumed that every word, every phrase, every detail of every work was not only significant, but also an irreplaceable part of the holy structure of the poem. Our job as students was to track down every single reference and inference and then to reveal how the whole work would collapse if that particular detail were absent or placed in some other part of the work.

Likewise, in the case of Eliot, we could look at his revisions and show why each correction, each revision, was an improvement, and how every detail left out of the poem would have served to undermine its perfection. It was kind of like church. I remember writing a paper about how the first draft of "The Wasteland" was structured like a drama, and how Ezra Pound removed all reference to the drama -- stage directions and so forth, mostly -- in his revisions of the poem, leaving only the five "act" structure in its place. Sigh. Snore.

I think I remember reading that Charles Olson wrote a letter to Eliot about the following poem telling him that one of the birds he mentions is not found on Cape Ann.

Cape Ann

O quick quick quick, quick hear the song-sparrow,
Swamp-sparrow, fox-sparrow, vesper-sparrow
At dawn and dusk. Follow the dance
Of goldfinch at noon. Leave to chance
The Blackburnian warbler, the shy one. Hail
With shrill whistle the note of the quail, the bob-white
Dodging the bay-bush. Follow the feet
Of the walker, the water-thrush. Follow the flight
Of the dancing arrow, the purple martin. Greet
In silence the bullbat. All are delectable. Sweet sweet sweet
But resign this land at the end, resign it
To its true owner, the tough one, the sea gull.
The palaver is finished.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 5.1 (Sergei Eisenstein)

Eisenstein, Sergei
Notes of a Film Director

I think I bought this at Rust Belt Books. The cover is in pretty rough shape. Whatever kind of coating they put on the paper is starting to wrinkle up. I guess the rest of the book is in pretty good shape, though.

I think I bought it after reading some of Ted Berrigan's early notebooks at the Poetry Collection at SUNY Buffalo. They have several from his college days in Tulsa, in several of which he is writing some of his first poems. He was also quite interested in film and wrote reviews for the school paper and some of his published reviews are folded into the notebooks as well.

One of the filmmakers he makes mention of several times is Eisenstein. He seemed interested in Eisenstein's techniques of montage. A little bit of a lightbulb went off as I read of this interest, as it provides an interesting frame through which to read The Sonnets. The cut-up techniques seem to me much closer to montage than they do to, say, collage or cut-ups.

The deliberateness with which the appropriated materials are assembled, reassembled, layered, reversed and repeated creates a similar effect to when Eisenstein juxtaposes and layers images on top of one another in order to construct a visual idea. They build meaning by accretion rather than through narrative progression, might be another way to put it.

From How I Became A Film Director

Then there came an idea:
First master art.
Then destroy it.
Penetrate into the mysteries of art.
Unveil them.
Master art.
Become a master.
And then snatch off the mask, expose it, destroy it!
That ushered in a new phase in my relations with art: the would-be murderer began playing with his intended victim.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 5 (Sergei Eisenstein)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Eisenstein, Sergei
Battle Ship Potemkin
Alexander Nevsky

I am pretty sure I bought this at Rust Belt Books. I don't think I have read it. I think the reason I bought it was because I had found another of his books, Film Form, which I had borrowed from Jonathan Skinner, and which I sadly had to return several years letter, having hoped he had forgotten about it, but he had not, really useful in writing one of the poems in my first book. In fact, I think I lifted the words to the poem directly from the his with only minor alterations.

The scripts in this one very much read like poems, though, wouldn't you say?

from Battleship Potemkin

1 The officer of the watch. In the background, sailors gathered around hanging sides of meat.
2 Officer
3 From above: sailors with the meat (still)
4 The officer walks off.
5 Indignant sailors see past the hanging meat.
6. CU Sailors washing cabages
7 CU Sailors peeling potatoes
8 CU Heads of sailors, talking vociferously.
9 CU As above
10 CU Peeling potatoes
11 CU Sailor's heads
12 CU Cabbage
13 Agitated sailors. The ships doctor and officer come up.

