Monday, February 28, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 34 (Duncan McNaughton)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McNaughton, Duncan

I can't remember where I bought this. It may have been on the sale shelf at Talking Leaves or off their table at the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair. Or I bought it used somewhere. I have a flickering memory of having been surprised upon encountering this book, as if I hadn't expected to find it where I did. That could mean any number of things. It could also mean nothing. Anyhow, It's a good book. You should read it. Duncan McNaughton is another one of those poets like Gerrit Lansing who is sadly under-read. I am a little short on time this morning, so I'll have to continue my discourse on friendship in my next entry.

from Valparaíso

Clear Spot

When the morning calls in, that golden bird
when it's over, that golden metaphysical bird
when the meaning calls, I am in

There were no gold birds in the meaning
other than the golden, metaphysical birds

"Those little golden birdies, look at them"

to Lee Hickman 23 June 89

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 33.1 (Marshal McLuhan)

McLuhan, Marshall
Understanding Media:
The Extensions of Man

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books for a course with Charles Bernstein. I remember Charles started playing a game in class wherein each time a form of media that had yet to be mentioned came up, he would ask the class if it were "hot" or "cold." We would answer one or the other and discuss our reasons for thinking it so. It was kind of fin, as I recall.

I realize I have not been delineating my thoughts on friendship as clearly as Aristotle. But then I am not Aristotle. So there.

I was thinking overnight about friendships rekindled. I have had many friendships that were very intense and very close at one time, only to be severed for one reason or another, usually a change in location by one or the other person. Years pass without communication. One day, one or the other of us renews contact. We decide to meet at a cafe in New York or DC or wherever. Just to say hello and see how things are going, how things have changed.

It begins as an exercise in nostalgia. I am seeking a link to my past, which seems more distant yet somehow more urgent every day. The circumstances that created my life up until now have disappeared irrevocably, but many of the actors in the drama are still alive. I reach out in the hope of touching some element of a past that disappeared at almost the instant it occurred.

On rare occasions, a new friendship blooms. Somehow the mutual feelings of good will have survived the passage of time and our two lives suddenly seem freshly linked. We talk about how things are now, where we think they are going, etc. Our ideas of the world still seem relevant to one another. On most occasions, however, the opposite is true. The conversation revolves entirely around the past. Remember that time we...etc.

This is a sign that the friendship no longer exists in the present. It is a relic of another era. Not without value, mind you. Talking about the past, remembering what occurred, checking the facts of your own version of the story against those of someone with whom you shared it, is very valuable indeed, but the possibility of a friendship moving forward on this basis is slim. At least for me.

When I walk away from conversations like this, I feel at once elated and sad. I take pleasure in remembering the past and sharing those memories with others, but I feel sad about the fact that throughout the telling of the old stories I am no longer connected to the person before me or the past out which they seem miraculously to have sprung.

And yet that does not keep me from looking at the profiles of old friends on Facebook or performing google image searches under the names of my childhood friends. It has at times made me a little cynical about the lastingness of friendships. If a friendship is based mostly on proximity, perhaps a little on shared interests, then it is doomed to die away at some point if one or the other of those factors is removed. And if you know that going in, why bother in the first place?

But then there are those friendships that break all of these rules. They last despite change, they evolve, the mutual feelings between two people grow stronger and not weaker over time. How explain those?

from Understanding Media

In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium--that is, of any extension of ourselves--result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 33 (Marshal McLuhan)

McLuhan, Marshal
The Gutenberg Galaxy

I think I bought this at Rust Belt Books. Great cover, no?

Yesterday's entry concluded as follows:

I would say that most friendships arise due to circumstances covered under the preceding three varieties of proximity and duration. But what about other forms of friendship? Whence do they arise? And how sustain themselves?

After proximity and duration, I would guess that the next largest group of friendships, while still dependent on those qualities, arise from common interests. This group has a wide variety of possibilities, everything from hobbies to fetishes to ideas. I can think of many, many friendships over the years that were based almost entirely on a shared interest in one thing. I have had drinking and drug friends, chess and poker friends, AA friends, soccer friends, poetry friends, Deadhead friends, movie friends, intellectual friends, and so on.

In most cases, these friendships ebb and flow with my interest level in the various named interests, as well as ongoing proximity. A good example is my friend, C., who I recently reconnected with on Facebook. When I lived in NYC, C. was an undercover narcotics officer for the NYPD. He spent a lot of time working on "buy and bust" operations in my neighborhood in the East Village. The building next door to mine housed one of the biggest heroin operations in the city from the late eighties through the mid-nineties.

I met C., through a roommate of mine and we discovered a mutual love of chess. C. would come over to my apartment often to play. Sometimes he would finish his shift working undercover as a junkie and buzz up. He'd sit down on the futon, remove his gun and set it on the table, then pour himself a drink and light up a cigarette. We'd sit and play chess for hours, one game after another.

The two of us had very little in common besides pleasure we derived from playing chess. When I left New York, our friendship faded. The feeling I have abou that friendship's passing is much different than, say, the one with M. described a few days ago. My friendship with C. depended on proximity and mutual interest and when proximity was removed from the equation there was nothing left to sustain it. I think I understood that implicitly throughout the period I knew him.

With friends like M., however, the combination of proximity and long duration led me to expect something more of the friendship. The fact that were were near one another over a long period of time and shared several common interests led me to believe that the friendship was based on something more permanent. This turned out to be an illusion.

When I first arrived at Fordham, my third college in two years, drinking and drugs were beginning to take their toll on my life. I began seriously thinking about checking into rehab. I mostly kept this to myself because I had started hanging around with a group of guys, several of them high school friends, who were heavy partiers.

One morning I woke from several days of partying in a the bed of those friends. I think he must have been at his girlfriend's. Anyhow, another friend, M., also a high school friend, slept in the other bed in the dorm room. When he awoke, he said, "I have to stop drinking." I said I did too and that if he were serious I was read and we could start going to AA that night. He said ok and neither of us has had a drink since.

The reason I tell this story is to illustrate another facet of friendship. As I said, all of our friends were heavy drinkers, and they all lived in the same suite in the dorm. I lived separately, but spent most of my time among them. When M. and I decided to go to AA, we triumphantly announced this fact to our friends, who had just settled in front of the TV with a case of beer and a full bong.

We were met with laughs at first, then disbelief, then panic, then rising anger. One even started yelling. He said that by saying we were alcoholics wer were also saying they were alcoholics and that THEY WERE NOT alcoholics.

The next several months were quite painful, as M. still lived in the same suite with them and they were nothing if not unhappy.The following year we rented an apartment off campus and remained roommates throughout college. Our friendships with that group were permanently damaged, as they had been based on one thing, partying, and without that we discovered we had nothing, except perhaps a shared past, in common.

I have to run to doggy obedience training, so I'll stop there. I think that I may have just stumbled upon another aspect of friendship to discuss tomorrow: nostalgia.

from The Gutenberg Galaxy

In the electronic age which succeeds the typographic and mechanical era of the past five hundred years, we encounter new shapes and structures of human interdependence and of expression which are "oral" in form even when the components of the situation may be non-verbal.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 32 (Jay McInerny)

McInerny, Jay
Bright Lights, Big City

I have no idea where (or why) I acquired this book. I read it. I disliked it intensely, mostly, I recall, because I found the conceit of writing a novel in the second person distracting to the point of distraction. Actually, I think I bought this and Less Than Zero (which I also hated) at the same time, feeling I should at least take a look at some of the books that were supposedly defining my indefinable generation. I never got around to reading Generation X, but I don't feel like I missed anything. I kind of like the cover, though, with it's 80's drop-shadow sans serif title font, and the image of the man in the trenchcoat heading towards the neon glow of the Odeon, the Twin Towers glowing in the background. I wonder if those have continued to appear in subsequent editions. I somehow doubt it.

