Saturday, February 27, 2010

Aimless Reading: Anthologies, Part 5 (The Sullen Art)


The Sullen Art
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Ossman, David
The Sullen Art


I am pretty sure I bought this at 7th St. books in New York. I put it in the anthology section of the library because it sort of seems like an addendum to the NAP anthology -- it consists of brief transcriptions of radio interviews with most of the same people -- again, mostly guys, with the exception of Levertov. I have never seen another copy of it, though I am sure they are not rare. One of the first times I ever got together with Robert Creeley, who is the poet reading on the cover, he mentioned this book to me. I don't remember in what context, probably just recalling something someone said in one of the interviews.

from The Sullen Art

from an Interview with Keneth Rexroth

They [the New American Poets] are the products of the McCarthy-Korean War period, and a period in which organized society in America was profoundly nihilistic. People talk about the "nihilistic revolt" of these writers–well, like breeds like. We lived through a period of political nihilism in high places, and it produced its opposite number, and, of course, its opposite number was very similar to itself, as is always the case in political action and reaction.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Aimless Reading: Anthologies, Part 4 (Some Poems/Poets)


Some Poems/Poets
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Charters, Samuel, Ed.
Some Poems/Poets
Studies in Underground
American Poetry Since 1945
w/Photographs by Ann Charters


I can't remember where I bought this, despite the fact that I am sure I bought it within the last three or four years. I have this nagging feeling that I bought it outside of Buffalo -- possibly in Sarasota, where my mother lives. You'd think I have a stronger memory of buying it because I remember that when I did buy it thinking it was a real find.

It's a collection of "loose" readings of several of the "New American" poets -- Spicer, Duncan, Eigner, Olson, Creeley, et al -- all guys, of course, not even a token Barbara Guest thrown into the mix, despite the fact it was published in 1971.

In an earlier post, I took William Bronk to task for his title, Some Words, saying that I found it too vague. I can't decide if this title is better or worse than Some Words. It's less vague in that it's deliberately trying to suggest its own incompleteness, both in terms of its selection of poets and the provisional nature of the examinations contained therein.

But it also has a whiff of that cultural laxity of the sixties that perhaps in its moment had a revolutionary feel but has filtered down to us latter-days as something bordering on that irresponsibility which can be summed up in the wonderful catchphrase, "Whatever."

But I am not sure.

As a counter to the typical stuffy, formal, jargon-spewing and self-important collection of academic essays, I am willing to accept a certain amount of moral laxity in lieu of falling asleep and drooling down the side of my shirt.

Ultimately, a collection of essays, like a book of poems, rests on the quality of the thought that produced them and not on the success or failure of its title. And I think the editor is aware of this, stating as he does in his introduction that he hopes simply to lead the reader to the work and to there let him drink if he so chooses. He wants to avoid hierarchy and judgment and allow the reader to experience the poetry with as little mediation as possible.

But somehow that sounds like that other thing, too, where the critic is doing a strange double evasion. On the one hand he seems to take no responsibility for whatever judgments he is making (both by the content of the essays and by the selection of poets). On the other, he seems to be assuming the mantle of the poet, who of course wants only to be judged by the work, without any preconceived notions, yet he is not actually writing any of the poetry, and thus not taking any of the chances himself.

But then, and again, and then again, and yet...

from the Introduction

I don't want anyone who's interested in contemporary poetry to be put off by any sense of formality in these studies of a group of poems and poets out of the last twenty years of the American poetic experience. Even "study" is too serious a term for what are simply loose responses to some of the implications of the poetry. I'm not trying to explain anything–not American poetry, and not these poems or poets. think that explaining the creative act leads away from the moment of the act–that the explanation begins to take on its own kind of importance–and what I want to do is to lead to the poem, to the poet–to the experience of the poem itself.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Aimless Reading: Literary Magazines, Part 3 (New World Writing v.15)

New World Writing
Volume 15, 1959


Found in a bargain bin and purchased for 50 cents at 7th Street Books in New York City, probably in 1996.

At this time, as happens to many a poet living in New York, I became obsessed with Frank O'Hara. After reading Brad Gooch's biography, I used to wander around the East Village and environs looking for the various places in which O'Hara used to live or hang out or on other days certain spots in the city that he mentions in his poems.

One day I was searching through the bins at seventh street books and saw this "ugly" copy of "NEW WORLD WRITING" that had a feature about the Poets of Ghana on the cover – I suddenly realized I was IN a Frank O'Hara poem! Now all I had to do was find the Five Spot and go see Billy Holiday perform.

I used to imagine that maybe this was his copy, my evidence of this being the fact that in the back of the magazine there is a list of literary magazines of the time, next to which there are check marks written in pencil, possibly, I imagined, written by a poet who may have been making a note of places where he should send his work, or shouldn't, or which he should remember to read in order to keep up on the latest in the poetry world.

Anyhow:

The Day Lady Died

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
                                        I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Stats


The F's
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
That's it for the F's. Here's the tally:

33 Authors
69 Volumes
69 titles

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 33.1 (Paul Fussell)

Fussell, Paul
Poetic Meter & Poetic Form


Given to me by Jonathan Skinner after I lost my own copy several years ago This is by far my favorite book on the subject of either poetic meter or poetic form. Reading this book sent me on a whole reading jag about meter. I read several historical studies of meter over the course of a year, during which I also memorized about a hundred different poems to get a more physical sense of how regularized rhythms in poetry work. This particular jag has had a huge effect on the poetry I've written over the past few years. I have moved away from the short sculpted poems and series of poems into works that are deliberately longer and which use the iambic pentameter line as a sort base around which to develop the poem. I don't think my next book will be tagged as minimalist, as the first two often are. This is probably to the good.

from Poetic Meter & Poetic Form

"Rhythm must have meaning," Ezra Pound insisted in 1915. And he is right. The empirical study of poetry will convince us that meter is a prime physical and emotional constituent of poetic meaning. The great monuments of perception in English language poetry – Paradise Lost, "The Rape of the Lock," Songs of Innocence and Experience, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," "Mauberley," "The Waste Land"have constituted moments of metrical discovery: they all reveal an excitement with meter almost as an object of fundamental meaning itself.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 33 (Paul Fussell)

Fussell, Paul
The Great War and Modern Memory


Purchased online about three or four years ago.

Robert Creeley taught one course the whole time I was in graduate school (5 years) and it so happened that it conflicted with a course I was teaching that semester, so I couldn't attend. I remember paying close attention to the syllabus and asking a lot of people about what was going on in the class, which was never quite clear to me from the outside. They spent a long time on this book, and I remember Creeley himself telling me he was very interested at the time in a biography of Woodrow Wilson written by Sigmund Freud. It was several years before I actually bought and read this book, a couple years beyong graduate school, even, and I only did so after reading Fussell's excellent book, Poetic Meter & Poetic Form. Anyhow, even though I got to spend more of my share of time with Robert Creeley in one-on-one situations, I always regretted that I didn't get to take that class.

from The Great War and Modern Memory

Thomas Hardy, Clairvoyant

By mid-december, 1914, British troops had been fighting on the continent for over five months. Casualties had been shocking, positions had settled into self-destructive stalemate, and sensitive people now perceived that the war, far from promising to be "over by christmas,' was going to extend itself to hitherto unimagined reaches of suffering and irony. On December 19,1914, Lytton Strachey published a piece in the New Statesman focusing on the "tragedies of whole lives and the long fatalities of human relationships." His language was dark. He spoke of events, remorseless, terrible, gruesome. He note that " the desolation is complete" and recalled a phrase of Gibbon's appropriate to the kind of irony he was contemplating: "the abridgment of hope." "If there is joy...it joy that is long since dead; and if there are smiles, they are sardonical."

But actually Strachey was not writing about the war at all. In his 2000 words he doesn't mention it. Instead, he is reviewing Thomas Hardy's most recent volume of poems, Satires of Circumstance, published in November, 1914, but containing–with the exception of the patriotic and unironic "Men Who March Away," hastily added as a postscript–only poems written before the war. Many emanate from Hardy's personal experience as far back as 1870.

As if by uncanny insight, Hardy's volume offers a merdium for perceiving the events of the war just beginning. It does so by establishing a terrible irony as the appropriate interpretive means.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 32 (Karl Fulves)

Fulves, Karl
My Best Self-Working Card Tricks


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books sometime around 2003 or 2004. Ron Ehmke and Brian Lampkin were putting together a performance of The Real Dream Cabaret at Rust Belt Books and asked if I might like to perform. I decided to do a solo act as a magician. Not that I had any tricks, but I figured I could do something entertaining if I put my mind to it.