1 The hanging meat


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 4.2 (Larry Eigner)

Selected Poems
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Eigner, Larry
Selected Poems

Remarkably, I think I bought this book "new," that is, it had been sitting on the shelves of Talking Leaves since its publication in the 70's. I bought it for the wonderfully 70's price of $2.80. Hard to find a bookstore that won't mark up an out-of-print book like that, but that's why we love Talking Leaves. But wait, another stray bookmark -- does it reveal an alternate history? It says St. Mark's Book Shop. I must have bought it there. Equally glad they once were my neighborhood bookstore.

I have to stop myself each morning the past few days from reading the entire book. Larry Eigner is so great.

I seem to have a very different sense of him now than when I first read him. My first experience of his work was by way of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine. This sense of him as a forerunner of language writing made the work seem deliberately opaque and strange. I remember reading his poems the same way I might read a poem by Bruce Andrews, which I think was ultimately a mistake. His poems are at times difficult, but there's nothing consciously strange or strained about them. He seems very much to be working with what he has.

I think I read him now more through the lens of the New American Poetry, which makes the work seem much more vernacular, even in some sense narrative, the materiality of his language more an effect of the condition of the writing and of the writer, of his use of the typewriter and so forth, than a necessarily conscious foregrounding of materiality for its own sake.

In some of the poems, especially the early ones, I can even hear a New England accent, or, at least, a New England lilt to the speech. It's easy to see why Creeley took to the work so early. They very much speak the same dialect and share a certain world view rooted specifically in that place.

from the sustaining air

fresh air

There is the clarity of a shore
And shadow,  mostly,  brilliance

    the billows of August

When, wandering, I look from my page

I say nothing

  when asked

I am, finally, an incompetent, after all

Monday, November 9, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 4.1 (Larry Eigner)

Eigner, Larry
Things Stirring
Or Far Away

When I picked up this book this morning I wasn't sure where I had purchased it. I was going to guess either Talking Leaves or Rust Belt Books, but then I could find no telltale price written into the upper right hand corner of the first page, so I had my doubts.

I began flipping through the pages to see if something stirred in my memory when all of a sudden out popped a bookmark from the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Harvard Square. This means I probably purchased it in 1999, right around this time of year.

My friend and classmate at Buffalo, Yunte Huang, blazed through his dissertation so fast that he had to pretend he hadn't finished in order to secure is final year of funding. He went out on the market in the fall and came back from the MLA to discover a message on his answering machine with a job offer from Harvard. Off he went the following fall, which I am pretty sure would have been 1999. I went to visit him over the thanksgiving holiday for a couple of days. He and his wife had a great apartment right off the square and walking distance from pretty much everything.

He took me around to the English department and showed me his office in the basement and told me about how Helen Vendler had helped his wife choose a piano and how when he had asked her about Language writing she said that she had nothing against it personally, it just didn't interest her.

He told me about all of the perks of being a harvard professor, like a book buying budget and lots of intelligent grad student assistants to help him with his research. We laughed when he told me how much of his time was spent answering phone calls from various media as an "authority" on a given subject. It seemed to me that that was the primary function of a place like Harvard -- to produce (and reproduce) authority.

He also took me by the statue of John Harvard, whose one toe was all shiny because everyone had walked up and placed their hand on the same spot over the years, this having become a tradition.

As we walked around Harvard Square I looked up and saw a familiar face -- it was K., my friend from Russia. I believe I described this incident in an earlier post, yes I did, here it is.