I had more I wanted to say yesterday about friendship, but my mind is feeling a bit muddy this morning and I don't quite remember what it was. I can see it there, a fuzzy little cotton ball on the edge of consciousness, but every time I turn to look it disappears. So maybe I'll just start writing down some random thoughts on friendship and see if it makes an appearance after all.

First, most friendships are based on two things: physical proximity and duration. Proximity is the most important element. When two people are put in the same place over a period of time, they develop relationships. What kind of relationship develops in this way almost certainly depends on how much time they share the same space and for how long.

If two people spend an entire day together, occupied by a shared activity, say a retreat or a conference or a meeting of some sort, they develop a specific kind of relationship. Usually this relationship has an intense quality to it. If they dislike each other, this feeling grows quickly and powerfully throughout the day. The same is also true if they have positive feelings toward each other. The fact that they know they will spend the day together makes them intensely aware of the fact that this is only a temporary situation. The haters regret every minute of it, the lovers mourn the passing of the day because they know this fleeting friendship will pass.

If two people go to the same place at the same time, for instance if they are taking a class together, then the intensity of the initial relation is weaker. If they dislike each other, they can comfort themselves knowing the person will be out of their lives at the end of the class, at least for a period of time. If they like the person, the fact they only see each other during class allows them to step back from the friendship a little, to observe it from the outside and determine whether their feelings of friendship are genuine and reciprocated. They can reveal something of themselves, and also save a little for next time. When this more extended period of shared time comes to an end, they can either say farewell or attempt to continue the friendship beyond the expiration of the class.

Then there are the relationships that have a more permanent aspect to them, wherein two people share space over long periods of time. Neighbors, school mates, office mates, and so on. In these relationships the knowledge that proximity and circumstances are not likely to change suddenly or quickly has a very different effect on the relationship. Time plays a very powerful role. On the one hand, if a friendship develops, it can feel like it has a kind of permanence to it, a solidity. It can come to seem as if it had always been there and always will be. It can be more easily taken for granted.

If a negative relationship develops, then what to a friend feels permanent and significant to an enemy can feel like a prison sentence. Hence the particularly nasty antagonisms that develop between neighbors over seemingly minor details like the placement of trees, the building of fences, and so forth, or the way that office or department politics so often devolve into blood feuds.

I would say that most friendships arise due to circumstances covered under the preceding three varieties of proximity and duration. But what about other forms of friendship? Whence do they arise? And how sustain themselves?

I'll think about it overnight and talk about it tomorrow.

from Bright Lights, Big City

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge. All might come clear if you could just slip into the bathroom and do a little more Bolivian Marching Powder. Then again, it might not. A small voice inside you insists that this epidemic lack of clarity is a result of too much of that already. The night has already turned on that imperceptible pivot where two A.M. changes to six A.M. You know this moment has come and gone, but you are not yet willing to concede that you have crossed the line beyond which all is gratuitous damage and the palsy of unraveled nerve endings. Somewhere back there you could have cut your losses, but you rode past that moment on a comet trail of white powder and now you are trying to hang on to the rush. Your brain at this moment is composed of brigades of tiny Bolivian soldiers. They are tired and muddy from their long march through the night. There are holes in their boots and they are hungry. They need to be fed. They need the Bolivian Marching Powder.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 31 (Chris McCreary)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McCreary, Chris

Sent to me by the author after he graciously published one of my poems in the ixnay reader in 2009.

Friendship is still on my mind this morning. I am thinking about the way the forms of friendship change over time, of how much friendships depend on geography and circumstance, and of how seldom they spring from something else, love, say, or mutual admiration.

Moving around as often as I did as a child, I was always having to make new friends. Each time I moved or changed schools I left my old friends behind. As I got older, this separation became painful and I tried to hold to my friends long after "the flowers of friendship faded," to borrow a phrase from Stein.

My first friends were sisters, Kathleen and Meghan, who lived across the street in California. They used to come over to our house to play in the sandbox with me. We only stayed in that house for a couple of years and then we moved to another part of town and I never saw them again. I still have a photo of the three of us sitting in the sandbox.

I started montessori school, where I made new friends. I only remember one specifically, a boy named Thor. He used to wear a T-Shirt with a drawing of the eponymous cartoon character emblazoned across the front. We moved once more in California and I began first grade at the local elementary school. Thor went there, too. I think he was the only kid from kindergarten to end up at the same school as me. About halfway through the year my father told me we were moving to the suburbs of Washington D.C. That was the last I ever heard of Thor.

I entered third grade the following year. My father signed me up for soccer right away. I'd played one season in California and liked it, so he signed me up again. Most of my friends for the next few years came from my soccer team. I think my closest friend was a guy named Steve. He lived about a mile away in a development that was slightly older than the one I grew up in, which was brand new at the time. He lived with his mother and father, a housewife and a dentist, respectively, and a sister named Lisa.

We used to sleep over at each other's houses often. I always preferred his house because his parents paid us less mind than my own and we could stay up all night watching scary movies. I remember once staying up late watching "Night of the Living Dead." Steve had long since dozed off in his sleeping bag. I tossed and turned and had nightmares all night long. I can also remember lying on our backs in the driveway in front of his house counting the shooting stars in the sky.

We remained close all the way through grammar school. We changed schools for middle school, but both of us ended up in the same place, Henry David Thoreau Junior High. That was when things started to change. Puberty had struck and Steve's face broke out with severe acne. He suddenly became obsessed with his appearance. We'd walk down the street and he would stop in front of every car to check his hair in the side view mirror.

I didn't really care what I looked like and I wasn't all that concerned with what other people thought. At least not yet. Puberty hit me later and slower and I think my childhood self perhaps extended a little further than did those of most of my friends. Junior high was also when I started drinking and smoking and taking drugs. I began to make a few friends among the "freaks."

Our school's simplified social hierarchy began with a division between the "jocks" and the "freaks." The jocks, as ever, stood atop the social hierarchy. One didn't need to actually be a jock to fit into this group. One needed only believe that the social hierarchy existed for a reason and that to question it was to question the very existence of life itself.

Freaks, on the other hand, tended to be outcasts of one sort or another. Among the freaks there was a general sense that the hierarchy was a fraud. In general it was believed (by the jocks) that all the freaks were on drugs and were inclined toward criminality. This was not entirely untrue.

Anyhow, the freaks and the jocks were supposed to hate each other and there were always rumors about fights planned at the community center or after school. They rarely occurred. But these social formations changed drastically the way everyone related to each other.

As we progressed through middle school, Steve came to identify more and more with the jocks and I more and more with the freaks. Our friendship began to founder when we began to judge one another based on what we perceived to be the rules of our different social sets.

It never really recovered from this, although the friendship extended a couple of years into high school. Steve went to one of the local public high schools and I was sent to an all boys jesuit high school in the city. The fact that we were now operating in different social orbits made it easier to maintain our friendship without sacrificing social status. We remained friends through early high school, when Steve's idea of fun turned increasingly criminal.

Friday night sleepovers, which had already turned into excuses to get drunk in each other's basements, became staging grounds for all kinds of mayhem. Steve was always the instigator and the stakes got higher and higher each time we went out. It started with egging houses and throwing toilet paper into trees. Then it escalated to vandalism of cars -- sometimes letting the emergency brake loose on hills or graded driveways. Before long he wanted to have contests to see who could steal the most from unlocked cars and garages.

Eventually, I got too scared to take part in these hijinks, and he didn't seem to sorry that I stopped coming around. I heard through my parents that they eventually got arrested, not for stealing but for vandalizing shrubbery. They developed a technique called "bush-jumping." Two or more kids would get into someone's front yard garden and start jumping up and down on their flowers, shrubs, bushes, etc., until they had destroyed everything. They got caught one night and were sentenced to a year of payback by rebuilding all the gardens they'd destroyed.

By my junior year in high school we had lost touch completely. I've looked for him on Facebook, but he doesn't seem to exist there.

from Dismembers

from False Correspondences

Aggressions grey with the weather
as victors again begin to overwrite history.

One is only noticed as bones show through,
as veins vine blue and bulging.