I bought a brown and black retro dinner jacket, probably from the fifities or sixties, a black bowtie and a tuxedo shirt at the now defunct and lamented vintage clothing store, Don Apparel. I also bought a deck of Bush Administration Playing Cards, one of which is still inside the book to mark the trick I used.

The trick is called, "Would I lie?" and it uses a stacked deck. The magician acts as a politician and gets the audience to answer several questions, handing out cards that signify their belief or lack of belief in the truth of what he is saying.

For the performance, I stacked the deck so that the denouement of the trick was that I pulled Donald Rumsfeld from the deck, making sure it was clear the politician was a liar and that the lies had to do with the war. I think the trick went over pretty well.

I still use the dinner jacket sometimes when hosting Big Night events.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 31 (R. Buckminster Fuller)

Fuller, R. Buckminster
Untitled Epic Poem On
The History Of Industrialization


Purchased at Rust Belt Books.

All I can say about this book is that it's hard to imagine a poet, even a great poet, one day deciding to re-invent the geodesic dome in order to cheaply and comfortably shelter the people of the world from the elements.

And yet in thee pages the inventor of said dome has written a highly engaging and entertaining book-length poem on nothing other than the history of industrialization in the U.S. up to 1940. Whether or not the poem succeeds as a work of art is beside the point.

I find it easier to imagine most contemporary poets inventing the geodesic dome than I do imagining them writing a book length work as entertaining and unique as this one.

Untitled Epic Poem On The History Of Industrialization

And so Industrialization grew
uniquely
as the mutual mechanical scientific extension,
comprising precision controls
of energy and time.

And by Industrialization
and its mechanical extension
you and I are both
mutually and at the same time
New York,
Grand Coulee Dam,
The T.V.A., the Washington
The New York Central,
and the Santa Fe,
Route U.S.A 1, from Maine to Key West,
the stratosphere liners, -
they are our mutual
all-age, all-sex,
all-race
flesh and blood extensions.
They are us
we are they
and those who destroy them
or falsely employ them
are our enemies
and the enemy of our God
of the quick, -
they who destroy
are the proponents
of friction, freezing,
inertia and death.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 30 (Heather Fuller)

Fuller, Heather
perhaps this is a rescue fantasy


Not quite sure where I bought this. It was likely at Talking Leaves in 1997, around the time Heather read with Rod Smith in Buffalo, but I might have bought it at a reading I saw the two of them give at the Segue Foundation in the spring before I left New York.

Dan Machlin used to run a series in the Segue Performance space on 8th between B & C. I saw a lot of my first avant and post-avant readings there. I also did my first reading in that space, with Eileen Myles in April 1997.

My apartment was just down the street at 235 E. 4th St., corner of Avenue B, 6th floor, no elevator. It had two bedrooms, one bath and a combo kitchen/living/dining area. My rent was $825 per month. In the 5 years I rented the apartment, I had five different roommates. The first was a friend from college, a woman, C., and we made it through almost a year before all kinds of unexpected romantic feelings intervened to screw up what had been up to that time a perfectly useful living arrangement.

After she moved out, another friend, P., who I've mentioned before in connection to a writers group I was in, moved in. He made it through the half of the summer before deciding he couldn't stand any of my friends, who I was constantly inviting to the house to eat and drink and socialize.

I think my friend J., also of writer's group fame, moved in briefly after that -- he was on his way to grad school in Austin and needed a place for a few months before he left the city. It was one of the most eventful periods in the history of that apartment.

He lived with me in the middle of a summer heat wave. One night, to get out of the apartment, we walked over to a little cafe called 7A, at the corner of 7th and A (get it?). We each drank a giant tumbler of iced coffee before returning home to go to bed. About three in the morning I heard a faint knocking on the wall between our bedrooms and then J's voice calling my name.

When I entered his room he was sitting naked on the edge the bed, muttering, I am burning up, but I am not sweating. I helped him into the shower, turned on the cold water and sat on the edge of the tub while he cooled off. He said felt alright and then went back to sleep. I heard the same moaning and knocking on the wall a few hours later, around sunrise, at which point I took him to the hospital, where they told him he'd suffered heat stroke from dehydration and had to pump him full of glucose. His father came to pick him up and I think he spent the next week or so out at his parents' air-conditioned home in Massapequa.

Returning from a bar one night later in the summer, the two of us were climbing the stairs to the apartment when we found a young woman on her knees on the landing between the 5th and 6th floors. She had long, dark hair, and she wore a black, sleeveless one-piece skirt. One her feet were a pair of heavy, florescent green socks, but no shoes. She was crying. We asked her what was wrong. She said she had slipped and fallen down the stairs. We took her up to the sixth floor and sat her on a couch in the hall that had been thrown out -- I think it had been mine or J's.

She had a teardrop tattooed on her face, just under one eye and another on her arm that read, Phaedra. She said that was her name. Turned out she was living in the apartment next door. It was a very run down, rent-controlled place with peeling paint and without electricity or heat, neither of which had been paid in years. A would-be Euro-rocker cum heroin addict named Lung, who paid his rent by renting rooms and floor space to squatters from Tompkins Square, had the lease. I'd seen him on the stairs in his combat boots and ripped up clothing. He'd bummed a few cigarettes off me in the past.

Anyhow, she smoked a cigarette and calmed down and went home. We figured that was the last we'd see of her, but it wasn't. About a week later the two of us were smoking cigarettes and watching a movie on TV when we heard screaming from the hallway outside the apartment. Through the peephole in the door we could see a large man kicking and punching Phaedra. Then he started dragging her around by the hair.

All of the sudden she started pounding on our door screaming Help me Help me Help Me. One of us held the doorknob and counted to three, then pulled it partially open, while the other, I think it was J, grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into the apartment, while I closed the door and locked the dead bolt. We expected the man to start pounding on the door, but he didn't. Phaedra lay on the floor shrieking, "He hung me out the fucking window! He hung me out the sixth floor fucking window!"

We called the cops, who got there pretty quickly. After knocking on the door several times, they burst into the apartment–which was pitch black because the power had been shut off by ConEd–guns drawn, and searched the place. The guy had already left.

Phaedra's face was beat up pretty badly. She may have lost a tooth -- I can't quite recall. The cops questioned her for about an hour. She told them the man was also a squatter and that he had accused her of hocking the amp for his guitar to buy drugs. They asked her her name. Phaedra, she said. Got any I.D.? She showed them something. Her name was actually something very plain, like Jennifer Jones.

Phaedra, what's that name for? asked the cop.

She looked up at him and said, It's from mythology. Then she smiled. Her teeth were all bloody and her eye was black. It's a love story.

Then they took her down to an ambulance and drove off. When they had gone we discovered a huge blood stain on the carpet. We initially thought it had come from her face, but then realized that the stain was to large to have come from her mouth. J. surmised that she had had a miscarriage. We never really knew.

A few weeks after that, she moved back into the apartment, now with her new boyfriend, a young, dreadlocked black guy named Purple. He, too, was a squatter. They started stopping by once a day or so, asking for things -- sugar, tea, cigarettes, a little change. They almost felt like roommates for a while–or annoying relatives. Then one day Phaedra was gone. The next day we came home and found Purple standing in front of the building with a giant suitcase.

He said the U.S. Marshals had seized the apartment and asked if he could store his suitcase with us. I said sure, but only for a few days. Days became weeks. Occasionally, Purple would stop by with a few other squatters to get a change of clothes o to take a shower, promising to take his stuff soon. J moved out in August and we threw a big party. I put Purple's suitcase on the fire escape to get it, and it's odor, out of the apartment. I found him, drunk, in Tompkins square and told him I would throw his stuff out if he didn't come take it the next day. It rained that night, while all his stuff was on the fire escape, so when he came to pick it up it was quite heavy.

About two weeks later he showed up and demanded that I pay him for the cassette tapes he'd had in the suitcase, which had gotten ruined in the rain. I said I was sorry, but I felt we were even, given that he'd had his things in my apartment for so long. I never saw either of them again.

After J., there was T., and then I went away to Ecuador for a year and sublet the Apt. to J. and his girlfriend. I moved back in a year later with another friend, P., about whom I'll have plenty to say at some other point.

