Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 11 (Ishmael Reed)

Mumbo Jumbo
Reed, Ishmael
Mumbo Jumbo

I think I took this from my younger brother. It may have been one of his high school textbooks.

I've met Ishmael Reed a couple of times. He's from Buffalo and returns now and again for readings and so forth. Early on in my career at Just Buffalo, we brought him for a reading at the Langston Hughes institute. I remember he stayed at his mother's house over on the East Side and that I picked the two of them up on a Sunday morning and took them to breakfast at Denny's. I believe Ed Taylor, Just Buffalo's director at the time, was also there.

It was just after the no-smoking laws had passed in Buffalo. It wasn't yet the outright restaurant ban, but the completely ventilated separation of smokers from non became a requirement. I remember we sat in a booth next to the smoking room. We could see through a big window into a kind of hazy room full of people eating and smoking. A bit like looking into a dirty fishbowl.

I don't remember much of the conversation. I recall Reed being somewhat taciturn. He had a kind of skeptical look on his face, almost like he expected everything that came out of your mouth to be ill-considered at best and downright stupid at worst. But breakfast was pleasant enough. His mother was a sweet woman, I recall.

Later that day he gave a great reading. Hundreds of people came out. I think they even had to turn a few away. After he'd gone back to Oakland, which he describes as "Buffalo, with weather," I got an email from him asking about his per diem. We'd had a conversation earlier in which he'd said something about sending the per diem to his mother. I'd assumed he'd been joking, and that he wanted us to send it to him. He said no, he wasn't joking and sent us his mother's name and address, and we promptly cut Ishmael Reed's mother a check for fifty dollars and dropped in the mail.

from Mumbo Jumbo

A True Sport, the Mayor of New Orleans, spiffy in his patent-leather brown and white shoes, his plaid suit, the Rudolph Valentino parted-down-the-middle hair style, sits in his office. Sprawled upon his knees is Zuzu, local doo-wacka-doo and voo-do-dee-odo fizgig. A slatternly floozy, her green, sequined dress quivers.

Work has kept Your Honor late.

The Mayor passes the flask of bootlegged gin to Zuzu. She takes a sip and continues to spread sprawl and behave skittishly. Loose. She is inhaling from a Chesterfield cigarette in a shameless brazen fashion.

The telephone rings.

The Mayor removes his hand and picks up the receiver; he recognizes at once the voice of his poker pardner on the phone. Harry, you'd better get down here quick. What was once dormant is now a Creeping Thing. The Mayor stands up and Zuzu lands on the floor. Her posture reveals a small flask stuck in her garter as well as some healthily endowed gams.

What's wrong, Harry?

I gots to git down to the infirmary, Zuzu, something awful is happening, the Thing has stirred in its moorings. The Thing that my Grandfather Harry and his generation of Harrys had thought was nothing but a false alarm.

The Mayor, dragging the woman by the fox skins hanging from her neck, leaves city hall and jumps into his Stutz Bearcat parked at the curb. They drive until they reach St. Louis Cathedral where 19th-Century HooDoo Queen Marie Laveau was a frequent worshiper; its location was about 10 blocks from Place Congo. They walk up the steps and the door's Judas Eye swings open.

Joe Sent Me.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 10 (Jacob A Riis)

How the Other Half Lives
Riis, Jacob A.
How the Other Half Lives

Purchased at the late, lamented Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Bookstore for $2.50.  This is exactly the kind of book I miss buying at that long gone bookstore.  I probably would never have bought this book at full price without some purpose, like taking a course or doing some research, but seeing it on the shelf for $2.50, brand new, it was easy to just toss it in my shopping cart and bring it home to peruse at my leisure.

I have a memory of lending this book out to someone for a very long period of time. It may have been to Isabelle Pellisier, but I am not sure.

I have another memory of reading about the iconic photo on the cover of this edition, the one with the three street urchins asleep on a heating grate in bare feet. I read that although the children in the photo were the genuine article, the photo itself was posed. Riis gathered the children into the alcove, posed them just so, and told them to pretend they were sleeping while he took his photo. It begs the question, I think, of documentary truth.

The picture is certainly representative of a societal problem Riis wishes to articulate. On the other hand, he is constructing an image that, while true to the concept, is misleading as a representation of factual or documentary evidence.

