Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 1 (Sean O'Casey)

Three Plays by Michael_Kelleher
Three Plays, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
O'Casey, Sean
Three Plays

Purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore. I think bought this for an undergraduate course in "Anglo-Irish" literature. It was all Irish writers, so I guess the "anglo" part must have meant "English language."

My father loved theater, and he especially loved plays by Irish or Irish-American playwrights. His favorite was Eugene O'Neill. He once took me to see O'Casey's 'Juno and the Paycock' at the Arena Stage in Washington.

I don't remember much, but I do remember the angle from which we viewed the stage. It was one of those stage set-ups like theater in the round, where the audience surrounds the stage, only in this case the stage was square.

We sat about twenty rows back, right on one of the corners. I can picture the stage from precisely that angle and I can see a woman standing there. It is Juno, dressed in a gray dress, gray blouse and gray shawl. But that's it.

Aimless Reading: The N's, Stats

The N's by Michael_Kelleher
The N's, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Well, that was fast.

10 Authors
24 Volumes
23 Titles

Onward to the O's!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 10.3 (Alice Notley)

Notley, Alice
From A Work in Progress

Not sure where I got this one. It's from a series that used to happen at the Dia Center in New York in the eighties. I saw a few readings there in the early nineties, before they moved from Soho to Chelsea. They had stopped printing chapbooks for each event by the time I showed up. They'd switched to printing elegant little broadsides modeled on French paperback covers. I still have a couple of them somewhere. I also have an event book of James Schuyler's from this same series.

Alice has read for Just Buffalo a couple of time's since I've been here. One time I remember taking her for lunch over to the Creeleys'. It was me and Alice and Bob and Pen Creeley and I think Myung Mi Kim was there also. We sat around a table by the window eating and Alice, who lives in Paris, said something about the French phrase, "c'est bizarre." I don't remember the context exactly, but Penelope picked up on the cognate 'bizarre' and started needling Bob about his poems.

She said, "Bob, some of your poems are 'bee-zah,' like that one about breaking open someone's skull and sticking a candle in behind the eyes. Now that is BEE-zah." I remember everyone kind of waited for Bob to laugh, which he did, and then everyone laughed with him and we went on eating and talking.

The next time she came to town she came with her sons, Anselm and Edmund. She and Anselm read at UB and Edmund read with Dan Machlin at Steel Bar. We all met up with Creeley at Cybele's on Allen St. for brunch on Sunday morning. It was me and Anselm and Karen Weiser and Edmund and Alice and Dan Machlin and Serena Jost.

Alice's husband, Douglas Oliver, had just passed away and I remember when Bob walked in the door he smiled and opened up his arms and Alice seemed to collapse into his chest and she let out a sigh they gave gave each other a long, tear-filled hug. The mutual sympathy was palpable, like witnessing old friends reuniting after being separated by a war.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 10.2 (Alice Notley)

Notley, Alice
Selected Poems of Alice Notley

Purchased at St. Mark's Books.

This was the first book of Alice's that I ever read. I bought it sometime in 1996 or 1997. I was living in New York, in the East Village, and I spent a lot of time sitting in cafes reading and writing. On of my favorites at the time was a place on, I think, 9th St. between Avenue A and First. It was called "No Bar." It did have a bar, but they did not serve alcohol. They just had the physical bar. It was owned by a couple of Iranian guys who were probably in their early thirties.

I remember it had wood floors and wood tables and wood stools and wood chairs. Everything was wood. They also had a lovely courtyard in the back where you could sit in the warm summer months. I had a cafe I liked to go to in the morning before work, Nation, but No bar was my favorite evening cafe. I think they also served food there, but I rarely had enough money to order more than a coffee and a bagel.

I mostly liked to sit and read and write in my journal. I remember the two brothers who owned the place were big music fans and they always had interesting music playing. One night I heard this incredible version of "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen playing on the stereo. It was by Nina Simone. I have been searching for this version for nearly twenty years, but I have not heard it since.

It was not the version you usually hear, with Nina singing and playing piano. Nina is singing, but she's backed up only by rhythm guitar. It has more of an uptempo than other versions of the song I have heard, but it still has that same heartbreaking kind of feel to it. If anyone has it, I would love to hear it again!

I bring all this up because I also remember buying Selected Poem of Alice Notley and taking it with me to No Bar to read. I discovered the New York School of Poets in about 1996 and I read all the way through O'Hara and Ted Berrigan and then somewhere along the way, possibly through Eileen Myles, I heard about Alice Notley and so I went over to the store and bought this book.

I have a memory of sitting in the courtyard reading Alice Notley and waiting for someone to meet me there. Not sure who I was waiting for, or if they ever arrived.

from Selected Poems of Alice Notley

Dear Dark Continent

Dear Dark Continent:

               The quickening of
the palpable coffin
               fear so then the frantic
doing of everything experience is thought of

but I've ostensibly chosen
               my, a, family
so early! so early! (as is done always
as it would seems always) I'm a two
now three irrevocably
               I'm wife I'm mother I'm
myself and him and I'm myself and him and him

But isn't it only I in the real
whole long universe? Alone to be
in the whole long universe?

But I and this he (and he) makes ghosts of
I and all the hes there would be, won't be

because by now I am he, we are I, I am we.

We're not the completion of myself.