Blink and the landscape is suddenly gone lush,
blink again and it begins to wither inward.

Everyone here says hello.
Note that the enclosed photos glow in the dark.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 30 (Justin McCarthy)

The Ottoman Turks
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McCarthy, Justin
The Ottoman Turks:
An Introductory History to 1923

I think I bought this online, either just after or just before Orhan Pamuk's visit in 2007. As I was reading his work, I came to realize that I knew next to nothing about Turkey or its history, so I decided to give myself a little crash course.

Not sure where to go after the saga of the past week. I feel like I want to keep writing about M., but there is little else to say. I noticed a curious habit of mind as I was writing. I often felt an urge to impute to M. motives that were better ascribed to fate. My bitterness at the fact our friendship ended sometimes led me to characterize him as deliberately malicious in his willingness to let the friendship go.

I caught myself and rewrote the sentences to more accurately reflect the fact that the friendship ended for no good or bad reason, and that there was little either of us could have done to keep it up. Time passed, we changed, we moved on. Nothing wrong in being sad about that, but no need for bitterness, either.

Still, I am not getting at something I woke up thinking I would say. Maybe that friendship has always felt to me like an elusive and slippery thing. When I was younger I clung to it, sometimes desperately, and became bitter when it slipped from my hands. I've never known what to do when friendships change. I often feel like the kid who wants to keep playing soccer long after his friends have picked up their balls and gone home. I always wonder why we can't just keep on playing.

I never seem to get a satisfying answer to that question.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 29.6 (Cormac McCarthy)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McCarthy, Cormac

Loaned to me by M. Never returned.

So, we've come to the end of our tale. I must have seen M. a few more times than I have recalled in the last few entries. I have a clear memory that he loaned me Blood Meridian and that I returned it and that he then loaned me Suttree, which I still possess. I only read part of it. The only thing I recall is something about a guy sneaking into a watermelon patch to have intimate relations with the fruits.

My last memory of visiting with M. was just after he'd bought his first house. His daughter was three or four and they had a baby and maybe a third on the way. I was single, lonely, living in Manhattan, working the odd temp job to get by. Our lives really couldn't have been more different. He took me down to the basement of the house and showed me the boiler he'd just replaced, then explained about some trenching they were having dug around the perimeter in order to keep the moisture out.

At some point I think he saw my eyes glazing over and suggested we go upstairs. We sat in his dining room talking about books. He told me somewhat ruefully that he didn't have as much time to read them. There was a palpable silence between words as we talked. I remember him walking me out to my car in the street and giving me a hug. I said I'd call him next time I was in town.

This must have been sometime around 1996. My father died that year and my mother sold the house and moved to Florida, which effectively cut off my connection to the DC area. I've only returned five or six times since, for weddings and funerals and for one poetry reading I gave at the DC Arts Center. I've never bothered calling M.

Having been writing about him the last few days, I decided to take a peek to see if he was on Facebook. He is, of course. Still married. Has three teen and tween daughters. His profile says he works for an investment fund focused on clean energy. In the photos posted there he looks about the same, maybe a little older, seems to have kept the pounds off, has a satisfied smile on his face.

The temptation to "friend" him came and went pretty quickly.

from Suttree

Dear friend now in the dusty cockless hours of the town when the streets lie black and steaming in the wake of the watertrucks and now when the drunk and the homeless have washed up in the lee of walls in alleys or abandoned lots and cats go forth highshouldered and lean in the grim perimeters about, now in the sootblacked brick or cobbled corridors where lightwire shadows make a gothic harp of cellar doors no souls shall walk save you.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 29.5 (Cormac McCarthy)

Outer Dark
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McCarthy, Cormac
Outer Dark

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. Of McCarthy's books, I've only read Blood Meridian and All the Pretty Horses and part of Suttree. I bought this one for Lori to read.

M. graduated from Wheeling in 1990, when I was still only about halfway through college at Fordham. He graduated with a business degree and moved home to the DC area to look for work. I remember he had a dream of one day owning a bookstore that doubled as a coffee shop. These were still the days before superstores, so it still seemed like a novel idea (no pun intended). Soon after he got home he found out his girlfriend was pregnant. As they were very in love, they decided to keep the child.

I am not quite sure of the chronology of events after that, but I know that at some point M. moved back to Wheeling and took a bartending job while his girlfriend (or wife at this point, not sure, as I did not attend a wedding) finished school. Once graduated, they moved back to the DC area and he took a job working at a bank.

I remember visiting them once at an apartment they were renting somewhere in the DC suburbs. I am not sure which one -- something tells me it was in Rockville or somewhere thereabouts, but that is just a guess. It was after I'd graduated college, which means several years must have passed since I'd seen him. By that time I believe they already had a second on the way.

My recollections of the visit are a bit fuzzy. I was working hard trying to become a writer and was reading anything I could get my hands on and was eager to talk to M. about reading and writing (and also a little eager to show off how much I'd read since we'd last seen each other). I could tell he was a little put off by this. Partly because of my competitiveness, I am sure, but also partly because it was apparent he did not have the time he'd once had to pursue these interests.

He had been working on a business plan to realize his bookstore/cafe dream, but by this time the superstores had started their rapid takeover of the planet and it was looking less and less like a viable concept for a small business.

At the time I had very long hair and wore a brown suede coat. I remember he joked that I looked like Eddy Vedder. He meant it as a simple chide, but it seemed to me to carry more significance than that. As if he meant to say: I have more important things to do (raising children) than getting dressed up like a rock star. It was at that moment I knew we were heading in separate directions.

from Outer Dark

They crossed out on the bluff in the late afternoon sun with their shadows long on the sawgrass and burnt sedge, moving single file and slowly above the river and with something of its own implacability, pausing and grouping for a moment and going on again strung out in silhouette against the sun and then dropping under the crest of the hill into a fold of blue shadow with light touching them about the head in spurious sanctity until they had gone on for such a time as saw the sun down altogether which suited them very well.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 29.4 (Cormac McCarthy)

The Crossing
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McCarthy, Cormac
The Crossing

Purchase at Talking Leaves...Books. I think.

Goddamn these glossy covers. They are such a pain to photograph. The terrible iSight camera and the lack of light in this room are bad enough. Add in a surface that reflects the computer screen it faces and you have a photographer's nightmare on your hands. Not to mention the white background and the dainty brown serif font. Alas, we do what we can.

After I transferred out of Wheeling, first to Mason in Virginia and finally to Fordham in the Bronx, M. and I gradually began to lose touch. We made a point of getting together now and again during summers, but really only got to see each other once or twice a year. The irony is that just as discovered my love of reading and books, my friendship with M., whose voracious reading habits I'd always admired, began to fade.

There was a brief period, however, during which we were able to share our love of books. I remember he loaned me Even Cowgirls Get the Blues one summer, which sent me on a little Tom Robbins reading jag. But we saw each other so little that we really had very little time to discuss them after the fact.

Not long after I arrived in New York, I quit drinking and taking drugs. As this had been at least a partial basis for our friendship, sobriety too took a toll. Part of it was my fault. Or maybe a fault in my character. In my first couple years sober I became quite judgmental and preachy about the drinking habits of others. Most of my friends were either full blown alcoholics and addicts or well on their way to become so, and I made no bones about letting M. and others know I thought they needed help with their drinking. My assessments were not appreciated.

M. graduated college a couple of years ahead of me. My progress had been slowed by taking time off and changing schools several. I wasn't in much of a hurry to graduate, to be honest. I kind of liked reading books and staying up all night smoking cigarettes and philosophizing with my friends. However, just as M. was entering the world, events conspired to force sudden changes on his life that would inevitably lead to the slow dissolution of our friendship.

from The Crossing

He finished his supper and went to bed. Boyd was already asleep. He lay awake a long time thinking about the wolf. He tried to see the world the wolf saw. He tried to think about it running in the mountains at night. He wondered if the wolf were so unknowable as the old man said. He wondered at the world it smelled or what it tasted. He wondered had the living blood with which it slaked its throat a different taste to the thick iron tincture of his own. Or to the blood of God. In the morning he was out before daylight saddling the horse in the cold dark of the barn. He rode out the gate before his father was even up and he never saw him again.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 29.3 (Cormac McCarthy)

Cities of the Plain
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McCarthy, Cormac
Cities of the Plain

Purchase at Talking Leaves...Books.

