Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 11.1 (Denise Levertov)

Levertov, Denise
New & Selected Essays

I think I bought this at Rust Belt Books, but I don't remember clearly.

I find Levertov's essays to be a little fussy.

They are impeccably written, well-crafted, etc., but their formal elegance seems to me to repress all that might be interesting about them. She seems to always have a point to make and, having the skills to make that point in clear, declarative sentences housed in well-structured paragraphs connected by perfectly managed transitons, she always seems to make it.

Thus, while she often speaks of being on a spiritual journey, it always feels as if she had arrived at the conclusion of said journey at just the moment she sat down to write. I never get a feeling of her having discovered something new along the way that might have changed the course of what she intended to write.

In other words, I find her essays didactic, and I don't find I have much use for didacticism.

from New & Selected Essays

We have long assumed that it is an aesthetic truism to assert the indivisibility of form and content--but there is a certain amount of hypocrisy in that statement, after all. Perhaps it needs to be reformulated, to say that although inadequate formal expression always diminishes or distorts content, yet form itself can be perceived, admired, and experienced as pleasure or stimulus even when the reader's attention is not held by content. Thus, while content cannot be fully apprehended without a fusion with form equal to its task, form can be apprehended and absorbed in and of itself. The assertion of indivisibility does not cover this contingency. At all events, I as a younger poet was often drawn primarily to the structure or technique of poems I read, and paid less attention to what was being said; whereas the older I grow the more I find myself concerned with content, and drawn towards poems that articulate some of my own interests. This primary importance given to what doesn't imply a loss of interest in how; if a poem strikes me as banal, trite, flabby, pretentious or in any other respect badly written, I'm unlikely to read further no matter what its subject matter. But the poems to which I look for nourishment and stimulus are more and more those with which I feel an affinity that is not necessarily stylistic at all.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 11 (Denise Levertov)

Poems 1960-1967
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Levertov, Denise
Poems 1960-1967

Purchased, I think, at Rust Belt books.

I bought this while I was reading the Duncan/Levertov letters. I've discussed those before, but in case you missed it or forgot, I think their correspondence is possibly the most significant literary correspondence of its era, right up there with the Creeley/Olson letters.

Their relationship came to a dramatic and seemingly sudden end over their disagreements about the role of poetry vis-a-vis the politics of Vietnam War protest. Both Levertov and Duncan were stridently anti-war, but both chose different means to express this in their poetry.

Duncan spoke openly about politics in his poetry of this era, but mostly did so in a way that attempted to account for it within the mytho-poetic framework he'd contrived, whereas Levertov began writing poems whose primary purpose was to serve the anti-war movement by engaging openly, plainly, and directly with the politics of the moment.

Duncan accused her of throwing over the poetry in favor of the politics, and over the course of four or five letters basically put an end to a two-decades-old friendship.

Anyhow, I bought this volume to read some of the poems that so incensed Duncan. I discovered later that those poems were mostly published in the collections that followed this, written between 1967 and 1971. Alas, I didn't get around to buying that one.

from Poems 1960-1967

A Day Begins

A headless squirrel, some blood
oozing from the unevenly
chewed-off neck

lies in rainsweet grass
near the woodshed door.
Down the driveway

the first irises
have opened since dawn,
ethereal, their mauve

almost a transparent gray,
their dark veins

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 10.1 (Stanislaw Lem)

The Cyberiad
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Lem, Stanislaw
The Cyberiad:
Fables for the Cybernetic Age

I bought this over the summer, but I can't remember if I bought it at Talking Leaves or online. I think the former, but on the other hand, it doesn't have the extra TL price sticker on it, which might argue for the latter.

I read the first few fables, then got distracted. My memory is that each one concerns the ongoing rivalry between two mad scientists. Each tries to outdo the other with some new cybernetic invention, all of which attempt to solve some kind of philosophical problem or riddle. The machines themselves create problems because they are literal minded and then the rival inventor creates more problems by posing riddles to the machine or by inventing something even more fantastical to top it.

It's sort of like a sci-fi "Spy vs. Spy." It's remarkable how different in content, form and tone it is from Solaris. It might as well have been written by a different author.

from The Cyberiad

One day Trurl the constructor put together a machine that could create anything starting with n. When it was ready, he tried it out, ordering it to make needles, then nankeens and negligees, which it did, then nail the lot to narghiles filled with nepenthe and numerous other narcotics. The machine carried out his instructions to the letter. Still not completely sure of its ability, he had it produce, one after the other, nimbuses, noodles, nuclei, neutrons, naptha, noses, nymphs, naiads and natrium. This last it could not do, and Trurl, considerable irritated, demanded an explanation.

"Never heard of it," said the machine.

"What? But it's only sodium. You know, the metal, the element..."

"Sodium starts with an s, and I only work in n."

"But in Latin it's natrium."

"Look, old boy," said the machine, "if I could do everything starting with n in every possible language, I'd be a Machine Who Could Do Everything in the Whole Alphabet, since any item you care to mention undoubtedly starts with n in one foreign language or another. It's not so easy. I can't go beyond what you programmed. So no sodium."

Friday, November 26, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 10 (Stanislaw Lem)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Lem, Stanislaw

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I'm a huge Andrei Tarkovsky fan, and his version of Solaris rates as one of my favorite films. I remember the first time I saw it. It felt like watching the paint dry and then repainting only to watch it dry again, but the images stayed with me for a long time.

I watched it again. I bought my own copy to watch again and again. It never gets old.

I tried to watch the Soderberg version, but found it almost unwatchable.

