Monday, January 31, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 22.1 (Karl Marx)

Capital, Volume I
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Marx, Karl
Capital, Volume I

Purchased at the late, lamented Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store for $4. I bought it in hopes I might one day get around to reading the originating text rather than the myriad theoretical ones through which it has been filtered into my consciousness over the years.

Alas, I haven't read it. But I still hope to. Some day. I do. Really. I do.

from Capital

The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an 'immense collection of commodities." The individual commodity appears as its elementary form. Our investigation therefore begins with the analysis of the commodity.

The commodity is, first of all, an external object, a thing which through its qualities satisfies human needs of whatever kind. The nature of these needs, whether they arise, for example, from the stomach, or the imagination, makes no difference. Nor does it matter here how the thing satisfies man's need, i.e., an object of consumption, or indirectly as a means of production.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 22 (Karl Marx)

Marx, Karl
The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Book for a a course taught by Samuel R. Delany. I wrote about this before, I believe, but as I recall the course lasted only about five or six weeks. We first read Flaubert's Sentimental Education, then followed by reading The 18th Brumaire, then finished by reading Sentimental Education a second time after we'd had time to digest the Marx.

(If you haven't read them, the connection is that both describe the revolutionary events of 1848 in Paris.)

I remember that this was the book in which Marx made his famous claim that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and the second time as farce. I also remember hearing for the first time the phrase, "Red Diaper Baby," which Delany used to describe himself. He also described himself as an "old fuddyduddy."

from The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 21 (Andrew Marvell)

Complete Poems
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Marvell, Andrew
The Complete Poems

Purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore for a course on 17th Century Poetry. I have owned this longer than most other books in the collection.

I don't remember reading Marvell in college, but I do remember reading him afterwards. I don't recall the exact occasion, possibly going home for a holiday visit, but I took a train from NYC to DC and borught along this book. I read all of Marvell's poems on the train between the two cities and again on the way back. I think I even memorized "To HIs Coy Mistress," though I have since forgotten most of it.

The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

I miss that train ride.

It used to take about 3.5 hours to get from Penn Station to Union Station, then another hour to take the Metro out to the last stop on the Orange line, Vienna, where my father would pick me up and drive me the mile or so to our house. 3.5 hours on a train is a perfect amount of time to get some reading done.

When I first moved to Buffalo, I used to train to NYC, but found that 8 hours was just too long. I would always start to feel agitated and unable to concentrate after 4 or 5 hours. Eventually, air travel between Buffalo and NY got so cheap that there wasn't any longer an argument to be made for train travel.

Someone, I think Peter Culley, posted a link to Facebook from Bookforum about a new biography of Marvell. Here's the link if you want to read it:

To his Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 20.1 (Gabriel García Márquez)

García Márquez, García Márquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude

Not sure when or where I bought this. I have owned it for a long time, but whether I bought after college living in NYC or while I was still in college, I have no idea.

I liked this novel better than the other one I read by García Márquez. I weirdly remember the name of a character -- Colonel Aureliano Buendía. I say 'weirdly' I almost never remember the names of characters in books. I guess the fact that this one's surname was "Good Day" stayed with me, both because it made me laugh and because the book opens with him facing a firing squad. O irony.

And something about a United Fruit.

And something about a band of gypsies bringing ice cubes to a village in the jungle.

But that's about it. I guess if I ever do return to reading him in Spanish, I'd probably read this.

Weird, I have a memory of purchasing a copy in Spanish at the Yale foreign book store (which is incredible, BTW, if you ever happen to be in New Haven). If I did, I must have given it away. Or maybe I just saw it on the shelf at the store and thought to myself, I really should read that in the original language someday. I have said that many times before.

Looking at my excerpt, it seems all I remember is the first page. La la.

from One Hundred Years of Solitude

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point. Every year during the month of March a family of ragged gypsies would set up their tents near the village, and with a great uproar of pipes and kettledrums they would display new inventions. First they brought the magnet. A heavy gypsy with an untamed beard and sparrow hands, who introduced himself as Melquíades, put on a bold public demonstration of what he himself called the eighth wonder of the learned alchemists of Macedonia. He went from house to house dragging two metal ingots and everybody was amazed to see pots, pans, tongs, and braziers tumble down from their places and beams creak from the desperation of nails and screws trying to emerge, and even objects that had been lost for a long time appeared from where they had been searched for most and went dragging along in turbulent confusion behind Melquíades' magical irons. "Things have a life of their own," the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent. "It's simply a matter of waking up their souls."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 20 (Gabriel García Márquez)

García Márquez, Gabriel
Love in the Time of Cholera

Hmm, I guess this should probably have been shelved under 'G', at least according to the Library of Congress data on the inner flap. I always think of his last name as simply 'Márquez,' but there it is. I am not sure when I acquired this book. I feel pretty confident that I've had it since college, when I read García Márquez, but I can't say for sure. I have been known to lose books I once read and to repurchase them later in order to have them around.

I never got around to reading any of them in Spanish -- I got too busy reading Javier Marías and Roberto Bolaño to feel a need to go back. My memory of all his books is that they were always a little disappointing, possibly because they were so overhyped. Magical Realism, so called, is not really my cup of tea, so that may have something to do with it, too.

from Love in the Time of Cholera

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. Dr. Juvenal Urbino noticed it as soon as he entered the still darkened house where he had hurried on an urgent call to attend a case that for him had lost all urgency many years before. The Antillean refugee Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, disabled war veteran, photographer of children, and his most sympathetic opponent in chess, had escaped the torments of memory with the aromatic fumes of gold cyanide.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 19 (Christopher Marlowe)

The Complete Plays
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Marlowe, Christopher
The Complete Plays

I think I bought this for a class, though I may have bought it at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store, RIP. I know I read Marlowe in school. Actually, I remember now I had to take a kind of warm-up class in graduate school that was mostly about professionalization. The professor happened to be a Renaissance scholar, so she used Marlowe for some of the lessons. I think we read Doctor Faustus.

There's something very impudent about the look on Marlowe's face in the painting on the cover of this book. You can almost tell he has no patience for you or anyone else. This face does not suffer fools gladly. I remember learning as a teen that he was knifed to death and thinking, Wow, they had murder back then? In England? I guess I hadn't yet read Shakespeare, or Marlowe, for the matter.

from Doctor Faustus

Know that your words have won me at the last
To practice magic and concealed arts.
Yet not your words but only mine own fantasy
That will receive no object for my head,
But ruminates on necromantic skill.
Philosophy is odious and obscure.
Both law and physic are for petty wits.
Divinity is basest of the three,
Unpleasant, harsh, contemptible and vile.
'Tis magic, magic that hath ravished me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 18 (Filip Marinovich)

Zero Readership
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Marinovich, Filip
Zero Readership

Sent to me by the publisher, Ugly Duckling Presse.