During our senior year in high school, M. and I both discovered the Grateful Dead. I think we went to our first show in the summer of 1986 at RFK Stadium in Washington. Not long after that, M. went off to school in Wheeling, WV, and I moved to Colorado, having decided to take a year off before college. As it happened, I ended up attending Wheeling after I returned. Not because of M., but because it was the only college that would have me!

We remained friends, but the friendship was strained at times due to my being a late arrival on the scene. M. had made a new set of friends and they had all gone through the inevitable bonding process that takes place among freshman at any college. Whatever our friendship had been, it did not include that particular bond.

My year at Wheeling was a difficult one emotionally. That same sense of being outside of everything, of not having a niche, increased along with my consumption of drugs and alcohol. The spiral of abuse that led to my sobering up two years later began at Wheeling. The drug culture there was such that I don't think there was any other culture to speak of.

One experience in particular I think captures the feelings I had there.

This night began as any other: lots of drinking and pot smoking. Then someone started handing out some kind of hallucinogen, which I took more than I should have. By dawn everyone had gone to sleep at a party I'd attended, so I tiptoed out of the house and walked back to campus.

Shadows cast by the rising sun distorted everything naturally, my addled brain did the rest. I had the feeling suddenly that I was a tiny creature, no taller than an ant, wandering among these colossal brick buildings and dark, gargantuan mountains. I became terribly frightened that someone or something might step on my head and crush the life out of me. I eventually managed to zigzag back to my dorm room and close my eyes. I was still hallucinating after sleeping for twelve hours.

In the fall, M. and I decided to go back to DC to see the Dead at the Capitol Center. I think they played three or four shows that September and we had tickets to all of them. Our plan was to get a ride to DC and then hitchhike back. (My memory goes blank here -- I have a sense that we might have actually hitchhiked to DC, but I can't say for sure). We had a great time at the concerts, though I recall one night M. was so out his mind he mistook the exit for the entrance and left the concert halfway through. The guards refused to let him re-enter, and I found him sulking in the parking lot afterwards.

Someone, I forget who, drove us from DC to a place called Grantsville, MD., about an hour or so on the road toward Wheeling, which was five hours from DC. Grantsville was a quiet old farm town along route 70 west. We stood on the onramp for 3 hours trying to get a ride, but no one would pick us up. Eventually, we had to call someone at school to make the 4 hour drive down to get us, otherwise we'd have been stranded there.

At the end of the year, I transferred out of Wheeling to George Mason University in Virginia. Our friendship wasn't over at the point, but it began to change until it faded eventually away.

Off to doggy obedience class -- no excerpt today!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 29.2 (Cormac McCarthy)

McCarthy, Cormac
All the Pretty Horses

Not sure about this one. I may have bought it a long time ago, after reading Blood Meridian. I feel like I have had it for a long time.

When we left off yesterday, I was seething with jealousy at not having been singled out like my friend, M., to go on this super secret retreat. When senior year came around, I lobbied hard to be chosen to go on the first retreat. I am not sure exactly why it seemed important to me. Part of it was an inborn competitiveness, and I guess another part was that I had been seduced by all the secrecy accompanying the return of the retreaters in the spring. Something seemed to have happened to them all and I wanted it to happen to me.

It turned out that the biggest impediment to my participation was my poor academic performance. I was told that there was grave concern that missing five days of school could adversely effect my school work. I barely did any homework as it was, so how could I assure my teachers I could keep up with the extra load? I recall making my case several times over before they finally relented, most likely to get me to leave them alone rather than because anything I said actually convinced them I'd turn into a good student over night. Either that or they decided to gamble on the fact the retreat might change my attitude.

M. was one of the student leaders on the fall retreat, but we weren't in the same group, so I didn't see much of him. The retreat functioned somewhat like an encounter group. We spent a lot of time in group exercises involving deep sharing of fears, anxieties, social pressures, ambitions, etc. We did this one-on-one, in small groups, and in large sessions involving all thirty or so people. We were kept up late into the night talking and woken early to begin the day. As the week wore on, our lack of sleep made us all quite vulnerable emotionally.

At the most emotional point in the retreat, the retreat leaders turned up the volume a bit. On the second or third night, everyone gathered in a room and listened as one by one our names were called, followed by the phrase Dear Michael (or whatever the name)...They'd asked out parents to write us each a letter saying how much they loved us. It wasn't long before everyone in the room was in tears. At that point, I recall they handed us an envelope full of letters from friends who'd been previous retreatants, teachers, etc., all teling us the same and wishing us well. We were given the rest of the evening to read the letters and cry.

I think the final night we stayed up all night, tired & vulnerable, sharing and sharing and sharing (and smoking like crazy -- at least I was. Kind of amazing to think that was the case back then). By the time it was all over it did feel like a religious experience. It didn't turn me into a believer, but I did bond with a few friends for the first time since I entered high school. If nothing else, I felt less alienated from my peers during my senior year.

I believe I lobbied further to be chosen as a student leader for the spring retreat. I got the job. I think it was my first real public speaking gig. My friend C., the retreat leader, had me over to his apartment on Capitol Hill one night to work on a my talk. He let me smoke and drink a few beers (the drinking age was 18 then, so I was almost legal!)

I told him the whole exciting adventure of my life on drugs. I had recently stopped using everything for a brief period of time because I had been tested by my parents, who then insisted I go to a twelve step program. I had a useful story of triumph over adversity to tell. C. typed out the whole thing as I spoke. I memorized most of it and then delivered it during one of the big, emotional sessions. It was my first real taste of using words to engage an audience. And I liked it.

from All the Pretty Horses

The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door. He took off his hat and came slowly forward. The floorboards creaked under his boots. In his black suit he stood in the dark glass where the lilies leaned so palely from their waisted cutglass vase. Along the cold hallway behind him hung the portraits of forebears only dimly known to him all framed in glass and dimly lit above the narrow wainscotting. He looked down at the guttered candlestub. He pressed his thumbprint in the warm wax pooled on the oak veneer. Lastly he looked at the face so caved and drawn among the folds of funeral cloth, the yellowed moustache, the eyelids paper thin. That was not sleeping. That was not sleeping.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 29.1 (Cormac McCarthy)

The Road
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Plucked from a cache of books donated to the Just Buffalo book table. I seem to recall Dale Smith recommending this when he was in town a few years back. I still haven't read it, but I did see the film recently. It didn't really put me in the mood to read the book, I have to say.

Anyhow, back to the story of M. and me.

I think what drew the two of us together as friends was a sense of feeling like outsiders in our school.

I was an outsider for a number of reasons. First off, I came from a different background than most of my classmates. Whereas they had nearly all gone to Catholic schools their entire lives, I had gone to public schools. We did not share a common history, or for that matter a common set of beliefs. If I wasn't a full-blown atheist by the time I arrived, it didn't take long before the Jesuits turned me into one.

Another detail that set me apart was the fact that I lived in Virginia. The school was located in the heart of DC, a few blocks from the Capitol, and most of the boys who went there grew up in the Maryland suburbs or in DC proper. Among this set, Virginia was considered something of a backwater. We were looked upon as hicks.

A third thing that set me apart was was the fact that I arrived at the school a bit more "experienced" than most of my classmates. My problems with drinking and drugs began when I was in junior high school. Among my public school friends drinking, smoking, swearing, drugs, long hair, etc., were all established parts of the social culture by the time we'd reached the ninth grade. This was very much not the case among my high school classmates and they loudly let me know it.