---

Here's a recording of Heather Fuller reading from perhaps this is a rescue fantasy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 29 (Carlos Fuentes)

Fuentes, Carlos
La Muerte de Artemio Cruz


Purchased at Rust Belt Books in the summer of 2008, which, some of you may recall, was the Summer of Reading in Spanish. The summer of reading in Spanish has now lasted two years, but who's counting?

I think this was the second novel I read that summer, during which I spent a month alone at my mother's house in Sarasota, FL in order to get some solitude and time time to write. The first book I read in Spanish was Isabel Allende's House of the Spirits, this in anticipation of her visit the following spring.

I recall struggling with this book for a time. Fuentes' vocabulary is impressive and he has no qualms about putting it to use in his fiction. I spent much of the first 100 pages looking up every third or fourth word. At some point, I just stopped looking them up and started to read the book, an act which was essentially the moment I learned that reading in another language is the same as reading in one's own. You just have to figure it out as you go.

Nonetheless, it took me nearly a month to read this pocket-sized, 300-page book, despite the fact that I had nothing to do but read, write and watch movies.

There's a tremendous chapter in the book in which he examines the use of the verb "chingar," which is Mexican slang meaning "to screw" or "to fuck." It's one of my favorite passages in all of Spanish language literature (and probably one of the most famous of the "boom" generation of Latin American Writers).

In the passage he says that "chingar" is the Mexican national word and then goes on to examine it in its many forms. It is used in ways that are about as versatile as Americans use the word "fuck," but because it is a verb, it's deployment in Spanish is a bit richer than "fuck" is in English.

I don't think it translates very well, so I'll just give you a little taste in Spanish.

From La Muerte de Artemio Cruz

Tú la pronunciarás: es tu palabra: y tu palabra es la mía; palabra de honor: palabra de hombre: palabra de rueda: palabra de molino: imprecación, propósito saludo, proyecto de vida, filiación, recuerdo, voz de los desesperados, liberación de los pobres, orden de los poderosos, invitación a la riña y al trabajo, epígrafe del amor, signo del nacimiento, amenaza y burla, verbo testigo, compañero de la fiesta y de la borrachera, espada del valor, trono de la fuerza, colmillo de la marrullería, blasón de la raza, salvavidas de los límites, resumen de la historia: santo y seña de México: tu palabra.
–Chingue a su madre
–Hijo de la chingada
–Aquí estamos los meros chingones
–Déjate de chingaderas
–Ahoritita me lo chingo
–Andale chingaquedito
–No te dejes chingar
–Me chingué a esa vieja
–Chinga tú
–Chingue usted
–Chinga bien, sin ver quien


...and so on. The whole chapter is devoted to 'chingar' and it is worth learning spanish just to read it!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 28 (Robert Frost)

Frost, Robert
Collected Poems, Prose, Plays


Purchased at the now-defunct Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store for nine dollars.

After writing yesterday's entry, in which I mentioned one of my former cars as well of as one of Ben Friedlander's, I got to remembering the various cars I've driven or owned, and since I have no particular memories associated with this book or its author, I've decided to try to remember many of the cars that have been important to my life.

On one of my book shelves I have a photo of my father at the wheel of a maroon Mustang convertible, probably a '65 or '66 (the photo was probably taken then, too). Both of my parents worked in Detroit for Ford when they met, and both owned Mustang convertibles. (Sadly, both sold them before I was born).

Because my father worked for Ford motor company until I was about 12, we never owned a car. Every year my father got two company cars, one for my mother and one for him. We always had new Fords. We had so many that I can't remember any of them specifically. I know we had a Maverick and Pinto and an LTD and various gigantic seventies station wagons, but I can't recall any specifically.

My father left Ford and bought a franchise of a new car rental company in 1980 or so. It was called MPG Car Rental and they were only going to rent cars that got 25 or more miles to the gallon. It was an idea ahead of its time. The national chain folded within a couple of years, unable to compete with the Hertz and Avises of the world, but my father kept the name and operated three locations in DC throughout the eighties and into the early nineties, one at 15th an 'K' streets, and one each near National and Dulles airports.

We never owned our cars during this period, either. My mother would use one car from the fleet and then my father would bring home whatever was left at the end of the night. Often we'd have only one car, especially on certain weekends when all the cars were rented. On these occasions, my father would ride the train out, first to Ballston Station, which was at the time the end of line. and later all the way out to where we lived, Vienna.

One car I remember my mother having for a long time was a red Toyota station wagon. I guess it was a Tercel, but I don't quite remember. For many years, my father bought only Toyotas because they all got good mileage and they never broke down.

Another car my mother used for a while was the car I learned to drive in -- a metallic mint green '85 Toyota Tercel hatchback. It was a five-speed with a sun roof and a cassette deck. I took driving lessons with the driving instructor from hell. He'd come to my house once a week on Saturdays and we'd get in the Tercel and sit at the bottom of my parents' steep driveway with the car in neutral and the brake on. After a we'd sat there a while, he'd tell me to put it in first and to push in the clutch and the brake, then to slowly let out the clutch and press the gas.

He wouldn't let me leave the driveway until I could get to the top without stalling. Once we got past that, we'd drive to the local high school parking lot, and he'd set up a maze of orange cones for me to drive through. He'd have me do it at five, then ten, then fifteen, then twenty miles per hour. At some point, without telling me, he'd put a cone in the center of the maze, ensuring that I'd run over it. After I'd hit it, and he'd say -- you just killed a little boy and you were only going 20 miles an hour.

The day I got my driver's license my parents let me go for a solo drive in the Tercel. It was very hilly where I grew up, and within five minutes I was stuck at a red light on a big hill, having a panic attack. I think I stalled the engine once, then got it started and moving, traffic honking all around me. Very embarrassing. That became my de facto car for a time. I shared it with my mother.

Toward the end of my high school years, my father started getting a lot of Chryslers. There were a lot of minivans LeBarons around the house for a while. At some point he had a large lease agreement with them that provided him with a free car to use for each fifty that he leased. One year we had a luxury car of some sort -- a now defunct Chrysler brand -- I think it was called an Eagle or something like that.

For several years we had a candy apple red LeBaron convertible. My middle brother drove this to school every day, so that after a time he and all of his friends began to think it was his. When My father sold the business and had to give back the car, my brother was crushed.

I worked for my father for a couple of summers. One summer we were buying a lot of new cars for the fleet. I was often making one day drives to Pennsylvania and Baltimore and back to pick up the new cars. In a two-week period, I got tickets for speeding, running a red light, and reckless driving while on the job. I received the last one for causing an accident. After all the new cars had been delivered, I drove to Columbia, MD to get all the keys copied at a little shop there. On the way up, I spaced out and didn't see an old station wagon stopped in front of me. I completely totaled the minivan I was driving.

My father fired me after that.

I remember another minivan incident. My father had sold one of the mini-vans to someone, but we were holding it for a week or two before he took possession of it. It became my car to use for those two weeks. My father warned me not to smoke in the car because he had t sell it. I ignored him. On the first day I drove it, I paused at a stop sign about a mile from the house. At just the moment I hit the gas pedal, my cigarette fell between my legs. As I flinched to avoid being burned, my foot shoved the gas pedal to the floor and drove the van over about five of those vertical reflector signs with black and white diagonal stripes on them. I think I lied to my parents and told them a mysterious white truck had come barreling down the wrong side of the road and that my only chance to avoid it was to run the car off the road and over the signs.

I don't think they believed me.

At some point, either in 1987 or '88 my father gave me my first car, a beat up white Renault Alliance with a red interior. At the time I was a rabid deadhead, so I covered it with Grateful Dead stickers. I remember driving it in from DC to Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York one summer to see about 15 dead shows in a row.

When I returned from, I started at my second college, George Mason University, which I attended for all of about 3 weeks before dropping out. I drove the car until I left that winter to go to my third college, Fordham.

Another summer my father got me a job working for a mafia-owned car rental company in the Bronx. Every day a bookie would show up with his little notebook and take everyone's bets on the numbers. One time a guy, who was obviously a hardened criminal came in and told us the owner had said he could rent a car. We told him we couldn't rent it to him because his driver's license had too many violations on it. He said ok and left. An hour later, he returned with a new, valid, clean license, with his picture on it. We rented him the car.

Another time, I had to go with one of the other rental agents to Hunt's Point, a very dicey neighborhood in the Bronx, to retrieve one of the cars. The other guy made me do the dirty work. I kept thinking about the scene in Repo Man where Emilio Estevez gets beaten trying to repossess a car. Fortunately nothing happened.

