Friday, December 30, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 44.3 (Marcel Proust)

Sodom and Gomorrah
Proust, Marcel
Sodom and Gomorrah

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

Sorry for the week-long silence. I've been in Nashville for the past week visiting my mother. I'd never been to Music City before, so we spent most of the week taking in the various tourist attractions: The Opryland Hotel, the Grand Ole Opryhouse, the Ryman Auditorium (home of the original Opry until 1974), the Hermitage (Andrew Jackson's plantation), the Country Music Hall of Fame, and Nashville's aggregated concrete scale-recreation of the Parthenon.

I can't say I had a strong feeling for Nashville one way or the other. They have lots of nice tourist attractions, but I didn't get a good sense of the city itself or its people. My mother is a transient. She'll probably stay another year or two before moving back to winter-free Florida. She lives in a gated over-55 community twenty minutes outside the city. It feels like most of these kinds of communities. That is, it could be anywhere -- Nashville, Sarasota, Phoenix. The only way you can tell one from the other is by the weather and possibly the kinds of Flora that decorate the walking paths.

But they have lots to do for seventy-something singles like my mother. The clubhouse has a pool and a gym and a computer (my mother still doesn't have internet access at home) and each day's calendar is filled with free activities for community members.

She's happy, so I'm happy.

from Sodom and Gomorrah

As I was not in any hurry to arrive at the Guermantes soirée, to which I was not certain of having been invited, I whiled away the time outside; but the summer daylight seemed in no greater haste to move than I was. Although it was after nine o’clock, it was still the daylight that, on the Place de la Concorde, had given to the Luxor obelisk an appearance of pink nougat. Then it modified the tint and turned it into a metallic substance, with the result that the obelisk did not merely become more precious, but seemed thinner and almost flexible. You fancied that you might have been able to twist it, that this jewel had already been bent slightly out of true perhaps. The moon was in the sky now like a quarter of an orange, delicately peeled but with a small bite out of it. Later it would be made of the most resistant gold. Huddled all alone behind it, a poor little star was about to serve as the solitary moon’s one companion, while the latter, even as it shielded its friend, but more daring and going on ahead, would brandish, like an irresistible weapon, like a symbol of the Orient, its marvelous, ample golden cresent.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 44.2 (Marcel Proust)

The Guermantes Way
Proust, Marcel
The Guermantes Way

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

A few years ago, Lori and I drove across the country. It was a kind of working vacation, as the purpose of the trip was a series of readings I'd set up along the way. My book Human Scale had just come out, so it seemed like a good time to do some readings to support it. It was also a great excuse to visit the west coast, see some old friends, and visit some interesting places.

Our journey took us through Cleveland, where we visited some old friends from my NYC days, then down to Louisville, where we passed an uneventful night. We drove through Tennessee, skipping Nashville in favor of Memphis. My first reading was in Norman, OK, where I read with Charles Alexander. After Norman, we drove through the Texas panhandle down to Santa Fe, where we spent a couple of nights before heading to Tucson for my next reading with Tyrone Williams. The third reading on the trip took place in Los Angeles. Due to a late change of schedule, we ended up staying in Santa Monica for three or four days.

I hadn't spent much time there, so we were pretty open to just seeing as much as we could. All of my poet friends told us that in addition to visiting many of the standard tourist attractions we should visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology. There are entire books devoted to this out of the way museum in Culver City, so I'll let you read about it yourself in one of them.

The reason I bring it up today, under Proust, is that one of the attractions inside the museum was a device designed to help you experience Proust. Suspended behind a piece of glass are displayed a tea cup and a plate of petits madeleines, those iconic cookies that will forever be associated with Proust. I believe the ords from the book as also part of the display, either on the wall inside or on the glass itself (or possibly both).

Three black plastic discs across the front of the glass are connected to three plastic tubes that blow the scents of the madeleines & the tea into the nostrils of vistors, who lean forward and press them into a hole at the center of each disc. I am not sure why there are three tubes and not two. Perhaps one blends the two scents or something like that.

One of the charming things about the museum is that there are few explanations. Even when things are explained the explanations generally make things seem more opaque. A dream-logic pervades the place. Everything is terribly familiar and seems to make sense until you wake up and try to think it through with your conscious mind, at which point it makes no sense at all.

Earlier that year, in July I believe, Lori, Geoffrey Gatza, Donna White and I were invited to celebrate John Ashbery's 80th birthday near where he group up outside Rochester. The party took place at a the  house of an old family friend and many of those in attendance were friends and relatives who had known John since he was a boy. One of the treats served at the party was a tray of madeleines. Geoffrey got so excited by this that he brought one home, preserved it, and set it into a frame that now hangs permanently on the wall in his apartment. I am not sure how he preserved it, but it hasn't aged a bit.

from The Guermantes Way

The early-morning twitter of the birds sounded tame to Frangoise. Every word from the maids' quarters made her jump; their every footstep bothered her, and she was constantly wondering what they were doing. All this was because we had moved. It is true that the servants in our former home had made quite as much stir in their quarters on the top floor, but they were servants she knew, and their comings and goings had become friendly presences to her. Now she even made silence the object of her painful scrutiny. And since the district to which we had moved appeared to be as quiet as the boulevard we had previously looked out upon was noisy, the sound of a man singing in the street as he passed (as feeble perhaps as an orchestral motif, yet quite clear even from a distance) brought tears to the eyes of the exiled Frangoise. And if I had made fun of her when she had been distressed at leaving an apartment building where we had been "so well thought of by everybody," weeping as she packed her trunks in accordance with the rituals of Combray and declaring that our former home was superior to any other imaginable, I, who found it as difficult to assimilate new surroundings as I found it easy to abandon old ones, nonetheless felt a close sympathy with our old servant when I realized that the move to abuilding where the concierge, who had not yet made our acquaintance, had not shown her the tokens of respect necessary to the nourishment of her good spirits had driven her to a state close to total decline.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 44.1 (Marcel Proust)

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower
Proust, Marcel
In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

It's difficult to describe how the experience of reading Proust altered my psyche. It might be useful to say that I experienced the book much as I feel like I experience life. As I moved from volume one to volume two, then onward through the rest, I began to feel that my memories of scenes in the book were actually memories of my own experience. That's not quite the way to say it. I did not simply identify with young Marcel and take his experiences as my own. It had more to do with the experience of time.

If you have ever read Proust, you know well that in order to get from the first book to the last, you have to slog through one long salon after another. And by long, I mean two, three, even four hundred pages of listening to vain, arrogant, petty, bitter aristocrats saying vain, arrogant, petty, bitter things to and about one another. The book is comprise of long periods of monotony and ennui punctuated by fleeting moments of passionate intensity and concentration. The payoff of reading comes through getting beyond the monotony and ennui to the moments of passionate intensity an concentration. Neither makes sense without the other to compare it to.

But there's something else about the long periods of monotony and ennui that begin to effect your brain. When I say that "I began to feel that my memories of scenes in the bok were actually memories of my own experience," I mean that my experience of time in the book is much like my experience of time in life. I began to feel a sense of duration. Not only did I identify with young Marcel's memories, but when he looked back on moments of his life, I could feel the same distance from his past experience as I might from my own.

