Saturday, October 30, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 23.2 (James Koller)

Like It Was
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Koller, James
Like It Was

Given to me by the author. Inscribed 18 FEB 05.

This is book of fiction, poetry and memoir about Koller's time in the Bolinas and San Francisco in the sixties. There is a nice set of black and white photos of writers and artists inserted into it.

There's a photo of Jack Boyce, who was once married to Joanne Kyger, and who died young falling from a roof beam he'd decided to traverse while intoxicated.

There's a photo of Bill Brown and another of Bill Brown and James Koller.

There's a photo of Bill Brown's daughter, Maggie, with Richard Brautigan. Maggie would grow up and marry James Koller. When James showed me the book he playfully startled me by pointing to the little girl in the photo and saying, "That's my wife."

There's a photo of Richard Brautigan alone.

There's a photo of stunningly beautiful Joanne Kyger.

There's a photo of Philip Whalen with hair and a beard and a large round polished stone ring on ring finger of his left hand.

The last photo is of actor Peter Coyote, very thin in blue jeans and some kind of lined vest, his dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. There's some kind of case -- it looks like something you hold your glasses in -- clipped to his belt. A cigarette with a long, long ash that seems about to burn him dangles between the index and middle fingers of his right hand. His eyes are bloodshot. He looks drunk or high or both.

Looking at that picture I can remember the distinctive timbre of Peter Coyote's voice. It's kind of scratchy and matter of fact. I think I first saw him in the movie, "The Legend of Billie Jean," starring Helen and Christian Slater as misunderstood youths on the run from the law. I think Peter Coyote was the law. Then I remember he did voice work in a lot of commercials. Then I sort of lost track of Peter Coyote.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 23.1 (James Koller)

The Bone Show
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Koller, James
The Bone Show

Given to me by the author, inscribed, 18 FEB 05.

I met Jim one other time after he stayed with us in Buffalo. It was the summer of 2007. We went to visit Jonathan Skinner and Isabelle Pelissier, who'd moved to Maine the year before. One night, which I think I described in an earlier post, they invited over several poets who live in the vicinity for a dinner, including Jim and his wife, Maggie.

Next day we drove over to Jim and Maggie's place on the island. It's a beautiful, isolated house in the woods. They have plumbing these days, which is okay by me.

Later, the six of us ate lobster down at the shore and went for a long walk on the beach. I remember talking to Jim about my upcoming cross-country road-trip book tour. We discussed each city Lori and I planned to visit along the way. Jim had visited all of them and had opinions about each.

I also remember that he had shaved the beard he'd had the first time I met.

from The Bone Show


In the beginning
we gathered around
& nobody knew
who anybody was.
I figured it out.
We need names
if we wanted to talk
about one another.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 23 (James Koller)

Snows Gone By
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Koller, James
Snows Gone By

Given to me by the author, inscribed on 18 FEB 05.

Jim Koller is a poet and also the editor of Coyote press which, among other things, has the distinction of having published the only edition of Olson's Berkeley lecture for many years.

He was part of the Bolinas scene in the sixties and seventies alongside Joanne Kyger, Robert Creeley, Richard Baruatigan, etc. He then moved to a little island off the coast of Maine. It's either Arrowsick or Georgetown, I can't remember which.

(On a side note, I recently discovered that an ancestors of mine was one of the early settlers of Arrowsick in the 18th century.)

Jim contacted me through Robert Creeley a number of years back about doing a reading in Buffalo. He came through in 2005. I can't remember who he read with--possibly Jonathan Skinner, but I am drawing a blank.

I remember we stayed up one night talking and he told me he'd gone for twenty years without indoor plumbing on his little Island in Maine, but that after he married they had it installed.

He said he missed the days of no plumbing.

I asked him why.

He said he used to really enjoy getting up in the morning in the middle of the winter to walk to the outhouse take care of business.

I said I couldn't imagine doing that, let alone feeling nostalgic about it after the fact.

We both laughed.

I'll never be a pioneer, I guess.

from Snows Gone By


Two foxes bark & play
with such abandon, they wake us all.
They are in love, she says.

We lie under our blankets,
listen to them, as we've listened
through thin walls in cheap hotels;

we're there with them
in the moonlight, in the snow
touching one another.

12 Jan 2002

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 22 (Robert Kocik)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kocik, Robert

Given to be my Jonathan Skinner, the publisher.

Jonathan introduced me to Robert Kocik a decade ago in Buffalo. At the time, Jonathan ran a reading series called Steel Bar. It took place in his wife Isabelle's studio in the Tri-Main Center, former windshield wiper factory which originally produced Model T's.

One of Isabelle's mediums is steel, hence the name.

Jonathan invited Robert to read in the series. I can't remember who he read with. I remember he wore a blue denim jumpsuit and that he laid small piles of paper filled with writing and images in a half circle around him on the concrete floor. As part of his reading he sort of randomly sifted through the stacks, pulling sheets out now and again to read from them. Often he'd simply pause and talk about his ideas.

He kept returning to one idea, which he called, "overcoming fitness." I was never sure I quite understood what he meant by this, but it had something to do with the concept of fitness in evolution. There was something quite romantic about the idea, which I interpreted as a desire to replace fitness with some other criterion for survival and evolution. Love, perhaps?

Anyhow, there's something quite compelling about Robert -- he's a visionary, and like most visionaries it can be difficult to see what he's seeing. Our blindness does not, however, preclude our interest in his ideas.

I remember talking to him for a long time about living in Paris. He told me he had managed to find his way into an old time craft guild, where he learned all kinds of valuable woodworking skills. He plies them to this day, both in his art and for a living.

I remember also that Robert had a great influence on several of the younger poets in Buffalo.