Not the completion of myself, but myself !
through the whole long universe.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 10.1 (Alice Notley)

Notley, Alice
Mysteries of Small Houses

I think I bought this online a couple of years after it came out. I have a memory of intending to purchase it, of staring at it on bookstore shelves, but never pulling the trigger, as they say. Not sure what kept me from it.

Anyhow, last night I met with a group of writers who get together a couple of times a month to discuss each other's work. It was a very different atmosphere than the writer's group I attended 20 years ago -- in a good way. At one point, as sort of an icebreaker, we started talking about different poets and so forth who were important to us. I started scribbling down a few sentences about this and it suddenly dawned on me that more important to me initially than poets were song writers.

As a kid my emotional connection to the world was mediated by movies, television and music, the latter more so as I moved into my teenage years. My parents were very strict about letting me out of the house unsupervised, so at night and at those times when I had no organized activity in which to participate, like a soccer or basketball game, I sat in my room and listened to music.

This was the late seventies and early eighties and I think the first band whose lyrics I started listening to was Pink Floyd. I loved 'The Wall' and I can recall sitting in my room listening to it over and over again. I remember the lyrics were written on the record sleeves in the same chicken-scratch graffiti font that the album title was written in on the cover. Even knowing the lyrics I found the songs very strange and wonderful. Before long I had committed the whole album to memory.

As I was writing this down last night for the group it dawned on me that this pretty accurately describes my early interest in language. I would listen to something relentlessly until I knew all the words and once I did I would puzzle over them seemingly forever trying to understood what they meant. Sometimes the puzzling was over what the words spoken actually were, as not every album came with the lyrics written down and there was no internet and rock and roll singers were notorious for garbling the words that they sang.

I have moments even now when I hear a song from that era and its once-garbled lyrics suddenly become clear to me thirty years on. There's a kind of continuity there that I think the engagement with art brings to one's life.

I was especially fond of long story-telling songs when I was a kid. The hot song in sixth grade was 'The Devil Went Down To Georgia,' by the Charlie Daniels Band. I memorized all of it. (There was also the added pleasure of owning the record with the uncensored lines, "I told you once, you son of a bitch, I'm the best there's ever been," which had been altered to "son of a gun" for airplay.)

And then there was 'Alice's Restaurant' and later the long, rambling surreal narratives of Bob Dylan's songs like 'Tangled Up in Blue' & 'Isis.' All of this comes before poetry for me and my experience of that music and the words of those songs, of memorizing and interpreting and so forth, forms the foundation for my later love of poetry which, as personal and profound as it is, does not quite share the primal fire those early encounters with music once had.

But I can see the continuity there, the love of musical language remains as I move quietly into middle age.

Here's Alice reading 'Hematite Heirloom Lives on (Maybe December 1980)':


Friday, June 24, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 10 (Alice Notley)

The Descent of Alette by Michael_Kelleher
The Descent of Alette, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Notley, Alice
The Descent of Alette

I am not sure where I bought this. Possibly Talking Leaves...Books. Pages 54 and 55 are separated by a Long Island Railroad schedule, opened to the Babylon timetable. This tells me nothing about where I acquired the book.

My father was born of Irish immigrants in Brooklyn. He had two brothers and a sister, all of them older. His father abandoned them fairly early, and he only met the man a couple of times. His mother made sure all of them went to college. My uncle Joe studied business, uncle Frank law, aunt Mary nursing, and my father, like his oldest brother, studied business.

He once told me a story about trying to get into law school but not getting accepted because he'd lied about his arrest record. He said he'd been arrested in the Navy. I once asked for his records, but they showed no evidence of this arrest, so it must not have gone on his military record.

Everyone moved out of Brooklyn. Uncle Joe and Aunt Mary both raised their families on Long Island. Uncle Frank raised his family in Westfield, MA. My father was rather more itinerant. He lived in Chicago for a while, then Detroit, where he met and married my mother, and where I was born. He moved us to California when I was two and eventually to Northern Virginia, where I and my brothers were raised.

None of us live there any longer. I have a brother in Minneapolis and another in Flagstaff. After my father died, my mother moved to Florida, though she recently relocated to Nashville.

The point of all of this being that the Long Island railroad was very much a part of my growing up. We spent most Thanksgivings in Babylon at the home of my Aunt Mary and Uncle John. We switched back and forth between driving up the Jersey Turnpike and taking Amtrak service from Union Station in DC to Penn Station in New York, where we'd descend into the bowels to catch the LIRR to Babylon.

Even after I'd moved permanently to New York, I continued to catch the LIRR out to Babylon for Thanksgiving weekends. I am not sure when this rail schedule dates from.

The last time I went to Long Island was for the funeral of my Uncle John. He and Aunt Mary both died of cancer within a couple of years of each other at the beginning of the last decade. That whole side of the family died early. Joe and Frank died in their fifties, my father at sixty one, and aunt Mary in her mid-late sixties.

This causes no small amount of anxiety on my part, especially with a little one on the way.

Sorry, didn't mean to get so morbid.