I lived in the Bronx and Manhattan for the better part of the next nine years, sans car.

When I moved to Buffalo in 1997, I tried to live without a car. I had grown quite content with subways and taxis living in NYC, so hoped I could get by without one. It soon became apparent that almost everything worth doing in Buffalo required a car. I ended up buying a car owned by my landlord, a 1987 Nissan Sentra. I drove it for two years, then my mother gave me her car, which she was getting rid of, a 1990 Acura.

As I mentioned yesterday, I sold the Sentra to a foreign exchange student for 700 dollars. It needed 500 dollars worth of work to run, but my mechanic rigged it for a hundred, for which act I was chastised by my good friend Ben Friedlander.

I had the Acura until 2003, just around the time Lori and I had signed a contract to buy our first house. One day, an old woman passed out at the wheel of her car as she was driving down Ashland Ave., the street on which we lived at the time. She ended up smashing into the Acura, which was parked in front of the house. She totaled the car. It turned out knew some friends of the woman, who told me she was very ill -- I heard she died a month or so later.

I took the money from the insurance and used it as a down payment on a newer used car -- a 2000 Honda Civic, which I am still driving. It is the only car I have ever owned that I payed for with my own money. I love my Honda Civic. It now has 115,000 miles on it. I've driven it up and down the eastern Seaboard and as far west as Minnesota.

The Telephone

"When I was just as far as I could walk
From here today,
There was an hour
All still
When leaning with my head against a flower
I heard you talk.
Don't say I didn't, for I heard you say--
You spoke from that flower on the windowsill--
Do you remember what it was you said?"

"First tell me what it was you thought you heard."

"Having found the flower and driven a bee away,
I leaned my head,
And holding by the stalk,
I listened and I thought I caught the word--
What was it? Did you call me by my name?
Or did you say--
Someone said 'Come'--I heard it as I bowed."

"I may have thought as much, but not aloud."

"Well, so I came."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 27.3 (Benjamin Friedlander)


Simulcast
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Friedlander, Benjamin
Simulcast:
Four Experiments in Criticism


Sent by the publisher as a review copy. I actually wrote a review of this book, which I love, a few years ago. For whatever reason the edition of Artvoice in which it was printed has not yet made it to the web, so I can't point you to the review.

A few more scattered memories of Ben:

Eating a lovely dinner with Ben and Carla at their apartment on Anderson Place, at which Carla served a favorite Sicilian dish, salted cod, which I had never eaten before, and how we ate it just outside the kitchen in a little wooden booth in an alcove, which I thought a very cosy and comfortable way to eat, especially when only three or four people were dining, and which is a feature I've always wanted to replicate in my own home, but have not (yet).

The bookcases in Ben and Carla's living room, which were bursting with books, had books piled on top, seemingly all the way to the ceiling, and my amazement when Ben told me he had another room filled with boxes containing only sci-fi books he had read as a kid.

A whirlwind poetry week in 1999, which began with a visit by Peter Gizzi and Bernadette Mayer and ended with a party at Ben and Carla's for Joanne Kyger. (I'll save the Joanne Kyger part of the memory for a later post. I remember there was some kind of disagreement between Ben and Bernadette over dinner one night, something to do with Matthew Shepard, but I don't recall the details.)

Ben's Buffalo car, a beat-up, rust-colored Toyota Celica.

In the months after a bad breakup, driving either to or from a movie with Ben, who sat in the passenger seat of my beat up, dark rust-colored Nissan, and who could see that I was visibly suffering the effects of said break-up, and him telling me how after his last breakup he had learned to drive and how learning to drive had made him feel good about himself and helped him get past some of the pain.

At his going away party, Ben smiling and telling me I was going to hell for having my Nissan cheaply patched up, just enough to stay running for a week or two, in order to sell it to a foreign exchange student.

Standing in front of Rust Belt Books at nine in the morning with Ben and Graham Foust and David Landrey and Kazim Ali and Brian Lampkin and Aaron Skomra and Michelle Citrin and Mike Basinski and Celia White and several other poetry types to pose for a photo of Buffalo poets, which now hangs on the wall of my study.

Playing scrabble at my apartment on College St. with Ben and Yunte Huang and trying to decide whether or not to challenge Ben's placement of the word "jew" on the board and Ben looking calmly into my eyes and saying, "It's a verb. Look it up."

How I did not challenge him, but looked it up anyway, just to see if he was right -- he was.

Ben, the same night as the aforementioned Scrabble game, sharing the news that he'd been hired at the University of Maine.

Ben's old PC, which he used long past it's usefulness, and his refusal to buy a printer, instead preferring to print for free at the University print center, where you waited for hours for a printout that came on traction paper from a dot-matrix printer.

Ben coming to Buffalo a few years ago, first for the Creeley Conference, then for OlsonNow, his point-and-shoot camera in hand, documenting just about every movement anyone within ten feet of him made.

Looking with great pleasure at all those photos on flickr after he left.

How he stopped documenting everything everyone was doing at some point and how I missed looking at his photos everyday.

Ben talking about Kit Robinson introducing him to jazz.

Sitting in a hotel suite after the OlsonNow conference with Ben, Anne Waldman, Ammiel Alcalay, Myung Mi Kim and a few others listening to artist Steve Kurtz tell us about his at-the-time-still-ongoing ordeal with the Department of Justice, Homeland Security and the FBI.

Ben, in conversation at Cybele's Cafe, making a comparison between Charles Olson and Frank O'Hara, saying he admired the ability of both poets to insert things -- documents, snatches of conversation, etc. -- into poems and to leave those things alone, without editorializing, and how he compared them to others, like Oppen, who he said couldn't resist the urge to editorialize.

How in conversations like the previous one there were often long silences, wherein whatever we were discussing went from the outside to the inside to be processed and how Ben, instead of looking away in thought would look me straight in the eye during these silences, as if he were trying to read whatever thoughts or feelings I might be having, and how those silences were never awkward, and instead felt like the natural response to the information being shared, which one needed to digest a bit before responding.

from Simulcast

But satire is one thing, serious criticism another. What risked scandal in my method–what marked my project as a kind of poetry and not merely an antic form of poetics–was its privileging of style over substance, artifice over rigor, mere plausibility over truth, an inversion of the hierarchy of values that ordinarily (and sensibly) obtains in criticism, an inversion that in effect ceded control of my writing to the writing itself. Although I was predisposed in each of these pieces to certain arguments and conclusions, I willingly abandoned these when they became incompatible with the critical approach demanded by my source. The results were emphatically not what I would have written if left to my own devices, one reason I opted for pseudonymous attribution. Sincerity in Pound's sense ("a man standing by his word") was simply not an issue. The issue, instead, was a compositional practice in which criticism derives less from a given set of facts, opinions, and interpretive strategies than from a collision between two such sets: one fixed in the form of a source text, the other still inchoate in my chosen topic.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 27.2 (Benjamin Friedlander)

Friedlander, Benjamin
The Missing Occasion of Saying Yes


I believe this was sent to me by the author after he came to Buffalo for the OlsonNow event in the Spring of 2007. It is not inscribed; however, I found a handwritten note folded into the back that reads as follows:

Mike, Lori–

Some old work of mine, at last folded up like a keepsake–It was great to have an evening together–& I am looking forward to another this summer!

All best,

Ben

We did go to Maine–where Ben and Carla live–that summer, but it was in July, which is the time of year the two of them usually spend in Sicily with Carla's family, so we didn't get to see them. I think I wrote about this trip in an earlier post about Annie Finch, who we did see.

For some reason this is calling to mind a trip to Maine I made when I was about 16. It was the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. My friend M.'s family rented a big old house in Ogonquit for the summer and invited me to stay with them for a week in August.

The house they rented was a beautiful old gray New England home, on a cliff overlooking the sea, just on the outskirts of town. They said it had belonged to an old sea captain. I remember finding all kinds of eclectic junk in the study -- a 'Save the Seals' button from the seventies, a defunct stock certificate from the twenties, and a clay pipe (for pot, this, a "bowl") in the shape of an old man's head. The old man had a beard and seemed to be blowing the bowl right out of his mouth. We made great use of the pipe that summer.

My friend M. had been there for two months and had befriended most of the kids our age. One of them was a guy named "Tungee." He was a big guy with bleach blond curly hair, and prone to drunken racist and homophobic outbursts. Another was a guy named Brian, who worked in the local movie theater, an old one screen affair that played a different movie each week in the summer. The week I was there they were playing a fun eighties vampire romp called, "Fright Night." It starred Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowell. I think we saw it four or five times.