I met Robert one other time, I think at Thom Donovan's apartment in NYC. It was a reading and book release party for Dan Featherston. I think Jonathan was also there. It was during AWP. Robert told me about an installation he was working on that utilized a bank vault. I was sad I wouldn't be in town to see it. Alas.

from Rhrurbarb

This is my opening question
for you: what is the degree of
the morbidity? From this I will
find how to flourish, absorb
the brunt of the treatment for
another who wouldn't survive
even its boon. I look at my
bathrobe and know I was born to
flower in exactly this way.
My sole question: can remission
be written? Can words be so
potent and so immediately
so? At issue in remission:
whether there are signs at our
crossings and whether the crossing
exists at all without its word.
What I've found is that remission
is not possible by means of
language per se but through pre
reverberative prosody
acting in a kind of ICU-
attentive, morphogenic poise--
once opened...the outcome of
no consequence what so ever.
At which point (and this now
refers to Cinnabar Verses)
we make poisons poisonous by
not taking them in. Once all
alchemists died of their own
iatrogenics, material
operations were freed to be
analog for inner practice
or dead-on doctoring of
various stages of Cadaver
...while I've chosen to go with
the less invasive, more thorough
and salutary phone in its
stanza-crucible compressing
changes normally vastly time
consuming into its lapse of
written-time collapsed into
the time it takes to read it through.
Such words come from stress and scarcely
reach the sounds they make...remaining
in their more vibrant ministry.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 21.1 (Kenneth Koch)

Koch, Kenneth
Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?
Teaching Great Poetry to Chldren

I think I bought this online.

This is an incredibly useful resource for anyone teaching poetry to children. I used it for years when I did teaching artist work in the schools. The first few times I performed writing residencies, I failed miserably because I thought that because I was interested in avant-garde writing I had to teach avant-garde techniques to ten-year-olds, lest I violate my precious aesthetic principles. Someone recommended this book, so I bought a copy and decided to apply some of its lessons to my workshops.

I think the thing I like about the book so much is that it does not assume that literary creativity is simply the articulation of feelings in words. The assumption is that poetry exists as something in the world, that there are examples of poetry one can use to show children what a poem might be, and that there are further examples of a what a great poem might be, and that by teaching children to understand these poems one can also begin to show them how to write their own.

The emphasis on reading great poems and understanding their root ideas is essential.

Koch's basic technique is to read a famous poem like Blake's "The Tyger" and then try to find a couple of simple, concrete ideas about the poem that can be communicated to children. In this instance he asks the children to focus on the fact that the poem is about a man asking questions of an animal. They are given the opportunity to choose an animal they'd like to speak with and then to ask that animal several questions. The animal understands them because they know how to speak its secret language. And so on. The ideas are simple, but the results are often incredibly rich and complex. I think the title of the book comes from a poem in which a kid chooses to talk to a rose instead of an animal.

What is so useful is that you don't just leave the kids with a poem to stick on the refrigerator door, but a memory of having read a poem start to finish, and perhaps a more concrete idea about what a poem might be or do. That part lasts regardless of whether or not the kid ever writes a poem again.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 21 (Kenneth Koch)

Koch, Kenneth
Ko, or A Season on Earth

Not sure where I bought this -- possibly at 7th St. Books in New York, possibly at Rust Belt Books in Buffalo.

Odd that cover art omits the word "or" from the title, despite its being present both on the cover itself (invisible in this photo) in a smaller font and also on the spine. Artistic license, I guess, but I doubt it would have harmed the composition to add a two-letter word. Maybe the title font needed to be a certain size for the marketing people.

Anyway, it sort of looks like there are two book titles listed, not one. Not sure why I care, frankly, just happened to notice.The book cover was designed by Roy Kuhlman. Or was it Frank O'Hara pretending to be Roy Kuhlman?

from Ko, or A Season on Earth

Meanwhile at the University of Japan
Ko had already begun his studies, which
While making him an educated man
Would also give him as he learned to pitch
And catch--for Ko was more than a mere fan,
But wished as a playing member to do a hitch
With some great team -- something to think about
More interesting than merely Safe and Out.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 20 (Arthur Koestler)

Darkness at Noon
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Koestler, Arthur
Darkness at Noon

Purchased at the Fordham University bookstore for a summer course called, "Politics and the Novel." We never got to it in the class, and, sadly, the same has been true in life. I guess I've always intended to read it, which is why I still have it. I wonder if I ever will.

I remember a great scene in Tom Clarke's biography of Olson in which Koestler and O end up taking hallucinogens together with Timothy Leary. Apparently Olson's size and the fact that he was playing around with either a toy gun or something that resembled a gun completely freaked Koestler out. I can only imagine the terror seeing Olson while on acid might cause.

from Darkness at Noon

The cell door slammed behind Rubashov.

He remained leaning against the door for a few seconds, and lit a cigarette. On the bed to his right lay two fairly clean blankets, and the straw mattress looked newly filled. The wash-basin to his left had no plug, but the tap functioned. The can next to it had been freshly disinfected, it did not smell. The walls on both sides were of solid brick, which would stifle the sound of tapping, but where the heating and drain pipe penetrated it, it had been plastered and resounded quite well; besides. the heating pipe itself seemed to be noise-conducting. The window started at eye-level; one could see down into the courtyard without having to pull oneself up by the bars. So far everything was in order.

There, now I've read the first paragraph.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 19 (John Knowles)

A Separate Peace
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Knowles, John
A Separate Peace

I think this once belonged to my brother. It's quite old, so I thought it might be the copy I read in high school, but the printing history goes up to 1988, two years after I graduated. The paper seems to be in the early stages of biodegradation--the edges are fuzzy, the surfaces yellow. There is lots of underlining and there are several interesting bits of marginalia.

On the first page is a lovely note:

ambiguous--not clear

At one point, in large block capital letters, the words


are written into a section space between paragraphs.

Another note regards vocabulary words:


Another a literary term:

like a candle--simily (sic)

The notes and underlining more or less disappear around page thirty, leading me to believe that perhaps someone didn't finish his homework assignment. A final underlining appears on page 178:

I was not, never had been and never would be a living part of this overwhelmingly solid and deeply meaningful world around me.

There's always something wistful about reading what someone underlines -- or what I have underlined -- in an old book. I like to imagine I can reconstruct their thoughts by reading into their choices, but when I look back at my own notes and underlinings, I see how conditional, provisional, and random most of them are and realize this must also be true of others. If I can't figure out my own thought processes from my notes, how can I discern those of someone else?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 18 (Jennifer L. Knox)

Drunk By Noon
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Knox, Jennifer L.
Drunk By Noon

Purchased at a reading in Buffalo at Rust Belt Books.

