Sunday, May 30, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 17 (Barbara Henning)

My Autobiography
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Henning, Barbara
My Autobiography

Sent to me by the author. Inscribed.

I met Barbara Henning when I read with Tyrone Williams in Tucson at the POG series in the Fall of 2007. She was part of a group of us that went out for Indian food after the reading. I had this strange feeling that we had met before. We eventually realized that we had been in New York at the same time in the mid-nineties and that probably I had seen her read. Anyhow, Lori and I had a grand old time eating and talking and hanging out with Barbara and Charles Alexander and Tyrone and Laynie Browne and several others.

Barbara sent me My Autobiography after I started this blog because it reflects a similar impulse–or should I say mania? It is an abecedarium comprised of 72 sonnets, each constructed from lines lifted, in more or less alphabetical order by last name, from poets on the shelves of Barbara's library.

I am not quite sure what the rule is on the alphabetical part, as it seems to follow an alphabetical course pretty strictly through the first half of the book, then less strictly through the latter half. The later parts also seem to include books other than poetry books–Yoga, Cookbooks, etc–as it progresses. Maybe Barbara can pipe in here to let us all know what other constraints are at work here. Barbara?

Anyhow, she's a fellow traveler for sure!

You may have noticed that there is an extra person in today's photograph. That would be the literary outlaw Richard Deming, who visited yesterday along with his wife, Nancy Kuhl. Richard is probably the most consistent and avid read of this here blog and one could see that he felt a bit of awe at standing for the first time in the actual library in which it originates. Sort of like reading about the oracle at Delphi in your ancient Greek texts and then actually going to Delphi, I guess.

We decided that he needed to enter further into the madness by taking a picture of Richard holding today's book. He was a little unsteady at first. It took a few moments to show him how to achieve the correct lighting and angle and distance from the lens in order to make the book legible in the photo. In the end, though, he performed like a pro. It was as if he had been preparing for this moment his entire life and just needed a little gentle encouragement to get on his feet.

(Nancy gave me her just published book, Suspend, and we took a photo of her with it. You'll have to wait until we get to the K's to see it!)

from My Autobiography


heart-shorn, lip-sick, breath-weary
totally uncharacteristic of modern poetry

dogtown, scattered
paste-board masks of moby-dick

truth is, I don't think he cared
what I damn well fell back to

the goodness in her? And what was the cost?
a closed car–closed in glass

currents and storms had taken away
a sort of summer hard budges blossom

but we imagine others
as still and quiet, the angel of knowledge

with no space-time coordinates
I am, by the way, celebrating the city of my birth

1 comment:

Gary said...

This is my favorite Barbara Henning book. I am pretty sure that the order was determined by the order of the books on the shelves. At one point I think you'll find a bunch of cookbooks together?

I started a similar project when I lived in Minnesota, where I took a line from every book in my house, and did it in order of where they were physically. But i don't think I got through more than like 100 books before I abandoned it.

Barbara's genius was to make it "autobiographical." My stupidity was to make mine "hey, I'll just throw in whatever sounds good and, like, see what happens."