Monday, May 31, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 18 (George Herbert)

Herbert, George
The Complete English Poems


Purchased at the late lamented discount bookstore at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall. Price: $4.50

I am trying to remember about George Herbert, but I mostly remember vague facts, like places where I may or may not have encountered his work. I am not sure I can place myself in most of those places, and when I do, I am not sure I can recall any details.
For instance, I may have studied George Herbert in my undergraduate seminar in 17th Century British Poetry. But this book does not date from that period and I seem to have kept all the rest of the books from that class, which would suggest we did not study him.

For instance, I have a memory of encountering George Herbert in the poetry collection at SUNY Buffalo. I was going to say it had something to do with Susan Howe, but I now think I have a clearer picture. My first year in Buffalo, during which I spent a great deal of time in the poetry collection, a textual scholar named Randall McLeod (Random Cloud) gave a demonstration of a textual editing device he had invented to compare copies of a given text. I think he may have discussed George Herbert. I am almost sure. The association of George Herbert with the poetry collection is very strong.

For instance, just this past year a local painter, the daughter, I think, or granddaughter, of Charles Burchfield, Katherine something, I think, exhibited some of her paintings at the Western New York Book Arts Center, the building in which I work, each of which was based on a painting by George Herbert. Each painting was framed and hung on the wall above a pice of 8.5 x 11 paper on which was printed the text of the Hebert poem on which the painting was based. I remember bright colors and flowers.

For instance, I can see the poem The Altar, whose text is presented in the shape of an altar, and I can picture myself looking at it in some situation with other people, like a seminar, but I can't remember the seminar or the people.

And then there's that shape, an altar, the kind of thing I spent many a Sunday morning facing during my childhood, wondering when I could get the hell out of there and go home, change my clothes and go outside to play, the kind of thing I spent part of my childhood standing on, dressed in a loose-fitting white gown tied with a white cord around the waist, balancing a napkin on my wrist while holding a bowl of water or a chalice full of wine in my hands as the priest made his ablutions before he took the towel and wiped his hands, raised the cup aloft and said, Take this all you and drink it, this is my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which has been shed for you and for all men, that their sins may be forgiven...etc.

from The Complete English Poems

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 17 (Barbara Henning)


My Autobiography
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Henning, Barbara
My Autobiography


Sent to me by the author. Inscribed.

I met Barbara Henning when I read with Tyrone Williams in Tucson at the POG series in the Fall of 2007. She was part of a group of us that went out for Indian food after the reading. I had this strange feeling that we had met before. We eventually realized that we had been in New York at the same time in the mid-nineties and that probably I had seen her read. Anyhow, Lori and I had a grand old time eating and talking and hanging out with Barbara and Charles Alexander and Tyrone and Laynie Browne and several others.

Barbara sent me My Autobiography after I started this blog because it reflects a similar impulse–or should I say mania? It is an abecedarium comprised of 72 sonnets, each constructed from lines lifted, in more or less alphabetical order by last name, from poets on the shelves of Barbara's library.

I am not quite sure what the rule is on the alphabetical part, as it seems to follow an alphabetical course pretty strictly through the first half of the book, then less strictly through the latter half. The later parts also seem to include books other than poetry books–Yoga, Cookbooks, etc–as it progresses. Maybe Barbara can pipe in here to let us all know what other constraints are at work here. Barbara?

Anyhow, she's a fellow traveler for sure!

You may have noticed that there is an extra person in today's photograph. That would be the literary outlaw Richard Deming, who visited yesterday along with his wife, Nancy Kuhl. Richard is probably the most consistent and avid read of this here blog and one could see that he felt a bit of awe at standing for the first time in the actual library in which it originates. Sort of like reading about the oracle at Delphi in your ancient Greek texts and then actually going to Delphi, I guess.

We decided that he needed to enter further into the madness by taking a picture of Richard holding today's book. He was a little unsteady at first. It took a few moments to show him how to achieve the correct lighting and angle and distance from the lens in order to make the book legible in the photo. In the end, though, he performed like a pro. It was as if he had been preparing for this moment his entire life and just needed a little gentle encouragement to get on his feet.

(Nancy gave me her just published book, Suspend, and we took a photo of her with it. You'll have to wait until we get to the K's to see it!)

from My Autobiography

27

heart-shorn, lip-sick, breath-weary
totally uncharacteristic of modern poetry

dogtown, scattered
paste-board masks of moby-dick

truth is, I don't think he cared
what I damn well fell back to

the goodness in her? And what was the cost?
a closed car–closed in glass

currents and storms had taken away
a sort of summer hard budges blossom

but we imagine others
as still and quiet, the angel of knowledge

with no space-time coordinates
I am, by the way, celebrating the city of my birth

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 16 (Lillian Hellman)

Hellman, Lillian
Six Plays By Lillian Hellman


Purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore.

I read this for a class on American Drama in college. My strongest memory of having to look up the word 'pernicious' one day after class because the professor had said that, The Children's Hour" is about the "pernicious effect of gossip on a community." It's funny, but I don't recall him ever saying it was about the pernicious effect of homphobia on the community, but I guess it WAS a Catholic school, so what could one expect. Neither did he ever talk about Hellman and Hammett and the House Un-American Activites Committee. It was all about how immoral it is to lie. Period. No context, no history, just lying. God I hated that class. I think I have written as much before.

from The Children's Hour

MRS. MORTAR A cue is a line or word given the actor or actress to remind them of their next speech.
HELEN (softly) To remind him or her.
ROSALIE (a fattish girl with glasses) Weren't you ever in the movie, Mrs. Mortar?
MRS. MORTAR I had many offers, my dear. But the cinema is a shallow art. It has no–no– (Vaguely) no fourth dimension.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 15 (Joseph Heller)


Catch-22
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Heller, Joseph
Catch-22


Purchased at or though the student bookstore at LaSalle Academy in NYC, where I taught high school for two years after I graduated from college. I taught English, coached the chess team, published the school newspaper and directed the school musical. LaSalle is a small catholic school for boys tat is run by the Christian Brothers.

The brothers and I didn't get along so well after my first year of teaching. My downfall began toward the end of my first year of teaching. I had founded the chess team, for which I was paid $500 extra per school year. As the year came to a close, I realized that I was doing at least as much, if not more, work for the chess team as I was on the musical and the newspaper, so I asked to be compensated in kind–that is, I asked for 500 more per year. After several meetings, I was told by the principal, Brother P., "Well, I guess we won't have a chess team then."

I guess he knew I wouldn't quit. I went home for the summer and when I returned in the fall one of the first encounters I had was with the oldest teacher in the school, a cynical middle-aged Irish guy who said,

"Congrats, Mike, you've made the list."
I asked him what list.
"The list of teachers the brothers talk about in the rectory over dinner."
I asked why I made that list.
"You're negative."
I asked what that meant.
"You argue with the brothers and they don't like that."
Oh.
"A piece of advice. Watch your back. They are going to come after you."
Thanks.

Not long after that, the principal started playing games with me. It started small. He began to require that I get three signatures for any expenses I incurred related to any of my after school activities. If I needed to buy, say, a five-dollar clock, for the chess team, I had to get his signature plus the signatures of his two assistant principals, etc. This was just to get under my skin, and it didn't -- at first.

On the first day of school we had discovered they had also installed a new copy machine -- with a digital counter on it. We were now required to sign in using our dates of birth so that the school could track how many copies each of us made. A minor change, seemingly, but it was evidence of a larger atmosphere of mistrust between faculty and administration, lay and religious, that had been building for the past year.

I had coffee with a colleague one afternoon and we began to discuss these things. He was an ex-priest who'd left the priesthood because he was gay, yet who had remained a teacher at the Catholic school where he'd been teaching for fifteen years. He told me a few other things that were bothering him, like the that Brother P. had made mention of the fact that no one really had tenure, which made a lot of the older teachers nervous.

It was an odd situation -- everything was done on a handshake -- there were no contracts, no tenure policy, no union representation, not even an updated faculty handbook. We agreed these things should all be discussed at the next faculty meeting. We also called a faculty-only meeting to discuss these things apart from the administration. It was agreed that we would send an agenda over to the principal outlining faculty concerns we'd like to discuss.

