Saturday, February 28, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 48 (Tisa Bryant)

Bryant, Tisa
Unexplained Presence


Sent to me by the author, in exchange for my own book, after we had "met" on Facebook, where we played many a diverting game of the much-lamented Scrabulous, at which she more often than not kicked my ass! I liked the book a lot and invited her up to read in Just Buffalo's small press poetry series in April. It's not an easy work to define, falling as it does somewhere among film criticism, academic prose, cultural studies and poetry. All of the pieces are prose meditations that begin at the point of the "unexplained" presence of a black character in various novels and films. I think I like most that the work is so unclassifiable -- there's really nothing like it in any of the aforementioned genres of writing, and I am looking forward to her reading.

From "The Head Of The Moor," which looks at Woolf's Orlando:

Man-Orlando is cloaked in darkness; Orlando-woman will see the light, without a backwards glance to what that womanhood (Moor, nigger, Empire) is built on. What multitudes it contains. Thousands. In time and space.

What do you see in this?

Orlando loves and his love transgresses, transforms itself and him, before the eyes of grace, the servile Blackamoor, under the kissing lips of a Turkish gypsy, Orlando's inner blackface points to its kin, and his, and in the flame of a native uprising, he strikes a pose, and falls beautifully to sleep. Other! As he...becomes she.

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 47 (Robert Browning)


Selected Poetry
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Browning, Robert
Selected Poetry


I could almost cut and pasted the previous entry, but for a few minor details. Purchased for a very low price at the Niagara Falls outlet mall discount book store. Does not have a price sticker on it, but does have a black remainder mark on the bottom edge. Is equally unread as the former and mostly for the same reason: I don't really dig Victorian poetry. I guess I am too in love with modernism, which is itself so much a reaction against Victorian excess. I can't say I actually have much desire to read Browning, but I felt I needed to have him on my shelf for reference purposes, which is a major reason I buy so many of the remaindered Penguin Classics at the discount store.

Never The Time and The Place

NEVER the time and the place
And the loved one all together!
This path—how soft to pace!
This May—what magic weather!
Where is the loved one’s face?
In a dream that loved one’s face meets mine,
But the house is narrow, the place is bleak
Where, outside, rain and wind combine
With a furtive ear, if I strive to speak,
With a hostile eye at my flushing cheek,
With a malice that marks each word, each sign!
O enemy sly and serpentine,
Uncoil thee from the waking man!
Do I hold the Past
Thus firm and fast
Yet doubt if the Future hold I can?
This path so soft to pace shall lead
Through the magic of May to herself indeed!
Or narrow if needs the house must be,
Outside are the storms and strangers: we—
Oh, close, safe, warm, sleep I and she
—I and she.

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 46 (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett
Aurora Leigh And Other Poems


Another unread purchase from the discount store at the Niagara Falls outlest mall. Again, the sale sticker is still on the cover ($3.50) and there is a black remainder mark on the bottom edge. Victorian Era British poetry is about my least favorite in the history of poetry. Tennyson, the Brownings, etc., have never interested me very much. That said, I read the first 20 pages or so of Aurora Leigh today and found it to be a fairly engrossing memoir-poem. I may read it yet!

Here's a little selection about the death of the poet's mother at age four:

And thus beloved, she died. I've heard it said
That but to see him in the first surprise
Of widower and father, nursing me,
Unmothered little child of four years old,
His large man's hands afraid to touch my curls,
As if the gold would tarnish,–his grave lips
Contriving such a miserable smile,
As if he knew needs must, or I should die,
And yet 'twas hard,–would almost make the stones
Cry out for pity. There's a verse he set
In Santa Croce to her memory,
'Weep for an infant too young to weep much
When death removed this mother'–stops the mirth
To-day, on women's faces when they walk
With rosy children hanging on their gowns,
Under the cloister, to escape the sun
That scorches in the piazza. After which,
He left our Florence, and made haste to hide
Himself, his prattling child, and silent grief,
Among the mountains above Pelago;
Because unmothered babes, he thought, had need
Of mother nature more than others use,
And Pan's white goats, with udders warm and full
Of mystic contemplations, come to feed
Poor milkless lips of orphans like his own–
Such scholar-scraps he talked, I've heard from friends,
For even prosaic men, who wear grief long,
Will get to wear it as a hat aside
With a flower stuck in't. Father, then, and child,
We lived among the mountains many years,
God's silence on the outside of the house,
And we, who did not speak too loud, within;
And old Assunta to make up the fire,
Crossing herself whene'er a sudden flame
Which lightened from the firewood, made alive
That picture of my mother on the wall.
The painter drew it after she was dead;
And when the face was finished, throat and hands,
Her cameriera carried him, in hate
Of the English-fashioned shroud, the last brocade
She dressed in at the Pitti. 'He should paint
No sadder thing than that,' she swore, 'to wrong
Her poor signora.' Therefore, very strange
The effect was. I, a little child, would crouch
For hours upon the floor, with knees drawn up
And gaze across them, half in terror, half
In adoration, at the picture there,–
That swan-like supernatural white life,
Just sailing upward from the red stiff silk
Which seemed to have no part in it, nor power
To keep it from quite breaking out of bounds:
For hours I sate and stared. Asssunta's awe
And my poor father's melancholy eyes
Still pointed that way. That way, went my thoughts
When wandering beyond sight. And as I grew
In years, I mixed, confused, unconsciously,
Whatever I last read or heard or dreamed,
Abhorrent, admirable, beautiful,
Pathetical, or ghastly, or grotesque,
With still that face . . . which did not therefore change,
But kept the mystic level of all forms
And fears and admirations; was by turn
Ghost, fiend, and angel, fairy, witch, and sprite,–
A dauntless Muse who eyes a dreadful Fate,
A loving Psyche who loses sight of Love,
A still Medusa, with mild milky brows
All curdled and all clothed upon with snakes
Whose slime falls fast as sweat will; or, anon,
Our Lady of the Passion, stabbed with swords
Where the Babe sucked; or, Lamia in her first
Moonlighted pallor, ere she shrunk and blinked,
And, shuddering, wriggled down to the unclean;
Or, my own mother, leaving her last smile
In her last kiss, upon the baby-mouth
My father pushed down on the bed for that,–
Or, my dead mother, without smile or kiss,
Buried at Florence. All which images,
Concentred on the picture, glassed themselves
Before my meditative childhood, . . as
The incoherencies of change and death
Are represented fully, mixed and merged,
In the smooth fair mystery of perpetual Life.

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 45 (Sir Thomas Browne)


The Major Works
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Browne, Sir Thomas
The Major Works


Purchased at the Niagara Falls outlet mall discount book store for $3.50. Never read, and already the pages are yellowing. I think Samuel Delany, in a class I took with him in grad school, mentioned that he thought Sir Thomas Browne was one of the great prose stylists of all time, which is probably what planted the seed to my purchase of this book. I hope to read it some day, really I do.

Meantime, here's an excerpt from Hydrotaphia, or Urn-Burial, which goes a long way toward proving Delany's point:

WHEN the general pyre was out, and the last valediction over, men took a lasting adieu of their interred friends, little expecting the curiosity of future ages should comment upon their ashes; and, having no old experience of the duration of their relicks, held no opinion of such after-considerations.

But who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? Who hath the oracle of his ashes, or whither they are to be scattered? The relicks of many lie like the ruins of Pompey's, in all parts of the earth; and when they arrive at your hands these may seem to have wandered far, who, in a direct and meridian travel, have but few miles of known earth between yourself and the pole.

That the bones of Theseus should be seen again in Athens was not beyond conjecture and hopeful expectation: but that these should arise so opportunely to serve yourself was an hit of fate, and honour beyond prediction.

