Wednesday, November 30, 2011

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

The Enneads
The Enneads

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

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

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

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

from The Enneads

It is the virtue of unity that beings are beings.

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

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

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

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

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

from Natural History, A Selection

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

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

The Republic of Plato
The Republic of Plato

Purchased at the Fordham University bookstore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got that?

Kind of sad and funny and scary all at once.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 26, 2011

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

Early Socratic Dialogues
Early Socratic Dialogues

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

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

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

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

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

Or as Woody Allen so eloquently put it:

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

Friday, November 25, 2011

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

The Last Days of Socrates
The Last Days of Socrates

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 24, 2011

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

The Dialogues of Plato
The Dialogues of Plato

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

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

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

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

from The Dialogues of Plato

from The Apologia

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

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

The Collected Poems
Plath, Sylvia
The Collected Poems

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

To our favorite 
Merry Christmas! 1991

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from The Collected Poems


The woman is perfected.
Her dead

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

Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare

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

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

Pitcher of milk, now empty.
She has folded

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

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

The Odes of Pindar
The Odes of Pindar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from The Odes of Pindar

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

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

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

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books.

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

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

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

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

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

from Tiepin Eros


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

and that look
does not suit the inside
of my wallet

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

slipped between sheets
and other readers

it's the only true place to be

Sunday, November 20, 2011

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

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

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

from The Ballad of Jamie Allan

The Charm

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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

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

More Winnowed Fragments
Pettet, Simon
More Winnowed Fragments

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

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

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

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

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

WAIT! This just in:

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

Steel Bar Events

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

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

Buffalo, NY  (May 2000 – August 2002)

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

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

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

Simon, well, he's a poet.

from More Winnowed Fragments

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

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

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

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

bless you—that we all possess?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 29 (Simon Pettet)

Pettet, Simon

Sent to me by the author. Inscribed:

for Mike and Lori

much love always


The last time Simon read in Buffalo was about two years ago. He makes it a point to read here often. I first met him with Jonathan Skinner at a bar on Buffalo's West Side called The Rendezvous. It's an former speakeasy that used to be a frequent graduate student haunt. It's gone through several major ownership changes over the years, opening with a new menu and catering to grad student types one year, then changing the menu and catering to locals from the neighborhood the next. It shuts down for years at a time, then re-opens. It's hard to keep up with all the changes..

I remember getting a call from Jonathan late one night saying he was there with a poet named Simon Pettet and would I like to come out and meet him. I pulled myself away from my computer and drove over to the bar. I remember enjoying listening to Simon's stories about poets and others. Oddly, I don't think he was in town to read, or if he was it was to read in someone's class, maybe David Landrey. It wasn't until a few years later that I actually saw him read myself.

He read at Jonathan's Steel Bar series in the Tri-Main Center. It took place in the studio of Isabelle Pelissier, Jonathan's wife. As Simon read his short, tight, beautiful poems, I recall thinking to myself that he made frequent, almost excessive use of repetition. Not only was he repeating rhetorical figures, he was repeating whole stanzas in the same poem. I listened as he did this again and again. Finally, I figured out what was happening: he was reading each poem twice in succession.

It was as if he realized that the brevity of his poems lent itself to a half-hearted attention on the part of listener, one he intended to counteract by reading the poem again, in case the listener missed it the first time. After he finished reading a poem, he just read it again. The second time through he would change the pace, sometimes reading faster, sometimes slower, sometimes making variations occur line by line.

This continued until the final poem of the evening, which he read only once. After the reading, I approached him and asked why he didn't repeat the last poem. Well, he said in his British accent, I wouldn't want everyone to remember me only as The Poet Who Reads Every Poem Twice, would I?

from Hearth


Turning round to discover that
Though your feet are on the ground,
Naturally, your head's in the air.
Elongated your spine is
All the better to climb to heaven with.

Make of me Beauty a Ladder then
(It has already been granted)
Dissolving at every step.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 28 (Ricardo Alberto Pérez)

Nietzsche dibuja a Cósima Wagner
Pérez, Ricardo Alberto
Nietzsche dibuja a Cósima Wagner

Purchased at the aforementioned poetry festival in Havana. I don't recall the name of the author, so I can't say for sure if I met him. I probably did, or, at the very least, I saw him read during the festival.

I am babysitting my two-month-old daughter today while Lori returns to work. Emily's asleep in a little vibrating disc-chair set atop an ottoman next to my desk. We were listening to Beethoven's 7th Symphony when she dozed off, her aquamarine binky still between her lips.