From The Descent of Alette

(page 54)

"There was a cave in which," "when I entered it," "I rose up in the air"
"to hover" "against the ceiling" "looking down at" "the floor"
"The floor was" "a movie screen" "on which was shown" "a desert"
"in daytime, sandy white" "with bare cactus trees," "leafless tree forms"

"light brown & faintest green" "There were" "distant mountains,"
"a pale sky" "above them" "But there were hundreds" "of these trees"
"close together," "at regular intervals" "They were short &"
"all alike" "But one–" "just one–" "which I felt I" "was meant to

look at–" "was larger," "that was all," "somewhat larger"
"Indifference," "sadness," "a perfunctory" "sort of interest" "were"
"what I felt" "A dark" "male presence," "a rather bodiless" "man,"
"came & hovered" "beside me" "'If the larger tree,' he said," "'were

you, say," "or I," "would it make" "any difference?'" "'Not really,'
I said" "'Or it would,' he said," "'change the landscape," "a little,"
"the way it looks'" "'But to whom?' I said" "'To those who hover"
"above it?" "Larger of same" "in that landscape" "is nothing anyway'"

"'Forget it,' he said," "'it's just something" "to look at'"

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 9 (Hoa Nguyen)

Hecate Lochia by Michael_Kelleher
Hecate Lochia, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Nguyen, Hoa
Hecate Lochia

Sent to me by the author, inscribed. In fact, it was sent exactly two years ago yesterday, according to the inscription:

To Michael–

"today winks
with fullness"

See you in Feb


Austin TX
*Solstice* 2009

Hmm...I guess that could also be the winter solstice. Hoa read in the Big Night series in February 2010. I also took her over to Buffalo State for a visit to Gregg Biglieri's poetry class. I remember someone asked how to pronounce her last name and she replied, 'Win,' as in 'victory'.

I'd met Hoa one other time, a few years earlier, at a party in New York at Kim Rosenfield and Rob Fitterman's apartment. It was during the AWP conference. Their apartment is located in the center of the NYU campus, on about the tenth floor, and looks north toward Washington Sq. It is lined with books.

I remember sitting on an ottoman chatting with Hoa while everyone else in the room was standing. I don't remember what we talked about, but I think I gave her a copy of Human Scale, which had just come out.

A torn fragment of a Lonely Planet Guide bookmark sits between pages 54 and 55, whence I take today's excerpt.

from Hecate Lochia


I'm driving from the back seat
have to dive over the front seat
to get to the brakes there's glass
on the floor from my freak-out fury

Attach an email printout to your naked hip
to show how pissed off you are

We stayed at a farm called North Farm
You can't name it "Dolittle"
after the farm-to-marker road

Drought may be "broken"
by El Niño rain
cold front
bubbly birthday wine

Why did you no don't say it

"Catastrophic global disruptions"
predicted by 2100

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 8.3 (Friedrich Nietzsche)

The Will To Power by Michael_Kelleher
The Will To Power, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Nietzsche, Friedrich
The Will To Power

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books. Like yesterday's title, I think I bought this for a course with Elizabeth Grosz.

I am running a bit short on time this morning, and no memories seem to be surfacing with regards to the will to power, so I may cut this short.

However, as always sees to be the case, as soon as I write that I have no memories of the thing, one surfaces.

It is a vague, intellectual memory.

I remember sitting in Grosz' class struggling to wrap my head around the concept of the will to power. Grosz tied it into her own theories of natural selection and evolution and so forth, will being a crucial element in the concept of the eternal return and also natural selection.

I remember straining to visualize the concept in my mind. I remember failing to visualize it. There were times when I felt my head was breaking open, or that my mind was going to break down trying to stretch itself around the will to power.

There was also a kind of pleasure to this stretching, which I associate with Kant's idea of the sublime, a kind of straining to understand a thing too large to grasp, followed by a release of the muscle or mind into a pleasurably relaxed position.

There, that wasn't so hard, was it?

from The Will To Power

If the innermost essence of being is will to power, if pleasure is every increase of power, displeasure every feeling of not being able to resist or dominate; may we not then post pleasure and displeasure as cardinal facts? Is will possible without these two oscillations of Yes and No?–But who feels pleasure?–Absurd questions, if the essence itself is power-will and consequently feelings of pleasure and displeasure! Nonetheless: opposites, obstacles are needed; therefore, relatively, encroaching units–

Monday, June 20, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 8.2 (Friedrich Nietzsche)

Untimely Meditations by Michael_Kelleher
Untimely Meditations, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Nietzsche, Friedrich
Untimely Meditations

This is the 1,000th post on Pearlblossom Highway. That is a lot of posts.

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books for a course I took with Elizabeth Grosz in graduate school. This book contains one of my all-time favorite essays: "On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life." I think I've ready it at least ten times.

The evidence of this appears on the edge of the book where, from page one until about a third of the way down, the paper is still pristinely white. From there, for about another quarter of the way, the edge turns a dull orange/yellow near the center, just about where my thumb would go while leafing through, before it begins to lighten again.

The edge never returns to the pristine white of the first few pages, but you can see that the most concentrated yellowing begins on page one of the essay and begins to lighten on the last page, suggesting it is the only of the four essays I read.

At first I thought the yellowing must have been caused by nicotine on my fingers, but I am pretty sure I had already stopped smoking by the time read the book, so it must just be the oil from the tip of my thumb.

from On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life

'In any case, I hate everything that merely instructs me without augmenting or directly invigorating activity.' These words are from Goethe, and they may stand as a sincere ceterum censeo at the beginning of our meditation on the value of history. For its intention is to show why instruction without invigoration, why knowledge not attended by action, why history as a costly superfluity and luxury, must, to use Goethe's word, be seriously hated by us–hated because we still lack even the things we need and the superfluous is the enemy of the necessary. We need history, certainly, but we need it for reasons different from these for which the idler in the garden of knowledge needs it, even though he may look nobly down on our rough and charmless needs and requirements. We need it, that is to say, for the sake of life and action, not so as to turn comfortable away from life and action, let alone for the purpose of extenuating the self-seeking life and the base and cowardly action. We want to serve history only to the extent that history serves life: for it is possible to value the study of history to such a degree that life becomes stunted and degenerate–a phenomenon we are now forced to acknowledge, painful though this may be, in the face of certain striking symptoms of our age.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 8.1 (Friedrich Nietzsche)

Nietzsche, Friedrich
The Portable Nietzsche

Purchased, I think, at Rust Belt Books, in the summer of 1999.