Inscribed thusly:

Hey Mike!

Good luck in prison.


P.S. You popped by book's cherry.

That was a fun night, as I recall. Jennifer read with Aaron Belz and Shanna Compton and then we all went out to the Founding Fathers pub. I was really into snapping photos at the time. Somewhere in my flickr set from fall 2007 are photos of all three readers, including a photo of Shanna counting my money after purchasing the first copy of Jennifer's book.

from Dunk by Noon

Yowl of the Obese Spaniel

I ran away for three days once so don't think sleeping
on sheets or eating the fat off steaks has kept me soft.
This ol' boy knows what's out there: broken glass,
bigger dogs with hair like weeds, bugs that pinch. Eesh.
But it's not sharp stuff that keeps me off the baby
teetering by, soggy graham floppy in hand. It's then, old
as I am, I become something else, something I've always
been, maybe--a bad thing who'd go all the way for a cookie.
And I could kick myself for shame. Not for shame
at the thought (I know I could take that kid down) but shame
for returning their smiles like a big, fat, automatic, tail-
wagging nitwit--and for meaning it in every loose tooth
in my mouth--not knowing why, only knowing--jeez!--
I'm never gonna have sex, I'd sure like to kill something.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 17 (Maxine Hong Kingston)

The Woman Warrior
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kingston, Maxine Hong
The Woman Warrior

Sent to me by the publisher in anticipation of the author's upcoming visit to Buffalo on December 1.

I am still recovering from Babel on Tuesday, which featured V.S. Naipaul. As I mentioned before, I was quite nervous leading up to the event, having read many an account of how difficult he could be. It appears, however, that, the "irascible" character has been smoothed over somewhat by age. He's seventy-eighty and unable to walk more than a few yards without assistance.

I met him and his wife, Nadira, at the hotel. We sat in a little drawing room for a few minutes going over the details. They were a bit put out that the hotel had no room service and that the food they'd had delivered wasn't very good. I promised to take them for a meal after the event.

As we drove over to Kleinhans Music Hall, both seemed charmed by the architecture of Buffalo and wondered aloud why all of the publishing people they'd met in New York were trashing it. They said everyone snickered when they mentioned he was coming here. After the show, which drew several hundred more people than the event in New York, Nadira said she intended to write a letter to Random House telling them they should send all the great authors here.

After a sound check, we went down to the VIP reception on the lower level of the music hall. I felt badly having to take him down two flights of stairs, but there was no easier way to get there. He held onto my arm with his left hand and to the bannister with his right. We stepped gently and in unison, one step at a time. He made a joke about our walking in a procession and that perhaps we should have musical accompaniment.

I sat him down in a chair and let everyone know they could come up and say hello. He seemed to be enjoying himself and to appreciate the fact that so many people were reading A House For Mr. Biswas at the same time.

He asked me to choose a section of the book from which he should read. I went through the book with Nadira. We both wanted him to read one of the sections where Mr. Biswas is being mean to his family -- calling them names and so forth. Sir Vidia worried he might offend some people, but we eventually convinced him that the humor would win the audience over. I did notice, however, that he censored himself when he read it, removing the word "bitch" from on of the insults hurled by the protagonist.

On stage, he seemed uncertain as he sat on a stool at the podium. I had to remind him that he was to make a few remarks before giving the reading. He spoke extemporaneously and was quite witty and charming, but he also seemed to lose his place several times, causing him to pause -- once for a painful fifteen seconds or so. I stayed with him on stage throughout to make sure he didn't lose his balance. At one point, Nadira jumped on stage to slide him over on the stool and bring the podium closer. She then reminded him of a funny story he'd forgotten to tell about leaving the manuscript of the book in a hotel room and not being able to enjoy his vacation in Venice because he worried it would be lost or stolen.

Once we'd sat down in comfortable chairs for the interview, he seemed much more at ease. Some of his famous feistiness came out, but for the most part he seemed to be having fun and didn't hold back at all when he had something to say. When he didn't he said so, and we moved on to the next question.

There was a certain amount of resignation in his tone throughout the evening, like a warrior who knew he no longer had the strength to do the one thing he knew how to do -- fight. In his introduction he talked of how the ambition that drove him as a young man had left him and that he now looked at that ambition from the outside, as an observer. In my last question, I asked if his new book would be his last. He said it very well might be, that writing books required quite a bit of strength and stamina and that that, too, seemed to have left him.

Afterwards, I took them out for dinner at Mother's in Allentown. We had a lovely conversation about cats.

Next morning I accompanied them in the limo to the airport to help with bags and wheelchairs and so forth. I liked them both quite a bit and felt a certain sadness seeing them leave, knowing I'd never get a chance to meet the great writer again.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 16 (Barbara Kingsolver"

Kingsolver, Barbara
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

This book belongs to Lori. I think I bought for her online, but it might have been it at Talking Leaves.

I am kind of cramming for the event with V.S. Naipaul tomorrow night. The format will be more interview than lecture, so I have been reading a more heavily than usual for one of these events.

I spent the past few days reading his throughly absorbing biography and am trying to get through as much of his new book as I can. I have to write an introduction today and start working on interview questions after that.

I am a little more nervous than usual about it, to be frank, but hopefully everything will go alright.

from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Driving through our little town in late fall, still a bit love-struck for Tuscany’s charm, I began to see my hometown through new eyes. We don’t have medieval hilltop towns, but we do have bucolic seasonal decor and we are not afraid to use it. “Look,” I cried to my family, “we live in Pleasantville.” They were forced to agree. Every store window had its own cheerful autumnal arrangement to celebrate the season. The lamp posts on Main Street had corn shocks tied around them with bright orange ribbons. The police station had a scarecrow out front.

