Monday, July 18, 2011

Aimless Reading Hiatus

Full Boxes by Michael_Kelleher
Full Boxes, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Well, the time has come. All my books are in boxes again. I had thought about trying to find a way to keep this up during the transition to the new house, but in the heat (literal and figurative) of packing, I opted to get everything neatly stored so it could be found undamaged when we get to the new house. We hope to move in about two weeks, so I shouldn't be gone for too long!

In case you are interested, I have forty-three boxes of books, four boxes of chapbooks and other ephemera, and nine boxes of notebooks and personal papers.

For the wistful (including myself): the empty library--

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5.1 (Charles Olson)

Clark, Tom
Charles Olson: The Allegory of a Poet's Life

No idea at all where I purchased this.

I got into Olson when I was in graduate school. I remember the first class I took with Charles Bernstein. It had a typical graduate school reading list that include 30 or so books of poetry, theory and criticism. It also included a supplemental reading list which basically contained the entire canon of Post-War American Avant-Garde Poetry. I knew a lot of the names around the beats, language writing, etc., but I was mostly unversed in Black Mountain poetics, outside of Creeley, and also the Objectivists.

I listened for the names of the poets that seemed to get mentioned most often ij class but whose work I did not know: Olson, Oppen, Zukofsky, Reznikoff, Duncan, et al. That winter I set about trying to read them all. I bought a copy of The Maximus Poems and also of "A" and basically spent the winter break reading them. I read Zukofsky first, then Olson.

I don't think I liked him right away, but he was a great poet to read in graduate school because he opened up so many avenues of thought. I think I bought Butterick's concordance right away and went about looking up all the references and allusions and so forth. Pretty soon thereafter I bought the biography.

I have a few memories of reading it. My clearest, I think, are of Clark's descriptions of the last days of Black Mountain. The place was going broke and Olson was having a terrible time raising money. A kind of disillusioned, anarchic spirit seemed to reign over the place. Creeley was despairing of the break-up of his marriage. The students had lost all sense of time and place. People were drinking, fighting, breaking bones, getting in car accidents.

At least that's how I remember the description.

I also remember the descriptions of the young Olson, who wrote so much about the fisherman and the fishing industry in Gloucester, heading out on a boat to try his hand at seamanship and fishing and failing miserably at it. The classically unpractical scholar.

After I read it, I remember talking to Cass Clarke, widow of Jack, who told me Jack had kept up a long correspondence with the author, urging him not to write what he called a "psycho-biography," a battle he lost, according to Cass. She kept meaning to show me the letters, but we didn't get around to it before she sold Jack's archive to the Poetry Collection at UB.

As biographies go, I enjoyed this one. I generally dislike the form, but on occasion it can be useful, as this one was to me.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 5 (Charles Olson)

Schlesinger, Kyle, ed.
Charles Olson at Goddard College
April 12-14, 1962

Sent to me by the editor/publisher.

Well, looks like we might at least begin the Olson section before the move. And what better to begin it with than with its newest member, Charles Olson at Goddard College, just out from Cuneiform.

Cuneiform started in Buffalo, when Kyle was a grad student in the poetics program. Kyle and his press have since moved on to New York and now Austin, where he continues to publish a wide range of quality work.

I remember when Kyle first told me he had a recording of Olson reading in Vermont. This had to be ten years ago. He transcribed the whole thing and posted the recording on the Slought foundation website.

He had plans, he said, to do a really strong transcription and turn it into a book. Well, a decade later, here it is. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I have listened to some of the recordings.

Olson had a powerfully eclectic imagination that seemed to be working in overdrive all the time, and he was that rare individual who could make his thought process visible in all its complexity both on the page and when he spoke. This is a great example.

You can listen to the recordings at the links below.

O, and you can buy the book here:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 4.5 (Frank O'Hara)

O'Hara, Frank
The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara

Purchased at St. Mark's Books, probably in late 1995 or 1996. This is one of the more well-thumbed books in my library. I've read the poem, "In Memory of My Feelings" so many times that the book opens right to that poem. It isn't in the best shape any more. The cover is creased and dog-eared and the glossy coating is starting to peel away.