We cannot but wish these urns might have the effect of theatrical vessels and great Hippodrome urns in Rome, to resound the acclamations and honour due unto you. But these are sad and sepulchral pitchers, which have no joyful voices; silently expressing old mortality, the ruins of forgotten times, and can only speak with life, how long in this corruptible frame some parts may be uncorrupted; yet able to outlast bones long unborn, and noblest pile among us

Friday, February 27, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 44.1 (Laynie Browne)


Daily Sonnets
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Browne, Laynie
Daily Sonnets


Last year, Mark Truscott wrote from Toronto to say that Laynie Browne and Sina Queyras were coming to read there and would I like to have the two of them pop down to Buffalo to read. The reading was to take place in the dead of winter, which always carries risks when bringing in out-of-town readers. So of course there was to be a heavy snowstorm that day.

By the time the two of them arrived the afternoon of the reading, all signs pointed to a heavy snowfall. Laynie called from the car to say that Sina was worried about getting out the next day and would, alas, be dropping her off and heading right back to Toronto. I had just enough time to ask Sina how to pronounce her last name before she drove off into the storm.

Unfortunately for Laynie, the storm came, which meant that no one came to the reading. To add insult to injury, her flight the next day was canceled, so she ended up staying in our temporary apartment on the fold out couch in the living room for two or three days before she could get another flight out.

We had a good time, though -- we took her to her first-ever zombie film, Diary of The Dead. We also watched The Werckmeister Harmonies on DVD (IMHO, the best film of the new millennium so far). We also went for a snowy nature walk at Tifft nature preserve in south Buffalo.

Given that we are in the Brown(e) section, and that Laynie Browne and Lee Ann Brown both went to Brown together, and that they just sent me a co-authored chapbook, I thought our excerpt today should be a sonnet from the collection written by Browne, yet dedicated to Brown (Lee Ann, not the school):

Lee Ann Sonnet

Your sphere is contagion
For which I am grateful
As the Holland Tunnel
trips me back to Newark
I recall your celebrity aura last night
Reading poems for Miranda in Philadelphia
Walking the poem carved into garden cement
We separate in body only
Your angelic smile is useful now
We're not alone then are we
In consultation with
Poetic constellations
Entrance of permissions
You are a field of mine

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 44 (Laynie Browne)


The Scented Fox
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Browne, Laynie
The Scented Fox


This and the following title were given to me by the author this time last year, when she came to Buffalo to read. I had met Laynie the previous year in Tucson, when I read with Tyrone Williams in the POG series. She came out to an Indian restaurant with us afterwards, along with Tyrone, Lori, me, Charles Alexander, Barbara Henning, and a few others.

We talked a lot about the various cities she's lived in (NY, Seattle, Berkeley, Tucson) and the various poetry scenes she's been involved with. She's one of those people who seems to get deeply involved in the poetry community wherever she is, which is something I admire. I also recall we talked about some of the minor vicissitudes of living in the desert, which was a relatively new experience to her, and how she and her husband and children had had to get used to living among an unfamiliar set of desert creatures, some friendly, some less so.

During the course of that conversation, I remembered that I had actually seen Laynie read once in NYC, along with Fanny Howe, way back in 1997 or 8. I don't remember much of the reading, but I have an image in my mind of a rose and a cloud in a jar, which I am sure was produced by listening to one of Laynie's poems, even if my description is a far cry from whatever produced it.

Here's a poem from this volume:

Lullaby

O the windward--it is a sooth
that harbors through the withering

O the saith it is a dormer
that bids the sooth to enter

and let us sake the seer my fro
and let us sister together

the singer lasts the secant long
somnambulism lasts formally

and let us saint the seam my frieze
and let us sip together

the singer lasts the secret long
but this somewhere lasts foretellingly

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 43.1 (Lee Ann Brown)

Brown, Lee Ann
The Sleep That Changed Everything


This is the other book that arrived in the package from Lee Ann. I haven't read it yet, but I notice now that some of these poems were in a little xeroxed chapbook she gave me when she read in Buffalo way back when called, "Voluptuary Lion Poems."

Here's one of them:

Voluptuary Lion Poem

I kiss you one septillion times
My (lobo) Serval deerlike (wolfen) lamb
And on the Septillionth kiss I will start
again to unfold the bath of my tongue upon you
Blue sepia Indri, equidistant
from Malagasy indry! look! (mistakenly assumed by the
French naturalist Pierre Sonnerat to be the animal's name)
a large lemur having short fur and a silky tail --
Indo-iranian court song to You, my golden love
whose body glows in the bath of my ivory-mirrored mind's eyes.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 43 (Lee Ann Brown)


Polyverse
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Brown, Lee Ann
Polyverse


I used to own a copy of this book, but it seems to have disappeared. Luckily, the author sent me a new copy just this week. I think I met Lee Ann pretty soon after I moved to Buffalo in 1997. I had known who she was and had seen her at various readings and so forth when I lived in NYC, but we'd never actually met. When I took over the Writers at Work reading series at Just Buffalo, the list of writers to choose from for the first year had already been determined by the previous coordinator (Ted Pearson), so my job of consisted simply of picking the writers I liked from the list and asking them to come to Buffalo. Some of the readers that year were: Leslie Fiedler, Raymond Federman, Margaret Randall, Rosmarie Waldrop, Susan Howe, Dorianne Laux, and Lee Ann Brown.

Lee Ann read with Susan Howe, if memory serves (it often doesn't), at Hallwalls on a Sunday afternoon. She had arrived the night before and a group of us -- which I am sure included Bill Howe and Joel Kuszai, and maybe Kristin Prevallet or Taylor Brady or Alicia Cohen or some combination thereof -- went up to Niagara Falls. We parked on the American side and stepped out to the observation tower to look at the falls before crossing into Canada.

I kept telling Bill Howe this joke about a two-man submarine and he kept yelling at me that it wasn't funny. It was dark, so the falls were lit up by huge spotlights that changed colors every few minutes. As we crossed the bridge into Canada, they turned blood red. The mist rising off the falls looked like a bloody curtain. Bill called it "The Devil's Curtain." For some reason, I always think of that when I go to the Falls and see that effect.

We walked up to a sports bar to talk and have a few drinks. I don't remember much of the conversation, though I do remember Bill saying something to the effect of: "I can't remember the last time I wrote a poem 'about' something!" I was distracted for most of the night watching the Yankees fall in the ALCS to the Indians. Mariano Rivera blew the save, as I recall.

We were sitting outside, so it must have been in the early fall, and it started to get cold after a while, so we walked back across the bridge to the U.S. Passing through customs, they asked Lee Ann where she was born. In her inimitable southern drawl she said, "Japan." She then got questioned for several minutes about how a young blond American with a southern accent could claim to be born in Japan. (Answer: Military).

Here's the Dickinsonian opening poem from Polyverse:

Come go with me out to the Field---
To look upon the Rose
Whose glow -- remembers once the Sun
Gave Garnets for her Clothes

Her crimson Cadence soon will Stop --
The music of the Spheres
Won't cease -- but barely register
A Fraction of Earth's years

While Light still vibrates on our Brow
The Subtle minutes drag --
The Fly is droning with the Bee --
Our outer Bodies flag

Monday, February 23, 2009

Shameless Reading Plug: Reading at Xavier University


Cincinnati
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
For those in the greater Cincinnati region, I will be reading at Xavier University on Wednesday, February 25 at 7 PM in the Alumni Building (Surkamp Family Room). Reading is free and open to the public.

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 42.1 (Daniel Bouchard)

Bouchard, Daniel
Some Mountains Removed


Received by mail with Diminutive Revolutions earlier in the week, I haven't yet had a chance to read this title from Mr. Bouchard.