I believe I have spoken of this summer in the past. I was in the throes of another post-breakup depression. This time, weirdly, I had done the breaking up, but it felt a lot more as if I had been the one given his pink slip. At least in the sense that the post-break up action turned the tables on me. Not so much in the power-game sense of things, but in the sense of invisibility or insignificance.

That is, for half of the year-long relationship we'd played a romantic game of keeping it a secret from everyone. After a time, I wished to reveal the secret to our circle of friends, but was routinely scolded when I did. Which made me feel kind of invisible.

Eventually, many other factors led me to put an end to the relationship myself, which didn't keep her from finding someone else and immediately showing him off to the whole world, making me feel doubly insignificant. None of which is earth-shattering, I know, but it sure felt that way at the time.

Anyhow, I spent much of that summer reading Nietzsche. I don't what compelled me to push through a depression by reading him, but there it is. Each day I would walk down Maryland Ave and over the pedestrian bridge across the I-190 and over the softball diamonds in LaSalle park to the point where Lake Erie flows into the Niagara river. There, I would sit on a bench and read Thus Spake Zarathustra. When I got bleary-eyed, I'd stare out at the water, or across the shore to Canada.

I was thirty, the same as Zarathustra when he climbed to his cave for a decade before descending again to spread his message among men. I'd quit smoking and was working out five or six times a week. I spent most of the summer at the gym. I was very unhappy. Nietzsche, sad to say, did not make me feel much better.

But then neither did anything else.

from Thus Spake Zarathustra

When Zarathustra was thirty years old he left home and the lake of his home and went into the mountains. Here he enjoyed the spirit and his solitude, and for ten years did not tire of it. But at last a change came over his heart, and one morning he rose with the dawn, stepped before the sun and spoke thus:

"You great star, what would your happiness be had you not those for whom to shine?

"For ten years you have climbed to my cave: you would have tired of your light and of the journey had it not been for me and my eagle and my serpent.

"But we waited for you every morning, took your overflow from you, and blessed you for it.

"Behold, I am weary of your wisdom, like a bee that has gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to receive it.

"I would give away and distribute, until the wise among men find joy once again in their folly, and the poor in their riches.

"For that I must descend to the depths, as you do in the evening when you go behind the sea and still bring light to the underworld, you overrich star.

"Like you, I must go under–go down, as is said by man, to whom I want to descend.

"So bless m,e then, you quiet eye that can look even upon an all too great happiness without envy!

"Bless the cup that wants to overflow, that the water may flow from it golden and carry everywhere the reflection of your delight.

"Behold, this cup wants to become empty again, and Zarathustra wants to become man again."

Thus Zarathustra began to go under.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 8 (Friedrich Nietzsche)

Nietzsche, Friedrich
The Birth of Tragedy & The Genealogy of Morals

I am not sure where I bought this. Definitely in New York, but beyond that I have no clue. I think it was during college, or soon thereafter. I never read Nietzsche as an undergraduate. It was well nigh impossible at a Jesuit university to find a philosophy class that included 'atheistic' philosophers on the reading list.

We read lots of Plato and Aristotle, some Kant and Hume and Berkeley and Descartes, but Hegel, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Wittgenstein, etc., anyone who threatened our religious view of the universe was taught very sparingly and with great skepticism, if not downright hostility.

The question that was put to us again and again was, "How can their be a moral order without a final authority?" The implicit answer was always, "There cannot be. Therefore, God. Don't bother reading the rest of that stuff, it will poison your mind and make you think abortion is ok."

from The Geneaology of Morals

We knowers are unknown to ourselves, and for a good reason: how can we ever hope to find what we have never looked for? There is a sound adage which runs: "Where a man's treasure lies, there lies his heart." Our treasure lies in the beehives of knowledge. We are perpetually on our way thither, being by nature winged insects and honey gatherers of the mind. The only thing that lies close to our heart is the desire to bring something home to the hive. As of the rest of life–so-called "experience"–who among us is serious enough for that? Or has time enough? When it comes to such matters, out heart is simply not in it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 7 (Lorine Niedecker)

Collected Works by Michael_Kelleher
Collected Works, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Niedecker, Lorine
Collected Works

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

This was the Event Book of 2002. By 'Event Book' I mean a book of poetry, usually by a dead poet, usually a collected or selected works, usually published on a university press, most often by the University of California Press, though on occasion by someone like New Directions, whose publication is accompanied by a silent, yet powerful vibration that buzzes through through the poetry world, and whose secret message first manifests itself in the brain by way of the phrase, "I really should buy that."

Soon thereafter everyone in the poetry world is talking about it and before long they are blogging about how they had been reading the author of said event book in beat-up old editions for years prior to the publication of this handsome, yet invariably disappointing and/or poorly edited and or poorly typeset volume of poems by this poet who'd been all but forgotten by all but this ardent, long suffering blogger who feels, in the face of this Event, a powerful combination of the two V's of fandom, that is, vindication and violation, the former because everyone us just now realizing what the blogger has known all along, and the latter because their beloved secret has now gone mainstream.