I used to edit a review column in the local weekly up here until they politely asked if I would stop reviewing so many books of poetry and concentrate my attention on more significant kinds of writing, like non-fiction and political commentary. They eventually took over the reviews themselves. Sigh. No wonder the title of this book.

Anyhow, I used to get lots of free books from UDP and other great presses like Flood and Coffee House. Rarely now do they arrive in my mailbox, when only lately they seemed to overflow it.

I still get the UDP chap/mag 6 x 6, which I greatly appreciate. My favorite part about receiving UDP books in the mail was that their was never an overarching aesthetic for the books, which meant I could get a beautifully letter-pressed book of poems by a European poet I'd likely never heard of one week, then something like this, which has more of a handmade look to it, the next.

from Zero Readership

Grampa Chaki's Adventures with Slobodan Milosevic

then we went to Black Grass

that man I worked with him I traveled with him all over Yugoslavia
to all the military objekts
that man never said a word against any nation
but any president will defend his own nation

they had to kill the man because he was not guilty and
they could not convict him

you should have seen him defending himself on TV
you could have learned something

instead of taking pictures down from my shelves
you who know nothing
but the fashionable politics of the young.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 17 (Peter Markus)

The Singing Fish
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Markus, Peter
The Singing Fish

Given to me by the author when we read together in Detroit on 11/14/05. Inscribed. This was my first reading in Detroit. I've read there three or four times now. Peter Markus, as I recall, read some very funny, very rhytmic stories out of this book. He was tallish and thin and had longish, black, wavy hair. He read in Buffalo not long after that.

Our reading took place at a bar/gallery called the Zeitgeist, which was on Michigan Avenue, just up the street from the ruins of the Detroit train station. I remember there being an exhibition up that may or may not have had something to do with comics. My memory is a bit faulty. There was a moose head hanging over the bar, and all kinds of eclectic works of art dangled from the ceiling.

After the reading we went to a music club in Downtown Detroit. It was very loud and I couldn't hear my friend James talking over the music.

from The Singing Fish

When It Rains It Rains A River

Other boys, when it rains, they run inside to be with their mothers, but us brothers, when it rains, we run outside to be with ourselves. Outside, in the rain, the dirt beneath us turns to mud. Us brothers, we love mud. Mud, us brothers, we can't get us enough of mud. We like to make mud, in the rain, out of the dirt, by doing what some boys might see as two brothers running in the rain. But us brothers, in the rain, this is not us running around in the rain. In the rain, us boys, this is just the way us brothers dance. We dance, when it rains, and us brothers, in the rain, dancing like this, this makes the earth turn to mud. The rain, when it drums on top of our heads, the sound of it falling, it makes music in our ears. We lift our hands, our mouths, up to the sky. Like this, with our hands held high, our faces facing the rain, us brothers, we start to sing. We sing and we sing and we do not stop singing until the rain stops drumming down. When the rain stops drumming down, us brothers, we drop down, onto our hands and knees, down into mud, and begin to eat. We eat until our bellies are big with mud. We take what is left of the mud and we make Girl. We start at the bottom and we make our way up. Girl’s knees, they are especially muddy. They make us want to stay forever kneeling. If it looks as if we are on our knees saying our prayers: look again. We are watching Girl wake up. At night, when we look up from the mud with our mud shot eyes, we see that the sky, the sky, it has floating up in it not one, but two, moons. These moons, they are what Girl uses to look at the world through. When Girl looks down to see the mud that she comes from, us brothers, we look up into Girl's eyes to see that each moon, it is a mirror. Inside of each mirror we see a girl, other than Girl, gazing back at us boys. These girls other than Girl, these other girls, these girls are Girl's sisters: there's a sister, we see, for each of us brothers. And so us brothers, we raise ourselves up off our hands and knees, out of the mud, and we dive inside. When we dive inside each of these moons, each moon shatters into a billion pieces. Each broken chunk becomes a star. Look here, Brother says. He points up with all ten of his stub gnawed fingers. The stars! he says. The stars are actually fires. Who says? I say. I shoot Brother this look. You see, us brothers, we have this look that we sometimes like to look at each other with. It's the kind of a look that actually hurts the face of the brother who's doing the looking. Imagine that look. Says me, Brother says to this. Yeah, I say. But who said so to you? And what Brother says to this is he says: Girl. I don’t say anything back to this. If Girl says that this is so, then, yes, this is so. The sky is on fire. And so I take back that look. Look at us now. Watch us brothers reach out to these fires with hands mittened with mud. We stick our hands, unfisted, into this fire. We feel around, inside fire, until we find fire’s star shaped heart. This fire, it is sharp to our fingers’ touch. It is five armed, fifty fingered. We pull back hard on fire's sticking out hands. Until rivers and wicks start sparking with fire: until fire is all that we see. See us pull, see us pull, see us keep on with this pulling, until our hands explode in our face.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 16.1 (Javier Marimón)

Marimón, Javier
Formas de llamar desde Los Pinos

Given to me by the author. Inscribed:

Mike en la Habana, Javier en la habana, pues aquí estamos. Este poema largo también es de aquí, a su ámbito pertenece. Pero también puede ser de otra ciudad, trasladando algunos datos: New York o Buffalo o Bagdad.

Con gran cariño,

Mike in Havana, Javier in Havana. Well, here we are. This long poem comes out of this place, it belongs here. But if we shift the facts around it can also be about some other city: New York or Buffalo or Baghdad.

With great affection,


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 16 (Javier Marimón)

Marimón, Javier
La muerte de Eleanor

Given to me by the author when I was in Havana in 2000. Inscribed as follows:

Para Mike Kelleher, un librillo de los dieci tantos años, motivo de vergüenza, del que ahora te conciertes en testigo. Sólo se salva de él (illegible -- la tienda?) en que fueron escritos.

un abrazo (illegible),

For Mike Kelleher, a little book written in my teens, a source of embarrassment to which you now bear witness. One is saved only by the (illegible, it looks like "the store" but that makes little sense) in which they were written.

Hugs (illegible),

I lost touch with Javier, but I ended up translating one of his poems for The Whole Island, a recent anthology of Cuban poetry.

from La muerte de Eleanor

Parábola de la muerte

El trapecista ha hecho su parábola.
El aire ha hecho su parábola y el aplauso,
el aplauso ha hecho su parábola.
Corran todos, aplaudan, hagan sus parábolas,
apresuren el circo,
que ya casi hago mi línea,
corran todos, apuren sus carnes parábolicas,
hagan sus apuestas.
No empujes.
Eh Aroldo, tienes el as de espadas.
Corran, chillen, pateen, hagan sus parábolas,
que ya casi ha llegado la hora de ustedes detenerse.
Chillen, corran, pateen, hagan sus poemas,
que ya casi hago mi linea de escolar,
ya casi hago mi linea.