In other words, I shared his experience of the passage of time in a way that felt very much as it does in "real" life.

from In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower

When it was first suggested we invite M. de Norpois to dinner, my mother commented that it was a pity Professor Cottard was absent from Paris and that she herself had quite lost touch with Swann, either of whom the former ambassador would have been pleased to meet; to which my father replied that, although a guest as eminent as Cottard, a scientific man of some renown, would always be an asset at one's dinner table, the Marquis de Norpois would be bound to see Swann, with his showing off and his name-dropping, as nothing but a vulgar swank, "a rank outsider," as he would put it. This statement of my father's may require a few words of explanation, as there may be some who remember Cottard as a mediocrity and Swann as the soul of discretion and modesty in all things social. As regards Swann, it turns out that our old family friend was now no longer only "young Swann" and "Swann of the Jockey Club"; to these personalities he had added a new one, which was not to be his last, that of Odette's husband. Adapting to her humble ambitions all the flair, desires, and industry that he had always possessed, Swann had contrived to construct a new position for himself, albeit far below the one he had formerly occupied, but suited to the wife with whom he must now share it. And in this position he had turned into a new man.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 44 (Marcel Proust)

Swann's Way
Proust, Marcel
Swann's Way

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

For many people, the discovery phase of reading ends at some point between the ages of 12 and 21. All who love to read can recall the experience of picking up a book that permanently altered something within their psyches and sent them, like an addict after his first sniff of cocaine, on a permanent hunt after that first contact. 

Unlike a cocaine high, the first pleasures of reading are in fact recoverable. Each book being its own kind of intoxicant, and their number and variety being practically infinite, the book addict can keep getting her fix throughout life. However, there is usually only a short window in adolescence when our minds are soft enough and our emotions wild and chaotic enough for us to have life-altering experiences with books. Most of us stop taking literature seriously after college anyhow. 

Unless, of course, one happens upon a book whose feelings and ideas remain so sharp as to be able to penetrate the leather hide of the adult psyche to the quick of those buried adolescent passions, making psychic change not once again possible. 

Such, anyhow, was my experience of reading Proust in my late thirties. 

I'd read a review of this translation by Lydia Davis, and for a year or two after reading it the book kept jumping out at me every time I visited the bookstore. It felt like a challenge, in the same way that reading Joyce or Woolf or Eliot or Pound had felt like a challenge when I was in college.

I had more or less stopped reading fiction for the better part of a decade. During graduate school I read poetry and theory. Towards the end I became interested in history, and I continued reading quite a bit of it after leaving school. 
One day I picked this up and started reading. It was autumn. Suddenly I felt the same kind of awakening I'd felt when I was a teen reading J.D. Salinger or as an undergraduate reading Robert Creeley.

Initially I thought it was just a reawakening of my senses, long numbed to gauche pleasures such as character, setting, plot and so forth by the rigorous textual analysis demanded by graduate study. 
But as I spent the better part of the next six months reading through the entirety of In Search of Lost Time, I began to feel that things inside my head were actually changing, that my experience of the world from that point on was going to be different...

Ok, I have to get to work, so I'll continue this tomorrow...

from Swann's Way

For a long time, I went to bed early. Sometimes, my candle scarcely out, my eyes would close so quickly that I did not have time to say to myself: “I’m falling asleep.” And, half an hour later, the thought that it was time to try to sleep would wake me; I wanted to put down the book I thought I still had in my hands and blow out my light; I had not ceased while sleeping to form reflec-tions on what I had just read, but these reflections had taken a rather peculiar turn; it seemed to me that I myself was what the book was talking about: a church, a quartet, the rivalry between François I and Charles V. This belief lived on for a few seconds after my waking; it did not shock my reason but lay heavy like scales on my eyes and kept them from realizing that the candlestick was no longer lit. Then it began to grow unintelligible to me, as after metempsychosis do the thoughts of an earlier existence; the subject of the book detached itself from me, I was free to apply myself to it or not; immediately I recovered my sight and I was amazed to find a darkness around me soft and restful for my eyes, but perhaps even more so for my mind, to which it appeared a thing without cause, incomprehensible, a thing truly dark. I would ask myself what time it might be; I could hear the whistling of the trains which, remote or nearby, like the singing of a bird in a forest, plotting the distances, described to me the extent of the deserted countryside where the traveler hastens toward the nearest station; and the little road he is following will be engraved on his memory by the excitement he owes to new places, to unaccustomed ctivities, to the recent conversation and the farewells under the unfamiliar lamp that follow him still through the silence of the night, to the imminent sweetness of his return.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 43.4 (Ezra Pound)

Selected Prose 1909-1965
Pound, Ezra
Selected Prose 1909-1965

I think I may have bought this online. I have the vaguest of memories of buying it because I got a good deal on it. I have no idea when I bought it, though I it is likely this occurred while I was in graduate school. The book is in very good conditions, so it is possible I bought it at around the same time I bought the Cantos and ABC of Reading, around 2004, which would be after graduate school. All I can say for certain is that I bought it at some point since moving to Buffalo in 1997. I did not own the book in New York or before. How's that for exactitude?

from Selected Prose 1909-1956
from I Gather the Limbs of Osiris

When I bring into play what my late pastors and masters would term, in classic sweetness, my 'unmitigated gall', and by virtue of it venture to speak of a 'New Method in Scholarship', I do not imagine that I am speaking of a method by me discovered. I mean, merely, a method not of common practice, a method not yet clearly or consciously formulated, a method which has been intermittently used by all good scholars since the beginning of scholarship, the method of Luminous Detail, a method most vigorously hostile to the prevailing mode of today — that is, the method of multitudinous detail, and to the method of yesterday, the method of sentiment and generalisation. The letter is too inexact and the former too cumbersome to be of much use to the normal man wishing to live mentally active.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 43.3 (Ezra Pound)

Literary Essays of Ezra Pound
Pound, Ezra
Literary Essays of Ezra Pound

Purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore.

This book was used in the aforementioned course in Modernist Poetry I took as an undergraduate. My memory is a little clearer now of how Pound was taught. As I recall, we read a couple of brief poems from his Selected Poems, which I no longer own, and then utilized his essays as a way to read both his poems and the poems of the other modernists. Yes, that's it. Pound was posited as an important theorist, and someone good at discovering talent (Eliot, Hemingway, et al), but his poems were considered too difficult to bother with.

On the cover page is a list of words. My guess is that they are words I intended to look up. I used to make lists of all the words I did not understand and then look them up after I'd finished reading. If I could not understand what came after, I would look them up immediately. Otherwise, I'd make a list somewhere in the book or the notebook I was using at the time, like this one:


I must have written the definitions down elsewhere. The only word I can't say I remember the definition to is "scur." According to my dictionary app, it means "A distorted horn, regrown after the disbudding operation of a goat, sheep, or cow." Hmm.

I also marked the essays we were assigned for the course: "The Tradition," "Troubadours–Their Sorts and Conditions," "The Later Yeats," "Dr. Williams' Position," & "T.S. Eliot." Which reminds me that we did also read Yeats in our modernism class. That always struck me as an odd choice, given that his writing always seemed more like a final flowering of Victorianism than the initial stirrings of the modern.

But what do I know.

The Literary Essays of Ezra Pound

A Retrospect

I begin on the chord thus querulous, for I would much rather lie on what is left of Catullus' parlour floor and speculate the azure beneath it and the hills off Salo and Riva with their forgotten gods moving unhindered amongst them, than discuss any processes and theories of art whatsoever. I would rather play tennis.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 43.2 (Ezra Pound)

The Cantos of Ezra Pound
Pound, Ezra
The Cantos of Ezra Pound

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

Like yesterday's book, it appears I bought this around 2004. I went for many years without actually owning a copy of the Cantos. I read selections or took out the whole from the library, but never went in for the whole thing. I still cant say I've read all of them. I have a vague recollection that I bought this with the intent of finally reading them straight through. I am pretty sure I did not.

There's a torn half of a bookmark on pages 510-511, so I did pretty well. Either that or I just skipped ahead to read The Pisan Cantos. The latter is the most likely. The book mark has a sepia-toned black and white photo of Richard Ford on one side, with the phrase "Vintage Ford" emblazoned across it. On the other side is a similarly-toned photo, in profile, of Langston Hughes. He, too, is "Vintage."