It came as a relief when I finally got around to reading the book this past summer to discover that, though it differs in many respects from Tarkovsky's film, it is just as profound, which is saying something.

from Solaris

Out of the enveloping pink mist, an invisible object emerges, and touches me. Inert, locked in the alien matter that encloses me, I can neither retreat nor turn away, and still I am being touched, my prison is being probed, and I feel this contact like a hand, and the hand recreates me. Until now, I thought I saw, but had no eyes: now I have eyes! Under the caress of the hesitant fingers, my lips and cheeks emerge from the void, and as the caress goes further I have a face, breath stirs n my chest--I exist. And recreated, I in my turn create: a face appears before me that I have never seen until now, at once mysterious and known. I strain to meet its gaze, but I cannot impose any direction on my own, and we discover one another mutually, beyond any effort of will, in an absorbed silence. I have become alive again, and I feel is if there is no limitation on my powers. This creature--a woman?--stays near me, and we are motionless. The beat of our hearts combines, and all at once, out of the surrounding void where nothing exists or can exist, steals a presence of indefinable, unimaginable cruelty. The caress that created us and which wrapped us in a golden cloak becomes the crawling of innumerable fingers. Our white, naked bodies dissolve into a swarm of black creeping things, endless, and in that infinity, no, I am infinite, and I howl soundlessly, begging for death and for an end. But simultaneously I am dispersed in all direction, and my grief expands in a suffering more acute than any waking state, a pervasive, scattered pain piercing the distant blacks and reds, hard as rock and ever-increasing, a mountain of grief visible and in the dazzling light of another world.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 9 (Urusula K. Le Guin)

Le Guin, Urusula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I still haven't read this. I bought it about five years ago along with several other books by some of the sci-fi heavyweights. I've now read all of them except this. I polished off two more of them this summer and even took this one off the shelf for a while but never got to it. Maybe next summer. Yeah, for sure, next summer.

Today will be the first meat-free Thanksgiving in this house. Looking forward to it. Amazing how little I miss meat. We continue to eat fish, mostly for the health benefits, but I could probably live without that, too, if I had to. Maybe in another few years will remove that from our diets.

Well, that's it for today. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

from The Left Hand of Darkness

I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling: like that singular organic jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust. Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 8 (Harper Lee)

Lee, Harper
To Kill A Mockingbird

This one's pretty old. It may be the copy I read in high school, or it maybe the one my brother read in high school, or it may be the one I read in college, or it may be the one I used when I taught high school after college.

My memory of reading it in high school is of having enjoyed it, which was saying something for me at the time. I think I actually read the whole book, which was also saying something. That said, I don't have much to say about it now.

It's one of those books that gets read and talked about a little too much. One feels required to make public pronouncements about how important it is for everyone to read it because of the moral lessons it teaches, etc., etc., but I don't find myself returning to books to find moral examples.

You know what I mean?

I am sure you've read it before and thought it was the greatest thing you've ever read, so I'll skip the excerpt today.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 7.3 (D.H. Lawrence)

Lawrence, D.H.
Lady Chatterley's Lover

This book belongs to Lori. I am moderately embarrassed to say I haven't read it, mostly because of its notoriety.

I realized late yesterday afternoon that it was the fourteenth anniversary of my father's death. I almost always forget the date, I guess because it's such a painful memory. It is made more painful by the fact that what reminds of his death each year is that November 22 also happens to be the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.

Yesterday, I kept seeing references to the assassination popping up on news sites and so forth, but it took me a while to realize why I was seeing them. It then took several more hours for me to remember the convergence of the two anniversaries.

My father died on November 22, 1996 at Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Virginia. He'd gone in for what they told him was a routine preventative operation to scrape plaque out of the carotid artery in order to reduce what they told him was a great risk of a stroke.

My mother was told that the surgery had been successful, but then he didn't wake up from the anesthesia. After a few hours had passed, they wheeled him back in for an MRI and discovered he'd had a massive stroke at some point after the operation.

Later in the afternoon, at my parent's house, after we had made the decision to let him pass away, it was my mother who noted the link between the two dates. She asked if Kennedy had died on November 22 or 24. I told her November 22 was the correct date.

She said, "Hmm," as if she were measuring the significance of the coincidence inside her head. I think it meant something to her, though I am not sure what.

I probably forget the anniversary every year at least in part as a means to protect myself from thinking about my father's death while viewing the endlessly repeating image of Kennedy's head exploding in the back seat of the limo. But then there it is. Again. And again. And again.

from Lady Chatterley's Lover

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 7.2 (D.H. Lawrence)

Selected Poems
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Lawrence, D.H.
Selected Poems

Purchased at the late, lamented Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store. I must have removed the price tag; I am sure it was cheap.

One of the most extraordinary seminars I ever attended in Charles Bernstein's office was when Adrienne Rich visited. We suddenly found ourselves sitting around a seminar table with Rich, Robert Creeley, Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe, Dennis Tedlock, I think maybe even Carl Dennis was there.

I don't remember much about the details of the conversation, only that at some point Creeley and Rich and Howe all started talking about D.H. Lawrence. And they weren't talking about his novels, they were talking about his poems, all with a certain amount of awe.

Lawrence had been a major poet for a lot of them, especially when they were younger, and despite the fact they may have become skeptical of him for various reasons as they got older, he nonetheless still occupied an important place in all of their imaginations, one they could never entirely be dislodged by whatever changes to their thought processes accompanied their passage through adulthood.

I remember feeling kind of astounded to hear that. I'd never really had much of a feeling for Lawrence the poet, had never studied him in school, had never been encouraged to read his poetry by anyone, for the matter. Well, I guess I remember one friend who had Lawrence's complete poems on his shelf--that huge volume put out by Penguin-- but I don't remember him ever talking about the book. I just remember looking at it on his shelf.

I've since bought this slim selected volume and have to admit I still don't have much of a feeling for his poems. Alas, it must be a generational thing.

from Selected Poems

A Baby Running Barefoot

When the bare feet of the baby beat across the grass
The little white feet nod like white flowers in the wind,
They poise and run like ripples lapping across the water;
And the sight of their white play among the grass
Is like a little robin's song, winsome,
Or as two white butterflies settle in the cup of one flower
For a moment, then away with a flutter of wings.

I long for the baby to wander hither to me
Like a wind-shadow wandering over the water,
So that she can stand on my knee
With her little bare feet in my hands,
Cool like syringa buds,
Firm and silken like pink young peony flowers.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 7.1 (D.H. Lawrence)

Lawrence, D.H.
Studies in Classic American Literature

Purchased at the late lamented Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store.

This is one of those books that I remember looking for in the pre-Amazon era and not being able to find. Someone had showed me Lawrence's famous depiction of Deerslayer and I went looking for the whole book. I couldn't find it in any book store and for whatever reason it wasn't available at the university library. I think it had been lost or stolen and never replaced.

A few years later, when I needed it for my oral exams, suddenly it was everywhere. They had it in the library, online, at the outlet mall. One of the great things about the internet era is that it makes so many books available again. There's almost nothing one can't find anymore. I guess the flip side of that is they are available because fewer and fewer people want them.