One day, M., decided we should go lobster hunting. He fastened a hunting knife to a broom handle with a piece of rope to make a harpoon and handed me a pillowcase. Along with our wetsuits and snorkeling gear, we carried a cooler full of ice down to the rocky shoreline to begin the hunt. The plan was to snorkel around a rocky outcropping where the lobsters liked to congregate.

M. was the harpooner and I was the bagman. We dove down to where the lobsters gathered and then Matt speared a lobster in the side while I held out the pillow case. Once the lobster was safely inside the pillow case, I would rise to the surface and drop it into the cooler full of ice. We caught about ten lobster this way, then brought them home to his mother to cook. She was horrified when we showed her the catch and informed us that if we had been caught we would have been charged 100 dollars per lobster as a fine. Nonetheless, she cooked them and served us up a fine Maine lobster feast.

M. was a friend throughout my teen years. He was one of those friends that precludes the need for enemies. At times he was charming and funny and full of life, at others he was mean and domineering and cruel. He also had an increasingly terrible drug and alcohol problem, an indifferent mother and step-father, and a dependence on having someone like me–shorter, weaker, and more passive–to kick around when he needed to feel good about himself.

Just about every moment I spent with him we were getting to trouble–he instigating and me playing along. His parents had a large house about a mile from our own in Oakton, Virginia. They were rarely home and we took advantage of this fact create all kinds of trouble. This usually involved me telling my parents I was sleeping over, then the two (or more) of us spending the night carousing, getting high, drinking, etc.

'Trouble' included: egging houses and/or covering them with toilet paper; watching porn on his parents wide-screen TV; stealing cassettes, cigarettes, beer and money from unlocked cars and garages; testing his parents' electric dog fence by holding the dog's shock collar in our hands and trying to run past the boundary line; letting off the emergency brakes of cars sitting on hills; driving around town doing bong-hits, often with him driving and me holding the wheel as he drove; shoplifting for kicks, etc.

He used to like to add suffixes to my last name in order to make fun of me. For some reason, though I am not Jewish, he began calling me "Kelle-jew. " This lasted, I think, a whole summer. I never knew why he called me this or what exact significance he attached to the appellation, but he seemed to take great pleasure in calling me this invented nickname.

After I graduated from high school, I decided to take a year off before college. My plan was to move to the mountains in Colorado, get a job at a ski resort and spend the winter partying and skiing. Somehow, M. got wind of this and decided he wanted to move out there, too. I went by myself and found three other guys to room with when I arrived. Around the time we began looking for a place, M. showed up in his white Monte Carlo, with two other, unknown friends, Roach and B.B., who had driven across the country with him.

All seven of us -- 5 Americans and two pot-smoking Dutch brothers from Rotterdam -- moved into a tiny A-Frame with no insulation in Keystone, CO. I got a job at the Breckenridge HIlton washing dishes. I used to hitchhike to work every morning. M. and his pals lived with us for about a month, then moved into a cabin of their own, on the other side of the mountain. Things started to go very wrong for M. after that. He kept getting arrested for things like possession, urinating in public (on the Mayor's lawn, no less), drunk and disorderly conduct, and, finally, for DWI.

Each time, I'd get a call in the middle of the night asking for bail money or a ride home. When he got the DWI they made the bail more than I could afford. I remember him calling me on the phone and crying, begging me to hock my skis to get him out of jail. I had finally had enough, I guess. I told him he was on his own. As I recall, he called a bail bondsman, went home, got in his car, and left town, skipping bail. I think I may have spoken to him on the phone once or twice after that, but I never saw him again.

from The Missing Occasion of Saying Yes

Passivity

Scurry of a rat
eaten away
in the wall
behind a clock.

The hand, writing,
measured by a beam
of light housing
all the colors of the mind.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 27.1 (Benjamin Friedlander)

Friedlander, Benjamin
A Knot is Not A Tangle


Not (knot) sure where I bought this. I think it was at Talking Leaves. I remember there being a lag of a few years between the time it was released (2000) and the time I purchased it. I own a copy of the original chapbook of the same title, which is a shorter version of the same collection. I think the chapbook was the first work of Ben's I ever read.

I remember I knew the name Ben Friedlander from talking to various people about the Poetics Program when I was considering moving there to study. I later saw him read once in New York at a poetry conference at NYU. I think it was Ben who announced to everyone attending that Allen Ginsberg had died that morning. It may have been someone else who announced it, but I remember Ben reading something from Ginsberg before his own reading that day.

(I am having an awful time typing correctly -- as ever, I suppose -- I keep typing "been" for "Ben" and vice versa).

We made friends fairly quickly when I first arrived. We used to go to movies together a lot. Ben had fairly specific tastes and very strong opinions to go along with those tastes. He did not like art house and independent films as a general rule, and preferred to see a typical Hollywood film to seeing the latest by Jim Jarmusch.

He and Carla really liked children's movies. I remember him saying that children's movies had not given up on telling coherent stories or developing characters in the same way adult movies had.

Ben introduced me to the dollar theater, where they play all the movies 3-6 months after they hit the multiplexes and charge a dollar for admission, a dollar for popcorn and a dollar for coke. I think there may have been one of those in NYC, but that was about it (and it was more like a five dollar theater). You almost always pay full, inflated prices for films in New York, and there are no matinees, so the dollar theater seemed like quite a treat.

When Ben still lived here, there were two dollar theaters: one in the Home Depot parking lot on Elmwood Avenue, and another at a defunct shopping mall in Cheektowaga. Both are now closed, but another has since replaced them, also in Cheektowaga, also in the parking lot of Home Depot. They must be in cahoots or something.

I loved talking to Ben after a movie because he had an amazing ability to make the least interesting movies seem interesting, or if not interesting, at least interesting to talk about. Some of my most memorable conversations about movies occurred after having gone with Ben to see the likes of "Scream 2," "American Pie," and "Two Girls and A Guy."

I remember also his strong opinions and sometimes startling pronunciations about the opinions of others, including my own. Once, after I had seen this little film called "Smoke Signals," I mentioned to Ben that I had enjoyed it becuae I had found some of the little details of life on a reservation endearing and very funny. Ben replied something to the effect of, "If that's how you feel about that film, I don't think I can respect anything you say about film ever again."

Out of anyone else's mouth, those words would have ended the friendship, but out of Ben's they just felt passionate and engaged and, at least in the moment of his saying them, honest. But they certainly weren't wounding and never felt permanent. We still went to the movies together after that.

This Is Just To Say

Absolutely
no harm
was meant

I am (and was)
just out of my mind,
nervous and restless

and so much more,
and yes
I did not like

the poetry reading
(or better: I did not
like

the poetry
or the reading)
and needed

to disappear.
Love,
Carla.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 27 (Benjamin Friedlander)


Time Rations
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Friedlander, Benjamin
Time Rations


I think this was purchased at a reading Ben gave for Just Buffalo back in the day. Probably around 1998.

It's inscribed:

"For Mike,

Above the trudge of snow,
below the shining clouds."

The inscription isn't dated.

I remember the reading because it was the first time I had ever heard of Joe Brainard's book, "I Remember." Ben read his own "I Remember" poem (which I think I mentioned previously in one of my posts on Brainard.) I went right out and bought the Penguin edition of the book after the reading.

I can't recall who Ben read with. It was on a Sunday afternoon at Hallwalls old space in the Tri-Main Building. The reading took place in the Paul Sharits theater. I always found that theater a strange space for a reading, with it black walls and theater seats on risers and the bleak gray carpets on the floors. We always used an enormously oversized sound system for the room, which required us having a tech set up beforehand or be on hand at the reading.

There was a huge ritual in doing the readings there, as Hallwalls was usually closed on Sundays. After keying into the door, I had to tap in an alarm code, which I can't remember except that it made an "L" shape on the touchpad. Then I had to walk through the darkened hallway to the offices in the back of the space and turn on the breakers for the lights. After that, to another room to turn on the heating or air-conditioning system. Sometimes a tech would set everything up and all I'd have to do was turn on the sound board. Something nearly always went wrong for me, and I almost always had to call someone to fix the problem.