I started off calling the binky a pacifier, but she now smiles every time I use the word "binky," so it's taken, almost to the point of becoming a nickname for Emily herself. I start off asking if she wants her binky and then end up calling her "my little binky-boo."

Ain't that sweet?

from Nietzsche dibuja a Cósima Wagner

from Ciertos juegos con el tono de la luz (entre el amor y el afecto)

Es la flexión del ser, el movimiento circular y armónico: provoca lugares donde la semejanza acerca al cuerpo con su pobreza material, lo acerca y deposita, para otorgarle el senti de leves rayos, labios procedentes del retorno.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 27 (Ted Pelton)

Malcom & Jack
Pelton, Ted
Malcom & Jack and Other Famous American Criminals

Given to me by the author.

Not sure when I first met Ted Pelton, but I do remember hearing him read from this novel while he was writing it. Eventually our paths in the Buffalo literary world just crossed and we became friends. He's been an important presence on the literary scen here for a long time. An English Professor at Medaille College, he runs a reading series over there. But his biggest contribution has been his small press, Starcherone (that's pronounced "Start Your Own," in case you were wondering) Books. They publish innovative fiction and have been doing so for about a decade or so.

I remember when Lori and I bought our first house and were spending a good portion of each weekend at Home Depot. Ted was also working on a house with his then-partner. We used to run into him in the aisles there and talk about what we were each working on in our new homes. It was always a little strange, but also something of a relief, to find myself standing in the middle of a big box store talking about drywall with another writer.

from Malcom & Jack

New York City is a forties town. 

Arriving from elsewhere, something happens, rare in an American city. Yes, New York sizzles with an electric current of the now; nonetheless, you find yourself transported back a lifetime ago, when things were wilder, more unsure in certain ways than they are today. To when war broadcasts came over the radio, silencing rooms where dancers had just been swinging to big band. The rumbling conga drums, an echo of blaring brass, a veneer of loud, innocent fun. Spiffed-up and shiny, disguising the fact that it could all come suddenly to a stop, that death could enter the apartment or ballroom at any moment. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 26.1 (Omar Pérez)

La perseverancia de un hombre oscuro
Pérez, Omar
La perseverancia de un hombre oscuro

Given to me by the author in Havana in 2000. Inscribed. The inscription is actually a drawing of a some kind of bird -- not quite sure what kind, but it has longish legs and it feathers seem to be all fanned out. One leg is kicking up, as if it were dancing. It speaks: "Hey, Mike! Can I sing?"

If you read Ron Silliman's blog, you would Omar Pérez is also the son of Che Guevara. When I was in Cuba, everyone talked about this in hushed whispers and warned us not to mention it out loud. No one did, but it came out in the blogosphere a few years back, so I guess it is public knowledge now. This little whispering campaign forms an important part of my prose poem, Cuba.

Omar is an English language translator and he actually translated one of my more difficult poems into Spanish. It's a poem in my first collection, A Crowning, and it's built heavily on wordplay. He did an admirable job of translating it. I am not sure I even have a copy. I was given a photocopy from a small anthology of Buffalo poets published in Cuba after we left.

Ok...gotta run. Btw -- I noticed on my shelves this morning that I made a shelving error, putting Per before Pel, thus skipping my friend Ted Pelton. I'll get to him tomorrow.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 26 (Omar Pérez)

Oiste hablar del gato de pelea?
Pérez, Omar
¿Oiste hablar del gato de pelea?

Given to me by the author. Inscribed (in English):

To Mike:

In memory of his marvelous mumbling.


The reference here is to a reading I gave in Havana in 2000. I used to always end my readings with a kind of showstopper. At the time, my favorite was a short prose poem called, "Democracy in America." I used to read it so fast you could barely understand the words a la Tom Raworth or Miles Champion.

At the reading in Havana, I only had one or two of my poems translated into Spanish, so I decided the best thing to do was read poems that lent themselves to performance. That way, at least, the sound could get across to those who did not speak English. I finished with the aforementioned poem, read at breakneck speed. Everybody cheered  when it ended.

Afterwards, a friend who had been standing in back next to representatives of the Cuban government told me that they asked he why I read it so fast. Was he reading an anti-government message, they asked? She said no, that it was just the way I liked to read. I guess they left it at that, as they never asked me about it.

from ¿Oiste hablar del gato de pelea?