Ok, I just opened the book to find an excerpt and discovered all kinds of writing in it that is not my own. This means I did not buy it at the outlet mall, but rather online or at Rust Belt Books. I must have bought it online because I never intentionally buy books that are marked by others. This one is severely so. Blech. I hate that!

from Studies in Classic American Literature

from Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Novels

...The white man's mind and soul are divided between these two things: innocence and lust, the Spirit and Sensuality. Sensuality always carries a stigma, and is therefore more deeply desired, or lusted after. But spirituality alone gives the sense of uplift, exaltation, and 'winged life', with the inevitable reaction into sin and spite. So the white man is divided against himself. He plays one side of himself against the other side till it really is a tale told by an idiot, and nauseating.

Against this, one is forced to admire the stark, enduring figure of the Deerslayer. He is neither spiritual or sensual. He is a moralizer, but he always tries to moralize from actual experience, not from theory. He says: "Hurt nothing unless you're forced to." Yet he gets his deepest thrill of gratification perhaps, when he puts a bullet through the heart of a beautiful buck, as it stoops to drink in the lake. Or when he brings the invisible bird fluttering down in death, out of the high blue. "Hurt nothing unless you're forced to." And yet he lives by death, by killing the wild things of the air and earth.

It's not good enough.

But you have there the myth of the essential white America. All the other stuff, the love the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, a killer. It has never yet melted.

...True myth concerns itself centrally with the onward adventure of the integral soul. And this, for America, is Deerslayer. A man who turns his back on white society, A man who keeps his moral integrity hard and intact. An isolate, almost selfless stoic, enduring man, who lives by death, by killing, but who is pure white.

This is the very intrinsic-most American. He is at the core of all the other flux and fluff. And when this man breaks from his static isolation, and makes a new move, then look out, something will be happening.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 7 (D.H. Lawrence)

Women in Love
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Lawrence, D.H.
Women in Love

Purchased at the Fordham University Book Store for a course on Modern British Fiction, as I recall. It was taught by a professor named Phil Sicker, who I studied with several times, most importantly in his class on Ulysses.

I don't remember much about reading this book but I remember him discussing it. Two images spring to mind. The first is of Prof. Sicker describing a homo-erotically charged scene between two men wrestling playfully on the floor of a drawing room (I have no idea if this is an accurate depiction of the book). He used the word "clench" several times in a way that made it sound sexually explicit. ("Is there another way to use it," I wonder aloud to myself?)

The other is of him describing Lawrence's theory of the solar plexus as center of sexual energy in the body. I remember we all laughed -- I think he intended us to laugh so he could lead into his next point, which was that he had personally felt a charge in the area of the solar plexus in the heat of sexual abandon and that Lawrence may have been on to something. He arched his body and thrust his arms outward to depict the raw power of this sexual charge.

I remember his wife gave birth to a son around that time and they called him "Tycho," I believe after the Danish astronomer.

from Women in Love

Here's a link to the wrestling scene:


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 6 (Dorothea Lasky)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Lasky, Dorothea

I think this was sent to me by the publisher before the author read here a few years back. Either that or I bought it at the reading. I am pretty sure the former is the case.

Anyhow, I like pronouncing the title and visualizing in my head playing back and forth between "awe" and "aww." Not sure which I prefer, but the sound is pleasing in either case.

I don't remember a whole lot about the circumstances of Dotty's reading in Buffalo. I remember seeing her read in the back of Rust Belt Books and I remember a table full of poets (I almost wrote "pouts") sitting around a table at a restaurant called, "Merge." Dotty had an iPhone, then still a new device, and I remember feeling jealous.

from Awe

What You Think When You Are Confused

I knew that somehow in the midst of this confusion
Was the true dawning of myself.
My soul was a man and like a man
I would wander forever among stars and flowers, lonely.
My heart a lonely star with no matching star
Anywhere in the universe and even so
Looking like a man for somewhere
To rest my freedom and resent it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 5 (Maryrose Larkin)

The Book of Ocean
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Larkin, Maryrose
The Book of Ocean

I believe this was sent to me by the publisher, Catherine Daly. It came out around the same time as my last book, 2007, when I visited Portland, where Maryrose lives, but I can't remember if it was before or after I visited. I am pretty sure it came out after I was there.

Anyhow, Maryrose was one of the many awesome Portland poetry scene people I met when I read there in 2007. I think I had been put in touch with Kaia Sand by Jane Sprague. Kaia then put me in touch with Maryrose. She didn't know me from Adam, but was kind enough to take a look at my book and pass it around to the other members of the Spare Room Collective, who then invited me to read in their series.

I remember Portland having lots of former Buffalo friends living there. Joel Bettridge, Alicia Cohen, Aaron Skomra, Michelle Citrin, Tom Fisher, Tim Shaner (actually, he lives in Ashland, but he came to the reading). I also met the lots of Portland folks in addition to Maryrose, like David Abel and Rodney Koeneke and Chris Piuma.

I remember visiting the Japanese Gardens. I remember drinking coffee at Stumptown Coffee. I remember driving around Reed College with Alicia, who showed me her old apartment down by the railroad tracks. I think she said she'd shared it with Joel Kuszai when they were undergrads there. I remember Powell's books, where I spent a whole afternoon. I remember the food being really good in Portland and very healthy. I remember gossiping with Kathleen Fraser at dinner and talking about her apartment in Rome.

I can't believe that was over three years ago! Seems like only yesterday.

Speaking of yesterday, I once again discovered that nothing breeds blog traffic like controversy. After posting about Kent Johnson's new book, traffic to my site increased sixfold!

from The Book of Ocean

from Book of Music

Thoughts distributed rise harder
than those remembered
and forgot always a false
before a true or deep into
lost questions fuse and flux
when I am ready I am done

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Aimless Reading: The J's, Part 8.1.1 (Kent Johnson)

Johnson, Kent
A Question Mark Above the Sun

Earlier today I received an email from Richard Owens asking me to take down the image of the letter pressed cover of this book for fear its existence could offer ammunition to a lawsuit from one of the estates involved in attempting to stop the publication of this book. I don't want Richard to get into any trouble, so I took it down (Can't we all just get along?)The image you see here is the true cover of Kent Johnson's A Question Mark Above the Sun. My mistake earlier was in thinking that everyone who received the book received the detached cover as a kind of souvenir, but apparently that was not the case. My bad.

Aimless Reading: The J's, Part 8.1 (Kent Johnson)

A Question Mark Above the Sun
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Johnson, Kent
A Question Mark Above the Sun:
Documents on the Mystery
Surrounding a Famous Poem "By"
Frank O'Hara

Given to me by the publisher, Richard Owens, by way of David Hadbawnik.