I remember spending several months reading through this book after I bought it. I think I've described before on this blog how O'Hara became an obsession for me, how I'd wander around the East side of Manhattan looking for the various apartment buildings in which he lived or trying to find spots represented in his poems.

I went to the Cedar Tavern. That was kind of depressing. I read all about the poets and painters hanging out there, drinking, brawling, smoking, talking all night long, and then walked in to find it was just another place where NYU students and faculty went to drink. It confirmed that feeling I always had that everything interesting about New York had already happened and that the city I lived in was just rehearsing the forms of its past glories.

Anyhow, this book is kind of overwhelming because of the sheer number of poems O'Hara wrote. It's really easy to find a poem you like and then read ten more pages and forget which poem it was or what it said. O'Hara is certainly a poet with a "greatest hits" selection, so it becomes over time more interesting to find the poems that people don't talk about as much.

For instance, I always liked this early one, titled, naturally, "Poem." I don't think I knew what a chestnut tree looked like when I first read it, so I always assumed that the "pyramids" referred to the shape of the tree and not to the shape of the flowers when the tree is blossoming. I guess I was thinking of an evergreen of some kind. We had a hundred-year old horse chestnut in front of our house Black Rock, which was where I learned about these pyramids.

I remember the chestnuts falling on the roof of our house, one after another, all night long, hitting it with hard thuds that woke us in the middle of the night. We often feared they were burglars trying to break into our house.

I think when I first read the poem, I was most attracted to the line about stamps, baseball scores, abnormal psychology. I had been sober for a few years at the time and was very attuned to my own escapist tendencies and very judgmental of these tendencies in others (and also to the human tendency towards escapism in general). At the time I read it as smugly ironic, but now I am not so sure. I mean, where would we be without these symbols of regularity to give a kind of stability to our lives? All might be in fact lost.

And then that next line, "I could tell you too much..." That one really knocked me out at the time. I guess it was that sense of shared despair and loneliness between the speaker and interlocutor. But I think it was also the construction of that relationship. The I/you or I/they construction is the basis of almost all pop song lyrics, especially those geared toward teens.

Having been weened on such, this construction probably seemed very familiar to me. It also places the speaker in a kind of romanticized control over the interlocutor. Or at least in a position of superiority - as in, I am protecting you from knowledge that will destroy us both. I possess it, but as long as I retain it, it will only harm me, the martyr, and not you. I think when I was younger this seemed to me more heroic than narcissistic. I am less sure now. I still like the line a lot, because it does suggest a kind of society of the despairing and lonely capable of sharing its despair without speaking it aloud.

Reading the line "It is a terrible thing to feel..." makes me realize who much I learned and borrowed from O'Hara about line breaks. He has a great ability to break a line at what appears to be the end of an independent clause or a complete statement, only to modify its meaning after the enjambment. I've always liked the way this particular line could be read three different ways.

1. It is a terrible thing to feel.
2. It is a terrible thing to feel, like a picnicker who has forgotten his lunch.
3. It is a terrible thing to feel like a picnicker who has forgotten his lunch.

For some reason this line always makes me think of Bob Dylan.

I am sure the theological turn at the center of the poem is what fixed my interest in it. I mean the existential declaration that we must care for our own burning tree in the absence of a god to take care of it for us. I was at the time much closer to the church, having spent eight years in catholic high school and college and another at a mission in Ecuador. These questions have always been dear to my heart, despite my own atheism.

I don't ever stop thinking about that burning tree.

I've always wondered about the equivalence between a gold mine, a dirty child and fatal abscess. What duty might we have to a gold mine we step into accidentally? And how equate that with a duty to a dirty child or the need to tend to a potentially fatal physical ailment. Nonetheless, the three of them echo powerfully at the end of the poem, forcing me to ask myself that question again.

What is my duty to that chestnut going up in flames?

Hmm...might this be an eco poem?

from The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara


If I knew why the chestnut tree
seems about to flame or die, its pyramids

aquiver, would I tell you? Perhaps not.
We must keep interested in foreign stamps,

railway schedules, baseball scores, and
abnormal psychology, or all is lost. I

could tell you too much for either of us
to bear, and I suppose you might answer

in kind. It is a terrible thing to feel
like a picnicker who has forgotten his lunch.