M., on the other hand, was set apart by the fact he did not begin at our school at the same time everyone else did. He transferred during our sophomore year. I think the fact he was a reader and somewhat of a solitary person set him apart also. Unlike me, however, he could fit in when he needed to. He played baseball, so he had a certain badge of normalcy about him that I did not share. I don't think it bothered him as much as it bothered me that he didn't fit in. He had his books, after all.

I didn't want so much to fit in everywhere. I just wanted to fit in somewhere. I wanted to have a niche, but I could never seem to find one. Every time I tried on the mask if a particular subculture, I felt like people could see right through and before long I'd replace it with another. I never even tried to put on the normalcy mask. I knew it didn't fit.

One of the more stinging criticisms anyone ever leveled at me in high school came from a member of my carpool. I hated him from the day I met him. Smug, entitled, arrogant, and very wealthy, he got angry at me for something I don't remember what one day. Grabbing me by the collar and growled, "You know what, Kelleher? You don't fit in anywhere. You're not really a freak. You're not really a jock. You're not really a prep. You're nothing." I think it stung and stuck with me because it was mostly true. I didn't seem to fit in anywhere.

I am not feeling sorry for myself, believe me. I am just stating the facts as I remember them. The reader will not be surprised if I say that the few friends I did cultivate in high school were outsiders, too. We stood apart and we drank a lot and did a lot of drugs to fill in the gap between ourselves and our peers. Many of my friends were further outside than I was, so much so that they deliberately had acted to have themselves thrown out of school. I was too scared of my father to let that happen to me.

M. had a strict father, too, something I think also drew us together. His father even had a reputation for strictness. A kind of violence was implied, but he never spoke of it directly, so I am not sure what "violence" literally meant. But you could feel it was there. My father had a violent side, too, accompanied by a volatile and intimidating temper.

We became close almost immediately after he arrived. I think I was drawn to the new kids at school. I knew instinctively that I could make a fresh start with them, that we could begin our friendships free of the prejudices of my classmates. Before long, I felt that M. was my best friend.

Which didn't keep from feeling insanely jealous of him when, during our junior year, he was chosen to go on a super secret week-long retreat called "Kairos." Only 20 or so students were chosen to go on this retreat, and they all got to miss a week of school in order to go.

When they returned, all of them appeared to have had some kind of intense religious experience about which they had been sworn to secrecy. Their silence sent those who hadn't gone into fits wondering what might have caused this sudden change in their character. We were told there would be two more such retreats during our senior year and that we could apply in the fall.

I tried to get M. to tell me what had happened, but he refused. I hated the fact that he, who I had thought of as a slacker and an outsider like me, had been chosen to pilot this program, while I had been left behind. Not only that, he had been such an example to his friends that he'd been chosen as a student leader for the senior retreats the following year. I felt like I had been completely abandoned. I determined that I would be chosen for the first retreat in the fall, come hell or high water.

More tomorrow....

from The Road

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he'd wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 29 (Cormac McCarthy)

Blood Meridian
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McCarthy, Cormac
Blood Meridian
Or the Evening Redness
In the West

Purchased online. This is not the copy I read. Lori started reading McCarthy a few years ago, so I bought her this once she'd picked the rest of my shelf clean.

This book is conjuring memories of an old friendship, and since I have so many McCarthy books coming up, I think I'll talk about it over several days.

I first learned of Cormac McCarthy from a high school friend, M. He arrived, I believe, at the beginning of my sophomore or junior year in high school. He'd grown up in Queens and then moved to DC when his father took a job there. I don't quite recall what his father did, but he had a lot of money, judging by the huge house they lived in, in Potomac, Md., one of the more exclusive suburbs of DC.

M. and I had in common being part of an exclusive group of students who at that time, unlike the rest of our prep-school classmates, exhibited little ambition beyond having good times with good friends (translation: we liked to party, often and hard). Neither of us did well in school and we were both counseled to nearly to death by the support staff at the school who desperately wanted to help us get through high school and safely into college.

Unlike me, M. actually liked to read. He read tons and tons of books. I always admired his ability to amuse himself by simply picking up a book and reading. I did not develop this skill until much later in life. In high school I could barely sit still long enough to read the menu at McDonald's, and I couldn't stand being alone. M.'s love of reading did not, however, translate into good grades, which was how we ended up in the exclusive club at our high school.

I remember he liked to read a lot of sixties and post-sixties countercultural stuff. He read Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Robbins and John Nichols. I used to make mental notes to myself to remember the names of these authors in case I should ever get around to reading books myself.

Eventually, I did, and to that extent I am indebted to M. for his example. I always aspired to be a reader, but I think I had to let my body settle down a bit before I could actually get around to becoming one.

To be continued...

from Blood Meridian

In two days they began to come upon bones and cast-off apparel. They saw halfburied skeletons of mules with the bones so white and polished they seemed incandescent even in that blazing heat and they saw panniers and packsaddles and the bones of men and they saw a mule entire, the dried and blackened carcass hard as iron. They rode on. The white noon saw them through the waste like a ghost army, so pale they were with dust, like shades of figures erased upon a board. The wolves loped paler yet and grouped and skittered and lifted their lean snouts on the air. At night the horses were fed by hand from sacks of meal and watered from buckets. There was no more sickness. The survivors lay quietly in that cratered void and watched the whitehot stars go rifling down the dark. Or slept with their alien hearts beating in the sand like pilgrims exhausted upon the face of the planet Anareta, clutched to a namelessness wheeling in the night. They moved on and the iron of the wagon-tired grew polished bright as chrome in the pumice. To the south the blue cordilleras stood footed in their paler image on the sand like reflections in a lake and there were no wolves now.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 28 (Gillian McCain)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McCain, Gillian

I think I bought this online. I am not sure.

Gillian McCain also wrote another book about punk rock, with Legs McNeil. I've never met McCain, but I did meet McNeil once.

It was in the mid-nineties in New York, when I had just sort of discovered the poetry scene. I used to go to readings at the Ear Inn on Saturday afternoons. I didn't really know anyone, so I often stood off by myself in the bar, smoking and listening.

There was often this tall, lanky guy sitting near me at the bar, chain smoking. He seemed like he was there for the poetry reading, but also kind of not there, like he had come at the behest of someone else. I once asked him for a light and we got to talking. Eventually he told me his name and that he was a music writer who'd written a book on punk rock. He seemed a little surprised that I didn't recognize his name, but not offended.

The next time I went to St. Mark's Books I went directly to the music section to confirm what he'd said. I found the book and smiled to myself, but did not buy it (too broke). At the next reading I hoped to tell him I'd seen his book, but he wasn't there. I think I left NYC not long after that and never got the chance.

from Tilt


I have been chosen to take this message back to the world, and I don't work with just any city. I'm fixated on the placement of objects, and whiplash helps to focus my attention: swoosh, hand sliced over head. I fall in love with them when they're teenagers and date them once they're middle-aged. Immediately they prop the ladder up against the column, which I discovered is the raised eye entry into their often haphazard techniques. Hairball. I'll feel better once I throw it up. I'm regaining the ability to maintain my dignity under adverse conditions, lost in the twirling thread of enamel. There is no garden path. In my own graceful way I'm merely continuing my search for the perfect room, preferably one with a windowseat, looking out to sea.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 27.5 (Steve McCaffery)

The Cheat of Words
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McCaffery, Steve
The Cheat of Words

I think I bought this at a reading or a book launch. Not quite sure. It is inscribed:

For Mike

This sweet locale
of words in
(illegible text, possibly "ripple"
underlined by a wave pattern): Beau Fleuve

Nov. 5/6 1997.

with best wishes

Steve McCaffery

I remember an event in the Poetry Collection at UB. It may have been a reading or a book launch or both. They had a reception afterwards. I feel like it was also a celebration of Steve's finishing his PhD, but I don't know for certain. Anyhow, I am pretty sure I bought the book there.

from The Cheat of Words

Novel 39

The world is a room.

There is a single lump in it.

He sees no reason to postpone
the pleasure of the meal she's stepped beyond.

In the sky above moves history's affinity to comas
and there we rest this brute equality
of pronouns.