Much controversy surrounds the recent publication of this book, whose thesis is that the poem, "A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island," one of Frank O'Hara's best-loved and most admired poems, MIGHT have been written by his friend and fellow poet (and Harvard classmate) Kenneth Koch as "a radical, secret gesture of poetic mourning and love" for his recently deceased friend.

If I have my chronology correct, Kent first posited this thesis in a series of four book reviews of recent British poetry published in the Chicago Review sometime between 2004 and 2008. All four of these "fictions," if you will, are reprinted here.

In them emerges the image of a shadowy conspiracy of opal ring-wearing British and American poets, headed by poet and Cambridge don Jeremy Prynne, to guard a dark secret regarding the poetry of Frank O'Hara. Regardless of your position on Kent Johnson, or Koch & O'Hara for that matter, this makes for some hilarious reading. Kent Johnson is a satirist of the first rank.

Following the publication of the Chicago Review pieces, Kent began guest writing on several blogs, most notably Isola di Rifiuti, by John Latta. There began a series of exchanges with poet and O'Hara acolyte Tony Towle, who vehemently denies the possibility that Koch could, or would have even thought of, performing such an act. These exchanges, along with a longer, much less hostile exchange with David Shapiro, are also reproduced here.

Chronologically preceding all of this, according to the author, whose history is notably suspect with regard to authenticity and authorial identity, there existed a transcript of an audio recording by three Japanese scholars of postwar American poetry, two of whom are fictional creations of the third, who is himself a pseudonym of another, unnamed writer, presumably Johnson, though we'll never know.

The content of this "transcription," originally published in a web journal in Japan, is comprised of a conversation regarding the possibility of Koch's authorship, including the claim that these Japanese academics confronted both Joe LeSueur and Kenneth Koch in 1990 about the possibility of Koch's having authored the poem. According to the transcription, both reacted in ways that created even more suspicion.

The whole book is bracketed as "fiction" and/or speculation, which fact is only the beginning of the controversy. When it was announced that Richard Owens, lately of Buffalo, currently of Maine, publisher of Punch Press and Damn The Caesars, intended to collect all of this work into a publication, the Koch and O'Hara estates, much like the fictional secret society imagined in the book, sprang into action.

According to the publisher, what began as some friendly queries about the content of the book quickly escalated into angry demands for pre-publication approvals, and concluded with cease and desist letters and threats of legal action in the event that the book were to be published. On the advice of lawyers, Owens was forced to take several protective measures before seeing the final copy into print.

First, he had to remove the cover from the book and print it as a separate, folded sheet, to be given out alongside the book itself as a sort of souvenir. It fits neatly around the attached cover, as you can see in my photo. I decided to violate my chronology rules today in order to show you the gorgeous letterpress work by Richard Owens.

It's a shame he had to do it this way, but so it goes.

Second, the author was forced to redact almost all quoted material from O'Hara and Koch from the book. In most instances he notes the redaction and paraphrases the original. This doesn't negatively effect the text that much because the argument is not based on a textual reading of the poem. Rather, it is an examination of the circumstances of its discovery after the poet had died, tragically, in a beach buggy accident on Fire Island, the very location of the poem in question.

I finished reading "A Question Mark" two days ago and was sad to put it down. It's a great read -- funny, witty, engaging, and also, oddly, for a work of satire, sincere in positing the questions it raises. Or maybe not so sincere, now that I think about it. The author himself admits that he is not convinced of his own thesis and that he hopes someone can uncover a document to prove it conclusively wrong. Alas, this has yet to occur.

If this is the case, then one has to ask what other motivation Kent Johnson might have in putting forth this provocative argument. Given his documented history of troubling the question of authorship, I don't think we need to look much further than that.

In much the same way he claims O'Hara foreshadows his own death in the poem, Johnson draws a portrait of the figures of authority who feel it their duty to protect the sanctity of authorial identity. He then manages through the publication of this book to bring those authorities to life in the real world. Or, at least, to make them visible.

The question he seems to be asking is not so much, "Did Frank O'Hara or Kenneth Koch write the poem?" as much as it is, "Why is it important to attribute a work of art to the name of an individual artist and to protect that name as a sign of artistic genius?" and "What, exactly, are they trying to protect?"

It returns us to the kinds of questions Kent has been asking publicly for years about the ways in which poetry hierarchies function and how coteries of friends, or alumni of prestigious east coast universities, or poets of a certain generation and/or geographic location, protect their own, while simultaneously claiming an objective and innocent love of great art, regardless of its source. These are often questions of class and race and gender, though I think Kent is more interested in the functioning of power qua power, less about its specific manifestations.

These questions are worth airing in public, one would think, though judging by the vehemence of the reaction against this book, it would seem that others disagree.

On a final note, the book raises some bibliographic questions of its own for me. It is written by Kent Johnson about Frank O'Hara. Normally, I would shelve a book about Frank O'Hara under "O." But if it the poem under hand turns out to have be written by Kenneth Koch, shouldn't I then put it under "K." Or, should I avoid the question altogether and file it under "J" for Johnson. And who the hell is Tosa Motokiyu, anyway?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 4.2 (Gerrit Lansing)

Lansing, Gerrit
Heavenly Tree/Soluble Forest

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. Not inscribed.

For the longest time, I thought the title of this book was "Heavenly Tree/Soluble Frost." I misread the title the very first time I saw it and it set in my mind as that. I owned the book for several years before I realized my mistake.

In fact, I figured it out at Gerrit's house in Gloucester! He brought the book out to read me some of his poems to me in his living room. While he was reading, I glanced at the title and saw that the word 'frost' was in fact 'forest.' I blushed.

After he'd read me a few poems, I laughed and told him what had happened. He said he liked that title, too. I said so did I, but that I guessed 'forest' would have to do.

from Heavenly Tree/Soluble Forest

The Heavenly Tree Grows Downward

Who bury the dead
must from the grave
establish a habit

Who bury the dead
leas forth the bride
stainless in dress

the morning-
glory creeps

Who bury the dead
in fetal position
knees pulled up to chin

Who bury the dead
to rise again

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 4.1 (Gerrit Lansing)

A February Sheaf
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Lansing, Gerrit
A February Sheaf

Given to me by the author. Inscribed thus:

To Mike Kelleher

June 28 2004
With thanks for your presence.