Extremo Espíritu

Eh, el espíritu
Eh, el elegido, ¡eh!
extenderlo en el hecho extremo          eh
no tiene puntos cardinales

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 25 (Georges Perec)

Life A User's Manual
Perec, George
Life: A User's Manual

Purchased at St. Mark's Books in 1993.

Towards the end of my second year of teaching in New York, I took a trip to Paris. Two friends were working there as au pairs at the time, so off I went. I stayed with my friend, L., who had the worse of the two gigs. She worked near the Trocadero, on the Rue John F. Kennedy, in a classic Parisian apartment building. Her employer gave her a former chauffeur's quarters on the ground floor -- in the parking garage.

The room could not have measured more then twelve by six. It was tiny. A small shower stood in a corner next to a sink at the rear wall of the apartment. These took up the entire width of the apartment. I think there was a shared commode in the parking garage. She slept on a cot that stood against the left wall (looking in from the door) and had a small chest of drawers on the opposite wall. There may have been a small desk or wardrobe on the front wall.

We shared the bed, platonically, while I was there. It was kind of depressing. My other friend actually had a room in the apartment of the people she worked for, but it was not a situation that allowed for visitors. I did see the apartment one day. I remember using their super-automatic espresso maker and wondering why such things didn't exist in the U.S. (They do now. And I own one.)

The other friend, R., who I have mentioned previously, had a boyfriend she'd met in Paris. He was a young artist, just finishing his final year at Parsons Paris. He'd been born in New York, but his mother remarried and moved to Brussels when he was a boy and he'd grown up there. He was an avid reader and we had many long, excited discussions about literature in Paris and also later, after he'd moved to New York. He was the person who first introduced me to Paul Auster's work, as I recall.

He also recommended Georges Perec, especially this book, which he of course had read in the original language. I remember buying it when I returned to New York and spending a couple of months reading it. It's rare that I can remember a story as clearly as I remember one of the many stories that make this book. It goes something like this.

A man lives in a Parisian apartment house on a fairly generous inherited income. He decides to give meaning to his life by willing into existence a planned, purposeful direction involving several ten year plans. First, he decides to become a watercolorist. He spends the first ten years apprenticing himself to an artist and becomes a passable landscape painter.

He spends the next ten years traveling to one port after another, his travels spanning the entire globe. At each port, he paints a watercolor of that port. Now, there are several other tenants in the building who play a part in the plan after the first ten years. I think the artist who teaches him lives in the building, as does a box maker and a master jigsaw puzzle maker.

After he paints a port, he rolls the watercolor in a tube and ships it back to the puzzle maker, who glues the image to a piece of wood, lets it set, then cuts it into a jigsaw puzzle. He then gives the puzzle to the man who makes the wooden boxes. The man creates a box, numbers it, and places it in the man's apartment, awaiting his return.

He spends the third decade back in his apartment putting the puzzles together in the order in which they were created. After completing a puzzle, he gives it to another man in the apartment building who glues it together in such a way that the image fuses back into a whole. Once this is complete, he uses a special chemical that allows him to remove the newly intact paper from the wood. The image is then mailed to someone at the port where it was painted, where that person is charged with dipping the water color into a solution that makes the image disappear completely.

All this is going swimmingly, except for one little hitch. The puzzles are getting more and more difficult and time is running out. Further complicating the situation, the puzzle maker dies, which means the solutions to the puzzles dies with him, so there is no one to help the man, should he stumble. It is taking him longer and longer to complete each one. He approaches his deadline with mounting anxiety mixed with horror.

Ain't that somethin'?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 24.2 (Ted Pearson)

Evidence: 1975-1989
Pearson, Ted
Evidence: 1975-1989

Given to me by the author. Inscribed:

For Michael—

Thank you for your hospitality.
Keep up the good work.

Ted Pearson

Running short on time this morning, so here's your excerpt.

From Evidence

From The Grit
it seems to destroy us

sun     rock     sea

these elements
at the edge
of a continent


there is a wearing down
there is a wearing away

there is a way

Friday, November 11, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 24.1 (Ted Pearson)

  Songs Aside: 1992-2002
Pearson, Ted
Songs Aside: 1992-2002Sent to me by the author. Inscribed:

For Michael,

With thanks for your poems.

Warm regards,


There's kind of an interesting anecdotal history of technology contained in my succession to Ted Pearson's position at Just Buffalo. Ted left me a very detailed check-list of things that needed to be accomplished prior to and during an author visit. It was originally a Word doc from the mid-nineties, and I have a distinct memory of having to convert it several times as we upgraded our technology. I stopped using it after a few of years, but I still have it. It's a fascinating snapshot of pre-internet operations. Most interesting to me is all the hardcopy involved, most of which has completely vanished.