And everything will take care of itself,
it got along without us before. But god

did it al then! And now it's our tree
going up in flames, still blossoming, as if

it had nothing better to do! Don't we have
a duty to it, as if it were a gold mine

we fell into climbing desert mountains,
or a dirty child, or a fatal abscess.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 4.4 (Frank O'Hara)

Berkson, Bill & LeSueur, Joe
Homage to Frank O'Hara

Once again, I have no idea where I bought this. Perhaps it was Rust Belt Books. Perhaps not.

I've been up since about six this morning. The heat is troubling my sleep as of late. I've woken four or five nights running at about 4. Each time I struggle back to sleep -- usually until eight or so, but this morning the game was over by six. You'd think all this extra morning time would've given me some space to come up with an interesting blog entry, but alas, no. I think I am too busy planning the future to ruminate on the past. I am sure my mojo will return at some point. It'd better -- I've still got half the alphabet to go!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 4.3 (Frank O'Hara)

O'Hara, Frank
Art Chronices 1956-1966

Not sure where I purchased this. Possibly at St. Mark's Books.

Apologies for the increasingly long delays between posts (and for perfunctory brevity of this one). We are getting ready to move in the next couple of weeks. Plus we are in the middle of a heat wave. Plus the cat at the cord for my mouse (cheeky bugger) which means I am using this computer as a laptop and not as a desktop, which means I have been displaced from my usual perch. I have also been feeling uninspired, out of gas, etc. I fear there is more of this to come until we get settled.

I am tempted to halt at the end of the O'Hara section and to continue with Olson once we arrive in the new digs. We'll see how I feel after I start packing up the library. Now that I think about it, I started this project to celebrate the unpacking of the library a couple of years ago when we moved into this house.

Anyhow, I am rambling.

If you get a chance, read O'Hara's essay on Jackson Pollack. It is one of my all-time favorite pieces of art writing.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's Part 4.2 (Frank O'Hara)

O'Hara, Frank
Standing Still and Walking in New York

This came from the Just Buffalo library before most of it got sold off a few years back.

I thought I had a lot to say about Frank O'Hara, but I am having trouble figuring out what all that might have been. When I lived in New York, I fell in love with his poetry, and through it fell in love with New York.

Or at least the idea of New York.

The one in which all of these great artists hang out together in bars and throw fabulous parties and get together to share their work and recklessly sleep together and gossip about it and write poems about the gossip and share them with the world and so on and so forth.

But then I never really found that New York. It always felt like something out of the glorious past. I found something much closer to it in Buffalo, actually, minus the metropolitan glamor, anyhow.

I associate O'Hara with my romantic attachment to Gotham, but I feel very disconnected from that romance, having now lived away from it for so long. I was surprised a few years back to read my journals from my last years there to discover how unhappy I was -- and even more surprised to discover how much of my unhappiness I blamed on the city.

Besides all the personal misery, I was always broke, never had a steady job, did not really connect with the poetry scene until right before I left town. I always felt oppressed by the literary history there, as if everything interesting had already happened and that there wasn't anybody around interested in making something new.

It made me feel cool to walk the same streets as all the celebrities and artists past and present, but ultimately I felt like it was sucking me dry and that no amount of Frank O'Hara could fix it.

I find it hard to read O'Hara now, as much as I love his poems, perhaps because I associate him so closely with that time in my life.

That's kind of depressing, isn't it? Maybe I don't get to New York enough!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 4.1 (Frank O'Hara)

Gooch, Brad
City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara

Purchased at St. Mark's Books, probably in 1996 or so.

Most of the time when I write these blog entries, I quickly get into a groove and finish the whole entry in less than thirty minutes. I revise only to make sure the sentences are coherent and the typos kept to a minimum. Perhaps having a week off has me more self-conscious about the writing than I usually am as I try to cram an entry in before I head to work in the morning.

