Saturday, July 31, 2010

Aimless Reading: The I's, Part 4 (Daisuku Ikeda)

Ikeda, Daisuku
Learning From The Gosho:
The Eternal Teachings
of Nichiren Daishonen

This book belongs to Lori. She briefly flirted with Buddhism before she met me.

One of my favorite games to play on Facebook is looking up people I knew in the very distant past. Not just friends from college and high school, but people I barely or only slightly remember from my childhood: primary school classmates, old babysitters, friends from the various neighborhoods in which I lived, etc.

It's not so much nostalgia, though that plays a part, as much as it is a desire to make the past seem real. Or maybe "physically present" would be a better way to put it. I remember that these people existed, that we interacted, were friends, acquaintances, enemies, whatever, and seeing pictures of them still alive after all these years convinces me that the past did in fact occur and that I was where I think I was, among those I think I was among.

I guess there is also something morbid and depressing about this habit. It makes me feel the passage of time more acutely. I realize when I see these people how much time has passed, and how quickly. I think about death.

Part of the reason I partake of this ritual is that I have lead a mostly transient life. I moved five times between birth and the age eight. I have moved twenty-six times since graduating from high school. Even within Buffalo, where I have lived for thirteen years, I have moved around a lot. I have also tended to live among friends who will be leaving soon (because they are graduating or because they can't find work in B'lo), which heightens my sense of transience.

Here's the map of my moves:

1968: Born, Dearborn, Michigan
1971: Moved to Los Gatos California
1972: Moved to another house in Los Gatos
1975: Moved to another house in Los Gatos
1976: Moved to Vienna, Virginia
1986: Graduated high school, moved to Breckenridge, CO
1986: Moved to Dillon, CO
1986: Moved to Silverthorne, CO
1987: Moved home to Vienna
1987: Moved to Wheeling, WV for college
1988: Changed dorm rooms at Wheeling
1988: Moved home to Vienna, transferred to George Mason U.
1988: Moved to Burke, VA
1989: Dropped out, transferred to Fordham University, moved to Arthur Ave., the Bronx
1989: Moved home for summer
1989: Moved to 187th Street, the Bronx
1990: Moved home for Summer
1990: Moved on campus at Fordham, the Bronx
1991: Moved to Belmont, Ave., the Bronx
1992: Moved to 4th St and Ave. B, Manhattan
1994: Moved to Quito, Ecuador
1994: Moved to new apartment, Quito
1995: Moved home for summer
1995: Moved back to East Village
1997: Moved to Cottage St., Buffalo
1998: Moved to College St., Buffalo
2001: Moved to Ashland Avenue, Buffalo
2003: Moved to Dearborn St., Buffalo
2008: Moved to Auburn Ave., Buffalo
2008: Moved to Norwood Ave., Buffalo

Probably the most major dislocation in my life occurred between junior high and high school. I had gone to public school since the second grade, but during junior high I started to get into a lot of trouble. My parents decided that I had to go to a Catholic school in order to get straightened out. They gave me a choice between the all-boys Jesuit school in the city, where they wore no uniform and had a loose dress code, and a co-ed Catholic school in the suburbs where they wore a tie to school every day. I chose the former, partly out of curiosity about the city, mostly because I hated wearing ties.

Nearly, all of my friends went to public schools for high school, and none of them went to the high school that I did. So, at age 13, I was effectively separated again from all my friends. I tried hard to maintain contact with them, to go to their parties and football games and whatever else, but we were in different worlds and I eventually lost touch.

(I think the phrase "losing touch," as in: losing physical contact with particular people, places and things in time, is very apt when discussing the past or nostalgia or whatever it is I am trying to talk about here today.)

I felt even less at home in the high school I went to. Almost all the students had gone to Catholic schools their entire lives, and a good portion of the student body came from money. I showed up with long hair, a corduroy jacket, a pack of cigarettes and an attitude. It took a few years before some of my classmates started to discover the things I had discovered at age twelve, like drinking and smoking and drugs.

By the time they did, I resented most of them for the way they had treated me when I first arrived.

Anyhow, this leads me back to the beginning of this here post. The other night I looked up a friend, D., with whom I had gone to grade school and middle school. D. was the star of grade school -- the girls all liked him, his dad coached the "150-Pound Raiders" football team in the youth league. They won the championship every year and D. was the quarterback. We went to camp together one summer, and had a great time and it felt like we were friends, but afterward, back at school, we were never on an equal social footing. He would occasionally lash out and punch me in the arm or put me in a headlock just to remind me of my place -- and to remind everyone else of his.

(Funny, in his current FB profile pic, he is holding a small boy upside down by his ankles -- I guess things don't change.)

When I looked him up, I also checked his friend list and was somewhat shocked to discover that he had friended nearly everyone with whom we went to grade school and middle school (and his case, likely high school, too).

I spent hours trolling around on the public pages of my former classmates. I recognized some, not others. One guy had posted some class pages out of the grade school yearbook. My third and sixth grade classes were posted there, including tagged photos of me. I was surprised someone had recalled my name.

Several of them wrote comments about how much they LOVED sixth grade. It seems kind of strange and sad to me that so many 40+ year olds could look back on sixth grade and comment with such certainty about how much they loved a particular year. I guess there's a limit to how connected I feel -- or at least how immediately connected I feel to the past.

I mean, I remember a lot about sixth grade, but none of the emotions I feel towards that general period in my life are current, and I would have a hard time now discovering within myself a judge that could make a distinction between the quality of one grade school year and another.