I was going to print the whole checklist, but decided against it. Some interesting facts, though:

We used to keep an entire file cabinet of writer info, including individual folders for each writer containing typed bio, printed photograph, copies of contracts and correspondence, etc. Now all of that is electronic. Electronic photo, email, files. Everything is on the computer. I can remember a long painful period of trying to switch over. For many years it was impossible to get, for instance, a good photo of a writer unless they had enough fame that an agent or publisher had required a headshot. We had to get several copies of each photo, and we also tried to get more than one image of the author, in case one news outlet would not print the same photo as a another. 

After that came the period of transition into electronic photos. For a time, some had them, some did not. For several years, people could not conceptualize the difference between a print-ready photo and an internet-ready photo. No one new what pixels were. No one knew the difference between jpeg and tiff. No one new what dpi meant, either. It's amazing to me how dramatically that has changed. Everyone uses electronic photos now. Most have several portraits of themselves available to send. Most know at least how to create a print-quality photo by setting their camera to the proper image quality.

Even more amazing is that it would be difficult for us to handle a printed photo now. We'd have to digitize it ourselves on a scanner, create different versions for web and print, and then we would probably throw away the original because we know longer keep hard-copy files on individual writers. They take up too much space!

Not to mention that we had no website, no domain name, no just buffalo email addresses, no internet service, no electronic communications of any kind. We were several years behind the curve. We did not have a proper website until 2001 or 2, and even then it took a few years to get one that was user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing.

I can't say I miss the days of hardcopy, to be honest. I miss writing and receiving letters, I guess, but that's really about all.

from Songs Aside: 1992-2002

from Hard Science

And so they came
          to the shining city

               the burning city
                     the entropic city

          an arcanum devoted
               to punishing choices

                      as ingress of fact
                      as desolation

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 24 (Ted Pearson)

Acoustic Masks
Pearson, Ted
Acoustic Masks

Sent to me by the author.

Ted Pearson is one of several people to whom I owe my current job. When I arrived in Buffalo in 1997, Ted had just left town for Detroit. He'd lived in Buffalo for five or so years prior to that with his partner, Sheila Lloyd, a professor in the English Department. During that time, Ted hosted a series at Just Buffalo called Writers at Work. It was a pretty well-heeled series sponsored by the Lannan Foundation. Ted would curate about ten events per year that featured two authors, usually an author from out of town and a local author. After their Sunday afternoon readings at Hallwalls, Ted would then take the writers out into community settings for different kinds of outreach.

When I arrived in Buffalo, it turned out that my first landlord was Debora Ott, who founded Just Buffalo Literary Center. After we'd known each other a few months, she told me that she was looking for someone to replace Ted's replacement, who wasn't able to commit to the job. I remember the offer was, "an average of ten hours per week, year-round, sometimes more than that during the season, sometimes much less, during the summer months, and the pay is $500 a month, year round." It was kind of an ideal situation for an impoverished graduate student. After being interviewed by the staff, they hired me to take over the series. I think I started in 1998, possibly in the spring, though I can't quite recall.

Ted and Debora had worked out a year's worth of events in advance, so all I needed to do was basically take care of the publicity and pick everyone up at the airport. I invited Ted back the following year to read in the series, which he did. He sent me this copy of his book in advance of that visit.

from Acoustic Masks

What words are
          that others aren't

                    tracks per diem
                              prize quarks

          modal predations
                   drawn to scale

                                   a bootleg turn
                                             at dawn

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 23 (Jan Patočka)

Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History
Patočka, Jan
Heretical Essays in the Philsophy of History

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books for a graduate seminar with Rodolphe Gasché. I don't remember the specific name of the course, but it also included Hegel and Husserl. I read all three, I think, as part of my oral exam reading list on the philosophy of history, which Gasché moderated.

This is another of those books I have read thoroughly, even going so far as to underline text and mark pages to which I meant to return, yet I remember very little of it. Opening it now, I recall some of the opening sentences about defining the "natural world" but the gist of the thing is not coming back to me at all. Maybe I'll read it again some day.