Erroll Morris has been writing all kinds of interesting essays on just these subjects over at the New York Times over the past few years, and I don't really have anything useful to add to the discussion other than to say that my discovery that this picture was posed certainly complicated my understanding of it.

I think I may have snuck this idea into a poem somewhere, but I don't remember which one. Hmmm....

Friday, January 27, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 9 (Laura (Riding) Jackson)

The Poems of Laura Riding
Jackson, Laura (Riding)
The Poems of Laura Riding

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books, I think–most likely for a course with Charles Bernstein. I guess this should have been filed under "J" for Jackson. It's all very confusing. Sorry, Laura. In my library, you are Riding, at least for now.

I always think of Charles Bernstein when I think of Laura (Riding) Jackson. He was always a big promoter of her work. I also think of Carla Billiteri, briefly a classmate of mine in Buffalo, who wrote quite extensively on Jackson.

I never really think of the author or her poems, however.

I always associate them with someone else thinking or writing or talking about them. I read them in graduate school, but they never made a huge impression on me. I like a poem here and there, but for the most part I find them rigid and overly abstract.

I like this one, though.

Dear Possible

Dear possible, and if you drown

Nothing is lost, unless my empty hands
Claim the conjectured corpse
Of empty water–a legal vengeance
On my own earnestness.

Dear creature of event, and if I wait the clock,
And if the clock be punctual and you late,
Rail against me, my time, my clock,
And rightfully correct me
With wrong, lateness and ill-temper.

Dear Scholar of love,

If by your own formula
I open heaven to you
When you knock punctually at the door,
Then you are there, but I where I was.

And I mean that fate in the scales

Is up, down, even, trembling,
Right, wrong, weighing and unweighing,
And I mean that, dear possible,
That fate, that dear fate.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 8 (Charles Reznikoff)

Poems 1918-1975
Reznikoff, Charles
Poems 1918-1975: The Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I remember first reading Reznikoff in the basement archive of the Segue Foundation in New York. I remember reading from a copy of the anthology The Other Side of the Century, edited by Douglas Messerli, which contained selections from Holocaust. I was profoundly moved by these poems.

On one of my first trips to Talking Leaves, my wallet stuffed with student loan cash, I bought this book. It was only after I brought it home that I discovered that the word "Complete" in the title was qualified by the fact that it excluded Holocaust, Testimony, and several other works by Reznikoff. I was disappointed, to say the least, because neither of those books were easily available outside the library.

I've since read them in there, but have never owned them.

Another memory is of discussing the famous image of the "girder, still itself among the rubbish" in a seminar with Charles Bernstein. I think we discussed it in the context of George Oppen, though, for whom the line was something of a talisman. Or maybe it was a lecture on the Objectivists.  Not really sure. Anyhow...

from Poems 1918-1975: The Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff

from Jerusalem the Golden


The dead tree at the corner
from the gray boughs of which bark has fallen
in places and all the twigs–
be thankful, you other trees,
that, bare and brown, are only leafless
in a winter of your lives.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 7 (David S. Reynolds)

Beneath the American Renaissance
Reynolds, David S.
Beneath the American Renaissance

Purchased online.

I actually did begin my dissertation before leaving graduate school, believe it or not. It was going to focus on American poets writing prose about history, with chapters on Olson, Emerson, Whitman, Susan Howe and William Carlos Williams. I wrote the Olson chapter and I was at work on the Emerson chapter when I decided to move in a different direction with my life. Thus, I must have purchased this while I was working on the Emerson chapter.

Emerson is such a blank wall in my mind. I read all of his writings, several critical works, and a biography. Yet, when I think of Emerson the ideas that become images in my mind tend toward a blankness I can't quite explain. It's not that I don't remember what I read, but that what I read does not lend itself to the kind of enduring image creation typical of most writers I've spent a lot of time with.

Oddly, the one image that pops into my head right now is of John Travolta in "perfect." He plays a hip Rolling Stone journalist writing an article about the exercise craze. In one scene he quotes "Self-Reliance" to  Jamie Lee Curtis, an aerobics intructor, and suggests that the angle of his article will be that the new emphasis on fitness in American is actually a flowering of Emerson's thought.