[Here the mysterious drawing described in yesterday's post re-appears, or rather yesterday's was the re-appearance, as this one came first. At the foot of the word 'presence,' which is written in the upper righthand corner of the title page, what looks like a tree branch or a leafy vine descends in a reverse diagonal towards the center of the page, where the author has signed the book above his name.]

Gerrit Lansing

[Note: the 'g' at the end of the signature wraps in a loop around the printed letter, coming to an end a few millimeters below it.]

A 3 x 5 card with the following note, written in my hand, in pencil, on the lined side of the card, sits between pages 72 and 73:

Max Velmans

-Understanding Consciousness

I have no idea what this refers to or why or when I wrote it.

Gerrit gave me this book on my first visit. Cass Clarke had put me in touch with him and I made plans to visit on my way back from the Poetry of the Forties conference in Orono, ME. I arrived in the evening, just in time for supper. It turned out I had also arrived on the night of the procession of the Virgin down by the waterfront.

We walked down to the water near Fort Square, where Olson lived, to find a throng of revelers parading through the winding, narrow streets behind a statue of the Virgin Mary, which got placed in a storefront window, where she resides the rest of the year. I think Patrick Doud may have been with us. I think James Cook may have come over later in the evening to sit on the porch of Gerrit's house.

I remember talking to Gerrit about the paper I'd given on Olson at the conference. We also talked about the state of the Duncan archive at UB and his desire to see the HD book into print. Mike Basinski had that very week been elevated to curator, so there was quite a buzz in the Duncan world that some of the long-awaited publications might finally see the light of day. Looks like the light is almost here, as MIke Boughn's editing of the HD book is complete and it is due out in the spring.

Next morning Gerrit took me to breakfast. I can't remember which visit it was that we ate where. Once we ate at a chi-chi little place downtown that had very good steel cut oats. Another time he took me to an old time diner where we had some kind of Portuguese sausage and eggs. Either way, breakfast was followed by a brief walk through Dogtown before I was on my way to New Haven, where I stopped for a visit with the literary Outlaw Richard Deming and his fearless partner, Nancy Kuhl.

from A February Sheaf

The Many-Worlds Interpretation

(from the Egyptian

God stiffened;
hand rubbed up and down his mighty member:
world upon world cascades from his cock.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 4 (Gerrit Lansing)

Lansing, Gerrit
The Heavenly Tree Grows Downward

Given to me by the author. Inscribed thusly:

for Mike Kelleher

With love and admiration.

5 Sept 2006

[There is something I can't read just below the date, some letters or symbols that look like "en O in NY," which makes little sense. This illegible portion sits atop an illustration by the author of a leafy branch, perhaps that of the book's title, growing downward on a right-left diagonal into the author's signature, written just above his name on the title page]

Gerrit Lansing

My first memory of meeting Gerrit was when he visited Buffalo in the late nineties. There was a postponement of some kind and I recall that I was almost called upon to drive to Gloucester myself to pick him up. Eventually, though, he arrived.

I remember we went out to this horrible restaurant called Gabriel's Gate, where they serve hot tomato paste with black pepper and call it 'spicy tomato soup.' We sat at a large table in the back. Gerrit sat next to Charles Bernstein opposite me in the center. I think I still smoked then and that you could still smoke in restaurants. I remember smoking.

Charles brought in one famous poet after another to his seminars, but I got the sense that he was truly impressed by Gerrit as a man of intelligence, sensitivity and learning in a way I don't remember him seeming terribly impressed by anyone else.

I don't think I really spoke to Gerrit much on that trip. I remember listening to him talk about the books he owned and many of the things he read. Not in a boastful way at all, but in the voice of a person who loves learning and enjoys sharing what he has learned in interested company.

I wonder if there is a more under-appreciated poet writing in American today. He seems a victim of his lack of group affiliation. A member of the same generation as Creeley, Ashbery, O'Hara, a Harvard grad, friend to Charles Olson who settled in the same town as the big man, mystic, occultist, pianist, scholar, book store proprietor, et al, yet he did not live in NY or SF, never attended Black Mountain College, never taught. Just planted himself on a lovely hilltop overlooking Gloucester bay, studied literally everything under and including the sun, and wrote a few slim volumes of amazing poems.

from The Heavenly Tree Grows Downward


of necessity
I cannot shut it out
the poem of fire
that burns in the night
men know not how to use.
A way of love,
lines of flame
too familiar
to be a god.

It is the keyboard of desire.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 3 (David Landrey)

Landrey, David
Consciousness Suite

Given to me by the author. Inscribed.

I know I am not yet awake because I just barely caught the following typo when i uploaded the photo. I had written the title out as "Consciousness Sweet." Which has a nice ring to it, I guess. As in: "Consciousness is sweet." I guess that's in there with the original spelling, too. You just have to dig down a layer or two.

I read with David about two years ago, on the very night this book was finally released, after having sat in boxes in a warehouse seized by the IRS for two years prior to that. He's is an old time Buffalo poet who came here in the sixties, studied with Charles Olson, and eventually ended up teaching English for 40 years or so at Buffalo State College.

I met him not long after I started working at Just Buffalo. I had invited Peter Gizzi to read and had asked if there was anyone he'd like me to invite personally to his reading. David Landrey, he said. And of course David came to the reading and that was how we met. He's one of the stalwarts of the poetry scene, and an excellent poet, to boot.

From Consciousness Suite

(from the title sequence)


Decades of consciousness
or at least memory tissues
electrochemical compilations
complex skeins wafting
intake          outlet            words
words           images           words
the many known who enter
and leave            or we do
parts of each other's skeins
woven            raveled            out
of sight but never not
parts of tissues
faint pulses of energy all
all signifying what?
And whereto skeins when
Inspiration ceases?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 2 (Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe)

Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe
Poetry as Experience

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I remember buying this book because I liked the title. I knew nothing of Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe or his work, and I knew next to nothing about the subject of the book, Paul Celan. I have a vague recollection of seeing Ben Friedlander at the book store when I bought the book and of showing it to him.

Or it might have been at some later point, in conversation perhaps, that I mentioned it to him and discovered he had some opinion abou the author and also about the book's treatment of Celan. I don't recall what his opinion was. Only that it existed and that it made an impression on me, as Ben's opinions often did (and do).

(If he's reading today, he can feel free to leave a comment on the blog regarding what he might have said about Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe in 1997.)