Here's where I left off:

from The Cantos
from LXXIX

This fruit has a fire within it
                            Pomona, Pmona
No glass is clearer than are the globes of this flame
what sea is clearer than the pomegranate body
          holding the flame?
                                 Pomona, Pomona

                  Lynx, keep watch on this orchard
                  That is named Melagrana
or the pomegranate field
                  The sea is not clearer in azure
                  Nor the heliads bringing light

         Here are lynxes               Here are lynxes,
         Is there a sound in the forest
                                of pard or of bassarid
         or crotale                         or of leaves moving?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 43.1 (Ezra Pound)

ABC of Reading
Pound, Ezra
ABC of Reading

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. There's a sticker on the back inidicating it arrived in the store in June of 2004. I am trying to recall the occasion of its purchase, but I am drawing a blank. The book is in pristine condition. The pages are crisp and clean, the binding tight, there's nary a mark on the cover.

I left a bookmark on pages 112-113. It's made of thin plastic and it advertises the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition and its website. The background is white, the borders and some of the text an orangish-red, the rest of the text black and white. Just below the midpoint, behind the words "15th edition", a large transparent "15" floats in a sea of white.

On page 112, Pound has the following to say:

Chaucer's work has been left us almost unsorted. The perspicacious reader will not fall to thinking it is all of equal value. Having felt the best, it is probably advisable simply to browse and read what one enjoys; there are parts he might have cut had he been used to the multiplication of books by the printing press; parts he could have rewritten had he thought it worth while. No good purpose is served by simply falling into an ecstasy over archaic forms of language.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 43 (Ezra Pound)

Poems & Translations
Pound, Ezra
Poems & Translations

Purchased at the late, lamented discount bookstore at the outlet mall. I was actually out there over the weekend, looking for some winter shoes (no luck). It was depressing to see that the store had been replaced by a Levi's outlet.

I think I first read Pound as an undergraduate. As I recall, we read him during my final semester, in a course on Modernist Poetry. We read Eliot, Williams, Pound, Stevens, Marianne Moore. I am pretty sure that's all we read. We spent most of our time on Williams and Stevens, less time on Eliot, even less on Marianne Moore, and more or less dismissed Pound as being too difficult to bother with.

There are many reasons not to want to read Pound, his execrable politics being the number one reason, but to dismiss him as too difficult for a graduate level course in English should not be included among them. This happened again in graduate school. I was asked not to include him on one of my orals lists because the committee member overseeing that list did not want to engage with the Cantos.

Part of this resistance to the work (aside from the politics) has to do with the fact that everyone assumes the most important work Pound did was in the Cantos. This may be true, but the Cantos are certainly not the most pleasing of his works. His translations are readable, entertaining, profound even, and his lyric poems are dazzling in their rhythmic complexity.

Maybe it is because this work falls into a bit of an academic black hole. First, it's not allusive enough to send young scholars to the library to track down all the references. Second, much of it is drawn from non-western sources, so there are few American experts in the field to take an interest. And then, of course, there's the politics.

There's really no defending his politics, but there are plenty of reasons read the work.

from Poems and Translations

Old Zuk

This is the grave of old Zuk
who wasn't really a crook
but who died of persistance
in that non-existence
                   which consists in refusing to LOOK.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 42 (Popol Vuh)

Popul Vuh
Popol Vuh
Tedlock, Dennis, Trans.

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

Dennis Tedlock was one of the core of professors in the Poetics Program when I was there. (He still is– the last of the core from back when I was there, Creeley, Bernstein and Howe having left). I never took a course with him, but I have worked with him on various projects. We collaborated with Jonathan Skinner to bring Gary Snyder to Buffalo back in the early aughts. He read at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. There was a line from the front door all the way out to the street for that one.

Anyhow, I bought this book in 2003, just prior to a trip Lori and I took down to the Yucatan. I brought two books with me -- this one, and Olson's Selected Writings, edited by Creeley. I brought the latter because it contained the "Mayan Letters," which Olson had written to Creeley while on a fellowship down to the Yucatan. A couple of years later, I was surprised and happy to discover in Guatemala that almost all of the tourists shops in the country stocked copies of Dennis' Translation.

from Popol Vuh

This is the beginning of the Ancient Word, here in this place called Quiché. Here we shall inscribe, we shall implant the Ancient Word, the potential and source for everything done in the citadel of Quiché, in the nation of Quiché people.
And here we shall take up the demonstration, revelation, and account of how things were put in shadow and brought to light by

the Maker, Modeler,
named Bearer, Begetter,
Hunahpu Possum, Hunahpu Coyote,
Great White Peccary, Coati,
Sovereign Plumed Serpent,
Heart of the Lake, Heart of the Sea,
plate shaper, bowl shaper, as they are called,
also named, also described as
the midwife, matchmaker
named Xpiyacoc, Xmucane,
defender, protector,
twice a midwife, twice a matchmaker,

as is said in the words of Quiché. They accounted for everything -- and did it, too -- as enlightened beings, in enlightened words. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 41.1 (Francis Ponge)

Mute Object of Expression
Ponge, Francis
Mute Objects of Expression

Purchased online, I think. Looks like I got as far as page 106. That's where my bookmark still sits. It is an advertisement for the Buffalo New Book Club, featuring the autobiography of Andre Agassi. I never read that one. I doubt I will.

I do remember, however, talking to his publicity person at Random House, who also happens to be the in-house booking agent for Edwidge Danticat. At one point last year she left me a message saying she would be unavailable for a couple of weeks while she went on tour with Andre to help promote his book.

 from Mute Objects of Expression

And finally, for the rest of it, for a certain number of fine attributes that I might have neglected to draw out, well, dear reader, be patient! Some fine day a critic will surely happen along, perceptive enough to reproach me for this eruption into literature by my wasp in a manner that’s importunate, annoying, impetuous, and trifling all at once, to denounce the halting pace of these notes, their disorderly, zigzag presentation, to fret over the taste for brilliant discontinuity, for a sting without depth though not without danger, not without the venomous tail which they disclose – in short, with great arrogance, to call down upon my work all the epithets it merits.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 41 (Francis Ponge)

Selected Poems
Ponge, Francis
Selected Poems

Purchased online earlier this year.

Francis Ponge was the poet I spent the most time with in 2011. I bought this in January and kept it on my nightstand until we moved in July. It made me wish I had studied French a more closely. I can make out a lot in the original, but I cannot really read it.

About this time last year that the literary outlaw Richard Deming asked me for some prose poetry for a journal he was guest editing. I hadn't really been writing prose poems for a the past few years, but he asked me based on some I had written in the past that he had published in chapbook form.

I said I would try to come up with something.

In our emails on the subject, Richard brought up Francis Ponge as someone he thought of as a model for innovation in the form. I had read a poem or two, but did not own any of his work. I bought this and another book, hoping I might find some inspiration there, and I did, though I don't think it ultimately influenced the work I sent to Richard.

Hey, come to think of it, I still haven't seen that journal. I wonder when it's coming out. Richard?

from Selected Poems


Astonishing that I can forget, forget so easily and for so long every time, the only principle according to which interesting works can be written, and written well. This is doubtlessly because I’ve never been able to define it clearly to myself in a conclusively representative or memorable way.

From time to time it comes to my mind, not, to be sure, as an axiom or maxim, but like a sunny day after a thousand which have been cloudy – or, rather, because it is not so much a natural as an artificial event, or, still more precisely, an artificial development – like the sudden illumination of an electric lightbulb in a house hitherto lit by kerosene. . . . But the next day, you’ve forgotten wiring’s been installed and you start again painstakingly filling the lamps, changing wicks, scorching your fingers on the glass, and being badly lit. . . .