The school closed on a Friday for an all-day meeting. Tension began to mount from the minute we walked in the door. We were shocked to discover when we arrived that only 15 minutes had been scheduled to discuss faculty concerns. The meeting took place in the gym, with sixty or so teachers sitting in folding chairs on the basketball court (the school was something of a basketball mill -- future pro ballplayers Ron Artest and God Shammgodd both were students there at the time) facing Brother P, who sat before us in his soutaine, distracted and somewhat contemptuous.

Pretty soon, things got ugly–one faculty member after another stood up and started berating Brother P, who in turn infuriated everyone by pretending that he couldn't hear them, or that he couldn't understand what they meant, etc. It was quite a show. At one point I told him I thought there was an atmosphere of mistrust, evidenced by the copy machine–I said something smart like "It's sort of like Big Brother is Watching You, Brother."

Next day I was called to the office and my job was threatened. I was told that criticisms should be private, not public, and that if I had any issues I should discuss them in the office. Then he proceeded to read back to me everything I had said, verbatim. At one point he made mention of the Big Brother crack and asked -- does this have something to do with the poster in your classroom?

I had removed a cross in my classroom and replaced it with a Big Brother is Watching You poster. I said the poster was about a literary work that my students had been reading very closely. He didn't catch the reference, neither did he bother to ask what book.

Soon after that he began making things more and more difficult for me. He would stand in the doorway of my classroom, trying to intimidate me. Sometimes he would scold me in front of my students. Then several of my students told me he had interrogated them about what I was teaching in class. They told him we were reading The Beat Poets and a novel by Charles Bukowski. All he had to do was open up one of those books and he would have had ground to fire me. He didn't bother. He didn't need grounds, as it turned out.

Faculty anger rose week after week, and what had begun as an informal airing of grievances became a full-blown push to form a union. It became apparent that I was going to lose my job at the end of the year, so I decided to agitate as loudly as I could without losing it before year's end. Eventually, other faculty took over the union push, which took a lot of immediate pressure off of me. I was told in March that my contract would not be renewed. I vowed, on principle, to fight, but I really just wanted to make Brother P sweat.

Eventually, I made the decision to go teach in Ecuador. Brother P actually had the gall to come tell me he thought that was a great idea–that it would be good for me.

At the end of the year, we voted in a union and forced the school to write contracts and tenure policies and I think Brother P was removed from his position. The downside was that over half the faculty turned over, and form what I heard, all of the new faculty who had not been affected by this, voted the union out again within a year. It was quite a lesson in local politics, that's for sure. An unwelcome one at that.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 14.1 (Lyn Hejinian)

Hejinian, Lyn
The Language of Inquiry


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I've met Lyn Hejinian twice. She visited Charles Bernstein's seminar when I was in graduate school. I can't remember if she gave a formal talk. My memory is of an informal exchange with students. She read her poems in the afternoon, and Susan Howe held a reception for her that evening at her home on Oakland Place. I remember Lyn sat before the wide sill of a large window in the dining room, a little half circle of people gathered around her, chatting and asking questions. She definitely had the poetry rock star buzz going on.

She came to Buffalo again a few years ago under the auspices of Steve McCaffery and the Poetics program. I helped Steve set up a reading for her at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and I think I introduced her -- I may just have set it up, but I am pretty sure I wrote and introduction -- let's see -- ah! I just found a document called "hejinianintro", which I am guessing is what it says it is. Yes, I introduced her.

Steve invited me to what I thought was going to be a big dinner with students and so forth at a little French restaurant behind Kleinhans Music Hall. It turned out to be an intimate dinner for three. I can't remember what I ate. I remember Steve knew the waiter by his first name.

Lyn struck me as a persistently curious person -- she asked a lot of questions, mostly about poetry. What are you writing? What are your peers writing? What is going on in poetry these days? What do you think is the most interesting thing going on in poetry right now? She seemed to want to have her finger on the pulse of everything new and interesting in the poetry world. I found I liked her quite a lot.

I remember we also talked about Andrei Tarkovsky and that after she'd left I sent her my first book of poems, which contains a short series of poems called, "Tarkovsky Suite."

from The Language of Inquiry

from The Rejection of Closure

Writing’s initial situation, its point of origin, is often characterized and always complicated by opposing impulses in the writer and by a seeming dilemma that language creates and then cannot resolve. The writer experiences a conflict between a desire to satisfy a demand for boundedness, for containment and coherence, and a simultaneous desire for free, unhampered access to the world prompting a correspondingly open response to it. Curi­ously, the term inclusivity is applicable to both, though the connotative emphasis is different for each. The impulse to boundedness demands circumscription and that in turn requires that a distinction be made between inside and outside, between the relevant and the (for the particular writing at hand) confusing and irrelevant—the meaningless. The desire for unhampered access and response to the world (an encyclopedic impulse), on the other hand, hates to leave anything out. The essential question here concerns the writer’s subject position.

The impasse, meanwhile, that is both language’s creative condition and its problem can be described as the disjuncture between words and meaning, but at a particularly material level, one at which the writer is faced with the necessity of making formal decisions—devising an appropriate structure for the work, anticipating the constraints it will put into play, etc.—in the context of the ever-regenerating plenitude of language’s resources, in their infinite combinations. Writing’s forms are not merely shapes but forces; formal questions are about dynamics—they ask how, where, and why the writing moves, what are the types, directions, number, and velocities of a work’s motion. The material aporia objectifies the poem in the context of ideas and of lan guage itself.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 14 (Lyn Hejinian)


My Life
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hejinian Lyn
My Life


I think this was purchased at Talking Leaves...Books, but I am not certain.

I would say this ranks as one of my favorite books by a poet written since 1970. I have not kept up with new editions in which she has added to the number of sentences and so forth, but I always enjoy returning to My Life.

I am partial in most cases to avant-garde writing that expands notions of subjectivity, which I think this one does beautifully (in addition to expanding notions of narrative, memoir, poetry, consciousness, et al.).

I am less partial to the rejection of subjectivity as a starting point for writing.

Neither of these are hard and fast rules of taste, as the results of either are often at odds with the intentions of the their creators.

Sometimes writing that attempts to expand on subjectivity ends up cold, mechanistic and dull, while sometimes writing that rejects subjectivity ends up expansive, exciting and filled with life.

(Uh, we never really believed it was all about process and not product, did we? I didn't think so)

from My Life

A moment yellow, just as four years later, when my father returned home from the war, the moment of greeting him, as he stood at the bottom of the stairs, younger, thinner than when he had left, was purple—though moments are no longer so colored. Somewhere, in the background, rooms share a pattern of small roses. Pretty is as pretty does. In certain families, the meaning of necessity is at one with the sentiment of pre-necessity. The better things were gathered in pen. The windows were narrowed by white gauze curtains which were never loosened. Here I refer to irrelevance, that rigidity which never intrudes. Hence, repetitions, free from all ambition. The shadow of the redwood trees, she said, was oppressive. The plush must be worn away. On her walks she stepped into people's gardens to pinch off cuttings from their geraniums and succulents. An occasional sunset is reflected on the windows. A little puddle is overcast. If only you could touch, or, even, catch those gray great creature. I was afraid of my uncle with the wart on his nose, or of his jokes at our expense which were beyond me, and I was shy of my aunt's deafness who was his sister-in-law and who had years earlier fallen into the habit of nodding, agreeably. Wool station. See lightning, wait for thunder. Quite mistakenly, as it happened. Long time lines trail behind every idea, object, person, pet, vehicle, and event. The afternoon happens, crowded and therefore endless. Thicker, she agreed. It was a tic, she had the habit, and now she bobbed like my toy plastic bird on the edge of its glass, dipping into and recoiling from the water. But a word is a bottomless pit. It became magically pregnant and one day split open, giving birth to a stone egg, about as big as a football. In May when the lizards emerge from the stones, the stones turn gray, from green. When daylight moves, we delight in distance. The waves rolled over our stomachs, like spring rain over an orchard slope. Rubber bumpers on rubber cars. The resistance on sleeping to being asleep. In every country is a word which attempts the sound of cats, to match an insoluble portrait in the clouds to a din in the air. But the constant noise is not an omen of music to come. "Everything is a question of sleep," says Cocteau, but he forgets the shark, which does not. Anxiety is vigilant. Perhaps initially, even before one can talk, restlessness is already conventional, establishing the incoherent border which will later separate events from experience. Find a drawer that's not filled up. That we sleep plunges our work into the dark. The ball was lost in a bank of myrtle. I was in a room with the particulars of which a later nostalgia might be formed, an indulged childhood. They are sitting in wicker chairs, the legs of which have sunk unevenly into the ground, so that each is sitting slightly tilted and their postures make adjustment for that. The cows warm their own barn. I look at them fast and it gives the illusion that they're moving. An "oral history" on paper. That morning this morning. I say it about the psyche because it is not optional. The overtones are a denser shadow in the room characterized by its habitual readiness, a form of charged waiting, a perpetual attendance, of which I was thinking when I began the paragraph, "So much of childhood is spent in a manner of waiting."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 13.1 (Martin Heidegger)

Heidegger, Martin
Poetry, Language, Thought


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I read this for a graduate course with Rodolphe Gasché. I don't remember if it was the first course or the second course I took with him -- I think the second.