Anyhow, at some point during the day, we ended up at the Grolier Poetry Book Store, where I apparently bought this book by Larry Eigner. It must have been there a long time because the cover is now yellowing somewhat seriously and it hasn't spent any time in the sun since I have owned it.

   various ways
streets hold
     momentarily   each
       tinderbox   familiar

         infinite windows

      the fear of the cost of false alarms

       rays of the telegraph


          old south church

           pulled through

            the past like fiction


            the park we walked

           cross there


            100 years

             there was grass

I love the line, "the fear of the cost of false alarms." I also wonder about the line, "the park we walked," given that Eigner himself could not. Is it some kind of imagination of the past he refers to in the lines that precede and follow it? Or some fantasy of perambulation? Or does he mean he crossed with someone else who walked behind him, pushing the wheelchair? Feel free to comment. Or just to say hello.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 4 (Larry Eigner)

Eigner, Larry
Windows Walls Yard Ways

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I think this is the first book of Eigner's I ever read. I am pretty sure I bought it for my first class with Charles Bernstein. I recall that Ben Friedlander, who edited Eigner's collected writings and who was also a poetics student at the time, gave a talk in the class on Eigner. The subject was the challenges of editing the work, given Eigner's great limitations of speech and movement.

He brought in a tape on which he had preserved several answering machine messages Eigner had left for him. For the untrained ear, it was nearly impossible to understand. My recollection, which could be way off, was that on the messages he was detailing changes he wanted Ben to make on the manuscript.

Ben may also have provided a transcript of the conversation. I might be making that part up. I may also wrong about the content of those messages. The point of playing them, I am quite sure, was to provide a concrete example of some of the specific challenges Eigner's editors face when try to collect his work.

I am very excited to see that his four-volume collected poems is coming out later this year. I may have to take out a second mortgage to afford it, but it will be worth it.

Getting Old
           poems about
fences and vines

      on earth, while the sky
holds the quiet
fantastic dimensions
 masses and bits
through which the sun might glare
                  the attempt at standing still
      to show nothing is worth
      the final deliberation

the motors and
                    scattered to infinity
we had a thunderstorm here yesterday and
today's expected again


In August the leaves turn out
to a slow wind

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 3 (Dave Eggers)

Eggers, Dave
A Heartbreaking Work
of Staggering Genius

I bought this at Talking Leaves..Books in, o, probably 2003. We were trying to figure out an author to bring for "If All Of Buffalo Read The Same Book." These kind of civic reading programs happen all over the country and they tend to have a kind of pre-programmed feel to them, so when we used to do it, I tried to pick authors that were not being chosen by other cities.

Dave Eggers' name came up as someone whose work was contemporary and who, as a younger writer, might draw some fresh blood into Buffalo's reading audience. I tried to contact him to see if he'd be interested, but had no luck.

In fact, in all of my years of bringing writers to Buffalo, Dave Eggers holds the distinction of being the only writer with whom I could not make contact. It felt like there was an active conspiracy on the part of people around him to keep people like me from contacting him at all. I called the publisher, I called his Valencia St. non-profit in San Francisco. And so on. Nada.

I ended up giving up and trying my second bright idea, which seemed even more impossible -- to bring Arundhati Roy from India. It took all of about a week to put that together. Kind of amazing.

from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Through the small tall bathroom window the December yard is gray and scratchy, the trees calligraphic. Exhaust from the dryer billows clumsily out from the house and up, breaking apart while tumbling into the white sky.

The house is a factory.

I put my pants back on and go back to my mother. I walk down the hall, past the laundry room, and into the family room. I close the door behind me, muffling the rumbling of the small shoes in the dryer, Toph's.

"Where were you?" my mother says.

"In the bathroom," I say.

"Hmph," she says.


"For fifteen minutes?"

"It wasn't that long."

"It was longer. Was something broken?"


"Did you fall in?"


"Were you playing with yourself?"

"I was cutting my hair."

"You were contemplating your navel."

"Right. Whatever."

"Did you clean up?"


I had not cleaned up, had actually left hair everywhere, twisted brown doodles drawn in the sink, but knew that my mother would not find out. She could not get up to check.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 2.2 (Ken Edwards)

Edwards, Ken
Nostalgia for Unknown Cities

This was mailed to me by the author upon its publication in 2007. I have a memory of having promised to send him Human Scale and then also of having forgotten to do so. I really hate going to the post office. After I mail out the initial big batch of books to reviewers and friends and so forth, it gets harder and harder for me to drag myself to the post office to mail any more of them. I don't know if this is because I am lazy or because I find post offices to be some of the dreariest most depressing places on earth (second only, perhaps, to bus stations) or all of the above.