Anyhow, this book led me to purchase Pierre Joris' translation of Celan's Breathturn, which at the time was the only volume of his Celan translations available. I remember asking Pierre when he visited Buffalo that winter when the other volumes were due to come out.

In the spring, he said.

I think it was at least two, if not three more years, before they finally started appearing.

Well worth the wait, though.

from Poetry as Experience

For everyone who is, as we say, "concerned about out times " and "mindful of history" (European history), the two names, Hölderlin and Heidegger, are now indissolubly linked. They give voice to what is at stake in our era (dieser zeit). A world age--perhaps the world's old age--is approaching its end, for we are reaching a completion, closing the circle of what the philosophical west has called, since Grecian times and in multiple ways, "knowledge." That is, technè. What has not been deployed, what has been forgotten or rejected in the midst of this completion--and no doubt from the very beginning--must now clear itself a path to a possible future. Let us agree to say that this pertains, as Heidegger says himself, to the "task of thought." Such thought must re-inaugurate history, re-open the possibility of a world, and pave the way for the improbable, unforeseeable advent of a god. Only this might "save" us. For this task, art (again, technè), and in art, poetry, are perhaps able to provide some signs. At least, that is the hope, fragile, tenuous, and meager that it is.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 1 (Jacques Lacan)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Lacan, Jacques

I am not positive, but I assume I bought this at Talking Leaves...Books.

I am not sure I have ever actually read this volume. I read various texts by Lacan in graduate school, but usually on xeroxed sheets of paper handed out in various classes. I think Lacan is someone I might be interested in exploring again at some point, now that I've been long enough away from academia to think about it myself, free from "the conversation," so called.

One of my Professors, Rodolphe Gasché, a philosopher himself as well as an important and astute reader of Derrida, attended Lacan's famous seminars in Paris in the sixties.

He had this to say: I never understood what he was talking about.

from Écrits

But that the odour of the cage should find its way into a technique that is conducted largely by 'sniffing out' as they say, is not as ridiculous as it sounds. Students from my seminar will recall the smell of urine that marked the turning point in a case of transitory perversion, which I used as a criticism of this technique. It cannot be said that it was unconnected with the accident that motivates the observation, since it is in spying, through a crack in the wall of a public lavatory, on a woman pissing that the patient suddenly transposed his libido, without anything, it seemed, predetermining it: infantile emotions bound up with the phantasy of the phallic mother having until then taken the form of a phobia.

Aimless Reading: The K's: Stats

The K's
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
The K's

28 Authors
45 Volumes
45 titles

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 28 (Joanne Kyger)

Kyger, Joanne
As Ever: Selected Poems

Purchased at the late lamented Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store.

I think the first time I heard of Joanne Kyger was when Chris Alexander and Linda Russo, still a couple and then just recently transplanted to Buffalo, adopted a pair of cats, one of which they named Kyger. I think Linda brought her to read in Buffalo at some point, but I am a little sketchy as to when that might have been or where she read or if I was even there. I have a vague recollection of seeing her read in the screening room at the Center for the Arts at the University.

In 2006, I invited Joanne, along with Tom Raworth and Amiri Baraka, to come read at the Buffalo celebration of Robert Creeley's 80th Birthday. The three of them camped out at a local bed and breakfast and for whatever reason most of my memories are of sitting with the three of them in the drawing room talking about poetry and so forth.

The event took place at The Church (now called "Babeville) and was one of the first public events in this new venue, which had been recently rehabbed by Ani DiFranco (She was actually at the event, sitting in the front row).

I remember I'd had this clever idea for introducing the three of them. Instead of writing intros, I planned to read blurbs about each one written by Creeley himself.

Just before the event Joanne starting getting a little nervous and agitated. I kept the three of them busy for a while signing posters. She started asking me about the introductions. I said I had a surprise. This seemed to agitate her even more. She said she didn't want a surprise and would I please tell her about the introductions.

I relented and told her about the blurbs and then she asked which Creeley blurb I intended to read. I said I wanted to leave one surprise.

She said, "Best of the west. It's "best of the west," right?

"Best of the west" was indeed a phrase in the blurb. I said yes.

Ok, that's a good one, she said.

from As Ever: Selected Poems

from Places to Go


Perhaps you can remember this if you think hard enough. It was a country where the summers were always warm clear into the late evening and at eleven or so a comforting breeze came up and into the windows and over the bedsheets. Sometimes there was rain and thunder and the sighing of tree branches when the rain got them.

Can you imagine?...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 27 (Milan Kundera)

Kundera, Milan
The Unbearable Lightness of Being

This book belongs to Lori. I am not sure where we bought it. It has a St. Mark's Book Shop bookmark in it, so that's would be high on my list of guesses.

I once heard someone tell a story about the Abbey Theater in Dublin--it must have been a writer or literary person telling the tale. They were talking about a party they'd attended in the lobby of the theater in the weeks after a portrait of playwright Brendan Behan had been hung there. Everyone in Dublin agreed it was a terrible portrait. It was apparently the talk of the town. Whoever told the story had been with someone else at this party who was seeing the portrait for the first time and was said to have looked up at it and quipped, "Ah, that must be the unbearable likeness of Behan." Ba-dump-bum.

I read the book in college and remember liking it. I have a feeling, though, that it's one of those books I should never read again, lest I risk my fond memories of it dissolving. I suspect I feel this way because in the intervening years I have read all of the philosophy he discusses in the book and my recollection is that he does so somewhat cavalierly, interpreting it in ways that suit his purpose, without much regard for the accuracy of his interpretations.

Yes, something tells me I'd best leave it as a fond memory of youth.

I remember the apartment in which I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It was my last apartment in college, on Belmont and 188th St. in the Bronx. It had two bedrooms for three people. I had my own room because I was the RA of the building. My room faced 188th St. It had a single bed and a desk. I don't remember much else about it.

When I picture the old cover of the book, the one that uses the same image pictured here, in a slightly wider perspective and framed in black, I picture that bedroom in the Bronx.

I remember I had an old Peavey amplifier and a Martin pick-up for my acoustic guitar, which I used to play endlessly, sitting in my room, the reverb cranked. I used to make recordings of myself playing. I once taped over a cassette a friend had leant me only to discover that Side B had contained the only extant recording of his high school band. I felt bad about recording over it, but I think he read treachery into my actions, as we were always competing with one another.

from The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum! What does this mad myth signify?