However, a note on the use of "Some" in poetry titles might be in order. A few posts back, I was a little harsh on William Bronk for his title, "Some Words," which I still think is a horrendous title because it lacks specificity. The infamous literary outlaw Richard Deming, in the comment box for that post, answered my rhetorical question (Can you think of a worse title than Some Words?) with a rhetorical question of his own: What about "Some Trees?"

Well, I said, the poems at least make up for that title, IF you consider it deficient. But the vagueness of "Some Trees" casts its haze around a specific object, "trees," and could also be a cheeky reference to the paper on which the poetry is printed. "Some Words," as I said before, diminishes not only the content of the book, but my interest in even opening that book. I can find "some" words pretty much anywhere, so why should I look at "those" words unless there is something particular about them.

Which brings us to, Some Mountains Removed, which, I think it goes without saying, is an excellent title, and which employs the word "some" with great specificity. I assume this "some" refers to the caption of a photo that has been photoshopped. There's actually a great article by Errol Morris about this on his NY Times blog from a few months back, in which he discusses the photoshopped missiles in a picture of an Iranian missile launch. That blog is one of my faves of the "professional" variety.

And, the excerpt:

The Rest

I have the rest
of my life to be

sorry I do not
do this, do the

other. When I
think of how

time is spent,
think getting,

spending, getting
and in delirious

details the devil's
ministers deliver

time and time
again I have

the rest
of my life

for thank-you
and all

the notes and
I know it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 42 (Daniel Bouchard)

Bouchard, Daniel
Diminutive Revolutions


This and the following book by Bouchard arrived by mail this week. If you don't know him, Dan is the editor of the excellent journal, The Poker. I think I may have let my subscription lapse (blush)--sorry, Dan! Opening this book, I can see that at least the first poem, Wrackline, is familiar, as the author sent me the chapbook of the same name a few years back. After my first book, To Be Sung, appeared, the infamous literary outlaw Richard Deming suggested I send the book to Mr. Bouchard, as both of us had had chapbooks published by Phylum, which is run by Deming and Nancy Kuhl.

I don't want you to think badly of Dan just because he is associated with Richard Deming. Despite his criminal history, Deming is actually America's foremost scholar of Pragmatism in the works of WIlliam Squier, John Michael Osbourne and Edward Van Halen. He also teaches at Yale and collects the works of Joe Brainard, so we can forgive the rest, and we shouldn't in any case let that taint our view of Daniel Bouchard, even though he once sent me a postcard on which he desecrated an image Delacroix's La Liberté with a cartoon speech bubble rising from the lips of a revolutionary that said: "Long Live Deming."

Here's the beginning of "Wrackline":

A red-winged blackbird on gray
fence post spreads wings and
sings into a wind. A hill
behind the shacks, sloping to salt marsh
I walk in late afternoon. The sun
ignites mosses, lichens, grasses
very dry, soft to lay on. Scotch pines,
decades old, the soft hillside of rotten
branches and pine needles.
On the drive to work
I sometimes see K getting coffee
at a donut shop.. There is a cemetery
across the street from a hamburger place.
My friend Ed is buried there.
Crumpled ironing boards, new cardboard
boxes, their tight interior
styrofoam, paper envelopes, paper
towels, paper napkins, paper
cups, cans emptied of vegetables,
soda, soup and beer.
Trucks rotate every day;
assigned to three, twice a week
I do two. Nuthatch, wren, and woodthrush.
I learn the truck routes by rote. They digress
in a labyrinth of back roads and side streets.
Paper plate, plastic forks, wine
bottles, old clothing, plastic
that wrapped new things.
To emerge onto a main road
means significant ground has been covered,
to emerge onto a main road
in the direction opposite from that
which you first came means the day
is winding down. Containers, stuff
from bathrooms, stuff from kitchens
all heaved into the truck. Salt
spray, rose, sassafras.
Black cherry, bear berry, seaside
goldenrod, sea beach sandwort.
Morning comes and the pillow
cools quickly after your face leaves it...

Imitation is the Sincerest Form Of Flattery


Aquarium Fishes
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
My friend, artist and graphic designer Julian Montague, has started an Aimless Reading project of his own. He plans to scan images of his library every day for a year. His books are chosen more for the visual content than the written content, so his project has a different feel altogether.

You can check it out at:

http://montagueprojectsblog.blogspot.com/

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 41.2 (William Bronk)

Bronk, William
Metaphor of Trees and Last Poems


Last thoughts on William Bronk.

hmm....

I remember we were living in our last house, the one we sold last year, when I bought these books, so it was probably two years ago. We had just purchased a set of three pieces of mid-century modern furniture for our dining room. I had been walking past The Stock Exchange on Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo when I saw this beautiful dining room set in the window. There were three pieces -- buffet, mini-buffet, and I don't know what to call the other -- something between a dresser, a hutch and a china cabinet. All three had very stylish louvered doors, kind of like half-tilted venetian blinds. I called Lori and told her to stop by there on her way to work and if she liked them to buy them and put them in her truck. Turned out she knew the owner, and got all three pieces for some ridiculously low price-- 400 dollars or something like that. She brought them back to our house, where we installed the two buffets in the dining room and placed the other piece in the guest bedroom as a sort of dresser (at our apartment in between homes, we used this piece in the kitchen to store coffee, tea, cereal, tupperware, and various other kitchen items. We also covered the top with contact paper and sat the Super-Automatic Espresso machine on top. This wasn't such a good idea, as it started leaking, at first a little, then all the time, and the water took the finish off certain parts of it. It now sits in the guest room upstairs at our new house, slightly stained. At the old house, I always had piles of books on the end tables in the living room, on the night tables in the bedroom, etc. Lori started stacking these on the buffet in the dining room which looked really nice and removed some of the clutter from our lives, at least until the end tables and night tables filled up again. It was around this time that I bought the William Bronk books, which almost immediately became part of the decorative piles on the buffet in the dining room, where they remained until they were put into boxes last winter in anticipation of the move.

REALIZATION

Reality isn't real. why do we look?
We look because the real is the shape of desire:
that the world be real and we a person in it.
We believe our beliefs to pretend that that should be
or abide a worlds whose reality isn't real.

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 41.1 (William Bronk)


Some Words
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Bronk, William
Some Words


Not to press home the "boring" theme too strenuously, but can you think of a less compelling title for a book of poetry? How about, "Don't Read This," or "Poems To Fall Asleep Reading," or, "No Art Here"? Come on, William Bronk, you can do better than that. To be honest, I don't know where all this hostility toward William Bronk is coming from, other than dashed expectations. I really felt like I was going to like this guy's poetry. I really wanted to like it. I bought three books of it, for christ's sake. But I don't like it. So sue me.

BEING SYMBOL

We love the hitters and pitchers, great quarterbacks,
their teams, series winners, superstars.
We see ourselves like them in work and romance,
Why not? It's not as though there were something to do.

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 41 (William Bronk)

Bronk, William
the World, the Worldles
s

Somewhere I read some of the poems in this book and liked them, so I bought this (online) and two other books by William Bronk (at Talking Leaves). I then discovered I don't really like the poems of William Bronk. I feel like I should like the poems of William Bronk. They are short, clear, articulate, and precise, but the poems of William Bronks are also shortly, clearly, articulately and precisely not very interesting, and they all start to sound alike after awhile. O, William Bronk, I am sorry I don't like your poems. I wanted to, I really did. But I don't.