Yesterday, I began to write another entry about my trip to Ireland with my father and ended up getting nowhere. I found myself revising and editing as if I were writing a poem or something -- I kept changing the order of the sentences and paragraphs, vainly trying to find the right combination. After a frustrating hour or so, I decided to leave it alone for a while. I promptly forgot about it, and when I shut down the computer for the day I accidentally deleted it. Call it a mercy killing.

I think I was struggling with the fact that I have told many of these stories about my father to myself and others so many times that they have become crystallized into convenient anecdotes to entertain in conversation. I was trying to re-examine this information, while retaining the anecdotal form. It didn't work. I'll leave it alone for now and see if I can't find something else to write about. I have plenty to say about Frank O'Hara and have at least four more books in that section. After that comes Olson, which will take a good month or so, with a lot of imagination to keep it fresh!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 4 (Frank O'Hara)

LeSueur, Joe
Digressions On Some Poems By Frank O'Hara

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

When we left off yesterday I was about to describe a trip I took with my father to Ireland in the summer of 1985. We had just come to an agreement that I would go to AA to seek treatment for me drug and alcohol abuse. I think my father struggled often with his instinct to punish my bad behavior and his desire to see me succeed by way of providing positive reinforcement. In most cases, the former won out, but in this one, he decided to take the positive reinforcement route. I think he was also starting to recognize that treating a sixteen-year-old like an adult often yields more positive results than treating him like a child.

I should also note that this trip aroused no small amount of jealousy and even resentment among my siblings, who never went on an overseas trip with my father or mother, and never really understood the logic of my father's decision to lavish such a gift on his drug-addled prodigal son. During the year I lived in Ecuador, my father spoke to me of a confrontation in which both brothers expressed their feelings of having been cheated out of something by not getting to go on such a trip. He was shocked and dismayed and a little offended.

Anyhow, we flew to London and stayed for a night in a hotel at Picadilly Circus. We went to a play on the west end, I don't recall which one, but I guess it was the big hit of the season. It starred Adam Ant! This meant nothing to my father, but I thought it was pretty cool. We then flew to Dublin, where we rented a Fiat and spent the next ten days following the cost down to Cork and then up to Galway to visit relatives and then back across to Dublin.

Possibly the most significant element of our journey was the fact of the car itself. The steering wheel was on the right hand side and we were to drive on the left. It was also a manual transmission. My father had a great deal of difficulty shifting with his left hand while driving on the left hand side of the road. After a night spent at Drury's in Dublin, where we watched the standard Irish tourist musical revue, we hit the road, sputtering south towards Waterford.

If I remember correctly, I did not yet have my license, a fact resulting from my father's ongoing concern with my drug use. Or: I might have had a license at that point, but not an international license that allowed me to drive in Europe. Either way, my father had to do all the driving. We ended up devising a system whereby he would steer and work the clutch and when he needed to change gears he would call out, "shift!" I would move the gearshift up or down into the next gear. This caused the most trouble entering and leaving cities. I remember there was a lot of shouting and yelling and jerking as we tried to get the hang of it, but eventually we worked out a functioning system.

Another important fact of this trip was that I smoked heavily. Probably a pack a day at the time. I could not hide this fact from my father, who disapproved, but also understood that I had to smoke. He tacitly agreed to allow this, as long as we were not in the car or in the hotel room together. The tacit it part made it awkward. He refused to come out and say it was okay, which forced me to overcome my fear of his temper (and an accompanying smack to the head) in order to feed my jones.

At first, I had trouble smoking in front of him. Not so much smoking, now that I recall, but lighting the cigarette. Once it was lit, it was no big deal to smoke it, but I could not light it in front of him. I remember walking through the streets of Cork and dropping back five feet or so to light up, then I'd catch up to him and walk with the lit cigarette slightly out of view at my side, taking drags when he wasn't looking.

By the end of the trip I had gotten comfortable enough to light a cigarette in front of him, and the issue never came up again.

