Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 9.2 (Allen Ginsberg)

Ginsberg, Allen
Selected Poems 1947-1995

Given to me by the head of marketing at Harper Collins when I worked there as a temp for a few months in 1995. He said, "You're a poet, right? I thought you might like a copy of this." I was moved by this gesture, if for no other reason than that the giver showed not only that he knew who I was, but that he had listened to what I had said about myself. This was not the norm in the publishing world, sad to say. I temped at a couple of different major publishers in the mid-nineties, and I mostly found the work deflating.

My first publisher was Hyperion, which was an imprint of Disney. I worked in the marketing department for about six months. My cubicle sat in the back corner of a group of four cubicles, across the hall from one of the hot young editors. Her assistant, a kind, intelligent ivy-leaguer who spent her whole day kissing ass, sat in front of me. Listening to this editor, who published literary lights such as Jeff Foxworthy and Brett Butler, talk about spending the weekend with "Jeff" at his fabulous house in Hollywood and about what a fun guy he was made me kind of nauseous.

My job mostly consisted of sitting in the corner doing nothing. I had so much time on my hands that I once, for fun, translated the whole of Neruda's "Heights of Macchu" into English over the course of about two weeks (it was a terrible translation, but it was just me and a college dictionary, so give me a break!).

The "highlight" of that job was working on an exercise book by Oprah's trainer. One day, several thousand water bottles with the title of the book emblazoned over the plastic surface arrived for some promotional event. For some reason, the bottles and the tops arrived in separate boxes. It was given to me to put the tops on the bottles. This took two full days. Another task was running rough copies of the cover to the designer and returning with corrections. This was just before the internet took over office work, so there was still a manual aspect to the job. I would carry the image over to the designer with a post-it that said -- "Oprah's thighs too fat -- take more off!" or -- "Sleeveless tee on trainer looks too GAY! add sleeves. Fill in airholes on shirt."

My boss gave me one interesting job in six months. She had a stack of reports tracking sales of books by authors who had appeared on Oprah's show for the three weeks preceding and following their appearance. She asked me to figure out what the average jump in sales was from the three weeks before to the three weeks after. Mind you, this was BEFORE she started the book club. The numbers were frightening, even then. The average jump in sales was something like ten thousand percent! That's power.

At HarperCollins, I discovered the internet, on which I spent a lot of time each day. I also spent a lot of time using the fax machine to fax poems back and forth with my friend, P. I don't think I worked there long, but I once got called back to do one of the most mind-numbing jobs I have ever done -- transcription. And not just any transcription. I was charged with transcribing twelve hours worth of interviews with comedian Jenny McCarthy for her upcoming bio.

Without impugning Ms. McCarthy's comedic talent, which exists, she has to be one of the dumbest sounding people I have ever had the displeasure to listen to. The only thing worse was listening to the interviewer, who I presume was the ghost writer, kiss her ass for twelve hours. He kept saying, "You're not like other stars. You are real. You are grounded. You are not into all of this Hollywood phoniness." And she'd say something like, "Yeah. I know. Listen, I have to get out Palm Springs in a couple of hours, can we hurry up."

It seemed like the writer already had the story written -- it was a "rags to riches" Hollywood tale! -- and that he was just trying to get usable quotes for the book. My favorite moment was when he wanted to talk to her about her comedic influences.

"Who are your influences?" he asked.
"Like, oh, you know, lots."
"You really remind me of some classic Hollywood Comedians, like Lucille Ball."
"Who?"
"I Love Lucy?"
"Oh, yeah, you know, like I, um, I love Lucy."
"Would you say she influenced your work?"
"For sure."

I got so bored that I actually included all of the "likes" and "ums" and "you knows" in the transcript. I am sure the writer hated me for it. Weirdly, a copy of this book showed up on a used book sale table where I work not long ago.

from Selected Poems 1947-1995

Spring Fashions

Full moon over the shopping mall–
in a display window's silent light
the naked mannequin observes her fingernails.

2 comments:

rdeming said...

Interestingly, Ginsberg has been on my mind a lot lately. I recently downloaded a class of his that is on line (from 1982) in which he discusses revision. It is an amazing and touching thing to listen to. It makes me strange to think how one's feelings that someone is erudite, compelling, and so forth can become a memory and not necessarily an active proposition. The recording restored that sense of AG to me and I'm avidly reading through the Selected again, after a decade and a half and being thrilled all over again.

Ginsberg was the first poet I ever saw read. I'm not fully sure why I went--my identity then was as a musician and I never had a high school phase of reading the beats. Lord knows I never read "Howl" at my Catholic high school. Yet, I knew that Ginsberg was an important historical and cultural force. I couldn't get anyone else to go.

However,I saw his reading at the ballroom of the student union at UMass Amherst (where I was a college freshman). The place was absolutely packed. In fact, it was SRO and I was able to stand pretty close.

I just found out today that Dan Bouchard was also at that reading. He and I never met during my year at UMass, but Dan has go on to become one of poets and one of the people most important to me. It strikes me somehow very profound that we were both there and would go on to...live the life of poetry, a sentimental way to say things but still perhaps apt. And that life put many things in front of me, including you Mike--another one of my favorite people and favorite poets.

Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

Aw, shucks, Richard. Sniff.