Hmmm. Is this self-reliance? Or just a crotch-shot?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 6.1 (Kenneth Rexroth)

American Poetry in the Twentieth Century
Rexroth, Kenneth
American Poetry in the Twentieth Century

Purchased used, either at Rust Belt Books or at 7th Street Books in NYC. I can't remember which. I am inclined to believe the latter, as I have a vague recollection of acquiring it before I left for Buffalo.

It's funny. I have an unusually clear view of path that Rexroth took into my consciousness and how my understanding of him clarified and changed over time.

I think I first read about him in a biography of Kerouac. In it he was described more as a Marxist political figure with many cultural interests. I think it said he was a translator. But he was definitely portrayed as being older than, outside of, and inferior to the Beats with which he surrounded himself.

I then remember reading about him as an important translator. I think I bought this book around that time and got to read some of his opinions on various poets.

Later still, in graduate school, I became aware of the central role he played among the Berkeley renaissance poets.

Still later I read about all the stuff with Creeley and so on and how this at first turned everyone against Creeley and then later turned those same people (Levertov and Duncan, especially) against Rexroth.

So the movement in my head is of a a marginal figure to a central figure to a marginal figure once again.

Ok...I have rush to work. Until next time, dear readers...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 6 (Kenneth Rexroth)

One Hundred More Poems From The Japanese
Rexroth, Kenneth
One Hundred Poems From The Japanese

I was about to write that I had purchased this at Talking Leaves, but now I am not so sure. A vague impression has crept into my mind of having held this book in my hands while standing in a Barnes & Noble somewhere, possibly Sarasota, Florida, where my mother lived for many years.

I do recall that we lived in our house in Black Rock at the time. I remember reading the book in bed in that house, and that I may have purchased it in the same spirit I bought all those books by Pam Rehm, that is, the poems in here are quite short and I did for a time study that form looking for useful models.

I may have bought this for another reason, though.

After reading Creeley's biography, followed by the Duncan/Levertov Correspondence, both of which spell out in great detail the affair between Creeley and Rexroth's wife, how they ran off together, even took the Rexroth children with them, and the terrible rift this caused, not just between Creeley and Rexroth, but between Creeley and Duncan and Levertov and Jess and the whole SF scene.

I may have bought it because I realized that I hadn't really read much Rexroth beyond a book of his literary essays.

I may have been thinking about all of this when I was standing in the poetry section of the B & N Sarasota. I may have said to myself, hunh, maybe I should read this.

I may then have stepped forward to counter, purchased the book, and driven back to my mother's house to read.

But this is all speculation.

from One Hundred Poems From The Japanese

I passed by the beach
At Tago and saw
The snow falling, pure white
High on the peak of Fuji.

Yamabe No Akahito

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 5.3 (Pam Rehm)

The Garment In Which No One Had Slept
Rehm, Pam
The Garment In Which No One Had Slept

If what I said yesterday is true, and I am not certain it is, then it is likely I bought this online around the same time I bought To Give It Up and, possibly, Gone to Earth, that I was reading a lot of "minimalist" writers six or seven years ago and discovered that I liked Rehm's work and so bought several of her books at the same time. It's all a bit of a blur. I have no competing narrative to counter this, so it must be true.

Though I did not mention it before, I seem to remember reading this book in the Segue archive at the same time I read some of her other work. This one was published by Burning Deck, which was one of what was then only a handful of small presses that printed the work of innovative writers in perfect bound editions. You probably could have counted them on two hands: Roof, Burning Deck, Sun & Moon, The Figures, O Books, Edge, etc.

That number has skyrocketed in the last decade. I could not begin to name all the presses working to get out this kind of work today.  It's kind of amazing, especially given how few people actually read this stuff. It's as if the market has grown up in which the poet is both the producer of the work and the consumer of his or her own reputation. Or to put it another way: poetry is produced not to be read but to create some other form of cultural capital, i.e., reputation, status, etc.

Are we all cannibals, then?

from The Garment In Which No One Had Slept

The Multiplicities

Requiring that I submit no

absolute eye; not a
matter of amount, but effect to
form–in sleepless,
I know
not urge but pursuit
and the restraining

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 5.2 (Pam Rehm)

To Give It Up
Rehm, Pam
To Give It Up

I am not positive, but I think I bought this online. I have a vague recollection of having bought two or so books by Rehm after having been sent a review copy of Small Works. In fact, I think at the time I may have been working on my first book, which was comprised of all small work, and so was reading a lot of authors working in that vein.