When I wrote"bus stations" my mind suddenly cast back to my childhood, not to a bus station, but to a train station, Penn Station, before the renovation. We used to take the train from DC to New York for Thanksgiving every year. We'd get off at Penn Station and switch to the LIRR to go visit our cousins in Babylon, LI. I can remember the wonder I felt that they had this sort of shadowy underground shopping mall at Penn Station. The first time I saw it it was late at night and all the stores were closed and it felt like some kind of lost Atlantis under Madison Square Garden.

I also remember the bathrooms at Penn Station and also at Grand Central, how they were always filthy, and how on the way into the bathroom you would see 5 or 10 or 15 men sleeping on the floor or begging in the entrance way. I don't remember being scared, just kind of amazed at all the teeming life that swelled underground in New York.

I remember also seeing a television documentary or movie about people who lived underground in New York, in sewers and drainage pipes and abandoned or unfinished subway lines. The idea of living underground with them seemed very appealing to me. On our little cul de sac in suburban Virginia, there was a system of drain pipes that we used as a series of forts and hiding places. We'd race through the pipes in the summer playing hide and seek. As we got older we began to stash our cigarettes and stolen booze down there so we could have fun on the weekends.

The idea of there being a whole community living like that under the streets of New York seemed to me like a strange and wonderful kind of paradise, where people drank and partied and played hide and seek with the police from morning till night.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 2.1 (Ken Edwards)

eight + six
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Edwards, Ken
eight + six

This, I think, was also given to me by the author upon his aforementioned visit to Buffalo, which, judging by the publication date, suggests he visited in the summer of 2003, not 2002, as I had previously surmised. This one is signed by Edwards, but not dated. The photo of him on the back looks like the guy I remember meeting, whereas the photos on the other two books of his that I own look less like the guy I remember. I love that the the title is a mathematical representation of the sonnet form.

Da Capo, Which Means,
Out of My Head

      On the box we find
celestial messages from splendid empires

There's been a death in the family
      and then there was one

so madly set a thesis burned the toast
SLAM on the brakes

(a paradox)

(A non-expanding universe would
      actually entail even worse paradoxes)
            Like like like ---
This is where we learn impossibility from
      This box this box this box this
            One to one to one

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 2 (Ken Edwards)

Good Science
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Edwards, Ken
Good Science

Given to me by the author, Ken Edwards, British poet, publisher of Reality Street books in the U.K., upon his visit to Buffalo in probably 2002 or so. I was still in school. It was over the summer, Ken was passing through town, Charles Bernstein wrote to ask if someone could set him up with a reading and possibly a place to stay. I have a recollection of the reading having taken place at Jonathan Skinner's apartment, but I can't be sure. I am almost positive there was a party there for Ken. I can see Jonathan standing in front of the living room door that led to the second floor porch on the front of the house, his tall slim form leaning over the stereo to change the CD. I think he is putting on Harry Nilsson. People are dancing and drinking. It is summery warm and not quite dark outside. This memory may be a composite of other memories.

Incident Room

Might have been carnival
Perpetual beauty flanked by soft sculpture horses
Glowing orange on one side
And ashen silver on the other
But it all segues into transmitter information
Unstable in the days winds

And the underlying belief
on the streets
That those humans are not human
And the same again       is made manifest
      Rain soaked
Floodlit prison to one side
Vast hospital ventilation to the other
Inner city where
To have your feet on the ground is both privilege
And punishment
The serial & consecutive reality of it

On the one hand choice
On the other no choice at all
When love turns to violence
To have to say it the insistence
The first & worst word
That breaks the spell
Just kills you

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 1.1 (Umberto Eco)

Eco, Umberto
Foucault's Pendulum

I think this book belongs to Lori. I am sure I never bought or read it. I have a recollection of having tried to read it once, before I met Lori, but I have no idea if it was my copy or someone else's. I know it was not this one. I had a friend, J., who I think I have talked about before, who I knew in college, and who at that time was about the only undergraduate at Fordham to have read any critical theory at all, and who referred to himself as a "marxist-feminist," despite none of our knowing what that meant, and who is now a libertarian living in southern California.