Just Buffalo had a radio program back then, hosted by Mary Van Voorst, who would often sit in the front row with a recording device. Most of these readings were poorly attended because they were on Sunday afternoons, especially during football season. I think I moved the readings away from Sundays as quickly as I could, but it took a long time before we actually did any of our readings on a regular night each month. Eventually, I cleaned up and painted a room attached to Just Buffalo and did most of our readings up there.

I remember Ben and his partner, Carla, arrived about ten minutes late, I think because of car trouble (but maybe for some other reason). Just Buffalo's then-new director got a bit miffed about this. I tried to explain that in "poetry time" 10 minutes late was actually 20-50 minutes early, but to no avail. He was unhappy and we were off on the wrong foot, or so it seemed to me at the time.

from Time Rations

The mind won't hold certain facts,
not willingly,

& all my life I've tracked their disappearance,
swept out of view in folded waves

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 26 (Ulli Freer)


Stepping Space
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Freer, Ulli
Stepping Space


I think I bought this at Talking Leaves, probably around the time Allen Fisher visited in Buffalo in 1998. I associate the two of them in my head, so that must be it. Or not. It's also out of order and should have preceded Freud. Alas. And alack. A lass. And a lack. Late for work and short on time, a snippet from one of the poems:

from Mention

larkspurs stretch describes vividly paint
light chokes
to queue in person
lone line
to fill hollow eyes

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 25.9 (Sigmund Freud)

Gay, Peter
Freud: A LIfe For Our Time


It's been a while since I posted on a biography, so I'll remind you of a couple of facts regarding my relationship to the genre:

1. I file biographies under the last name of the subject, not the author.
2. I often purchase biographies, but rarely finish reading them.
3. I generally dislike the form.

All of which is true of this one, which I purchased online a few years back, intending to supplement my reading of Freud. I bought it for $3.50 plus shipping. I think I got about as far as the founding of psychoanalysis and then stopped, not, mind you, because of anything the author did, but rather because I get bored very quickly reading biographies.

I am kind of sad to finish the Freud section of the blog -- I feel like a found a little of my blogging mojo again since embarking on the Freud section of the project (thanks for the supportive comments PSJ, BF and RD!). I was definitely getting bored with myself and with the project for a little while there, having forgot how to get to that part of my memory that serves up the most interesting fodder, sort of like when, a few years back, I forgot how to properly open an avocado.

I was eating avocados almost every day one summer when, suddenly, I forgot the proper way to remove the pit. Instead of chopping in with the blade and then twisting the pit out of the fruit, I began stabbing it with the point and twisting it out that way.

This worked very well until one day Lori and I decided to go for a hike in the woods at Allegheny park. We packed a lunch that included avocados and nuts and various other healthy things. I also packed a paring knife. Lori said she had her swiss army knife, but for some reason I insisted on brining the one I normally used. Lori thought this was ridiculous, but packed it any way. Thankfully, she also packed a first aid kit.

We drove the ninety minutes down to the park, then decided to hike on what was called the "fire watch" trail or something like that. There was supposed to be an old fire watch at the top that you could climb to get a nice view of the park and have a picnic. After several hours of looking for said structure along trails that seemed to keep disappearing beneath debris that hadn't been cleared away after winter, we gave up looking for the fire watch and decided to sit down for lunch.

I unpacked all of the goodies and took out the paring knife and the avocado. When I opened avocados at home, I was protected from my own stupidity by the fact that the point went down toward a cutting board -- not so in the forest, where I held the fruit in the palm of my hand. I pushed the knife through the pit and almost all the way through my palm, just between the pointer and middle fingers. I also hit an artery. A quick fountain of blood spurted from my hand as I dropped the avocado with the knife sticking through it onto the ground.

I yelled and Lori asked what happened and all I could say was, It's really bad.

I thought I would throw up or faint or both. The sight of my own blood made me sick. Lori tried to get through to the ranger station on my cellphone. She got about two-thirds of the message out before losing the connection. Meanwhile, I was getting woozy and lay my head against a log. Lori took out the first aid kit and found a small butterfly bandage to hold the wound shut.

Given how deep the cut was, I was amazed that this actually stanched the bleeding. I looked at Lori and she at me. We were both covered in blood. Blood stains on our shirts, shorts, faces, hands, arms, legs, everything. It looked like we had just murdered someone. I think at some point we started laughing.

I suddenly felt ravenous. I picked the avocado off the ground and handed it to Lori to finish the cutting, then began stuffing handfuls of cashews in my mouth to stall my hunger. Our phone remained dead and after fifteen minutes or so we decided to start back. We were completely lost, we discovered, and so left the trail and headed straight for the sound of the road.

We came out of the forest, covered in blood, right in front of a ranger station. Everyone stared at us with a mixture of curiosity and terror. We went directly into the station and asked for a first aid kit. The very rude attendant basically threw it at us, saying only, Here.

While I cleaned and bandaged my hand, he came over and asked if we had called in before. Yes, we told him. Shit, you know the ATV's are out looking for you? I'll have to call them back.

A kinder, gentler, ranger finally showed up, asked a few questions, then drove us to our car and gave us directions to the nearest hospital, just outside the park on the PA side. I got two stitches and they sent me on my way. During the two hour ride back to Buffalo, I received two or three calls from the state police, asking me to repeat my story. I guess they wanted to make sure I hadn't murdered someone.

Anyhow, I don't eat avocados with quite the verve I used to. Neither do I forget the proper way to cut them when I do.

Even as I write this, I find myself squeezing my hand, as if I were still in pain.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 25.8 (Sigmund Freud)

Freud, Sigmund
Three Case Histories


Purchased at Rust Belt Books for $5.50. At least I think that's where I bought it. Not sure why I am having such a hard time remembering where I bought these most recent books. I guess the confusion arises more with used books than new ones because I buy a fair number online, especially when I can get them for 40 cents plus shipping or something ridiculous like that. I remember reading "The Wolf Man" and then not reading the other two case histories in this book and that this also marked the end of my reading of Freud. I think the school year began and it was time to buy another 100 books to read over the next several months, so I probably put it away.

At the end of that summer, Aaron Skomra and Michelle Citrin had moved out of the apartment below me. When they left they rented a moving van, which we crammed in between the houses on the "easement" and spent the whole day filling the truck with their junk. I have pretty strong packing skills, so I spent the day inside the back of the truck, rearranging everything so there wasn't a single pocket of air leftover, this being necessary because they had so much stuff.

I think the apartment remained empty for a while. Roberto Tejada came and looked at it at one point, but ended up moving a few blocks away. I think Chris Alexander moved in some time before winter. He'd recently separated from his long time partner, Linda Russo. Maybe their was something about that house that was either good or bad for getting over a break-up. (Shrugs)

Chris outlasted me in that house by a couple of years. I think he, too, had a run-in with B., the crackhead brother, one that spooked him to such an extent that he moved out the next day. While he was there, Chris transformed the little back yard patch of grass into a flower garden. I remember sitting out there in the summer, barbecuing and staring at the sunflowers he had grown. He left Buffalo a few years later when Lori and I were living in our house in Black Rock. Lori was doing some gardening, so Chris left us all of his gardening tools. I noticed the other day on FB that he gardens on his fire escape in Queens.

Actually, come to think of it, I may not have bought this book that summer, and I think I read the case of Doctor Schreber, not the Wolf Man. I have a vague memory of trying to read Deleuze's Anti-Oedipus, and getting bogged down trying to keep up with all the references he was spewing out in the first five pages, one of which was Dr. Schreber. I think I bought this to find out what Deleuze was talking about in that book. I still don't know.

from "Doctor Schreber"

"I have suffered twice from nervous disorders," writes Dr. Schreber, "and each time as a result of mental overstrain. This was due on the first occasion to my standing as a candidate for election to the Reichstag while I was the Landgerichsdirektor at Chemnitz, and on the second occasion to the very heavy burden of work that fell upon my shoulders when I entered on my new duties as Sentsprasident in the Oberlandesgericht in Dresden."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 25.7 (Sigmund Freud)

Freud, Sigmund
Civilization and its Discontents


Purchased for a dollar, most likely at Rust Belt Books.

Back to the summer of '99. As I said, I mostly spent my days sleeping late, going to the gym, taking walks to the park, and reading Freud and Nietszche.

At the time I belonged to the Buffalo Athletic Club (BAC) downtown. My usual walk took me south on College to Virginia St., then left at what is now Betty's Restaurant (then I think it was "Sherwood Florist"), then south again on Elmwood Avenue.

