Saturday, May 30, 2009

Road Trip Day 1


Road Trip Day 1
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
We leave in a couple of hours -- Lori is out in the back yard frantically planting vegetables before we hit the road, while I am about to get breakfast. We have an 11 hour drive today to Tarboro, NC, where we will be visiting with one of the important characters of this here blog, Brian Lampkin, founder and former proprietor of Rust Belt Books, who lives with his partner Stacy and their three daughters. On Monday or Tuesday, we'll cross the state to Visit my mother in Franklin, then head to Sarasota by week's end.

Books in my satchel:

Javier Marias, Tu Rostro Mañana, books one and two.
Daniel Sada, Casi Nunca
Paul Blackburn, Journals; Selected Poems
Tom Verducci & Joe Torre: The Yankee Years
Spanish/English Dictionary

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.19 (Robert Creeley)

Creeley, Robert
Faas, Ekbert
Robert Creeley: A Biography


The only thing worse than a literary biography is a bad literary biography. The only thing worse than that is a hatchet job posing as a bad literary biography, which is what this book is. I don't know the whole back story to this, so I am only passing along what I've heard, which is that at some point Creeley stopped participating in this project because he didn't like Faas' approach.

There is a lot to dislike, not the least of which is using a (justifiably) angry ex-wife's memoir as a postscript to a biography of her ex-husband. The effect of this is to give her words an extraordinary authority throughout the rest of the narrative, making her judgment and the judgment of the erstwhile biographer uncomfortably close, and making this book feel more like an ambush than an exploration.

Most troubling of all is the reductive nature of the work, whose thesis can be summed up as follows:

Robert Creeley was a violent, profligate, misogynistic, alcoholic who wrote a lot of poetry that passionately and clearly articulated its violence, profligacy, misogyny and alcoholism to an eager postwar audience. At 50, he found a wife and family that made him happy, causing the quality of his poetry to deteriorate and the biographer's interest in his life to vanish.

WTF, Ekbert? Why even bother?

After Creeley died, I was confronted with a publisher at a local paper who had known and admired the macho, violent, salty dog Creeley, whom I had never met (I knew the kind, good-humored and unbelievably generous old poet who took me under his wing). I wrote a feature article/obituary in the week immediately following his death, the purpose of which was to remember the man I knew and to make note of the enormous contribution he had made to American poetry.

To my horror, the publisher inserted stories of his seduction of Kenneth Rexroth's wife and a few other salacious details. Adding insult to injury, he put my name on the piece and did not make note of where he had made insertions. Point being that I got the same feeling reading Faas that I got from the publisher of this paper -- that his interest in Creeley had little to do with the work and a lot to do with his interest in the lurid details of his personal life.

I was fortunate to begin reading the Dunacan-Levertov correspondence immediately following this book, which provides a two other perspectives on Creeley and his first marriage, and serve as a useful counter to the portrait painted in this book. If you haven't read those letters, do. If you haven't read this biography, consider yourself lucky and stay away.

Well, kids, that's it for the Creeley section. I don't think I am going to make it to the end of the C's before I leave on Saturday, but I do intend to keep updating the blog while I am away. Not sure what I'll write in the absence of my library -- maybe just a public journal or something along those lines. I'll figure it out when I get to it.

Until then...

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.18 (Robert Creeley)

Creeley, Robert
Clark, Tom
Robert Creeley
and the Genius
of the American
Common Place


Purchased at Talking Leaves Books a few years back.

Tom Clark, who also wrote a biography of Olson, put together this work. It combines interviews between Creeley and Clark, quotations from various Creeley works, even a section written in the first person (or spoken and transcribed) by his sister, Helen. It ends with Creeley's own written and quite brief autobiography. It's one way I might imagine a biography written by Olson could look, having as it does the feel of something very much still in process, i.e., the living poet at the heart of the book, rather than that of a polished, authoritative statement on the poet's life. It doesn't really fall into any of the previously noted categories of literary biography, which is probably why I like it.

"Backward" (aka, the Foreword):

The seemingly endless genetic progression spiraling back into the past is the determinate prologue against which the complex but common fable of individual fate plays itself out. But no exegesis of the generation is ever finite, as is demonstrated every time members of several generations of a family sit around talking. Which traits of physique and disposition and character come from which side of the family? We think we know the cards we are dealt, but do we?

Robert Creeley's Autobiography, a remarkable text in the Puritan self-exegetical tradition which goes back through D.H Lawrence ultimately to the seventeenth century and the first spiritual biographer, John Bunyan, provides valuable insight into the way this poet's family and local origins have contributed energizing tensions to his work and life. But the very concentration and intentness of Creeley's effort to wrest a serviceable self from the past ought to alert us that as much as any of his concentrated, intense, self-reflective poems this autobiographical essay is a literary work, not merely a "description of the facts" -- even if it were intended as such. When we readers of his work pursue the same effort, driving through the autonomy of the writing as through a looking glass that turns out to be merely the surface of a deep pool, other lights illuminate the same details, new facets appear.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.17 (Robert Creeley)

Creeley, Robert
Tales Out Of School
Selected Interviews


Purchased at Talking Leaves Books.

Someone somewhere once noted that Robert Creeley was one of the most interviewed poets of the century, and also how the interview was a form that suited his loquacious intermingling of poetry and speech. I think that's a pretty accurate assessment, despite not recaling who made it.

I once suggested doing an interview with him, to which he replied that if we were going to do it we'd better come up with something new to talk about, because it had all been covered in other interviews, about twenty of which he attached links to at the end of the email, as if to say, "See what I mean?" We never actually got around to doing it, though I think in many ways he was right.

If you gathered all of the published Creeley interviews together, you'd likely end up with twenty books as long as this one, which contains five.

I like the introductory paragraph he wrote:

Expectably enough the interviews here collected from a diversity of others are a nearly anthropological evidence, if nothing else, that there was indeed a person as "myself" somewhere consistent with a world now well past but still inexplicable as when it first all began. The questions and answers comprising the five parts of this book will prove beyond the shadow of a fictive doubt that an "I" was "there," and that "he" made persistently evident all the usual rhetorical apparatus and determination necessary to keep afloat the boatlike "self" one presumes to be the point of one's existence. Or at least this one did at that time.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.16 (Robert Creeley)


Places
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Creeley, Robert
Places


Another chapbook among the spines. Not sure where I got this -- probably Rust Belt Books. It was published in 1990 by Shuffaloff (as in, to Buffalo) press, which was an 80's into the 90's era small press run by poet Mike Boughn, now of Toronto. The series was devoted to work being written in Buffalo and has a pretty interesting list of authors, including Jack Clarke, Lisa Jarnot, Elizabeth Willis, Sheryl Robbins, Jorge Guitart, Martin Clibbens and others. Boughn, according to his press agent Jay Millar, is the 2009 recipient of the Friggin' Prize for his book, 22 Skidoo, published by Book Thug.

Congratulations, Mike!