Surprisingly, I didn't write much in it, something I don't in general do in real life, but which I did often do in graduate school. There is one note in my hand under the title of the section called, "The Origin of the Work of Art."

A little arrow like this "↵" (except the arrow points to the right) extends from the word "origin" down to the following sentence:

German–ursprung
Primal leap by which the ➶essence of the work of art comes into being

from Poetry, Language, Thought

from Language

Man speaks. We speak when we are awake and we speak in our dreams. We are always speaking, even when we do not stutter a single word aloud, but merely listen or read, and evenwhen we are not particularly listening or speaking but areattending to some work or taking a rest. We are continually speaking in one way or another. We speak because speaking is natural to us. It does not first arise out of some special volition. Man is said to have language by nature. It is held that man, in distinction from plant and animal, is the living being capable of speech. This statement does not mean only that, along with other faculties, man also possesses the faculty of speech. It means to say that only speech enables man to be the living being he is as man. It is as one who speaks that man is—man.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 13 (Martin Heidegger)


Being and Time
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Heidegger, Martin
Being and Time


Not sure where I purchased this -- possibly Rust Belt Books.

I was reading Paul Celan pretty intently a few years back. Reading about Celan's visit to Heidegger in Felstiner's biography made me want to attempt this. There's still a book mark on page 129, which I guess is where I stopped.

I wrote some notes on the blank page before the title page, which I am sure is called something, but whose name I can't recall. Anyhow, they are as follows:

Logos=discourse=that which lets something be seen

Phenomena–the totality of what can be brought to the light of day –lies in the light

entities – ta onta – the manifest

pha=?
phos–the light
phaiso–to bring to the light of day
phainesthai–to show itself
phainomenon–that which shows itself
phenomenon–that which shows itself in itself
Φως–the light
phos–phosphorus

444–history as the recurrence of the possible


On the back cover, someone else has written, in small print, on the uppermost left hand portion of the page, in pencil, "apophantical."

from Being and Time

In determining itself as an entity, Dasein always does so in the light of a possibility which it is itself and which, in its very Being, it somehow understands. This is the formal meaning of Dasein's existential constitution. But this tells us that if we are to Interpret this entity ontologically, the problematic of its Being must be developed from the existentiality of its existence. This cannot mean, however, that "Dasein" is to be construed in terms of some concrete possible idea of existence. At the outset of our analysis it is particularly important that Dasein should not be Interpreted with the differentiated character [Differenz] of some definite way of existing, but that it should be uncovered [aufgedeckt] in the undifferentiated character which it has proximally and for the most part. This undifferentiated character of Dasein's everydayness is not nothing, but a positive phenomenal characteristic of this entity. Out of this kind of Being -- and back into it again -- is all existing, such as it is. We call this everyday undifferentiated character of Dasein "averageness" [Durchschnittlichkeit].

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 12.1 (G.W.F. Hegel)

Hegel, G.W.F.
The Philosophy of History


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. This books formed the backbone of one my oral exam lists in graduate school, which was, in a stirring display of originality, titled, Philosophy of History.

You'll note that in today's photo I came out from behind the book and revealed my entire face. Please do not attach any special significance to this – it was a purely practical response to a lighting issue. You will have noted over the past few weeks that each of the photos has a slightly hazy quality and that, as with today's picture, there is a bright light pouring in through the window over my left shoulder. Today, that light was so bright that it was actually reflecting off the computer screen and onto the book cover, which in turn reflected the light back onto the screen and so on into oblivion. The level of distortion this caused forced me to make a choice between a very bad photo and self-revelation. Thus, I chose the latter. I hope not to make this a habit.

In case you have ever wondered about the rules for the photographs in this project, they are as follows:

1. Photos must be taken at the desk, using the iSight camera on my laptop.
2. Photos must use available light. I do allow this to include the desk lamp, which I offsets the flash the screen makes. I have a lot of glare problems, so most decisions I make have to do with minimizing the glare enough that you can read the book cover.
3. Photos are all of me holding the book.
4. Title and author of book need to be visible and legible in each photo.

That's more or less it. I generally now take photos on the days on which I am writing about each book. In the past, however, I have taken a different approach, sometimes shooting four or five in a sitting -- I did this more often at the beginning of the project, when I sometimes wrote several entries per day. I do this much less frequently now.

from The Philosophy of History

The thought which may first occur to us in the history of Philosophy, is that the subject itself contains an inner contradiction. For Philosophy aims at understanding what is unchangeable, eternal, in and for itself: its end is Truth. But history tells us of that which has at one time existed, at another time has vanished, having been expelled by something else. Truth is eternal; it does not fall within the sphere of the transient, and has no history. But if it has a history, and as this history is only the representation of a succession of past forms of knowledge, the truth is not to be found in it, for the truth cannot be what has passed away.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 12 (G.W.F. Hegel)

Hegel, G.W.F.
Phenomenology of Spirit


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I think I read this twice in graduate school -- either that or I read it in two different classes simultaneously. I can't recall.

I have a memory of the introduction to Hegel that one of my professors, Henry Sussman, gave. He said he thought that the Phenomenology of Spirit was the greatest novel of the 19th Century & that up until the release of this work, philosophical thought had been static–as in Kant's a priori categories–and that Hegel introduced movement into thought vis-a-vis the dialectic. Thought was then transformed from something that "was" into something that "did." Like a machine of sorts. Anyhow, I think that's how he put it.

I can't say I recall exactly how he made the comparison to a novel–I'd guess it had something to do with comparing the structure of a novel to the structure of the dialectic–the thesis-antithesis-synthesis structure works quite a bit like, say, the exposition-crisis-denouement structure of drama or the three-act structure of a traditional screenplay.

Knowing Henry, he may very well have thought of Hegel as a page-turner.

from Phenomenology of Spirit

The systematic development of truth in scientific form can alone be the true shape in which truth exists. To help to bring philosophy nearer to the form of science-that goal where it can lay aside the name of love of knowledge and be actual knowledge-that is what I have set before me. The inner necessity that knowledge should be science lies in its very nature; and the adequate and sufficient explanation for this lies simply and solely in the systematic exposition of philosophy itself. The external necessity, however, so far as this is apprehended in a universal way, and apart from the accident of the personal element and the particular occasioning influences affecting the individual, is the same as the internal: it lies in the form and shape in which the process of time presents the existence of its moments. To show that the time process does raise philosophy to the level of scientific system would, therefore, be the only true justification of the attempts which aim at proving that philosophy must assume this character; because the temporal process would thus bring out and lay bare the necessity of it, nay, more, would at the same time be carrying out that very aim itself.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 11 (Bessie Head)

Head, Bessie
When Rain Clouds Gather


I think this was part of the booty from the raid on my brother's high school books that occurred twenty years ago, and which I have mentioned several times before. I have a vague memory of having read it -- or at least of having started to.

I was going to skip right to the excerpt today, then I opened the book to discover a piece of paper with writing on it. It's a piece of lined notebook paper, yellowing heavily. The letters are printed in blue ink. It looks like my brother's notes on the book–part of it does, anyhow, not sure what the other part is. Two numbered lists, of different lengths, in the same hand, with distinct punctuation of the numerals, sit side by side at the top of the page, which is folded in four. The rest is empty.