A brick structure of some kind, probably a house, had at some point been torn down on the southeast corner of Johnson Park and Elmwood, behind what is now the 31 Club (then it was Buddy's, a gay bar). It left an empty lot on the corner. After it was gone, I kept trying to remember what was there. I'd been passing it every day for months and hadn't noticed. Something about the fact that I hadn't noticed really bothered me. I eventually memorialized this sentiment in a section of my poem, The Tower

difficult
without
remembering

what stood here
to imagine
what part of it

this brick shard
might
have fallen from

The BAC is a large downtown gym, with a pool and steam room. I think it had once been a very old school kind of place until it was turned into a chain of gyms. It's across the street from a the county courthouse and jail, a massive brutalist monument whose concrete, windowless exterior walls used to frighten me to the point of anger.

One day I recall seeing the whole building from the highway and realizing how beautiful it was as a structure. My feeling now is that it should be emptied of people and turned into a large urban sculpture. It is beautiful as a work of art, horrific as a structure inhabited by human beings.

My typical workout would last two or three hours and would include cardio, weights and a steam. Man, I had a lot of time on my hands. My typical work out now lasts forty minutes and includes either weights or cardio, no steam (different gym, alas). I can't think of the last time I was at the gym for more than an hour, including shower!

I keep thinking of all the buildings in that neighborhood, all the ones that have gone up, all the ones that have come down, all the ones that have changed over the years.

Behind city hall stood a large stone facade, just the facade, no building behind it, propped up in front of a huge vacant lot next to the highway. The facade was preserved for and placed awkwardly in front of a massive new glass office building for some insurance company. On Elmwood, that same summer, they demolished a building behind what is now the Hampton Inn. I remember being woken in the morning by the explosion. Sometime around then there was also a mild earthquake in Buffalo. I remember the windows in bedroom on college shaking and that I didn't realize what it was until someone identified it as an earthquake later that night at a poetry reading.

Next to that was a hideous federal building that housed the FBI, among other agencies. It has since been re-faced and turned into a hotel and condos with a big sign on the top that says, "AVANT." Several new, bland, brick office buildings went up and replaced the office space a little further south on Elmwood.

A little Vietnamese Restaurant, PHO 99, which occupied a small building next to an abandoned Victorian home on Niagara Square, just across from city hall. Sadly, they chose that site for a massive federal courthouse and tore down the only human scale structure on the main traffic circle downtown. They also moved the only Vietnamese fast food restaurant in Buffalo to the edge of the city -- almost to the suburbs!

I mostly remember feeling lonely and depressed and that going to the gym, in addition to keeping me from smoking, helped stave off the loneliness for a few hours.

from Civilization and its Discontents

The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction. It may be that in this respect precisely the present time deserves a special interest. Men have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with their help they would have no difficulty exterminating one another to the last man. They know this, and hence comes a large part of their current unrest, their unhappiness and their mood of anxiety. And now it is to be expected that the of of the two 'Heavenly Powers,'... eternal Eros will make an effort to assert himself in the struggle with his equally immortal adversary. But who can foresee with what success and what result?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 25.6 (Sigmund Freud)

Freud, Sigmund
The History of the
Psychoanalytic Movement


Purchased somewhere, probably Rust Belt Books, for $2.50.

I was flipping through a few old notebooks this morning, trying to find anything I might have written in the summer of 1999 with regard to my reading of Freud. Nothing concrete or specific, though I had at that time apparently begun what would become two years of therapy. I made a few notes about that, but nothing regarding Freud.

I recently watched a season of the HBO series In Treatment. The character played by Blair Underwood, a navy pilot with a chip on his shoulder, reminded me a lot of myself in therapy -- each episode he'd make a really aggressive attempt assert his control over the therapy session. I think I spent the first six months doing the same thing.

I have a memory of using my reading of Freud to test my therapist and to build up my defenses against her. I would ask her all kinds of questions about her opinion of Freud, of psychoanalysis in general, whether she preferred Freud or Jung, etc. I read about ten books by Jung and another ten by Freud. Of course, my therapist was a cognitive-behaviorist whose interest in both schools of analysis went only as so far as some of their techniques proved useful in treatment.

I always seemed to be trying to tell her that if she wanted to get through to me, she was going to have to fight to prove that a) she really wanted to get through and b) she was stronger than me and could hold the fort once we got there. I am not sure we ever did, but I did find it helpful in a lot of small ways.

from The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement

When one thinks of the disagreements between the individual private and public expressions of Jung's utterances one is obliged to ask to what extent this is due to his own lack of clearness and lack of sincerity. Yet, it must be admitted that the representatives of the new theory find themselves in a difficult position. They are now disputing things which they themselves formerly defended and what is more, this dispute is not based on new observations which might have taught them something fresh, but rather on a different interpretation which causes them to see things in a different light from that in which they saw them before. It is for this reason that they will not give up their connection with psychoanalysis as the representatives of which they first became known in the world. They prefer to proclaim that psychoanalysis has changed. At the Congress of Münich I was obliged to clear up this confusion and did so by declaring that I could not recognize the innovation of the Swiss School as a legitimate continuation and further development of the Psychoanalysis which had originated with me. Outside critics (like Furtmüller) had already recognized this state of affairs and Abraham says, quite rightly, that Jung is in full retreat away from psychoanalysis. I am naturally entirely willing to admit that any one has the right to think and to write what he wishes, but he has not the right to make it out to be something different from what it really is.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 25.5 (Sigmund Freud)


Totem and Taboo
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Freud, Sigmund
Totem and Taboo


I probably bought this at Talking Leaves...Books, but I am not sure.

One of the perverse things about Buffalo is that summer, in certain neighborhoods, is a lot worse than winter. In such places, the neighbors and their children spend the summer outside. What begins in the morning as convivial entertainment, such as children playing in the streets and parents mowing the lawn, devolves by nightfall into drinking, screaming, fighting, brawling and so on.

So it was for the five years we lived in Black Rock, and so it was with the people who lived behind me on College St. In addition to the crack-addicted brother of the landlord and the drunken Patti Smith fan next door, there was the loud, drunken, obnoxious, economically disadvantaged, and intellectually challenged extended family behind us. Each year, as the sun came out, they would take the tarp off the above ground pool that occupied two thirds of the back yard, set the dog free into the yard, and basically make my life miserable.

In the afternoons the grandchildren would swing on the rusted, squeaky swing set for hours at a time. As evening approached the parents and grandmother would convene near the pool, drinking and chain-smoking and talking. The grandmother, who was about 50, but looked about 75, had bleach-blond hair and a voice the made gave the nickname "Froggy" a whole new meaning.

When the sun had set, she would be drunk and would start shouting, first at the dog, then at the children, then at the grandchildren. Even when she was just talking she shouted. Around midnight, she and the (adult) children would take a swim until about two in morning. After some more toweling off and yelling, they'd go in for the night, but not before they let the dog, who made almost as much noise as the family, out into the yard, where he would bark until dawn.

from Totem and Taboo

The Horror of Incest

PREHISTORIC man, in the various stages of his development, is known to us through the inanimate monuments and implements which he has left behind, through the information about his art, his religion and his attitude towards "life which has come to us either directly or by way of tradition handed down in legends, myths and fairy tales, and through the relics of his mode of thought which survive in our own manners and customs. But apart from this, in a certain sense he is still our contemporary. There are men still living who, as we believe, stand very near to primitive man, far nearer than we do, and whom we therefore regard as his direct heirs and representatives. Such is our view of those whom we describe as savages or half-savages fand their mental life must have a peculiar interest for us if we are right in seeing in it a well-preserved picture of an early stage of our own development.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Short Review of Aimless Reading Project



Originally uploaded by Mongibeddu
Ben Friedlander, about whom I shall be writing very soon, wrote a short review of the Aimless Reading Project on the National Poetry Foundation Blog back in December. Somehow I missed it until today. He highlights several posts relevant to NPF authors, publications and events. You can read it here:

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 25.4 (Sigmund Freud)

Freud, Sigmund
Dora: An Analysis of
A Case of Hysteria


Not sure where I bought this -- Rust Belt Books? Amazon Marketplace? Anyhow, it cost a dollar.

So, the house on College St....

Shake shingles covered the exterior in two colors -- faded hospital green on the lower half of the house, and grey on the upper (the green has since been painted an atomic kelly green). Two front porches, upper and lower, met the sidewalk in front of the house. As the owner used only one apartment, the house had only three mailboxes instead of four.