The Truth As Known

Isn't it true though, we could ask
--who?--almost anybody, what's
it all about? Yet, asking, not
wait for an answer, or getting one, part
of one, suspect it, scoff, know it was false.
It is--strangely--as though we already knew.
It is as though we agreed, all agreed,
never to say it, to lie about it, speak
anything but the truth, knowing what we know.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 40 (Gwendolyn Brooks)


Blacks
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Brooks, Gwendolyn
Blacks


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. Strangely, I remember a fair amount about the purchase of this book. Ben Friedlander, I am pretty sure, turned me on to Brooks' poetry, with its wildly inventive rhythmical structures, rhyme schemes and measures. I had been meaning to buy some of her work for a while, but had not done so, when I happened to be at the bookstore, having a conversation with Jonathon Welch, owner, a not uncommon thing for me to be doing of an afternoon. I looked behind him and saw this book on a shelf. It's kind of an odd book. The blue cover stock feels more like something you'd find wrapping a Gideon's bible than a book of poetry. I think Jonathon told me that Brooks and her husband had published it themselves after having gained the copyrights to much of her prior work. It's not the finest print job I've ever seen -- the spine feels somewhat loose and much of the ink seems to be disappearing from the pages. But no mind -- the poetry is spectacular. If you have any love at all (and I know you do!) of meter and rhyme, you'll love her work. Despite her consistent use of supposedly worn our forms like the ballad and the sonnet these poem surprise me every time I read them.

Here's one I love from the collection Annie Allen:

the sonnet-ballad

Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
They took my lover's tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What I can use an empty heart-cup for.
He won't be coming back here anymore.
Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)
Can make a hard man hesitate--and change.
And he will be the one to stammer, "Yes."
Oh, mother, mother, where is happiness,

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 39 (David Bromige)

Bromige, David
The Harbormaster of Hong Kong


David Bromige came through Buffalo at some point during my first year here. I think he read at Talking Leaves...Books. Charles Bernstein put this book on his syllabus, which usually listed about 200, all of which I bought my first semester before realizing it was all suggested reading and that the only real requirement was that you read something that interested you or which you found useful. I bought this book at Talking Leaves and I also went to the reading. Taylor Brady was there and I think Brent Cunningham. Not many people came out for some reason. I seem to recall we went out for drinks and/or dinner afterward and that David Bromige had a longish beard and was very witty. It gets pretty foggy after that.

Here's the first poem in the collection:

Altogether too useful
a resource at a distance
to admit to actual presence

This is what once we called
Being, big B, fat from meaning
the beginning of a sentence

but something happening
in it. In it
people come and go

clearly ensconced
in a handy remove.
It's generative. How

more so were one to
risk it now and then.
Ruminative, remunerative.

And so the far-flung colony
signals back to capital.
On the beach, a whale.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Shameless Reading Plug #1: ixnay reader #4


ixnay reader
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
The new issue of the ixnay reader, edited by Jen and Chris McCreary in the City of Brotherly Love,  is available for free at ixnaypress.com.

It features a longish poem I wrote last summer called, "The God Poem," which is a verse essay six pages long (in Word, anyhow), comprised of one sentence loosely written in blank verse.

Contributors: CAConrad, Arielle Greenberg, Ryan Eckes, Lewis Warsh, Elizabeth Scanlon, Kirsten Kaschock, Eric Baus, sasha fletcher, Brenda Iijima, Sarah Dowling, Michael Kelleher.

You can clink on the following link to download the .pdf at the link below:

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 39 (Robert Bresson)

Bresson, Robert
Notes on the Cinematographer


If you haven't see the films of Robert Bresson, then I recommend you log on to your Netflix account and start queueing them up. NOW!

Seriously, you are missing something from your life, something you don't even know you are missing, until you have seen them. He didn't make that many, so you can pretty much see all of them over the course of two weeks if you watch them at a rate of one per night. It might take longer if you watch them two or three times, as you should. But if you block off enough time -- say 6-11 p.m. each night, you should be able to watch each one twice.

My favorite is "Au Hasard Balthazar," which is the story of a donkey and is one of the most profoundly moving religious allegories ever put on film. And then, of course, there is "Pickpocket," a great example French existential crime drama. I also love the rest, in no particular order, "Mouchette," "L'Argent," "Lancelot Du Lac," "Diary of A Country Priest," "Les Dames de Bois du Bolgne," "A Man Escaped," and "The Trial of Joan of Arc." There are a couple I have not seen, like "The Devil, Probably" and "Four Nights of a Dreamer." I think a saw "Une Femme Douce," but I can't recall it well.

As I contemplated writing this entry, I was thinking about how many of my favorite films are religious allegories: "Au Hasard Balthazar," "Andrei Rublev" (Tarkovsky, about a Russian icon painter/monk), "The Passion of Joan of Arc "(Dreyer, which is a very different film than Bresson's "Trial") are all specifically religious, while others are in more unspoken ways, like the astounding "Werckmeister Harmoniak" (Bela Tarr, Hungrary, 2000) or Werner Herzog's "Fizcarraldo." I guess in the absence of religious belief I find an outlet for that part of my being in film.

Lately, I find I prefer films that are slow, nearly-dialogue free, and constructed in long, long takes. I have been especially enjoying a lot of Asian films from filmmakers like Zhang Ke Jia ("Still Life," "The World," " Platform," "Unknown Pleasures"), Tsai Ming Liang ("I Don't Want to Sleep Alone," "What Time Is It There"). And then there is the remarkable Pedro Costa, none of whose films are available on DVD, which is a crime. His trilogy of "Ossos," "Wanda's Room" and "Colossal Youth" are stunningly quiet, slow, beautiful films. I was lucky to get a chance to see all of them at retrospectives in Rochester and Toronto last year.

Lori thinks I secretly want to be a filmmaker, and maybe I do, but I really think that I like film for two things: inspiration and contemplation. Films are more a muse to me than anything else, and I suppose in the best case musing becomes a form or worship, which is why I suppose I like so many religious allegories or films without much dialogue. Dialogue tends to interfere with my becoming absorbed in the moving images and I prefer to become absorbed. When I am not absorbed, I get distracted, or I break out my laptop and start playing internet Scrabble while watching a DVD. When I am absorbed, I can feel the images in the same way I feel the words when I read good poems.

I bought Notes on the Cinematographer used, online, I think. Published by Green Integer, with an introduction by J.M.G. Le Clézio, who just won the Nobel Prize. It's mostly aphorisms or notes to himself about filmmaking. Much of the book is spent expounding on his theory of the "models" as being what he puts on film, as opposed to actors, of himself as a cinematographer instead of as a director, and also about why he doesn't use music to shape a scene. I never got any poetry out of it, which I had hoped I would, as his films have inspired so much.

A Random Sampling of Aphorisms from Bresson:

The faculty of using my resources well diminishes as their number grows.

An actor in cinematography might as well be in a foreign country. He does not speak its language.

To think it more natural for a movement to be made or a phrase said like this than like that is absurd, is meaningless in cinematography.

Respect man's nature without wishing it more palpable than it is.

An image must be transformed by contact with other images as is a color by contact with other colors. A blue is not the same blue beside a green, a yellow, a red. No art without transformation.

Nothing too much, nothing deficient.

To TRANSLATE the invisible wind by the water it sculpts in passing.

One does not create by adding, but by taking away. To develop is another matter.

The crude real will not by itself yield truth.

Laugh at a bad reputation. Fear a good one that you could not sustain.

No music as accompaniment, support or reinforcement. No music at all! *
*Except, of course, the music played by visible instruments.

Prefer what intuition whispers in your ear to what you have done and redone ten times in your head.

Ideas gathered from reading will always be bookish ideas. Go to the persons and objects directly.

The most ordinary word, when put into place, suddenly acquires brilliance. That is the brilliance with which your images must shine.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 38 (Bertolt Brecht)


Galileo
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Brecht, Bertolt
Galileo


I purchased this book for an undergraduate course called "The Individual vs. The Institution," which was essentially a course in existential literature of the 20th century. It was one of those trite classes in which the professor sets up a simple dichotomy (individual/institution), assumes that both terms in the equation are stable and that their opposition is completely natural and that one term is "good" and the other "bad," and then reads through one text after another to prove the point. In this case, the Individual is good and the Institution was bad. Galileo = Individual. Church = Institution. Oddly, the course was not taught in the English department, but by an Italian professor in the Modern Languages department.