You have first of all to side with your own spirit, and your own taste. Then take the time, and have the courage, to express all your thoughts on the subject at hand (not just keeping the expressions that seem brilliant or distinctive). Finally you have to say everything simply, not striving for charm, but conviction.”

Translated by C.K. Williams

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 40 (Gabriel Pomerand)

Saint ghetto of the loans       grimoire
Pomerand, Gabriel 
Saint ghetto of the loans       grimoire

Sent to me by the publisher, Ugly Duckling Presse.

This Lettrist work was translated and published as part of the Lost Literature Series, one of the many great imprints of UDP. I can remember reading about the Isidore Isou and the lettrists for the first time in Greil Marcus' Lipstrick Traces, which attempts create a lineage for early British punk rock by drawing a line backwards from the Sex Pistols through various avant garde movements including Situationism, Lettrism and Dada.

It was a somewhat frustrating book to read because at the time I read it, 1992 or so, almost nothing of these movements was in print. I found one book by Guy Debord, and Robert Motherwell's book on Dada, but nothing on Isou or the lettrists, and little or nothing on any of the other avant gardists Marcus mentions in the book. So for some years Marcus book was my only real source for information.

He must have sparked a lot of interest, however, as the last twenty years have seen more and more of these works into print.

from Saint ghetto of the loans          grimoire

This book is unusual and immobile, yet orderly as a caste.
          I'd love it if, in the future, the organic world showed such an icy face, impassive and tought.

          We're the new Egyptians.
          Everywhere, people are building pyramids.
          I dream of a book of mysteries equal to the arrogance and serenity in faces carved on pharaoh's mummies.

          I've dug out from nothingness each of the signs that make up this work, like one obliged to invent wisdom. Impassive Brahman, thus do I picture my potential future reader

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 39 (Polybius)

The Rise of the Roman Empire
The Rise of the Roman Empire

Purchased either online or at Talking Leaves, not sure which.

This was an important book on my oral exam list in graduate school. This list, which Charles Bernstein oversaw, focused on important works of history throughout history. Polybius gave me some very useful insights about the origins of the concept of universality. He was a Greek living under the Roman Empire. His work, which is actually called his Universal History, in forty volumes, chronicles the one hundred or so year period from the Punic wars through the conquest of Greece, finally ending with the destruction of Carthage in 146 BCE.

At this time, Rome was becoming so powerful that the entire history of the Mediterranean was becoming Roman history. From this perspective then, as Rome was more or less everything, so it's history was becoming 'universal.'

It's interesting to think of universality from this perspective, as it reveals the kind of class biases inherent in the concept. If one knows about exceptions to the rule (or to one's rule, as it were), then it is difficult to make any true claim for the idea of the universal. Therefore, it follows that in order to establish universality, a single rule must first be established, in this case the Roman empire. There can be no "outside" if we are to believe in universality.

The idea, then, is one developed by the ruling class, or in this case, the ruling class of the ruling city, in order to justify its rule. If you rule everything, then your rule is universal, as is your worldview and your history. But what happens when history catches up with you? When the empire collapses, universality collapses with it, so was it every truly universal?

I'll leave you with that question this morning.

from The Rise of the Roman Empire

For what gives my work its peculiar quality, and what is most remarkable in the present age, is this. Fortune has guided almost all the affairs of the world in one direction and has forced them to incline towards one and the same end; a historian should likewise bring before his readers under one synoptical view the operations by which she has accomplished her general purpose.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 38.1 (Michael Pollan)

The Omnivore's Dilemma
Pollan, Michael
The Omnivore's Dilemma

This book belongs to Lori. I think I bought it for her at Talking Leaves. She has read it, I have not.

I remember her lending it for several months to our next door neighbor at the last house, L. She is an epidemiologist who works at a local college. Her husband is the chief curator of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

They have two daughters. Our houses were so close together that when we lay in bed in the morning we could here the little girls running up and down the staircase so clearly it was as if they were running up the stairs in our house.

When we got our dog, I began a morning routine of taking her for a walk around the block. I used to see L. walking her daughters to the bus stop or meeting up with another friend to fast-walk around the neighborhood. She subscribes to the Babel series and we often talked about what books we were reading and who she might like to see come read in the series.

She always seemed slightly afraid of the dog.

I have noticed since becoming a dog owner that there are three different kinds of people: dog-lovers, dog fearers, and those who are indifferent. Zelda is a strange mix of shyness and excitability. When we first got her, she liked to jump on people a lot. Dog lovers tend to welcome this. Dog fearers, on the other hand, tense up, which causes the dog to get more excited.

L. always became visibly tense when she saw Zeda, especially if the girls were with her. Her fear was so palpable that it made it difficult to get the dog to calm down around her. I always felt bad that she was afraid, but then it's hard to tell someone having a fear response to an animal that if they would just stop acting afraid there would be no problem.

I ran into her just the other morning. I had let Zelda off-leash to play with another dog in a little pocket park in the new neighborhood. I saw L. and her friend fast-walking over the path that bisects half the park before splitting again in two directions near where the dogs were playing. L. is nearly blind, so could not see me or Zelda, but when she heard the dogs, she immediately took the fork going the other way instead taking of the one that would have her pass near me and the dog.

I called her name. She stopped. Her friend recognized me and told her who I was. They came back down the other path and chatted for a while before continuing on their way.

from The Omnivore's Dilemma

Before I began working on this book, I never gave much thought to where my food came from. I didn't spend much time worrying about what I should and shouldn't eat. Food came from the supermarket and as long as it tasted good, I ate it.

Until, that is, I had the chance to peer behind the curtain of the modern American food chain. This came in 1998. I was working on an article about genetically modified food—food created by changing plant DNA in the laboratory. My reporting took me to the Magic Valley in Idaho, where most of the french fries you've ever eaten begin their life as Russet Burbank potatoes. There I visited a farm like no farm I'd ever seen or imagined.

It was fifteen thousand acres, divided into 135-acre crop circles. Each circle resembled the green face of a tremendous clock with a slowly rotating second hand. That sweeping second hand was the irrigation machine, a pipe more than a thousand feet long that delivered a steady rain of water, fertilizer, and pesticide to the potato plants. The whole farm was managed from a bank of computer monitors in a control room. Sitting in that room, the farmer could, at the flick of a switch, douse his crops with water or whatever chemical he thought they needed. One of these chemicals was a pesticide called Monitor, used to control bugs. The chemical is so toxic to the nervous system that no one is allowed in the field for five days after it is sprayed. Even if the irrigation machine breaks during that time, farmers won't send a worker out to fix it because the chemical is so dangerous. They'd rather let that whole 135-acres crop of potatoes dry up and die.

That wasn't all. During the growing season, some pesticides get inside the potato plant so that they will kill any bug that takes a bite. But these pesticides mean people can't eat the potatoes while they're growing, either. After the harvest, the potatoes are stored for six months in a gigantic shed. Here the chemicals gradually fade until the potatoes are safe to eat. Only then can they be turned into french fries. That's how we grow potatoes?

I had no idea.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 38 (Michael Pollan)

The Botany of Desire
Pollan, Michael
The Botany of Desire

This book belongs to Lori. I think I bought it for her at Talking Leaves, but I am not one hundred percent certain. I haven't read it myself, though, as ever, I intend to.

The discussion of a potential change to our diets began in earnest once Lori started reading Michael Pollan. I was a heavy carnivore my entire life. Lori says she rarely ate meat before she met me. Once we moved in together, she says her diet changed. For many years she made mention of this fact, but acceded to my dietary demands.

Then she read Michael Pollan. She began telling stories of the meat and corn industries and how eating meat every night was starting to disgust her.  I am not sure how we got from there to deciding one night to stop eating meat and poultry.

