Monday, October 31, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 16.4 (Orhan Pamuk)

The New Life
Pamuk, Orhan
The New Life

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I can't recall whether or not I read this one. I may have. Or I may have started but not finished it. I definitely reached a burnout point reading Pamuk. I read four or five of his books in succession. This may have been the one I stopped reading in the middle of it. I think I later started My Name is Red, but got distracted. I know for sure I didn't finish that one.

Anyhow...following the incident at the Central Terminal described in yesterday's post, I drove Pamuk through the entropic boulevards of Buffalo's East Side across town to the Darwin Martin House, a reconstructed Frank Lloyd Wright complex that has become a centerpiece of Buffalo's tourist industry.

It was snowing when we arrived, right at five o'clock. We had intended only to do a drive-by, as we were running a little late, but as soon as we pulled up to the corner, Pamuk said, I have to go in...surely we have a few more minutes? Before I could protest that we in fact did not have a few more minutes, he leapt from the car. I followed, naturally.

We entered through the gift shop. Pamuk had his Leica out and was furiously snapping photos. A woman approached and told us that the place was closed and that photos were not allowed. In this instance, I did think it would make a difference if I told them that this was a Nobel Prize Winner. It did make a difference. She not only showed us a little bit of the building we were in, but let Pamuk shoot as many photos as he wanted.

Membership does have its privileges, it seems.

from The New Life

I read a book one day and my whole life was changed. Even o the first page I was so affected by the book's intensity I felt my body sever itself and pull away from the chair where I sat reading the book that laye before me on the table. But even thought I felt my body disassociating, my entire being remained so concertedly at the table that the book worked its influence not only on my soul but on every aspect of my identity.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 16.3 (Orhan Pamuk)

The White Castle

Pamuk, Orhan
The White Castle

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I spent a whole day driving Orhan Pamuk around the Buffalo/Niagara region in 2007. We drove first  to Niagara Falls, making a stop along the way at Saks Off 5th at the outlet mall so he could buy a warm hat. While wandering around the falls I asked him if he'd like to see some of Buffalo's architecture . He said he was interested in "the ruins of modernism." I said, "Friend, you've come to the right place!"

We drove south to look at the ruins of Buffalo's historic grain elevators, then east to the Central Terminal, Buffalo's great abandoned train station. It looks a little like someone dropped Grand Central Terminal in a field and left it to rot. As we pulled up, we noticed a tour group entering through a makeshift plywood door, so we snuck in behind them.

Pamuk had a little Leica point-and-shoot camera that he busily snapped photos with throughout the day. We ended up in a deep recess of the building, where it was kind of dark, except for a small amount of light coming in through broken windows. After a time, I became aware that the sounds of the tour group had subsided, so I told him I was going to look for them, just to make sure we didn't get locked in the building.

He wandered deeper into the darkness as I walked back into the main terminal looking for the tour group. I walked quickly toward the entrance. A small, stout man carrying a huge cluster of keys came jangling through the door. He started shouting at me immediately, telling me to get out, that he'd almost locked me in the building. I said I still had a friend inside and that I needed to go get him.

At that moment, Pamuk appeared with his camera, shooting the ceiling, the walls, the windows, any- and every- thing he could. The man started yelling at him, too. I asked myself for a moment if I should tell him that he was shouting at a Nobel prize winner, but decided against it. I don't think it would've made much difference.

from The White Castle

I found this manuscript in 1982 in that forgotten 'archive' attached to the governor's office in Gebze that I used to rummage through for a week each summer, at the bottom of a dusty chest stuffed to overflowing with imperial decrees, title deeds, court registers and tax rolls. The dreamlike blue of its delicate, marbled binding, its bright calligraphy, shining among the faded government documents, immediately caught my eye. I guessed from the difference in handwriting that someone other than the original calligrapher had later on, as if to arouse my interest further, penned a title on the first page of the book: 'The Quilter's Stepson.." There was no other heading. The margins and blank pages were filled with pictures of people with tiny heads dressed in costumes studded with buttons, all drawn in a childish hand. I read the book at once, with immense pleasure. Delighted, but too lazy to transcribe the manuscript, I stole it from the dump that even the young governor dared not call an 'archive', taking advantage of the trust of a custodian who was so deferential as to leave me unsupervised, and slipped it, in the twinkling of an eye, into my case.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 16.2 (Orhan Pamuk)

Istanbul: Memories and the City
Pamuk, Orhan
Istanbul

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

Amos Oz was in town this week for the Babel Series. We had everyone reading his excellent book, A Tale of Love and Darkness, onto which his American publisher tacked on the  subtitle, A Memoir. Oz objected to this classification, saying he preferred instead the term he chose in the title, "Tale." The book is a memoir only in the sense that it openly acknowledges its debt to reality by keeping the names of actual people and places rather than change them, which act would carry it over into the realm of fiction.

Oz noted in his talk that in Hebrew there is no word for "fiction," a term he hates because it connotes lying. Instead, his fictional works are classified as "narrative prose" and this category would also include his memoir.

Which is a way of getting back to this book, Istanbul, which also has a subtitle, Memories and the City. Just as Oz's memoir is really a mostly factually accurate portrait of his family, in which Oz plays the part of narrator more than protagonist, so Istanbul is a mostly factually accurate portrait of the city he's spent his life in, wherein Pamuk plays the part of tour guide instead of the protagonist.

Both are excellent reads because of the prose and also because the portraits they render of specific times and places (and in Oz' case people) are as rich in detail as if they had sprung completely from the imagination. Usually memoirs and biographies and autobiographies and histories and so on are dull precisely because they attempt to be faithful to factual and chronological accuracy.

If one chooses to fictionalize a situation, then one can let the imagination run wild, but if one chooses to render it as non-fiction, then the expectation is that all the facts, times, places and dates will appear exactly as they occurred (another false notion is that this is even possible).

My other favorite book in this genre is Paul Auster's The Invention of Solitude. All three are highly structured works of the imagination. That they allow reality to creep into the stories they tell is almost beside the point.

Here's a video of Pamuk reading from Istanbul:

http://www.nobelprize.org/mediaplayer/index.php?id=113

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 16.1 (Orhan Pamuk)

The Black Book

Pamuk, Orhan
The Black Book

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I honestly wasn't sure about this one. I thought I might have purchased it at Amazon, but then I thought that was unlikely, as I reserve most of my Amazon purchases to cheap used books in the marketplace. I buy most of my new books at Talking Leaves. Anyhow, I checked my 2007 Amazon purchase history and discovered that I did not purchase any Pamuk books there. Thus, I am relatively certain they were all purchased at TL.

I think this is my favorite of Pamuk's books. I am also fond of Snow and his memoir, Istanbul. Everyone goes gaga over My Name Is Red, but I never got through it. I think it was the last of several books of his I read and therefore I'd developed a little Pamuk fatigue at that point. I mean to give it another shot. Someday. Truly.

O, and I am 43 today. Ugh.

from The Black Book

Rüya was lying facedown on the bed, lost to the sweet warm darkness beneath the billowing folds of the blue-checked quilt. The first sounds of a winter morning seeped in from outside: the rumble of a passing car, the clatter of an old bus, the rattle of the copper kettles that the salep maker shared with the pastry cook, the whistle of the parking attendant at the dolmus stop. A cold leaden light filtered through the dark blue curtains. Languid with sleep, Galip gazed at his wife's head: Ruya's chin was nestling in the down pillow. The wondrous sights playing in her mind gave her an unearthly glow that pulled him toward her even as it suffused him with fear. Memory, Celâl had once written in a column, is a garden. Rüya's gardens, Rüya's gardens . . . Galip thought. Don't think, don't think, it will make you jealous! But as he gazed at his wife's forehead, he still let himself think.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 16 (Orhan Pamuk)

Other Colors by Michael_Kelleher
Other Colors, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Pamuk, Orhan
Other Colors


Sent to me by the publisher. Inscribed:

November 8, 2007

To Michael and Lory [sic]
          and angry mama cat!
Friendly...

Orhan Pamuk


I am trying to remember the significance of this inscription, but I don't quite recall what it was. I'd spent the day driving him around town. At about five in the afternoon, with about an hour to kill before the reception, we were passing near our house in Black Rock when suggested we stop there for a cup of coffee.

I have a photo of Lori and Orhan standing next to each other in our kitchen. She's wearing a turquoise turtle neck, holding her arms behind her back. There's a couple of inches of space between the two of them. She's smiling a slightly awkward smile. He's standing, about a foot taller than she, in a black coat, white shirt, and green tie, an abstract smile on his bespectacled face.

I am suddenly reminded of how nice that house was, how warm the kitchen, the wood, the colors. Too bad we hated the neighborhood. Our cats, Mama and Baby, used to force their plump little bodies into two little shipping boxes on the floor. They would have been sitting just behind Pamuk in the photo. I am not sure whether Baby was still alive at that point. I think she had passed away, hence the reference to the one cat. I wonder if Mama hissed at him. She's gone now, too.

Anyhow, I don't always ask authors for their autographs, but in this case I did. He signed the book on our kitchen island -- ah, the beautiful granite kitchen island -- farewell!

from Other Colors
from "How I Got Rid of Some of My Books"

Because I fear "attachments" as much as I fear love, I welcome any pretext to get rid of books. But in the past ten years I've found a new excuse, something that never occurred to me before. The authors whose books I bought in my youth and kept and sometimes even read, because they were "our nations writers," and even quite a few of the writers I read in the years that followed--in recent years they have colluded to assemble proof of how bad my own books are. In the beginning I was happy they took me so seriously. But now I am glad to have a pretext even better than an earthquake for clearing them out of my library. This is how my Turkish literature shelves are quickly losing works by half-witted, mediocre, modestly successful, bald, male, degenerate writers between the ages of fifty and seventy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 15.1 (Michael Palmer)

Notes for Echo Lake by Michael_Kelleher
Notes for Echo Lake, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Palmer. Michael
Notes for Echo Lake


Purchased at Rust Belt Books.

The first poems I read of Michael Palmer's came from this book. They were anthologized in the Norton Anthology of Postmodern Poetry, which provided my first contact with American poetry written from 1945-1990. I think they are still my favorite poems of his.

Soon after I read them I saw Palmer read at the Dia Foundation in New York. He read with Jorie Graham. I mostly remember her reading. Not because it was special, but because she was so snotty. She asked if there was anyone in the audience that could not hear her. No one answered, indicating that no, there was no one that could not hear her. When no one answered the question, she angrily spoke into the mic, "Well, can you hear me or not?" She of course did not realize that the problem was not the audience, but the phrasing of her question. I've disliked her poetry ever since.

But we were talking about Michael Palmer, whose poetry I like a lot, and who I also liked a lot the one time I met him in person. I remember taking him to breakfast at Cybele's, a little cafe I used to love on Elmwood Ave. We gossiped a lot about poets, and I remember he told me a story of going to visit Charles Olson in Gloucester. He described Olson, who you may recall stood six feet, eight inches tall and was quite heavy at that, leaning on the top of the refrigerator, holding a bottle of whiskey in one hand. The refrigerator, Palmer said, looked like a toy, and the bottle in Olson's hands looked like one of those miniature bottles they give out on airplanes.

I remember he also told me about the younger Creeley, the one famous for hard drinking and a violent temper. He described a look that Creeley used to get once he'd had too much to drink. Palmer said he'd learned to recognize that look as a signal to exit the room, because it meant you had only a minute or two before he was likely to reach across the table and punch you in the face.

Afterwards, I drove him to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and showed him the match stuck to the canvas of the Jackson Pollack painting. We stopped into the gallery bookstore. As a 'thank you' he bought me a lovely book of interviews with R.B. Kitaj, who we'd been discussing at some point. Mostly I remember him as being great company -- a good storyteller, a warm companion, a generous and appreciative guest.

from Notes for Echo Lake

from Seven Lines of Equal Length
5

Such words eyes will tell us what it was,
city as in sound—the voice
you hear is your own
caught in her throat—as in hills
rounded, lightly unexpectedly
full then lost among, might tell us
to be nowhere else. Such sevens as
sevens are. The continent drifts
from itself like memory's art
toward a window unhinged
by those forces memory alters.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 15 (Michael Palmer)

The Lion Bridge by Michael_Kelleher
The Lion Bridge, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Palmer, Michael
The Lion Bridge: Selected Poems 1972-1995


Sent to me by the author. This book has all kids of interesting goodies in it.

Inside I found a slip of paper, folded in fours, with a handwritten note from Michael Palmer addressed to me. It reads:

25 Jan 1999

Dear Mike,

Here is everything except the reviews. My mother has just died, and I must leave town for her services, so I don't have time to get the [illegible]. I'll do that next week.

all best,

Michael Palmer


Just Buffalo brought Palmer to Buffalo to read at the opening celebration of "Robert Creeley's Collaborations," an exhibit of work by painters associated with Creeley that traveled from Buffalo in 1999-2000. He came to town for two or three days, which I spent taking him around town.

One evening, after the reading, I drove him to a party in Allentown. We parked a block or so away and then walked to the home of Elizabeth Licata and Alan Bigelow. While walking down the street, we stumbled upon a pair of polaroids that seemed to have been dropped on the sidewalk. I leaned over to pick them up.

To both of our surprise and amusement, they were lewd, if slightly obscure photos. One was of a penis and the other of a vagina. We laughed and wondered whether or not they had been dropped there deliberately. Maybe the owners of said organs were watching us right then and there!

Anyhow, we decided to each take one polaroid as a kind of souvenir. I gave him first dibs. He chose the penis, I took the vagina.

I tell this story because I still have the photo of the vagina inside Michael's book. I wonder if he still has the penis?

from The Lion Bridge

For L.Z.


A reasonable ear
in music, Bottom,
let's have it
out of tongs
and bones, was it
tongues? "To gather"
or "to ring";
and damp bones
below the stone
arches, a man's jaw
displayed on dark paper
as the bridge came down
following the song.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 14 (Gabriela Pais)

Pais, Gabriela
Escapada de la forma ausente


Given to me by the author at a poetry festival in Havana in 2000. Pais is an Argentine poet who I hung out with briefly at a cafe along with two other Argentine poets, Daniel Muxica and another whose name I forget. If memory serves this meeting took place after the festival was over. My only memory is that she said I reminded her of Hugh Grant.

from Escapada de la forma ausente

Espacio de trampas


No hay luna ni juncos
en esta orilla,
cemento.
Algún residuo melancólico
guarda nombres en secreto,
criaturas de agua, cisnes heridos,
bailarinas;
insomnios subterráneos,
figuras quebradas por la luz
esconden su código
en el reverso de las nueces.

Es mejor no estar
en este espacio de trampas.
No es necesario el fuego
para encender la gran sala.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 2 (Elaine Pagels)

The Gnostic Gospels by Michael_Kelleher
The Gnostic Gospels, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Pagels, Elaine
The Gnostic Gospels


Not sure about this one. It looks like something I would have bought for a high school or early college religion course (I went to Catholic high school and college, in case you're wondering). But I have no recollection of ever studying it in school. I do recall reading it at some point, possibly in New York, possibly in Ecuador.

I could have bought it for a high school religion class at my high school book store. My brother might have bought it for one of his high school classes and I could have taken it from him. It could have been my mother or father's. I might have taken it from the volunteer house library in Ecuador. Equally, I could have bought it in Ecuador or New York City.

There, that narrows it down.

from The Gnostic Gospels

Scholars investigating the Nag Hammadi find discovered that some of the texts tell the origin of the human race in terms very different from the usual reading of Genesis: the Testimony of Truth, for example, tells the story of the Garden of Eden from the viewpoint of the serpent! Here the serpent, long known to appear in Gnostic literature as the principle of divine wisdom, convinces Adam and Eve to partake of knowledge while "the Lord" threatens them with death, trying jealously to prevent them from attaining knowledge, and expelling them from Paradise when they achieve it. Another text, mysteriously entitled The Thunder, Perfect Mind, offers an extraordinary poem spoken in the voice of a feminine divine power:

For I am the first and the last. I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin....
I am the barren one, and many are her sons....
I am the silence that is incomprehensible....
I am the utterance of my name.

These diverse texts range, then, from secret gospels, poems, and quasi-philosophic descriptions of the origin of the universe, to myths, magic, and instructions for mystical practice.

Why were these texts buried-and why have they remained virtually unknown for nearly 2,000 years? Their suppression as banned documents, and their burial on the cliff at Nag Hammadi, it turns out, were both part of a struggle critical for the formation of early Christianity.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 1 (Vance Packard)

The Hidden Persuaders by Michael_Kelleher
The Hidden Persuaders, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Packard, Vance
The Hidden Persuaders

Purchased at Rust Belt Books. Not sure why I bought this, exactly, but here it is. I've flipped through it, but never read it.

Its argument about the use of principles of psychology and psychiatry in advertising and public relations is by now a familiar one. We take for granted, almost, the fact that we are being manipulated every which way we turn by advertisers, politicians, propagandists and so on.

I saw a great documentary a few years ago that traced the birth of public relations after the first world war to Edward Bernays, a nephew of Freud and the founder of modern PR. It follows the development of some of Freud's ideas of the subconscious and their use as "hidden persuaders" from WWI through the late nineties, ending with the political campaigns of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

Both were essentially market-driven PR efforts whose substance derived not from great ideas or even from ideology. Rather, they used massive call centers to poll voters' desires and then repeat them back as policy. It was a fascinating documentary, though its name slips my mind. I'll google it. Hold on a sec...

...The Century of the Self. Not sure if it is available on Netflix yet, but the last time I checked you could watch all four parts on the internet for free. Highly worth your time.

Reminds me also of a great cartoon I posted to my Facebook page yesterday. It shows Kermit the frog sitting opposite a doctor at a desk. The doctor is holding an x-ray of Kermit. He tells the frog, "What I am about to tell you is gonna change your life forever. Are you sure you want to know it?" The x-ray shows the skeletal hand of the puppeteer filling the inside of Kermit's body. I think the message of the Hidden Persuaders is the same. And no, I don't think we want to hear, thank you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's: Stats

The O's by Michael_Kelleher
The O's, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

14 Authors
64 Volumes
61 Titles

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 14 (Richard Owens)

Delaware Memoranda by Michael_Kelleher
Delaware Memoranda, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Owens, Richard
Delaware Memoranda


Given to me by the author.

I met Richard a couple of years after he came to Buffalo for Graduate school. There was a period in 2007-2008 when I was very snap-happy with my new point-and-shoot camera. I took pictures every day, all day long. I took twenty photos of every poetry reading, and twenty more after the reading at the bar or wherever we ended up. During this time, Richard became one of my favorite subjects, partly because he always happened to be at the poetry readings, but mostly because I liked the way he photographed. His long sideburns and slicked-back pompadour make his face interesting from every angle.

He's also the end of the O's, which I feel like I've been writing about forever!

from Delaware Memoranda

Not to fetishize the fucking river
but to think through the transformation
—how we come
to be to mean
encountering others along the banks

to multiply in consciousness
the number of evenings
outlined against twilight waning

intellect inhabiting curious hollow
overlooking tide rushing under moon

Monday, October 17, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 14 (Maureen Owen)

American Rush by Michael_Kelleher
American Rush, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Owen, Maureen
American Rush: Selected Poems


Purchased at Rust Belt Books.

Maureen came to Buffalo a couple of times when I was in graduate school. She was a good friend and early publisher Susan Howe, so Susan invited her up often. She once read in the apartment of Linda Russo and Chris Alexander. They used to run a monthly poetry series called "First Fridays." I think Maureen read with Jonathan Skinner. Another time she read at Just Buffalo, but I can't remember who she read with, despite having set up the reading!

I always loved the name of her press: Telephone Books. For some reason I always think of this after poetry readings at the Poetry Project in New York when everyone heads down the street to the Telephone Bar.

Lori and I have a broadside of one of Maureen's poems that we keep on the wall. It's from a reading she gave at Just Buffalo in 1978. It's a poem called "Circa" and it is in the form of a postcard addressed to the "Just Buffalo Literary Series" at the Allentown Community Center. The postmark says "CIRCA 8:30 PM 25 APR 1978." Here it is:

For years I thought 'Circa' was a place
and when I read the word followed by its dates
'Circa 1903' 'Circa 1812' I assumed these were
just times events occured in Circa and
I was amazed continually that so much had happened
in one tiny pinpoint of geography And to myself
I said "It must be in France"


(Note: "occurred" is misspelled on the broadside, so I left it)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 13 (Ovid)

The Metamorphoses by Michael_Kelleher
The Metamorphoses, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Ovid
The Metamorphoses


I have had this one for a long time. Probably since college, or soon after college. The binding is still relatively tight, but the pages have yellowed considerably. If I were to guess, I'd say I bought it at St. Mark's Books. But that is only a wild, uneducated guess.

I've gone through two classical reading periods. The first began in college. I read Homer in preparation for a course on James Joyce. Throughout college, I took courses in Greek philosophy, and always managed to find classes in which we studied the various Greek dramas and tragedies. I was pretty well versed by the time I graduated. My only regret was that I never studied Latin or Greek.

I went through another in early on in graduate school. I tried (and failed) to teach myself ancient Greek. I got as far as being able to read the alphabet and to pronounce most Greek words, but that was about it. One has only so much time. When I discovered Charles Olson, though, I felt I needed to go back to some of the classical stuff I hadn't read, especially Hesiod--just to get a sense of epic.

The Latin writers have never been as interesting to me as the Greeks. I can't say why, exactly. Probably some bias leftover from a teacher telling us that the Romans just copied the Greeks and changed all the names. I've always liked Ovid and Catullus, though, for what that's worth. Not much, I suppose.

from The Metamorphoses

Now I shall tell of things that change, new being
Out of old: since you, O Gods, created
Mutable arts and gifts, give me the voice
To tell the shifting story of the world
From its beginning to the present hour.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 12 (Eugene Ostashevsky)

Iterature by Michael_Kelleher
Iterature, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Ostashevsky, Eugene
Iterature


Given to me by the publisher, Matvei Yankelevich of UDP, when he came to Buffalo for a reading a few years back. It's one of the more entertaining books of poetry I've read in the past few years. It has a kind of wry, philosophical wit -- and the poems rhyme! I just opened it again this morning, five years after it was given to me, and re-discovered the pleasure of reading these poems.

Here's the opener:

from Iterature

from The Gangster Who Lost His "G"

Autobiography


structaque sunt nostris barbara verba modis
--Ovid

I used to think of myself as just another Ovid
somewhere in Romania sporting a Mogen-David,

racking the local parlance to make it sigh on
Jah! How well I remember Zion.


My image changed when I got a visa
only to declare there really is no

Zion--that whether rhinos course by or reindeer,
it's just varying degrees of Romania.


I turned bilingual. Romanians claimed
I had two characters, two lives, two brains.

Although they say two is more than one cranium
it's half as great if both be in Romania.


Then I found myself with no native tongue,
only two prosthetics to flap among

teeth & gums, or sitting below the palate
like in a cockpit two pilots.


I wore my jeans loose & used the word stoopid.
I used to have love but I don't know where I put it.

All my flats turned to kennels.
My only pets were my pack of Camels,


whose caravans filed under the sun
of my soul's desert––one by one,

made them go up in smoke. My sole amenity
was to point at them & say All is vanity!


That, too, my dear, is another bubble.
In most of the cases, one's only trouble

is oneself––so stick up two fingers over your
head before the mirror in the corridor.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 11.1 (George Orwell)

1984 by Michael_Kelleher
1984, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Orwell, George
1984


I am not sure where this came from. My best guess is that I used it to teach at LaSalle Academy in New York. The edition, however, is a bit older. It dates to, yup, 1984. It could be from college, or even from high school, but I doubt it. I seem to remember not having a copy during college for some reason, so my original guess is likely the most accurate.

I remember teaching this novel during my second year at LaSalle. I had been given my own classroom that year, and so set about redecorating almost immediately. My first order of business involved removing the crucifix from above the chalkboard and replacing it with a poster on which a black-and-white illustration of man stared out at the viewer, his head framed by the caption, "Big Brother is Watching." That the school was run by the Christian Brothers made this all the more hilarious, at least in my mind. I was certain they would ask me to remove it in the first week. Strangely, they did not, though things did get weird pretty soon thereafter.

I and a fellow teacher, an ex-priest who was now an openly gay teacher at an all-boys catholic school, began to organize the faculty ahead of the first major faculty meeting of the year. Many were concerned about the current principal's capricious vindictiveness, our fear of which was exacerbated by the fact that no one had much more than a handshake as a legal contract to protect them from this guy if they got on his bad side. So, we organized a few meetings and created a simple listed of demands: a written tenure policy, an updated faculty handbook, and representation at meetings of the board of trustees.

We brought these to the attention of the principal and the president and asked that part of the all-day meeting be set aside to address our concerns. We were given fifteen minutes out of a six-hour meeting. It took place in the gym on a Friday morning. The principal, dressed in his soutane, sat beneath his bald pate, his legs crossed, leaning backwards on a folding chair in an awkward attempt to look casual. He faced five rows of chairs in which the faculty were seated, about forty in all.

When the moment arrived to discuss faculty concerns, one teacher after another stood up and voiced their frustrations. They got angrier and angrier, until it started to feel like it was getting out of control. I remember raising my hand to say that I felt that there existed between the faculty and the administration an atmosphere of distrust. He pretended he couldn't hear what I said. Cupping his hand over one ear, he told me to repeat myself.  I did, adding that I thought this was most clearly apparent in the new security system added to the faculty copy machine, which required us to "punch the date of our conception into the universe into a machine in order to document how many copies we make. It's like Big Brother is Watching...Brother Patrick"

The meeting dissolved in acrimony, and the following Monday, each of the "ringleaders" was summoned to the principal's office to have their jobs threatened. Being the youngest faculty member, with the least job security, I was dressed down the hardest. Somehow, he had the text of everything I said written verbatim in a notebook, despite the fact that he had no such notebook at the meeting. He first showed me my contract and told me he could take my job away. He told me that if I had a grievance I should take it up with him personally, not in front of the entire faculty.

And then he read my words back to me, with emphasis on the Big Brother comment. He asked if that had anything to do with the poster hanging in my classroom. I realized that he had no idea that the poster or the comment came from 1984. I replied that the poster was "a reference to a classic literary work that my students had been studying VERY closely." He left it at that for the moment.

Starting the next day, though, he set out to make my life so miserable that I would quit my job. He began appearing in the doorway of my classroom to scold me for various petty things in front my students. He polled many of them about what I taught, asking about the books we read and so forth. He never bothered to read any of the books, several of which contained content that would have been grounds for dismissal at a Catholic school. I guess he didn't like to read.

Finally, he resorted to the path of least resistance, informing me in April that my contract would not be renewed. I vowed to fight him, and did for a time, but since I had no seniority or tenure, there was nothing I could do.

Our little movement ended with his removal from the position, though our union failed to gain the necessary votes the following year. It was a pretty bitter lesson in local politics, all in all. Especially the discovery that morons like that often manage to ascend to positions of power. Usually, they get to keep it. I guess in that sense we succeeded, though I and about half the faculty departed at the end of the school year. A pyrrhic victory if ever there was one.

from 1984

"We are the priests of power," he said. "God is power. But at present power is only a word so far as you are concerned. It is time for you to gather some idea of what power means. The first thing you must realize is that power is collective. The individual only has power in so far as he ceases to be an individual. You know the Party slogan 'Freedom is Slavery." Has it ever occurred to you that it is reversible? Slavery is freedom. Alone-free, the human being is always defeated. It must be so, because every human being is doomed to die, which is the greatest of all failures. But if he can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal. The second thing for you to realize is that power is power over human beings. Over the body-but, above all, over the mind. Power over matter external reality, as you would call it-is not important. Already our control over matter is absolute."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 11 (George Orwell)

Animal Farm by Michael_Kelleher
Animal Farm, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Orwell, George
Animal Farm


This likely came from the school bookstore at LaSalle Academy in New York, where I taught high school English from 1992-1994. My best guess is that this was my teaching copy. It's in remarkably good shape for a cheap paperback. I was surprised to discover the pages still intact upon opening it. Usually book like this start fall apart after five years on the shelf. The funny thing is that I don't remember teaching this book. Or rather, I don't remember what I tried to teach the students about it. I have vivid memories of teaching 1984, which I'll talk about in the next post, but none of Animal Farm. I don't remember much about the story, either, come to think of it. Except the ineffable slogan, "Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad."

from Animal Farm

Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland,
Beasts of every land and clime,
Hearken to my joyful tidings
Of the golden future time.

Soon or late the day is coming,
Tyrant Man shall be o'erthrown,
And the fruitful fields of England
Shall be trod by beasts alone.

Rings shall vanish from our noses,
And the harness from our back,
Bit and spur shall rust forever,
Cruel whips no more shall crack.

Riches more than mind can picture,
Wheat and barley, oats and hay,
Clover, beans, and mangel-wurzels
Shall be ours upon that day.

Bright will shine the fields of England,
Purer shall its waters be,
Sweeter yet shall blow its breezes
On the day that sets us free.

For that day we all must labour,
Though we die before it break;
Cows and horses, geese and turkeys,
All must toil for freedom's sake.

Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland,
Beasts of every land and clime,
Hearken well and spread my tidings
Of the golden future time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 10.1 (Joel Oppenheimer)

Oppenheimer, Joel
In Time: Poems 1962-1968


As with yesterday's title, this was given to me by someone at the UB Poetry Collection -- either Mike Basinski or Matt Chambers. I am not sure I have ever opened it. I'll do it now. There. I did it. Here's what I read:

from In Time: Poems 1962-1968

Education: The Museum of Our Youth


hang them up on the wall, the
powms you/ve written, it
doesn/t matter. it doesn/t

even matter my dear friend
if they possess him yard and all.

hang them up on the wall even
if only for esthetics they/ll
bang away at them. every man
a critic that/s the way the
world goes. they/ll all tell
you how to do it, and be amazed
you keep on doing it. ever
try to screw with van der velde
looking on? or shoot yourself
up next to rimbaud? look, what
we need is a museum of our youth
so we/ll remember where it is
we came from

...

That's not the whole thing, but I've got to get to work....

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 10 (Joel Oppenheimer)

Oppenheimer, Joel
Names & Local Habitations


Given to me by someone at the UB Poetry Collection -- either Mike Basinski or Matt Chambers.

Both Joel Oppenheimer books I own came to me in this manner. In fact, I would wager that the majority of people on the planet who own the same two books acquired them the same way.

The poetry collection hands them out at readings, leaves them sitting on the counter as you enter beneath a sign saying "Take one -- it's free," sends them out as Christmas gifts, etc., and yet they never seem to be able to get rid of them.

I think everyone who visits the poetry collection has at least one of these two books by Joel Oppenheimer. Now, the real question is this: Is the number of people who actually read the books larger than the number that use them as door stops?

A question for the ages.

from Names & Local Habitations

Lovesong


in time, in time they
will say it all i mean images of
death and the act of
loving.
a flaring pomegranate has
more seeds than one man can
possibly spit
out, the juice runs down
from the same corners of
the chin where the
beard refuses to grow.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 9 (Mary Oppen)

Meaning a Life by Michael_Kelleher
Meaning a Life, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Oppen, Mary
Meaning a Life


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

The title of this book has always put me off.

Lacking a subject, the phrase "Meaning a Life," with its awkward use of "meaning" as a verb, strikes me as a bit pretentious. As if living a life is not enough. One has to "mean" it and, of course, by meaning it make it more meaningful than those lives that are simply "lived," unmeant.

There's something earnest and tautological about it. It lacks irony. Or humor. Or both.

Sometimes I give Mary the benefit of the doubt. I remember that the root of "autobiography" is "bio-", meaning "a life."

I prefer to think of it this way, as a kind of clever echo.

from Meaning a Life

Spring came all of a sudden. IN March the Chinook wind blew, and we woke to the sound of running water; we knew the snow was melting, and we were suddenly too warm in bed. In the morning the snow was slush, and by afternoon the gutter in front of our house was running with swift water. I whittled a boat to launch it in the swift current, then pursued it, for it carried the coffin of Fernando de Soto, who had asked that he be set adrift in the Mississippi river when he died. I thought of him and wondered if he had ever reached the sea.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 8.3 (George Oppen)

Hatlen, Burton, ed.
George Oppen: Man and Poet


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

My most vivid memory of this book is of reading the short section of essays on Oppen's "Discrete Series." Until this morning when I opened to the table of contents, my memory was that there was only one essay on "Discrete Series," written by Tom Mandel.

However, when I opened the book, I discovered that there were actually three essays on "Discrete Series," none of them written by Tom Mandel. The first of the three was written by William Carlos Williams, the other two by Tom Sharp and Harold Schimmel. I must have conflated the latter two names in order to arrive at the incorrect memory.

In one of these essays, I recall, the author describes the first section after opening of the poem, which goes like this:

White. From the
Under arm of T

The red globe.

Up
Down. Round
Shiny fixed
Alternatives

From the quiet

Stone floor...


I remember him describing this as a description of a standard 1930's elevator in a New York Building. How the "white" and the "red" globes, which rested under a "T" shape, indicated the direction of the elevator. I don't remember which of the two essays describes this, but I remember finding the information very useful.

HA! Looking again, I see that Tom Mandel and Burton Hatlen have a piece in here together. That must have been where my memory of having seen Tom's name came from.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 8.2 (George Oppen)

Oppen, George
The Selected Letter of George Oppen


Purchased at Talking Leaves Books.

Strange, this is one of those books I remember buying but don't remember reading. I am sure I have read it, but flipping through it just now not a single memory, save one or two of the included photos, came back to me. I left no bookmark inside, made no underlinings or markings of any kind on its pages.

Yet here it is. It's been in my library for over a decade.

It's not like Oppen isn't important to me, either–he is. Maybe I didn't take anything useful away from the reading of his letters. Maybe they just weren't interesting. Maybe I was half asleep when I read them. Who knows?