There used to be a theater on the Lower East Side of Manhattan called, The House of Candles. I am not sure if it still exists -- I doubt it, given how much that neighborhood has changed since then (1992). The name derived from the former tenant of the building, who apparently sold candles for Santeria ceremonies. It was a great little off off off Broadway theater that staged, almost exclusively, avant-garde plays from the modernist playbook. I saw plays there by Camus, Brecht, Ionesco, Pinter, et al. The productions were always stripped down affairs, but they were always worth seeing, if for no other reason than at the time there were few places staging these kinds of plays, and even fewer that could do them well.

I never saw Galileo there, but I did see Man Equals Man and, I think, The Caucasian Chalk Circle. (I am sure I saw a bloated overproduced version of St. Joan of the Stockyards somewhere else in NY, but not there). What was nice about House Of Candles as a theater (aside from the 10 dollar admission, which was about all I could afford -- I think movies were still 7 dollars in NY then), was its intimate size. It probably only sat 50 people, maybe even fewer, so the productions tended to fill the entire space.

My favorite was Man Equals Man. I remember there were several musical flourishes added to it that I liked a lot. After seeing it, my friend remarked to me that he thought what made Brecht great was that his plays almost universally fail to prove their arguments because the characters that are set up to represent the thing he is arguing against always exhibit the most sympathetic human characteristics. I think this is especially true of Galileo, in which the hero is portrayed as a kind of proto-revolutionary whose search for scientific truth is analogous to the revolutionary's desire to enact social change.

But the character of Galileo, at least to these ears, comes off as shrill, self-important, and inhuman. Conversely, the character of the little monk, who exists as the representation of the individual whose courage fails at the moment of truth, who is not heroic, carries more emotional heft than Galileo himself and is as such a much more memorable character.

To illumine my friends, point, here's the little monk explaining to Galileo why he has chosen to recant his cosmology in the face of opposition from the church. (Not only does he carry all the motion, but all the poetry as well!):

Little Monk: I do not come from the great city. my parents are peasants in the Campagne, who know about the cultivation of the olive tree, and not much about anything else. Too often these days when I am trying to concentrate on tracking down the moons of Jupiter, I see my parents. I see them sitting by the fire with my sister, eating their curded cheese. I see the beams of the ceiling above them, which the smoke of centuries has blackened, and I can see the veins stand out on their toil-worn hands, and the little spoons in their hands. They scrape a living, and underlying their poverty there is a sort of order. There are routines. The routine of scrubbing floors, the routine of the seasons in the olive orchard, the routine of paying taxes. The troubles that come to them are recurrent troubles. My father did not get his poor bent back all at once, but little by little, year by year, in the olive orchard; just as year after year, with unfailing regularity, childbirth has made my mother more and more sexless. They draw the strength they need to sweat with loaded baskets up the stony paths, to bear children, even to eat, from the sight of the trees greening each year anew, from the reproachful face of the soil, which is never satisfied, and from the little church and Bible texts they hear on Sunday. They have been told God relies upon them and that the pageant of the world has been written around them that they be tested in the important or unimportant parts handed out to them. How could they take it, were I to tell them that they are on a lump of stone ceaselessly spinning in empty space, circling around a second-rate star?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 37 (Edward Kamau Brathwaite)


The Arrivants
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Brathwaite, Edward Kamau
The Arrivants


I purchased this in preparation for my oral exams in the poetics program. Prior to writing a dissertation (which I abandoned, in case you were wondering, but I did read all the books on the list!), students take an oral exam based on three more or less self-directed reading lists constructed with the help of three advisors who preside over the exam. You basically take a year or so to read sixty books that lay the intellectual groundwork for writing your dissertation. My intent had been to write a dissertation on the poetics of history, which focused on poets who write prose concerning history, with Olson more or less at the center.

My three advisers were Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe and Rodolphe Gasché. My list with Susan Howe focused specifically on poetry including history (minus, oddly, Ezra Pound). I would get together once a month or so with each of the advisors to discuss the current reading.

Working on a list with Susan Howe was pretty spectacular. Her approach to literature is visionary, religiously devoted, intensely personal, and basically sui generis. What would begin as a discussion of Olson would end up a discussion of how certain fragments of Dickinson's poems resembled tombstones or birds in flight, or we might discuss the connections between say W.C. Williams and Robert Smithson. It's a kind of intellectual work of which few are capable and which even fewer are willing to attempt, but with Susan Howe it feels like the most natural means of study in the world.

Here are my three lists, followed by an excerpt of Brathwaite's The Arrivants:

Prose of History
Advisor: Charles Bernstein


1. Herodotus – The Histories
2. Thucydides – History of the Peloponnessian War
3. Polybius – Rise of the Roman Empire
4. Livy – Early History of Rome
5-7. Gibbon – Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
8-9. Jacob Burckhardt – Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, The Greeks and Greek Civilization.
10. Bede -- Ecclesiastical History of the English People
11. Michael Grant – Greek and Roman Historians
12. Freedman – Egypt, Greece and Rome
13. Todorov -- The Conquest of America
14. Bernal Diaz del Castillo – The Conquest of New Spain
15. Bartolome de las Casas – A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies
16. Charles Olson – The Special View of History
17. W.C. Williams – In The American Grain
18-19 Spengler – The Decline of the West
20. Vico – The New Science

Poetry of History
Advisor: Susan Howe


1. & 2. Homer – Iliad, Odyssey
3. Virgil – Aeneid
4. Simone Weill -- The Iliad, or the Poem of Force
5. Alice Notley – The Descent of Allette, Homer's Art and White Phosphorus
6. Herman Melville – Battle Pieces
7. Walt Whitman – Speciman Days and Drum Taps
8. Emily Dickinson – Selected Poems from 1860-64
10 & 11. Charles Olson – The Maximus Poems & Call Me Ishamael
12. T.S. Eliot – Four Quartets
13. Marianne Moore – Complete Poems, Essay on Lincoln
14. H.D. – Trilogy
15. William Carlos Williams – Patterson
16. & 17. Wallace Stevens – Transport to Summer, Auroras of Autumn
18,19. & 20. Edward Kamau Brathwaite – Rights of Passage, Masks, Islands

Philosophy of History
Advisor: Rodolphe Gasché


1. Hegel — The Philosophy of History
2. Marx — Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844
3. Herder — Ideas Toward a Philosophy of History
4-5. Kant — Selected: (Perpetual Peace, What is Enlightenment?, Ideas for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose, Reviews of Herder, Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History.)
6-7. Nietzsche — Untimely Meditations & Genealogy of Morals
7-8. Adorno (Horkheimer)— Negative Dialectics and Dialectic of Enlightenment
9-10. Benjamin — “Fate and Character”, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”, “The Work of Art in the Age Mechanical Reproduction”
11-12. Heidegger — Being and Time (The End), Experience in Hegel
13. Patocka — Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History
14-17. Foucault — The Order of Things, Archaeology of Knowledge, Discipline and Punish, The History of Sexuality, Vol 1., An Introduction
18. De Certeau — On the Writing of History
19-20. Deleuze — Difference and Repetition, What is Philosophy?

From Masks, VI. Anvil

4.

So silent in its care-
ful cage

his terror dares
not blink.

Light fades,
you leave

these lonely places
to the dustman and his

dog. Behind you,
locks click

shut, wheels
turn, and rain

obscured the view.
His terror, caged, still

paces, turns
again and

paces. Time
ticks

still.
Which one

of you,
with doubt-

ing, peer-
ing faces,

will return
to where this

future paces
and dare

to let it out?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 36.2 (Joe Brainard and By Ron Padgett)

Padgett, Ron
Joe: A Memoir of Joe Brainard


I received this as a review copy from Coffee House Press a few years ago when I was still writing and editing book reviews at Artvoice, Buffalo's alternative weekly. I actually did write a review for this book, which I have cut and pasted below because it is not online at Artvoice. If you look over on the sidebar you can also link to an interview I did with Ron Padgett when he came to town with Kenward Elmslie for an exhibition of Brainard's work a few years ago.