Our last meal, so to speak, took place at an Ethiopian restaurant in Rochester. It was called Abyssinia. We ate there before going to see an insane Japanese haunted house film from the 60's called "Hausu," or "House," at the Dryden Theater. Donna White was with us, as was Gregg Biglieri. I am not sure if Geoffrey Gatza, Donna's partner, was there or not. Something tells me he wasn't. We shared small portions of all the meat and vegetable dishes on the menu.

After that night we stopped eating meat and poultry. Just like that. Very little discussion, no relapses. It's been about a year an a half, and neither of us really miss it, largely, I think, because Lori is such an incredible cook and is able to conjure meals each night tastier and more filling than most of the meat dishes we used to make.

For instance, last night she made this:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 37.1 (Edgar Allan Poe)

Essays and Reviews
Poe, Edgar Allan
Essays and Reviews

Purchased at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store.

This book has one, thin, orange post-it index note that wraps around page 11 and onto page 12, suggesting I marked it. It seems to be marking off two paragraphs in which Poe is discussing poetry. Instead of writing anything myself, I'll just leave you this morning with these.

from Letter to B–

What is poetry?–Poetry! that Proteus-like idea, with as many appellations as the nine-titled Corcyra! Give me, I demanded of a scholar some time ago, give me a definition of poetry? "Tres-volontiers,"–and he proceeded to his library, brought me a Dr. Johnson, and overwhelmed me with a definition. Shade of the immortal Shakespeare! I imagined to myself the scowl of your spiritual eye upon the profanity of that scurrilous Ursa Major. Think of poetry, dear B–, think of poetry, and then think of–Dr. Samuel Johnson! Think of all that is airy and fairy-like, and then of all that is hideous and unwieldy; think of his huge bulk, the Elephant! and then–and then think of the Tempest–Midsummer Night's Dream–Prospero–Oberon–and Titania!


A poem, in my opinion, is opposed to a work of science by having, for its immediate object, pleasure, not truth; to romance, by having for its object an indefinite instead of a definite pleasure, being a poem only so far as the object is attained; romance presenting perceptible images with definite, poetry with indefinite sensations, to which end music is an essential, since the comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception. Music, when combined with a pleasurable idea, is poetry; music without the idea is simply music; the idea without music is prose from its very definitiveness.

What was meant by the invective against him who had no music in his soul?


To sum up this long rigmarole, I have, dear B–, what you no doubt perceive, for the metaphysical poets, as poets, the most sovereign contempt. That they have followers proves nothing–

          No Indian prince has to his palace
          More followers than a thief to the gallows.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 37 (Edgar Allan Poe)

The Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
Poe, Edgar Allan
The Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

Purchase at Talking Leaves Books, I am pretty sure I bought this for a course with Susan Howe called, "Preface: Or Seen Again for the First Time." As I recall, we read "The Imp of the Perverse." I seem to also remember having read "The Gold Bug" around the same time, but that may have been for something else. A vague memory of talking about that story with my then-girlfriend, who may have written a paper on it, trembles at the edge of consciousness.

It's missing the dust-jacket because I generally like trying to read books with dust-jackets on them. I used to remove them immediately and throw them away. Later, I graduated to taking them off and putting them on the bookshelf until I'd finished reading the book, at which time I would replace it. Now, I can't really be bothered, I just suffer through the annoyance of having the dust-jacket slip and slide in my fingers as I attempt to hold the book steady enough to read.

from The Imp of the Perverse

IN THE consideration of the faculties and impulses-of the prima mobilia of the human soul, the phrenologists have failed to make room for a propensity which, although obviously existing as a radical, primitive, irreducible sentiment, has been equally overlooked by all the moralists who have preceded them. In the pure arrogance of the reason, we have all overlooked it. We have suffered its existence to escape our senses, solely through want of belief-of faith;-whether it be faith in Revelation, or faith in the Kabbala. The idea of it has never occurred to us, simply because of its supererogation. We saw no need of the impulse-for the propensity. We could not perceive its necessity. We could not understand, that is to say, we could not have understood, had the notion of this primum mobile ever obtruded itself;-we could not have understood in what manner it might be made to further the objects of humanity, either temporal or eternal. It cannot be denied that phrenology and, in great measure, all metaphysicianism have been concocted a priori. The intellectual or logical man, rather than the understanding or observant man, set himself to imagine designs-to dictate purposes to God. Having thus fathomed, to his satisfaction, the intentions of Jehovah, out of these intentions he built his innumerable systems of mind. In the matter of phrenology, for example, we first determined, naturally enough, that it was the design of the Deity that man should eat. We then assigned to man an organ of alimentiveness, and this organ is the scourge with which the Deity compels man, will-I nill-I, into eating. Secondly, having settled it to be God's will that man should continue his species, we discovered an organ of amativeness, forthwith. And so with combativeness, with ideality, with causality, with constructiveness,-so, in short, with every organ, whether representing a propensity, a moral sentiment, or a faculty of the pure intellect. And in these arrangements of the Principia of human action, the Spurzheimites, whether right or wrong, in part, or upon the whole, have but followed, in principle, the footsteps of their predecessors: deducing and establishing every thing from the preconceived destiny of man, and upon the ground of the objects of his Creator.

It would have been wiser, it would have been safer, to classify (if classify we must) upon the basis of what man usually or occasionally did, and was always occasionally doing, rather than upon the basis of what we took it for granted the Deity intended him to do. If we cannot comprehend God in his visible works, how then in his inconceivable thoughts, that call the works into being? If we cannot understand him in his objective creatures, how then in his substantive moods and phases of creation?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 36.1 (Plutarch)


No idea where I got this. It's in terrible shape, has highlighting all over it. I would never have bought it like this, and I would never have highlighted it so. This leads me to believe that I bought it online and that whoever sold it to me described it incorrectly. This might all be made up. I have no way to know.

from The Essays

from On the Eating of Flesh

You ask of me then for what reason it was that Pythagoras abstained from eating of flesh. I for my part do much wonder in what humor, with what soul or reason, the first man with his mouth touched slaughter, and reached to his lips the flesh of a dead animal, and having set before people courses of ghastly corpses and ghosts, could give those parts the names of meat and victuals, that but a little before lowed, cried, moved, and saw; how his sight could endure the blood of slaughtered, flayed, and mangled bodies; how his smell could bear their scent; and how the very nastiness happened not to offend the taste, while it chewed the sores of others, and participated of the saps and juices of deadly wounds.

Crept the raw hides, and with a bellowing sound
Roared the dead limbs; the burning entrails groaned.
(“Odyssey,” xii. 395.)

This indeed is but a fiction and fancy; but the fare itself is truly monstrous and prodigious,— that a man should have a stomach to creatures while they yet bellow, and that he should be giving directions which of things yet alive and speaking is fittest to make food of, and ordering the several kinds of the seasoning and dressing them and serving them up to tables. You ought rather, in my opinion, to have inquired who first began this practice, than who of late times left it off.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 36 (Plutarch)

Lives of the Noble Romans
Lives of the Noble Romans

Purchased, I think, at Rust Belt Books. I think this was another potential candidate for my oral exam list. It did not make the cut, however. I think I may have read some of this book, but not a lot. I did make a note on the title page:

What are the texts that form the basis for the possibility of history?

Apparently I didn't think this was one of them. It also looks like I made a note to myself that became the first line of a future poem:

DFW told me I look like Greg Kinnear

I must have read this at around the time David Foster Wallace Came to town -- around 2000. I posted my memories of that visit, as well as the poem it produced here.