The Times

If they had something
to worry about these
people wouldn't sit there
thinking about what

doesn't even exist they
would take each day as it
comes and thank their
lucky stars they had

enough to eat it says here
it reflects the hopeless
times make what isn't
the case all that is.

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.15 (Robert Creeley)

Creeley, Robert
Lines On The Publication
Of The Collected Poems
Of Robert Creeley
1945•1975


This is definitely a chapbook, as is the next title, but I keep it on the shelf with all the perfect bound books (so sue me). It contains only four short poems, accompanied by photos of Creeley on facing pages.

Last summer, or maybe it was more like three summers ago -- I remember now, it was at Jonathan Skinner and Isabelle Pellissier's going away party on Huntington Ave. (Which, in case you are interested, is the street that Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley lived on one summer in the 70s.)

Matt Chambers brought me a box of books the UB Poetry Collection was giving away. I think I spoke of this in an earlier post. These included a complete set of Credences; The Collected Poems of George Butterick; and several titles by Joel Oppenheimer. Matt also kindly included this little chappy, printed in edition of 100 and signed by the author.

It's the only book of his that I own which is inscribed. I always felt weird asking him about things like that. The only other signed object I have from Creeley is a broadside that Just Buffalo printed, which he inscribed to me and Lori, just after we moved to Black Rock.

Here's the title poem:

Lines On The Publication Of 
The Collected Poems Of Robert Creeley 1945•1975

"Wow! What a crock of shit --
you never should have written it..."

Waking up in heavy sweat,
'fraid to read the papers yet --

Thirty years between these pages,
all those words and all the ages

none of which I'll be again.
Thank god I got it done.

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.14 (Robert Creeley)

Creeley, Robert
The Collected Essays
of Robert Creeley

I bought this online for sure. It was really hard to find for a while, may still be for all I know. I mainly bought it because Bob had asked me to put together an updated bio, bibliography and selection of statements of poetics for Jacket -- which lead to the bright idea of doing a section on his work for one of the upcoming issues.

You can read the selection of statements I chose here:

http://jacketmagazine.com/bio/creeley.html#statements

His response to my choices was to the point, "Dear Mike, Those are an active set of statements."

Well put.

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.13 (Robert Creeley)


Collected Prose
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Creeley, Robert
Collected Prose


I am pretty sure I purchased this online. I may have bought it at Talking Leaves...Books. I have a vague recollection of having gotten it on the cheap, which suggests the former may have been the case.

To be honest this is one of the few Creeley books I own that I have yet to read. I have skimmed parts of The Island and The Gold Diggers, as well as A Day Book, but I haven't spent a goodly amount of time with any of it.

Here's a random snippet from The Gold Diggers:

He listened slowly, closely, to all that she played him, on the phonograph. He had burnt out the fuses on two floors of the building in which they lived, fixing it better, more volume, more sound to it. The bump and grind of calypso, Charlie Parker. Listen to it. The song is, oh where do the birds go, you don't see them any more now. No but you can't hear it enough, so sweetly, so lightly. Hear it. Listen closely, then pick up the instrument and play it. Blow, this way, across, making the sound lift out of the long wood. Hold it firmly but do not over-press. A sound as in the woods' hollow, from furtive shadow and water, the reeds and willows of the wood. Not to be learned in an instant. Listen, and again, listen. He sang with a sharp croak, oh shut the door behind you. She was always not shutting the bathroom door.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.12 (Robert Creeley)

Creeley, Robert
The Collected Poems 
of Robert Creeley 
1975-2005

Another "Examination Copy" sent by the publisher, this time in hardcover. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was working on a section of Jacket devoted to Robert Creeley's work at the time of his death. The original idea was to have it ready to go for both the publication of this book and for his 79th birthday celebration here in Buffalo. As I recall, his death delayed the publication of the Collected Poems for about a year, possibly a tad longer. "On Earth" was edited by Penelope Creeley and released in the interim.

Anyhow, there was much discussion in Buffalo about how to put on a celebration of the man and his work. A bit of feuding in the UB English department, as well as some budgetary issues, caused the celebration to be postponed several times. The end result was that there were two Creeley celebrations.

The first was a community celebration in honor of his 80th birthday, which would have been May 21, 2006 (which means his 83rd would have been just the other day -- happy belated birthday, Bob!). The second was the university celebration on October 13, 2006, which occurred during the infamous "October Storm."

Creeley's 80th Celebration birthday took place at Babeville (then called simply, "The Church"), a one hundred-plus-year-old church rehabbed by Ani DiFranco and Righteous Babe Records into a spectacular performance venue, art gallery, cinema and record label offices. It was one of the first public events to take place there. For a couple of hours, local poets and friends of Creeley came to the stage, one after the other, to read poems, talk about Bob, etc. Tom Raworth, Joanne Kyger and Amiri Baraka headlined the second act. It was a pretty stirring event.

The following day Bruce Jackson screened two films he had made about Creeley at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. In fact, I think the cover photo of Creeley on the cover of this book is a still from one of Jackson's films. Another still was used in a beautiful poster we made for the event designed by Kyle Schlesinger.

You can read my account of the fall event here:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/article.html?id=179209

Bresson's Movies

A movie of Robert
Bresson's showed a yacht,
at evening on the Seine,
all its lights on, watched

by two young, seemingly
poor people, on a bridge adjacent,
the classic boy and girl
of the story, any one

one cares to tell. So
years pass, of course, but
I identified with the young,
embittered Frenchman,

knew his almost complacent
anguish and the distance
he felt from his girl.
Yet another film

of Bresson's has the
aging Lancelot with his
awkward armor standing
in a woods, of small trees,

dazed, bleeding, both he
and his horse are,
trying to get back to
the castle, itself of

no great size. It
moved me, that
life was after all
like that. You are

in love. You stand
in the woods, with
a horse, bleeding.
The story is true.

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.11 (Robert Creeley)

Creeley, Robert
The Collected Poems 
of Robert Creeley 
1945-1975

Review copy sent to me by the publisher. The words

Examination Copy
Not For Resale


are stamped along the side.

I was disappointed that they didn't do a matching hardcover edition of the first volume, as they had the second. It would have made a nice set.

Ah, well.

Note: I will be away during the month of June and I am going to take a break from the Aimless Reading project. As I did last year, I will be driving to Sarasota, Florida to occupy my mother's house while she is away in North Carolina. Lori and I will vacation together for 2 weeks, then I will be on my own until I return to Buffalo in July. I thought I might photograph a bunch of the books and write about them in Florida, but it seems contrary to the spirit of the thing to not have the books near at hand when I write about them. My goal is to finish the C's this week before I leave, which means I need to write about 3 per day, possibly 4, depending on how you count the number of days I have left.

Brent Cunningham, watch out! You are the last on the list before I go.

There, look at that, I already completed another entry.

From the Greatest Hits Collection:

The Warning

For love—I would
split open your head and put
a candle in
behind the eyes.