On the other hand, seeing certain faces of old crushes or enemies brought up memories that felt surprisingly fresh. Ouch. I have no idea where I am going with this today or how to end it, so I'll leave your with some Buddhist wisdom.

From Learning From The Gosho: The Eternal Teachings of Nichiren Daishonen

Time and Again We Will Be Reunited

The sutra states, "If there are those who hear the Law, then not a one will fail to attain Buddha-hood." This means that even if one were to point at the earth and miss it, even if the sun and moon should fall to the ground, even if an age should come when the tides cease to ebb and flow, or even if flowers should not turn to fruit in summer, it could never happen that a woman who chants Nam-myoho-renge-kyo would fail to be reunited with her beloved child. Continue your devotion to faith and bring this about quickly.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Aimless Reading: The I's, Part 3 (Brenda Iijima)

Around Sea
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Iijima, Brenda
Around Sea

I think this may have been sent to me by the author. It is not inscribed, so I don't have a perfect recollection.

I met Brenda about five or six years ago in Buffalo. She arrived in town alongside Jonathan Skinner, on the heels of an ecopoetry panel or something like that. Several of us spent an evening hanging out in Isabelle Pelissier's studio in the Tri-Main Building.

I remember two things from the visit.

First, I remember introducing myself to Brenda as, "Mike," and then later overhearing her say to someone else in the room, "Oh, is that Mike Kelleher?" and feeling a small swell of pride that I had been heard of.

The other thing I remember is that Brenda gave me a small button with a picture of some kind of elephant or woolly mammoth or whatever on it. The lower half is taken up by the animal, a brown, hairy elephant with long tusks, and a bright sky blue fills in the upper portion of the circle. A price tag, $2, sticks to the back, above which is written, "x700." I put the button in my pocket and later dropped it in my sock drawer, where it has remained these last five years.

from Around Sea

"The rock and water grow human."
--Robinson Jeffers

Some sweet ancestry onward
lionlike, elaborate this tug of lineage
collaboration and a whirling fan
glues together with trick up her sleeve
nursing moonish and ripe


cloth smears a heavy line
particles from vehicles
grease and dust
along window sill collect

soot like the ink in text
daily news of

suburb and city
merge and unoccupied land
is long overturned as cores of tree
make way for boards
genetic points to spring
off of. To filed. Gigantic crops
feed a brutal population
as it expands beyond
each chainlink fence. Belted bloated gut
once fed
killing resumes
in curt. Heavily armed troops
file noticeable nails.

Dessicated          privilege          fashioning
Curbs absorb compression
Names abstract each destruction
Bright creatures of indifference
flay out each latency. Each message
confesses tolls. Paid inquisitors
forge the bulldozed hills and
sickening lawns stay still.

Neon grin consumes
tenuous strands of
skin                    bottle
fed.          Perfect
temperature for ice
to melt.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Aimless Reading: The I's, Part 2.1 (The I Ching)

I Ching
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
I Ching
Tr. Blofeld

Look, another copy of the I Ching! Haven't read this one, either. It belongs to Lori, so you'll have to ask her if she's read it.

It seems a bit less academic than the one I own, and its subtitle suggests it has a slightly different purpose: "A New Translation of the Ancient Chinese Text with Detailed Instructions for Its Practical Use in Divination." As far as I know, Lori has never used this book for purposes of divination, unless she did so before she met me.

I have a friend who graduated from SUNY Buffalo and headed out immediately to a tenure track position at a major research university elsewhere. After a few years, before tenure, she and her husband used the I Ching to divine the fact that they were supposed to live in Buffalo. They quit their jobs, packed up their things and moved back here. Sadly, they split up. Both still live in Buffalo, however, so I guess the I Ching got it right.

from I Ching

The Book of Change is more concerned with ways of attaining inner satisfaction and harmony with our surroundings than with helping us a long the road to material success, especially if that success is likely to cause difficulties to others or adversely affect our character or peace of mind. Questions as to how to live in harmony with conditions over which we can exercise only limited control will bring forth more helpful guidance than questions aimed at discovering means of gaining materially. This does not mean that ALL questions concerning commerce and financial matters should be avoided, for obviously these may profoundly affect our true welfare and that of our dependents; but betting, gambling on the stock exchange and all means of self-enrichment involving no service to others are too foreign to the spirit of the I Ching to form suitable subjects for our questions. Reputable Chinese scholars very rarely consent to put enquiries of this kind, but the ordinary street-corner fortune-tellers seldom share their scruples...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Aimless Reading: The I's, Part 2 (The I Ching)

The I Ching
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
The Ching or
Book of Changes
Tr. Wilhelm/Baynes

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I apparently got as far as page 56. I can't remember exactly what tempted me to buy it. I must have been reading John Cage or Jackson Mac Low. I have very little memory of having read the few pages I did read, except for a lingering feeling of having left off long before I understood what was going on.

from I Ching

The image of the upper trigram Ch'ien is heaven, and that of the lower, Li, is flame. It is the nature of fire to flame up to heaven. This gives the idea of fellowship. It is the second line that, by virtue of its central character, unites the five strong lines around it. This hexagram forms a complement to Shih, THE ARMY (7). In the latter, danger is within and obedience without--the character of a warlike army, which, in order to hold together, needs one strong man among the many who are weak. Here, clarity is within and strength without--the character of a peaceful union of men, which, in order to hold together, needs one yielding nature among many firm persons.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Aimless Reading: The I's, Part 1 (Henrik Ibsen)

Four Major Plays
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Ibsen, Henrik
Four Major Plays

I know I have had this since I was in college, but I am not sure where or why I bought it. I don't ever recall using it as a textbook.

About ten years ago, a friend of mine, Kristen Gasser, played the role of Nora in "A Doll's House" at the Irish Classical Theatre in Buffalo. She gave me a free ticket, so I went to check it out one Sunday afternoon. It was late fall, and I was wearing a heavy leather jacket my brother had given me for Christmas the year before. I handed in my ticket in the lobby and entered the theatre, which seats about 150.

To my right as I entered there hung a wooden coatrack with four pegs. I took off my leather jacket it, hung it on the first peg, and sat down in the front row. After the theater filled, the lights dimmed and the play commenced. Kristen entered first, carrying a bundle of something which she set on the table. A moment later another character entered wearing a heavy coat, which he proceeded to remove and, yes, hang on the coat rack next to my leather jacket. He was followed by another character, then two more, each wearing heavy coats they removed and hung on the rack.

Finally, when the fourth took off his coat and realized there was no peg in place for it, he scanned the coats and then, having discovered the offending outerwear, pulled my coat off the rack and tossed it into the empty back row as I cringed with shame.

from A Doll's House

[SCENE.--A room furnished comfortably and tastefully, but not extravagantly. At the back, a door to the right leads to the entrance-hall, another to the left leads to Helmer's study. Between the doors stands a piano. In the middle of the left-hand wall is a door, and beyond it a window. Near the window are a round table, arm-chairs and a small sofa. In the right-hand wall, at the farther end, another door; and on the same side, nearer the footlights, a stove, two easy chairs and a rocking-chair; between the stove and the door, a small table. Engravings on the walls; a cabinet with china and other small objects; a small book-case with well-bound books. The floors are carpeted, and a fire burns in the stove.

It is winter. A bell rings in the hall; shortly afterwards the door is heard to open. Enter NORA, humming a tune and in high spirits. She is in outdoor dress and carries a number of parcels; these she lays on the table to the right. She leaves the outer door open after her, and through it is seen a PORTER who is carrying a Christmas Tree and a basket, which he gives to the MAID who has opened the door.]

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's: Stats

The H's
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
The H's:

42 Authors
66 Volumes
62 titles

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 42 (Edmund Husserl)

Husserl, Edmund
The Crisis of European
Sciences and Transcendental

Purchased during my grad school years, at Talking Leaves...Books, for a course with Rodolphe Gasché. I think the course may have been called, "The Idea of Europe." I remember we also read Hegel and Jan Patočka. This is the last book in the H's. I suspect the "I" section will be rather short, while "J" should keep me busy for a little while.

Another sad dream last night. This time that a couple we are friends with decided to break up. It was a shock at first, but then I remembered having seen their bookcases and that in between the sections of books had been placed dividers made of a cream-colored material -- cardboard or plastic -- and that this had somehow clued me in beforehand to the fact that their break-up was imminent.

Then I was with the two of them as they told me they were splitting up. We were in the room with the books. I was standing. The two of them were recumbent on separate beanbag chairs. I told them about my premonition in a way that I thought made it seem humorous. They did not laugh, and I felt awkward after that.

There was something else going on in the dream, too -- it was part of a more elaborate narrative that involved waiting for something. But that's all I remember.

from The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology

I expect that at this place, dedicated as it is to the sciences, the very title of these lectures, "The Crisis of the European Sciences and Psychology," will incite controversy. A crisis of our sciences as such: can we seriously speak of it? Is not this talk, heard so often these days, an exaggeration? After all, the crisis of a science indicates nothing less than that its genuine scientific character, the whole manner in which it has set its task and developed a methodology for it, has become questionable. This may be true of philosophy, which in our time threatens to succumb to skepticism, irrationalism, and mysticism. The same may hold for psychology, insofar as it still makes philosophical claims rather than merely wanting a place among the positive sciences. But how could we speak straightforwardly and quite seriously of a crisis, including pure mathematics and the exact natural sciences, which we can never cease to admire as models of rigorous and highly successful scientific discipline?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 41.5 (Zora Neale Hurston)

Hurston, Zora Neale
Folklore, Memoirs,
& Other Writings

Purchased at the late lamented Niagara Falls Outlet Mall discount book store for $9. Ah, the good old days. I wish that place still existed.

A dream just came back to me, I think from last night. I dreamt that Jon Welch of Talking Leaves...Books in Buffalo showed up at my house, along with his wife, Martha, to tell me that Talking Leaves was closed as of that moment. No one was buying books anymore. They both had rather stricken looks on their faces, which I read as meaning they were also destitute. Then, I ran into Kristi Meal from Rust Belt Books, who told me that they were about to close but that TL had beat them to it and that they would now have to wait a little while before closing. I remember feeling really sad that Jon and Martha were so broke and because there would now be no more bookstores in Buffalo.

I had two other dreams that I intended to remember when I woke up. I am trying to recall them...nothing. Where's Leo DiCaprio when you need him.

from Folklore, Memoirs, & Other Writings

Prescriptions of Root Doctors...


a. Fifty cents of iodide potash in two quarts of water. Boil down to one quart. Add two teaspoons of Epsom salts. Take a big swallow three times a day.
b. Fifty cents iodide potash to one quart sarsaparilla. Take three teaspoons three times a day in water.
c. A good handful of May pop roots; one pint ribbon cane syrup; one-half plug of Brown's Mule tobacco cut up. Add fifty cents iodide potash. Take three times a day as a tonic.
d. Parch egg shells and drink the tea.
e. For Running Range (Claps): Take blackberry root, sheep weed, boil together. Put a little blueing in (a pinch) and a pinch of laundry soap. Put all this in a quart of water take one-half glass three times a day and drink one-half glass of water behind it.
f. One quart water, one handful of blackberry root, one pinch of alum, one pinch of yellow soap. Boil together. Put in last nine drops of turpentine. Drink it for water until it goes through the bladder.


a. Ashes of one good cigar, fifteen cents worth of blue ointment. Mix and put on the sores.
b. Get the hear of a rotten log and powder it fine. Tie it up in a muslin cloth. Wash the sores with good castile soap and powder them with the wood dust.
c. When there are blue-balls (buboes), smear the swellings with mash up granddaddies (daddy-long-legs) and it will bring them to a head.
d. Take a gum ball, cigar, soda and rice. Burn the gum ball and cigar and parch the rice. Powder it and sift and mix with vaseline. It is ready for use.
e. Boil red oak bark, palmetto root, fig root, two pinches of alum, nine drops of turpentine, two quarts of water together to one quart. Take one-half cup at a time. (Use no other water).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 41 (Zora Neale Hurston)

Hurston, Zora Neale
Their Eyes Were Watching God

I am pretty sure this came from the now mythical shelf of highschool reading materials my brother left at my parents' home when he went away to school, and which I later requisitioned.

I love the cover of this particular edition. The more recent cover was very obviously dreamt up in the haze of some focus group:

You can see that the new cover is designed to reflect an idea the target audience might like to have of itself -- that of the soulful, introspective woman feeling the depths of her soulfulness. In other words, it's designed to be sold to the Oprah book club. Which is fine, I guess.

But this older version, from the eighties, I think, with its striking colors and contrasts and its inscrutable young woman staring up at the heavens while, perhaps, fondling her breast, tells a more interesting story. It at least attempts to connect to the title -- actually, it does this quite literally.

And that gesture, to my mind, points to something crucial to the book -- a woman's sexual desire. This cover lets in the messiness and confusion and mystery of all that, while the newer one keeps it all bottled up in a soulful look. One expresses sexual desire, the other suppresses it. Even if one wants to sanitize the earlier one by saying she's not touching herself, she's just scratching an itch, well, need I go on?

Or maybe I am just being sentimental because this was the original cover I saw and I like it best because it was first. Nah.

from Their Eyes Were Watching God

Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead. Not the dead of sick and ailing with friends at the pillow and the feet. She had come back from the sodden and the bloated; the sudden dead, their eyes flung wide open in judgment.

The people all saw her come because it was sundown. The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment.

Seeing the woman as she was made them remember the envy they had stored up from other times. So they chewed up the back parts of their minds and swallowed with relish. They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood come alive, Words walking without masters; walking altogether like harmony in a song.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 40 (Kim D. Hunter)

Hunter, Kim D.
edge of the time zone

Given to me by the author the last time I visited Detroit, in the fall of 2009.

Kim co-curates the Woodward Line Poetry series in the Motor City along with James Hart III. I've read in the series three times in the last four or five years. The last time I read there, I slept at Kim's house. He lives in a big old Victorian with his wife and daughter in a part of Detroit known as Mexican town, very near the bridge to Windsor, Ontario.

I remember we got up early the morning after the reading, ate cereal for breakfast and talked politics before Kim headed to work and I drove back to Buffalo.

Kim and James are great examples of people who work outside the academy to put on a reading series almost entirely without institutional support. They manage to scrape together the energy and the cash to bring in poets they like from all over the country all year round and to bring people in the community out to see them. I admire what they do.

from edge of the time zone

flow tation d vice

in case of emergency
avoid the language
of the airline safety card
food warning label
or bomb shelter placard

resist all temptation
to use the read made skeleton
behind the sign that says
break glass in case of fire

do not swallow the pill
in the read and black container
with the explicit instructions
on what to do
if the rescue team has not arrived
to roll away the stone
by the third day

refer only to your first guess
if the door knob is hot
the cacophony muffled
and the dark red oozes
between the door and the floor

your choices are instructions or instincts
what did you bring
what will you leaves
who will you be
in a short crucial space

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 39.1 (Laird Hunt)

The Paris Stories
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hunt, Laird
The Paris Stories

Given to me by the author -- or purchased at one of his readings. I can't remember which.

I was happy to get to see Laird at AWP this year for the first time in about a decade. Dan Machlin and I met up with him and Eleni and their daughter and Eleni's mother and Christopher Fishbach in the lobby of one of the hotels and we went over to one of the many offsite reading locations for a bite to eat (I think eleni was also schedule to read downstairs at some point).

The waiter took us upstairs to a table in a big empty cabaret room, where we ordered dinner and talked and laughed while their daughter, whose name I forget, occasionally wandered up onto the stage and sang made-up songs into the microphone.

Eventually the room filled up and an emcee, Grant Jenkins, I believe, appeared and the next thing you knew there was a poetry reading going on and we stayed a while to listen and then said goodbye downstairs at the front door.

from The Paris Stories

Dear Sweetheart,

Dream in which the little courtyard here was very large and filled with new and used station wagons. Then the world lost its gravity and the cars started floating up to hit against the bird net. No one in the courtyard got hurt but a couple of the leaders were transformed into answering machines. The conditions were that the leaders couldn't speak unless someone called. No one could find a phone. So we forgot about them. Cars were bouncing off the net then back up off the ground. Everything was elastic. Things seemed to be accelerating. Not that this matters but I had developed some kind of low power ray beam that I could shoot out of my fingers. A strictly last ditch kind of affair. It only worked about every other time I tried.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 39 (Laird Hunt)

The Impossibly
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hunt, Laird
The Impossibly

Given to me by the author upon his visit to Buffalo in 2001. Inscribed.

I met Laird in NYC when we both lived there in the mid-nineties. I think Dan Machlin introduced us, probably at a reading at the Segue Space. Laird and partner Eleni Sikelianos had recently arrived in NYC after having lived in Paris for a number of years. I always found Laird an interesting character: a fiction writer among poets, who had probably read and understood as much if not more poetry than many of the poets he hung around with.

I remember sitting on the hardwood floor of someone's East Village apartment talking to Laird about Ronald Johnson.

I remember walking around the Lower East Side talking about a biography of Wittgenstein.

I remember him proudly telling me he had never finished his masters at the Sorbonne because he kept skipping class to write fiction.

I have Erik Satie stuck in my head.

from The Impossibly

The first time we met it was about a stapler. I think. I knew the word, and she didn't, so I stepped forward, slightly, and said it. The shopkeeper smiled, and she smiled, and the shopkeeper reached under the counter and produced a box. It was a fine box, smooth whit eon the outside, dark corrugated brown on the inside, and contained a nice-enough looking gray stapler that the shopkeeper demonstrated, first opening the mechanism and loading it with a generous strip of his own staples, then closing it on two sheets of yellow ledger. He pulled lightly on the two sheets to demonstrate that they would not, if not pulled on too strenuously, come apart, stressing, as he did so, that no stapler could be expected to perform satisfactorily given unsuitable material. He then asked if the stapler would be used for heavy or light jobs, and as the answer was both, put two small maroon boxes of staples on the counter, and asked if there would be anything else.

At this point I wandered off.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 38 (David Hume)

Hume, David
A Treatise on Human Nature

Purchased at the late, lamented Niagara Falls Outlets discount bookstore for $2.50. Unread.

I read Hume in my undergraduate course in Epistemology. I remember the textbook we used was a maroon (school color) paperback with white cover text. I think it may have borne the Fordhum University seal on the cover, and I think it was edited by a Jesuit. It definitely had a cross on it somewhere, and then a list of names: Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Kant.

Our professor was an obviously gay priest who often spoke at length about his love of opera. He always wore a drab gray, v-neck sweater over his priestly black, with his collar showing. His longish, brown hair, parted on the side, as was likely the fashion in his youth in the sixties, hung in a fop that often dangled over his his eyes as he spoke, and he habitually brushed it away with his hand.

We were not allowed to take a position in class that could be in any way construed as morally relativistic, and I recall he was a very strict grammarian. I don't recall anything else about the class, except some story about somebody proving something to somebody else by knocking his walking stick against a rock and making some sort of barbed witticism. It may have been Berkeley.

from A Treatise on Human Nature

Of the Understanding



Of the Origin of our Ideas.

All the perceptions of the human mind resolve themselves into two distinct kinds, which I shall call IMPRESSIONS and IDEAS. The difference betwixt these consists in the degrees of force and liveliness, with which they strike upon the mind, and make their way into our thought or consciousness. Those perceptions, which enter with most force and violence, we may name impressions: and under this name I comprehend all our sensations, passions and emotions, as they make their first appearance in the soul. By ideas I mean the faint images of these in thinking and reasoning; such as, for instance, are all the perceptions excited by the present discourse, excepting only those which arise from the sight and touch, and excepting the immediate pleasure or uneasiness it may occasion. I believe it will not be very necessary to employ many words in explaining this distinction. Every one of himself will readily perceive the difference betwixt feeling and thinking. The common degrees of these are easily distinguished; tho' it is not impossible but in particular instances they may very nearly approach to each other. Thus in sleep, in a fever, in madness, or in any very violent emotions of soul, our ideas may approach to our impressions, As on the other hand it sometimes happens, that our impressions are so faint and low, that we cannot distinguish them from our ideas. But notwithstanding this near resemblance in a few instances, they are in general so very different, that no-one can make a scruple to rank them under distinct heads, and assign to each a peculiar name to mark the difference.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 37 (Richard Hugo)

Selected Poems
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hugo, Richard
Selected Poems

I may have purchased this at St. Mark's Books.

Richard Hugo is another poet, like Ted Hughes, I don't much admire. There something, I don't know, stiff, I guess, about his poems. The rhythm is too predictable.

When I was a lad and trying to figure out how to write, someone gave me a copy of Hugo's book, The Triggering Town, in which I found some very useful advice about writing poetry and the creative process. Two pieces of advice stand out and are still useful.

The first is the concept in the title, The Triggering Town. Much of the book is spent talking about how a poem always begins with a "trigger," i.e. a theme or a title or whatever, but that the process of writing poetry is one of discovery; therefore, it is important to bear in mind that if a poem ends where it began, that is, if you sit down to write a poem called, "Autumn Leaves," and end up writing a poem "about" autumn leaves, then it is unlikely to be a very good poem. So, I guess the advice was to start anywhere and to let the trigger lead you to the "real" poem, the one you didn't know you intended to write.

The second, even more useful, piece of advice was something like: if you find in the writing of a poem that you are presented with a choice between making music or making sense, always choose the former.

Anyhow, I later bought a book of his poetry and discovered I didn't like it at all, and then I gave away the book I did like and kept the one I don't.

O, irony.

from Selected Poems


Quick and yet he moves like silt.
I envy dreams that see his curving
silver in the weeds. When stiff as snags
he blends with certain stones.
When evening pulls the ceiling tight
across his back he leaps for bugs.

I wedged hard water to validate his skin--
call it chrome, say red is on
his side like apples in fog, gold
gills. Swirls always looked one way
until he carved the water into many
kinds of current with his nerve-edged nose.