Putting it negatively, the myth of eternal return states that a life which disappears once and for all, which does not return, is like a shadow, without weight, dead in advance, and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime, its horror, sublimity, and beauty mean nothing. We need take no more note of it than a war between two African kingdoms in the fourteenth century, a war that altered nothing in the destiny off the world, even if a hundred thousand blacks perished in excruciating torment.

Will the war between two African kingdoms in the fourteenth century itself be altered if it recurs again and again, in eternal return?

It will: it will become a solid mass, permanently protuberant, its inanity irreparable.

If the French Revolution were to recur eternally, French historians would be less proud of Robespierre. But because they deal with something that will not return, the bloody years of the Revolution have turned into mere words, theories, and discussions, have become lighter than feathers, frightening to no one. There is an infinite difference between a Robespierre who occurs only once in history and a Robespierre who eternally returns, chopping off French heads.

Let us therefore agree that the idea of eternal return implies a perspective from which things appear other than as we know them: they appear without the mitigating circumstance of their transitory nature. This mitigating circumstance prevents us from coming to a verdict. For how can we condemn something that is ephemeral, in transit? In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine.

Not long ago, I caught myself experiencing a most incredible sensation. Leafing through a book on Hitler, I was touched by some of his portraits: they reminded me of my childhood. I grew up during the war; several members of my family perished in Hitler’s concentration camps; but what were their deaths compared with the memories of a lost period in my life, a period that would never return?

This reconciliation with Hitler reveals the profound moral perversity of a world that rests essentially on the nonexistence of return, for in this world everything is pardoned in advance and therefore everything is cynically permitted.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 26.1 (Nancy Kuhl)

Kuhl, Nancy
The Wife of the Left Hand

Given to me by the author, who, if memory serves, refused to inscribe it, despite my several pleas, each of which received the response: "Later, I promise I'll do it before I leave town" Alas, Nancy, alas.

The occasion was a reading by the author in the Hibiscus Room at Just Buffalo. She came to town with the literary outlaw Richard Deming in tow, and the two of them read together.

We named the Hibiscus Room after the color of the paint we'd used to cover the walls, a kind of yellowish green that was so bright you could see it glowing from down the hall. I'd gotten the idea for the color from a commercial I'd seen on television.

It was one of those dot-com boom era commercials in which savvy urbanites live amid vaguely asian minimalist splendor in new high rises paid for by their latest IPO. In this particular version, the young, childless couple buys a flat-screen television from Philips and can't find the right place to put it in their modestly-sized urban living space. Eventually, they suspend it from the ceiling over the bed. The commercial ends with the two of them lying next to each other on top of the covers, a pair of smug grins painted on their faces as they tune in.

I'd remembered also that the groovy yuppies in the commercial had some of the Noguchi paper shade lighting that IKEA now sells by the shipload, so I bought a couple of the those for the room as well. Lori helped me find the right color on one of her many color decks. She also helped us paint the room.

Later, Isabelle Pelissier painted a set of six gorgeous panels depicting abstracted close-ups of hibiscus flowers, which we hung above the stage air in two sets of three, mounted horizontally on either side of a door. The door led to the offices of Buffalo Arts Studio. We'd lost the key, so it never opened.

After Just Buffalo moved, Lori and I hung the Hibiscus paintings on a wall in a room off the kitchen in our house in Black Rock until one day Isabelle asked for them back. We were sad to see them go. I think they are with her in Maine now, unless she sold them.

from The Wife of the Left Hand
The Wife of the Left Hand

is on the bed
sweating; without
and still. Hurricane
of afternoon, lingering
smell of seaweed
it must be August. She,
there, the bed beneath
her. Everything slight-
ly hazy. The body, no
good house, wants what it
wants; does not listen.
Careless breath, all wave
and sky, sneaks
under her eyelid. She
pretends not to hear
the persistent knock
on the screen door.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 26 (Nancy Kuhl)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Kuhl, Nancy

Given to me by the author. Inscribed.

You will note the presence of the author in today's photograph. She's smiling because she is proud of her new book. The photo was taken on May 31, 2010, when the author visited us along with her husband, the literary outlaw, Richard Deming.

Richard's book was due up on the blog right around the corner at the time, so we took a photo that posted very quickly. Nancy's photo, however, has been sitting on the desktop of my computer lo these many months, awaiting the day of its posting to the Pearlblossom Highway.

Well, the day has come. Welcome, Nancy.

Nancy and Richard lived in Buffalo for three years in the early part of the Millenium. Richard was a classmate of mine in the poetics program, while Nancy worked on a degree in library science. I think Richard was in town a full year before we ever crossed paths, but we became fast friends after that. I think it may have been another year before I met Nancy. A year later, poof, they were gone.

Nancy wound up working at the Beineke Rare Book Collection at Yale, where she works to this day. I have visited the two of them in New Haven often. I remember the first time I visited them. I was alone. Lori wasn't with me. I can't recall if were were together yet. I think we were together, but I can't recall why she wasn't with me.

Anyhow, we decided to go for dinner at a Turkish restaurant. I am not a terribly picky eater, but one thing I have always had a hard time eating (less so in recent years) is eggplant. Apparently, the Turks love eggplant, because just about every single menu item contained it. Both Nancy and Richard saw my discomfort and asked if I'd like to eat somewhere else, to which I quickly replied, "YES!"

We walked down the street to an Eritrean restaurant. You might say the food was haute Ethiopian. We ate all kinds of delicious globs of of spiced meats and vegetables using injera bread as a fork. I discovered I was very fond of that kind of food. For years after that, Lori and I drove every month or so up to Toronto to see a movie at the Cinematheque Ontario and to eat at the Ethiopia House.

from Suspend
The Strain that Can't be Ignored
between the Day and its Details

In today's episode our heroine,
the hostess, folds her wings (papery
and iridescent as any insect's), sits and
waits for her guests to arrive. In this
subtle light it's difficult to see her
concealed as she is by the upholstery's
complex coloring. Invisible subplots
in her narrative involve an owl, a fire
slow-burning behind the closet
door, a shadowy clairvoyant bent
over a deck of cards. The hostess hides
her valuables in the wall, tied in a bag
swinging from a black cord; it never
touches either side of the hollow.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 25.1 (László Krasznahorkai)

War & War
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Krasznahorkai, László
War & War

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. Sadly, Béla Tarr has not made a film from this novel, which I liked better than yesterday's title.