I remember B., the brother, building them one day -- probably for crack money. He fashioned three large boxes out of wood, each with a hinged top on a slight pitch, and fastened them to the exterior wall next to the front door. They were and are some of the ugliest mailboxes you'll ever see. They were also some of the most useful because they were big enough to fit a decent sized package inside.

The door to the rear apartments opened onto a shared driveway. J., the landlord, parked her large American car on the pavement between the houses. After a time, she got rid of the car and let me park in the driveway -- a great luxury in the city; it kept me from getting tickets for not moving my car in the morning.

There was a guy who lived in the rear apartment next door, who I used to refer to as "the drunk guy." He was probably in his mid-forties, lived alone, and was dead drunk most of the time. Whenever I saw him, day or night, he seemed to be propping himself up on something -- a pole, a car, a house, whatever, to keep from falling over.

Occasionally I could hear him fighting with someone in a stupor, usually a woman, though I never saw anyone else. My only real interaction with him came one afternoon when I happened to run into him sober on the shared driveway. He stopped me and said, Hey did I hear you playing Patti Smith on stereo yesterday?

Yeah.

Wow, I haven't heard Patti Smith in a long time. I used to like Patti Smith a lot. Man. A lot.

A couple of years later, he started parking his car in my parking space because he was sick of parking in the street. I told the landlord about this and she said, Tell him I've got an easement.

So, I did, and he didn't care. I don't think he knew what an easement was, and frankly neither did I. It was toward the end of my time in the house, so I reasoned with him. I said, listen, I'll be gone in a month, just let me have it until I go and then it's all yours. He did, and that was that.

from Dora

WHEN ONE psychoanalyses a patient subject to hysterical attacks one soon gains the conviction that these attacks are nothing but phantasies projected and translated into motor activity and represented in pantomime. It is true that these phantasies are unconscious but otherwise they are of the same nature as those that may be observed directly in day-dreams or revealed by an interpretation of nocturnal dreams. A dream frequently takes the place of an attack and still more frequently helps to explain one, since the same phantasy finds different forms of expression both in dreams and in attacks. One might expect by observing an attack to be able to discover the phantasy it represents, but this is rarely possible. As a rule the pantomimic representation of the phantasy undergoes distortions, due to the influence of the censorship, analogous to the hallucinatory ones of dreams, so that to begin with both these manifestations are rendered unintelligible either to the patient's conscious mind or to the observer's comprehension. An hysterical attack, therefore, must be subjected to the same analytic procedure as we use in dream-interpretation. Not only are the forces producing the distortion and the purpose of this distortion the same as those we are familiar with from the interpretation of dreams, but the technique of the distortion is the same also.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 25.3 (Sigmund Freud)

Freud, Sigmund
Introductory Lectures
on Psycho-Analysis


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I was thinking again about the house I lived in at the time I was reading Freud. I lived there from 1998-2001. I must have read Freud in the summer of 1999. As I said yesterday, I lived in a four-unit house in a one-bedroom flat on the second floor in the back of the house. Jonathan Skinner lived below me the first year. His wife Isabelle joined him toward the end of the year and then they found an apartment in North Buffalo. My friends Aaron and Michelle lived there for a few months after graduating from UB and before they moved to San Diego and Vermont, respectively. After that, Chris Alexander moved into the apartment and lived there for a several years after I moved out. I think my apartment was eventually occupied by a Yoga instructor.

The house was owned by a middle-aged pseudo-shut-in, J. She had taken over the childhood home from her mother when the latter needed around-the-clock care. J'd been married a couple of times. When I first rented the apartment she took me into her kitchen to sign the lease. While I filled out the papers, she opened the freezer and pulled out a zipper bag filled with snowballs. "I keep these to throw at my ex-husband, if he ever returns."

She had a brother, B., who had a serious crack addiction. I remember Jonathan Skinner asked me about the neighborhood when he moved in. I told him it was fine. About a week or two later, he was sitting in his bedroom at his desk, when suddenly a S.W.A.T. team surrounded the house. They were looking for B. After scouring all four apartments in search of him, they discovered him in a crawl space in the basement. I think I was out somewhere when it occurred.

J. also told me that B. was trying to convince the mother to sue J. for a fall she took on the front porch. His plan was to take the house from her, sell it, and use the money to fuel his drug habit. Eventually, he did get the house. J. had gotten involved with a man she met at work. He turned out to be a scam artist who milked her credit cards for all he could before leaving town. I think she turned the house over to her brother so she wouldn't lose it in a settlement.

I ran into the B. at a locksmith's not long ago. He recognized me and said he'd sold the house and had put J., who can't be a day over 55, into home, just like their mother. He dialed her up on his cellphone and handed it to me. We spoke for a few minutes. She was cheerful as ever. Then my keys were ready and we all said farewell.

from Introductory Lectures

Ladies and Gentlemen, – We will not start with postulates but with an investigation. Let us choose as its subject certain phenomena which are very common and very familiar but which have been very little examined, and which, since they can be observed in a healthy person, have nothing to do with illnesses. They are what is known as 'parapraxes', to which everyone is liable. It may happen, for instance, that a person who intends to say something may use another word instead (a slip of the tongue [Versprechen]), or he may do the same thing in writing, and may or may not notice what he has done. Or a person may read something, whther in print or in manuscript, different from what is actually before his eyes (a misreading [Verlesen]), or he may hear wrongly something that has been said to him (a mishearing [Verhören])–on the assumption of course that there is no organic disturbance of his powers of hearing. Another group of these phenomena has its basis in forgetting [Vergessen]–no however, a permanent forgetting but only a temporary one....

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 25.2 (Sigmund Freud)

Freud, Sigmund
Beyond the Pleasure Principle


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I am trying to remember something more about that summer when I read Freud. I lived on College St. in the Allentown neighborhood of Buffalo. My apartment was a tiny one-bedroom flat on the second floor in the back of a four apartment house. I had a small kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom/office and a living room. The entire apartment was heated by a gas powered wall unit in the living room. It cost a ton of money to heat the place in the winter.

I had quit smoking in February and was struggling to stay away from cigarettes. My first three months of quitting had been fueled by spite. My girlfriend of the previous year had been hounding me to quit. To get her to stop bothering me about it, I proposed a date, February 20, which was also the ten year anniversary of my giving up drugs and booze. As the date approached, I began prepare myself mentally. In the meantime, our relationship soured at an incredible pace and we broke up about two weeks before the quit date.

Normally, I would have just taken that as a reprieve, but I think I really wanted to quit. Then she showed up at a poetry reading about a week later with her new boyfriend. Even though I had ended things myself, something sort of snapped inside. I think this was caused by the fact that she had insisted for most of our relationship that we keep it a secret and always seemed to get upset when I let the cat out of the bag, so to see her out and about with her new beau within a week was both a slap in the face (from which it is easy to recover) and a punch in the gut (which takes a little longer). By that I mean it felt like a truly nasty way to tell me that I hadn't been important enough to present to the public as her boyfriend.

So I devised a simple plan. Knowing that we'd be seeing each other regularly at readings and so forth, I decided to go through with quitting smoking. Then she would have to see the man she REALLY wanted to be with, knowing all the while that this new, improved, smoke-free version of myself was unattainable. That showed her.

Anyhow, spite got me through the first few months, but by the time the summer of Freud rolled around, I needed something else to help me stay off cigarettes. I joined a gym and started going five or six days a week. I was in grad school and lived on loans in the summer, so I had all the time in the world to work out.

Jonathan Skinner lived in the flat below me and recalls hearing my constant foot-tapping on the ceiling above his bedroom and my spontaneous knocks at the door of his apartment at 2 AM, wide-eyed and awake, gobsmacking huge wads of gum, looking for something to do. I think he moved out early in the summer.

from Beyond the Pleasure Principle

IN the theory ofpsycho-analysis we have no hesitation in assuming that the course taken by mental events is automatically regulated by the pleasure principle. We believe, that is to say, that the course of those events is invariably set in motion by an unpleasurable tension, and that it takes a direction such that its final outcome coincides with a lowering ofthat tension that is, with an avoidance of unpleasure or a production of pleasure. In taking that course into account in our consideration of the mental processes which are the subject of our study, we are introducing an 'economic' point of view into our work; and if, in describing those processes, we try to estimate this economic factor in addition to the 'topographical' and 'dynamic* ones, we shall, I think, be giving the most complete description of them of which we can at present conceive, and one which deserves to be distinguished by the term 'metapsychological.'