Once again I am reminded that no matter how much I actually remember about my life, I have forgotten infinitely more.

from Heretical Essays in the Philsophy of History

At the dawn of history, Heraclitus of Ephesus formulated his idea of war as that divine law which sustains all human life. He did not mean thereby war as the expansion of "life" but as the preponderance of the Night, of the will to freedom of risk in the aristeia, holding one's own at the limit of human possibilities which the best choose when they opt for lasting fame in the memory of mortals in exchange for an ephemeral prolongation of the comfortable life. This war is the father of the laws of the polis as of all else: it shows some to be slaves and others to be free; yet even free human life still has a peak above it. War can show that among the free some are capable of becoming gods, of touching the divinity of that which forms the ultimate unity of being. Those, though, are the ones who understand that polemos is nothing one-sided, that it does not divide but unites, that adversaries are only seemingly whole, that in reality they belong to each other in the common shaking of the everyday, that they have thus touched that which lasts in everything and forever because it is the source of all being and is thus divine.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 22 (Kenneth Patchen)

Patchen, Kenneth

Given to me by the sixth grade classes and teachers at Buffalo Elementary School of Technology (B.E.S.T.) in 2000. Inscribed:

Mr Kelleher,

You definitely brought out the very best in all of us. We will carry your words and our time with you in our hearts always! :)

Colleen Morris and Rm 105

Young minds
our future
receive from you

Thanks So Much, Carrie Myers

Thank you for your enlightening look at poetry. I will use your ideas next year. Jan Wasmund 107

I don't remember much of the residency itself, except that it was at a little school on the east side of Buffalo. I did so many back in the day that they all start to blur together. I don't think I ever received a sweeter gift from teachers, though -- how they decided to give me a book by Kenneth Patchen is beyond me!

It's a great little book, containing "Picture Poems," "Handwriting Poems,"and "Drawing Poems." As a project, it reminds me, at least in spirit, of William Blake. I can see now how my old friend Doug could make such a connection for the dissertation he wrote a few years back. He wrote it on Blake, Patchen, and bpNichol, and at the time, I was sort of like, "Hunh?" But now I am like, "Hunh!"

from Wonderings

(This is a handwriting poem, written in a gothic-looking script, framed in a black ink rectangle. There's about two inches between the first and second stanzas)

To Whomever
These village fires
stall have meaning

O may your own most secret
& most beautiful Animal of Light
Come safely to you

Monday, November 7, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 21 (Pier Paolo Pasolini)

In Danger
Pasolini, Pier Paolo
In Danger: A Pasolini Anthology

Given to me by Joshua Clover. Clover came to town around this time last year to read at Big Night and also to visit Kaplan Harris' class at St. Bonaventure. On the afternoon before his reading, I took him to Talking Leaves Books, where he bought a stack of books and passed this one along to me as gift for hosting. On page 85, there is a book mark. It is an unopened treat from a Cracker Jacks box, also given to me by Joshua. He has a thing for Cracker Jacks. Just ask him.

Eileen Myles was the first person who ever pointed out to me that Pasolini, in addition to being a major film auteur, also happened to be an important Italian poet. I remember her bringing another collection of Pasolini's poetry to class. I remember it having a white cover with red font. I am remembering it to look something like Althusser's Lenin and Philosophy. I also remember it looked like the old Leonard Cohen selected poems.

I have no way to confirm these memories, as I cannot find an image of the old cover on the internet, but that's how I remember it. I did find the Leonard Cohen cover, which looks nothing like my description. It has a faint, orange-yellow font over a black and white image depicting Cohen's face from three angles.

Anyhow, I remember feeling excited by the fact that Pasolini the filmmaker also wrote poetry. I was at the time studiously going through the Great European Director's shelves at Kim's video on Avenue A and had recently hit upon Pasolini. The first film I saw by him was one that is now exceedingly rare, Notes Toward an African Orestes, an astonishing work of filmic essay, very much in the tradition of Chris Marker and Bertolt Brecht.

I have to admit that I was a initially a bit disappointed to discover that most of Pasolini's films had a more traditional narrative structure, so it took me a number of years to return to his films. I have since seen quite a few of them, but I have never even seen that first one made available. I'd love to go back and see it again some time.

from In Danger

Ode to a Flower in Casarsa

Desert flower, flowers from the garland
of our houses where families
bicker in the pen air,

you browse the stones of the day,
simple, while field and sky
like sky and sea
appear all around.

Rustic desert flower,

no evening streaming with lights.

No shepherds drenched by dew,

slender fire of the hedges.

No marsh-marigold, bilberry, swamp-violet
or Florentine iris, or gentian, no angelica,
no Parnassian grass or march-myrtle.

You're Pieruti, Zuan
and tall Bepi with his walking-sticks of bone,
slim at the helm of his wagon,

pasture flower.