Here's the review:

The annals of the New York Schools of poetry and painting are chock full lurid tales of sex, drugs and premature death. Jackson Pollack died at 44 in a car crash in 1956. 10 years later, 40-year-old Frank O’Hara was hit by a dune buggy on Fire Island and died several days later from the injuries. In 1983, Ted Berrigan died at age 49, after many years of addiction to amphetamines. In 1994, artist Joe Brainard, then 52, added his name to the list when he died of AIDS, having spent the better part of the last 15 years quietly refusing to show his work.

Each of these untimely deaths has given birth to a legend. These figures have become so iconic in the poetry and art worlds (and in the case of Pollack, the culture at large) that it would seem a nearly impossible task to speak of them as they were in life – as enormously talented human beings shot-through with imperfection. In Joe, his honest and low-key portrait of painter and writer Joe Brainard, Ron Padgett manages to accomplish the impossible. In generous, unadorned prose, Padgett presents us with an earthly view of his lifelong friend and collaborator.

Padgett met Brainard in Tulsa, Oklahoma when they were in the first grade. In high school, the two became fast friends, working together on literary magazines and forming a small artistic community in Tulsa that also included Dick Gallup and Ted Berrigan (who was several years their senior). Eventually, Ron and Joe and Ted and Dick all ended up in New York City, where they met and came to admire the so-called first Generation of the New York School poets, which included O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler. The Tulsa boys have since come to be known as the core of the 2nd generation, continuing a tradition of exuberant, experimental, colloquial, and often very, very funny poems (Padgett and Koch are two of the funniest poets around).

Brainard was primarily an artist, and over the years worked in collage, assemblage, charcoal, cartoons and oil paintings. Like his poetic contemporaries, his works are clever, funny, full of energy and generosity and life. He was also a prolific diarist and writer, influenced by both the “everydayness” of his friend’s writing and the clear, insistent repetitions of Gertrude Stein’s prose. His seminal book “I Remember” (see excerpt this issue) is a memoir in the form of a single, unbroken chain of associations, each beginning with the phrase, “I Remember.” The book contains all the qualities Padgett says he most admired in his friend and in his work: “clarity, specificity, generosity, frankness, humor, variety, a rhythm that ebbs and flows from entry to entry, and the sense that no memory is insignificant.”

What most often compels people to read memoirs is the promise of lurid tales of sex, drugs and premature death. While these attributes are quite present in Joe, what one takes away from this book as a reader is the more hopeful possibility of long-lasting and devoted friendships between people, friendships that outlast even the legends born of sex, drugs, and premature death.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day


Latte Heart Valentine
Originally uploaded by lori.d
Lori made this for me for Valentine's day. Ain't she somethin'?

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 36.1 (Joe Brainard)


I Remember
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Brainard, Joe
I Remember


I remember the first time I heard about the book, I Remember, by Joe Brainard. It was at a reading at Hallwalls in Buffalo by Ben Friedlander and -- o well, I can't recall who read with him. It was part of Just Buffalo's Writers at Work series. We had a new director who was not aware that poetry time means actual time plus 30-60 minutes, and he was very upset that Ben arrived ten minutes late for the reading.

My only recollection is of Ben reading his own "I Remember" piece that, if recall correctly, had something to do with examining political events. He described Brainaird's book in some detail by way of introduction then launched into his own version, which had a much more critical cast than the original. Ben's biting satirical wit gave the piece a very different kind of edge than the Brainard's.

After that, I bought this Penguin version, which I think was in print for all of a year. Paul Auster, who at the time still published at Penguin, had a lot to do with ushering this edition into print on a mainstream press. His blurb on the back of the book ( "It is one of the few totally original books I have ever read") was what made me remember the section from his book excerpted in the previous entry. Has there ever been a great book that has required so many editions on so many presses (Angel Hair, Full Court, Penguin, Granary) in such a short period of time? I think not.

An excerpt, randomly chosen:

I remember being afraid that the barber might slip and cut my ear.

I remember that once he did.

I remember at the end of a haircut getting my neck dusted off with a soft brush full of nice smelling powder. And getting swirled around to look in the mirror and how big, afterwards, my ears were.

I remember the very ornate chrome foot rest. And the old Negro shoeshine man.

I remember having an itchy back all the way home.

I remember a tower on top of a building in Tulsa that changed colors every few minutes. But only green and yellow and white.

I remember miniature hats in miniature hat boxes in a men's hat store window. You got one free when you bought someone a gift certificate for a hat.

I remember balloon sleeves. And no sleeves.

I remember "bouffants" and "beehives." (Hairdos)

I remember when "beehives" really got out of hand.

I remember school desk carvings and running my ball point pen back and forth in them.

I remember the noise candy wrappers made when you don't want to make any noise.

I remember when those short sleeved knitted shirts with long tails (to wear "out") with little embroidered alligators on the pockets were popular.

I remember plain camel hair coats w]that rich girls in high school wore.

I remember "socialite corner' (2nd floor) where only kids who belonged to social clubs met and chatted before school and in between classes.

I remember that to be in a social club you either had to live on the South side of town (I lived in the North) or else you had to be good looking (I wasn't) and usually both.

I remember that popular boys always had their blue jeans worn down just the right amount.

I remember madras plaid shirts and sport coats and how they had to be washed a few times before they had the right look.

I remember "French kissing" and figuring out that it must have something to do with the tongue since there isn't anything else in the mouth except teeth.

I remember that shaking or holding hands with a girl while you scratched her palm with your middle finger was somehow "dirty." (Often done as a joke and the girl would turn red and scream.)

I remember in Boston a Puerto Rican boy who behind a glass counter in a cafeteria and his arms up to his rolled up sleeves: thick and gold and hairless.

I remember early sexual experiences and rubbery knees. I am sure sex is better now but I do miss rubbery knees.

----

By the way, I hope some of you do take the opportunity offered in the previous post of dropping your own I Remember comments in the comment box.  Not one person did and I am disappointed. Disappointed, indeed.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 36 (Joe Brainard)


I Remember
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Brainard, Joe
I Remember


I am not sure where purchased this Full Court Press edition of I Remember. It was either at Rust Belt Books in Buffalo or at the Strand or at Seventh Street Books in New York. I somehow picked it up for all of five dollars, even though it is the first paperback edition of the complete work and sells for 75-150 on Bookfinder. Not that I am planning to sell, as this book, in addition to being an obvious inspiration for Aimless Reading, is without question a desert islander.

For those unfamiliar with this book -- I suspect most readers of this blog are familiar with it, but just in case -- I Remember is a memoir of sorts (as well as a poem, most would argue, and I would agree), in which each paragraph of the book recounts a single memory from the author's life and begins with the words "I remember..." As an exercise in personal reflection it is, I think, sui generis, not to mention profound. In the phrase, "I remember," it feels as if Brainard found a shibboleth to open the door between the mind of the author and the mind of the reader, one that allows the reader to experience that author's memories as his or her own.

My first encounter with this experience came from another source altogether, one I did not realize until later had been based on this book. Towards the end of the second part of Paul Auster's Invention of Solitude, the narrator, A., which is Auster deliberately referring to himself in the third person, inserts a brief section in which he recounts a series of memories from his childhood, each of which begins, "He remembers..." The first time I read this I was startled at how closely it seemed to mirror my own childhood. When I read it a second time, I looked more carefully and could see that the details were mostly different from the details of my own childhood experience, except in the broadest of terms, but I still experienced his experiences as my own.