Yard art is an earnest form of self-expression here. Autumn, with its blended undertones of “joyful harvest” and “Trick-or-Treat kitsch,” brings out the best and worst on the front lawns: colorful displays of chrysanthemums and gourds. A large round hay bale with someone’s legs hanging out of its middle. (A pair of jeans and boots stuffed with newspaper, I can only hope; we’ll call it a farm safety reminder.) One common theme runs through all these dioramas, and that is the venerable pumpkin. They were lined up in rows, burnished and proud and conspicuous, the big brass buttons on the uniform of our village. On the drive home from our morning’s errands we even passed a pumpkin field where an old man and a younger one worked together to harvest their crop, passing up the orange globes and stacking them on the truck bed to haul to market. We’d driven right into a Norman Rockwell painting.

Every dog has its day, and even the lowly squash finally gets its month. We may revile zucchini in July, but in October we crown its portly orange cousin the King Cucurbit and Doorstop Supreme. In Italy I had nursed a growing dread that my own country’s food lore had gone over entirely to the cellophane side. Now my heart was buoyed. Here was an actual, healthy, native North American vegetable, non shrink-wrapped, locally grown and in season, sitting in state on everybody’s porch.

The little devil on my shoulder whispered, “Oh yeah? You think people actually know it’s edible?”

The angel on the other shoulder declared “Yeah” (too smugly for an angel, probably), the very next morning. For I opened our local paper to the food section and found a colorful two-page spread under the headline “Pumpkin Possibilities.” Pumpkin Curry Soup, Pumpkin Satay! The food writer urged us to think past pie and really dig into this vitamin-rich vegetable. I was excited. We’d grown three kinds of pumpkins that were now lodged in our root cellar and piled on the back steps. I was planning a special meal for a family gathering on the weekend. I turned a page to find the recipes.

As I looked them over, Devil turned to Angel and kicked butt. Every single recipe started with the same ingredient: “1 can (15 oz) pumpkin.”

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 15 (Danilo Kiš)

garden, ashes
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kiš, Danilo
garden, ashes

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. The book had been recommended to me by two Balkan poets who visited Buffalo in, I think, 2005 or 6, Bosnian poet Semezdin Mehmedinović and Slovenian poet Aleš Debeljak.

At the time, I was just beginning to read novels for pleasure again after not having read a single one in at least ten years. I was reading Paul Celan pretty intently and this fit right in, with its compressed poetic rendering of a future artist's childhood during the holocaust.

My memory is mostly of the incredible detail with which he rendered objects, as seen in the excerpt below, which opens the book.

from garden, ashes

Late in the morning on summer days, my mother would come into the room softly, carrying that tray of hers. The tray was beginning to lose its thin nickelized glaze. Along the edges where its level surface bent upward slightly to form a raised rim, traces of its former splendor were still present in flaky patches of nickel that looked like tin foil pressed out under the fingernails. The narrow, flat rim ended in an oval trough that bent downward and was banged in and misshapen. Tiny decorative protuberances – a whole chain of little metallic grapes – had been impressed on the upper edge of the rim. Anyone holding the tray (usually my mother) was bound to feel at least three or four of these semicylindrical protuberances, like Braille letters, under the flesh of the thumb. Right there, around those grapes, ringlike layers of grease had collected, barely visible, like shadows cast by little cupolas. These small rings, the color of dirt under fingernails were the remnants of coffee grounds, cod-liver oil, honey sherbet. Thin crescents on the smooth, shiny surface of the tray showed where glasses had just been removed. Without opening my eyes, I knew from the crystal tinkling of teaspoons against glasses that my mother had set down the tray for a moment and was moving toward the window, the picture of determination, to push the dark curtain aside. Then the room would come aglow in the dazzling light of the morning, and I would shut my eyes tightly as the spectrum alternated from yellow to blue to red. On her tray, with her jar of honey and her bottle of cod-liver oil, my mother carried to us the amber hues of sunny days, thick concentrates full of intoxicating aromas. The little jars and glasses were just samples, specimens of the new lands at which the foolish barge of our days would be putting ashore on those summer mornings. Fresh water glistened in the glass, and we would drink it down expertly, in tiny sips, clucking like experienced tasters. We would sometimes express dissatisfaction by grimacing and coughing: the water was tasteless, greasy like rainwater, and full of autumnal sediment, while the honey had lost its color and turned thick and turbid, showing the first signs of crystallization. On rainy days, cloudy and gloomy, our fingerprints would stay on the teaspoon handle. Then, sad and disappointed, hating to get up, we would back under the covers to sleep through a day that had started out badly.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 14 (Kirk, Raven & Schofield)

Kirk, Raven & Schofield
The Presocratic Philosophers

I can't remember if I purchased this online or at Talking Leaves...Books. It was one or the other. Something tells me it was online. I remember I started reading the pre-Socratics because of Charles Olson. In one of the Maximus poems he mentions Anaximander, which led me on a diversion through the pre-Socratics.

Jonathan Skinner was living in the apartment below me on College St. at the time. I mentioned Anaximander to him and he recommended this book. Someone had secured him a faculty level library card that allowed him to check out books indefinitely, so he took advantage of that to lend me this one. I remember he had a small library worth of library books in his apartment throughout graduate school.

Anyhow, it was several years before I bought my own copy, I think because it was very expensive.

from The Presocratic Philosophers

If Thales earned the tile of the first Greek philosopher mainly because of his abandonment of mythological formulations, Anaximander is the first of whom we have concrete evidence that he made a comprehensive and attempt to explain all aspects of the the world of man's experience.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 13 (Natsuo Kirino)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kirino, Natsuo

Sent to me by the publisher. I think they also sent me her novel, Grotesques, which I started but didn't finish. I didn't get around to this one, but I think Lori may have read it. I may have given the other one away or sold it to the book store. La la.

Still thinking about my father. In the last year of his life he really saved mine. After'd I'd returned from Ecuador I'd gotten involved with someone in New York -- I've spoken about her before. After the relationship ended, I crashed. Hard. I wandered around New York for months like a a ghost. My friends constantly asked if I was alright, even when I thought I was feeling relatively good.