You become hay. Burn, burn,
sun of my town, little desert flower.

The years pass over you,
and so do I, with the shadow of the acacia tree,
with the sunflower, on this quiet day.

Translated by Jack Hirschman

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 20 (Blaise Pascal)

Pascal, Blaise

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I remember once, on a visit home during college, after having studied Pascal in an Intro to Philosophy course, being struck by the thought that my mother had somewhere absorbed and believed in her own version of Pascal's "wager," which, I noted at the time, she had been trying to teach me since I first came home from church one Sunday and declared myself an atheist and therefore exempt from the torturous Sunday family ritual of attending mass at St. Mark's Catholic Church in Vienna, Virginia.

From the moment we woke each sunday, my parents would clean, brush, dress and cajole us with admonitions that if we were late we'd never be forgiven. Each Sunday included me getting dressed and coming downstairs, only to have my mother send me back to my room to change into something more appropriate. I would march back up to my bedroom and change one item of clothing, making sure to leave at least one part of me unkempt: a shirt untucked, a missing belt, a collar partly turned up, anything to maintain a modicum of freedom and autonomy.

Once suited up, we'd all go to church and sit as close to the front as possible on the hard-backed wooden pews. Throughout the service, both of my parents would correct our every movement. We were to stand up straight, hands at our sides. We were not to lean on the back of the pew before use. We were not to put our hands in our pockets. We were not to cross our arms (or our legs when sitting). When we knelt, we were not to rest our asses on the pew. We were to put the full weight of our bodies (and, I suppose, our shame) on our knees. We were to close our eyes when we prayed, so to have more intimate contact with God. Closing your eyes showed you were sincere. We were to say all the prayers and sing all the songs clearly and with feeling.

Most importantly, we were to believe that the communion wafer was actually the body of Christ and that the communion wine was actually his blood. This was not a metaphor, it was a true substantiation of the savior. We also had to go to CCD one night a week. And when I was old enough, I was forced to become an altar boy. They spared me Catholic school until high school, but I had no choice when the time came. Unfortunately for them, I chose the Jesuit school, which inculcated me with doubt and provided me with the aptitude to give that doubt a logically reasoned voice.

I remember telling my parents that I did not believe in God. My father, as was his habit, turned red and yelled at the top of his lungs, "What? What? Is that what we are paying those goddamn Jesuits five thousand dollars a year to teach you?" This was followed by a slap to the back of my head.

My mother took a different tack. Each time I repeated that I did not believe in God, she would say back to me, "Well, I'd rather wager that God exists than wager that he doesn't and be wrong." The implication being that you should hedge your bets, in case God does exist, lest you incur his wrath and be sent to hell. Sort of the opposite of Pascal's logic.

(I should note, so you get a clear view of my mother's theological universe, that a few years ago, after seeing the director's cut of The Exorcist, which struck me as a very interesting essay on the suppression of female sexuality, I told her that the thing that really struck about the film me was that...she interrupted me with what she thought was the end of my sentence, "That it could really happen!" Ah, dear mom.)

Which may or may not lead back to why I bought this book. About five or six years ago, the Criterion Collection released a box set of Eric Rohmer's "Moral Tales" on DVD. My favorite of the six films is My Night at Maud's, starring the great Jean-Louis Trintignant.

It's a testament to Rohmer's greatness that he could create a moving, beautiful film, about a bourgeois, anxious, uptight Catholic man struggling with guilt over his sexual desire, the main action of which involves extended conversations on the subject of Blaise Pascal.

It's one of my all-time favorite films. After having seen it, I went out and bought the Pensées, fully intending to read it again through the lens of Rohmer's crisp, black-and-white images.

Alas, I did not.

from Pensées

Part III, note 233
1. "God is, or He is not"
2. A Game is being played... where heads or tails will turn up.
3. According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.
4. You must wager. It is not optional.
5. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.
6. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (...) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 19 (Nicanor Parra)

Poemas y antipoemas
Parra, Nicanor
Poemas y antipoemas

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

My friend Gregg and I form a loose reading group. Very loose. In fact, we never choose books ahead of time and we never read the same book at the same time. We do, however, have similar interests, so what ends up happening is that we take long walks around Buffalo, usually on Sundays, and we talk about what books we're reading and what movies we've recently seen. Zelda, my Catahoula Leopard Dog, often joins us. She usually remains silent.