The same thing happens when I read Brainard's book, even though his experiences are much more different from my own than Auster's. Which leads me to conclude, as I did above, that the phrase "I remember" must be the linguistic form, or one of them any way, by which we recount our memories to ourselves and to others. (Which makes me wonder whether or not we'd have any memories at all without that phrase..hmmm). In writing the memoir sections of this blog I often find I have to resist the temptation to begin sentences with, "I remember...

Since I am going to do one entry on each of the two editions of this book in my library, I'll quote from the Auster here and then the Brainard in the next for the sake of comparison. From The Invention of Solitude:

The Book of Memory. Book Thirteen.

He remembers that he gave himself a new name, John, because all cowboys were named John, and that each time his mother addressed him by his real name he would refuse to answer her. He remembers running out of the house and lying in the middle of the road with his eyes shut, waiting for a car to run him over. He remembers that his grandfather gave him a large photograph of the Gabby Hayes and that it sat in a place of honor on the top of his bureau. He remembers thinking that the world was flat. He remembers learning how to tie his shoes. He remembers that his father's clothes were kept in the closet in his room and that it was the noise of hangers clicking together in the morning that would wake him up. He remembers the sight of his father knotting his tie and saying to him, Rise and shine little boy. He remembers wanting to be a squirrel and have a bushy tail and be able to jump from tree to tree as though he were flying. He remembers looking through the venetian blinds and seeing his new born sister coming home from the hospital in his mother's arms. He remembers the nurse in a white dress who sat beside his baby sister and gave him little squares of Swiss chocolate. He remembers that she called them Swiss although he did not know what that meant. He remembers lying on his bed at dusk in mid-summer and looking at the tree through his window and seeing different faces in the configuration of the branches. He remembers sitting in the bathtub and pretending that his knees were mountains and that the white soap was an ocean line. He remembers the day his father gave him a plum and told him to go outside and ride his tricycle. He remembers that he did not like the taste of the plum and that he threw it in the gutter and was overcome by a feeling of guilt.


---

I remember my mother, like Paul Auster's father, used to say, Rise and shine to me every morning, and how if that didn't get me out of bed, my father would come down to my room and start to tickle my feet while singing, "O What A Beautiful Morning," and if that did work he would strip the covers off the bed, grab me by the ankles, and pull me slowly toward the precipice, singing all the while, giving me a choice between waking up or falling to the floor on my face.

---

Feel free to add your own "I remember..." in the comment box.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 35.2 (Taylor Brady & Rob Halpern)

Brady, Taylor
Halpern, Rob
Snow Sensitive Skin

I was tempted to save this until I get to 'H,' as I don't have anything else by Rob Halpern on my shelf, but as you can see I did not do that. Part of this has to do with it's being such a beautiful object. I couldn't resist taking it off the shelf and fondling the letterpressed cover (props to Michael Cross for making the book!). It's technically a chapbook, but since it has a spine I keep on the shelf with all the other books. I saw Rob read from it when he was in Buffalo last spring for the Oppen conference at UB. You can see a little video of that reading here.

I first met Rob when I read in Taylor's apartment in SF in 2007, so I guess between that and this book the two will be forever linked in my imagination. We had a really nice time during the 24 hours we spent in SF--seeing Taylor and Tanya for the first time in a decade was great, as was seeing old Buffalo chum Brent Cunningham and making new acquaintances like Rob and Lee Azus and Suzanne Stein and Jocelyn Saidenberg (shouting out now to all of them -- hey-ho!).

There's a section of this book called "Stray Horns" that stands out because of the story behind it of a Lebanese musician and artist named Mazen Kerbaj, who recorded himself playing his trumpet on the balcony of his Beirut apartment as the Israeli bombs were exploding all over the city in 2006. There's something achingly sublime about the image of the soloist playing his music against the thunder of war.

Here's the first short section of "Stray Horns":

So here we've come to the end of something that can
Only be called ourselves having already survived their
Deaths erred on each antagonism systematically drained
Of whatever potential to crush the terms that crush it.

So this is what the afterlife must sound like still sweet
Breathing on this rock where our situation foundered
Finding air on the ground and rights to go on producing

                                                  --our own impossibility

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 35.1 (Taylor Brady)


Yesterday's News
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Brady, Taylor
Yesterday's News


One of the constraints I am working under with this project is the use of the iSight camera on my MacBookPro to shoot photos of all my books. This creates some challenges in terms of taking photos in which the text on the book covers is legible. The iSight uses the LCD screen to create a flash when you take a photo, which has the effect of bleaching out many of the book covers. This is especially true of books with glossy cover stock. One solution I have employed with moderate success is to tilt the book toward the screen or away from it, depending on the time of day. Another has been pulling the book away from the screen (or, conversely, to press it very close.)  Yesterday's News forced me to discover another, possibly more permanent solution. It has glossy cover stock and the text is close to the same color of the background and Taylor's name is very small. I took about ten photos before this, each of which had either an illegible title or an illegible name or both. For this shot, I turned my desk lamp up and faced it towards me and the book cover. Somehow the light from the lamp and the light from the flash had the effect of canceling each other out, which gave me about as clear an image as I could expect given the product and the constraints under which I am operating. Not sure why this solution worked, but it did.

Which is, I think, I fine way of introducing the following poem from Taylor's second book.

Image Capture

Proving the delayed fraction of a bad end
like a dog, i.e., well-maintained and open
at the mouth to humiliations our own

flesh endures without a script,
sloughed off in wobbly piles of onionskin,

we trace the course of false events
across your tongue. "Prove it" was doomed

to be precisely wrong, the sort of challenge
three-quarters of a million dollars and a head

like Simon on his pillar could have stamped into the lie

of a republic that would post its notice
under no such mark. Now obsolesce.

*

In the infinite cinema,

every Cretan liar is this one
baggy monster reading his poems
in a hole as knots along a rope

that is a novel where unknown unknowns
yield to the sharp dart of longing love

floating to fluorescent lighting round the clock
that flickers on the clouded surface

of a postwar fog. The intercession of
his negative avowal saves coherence

in a theological quandary for consciousness
that tracks its moves across a field excluding it.
Public domain pulp toils back into print,
off the payroll. He is thus employed.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 35 (Taylor Brady)


Microclimates
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Brady, Taylor
Microclimates


Taylor Brady and his wife Tanya Hollis were my first friends in Buffalo. They lived in a big apartment on the second floor of a bright green house on Park St. Park is a beautiful little tree-lined block that seems to mostly have been built in the years surrounding the Civil War. Taylor had an enormous library and a CD collection to die for. He also had an incredibly complex way of listening to his CD's, which required the use of several multi-sided and oddly shaped dice normally used for playing Dungeons and Dragons. When it came time to fill the 10 CD changer, he would roll these dice and use the numbers to determine which CDs to pull off the shelf. I can't remember if he actually programmed the order of the songs based on the rolls or if he let the shuffle button do the work for him. I think he liked the element of surprise this created, keeping the music as it did fresh and somewhat free of comfortable listening habits. 

(When I read in Taylor and Tanya's SF abode in 2007, I was happy to see that Taylor still had the same dice, albeit it in a state of visible decay, and still used them despite the advent of the iPod age. It was a strange coincidence that the day before Lori and I had visited the Museum of Jurassic technology in LA, where they had display room filled with decaying dice!)

Taylor was also at the time (1997-8) way ahead of the curve on most poets in that he had already taught himself quite a lot about computers and computer languages (in fact, I think the construction of Microclimates is based in some fashion on the binary number system upon which computing is built). Taylor and Joel Kuszai, who together had started the Small Press Collective the previous year had the idea to create a collective of autonomous literary editors working on publication in virtual space (one of Taylor's favorite pastimes is collectivization, cf., nonsite collective in SF, his current home).