Quick translation:

Parabola of Death

The trapeze artist has made his parabola.
The air has made its parabola and the applause,
the applause has made its parabola.
Everybody runs, applauds, makes their parabolas,
they hurry the circle,
when I have just about made my line,
everybody runs, hurrying their parabolic flesh,
they make their places.
Don't push.
Hey, Aroldo, you have the ace of spades.
They run, they scream, they kick, they make their parabolas,
when the hour to pause has only just arrived.
They scream, they run, they kick, they make their poems,
when I have just about made my student's line,
I have just about made my line.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 15.1 (Greil Marcus)

Marcus, Griel
Ranters and Crowd Pleasers

Purchased at St. Mark's Books. This came out right around the time I read Lipstick Traces, so I was very excited to read another book by Greil Marcus. It has a few essays in it I remember enjoying, but on the whole I felt disappointed, as I recall.

For some reason holding this book conjures images of my apartment on E. 4th St. I can see the dull, stained, gray carpet, made more gray by all the cigarette ashes ground into it, the cream-colored eighties cabinets in the kitchen, the white walls and the tin boxes covering the radiators, which formed useful surfaces to set things on, at least in summer when the heat wasn't on.

I can see the litte futon in the living room with black, gold, red and green, abstract African pattern on the slip cover, the television on top of a dresser, the black iron gate covering the window to the fire escape and the thin white door to the bathroom, one step up, the dark turquoise bathroom wall I painted, the tiny bathroom window one of my roommates insisted be covered to keep people from looking in, despite the fact that it would be impossible to see someone from outside unless that person climbed onto the sink next to the window.

I can see the little bedroom off the living room, a tiny square with a wooden platform bed, plywood K-mart desk, a few small bookcases, and through the bedroom window the green cornice of the red brick tenement across the street. I used to stare at that cornice when I woke up in the morning. It always made me think of the Edward Hopper print of an empty Brooklyn street that hung above the futon. I loved that cornice. It always felt like it was MY cornice, a tiny slice of Manhattan visual real estate that I owned personally. It could only be seen from MY perspective through MY window. I remember feeling very strongly about that cornice and missing it terribly at times after I left New York.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 15 (Greil Marcus)

Lipstick Traces
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Marcus, Greil
Lipstick Traces

I think I bought this at St. Mark's books. I am pretty sure it was in the winter of 1993.

I was teaching high school in the East Village at a small, all-boys Catholic school across the street from the Anthology Film Archives. I was helping direct the school musical, "Once on this Island," a fairly recent broadway hit. We rehearsed each day after school in the main cinema on the second floor of the film archives. We had some agreement with them that allowed us to use the space once a year for this event.

I remember I started reading this in the middle of the production. Someone had recommended it to me when we were in college, but I hadn't gotten around to reading it until then. It really opened up a lot of avenues of thought for me at the time. I had never read about Dada or Situationism or Lettrism or any other avant-garde art form, for that matter. I remember getting very excited about the ideas of Guy Debord and the Situationists and being utterly frustrated by the fact that I could find almost no books about the Situationists at the book store.

One of the problems with finding histories of movements like Situationism is that most of the people who become interested in them want to take part in a revolution of some kind, but few of them want to sit in a library doing research in order to write a comprehensive history of the movement. And when they do, they don't want their history to tell the story, they want it to be a call to action. All well and good, but sometimes I just want the facts. I wanted to read such a history, but could find none save a borderline incomprehensible memoir translated from the french and a book of theory written in england. Alas. I had a little better luck finding histories of Dada.

That was also the spring I went to Paris. I wandered around the city for a week looking for traces of the Situationists. For whatever reason, I hoped some of the graffiti, which would then have been 25 years old, would still be on the walls. It was not.

I found two postcards that referred to May '68 and the Situationists. One was a cartoon that had the entire French army amassed behind a wall made of paving stones. In the foreground, on the other side of the wall, a young man watered a flower. DeGaulle, whose head was larger than anything else in the cartoon, peeked over the wall and asked the young man, "Is this a demonstration?" The young man replied, "No sir. A revolution."

The other was a photograph that said something like, "Jouissez sans entravez." I am sure that is spelled wrong.

from Lipstick Traces

From inside a London tea room, two well- dressed women look with mild disdain at a figure in the rain outside. "It's that shabby old man with the tin whistle!" says one. A battered fe dora pulled down over his eyes, the man is trying to make himself heard: "I yam a antichrist!" "It is," reads the caption to this number of Ray Lowry's comic - strip chronicle of the adventures of has- been, would- be pop savior Monty Smith, "seventeen long years since Monty was spotted in the gutter outside Malcolm MacGregor's Sex 'n' Drugs shop . . ." Years long enough: but as I write, Johnny Rotten's first mo ments in "Anarchy in the U.K."—a rolling earthquake of a laugh, a buried shout, then hoary words somehow stripped of all claptrap and set down in the city streets—


remain as powerful as anything I know.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 14.4 (Javier Marías)

Tu rostro mañana
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Marías, Javier
Tu rostro mañana:
3 Veneno y sombra y adiós

Purchased online, I think. I might have bought this one at Talking Leaves. It has no sticker, so I can't tell. It's a two-inch thick paperback with a cheap glossy coating that's already starting to peel away. The other volumes -- all the other books by Marias that I own, in fact--while they are paperback, also come with a dust jacket. I still haven't figured out much about the reason for the transportation-themed cover art. Alas. Okay, off to work!

from Tu rostro mañana

—Uno no lo desea, pero prefiere siempre que muera el que está a su lado, en una misión o en una batalla, en una escuadrilla aérea o bajo un bombardeo o en la trinchera cuando las había, en un asalto callejero o en el atraco a una tienda o en un secuestro de turistas, en un terremoto, una explosión, un atentado, un incendio, da lo mismo: el compañero, el hermano, el padre o incluso el hijo, aunque sea niño. Y también la amada, también la amada, antes que uno mismo.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 14.3 (Javier Marías)

Tu rostro mañana
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Marías, Javier
Tu rostro mañana:
2 Baile y sueño

Purchased online.

This is part two of the non-trilogy trilogy we began yesterday. I just noticed this morning that I mistakenly said it was divided into six sections when in fact it is divided into seven. The first volume contains "Fiebre" and "Lanza" or "Fever" and "Spear." This one contains "Baile" and "Sueño" or "Dance and "Dream." And the last volume, which is very large, contains three sections, "Veneno" and "Sombra" and "Adiós" or "Poison" "Shadow" and "Goodbye."