The left column reads:

1) 22-27

2) cooperative
millet
carrot grass
tobacco (cash crop)

3) p16

The right column reads:

1. Nadar Henefield (UConn

2. Todd Day (Arkansas)

3. Jackie Jones (Oklahoma)

4. Matt Muelbach (Arizona)

5. Doug Orerton (LaSalle)

I'll have to as my brother to comment on the meaning of the mysterious second list.

from When Rain Clouds Gather

The little Barolong village swept right up to the border fence. One of the huts was built so close that a part of its circular wall touched the barbed wire fencing. In this hut a man had been sitting since the early hours of dawn. He was waiting until dark when he would try to sprint across the half-mile gap of no-man's land to the Botswana border fence and the on toe whatever illusion of freedom lay ahead. It was June and winter and bitterly cold, and his legs were too long to allow for pacing in the cramped space of the hut. Every half hour the patrol van of the South African border police sped past with sirens wailing, and this caused an unpleasant sensation in his stomach.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 10 (Tom Hayden)

Hayden, Tom
Irish On The Inside
In Search of the Soul
of Irish America


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

Not sure what possessed me to acquire this. I grew up in an Irish Catholic household and went to a mostly Irish Catholic High School and a mostly Irish Catholic university–which is to say, by the time I read this book, I was well nigh sick of all things kelly green.

I think what interested me was that Hayden–yeah, Tom Hayden the 60's radical and former husband of Jayne Fonda–was proposing that Irish Americans had allowed themselves to be assimilated into the generic racial category of "white ethnic" in America and in the process lost touch with their radical political origins. Much of it discusses his own awakening to Irish radicalism out of a kind of post-ethnic sleep. He had, until a visit to Northern Ireland in the 70's or 80s, been only marginally aware of his Irish roots.

I had the opposite experience–I was raised all Irish and we more or less ignored the WASP side of the family. Not that I wanted to awaken into that, mind you, but it was interesting to discover its existence. Anyhow, as I have recounted before, this lead to a whole period of reading about Irish history and politics that lasted probably a year or so. I think I even wrote a review of this in Artvoice, which is probably lost now, as I don't think it is online.

from Irish on the Inside

"White, non-Hispanic." That was my designation on the year 2000 United States census form. Angrily, I penciled over the box (and one marked "other") and wrote in: "Irish, born in the UNited States, American citizen." I don't know if my form was counted or cast into a reject file. But I didn't want my census label to be "white, non-Hispanic" and I shuddered at the thought that the identity of the Irish could be whited out, so to speak, by checking this bureaucratic box. While some historians were writing about "how the Irish became white," I wanted more white people to become Irish, and non-white people, were welcome to Irishness, too.

Or whatever hyphenated description that best identifies the hybrid blend of culture, race, and history that says who we are. "White ethnic" won't do, and nor will "Anglo." WASPSs, of course, are never called "ethnics" because their tradition is still considered the foundation of core values. They remain the standard by which the assimilation of the rest of us is judged. To be "white ethnic" provides illusory self-esteem and privileges that flow from whiteness, but remains a lesser category of identity below WASP predominance.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 9 (Nathaniel Hawthorne)


Collected Novels
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hawthorne, Nathaniel
Collected Novels


Purchased at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store. I read Hwathorne in different editions than this, all of which I sold back to the store after purchasing this handy little hardcover for $9.

I first read Hawthorne rather late. I bought the Scarlet Letter and the House of the Seven Gables in preparation for my first class with Susan Howe. In the summer before I arrived in Buffalo, I did a lot of preparatory reading, a combination of theory, poetry and American lit. I had studied very little American lit as an undergrad and I noticed that all of Susan's course descriptions expected that you had read certain authors before you arrived, so I set myself the task of catching up.

I am not sure we ever actually discussed Hawthorne in the classes I took -- we talked a lot about Melville and Henry James, but not Hawthorne. Nonetheless, I was ready.

Last time Lori and I visited Jonathan Skinner and Isabelle Pellissier in Maine, we made a stop in Salem to see two things. First, there was an amazing Joseph Cornell retrospective going on at the museum. We spent most of the afternoon wandering around looking at his little boxes. We also watched a retrospective of his films, which was on a continuous loop in one of the galleries. Thanks to James Koller and Maggie Brown, we also got a DVD copy of this films to bring home with us.

Afterward, we wandered around the historic part of town and eventually found our way down to the Hawthorne area. We saw the customs house where he worked – and where The Scarlet Letter opens. We then walked over to the house of Seven Gables, but we didn't go in because it was obscenely expensive. I did learn something that day, however, when I realized that what I thought of as a "gable" was in fact a "dormer." The House of the Seven Gables looked not at all liked I had imagined.

I realized after finishing yesterday's entry that I left off a couple of A-B acquisitions from the list:

A

Robert Adamson–The Goldfinches of Baghdad

B

Roberto Bolaño–Monsieur Pain (Spanish version)

from The Scarlet Letter

(Note: I rarely choose excerpts based on anything other than chance or convenience, but I happen to love this one from Hawthorne, so here it is. A great piece of puritanical satire!)

How soon--with what strange rapidity, indeed did Pearl arrive at an age that was capable of social intercourse beyond the mother's ever-ready smile and nonsense-words! And then what a happiness would it have been could Hester Prynne have heard her clear, bird-like voice mingling with the uproar of other childish voices, and have distinguished and unravelled her own darling's tones, amid all the entangled outcry of a group of sportive children. But this could never be. Pearl was a born outcast of the infantile world. An imp of evil, emblem and product of sin, she had no right among christened infants. Nothing was more remarkable than the instinct, as it seemed, with which the child comprehended her loneliness: the destiny that had drawn an inviolable circle round about her: the whole peculiarity, in short, of her position in respect to other children. Never since her release from prison had Hester met the public gaze without her. In all her walks about the town, Pearl, too, was there: first as the babe in arms, and afterwards as the little girl, small companion of her mother, holding a forefinger with her whole grasp, and tripping along at the rate of three or four footsteps to one of Hester's. She saw the children of the settlement on the grassy margin of the street, or at the domestic thresholds, disporting themselves in such grim fashions as the Puritanic nurture would permit! playing at going to church, perchance, or at scourging Quakers, or taking scalps in a sham fight with the Indians, or scaring one another with freaks of imitative witchcraft. Pearl saw, and gazed intently, but never sought to make acquaintance. If spoken to, she would not speak again. If the children gathered about her, as they sometimes did, Pearl would grow positively terrible in her puny wrath, snatching up stones to fling at them, with shrill, incoherent exclamations, that made her mother tremble, because they had so much the sound of a witch's anathemas in some unknown tongue.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 8 (Stephen Hawking)

Hawking, Stephen W.
A Brief History of Time
From The Big Bang
To Black Holes


This book belongs to Lori. I've never read it.

Running short on time, so I thought I'd do something brief. One question that many people have asked is what I am doing with books that come in during the course of this project. Will they be catalogued? Will they be given their due on the blog?

My rule of thumb is that if a book arrives on my shelves before I finish the letter of the alphabet in which it belongs, then it gets a blog entry. Otherwise, probably not. I can imagine adding them at the end -- if such a day should ever come, but the idea of adding them now is a little overwhelming.

That said, I've been acquiring and reading a number of books in the last year that would have been catalogued in previous letters of the alphabet, so I thought I'd list a few, in case you are interested. Here are the most recent acquisitions under "A" and "B." I have read sll of them except for the last book under "Aira" –which I just got–and the Byatt.

A

César Aira–
Fragmentos de un diario en los alpes
Un episodio en la vida de un pintor viajero and the English translation, An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter
Como me hice monja and La Custurera y el viento

Kenneth Anger–Hollywood Babylon (reading that right now)

Stan Apps–Info Ration

Paul Auster–Invisible

B

Bill Berkson–
Selected Poems (inscribed to me)
The Sweet Singer of Modernism

Charles Bernstein–All The Whiskey in Heaven

Derek Burleson–Never Night

A.S. Byatt–The Children's Book (first ed., inscribed to me)

I should also note that my shelves are quite full, so these are all laying on their sides atop the books already catalogued and shelved.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 7 (Eric Havelock)

Havelock, Eric A.
The Muse Learns to Write:
Reflections on Orality
And Literacy from
Antiquity to the Present


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books in 1997 for a course with Charles Bernstein called, "Textual Conditions." It apparently cost eleven dollars.