Both of us read Spanish, so for the past few years, many of our discussions have been about Spanish language authors. While I read Roberto Bolaño, Gregg read César Aira. Then I started reading some Aira while he started reading Bolaño. Then I started reading Javier Marías, and later he read some, too. And so on.

Eventually, we end up reading some of the same books, though sometimes months or even years apart. Both of us are such avid and independent readers that it would be difficult to do it any other way. It's more of an intellectual inquiry club, I guess. We share ideas, reading lists, and, most importantly, tangents we take in the course of our various readings.

For instance, I believe it was Gregg who read an essay by Bolaño in praise of Nicanor Parra. I bought this book, but Gregg did not, having read it already some years ago. I read it over the course of a few weeks last winter. I was also reading the newly "discovered" novel by Bolaño, El Tercer Reich, which disappointed me.

Currently, I am reading a steampunk book by China Miéville called Perdido Street Station, which Gregg had recommended. I think Gregg is reading Javier Marías Mañana en la batalla piensa en mi, which I read a couple of years ago. We've lot's to talk about if we can ever find the time to get together for a walk!

from Poemas y antipoemas


Una vez andando
Por un parque inglés
Con un angelorum
Sin querer me hallé.

Buenos días, dijo,
Yo le contesté,
Él en castellano,
Pero yo en francés.

Dites moi, don angel.
Comment va monsieur.

Él me dio la mano,
Yo le tomé el pie
¡Hay que ver, señores,
Cómo un ángel es!

Fatuo como el cisne,
Frío como un riel,
Gordo como un pavo,
Feo como usted.

Susto me dio un poco
Pero no arranqué.

Le busqué las plumas,
Plumas encontré,
Duras como el duro
Cascarón de un pez.

¡Buenas con que hubiera
Sido Lucifer!

Se enojó conmigo,
Me tiró un revés
Con su espada de oro,
Yo me le agaché.

Ángel más absurdo
Non volveré a ver.

Muerto de la risa
Dije good bye sir,
Siga su camino,
Que le vaya bien,
Que la pise el auto,
Que la mate el tren.

Ya se acabó el cuento,
Uno, dos y tres.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 18 (Francis Parkman, Jr.)

The Oregon Trail
Parkman, Jr., Francis
The Oregon Trail

Purchased at the late, lamented Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store. For $3, no less.

The part of my dissertation that I did actually write was a chapter on Charles Olson's Call Me Ishmael. From the get-go the book showers the reader in a flurry of allusions the dutiful scholar feels compelled to track down. Obviously, it is necessary to read Moby Dick, not to mention everything else by Melville.

But Olson makes reference to a lot of other interesting books, including this one, which I think he mentions in the first couple of paragraphs. He is talking about exploration being the first American story and notes that Parkman's book is the first of these stories.

If it weren't such an interesting book in its own right, I'd probably feel it necessary to put it in the Olson section. But Olson's shelf is pretty heavy at this point. It's even sagging a little, so I'll give him a break and leave Parkman to the P's.

from The Oregon Trail

Accordingly, our preparation being now complete, we attempted one fine morning to commence our journey. The first step was an unfortunate one. No sooner were our animals put in harness, than the shaft mule reared and plunged, burst ropes and straps, and nearly flung the cart into the Missouri. Finding her wholly uncontrollable, we exchanged her for another, with which we were furnished by our friend Mr. Boone of Westport, a grandson of Daniel Boone, the pioneer. This foretaste of prairie experience was very soon followed by another. Westport was scarcely out of sight, when we encountered a deep muddy gully, of a species that afterward became but too familiar to us; and here for the space of an hour or more the car stuck fast.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 17 (Ethan Paquin)

The Violence
Paquin, Ethan
The Violence

I think this was sent to me by the publisher. I am not one hundred percent sure.

Ethan was part of the Buffalo poetry crew of the early to mid-Aughts. I think I was at the tail-end of my grad school years when he arrived. He made an impact on the poetry scene immediately, starting, with Ted Pelton, a poetry/fiction series at Medaille college, where both taught, and also a small press conference.

I once gave a poetry reading in the attic of his home.

It was part of a series of readings put together by Kevin Thurston, another grizzled veteran of the mid-Aughts Buffalo poetry scene. He called the series "Panic in the Attic." At the time, Kevin owned a home with a classically huge Buffalo attic, as did Ethan, myself, Ted Pelton, and a few others. Kevin had the brilliant idea of throwing poetry readings in each of the attics during the warmer months.

