Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 33.2 (Susan Howe)

Howe, Susan
Souls of the Labadie Tract

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I am trying to think of something to write about and the only thing that pops into my head is the word "antinomianism." I think Susan Howe was the first person I ever heard use this term, either on a syllabus or in one of her lectures. For a long time, I didn't really know what it meant. I knew it had something to do with Anne Hutchinson and religious freedom and a certain kind of proto-feminist religiosity. But I didn't really have an idea about the concept or its history.

Even so, I think I felt a certain resistance to it, almost on an instinctual level, which is weird, given I did not know the meaning of the word. According to Wikipedia, it is a "belief originating in Christian theology that faith alone, not obedience to religious law, is necessary for salvation."

So I guess it must be partly my Catholic upbringing which resists the idea, but also partly my skepticism about religion in general. Catholicism and antinomianism are two remarkably contrasting world views. I would not say I care one way or the other about the theological element of the argument, but the way the Catholic view has shaped me I do find interesting.

Both ideas have serious failings and can lead to all kinds of moral hypocrisy. On the one hand, the "works" people can do all kinds of good deeds with nothing but resentment and putrefaction in their hearts. On the "faith" side of things, well, if you are chosen and faith is the only measure then hell, you can do whatever you want. God said so. He might have even told you himself.

I think it is that element -- the sense of righteousness, entitlement, election -- on the part of the antinomian argument, that I respond to in a negative, visceral way. Perhaps as a result of my upbringing, I have little faith in things I can't see, and I think antinomianism is all about the unseen. Internal visions. Belief in one's ability to have direct contact with God. Etc.

We were brought up believing that obedience to the law, good works, and repentance were necessary for salvation. Acting badly while remaining faithful was seen as even worse than acting benevolently with malice in your heart. One could see how someone like me might become wracked with guilt, despite having "freed" himself from religion.

from Souls of the Labadie Tract

Indifferent truth and trust

am in you and of you air

utterance blindness of you

That we are come to that

Between us here to know

Things in the perfect way

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 33.1 (Susan Howe)

Originally uploaded by Michael Kelleher
Howe, Susan

I can't remember if I bought this or if it was given to me by the publishers, Erica Van Horn and Simon Cutts of Coracle Press. If I paid for it, then it was at Talking Leaves...Books.

I have several memories from the visits of Simon and Erica to Buffalo. One time I was squiring them around town in my car. We were having a conversation about something and I got to talking to the point of distraction. Suddenly someone in the car yelled. I looked up and realized I was blazing through a red light at a busy intersection. I felt terrible and spent the next several hours apologizing.

I think on their next visit (it may have been the same one, not sure), we all went out to dinner at K. Gallagher's, a little restaurant/bar on Allen St. in Buffalo. A friend of theirs joined us, Harley Spiller, aka, Inspector Collector, who runs the Franklin Furnace Archive in NYC, but who hails from Buffalo. Harley is a collector of all kinds of kitsch. I remember he showed us several items he'd received from his father -- I can't quite remember what they were -- possibly a collection of swizzle sticks. I think he also said he owned the world's largest collection of Chinese take-out menus. Oh, memory.,

Erica once gave me a calendar that featured interior flap patterns from envelopes.

Simon once gave me a postcard which still stands on the shelf behind me, and which is visible in many of the photos I post to this here blog. On a white background, in blue block letters, it reads:


from Kidnapped

Reader of poetry this book
contains all poetry THOOR
BALLYEE in seven notes for
stage representation May
countryside you reader of
poetry that I am forgotten
Long notes seem necessary
Unworthy players ask for
legend familiar in legend
the arrow king and no king

Monday, June 28, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 33 (Susan Howe)

Howe, Susan
The Europe of Trusts

I am not certain, but I think I bought this at a giant remaindered bookstore in Sarasota, FL. I might be mistaken. It was in 1997, I had just moved to Buffalo in August of that year, my mother had just moved to Sarasota in June after my father had suddenly died the November before. It was my first visit to her new home. I had driven with Taylor Brady and Tanya Hollis for nearly 24 hours straight from Buffalo.

Anyhow, there was this bookstore, which I have mentioned before on this blog, and which is sadly now no more. I went in and walked up the steps to the second floor and around to the left to a hidden little corner where they housed the poetry books. I found a small trove of remaindered avant-garde poetry titles, including Charles Bernstein's Senses of Responsibility (chapbook!), Clark Coolidge's Odes of Roba and, I am pretty sure, this and one other book by Susan Howe, possibly Singularities--all new, and I paid, I think, 10 bucks for them all. I never found any books like them again over the next decade of visiting the store.

Before this purchase, this had been the first book of Susan's that I read. I think I read the whole thing in one sitting without ever leaving the bookstore (I was a little more broke in the 90's than I am now, so this was not unusual). I had read one of her poems in the New Directions Language Poetries anthology and followed this by seeking out her books on the shelves.

I remember sitting down on one of those rolling steppers at St. Mark's Books and reading through the whole thing. I was especially taken with the introduction,'There Are Not Leaves Enough To Crown to Cover to Crown To Cover.' Something about the way she was able to intertwine autobiography with history and literary quotation fascinated me. While the level of difficulty I enjoyed in much language writing was very present and still is, I found her insistence on having a subject at the center of her work led me to a very different place than some of the more de-centered, anti-subjective and apparently a-historical language writing I had previously read.

Anyhow, it's still my favorite and most read of her books.

Click here to read the intro at Google Books.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 32 (Fanny Howe)

Selected Poems
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Howe, Fanny
Selected Poems

I think I may have bought this at Talking Leaves...Books. Not sure, though.

I am having a hard time getting my memory/sentiment function to work this morning after having spent the morning writing a response to several comments about my post on the Academic Compromise. I am supposed to be on a poetry writing "staycation" right now, but I keep getting distracted by things like writing blog posts and watching soccer matches first thing in the morning. I've managed to write a couple of poems I like in the past ten days, plus have done some translations, so all is not lost. The ticking clock of the writing vacation can start to get pretty loud if I let it.

If only I had gone into academia...I'd have the whole summer off!

from Selected Poems

from Introduction to the World

I'd speak if I wasn't afraid of inhaling
A memory I want to forget
Like I trusted the world which wasn't mine
The hollyhock in the tall vase is wide awake
And feelings are only overcome by fleeing
To their opposite. Moisture and dirt
Have entered the space between threshold and floor
A lot is my estimate when I step on it
Sorrow can be a home to stand on so
And see far to: another earth, a place I might know
from Selected Poems

Response to Comments on "The Academic Compromise" Post

Several thoughtful comments to my post the other day–from Brandon Brown and Konrad Steiner and Juliana Spahr in particular–that I wanted to respond to. You may want to read them before proceeding.

Dear Brandon, Konrad, and Juliana,

Hugs back, and thanks for the responses. I think Brandon hits on something crucial here regarding the "similitude" proposed in Juliana's comparison. I'll get to that in a minute.

First, Juliana, my point was not to attack you personally, and I don't think I did, though I admittedly used some harsh adjectives to critique the tone of the passage, and perhaps could have chosen a few other passages from other writers so it didn't seem as if I were responding solely to your paper (NB: links to blog itself. I don't see a permalink link, so scroll down for J's paper). As both Jonathan Skinner and you noted (JS on FB), we are more in agreement than not about many things, and much of your poetics work speaks for itself.

However, that image of the unmatching chairs stuck, sticks, in my craw, and I felt I had to address what I see as a kind of tone the academy often takes towards we in the community of those unmatched chairs. I wasn't there, and I didn't hear you speak that passage aloud, so I have only what you wrote as a basis on which to make a judgment. What I "hear" in that tone is someone in the academy speaking to others in the academy about what is outside the academy. I hear someone making a joke about something that I and many others do either for a living or out of love or both. You may not have intended this, but from here it sounded derisive.

Which brings me back to Brandon's point about the similitude thing, which might be more like a question than a response, and which is probably something about which we might all have a great conversation over coffee or the internet sometime. Or maybe now?

What could be read into Juliana's 'similitude' is a question like the one I was also proposing, which might read something like this: The "loving social" of the poetry reading outside the university is proposed as an "alternative" to the presentation of poetry outside the academy. If that is the case, if it is to be a true alternative, then what other forms besides the 'two poets reading' format might it take?

(But for whom and to whom are we asking this question? If we are asking it to the audience inside the academy, are we not asking the authority structure itself to develop a set of acceptable alternatives to its own formats and structures? and in so doing, are we not also implicitly accepting the authority of those institutions? I am reminded of being at a poetry conference in Cuba in 2000, where all of the poets were invited to a q & a with the Minister of Culture, who praised the Cuban lit mag Azoteas for being an act of resistance. It was a model of resistance, he said, which is why we have given them space in the House of Letters Building in Havana. An Argentinian poet/editor then asked the bold question, "If they are housed in a government building, then what, exactly, are they resisting?" The minister's response was predictably evasive, "We must resist hunger, and scarcity, and capitalism....")

I think the world outside is presenting alternatives to the academic model and can and will continue to do so. However, I think the academy authority structure tends to be blind to these alternatives so long as they question or reject its authority. Which is ok by me, but I think within the academy the acceptance of authority is such that there is a common (not shared by you, Juliana, let me be explicit) belief that if something is of value, the university will eventually discover it, and that if they don't, well, then it probably wasn't that interesting in the first place.

Ok, sorry, I am being more critical than I intended to be. I work closely with local universities in ways that are very fruitful, so I should point out some ways that this works, too. Universities do have the means, but they don't always have the knowledge of contemporary poetry to be able to program effectively, especially if they don't have a poet/organizer on staff with those interests.

I have had a great relationship with Buffalo State College over the years wherein I bring about four writers per academic year to campus to meet with students. They read or answer questions or give a workshop or a talk, depending on what is needed. The university pays for this in a way that I cannot. I bring them the writer, they give me the money that pays for the visit, and then I get to present a writer I could not have otherwise have afforded to present in my series (or one I could, who I can now pay a respectable sum for their work).

I have also worked closely with the Poetics Program. Sometimes we plan events together, as we have similar aesthetic interests, other times we split things up. Poet/critics do their critical performance at the university and their poetry performance in the community. A useful model, I think for everyone, as it utilizes the strengths of all involved and everyone seems to benefit.

Maybe the more fruitful (and friendly) question to ask is, What would you like to see happen at poetry readings that you don't see now? Where would you like to see it happen? What do you hope to see a reading accomplish that you don't now? What are some alternative formats that the poetry reading might take? What do we value in the "loving social" that we can build on in the poetry community?

Poetics is, etymologically speaking, "a making," and so I think our energies are always best spent by making stuff and putting it into the world, be that stuff poetry or reading series or essays or neo-benshi performances or whatever. What the academy chooses to do with that stuff is up to them.

Love to you all.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 31 (Albert Hourani)

Hourani, Albert
A History of the Arab Peoples

I think I bought this online. It was recommended to me by Anselm Berrigan during one of his visits to Buffalo. I have a memory of having read it, or at least of having read a part of it. I don't recall anything about it. At all. Weird. Nothing. Maybe I didn't read it. Who knows?

Interesting blogging day yesterday. I posted a little critique of some of the reports I'd read about the Rethinking Poetics conference--suddenly the number of hits to my blog climbed over four hundred percent. That's about as big a jump as the blog has ever experienced in a single day, outside those days when Ron Silliman has linked to it, which he hasn't done for a long time.

What is it about argument that makes people more interested in what one has to say?

I could publish poems each day and no one would read them.

I could publish friendly, thoughtful book reviews and no one would read those, either, although probably more would read those than would the poetry.

I suspect if I started ranting about the poetry scene every morning my readership would increase greatly, at least until people got bored.

I guess it has to do with the fact that argument stirs emotion -- one finds oneself either agreeing or disagreeing with the author's point of view, and this response usually has a strong emotional basis.

Argument stirs emotion, emotion stirred equals readership?

I guess that's why news services are now more or less opinion factories.

from A History of the Arab Peoples

In the early seventh century a religious movement appeared on the margins of the great empires, those of the Byzantines and Sasanians, which dominated the western half of the world. In Mecca, a town in western Arabia, Muhammed began to call men and women to moral reform and submission to the will of God as expressed in what he and his adherents accepted as divine messages revealed to him and later embodied in a book, the Qur'an. In the name of the new religion, Islam, armies drawn from inhabitants of Arabia conquered the surrounding countries and founded a new empire, the caliphate, which included much of the territory of the Byzantine Empire and all of that of the Sasanian, and extended from central Asia to Spain. The centre of power moved from Arabia to Damascus in Syria under the Umayyad caliphs, and then to Baghdad in Iraq under the 'Abbasids.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Academic Compromise and the Crisis of Authenticity

Having spent the better part of the morning reading the various reports on the Rethinking Poetics conference, I find myself feeling a mixture of sadness, resignation, anger and despair.

(None of which, by the way, has anything to do with poetry or poetics per se, which seem to me to be alive and well and operating in a period of high creative and ideological ferment. It was no too long ago, you might recall, that there was no Flarf, no Conceptual Poetry, no Slow Poetry, no post-Avant, no School of Quietude, no American Hybrid, no Third Way to argue about. If one excludes the most successful poetry movement of the 90's, The Poetry Slam, on, say, the specious grounds that it is primarily performative and therefore not "literary" per se, then what you would have found circa 1999 was language writing, which one might love or hate, and which was already at that time a historical artifact, and then a sort of vaguely defined "mainstream" of confessional poetry, dubbed Official Verse Culture by Charles Bernstein. People back then sort of idly wondered what would happen next, or even if anything would or could ever happen again, if we were not at the very end of poetic history. The Millennium was nigh.)

My negative feelings derive mostly from the lack of imagination evident about poetry's operation within the academy and without.

Much handwringing seems to have occurred, and likely still is occurring, all over this great land, about the academic power structure and its relationship to poetry. People seem worried that by sucking at the teat of sweet mama academe they will be perceived as somehow lacking in poetry street cred, once known as "authenticity," a concept rooted in the outlier poetics of the New American Poets, who built up their street cred outside the academy, mostly without higher degrees, certainly with little institutional backing, before most of those who didn't die young eventually found themselves in some way or other part of these same institutions they once avoided.

Today's poets just skip over that first part and head right to the academic, pseudo-bohemian playpen.

They seem to be asking themselves and each other (and any of the 75 or so people in the country who care to listen): if I accept the academic power structure, can I still be a rebel within it, and can my personal/political rebellion from within be as authentic as the rebellion of someone outside of that structure? Given that there is almost no poetry power structure to speak of outside the academy, the answer is a flat, "No." In it is of it.

An entire generation of academics filled the academy's head with the idea that academic work was on a par with, and as efficacious as street level action, that by changing the way people do their homework, they were actually changing society in a way someone, say a social worker or a union organizer, was not. Some deluded themselves into thinking that this approach to political action was in fact superior to the "hands-on" of other kinds of work. AND you got summers off and travel money and sabbaticals and tenure, unlike those other poor suckers out there dependent on city budgets, union negotiations, private foundations and the will of the political class in order to even have a a modestly-paid job to do.

Now, I think we all know this. We all understand that on some level working in the academy is about having a job that allows a poet time to do something he or she really wants to do, i.e., write poetry, and that, most of our justifications to the contrary, it's really about that, and that "that," i.e., the intellectual compromise one has to make in order to derive from the academy its many comforts and benefits, is in fact just that, a compromise. Not a sellout, a compromise, an agreement that says we are willing to accept enough of the hierarchy and enough of the power structure and enough of the judgment of these institutions to allow us to benefit from them without besmirching our poetry street cred.

Just take a sip and swallow, it will all be over soon, just like it never happened at all.

But I want to return to an earlier point, that "there is almost no poetry power structure to speak of outside of the academy." This is not quite true. There is no poetry power structure outside the academy upon which we can reasonably rely for authority. The primary function of the academy is to produce (and reproduce) authority. And let's face it, they're good at it. They've been doing it for hundreds of years. They write well, they're organized, and they know how to stick together. It's a very effective arrangement, and by accepting that authority, we can, we hope, benefit from it.

Those places that produce authority outside the academy: publications, pressess, reading series, not-for-profit literary centers, blogs, etc., all fail to produce even a modicum of the authority that comes from even a single one of the Marjorie Perloff's of the world. They have the authority of their institutions behind them and around them, and they have learned to make great use of their power. The same can be said for many poets, even some of those wringing their hands.

Part of this lack stems from the fact that most non-academic organizations are born as a reaction against some kind of institutional authority. As an "alternative" to that authority. Most seem to want to free themselves from it, not necessarily to re-create it in another form. This can be perceived as a kind of weakness. I don't see it that way, but many do. Many crave the structure of authority the academic environment provides, while simultaneously ranting against its particular judgments.

Which brings me to my point: there is no getting away from the academic power structure from within. It's too strong, too old, too good at what it does. (Lest this be taken as a rant against the university, let me say it is not. I am just trying to name a problem I see with the form of this discussion).

Which leads me to my next point: poetry communities, contrary to Juliana Spahr's assertion regarding the Bay Area Communities, can and do exist outside the academy. They even thrive. They thrive because they do things differently than the academy does. However, in order for them to do this, they must first wash themselves of the dirt of academic structures, functions and authority.

For instance, the poetry reading format, which Juliana describes thus:

But some days when I look at the social formation around the Bay Area outside of the academy, all I see is a claim to a loving social as the difference. Everything else looks the same. The reading series is the reading series. Perhaps the chairs don’t match at the community reading series, but otherwise the community and university reading series happen with two readers behind a podium in a somewhat darkened room. The readers read, often in the same week. The same audience shows up. The reading group of the loving community is reading the same books that are read in the seminar down the street. The only difference is the claim to be better at loving, better at the after party.

This, in my opinion cynical and demeaning, view of poetry outside the academy as being the domain of a bunch of well-intentioned schmucks too stupid or lazy to get hip to the benefits of the academy, is wrong and wrongheaded, and reveals the kind of presuppositions one swallows when making the academic compromise.

The problem with the kinds of communities and readings Juliana describes is not the fact that they are "the same" as academic, only poorer & less well-dressed, but rather that these kinds of reading series seek, albeit outside of an academic context, to appease the same power structure whose compromises they hope to elude. By setting up a reading in the classic "two poets reading" format and/or by ignoring forms of poetry not discussed or accepted within current academic discourse, they seek, implicitly or ex-, to attract to their series members of said power structure, perhaps either to convert them to their way of life, or at least to go tell their fellows it's safe to go outside, that things won't be totally "other" beyond the ivory tower.

There are other models. Pause. There are OTHER models.

In 2007 I read at the "Late Night Snack" series in LA, curated and hosted by Harold Abramowitz and Mattthew Timmons. The reading took place in a gallery in the basement of a Chinese restaurant Dowtown. No one even took the stage until about 11 PM (hence the series' title). On a school night, no less! Several male and female poets read, some local, some from out of town, like me. One guy read an essay. A young woman played the banjo and sang. Another pair of women performed a sort of comedy routine using an accordian. There was food. People ate, drank. sang, listened, laughed. Everyone went home smiling. No one wrang their hands about the "authenticity" of the event or its participants. We all had a good time.

Harold and Matt had inspired me. When I returned to Buffalo, where I live, having come here for a PhD in Poetics, and having abandoned that endeavor (I walked with my MA, for those wondering about my credentials), in order to do the work I do now, as a literary curator for a local not-for-profit arts center, I said to Aaron Lowinger, who helps me curate poetry readings, "Aaron, I hate the 'two poets reading' format. Let's stop it now and do something else. The only rule is that it has to be fun."

We came up with a new format and a new series, which we called "Big Night." Poetry, of course, is at the center of these events, but it is not the only medium present. There is always food. Geoff Gatza, a chef, donates his labor and for the cost of food and supplies (about 100 dollars) serves up enough food to feed 100 people. He does this out of love for the social, or the "loving social" that IS an important difference between academic and non-academic poetry readings. Many people come to hear these avant-garde poets just for the food. Some of them even walk away with an appreciation for the poetry. But food is not the only attraction to these events, which feature avant-garde film, video, music and performance art, poets theater performances, dance parties, art exhibitions, video installations--hell, we even invite fiction writers sometimes.

The effect of this is to have created a provisional, yet exciting and fun, community centered on poetry AND the loving social AND the belief that poetry benefits from its association with other art forms and withers when it isolates itself from those other forms, especially when it does so in conference and seminar rooms. We have had audiences of up to 150. Some even come from the Poetics Program, and they are welcome members of the community, though they are neither the target audience nor the sole reason for putting on these events. Students and poets come, teachers and artists come, musicians, filmmakers, parents, philanthropists, even the occasional rambling and disruptive drunk come. More importantly, we see different audiences at the different events, and we have also developed a core audience for primarily post-Avant poetry in Buffalo.

(I should note, that there is a LONG history of university-based avant-garde poetic and artistic activity in Buffalo, which at various times has extended into the non-academic community to positive effect, and that the longevity of that institution, combined with the efforts of outside organizations such as Just Buffalo and Hallwalls, has created a remarkably welcoming and fruitful atmosphere for all kinds of experimental practices in this small, snowbound city.)

I don't present this test case to toot my own institutional horn. I present it to make the point that there is poetic life outside the academy, and that it operates on a different order. Academic events differ in one key respect: the measure of success. Inside the academy, the measure of success can be set up as a neat equation: size of reputation of readers divided by the number of important audience members equals the ratio of success (this also works well in New York City). Outside the academy, the measure varies. For us, for now, the presentation of a broad array of poets, artists, forms, genres and media before a large, diverse and changing audience, all toward the end of making a vibrant, loving poetry social, are the measure. O yeah, and having a good time. Poetry can also be pleasurable.

The academy will never accept a social hierarchy or authority structure outside itself, so if you want to be outside, you have to actually BE outside. This means NOT deriving the benefits the acadamy bestows on those willing to make the compromise. It also means you don't have to sit through academic conferences ever again, unless you're into that kind of thing.

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 30, (Houdini)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Silverman, Kenneth

This book was published by Harper Collins when I worked there as a temp in, I think, 1996. I can't remember if one of my bosses gave it to me or if I just took it home one day. Publishing house floors are literally filled with bookcases overflowing with books that no one pays attention to, so it's pretty common for underlings (like I was then) to walk home with them.

My recollection is that this is a pretty entertaining biography, especially about Houdini's crusade to debunk spiritualism and his odd relationship with one of said movements great champions, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Apparently, Houdini, in addition to his fame as an escape artist, had literary pretensions, and he attempted to exploit his relationship with Doyle to further them, a plan, obviously, that didn't go so well.

from HOUDINI!!!

Even before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle returned to America for his second lecture tour, in April 1923, his friendship with Houdini had soured. The spoilage was done by mail. For nine months after the Atlantic City seance, Houdini and Doyle wrote to each other every few weeks. The ocean between them made it easier than before to create misunderstanding, and harder to patch wounds.

The correspondence got off cordially enough. When Doyle read about the death in New York of the well-known "Human Fly," in a ten-story fall from a ledge of the Hotel Martinique, he pleaded with Houdini. "For goodness' sake take care of those dangerous stunts of yours. You have done enough of them." Mostly the two men discussed Spiritualism. Doyle, busy completing a monograph on spirit photography, had joined in experiments to disprove the alleged exposé of the Crewe Circle. The society for Psychical Research (to recall) had marked plates by X ray, whose absence in the developed negatives convinced investigators that the plates had been switched. Doyle informed Houdini that his own group had "knocked the bottom" out of SPR's case by that the X-ray tracings simply disappeared: "The evidence for that power is quite final." Houdini replied that his paid investigator at Crewe, DeVega, had detected and revealed to him the circle's "method of manipulation," an interesting one. "It is too bad you were so rushed when you were in America; otherwise, I could have shown you the report."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 29 (Geoffrey Hosking)

Hosking, Geoffrey
Russia and the Russians

I think I bought this online, though I am not sure.

A few years back I started targeting areas of the world I knew nothing about and reading histories about them. I didn't get too far, as it is very difficult to find history books that are also good reading. History is such a diverse subject that you really have to know exactly what you are looking for in order to find something interesting to read.

This one was pretty useful as a primer of Russian political history, even though it's point of view is strictly that of the sovereign nation and its domestic and foreign policy challenges. It's dry, but thorough. I prefer this to the kind that is written toward a general audience, the ones whose narratives swashbuckle along on sentences laden with action verbs and colorful adjectives.

from Russia and the Russians

The north Eurasian plain is not only Russia's geographical setting, but also her fate. From the Carpathians in the west to the Greater Khingan range in the east, a huge expanse of flat, ope territory dominates the Eurasian continent. It divides into four bands of terrain, running from west to east. In the south is desert, broken only by oases along the rivers which run off the mountains along the souther and eastern rims. Then comes steppe, lightly watered country with a thin and variable covering of grasses and scrub, again broken intermittently by oases, gullies and river valleys. Farther north is a belt of coniferous forest, interspersed toward its southern edge with deciduous trees; only to the west of the Urals does this deciduous belt broaden to become a large and independent ecological zone. Finally comes the tundra: frozen wastelands and swamp, with broad rivers flowing through them to the Arctic Ocean, itself frozen for much of the year.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 28.1 (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Hopkins, Gerard Manley
A Selection of his Finest Poems

Purchased at Talking Leaves..Books. Possibly not by me. I have a sensation that this was a gift, though it is not inscribed, so I can't be sure who it might have been from. If you gave it to me, I apologize for not remembering, but you really should inscribe your gift-books.

Last night at Geoffrey Gatza's, we had a long discussion about why one shouldn't buy books as gifts for writers.

Here are my reasons for and qualifications of this theory.

1. Writers are readers, and most have a written or unwritten--and likely prioritized--list of books they want to read or intend to read in the near future, either because they are following a particular train of thought or because they feel they need some essential information from these books. Sometimes they just read for fun, but even their fun books have usually been chosen well in advance of their reading. This list is updated daily and often moves in unexplained directions influenced by everything from the weather to the footnotes of the book they are reading at the moment.

2. This writer, anyway, needs to start, stop, diverge and digress at will. Gift books often come bearing the expectation of the giver that they will be read and liked. This expectation causes consternation on the part of the receiver. It's sort of like a homework assignment whose grade depends upon the degree with which the student agrees with the opinions and tastes of the professor.


1. If the writer in question is obsessive about particular subjects, then buying him or her a book related to the subject will likely make the recipient very happy because it will add to an ongoing list that he or she is likely to take up sooner rather than later. He or she is also able to appreciate the informative nature of the book without feeling the pressure to reflect the giver's tastes back to them.

2. Books that do not require reading (picture books, art books, rare books, etc.) or aesthetic judgments (cookbooks, how-to books) cause much less consternation than those that do (works of literature, especially those read and loved by the giver of the book), and therefore make perfectly fine gifts.

And then there's always the trusty bottle of Old Spice cologne.

Anyhow, this all came up because Geoff received several books that qualify under the good gift category because they fed into to two ongoing obsessions, Sherlock Homes & P.D. Wodehouse, respectively.

The Windhover

To Christ our Lord

I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
      dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
      Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
      As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
      Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
      Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

      No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
      Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 28 (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Poems and Prose
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hopkins, Gerard Manley
Poems and Prose

I am not sure, but I think I may have bought this at 7th Street Books in New York (RIP).

I went through a serious GMH phase when I first arrived in Buffalo. I learned a lot about rhythm from his work by writing imitations. I once wrote and published a short piece called "Three Imitations of Gerard Manley Hopkins." It was an imitation of the metrical and stanzaic structure of "The Wreck of the Deutschland." I think the process for writing the poem involved a kind of homophonic-homolinguistic translation. I tried to imitated nearly the exact sound of the words in the poem. It all escapes me now.

The poem was self-published in a little pamphlet called "three." It featured three poems by me, three by Eleni Stecopoulos, and three by Jonathan Skinner. All three of us were reading at Double Happiness in NYC in, I think, February of 1999. Part of the reason for the title was that the reading had been billed as "Three from Buffalo" and we were trying to removed the modifier, which seemed limiting. I think Eleni suggested we call it "two" or "four" in order to take the resistance one step further.

Jonathan and I had planned to print the books and leave on Thursday night from Buffalo. He had borrowed a pickup from a friend with whom he was going to stay in Brooklyn. I was to stay with my friend, P., in Stuy-Town on 14th St. Our plan was to leave at around 7 PM. Jonathan being Jonathan, we left at around ten. We got into the pick-up and drove for about an hour before we realized we had left all of the books back in Buffalo. We tgot off the thruway and headed back and didn't end up leaving again until 1 AM, arriving in NYC after sunrise.

It was very dark at Double Happiness. I remember while reading being able to hear, but not see, Charles Bernstein and Garret Kalleberg munching on peanuts in an alcove near the stage.

Link to the Wreck of the Deutschland

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 27.5 (Homer)

The Iliad
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
The Iliad
Tr. Robert Fitzgerald

I think this is yet another book that once belonged to my brother. On the blank page in front he has drawn a logo comprised of two connected letters, "W" & "F." Beneath that, in large, all caps, block print, he has written:


It's the copy of the Iliad I read before any other. The book is in terrible shape. I just broke the spine trying to open it up. Alas. It's the last of my copies of homer.

R.D. Pohl, poetry editor of the Buffalo News, and frequent commenter on the blog, asked if I could share a little about the storage of these books and if I could possibly post a few photos.


All of the books are at present contained in the built-in book cases that came with the house when we bought it in 2008. My office appears to have been a pantry or kitchen at some point. When we moved in it was all green, including the ceiling. It seemed to have been used as some kind of groovy sixties cocktail lounge. All of the shelves had doors on them.

We removed all of the doors, except the corner ones, whose interiors are now used for storage, and added a couple of shelves for more space. In the photo below are visible (top to bottom, left to right) Poetry Journals, Anthologies, Reference, A-Br, Br-Ed, Eg-Ja.

I am now surrounded by books when I write. In the following, you can see Yale Shakespeare set plus all of Lori's grandparents' older hardcovers on the shelf below the window, then below that Ja-Ko, then to the right K0-O'h, O'h-Sa, and Sa-St on the curved shelves at the end.

A second built-in, with an arched opening stands between two windows in the living room. On the top shelf are art books and other oversized books, followed by St-Z.

I am more or less out of shelf space at this point, so new books that come in get piled on top of the rows, and there are many such piles stacked on coffee, end, and bedside tables throughout the house.

from The Iliad

Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Akhilleus' anger, doomed and ruinous,
that caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss
and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
leaving so many dead men–carrion
for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.
Begin it when the two men first contending
broke with one another–the lord Marshal
Agamemnon, Atreus' son, and Prince Akhilleus

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 27.4 (Homer)

The Odyssey
Tr. Richmond Lattimore

Not sure where I bought this. I suspect it was in Northern Virginia, possibly at Borders or one of the other chain stores. I bought it during the summer between my sophomore and junior years in college–or possibly during the winter break–in preparation for a class I was to take on Joyce's Ulysses. I think it was a fall class, so I probably bought it over the summer.

It was one of those courses where the professor suggests you read the entire canon of western literature as preparation for the first few lectures–and means it. I think I managed to read The Odyssey and Hamlet and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man ahead of the first lecture. I look back fondly–and with a tinge regret–on that particular reading experience.

My fondness stems from its having been my first obsessive investigation into the work of a writer–Joyce (happy Bloomsday, btw).

My regret comes from the way I approached Ulysses–that is, as some sort of sacred text, like the Bible, which required the aid of all kinds of interpreters in order to get at its meaning. The professor's approach to reading the book began with the proposition that it was VERY difficult to understand, which led me to the unfounded belief at the time that I needed to read fifty different articles BEFORE reading each section of the book.

Thus, I learned a lot about what other people had to say about Ulysses, but took away little of the pleasure of reading it for myself, or of swimming around in the sea of Joyce's words. I have tried to make up for this mistake ever since by reading little or no criticism before having read a book myself first.

(I may have taken it a little too far, at this point, reading almost no criticism either before or after reading a book.)

from The Odyssey

Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys, after he had sacked Troy's sacred citadel.
Many were they whose cities he saw, whose minds he learned of,
many the pains he suffered in spirit on the wide sea,
struggling for his own life and the homecoming of his companions.
Even so he could not save his companions, hard though
he strove to; they were destroyed by their own wild recklessness,
fools, who devoured the oxen of Helios, the Sun God,
and he took away the day of their homecoming. From some point
here, goddess, daughter of Zeus, speak, and begin our story.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 27.3 (Homer)

The Iliad of Homer
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
The Iliad
Tr. Richmond Lattimore

Purchased at The Strand for $1. It must have been on one of those racks they have on the sidewalk. The cover reminds me of several books I purchased from those racks about various moments in European history.

I wonder if this was from the same purchase.

I may have bought it when I was an undergraduate, or soon thereafter. I don't have a huge recollection holding this particular volume, but there are plenty of my marks in the margins that would appear to indicate otherwise.

Where did Richmond Lattimore ever find the time to learn Greek and Latin and then translate seemingly the entire literary corpus of an ancient civilization?

from The Iliad

Sing, Goddess, the anger of Peleus' son Achilleus
and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians,
hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls
of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting
of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished
since that time when first there stood in division of conflict
Atreus' son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 27.2 (Homer)

The Iliad of Homer
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
The Iliad
Tr. Alexander Pope

Purchased at the Niagara Falls outlet mall discount bookstore. I seem to have removed the price tag, which is still slightly visible as a piece of smegma in the upper right hand corner of the cover. I also seem to have left a bookmark inside the book between pages two forty-six and two forty-seven.

I recall reading from it a few years back. I think it must have been around the same time I tried to read Fagles' translation. I may have been reading them side-by-side. My only recollection of the Pope is of the maddening feeling of claustrophobia his heroic couplets produce when read in succession. It's entertaining reading, but after a while you have to stop, lest you begin speaking and thinking in couplets.

Reading it felt a little like when I was in high school studying Spanish. For a period of about two years, every time someone would say something to me I would immediately translate what they said into Spanish. I did not do this intentionally, it just happened. After a while, I thought I was going insane. I'd look around at my friends and know that none of them were translating anything I said into another language and that if they were they would damn well know how to stop it, which I could not.

I eventually did, though I suppose by then I had learned to speak it, which was a useful side effect.

from The Iliad, page 246

Great Hector saw, and raging at the view
Pours on the Greeks: the Trojan troops pursue;
He fires his host with animating cries,
And brings along the furies of the skies.
Mars, stern destroyer! and Bellona dread,
Flame in the front, and thunder at the head;
This swells the tumult and the rage of fight;
That shakes a spear that casts a dreadful light;
Where Hector march'd, the god of battles shin'd,
Now stormed before him, and now rag'd behind.

And for comparison to Fagles, the opening:

Achilles wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumber'd, heav'nly Goddess, sing!
That wrath which hurl'd to Pluto's gloomy reign
The souls of mighty Chiefs untimely slain;
Whose limbs unbury'd on the naked shore
Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore:
Since great Achilles and Atrides strove,
Such was the sovereign doom, and such the will of Jove!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 27.1 (Homer)

The Odyssey
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
The Odyssey
Tr. Robert Fagles

Acquired as a desk copy with The Iliad, as recounted in yesterday's post. I read this translation in the class I was teaching, although I am pretty sure I used a smaller, Penguin Classics paperback version instead of this heavier, more elaborate design. In some ways I prefer that other format -- I don't especially like cover flaps on paperback books -- the always seem to get in the way. On the other hand, these look nicer on the shelves and will likely last longer than the other one. Thus, I kept this and sold that.

I recall a change that began to occur in my attitude towards my students when I was teaching that class–I stopped caring. I had been teaching in one form or another since I had graduated from college–first high school in NYC, then as a volunteer teacher in Ecuador, then as a graduate assistant and sometime teaching artist–the one constant through all of those experiences was that I cared for the students and I sympathized with the difficulties of being a young person and wanted little more than to open their eyes to literature and hopefully to see them succeed.

Something changed as I was teaching undergraduates. I tried to maintain the same kind of standards for them that I had for my high school students, which were high but not absurd. After a time, they began to wear me down. It was so difficult to find a student who cared about learning–and not just about getting a good grade–that I began to resent them for it. I felt like my job was to accept a salary to accredit their futures. Teaching them something was optional.

A student who failed or received a bad grade would come to my office in tears–despite not having shown up for the better part of a semester and having turned in almost no work–begging that I change the grade because his or her parents would be upset. By the time I got around to teaching this particular class, I could not muster even a modicum of sympathy for them, and it began to affect my teaching.

I refused to spend time reading the papers that they had barely spent any time writing. I refused to prepare thoroughly for classes I knew no one really cared about. In other words, it was time to pack it in. I suspect this happens to a lot of teachers, which is why in faculty rooms the world over you meet so many bitter, cynical people–they reached the point I have just described and could think of nothing else to do, or couldn't imagine working over the summer, or some such, and they kept going, to their and the students detriment.

Not that I consider my response heroic or anything–I felt sad about it actually, like I had lost something from which I had once taken nourishment.

from The Odyssey

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,
many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.
But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove–
the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,
the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun
and the Sungod blotted out the day of their return.
Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
start from where you will–sing for our time too.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 27 (Homer)

The Iliad
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
The Iliad
Tr. Robert Fagles

I received this and its companion, Fagles' translation of The Odyssey, together as "desk" copies when I was teaching a course on Western Literature to 1650, or something along those lines. I basically ran it as a greatest hits course, beginning with Homer and ending with Shakespeare.

I am not sure I have actually read this copy of the Iliad, or even this translation. I am certain I read Fagles' translation of The Odyssey. I have a vague memory of having read part of this translation of The Iliad, at night, in bed, around the time the Iraq war began. I don't think I finished it, though.

I have several different translations of Homer besides Fagles -- Lattimore, Fitzgerald, even Pope's Iliad. I have read parts of all of them, but I think I have read only the Fitzgerald and Lattimore Iliads all the way through.

from The Iliad

Rage–Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters' souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 26 (Anselm Hollo)

Hollo, Anselm
Notes on the Possibilities
and Attractions
of Existence

Another great find at the late, lamented discount book store at the Niagara Falls outlet mall. I think I got it for half off the cover price. I think I also got Joanne Kyger's As Ever on the the same trip. Anselm Hollo is one of the few poets who has not passed through Buffalo since I have been here. Thus, I've never met him. I saw him pass by at the AWP Conference in Denver. I had seen so many pictures of him that at first I thought he was someone I knew. He disappeared around a corner at the convention center just as the thought passed through my mind, Hey there goes Anselm Hollo!


the poet Vallejo invented new ways of walking
sitting lightly           on wooden metro benches
not to wear out his trousers
not to wear out his shoes

in the secret code of his poems
he describes those inventions

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 25 (John Hollander)

Rhyme's Reason
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hollander, John
Rhyme's Reason

Picked up this and another by John Hollander online a few years back. I was reading a lot about meter and his books came up in one of the bibliographies I was using. I have only the vaguest of recollections of the book, except to say that it seemed more to have been written for someone with almost no experience of poetry, most likely a younger reader.

He's fond of demonstrating formal techniques in a kind of self-reflexive manner, wherein the content of the poem is a literal description of the form or meter it utilizes. Glancing through the table of contents I notice he lists concrete poetry and pattern poems under the label of "aberrant forms." He also includes something under the title called "antiverse," which he defines as "a kind of rhymed free verse." He uses Ogden Nash as an example, which kind of tells you all you need to know about Hollander's limited interest in poetry written after 1900–to put Nash under the same banner as Apollinaire is just plain wrong.

from Rhyme's Reason

Couplets can be of any length,
And shorter size gives greater strength
Sometimes–but sometimes, willy-nilly,
Four-beat couplets sound quite silly.
(Some lines really should stay single:
Feminine rhymes came make them jingle.)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 24 (Benjamin Hollander)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hollander, Benjamin

I can't remember if this was sent to me by Fred Dewey of Beyond Baroque–who published the book–or if it was given to me by Ammiel Alcalay. I am sure one one of these is the case.

I love the cover and book design. It's one of the more beautifully designed books on my shelves. The orange of the title text doesn't quite show up in the photo. It's somewhere between orange sherbet and neon-day-glo, the effect of which is to make the letters seem to float just above the nebulous black and white image. It's of a silhouetted figure standing in a flood of light beside what might be a ship headed out to sea.

from Vigilance

From The Prison Floor (Another One)

Once on a time, and for each of the inmate, there was the kind of command, which honored the hopes and requests of others. "You are free to take the bread," the armed guard said, "so take it." They did–so many, who passed the gene–take it. There were droves, who loved this, who loved to be given anything more.

"Do not," he said, "take the butter from the floor. You may have it now but don't take it with you, who pass there gene, or you will be ticketed for what is already given–by men."

One day, after the calling of breakfast, after they were primed with what was already given by the kind of man commanded to look out for them, the armed guard searched them, but only the ones who loved this and who had taken the bread–which was given. There were droves. They were living. They were feeling ego-alien. Other palms could come down to prod them. It could hurt.

One of them (who but hurt)–who but hurt for the ego-aliens because they were, in their hunger, not even livid and too calm beyond the senses of their skin to tell if anyone had come down on them to prod them–refused it–the bread–but in a kind way, in order to not kneel down on the floor to search for the butter, which was given. To the living.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 23.1 (Eric Hobsbawm)

The Age Of Empire
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hobsbawm, Eric
The Age Of Empire

Not sure where I bought this. I have always intended to go back and read Hobsbawm's three-volume history of the 19th Century, of which this is the third and final volume, but I haven't ever gotten around to it.

I remember reading another book of his about the writing of history for my oral exams in graduate school. I must have borrowed that book from the library because it is not on my shelf.

My memory is of not having read this volume because I had intended first to purchase and read in their proper order the two previous volumes. However, I can see that I underlined a line or two in the introduction, so I must have at least started it at some point.

Here's what I underlined:

from The Age Of Empire

For all of us there is a twilight zone between history and memory; between the past as a generalized record which is open to relatively dispassionate inspection and the past as a remembered part of, or background to, one's own life.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 23 (Eric Hobsbawm)

Hobsbawm, Eric
The Age Of Extremes
A History of the World

Purchased at St. Mark's Books in NYC, probably in 1996. This is likely the first straight up history book I ever read. At a certain point in my twenties I had a minor panic that I didn't know enough about history and so walked into a bookstore to buy a history book–I figured I'd start with a history of the time in which I lived, and this seemed as good a place as any. I think I also liked the photo on the cover; the title appealed to my younger self's sense that maybe history was a little dull. This was a history of "extremes," which might have meant it was more interesting than that other kind.

It is pretty interesting, as I recall. However, in retrospect it's a little too sweeping to be of much use to the beginner. It attempts to cover most of the 20th century, not to mention the entire globe, in its 600 or so pages, so that the information one gleans on each moment in the century is but a small fragment of the whole. It would probably be a more useful read now that I have a better sense of history and could make some kind of judgment about his perspective on the world. At the time, I had to take it at face value. I think when I read it I was working at Hyperion publishers and reading it on the job while I sat in my little cubicle in the corner waiting for something to do.

from The Age Of Extremes

"The lamps are going out all over Europe," said Edward Gray, Foreign Secretary of Great Britain, as he watched the lights of Whitehall on the night when Britain and Germany went to war in 1914. "We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." In Vienna the great satirist Karl Kraus was prepared to document and denounce that war in an extraordinary reportage-drama of 792 pages to which he gave the title The Last Days of Humanity. Both saw the war as the end of the world, and they were not alone. It was not the end of humanity, although there were moments, in the course of the thirty one years of world conflict between the Austrian declaration of war on Serbia on 28 July 1914 and the unconditional surrender of Japan on 14 August 1945–four days after the explosion of the first nuclear bomb–when the end of a considerable proportion of the human race did not look far off. There were surely times when the gods, whom pious humans believed to have created the world and all in it, might have been expected to regret having done so.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 22 (Alfred Hitchcock)

Hitchcock, Alfred
Stories That Scared Even Me

This book belongs to Lori. I was there when she bought it, but I don't recall where we were. My best guess would be rust belt books. She seems to have some memory of a garage sale or something of that sort, but isn't sure.

Feeling a little tired after a day at the Yankees/Jays game in Toronto. Drove there with Aaron Lowinger and Damian Weber, two anti-Yankee fans who rooted for Toronto. It was a great pitcher's duel -- Javier Vaquez actually had a no-hitter going into the sixth or seventh. He gave up one hit, four walks and two runs.

Unfortunately, the hit was a two run homer. However, a couple of hit batsmen, walks, hits, and a passed ball later, the Yanks had a 4-2 lead and ended up winning 4-3 after a classic 5-pitch ninth for Mariano Rivera.

Afterwards we wandered up Spadina to eat at a little dim-sum place on Dundas, then drove back to the Buff, where I now sit writing.

Until tomorrow...

Friday, June 4, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 21 (Hesiod)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
The Works and Days
The Shield of Herakles

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I think I bought this for more oral exams in grad school, but I may have just bought it for fun. It was on the exam, I know that much.

I think I bought this version because it was translated by Richmond Lattimore. With very few exceptions, my experience of classical literature has been mediated by Richmond Lattimore. I can remember reading Aeschylus and Euripedes and Sophocles as an undergraduate and being amazed to find his name on every single book I read.

Running a bit late...

from The Works and Days

Muses, who from Pieria give glory through singing,
come to me, tell of Zeus, your own father,
sing his praises, through whose will
mortal men are named in speech or remain unspoken.
Men are renowned or remain unsung
as great Zeus wills it.
For lightly he makes strong,
and lightly brings strength to confusion,
lightly diminishes the great man,
uplifts the obscure one,
lightly the crooked man he straightens,
withers the proud man,
he Zeus, of the towering thunders,
whose house is highest.

Hear me, see me, Zeus: hearken:
direct your decrees in righteousness.
To you, Perses, I would describe
the true way of existence.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 20 (Werner Herzog)

Herzog on Herzog
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Herzog, Werner
Cronin, Paul, Ed.
Herzog on Herzog

I purchased this book of interviews with Werner Herzog at St. Mark's Books in NYC. I probably bought it five or so years ago. I would say it it was about ten years ago that I first encountered Herzog. I think someone recommended Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Beginning with the opening shot of that film, I became a faithful devotee of the work of Herzog.

Not long after that, he came to the George Eastman House in Rochester to introduce a newly restored print of Stroszek. He said that until then he had not believed in restoration on principle, that once a work of art was completed it became separate from the artist, who no longer had any interest in it, but that the restoration group at Eastman House had convinced him otherwise. They had told him that once the work was complete, it no longer belonged to the artist and that restoration of film was necessary to preserve it for the culture to whom it rightly belonged. Fortunately for us, he bought it, and we got to see a beautifully restored print of the film.

Afterward he answered questions for an hour or so. Most memorably, a woman stood up in the balcony and said she felt that the film misrepresented the experience of German immigrants to the Midwest, that many Germans that had come to the Midwest were not poisoned by the false promise of prosperity, but in fact lived the American dream and ended up making the Midwest what it is today.

I loved Herzog's answer.

He responded in a very sincere and patient tone that the film was not about the German immigration experience per se. It was about three Germans who immigrate to the Midwest, that it was their story, not the whole story of German immigration. He said it seemed this seemed to be a very personal issue, one that may have clouded her ability to see the film for what it is. He then devilishly suggested that she see the film again someday and try to imagine that instead of moving to Wisconsin the characters move to Canada. Ouch.

I remember stepping out to the lobby to go to the bathroom in the middle of the film and seeing this drop-dead gorgeous blonde sitting alone in the lobby. She was the kind of gorgeous that you can't stop looking at, but have to keep turn away from because you are afraid it will burn your skin or eat you alive. Of course, it turned out to be Herzog's wife.

from Herzog on Herzog

I often ask myself how I would like my work to be perceived. I would prefer that the films are seen rather like the work of artisans of the late mediaeval times, people who had workshops and apprentices and who never considered themselves artists. All the sculptors before Michelangelo considered themselves stonemasons; no one really thought of themselves as an 'artist' until maybe the late fifteenth century. Before that they were master craftsmen with apprentices who produced work on commission from popes or Burgermeisters or whosever. This reminds of the story that I speak of with Heiner Muller in The Transformation of the World Into Music. After Michelangelo had finished the Pieta in Rome, the Medici family forced him to build a snowman in the garden of the family villa. He had no qualms about it; without a word he just went out and built the snowman. I like this attitude and feel there is something of absolute defiance in it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 19 (Herodotus)

The Histories
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
The Histories

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books.

A ticket stub for a train from Buffalo to Penn Station, dated March 9, 2000, sits between pages 248 and 249, the pages I left off on the last time I read this, which was likely for my oral exams in graduate school. I think I had a reading at The Poetry Project that spring, so the ticket was likely for that.

It was the first time I'd read there. I think I read with Lisa Lubasch. I remember after the reading going out to the Grass Roots Tavern with Dan Machlin and Garret Kalleberg and Laird Hunt and several others.

As with Paul Celan, there is a whole sub-library of books within my library that belong to the Charles Olson ancillary reading collection. This book belongs there. Not that I don't love Herodotus, but my reading of him is so closely bound up with my reading of Olson, that it is difficult to separate the two in my mind. When I read Herodotus, I read him as Olson told me to read him. I am not sure at this point if I could do it any other way.

(For a brief synopsis of this viewpoint, read my entry from last month on Greek and Roman Historians).

from the Histories, page 248

The Scythians, after discussing the situation and concluding that by themselves they were unequal to the task of coping with Darius in a straight fight, sent off messengers to their neighbors, whose chieftains had already met and were forming plans to deal with what was evidently a threat to their safety on a very large scale. The conference was attended by the chieftains of the following tribes: the Tauri, Agathyrsi, Neuri, Androphagi, Melanchlaeni, Geloni, Budini, and Sauromatae. It is the custom of the Tauri to sacrifice to the Maiden Goddess all shipwrecked sailors and such greeks as the happen to capture upon their coasts; there method of sacrifice is, after the preliminary ceremonies, to hit the victim on the head with a club. Some say that they push the victim's body over the edge of the cliff on which their temple stands, and fix the head on a stake; others, while agreeing about the head, say the body is not pushed over the cliff, but buried. The Tauri themselves claim that the goddess to whom these offerings are made is Agammenon's daughter, Iphigenia. Any one of them who takes a prisoner in war, cuts off his head and carries it home, where he sets it up high over the house on a long pole, generally above the chimney. The heads are suppose to act as guardians of the whole house over which they hang. War and plunder are the sources of this people's livelihood.