They went about this by getting a group of fellow students together in a computer lab at the university and teaching us all the basics of html coding. Within a short period of time myself, Taylor, Graham Foust, and Brent Cunningham were all editing mostly short-lived online literary ventures. It was an amazingly useful intervention whose usefulness certainly lives on in this writer's life.

More random recollections from that year:

Taylor had a weird picture of Gertrude Stein's face repeated a hundred times as the wallpaper on his computer desktop.

All of the bookshelves in the apartment had been constructed by Taylor.

I watched South Park for the first time at Taylor's apartment.

Taylor often read or wrote on the couch while Tanya and I watched television.

I have a vivid recollection of sitting in The Towne Restaurant in Buffalo, sharing our poems with one another. I was often in awe of the way Taylor's mind worked in terms of his desire to create systems and networks out of pretty much everything. On this occasion, Taylor showed me some sonnets he was working on that were all interconnected by a series of intersecting crosses worked out in complex mathematical patterns.

We were both relatively new to the poetry world and I remember we often referred to visiting poets by their first names, which I guess made us feel like we were a little closer to the actual poetry world than we were at that point in our lives. We would often begin sentences by saying things like, "When Barry was here..." or "Lyn said to me..." or "Do you remember when Jackson..." etc.

My mother had just moved to Sarasota, FL before I arrived in B'lo, and it turned out that Taylor and Tanya were both from FL, Tanya from, I think, Jupiter, and Taylor from near Tampa. At Christmas we drove from Buffalo to Florida together. Taylor, ever ahead of the technology curve, had discovered the newly-invented Map Quest--or some such program--and had the whole trip mapped out minute by minute on a printout. This seemed really cool at first, but as we got closer to Florida, it got a little scary. Taylor's eyes grew crazed with an Ahab-like determination to arrive more quickly than the computer had predicted. We drove for something like twenty-four hours without stopping and arrived in FL about an hour before the printout said we would. Taylor was visibly pleased with his accomplishment.

From Microclimates:

I had become, in the course of taking on this sweet and sticky ballast, the kind of kid who wrote letters to men doing time, and who heard trees whispering his name in answer as he passed through the over-irrigated landscape, still unable to speak how straight my head had got it all.

"Hey kid," one of them said to me in a tone of insinuation and minor threat, "that thumb is just the tip of a universal iceberg, unrelated to the scale of your own remaining years," -- which I ticked off in advance with a pen knife in the thick bark that screamed but never suggested that I stop. Information fell through waxy leaves onto my tongue the same as ever, but gradually less and less. I understood then, hearing the slow voice inside the wood, that this particular oak traveled great distances to tell me it was dead, and that people live inside things like iron filings in food, a fairly serious irritant--and that this would make a tiny root pierce my heart and a bare, milled trunk erupt from my body, wires strung from its top calling out to all the others who were likewise consumed and paralyzed while the trees went around hopping mad like Mom when she stubbed her toe, trying to extract the splinter people embedded in their sensitive pulp, and we wondered whether these prisoners were all growing tiny phone poles of their own. Each nest of wires nestles other tangles, and the distributions of town and country grew from the tingle and flow of that brain damaging electromagnetic field.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 34 (Ray Bradbury)


Fahrenheit 451
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451


I hadn't read this book until a couple of years ago when Just Buffalo was chosen as one of the pilot hosts for a program by the NEA called "The Big Read." Basically, we were given a month create a series of events celebrating this book and also encouraging the million or so people in the Buffalo/Niagara region to read it. There were book club discussions and film screenings (I love the super-stylized and highly kitschy film version by Truffaut, starring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie), and the big event was a talk by Sam Weller, who wrote Bradbury's biography. At that event, which took place at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Bradbury himself phoned in and spoke to Sam over the PA system for about ten minutes. He told a rather wistful story about the one time he had visited Buffalo as a young man. He was in transit and was only here for a day, but he had time to visit Niagara Falls. He recalled standing over the cascading waters, thinking about his future, wondering what he would do with his life.

Here's a famous passage from the book:

It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame.

He knew that when he returned to the firehouse, he might wink at himself, a minstrel man, burnt-corked, in the mirror. Later, going to sleep, he would feel the fiery smile still gripped by his face muscles, in the dark. It never went away, that smile, it never ever went away, as long as he remembered.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Day 14: Pacific Coast Highway, Museum of Jurassic Technology, Late Night Snack


Santa Monica Pier
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
[I accidentally deleted this post and after figuring out how to recover it I don't know how to put it back in sequence on the blog. So, here's one from the archive.  Originally posted October 14, 2007]

Knowing we would not have enough time on Friday to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to SF and do a reading in the same day, we decided to drive a little ways up the coast to get a feel for it. This led us through Malibu and a little beyond, I think into Ventura. It gets real nice once you pass all the gaudy mansions. Gets a little dizzying, too. I kept thinking about all the old movies I've seen that involve car chases and murders along this road.

After returning to SM for lunch, we took a walk along the Santa Monica Pier, then ventured down to Culver City, LA for a visit to the Museum of Jurassic Technology. First of all, this museum has nothing about it that is recognizably Jurassic, and very little by way of its exhibits about technology. That said, it is one of the more memorable museums I've ever visited, mostly because I couldn't figure out how anything in the museum was related to anything else and nearly broke my brain trying to do so.

Here's a list of some of the exhibits we saw:

1. A collection of decaying dice
2. A series of portraits of dogs that flew in Soviet space missions.
3. A collection of microscopic collages made of insect wings.
4. A library of books on Napoleon.
5. A series of dioramas about mobile homes which claims they descend from Noah's ark.
6. A room full of old folk remedies and superstitions.
7. A collection of collections from collectors who happened to live in mobile homes.
8. A Proust-inspired memory box containing a Madeleine, a tea cup and something I don't recall (ha ha!), all of which were apparently connected to air tubes that when uncovered blew scented air out into your nose, I believe with the intention of inspiring a reverie a la In Search of Lost Time.
9. Many dioramas that make use of holographic technology for various inexplicable reasons, the most entertaining of which was a piece of taxidermy (some kind of cat, though I can't recall if it was a bobcat or something else). When you look through the holograph screen thereappears in the center of the animal's brain a seated man who barks like a dog. Not to be missed if you happen to be in Los Angeles -- but beware the general freakishness of the streets outside. I stepped out to put a quarter in the meter and was accosted for the second time in as many days by a lunatic who started screaming at me.

We met up with Sesshu Foster and Jane Sprague for dinner at a Filipino restaurant in Chinatown, then wandered over to betalevel for the reading. Of all the reading series I took part in on this tour, I have to give props to Harold Abramowitz and Matthew Timmons for putting on the most entertaining and unique one. "Late Night Snack" advertises only the date of each event, and then tells you on their website what happened after the fact. What happens is that, starting around 10 p.m., a number of performers of many stripes: poets, musicians, performance and visual artists, and whoever else wants to participate put on 15-20 minute performances. On this night, 4 poets and three musicians performed.

Gerard Olsen, a young poet read a breathlessly surreal essay about Los Angeles; Michael Smoler paid homage to Ted Berrigan by reading one of his poems and then followed with a tender reading of some of his own; Catherine Daly, who'd I'd known of and corresponded with but had never met, read from her factory school "Heretical Texts" book, as well as from a new piece called, I think, Kittenhood; she was followed by Laura Steenberge & Heather Lockie, a violinist and accordionist respectively, who did a hilarious sort of improv musical/narrative work, which brought down the house; I finished off the poetry readings with selections from both books; and the evening was closed by banjo/guitar player singer/songwriter Emily Lacy.

It was also the second of four Buffalo Poetics reunions on this trip, as Logan Esdale and Lara Odell showed up to cheer me on. By the time we got back to SM that night it was 1:30. All in all, a great night.