More tomorrow...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 3 (Frank O'Connor)

O'Connor, Frank
An Only Child and My Father's Son

Given to me by my father after a trip to Ireland. I can't remember if he gave this to me after the trip we took together or after one of the trips he took a few years later. It still has a price tag on it saying it cost "5-55" Irish pounds. Between pages 176 and 177, on the latter of which begins the photo section of the book with a photo portrait of "Lady Gregory outside Hugh Lanes's house in Chelsea," I discovered three Irish postage stamps, each using the Gaelic "Eire" and bearing the number "38" over the image of something like a diamond studded horseshoe, inverted, for luck I guess. Being the dutiful son I am, I have never read even a single page of this book.

In the summer of 1985, things came to a head between me and my father regarding my drug use. I had started smoking, drinking and using drugs when I was still in junior high school, and my parents discovered this fact pretty quickly. My father took me to my first AA meeting at the age of thirteen at a state-run rehab in Manassas, Virginia. Most of the people had been sent there either in lieu of going to jail for drug and alcohol offenses or had stopped there on their way out of prison.

My father had been going to AA for a number of years and regularly took meetings into places likes this -- sometimes into prisons themselves. I remember once going to a prison AA picnic. I played volleyball all afternoon with a group of convicts. They kept hitting the ball over the razor-wired fence, and each time they did they'd all raise their hands and call out to the guard, "I'll get it, I'll get it." And then the guard would point to me and let me out to get the ball.

Anyhow, he took me to this meeting at the rehab. A heavyset, middle-aged man who seemed to know my father was running the meeting. At the opening, he asked the assembled crowd if anyone had a topic they would like to discuss. No one raised their hand, until someone did. My father. "My thirteen year old son has been smoking marijuana," he said. "Why don't we talk about that?"

One by one the room full of junkies, convicts, drunk drivers, etc., began telling their stories directly to me, each one beginning with the phrase, "I started out just like you," and ending with a variation on, "And look where I ended up." At the end of the meeting they all shook my hand and wished me good luck. I remember feeling a little teary that all these guys were being so nice to me.

Which didn't stop me from smoking, drinking or taking drugs at an accelerated pace throughout my high school years. In the summer of 1985 my parents tried to secretly drug test me. They had tried this before, but I had always managed to get one of little brothers to pee for me. Something had changed, though. I had gotten tired of the suspicion and the threats to send me to military school or rehab or whatever. I just didn't feel like lying anymore. So this summer at my annual drug-test-posing-as-school-physical-exam, I handed in my own urine, knowing full well what would happen when I did.

At first, nothing happened. A week or so later, a friend of mine invited me on a weekend camping trip, but when I asked my mother to go and she said no, I knew the jig was up. She vehemently opposed my going away for the weekend, but refused to tell me why. She kept telling me to wait until my father got home and that he would explain it to me. This began a shouting match that lasted most of the afternoon. I decided that if she was going to make me wait, I was going to make her suffer in return.

When my father did get home, he took me out on the back porch and told me that they had drug-tested me. I said I knew that. The result, he said, "Heavy.Marijuana.Usage." He asked if that surprised me. I said no. He said, "Michael, drugs can tear a family apart." I remained silent. We're going to start going to family counseling. I assented.

A week or so later he changed his mind about counseling and said he was going to start making me go to AA. Again, I assented. I started going to different meetings every night. Then, seemingly out of the blue, he decided to take me on a trip to Ireland. I had already been invited to go to Maine with a friend in August, so my father planned the trip for a week after that. I think we spent ten days there together, along with a two-night stopover in London on the way in.

Come back tomorrow tomorrow to read about the exciting adventures of Big Mike and Little Mike cruising their ancestral homeland in a rented Fiat....

Friday, July 1, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 2 (Flannery O'Connor)

Collected Works by Michael_Kelleher
Collected Works, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
O'Connor, Flannery
Collected Works

Purchased at the late, lamented Niagara Falls outlet mall discount book store.

This replaced an old paperback edition of Three Works I'd been carrying around since college. I've never actually read from this particular volume. Lori read through the whole thing a couple of years ago. Around that time we were getting ready to drive down to Florida together. I was loading up the iPod with various and sundry recordings when I came upon what is apparently the only extant recording of O'Connor reading her work. She reads "A Good Man Is Hard To Find."

Actually, here it is: