Thursday, March 31, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 55 (Nancy Morejon & Milton Rogovin)

Morejon, Nancy
Rogovin, Milton
With Eyes and Soul: Images of Cuba


Given to me by the publisher, Dennis Maloney.

When I was in Cuba in 2001 for a poetry conference, Cuban poets from several generations gave group readings that were organized by groups roughly according to their age. One day a group of twenty somethings read. The next, thirty-somethings, and so on, until they had more or less covered everyone.

Nancy Morejon is one of the better known Cuban poets on and off the island and she was scheduled to read with her group on the third day of the conference. From the minute we got there, the place was abuzz with talk that she had fallen ill and would not make the reading. The rumors turned out to be true and we didn't get to meet her or to see her. Alas.

Milton Rogovin just passed away a few weeks ago. If you don't know about him, I'd suggest googling his NY Times obit. He was a Buffalo-based documentary photographer whose subjects were primarily working people. He'd started out as an optometrist, but his membership in the communist party got him blacklisted during the McCarthy era and wrecked his business. He then took up photography full-time. The rest is history, as they say.

I met him a couple of times. When I first started working at Just Buffalo, he participated in a panel discussion for an event we put on. I drove him home afterwards and his wife, Annie, invited Lori and I to come visit them a week or so later.

I remember Milton being very friendly, but also quiet, while Annie was quite outgoing. She had tons of questions for us, although the first one was, Do you believe in God? She followed this up by saying, We don't, but we raised our children Jewish so they'd have a tradition.

We then had a long discussion about religion and politics and poetry and photography and so on, all of it very personal. It was a memorable evening. I think Annie died not too long after that and I never had the chance to talk to Milton again. He gave me an autographed copy of his book, "Triptychs," which I still have on the shelf.

from With Eyes and Soul

Un patio en la Habana


A Gerardo Fulleda León

Un patio en la Habana,
como pedía Machado,
es caro a la memoria.
Sin altos muros,
sin esa lumbre intrépida
del arcoiris,
sin la flor andaluza
que tanto abuela reclamaba
en los búcaros.

Un patio en la Habana
conserva huesos de los muertos
porque ellos so anchos tesoros,
viejas semillas de labrador.

Un patio, ay, de donde sale
tanta estrella.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 54 (Sir Thomas More)

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

More, Sir Thomas
Utopia


Purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore for an undergraduate course on Renaissance Literature. My only memory of the course is of a lecture in which the professor explained the latin root of the word "utopia."

Rather than "explained" I should say "read from notes typed on white paper which had yellowed with age and so had been slipped into a protective, plastic sleeve clipped inside a black three ring binder, the better to be repeated, verbatim, ad eternum."

Yes, that would be more accurate.

from Utopia

The most invincible King of England, Henry the Eighth of that name, a prince adorned with the royal virtues beyond any other, had recently some differences of no slight import with Charles, the most serene Prince of Castille, and sent me to flanders as his spokesman to discuss and settle them. I was companion and associate to that incomparable man Cuthbert Tunstall, whom the King has recently created Master of the Rolls, to everyone's great satisfaction. I will say nothing in praise of this man, not because I fear the judgment of a friend might be questioned, but because his learning and integrity are greater than I can describe and too well-known everywhere to need my commendation--unless I would, according to the proverb, "Show the sun with a lantern."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 53.1 (Marianne Moore)

O To Be A Dragon by Michael_Kelleher
O To Be A Dragon, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

Moore, Marianne
O To Be A Dragon


A quick note: I had to turn on comment moderation after receiving a blizzard of spam comments by an online casino yesterday. If you post a comment, it may take a little longer than usual for it to post. I won't block anything, as long as it isn't spam, so please keep posting your comments. I'll probably turn the moderation off in a few days, but I want to discourage whatever it is that is posting.

***

I bought this at Rust Belt Books. I believe it was Graham Foust, who worked there at the time, that pointed it out to me. It's an ex-library edition from the Orchard Park Free Library.

It's lovely dust jacket bears her stacked initials on the front cover, and a virtual who's who of American modernism adorns the back, with blurbs from Randall Jarrell, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, Wallace Fowlie (?), and Louise Bogan.

The call number sticker still adheres to the upper left hand corner of the plastic sleeve. Call number PS 3525 M35. The check-out card sleeve still attaches to the last page of the book. Alas, no card, so I can't tell how many times it was actually taken out from the library. It looks as though the tape holding the plastic to the book was once replaced, as the first page inside the books shows traces of old, yellowed scotch tape.

One piece of old, yellowed scotch tape still fixes the plastic sleeve in place. It, too, has left a stain on the facing page.

from O To Be A Dragon

I May, I Might, I Must


If you will tell me why the fen
appears impassable, I then
will tell you why I think that I
can get across it if I try.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 53 (Marianne Moore)

Complete Poems by Michael_Kelleher
Complete Poems, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

Moore, Marianne
Complete Poems


I think I bought this at the late, lamented Discount Book Store at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall.

I have a memory of having bought it to replace an older copy, which had been given to me as a gift. The gift, however, was tarnished. A used copy, heavily highlighted and annotated, completely useless to me. When I saw a nice, clean copy for a couple of dollars at the discount book store, I couldn't say no.

Opening the book this morning, I felt a wave of nostalgia. I miss reading Marianne Moore. When I first encountered modernist poetry in college, she was the only woman we read -- Stein was never on the reading list, though she was mentioned, I think, at least I knew who she was -- and her work was so different than Pound, Eliot and Williams.

But of course she got short shrift among all those men, even though the teacher was a woman. We spent about a week on MM's complete poems, and we spent at least that much time talking about "The Red Wheelbarrow." I think we spent half a semester on "The Wasteland." To be fair, though, Pound got shorted as well -- "just too difficult to unpack in such a short time."

In honor of opening day this Thursday, here's a link to her poem "Baseball and Writing."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 52 (Michel de Montaigne)

Selected Essays by Michael_Kelleher
Selected Essays, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

de Montaigne, Michel
Selected Essays


I think I bought this at Rust Belt Books.

I have used this occasion to make a decision. As I have never read either of the two versions of Montaigne's essays on my shelves, I will get rid of one. In this case, the cheap, heavily highlighted paperback edition I bought used (but never read) at the Fordham University Bookstore. I hate reading books that others have highlighted, so it made the decision easy.

I now have this lovely hardcover for eternity. I have promised myself that I won't get rid of any book I write about on the blog, so it's useful to get rid of some of these things along the way, lest I saddle myself with certain unwanted books forever.

Although now that I look at it, the spine seems to be breaking away from the front panel. O well, at least there's no highlighting.

I also learned this morning that Montaigne had a first name -- Michel de. Who knew?

from Of The Education Of Children

I never yet saw that father, but let his son be never so decrepit or deformed, would not, notwithstanding, own him: not, nevertheless, if he were not totally besotted, and blinded with his paternal affection, that he did not well enough discern his defects: but that with all defaults, he was still his.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 51 (Julian Montague)

Montague, Julian
The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America:
A Guide to Field Identification


As you can see, we have a guested photo this morning. In it, we see the artist Julian Montague holding a copy of his book, The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification. He is sitting in his studio on the West Side of Buffalo, wearing a blue shirt and donning his stylish Danish architect spectacles. The copy of the book he holds in his hand is his own.

As his name approached on my bookcase, I realized that I no longer owned a copy of the book, which I had purchased when it first came out. I am sure I gave it to someone. I am pretty sure I gave it to a visiting poet passing through town. I have no idea who it was. So I asked Julian to take a photo himself and send it along. Think of it as a sort of bookmark until I buy another copy.

In my daydreams I sometimes imagine someone somewhere will decide that this project has some monetary value. In one version of the fantasy, I get a phone call on the day I reach the last letter in the alphabet. On the other end of the line is a book collector interested in purchasing my whole library for a cool million dollars. Imagine how valuable Julian's book would suddenly become? The collector would then have to seek out the artist and make him a separate offer in order to complete the collection. I would only ask for a small commission, say ten percent. That's fair isn't it?

Anyhow, I have known Julian nearly a decade. He does almost all of the graphic design work for Just Buffalo. He's an amazing designer. You should hire him.

You can check out his art and his design work here:

http://www.montagueprojects.com/

Julian also runs a blog called Daily Book Graphics, whose idea was inspired in part by Aimless Reading. He each day posts scans of interesting book covers in his library. After doing it for about a year, he stumbled into an idea for a new conceptual art project designing fake book covers inflected with 60's era paperback design aesthetics. Each looks like a book from that era but has a partly cheeky title alluding to some imagined theme related to insects. I aspire to some day be credited as the author of one of these fake books.

Julian also has the distinction of being the designer of my book, Human Scale. We drove out to a beach in Hamburg, NY a few winters back, where Julian took photos of me wandering around on the frozen parts of the lake. One of these photos became the cover, another the author photo. He also designed all of the illustrations and set the type. It's a pretty nice looking book, if I do say so myself.

Last year, Julian had a show at the Black-and-White Gallery in Brooklyn that required him to build a structure in a courtyard at the gallery. He came to my house and tore down the tattered old shed in the back yard, which he then transported to Brooklyn, where he reconstructed it as part of his installation. Afterward, he gave the shed to the next artist showing at the gallery, who cut it into pieces he used to construct a sculpture.

I saw Julian just last night, in fact. We talked about the new suit I was wearing.

from The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America

Over the last several decades, the stray shopping cart has quietly become an integral part of the urban and suburban landscapes of the industrialized world. To the average person, the stray shopping cart is most often thought of as a signifier of urban blight or as an indicator of a consumer society gone too far. Unfortunately, the acceptance of these oversimplified designations has discouraged any serious examination of the stray shopping cart phenomenon.

Until now, the major obstacle that has prevented people from thinking critically about stray shopping carts has been that we have not had any formalized language to differentiate one shopping cart from another.

In order to encourage a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon, I have worked for the past six years to develop a system of identification for stray shopping carts. Unlike a Linaean taxonomy, which is based on the shared physical characteristics of living things, this system works by defining the various states and situations in which stray shopping carts can be found. The categories of classification were arrived at by observing shopping carts in different situations and considering the conditions and human motives that have placed carts in specific situations and the potential for a cart to transition from one situation to another.

The resulting Stray Shopping Cart Identification System consists of two classes and thirty-three subtypes that can be used singly or in combination to describe and thereby “identify” any found cart. One of the unfortunate difficulties in implementing a situational taxonomy of this kind is that one is often required to speculate about where a cart is coming from and where it is going next. While this uncertainty can at times be vexing, it must be remembered that this system is the first attempt to categorize and analyze the transient nature of the shopping cart. The refinement of this system is an ongoing process.

This book is a starting point for those interested in understanding and becoming sensitive to a dynamic part of their environment. Whether used in the field or simply read at home, this book will quickly give the amateur cart observer the tools needed to identify the stray shopping carts in his or her area.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 50 (K. Silem Mohammad)

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

Mohammad, K. Silem
Breathalyzer


Given to me by Rod Smith at the inaugural Buffalo Small Press Book Fair. Soon after that I met the author online and we played many games of Scrabulous together. Scrabulous was then taken down by the company that owns Scrabble. After getting over the initial shock, we resumed play using the new, inferior IMHO, interface.

I met the author for the first time in person last year at AWP in Denver. His college had a booth at which he was hawking copies of the West Wind Review. I introduced myself and we talked for a few moments, about Scrabble and about the conference. I saw him read at an art gallery in Denver. He had the crowd going wild. Everyone was hooting and hollering and laughing throughout the reading.

The next morning my panel had the misfortune of sharing the same time slot as the Flarf/Conceptual poetry reading. We had a modest, respectful audience, but we could hear the the whoops and laughs and cheers coming from the conference room down the hall.

We used to play Scrabble on an ongoing, everyday basis, but the regularity of these games has slowed over the past few years and I don't think we've even started a game in the past couple of months.

Sigh.

Breathalyzer

the nuisance is staring
into words as if they were crystal

the blueprint rises
the thing so desired
does not exist nor then
we continue breathing

on top of the animal house
there it was not
henhouse or high kennel
in the shape of a flat apple
pushed out through an ancient
space and made our measure
from the bell-like
clatter of silver pipe

a bare colorless limestone
must be made crystal

as for advancement, honor
as of dust into the lungs

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 49 (Ange Mlinko)

Starred Wire by Michael_Kelleher
Starred Wire, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

Mlinko, Ange
Starred Wire


Sent to me by the publisher. The Fall 2005/Spring 2006 Coffee House Press catalog sits between pages 32 and 33, which I suspect is where I left off reading.

I want to continue thinking about one kind of memory described yesterday, that is, passive memory. I would define a passive memory as one retained by consciousness without conscious effort or agency. I suppose there are two kinds of passive memory, traumatic and pleasant. I am not quite sure the second one even is passive. It's possible the first one isn't either.

I guess we would assume that a traumatic memory is one impressed on consciousness by a traumatic event, for instance if one is the victim of suffering, such as physical persecution, caused by an external agent or set of circumstances. But what is the memory implanted there?

If I am the victim, do I remember the physical pain? the face of the persecutor? the smell in the room? And why do I retain these particular memories? Is it possible that I constructed them in such a way as to survive, even the worst parts?

Memory always seems to have a narrative element to it and it would make sense that in an extreme situation one would construct (albeit unconsciously) a narrative of survival. One needs to get out of the situation and the body works to construct a narrative that allows it to withstand the pain long enough to survive.

What remains after the fact would have a powerful presence, but the memory of the event would inevitably retain part of the narrative of survival constructed in order to survive. The memory being a construction suggests it was constructed by something. But this does not necessarily make it an agency. If the construction of the narrative were unconscious, then one could also argue it was passive. But what if the memory is not a recording of the event, but a narrative constructed to protect one from suffering during and after the trauma? You could argue either way, I think.

Now, a pleasurable passive memory would function largely the same way. A pleasure that is strong enough to implant a strong memory in consciousness would also seem to be as difficult to withstand as the suffering of a trauma. Pleasure and pain meet at the extreme, thus one would also need to construct a narrative to survive. Again, what is recalled is a reconstruction, not a recording, of the pleasurable event. It leaves behind the memory of pleasure in the extreme, though not at the same level of intensity with which it was originally experienced.

So why is it that we value a passively constructed memory over one that was actively retained. I guess we assume that because we felt something strongly, even if our feelings were forced upon us by external events, that there must have been some intrinsic importance to the event itself.

Take a banal example of meeting someone at a party. I meet one person, we shake hands and talk for a while. I doubt I will ever see them again and so don't bother to remember their name. And then one day I bump into this person. They immediately recall my name and the fact that we met at such and such a party. I barely recall the party, much less the name of this person.

This happens to me more often than I'd like to admit. I think the assumption we make is that this person meant nothing to me and that I met something to them. We also assume a lack of feeling on my part and an abundance of it on theirs, otherwise how else explain the fact that they remember so much and I remember so little?

As the conversation progresses, my memory begins to form around other events. I vaguely recall that I spoke to someone at length at this party. We stood in a corner. This person began to talk about Nietszche. We had a disagreement about the meaning of "ressentiment" as applied to aesthetics. I walked away thinking they really hadn't read him very closely.

Now maybe we are getting at something. I was intimately involved with the exchange of ideas, while they were more interested in the personal interaction. So if we want to discuss the inherent value ascribed to the retention of certain memories, perhaps we have to look at what is remembered by whom and make our judgments based on that.

Each person remembers different elements of a situation that are of importance to them. These elements are almost always different and highly individual. We can't make a judgment about whether or not a person remembers something or not, but we might be able to say something about what they value based on the character of the things they do remember.

Of course, there are some people who remember everything, right down to the last detail. I am not one of those people and I am not sure what to say about them. I guess I am more interested in forgetting, as it is the most active phenomenon in my experience of consciousness.

from Starred Wire (p. 33)

Three Crickets.
The Blind Cricket.


When the chirping of the males rises to a furor,
charged particles accumulate in the gut–duodenum, say
due to internal cracks caused by déformation professionel:
rubbing wings in an ecclesiastical mode while flexing
the opaque, muscular contractile diaphragm.

It enters the house, lighter and more graceful,
though it knows not exactly how it accesses its gift
suspended in aqueous humor then thrown out on its ear
like rain bounced off a small false roof
over the spiral volutes of its capitals.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 48 (Trinh T. Minh-ha)

Cinema Interval by Michael_Kelleher
Cinema Interval a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

Minh-ha, Trinh T.
Cinema Interval


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I think Susan Howe recommended this. Either that or it was on a reading list for her class. I seem to remember that it was a recommendation. I can't remember anything about the book, however.

Not surprising, I suppose. I've forgotten a lot more than I'll ever remember. I guess I didn't feel a very powerful connection to this book. That's the assumption, anyway -- that one remembers what is important to them. What is important is something that provokes a strong emotional reaction.

Therefore, if I remember something, it is because it is important to me.

I find this kind of thinking difficult as I approach middle age. I meet hundreds of people every year and in many ways they are all important to me. This does not prevent me from forgetting their names or even their faces. I feel badly when I do, mostly because I am sure my forgetfulness makes others feel as if they are not important to me. This seems to get worse as I get older. I just can't remember people I meet once or twice and then don't see for six months.

The same, I suppose, goes for books and films. The other night, for instance, I forgot that I had already seen the WWII British Whodunit, Green For Danger. I saw the film two years ago when I was staying alone at my mother's in Florida. When I saw that it had appeared on Netflix streaming and that I had not given it a rating, I assumed I had not seen it. Lori hadn't seen it either, so it seemed pretty sure I was correct in my assumption, as we watch movies together most nights. Five minutes into the film it began to seem familiar. Twenty minutes into it I was sure I had seen it. Nonetheless, much of it seemed new and I could not remember who'd done it or why.

I suppose I am more likely to watch a film a second time than I am to read a book a second time, mostly because the time commitment required of a book is much greater. Films that I deliberately watch a second time and books that I deliberately read a second time are definitely important to me.

Could the same be true of people? Maybe those that are important to me are those I actively seek out, those with whom I proactively collaborate to maintain a friendship over time. I remember them by seeking them out, by wanting to hear what they say, by listening to them and talking. Passive memory, then, would become a poor marker of importance. I think the assumption behind the original statement is that important memories stay with us despite ourselves and less important ones fall away.

But this is little more than the lotto theory of memory. Most people prefer to see (think underdogs in sports, lotto winnings, sweepstakes, etc.) events unfold in exciting and unexpected ways that do not require agency. Luck and chance are valued more highly than skill. If you have to work at it, then it isn't a gift, goes the theory.

Memory is viewed the same way. It is assumed that if I don't passively remember something that it is not important to me. I don't think that is true. Not for me, anyhow. I remember things I work hard to understand. Some element of emotion is involved in this. If a person or book or film does not provoke strong emotions, or if my seeking them out is not the result of some previously felt strong emotion, then I am unlikely to pursue them further.

This may go all the way around to proving part of the same point. I remember things that are important to me. But I remember them because I continue to seek them out, not because they stirred up my subconscious to the extent that it acted on my behalf.

from Cinema Interval

The relation of word to image is an infinite relation. What is released on the film screen is neither given up to sight, nor put safely under the shroud of invisibility. Between love and death, freedom and madness, the widest range of strange sound harmonies can be heard. Whereas between a passion and a passion, between a desire, a sickness, a pain of consciousness and another, endless modulations of dissonances are to be predicted. An image is powerful not necessarily because of anything specific it offers the viewer, but because of everything it apparently also takes away from the viewer. Nothing and everything, including specifically the ability t put into words what the body feels, to articulate or to name once and for all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 47 (John Milton)

Paradise Lost by Michael_Kelleher
Paradise Lost a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

Milton, John
Paradise Lost


Purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore for $8.95.

I bought this for a required undergraduate English course called, "Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton." Nicely canonical, don't you think. It was taught by a little British professor whose name I can't recall. He used to have us organize our desks in a big circle. He would sit in the circle with us in a desk like everyone else's and we would talk about what we'd read.

It was a very laid back class. We called the professor by his first name, which I still can't recall. He liked my response paper on Milton. When he handed it back to me he said to the class, "Mike received the highest grade. His writing was very natural, as if he just said to himself, "Gee, I think I'll sit down and write this."

I would say that his encouragement certainly pointed me in the direction of becoming an English major. Now, if I could only remember his name.

from Paradise Lost

Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of EDEN, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of OREB, or of SINAI, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth
Rose out of CHAOS: Or if SION Hill
Delight thee more, and SILOA'S Brook that flow'd
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' AONIAN Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.
And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th' upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert th' Eternal Providence,
And justifie the wayes of God to men.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 46 (Czeslaw Milosz)

Milosz, Czeslaw
New and Collected Poems 1931-200
1

I think I bought this at a remaindered bookstore, or maybe online. It was an impulse purchase. I don't recall the source of the impulse. It didn't last much beyond the purchase of the book, as I have read only a few poems from it.

I think my friend, P., who I described at some length a few weeks back, may have been reading Milosz and recommended him to me. P. is a much harsher critic of art and literature than I am. He generally dislikes most of what he reads or see, whereas I generally like some aspect of most things I encounter.

When he recommends a book or film, I often find it worthwhile to check it out. I guess that wasn't the case here. I don't know. I really have no memory of reading this at all, so maybe I never read any of it.

from New and Collected Poems 1931-2001

The Gate

Later dense hops will cover it completely.
As for now, it has the color
That lily pads have in very deep water
When you pluck them in the light of a summer evening.

The pickets are painted white at the top.
White and sharp, like tiny flames.
Strange that this never bothered the birds.
Even a wiled pigeon once perched there.

The handle is of wood worn smooth over time,
Polished by the touch of many hands.
Nettles like to steal under the handle
And a yellow jasmine here is a tiny lantern.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 45 (Christina Milletti)

Milletti, Christina
The Religious and Other Fictions


Sent me by the publisher. Or given to me by the author. Or sent to me by the publisher at the request of the author. You get the picture.

Christina Milletti is a writer in Buffalo who teaches at the University. She used to have pink hair, but I have heard she now has brown hair. I haven't seen her in a while. When she and her husband Dimitri first moved to Buffalo they rented out the Creeley's firehouse with the intent to buy it.

Lori and I were very excited that someone we knew might live in our neighborhood, which we had just moved into. But they decided otherwise and moved down to the Elmwood Village. We stayed in Black Rock for five years, then we decided otherwise and moved to the Elmwood Village. Now we live around the corner from one another again. End of story.

from The Religious and Other Fictions

Outside the Restaurant Suisse I lay in the ivy. I was flat on my back, the ivy curled around my arm and legs, bucking my chin (tickling me really). A soft vegetal bed. I smelled of shade because it smelled of shade. Of earth, of cool life among leaves, of small stones and the snails beneath them. In the ivy, it is dark and peaceful while I wait for my guests who are touring the city. They have a map (I sold it to them). My map always lead to the Suisse.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 44.1 (Henry Miller)

Plexus by Michael_Kelleher
Plexus a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

Miller, Henry
Plexus


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I guess I never got to Nexus, as this is the last Henry Miller on my shelf. I know I read Tropic of Cancer after college, but not Tropic of Capricorn. I am hot and cold about Henry Miller. My feeling about him is similar to my feeling about Kerouac. Parts of his books are brilliant evocations of intense feeling and passion, but these are punctuated by long, listless passages that test my patience. I never quite feel like the waiting is worth it, at least not after that first or second burst of brilliance.

I am trying to remember a bit more of that summer I was reading Henry Miller. Aside from becoming addicted to a video game, my most vivid memory is of walking each day from my apartment on College St over to La Salle Park, which occupies the point at which Lake Erie becomes the Niagara River.

My route would take me down Maryland St. past Cottage, the first street I lived on in Buffalo, toward Niagara St. I don't think the supermarket at the corner was there yet, but neither do I remember what was. It was probably under construction. They leveled several city blocks in order to put it there.

Crossing over Niagara I'd continue past the housing projects abutting the I-190 to a concrete footbridge over the highway. The footbridge rises at a fairly steep angle upward, facing south, parallel with the highway, then pauses at a landing which was always covered with glass shards and often filled with puddles of water, turning right it rose again to carry you through a caged-in passageway (to prevent suicides and sabotage, I assume) over the cars speeding past, down an identical ramp to another glass-strewn landing and a ramp that let out onto a softball diamond.

A hulking brick water pumping station sits at the northern edge of the park. A circular road surrounds it. On the other side of the station, across the circular road, a promenade follows the shore of the lake all the way to the south end of the park, where luxury condos form the border.

I'd cross the baseball diamonds over toward the pumping station and find a bench on the promenade. My usual habit was to sit in the sun as the cool breezes flowed in off the lake. I recall Freud and Nietzsche and Henry Miller and being the main items on the reading menu that summer. Often I'd just put on my sunglasses and stare out at the water.

Several hundred yards out a round, brick building with a round, red roof rising to a cupola that houses a light, seems to float on the surface of the water. It's beautiful and mysterious. It just sits there, the only object breaking the plane of the horizon.

It eventually made it into one of my poems, despite my not knowing for many years what it was. Turns out it is a water intake. They draw the lake water in an carry in to shore to the pumping station in the park, where it is processed for drinking water.

From a website:

"The 1907 building takes in 125 million gallons of drinking water for Buffalo every day. Because the intake operates by gravity, the building is rarely visited.

Water rushes into the round brick and concrete building through grates and collects in a circular pool. The water drops 60 feet to a 12-foot diameter, mile-long concrete tunnel burrowed under the river bed. It ends up at the Col. Ward Pumping Station at the foot of Porter Avenue, where it is treated at the filtration plant and sent throughout the city.

Atop the red roof is a guard light for passing ships. Around the exterior wall is a balcony embroidered by curving wrought iron."

And from my poem, "Nachtmusik":

9

Look out
To that little round house

Afloat
On a lake of ice.

Who is it isn’t there?
What place

Shall they take
In one’s heart?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 44 (Henry Miller)

Sexus by Michael_Kelleher
Sexus a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

Miller, Henry
Sexus


I think I bought this at Talking Leaves...Books.

I can remember the summer I read it. It was the summer of 1999. I was alone a lot. I'd spend my days reading and writing, taking walks in La Salle park. I'd just broken up with my girlfriend of a year and was feeling pretty depressed. I also became addicted to a video game that came with my computer.

It was my first Mac. I bought it after the laptop PC I'd bought before coming to Buffalo died. It died in November. I was desperate to have a computer. It had already become an extension of my body that I couldn't live without.

I drove out to the Suburbs to a Compusa store (remember those? I think it's a gym now, after being empty for about a decade). I called my then-girlfriend on the phone to ask her what she thought. She said go for it. I bought the very first iMac, with a translucent turquoise shell.

The game that came with it was called "MDK2." I hadn't played video games since I was a teenager. I'd been so addicted to them then that I would regularly steal from my parents so I could go to the arcade and play until the money ran out.

MDK2 is one of those multi-level fantasy games that you have to figure out how to play on your own. No rules accompany it. You start it up by moving your avatar through various scenes. Along the way you pick up tools, weapons, food, etc. Things attack you. You fight back. You die. You start again. This time you figure out how to use the weapon you picked up the screen before. You kill the attacker and move on. Etc.

It takes a while to figure the game out. Once you do, it is easy to become obsessed with getting to the end. As I recall, the end was at level twelve or so. I played MDK2 so intensely and so often that I broke the directional keys on my iMac keyboard and had to buy a replacement. By that time I'd gotten to level twelve and put it away forever. I haven't played another video game since.

I read Sexus amid all that.

from Sexus

If you persist in throttling your impulses you end by becoming a clot of phlegm. You finally spit out a gob which completely drains you and which you only realize years later was not a gob of spit but your inmost self. If you lose that you will always race through dark streets like a madman pursued by phantoms. You will always be able to say with perfect sincerity: "I don't know what I want to do in life." You can push yourself clean through the filament of life and come out at the wrong end of the telescope, seeing everything beyond you, out of grasp, and diabolically twisted. From then on the game's up. Whichever direction you take you will find yourself in a hall of mirrors; you will race like a madman, searching for an exit, to find that you are surrounded only by distorted images of your own sweet self.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 43 (Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Selected Poems by Michael_Kelleher
Selected Poems a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

Millay, Edna St. Vincent
Selected Poems


Purchased at Ollie's Bargain Outlet in Niagara Falls, NY.

I had high hopes when I visited that Ollie's might replace the discount book store at the outlet mall. All I really want out of a discount bookstore is a section, like the one the outlet mall used to have, devoted entirely to the Library of America. Is that too much to ask? I didn't find it there.

Ollie's did, however, supply me with three or four volumes of the LOA American Poets Project, including this one, which upon arriving home occupied a similar position, under a pile of unread books, as those described yesterday, only this at our last house.

There the pile was less intrusive because in a room well removed from my study, the dining room actually, where it sat with all of my recently acquired, unread books, on a long, mid-century modern buffet, accumulating quietly, their shame and mine rather conveniently muted.

I should note that Ollie's is very close to the former Wurlitzer factory. (A colorful detail, no?)

from Selected Poems

First Fig


My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 42 (Jack Micheline)

One of a Kind by Michael_Kelleher
One of a Kind a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

Micheline, Jack
One of a Kind


Sent to me by the publisher.

I don't think I've read this one.

I remember placing it on the shelf beneath the window when it arrived, as I often do books I hope to get to at some point. Sometimes the books begin to pile up. When the books pile up I start to become anxious. I can feel them over my shoulder as I write. My anxiety grows like a shadow walking behind me with each new unread book I place on the sill. Another arrives and goes on top of the pile. And then another and another. Pretty soon the lower portion of the window disappears behind a stack of books.

One of our cats jumps up on the shelf to look out the window. He has been displaced by the growing stack of unread books. He likes to stick his head behind the blind to look out the window. I don't know why he likes to do this. There is nothing to see out there but the broken concrete of an old driveway littered with fragments of shingles from the aging roof of the house next door. The house is painted a creamy yellow and the paint is peeling. Occasionally one of the neighbors drives slowly past, their car bouncing in the many potholes of the driveway.

Now that the books are piled so high the cat finds it difficult to get his head behind the blind. It's what you call a "plantation" blind. Not a real wooden one, a plastic one white one bought at Home Depot for twenty dollars. The cat persists in its attempt to get a look at the drab landscape out the window. Eventually it succeeds by pushing the blind outward and fitting its body between the blind and the window, knocking the stack of unread books to the floor.

I turn away from the computer screen and stare at the books on the floor. I curse at the cat. I curse at myself for not having found the time to read them. As I pick them up, I admit to myself that it is unlikely I am going to get to this stack any time soon. I feel shame, but I know I will suffer even more if I have to keep staring at the pile of books in front of the window.

My next problem is that the vertically stacked books on my bookshelves are pretty much full. Rather than fully admit I will not read these books, I lay them in an un-alphabetized pile on top of an alphabetized section of books, thinking I might get to them later. Several months later, this process repeats itself.

I get nervous seeing all the un-shelved, un-alphabetized books laying horizontally across the shelved, alphabetized ones. They seem to mock me. I begin re-arranging the shelves to fit a few more books vertically into them. Its a tight squeezes, but I succeed by forcing portions into hidden parts of the book case, where there is extra room, but where the books can't be seen without removing them. They disappear among the others and I can forget my shame for a little while.

And then another book arrives. I place it on the sill. It begins again.

from One of a Kind

Cook It Slowly Mama I'm Coming Home


cook it well
stir up the pot
been a gypsy
most of my life
Gypsy blood
wild eyes
too many robots
iron machines
on the long highway
across the sky
cook it well
stir up the pot
tired walking
cheap hotels
concrete carpets
all night cafés
too many robots
iron machines
Monterey finished
Bakersfield too
shopping centers
airplane glue
clouds are changing
country too
polar blears
mental zoo
Monterey finished
Bakersfield too
shopping centers
airplane glue
cook it well
stir up the pot
tired walking
I'm coming home

San Francisco
October 23, 1986

Monday, March 14, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 41 (James Merrill)

Merrill, James
The Changing Light at Sandover


Purchased at Rust Belt Books.

When we were in grad school together, it was Ben Friedlander who recommended James Merrill to me. I believe his quote was, "excellent poetry, execrable politics." Which about sums it up. I don't think I ever got through the whole of this, but I have generally pleasant memories of having read the parts that I did.

But I have to say I find the whole seance thing a bit silly, which makes it hard to read works like this or some of Robert Duncan or HD or Yeats. Spiritualism is one of those content areas I find it difficult to take seriously, regardless of the quality of the writing.

from The Changing Light at Sandover

from The Book of Ephraim

Venise, pavane, nirvana, vice, wrote Proust
Justly in his day. But in ours? The monumental
"I" of stone— on top, an adolescent
And his slain crocodile, both guano-white—
Each visit stands for less. And from the crest of
The Academia Bridge the (is that thunder?)
Palaces seem empty-lit display
Rooms for glass companies. Hold still,
Breathes the canal. But then it stirs,
Ruining another batch of images.
A Lido leaden. A whole heavenly city
Sinking, titanic ego mussel-blue
Abulge in gleaming nets of nerve, of pressures
Unregistered by the barometer
Stuck between Show and Showers. Whose once fabled
Denizens, Santofior and Guggenheim
(Historical garbage, in the Marxist phrase)
Invisibly— to all but their valets
Still through the dull red mazes caked with slime
Bearing some scented drivel of undying
Love and regret— are dying. and high time.
The wooden bridge, feeling their tread no longer,
Grumbles: per me va la gente nova.
Gente nova? A population explosion
Of the greatest magnitude and brilliance?
Who are these thousands entering the dark
Ark of the moment, two by two?
Hurriedly, as by hazard paired, some pausing
On the bridge for a last picture. Touching, strange,
If either is the word, this need of theirs
To be forever smiling, holding still
For the other, the companion focusing
Through tiny frames of anxiousness. There. Come.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 40 (Caridad Atencio Mendoza)

Atencio Mendoza, Caridad
Los viles aislamientos


I am starting to realize that I have several of my Spanish language poetry books mis-shelved. Caridad Atencio Mendoza should properly be under "a." Alas. Anyhow, this was given to me by the author at a poetry conference in Cuba in early 2001. It is inscribed:

For Mike,

This is the first book I published, but not the first one I wrote.

A greeting

From

Caridad Atencio
January 2001


(Translation mine)

from Los viles aislamientos

Hay que leer un texto. El texto de una antigua devoción. Me conmina un publico amparado en el furor del límite. Estás con el primero de tus rostros, pero desde la ausencia. Los poemas quizá me dejen muda. Busco entre los más íntimos y antiguos.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 39 (Louis Menand)

Menand, Louis
The Metaphysical Club


I am pretty sure I bought this online. It was recommended to me by the Literary Outlaw Richard Deming, who has not made an appearance on this here blog for some time, though he did leave an anonymous comment the other day.

Drawing a bit of a blank this morning, so I'll excerpt and move on.

from The Metaphysical Club

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was an officer in the Union Army. He stood six feet three inches tall and had a soldierly bearing. In later life, he loved to use military metaphors in his speeches and his conversation; he didn't mind being referred to good-naturedly as Captain Holmes; and he wore his enormous military mustaches until his death, in 1935, at the age of ninety-three. The war was the central experience of his life, and he kept its memory alive. Every year he drank a glass of wine in observance of the anniversary of the battle of Antietam, where he had been shot in the neck and left, briefly behind enemy lines, for dead.

But Holmes hated the war. He was twenty years old and weighed just 136 pounds at the time of his first battle, at Ball's Bluff, where he was shot through the chest. He fought bravely and he was resilient, but he was not strong in a brute sense, and as the war went on the physical ordeal was punishing. He was wounded three times in all, the third time in an engagement leading up to the battle of Chancellorsville, when he was shot in the foot. He hoped the foot would have to be amputated so he could be discharged, but it was spared, and he served out his commission. Many of his friends were killed in battle, some of them in front of his eyes. Those glasses of wine were toasts to pain.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 38 (David Meltzer)

Meltzer, David
David's Copy: The Selected Poems of David Meltzer


Purchased online.

I met David for the first time about a year-and-a-half ago, when he came through town for a reading with The Rockpile tour, featuring David, Michael Rothenberg and Terry Carrión. We had them read at Big Night along with a local jazz trio. It's a tribute to David's brilliance, I think, that he was able to give a "beat" poetry reading, accompanied by live jazz, that did not feel like self-parody or cliché. The musicians had never met any of the poets before and were improvising throughout the set.

My favorite part of the evening was toward the end of David's set. He'd been reading against a backdrop of bluesy jazz standards for most of the evening. For the last piece he chose to read a section of a long poem about Lester Young. The musicians all nodded their heads in appreciation of this and sat back to listen before they decided on what to play.

The poem itself has a lush and gorgeous rhythm to it and to their great credit the musicians picked up on this, recognizing that the poem did need any musical embellishment. After a few tentative notes, they chose to remain silent, eventually putting their instruments away while David continued to read. It was quite beautiful.

We went out to a local Greek restaurant after that and talked about poetry and philosophy all night until we were all falling asleep at the table. I took them back to their hotel room, where they passed to me a gift to give to Geoffrey Gatza, one they were afraid wouldn't make it through customs!

from David's Copy: The Selected Poems of David Meltzer

Revelation


It comes to this:
my teacup filled with steaming green tea.
Basho sits beside me with ohashi,
waiting for Reiko to bring out
the Nikku Nabe, the sake, some Kirin beer.

The haiku will come later.
After dinner &
a Havatampa cigar.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 37.7 (Herman Melville)

Typee, Omoo, Mardi by Michael_Kelleher
Typee, Omoo, Mardi a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

Melville, Herman
Typee, Omoo, Mardi


Purchased at the late, lamented Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store.

If you've been reading the blog for the past ten days or so you will recall I spent quite a few entries recounting the story of P.

P. and I are still close friends and we talk on a regular basis. I thought I had clued him in to the fact that I was telling his story on the blog, but I guess I hadn't. It so happened he decided to visit Pearlblossom Highway yesterday and was somewhat surprised to find himself reading entry after entry about a character who could only be him.

Late yesterday afternoon he sent me an email telling me that he'd read my posts and that he thought most of my characterizations fairly accurate. One strange part of this encounter, he told me, was that found himself engrossed in the story of P. to the point that he kept reading because he wanted to find out what happened next! This dislocation of the character P., whose story was based on his own, from himself, felt strangely other to P., as if he were really reading about someone else.

I was thinking about that overnight and I have to I feel something similar as the writer of the tale, not so much in the dislocation of myself from the narrator telling the tales, but the dislocation between the characters in the stories and the people on which they are based. If I thought I were writing fiction, this wouldn't feel quite so jarring, but since the prose I am writing would be classified as memoir., autobiography, non-fiction, it begs the question of where that distinction falls.

When I write about P. over the course of several days, he eventually does become a character, and while I think my portrayal of the facts, incidents, chronologies and so forth is accurate, at a certain point they become merely elements of the story I am telling, to be re-arranged as the requirements of the narrative reveal themselves to me through the writing process.

So it was good to hear from P. that he felt my characterizations, that is, my conjectures about certain elements in his person that led him to make specific decisions in his life, seemed to him true to life. He said I was free to write about him as long as I didn't reveal his identity.

That's an interesting phrase, "true to life." The word "to" can seem a giant abyss standing between the fullness of life and the approximations of truth (or narrative truth).

P. did correct me on one point. It turns out that Pierre was not the book Kerouac thought superior to Moby-Dick. It was The Confidence Man.

from Mardi

We are off! The courses and topsails are set: the coral-hung anchor swings from the bow: and together, the three royals are given to the breeze, that follows us out to sea like the baying of a hound. Out spreads the canvas--alow, aloft-boom-stretched, on both sides, with many a stun' sail; till like a hawk, with pinions poised, we shadow the sea with our sails, and reelingly cleave the brine.

But whence, and whither wend ye, mariners?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 37.6 (Herman Melville)

The Piazza Tales by Michael_Kelleher
The Piazza Tales a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

Melville, Herman
The Piazza Tales
And Other Prose Pieces
1839-1860


I think this was purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I must have bought it at a moment just before the interent became flooded with free reading material. I remember shelling out a stupidly large sum of money just because it was the only book in print I could find that contained the essay, "Hawthorne and His Mosses."

It's such an ugly book.

Why is it, I wonder, that when university presses put out authoritative editions like this one they always decide to shun cover design?

It's as if they want to emphasize the point that "you shouldn't judge a book by its cover," the assumption being that an attractive cover somehow diminishes the content of the book.

I guess it also has to do with creating a FEELING of authority.

"No money spent on aesthetics or marketing here, folks! We don't care if anyone buys this book. You can feel completely certain that every dime was spent on copy editing and textual scholarship. This is the real, official, authoritative version of the classic text. You will get tenure if you use it. Otherwise, you are taking your chances!"

from The Piazza Tales

from "Hawthorne and his Mosses"

A PAPERED CHAMBER in a fine old farm- house--a mile from any other dwelling, and dipped to the eaves in foliage--surrounded by mountains, old woods, and Indian ponds,-- this, surely, is the place to write of Hawthorne. Some charm is in this northern air, for love and duty seem both impelling to the task. A man of a deep and noble nature has seized me in this seclusion. His wild, witch voice rings through me; or, in softer cadences, I seem to hear it in the songs of the hill-side birds, that sing in the larch trees at my window.

Would that all excellent books were foundlings, without father or mother, that so it might be, we could glorify them, without including their ostensible authors. Nor would any true man take exception to this; --least of all, he who writes,--"When the Artist rises high enough to achieve the Beautiful, the symbol by which he makes it perceptible to mortal senses becomes of little value in his eyes, while his spirit possesses itself in the enjoyment of the reality."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 37.5 (Herman Melville)

Melville, Herman
Billy Budd and Other Tales

(Note: apologies for the strange new formatting. Something changed on flickr, where I write these posts) overnight that is causing the change. I tried rewriting the html code, but I am not slick enough in that regard to figure out where the problem lies. I can get the old layout correct, but I can't seem to shrink the photo.)

Once again I have no idea where I bought this. I seem to remember my father giving me Billy Budd when I was a kid, but I have a hard time believing this is the copy. It could have been picked up at any new or used bookstore the world over. I wouldn't know. So there.

It's funny, I can remember the film versions of this story, but I have no memories created by the reading of the actual story.

I can remember Terence Stamp and Robert Ryan in the 1962 version.

I can also remember Claire Denis' highly homo-eroticized 1999 adaptation, Beau Travail.

I went to see Beau Travail at the Market Arcade Cinema in Buffalo in the summer of 2000. I think the cinema may have still been living out its brief life as an extension of the Angelika in NYC. I was thrilled that the Angelika had come to Buffalo. They rehabbed an old multiplex and turned the lobby into a semi-hip knockoff of the original. Sadly, I think they assumed that Buffalo would just fall all over itself to have a hip New York-style theater downtown. As a result of this presumption, they did a terrible job marketing it to Buffalonians. It went under after a year or so.

But it was a good year, and for a brief moment Buffalo had an indie/foreign film multiplex. Most of that kind of cinema is now spread out over seven screens at three theaters, one of which is way out in the suburbs. It's nice that they exist here, they're all we have. Unfortunately, they are businesses and so there are times when all three screens run academy award nominees like Black Swan. Nothing wrong with that, but it's also playing at the mall and it would be nice to have an alternative.

Anyhow, I saw Beau Travail with my friend Isabelle. Her partner, Jonathan Skinner, was out of town for an extended period of time, possibly in South America. We decided to go to the movies one night. This may or may not have been the summer she was teaching me French.

I remember lots of sexually charged images of male bodies and I remember the harsh brush cut of the sadistic Master Sergeant. He was short and muscular, with dark hair. I think we both agreed that it was a pretty good, if not a great, film.

To be honest, I have a hard time with Claire Denis' films. They are so abstract and the narratives are so opaque that I can't really figure out what is going on. People tell me I need to just follow the images and so forth but I don't find them satisfying enough to justify the layers of obfuscation clouding the narrative. I've watched L'Intrus twice, and even after reading a plot synopsis before the second viewing, I still could not understand what was going on.

I remember having a short email correspondence with the late Michael Gizzi on the subject of L'intrus. He was quite taken with it and when I shared that I was not, he suggested I watch it again. He was scheduled to read in Buffalo in the spring of 2007, and we had planned on discussing my second viewing then, but snow got in the way and he had to cancel. I had just written to re-invite him last fall when I heard he had passed away. I wish we could have had that conversation, if only because I liked to hear him talk.

Now that I think about it, there is no way this could have been the copy my father gave me. I distinctly remember the title of that copy being, Billy Budd, Foretopman. I can remember staring at it on the shelf in my bedroom, depictions of old frigates sailing across the wallpaper, wondering what a "fore-top-man" might be.

According to the dictionary it is "a sailor on duty on the foremast and above." I'll bet he has a nice view.

from Billy Budd

IN THE time before steamships, or then more frequently than now, a stroller along the docks of any considerable sea-port would occasionally have his attention arrested by a group of bronzed mariners, man-of-war's men or merchant-sailors in holiday attire ashore on liberty. In certain instances they would flank, or, like a body-guard quite surround some superior figure of their own class, moving along with them like Aldebaran among the lesser lights of his constellation. That signal object was the "Handsome Sailor" of the less prosaic time alike of the military and merchant navies. With no perceptible trace of the vainglorious about him, rather with the off-hand unaffectedness of natural regality, he seemed to accept the spontaneous homage of his shipmates. A somewhat remarkable instance recurs to me. In Liverpool, now half a century ago, I saw under the shadow of the great dingy street-wall of Prince's Dock (an obstruction long since removed) a common sailor, so intensely black that he must needs have been a native African of the unadulterate blood of Ham . A symmetric figure much above the average height. The two ends of a gay silk handkerchief thrown loose about the neck danced upon the displayed ebony of his chest; in his ears were big hoops of gold, and a Scotch Highland bonnet with a tartan band set off his shapely head.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 37.4 (Herman Melville)

Battle-Pieces by Michael_Kelleher
Battle-Pieces a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Melville, Herman
Battle-Pieces and
Aspects of the War:
Civile War Poems


Why can't I remember where I bought any of my Herman Melville books? This looks as though it were purchased used, so I may have bought it at Rust Belt Books. If not, no clue.

I bought it for my oral exams in graduate school. One of my three lists was on what I called "poetry including history" a la Pound, but which Susan Howe, who oversaw this reading list (and also removed Pound from it, saying she didn't have the time or energy to prepare for an exam including Ezra), insisted was more accurately titled "poetry including war."

We spent a fair amount of time discussing whether or not a distinction would be made between the two. I remember during the exam itself she asked me to compare Melville's response to the Civil War to Whitman's. I answered that I thought the main difference had to do with the perspective of the speaker.

Whitman, I said, tends to speak as someone reporting the action from the ground. He walks among the wounded soldiers and reports on the parades in the capital and so forth, whereas Melville tends to view the war from a kind of god's-eye perspective, reporting on the war as a great moral conflict unfolding beneath his gaze.

Something I said irked Susan, and I recall she began a brief, impassioned defense of Melville's war poems compared to Whitman's. I said I wasn't making a judgment, only that I saw one as viewing things from below and one as viewing them from above. She seemed suspicious, but I passed.

from Battle Pieces

The Portent


Hanging from the beam,
          Slowly swaying (such the law),
Gaunt the shadow on your green,
           Shenandoah!
The cut is on the crown
          (Lo, John Brown),
And the stabs shall heal no more.

Hidden in the cap
          Is the anguish none can draw;
So your future veils its face,
           Shenandoah!
But the streaming beard is shown
          (Weird John Brown),
The meteor of the the war.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 37.3 (Herman Melville)

Israel Potter by Michael_Kelleher
Israel Potter a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Melville, Herman
Israel Potter, His Fifty Years of Exile


Not sure where I bought this one -- probably online or at Talking Leaves...Books.

I have a soft spot for this odd book of Melville's, mostly because it's such a hilarious satire of the early years of of the United States. The depiction of Benjamin Franklin not as a wise statesman but as an endlessly pontificating miser is one for the ages.

I may have exhausted the discourse on friendship for the time being. I've woken up the past few days without a thought in my had as to how I might continue. I suppose I could tell more stories about more friends who've lasted over time, but there aren't that many. And of those the number with whom I keep in constant contact is even smaller. I suppose I could talk about a specific kind of friendship that I do think about fairly often, that is the intellectual or artistic friendship.

When one is involved in the literary world, in whatever capacity, be it as a writer or critic or poet or novelist or intellectual or curator or publisher or editor or some combination thereof, one finds that many friendships develop over the years that have as their basis common artistic, intellectual and professional passions.

These are friendships that do not necessarily have a personal basis.

When two friends get together they talk about what they are reading, what films they have seen, how their work is coming along, where they have been published (or rejected or ignored). They gossip about other writers or trash the latest books of their rivals or share some morsel of information they discovered in their research. They are a special kind of friendship.

Because they are rooted in common passions, they have an intensity that closely resembles friendships rooted in mutual attraction or feeling for the other person. Sometimes both elements exist in these friendships. The personal and the intellectual mingle in ways that are exhilaratingly complex.

In other instances, one is aware always that were something to change, for instance if one person chose to become a lawyer or a business person instead of an artist, then the fragile chemistry of the friendship would instantly dissolve.

I have always enjoyed pursuing different kinds of friendships, but this kind in particular has always made me feel insecure. As much as I enjoy the passionate exchange of ideas that occurs, I have always felt a need to put friendships on a personal basis. When I can't find that personal footing, I take a step back.

Something in me innately mistrusts a relationship that is purely intellectual, or purely professional, or based merely on perceived mutual benefit. This might reveal a certain lack of ambition. On the other hand, one needs people to talk to about the things they are thinking and making. At least I do. Were all friendships only personal, I suppose I might feel safe, but rather bored.

I am not sure I am actually getting at anything here except to say I have lots of friendships of this sort and I love all these friends and yet I often feel somewhat outside of the relationship. A level of uncertainty exists that makes me feel they could dissolve at anytime if something more interesting than me or my ideas came along to distract the other person.

I guess I have abandonment issues. Maybe I do have more to say...

From Israel Potter

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 37.2 (Herman Melville)

Melville, Herman
Moby-Dick, or The Whale


Not sure where I purchased this one -- either at Talking Leaves or online.

I can think of only one or two novels I love as much as this one. I've read it twice, and I've read the first half of it three or four times (it took me a few tries to get through it the first time). I am not sure if I actually finished it until I got to grad school, although I don't think I ever read it for a class. If I did, it may have been for a course with Susan Howe, but I am pretty sure I only ever read The Confidence Man with her.

I think I really "discovered" Melville through my reading of Charles Olson. I read Call Me Ishmael before I ever finished Moby-Dick. I think I may have read CMI, then MD, then CMI again, then MD again. I know that at some point I set out to read a lot more of Melville, as will become evident over the next few entries. Even sitting here, trying to write a quick entry before doggy obedience class, I find myself thumbing through it, reading favorite passages again. It may be time to read it again soon!

I am currently struggling through a Roberto Bolaño novel called, El Tercer Reich. It's pretty good, but I've been have trouble staying awake reading in Spanish late at night, so I only get through about five or ten pages per day. It feels like it is taking forever.

In case you are wondering, I have lately been reading a lot of different things. Lots of Francis Ponge, my new favorite French poet. Killing Kanoko, by Japanese poet Hiromi Ito. You Are Not A Gadget, A Manifesto, by Jaron Lanier. City of Quartz, by Mike Davis. Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson. Turtle Island, by Gary Snyder. That all I can think of for the last couple of months.

from Moby-Dick

"D'ye see him?" cried Ahab; but the whale was not yet in sight.

"In his infallible wake, though; but follow that wake, that's all. Helm there; steady, as thou goest, and hast been going. What a lovely day again; were it a new-made world, and made for a summer-house to the angels, and this morning the first of its throwing open to them, a fairer day could not dawn upon that world. Here's food for thought, had Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels; that's tingling enough for mortal man! to think's audacity. God only has that right and privilege. Thinking is, or ought to be, a coolness and a calmness; and our poor hearts throb, and our poor brains beat too much for that. And yet, I've sometimes thought my brain was very calm - frozen calm, this old skull cracks so, like a glass in which the contents turned to ice, and shiver it. And still this hair is growing now; this moment growing, and heat must breed it; but no, it's like that sort of common grass that will grow anywhere, between the earthy clefts of Greenland ice or in Vesuvius lava. How the wild winds blow it; they whip it about me as the torn shreds of split sails lash the tossed ship they cling to. A vile wind that has no doubt blown ere this through prison corridors and cells, and wards of hospitals, and ventilated them, and now comes blowing hither as innocent as fleeces. Out upon it! - it's tainted. Were I the wind, I'd blow no more on such a wicked, miserable world. I'd crawl somewhere to a cave, and slink there. And yet, 'tis a noble and heroic thing, the wind! who ever conquered it? In every fight it has the last and bitterest blow. Run tilting at it, and you but run through it. Ha! a coward wind that strikes stark naked men, but will not stand to receive a single blow. Even Ahab is a braver thing - a nobler thing that that. Would now the wind but had a body; but all the things that most exasperate and outrage mortal man, all these things are bodiless, but only bodiless as objects, not as agents. There's a most special, a most cunning, oh, a most malicious difference! And yet, I say again, and swear it now, that there's something all glorious and gracious in the wind. These warm Trade Winds, at least, that in the clear heavens blow straight on, in strong and steadfast, vigorous mildness; and veer not from their mark, however the baser currents of the sea may turn and tack, and mightiest Mississippies of the land swift and swerve about, uncertain where to go at last. And by the eternal Poles! these same Trades that so directly blow my good ship on; these Trades, or something like them - something so unchangeable, and full as strong, blow my keeled soul along! To it! Aloft there! What d'ye see?"

Friday, March 4, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 37.1 (Herman Melville)

The Confidence Man by Michael_Kelleher
The Confidence Man a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Melville, Herman
The Confidence Man


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books for a course with Susan Howe who, by the by, won the Bollingen Prize last week. Way to go, Susan!

I would have to disagree with Kerouac's declamation that Pierre is Melville's greatest novel (see yesterday's entry for anecdote). I would have a hard time agreeing that anything is superior to Moby Dick (including most great novels by writers other than Melville). However, if I were to choose one of Melville's novels to place up on the pedestal next to the big book, it would be this one.

As the Iraq war progressed, P., like many conservatives, began to sour on it, viewing it first as a triumph of democracy and a bulwark against terror, then as a series of poorly executed blunders on the part of an incompetent administration and later, after it became clear that the whole thing was based on a lie, an unforgivable error. I wouldn't say he came all the way around to opposing the idea of waging war in Iraq, but he certainly swung back toward the center.

His love of baseball waxed an waned over first decade of the new millennium. Having grown up near Chicago, he'd originally been a Cubs fan, and I think he always felt a little guilt about abandoning them. There were times, like when the Yankees traded for Clemens, when he seriously considered rooting for the Cubs again. But then at the height of the war he wrote an essaying decrying the good losers of Cub-dom in favor of the triumphalist majesty of the Yankee franchise.

Disillusion with the Yankees and the game, however, was nigh. When they traded for Alex Rodriguez he asked, Why? Do we really need him?It seemed as if all the worst criticisms leveled against the Yankees, that they bought championships, were true. He felt a great relief when they threatened to let A-Rod go if he took the out-clause on his contract. When he did, and then they re-signed him for another decade, he felt betrayed.

Throughout this period, the steroid scandal blossomed, further adding to his disillusion. When we spoke he often said he was just waiting for the revelation about Derek Jeter, both of our favorite player. That the revelation has never come has kept us both Yankees fans throughout the last decade, if decidedly less engaged ones. I have a hard time imagining my love of the Yankees extending much beyond the end of Jeter's career. I think P. feels the same way.

I have already dropped from watching 162 games a season to watching three or four partial games before the playoffs. I prefer to watch the Buffalo Bisons play downtown -- I did make it to Toronto to see the Yanks once last season.

As our mutual interest in baseball has quieted, we've still managed to remain friends. While P. remains a conservative, I am sure that he stared at the voting screen for quite some time in 2008 before pressing the John McCain button. This change has furthered a thawing of our political relations. We remain close, perhaps because we've yet to run out of things to say to one another.

from The Confidence Man

At sunrise on a first of April, there appeared, suddenly as Manco Capac at the lake Titicaca, a man in cream-colors, at the water-side in the city of St. Louis.

His cheek was fair, his chin downy, his hair flaxen, his hat a white fur one, with a long fleecy nap. He had neither trunk, valise, carpet-bag, nor parcel. No porter followed him. He was unaccompanied by friends. From the shrugged shoulders, titters, whispers, wonderings of the crowd, it was plain that he was, in the extremest sense of the word, a stranger.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 37 (Herman Melville)

Melville, Herman
Pierre, or the Ambiguities


Not sure where I bought this one. It will serve as a nice segue back to the story of P. It was P. who first introduced me to Pierre. P. was a huge fan of Jack Kerouac. He'd read every book by him and every book about him.

Being a gifted (and hilarious) story teller, he would often recount famous incidents from Kerouac's life. One story he told was that Kerouac, after a night, or several nights, of heavy drinking, would say farewell to his companion and then, having crossed the street or walked a certain short distance away, would stop, turn around, and call out, "Hey, Moby Dick is not Herman Melville's greatest novel." The companion would inevitably shout back, "Which one is it?" "Pierre," Kerouac would shout back, "Or the Ambiguities," before he stumbled home.