It makes me kind of sad and also anxious when I return to the past and can't seem to find myself there.

from The Selected Letter of George Oppen

You will inevitably see, in my shy or sly stories of myself above, that I invite or even urge admiration. And yet I do not seriously believe that what I have so far managed is of actual value unless I shall be able to go further--further or forward meaning toward wherever we are going. . .I am between books –that is, I have completed a book and must attempt a next step. And, tho I had thought it was clear to me, am confronted by What is it? something like a failure of nerve, of simple nerve. I have persistently told creative writing classes that I have no reason to suppose that poetry is good for people, and I say that–as I imagine myself–with admirable brusque courage. But actually... I don't know that my courage is so intact, and certainly not so brusque.

(From a letter to Frederic Will, 1967)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 8.1 (George Oppen)

Oppen, George
Selected Prose, Daybooks and Papers


Purchased at Talking Leaves Books. Sorry for my recent absence. Baby plus mother visiting plus returning to work have left me with less focus than usual. But here I am.

I bought this at Talking Leaves Books in 2008. I think I bought it during our move from the house in Black Rock to our temporary digs on Auburn St., where we lived for about nine months. I can remember it sitting on the nightstand next to my bed. I was also reading Thomas Mann's Joseph and His Brothers at the time. I distinctly remember deciding not to finish that book, despite already having read 1000 pages of it. I just couldn't go on. I picked this up instead. I guess I wasn't finishing books at the time. My book mark sits at page 95. I took today's excerpt from the bottom of that page.

from Selected Prose, Daybooks and Papers

Since one does no in any case live forever, and since the furthest possible extremes of age may not be desirable to experience, it is entirely reasonable to risk one's life for a purpose, far more reasonable than people say. But since one can give his life only once, it is true that he must be guided simply by his feelings, by what happens to matter to him–

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 8 (George Oppen)

Collected Poems by Michael_Kelleher
Collected Poems, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Oppen, George
Collected Poems



Purchased, I think, at Talking Leaves Books.

There's a little commercial that runs on Turner Classic Movies about the effect of "Pan-and-scan" technology on films shown on TV. Prior to using letterbox formats, TV companies used Pan-and-scan to carve square, TV-friendly images out the horizontal rectangles of cinema. In the commercial on TCM, various directors discuss how this affects our understanding of both the images and the film as a whole. They cleverly show the letterbox image of several classic films, Ben-Hur, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, et al, with a pan-and-scan square superimposed over part of the image. The box shows what you would see in a pan-and-scan image while also showing you what has been cut away at the edges of the widescreen image. Martin Scorcese is not exaggerating when he claims that to pan-and-scan is to re-direct and thus create an entirely different film.

Something similar to pan-and-scan occurs in this volume. One thing I learned from reading Oppen's Collected Poems is how important the correct typographical setting of a poem is to understanding its meaning, and conversely how the improper setting of a poem can virtually destroy the meaning.

When I bought this volume, I bought it to "discover" Oppen. Professors and students alike talked about him in my grad school seminars, yet I'd never read even a line of his poetry. My first impression of his work came from reading the version of "Discrete Series" printed in this otherwise adequate collection from New Directions.

As set here, the poem is divided awkwardly into different parts. In some instances these take the form of section numbers, in others of section titles, and, in most, of several paragraph breaks. These separations between sections can take place at any place on a page, often with two or even three sections breaks on a single page. The fact that some are numbered and titled and some are not makes it very confusing to figure out which parts of the "series" are "discrete" and which continuous. I like a lot of the other work in the book, but I just could not get my head around Discrete Series.

Then one day I visited Mike Basinski in the Poetry Collection at the University at Buffalo. He showed me the first Objectivist Press edition of Discrete Series. It's printed in a small format hardcover. Inside, each section of the poem -- numbered, titled, or otherwise -- is given its own "discrete" page, thus marking each section off as an autonomous entity whose connection to the other parts of the series both more open and more apparent. Reading through that volume I finally started to get a sense of how Oppen's poems were supposed to look and feel -- both as discrete elements and as parts of the series.

The new edition of Oppen's Collected Poems, which I do not own, goes some way towards correcting this, giving each poems it's own page, similar to the original, though again something lacks that has to do with the shape of the page. The poems are very short, and the original book is small and closer to a square in shape, where as the book that houses them now is more rectangular, leaving a fair amount of white space on each page that was not contained in the original. This is especially true of the shorter poems in the series. It's a big improvement, but having seen the original, I have to take the side of the textual purists and say it won't get fixed until it gets corrected.

from Collected Poems

from Of Being Numerous

29

My daughter, my daughter, what can I say
Of living?

I cannot judge it.

We seem caught
In reality together my lovely
Daughter,

I have a daughter
But no child

And it was not precisely
Happiness we promised
Ourselves;

We say happiness, happiness and are not
Satisfied.

Tho the house on the low land
Of the city

Catches the dawn light

I can tell myself, and I tell myself
Only what we all believe true

And in the sudden vacuum
Of time...

...it is not
In fear the roots grip

Downward
And beget

The baffling hierarchies
Of father and child

As of leaves on their high
Thin twigs to shield us

From time, from open
Time