On another subject, I was thinking this morning about t-shirts. Why, you might ask? Well, I remembered yesterday that I still had a leftover $50 christmas gift certificate for Old Navy/Gap/Banana Republic and, being somewhat bored, as I often am on Sundays, I decided to take a trip to the mall. I ended up buying five new tees from the Gap -- three with stitched pocket, two without, colors: purple, bright blue, slate blue, slate grey/brown, slate purple. I put one on (slate blue) this morning and went downstairs. I paused on the landing to check the weather on my iPhone, wondering if I should wear a sweatshirt over it or a jacket I could take off when I got to work. Weather dot com said the mercury would rise to a high of 62 today in Buffalo, leading me to conclude I would need a sweatshirt.

I went back upstairs to my bedroom, put on a sweatshirt, then went downstairs again. I stood before the mirror trying to decide if I should wear it zipped (with t-shirt tucked in) or unzipped (with t-shirt untucked). I chose the former. I set myself down at the foot of the stair and proceeded to put on my shoes, all the while thinking about my various t-shirts. I mostly wear monochromatic tees, but my favorite one is a brown tee with the logo of the Memphis Recording Service (i.e., Sun Studios) emblazoned across the front. I thought to myself that I wished I had more tees like that, but that it was rare I saw a logo I wanted to flaunt.

I started thinking about all the ads I see on the internet for clever, ironic tees and how I always feel a kind of disdain when I see them. I thought about how fashion cycles around and I remembered how t-shirts with logos and decals and so forth were all the rage when I was a kid back in the seventies. I had a "Stars Wars" tee and a "Farrah Fawcett" tee and "Six-Million Dollar Man" tee and later even a "Death Before Disco" tee.

Then I got to thinking about how those tees were made and how that means of making tees has more or less disappeared. There was a grocery plaza about a mile from my home, in Oakton, Virginia. We shopped at "Giant" grocers and also at "People's" drug stores. Next to Peoples, tucked in a little corner, was the t-shirt ship. T-shirt decals, of logos, icons, films stars, catchphrases, etc., adorned the walls from floor to ceiling. You could buy a t-shirt there or bring your own and have them put the decal on it.

Once you chose your image, they laid the t-shirt on a large steam press and made sure all the wrinkles were gone. The they set the decal on the shirt, centered it, and pressed the top half of the press down and held it there for a minute or two while the steam removed the paper from the decal and the weight pressed the decal to the shirt, and then, voila, you had your own custom t-shirt to in which to go forth into the world, letting them know instantly who you were and what you thought.

Anyhow, I then felt sort of sad because that is an experience which has more or less left the world. There are still t-shirt shops and so forth, but probably few that are run in just that way, where you get to watch your shirt be custom-made before your eyes. Eventually, the t-shirt store closed. In the early eighties it was replaced by a VHS-tape movie rental store. That, too, was replaced, I am sure, or displaced by Blockbuster. Now that kind of store–where you wander in and discover new movies to watch at random, without a computer helping you make choices–is also gone, as is the VHS Tape.

Sigh.

from The Muse Learns to Write

The language we speak as we go about our daily business is such a universal feature of our lives that we commonly do not think about it. If we do, our first idea of it focuses on the words we exchange with each other as we talk. We extend our view to include a verbal exchange between on individual and a group, an audience, and then go on still further to think of it as something spoken silently, by a writer who writes down what he is saying so that another person can read what he says instead of just hearing it. Extended still further, it can be come an electronic medium that speaks to me as I watch television or listen to radio. It is still the voice of an individual at any one moment (unless of course, a choir is singing), magnified and speaking to me, another individual.

Employed in these ways, language is a phenomenon which operates as a means of interpersonal communications. Even at the electronic level, it is still a "talk show." From the beginning s of the human race, interpersonal communication was an occurrence between members of a family in the same dwelling, or as two or more people met each other in some public area–or, as society evolved, in town meetings or in a committee or in parliament or whatever. Its fairly recent technological extension across barriers of distance is now rightly viewed as a revolution in our lives and has given rise to a whole body of theorizing centered on the concept of communication, with its own research centers. There is even a "communications industry."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 6 (James E. Hart III)


The Watchable Book
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hart III, James E.
The Watchable Book


Given to me by the author when I visited Detroit in. I met James through Ted Pearson, who was still living in Detroit at the time. I wrote to Ted about the possibility of doing a reading in the Motor City and he passed my name along to James, who had been running a series at the Zeitgeist Gallery for several years. I read there in, I think, the fall of '05.

I arrived at James father's house in the afternoon on the day of the reading. James met me at the door, offered me a drink, and we started to talk. He asked if I would like to see his letter from Derrida. I said yes. He took me down to the basement, where he had a bedroom, piled high with clothes and books and various other items. He reached deep into one of the piles and pulled out a little cigar box full of letters, from which removed two small folded sheets of paper and handed them to me like a sacred object. Sure, enough, it was a letter from old Jacques, and a very sweet one at that.

I remember the apartment I stayed in with James' young artist/vegan friends, whose names I can't remember. They were very sweet and cooked me a vegan dinner one night. The apartment was on the third floor of a dark old victorian with so many add-ons that you really couldn't figure until you found the front door which side of the house was the front – you might guess it was the side that faced the street, but you wouldn't be sure. The house was the only house left standing on what was once a block of large victorian homes. Another house stood across the street and it, too, was the only house standing on its block. On the next block stood three homes, two of which were boarded up, and so on.

I was born in Detroit, and my mother was born in Detroit, and my parents met in Detroit, but beyond that I have no other connection with the place. We left when I was two. But having lived in Buffalo now for quite a long time, I felt an immediate affinity with Motown. The two cities share that same kind of entropy that seems to threaten the whole rust belt, that sense that not only is the energy being drained away from the place, but that with each measure that disappears a corresponding amount of energy available to renew the system also disappears , making it harder and harder to fight the process of decay.

James and I roamed around downtown. He took me to see the abandoned train station, which is as astonishing, if not more so, than the abandoned train station in Buffalo–probably more so because the Buffalo station is fairly well-hidden over on the east side, whereas the Detroit station is down the street from the old Tiger Stadium and a hop-skip-jump from the downtown core. It's right in the hear of the city! The entropic feel of the two places differs only in scale–Detroit at its peak was almost four times the size of Buffalo, and remains so today–both have lost more than half-their populations since WWII.

The reading took place in a little gallery slash bar called Zeitgeist, on Michigan Avenue. I think there was an exhibition of Cartoon art going on in the gallery. I am trying to remember who I read with, but it slips my mind -- I've read there three times now, so they are all jumbled in my head. I think James came to read in Buffalo the following year, then I returned in 2007 and then again in 2009. The last time I read at The Scarab club -- I guess the Zeitgeist had closed.

from The Watchable Book

from Billy

      who wassaw Billy? billy was and saw
          himselfservepump only.
Gravitychair was part of him, grave it
he his grave. allhe mirrorly small
washesaw electrictime, precise yet
inate, commercial quirk longwhenshort.
allhe sawwas his owed reflection
beehive and hind the glitterglow.

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 5.3 (Thomas Hardy)


Selected Poetry
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hardy, Thomas
Selected Poetry


Probably purchased at Rust Belt Books. I first heard of Thomas Hardy the poet via W.H. Auden. In a class I took as an undergraduate, we read Auden's book of essays, The Dyer's Hand, that contains an essay in which Auden doles out advice to young poets. I can remember sitting in the basement of the Fordham reading that essay.

He tells the would-be poet to seek a model poet to imitate, but to choose a one who is imperfect. He says there is basically nothing to learn but frustration and envy by reading someone like, for instance, Milton.

He suggests the young writer choose a model like Hardy, whose faults, upon multiple readings, become more and more apparent. That way, says Auden, the would-be poet will eventually feel he has mastered the master, faults and all, and will learn from them more than he could learn from studying the fortified verse walls of Milton.

I guess that is pretty good advice, if you can use it.

from Selected Poetry

Hap


If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: "Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love's loss is my hate's profiting!"

Then would I bear, and clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased, too, that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,
And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?
--Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan....
These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 5.2 (Thomas Hardy)

Hardy, Thomas
The Return of the Native


Not sure If I bought this in Buffalo or New York. I have a vivid memory of the opening chapters, in which a man appears covered in red ink. That, however, is all I remember, which leads me to believe I may not have finished reading the whole thing. A common occurrence, sadly.

I have been reading a lot of novels in the past few years and I more often than not finish them -- my usual reading habit is to take on five books at once, finishing none of them. Nowadays, I tend to take on long novel projects, especially in winter. I read them at night over the course of several weeks or months, depending on how long they are. In between I revert to my normal promiscuous reading habits. I go to bed with five books of poetry or theory or history or whatever else next to my bed and I sample them for several nights until I sink into my next book.

Then, I focus. I plow through to the end.

Lately I have even taken to completing novels I put down for a while, something I never used to do. I started reading Javier Marias' Mañana en la batalla piensa en mí back in November, after having spent the summer reading his massive trilogy, Tu rostro mañana. I was feeling pretty good about my Spanish, reading page after page of Marias' Proustian sentences without consulting a dictionary, so I decided to go right into another one.

I read a hundred pages or so, then got stuck. I put the novel down. I read something else -- Anna Karenina, I think. I picked it up again. I got stuck again. I cleared up some of my confusion by consulting the English translation. I picked it up again. I stopped. I read selections from Bill Berskon's The Sweet Singer of Modernism. I read Madame Bovary. Winter was slowly turning into spring. I ordered a copy of a novel by Cesar Aira called Fragmentos de un diario en los Alpes. I read that. Suddenly my Spanish felt strong again. I opened the Marias book for the third, maybe even the fourth time. I finished it just the other day.

Frankly, I was amazed I could jump back into the book like that after such a long hiatus -- fortunately, not a whole lot actually happens in Marias' novels, and when something does happen, it unfolds very slowly and in great detail, sort of like a Chantal Akerman film, so that by the time you've finished reading a scene, you feel almost as if you had experienced it yourself.

Which, I guess, has little or nothing to do with Thomas Hardy, but everything to do with why I read novels.

from The Return of the Native

When he drew nearer he perceived it to be a spring van, ordinary in shape, but singular in colour, this being a lurid red. The driver walked beside it; and, like his van, he was completely red. One dye of that tincture covered his clothes, the cap upon his head, his boots, his face, and his hands. He was not temporarily overlaid with the colour; it permeated him.

The old man knew the meaning of this. The traveller with the cart was a reddleman--a person whose vocation it was to supply farmers with redding for their sheep. He was one of a class rapidly becoming extinct in Wessex, filling at present in the rural world the place which, during the last century, the dodo occupied in the world of animals. He is a curious, interesting, and nearly perished link between obsolete forms of life and those which generally prevail.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 5.1 (Thomas Hardy)

Hardy, Thomas
The Mayor of Casterbridge

Not sure where I purchased this, but this is not the copy I partially read. I once owned the Penguin Classics edition of the book; however, there is a sad story behind its loss.

In March of 1997, I was in the middle of a terrible winter. My father had suddenly died in November and I felt depressed and lost most of the time. I decided to treat myself to a vacation I could not afford and I bought a ticket to Ecuador. I wanted to return to visit the center where I had worked a couple of years earlier and see some of the children I had worked with.

I was reading The Mayor of Casterbridge on the flight back -- I can remember taking off from Quito and flying up over the Andes into the clouds and feeling really sad and nostalgic. I started reading and finished maybe a hundred pages before the in-flight movie came on. It was "Grumpy Old Men," starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. I must have been feeling really sad, because I remember that I had tears streaming down my face at the end of the movie.

After the film ended, I spent the rest of the flight staring out the window. The unfortunate result was that I left my copy of the Mayor of Casterbridge on the plane. At some point I bought another copy in order to finish reading it, but I never got around to it. Alas.

from The Mayor of Casterbridge

A man and a woman carrying a little girl in her arms slowly approached the village of Weydon-Priors on foot. It was a late summer evening and the man hoped to find work in the surrounding farms. There were many villages like this in this part of southwest England and in the early part of the nineteenth century a young
man could always find work if he was prepared to look for it.

The man, Michael Henchard, was young and tall, he had a rather serious-looking face and he was very suntanned from long hours spent working in the fi elds. His wife, Susan, was also young and her face might once have been attractive, but it now had the bitter look of a woman who had been badly treated by life. Although they walked side by side and they were clearly a small family, there was no sense of closeness or fondness between them. He was reading something on a sheet of paper and he seemed almost not to notice her. She, having nothing to say to him, spoke quietly and soft ly to her little daughter.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 5 (Thomas Hardy)


Jude The Obscure
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hardy, Thomas
Jude The Obscure


Not sure where I bought this -- in New York somewhere. I know I bought it a couple of years after college. I was reading Richard Ellman's biography of Joyce and came upon a passage in which Joyce's family is castigating him for reading "Jude The Obscene." I thought that was quite funny and set about looking for a copy of the offending article. I actually don't remember too much about why they might call it "obscene" -- I remember an image of some country lasses being forward with some menfolk, maybe some sexual innuendo involving vegetables -- something along those lines -- but that's about it. My clearest memory is of this being one of the darkest, most depressing, yet also one of the best British novels I've read.

from Jude the Obscure

An occasional word, as from some one making a speech, floated from the open windows of the Theatre across to this quiet corner, at which there seemed to be a smile of some sort upon the marble features of Jude; while the dog-eared Greek Testament on the neighbouring shelf, and the few other volumes of the sort that he had not parted with, roughened with stone-dust where he had been in the habit of catching them up for a few minutes between his labours, seemed to pale to a sickly cast at the sounds. The bells struck out joyously; and there reverberations travelled round the bedroom.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 4 (Dashiell Hammett)

Hammett, Dashiell
Complete Novels


Purchased at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall discount book store (RIP). I went on a crime fiction jag a few years back after buying this along with the complete Chandler and a couple of Library of America crime anthologies.

I am partial to Chandler over Hammett as a general rule, though I think Red Harvest is as good as any Chandler, except for The Long Goodbye, which I think is the bees knees of crime fiction.

Nowadays I get my crime fix by watching Discovery ID channel, which is basically true crime 24/7. It's kind of sad really, but I can turn it on and watch it for 2 hours and lose all track of time waiting to find out who done it or who got away with it or who went missing, never to be seen again.

from Red Harvest

I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt shoit. I didn't think anything of what he had done to the city's name. Later I heard men who could manage their r's give it the same pronunciation. I still didn't see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor that used to make richardsnary the thieves' word for dictionary. I few years later I went to Personville and learned better.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 3 (Alan Halsey)


Five Years Out
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Halsey, Alan
Five Years Out


Purchased at Talking Leaves Books in, I think, 1997.

Alan Halsey and Geraldine Monk visited Buffalo as guests of the Poetics Program my first year here. Alan had recently published his book, The Text of Shelley's Death. I remember he came to Susan Howe's class and read from it. There may have been slides.

He and Geraldine also read in the Center for the Arts at UB. I feel like they stayed a long time. We had a party for them at my then-apartment on Cottage St. I can't quite remember everyone who was there. Taylor Brady, if I am not mistaken, Alicia Cohen, maybe Brent Cunningham and Nick Lawrence. My roommate Todd may have been there. I think we all fit around a table. I may have cooked something. There was a lot of drinking.

At one point Alan and Geraldine both agreed that the worst song ever was "Girl From Ipanema." I snuck over to the stereo and put it on. Geraldine got up and began dancing around the room, improvising lyrics to her own version as she went along. It was called, "Girl From Lancashire." All I remember is that the girl "has a body like a sack of potatoes."

from Five Years Out

from Salvation Rituals

I

Before and in order were voices the emphatic strangers the first to assign. But take shape, pure shadow, its distinct form resolving, its immediate double: another is awakened, named, regulated, cancelled. Excess adds nothing to itself yet is suffered as the visible action greater without speech, good clarity in person. One wishes to say 'permanence', forgetting; one wishes to think it describes an advantage, penetrates the object; another as if lost, his own slight movement all at once contained in an exact designation–a fourth supervenes at its beginning. Bit without displacement, as an old-fashioned harmony in nature; thus one listens to himself but keeps it strictly to the same, and creates his intelligible distance.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 2 (David Hadbawnik)


Ovid in Exile
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hadbawnik, David
Ovid in Exile


Purchased at a reading by the author, in the back room at Rust Belt Books.