As if to confirm the blogger's sense of violation, academic panels begin springing up across the land, exploring every imaginable facet of significance said poet might have for each and every individual and/or sub-group of intellectually or otherwise interconnected individuals, these panels eventually growing themselves into conferences, journals, dissertations and entire careers devoted to the now dead author of said Event Book.

You know the type.

On occasion, as in the case of Niedecker, they deserve all the attention.

from Collected Works


Colours of October
wait with easy dignity
for the big change–
like gorgeous quill-pens
in old inkwells
almost dry

Monday, June 13, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 6 (bpNichol)

Nichol, b.p.
The Alphabet Game: A bpNichol reader

Sent to me by the publisher.

I can remember when I first moved to Buffalo and started going to Talking Leaves...Books and seeing the Martyrology set on the shelves there. For a time it was on the top shelf and stood out the way a complete Yale Shakespeare or a set of Library of America editions does.

It was so beautifully packaged it made me want to buy it.

I would always take it down from the shelf when I visited, then return it. Something always kept me from buying. Like I didn't want to make the financial commitment to buying the whole set, but also didn't want to buy just one. I read most of it in the store over the years, but I never did buy it, so I was quite happy to receive this gem in the mail when it came out.

from The Alphabet Game: A bpNichol reader

from Transcontinental


snow at the window

white room

blue blue blue
blue blue blue
blue blue bluer

dark green & white
straight with branches

g or h or

grey white grey
white grey white


a sun which is hidden
a t in a snowbank

h h
h h

an I that insists itself
insists itself

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 5.4 (Pablo Neruda)

Canto General by Michael_Kelleher
Canto General, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Neruda, Pablo
Canto General

Purchased at the now-defunct Seventh St. Books in Manhattan. I got it for five dollars sometime in 1995 or early 1996. Every single page I read had to be cut open, as the folios were still folded together. I used to bring it to work with me everyday when I worked at Hyperion publishing. I'd sit in the back with this book and my little college Spanish-English dictionary with a scotch tape binding and translate Alturas de Macchu Picchu in between mindless tasks.

The mindless tasks I performed on this job included putting caps on a thousand water bottles to be given out at a book event. The bottles had arrived in separate containers from the caps and someone had to put them on. That someone was me.

I also ferried the artwork for the cover of Oprah's trainer's exercise book back and forth from the designer down the street. This was pre-email adoption for most companies, so changes were made and then delivered and then corrections written down and delivered, and so on. I was the messenger.

I once brought a picture of Oprah and her trainer jogging over to the designer with the following two notes tagged to the front:

1. Take more off Oprah's hips -- too fat!
2. Fill in holes in Bob's fishnet shirt -- too gay!

The only interesting job I ever did was to go through a set of data pertaining to book sales before and after the author or book appeared on or was mentioned by Oprah. This was before the book club, nonetheless the average jump in sales was something like 10,000 percent. I can only imagine the jump after the book club selections were chosen.

from Canto General


DEL aire al aire, como una red vacía,
iba yo entre las calles y la atmósfera, llegando y despidiendo,
en el advenimiento del otoño la moneda extendida
de las hojas, y entre la primavera y las espigas,
lo que el más grande amor, como dentro de un guante
que cae, nos entrega como una larga luna.

(Días de fulgor vivo en la intemperie
de los cuerpos: aceros convertidos
al silencio del ácido:
noches deshilachadas hasta la última harina:
estambres agredidos de la patria nupcial.)

Alguien que me esperó entre los violines
encontró un mundo como una torre enterrada
hundiendo su espiral más abajo de todas
las hojas de color de ronco azufre:
más abajo, en el oro de la geología,
como una espada envuelta en meteoros,
hundí la mano turbulenta y dulce
en lo más genital de lo terrestre.

Puse la frente entre las olas profundas,
descendí como gota entre la paz sulfúrica,
y, como un ciego, regresé al jazmín
de la gastada primavera humana.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 5.3 (Pablo Neruda)

Neruda, Pablo
Nuevas odas elementales

Ok, so I was right yesterday in saying I had purchased this book at The World Languages Center at Yale. I must have bought yesterday's online somewhere. Either that or I picked it up I don't know where.

Anyhow, I definitely bought two copies of this and gave one to my migrant worker poet friend, Romulo. I think I also gave him a copy of Machado's Campos de Castilla, if I am not mistaken.

I felt terrible when he left for Mexico, as he had sent me some poems to read and critique and I had gotten behind on things and let them sit for a couple of months before trying to get in touch with him. By the time I got around to it, he was gone, no forwarding address.


from Nuevas odas elementales

Oda al diccionario

Lomo de buey, pesado

cargador, sistemático

libro espeso:

de joven

te ignore, me vistió

la suficiencia

y me creí repleto,

y orondo como un

melancólico sapo

dictaminé: "Recibo

las palabras


del Sinaí bramante.


las formas a la alquimia.

Soy mago".

El gran mago callaba.

El Diccionario,

viejo y pesado, con su chaquetón

de pellejo gastado,

se quedó silencioso

sin mostrar sus probetas.