Finally, there are what look to be the name of an author and the titles of two works listed at the bottom of the same page:

Script to Print
The Emergence of Prose

I don't think I read any of them.

from Lives of the Noble Romans

Some relate that an asp was brought in amongst those figs and covered with the leaves, and that Cleopatra had arranged that it might settle on her before she knew, but, when she took away some of the figs and saw it, she said, " So here it is," and held out her bare arm to be bitten. Others say that it was kept in a vase, and that she vexed and pricked it with a golden spindle till it seized her arm. But what really took place is known to no one. Since it was also said that she carried poison in a hollow bodkin, about which she wound her hair; yet there was not so much as a spot found, or any symptom of poison upon her body, nor was the asp seen within the monument; only something like the trail of it was said to have been noticed on the sand by the sea, on the part towards which the building faced and where the windows were. 

Some relate that two faint puncture-marks were found on Cleopatra's arm, and to this account Caesar seems to have given credit; for in his triumph there was carried a figure of Cleopatra, with an asp clinging to her. Such are the various accounts. But Caesar, though much disappointed by her death, yet could not but admire the greatness of her spirit, and gave order that her body should be buried by Antony with royal splendor and magnificence. Her women, also, received honorable burial by his directions. Cleopatra had lived nine and thirty years, during twenty-two of which she had reigned as queen, and for fourteen had been Antony's partner in his empire. 

Antony, according to some authorities, was fifty-three, according to others, fifty-six years old. His statues were all thrown down, but those of Cleopatra were left untouched; for Archibius, one of her friends, gave Caesar two thousand talents to save them from the fate of Antony's.

Translated by John Dryden

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 35 (Plotinus)

The Enneads
The Enneads

Another purchase from the late, lamented discount bookstore in Niagara Falls. $3.50. Unread.

This is one of those books that I am sure came home in a sack with ten others that cost me a total of $50. I used to just pluck the books I thought I might like to read some day off the Penguin Classics shelves and drop them into my bag. I'd often run from the mall after that to make sure I didn't spend any more money on clothes or something else.

I rarely visit that mall now. No bookstore, and the strength of the Canadian dollar has meant that all the clothing prices have risen to a level comfortable to bargain-hunting Canadians, but somewhat less so to middle class Americans in a recession. Sigh.

Funny how the classical authors seem to cluster together around certain letters of the alphabet, sometimes falling right next to each other. This week we've had Plato, Pliny, Plotinus and, tomorrow Plutarch. This also occurred in the "A's" (Aristotle, Aristophanes) and also in the "H's" (Herodotus, Hesiod, Homer).

from The Enneads

It is the virtue of unity that beings are beings.

This is equally true o things whose existence is primal and of all that are in any degree to be numbered among beings. What could exist at all except as one thing? Deprived of unity, a thing ceases to be what it is called: no army unless as a unity: a chorus, a flock, must be one thing. Even house and ship demand unity, one house, one ship; unity gone, neither remains: thus even continuous magnitudes could not exist without an inherent unity; break them apart ad their very being is altered in the measure of the breach of unity.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 34 (Pliny the Elder)

Natural History: A Selection
Pliny the Elder
Natural History: A Selection

Purchased at the late, lamented Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store. $3. I think I may have considered this as a possible text for my oral exam list in graduate school. I did not choose it and I am pretty sure I never read it. The pages and spine are as crisp as if they were new. It doesn't even have a remainder mark on the edge, like many of the other books I bought at that store.

Poor Pliny died in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. This according to his nephew, Pliny the Younger. In case you were wondering, "Pliny" rhymes with "whinny." I used to think it rhymed with "whiny." But I was wrong.

from Natural History, A Selection

14. I think it is a sign of human weakness to try to find out the shape and form of God. Whoever God is–provided he does exist–and in whatever region he is, God is the complete embodiment of sense, sight, hearing, soul, mind and of himself. To believe in either an infinite number of deities corresponding to men's vices, as well as their virtues–like the goddesses of Chastity, Concord, Intelligence, Hope, Honour, Mercy, Faith–or, like Democritus, in only two, namely Punishment and Reward, plumbs an even greater depth of foolishness.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 33.4 (Plato)

The Republic of Plato
The Republic of Plato

Purchased at the Fordham University bookstore.

And yes, it was translated by that Allan Bloom, author of the infamous late-eighties culture-war manifesto, The Closing of the American Mind. That book seemed to crystallize the rage of its era. I remember it being everywhere at the time.

One of my roommates, P., had a copy on his bookshelf. I remember being tempted to read it, knowing full well it would piss me off. I finally pulled it off the shelf after staring at it for months. It didn't really anger me. It made me laugh a little and mostly made me sad that a person of such obvious intellect was so out of touch with reality.

My clearest memory is of his attack on feminism. I don't remember it perfectly, but his argument went something like this:

Men are insecure. They are especially insecure about their penises and by extension (no pun intended) their virility. It is important for the continuance of humanity that men feel confident in their sexual potency. Otherwise, they will not perform well in bed (or, by extension, in life) and humanity as we know it will die out.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon women to make sure that men feel secure in their virility.

Therefore, women should not be sexually liberated, should not have multiple partners, should not have sex before marriage because each of these things undermines a man's confidence in his virility and threaten the existence of the human race.

Therefore, it is important that women stay home, where they are less likely to be tempted by men other than their husbands and less likely to undermine their husbands' virility and threaten the existence of the human race.

Got that?

Kind of sad and funny and scary all at once.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 33.3 (Plato)

Plato's Dialogue on Friendship
Plato's Dialogue on Friendship

Purchased at the Fordham University bookstore. The title page bears a read stamp noting that the book arrived in the store in July of 1991 and cost $7.95. A quick search on Amazon reveals that the book is still in print and has more than tripled in price since then. It now costs $24.95. Good thing the student loan industrial complex has arisen to allow students to add several thousands of dollars to their student debt by paying exorbitant prices for textbooks.

This one was purchased for a graduate course I took as an undergraduate. Aside from the few remaining requirements I had to fulfill during my final year of college, I took a number of graduate seminars in English and one in political philosophy. I think I took the political philosophy course in the fall. My spring semester I took two or three graduate English seminars. I was testing the waters of graduate school. At the time they felt a little tepid.

I am not sure exactly which course I read this book for. I remember the teacher, Dr. Mary Nichols, who was a brilliant classicist that used everything from Plato to Shakespeare to teach political science. Her only drawback was that she was very conservative politically. I don't think I have ever had a teacher who heaped so much scorn on left-wing politics in such a learned and sarcastic way.

None which should suggest that I sympathized with her politics, but I admit that I am a sucker for biting wit from whatever quarter. If you can't laugh at yourself, then who can you laugh at? I took three or four courses with her, mostly, I guess, because of what I was explaining about Plato a couple of days ago. I have never been good at attacking a subject head on, especially in a classroom setting. I have always, found, however, that by approaching it from a different direction, especially through the medium of literature, I can get a pretty firm grasp on the thing at hand.

Nichols' classes functioned much like this. She allowed wide latitude in our approach. I once wrote a paper on Aristotle and the 'golden mean' that was an imitation of a Platonic dialogue. The central metaphor was a flexible canoe developed by the Aleut eskimos. It's flexibility allowed it to attack the choppy ocean waters much more aggressively than, say, a stiff boat made of rigid wood. I never would have been allowed to write such a thing in another class, but she accepted it and engaged the dialogue at the level of the ideas. A rare trait, indeed.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 33.2 (Plato)

Early Socratic Dialogues
Early Socratic Dialogues

Once again I am uncertain where or even when I acquired this book. Probably in college. It has a kind college textbook feel to it, as if I had to buy this collection in order to read one dialogue not collected elsewhere. I seem to recall at some point being required to read Ion, so perhaps that is the case.

I have a memory of a break in my Platonic knowledge that occurred sometime during my undergraduate studies. My early memories of studying Plato involve a direct encounter with the arguments put forward in the dialogues, usually from the standpoint of ethics, as in the first book of the Republic, where the argument concerns the meaning of the term "justice."