As I mentioned the other day, I remember reading it in the basement offices of the Segue foundation in New York when I worked there as an archivist in the mid-nineties. I also remember how impressive it seemed that a young poet had a perfect bound book, had won the national poetry series, etc. There was a kind of aura around those books and authors then because there weren't so many of them.

It's hard to get that same feeling now because of the deluge of publications and prizes that have sprung up in the last decade or so. Not that I am complaining, just noting that some of the aura of being a "published" or "prize-winning" poet has worn off as a result. The words sound very different now.

from To Give It Up

For His Laments Upon A False Image

White upon white you knew him

ONly embarrassed, you questioned
His nobility for you had lost
All grip and radius from any
Center that you could not bow
Your head but faced him, asking
That he tell you exactly who he
Thought he was       Oh how such
Pride tries a spirit's faith

The bloodless words that are
Couraged from pity will never find
A road to the City of Peace

Friday, January 20, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 5.1 (Pam Rehm)

Gone to Earth
Rehm, Pam
Gone to Earth

Sent to me by the publisher.

There's a little bit of creasing to the back cover. Not sure how that happened. Then again, maybe I did not get this from the publisher. The word "Poetry" is written on the first leaf, followed halfway down the page by the number 389044. Maybe I bought this online somewhere.

I used to get review copies of all the new books from Flood Editions, and often I would write reviews of them in Artvoice. But then Artvoice told me they were sick of poetry reviews and that was the end of that. I still get review copies now and then, but not like I used to. I do get books from all the authors who come to town for Just Buffalo.

I'd say I acquired ten percent or so of my library for free.

from Gone to Earth

from Let Me Enter

After a night of hesitation
the snow has come

A slipping path

I can't decide what I need most

Revelations or rest

I just want to be stilled
by love

to such a depth
that I'm forgotten

Among the flowers

To die for what is not mine

Your meaning is upon me

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 5 (Pam Rehm)

Small Works
Rehm, Pam
Small Works

Sent to me by the publisher a few years back.

I saw Pam Rehm read in New York once. It was in 1997. I was just about to leave for Buffalo and I remember that Garrett Kalleberg introduced her at the Segue Foundation. In the weeks afterwards I browsed through her books in the basement of the building, where Segue kept it's archive. There were two books on the basement shelves: To Give It Up and a chapbook called Piecework.

I found a postcard in the back of this book with a black-and-white photo of the author. She has long, straight black hair and she is wearing a white, sleeveless button-down shirt with a floral pattern. She appears to be sitting in the cab of a tractor or a Bobcat or some such. She holds the controls of the machine in her hands and is staring straightforward into the camera, a very slight smile, almost a grin, breaking across her face.

from Small Works

Acts of Will

Let me open up

like morning down my spine

and find that I have found

no clear route
no evident map of destination

only a constant disappearing
into the days allowance

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 4 (Salvador Redonet)

El Ánfora Del Diablo
Redonet, Salvador
El Ánfora Del Diablo

Acquired in Cuba a little over ten years ago -- maybe eleven, now, or, gulp, twelve. It was in 2000 or 2001. Time do fly, don't she? Anyhow, I don't recall if I met the author or not. The name does not ring a bell. He may have given it to me or I may have bought it off the table of Cuban books available at the festival. Running late today....see you tomorrow.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 3 (Nicholas Ray)

I Was Interrupted
Ray Nicholas
I Was Interrupted: Nicholas Ray on Making Movies

Purchased in the Amazon Marketplace. I don't have much to say about this book. I never finished it. I think Ray expressed himself on film and in person in ways that don't always come across on paper. The book has some great moments, but not enough of them to keep me reading.

from I Was Interrupted

Say it's a rainy night. You're waiting on the street corner, for a guy or a gal. And the first thing you say when that person comes up is, "What time is it?" Do you realize how many ways you can say "What time is it?" Ask yourself: Am I reprimanding her? Am I blaming her? Am I putting her down? Am I tell her I am going to strangle her? Am I telling her she's done it again? That I'm fed up? That she's right on time, and we're going to have a ball? What am I saying? What am I really saying?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 2.2 (Tom Raworth)

Clean & Well Lit
Raworth, Tom
Clean & Well Lit: Selected Poems 1975-1995

Acquired when I worked at the Segue Foundation in NYC, publisher of Roof Books and thus this.

I wasn't sure if that was where I had obtained this until I opened it up and discovered inside a catalog from 1996 or 7. It also contains a photocopied excerpt from the October/November 1997 issue of the Poetry Project Newsletter that highlights a review of Clean & Well Lit and a title by Laura Moriarty. It was written by Chris Stroffolino.

Hmm...the date on that review, though, leads me to believe that my first impression was correct. I moved to Buffalo in August of 1997, which means this review did not actually appear until after my arrival. This leads me to conclude that I bought the book in Buffalo, sometime after the Fall of 1997. Probably 1998.  As I mentioned the other day, I remember him reading in Buffalo around that time.

That said, I remember distinctly taking a copy of this book home when I did work at Segue. It's entirely possible that I simply borrowed it and then returned my copy after I'd read it. I never saw Tom read in New York, but everyone always referred to him as that poet who reads his poems really fast, as if that was all there was to it. I guess it's hard for people to think too far beyond their initial impressions of art or artists.

Anyhow, it looks like the catalog is from my time in NYC. Roof was about to publish the XUL reader. I remember this coming out while I was still living there. They were also about to publish We Speak Silent, by Hannah Wiener.

from Clean & Well Lit

Out of a Sudden

                                (Riva san Vitale, August 30 1995)

the alphabet wonders

what it should do
paper feels useless
colours lose hue

while all musical notes

perform only in blue

a lombardy poplar

shadows the ground
drifted with swansdown
muffling the sound

at the tip of the lake

of the road to the south

above in the night sky

scattered by chance
stars cease in heir motion
poppies don't dance

in the grass standing still

by the path no-one walks

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 2.1 (Tom Raworth)

Caller and Other Pieces
Raworth, Tom
Caller and Other Pieces

Given to me by the publisher, Rod Smith, during the first Buffalo Small Press Book Fair.

I remember wandering around the book fair all day, returning again and again to the table occupied by Edge Books, which was manned variously by Rod, Mel Nichols, Gary Sullivan and Nada Gordon, all of whom had arrived in town a couple of nights earlier to read at Big Orbit Gallery. Kevin Thurston had brought the whole group to town to do a Flarf performance the night before the fair.

I remember after the fair going to eat at India Gate restaurant. We commandeered a table that ran nearly the width of the room, with seating for about 30 people. I have photos of it. In one, you can see that I sit at one end of the table. You can only see the back of my head. Far in the background, at the other end of the table, you can see Rod, hair slightly gray, eyes glowing flashbulb red.

from Caller and Other Poems


I could go on like this all day

Ti-tum ti-tum and doodly-ay
With every now and then a glance
To see if I've still on my pants
And if I have, if that stain' jism
Or just a trace of modernism.

For isn't this what poetry is?...

A raincoat over similes
You've seen before... Flash... look again
The same. No need to strain your brain
Simply recline on the chaise longue
And listen to the rhymes go bong.

And on like this ad-infinitum

With a metrical change or two to brighten
The gloomy rhythm of these stanzas
(Metaphor a Belgium for my Panzers).
Let those who think that piss is water
Sup deeply this insipid Porter.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 2 (Tom Raworth)

Collected Poems
Raworth, Tom
Collected Poems

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books, I think. I am not one hundred percent certain.

I think I first met Tom Raworth at the Creeley's firehouse in Buffalo. My memory is of him giving a reading in the living room.  He's been to Buffalo many times since I've been here. Once he read in the Steel Bar series. Another time he read for the Creeley celebration at Babeville. He may even have come back the following fall for the second of the Creeley celebrations. I saw him again last spring when he read for an Olson celebration put on by the University.

During one of his readings, which took place towards the beginning of the Afghan war, I remember he used a hand-cranked music box through which could be threaded sheets of paper with little "chads" poked through them, and that, when cranked through the box, would pluck musical notes, much like a player piano scroll.