Love is dead in us
if we forget
the virtues of an amulet
and quick surprise.

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.10 (Robert Creeley)


A Day Book
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Creeley, Robert
A Day Book


This just arrived in the mail last week, having been purchased in the Amazon Marketplace. The book itself is quite stiff, as if it hadn't been opened in decades, but is in pretty good shape. Of all of Creeley's paperbacks, this one has my favorite cover. It was designed by Gary Indiana, dedicatee of the poem, "Numbers."

On the date listed on the front cover I was 25 days old. My family was still living in Dearborn, Mich., where I was born, and where my parents met while working at the Ford Motor Company. My father worked in leasing and my mother was part of Lee Iacocca's (very large) secretarial pool. Both drove 1968 Mustang convertibles. My mother had grown up in Detroit, my father in Brooklyn. They were married in August of 1967 at a Catholic church in downtown Detroit.

This, of course, was in the middle of the riots of 1967. martial law had been declared. Tanks flanked either side of the church. Alcohol had been banned from public events, including wedding receptions, which did not sit well with the Kelleher side of the family. Apparently, my father and my uncles ate their food as quickly as possible, danced a quick dance, wolfed down some cake, then rushed off to my grandparent's home in order to drink.

I was born a little more than a year later, on October 26, 1968. I was named after my father, though I took a middle name (John) that was closer to my mother's middle name (Joan). Both of my brothers were also given "J" middle names.

On the date listed on the back cover, I was two years, 8 months and 16 days old. By that time, my mother had become a housewife and my father had been transferred to California. We lived in Los Gatos, in what I remember as being a big house. I don't think it could have been very big, but it likely seemed big because it had two floors, where as all the other houses we lived in in Los Gatos were single-floor dwellings.

I have a few memories of that house:

In the living room there were floor-to-ceiling cabinets that I used to hide in.

The front yard sloped down toward the street and was covered in ivy.

We had a sandbox in the back yard in which I used to play with my friends Kathleen and Meghan.

My mother used to store the Flintstones Vitamins in a pantry in the kitchen. I once ate a whole bottle. My mother got very upset.

I have a memory of falling over backwards in a kitchen chair. At first I wrote, "and hitting my head on the floor,' but re-reading it clarifies the memory somewhat. I recall pushing my chair over backwards deliberately because my mother told me not to. She said I would hit my head on the floor. I did it anyway and did not hit my head on the floor and smiled defiantly at her, as if I had won a major victory over common sense.

Once my cousin John, from Long Island, was visiting. I was sitting in a chair in the living room holding a wooden toy in my hand. I threw it over my shoulder and over the back of the chair. John was hiding behind the chair and the wooden toy landed on my head. He told me that I had to let him throw it at me for payback. He wound up and threw it at my face, giving me my first black eye.

My father was often away on business. He always brought gifts when he returned. Once he brought a whole salmon he had caught (apparently while doing "business"). My mother cooked it up and we ate it and I remember really liking the way it tasted.

My parents said there were not enough children my age in that neighborhood, so we soon moved moved to another part of Los Gatos, probably in 1972 or 1973. My brother Chris was born in 1972, so it was probably in 1973 that we moved to the second house, where my second brother, Brian, was born in 1974. I think we moved again in 1975. And then in 1976 we moved to Vienna, Virginia.

from A Day Book

These space suits we float in. Gravity keeps us on the same so-called plane, so that the measure of possible presences is the fact we call distance between them. What I wanted, really, was one of those rigs you put on your back, a sort of jet power pack, like Buck Rogers had, that let him move at various levels from the ground. Fuck in the air, I say, and that's what Alex uses as climax in all senses, for that novel has the heroine and pilot demon lover fuck as the plane is going into final loop and dive from failure of gas. Fuck anywhere, "now that man has no oar to screw into the earth." Alan is talking of those gods from above, the air, and of the destructions they have made.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.9 (Robert Creeley)


On Earth
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Creeley, Robert
On Earth


This was sent to me as a review copy from University of California Press, probably in 2005 or 2006.  

Time to go and get some breakfast -- I think I'll just post an excerpt today, if you don't mind. 

This is my favorite poem from the book:

Mediterranean II

The cranky low freighter with orange stickup
stern cabin we could see from the open window of
this place each day out there on proverbial ocean has
moved away, shifting the focus of that blue to an
implacable distance now going out to a shaded, faded
edge of sky beyond all recalled dreams or places. One
so wanted it to be the old time story of them waiting till
dark at last came and then, with muffled oars, they'd row
into the hidden cove, climb up the adjoining cliff, and
into my waiting heart. How many times so long ago I'd
see the fisherman at nightfall row out to the darkened
sea with the long awkward boats, oars in unison, to what
determined fate, and if there were a world at edge of this
one, there at last they might pull ashore. Now the sea's slur-
ring, recurring sound, its battering, white capped, upon the
rocks, forces both free and unknown to me, have no work
but this tedious recurrence, dreams repeated, insistent, useless.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.8 (Robert Creeley)

Creeley, Robert
If I were writing this


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

Random story told to me by Robert Creeley:

When Pound was in St. Elizabeth's, all the friends and admirers that wrote to him sent whatever reading material they could gather -- books, magazines, journals etc. -- along with their letters. Apparently, he received way more than even he could ever read, so he got into the habit of sending stacks of books and magazines to all the young poets that wrote to him, including Creeley. One of these packages he sent Creeley included a first edition of one of H.D.'s books (I don't remember which). In some earlier letter Pound had told the young Creeley that H.D. was not a poet he thought Creeley should read. So, when he received the package that included the inscribed first edition, not only did he not read it -- he threw it away!

For You

At the edge, fledgling,
hypocrite reader, mon frere,
mon semblable
, there
you are me?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.7 (Robert Creeley)


Life & Death
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Creeley, Robert
Life & Death


I am sure I bought this at Talking Leaves soon after it came out. At the time, I was in my second semester of grad school. Toward the end of the first semester, I had finally got up the courage to send Creeley an email saying I admired his work and would like to meet him sometime. He invited me for coffee at a Buffalo coffeehouse called Caffe Aroma.

When I arrived, I found him sitting toward the back of the room at a little table waiting for me. One of the many traits the man did not share with most of his fellow poets was punctuality. He was always on time -- even early!

We sat and talked for a little while. I told him a little about my self and so forth and then finally he said, "So, what do you want to do?" I said I didn't have anything particular in mind. He asked if I would like to do some kind of tutorial with him and if so about what. After I rattled off a few names of poets I might like to read with him like Zukofsky or Williams or Olson or Pound, he asked if I was a poet. I told him I was and he said, "Why don't we just talk about your poetry?" Of course! Yes! He told me to bring him a stack of my poems to our next meeting and that we should meet up once a week or so for lunch to discuss what I was writing. His daughter, Hannah, who was probably 13 or 14 at the time, showed up at the Caffe at just that moment to pick him up. He called her, "Dear Heart," which I thought was very sweet.

I brought him a literal stack of poems -- probably 50-75 pages worth -- a week later, which he took home to read over the holidays. We then met again in the spring semester. He took me once a week for a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of coffee, usually at a little Greek diner called Pano's (which has since become a monstrously large Greek restaurant). We mostly just talked -- sometimes about my poems, sometimes about poems I was reading, sometimes about whatever movies we had seen over the weekend.

I guess the point, if one could call it that, was that the poems were part of the conversation, not all of it, and that it was the conversation itself, the passing of words and ideas and emotions back and forth between two people, that mattered most. I think that was apparent in his reading style as well. He would tell long, rambling anecdotes and stories in between poems, and he would tell them in exactly the same cadence as he would read the poems, so that if you didn't see him pick up the book or put it down, you would not really be able to discern whether or not he was talking or reading.

I remember once, just before Life & Death came out, he told me this very long story about visiting Florida and seeing all of these retirees trolling the beaches with metal detectors and so forth and how disgusted he was by the whole thing -- retirement, age, golf carts, death etc. When I bought the book and read the poem "Histoire de Florida," I realized that he had narrated much of the "story" of the poem to me over grilled cheese sandwiches at Pano's. I even had the eerie sense of having heard some of the language before.

I also remember telling him how much I liked the book. He said nothing, kind of half-snorted, then gave me vaguely contemptuous look that seemed to say, "Please, let's not stoop to empty compliments."

Here's a recording of him reading the poem in Buffalo in 1996:

http://media.sas.upenn.edu/pennsound/authors/Creeley/UB_03-31-95/Creeley-Robert_Histoire-de-Florida_UBuffalo_03-31-95.mp3

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.6 (Robert Creeley)


Echoes
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Creeley, Robert
Echoes


When Lori and I decided to buy a house in Buffalo back around 2002, we looked and looked and looked but couldn't find a thing we could afford in a neighborhood we wanted to live in. However, we kept seeing an add for this really nice Victorian up in a hidden and somewhat run down section of Buffalo called Black Rock. When we decided to go look at it, I looked on the map and realized it was only about a block-and-a -half from where the Creeleys lived.

They owned a pretty spectacular turn-of-the-century brick firehouse that had been converted into several large loft apartments, one of which they lived in, the others they rented out. I called Bob to ask him about the neighborhood and he told me that the residents were "poor, but dignified," and that it was in general a pleasant place to be.

We bought the house in May of 2003, and I think the Creeleys moved out within a couple of months, as Bob had taken a position at Brown. We spent the next three years remodeling the house, making it a sort of palace in the ghetto. At first we felt as if we were helping to build something stable in the neighborhood, but it very soon became apparent that the area was in a state of rapid deterioration the pace of which we could do nothing to slow. Houses were being abandoned, boarded up and graffitied, or worse, burned to the ground. Drug dealers started appearing on the corners. The police routinely disrupted our evenings as they came to arrest one or another of our neighbors for one thing or another.

In short, "poor," yes, "dignified," not so much.

As if to confirm our decision to leave, in the month after we called the realtor to put the house on the market there was a drive-by shooting behind our house, then the house two doors down from us was burned to the ground, and then the papers were abuzz with news that the city wanted to allow a minister to open a halfway house in our neighborhood for something like thirty level three sex offenders.

By some miracle, we actually sold the place and got out.

The Creeley's firehouse was at the corner of East and Amherst Streets, across from a catholic church and school, both of which are now closed. When we lived there, Lori founded a block club to combat some of the neighborhood problems. It used to meet monthly in the former cafeteria of the school. The church and school make up another of those classically tragic Buffalo sites -- huge old brick structures, beautifully and solidly built, lots of parking, sitting empty, waiting for enough people to return to the city to make use of it.

East Street

Sense of the present
world out window, eye's
blurred testament

to "St. Francis Xavier's
School," red brick,
and grey cornices,

the snow, day old,
like thin, curdled milk,
God's will high

above on cross
at church top over
embedded small arches

and close, tiled
roof. The cars
parked, the accelerating

motor of one
goes by, the substantial
old birch, this

closer look--
path Dennis shoveled--
distraction of all report.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.5 (Robert Creeley)


Windows
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Creeley, Robert
Windows


I bought this in the months after Creeley died, when I embarked on a re-reading of most of his books. There were several still available in hardcover at Talking Leaves, so I bought every one they had. I had been working on a section of Jacket magazine devoted to his work at the time of his death. When he died, I asked John Tranter if we could hold off an extra six months, mostly to allow all of the eulogies to be read and written and broadcast before going back to the business of getting people to look at the work.

I was pretty happy with the way it eventually turned out, but by the time it all came together I felt that between editing Jacket, organizing a celebration in Buffalo, and writing several pieces on the man and his work, I had exhausted my ability to think and write about Creeley for a while, and so let the issue go into publication without an introduction. I sort of regret not writing one, but I felt at the time that I couldn't write another word on the subject. Thankfully, there was plenty there for people to digest without my editorial interference.

I am actually feeling some of that same reticence now, as I plow through the 19 or so volumes of Creeley's work that I currently own. I can't say exactly why that is. I have no shortage of memories of the man and his work about which to write, yet each night as I sit down to produce the next blog entry, I feel a kind of resistance to actually writing it. I've been plugging along knowing that if I let up, this project is likely to fall apart, but I have not been terribly happy with what I've written since I hit the Creeley section, except for maybe the piece on Presences from two days ago. I don't think this is a sign that I am losing steam, but more about anxiety of influence, or something along those lines.

Well, enough of my yakkin'. How about a poem?

It appears I only read to page 59 when I went through this volume. The last poem I read, apparently, was this:

Sight

Eye's reach out window water's
lateral quiet bulk of trees at
far edge now if peace were
possible here it would enter.

*
Bulk of trees' tops mass of
substantial trunks supporting from
shifting green base lawn variable
greens and almost yellow looks like.

*
Seven grey metal canoes drawn
up and tethered by pond's long
side with brushy green bushes and
metallic light sheen of water at evening.

*
What see what look for what
seems to be there front of the fore-
head the echoing painful minded-
ness of life will not see this here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.4 (Robert Creeley)


Later
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Creeley, Robert
Later


Another volume rescued from the sale of the Just Buffalo library. Robert Creeley, I should say, is also an important player in the beginning of Just Buffalo Literary Center, where I work. According to founder Debora Ott, she made her decision to come to Buffalo after having heard him read on the radio and deciding she had to study with him. His insistence on making poetry happen in the community (and outside the university) inspired her to organize her first reading in 1975.

With several friends, she got some money together and invited Diane DiPrima to read -- thus, a literary center was born. Posters from Just Buffalo's first fifteen years read very much like a who's who of the Black Mountain, Naropa and Poetry Project circles, Ed Dorn, Ted Berrigan, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Duncan, Alice Notley, Eileen Myles, Jayne Cortez, Ed Sanders et al.

Turned out Debora was my first Buffalo landlord. Ted Pearson had been running a series through JB called Writers at Work for several years, but had just left town when I arrived in 1997. Debora asked me if I wanted to make a little money by running a poetry series while I was in grad school, so I did. The rest, as they say, is history.

From Later

Thinking of Walter Benjamin

What to say
these days
of crashing disjunct,
whine, of separation--

Not abstract--
"God's will," not
lost in clouds this
experienced wisdom.

Hand and mind
and heart one
ground to walk on,
field to plow.

I know
a story
I can tell
and will.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.3 (Robert Creeley)


Presences
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Creeley, Robert
& Marisol
Presences:
A Text For Marisol


From the time I was two until the time I was seven, my family lived in Los Gatos, California. We moved there because my father, who at the time worked for Ford Motor Company's leasing division, had been transferred from Detroit, where I was born. Both of my younger brothers were born there. I have lovely memories of Los Gatos. I remember there being lots of trees and lots of parks and lots of other children my age.

I went to a pre-school in Los Gatos, which I don't recall very clearly except for a photo I have of myself sleeping in a bean bag that was apparently taken at the school, and a hand-written report card from a teacher describing my personality in much the same words a person might describe it today.

After that I went to Casa Maria Montessori School for kindergarten and first grade. The school was run by some nuns who lived on a spectacular piece of property attached to a vineyard. Someone in the shipping industry had donated a lot of cargo nets and thick rope and wooden posts in order to create what in my memory still stands as the greatest school playground in the history of the world.

The cargo nets had been fastened into a great octopoid jungle gym. A long thick tie rope that hung from a tree served as a rope-swing. Our launch pad for the swing was an old tree stump several feet wide. There was kind of kid-ecstasy we got to experience day in and day out during recess as we climbed those ropes and swung on that swing and chased each other up and down the slides and climbing towers.

In school we painted and sang and danced and listened to stories being told and had visits from all sorts of interesting people for show and tell. I remember once a man who collected and cared for tarantulas brought one to class and allowed us to observe it and to touch it.

I tried to look up the school on the internet a few years ago. Apparently the nun who ran the place, Sister Josetta, had moved on to do a lot of social justice work in the Bay Area and had eventually passed away. The school is now closed and serves as a retirement community for the order of nuns that once ran it. Sigh.

All of which is a bit of a detour, as I meant to talk about an incident that occurred in Los Gatos that resurfaced during the reading of Presences, and which was quite traumatic for little Mikey, especially regarding the professional care and maintenance of his teeth as he grew into adulthood.

One day -- I think I was around 4 or 5 years old -- I was playing on a large metal slide at one of those lovely Los Gatos parks (not the one at the school). Each time I slid down the slide I could not wait to do it again and so tried to climb the ladder to the top as quickly as I could. I was not one to pause to admire the scenery or to catch my breath or to even think about what I was doing. I dashed toward the ladder at full speed, took a running leap to the second or third step, then tried to skip steps all along the way until I reached the top and slid down again.

During one of these ascents, I fell. I must hav had my mouth open, perhaps involuntarily, or perhaps to scream for help. The effect of this was that I came down front teeth first on one of the metal steps, which pushed one of my two front teeth almost all the way back up into my gums. It hurt. A lot. And bled. And I cried really, really hard.

And then I had emergency dental surgery. That also hurt a lot, and also made me cry really, really hard. I was also several years from having all of my adult teeth come in, so I had no front tooth for a long time. I don't think that part ever bothered me too much, as I wasn't yet very self conscious. I remember my father used to get a big kick at the holidays out of singing, "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth."

But the trauma lives on...

There is a section in Presences (purchased for its 1976 cover price of 7.95 at Talking Leaves books -- they still have them available at that price, for all you book geeks out there!) in which Creeley spends two or three pages free associating about teeth. My memory of reading it the first time was that he spent considerable time talking about teeth breaking and being knocked out and so on and did so in graphic detail. I remember experiencing physical pain while reading these several pages from the book. However, I reread it this morning only to discover it is not quite as graphic as I remembered, but still -- ouch!

from Presences

Raise the roof, he said, biting his teeth in anger. He ground his teeth in his sleep. He had frequently a toothache. Dentists take care of teeth for payment and spend much of their time looking into mouths. They wait for the door to open without apparent interest, knowing it will only be more teeth. Sometimes they are committed to pulling out teeth, no doubt feeling relief in getting rid of them. Young boys are often told that the vagina contains teeth, The tooth mother (mater dentata) is one of the significant guises of the great mother herself. Teeth are frequently hung around the neck in the form of a necklace. Dark spots on the teeth may signify cavities in the tooth itself. People frequently make an inordinate sound chewing celery, a noise attributable to the action of the teeth. One may have buck teeth, a term possibly having to do with rabbits. Others have broken teeth, where some blow has caused the specific tooth to loosen and fall out. "Ill knock your teeth down your throat," is a phrase used to intimidate opponents in some muscular struggle.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.2 (Robert Creeley)


Pieces (x 2)
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Creeley, Robert
Pieces


I have two copies of this book. The first copy I purchased at Rust Belt Books, either because Graham Foust or Brian Lampkin, both of whom were generous about letting people know when a book they might have wanted arrived in the store, had clued me into the fact it was available. The second copy I plucked from the shelves of Just Buffalo's library prior to having sold the whole thing off. There was no good reason to have a second copy, but I couldn't resist.

Pieces has always been my favorite book of Creeley's, even though I hate the font they used for the poems. It's an awkward, bold, sans serif font that I find really unpleasant to read. It's one of the few books I have ever read where I felt the font got in the way of my reading experience.

Fortunately, my first experience reading many of these poems came in the form of the Selected Poems, which was likely printed in a serif font that was a little less taxing on the eyes as they moved from word to word, page to page. I can remember reading "Numbers" on the job at a law firm in New York and smiling all the way through it and then reading it again and again.

A few years ago, soon after he had left Buffalo for Brown, I was writing an article about Creeley for Artvoice, a local paper, in which I talked about "Numbers" being my favorite Creeley poem. I had always wondered about the section called "The Fool," which is set off from the rest of the poem in that it is written in prose and is in quotation marks:

"With light step, as if earth and its trammels had little power to restrain him, a young man in gorgeous vestments pauses at the brink of a precipice among the great heights of the world; he surveys the blue distance before him its expanse of sky rather than the prospect below. His act of eager walking is still indicated, though he is stationary at the given moment; his dog is still bounding. The edge which opens on the depth has no terror; it is as if angels were waiting to uphold him, if it came about that he leaped from the height. His countenance is full of intelligence and expectant dream. He has a rose in one hand and in the other a costly wand, from which depends over his right shoulder a wallet curiously embroidered. He is a prince of the other world on his travels through this one all a midst the morning glory, in the keen air. The sun, which shines behind him, knows whence he came, whither he is going, and how he will return by another path after many days."

I wrote to him to ask where the language came from. Turns out it is the boilerplate used to describe the tarot card by that name in most standard decks. Even though the language and the sentiment very much sound like Creeley, I never really thought of him as a tarot card kind of guy. In his response, he seemed to not to think of himself as such either, replying that the language came from a 19th Century handbook of the tarot "or some such." I took this to mean that the language was what interested him, not so much the tarot deck per se.

I read this at his memorial in the UB Poetry Collection. At that moment it felt very much like something he had written about himself.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.1 (Robert Creeley)


Words
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Creeley, Robert
Words


I bought this online a couple of years ago after Ron Silliman compared my first book, To Be Sung, to this one. I remember my friend Tim Shaner called to congratulate me on having been reviewed by Silliman. I had no idea what he was talking about and so asked if it was a good one. He said, "I don't know, you tell me what you think." 

I went online to read the review. It starts off as a pretty generous one, comparing the work favorably to Words before taking a negative turn, concluding, "To Be Sung is a good book, but confined very much to a retrospective view of poetry. To me that would feel like chains."

It was the first time my work had ever been given so public a notice before, so my emotions were pretty all over the place about it. On the one hand, I was elated to get a review of any kind. On the other, I felt a little unfairly dissed.

(You can click on the link to the right to read the review yourself.)

I wrote dejectedly to Creeley afterwards and sent him the link. It was about a week before he collapsed in a class in NC and had to start using an oxygen tank. At the time, I was working on a special Jacket section devoted to his work and also planning a Buffalo celebration of the release of his Collected Poems. We were going to do it on his 79th birthday that May, which he never reached.

His response was both supportive and pragmatic:

Dear Mike,

I think your book is solid, format, contents, the works. I guess Ron knew I'd feel so, and why not. Anyhow I do think his old time giving it active notice is useful period. Just now we are on the road in Wilmington, NC with minimal netwaork access, so this is just to keep in touch. I see Laura Cerruti has written and all -- and the revised call for materials looks fine. Jacket sure keeps useful, thinking of John Tranter's recent note of issues with Duncan et al. Onward and thanks for all the generous work!

Best as ever,
Bob

On the upside, thanks to Silliman I discovered yet another great book of Creeley's. The only reason I hadn't read it before was because I never owned the Collected Poems and this was long out of print as an individual volume. Thankfully, the internet put a lot of these back in circulation for reasonable prices.

On the downside, that was the third to last email I ever received from Creeley. The last, three weeks before he died, was to tell me that he had been using an oxygen tank after the collapse and that he was down in Texas. He attached a photo of the Rio Grande and said, "A couple of days ago we drove down to the border (the Rio Grande) with Mexico, some sixty miles distant -- would that the world were all so specific!"

There's a good recording at PennSound of Creeley from a 1965 reading in Berkeley of "The Rhythm," which opens Words:

http://mediamogul.seas.upenn.edu/pennsound/authors/Creeley/Berkeley/Berkeley-1/Creeley-Robert_02_The-Rythm_Berkeley-Poetry-Conf_7-22-65.mp3

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39 (Robert Creeley)

Creeley, Robert
For Love: Poems 1950-1960


I am pretty sure I bought this at Rust Belt Books in Buffalo. I am also pretty sure it was Graham Foust who clued me in to its presence at the store, though I may be confusing that with Pieces, which I also purchased there. In that case, it was probably the store's former owner, Brian Lampkin, who pointed this one out to me.

I am pretty sure I read "I Know A Man" before any other Creeley poems. I am pretty sure I read it without knowing Creeley by name.

I have two memories of learning his name, both of which feel like primary experiences.  However, I don't think either one can claim to be the real "first time" I learned it. 

1. I saw Creeley once in a documentary about Jack Kerouac -- that may have been the first time I became aware of him by name.

2. I also stumbled upon his Collected Poems 1945-1975 in the basement stacks at the Fordham library while avoiding the work I was supposed to be doing for class. I never could concentrate on my work, and so to avoid the task at hand I would often conduct random searches through the stacks, pulling books off the shelves and flipping through them for sometimes hours on end -- preferably until the library closed and I could return to my apartment having spent the night "at work," even if I had accomplished nothing in the process.

My first impression, as I have written elsewhere, was that I did not like Creeley's poems very much. They were so damn short! I spent very little time with them, and it wasn't until several years later that I came upon his work again, this time at a reading he was supposed to give in NYC with Allen Ginsberg at the old DIA center in Soho. Turned out Creeley got snowed in in Buffalo and was replaced on the bill by Anne Waldman.

The DIA Center printed two little broadsides, one by Ginsberg, the other by Creeley, which they gave out to all the attendees. I think the Ginsberg poem was called "Now and Forever," which begins with the great line "I'll settle for immortality--"

The Creeley poem was "Edges," from the collection, Echoes. I had both tacked to the wall above my desk in my bedroom in New York for a long time. A few lines from the Creeley poem always stayed with me:

...I am not simply a response to this, this light
not just an agency sees and vaguely adumbrates, adds an opinion
there is no opinion for life, no word more or less general.


Again, it was a few more years before I really discovered Creeley. In the two years between my return from Ecuador and my departure for Buffalo, I worked as a temp. I spent most of my time on these jobs reading or writing or both, as I often had hours of paid downtime each day. One of my last temp jobs was working at a law firm whose clients included Calvin Klein, Luis Vuitton, etc.

My job was mostly to make sure my boss's chicory-flavored coffee was ready for him when he arrived in the morning, then to look busy at my desk for the rest of the day. I arrived about twenty minutes ahead of the boss, during which time I would prepare his coffee and then make copies of 20 or so pages from whatever book I was reading. I would keep the pages on a clipboard beneath several other work-related sheets of paper, which provided cover in case he wanted to know what I was reading. Some days I would be more brazen and just hold a book open behind the partition that separated my desk from the hallway and his view.

I can remember purchasing a copy of Selected Poems -- the one with the white cover and the blue crayon window with four images of Creeley at various ages contained within the mullions. I read it at work every day for about a week and I remember experiencing a real joy reading his poetry that I have rarely experienced with other poets.

I remember sitting at the desk smiling to myself all day long, then catching myself smiling and worrying I was giving myself away, then not giving a damn because I hated the job anyway, and continuing to read and to smile at what I read. Not long after that, I moved up to Buffalo, where I was fortunate to get to know him for a few years.

And speaking of Kerouac:

Jack's Blues

I am going to roll up
a monkey and smoke it, put
an elephant in the pot. I am going out
and never come back.

What's better than that,
lying on your back, flat
on your back with your
eyes to the view.

Oh the view is blue, I saw that
too, yesterday, and you
red eyes and blue
funked.

I am going to roll up
a rug and smoke it, put
the car in the garage and I'm
gone, like a sad old candle.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 38 (Jonathan Crary)

Crary, Jonathan
Techniques of the Observer:
On Vision and Modernity
in the Nineteenth Century

I bought this in Buffalo in 1997, just after I arrived for grad school. I remember reading Susan Howe's course syllabus online and feeling like I needed to get a head start on some of the reading before I arrived. I think I spent all summer reading Henry James and Nathaniel Hawthorne and then I bought and read this book.

There was another book I bought for the course, whose name I can't recall. I just remember that on the cover there was a picture of a woman in a film still standing before an expressionistic doorway. I am pretty sure it's a film noir and that the book had something to do with images of women in film. I read that one, too, but I can't recall the title.

I think learned what a camera obscura is from reading this book. I learned a lot in Susan Howe's classes, but I'll get to that at some later date.

Next up is the Creeley section, which could take quite a while -- I have 19 Creeley books, 20 if you count both copies of Pieces. I may.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 37.1 (Hart Crane)

Mariani, Paul
Crane, Hart
The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane


Another barely read literary biography. I only bought this a few years ago. I guess I never learn. I got as far as page 87. 

For a bookmark, interestingly, I was using my Ecuadorean "cedula" or work card, which says that I was authorized to work as a "misionero" or missionary from August 31, 1994-August 13, 1995. 

In the photo, my hair is pulled back in a pony tail and I am wearing gold, horn rimmed-glasses. I am younger, tanner and thinner. 

I remember waiting to get this card. I waited all morning only to be told to return at 3 PM, after the "jefe" returned from lunch. He sat eating an orange at his desk for two hours with my passport in front of him, never looking up, before he finally signed it. 

According to the card, this cost 10,000 sucres -- about 3 dollars, I think.  On the back it says:

"It is the obligation of the Foreigner to communicate to this Immigration Office any change in residence, place of work, civil status, occupation, migrant state, passport, activity, etc."

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 37 (Hart Crane)

Crane, Hart
The Complete Poems of Hart Crane


I bought this in 1995 or 1996 at St. Mark's Books in NYC. I actually see myself in the store when I remember it. However, I think the visual portion of that memory is skewed because in it I am standing in front of a wall of books in the fiction section, probably near the M's, with the poetry section behind me and to my right. Nonetheless, it is highly likely that I bought it there, as that is where I made 99 percent of my new book purchases when I lived in the city.

I was immediately taken with Hart Crane's poetry when I read it and tried to imitate his baroque syntax for a time. 

Weirdly, there is a sketch inside the book that I must have drawn while trying to make out some of the images in the poem, "Emblems of Conduct." In the sketch a man sits in a lounge chair on a Florida-shaped peninsula in the middle of the ocean. The volcano is erupting. The man appears to be wearing a sombrero and there is before him what might be a canvas or a sketchbook. The sun is up and there are a few clouds in the sky. A giant gravestone engraved with a dolphin leaping over the letters RIP rises from the water.

Here's the poem (you can puzzle out the sketch yourself):

Emblems of Conduct

By a peninsula the wanderer sat and sketched
The uneven valley graves. While the apostle gave
Alms to the meek the volcano burst
With sulphur and aureate rocks...
For joy rides in stupendous coverings
Luring the living into spiritual gates.

Orators follow the universe
And radio the complete laws to the people.
The apostle conveys thought through discipline.
Bowls and cups fill historians with adorations--
Dull lips commemorating spiritual gates.

The wanderer later chose this spot of rest
Where marble clouds support the sea
And where was finally born a hero.
By that time summer and smoke were past.
Dolphins still played, arching the horizons,
But only to build memories of spiritual gates.

Another memory: my first reading in NYC was at the Segue Foundation with Eileen Myles on April 27, 1997 -- the 65th Anniversary of Hart Crane's suicide.

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 36.2 (Brenda Coultas)

Coultas, Brenda
The Marvelous Bones of Time


Purchased about a year ago after a reading Brenda gave at Buffalo State College with Jonathan Skinner. I don't think I bought it at the reading, however. I am pretty sure I bought it online and as a gift for Lori, who loved Brenda's reading. Thus, she has read it and I have not. Alas.

An excerpt:

Looking from the free state
there is a river then a slave state
Turn around and there is a slave state,
a river
then a free state.

I was born between the free side and the slave side, my head crowning on the bridge. I fully emerged in an elevator traveling upward in a slave state. I have shopped in the slave state and eaten barbecue there. I have walked along the riverbank in the slave state and looked out at a free state.

Lincoln looked out over the river and saw a slave state and he was born in one (Kentucky), like me, but was raised in a free state (Indiana), like me. We were white and so could cross the river.

Question: are there any abolitionists hanging from my family tree?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 36.1 (Brenda Coultas)


A Handmade Museum
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Coultas, Brenda
A Handmade Museum


Sorry for my spotty content delivery of late. We spent the whole weekend working on the house, thus my brain has been mush. 

Anyhow, I bought this title a few years back. Online, I think. I love Brenda Coultas' writing, but I especially like this book, as it concerns all the changes overtaking my old neighborhood in NYC.

When I first met Brenda, I discovered she actually lives across the street from the little high school where I used to teach. The school is one block east of the section of the Bowery Brenda writes about in this book, which has undergone massive gentrification in the decade or so since I left.

Where once there were old tenement buildings or parking lots or community gardens, there now stand towering glass luxury apartment buildings, completely at odds with the scale and texture of the neighborhood and which, as Brenda notes, rise without any sense of the human history of the neighborhood or any concern for its human future, unless by "human" one means only the obscenely wealthy who occupy these behemoths.

Here's an excerpt from "The Bowery Project" at Tool:

http://www.toolamagazine.com/Brenda.html

Friday, May 8, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 36 (Brenda Coultas)


Early Films
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Coultas, Brenda
Early Films

This is was given to me by the author in 2000 when we read together at the Steel Bar series in Buffalo. Steel Bar was run by Jonathan Skinner for several years when he was in Buffalo. It took place in the studio of artist Isabelle Pellissier, Jonathan's wife, which was housed in the same building that at the time housed Just Buffalo Literary Center and Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center.

The building itself is a large, former factory complex on the east side of Main St. Originally a Ford Model "T" and then Model "A" factory (from 1915-31), it became an aircraft manufacturing plant that built the first twin engine jet warplane. It was then used to build diesel engines for the navy up until the fifties, when it was purchased and expanded by the Trico windshield wiper company, which occupied it until 1987. In the 90's it became a mixed used building housing artist studios, offices, arts organizations and so forth.

Isabelle's studio was a great place for readings. It was large and open, with high ceilings and a wall of windows at the back. Her two primary media were painting and metal sculpture, so we were always surrounded by all sorts of steel sculptures twisted and welded into organic forms, or into playful pieces of furniture on which to sit and listen to the readings.

Isabelle introduced Brenda at this particular reading with one of the cleverest and most insightful introductions I've ever seen. As I recall, she handmade between five and ten small sculptures the morning of the event and then did a sort of show and tell of each one, explaining how they were related to her reading of Brenda's work. I think that was the only introduction I ever saw her give, despite the fact there must have been 20 readings in her studio over the years.