Looking back at yesterday's entry, I realize that it is doubly out of order. First, Dictee should be filed under "C" for "Cha." It is instead filed under "H" for Hak Kyung Cha. All I can say about that is, Duh.

Anyhow, in "H" it will stay, immortally incorrect.

And even if it were supposed to be under "h" it would come after "Hadbawnik" instead of before it. To that, I can speak more clearly.

Until yesterday, this book sat in a pile of other books that had been moved from a pile on the bedstand to a pile on a living room endtable to a pile on a window sill behind the desk in my office to, finally, another pile atop a shelf of books to my left.

It just so happened that yesterday Lori and I decided to clean the house from top to bottom, which included dusting the bookshelves and re-shelving or shelving for the first time all the books taken out and/or acquired in the past year.

At the end of the day, I also took a bag full of books to Rust Belt in exchange for store credit ($20 worth). Almost all of the books in the pile went to the bookstore, but this one was given its almost proper spot in the "H" section.

Anyhow, it's a beautifully handmade, hand-sewn, hardcover book of beautiful poems by current Buffalo resident and poets theater impresario David Hadbawnik. Signed, number 23 of 50.

from Ovid in Exile

I.

There is no sight more pathetic than a lover
pining away of the lack of someone
to pine for. Late at night I awake to
the sound of distant voices, pounding

footsteps, my dreams of Ovid disturbed
by neighbors arguing 3 a.m. I can't
make out what it is but the undercurrent
of their words enough to sweep me along

out of this world and into that & my light
winks on hospital and its desolation.
O where is the voice that soothed Aetna,
                                                  roused
those august passions that olive smile

That insinuated itself into thoughts like
the plunging line of the Beloved's inner
                                                  thigh?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 1 (Theresa Hak Kyung Cha)


Dictee
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Cha, Theresa Hak Kyung
Dictee


Not quite sure where I bought this --my guess would be Rust Belt Books. This book lead me on an interesting train of thought this morning that went something like this:

1. Did I read this book? I am not sure. I think I started it and put it down.
2. Why did I put it down? I am not sure. I think it had something to do with the fact that everyone in academia has such virtual hard-ons for it. There must be something wrong with it.
3. Maybe I'll open it up to see if I remember reading it. I start reading.
4. I don't remember any of this. This is pretty interesting. Wow, I can't stop reading. Holy cow and there's even stuff about catholicism in here. I wonder if I could read the whole book in an hour sitting at my desk. No, I'll probably get a neck ache. Besides, I want to finish reading the Javier Marias novel I've been reading since forever and with which I am almost done. Maybe I'll read a little more, like two chapters.
5. Wow, this is great. Wasn't she murdered?
6. Finish reading two chapters, perform google search: "Theresa Hak Kyung Cha."
7. Yes, she was murdered. Why is her Wikipedia entry so short? Why isn't there more information about her murder. She was "murdered by a stranger." Period. Thanks -- could you be more ambiguous and mysterious?
8. Google search: "Theresa Hak Kyung Cha murder." Find article from several years later after the fact saying she was strangled, raped and bludgeoned to death by a security guard at the Puck building in NYC.
9. Isn't that the building where some character worked on some sitcom in the nineties, like Will and Grace or something?
10. I always liked that building, with its cute little puck statue on the corner of Houston.
11. The article by Robert Atkins says her killer was named Joey Sanza and that he was also convicted of several rapes in Florida. The article also mentions the fact that at the time it was written (1988), another artist murder trial, that of Carl Andre (on trial) and Ana Mendieta (dead), is going on.
12. Didn't I see an Ana Mendieta exhibition as The Whitney a few years ago? Yes, I did. I remember it. I remember sort of liking it. I remember dirt and blood and her body buried in the ground and photographed and smearing stuff on the wall or on canvas. Yes, I liked it.
13. Google search: "Ana Mendieta murder." Read NY Times book review of book re-counting the trial and acquittal of Carl Andre.
14. Google search: "Carl Andre."
15. See image of Carl Andre sculpture of a checkerboard pattern on the floor, which I realize I have stepped on hundreds of times while walking through the Albright-Knox art gallery in Buffalo.
16. How strange, I think.
17. Look at pictures of kids standing on it during a tour with their art teacher.
18. Somehow, this all reminds me of the title "Hollywood Babylon."
19. Google search: "Hollywood Babylon."
20. I read about all the controversy surrounding Kenneth Anger's book.
21. I see the picture of Jayne Mansfield on the cover, We watched two Jayne Mansfield movies just this week. I go to amazon to see if it is available. It is. I put it in my cart. Also waiting in my cart is "The Cinema Book" by Pam Cook, which I've been wanting to buy, but it is kind of expensive. I decide to buy them both and save on shipping.
22. I take a photo of the cover of Dictee.
23. I think to myself that I like this cover, from the first edition, better that of subsequent editions.
24. I post the photo to Flickr.
25. I start blogging, asking myself, What should I write about Dictee?

from Dictee

Open paragraph      It was the first day      period      She had come from a far      period      thought at dinner      comma      the families would ask      comma      open quotation marks      How was the first day      interrogation mark      close quotation marks      at least to say      the least of it possibly      comma      the answer would be      open quotation marks      there but one thing      period      There is someone      period      From      a far      period      close quotation marks

Friday, May 7, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's: Stats


The G's
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
18 Authors
52 Volumes
51 titles

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 18 (Jorge Guitart)

Guitart, Jorge
The Empress of Frozen Custard
& Ninety-Nine Other Poems


Given to me by the author at a launch reading in Buffalo in December 2009. Jorge Guitart is a Cuban/American poet who has taught and lived in Buffalo for a long time. I first met him, I think, through Joel Kuszai, who published a chapbook of his work on Meow press back in the nineties. He's been a constant presence on the Buffalo poetry scene for as long as I have known him and I was happy to see his book come out last year. It's very funny.

Well, this is the last of the G's. That went by pretty quickly. Not quite as few G's as there are E's, but this has been the next shortest letter of the alphabet so far. Looking ahead at the H section, I see more titles than I would have initially thought. I's are going to be painfully short. J, K, & L will also be modest, then I suspect M will be one of the longest so far. N will be short. O & P will be fairly long. R will be short. S will probably be the longest of all. T will be fairly long. U & V will be short. W will be long. X & Y short, with Z being short to modest.

from The Empress of Frozen Custard & Ninety-Nine Other Poems

In The Life of Jackson and Jillian


Jackson and Jillian ascended a well-defined
natural elevation smaller than a mountain
in order to obtain and bring back
a cylindrical vessel
open at the top
and fitted with a handle,
filled with a clear, odorless, colorless,
and tasteless liquid,
essential for most plants
and animal life.

Suddenly Jackson
descended involuntarily
under the influence of gravity
and caused his ornamental head covering,
made of a precious metal set with jewels
and worn as a symbol of sovereignty,
to divide into pieces violently,
and Jillian followed,
rolling end over end.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 17 (Ernesto Che Guevara)


Bolivian Diary
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Guevara, Ernesto Che
Bolivian Diar
y

I think I bought this at St. Mark's Books, but I am just guessing. I know I bought it when I lived in New York. I recall seeing a documentary about Che at Film Forum, but I am not sure if I saw it after I read this or before. My recollection is of being disappointed at how mundane the diary is. I think I was expecting some kind of stirring political rhetoric or maybe an exploration of Guevara's ideas. Seems he was more a man of action than of ideas.

The entries generally discuss things like how far they have moved on a given day, problems of maintaining discipline among the soldiers, dealing with sickness, mosquito bites, lack of water, etc. All of it is described with a certain amount of detachment, although there is a certain fatal air that hovers about the narrative. A lot of entries begin with Che recounting his disappointment at their lack of progress or at various setbacks they encounter.

I found the documentary on the subject more informative than the diary itself.

When I was in Havana about ten years ago, I went to the Museum of the Revolution. It was a former palace of some kind where a major gun battle had taken place. You could still see the bullet holes in the marble staircases and in the walls. In a courtyard were enshrined scraps of downed U.S. planes from the Bay of Pigs fiasco. But the central feature of the museum was a shrine to Guevara. It outlined every moment of his life in minute detail, ending with his capture and execution in Bolivia.

The final diorama contained what were supposedly the bullets that killed him, as well as the surgical instruments used to remove them and the bed pan they were dropped into once they'd been removed. There was something chilling about the whole thing.

Later I bought a little handmade journal from a street vendor. It had a woven cane cover with a sketch of Che atop a Cuban flag. I never wrote anything in it, though.

from Bolivian Diary

January 16


Work continued on the trenches, which are still not completed. Marcos finished his task, building a nice little hit. El Médico [Ernesto] and Carlos relieved Braulio and Pedro, who returned with word that Loro had arrived along with the mules. He did not appear, however, even though Aniceto went to meet him. Alejandro is showing symptoms of Malaria.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 16.1 (Barbara Guest)

Guest, Barbara
Quill, Solitary APPARITION


I think I bought this at the Strand. If memory serves, I bought it in the fall of 1996. I was still in New York, and I was taking workshops simultaneously with Eileen Myles and Elaine Equi at the New School. Twice a week I'd make the walk from my apartment on the corner of 4th and B to the New School, which was on, I think, 12th or 13th, near fifth avenue. It took 30 minutes or so to get there, but I loved walking around the city and eagerly anticipated walking to class each week.

In Elaine's class we were using Paul Hoover's Postmodern American Poetry anthology as a textbook. Each week, someone would bring in a one poem by a poet they liked in the anthology and read it aloud to the class. We'd then talk a little bit about the poem before launching into a discussion of student work, which took up the bulk of the class. Elaine often made mention of two poets whose work she admired: Rae Armantrout and Barbara Guest.

Both were in the anthology, but I could never find their books on the shelves at the bookstores, even St. Mark's. All of Armantrout's books up to that time were available to me at the Segue foundation, where I volunteered as an archivist. I remember reading a very funny poem she wrote, which was published in a volume by Burning Deck with a bright yellow cover, that satirized the famous William Stafford poem about the deer. It ended with a line something like, "And then, thinking for all of us, I threw it (a bird carcass, paren. mine) over the marriage counselor's fence."

One day wandering around the Strand I recall happily finding a copy of this Quill, Solitary APPARITION, which was new at the time. I brought it with me to class and I remember Elaine talking about having to adjust to this new kind of writing by Barbara Guest, in which she wanders off the left margin quite a lot and leaves a lot of empty space on the page for the reader to fill in. I think that may have been the first time I had actually thought about what the empty spaces on a page might mean, including the extra space between the words "solitary" and "APPARITION" in the title of the book.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 16 (Barbara Guest)


POEMS
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Guest, Barbara
POEMS:
The Location of Things
Archaics
The Open Skies


Purchased at Rust Belt Books in its former location at the corner of Lexington and Norwood. Graham Foust was working that day. He said we've got this nice first edition hardcover of Barbara Guest -- you want it? I said sure. While he rung it up he said, I don't like Barbara Guest, and I recall we had some kind of conversation about why he didn't care for Barbara Guest, the content of which I don't recall. (Thinking back, I may be confusing this with a similar exchange involving a first edition of Marianne Moore -- or maybe we had the exchange more than once. Can't be sure.)

Rust Belt Books moved into Allentown a year or so later, into a much large location. It's hard to believe, given how much space they now occupy and how many books they carry in that space, that they were ever in such a small space as the one that housed the original store. My main memory is of its being a bit cramped. I used to stop in now and again to see Graham or Taylor Brady, both of whom worked there at the time.

I didn't know Brian Lampkin, the owner, too well at first, but I got to know him after a time. One afternoon, Brian called me and asked if I could meet over at the store at 9 AM on a Saturday for a photo. He'd invited a photographer to take a picture of a bunch of Buffalo poets in front of the store, one reminiscent of a photo taken of the Beats in front of City Lights back in the day. I think about fifteen people showed up.

This is the photo here:



I don't know everyone in the photo, but here's the partial list from left to right: Natasha (last name?), Aaron Skomra, ?, Michelle Citrin, Kazim Ali, ?, Celia White, Graham Foust, Brian Lampkin, Ben Frieldander, ? , Mike Basinski, ?, Me (shaved head, sunglasses, don't ask), David Landrey

I remember the photo shoot took all of ten minutes and that we then went our separate ways. I have a copy of the photo on the wall of my office. There's a large, blown-up version hanging on the wall of Rust Belt Books as you walk in the door. I think all but about five people in the photo have left Buffalo since then, including Brian (sigh).

The Location of Things

Why from this window am I watching leaves?
Why do halls and steps seem narrower?
Why at this desk am I listening for the sound of the fall
of color, the pitch of the wooden floor
and feet going faster?
Am I to understand change, whether remarkable
or hidden, am I to find a lake under the table
or a mountain beside my chair
and will I know the minute water produces lilies
or a family of mountaineers scales the peak?

Recognitions

On Madison Avenue I am having a drink, someone
with dark hair balances a carton on his shoulders
and a painter enters the bar. It reminds me
of pictures in restaurants, the exchange of hunger
for thirst, art for decoration and in a hospital
love for pain suffered beside the glistening rhododendron
under the crucifix. The street, the street bears light
and shade at its shoulders, walks without crying,
turns itself into another and continues, even
cantilevers this barroom atmosphere into a forest
and sheds its leaves on my table
carelessly as if it wanted to travel somewhere else
and would like to get rid of its luggage
which has become in this exquisite pointed rain
a bunch of umbrellas. An exchange!

That head against the window
how many times one has seen it. Afternoons
of smoke and wet nostrils,
the perilous make-up on her face and on his
numerous corteges. The water's lace creates funerals
it makes us see someone we love in an acre of grass.

The regard of dramatic afternoons

through this floodlit window
or from a pontoon on this theatrical lake,
you demand your clown's paint and I hand you
from my prompter's arms this shako,
wandering as I am into clouds of air
rushing into darkness as corridors
who do not fear the melancholy of the stair.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Aimless Reading: The G's, Part 15 (Elizabeth Grosz)


Becomings
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Grosz, Elizabeth, ed.
Becomings


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books, either for a class with the Elizabeth Grosz or after having taken one with her. I am pretty sure I have written about Grosz's courses before, so if I have, please forgive the repetition.

I have had some great professors over the years -- most of them I consider great because they inspired me to pursue a train of thought that extended well beyond whatever class I was taking with them or because they introduced me to new ideas that added to what I already thought I knew about the world.

Grosz was a great professor because her thinking was so radical and new that it forced me to rethink my understanding of the world. I can remember sitting in class and literally feeling my head hurt because her ideas were undermining so many of the things I thought I knew, all at the same time.

Certain concepts had become so ingrained as to have become second nature, habit, and so the feeling was of having to suddenly learn to write with the other hand or bat from the other side of the plate. I am still not sure I understand much of what she was talking about regarding time, evolution, eternal return, memory, duree, etc etc etc, but the memory of refashioning my thought to try to understand hers is vivid, almost visceral.

from Becomings

Becoming...An Introduction

Time is one of the assumed yet irreducible terms of all discourse, knowledge, and social practice. Yet it is rarely analyzed or self-consciously discussed in its own terms. It tends to function as a silent accompaniment, a shadowy implication underlying, contextualizing, and eventually undoing all knowledges and practices without being their explicit object of analysis or speculation. Time has a quality of intangibility, a fleeting half-life, emitting its duration-particles only in the passing or transformation of objects and events, thus erasing itself as such while it opens itself to movement and change. It has an evanescence, a fleeting or shimmering, highly precarious "identity" that resists concretization, indication or direct representation. Time is more intangible than any other "thing," less able to be grasped, conceptually or psychically. This is perhaps why Der
rida...wants to grant it the status of the invisible, the scotomized: that to which we are blind.