Pero un día,

después de haberlo usado

y desusado,


de declararlo

inútil y anacrónico camello,

cuando por largos meses, sin protesta,

me sirvió de sillón

y de almohada,

se rebeló y plantándose

en mi puerta

creció, movió sus hojas

y sus nidos,

movió la elevación de su follaje:





manzano, manzanar o manzanero,

y las palabras,

brillaban en su copa inagotable,

opacas o sonoras

fecundas en la fronda del lenguaje,

cargadas de verdad y de sonido.

Aparto una

sola de





qué maravilla

pronunciar estas sílabas

con aire,

y más abajo


hueca, esperando aceite o ambrosía,

y junto a ellas

Captura Capucete Capuchina

Caprario Captatorio


que se deslizan como suaves uvas

o que a la luz estallan

como gérmenes ciegos que esperaron

en las bodegas del vocabulario

y viven otra vez y dan la vida:

una vez más el corazón las quema.

Diccionario, no eres

tumba, sepulcro, féretro,

túmulo, mausoleo,

sino preservación,

fuego escondido,

plantación de rubíes,

perpetuidad viviente

de la esencia,

granero del idioma.

Y es hermoso

recoger en tus filas

la palabra

de estirpe,

la severa

y olvidada


hija de España,


como reja de arado,

fija en su límite

de anticuada herramienta,


con su hermosura exacta

y su dureza de medalla.

O la otra


que allí vimos perdida

entre renglones

y que de pronto

se hizo sabrosa y lisa en nuestra boca

como una almendra

o tierna como un higo.

Diccionario, una mano

de tus mil manos, una

de tus mil esmeraldas,




de tus vertientes virginales,

un grano



magnánimos graneros

en el momento


a mis labios conduce,

al hilo de mi pluma,

a mi tintero.

De tu espesa y sonora

profundidad de selva,


cuando lo necesite,

un solo trino, el lujo

de una abeja,

un fragmento caído

de tu antigua madera perfumada

por una eternidad de jazmineros,



un temblor, un sonido,

una semilla:

de tierra soy y con palabras canto.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 5.2 (Pablo Neruda)

Odas elementales by Michael_Kelleher
Odas elementales, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Neruda, Pablo
Odas elementales

Not quite sure about this one. I am pretty sure I bought it at the World Languages Center at the Yale book store. I was in town visiting the literary outlaw Richard Deming, who showed me this amazing section of the book store that carries publications in languages from around the world. I say I am not quite sure because I also have a copy of the sequel to this book, which I also recall buying there.

At the time I was teaching Spanish language poetry workshops to migrant farm workers in Central NY, most of whom had come from Mexico. One in particular was very serious about writing poetry and I had started working with him on writing a chapbook of his poems. The late Janine Pommy Vega, who also did workshops at the site, was also working with him.

I remember buying an extra copy of the Nuevas odas at Yale in order to give to him as a gift.

Now -- I have a memory that I owned the Nuevas odas first without actually owning a copy of the first Odas, this one. It's possible I may have bought this online or elsewhere -- if so, I don't recall when or where.

Unfortunately, my friend the poet left the states to return to Mexico for the wedding of one of his children, so I never got to see him again, and his book never got published.

Here's a link to some of the Odas:


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 5.1 (Pablo Neruda)

Neruda, Pablo
Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair

Given to me as a birthday gift in 1996. Inscribed.

My college friend, V., gave this to me. V. came from a very wealthy family, had gone to Choate for high school, etc. In college we all expected her to take over the world -- or at least Broadway. Everything she did was infused with her ambition.

Most of her circle of friends were involved in theater -- she was often tagged with the "fag hag" label. She didn't act or sing or dance or direct or work on the stage crew, but she seemed to keep the whole gang happy through her presence and encouragement and so forth.

She chain smoked. She had a very worldly, knowing air about her, but there was also a kind of intimacy she could share with you that was very attractive.

Later in college she got an internship at William Morris Agency that became a job and we all expected her to become the next super-agent. After a few years, however, she seemed to have a change of heart. She hated her job, was getting sick of New York, etc., so one day she up an left. Not for Hollywood, though, for Boston. Before long she was teaching high school and from what I could tell seemed quite happy.

We had a brief encounter one evening after a New Years' party, just before she left for Boston. After the party we wended our way over to her apartment on the Upper East Side, where we sat for a while in the living room before making our way to the bedroom. She had a new cocker spaniel with a barking issue that V. had tried to solve by purchasing a shock collar. Every time the dog barked, the collar would give it a little electric shock and then emit beep so the owner would know it was working.

V. had one of those NYC loft beds that float five feet off the ground on wobbly stilts. As our intimacy progressed, the bed began to wobble and knock against the wall. It was a rather noisy affair, the two of us moaning and groaning and the bed banging repeatedly against wall.

All of this upset the little pooch, who eventually popped open the bedroom door and started to bark, causing the collar to admit a beep, until it all began to seem like a scene out of a Jeunet film where the random noises of everyday life suddenly cohere into a comic, cosmic rhythm: Oooh, boom, woof, beep! Oooh, boom, woof, beep! Oooh, boom, woof, beep! Oooh, boom, woof, beep!

That was the only time we ever got together, and we lost touch after she left New York. She's not even on Facebook, so I have no idea what she's doing nowadays.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 5 (Pablo Neruda)

Neruda, Pablo
Vallejo, César
Neruda & Vallejo: Selected Poems

I think I bought this at St. Mark's Books. I am not sure at all. I want to say I bought it in 1993 or '4, but it could have been in '95. I know I didn't start reading Neruda until after college, so the period of '92-'95 makes sense. Tomorrow's book was a gift given by a friend during that period. I feel like I bought this later. I got really into Neruda after I returned from Ecuador.