Anyhow, J. used to have a copy of this book on the shelf in his west village studio apartment, and he also used to speak often of French theorist Michel Foucault, so that somehow I began to elide Michel Foucault with the name on the cover of this book, began, in fact, to think that this book, which I had never read, was actually about the famous french theorist.

And now, even though I have never read this book, I remember the trauma of having at some point discovered that this book was not, in fact, about Michel Foucault, but about another Foucault altogether, and how disappointed I was to find this out, how this discovery forever changed my perception of this book that I had never, have never, and likely will never have read.

from Foucault's Pendulum

After Beaujeu, the Order has never ceased to exist, not for a moment, and after Aumont we find an uninterrupted sequence of Grand Masters of the Order down to our own time, and if the name and seat of the true Grand Master and the true Seneschals who rule the Order and guide its sublime labors remain a mystery today, an impenetrable secret known only to the truly enlightened, it is because the hour of the Order has not struck and the time is not ripe . . .

—Manuscript of 1760, in G. A. Schiffmann, Die Entstehung der Rittergrade in der Freimauerei um die Mitte des XVIII Jahrhunderts, Leipzig, Zechel, 1882, pp. 178-190

This was our first, remote contact with the Plan. I could easily be somewhere else now if I hadn't been in Belbo's office that day. I could be—who knows?—selling sesame seeds in Samarkand, or editing a series of books in Braille, or heading the first National Bank of Franz Josef Land. Counterfactual conditionals are always true, because the premise is false. But I was there that day, so now I am where I am.

The colonel handed us the page with a flourish. I still have it here among my papers, in a little plastic folder. Printed on that thermal-paper photocopies used in those days, it is more yellowed and faded now. Actually there were two texts on the page: the first, densely written, took up half the space; the second was divided into fragments of verses . . .

The first text was a kind of demoniacal litany, a parody of a Semitic language:

Kuabris Defrabax Rexulon Ukkazaal Ukzaab Urpaefel Taculbain Habrak Hacoruin Maquafel Tebrain Hmcatuin Rokasor Himesor Argaabil Kaquaan Docrabax Reisaz Reisabrax Decaiquan Oiquaquil Zaitabor Qaxaop Dugraq Xaelobran Disaeda Magisuan Raitak Huidal Uscolda Arabaom Zipreus Mecrim Cosmae Duquifas Rocarbis.

“Not exactly clear,” Belbo remarked.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 1 (Umberto Eco)

Eco, Umberto
Travels in Hyperreality

Purchased at The Strand for $6.95. I'm not sure when I bought this book. I have memory of seeing stacks of it on a table at the Strand, so I probably passed it many times before buying it. I remember seeing many such tables at the Strand over the years, all stacked with remaindered titles by famous authors. I remember a table full of Pynchon's Vineland in hardcover and another with Robert Bly's Iron John.

I always experienced a strange feeling when I encountered these tables. On the one hand, seeing them made me think I should buy a copy because they were so cheap. On the other, I wondered how, if they were selling so many at a discount, it could possibly be any good.

I think I may have bought this when I was taking a class in Semiotics at the New School with Marshall Blonsky. It was one of the all time worst courses I ever took, but it was useful in one sense: I was so worried that I didn't understand all of the theoretical jargon being tossed around in the classroom, that I did a lot of introductory reading of post-structuralist terminology.