I remember hearing the lines from that Paul Simon song--

"Losing love is like a window in your heart.
Everybody sees you're blown apart.
Everybody sees the wind blow... "

--and thinking that everyone on the street could see my insides all the time. It was horrible. I went to one therapy session and the therapist asked within five minutes if I intended to hurt myself.

One night I called my friend, C., an ex-roommate who'd moved up to W. 108th St. I told her I needed to talk to someone and she invited me over. We sat up late talking until she had to get her sleep to get to work the next morning.

I let myself out after she'd gone and walked all the way from 108th and Amsterdam to E. 4th and Ave. B. Later, she told me that in the middle of the night I'd called her on the phone and told her I wanted to die. She tried to stop me, but I hung up. I said that was impossible because I was asleep on the couch and there was no way I could have called her. To this day she swears it was no dream.

I arrived home that morning at about 11 AM. I climbed the five flights of stairs to the empty apartment. When I sat down, I just started weeping. I knew I could no longer function. I called my father in DC and told him how badly things were going. He said, Wait there, I'll come pick you up. He arrived around dinner time and I packed my things, left a note for my roommate and got in the car.

During the five hour drive to Northern Virginia, we talked a lot, mostly about relationships and women and so forth. He told me for the first time that he'd been engaged in his mid-twenties and that his fiancee had ditched him because of his drinking. Apparently he'd been very hurt by this. I remember he kept saying things like, I don't know what women are like these days with all of this feminism shit, but... I remember laughing a little.

For me, that ride was much more significant than the time I ran away from home. Not so much a coming-of-age as a coming-to-see my father as a human being. A flawed human being, to be sure, but not the bad man I'd turned him into during my teenage rebellion. He was no longer a symbol or an archetype after that. Just a guy who'd been formed by a particular set of circumstances to which he'd responded in the various way that he knew how. A complex person, like everyone else.

Another father figure, Mr. M., was also useful in his own laconic way while I was home. I went to the M's annual holiday party that year and sat quietly in the corner sipping a coke and chain-smoking. Mr. M approached and asked what was wrong. I told him the whole sad story and he said, Mike, you have to get over it. You have to. You have no choice.

It didn't really help in the moment, but his words echoed back to me often during the next year, especially when my father died the following November.

I returned to NY in January and started temping again. I got a job at Hyperion Publishing. I stayed there for about six months. It was an awful job, but the stability of a paycheck and a place to go eight hours a day helped me a lot.

God, what an excruciating year.

I have been reading Nada Gordon's blog posts about her very public breakup with Gary Sullivan of late and have been reminded about just how hard that year was. New York can feel like a big mean empty place when you feel that way.

from Out

She got to the parking lot earlier than usual. The thick, damp July darkness engulfed her as she stepped out of the car. Perhaps it was the heat and humidity, but the night seemed especially lack and heavy. Feeling a bit short of breath, Masako Katori looked up at the starless night sky. Her skin, which had been cool and dry in the air-conditioned car, began to feel sticky. Mixed in with the exhaust fumes from the Shin-Oume Expressway, she could smell the faint odor of deep-fried food, the odor of the boxed lunch factory where she was going to work.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 12.1 (Rudyard Kipling)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kipling, Rudyard

I think this, like yesterday's title, is one of the older books in the collection. Not sure how I acquired. It might possibly have come from my father, but it might also have come from my brother's high school books.

I woke up thinking about my father again. We had a pretty rocky time of it through most of my teen years and into my twenties. I was always the rebel in the family and he brooked no dissent in the family. My memory of our relationship between the ages 12-21 consists of a constant tug-of-war between to strong personalities. We'd fight, he'd lose control, then apologize. Peace would follow, then we'd fight again, he'd lose control and apologize. And so on. As a teenager he'd sometimes hand me a five dollar bill when he was really sorry.

After I quit drinking, we managed a kind of detente that over the years grew into a kind of mutual respect, even a little dependence.

My father often spoke to me about his concerns over my younger brothers, his business, his health, his feelings that he hadn't been a good father, etc. I felt a certain amount of sympathy for him, as I knew his temper was more or less beyond his control and that had it been in his control he would have kept it in check. Even so there was a certain amount of anger at having been at the receiving end of a lot of his rage.

I recall a couple of occasions when he asked directly if I thought he'd been a good father. I was a very angry man in my early twenties. Having given up drinking and so forth, a lot of my negativity was directed towards others -- my family, especially.

In college I wrote and directed a play about a dysfunctional family. After my parents came to see it, my father asked if I'd had a happy childhood. It was kind of an impossible question to answer--if I said yes, then why write such an unhappy play with so many obviously autobiographical elements? If I said it was unhappy, I'd be blaming him for my unhappiness, which was also only part of the truth.

As I recall, I took the middle road and said it was mostly happy and that many of the traumas that made me an unhappy twenty-two year old occurred outside the family -- at school, among friends and classmates, etc. This was partly true, but I felt I couldn't blame him and didn't want to add to the guilt he was so obviously feeling.

One other time, when I was visiting home, he brought it up again. I can't quite remember the context, but I think whatever it was he saw me suffering from what he viewed as a lack of self-esteem. During a conversation in our living room, he said, I guess I wasn't the kind of father who could give you boys a good self-image. I am not sure what brought on these doubts later in life except to say that perhaps all of that out-of-control anger had with age and sobriety morphed into a combination of sensitivity, self-reflection and Catholic guilt.

I think he felt that he was supposed to raise children who were educated, successful, confident AND happy and that anything short of that was a failure on his part as a parent.

After he died, I spoke to my youngest brother, who lived at home at the time of his sudden death, about some of this. He told me a story of driving past my father one day on the sidewalk near our house and of being unnerved by the look on his face, which he described as depressed. He said it looked like he was carrying some kind of terrible burden.

In those last years, I sometimes found it difficult to sympathize with him. I had grown used to avoiding him in order to avoid loud, angry confrontations. When I was unable to avoid them, I had taught myself to shut down. The angrier and more out of control he became, the calmer and more unresponsive I became. It was a test of wills.

Once when I visited we started talking about my mother. He was very proud of the fact that she had worked her way through college later in life. At the time she was working at a geriatric care center as part of an internship for her degree in psychology. He'd apparently seen her working one day and this had made him proud.