While working a terrible temp job at Hyperion books in NYC, I was left to my own devices most of the day, so to keep my Spanish chops sharp I began translating 'Las alturas de Macchu Picchu' in my cubicle. It would make sense that I bought this around that time. I do have a vague recollection of being disappointed I could only find this two-author edition instead of a complete Neruda.

I didn't get into Vallejo until much later. Just a few years ago, in fact.

My clearest memory of this book is line I still remember from one his poems:

Como un naufragio hacia adentro nos morimos

Like a shipwreck we die moving inward

I've always been fond of the word "naufragio," which means "shipwreck." There's even a verb, "naufragar," which means "to be shipwrecked, or to sink."

Anyway, here's the whole thing in Spanish.

"Sólo la Muerte"

Hay cementerios solos,
tumbas llenas de huesos sin sonido,
el corazón pasando un túnel
oscuro, oscuro, oscuro,
como un naufragio hacia adentro nos morimos,
como ahogarnos en el corazón,
como irnos cayendo desde la piel al alma.

Hay cadáveres,
hay pies de pegajosa losa fría,
hay la muerte en los huesos,
como un sonido puro
como un ladrido sin perro,
saliendo de ciertas campanas, de ciertas tumbas,
creciendo en la humedad como el llanto o la lluvia.

Yo veo solo, a veces,
ataúdes a vela,
zarpar con difuntos pálidos, con mujeres de trenzas muertas,
con panaderos blancos como ángeles,
con niñas pensativas casadas con notarios,
ataúdes subiendo el río vertical de los muertos,
el río morado,
hacia arriba, con las velas hinchadas por el sonido de la muerte,
hinchadas por el sonido silencioso de la muerte.

A lo sonoro llega la muerte
como un zapato sin pie, como un traje sin hombre,
llega a golpear con un anillo sin piedra y sin dedo,
llega a gritar sin boca, sin lengua, sin garganta.

Sin embargo sus vasos suenan
y su vestido suena, callado, como un árbol.

Yo no sé, yo conozco poco, yo apenas veo,
pero creo que su canto tiene color de violetas húmedas,
de violetas acostumbradas a la tierra,
porque la cara de la muerte es verde,
y la mirada de la muerte es verde,
con la aguda humedad de una hoja de violeta
y su grave color de invierno exasperado.

Pero la muerte va también por el mundo vestida de escoba,
lame el suelo buscando difuntos,
la muerte está en la escoba,
es la lengua de la muerte buscando hilo.

La muerte está en los catres,
en los colchones lentos, en las frazadas negras
vive tendida, y de repente sopla:
sopla un sonido oscuro que hincha sábanas,
y hay camas navegando a un puerto
en donde está esperando, vestida de almirante.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 4.1 (Murat Nemet-Nejat)

The Bridge by Michael_Kelleher
The Bridge, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Nemet-Nejat, Murat
The Bridge

Given to me by the author. Inscribed:

Dear Michael,

This is the beginning of my journey in poetry.

Murat Nemet-Nejat

I was touched that Murat gave me this lovely, hardcover edition of his first collection of poems, published in London in 1977. We had a great time driving around town when he was here a few years back. He told me he used to be a rug dealer and that he often traveled from New York to Buffalo to sell Persian rugs. We even passed the dealer to whom he used to sell them.

In other news, you'll need to brace yourselves for some changes around here. We just sold our house and bought another one, which means the whole library is going to be moved once again. It also means that the background image of my window and these lovely bookshelves is going to change to something new. It probably also means that my blog entries will continue to be a bit more spread out until we get settled into the new place.

It's a really cool victorian house that already has some built-ins on the first floor, which will surely be put to use. My study will be on the second floor, towards the rear of the house. Not sure what I plan to do -- I'd like to learn to make my own shelves and do something nifty in there, or add to the ones already in place. We'll see.

from The Bridge


The trees are lonesome in the summer
In the city:
The children have left for summer places;
And I am lonesome in the city;
Old, bearded coffee seats, and backgammon clicks.
I watch old men gossip, with rosy cheeks, about religion.

Their slippered shoes and my sandals,
Their hard soles and my shy smiles. I begged
For nothing. An old man offered a cup of tea.
The hot cup, its stem craning inward, burned my lips.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 4 (Murat Nemet-Nejat)

The Peripheral Space of Photography

Flickr is not communicating with blogger today, hence the odd formatting.

Given to me by the author. Inscribed:


Lovely to have met you. I'm looking forward to reading your books..

Murat Nemet-Nejat

The first author in the Babel series in 2007 was Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. Soon after we began promoting the event, I got an email from Murat Nemet-Nejat telling me that he was bringing a group of Turkish poets to the states to read at several east coast universities and would I be interested in setting up some kind of reading that might complement Pamuk's visit.

That November, Murat came to Buffalo with poets Lalle Mülder, Güven Turan, and Seyhan Erözçelik. They read at Buffalo State college and also at Talking Leaves Books. In between events, I took them to Niagara Falls. At the time, I was obsessed with taking photos. You can see all 87 that I took over at my flickr page.

from The Peripheral Space of Photography

The unique, revolutionary power of the lens, non-existent in any medium before the camera, is clearest in movies. At least conventional movies are empathetic and create their magic by weaving the illusion of a separate world. That's why movie actors can never look at the camera. The actor's direct gaze at the lens destroys all illusion, pretense of naturalness. In TV news broadcasts, talk shows, etc., there is a sustained effort to pretend looking at the lens without doing so, to create the illusion of naturalness. The true function of a teleprompter us to avoid looking directly at the lens while pretending to do so. Only an outsider or a soap character can look at the lens, whereas looking at the lens is the original, integral act of photography. It is one of the three acts that separate photography from other media and define its own path.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 3.1 (V.S. Naipaul)

Guerillas by Michael_Kelleher
Guerillas, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

Naipaul, V.S.