I recently joined a listserv of artists and writers who are sports fans. We were swapping childhood sports memories the other day and I posted this little story about meeting Maurice Lucas, who died last week, when I was ten.

There was a time when the Northwest dominated the NBA. Portland won the championship in 1977. Seattle lost it in 1978 and then made it back in 1979, beating the Bullets in a rematch. Maurice Lucas was the star forward of the '77 Blazers team.

In 1978 I traveled with my father on a business trip to Oklahoma and California. I was ten. Somewhere along the way we had a stopover in Detroit, where the Trailblazers had played a game the night before. My father was a huge basketball fan, so much so that a decade later he would found what has become a very prestigious high school basketball tournament in DC.

He noticed that the entire Trailblazer team was sitting at a gate opposite our own. He told me I should go get all of their autographs. I was scared, so my he coached me on their names. He had me repeat each one until I had memorized the whole team.

I marched across the terminal to the other gate, walked straight up to Maurice Lucas, and asked for his autograph. He stood up -- goddamn was he tall -- and asked if I knew who he was.

I said, "You're Maurice Lucas."

Then Bill Walton walked over and asked, "Do you know who I am?" I said, "You're Bill Walton."

The whole team stood up and walked over, all smiles and laughter. I found myself surrounded by these treelike men, each asking me to recite his name. One by one, I answered, and with each correct answer their amusement grew.

I got all of them right.

Then this little old white guy came over and they all stepped aside to let him get to me.

"Alright kid, if you get my name right, you can have all of our autographs."

I said, "You're the coach, Jack Ramsay."

The whole team burst out laughing and they all slapped me on the back and then each one signed his name on one of the little white slips of paper my father had given me to complete the task.

I've since lost all of them, except for the Maurice Lucas, which is pasted into a page full of seventies basketball autographs I have in a photo binder, right next to John Havlicek, Doctor "J" and Curly Neal.

from War & War


I no longer care if I die, said Korin, then, after a long silence, pointed to the nearby flooded quarry: Are those swans?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 25 (László Krasznahorkai)

Krasznahorkai, László
The Melancholy of Resistance

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

For my money, the greatest movie released during the first decade of the new millennium was "The Werckmeister Harmonies," directed by the great Béla Tarr. If you haven't seen it, the last ten years of your cinematic life have been a complete waste of time. See it.

'Werckmeister' is actually based on a section of this novel, and the screenplay was co-written by László Krasznahorkai. Krasznahorkai has collaborated on Tarr's most significant films, all of which are based on his novels, including "Damnation," "Sátántangó" and
"The Man from London."

"Sátántangó" is the other masterpiece among the films. It lasts close to nine hours. It's been available for about a year on DVD and is worth your time. We watched it over the course of three nights last winter. (Warning to cat lovers: there is a very disturbing scene, which lasts a good ten minutes, in which a child is very cruel to a cat).

That said, I liked the novel, though not as much as the film, and not as much as the other of his that has been translated into English, War & War, which will be the subject of tomorrow's entry. He's a brilliant sentence writer, as evidenced by the opening sentence copied below.

from The Melancholy of Resistance

Since the passenger train connecting the icebound estates of the southern lowlands, which extend from the banks of the Tisza almost as far as the foot of the Carpathians, had, despite the garbled explanations of a haplessly stumbling guard and the promises of the stationmaster rushing nervously on and off the platform, failed to arrive ('Well, squire, it seems to have disappeared into thin air again...' the guard shrugged, pulling a sour face), the only two serviceable old wooden seat coaches maintained for just such an 'emergency' were coupled to an obsolete and unreliable 424, used only as a last resort, and put to work, albeit a good hour and a half late, according to a timetable to which they were not bound and which was only an approximation anyway, so that the locals who were waiting in vain for the eastbound service, and had accepted its delay with what appeared to be a combination of indifference and helpless resignation, might eventually arrive at their destination some fifty kilometres further along the branch line.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 24 (Yusef Komunyakaa)

Neon Vernacular
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Komunyakaa, Yusef
Neon Vernacular

Not sure about this one. Either it was:

a. Sent by the publisher
b. Given to me by the author
c. I took it from the Just Buffalo library before we sold it

It was inscribed on November 22, 1998, though not to me personally, which leads me to believe that "c" might be the case.

Anyway, I remember when he came to Buffalo. He read through Just Buffalo at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center. He may have read with someone else, but I don't recall who that might have been. I think he also did an in-school visit through our education program. I took him to dinner one night at K. Gallagher's pub and also to breakfast one morning at the original Cybele's location on Elmwood Avenue.

I remember him being a very circumspect kind of guy. He would listen to what I was saying, quietly, then respond, often in terse, somewhat ambiguous phrases. We were talking one night about the anti-orality argument of language poetry and he said something about the avant-garde being elitist. But he didn't use that word. The word he used left the door open to a lot of interpretation. I can't remember what it was now. It might have been something like "privileged." I asked him to elaborate and he looked across the table at me, sort of sizing me up, then said he'd leave it at that.

He was interested in the argument about orality, I recall, and before he left asked for a copy of Robert Grenier's famous "I HATE SPEECH" essay. Mike Basinski made a copy for me in the Poetry Collection at UB, which I passed along. I never heard what he thought of it.

I met him one other time. I'd brought Ed Roberson to read and by a fluke Komunyakaa was also in Buffalo for a reading on the same night. The two knew each other and Ed seemed excited about the possibility of running into him.

Somehow, I found out Yusef would be at the hotel bar at the Holiday Inn, so we headed over there and had a late drink. There's something more to that story -- like how I knew Yusef would be in the bar at the Holiday Inn, but I can't recall the details.

from Neon Vernacular

Fog Galleon

Horse-headed clouds, flags
&pennants tied to black
Smokestacks in swamp mist.
From the quick green calm
Some nocturnal bird calls
Ship ahoy, ship ahoy!
I press against the taxicab
Window. I'm back here, interfaced
With a dead phosphorescence;
The whole town smells
Like the world's oldest anger.
Scabrous residue hunkers down under
Sulfur & dioxide, waiting
For sunrise, like cargo
On a phantom ship outside Gaul.
Cool glass against my cheek
Pulls me from the black schooner
One a timeless sea--everything
Dwarfed beneath the papermill
Lights blinking behind the cloudy
Commerce of wheels, of chemicals
That turn workers into pulp
When they fall into vats
Of steamy serenity.