Each interlocutor puts forward his definition of the term. They range from "to give to each what is owed" to "the will of the strong." Socrates deconstructs the definitions, revealing the contradictions inherent in each. Of course, he never puts forward his own, he simply forces everyone to question their own assumptions. This, we learned, is known as "The Socratic Method."

At some point in my studies the discussion changed. Professors began to talk about Plato in a more abstract, historicized manner. The jolt this gave me had to do with the fact that suddenly the professors were talking about things like "forms" as if there were a conversation going on that we, the students, had been a party to. I felt as if I had missed the party.

In graduate school another term was introduced: "aporia." I think Derrida popularized the term in academic circles. For a time it seemed as if every text we studied was in some way "aporetic."At the further reaches of these discussions we discovered that all texts were aporetic and we eternal Socrates', ferreting out the fundamental contradictions at the heart of our understanding of the world.

Or as Woody Allen so eloquently put it:

Socrates is a man.
All men are mortal.
Therefore, all men are Socrates.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 33.1 (Plato)

The Last Days of Socrates
The Last Days of Socrates

I am not at all sure where this one came from. Possibly it's pilfered from my brother's high school books. Possibly it was a textbook in a course at some point. Possibly I purchased it because it had one dialogue or other I did not have formerly. It does have some green highlighting in it, which might argue towards it having belonged to my brother, several of whose high school books contain such highlighting. But there's no way of knowing for sure, is there?

All of which leaves me searching for a subject this morning. Perhaps there is no subject, just the blank wall that is my memory concerning this book. What kind of wall is it?

Let's say it's an old plaster wall with long cracks running this way and that in diagonals across the surface. Some of the cracks have begun to flake, leaving beneath the dull, eggshell-white paint pocks and divots of exposed plaster. Motes of plaster dust loosen and fall to the floor or cling to the wall on the way down. Some make their way into unsuspecting lungs, either directly or through the more circuitous route of first entering the heating ducts and then being blown airborne into the moist, palpitating cavity.

Perhaps they cause a one to cough. Perhaps the cough brings the mote or motes up in a gobbet of phlegm spat into a toilet. Perhaps the toilet is flushed and the gobbet containing the mote works its way through a combination of replacement PVC and cracked, rusted, cast-iron waste pipes down through the basement floor and out to the public sewer system, where the rain water mixes with the feculent flushes of a million other toilets on its journey towards the sea.

If it has not dissolved by now, our little mote inside our little gobbet now finds it self spinning and churning in a great vat housed in a large, nondescript, concrete structure. Chemicals of all kinds are added to suss out whatever unspoiled water is left. Impurities, our mote included, get sifted into an adjacent waterway, say the Niagara river, which is quite cold this time of year. A mile or so on the swift current becomes event swifter, and our little mote finds itself cresting and foaming over outcroppings of rock before suddenly making a death dive down the great wall of Niagara Falls.

There, it nearly escapes the trap of the downward force, which might have held it there for eternity, and escapes into the current, racing towards Lake Ontario. It scrapes along the bottom of the Maid of the Mist, but the current keeps it from clinging for very long. A great churning begins, much like the sewage vat, only this time it's a great natural whirlpool that sends the mote careening through a canyoned passage to its final destination, the Great Lake!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 33 (Plato)

The Dialogues of Plato
The Dialogues of Plato

This book is old enough to have been my high school textbook, but I don't think it is. I feel like I may have picked this one up for a dollar somewhere in order to have a copy of one dialogue or another that I did not have in my collection. I have four or five different collections, but they all seem to be missing one essential thing. I guess I should have bought the big complete edition. But alas, I did not, which means we have several days of Plato ahead.

Plato was very important to me early on because he blended my two dominant sensibilities–the philosophical and the literary–into a single art form. Philosophy interested me from an early age, but my youthful inability to concentrate made it difficult for me to read most of it. I could listen to a good teacher lecture on philosophy, but I could not go home and read the texts themselves without great difficulty.

However, this was not the case with Plato. Plato's dialogues always read to me like novels or a dramas. I don't know if it was the fact that ideas were embodied in characters or that the conceit of ordinary speech made the work more accessible or that they had a hero, Socrates, on whom we could reliably expect to pin our hopes, but I was happy always to go home and read the dialogues.

Ok-- time for Thanksgiving to begin. Have a happy one.

from The Dialogues of Plato

from The Apologia

How you, O Athenians, have been affected by my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that they almost made me forget who I was–so persuasively did they speak; and yet they have hardly uttered a word of the truth. But of the many falsehoods told by them, there was one which quite amazed me;–I mean when they said that you should be upon your guard and not allow yourself to be deceived by the force of my eloquence. To say this, when they were certain to be detected as soon as I opened my lips and proved myself to be anything but a great speaker, did indeed appear to me most shameless–unless by force of eloquence they mean the force of truth; for if such is their meaning, I admit that I am eloquent.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 32 (Sylvia Plath)

The Collected Poems
Plath, Sylvia
The Collected Poems

Given to me as a Christmas gift in 1991, my last Christmas in College. Inscribed:

To our favorite 
Merry Christmas! 1991

As I recall, the 'Grandpa' was a a two-part joke. On one hand, I was at the time very fond of wearing a gray cardigan sweater, which my fashion-forward friends thought was just about the funniest thing they had ever seen. They used to say that I looked like someone's grandfather.

On the other, I was about two years' clean and sober at that point, which was a very odd place to be for a college kid. Early on in my sobriety, I decided that I did not want to limit myself to hanging around only sober people. L, R, & J were not sober people.

The three, two girls and a guy, lived in an apartment on the second floor of a ramshackle apartment house on Hoffman Ave in the Bronx, just south of 187th St. I actually looked it up on street view this morning to see if it was still there. It still is. It's got to be the ugliest building in New York. It's only three stories high, very boxy, with no architectural details at all, unless you consider white vinyl siding an architectural detail.

Their apartment was party central. You entered from the stairwell into the kitchen. Straight ahead was one bedroom. To the left, a little doorway led into the living room, which had about six levels of beer-, sweat- and semen- soaked carpeting on it. There were two bedrooms off the living room. I am not sure where the bathroom was. Possibly off the kitchen.

The three of them were my closest friends during my final year of college. I spent a lot of time at their apartment. I used to go to all their parties. My M.O. was to sit on a wing-backed chair in the corner by the window, chain-smoking Marlboros, saying nary a word as they and the other partygores got drunker and drunker and the music got louder and louder. One night I recall everyone writhing, half-naked, on the floor with the hot new albums Nevermind and Ritual de lo Habitual blaring from the stereo.

I never took part in these rituals. I just sat in the corner with my cigarettes and coke, observing, judging, trying to pretend I was comfortable. I wasn't of course, but you never would have known. The other part of the 'Grandpa' joke was, I am sure, directed at my always being at a remove from the 'kids' while they did their thing, drinking, dancing, getting high, etc. I could always be counted on to safely drive somewhere late at night to find something to eat.

I lost touch with all three of them within a few years. J. was first. He moved back to Boston, where he'd grown up. L. moved to SF for many years and we lost touch. R. got married and has since lived all over the world. I moved to Buffalo around the same time that L. and R. left NYC. Amazingly, I can find none of them on Facebook or anywhere on the internet. I did manage to discover that both R. and L. are back in NYC, but that's about all I could find.

Which is a bit ironic, as I was always the one who absolutely adored NYC, while they complained about it endlessly. C'est la vie, as they say.

from The Collected Poems


The woman is perfected.
Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity

Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare

Feet seem to be saying:
We have come this far, it is over.

Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little

Pitcher of milk, now empty.
She has folded

Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden

Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.

The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.