Martin says it takes
a 90 watt bulb.

Ann tells him to fuck off.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 27.4 (Steve McCaffery)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McCaffery, Steve

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books for a course with Charles Bernstein.

I remember when I first saw the title to this book thinking that it had something to do with the Ebola Virus. My initial guess at the title's pronunciation was, "ee-vo-ba."

I was apparently confused about the Ebola virus. Somewhere I had it in my mind that it was a flesh-eating virus, but in fact it is a virus that keeps blood from coagulating. The symptoms, according to Wikipedia, are the following:

Although the incubation period is generally 5–18 days, it ranges from 2 to 21 days. Illness is characterized by the rapid onset of fever, malaise, muscle pain, headache, and the inflammation of the pharynx. Six days following vomiting and bloody diarrhea, individuals may develop maculopapular rash with bleeding at needle sites and bodily orifices. Reston ebolavirus is non-pathogenic to humans and individuals often do not show any symptoms, although it is fatal in monkeys. There is only one known case of Ivory Coast ebolavirus, and one outbreak of Bundibugyo ebolavirus. Zaire ebolavirus and Sudan ebolavirus (SEBOV) are the most common and whose symptoms include: abdominal pain (60–80%), fever (90–100%), headache (40–90%), bloody vomit (10–40%), Maculopapular rash (5–20%), malaise (75–85%), joint and muscle pain (40–80%), inflammation of the pharynx (20–40%), coagulopathy (71–78%), chest pain (SEBOV only 83%), CNS involvement (rare), dry and sore throat (63%), hemorrhagic diathesis (71–78%), hiccups (15%), non-bloody diarrhea (81%), vomiting (59%). Purpura, petechia, sclerotic arterioles, and low blood-pressure are characteristic as the disease progresses.

Later, Steve came to the class and told us that the title is pronounced, "Vubba," and that it is actually "Above" spelled backwards. I have to say that that knowledge took some of the pleasure of remaining in the mystery out of my understanding of the title. I enjoyed my odd tri-syllabic pronunciation and the elusive connection my mind made between this book and a deadly, (and so I thought) flesh-eating virus named after the Ebola River Valley in the Republic of Congo.

Alas. The mind wanders.

from Evoba

If the aim of philosophy is, as
Wittgenstein claims, to show the fly the
way out of the bottle, then the aim of
poetry is to convince the bottle that
there is no fly.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 27.3 (Steve McCaffery)

McCaffery, Steve
Nichol, bp
In England Now That Spring

Given to me by Steve McCaffery. Boy, who was doing all these great covers in Toronto in the 70's and 80's? So many of these books are wonderful objects.

I really like this collaboration between two of the Four Horseman. It includes "polaroid poems, found texts, visions & collaborations, records of a journey through Scotland and England May 1978." I think what I like about it is it's eclecticism. You never quite know what is coming up from one page to the next, and yet there is a strong shared sensibility that seems to bind the texts together.

A kind of amazing feat for a collaborative work.

Running short on time this morning, as we have to take Zelda, our Catahoula Leopard Dog, to obedience classes. So, off we go.

from In England Now That Spring

By the Ghyll at Ambleside

Ghyll: n. Respiratory organ(s) of narrow mountain torrent; hence fish-torrent below person's jaws & ears; vertical radiating plates on underside of ravine; deep usu. wooded mushroom &c.

thought            so many branches
roots to this place

a traveller
"returned for the first time seeing all of this"

the news of hills near chaffinch
inch from the foot that carried him on Broughton Moor
to the forest clearing thought distilling thot
until the image rests in syntax
fixed pen of a place

a finished poem.
a flown bird.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 27.2 (Steve McCaffery)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McCaffery, Steve

Given to me by the author.

The dreamworld entered into the real world this morning. If you'll recall, I woke the other day after a dream in which a man described a woman to me as having a "luster" in her eyes and that in the dream, and also in the moments after I woke from it, I took the word "luster" to mean "lust."

What I didn't describe was the strange feeling that this elision caused in my brain. The sexual subtext was part of, but the strange feeling of displacement was caused by the way that innuendo altered my understanding of the word. There may or may not be a real connection between "lust" and "luster," but one has been made in my brain.

Just a few minutes ago, as Lori was preparing our morning kefir fruit smoothie, and I was preparing a morning espresso, something similar occurred. We keep the fresh fruit in a round metal mixing bowl atop the black microwave oven which sits on the countertop next to the super-automatic espresso machine, also black.

Lori reached into the bowl and removed a small bunch of bananas. As she pulled one off the stem she looked at me and said, "These banana's sure are big." I immediately had that same sensation of sexual subtext dislodging something, of setting my mind between two meanings, between dream and reality. Something is afoot in my subconscious. I am not yet sure what it is.

from Panopticon


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 27.1 (Steve McCaffery)

McCaffery, Steve
Knowledge Never Knew

One of the great poetry book covers of all time, I have to say. This was part of a cache of books given to me by the author when I first visited his apartment in Toronto in 1998.

He gave me a tour of his amazing book collection. I remember him asking if there was anything in particular I wanted to see. It felt a little like a challenge, as I recall.

Seeing that much of the collection was comprised of older British literature, I asked if he had anything by the Grub Street writers of the Augustan Age. Turned out he had a pamphlet that had something to do with Pope's "Dunciad." I can't remember if it was a pamphlet attacking Pope or one that Pope satirized in "The Dunciad." It was one or the other.

Flipping through, I see that inside an old chapbook by the author called, "The Scenarios," rests between pages 68 and 69, whence I take today's excerpt. Note: the format of the book does not allow for easy reproduction in this space. So you have to imagine that the top is at the very top of the page and the bottom at the very bottom, both left justified, with lots of empty space between. This format is used throughout the book.

from Knowledge Never Knew

march 12 1529

Charlie Chaplin Dies

performance is merely where the book changes its name

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 27 (Steve McCaffery)

North of Intention
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McCaffery, Steve
North of Intention:
Critical Writings 1973-1986

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books.

Woke this morning to a weird dream about language. A man described a woman to me as having a "luster" in her eyes. I kept thinking to myself that this had a sexual connotation. As in, "lust." But at that point the dream was over and I was rolling around half awake mulling the connection between the the two words. I am sure I had another word-related dream in which I had a similar epiphany, but I can't remember what the word was in the second dream.

from North of Intention

According to Ferruccio Rossi-Landi, the problem of linguistic alienation is endemic to white "civilized" language communities, where a largely self-generative language system results in a proxemic rift, an elemental gap that prevents the identification of a speaker with her language. Language, argues Landi, functions like money and speaks through us more than we actively produce within it. It is a surplus-value that draws the speaker away from what ought to be his own world view and processes her through the rules and regulations of the detached and "surplus" system...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 26 (Melani McAlister)

Epic Encounters
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McAlister, Melani
Epic Encounters:
Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests
In the Middle East 1945-2000

I think I bought this at Talking Leaves...Books. Or possibly online.

It was recommended to me by Ammiel Alcalay. It's one of the best pieces of cultural studies writing I've ever read. It takes as its subject the various ways the Middle East has been constructed in American culture and creates narrative that examines how these constructions get mixed in with U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East.

Covering everything from Hollywood biblical epics in the fifties to the use of islam in black nationalism in the sixties to the potent intermingling of American evangelism and Israeli nationalism that began in the early seventies, it carries the narrative through to the end of the millennium.

We all know what happened then.

Epic Encounters was published prior to 9/11, yet when the final chapter closes, those attacks feel like the inevitable next chapter of the book. It is spookily prophetic. I think a new edition came out after the fact that included another chapter or afterward or something discussing the attacks, but I can't imagine adding any information after the fact would be more useful than just reading the original. It paints a pretty compelling portrait of the cultural interchange that's created the present we currently inhabit.

from Epic Encounters

This is a book about the cultural and political encounters that have made the Middle East matter to Americans. It chronicles how, in the years between World War II and the turn of the twenty-first century, Americans engaged the middle east, both literally and metaphorically, through its history as a sacred space and its continuing reality as a place of secular political conflict. Thus people in the United States encountered the Middle East through war, but also on television shows; as art of the struggle over oil, but also in debates over ancient history; in discussions of religion, but also in constructions of race. This study, therefore, aims to expand the idea of "encounters" to include those that happen across wide geographic spaces, among people who will never meet except through the medium of culture. And like so many encounters that cross social or spatial divides, those chronicled here were often ambivalent and confusing: the were fraught with tension and ripe with possibility.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 25.3 (Bernadette Mayer)

Mayer, Bernadette
A Bernadette Mayer Reader

Not sure about the origin of this one. Possibly Talking Leaves, online, or St. Mark's Books. I can't remember. It's the first book of hers that I read, but I remember specifically that my first read through was in a loaner from my friend Steve in New York. I feel like it was several more years before I actually bought my own copy.

It was a bitch to get even the mediocre photo that I did this morning. Something about white text on deep purple with a gloss finish resisted my meagre photographic tools (iSight camera on MacBook Pro, desk lamp used to deflect the light of the screen off the cover).

I never noticed before that it was called "A" Bernadette Mayer Reader before. As if there were others. Or others in the works. Maybe the next would be "Another..." Not a bad a idea, actually.

I've always liked the poem about her father (see below). I think I first read this book around the time my own father died and so found a modicum of solace in various poems about fathers dying. This one has a kind of silly humor about it I find poignant and irresistible.

from A Bernadette Mayer Reader

The Ballad of Theodore

I saw my father
and then he was here
and dressed in suit
he asked for a beer

I hadn't seen him
alive since 1957
dead I often see him
once in a while

He was all too calm
he was like a businessman
I got him a Moosehead
from the grocery next door

He'd walked into our school
daring and dead
"I haven't talked to you in centuries"
"How good to see you," I said

He put on the head of a power animal
this time it was a tall giraffe
my father then wore a longer cloak
& I was shaking hands with his hoof, no kidding

It was quite a good time we had
he'd doffed the clothing in his absence
& no dead man is scared of being dead
& most of the living are full of this his form of innocence

We conversed, it wasn't startling
I was twelve when he died
his new disguises were a method
to let particular grownups confide

He foreswore the walls of the school
and that's where I lost him
no trick of time bemoaned his anxious fate
(I'm only fooling)

We drove cars backwards
ate acacia leaves, then
made witty conversation
wore bathing suits & swam together again

I lost him in the dream's sudden regular twist
like he was an aristocratic woman
going from supper to a game of whist
instead of what he really was–an electrician who loved Frankenstein

I saw my father Theodore
& then he was there
a vegetarian ruminant silent giraffe
full of his new and perfect past

All dressed in a suit as if quite dead
but only at first, then as mammal animal
he asked me for a beer, he said
"Here death is not emotional"

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 25.2 (Bernadette Mayer)

Mayer, Bernadette
The Formal Field of Kissing

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I am trying to remember Bernadette Mayer's trip to Buffalo in 1999. I remember had just quit smoking and ended a year-long relationship and was in a pretty foul mood the whole time she was here.

She read with Peter Gizzi. Peter took us all to the mall to see "Rushmore," which had just come out. We ate dinner at the Anchor Bar with my two vegan friends, Aaron and Michelle, who were given a choice between regular fries and curly fries for dinner, as everything else was chicken wings and burgers.

The second night we all ate dinner at Le Metro with Ben Friedlander and Nick Lawrence. I think Carla Billiteri may have also been there.

Bernadette gave a workshop at which she handed out the "Idiosyncratic Poetry Pyramid Guide," a chart, based on the food pyramid, in which she replaced food items with poetic terms, names of poets, poetry movements, forms, etc. The original still hangs on the wall in my office.

During the workshop two local poets objected to her positioning of "metaphor" at the top of the pyramid under, "Fats, Sweets and Oils, Use Sparingly." They objected to what they perceived as the implication that one should be judicious in their deployment of metaphor in their poems. One of them declared, "When I use metaphors, I create worlds."

At some point, we may have been driving, Bernadette turned and asked me, "How can you enjoy Creeley's poetry knowing how badly he'd treated women?" I recall saying something about separating the art from the artist, which is about all one can say to a question like that. I wasn't sure if she expected a reply or not. It felt more like a statement, somehow. Or possibly a question she was asking of herself.

from The Formal Field of Kissing

Catullus 6 #48

I'd kiss your eyes three hundred thousand times
If you would let me, Juventius, kiss them
All the time, your darling eyes, eyes of honey
And even if the formal field of kissing
Had more kisses than there's corn in August's fields
I still wouldn't have had enough of you

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 25.1 (Bernadette Mayer)

Midwinter Day
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Mayer, Bernadette
Midwinter Day

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

Looks like I read only the first section. That's where the bookmark rests. It's a Buffalo New Book Club Book Mark. Apparently they were reading "The Jane Austen Book Club at the Time.

I have a vague memory of buying the book after having been influenced by someone's Facebook status update. Was it Anselm Berrigan? Anyhow, someone posted that they were reading it and I remember thinking to myself that I had been intending to read that.

The next time I was at the Main St. store staring at the giant wall of poetry I recalled this moment and moved my eyes directly to the Mayer section and there it was, Midwinter Day, which I can sort of see sitting on the end table next to the couch in the living room, it may have been just last year.

I think I remember reading the first section straight through and then stopping. I may have moved the book to my nightstand. I can sort of see it there, too, but then I didn't read it. Last winter I was reading long Russian and French novels and very little poetry, which I am reading more of this winter, though mostly poetry in translation, less of contemporary American poets. I may return to it some day.

from Midwinter Day

From dreams I made sentence, then what I've seen today,
Then past the past of afternoons of stories like memory
To seeing as a plain introduction to modes of love and reason,
Then to end I guess with love, a method to this winter season
Now I've said this love it's all I can remember
Of Midwinter Day the twenty-second of December

Welcome sun, at last with thy softer light
That takes the bite from winter weather
And weaves the random cloth of life together
And drives away the long black night!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 25 (Bernadette Mayer)

Mayer, Bernadette
Another Smashed Pinecone

I think this was given to me by the author. Just Buffalo brought her to read in, I think, 1999. It is uniquely inscribed with the author's thumb print impressed in gold ink. Mayer was still recovering from a stroke when she visited and had not yet regained the ability to write her name, so she was signing all of her books with a thumb print.

Her partner, Philip Good, carried around a little ink pad like the ones they once used to stamp library books. When we did the book signing after her reading, he removed it from his pocket, opened the case, set it on the table next to her, and held it steady while she whet the tip of her thumb on the pad, then transferred her print to the cover page of the book, between the title and her name.

I remember that during her reading she kept saying "dot com" at the end of each line while reading one of her poems. Everyone laughed, but I think the joke might have been a little late even then. The internet had already taken over our lives.

from Another Smashed Pinecone

"well when you begin a poem"

well when
you begin a poem
you invest right away in
wasting paper
all the white or
space of many colors
around it
a thought not to be had

I was in ethiopia recently
where we walked into the water
of addis abbaba
where there is no water
I went to another
place for $299 dollars
for 6 days/five nights
but on the sixth night secretly
I could've loved you

& honestly I've been nowhere
but here
in the space of many colors
looking for a place
ideally and in no wise
for impossible travels and knowledge
to be enjoyed and gained
in this my age
I'm embarrassed to be in

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 24.1 (Vladimir Mayakovsky)

Mayakovsky, Vladimir
Almereyda, Michael, ed.
Night Wraps The Sky:
Writings by and about

Purchased online.

I just finished reading this last night. I wish more books were put together like this. It's a great primer for an important poet, featuring a generous selection of translations and adaptations of Mayakovsky's poems, memoirs, essays, various translators.

The "about" part of the title is what makes it really interesting. In addition to writings by Mayakovsky, it contains historical notes written by various present day writers, fragments from biographies, memoirs, and other miscellanea by the poet's contemporaries, and a smattering of photos and other images, including a few samples of the poet's graphic design work.

A third thing that makes this books interesting is that it gives subtle attention to the fact that certain poets of the New York School, namely Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, Rob Padgett and others have played a huge role in the transmission of Mayakovsky's poetry in the United States. The book opens with Padgett's incredible adaptation of Mayakovsky's poem, "At The Top of My Voice," which he titles, "Screaming My Head Off." One of the last poems in the book is O'Hara's "A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island," which I discussed yesterday.

The advantage of a book constructed in this way is that it allows for a lot of different information to come into one's reading of the poems without insisting on an autobiographical reading of every line. It understand the poems as responses to a real present that nonetheless resonant through the writing sof others into the future, so why not include that, too?

It also helps get across some of the manic energy in Mayakovsky's poems that might otherwise get lost in translation. We might not get some of the rhyme or the wordplay from the Russian, but we do get an interplay of different voices and interpretations of the work alongside critical, biographical, autobiographical and various other fragments relating to the poem or the life of the poet.

The biography feeds into the energy of the poems without impinging upon the pleasure of reading them. This is an especially useful way to present a poet in translation because the format helps fill in the gaps otherwise left by the difficult fact of trying to carry meaning over from one culture to the other.

I'd love to see a book like this for, say, Paul Celan. I'd be curious to hear if anyone reading this can cite other examples of books that mix the poems, prose, correspondence, etc. with critical and biographical information. I'd be interested in hearing about historically minded works like this one, but also works by contemporary poets that simply put different elements of their writing in conversation with one another.

In addition to today's excerpt, check out the Mayakovsky page at Penn Sound:

from Night Wraps The Sky

Past One O'Clock

Past one o'clock. You must have gone to bed.
The Milky Way streams silver through the night.
I'm in no hurry; with lightning telegrams
I have no cause to wake or trouble you.
And, as they say, the incident is closed.
Love's boat has smashed against the daily grind.
Now you and I are quits. Why bother them
To balance mutual sorrows, pains, hurts.
Behold what quiet settles on the world.
Night wraps the sky in tribute from the stars.
In hours like this, one rises to address
The ages, history, and all creation.

Tr. George Reavey

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 24 (Vladimir Mayakovsky)

Mayakovsky, Vladimir
The Bedbug and Selected Poetry

Purchased at Rust Belt Books.

(Correction: I just found a pink paper bookmark from East Village Books in the back cover, so I must have bought it there.)

Like most American poets of the last few decades, I first heard of Mayakovsky by way of Frank O'Hara's eponymous poem. I lived in New York, and was completely obsessed with O'Hara. I think the first time I read it I assumed, because of O'Hara's frequent poems for and about Rachmaninoff, that Mayakovsky was a Russian composer I'd never heard of. I don't know when I learned the truth, though it couldn't have taken too long, since I read all of O'Hara and bought this book by Mayakovsky within the same two year period.

When I finally got around to reading Mayakovsky, I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that one of my all-time favorite album titles, "Talking With the Taxman About Poetry," by Billy Bragg, lifted its title from one his poems.

I guess it's not too surprising, then, that after reading Kent Johnson's recent book about O'Hara, which discusses "A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island," and spends some time on the Mayakovsky poem that inspired it, that I took this off the shelf again to compare the two.

They're very different poems. In Mayakovsky's version, the poet is angry and frustrated because his day job as a poster designer for the Russian Telegraph Agency, Rosta, is making writing poems difficult. In his anger he begins to rage at the sun, demanding he crawl out of the hole into which he sets each night. Then he suddenly turns conciliatory and invites the sun to sit for tea. The sun obliges and the two kvetch about the difficulties of being a poet versus those of being the sun. They agree that shining and singing are one and the same, and they pledge to one another to shine and sing with all their might, regardless of external worries, for that is the nature of the the sun and also of the poet. They conclude as comrades in arms.

In the O'Hara version, the sun initiates contact with the poet. After some effort, he wakes the sleeping poet after a late night of talking and, presumably, drinking. The sun admonishes the him for not responding as promptly as Mayakovsky had and tells him they are the only two poets he's ever contacted. The poet is initially apologetic, then wryly skeptical of the sun's intentions.

The sun is quite a different sun than Mayakovsky's. Maykovsky's is a hearty, backslapping, masculine sun. O'Hara's, on the other hand, starts off as a bit of a nag, a scold. Once the remonstrances are out of the way, he begins to stroke the sensitive poet, telling him that despite what other people say, he's good poet. He tells O'Hara he's always watching, omniscient, and that he should appreciate nature more and not lock himself away in the city where it has a hard time finding him.

O'Hara's sun, masculine pronouns notwithstanding, is motherly, both castrating and tender. He is a feminine sun. They are not equals. The sun gives and the poet receives and is grateful. O'Hara thanks the sun profusely. The sun promises to watch him everywhere, and that he possibly will leave a poem, presumably this one, in his mind, as he sleeps that night.

Reading Mayakovsky again made me want to read more, so I bought the more recent compilation edited by filmmaker Michael Almereyda, "Night Wraps the Sky," which I'll talk about tomorrow.

An Extraordinary Adventure Which Befell Vladimir Mayakovksy In A Summer Cottage

A hundred and forty suns in one sunset blazed,
and summer rolled into July;
it was so hot,
the heat swam in a haze—
and this was in the country.
Pushkino, a hillock, had for hump
Akula, a large hill,
and at the hill’s foot
a village stood—
crooked with the crust of roofs.
Beyond the village
gaped a hole
and into that hole, most likely,
the sun sank down each time,
faithfully and slowly.
And next morning,
to flood the world
the sun would rise all scarlet.
Day after day
this very thing
to rouse in me
great anger.
And flying into such a rage one day
that all things paled with fear,
I yelled at the sun point-blank:
“Get down!
Stop crawling into that hellhole!”
At the sun I yelled:
“You shiftless lump!
You’re caressed by the clouds,
while here—winter and summer—
I must sit and draw these posters!”
I yelled at the sun again:
“Wait now!
Listen, goldbrow,
instead of going down,
why not come down to tea
with me!”
What have I done!
I’m finished!
Toward me, of his own good will,
spreading his beaming steps,
the sun strode across the field.
I tried to hide my fear,
and beat it backwards.
His eyes were in the garden now.
Then he passed through the garden.
His sun’s mass pressing
through the windows,
and crannies;
in he rolled;
drawing a breath,
he spoke deep bass:
“For the first time since creation,
I drive the fires back.
You called me?
Give me tea, poet,
spread out, spread out the jam!”
Tears gathered in my eyes—
the heat was maddening,
but pointing to the samovar
I said to him:
“Well, sit down then,
The devil had prompted my insolence
to shout at him,
I sat on the edge of a bench;
I was afraid of worse!
But, from the sun, a strange radiance
and forgetting
all formalities,
I sat chatting
with the luminary more freely.
Of this
and that I talked,
and of how I was swallowed up by Rosta,
but the sun, he says:
All right,
don’t worry,
look at things more simply!
And do you think
I find it easy
to shine?
Just try it, if you will!—
You move along,
since move you must;
you move—and shine your eyes out!”
We gossiped thus till dark—
Till former night, I mean.
For what darkness was there here?
We warmed up
to each other
and very soon,
openly displaying friendship,
I slapped him on the back.
The sun responded!
“You and I,
my comrade, are quite a pair!
Let’s go, my poet,
let’s dawn
and sing
in a gray tattered world.
I shall pour forth my sun,
and you—your own,
in verse.”
A wall of shadows,
a jail of nights
fell under the double-barreled suns.
A commotion of verse and light—
shine all your worth!
Drowsy and dull,
one tired,
wanting to stretch out
for the night.
shone in all my might,
and morning ran its round.
Always to shine,
to shine everywhere,
to the very deeps of the last days,
to shine—
and to hell with everything else!
That is my motto—
and the sun’s!

Tr. George Reavey