I think mine was the only attic that didn't host one. Ethan probably had the best attic of all. It was the size of a large Manhattan apartment. Anyhow, I remember we had both bought our first homes at the time. In between poetry readings, we were both busy learning how to drywall, wire light switches, lay flooring and so on.

None of us live in those homes any longer. Kevin's marriage ended and he moved into an apartment and then to Korea, where he now looks quite happy. Ethan's marriage ended and he sold the house and moved to another before getting back with his family, having a third child and moving to New Hampshire, where he now looks quite happy. Ted's long-time relationship ended and he eventually got married, had a daughter and sold his house, and he now looks quite happy.

Me, well, I am still in the same great relationship, but I have since moved three times and have daughter. I'd imagine I look quite happy, too. And I am.

from The Violence


You'll find sometime where rain rains daggers in
down to persuade you. Like the matter discharg-
éd all about me as I smash a lamp with your gold-
en name          my bleeding hand which would murder me
again and again and cast the body into a super-
fluous sea full of tyrants with horns and wings but
God thou trac of evacuated skyline I want to pry a-
part, and piss on, and pummel my face.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 16.6 (Orhan Pamuk)

My Name Is Red
Pamuk, Orhan
My Name Is Red

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

This is the book that everyone says is Pamuk's best. It was not my favorite. I don't think I even finished it. However, I will qualify this by saying, as I did yesterday, that I reached a moment of burnout reading Pamuk's books, so it is entirely possible that I just needed a break and never returned to it.

I am getting a little burned out again, I find. Luckily, this is the last of his books on my shelf. I haven't yet read his most recent novel, The Museum of Innocence. He had just finished writing it when he was in Buffalo. I think it came out a year or so after he was here. Maybe two. It's all a blur these days. Anyhow --

Instead of an excerpt, and in lieu of having something more to say, I'll invite you to my flicker page, where you can view my photo set of Pamuk's visit top Buffalo.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, 16.5 (Orhan Pamuk)

Pamuk, Orhan

Sent to me by the publisher.

This was the book we chose to encourage everyone in Buffalo to read when Orhan Pamuk came to Buffalo. If there had been money to do a big ad campaign, I had the clever idea to build it around the phrase "Snow in Buffalo." I picture billboards lining the highway, television ads, fake newscasts, you name it. Such is not the fate of non-profit ad campaigns.

This comes in at a close second to The Black Book as my favorite of Pamuk's novels. I tend to like stories that have political settings, especially in a place as foreign to me as eastern Turkey.

One of the pleasures of reading that I have re-discovered post-graduate school is the escapist element. While I do read non-fiction and so forth, I prefer fiction, especially fiction that forces me to imagine a place with which I am totally unfamiliar. I think this is what reading felt like as a kid. I think I lost that feeling as a graduate student, spending as much time as I did analyzing form, structures, meaning, and so on. The escape was beside the point and bordered on some kind of ethical lapse, like passive consumption.

I am lapsed in many areas of my life. I guess am okay with that.

from Snow

As soon as the bus set off, our traveler glued his eyes to the window next to him; perhaps hoping to see something new, he peered into the wretched little shops and bakeries and broken-down coffeehouses that lined the streets of Erzurum's outlying suburbs, and as he did it began to snow. It was heavier and thicker than the snow he'd seen between Istanbul and Erzurum. If he hadn't been so tired, if he'd paid a bit more attention to the snowflakes swirling out of the sky like feathers, he might have realized that he was traveling straight into a blizzard; he might have seen at the start that he was setting out on a journey that would change his life forever and chosen to turn back.

But the thought didn't even cross his mind. As evening fell, he lost himself in the light still lingering in the sky above; in the snowflakes whirling ever more wildly in the wind he saw nothing of the impending blizzard but rather a promise, a sign pointing the way back to the happiness and purity he had known, once, as a child. Our traveler had spent his years of happiness and childhood in Istanbul; he'd returned a week ago, for the first time in twelve years, to attend his mother's funeral, and having stayed there four days he decided to take this trip to Kars. Years later, he would still recall the extraordinary beauty of the snow that night; the happiness it brought him was far greater than any he'd known in Istanbul. He was a poet and, as he himself had written—in an early poem still largely unknown to Turkish readers—it snows only once in our dreams.

As he watched the snow fall outside his window, as slowly and silently as the snow in a dream, the traveler fell into a long-desired, long-awaited reverie; cleansed by memories of innocence and childhood, he succumbed to optimism and dared to believe himself at home in this world. Soon afterward, he felt something else that he had not known for quite a long time and fell asleep in his seat.