Suddenly he burst into tears at the breakfast table and said how lucky he was to have met her. I had never seen my father shed a tear. Not once. I completely froze, having no idea how to respond. All I could do was wait for him to stop, which he did, and eventually the conversation continued in another direction.

from Kim

There was some justification for Kim - he had kicked Lala Dinanath's boy off the trunnions - since the English held the Punjab and Kim was English. Though he was burned black as any native; though he spoke the vernacular by preference, and his mother-tongue in a clipped uncertain sing-song; though he consorted on terms of perfect equality with the small boys of the bazar; Kim was white - a poor white of the very poorest. The half-caste woman who looked after him (she smoked opium, and pretended to keep a second-hand furniture shop by the square where the cheap cabs wait) told the missionaries that she was Kim's mother's sister; but his mother had been nursemaid in a Colonel's family and had married Kimball O'Hara, a young colour- sergeant of the Mavericks, an Irish regiment. He afterwards took a post on the Sind, Punjab, and Delhi Railway, and his Regiment went home without him. The wife died of cholera in Ferozepore, and O'Hara fell to drink and loafing up and down the line with the keen-eyed three-year-old baby. Societies and chaplains, anxious for the child, tried to catch him, but O'Hara drifted away, till he came across the woman who took opium and learned the taste from her, and died as poor whites die in India. His estate at death consisted of three papers - one he called his 'ne varietur' because those words were written below his signature thereon, and another his 'clearance-certificate'. The third was Kim's birth-certificate. Those things, he was used to say, in his glorious opium-hours, would yet make little Kimball a man. On no account was Kim to part with them, for they belonged to a great piece of magic - such magic as men practised over yonder behind the Museum, in the big blue-and-white Jadoo-Gher - the Magic House, as we name the Masonic Lodge. It would, he said, all come right some day, and Kim's horn would be exalted between pillars - monstrous pillars - of beauty and strength. The Colonel himself, riding on a horse, at the head of the finest Regiment in the world, would attend to Kim - little Kim that should have been better off than his father. Nine hundred first-class devils, whose God was a Red Bull on a green field, would attend to Kim, if they had not forgotten O'Hara - poor O'Hara that was gang- foreman on the Ferozepore line. Then he would weep bitterly in the broken rush chair on the veranda. So it came about after his death that the woman sewed parchment, paper, and birth- certificate into a leather amulet-case which she strung round Kim's neck.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 12 (Rudyard Kipling)

Kipling, Rudyard
Captains Courageous

Given to me by my father.

I am pretty sure that I have I owned this volume longer than any other in my library. He gave it to me in the fifth or sixth grade. I can remember it sitting on the shelf of the little corner desk in my bedroom.

I vaguely remember my father telling me this was one of his favorite books. He seemed to have a few specific topics and genres to which he gravitated: dysfunctional family dramas and comedies, anything about Ireland, Brooklyn, or baseball and the male coming-of-age story.

This falls into the latter category.

I am now remembering his sex education talk, which involved the coming-of-age narrative. One night when I was about 13 or 14, he said we were going to watch a movie on television and that only he and I were to watch it and that my younger brothers were to do something else. I felt special, but also a little scared.

The movie turned out to be 'Summer of '42' starring Jennifer O'Neill as a WWII widow who pops the cherry of a teenage boy summering on Nantucket. The film is really about the boy.

It's a very funny and affecting film. My father said nothing until a hilarious scene halfway through where the two young male protagonists shamefacedly attempt to articulate their desire to purchase condoms to a druggist. At one point, the druggist asks, "Do you boys know what these things are for?" My father turned to me and asked the same question. I said yes. He said, "Good." And that was my sex education talk.

Later, the coming-of-age narrative reappeared when the two of us ended up at an AA meeting together. Somehow, an incident from my teen years came up. My father and I had gotten into a terrible fight, oddly, over going to an AA meeting. He'd forced me to go to meetings when I was sixteen, after having semi-secretly tested me for drugs. I found that I liked the meetings because they got me out of the house for a few hours without supervision. I started going early to set up chairs and make coffee.

One night, he decided I wasn't taking AA seriously enough and told me I couldn't go to the meeting to set up. I was allowed to go for the meeting only. He told me I was turning it into a social event. I guess I wasn't supposed to enjoy it so much.

This turned into a typically angry episode in which I yelled and yelled and he told me if I said one more word I wouldn't be allowed to go and then I yelled again and he said I couldn't go. I stormed down to my room, where I paced back and forth for a few minutes before steeling my resolve.

I should note here that my father, despite being only around 5' '5" was a terrifying figure to me. He had a quick temper that on occasion morphed into violence.

I decided I'd had enough.

I walked upstairs, opened the front door and screamed, "I'm leaving!"

I ran down to the end of the cul de sac and up to the back road, my father's voice echoing in my ears as he stood shouting from the front porch. I hitched a ride to the AA meeting, where I shared with everyone that I had just run away from home. Afterwards, someone drove me back home.

My mother greeted me at the door. All was very, very quiet. "Your father is upstairs, he wants to talk to you." I expected him to beat the shit out of me at that point. I was surprised find him sitting dejectedly on the edge of his bed. "I broke your stereo," he said," And some records. And your phone. I'll replace them." That was it.

I went down stairs to my bedroom to discover the aftermath of a major tantrum. After I'd run off, he'd ripped the phone out of the wall and smashed it on the floor, then picked up the stereo-turntable and smashed it on the floor. I think he may also have jumped up and down on it or given it a few kicks. All of my Clash albums had been on the turntable and were now in pieces on the floor.

Flash forward five years or so to the AA meeting we both attended. I eventually found my way to sobriety on my own. We began to mend our relationship a bit by going to meetings together. He'd been a horrible drunk and had sobered up when I was four years old. I can't recall how the running away incident came up, but we began talking about it. My father read the whole thing as a coming-of-age story.

He asked if I remembered the incident. I said yes and he said, "That was the day you became a man." I never really bought it, but it seemed to please him, so I didn't argue.