And I have stared at steelhead teeth
to know him, savage in his sea-run growth,
to drug his facts, catalog his fins
with wings and arms, to bleach the black
back of the first I saw and frame the cries
that sent him snaking to oblivions of cress.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 36 (Ted Hughes)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hughes, Ted

Given to me as a gift a long time ago.

I can remember hearing Ted Hughes name uttered almost as a curse word in relation to Sylvia Plath. At some point I became aware he was a poet and learned more about his relationship with Plath. Further on down the line I read that he was friends with Seamus Heaney. I may have written something Heaney wrote about him. I remember reading a late review of one his books, possibly an autobiography. And then he was dead and I read his obituary. Can't say I'm a fan of the book or the author's work in general, but I like the cover of this volume, for what it's worth.

from Lupercal

Cat and Mouse

On the sheep-cropped summit, under hot sun,
The mouse crouched, staring out the chance
It dared not take.

                              Time and a world
Too old to alter, the five mile prospect--
Woods, villages, farms--hummed its heat-heavy
Stupor of life.

                              Whether to two
Feet or four, how are prayers contracted!
Whether in God's eye or the eye of a cat.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 35.2 (Yunte Huang)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Huang, Yunte

Sent to me by the publisher.

This is one of the most beautifully designed books of poetry I've seen in the last few years. Normally, I would say that poems sharing the page with visual design elements is a no-no because they tend to distract from the text, especially when they are not necessarily integral to the experience of the poem.

Here, though, the design elements feel like the perfect housing for the varied texture and forms of the poems themselves. I am doubly impressed at the way they seem to be variations on the cover image and to see this carried through from the front cover to the back without being obvious or repetitive or superfluous or dull. Kudos to designer Kristina Bell.

Anyhow, running late...

from Cribs

if only I knew
how to be new
to you

and close up
the gap
in time

if only I knew
where to put "up"

and when to close
"in" time

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 35.1 (Yunte Huang)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Huang, Yunte
Shi: A Radical Reading
Of Chinese Poetry

Given to me by the author, inscribed.

I remembered something last night, I was watching "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," in the living room, on the couch, next to Lori, I think it was something about my childhood or adolescence, that I intended to write about this morning, but which I seem to have forgotten.

It may have been simply a mental note to myself that the memoir part of this blog project has a long way to go, that I seem to have gotten away from that aspect of it, and that I need to remember to return to it now and again.

I have noticed in the writing of these entries that I occasionally get to hung up on writing things that are directly related to the text at hand. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. It's sort of liking starting a poem with a title or a theme in mind. Sometimes the title leads right to a poem and the poem is good and that is that. Other times, the title or the theme seem to get in the way, keeping one at a distance from whatever it is one is trying write.

It feels sort of the same with this blog. Sometimes I need to forget the books and just write about what is in my head at the moment. I think maybe I am feeling that way at the moment. But I still don't remember what it was I wanted to write about last night. Alas.

This book is more or less impossible to excerpt without a scanner, so I'll just gently suggest that you read it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 35 (Yunte Huang)

Huang, Yunte
Transpacific Displacement:
Intertextual Travel in
American Literature

Given to me by the author, inscribed thusly:

For Mike Kelleher--

"What did the doorman say?"

With love,

I also get a shout-out in the acknowledgments for having read the manuscript when it was still his dissertation.

Yunte was my classmate for two years in Buffalo. We used to sit together in the back of Charles' Bernstein's seminars trading lines from various episodes of Seinfeld, which was then in its final season, and laughing to ourselves.

We often played Scrabble together at night. He was fierce competition, despite the fact that English was his second language. He also taught me the proper way to make shrimp fried rice, most importantly the little trick of slicing the shrimp in half down the spine, which creates thinner, faster-cooking pieces.

He also revealed to me that Chinese speakers get their own special menus at Chinese restaurants, with different menu items and different ingredients than English speakers. Once, when we were eating together at Jin Lan in Buffalo, Yunte ordered the dinner for us off the Chinese menu. Just as the meal was coming out, we heard a heated discussion going on in Chinese between the waitress and the cook. Yunte overheard them and translated the following:

Waitress: This is supposed to have white sauce, not brown sauce.
Cook: They're Americans, they won't know the difference.
Waitress: One of them is Chinese!
Cook: O! Alright, I'll fix it.

from Transpacific Displacement

When I was growing up in a small town in southern China, I had a next-door neighbor who was old and blind. As the story goes, he was born in that same house next to mine. At the age of two, he lost his vision as a result of an illness. At seven, he was sent to Meiguo (America; literally, the "beautiful country") to live with his relatives there. He learned the English language and later pursued a career as an interpreter. After retiring, he moved back to our town and planned to live there for the remainder of his life.

As a child, I was fascinated by this question: "What does he know about Meiguo since he hasn't really seen it?" I often imagined myself putting this question to him and wondered how he would respond. In childish vagaries, I convinced myself that whatever the old man might tell me would literally be hearsay, because it would not be as real as the way I saw, for instance, the bright golden sun, of which, I had heard, he had only some vague visual memories. But I never had the chance to ask him any questions. In fact, I never even saw him with my own eyes. He was too old to go out and would meet no one except those who went to his house for English lessons. I knew of him only by overhearing adults' conversations and the gossip told by my sister, who had a friend who took English lessons from him. In the sense, my present account of him is as much hearsay as I thought his account of Meiguo would have been.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 34 (William Dean Howells)

Howells, William Dean
The Rise of Silas Lapham

Purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore for a course called, "American Literary Realism." I don't think I actually read this. In fact, I am not sure I read any of the books for this class. No, that's not true, I remember reading The Yellow Wallpaper and Huckleberry Finn. I did not read this or Sister Carrie or The Country of the Pointed Firs or anything else I was assigned. I guess I discovered I really had no interest in the subject at the time.

I was just reading the Wikipedia page on Howells and discovered this quote, which probably goes along way towards explaining my lack of interest in the subject, or at least the ideas behind it:

I hope the time is coming when not only the artist, but the common, average man, who always 'has the standard of the arts in his power,' will have also the courage to apply it, and will reject the ideal grasshopper wherever he finds it, in science, in literature, in art, because it is not 'simple, natural, and honest,' because it is not like a real grasshopper. But I will own that I think the time is yet far off, and that the people who have been brought up on the ideal grasshopper, the heroic grasshopper, the impassioned grasshopper, the self-devoted, adventureful, good old romantic card-board grasshopper, must die out before the simple, honest, and natural grasshopper can have a fair field.

Personally, I rather like the idea of an ideal grasshopper. Call me a platonist. See if I care.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 33.8 (Susan Howe)

I Have Imagined A Center/
Wilder Than This Region
A Tribute To Susan Howe
Sarah Campbell, ed.

Given to me by the editor. A small note written on a piece of two-sided card stock, one side maroon, the other side gray, and dated 7/25, no year mentioned, is tucked into the cover. It reads:


Thought you
would want a
copy of this.



See you Friday?

I don't know what the year was or what was happening on Friday, but I am intrigued.

from I Have Imagined A Center/Wilder Than This Region: A Tribute To Susan Howe

from A Thing That Can Ignite (Benjamin Friedlander)

When I think of Susan Howe as a teacher, the first word that comes to mind is volatility. In the classroom, her mind was always in motion; her words, ever combustible, translated the solid and liquid facts of history into breathable air. There, imagination took wing--with razor beak and talons drawn, to be sure. This was only fitting: volatiles are, among other things, winged creatures, and Susan was by her own description a kind of sea-raven, seeking knowledge where others would drown. The sky was hers by inspiration, but she wanted a meaning that kept to its own natural elements, where Susan also moved, with unnatural ease. Could I learn to do the same?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 33.7 (Susan Howe)

The Birth-Mark
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Howe, Susan
The Birth-Mark:
unsettling the wilderness
in American literary History

Purchased at Talking Leaves.

Speaking of the wilderness...

Lori and I went for a hike in Allegany National Park on July 4. We took the "Bear Cave" trail, a four-mile hike up a slope and down on a semicircular path that begins and ends on a flat paved road. On the way there, Lori noted that last year several bears had run out onto the highway and been killed. On the trail, she wondered aloud if we might see a bear. I asked her what we were supposed to do if we did. She said she thought we were supposed to stand still, start yelling and make our selves look large.

Later on down the trail, we came upon and old tree that had obviously been used as a bear scratching post. We never saw a bear, but we walked more quickly after that.

The bear came up again last night as we took a walk around the neighborhood after dinner. We were talking about a woman we'd seen at a party who always seems larger than life. She has long blonde dreadlocks, a large, voluptuous body and habit of wearing very tight, brightly-colored clothing. I think I made a quip that her "larger than life" quality meant she'd be good to have around in case of a bear attack.

Well, this morning I started from sleep at around 6:30 a.m. in response to the following dream:

Lori and I were standing before a low, wide tree on an otherwise empty hillside. Behind the tree was a bear. I knew that the worst thing to do was to run, but my fear got the best of me and I took off. The bear immediately jumped out from behind the tree. I stopped in my tracks, but it was too late. The bear had been provoked and it rushed me. I woke just as his paw clipped the side of my torso.

from The Birth-Mark

I hear the stutter as the sounding of uncertainty. What is silenced or not quite silenced. All the broken dreams. Thomas Shepard writes them down as soon as 1637. And the rupture from Europe. Continents have entered into contact, creating a zone of catastrophe points. A capture morphology. All that eccentricity. All the cries of "My god, it is I." Mary Rowlandson is an early witness. Metacomet (King Philip) is Leviathan to the Mathers. Rowlandson knows he is human. Moby-Dick is a giant stutter in the manner of Magnalia Christi Americana. No one has been able to fathom Dickinson's radical representation of matter and radiation--such singularities space, so many possibilities of choice. History has happened. The narrator is disobedient. A return is necessary, a way for women to go. Because we are in the stutter. We were expelled from the Garden of Mythology of the American Frontier. The drama's done. We are the wilderness. We have come on to the stage stammering.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 33.6 (Susan Howe)

My Emily Dickinson
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Howe, Susan
My Emily Dickinson

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books. Probably my second most read Susan Howe book.

I read it a long time ago, but it was several years before I actually owned a copy. When I worked at the Segue Foundation in 1996-7, I read the archive copy housed in the basement offices on E 8th St. in NYC. The first time I read it, I hadn't read more than a smattering of Emily Dickinson's poems, so that part of it didn't mean much to me, but I loved the writing and the intensity of the thought.

After having read more Dickinson and after having taken a class or two with Susan Howe, I bought the book several years later and read it again. And again. It's too bad more academic writing doesn't take a cue from this book about how to passionately engage with literature. Let the heart lead and the mind follow it deeper into its engagements.

from My Emily Dickinson

My book is a contradiction of its epigraph.

Emily Dickinson once wrote to Thomas Wentworth Higginson; "Candor--my Preceptor--is the only wile." This is the right way to put it. In his Introduction to In the American Grain [1925], William Carlos Williams said he had tried to rename things seen. I regret the false configuration--under the old misappellation--of Emily Dickinson. But I love his book.

The ambiguous paths of kinship pull me in opposite ways at once.

As a poet I feel closer to Williams' writing about writing, even when he goes haywire in "Jacataqua," than I do to most critical studies of Dickinson's work by professional scholars. When Williams writes: "Never a woman, never a poet.... Never a poet saw sun here," I think that he says one thing and means another. A poet is never just a woman or a man. Every poet is salted with fire. A poet is a mirror, a transcriber. Here "we have salt in ourselves and peace one with the other."

When Thoreau wrote his Introduction to A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, he ended by remembering how he had often stood on the banks of the Musketaquid, or Grass-ground River English settlers had re-named Concord. The Concord's current followed the same law in a system of time and all that is known. He liked to watch this current that was for him an emblem of all progress. Weeds under the surface bent gently downstream shaken by watery wind. Chips, sticks, logs, and even tree stems drifted past. There came a day at the end of the summer or the beginning of autumn, when he resolved to launch a boat from shore and let the river carry him.

Emily Dickinson is my emblematical Concord River.

I am heading toward certain discoveries....

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 33.5 (Susan Howe)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Howe, Susan

Not sure where I bought this. Probably at Talking Leaves, but as I mentioned before, it's possible I bought it at a remaindered bookstore in Florida along with several other books of avant-garde poetry.

Flipping through, I am remembering one afternoon going to Susan's house in North Buffalo to talk about my oral exams. We were going to discuss Emily Dickinson's poems written during the civil war years. Susan took me up to her office and started showing me images of various fragments from Dickinson's fascicles, small pieces of paper with a word, or maybe two, on written on them. Suddenly we weren't talking about the civil war or the content of the poems at all. We were talking literally about the pieces of paper on which the words were written. We talked about their shapes and how some of them resembled tombstones. Susan's voice trembled with excitement as she talked. I think we spent the whole session discussing these shapes. I am not sure we ever got to the poems themselves. I don't think I cared.

from Singularities

from The Articulation of Sound Forms in Time

Freedom's dominion of possible

Home in a human knowing

Stretched out at the thresh
of beginning

Body of articulation chattering

an Assassin
shabby halo-helmet

hideout haystack hunter chamois

History of seedling and seduction
Kinship of infinite separation

Sight of thought

Crooked erratic perception
shoal ruin abyssal veil veiling

Braggart expert
discourse on dice

Face to visible sense gathers moss

Friday, July 2, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 33.4 (Susan Howe)

Howe, Susan
The Nonconformist's Memorial

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I remember a great exchange between Susan Howe and Anne Waldman at the first OlsonNow event at The Poetry Project in, I think, 2006. I was emcee and we were sort of saving Anne for near the end. She got up and read her "Feminifesto," during which she exhorted the audience to start doing events honoring some of the great living women poets, then ticked off a few names -- Lyn Hejinian, Susan Howe, Eileen Myles. Susan was sitting in the back of the room and Anne singled her out, saying "I want to hear what Susan Howe has to say about the way we honor all these male poets." Susan stood up and quietly said, "Well, I have to say, I just LOVE THESE MEN! I adore them. They are almost like Gods to me." I don't think it was the answer Anne was looking for!

from The Nonconformist's Memorial

The metaphor of a stake

Arrow thrust through

In connection with here


At deepest claimlessness

could not see one another

Spirit snapping after air

dragged down to visible

Chroniclers halt of such

authentic sayings

Fear destroys all welcome


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 33.3 (Susan Howe)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Howe Susan,

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

One of the exciting things about studying with Susan Howe (I was about to write 'someone like Susan Howe,' but there is no one like Susan Howe) is that her sense of the living presence of dead authors vis-à-vis their writing, but more importantly their manuscripts, is so strong it pervades not only the classroom but the minds of everyone in it.

Very few people take a class with her on, say, Emily Dickinson, without walking away with a powerful, if fleeting, sense of commitment to and love for Dickinson and her manuscripts. One feels compelled to love Dickinson with a love that feels like religious devotion. For most people, this fades within time after the class ends, but it has a kind of mesmerizing effect because for Susan the intensity of that love never does seem to fade.

This book was written during the time that I took classes with her at SUNY Buffalo. I can remember Susan talking about Charles S. Peirce in class and showing us transparencies and slides of his notebooks, which she had been working on the summer before I got here and how we could all feel the burning intensity of her love, not only for the man and his ideas, but for his genius, his passion, his outsiderness, the odd pronunciation of his name ("purse") even the beauty of the columns of numbers and figures that filled the pages of his notebook.

It was a total love.

And then the book came out, with its strange title, Pierce-Arrow. If you live in Buffalo, you know that the famous Pierce-Arrow automobile was manufactured here, and that the old factory complex has been turned into a massive multi-use space for businesses, artists, theater groups and so forth. And then there's that strange flipping of the 'i' and 'e' from Peirce to Pierce and how it accomplishes that thing that she's so good it, which is to tie the historical (Peirce) with the personal-historical (Pierce-Arrow, Buffalo, where Howe taught and also where she lived as a child) and it begins to feel like a big old literary seance of some kind, which is sort of what I was trying to get at talking about her her class.

from Pierce-Arrow

Constraint is a secondness
swimming out of Europe
Between an interpretant and
its object in playspace the
heart's free interim Macbeth's
crude sacrilege deeper even
Spent those last years not
writing his paper on misery
I remember all the time now
remember the brood the fret