In the late nineties, just as I was leaving New York, P.'s politics began to take a conservative turn. The process began, it seemed to me, with his disenchantment with left-wing intellectuals, specifically a few of our friends, who one might in a generous mood describe as sanctimonious.

P. was always quite sincere in his convictions, left or right, and he had little patience for the kind of ironic distance cultivated by many of our intellectual friends. I think his rightward turn began as a reaction against specific people and attitudes but then grew into something else.

He co-produced an NPR political talk show for a while, where part of his job was preparing interview questions for the host. The host was a liberal and all of the guests were conservatives. P. had to read all of their books. Slowly but surely they began to convince him. By the time the Iraq War began he'd become a full blown neocon.

The strain on our friendship was immense. For several years our (mostly phone) conversations were tense. We'd inevitably start talking politics and the effort to keep from chewing each other's heads off took its toll. We started to go longer and longer without talking to one another.

While this was occurring I had moved to Buffalo. When I first arrived I had no transportation, so when I wasn't at school I was usually at home. My roommate decided he wanted cable TV. I refused to pay for it because I didn't want to have a television in the house. But I soon discovered that Buffalo cable carried all 162 Yankees games each year. Before long, when I wasn't studying or going to poetry readings, I found myself watching baseball.

I became obsessed. I think I watched every single game of the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons.

Part of this was boredom, part of it interest. Another part was a desire to connect with something I enjoyed in my childhood, when my father was still alive. But another part, the one that pertains to P., was that I wanted to remain friends despite the widening gap in our political views. I can't say why this seemed important to me other than to say I value his friendship more than I value the rightness of my political views.

Eventually, we tried to avoid the subject of politics altogether. When I called, we'd talk baseball. These were the glory days of the Yankee Dynasty in the late nineties and early aughts, so we had plenty to cheer about and talk about. We'd cover every game all season long and then talk trades and signings over the winter.

The funny thing is that neither of us is truly, truly devoted to baseball, but our interest in it helped put the friendship on a different footing after some of our views on the world had changed. His conservative views hardened after 9/11 and the beginning of the war, as did my liberal views. After a time, it seemed that baseball was all we had between.

That also changed.

from Pierre, or the Ambiguities

THERE are some strange summer mornings in the country, when he who is but a sojourner from the city shall early walk forth into the fields, and be wonder-smitten with the trance-like aspect of the green and golden world. Not a flower stirs; the trees for-get to wave; the grass itself seems to have ceased to grow; and all Nature, as if suddenly become conscious of her own pro- found mystery, and feeling no refuge from it but silence, sinks into this wonderful and indescribable repose.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 36 (Semezdin Mehmedinovíc)


Nine Alexandrias
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Mehmedinovíc, Semezdin
Nine Alexandrias
Tr. Ammiel Alcalay


I think this was given to me by the author -- or by the translator, or possibly by the publisher. I can't remember which.

I brought Semezdin here, along with Ammiel Alcalay and Aleš Debeljak, for a reading a few years back. This guy is a formidable poet. You should read him. Seriously.

I remember him as a tall, kind of severe looking man with haunted eyes and deep furrows in his face and that read in kind of urgent whisper, punctuated by deep, voluble breaths, so that everyone leaned forward to hear what he was saying then leaned back, as if hit by a gust of wind, once they'd heard.

I remember one evening we went out on the front steps of our house so he could smoke. I told him a story about something, I don't recall what, and I remember he looked at me and said, "You know how to tell a story. You should do something with that." This blog might be seen as at least a tentative answer to that.

I'll return to the discourse on friendship and the story of P. tomorrow.

from Nine Alexandrias

Nine Alexandrias


Maybe it isn't all of them but the way I figure it
There are at least nine cities in America called Alexandria.
Cartography of the new had to be based on the
Principle of tracing the old world
Through an ocean indigo...

The only thing that makes
My trip across country imaginable is this:
Going from one Alexandria to another
I can't help but get to the same city.

And only by knowing for sure
That the world is still in one piece
Can I imagine moving from one
American Alexandria to another,
On the same Egyptian dock.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 35 (James M. McPherson)

McPherson, James M.
Battle Cry of Freedom:
The Civil War Era


Purchased online a few years back when I was on a Civil War jag. A great history of the era, if you happen to be looking for one.

I left off the other day wondering about friendships that actually survive over time, despite geographic distance, changing life circumstances, or even wholesale changes in beliefs. I am not really sure what makes these kinds of friendships survive, but I have come to believe that they are the exception instead of the rule.

Friendships, left to their own devices, fade away and die. Reversing this trend requires a lot of effort.

Throughout my life I have been the one who usually put in this effort. Moving around a lot as I have, I used to spend hours on the phone each week maintaining my many friendships. At some point I tired of this process and started making fewer phone calls to fewer and fewer friends. When I stopped calling, most of these friendships ended. A couple of them have survived over time and evolved but only with an extraordinary amount of work.

My friend P., who I have spoken about before, has been my friend since about 1992. We met at Fordham, when I was taking graduate courses to see if I wanted to continue on after I finished. He was working on his PhD in English. We met through a mutual friend we both admired, J. Our initial contact began in J.'s apartment in the West Village. We had a long raucous night walking around the city, talking about about anything and everything.

The night ended in acrimony, however, when P. revealed that he planned on leaving graduate school. J. began to tease P. and P. felt embarrassed about being teased in front of someone he'd only just met. They argued for a while and P. stormed out of the apartment. I assumed that would the last time I saw him, but it wasn't.

After graduation I took a teaching job and moved down to the East Village. One afternoon while walking with a friend, I saw P. dressed in a brown UPS uniform pulling dolly up a short flight of stairs to the door of an apartment building. In a memoir he was working on a while ago, he described the scene as follows:

I shouted his name and said, What the hell are you doing? He turned red and said, I am earning some extra money for the holidays. We exchanged a few words and then I moved on. As we walked down the road, he heard me say to my companion, That guy's got a master's degree!

He eventually forgave J., and they became friends. The three of started hanging out often, and then P. and I developed our own friendship apart from J. I used to call every night in the midst of grading papers to see if he would come out for coffee. We'd meet at Odessa or the Falafel place on Avenue A. Sometimes we'd get egg creams at the little news stand next door to Odessa and walk in circles around Tompkins Square.

P. became very politically active around this time. He wrote for Z. magazine, worked on the campaign to write-in Jerry Brown and wanted to talk politics all the time. While our views were similarly left, I have never been much of an activist type, but that didn't keep us from talking. P. was also part of the infamous writer's group I have spoken about in the past. When he left the group, it imploded, or did it ex-plode? I am not really sure.

Anyhow, I left New York for a year to live in Ecuador and returned to live in the East Village again from 1995-1997. P. moved briefly to Brooklyn (which he referred to as a "benighted wilderness") and then moved back to the East Village.

He went through two major crises during this period. First, he gave up writing. And when I say gave up, I mean he sold his library, threw out his notebooks, burned the floppy disks for his computer. Everything. Writing had become too painful for him, so in order to preserve his sanity he just stopped.

He also began to question his politics.

This all had a curious effect on our friendship. He refused to talk about literature or writing, so we could no longer talk about one of the passions that brought us together in the first place. On the political side, he began to drift toward the center and eventually to the right and then to the far right. We were never shy about talking politics, but these changes caused a lot of friction. For several years things would get very testy every time the subject came up.

Then a curious thing happened. In 1996, the Yankees won the world series. I had grown up a sports fan but had stopped paying attention to sports because that didn't seem like something intellectuals and artists were supposed to care about. But being in New York during the series, I found myself constantly in front of televisions with the game on. By game three I was sucked in. P. started watching also. They won the series on my birthday, October 26, 1996.

I remember sitting together in Life Cafe after the game. P. was drunk. He'd been watching the game with his brother. He got a bit surly. He started decrying art-lovers as phony poseurs and asked me whether I thought there was any significant qualitative difference between a passion for art and a passion for sports. I couldn't really think of one.

Not long after that, my father died. He had introduced me to baseball as a kid. We used to bet on the Dodgers-Yankees series in the late seventies. I found that baseball made me feel connected to my father again, if only faintly. More importantly, baseball became a bridge to my friendship with P. It was something we could talk about, learn more about, and enjoy without rancor. We rooted for the same team and we had fun. I think it is safe to say that if we hadn't found baseball, our friendship might have ended.

To be continued...