I don't recall if I ever finished or if I even read Captains Courageous. As I've mentioned, I didn't much like reading as a kid. I do remember opening it up and trying to read it and thinking I didn't like it. I also remember feeling a little guilt at not pleasing my father, but also a feeling of anger that he was always trying to force me to read against my will.

I would rather have been playing outside.

from Captains Courageous

The weather door of the smoking-room had been left open to the
North Atlantic fog, as the big liner rolled and lifted, whistling
to warn the fishing-fleet.

"That Cheyne boy's the biggest nuisance aboard," said a man in a
frieze overcoat, shutting the door with a bang. "He isn't wanted
here. He's too fresh."

A white-haired German reached for a sandwich, and grunted between
bites: "I know der breed. Ameriga is full of dot kind. I deli you
you should imbort ropes' ends free under your dariff."

"Pshaw! There isn't any real harm to him. He's more to be pitied
than anything," a man from New York drawled, as he lay at full
length along the cushions under the wet skylight. "They've dragged
him around from hotel to hotel ever since he was a kid. I was
talking to his mother this morning. She's a lovely lady, but she
don't pretend to manage him. He's going to Europe to finish his

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 11 (Amy King)

On The Fly
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
King, Amy
On The Fly

I can't remember if I purchased this or traded for it with the author. She came to Buffalo to read at Rust Belt Books about four years ago as part of Kevin Thurston's series. I remember that after the reading we were standing on the sidewalk and Amy came out of the store upset that someone had stolen a copy of the book. I said I thought that was a compliment, but she didn't see it that way.

I think the Poetry Bus pulled into town the next day for a reading at the Albright-Knox. I read, as did Amy and Ethan Paquin and a few other Buffalo folks. After the reading we went to Cole's with all of the poetry bus people. I had a long conversation with a guy on the bus who was making a film about the whole thing. He told that his last film was about walking from Portland or Seattle to LA. I said that reminded me of Werner Herzog walking all the way to Paris from Berlin.

If you don't know that story, it goes something like this: Lotte Eisner, the famous German film critic who helped Herzog early on and also appeared as a narrative voice in Fata Morgana, wrote that she was dying in a Paris hospital. Herzog told her not to die until he got there. Rather than hurry, he decided to walk from from Berlin to Paris, the logic being that, if she waited for him, his walk would prolong her life. She apparently survived until he got there. Not sure how long she lived after that.

Surprised I mentioned Herzog, the filmmaker asked if I'd seen the film, which was called, "Walking to Werner Herzog." I told him no and he told me that Herzog's walk had inspired him and that he'd walked to all the way to LA in order to meet Herzog, his hero. When he arrived at Herzog's house, however, the great man wasn't in. I guess they did meet eventually and Herzog let him in to film the end of the story.

from On the Fly

Inhabiting Consciousness

Anxious to garner the fat on the fly,
the first to let go prays the kingdom
of the human ghetto will be dethroned
for those earth-driven creatures who
thought we were Paris, animals of ourselves.
Atoms too tend toward material, then, stuck,
in a cobweb of sameness, face our buzzing natures.

With impossibility, God colors the coffee,
lays out his crooked rain,
& sleeping still, I sleep until
the waking in this disappearing question.
To rise for day is to deposit with shovels
and make the air a shapeless dream of spring.
We bachelors of approximate projects
go on to wing it and carry on the serenade.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 10 (Myung Mi Kim)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kim, Myung Mi

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. Boy, I sure do miss the cover design of Sun & Moon books -- Green Integer, its replacement, sorely lacks in that department.

Myung Kim came to Buffalo for a reading at some point during my first two years in the Poetics Program. I remember taking her out to dinner at a little bistro called Le Metro. I think the only other guests were Eleni Stecopoulos & Nick Lawrence. I remember being surprised more people didn't come.

My clearest memory is of my menu catching fire. After deciding on my meal, I set it down and started talking. I recall the conversation being lively and also that Myung struck me as a person devoted to poetry in a way that was refreshingly optimistic.

As the conversation continued, I saw a flicker out of the corner of my eye but ignored it. A moment later my menu burst into flames. Apparently, I had set it on top of a candle. We managed to put out the fire without too much trouble.

I remember from that point on there was continual talk of Myung coming to Buffalo to teach in the Poetics Program. The talk lasted four or five years until eventually she came.

from Dura

from Labors

With foremost authority assume

Set by pail set by pall

Burgeoning will

Land and its periphery

First rave to core

Afford: could nearly lose

Banner hung

Name speaking

Due west directly west

Occupation must within a reasonable time

Be added to the discovery to constitute

A valid title to territory in the New World

Three mile swath reaching each direction...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 9 (Kevin Killian)

Little Men
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Killian, Kevin
Little Men

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

Kevin Killian and Dody Bellamy were the first two visitors to the poetics program my first year in Buffalo. At least, they are the first I remember.

I didn't really meet Kevin, as I was fresh in town and not really sure about how the social scene worked when all of these visitors came to town. Were you allowed to just talk to them? Or did you have to wait to be introduced by someone?

I remember his reading vividly, though. It took place in the Center for the Arts screening room-- possibly the worst venue in the history of the world for a poetry reading. It's a big modern cinema with pseudo-stadium seating and a small stage protruding out from under the screen. The lectern is a heavy wooden box with a school seal on it. There's nothing to do there buit stare at what is on stage. It's hard even to daydream, which is what I like to do during readings while I listen. Not to mention it is on the campus of the University at Buffalo, itself a cold, windy, brutalist nightmare.

Nonetheless, Kevin managed to bring some warmth into the room in his signature way. By signature I mean that he read an incredibly disturbing story about a random, violent sexual encounter between two men in a tone that was welcoming and friendly, one might even say cheery, and yet for all that did not feel at odds with the violence of the story. Nor did it feel like a kind of ironic commentary.

I remember that at one point a man is tied naked to the glass door of a shower stall, which he eventually falls through, shattering the glass and drawing a lot of blood. I remember Kevin reading the bloody description in the tone of voice one might use describe an interesting film to a friend over coffee.