I am not sure where I bought this. Possibly the Fordham University Bookstore, possibly St. Mark's Books.

I first read Naipaul in college during a summer course called, "Politics and the Novel." I don't recall whether or not we actually read the book during the course. The professor put together an incredibly ambitious list of about ten or twelves novels to be read in six weeks. I recall reading about half, though I purchased the whole lot, assuming I'd probably find most of them interesting.

The book chosen for that course was A Bend in the River, which, alongside A House for Mr. Biswas, most people consider to be Naipaul's masterpiece. It was one of the best novels I read in college. So much so that it lead me to purchase this one at some later point in time, though I recall not finishing it, and I have no recollection whatsoever of its content.

In case you are interested, I am reading the following four books at the moment:

The Information, by James Gleick
Todas las almas, by Javier Marías
Amnesia Moon, by Jonathan Lethem
Field Work: Notes Songs, Poems 1997-2010, by David Hadbawnik

And I just finished:

Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem
Los enamoramientos, by Javier Marías

The new Javier Marías novel is amazing. If you read Spanish, order it. Otherwise, put it on your list for when the translation appears. Kind of astonishing that after churning out Your Face Tomorrow, an incredibly rich and powerful 1600 page novel, over the course of the last decade, that he could follow up with such another work of such high quality. I guess that's what makes him great.

Lethem was recommended to me by my friend, Gregg Biglieri. I bought "Gun" at Talking Leaves and then ordered four more of his books used online. He's my summer project.

from Guerillas

The destructive urge comes on me at times like this. I want to see fire everywhere, when I stop and think that there is no hope of creative endeavor being appreciated, it is all for nothing, and on a night like this I feel I could weep for our world and for the people who find themselves unprotected in it. When I think how much I expected of my life at one time, and when I think how quickly that time of hope dies, I get sad, and more so when I think of the people who never expected anything. We are children of hell.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 3 (V.S. Naipaul)

Naipaul, V.S.
A House for Mr. Biswas

Sent to me by the publisher in anticipation of Naipaul's visit to Buffalo last October. I forgot to get it inscribed, but this is the copy he used during his reading.

Before he went on stage, he asked his wife, Nadira, and I to choose a passage for him to read. We chose what we thought was a typically funny story in which Mr. Biswas is ranting and raving and cursing at his wife. Sir Vidia, as he is called, seemed hesitant, not wanting to offend anyone with the curse words (I think he calls his wife a bitch, or something along those lines). We assured him it would go over well with the audience. He did read the passage, but he edited out some of the curses on the spot.

He was not in good health. In fact, he seemed a little lost. When he stepped out on stage, instead of leaving during the lecture, I stayed with him to make sure he didn't lose his balance at the podium. After the applause had died down, he turned to me and asked, for everyone to hear, "What was I supposed to do again?"

"Read from the book and make a few remarks," I replied.

"Ah, a few remarks."

He went on to read and to tell a few stories about the book. He said it was one of his favorites and that he was happy we had chosen to read it for our series. During the interview portion of the evening he became more comfortable, and some of the Naipaul I'd heard so much about -- the irascible one who doesn't suffer fools gladly-- made a few brief appearances.

I an imagine that his manner of answering certain questions might get under someone's skin -- especially the questioner. If he didn't like a question, he would analyze the motives of the person asking the question, usually in a way that suggested the questioner was either not being forthright in what they were asking or that they were trying to perform some idealized image of themselves through the wording of their question.

On the whole it felt a bit like being around an old warrior who knew he could no longer go into combat and didn't feel there was any point talking about it unless he could still go out the next day and fight.

Afterward, we went out to dinner at a little restaurant called Mother's and talked about cats. He loves cats.

from A House for Mr. Biswas

Shortly before he was born there had been another quarrel between Mr Biswas's mother Bipti and his father Raghu, and Bipti had taken her three children and walked all the way in the hot sun to the village where her mother Bissoondaye lived. There Bipti had cried and told the old story of Raghu's miserliness: how he kept a check on every cent he gave her, counted every biscuit in the tin, and how he would walk ten miles rather than pay a cart a penny.

Bipti's father, futile with asthma, propped himself up on his string bed and said, as he always did on unhappy occasions, 'Fate. There is nothing we can do about it.'

No one paid him any attention. Fate had brought him from India to the sugar-estate, aged him quickly and left him to die in a crumbling mud hut in the swamplands; yet he spoke of Fate often and affectionately, as though, merely by surviving, he had been particularly favoured.

While the old man talked on, Bissoondaye sent for the midwife, made a meal for Bipti's children and prepared beds for them. When the midwife came the children were asleep. Some time later they were awakened by the screams of Mr Biswas and the shrieks of the midwife.

'What is it?' the old man asked. 'Boy or girl?'

'Boy, boy,' the midwife cried. 'But what sort of boy? Six-fingered, and born in the wrong way.'

The old man groaned and Bissoondaye said, 'I knew it. There is no luck for me.'