Here's the first prose poem from Brenda's book:

how i became a man

I learned to lean into them and open their legs and part their lips with the weight of my new body. I held their tiny palms inside the cups of my hands. I did not know their skin would be so soft.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 35 (Julio Cortázar )


Rayuela
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Cortázar, Julio
Rayuela


I bought this book about five years ago at the World Language Center at the Yale Bookstore in New Haven. I was visiting the literary outlaw Richard Deming (who last week received the Edna Farber first book award from the Poetry Society -- some outlaw! -- but congrats to Richard, anyhow) while I journeyed home from the Poetry of the Forties Conference in Orono, Maine.

When the "year of reading in Spanish" began last June, I had high hopes of reading this once I got my language chops sharpened. Well, they are still not sharp enough. Three times have I begun, and thrice failed. I hope to try again some day.

Part of the problem is that it is a scholarly edition, so it is crammed with footnotes. Every Paris street name and every passing reference to anything is footnoted, which means that just about every page contains about half primary text and half footnotes. I guess this is useful if you need to write a paper. Otherwise, it is very, very obtrusive. Not to mention there is a 91-page scholarly introduction. Christ, can I just read the book?

An excerpt in the original:

¿Encontraría a la Maga? Tantas veces me había bastado asomarme, viniendo por la rue de Seine, al arco que da al Quai de Conti, y apenas la luz de ceniza y olivo que flota sobre el río me dejaba distinguir las formas, ya su silueta delgada se inscribía en el Pont des Arts, a veces andando de un lado a otro, a veces detenida en el pretil de hierro, inclinada sobre el agua. Y era tan natural cruzar la calle, subir los peldaños del puente, entrar en su delgada cintura y acercarme a la Maga que sonreía sin sorpresa, convencida como yo de que un encuentro casual era lo menos casual en nuestras vidas, y que la gente que se da citas precisas es la misma que necesita papel rayado para escribirse o que aprieta desde abajo el tubo de dentífrico.

Correction

The literary outlaw Richard Deming won the Norma Farber Award, not the "Edna" Farber Award.  Edna was Norma's half-wit sister who tried her hand at prose before leaping into the Harlem River with a pocket full of stones.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 34 (Matthew Cooperman)

Cooperman, Matthew
Still (to be) Perpetual


Purchased about two years ago at a reading by the author at Hallwalls Cinema in Buffalo. I met Matthew Cooperman in 2004 at the Poetry of the Forties Conference in Orono, Maine.

One afternoon, Matthew, Jonathan Skinner and myself skipped out of the conference for an afternoon to visit Ted Enslin's farm deep in the Maine Woods. Enslin entertained us in the living room of his 200-year old farmhouse and then took us on a walk through a clearing in the woods to his writing cabin, a little A-frame filled with books and cd's and trunks full of manuscripts. (I'll write more about this visit when I get to Enslin's books).

After visiting Ted, the three of us drove back toward Orono. I recall we stopped at a lobster shack by the side of the road and ate a very messy dinner while talking about Enslin, Creeley, Mac Low and many of the other old poets that had made their way to the conference--Creeley and Mac Low for the last time. In fact, I am pretty sure Mac Low's reading at the conference was his final reading, period.

Anyhow, here's an excerpt from the book:

perpetually the gradual
slides into focus
we're losing the
sense of ennoblement
that exceptionalism stirs
into being this
too is perpetual


(Side note: a couple of years ago, I put up a brief Wikipedia bio of myself, based on the fact that my name was listed on three separate entries, which I thought should contain links to relevant information. Remarkably, the page is still up. At some point it got graffiti'd by someone that turned out to be an old college roommate making a bizarre attempt to reestablish contact with me. This led to an extensive back page discussion about whether or not the page was legit. Eventually, it got cleaned up, but I decided to keep an eye on it, because the argument ended with some acrimony. One day it got hit again -- by someone else! The tagger called himself "Cap'n Coop." I have no proof, but I have alway suspected Mr. Cooperman. Forgive me, Matt, if I have wrongly accused you).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 33 (Clark Coolidge)


Odes of Roba
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Coolidge, Clark
Odes of Roba


Purchased at the now defunct remaindered bookstore in Sarasota, FL, most likely in 1997, possibly 1998, but most likely 1997. I have a distinct and clear memory of having used this book to generate poems at some point. My memory is of having taken one or several of them and reverse engineered the text so that it said the opposite of the original, while retaining the rhythm. This was an exercise I used to perform quite often, and for a time it was useful for generating a text to work with in order to write. Eventually I discovered I preferred writing to generating text and stopped performing that exercise. Looking over it now, I can't remember which poems I used or which of my own might have been generated from this exercise. I am quite sure, however, that I did this. Really. Quite. Sure.

Here's one of Coolidge's:

Uccello's Battle in Aspic

An ant has landed in the distance, as I try
to realize the swords as bumbershoots fallen
tracked around under the horses placed, and beneath
there are giant cracks in lace. The hook cap of a cat
left into crystal of wool. Seeing a matter of
oranges raised, pole-braided into instrument of throng.
Nobody's flag catches into pages marbled of an end.
I throw throats, howls the one in bath cap, but the
shower is raisin and he clicks on lit glass, a shard
map of pink of blood and the berry stillness. No one
looks beyond all this, and I only get to see it
tiny from away where I am.

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 32.1 (Tim Pat Coogan)


The IRA
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Coogan, Tim Pat
The IRA


I bought this right after I finished reading The Troubles -- about 5 years ago. It's an exhaustive history of the IRA, which I am pretty sure I never finished. I can only read so much history before I get all bleary-eyed.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Last PEN Blog Entry

A short one:

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 32 (Tim Pat Coogan)

Coogan, Tim Pat
The Troubles: Ireland's Ordeals and the Search for Peace


I plan to write one more wrap-up entry for my PEN blog, but I thought it best to get back to the business at hand, so here's the latest.

A few years ago, I read a book by sixties activist Tom Hayden called Irish on the Inside, in which he said that the mainstreaming of Irish-Americans into the general category of "white" Americans had shorn them of their traditionally more radical political position vis-a-vis American politics. It was a pretty interesting read and got me thinking that I didn't really know all that much about Irish history, despite having grown up surrounded by shamrocks and alcoholism.

Thus began a reading jaunt lasting several months, in which I attempted to bone up on Irish history. I think Tim Pat Coogan's The Troubles: Ireland's Ordeals and the Search for Peace was the next book I read after Hayden's. It's an extremely detailed history of Northern Ireland from 1966-1996. After a brief historical introduction to Anglo-Irish colonial and post-colonial history, it launches into a blow-by-blow account of The Troubles, beginning with peaceful civil rights actions and ending in a 40-year civil war that still won't lay down quietly and die.

Whoa--that sounded almost like a book review. I guess I am a little out of practice.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Third PEN Blog Entry: Defiant Images

Defiant Images

http://www.pen.org/ViewBlogPost.php?prmBlogID=1058&prmProfileID=42068