Joel Kuszai threw a party in his back yard that night. I remember standing at the edges of a lot of conversations between the visitors and older students, but not really taking part in any of them.

I remember reading Kevin's amazing scene reports from the Orono poetry conference a few years later and thinking, wow, I'd like to talk to that guy. A few years later, I saw Kevin at the Poetry of the Forties conference in Orono. I saw Kevin there and shook his hand, but we didn't talk.

I finally got to talk to Kevin Killian in Buffalo when he visited last year to take part in the poets theater production of his play, "Celebrity Hospital." He'd read this blog and we talked about it for a while while standing around in the Essex Street Pub after the performance. He asked if I was worried that I might be telling all my good stories too early in the process and did I think I might run out of them before I got to the end-- a question that haunts me every time I run short of things to say.

Thankfully, I haven't run out yet!

from Little Men

from Zoo Story

If you've ever seen Cat People, with Nastassja Kinski, you already know the first part of this story--how I become obsessed with big cats, the panthers and leopards at the zoo, how I battled my own best interests to become skilled in deceit. Mom and dad had taught me right from wrong, but I dunno...I was always a contrary boy. But if you've seen Cat People you know that I crept out of my apartment every night that spring, to drive to a distant neighborhood out by the beach. That I parked my car blocks away and jumped the fence--

--landing with a jolt that made my legs grow numb, to creep toward the cages, night after night, sitting there in the wet grass motionless each night, staring at the cats.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 8.1 (Søren Kierkegaard)

Kierkegaard, Søren
Either/Or: A Fragment of Life

Purchased for $4 at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store (RIP). It still has the price sticker on the cover. It also has a black remainder mark on the bottom portion of the text block. It also looks as if someone used it as a cutting board, as the cover is cut and nearly split by a three-inch vertical slice that runs as deep as page four. I guess it is also possible that a book seller was trying to cut the cover off to destroy the book, but chose to sell it instead. I didn't make the cut, that much I know. There, I just repaired it with some clear packing tape. As with yesterday's title, this not the copy I read, but one I purchased later as reference material for my library. I have nothing else to say this morning.

from Either/Or

Perhaps it has sometimes occurred to you, dear reader, to doubt the correctness of the familiar philosophical proposition that the outward is the inward, the inward the outward. You yourself have perhaps nursed a secret which, in its joy or pain, you felt was too precious for you to be abe to initiate others into it. Your life has perhaps brought you into touch with people of whom you suspected something of the kind, yet without being able to wrest their secret from them by force or guile. Perhaps neither case applies to you and your life, and yet you are not a stranger to that doubt; it has slipped before your mind now and then like a fleeting shadow. Such a doubt comes and goes, and no one knows where it comes from or where it it hurries on. I, for my part, have always been of a somewhat heretical temper on this point of philosophy and have therefore early accustomed myself to undertaking, as best I may, observations and investigations of my own; I have sought guidance from the authors whose views in this respect I shared; in short, I have done everything in my power to fill the gap left by the philosophical literature.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 8 (Søren Kierkegaard)

Kierkegaard, Søren
Fear and Trembling
The Sickness Unto Death

I am not sure where I got this one. I know I got it for free and I think I can narrow it down to two possibilities: either I got it off a free book table in the English department in grad school, or I pulled it out of a stack of books Kyle Schlesinger donated to Just Buffalo on his way out of town.

I feel like it is most likely the latter. I remember he donated a box of books to Just Buffalo's book table just before he moved away and that I took three or four for myself before completing the donation. Perks of the job.

I don't think I have read this copy, though I have read parts of both titles. Lori went on a bit of a Kierkegaard tear a few years back and may have read this one.

I once read an article about how a group of computer people who'd written some kind of author recognition program ran all of Kierkegaard books, which were originally written under different pseudonyms, through an rigorous analysis which determined that each had been written by a different author. To be able to construct something like seven authorial identities with seven distinct "voices" is a pretty amazing feat, one has to admit.

from Fear and Trembling

Not merely in the realm of commerce but in the world of ideas as well our age is organizing a regular clearance sale. Everything is to be had at such a bargain that it is questionable whether in the end there is anybody who will want to bid. Every speculative price-fixer who conscientiously directs attention to the significant march of modern philosophy, every Privatdocent, tutor, and student, every crofter and cottar in philosophy, is not content with doubting everything but goes further. Perhaps it would be untimely and ill-timed to ask them where they are going, but surely it is courteous and unobtrusive to regard it as certain that they have doubted everything, since otherwise it would be a queer thing for them to be going further.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 7 (Velimir Khlebnikov)

Selected Poems
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Khlebnikov, Velimir
Selected Poems

Purchased at Rust Belt Books.

Getting ready to head to Rochester this afternoon for the Black Mountain North Symposium. Looking forward to seeing my pal, The Literary Outlaw Richard Deming, this afternoon. I am on a panel tomorrow morning called, "Creeley's Buffalo," along with Kaplan Harris and Margaret Konkol and possibly Penelope Creeley, who may or may not be able to make it due to the sad and untimely passing of Michael Gizzi. I am also giving a short reading as part of the conference tomorrow night.

It sure does get busy this time of year. Monday night I am leading the Babel at Betty's Discussion on V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas. Thursday, I head to Gloucester for the Olson Centennial, where I am reading on Friday night. Week after that brings another Olson event here in Buffalo for three days, followed the week after that by V.S Naipaul's visit and then another Big Night -- and those are just the events I have to go to.

Phew. Good thing the dog has made me start waking up early so I can get some work done.

from Selected Poems


The guy
with the elephant neck
and enormous awkward easy honest ears,
with his lip curled down on the words, "That's that!"
sticks out the iron chine
of a leader of men, pushes his way out, breaks out, flies out!
A pilot who laughs
as his plane cracks up in midair
and the gloom of the universe glitters
like an iron bird exploding with laughter.
A soft, tender lip, a pouting lip,
a hulk, a hero with five-foot shoulders--
Who is he?
What he does is, over and over,
with a voice that sounds like a smile,
he strikes the blazing match of his with
on the sole of stupidity's shoe.