What's amazing is that a year later each of these section titles conjures powerful images not only of individual events and scenes in the novel, but about the general movement of the novel as a whole. It's really one of the most amazingly constructed novels I've ever read. It's also probably the most incisive commentary on the covert violence that characterizes much of life in the post-9/11 world.

from Tu rostro mañana: 2 Baile y sueño

Ojalá nunca nadie nos pidiera nada, ni casi nos preguntara, ningún consejo ni favor ni préstamo, ni el de la atención siquiera, ojalá no nos pidieran los otros que los escucháramos, sus problemas míseros y sus penosos conflictos tan idénticos a los nuestros, sus incomprensibles dudas y sus meras historias tantas veces intercambiables...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 14.2 (Javier Marías)

Tu rostro mañana
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Marías, Javier
Tu rostro mañana:
1 Fiebre y lanza

I think I bought this online. It is the first of a trilogy which is not really a trilogy. It is actually a 1500 page novel divided into six section, brought out over several years in a total of three volumes. Got it? Good. I must have started this in the summer or fall of 2009. I think I spent the better part of the next nine months ploughing through it. I remember stopping several times for longish periods of a month or so, mostly because the level of concentration required of a foreign language novel this size, which I generally found myself reading just before bed, wasn't always there.

from Tu rostro mañana: 1 Fiebre y lanza

No debería uno contar nunca nada, ni dar datos ni aportar historias ni hacer que la gente recuerde a seres que jamás han existido ni pisado la tierra o cruzado el mundo, o que sí pasaron pero estaban ya medio a salvo en el tuerto e inseguro olvido. Contar es casi siempre un regalo, incluso cuando lleva e inyecta veneno el cuento, también es un vínculo y otorgar confianza, y rara es la confianza que antes o después no se traiciona, raro el vínculo que no se enreda o anuda, y así acaba apretando y hay que tirar de navaja o filo para cortarlo. ¿Cuántas de las mías permanecen intactas, de las muchas confianzas brindadas por quien tanto ha creído en su instinto y no siempre le hizo caso y ha sido ingenuo demasiado tiempo? (Ya menos, ya menos, pero la disminución de eso es muy lenta.) Siguen intactas las que deposité en dos amigos que aún las conservan, frente a las puestas en otros diez que las perdieron o desbarataron; la escasa que di a mi padre y la pudorosa que di a mi madre, muy parecidas si no fueron la misma, la de ella además no duró mucho, ya no puede defraudarla o sólo póstumamente, si hiciera yo un día algún mal descubrimiento, y dejara de ocultarse algo oculto; no perdura la de mi hermana, ni la de ninguna novia ni ninguna amante ni ninguna esposa pasada, presente o imaginaria (suele ser la hermana la primera esposa, la esposa niña), parece obligado que en esas relaciones se acabe utilizando lo que se sabe o se ha visto en contra del amado o cónyuge -o de quien resultó ser sólo momentáneo calor y carne-, de quien hizo revelaciones y admitió un testigo para sus flaquezas y pesadumbres y se prestó a confidencias, o simplemente rememoró sobre la almohada abstraído en voz alta sin reparar en los riesgos, ni en el ojo arbitrario que siempre nos mira ni el oído selectivo y sesgado que nos escucha (muchas veces no es nada grave, una utilización sólo doméstica, defensiva y acorralada, para cargarse de razón en un apuro dialéctico cuando se discute largo, un uso argumentativo).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 14.1 (Javier Marías)

Marías, Javier
Mañana en la batalla piensa en mí

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books in September of 2009.

This is the last Marías book I read cover to cover. I am still stuck halfway in another, which I am not sure I'll got back to. It took me a long time to read this book, mostly because I got stuck on one passage.

I could not figure out what was happening. I read it and re-read it and got nowhere. I could not go on without understanding the meaning of the passage because it establishes not only the profession of the protagonist, but also a crucial professional relationship that determines the course of the events that follow.

I got so frustrated that I put the book down for several months.

One day I broke down and went to the library and found the English translation. Once I'd established the meaning of the sentence, it was much easier to move forward. Sadly, my memory of this book, which is a great one, is still marred by my frustration with trying to understand this one passage. I'll quote it below. But here's the set-up.

The book opens on a date between a man and a married woman. They are in her apartment. Her young son is in the other room. Suddenly, she dies. The man, frightened, makes a sandwich for the little boy, now asleep, and leaves without calling anyone, for fear of suspicion and also of the husband. He reads the paper and finds out the location of the funeral and anonymously attends. He then seeks to ingratiate himself with the family. The father (named Téllez) happens to be an aide to the king of Spain and the protagonist, a writer, gets a job writing speeches for the king.

Here's the beginning of the passage in Spanish:

Fue a través del padre como conocí a esos hijos simultaneamente, y a Téllez procuré conocerlo y lo conocí de hecho a través de un amigo al que en más de una ocasión he suplantado, o al que había prestado mi voz y ahora tuve que prestar mi presencia, y además busqué y quise hacerlo, a diferencia de otras veces. Ese amigo se llama o hace llamar Ruibérriz de Torres y tiene un aspecto indecoroso....

Ok, paraphrased, this tells us that the protagonist got to know the Téllez children at the same time as the father and that he got to know the father through a friend named Ruibérriz de Torres..."who I had on more than one occasion supplanted, or lent my voice, and to whom I now had to lend my presence, and what's more, unlike in the past, this time I sought him out, I wanted to do it."

This all makes sense at a certain point, but what follows is a description of this friend as a sort of failed writer who now made a living writing speeches for others. However, his "indecorous" appearance caused the people for whom he worked some alarm that he might prove an embarrassment. So, he often hired the protagonist to work as a proxy. Sometimes as a ghost writer, other times as a more pleasing physical substitute.

Anyhow, this is not explained immediately, but slowly and obliquely, which caused me a lot of confusion. The passage above is mysterious enough that I entertained the possibility that Torres was a figment of the author's imagination. What further confused me is that the word for "ghost writer" is simply "negro," which literally mens, "black." I was not aware of this, so my confusion was compounded by this sentence later on in the passage:

Así, él es lo que se llama un negro en el lenguaje literario--en otras lenguas un escritor fantasma--y yo he oficiado por tanto de negro del negro, o fantasma del fantasma si pensamos en las otras lenguas, doble fantasma y doble negro, doble nadie.

Thinking somehow that Torres might be a figment of the author's imagination, and not knowing the maning of "negro," my internal translator broke down and could not comprehend the meaning this passage. For some reason, I was also reading "fantasm" as "phantasm," when it really means ghost.

If you translate "negro" as "black" and use the cognate of "fantasma," the passage reads like this:

So, he is what in literary parlance is called a black--in other languages a phantasm--and so I have served as the black of a black, the phantasm of a phantasm, if we are thinking of other languages, a double black, a double phantasm, a double nobody.