She is used to this sort of thing.
He blacks crackle and drag.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 31 (Pindar)

The Odes of Pindar
The Odes of Pindar

I am pretty sure I bought this in New York, but not of much else. A good bet would be the now-defunct 7th St. Books. On the other hand, it looks as if a price sticker has been torn from the upper righthand corner of the cover. This might indicate that I bought it at The Strand, possibly off the dollar racks on the sidewalk. No way of knowing, really.

Today is the 15th anniversary of my father's death. You may have noted that it is also the 48th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I can't say that I always take note of my father's death on the anniversary.

Part of this has to do with not wanting to deal with the emotions that come with mourning. I think it has more to do with the fact that the anniversary always comes around Thanksgiving, which means we are often so busy traveling and stuffing our gullets with food that there is little time to actually take a minute to remember.

There's something kind of morbid about his sharing the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. If I forget, I am almost sure to be reminded by the endless repetition of the Zapruder film on TV and the Internet. The two events have started to meld together in my mind. I'll turn on the TV and watch JFK's head explode and suddenly remember that it's the anniversary of my father's death -- a strange sensation.

This year's a little different, though, as I am writing with my 9.5 week-old daughter sleeping next to my desk, thinking about fatherhood, what kind of father I'd like to be, comparing myself to him, trying to take the best of him without repeating all the mistakes he made.

I am reminded again of the anniversary thanks to a little video by Errol Morris called 'Umbrella Man,' which appeared on the NY Times site today. In it, Morris interviews the author of a book on the Kennedy assassination called something like Six Minutes in Dallas. He talks about noticing in the Zapruder and other films that at just the moment Kennedy is shot, a man standing by the side of the road opens a black umbrella.

Given that it is a warm, sunny day in Dallas, this struck him as odd. People propounded conspiracy theories suggesting everything from the umbrella serving as a marker for Oswald to its being a stealth weapon that took part in the actual shooting. The author challenged the umbrella man to come forward and explain himself.

He did, going all the way to congress to testify, even bringing with him the umbrella in question to show that it was not in fact a weapon. Turned out he did it as a silent protest against Kennedy's father, Joseph, who the man believed was responsible for appeasing Hitler when he was ambassador to the UK. The umbrella, apparently, represented Neville Chamberlain.

In the background, Morris plays Für Alina by Arvo Pärt, a lovely, minimalist piece for piano and violin that can instantly induce nostalgia, melancholy and depression. It's still ringing in the back of my mind as I remember the complex being that was my father.

from The Odes of Pindar

Rejoice in my songs, and in friendliness
Guide still their ancestral fields
For the generations to come.
Of what has been done
In right or against right
Not even Time, father of everything,
Can undo the accomplishment;
In good luck and fortune
Forgetfulness will come;
For in noble delights sorrow perishes
Angry but overwhelmed,
When God's fate tips the scale of happiness high.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 30.1 (Tom Pickard)

Tiepin Eros
Pickard, Tom
Tiepin Eros: New and Selected Poems

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books.

Robert Creeley brought Tom Pickard to read in Buffalo in, oh, about 1998. He read at the legendary gallery/performance space Cornershop, run by Anya Lewin.

I remember him as being in his fifties, with longish salt-and-pepper hair. He wore jeans and a button-down shirt that was open almost down to his stomach, revealing quite an extent of hairy-chested masculine real estate. He may also have been wearing a piece of jewelry around his neck, but this could be an embellishment on my part.

I don't remember much else. I don't think I even met him, which was odd, given that as students we usually met every poet who came to town. It may have been that Creeley brought him while Charles Bernstein was on sabbatical and thus not around to organize the students into a dinner or gathering of some sort.

I should also note that each time I have attempted to type the title of this book, which as you can see is a somewhat awkward pun on the phrase "Typing Errors," I have in fact made a typing error, the same one, in fact. Three times have I attempted to type the word "Tiepin" and three times have I typed it "Tipein."

I wonder if Tom made the same error or a different one.

from Tiepin Eros


you took something
that wasn't mine to keep
or lose,

and that look
does not suit the inside
of my wallet

I'm always pinning 
your pictures to the wall
or writing you a letter

slipped between sheets
and other readers

it's the only true place to be

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 30 (Tom Pickard)

The Ballad of Jamie Allan
Pickard, Tom
The Ballad of Jamie Allan

Sent to me by the publisher. In a bit of a rush this morning, what with a guest in the house and the baby waking up, so I'll just post an excerpt and see you tomorrow.

from The Ballad of Jamie Allan

The Charm

you who make music 
and music make
whose fingers fly
make of air a song
your breath be steady
and the tune be long

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 29.1 (Simon Pettet)

More Winnowed Fragments
Pettet, Simon
More Winnowed Fragments

I think I bought this at one of Simon's readings in Buffalo, but I am not sure.  He may have sent it to me.

Lori and I had a brief, spirited discussion following yesterday's post, about whether or not we had actually first met Simon's Steel Bar Series reading. My recollection was that we had figured this out at some point and had at that time determined that we had met at someone else's reading. Unfortunately, I could not remember who the other poet might have been.

Thankfully, the internet exists so that we might settle these kinds of disputes. I looked on the EPC website and was able to find a list of Wednesdays @ 4 Plus event listings from the Spring of 2001. We met in late March of 2001. Our actual first date was on March 31, but we had met a week earlier at the Steel Bar. The Spring 2001 event listing has Julie Patton performing at Steel Bar on March 24. There is no mention of Simon Pettet as a co-reader.

We met at a reading by Julie Patton. That much is certain. Lori also remembers someone playing a  didgeridoo. We both agreed that Simon was not playing the didgeridoo. Lori said she remembers seeing Simon read at Steel Bar early on in our relationship, so he must have read in the series sometime in '01 or '02.

My recollection is that I saw Simon read in that series on two separate occasions, but I cannot verify this at the moment.

WAIT! This just in:

Jonathan Skinner just emailed me the whole list of Steel Bar events. It does not include exact dates, but it appears that Simon gave the final Steel Bar reading, along with Brenda Coultas, in August of 2002, which would put it about a year and half after Lori and I met. Here's the list he sent me:

Steel Bar Events

Robert Kocik
TimDavis/ Chris Alexander
Miles Champion/ Brian Kim 
Elevator Box Project
Brenda Coultas/ Michael Kelleher
Caroline Bergvall/
Tammy McGovern
Eddie Berrigan/ Dan Machlin
Steve McCaffery/ Fiona Templeton

Julie Patton
“Poetry Across the Frontier”— 10 Poets from Canada,
Tom Raworth/ Nick 
Elevator Postcard Project
Simon Pettet/ Brenda Coultas

Buffalo, NY  (May 2000 – August 2002)

This throws my recollection of seeing Simon read for the first time into question. I am almost sure I saw him read in Buffalo before 2002. He must have read somewhere else before then -- possibly at Rust Belt Books? Hard to be sure. 

Simon's read for Just Buffalo on a couple of occasions, most recently in the Fall of 2009. He also read back in around '05 or '06. I remember he stayed at our house in Black Rock for a week or so. We stayed up late every night gossiping endlessly about the poetry world. 

At the end of the trip, we drove him to Toronto for a reading, where we dropped him off at his brother's apartment (incidentally, I think he may have met his future wife at the reading he gave there). I don't think I have ever met two siblings who were so different from one another! His brother is an avid football (British meaning) fan with an abiding love for/obsession with obscure comedians and all things British.

Simon, well, he's a poet.

from More Winnowed Fragments

Poem ("send the endorphins to the foot please") 

send the endorphins to the foot please
that's where the pain is

negotiating, I stumbled
and I fear I may have bruised something

tho' what is the Latin name for
that mysterious connective tissue

bless you—that we all possess?