To my surprise and dismay, most of the people in the class had no idea what they were talking about, did not, in fact, even understand the terms they were using. It gave me a modicum of confidence that I could succeed in graduate school. Unfortunately, the teacher's ideas made me doubt if I even wanted to move forward, so detached were they from either reality or hyperreality.

from Travels in Hyperreality

This is the America of Linus, for whom happiness must assume the form of a warm puppy or a security blanket, the America of Schroeder, who brings Beethoven to life not so much through a simplified score played on a toy piano as through the realistic bust in marble (or rubber). Where Good, Art, Fairytale, and History, unable to become flesh, must at least become plastic.

The ideology of this America wants to establish reassurance through Imitation. But profit defeats ideology, because the consumer wants to be thrilled not only by the guarantee of the Good, but also by the shudder of the Bad. And so at Disneyland, along with Mickey MOuse and the kindly Bears, there must also be, in tactile evidence, Metaphysical evil (the Haunted Mansion) and Historical Evil (the Pirates), and in the waxwork museums, along side the Venuses de Milo, we must find the graverobbers, Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, Jack the Ripper, the Phantom of the Opera. Alongside the good whale, there is a restless plastic form of the Bad Shark. Both at the same level of credibility, both at the same level of fakery. Thus, on entering his cathedrals of iconic reassurance, the visitor will remain uncertain whether his final destiny is hell or heaven, and so will consume new promises.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Aimless Reading: Literary Magazines, Part 2 (All Area No. 2)

All Area No. 2
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
All Area No. 2
Skodnick, Roy, Editor

This was given to me by the editor at the Zinc Bar in NYC after a reading and talk on Olson I had given along with Ammiel Alcalay. We used the talk as a means to get OlsonNow moving before we curated the first event at the Poetry Project. I can't remember if Roy gave me a copy at the event or if he mailed it later on. Anyhow, there is stuff in here by Julia Kristeva, Jean Baudrillard, Olson and more. And as I write this, a whole section just came loose from the binding and fell to the floor. Apparently the glue is dried out.

from The Implosion of Meaning in the Media, by Jean Baudrillard

The fact of this implosion of contents, absorption of meaning, evanescence if the medium itself, re-absorption if the whole dialectic of communication in a total circularity of the model, and implosion of the social in the masses, can appear catastrophic and hopeless. But it is only so in regard to the idealism that dominates our whole vision of information. Ae all live by a fanatical idealism of meaning and communication, by an idealism of communication through meaning, and in this perspective, it is very much a catastrophe of meaning which lies in wait for us.

Aimless Reading: Literary Magazines, Part 1.1 (AERIAL 8)

Aerial 8: Barrett Watten
Smith, Rod, Editor

I think I probably also bought this for a class with Charles Bernstein. I don't recall Watten visiting the class when I was in school, and I don't recall ever covering his work directly, so I assume this must have been on one of the extensive reading lists that often accompanied the syllabus. While there may have been 15-20 assigned books per semester in Charles courses, there were also always about 100 other books listed under 'suggested' reading. In my zeal to get up to speed when I first arrived in the poetics program, I usually bought and tried (and failed) to read each one. I have a vague recollection of having thumbed through this issue, but I don't remember much about it.

One summer Charles hired me to organize his letters into alphabetical file boxes. I remember the most entertaining part of the job was reading through his letters from Watten (I only got to read Watten's end of the correspondence, alas), which seemed to arrive about once a year, and which were quite long. My memory of particulars is vague, but I recall that they appeared to form part of a more extensive argument the two had been having over what language writing was, what it meant, and which writer best represented what had come to be grouped under that term.

from "Reinventing Community.." interview with Barrett Watten:

If there is any single way of summing up the principle of this metalingual subplot, it would be that particularity and deferral of ultimate ends (what led to the title of the magazine, This, what is responsible for the grammatological equivalence of the equal signs in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E) are identical with the methods and meaning of the work--a utopia where there are no heroes but those who meet there obstacles and rewards here and now, no deferrals to a resolution in future time. A steady-state poetics combined with a radically intellectual referentiality led to the production of works that would totalize agency at the same moment that they stopped history in its tracks.