Properly translated, it should read something like this:

So, he is what in literary parlance is called a ghost writer. And so I have served as the ghost of a ghost writer, a double ghost, a double nobody.

Unfortunately, you have to lose the extra level of translation because the "other languages" he refers to in the original include English. A perfect translation would require another phrase for ghost writer, so you could get at all the layers of character doubling. You might pull it off by reversing the languages. Something like this:

He is what in literary parlance is called a ghost writer--a black in other languages--and so I have served as the ghost of a ghost writer, the black of a black if we are thinking in other languages, a double ghost, a double black, a double nobody.

Anyhow, you can see how one might get confused.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 14 (Javier Marías)

Marías, Javier
Corazón tan blanco

I think this was purchased online.

As I've mentioned before, I went on a year-plus jag of reading Spanish language novels almost exclusively. It began in the summer of 2008 and lasted until the spring of 2010. It may only be on hiatus. For the past few months I've been back to reading English, mostly because I got stuck in the middle of two or three Spanish books, all of which are still sitting on the nightstand next to my bed, taunting me.

Anyhow, I think Jon Welch, owner of Talking Leaves...Books, was the one who told me he'd heard Marías was a good read. I eventually bought this one, after reading some reviews online. It's pretty great, as are most of his novels. He's a very good writer to read in winter, as his novels take a long time to read, due mostly to the complex length of the sentences and his habit of disrupting the narrative with long philosophical passages.

Anyway, most of his best novels are translated into English and published on New Directions. You should read them. Seriously.

from Corazón tan blanco

No he querido saber, pero he sabido que una de las niñas, cuando ya no era niña y no hacía mucho que había regresado de su viaje de bodas, entró en el cuarto de baño, se puso frente al espejo, se abrió la blusa, se quitó el sostén y se buscó el corazón con la punta de la pistola de su propio padre, que estaba en el comedor con parte de la familia y tres invitados. Cuando se oyó la detonación, unos cinco minutos después de que la niña hubiera abandonado la mesa, el padre no se levantó en seguida, sino que se quedó durante algunos segundos paralizado con la boca llena, sin atreverse a masticar ni a tragar ni menos aún a devolver el bocado al plato; y cuando por fin se alzó y corrió hacia el cuarto de baño, los que lo siguieron vieron cómo mientras descubría el cuerpo ensangrentado de su hija y se echaba las manos a la cabeza iba pasando el bocado de carne de un lado a otro de la boca, sin saber todavía qué hacer con él. Llevaba la servilleta en la mano, y no la soltó hasta que al cabo de un rato reparó en el sostén tirado sobre el bidet, y entonces lo cubrió con el paño que tenía a mano o tenía en la mano y sus labios habían manchado, como si le diera más vergüenza la visión de la prenda íntima que la del cuerpo derribado y semidesnudo con el que la prenda había estado en contacto hasta hacía muy poco: el cuerpo sentado a la mesa o alejándose por el pasillo o también de pie.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 13 (Douglas Manson)

Roofing and Siding
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Manson, Douglas
Roofing and Siding

Given to me by the author in October of 2007, according to the inscription.

The inscription begins with two hand-drawn leaves descending from the word 'Siding' on the title page, almost like gigantic quatation marks around the word, and between them floats, in handwritten black text, the word, 'POEMS.' Below the first letter of the printed name of the author another drawing, this one of something resembling a house or perhaps a kind of hut, houses the first part of the inscription:


This copy
For Michael

Two wavy lines that might or might not be extensions of the two 'l's in 'Kelleher' seem to form a kind of tributary becoming a closed body of water, like a lake, or it could be a fish or an eel, maybe even a whale! Inside of the figure is inscribed:

i don't like laundromats
-in friendship-poker-ipods-poetry
+with love

Douglas Manson

Just below the author's curvaceous signature the inscription closes with the following text, which is surrounded by a series of four black dots and a line that seem to form a box of some kind, the left side of which resembles something like a face.

cant' talk football

from Roofing and Siding

The Artist to HIs Art

How much larger it seemed when I was not anywhere near it.

Unclear, though, what it was.

Maybe a building lit from within

seen from the lower lip of a saddleback

looming like an orange moon on the horizon

bending the light around to lift it up.

It shrinks and shrinks on every gradual approach

and is almost a child's toy.

for Mrs. L.M. Elkins

Monday, January 10, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 12 (Osip Mandelshtam)

Selected Poems
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Mandelshtam, Osip
Selected Poems

Purchased at the late lamented Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Bookstore. $3.

While I like the translations in this book -- in fact, rewrote one of them as a section of a poem in my last book -- this is one of the most absurdly unbalanced books I'v ever encountered. It is a slim volume-- only about 80 pages of Mandelshtam's poems are included, yet nearly half the book is taken up with critical extras. There are two forwards, a translator's preface, and a long introduction to the poet's life and work. Is all this really necessary? Can't we just read the poems?

Anyhow, here's the one I stole from:

The careful muffled sound
Of a fruit breaking loose from a tree
In the middle of the continual singing
Of deep forest silence...

My version, which became a section of a poem called "Pie in the Sky"


That reckless
The falling


Snapped branch
And black earth

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 11 (Tom Mandel)

To The Cognoscenti
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Mandel, Tom
To The Cognoscenti

Given to me by the author upon his visit to Buffalo in, I think, 2008.

I had met Tom one other time before that when we read together at the DC Arts Space in, I think, 2005 or 6. It was the first time I'd read in DC, where I'd mostly grown up. I invited a friend or two with whom I was still in contact. A friend of mine's mother still worked at my high school and decided to invite one of my high school English teachers, himself a poet, to the reading.

I remember that he would begin each class by having us stand to attention and recite the tend rules of good writing. I can remember a few of them:

1. Write to express, not to impress.
2. Be proud of what you write.
3. Rewrite always.
4. Limit forms of the verb "to be"
5. Use cautiously metaphor, simile and personification.
6. Avoid clichés.
7. Vary sentence structure and create transitions.

That's all I can remember. I saw them written down somewhere years later and discovered that some of were fairly obscure, regarding things like the use of the 'copula.' Seven out of ten isn't bad 25 years on, I guess.

Anyhow, he came to the reading and we spoke for a while afterwards. He said to me that he thought my poems were very "dark" and then he smiled and said, "But you seem like such a nice guy!" And the he asked if I were getting a portion of the door. I said yes, and he slipped me a ten dollar bill and said, "I want it all to go to you." I he think also bought a copy of the book and asked me to sign it.

from To The Cognoscenti

I. how it all began…

For thousands of years you is a terrible idea.
Then it rains for eons on terrain

fresh-formed and so hot that never
a drop joins another but both besteam

the imaginary viewer instantly
until the moment fattens drip-drop

and through the door-peeker
that is his lens on the world

a distorted face swells to symbolize
animal force upon the ground

leaning over on the cooling desert
to suck up any puddles. From then on

time has in common with a whole
in your sock that a stitch to begin

and right away you're done.
Someone looking into the window

frames you where you stand
and as you slowly pass

from sight she notices what
you have done here, tumbling

from present to memory. Geometrical
constrained, you come over the hill

giving an effect of motion, of time
of your fear to be displaced.

When her gaze recoils from the window
its vapors are sucked into the room.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 10 (Andre Malraux)

Man's Fate
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Malraux, Andre
Man's Fate

Purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore for a course called The Individual vs. the Institution. According to a red stamp on the inner cover, I bought it in 1990 for $7.95. Seems expensive for a paper back at that time, but what do I know. The academic book market is quite a racket. Not quite the racket that higher education has become, but certainly an aider and abettor.

I am trying to imagine someone trying to write a book in 2011 with a title like this. C'est impossible, je pense. You might be able to pull it off with a long subtitle, like: "Man's Fate: Why We No Longer Use The Word 'Man' To Mean 'The Human Race," (Which is a Good Thing), Yet Persist In Our Belief That Our Lives Are Pre-ordained By Some Being Or Consciousness or Plan Over Which We Haven't the Least Bit of Control (Not Such A Good Thing)." It'd probably have to be filed under Self-Help, too.

My literary preference has always tilted towards the philosophical and this books is certainly a novel of ideas, a classic example of the existentialist novel, right up there with The Stranger and Nausea. I remember enjoying this book in college. I never read any of his other novels and kind of forgot about Malraux altogether.

A few years ago I was watching a documentary on Henry Langlois, the founder of the Cinémathèque Française, the informal university of the French New Wave. Later in his career, Malraux became the Minister of Culture in France and decided to fire Langlois as the head of the Cinémathèque. This caused a major public scandal which lead to protests, sit-ins and demands for his head. I believe even the Cannes film festival shut down in protest. Eventually Malraux backed down and returned Langlois to his position.

from Man's Fate

Ch'en was becoming aware, with a revulsion verging on nausea, that he stood there, not as a fighter, but as a sacrificial priest. He was serving the gods of his choice; but beneath his sacrifice to the Revolution lay a world of depths beside which this night of crushing anguish was bright as day. "To assassinate was not only to kill, alas..."

Friday, January 7, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 9.2 (Thomas Mann)

Mann, Thomas
Joseph and his Brothers

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

After having read The Magic Mountain, I wanted to read more Thomas Mann, so I decided to read this tome. It is a 1,200 page retelling of the bible story. I made it about 3/4 of the way through and then skimmed my way to the end. Not sure reading the actual bible story wouldn't have been more useful. Definitely not my favorite book by Thomas Mann.

It may also have been the timing. We had just sold our house and spent about four months in agony packing our things, renting a new apartment, and waiting for the sale to close. And waiting...and waiting...and waiting. We lived in an economically depressed neighborhood and we had a really nice house that the mortgage company for the buyer decided was not worth the asking price. After approving the mortgage, they declined it, so the buyer had to go through the whole approval process again.

We'd already rented an apartment for January 1, but I don't think we closed until mid- or late February, so we paid rent and mortgage for two months. We moved into what we thought was a nice apartment on Auburn Ave. in Buffalo. Turned out the landlord had failed to properly connect the heat in our bedroom, so we spent the whole winter without proper heat in the bedroom.

It was in the midst of all this that I read the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers, etc. I can picture the book next to out bed in that cold, cold room, and I can see myself skimming the pages to get to the end. Now that I am writing about it, I have to say my memory of book suddenly seems pretty clear, so it must have had some effect on me.

from Joseph and his Brothers

It was beyond the hills to the north of Hebron, a little to the east of the road from Urusalim, in the month of Adar, on a spring evening flooded by moonlight bright enough to render writing legible and to reveal-in precise tracery yet shimmering like gossamer-the smallest detail of the leaves and clustered blossoms of a solitary tree, an aged and mighty terebinth, which despite a rather short trunk flung its sturdy branches wide. This beautiful tree was sacred. Beneath its shade counsel might be obtained in various ways, both from the mouths of men-because those who were moved to share their experience of the divine would gather listeners beneath its branches-and by higher means. For those who had slept with their heads leaning against its trunk had, in fact, repeatedly received instruction and prophecy, and during the many years of burnt sacrifices offered at this spot-as attested by the blackened surface of a stone slaughtering table where a slightly sooty flame guttered-the behavior of the smoke, a telling flight of a bird, or even some sign in the heavens had often reinforced the particular fascination that such pious acts at the foot of the tree enjoyed.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 9.1 (Thomas Mann)

The Magic Mountain
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Mann, Thomas
The Magic Mountain

Purchased online.

Something about winter in Buffalo encourages me to sink my teeth into long European novels. I can't quite remember if I read this one in Winter 2006-7 or Fall 2007. I know I read tomorrow's book by Mann in the winter of 2007-2008. That book is so long that I suspect it took most of the winter to read, as would have this one, which means it is likely I read it over the winter of 2006-2007. It had been recommended to me by my old friend, Genya Turovskaya when she came to town for a reading.

I remember lying in bed, in the midst of a snowy Buffalo winter, wrapped in a comforter, and reading about the sanitarium for consumptives, where, in the midst of a snowy alpine winter, they sat outside on the terrace, wrapped in pod-like comforters, breathing in the supposedly beneficial cold mountain air, and enjoying the little parallel between my current state and, though slightly envying their view, if not their illness.

I would put The Magic Mountain high on my list of favorite novels. Very high.

from The Magic Mountain

An ordinary young man was on his way from his hometown of Hamburg to Davos-Platz in the canton of Graubünden. It was the height of summer, and he planned to stay for three weeks.

It is a long trip, however, from Hamburg to those elevations--too long, really, for so short a visit. The journey leads through many a landscape, uphill and down, descends from the high plain of southern Germany to the shores of Swabia's sea, and proceeds by boat across its skipping waves, passing over abysses once thought unfathomable.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 9 (Thomas Mann)

Death in Venice
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Mann, Thomas
Death in Venice
And Seven Other Stories

Purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore. I think it was for a summer class called "Politics and the Novel," but it might have been for another one called, "The Individual vs. The Institution." Or I may have used it in both. I do remember that it was purchased not for the purpose of reading the title story, but for reading "Mario and The Magician." This recollection brings me no closer to determining which of these two courses required the book.

After college, two friends, R. and L., both women, moved to Paris to work as au pairs. I'd been closest with R., with whom I had one of those strangely undefined relationships one has at that age, wherein two people pretend that friendship should include staying up all night together talking of your deepest feelings, then sleeping in the same bed without having sex. Etc.

Anyhow, I went to visit R. and L. in Paris. I stayed with L., who lived in a hovel in the parking garage of the building she worked in, I believe on Rue John F. Kennedy. Anyhow, it was within walking distance of the Trocadero. I arrived to discover that R. had a boyfriend, an American artist who'd grown up in Brussels, and who was just finishing up art school.

His name was T., like the character in Death in Venice. (I choose not to write it out in the hope that he doesn't encounter this blog while googling himself). You can figure it out yourself -- it's the name the androgynous boy the main character lusts after.

He'd actually been named after that character by his mother. I remember he had a major mother thing going on in his life. So much so that when we saw the movie "Spanking The Monkey" together, he nearly had to leave the theater.

Anyhow, T. and I became fast friends. He was quite literary. He introduced me to the work of Paul Auster, I recall. In fact, I think he has pursued a writing career since our friendship ended. He moved to New York after he graduated and lived in a flat in Brooklyn, right underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

They used to have great parties on the roof of the building. You could look out and see all of lower Manhattan, as well as the underside of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was all very romantic.

Over the next several years we formed a kind of strange threesome. He had a love/hate relationship with the city and moved back and forth between New York and Europe. I ended up as the third wheel, helping R. process all her emotions about the relationship while he was out of the country, but remaining a platonic friend, despite the continuing sleepovers and so on.

One of the things I like about a lot of the so-called "Mumblecore" films is that they often deal with these kinds of relationships that are mostly defined by stifled desire and social anxiety. It's a relatively unexplored topic in the world of narrative art, despite its prevalence among twenty-somethings.

Eventually, I wanted more. I made my feelings known. I demanded she end it with him. She didn't. She called him. The they talked. He waited, was patient. Waited some more. She told me she'd have to see him in person. I got angry. I got impatient. Etc.

Eventually, they talked it all out. It brought them closer. Renewed their love. Etc. I never spoke of it with him until it had been settled in his favor, at which point he brought down the hatchet in one of the nastiest letters I've ever received.

This all occurred just as I was moving to Buffalo. I eventually severed ties with both of them. It was kind of sad, but I felt I really had no choice. I think they ended up getting married and moving to Africa or something.
Funny, now that I think of it, I don't think I've ever actually read Death in Venice. At least, not all the way through.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 8.1 (Stéphane Mallarmé)

Collected Poems
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Mallarmé, Stéphane
Collected Poems

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

No memories surface as I stare at this book, except maybe the fact that I remember admiring it on the shelves often, over a period of time, before I bought it. It's a beautiful book-object, printed on good paper, with a lovely cover. I don't know why I didn't buy it right away. Perhaps I didn't have any money at the time. That has rarely stopped me before. Looks like it might have suffered a little bit of water damage at some point, near the end of the book, close to the spine. Just a little, though.

from Collected Poems

The Pipe

Yesterday I found my pipe while pondering a long evening of work, of fine winter work. Thrown aside were my cigarettes, with all the childish joys of summer, into the past which the leaves shining blue in the sun, the muslins, illuminate, and taken up once again was the grave pipe of a serious man who wants to smoke for a long while without being disturbed, so as better to work: but I was not prepared for the surprise that this abandoned object had in store for me; for hardly had I drawn the furst puff when I forgot the grand books I was planning to write, and, amazed, moved to a feeling of tenderness, I breathed in the air of the previous winter which was now coming back to me. I had not been in contact with my faithful sweetheart since returning to France, and now all of London, London as I lived it a year ago entirely alone, appeared before my eyes: first the dear fogs that muffle one's brains and have an odor of their own there when they penetrate beneath the casements. My tobacco had the scent of a somber room with leather furniture sprinkled by coal dust, on which the thin black cat would curl and stretch; the big fires! and the maid with red arms pouring coals, and the noise of those coals falling from the sheet-iron bucket into the iron scuttle in the morning--when the postman gave the solemn double knock that kept me alive! Once again I saw through the windows those sickly trees of the deserted square--I saw the open sea, crossed so often that winter, shivering on the deck of the steamer wet with drizzle and blackened with fumes--with my poor wandering beloved, decked out in traveller's clothes, a long dress, dull as the dust of the roads, a coat clinging damply to her cold shoulders, one of those straw hats with no feather and hardly any ribbons that wealthy ladies throw away upon arrival, mangled as they are by the sea, and that poor loved ones refurbish for many another season. Around her neck, was wound the terrible handkerchief that one waves when saying goodbye forever.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 8 (Stéphane Mallarmé)

A Tomb for Anatole
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Mallarmé, Stéphane
A Tomb for Anatole
Tr. Paul Auster

I have no idea where I bought this. Possibly online, possibly at Talking Leaves, possibly at St. Mark's. No idea. None. It has no TL sticker on it, which doesn't entirely rule out that possibility, but makes it less likely that I got it from there. I think I have a vague memory of buying it online shortly after having met Paul Auster. I don't know.

I first read some of the poems in this collection in Auster's book, "The Invention of Solitude," probably around 1993, after having been introduced to Auster's work by an artist I met on a trip to Paris. I remember at the time being terribly moved by these crystalline fragments of grief.

Several years later, after having moved to Buffalo, I encountered them again, this time through Robert Creeley. It was my second semester in town and I was meeting with him every week or so at Pano's on Elmwood Avenue to talk about my poetry. He asked if I had read Auster's translations of Mallarmé. I said I had read the one's he published in "The Invention of Solitude."

At our next meeting he brought me his copy of the original North Point Press version of the book. It had a light blue cover with white font. It was one of those paperback covers with flaps on it, like on a hardcover book. When he handed it to me, he said, "Make sure to give it back!"

I took it home and read through it. I seem to remember he also loaned me some books on prosody. I looked for my own copy, but it was long out of print. It wasn't until several years later that New Directions released this second edition, which I bought somewhere I don't know where and have since read several times.

from A Tomb for Anatole


child sprung from
the two of us—showing
us our ideal, the way
—ours! father
and mother who
               sadly existing
survive him as
the two extremes—
badly couple in him
and sundered
—from whence his death—o-
obliterating this little child "self"

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Poem at Colorado Review

A poem of mine featured in the current issue of the Colorado Review (which you should purchase!) is up on their website:

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 7.2 (Jackson Mac Low)

Mac Low, Jackson
Representative Works: 1938-1985

I think I got this when I worked at the Segue Foundation, though it is also possible I bought it at Talking Leaves...Books. I seem to have a memory that the former is true and that it went out of print for a while and that because of this fact many of my Buffalo classmates could not get this particular title when Jackson came to town. I guess we'll never know.

It is inscribed thus:

Best wishes to Michael

Jackson (Mac Low)

NYC 10/9/97

"Milwaukee comes to mind."

I think Jackson may have spaced out a little when he wrote "NYC," because he autographed this in Buffalo. As I mentioned in a previous post, he performed with live musical accompaniment (provided by Mike Basinski, Don Metz and others) at Hallwalls during his 1997 visit.

Before the reading, he realized that he didn't have copies of several of the pieces they intended to perform. He asked the audience if anyone had a copy of Representative Works: 1938-1985, which I happened to have with me. I loaned it to him for the performance and then asked him to sign it afterward.

The other reference, in quotes, to Milwaukee, took me a while to figure out. I didn't realize at the time Jackson had the habit of choosing random quotations from his poems and writing them out as part of his autograph. About a year later, while a re-read the book, I discovered that the line had came from one of his famous "Light Poems."

Strange: my memory was slightly off on that one. I had what I thought was a fairly specific memory about discovering that the line came from the Light Poem dedicated to Paul Blackburn. I also remember telling this to Elaine Equi, who happened to be in town at the time. I said it felt kind of eerie that Jackson randomly chose a line from one of my favorite poems. Elaine responded that perhaps because I had read the poem so many times, the wear in the book spine might have actually led him to the poem. So it wasn't quite so random.

A quick fact check leads me to the discovery that it comes from a different Light Poem altogether: "3rd Light Poem: For Spencer Holst, Beate Wheeler, and Sebastian Holst -- 12 June 1962." I guess I must have said to Elaine that I found it eerie he chose a poem from my favorite group of his poems -- something along those lines.

Actually, the Light Poems are some of my favorite poems by any poet. I wish somebody would publish the Complete Light Poems some day. Now that would be something.

from Representative Works: 1938-1985

56th Light Poem: For Gretchen Berger--29 November 1978

From Gretchen's "G" I get a green light. I go ahead.
The first Light Poem in nearly a year -- I hope it really is the 56th.
If there is another in some notebook or folder,
it's the one that's going to get its number changed, not this one.
This is the 56th Light Poem, & I'm 56 years old.
I was 56 September 12th. Time has passed. I'm older now.

I sit at the back of the loft, typing on a little low table,
since it's too cold to type at my desk by the middle west window
          whose cracks I stuffed with Mortite caulking yesterday.
It'll be warmer, I hope, after Mordecai covers that window with plastic.
Until then I'll type out here, surrounded by papers, dictionaries,
file folders, notebooks, Coronamatic cartridges.
Is this the word "Coronomatic"'s first appearance in verse?

Would Eliot have allowed "Coronamatic" in his verse?
If so, under what circumstances?
Would he only have written it ironically or satirically?
Can you imagine "Coronamatic"
in one of the Four Quartets?
Can you guess how Eliot crept into this Light Poem at this point?

Relucence of the Four Quartets illuminates this verse
because I reread most of the group the other day.
A reviewer of Helen Garner's new book on them mentions a line
dropped from the New York edition--probably through printer's error--
that Gardner's recovered--which shows some critics are useful,
It's the real 20th line of "Little Gidding."

He begins: "Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,/Suspended in time,...
...the hedgerow/Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation."

Then that first strophe ends with three lines, not two.
Where was the middle line lost, here or in London or between?
Did someone who thought it useless drop it on purpose?
"Where is the summer, unimaginable
Summer beyond sense, the inapprehensible
Zero summer?"

Could Eliot have dropped that line on purpose
while he was correcting the New York proofs?
A major shift in meaning occurs from "the unimaginable
Summer beyond sense, the inapprehensible/Zero summer"
to "the unimaginable/Zero summer":
the words left out imply another view of the nature of things.

As if electric-arc light had replaced
"The brief sun" that "flames the ice, on ponds and ditches,...
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon"--
or tungsten light, the "glow more intense than blaze of branch,
          or brazier,"
that "Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire"!

Why do I care so much that Eliot's line was left out
when a chart & two random digits lead to the light of a clutch lamp
"(an arc-lamp in which the upper carbon
is adjusted automatically by a clutch)"--
fortuitously connecting with the "electric-arc light" above,
though there could've been an absolute disconnection?

How much of the halcyon light of the poet's mind
was lost when someone working in electric-lamp light
forgot to set that line--& no one caught it?
Why do words implying an alien philosophy
move me more than--I was going to say "nova light"--
but how do I know how I'd feel if I saw a real nova--not just a photo?

The light of poet's baffling light.
It doesn't depend on what the poet thinks--or even what he feels!
That extra light that gave Housman goose bumps
comes from somewhere beyond or underneath
thought or emotion or will or taste or sense:
a radiation only known through words.

That glow can be snuffed out
by burning a book or slitting a throat
or sleepily nodding in a stuffy composing room,
but coming from somewhere more arcane
than an exploding star whose light spans light-years,
it momentarily arcs a rainbow through existence.

                              29 November 1978
                              New York

(Note from MK: my edition of Eliot's complete poems does NOT include the missing line mentioned in the poem.)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 7.1 (Jackson Mac Low)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Mac Low, Jackson

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I actually went to Talking Leaves yesterday with my friend, Gregg Biglieri, after having taken a long walk with Zelda and after having driven out to the suburbs and eaten lunch at El Palenque Mexican Restaurant.

I hadn't been to the store in a while and had an urge to buy a book. I bought two, actually: Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson, on Gregg's recommendation (I can't put it down), and also Under the Dome, Walks with Paul Celan, by Jean Daive (Translated by Rosmarie Waldrop).

While standing at the counter talking with the owner, Jon Welch, I asked if it was ok for me to take five or six of the free Buffalo News Book Club bookmarks. I like their compact size, and i find I always need more because of the large number of books I read but don't finish.

We talked a bit about my blog and how I enjoy finding bookmarks pressed between the last two pages I might or might not have read. I appreciate these discoveries in much the same way, I said, that I appreciate finding the price sticker still attached to the book. In fact, no longer remove those price stickers so that when I get to that point in my library I will how much I paid and, in the case of the TL sticker with the barcode and date, when I bought the book.

Jon then informed me that the dates on the stuckers--I should have been able to figure this out on my own--duh!--don't mark the date of the purchase of the book, but rather the date of its arrival in the store.

In most cases, this will indicate the general time period in which the book was purchased, but in many cases, especially given my proclivity for poetry, the books might have been on the shelves for a long time, meaning that the sticker does not accurately mark the period during which I bought the book.

Which is all a way of saying that, in future, or if you read previous entries in which I make use these stickers to attempt to date my reading, take it with a grain of salt. Then again, if I've learned anything about memory writing this blog, it is that it is all grains of salt.

Below are to two PennSound recordings of Mac Low reading from Barnesbook.

Barnesbook 1
Barnesbook 2

Hunh, I just looked at the date on these recordings, 6/24/04, Orono, ME. Turns out I was at this reading and that, according to Anne Tardos, it was Jackson's last. He died a couple of month later.