He'd written out the names of U.S. military operations like "Enduring Freedom" on long, thin sheets of white paper, through which he'd punched holes along the lines and contours of the letters in each phrase. He then read the phrase aloud before running it through the music box, making actual music out of military double-speak.

from Collected Poems

No Music

to rise steadily with reduction
was the theme revealed
outside a circle of suburbs

incapable of different history
to produce a backfire

when small and tender

passed by, paused, into top gear

from a position far too close
to tolerate the fury of opulence

bones lie across the country
covered in rare mixed leaves
unable to keep them

to choose the surest gain

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Aimless Reading: The P's: Stats

The P's
The P's

I just realized that I put Claudia Rankine in the P's yesterday. I've made the correction. She is now number 1 under the R's. I also forgot to post the stats for the P's, which are as follows:

The P's

34 Authors
67 Volumes
67 Titles

Sorry for the crappy photo. My iPhone does not perform well in low light.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 1 (Claudia Rankine)

Don't Let Me Be Lonely
Rankine, Claudia
Don't Let Me Be Lonely

Given to me by Sesshu Foster.

Sesshu came to town in, I think, 2005. He had this in his bag and had been reading it on the flight out. I think he finished reading it while staying in the guest room of our old house. I remember we were sitting on the couch in the living room and he asked if I had read it and I said no and he recommended it and gave me his copy. I remember we also talked about how much we both liked mole sauce. He told me there was a place in LA that made the best mole around. A week or two after he left we received to containers of Sesshu's favorite LA mole sauce.

from Don't Let Me Be Lonely

Every movie I saw while in the third grade compelled me to ask, Is he dead? Is she dead? Because the characters often live against all odds it is the actors whose mortality concerned me. If it were an old, black-and-white film, whoever was around would answer yes. Months later the actor would show up on some late-night talk show to promote his latest efforts. I would turn and say–on always turns to say–You said he was dead. And the misinformed would claim, I never said he was dead. Yes, you did. No, I didn't. Inevitably we get older; whoever is still with us says, Stop asking me that.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 46.3 (Thomas Pynchon)

The Crying of Lot 49
Pynchon, Thomas
The Crying of Lot 49

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. This is not the copy I read, which I gave away or loaned to someone at some point and never saw again. A few years back, 2004, in fact, Lori was reading through Thomas Pynchon. She tried to start with Gravity's Rainbow, but, like many readers, quickly grew frustrated. I suggested she start with this and V. before moving on to that behemoth.

If I were to choose one Pynchon novel to read again, it would probably be this one. In fact, I am pretty sure that I have read it twice. I think I appreciate the fact that in comparison to the rest of Pynchon's novels this one is so concise. It has a certain level difficulty, takes a lot of detours, and is anything but straightforward, but there is something moving about Oedipa Maas and hear quest to find the meaning of the muted posthorn.

I can't say I ever cared much for Pynchon's on an emotional level. I did care about Oedipa. I also learned a lot of information about things like Maxwell's Demon, entropy, information theory, etc., all of which are quite useful things to know in the internet age.

from The Crying of Lot 49

One summer afternoon Mrs Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary. Oedipa stood in the living room, stared at by the greenish dead eye of the TV tube, spoke the name of God, tried to feel as drunk as possible. But this did not work. She thought of a hotel room in Mazatlan whose door had just been slammed, it seemed forever, waking up two hundred birds down in the lobby; a sunrise over the library slope at Cornell University that nobody out on it had seen because the slope faces west; a dry, disconsolate tune from the fourth movement of the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra; a whitewashed bust of Jay Gould that Pierce kept over the bed on a shelf so narrow for it she'd always had the hovering fear it would someday topple on them. Was that how he'd died, she wondered, among dreams, crushed by the only ikon in the house? That only made her laugh, out loud and helpless: You're so sick, Oedipa, she told herself, or the room, which knew.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 46.2 (Thomas Pynchon)

Slow Learner
Pynchon, Thomas
Slow Learner

I don't know where I bought this. I know I bought it when I was in college.

I went through a brief period where it seemed interesting to know more about Thomas Pynchon, quickly discovering that he was famously private. While trying to avoid studying for exams and the like, I can recall sifting through books on Pynchon in the basement stacks at the Fordham library.

There wasn't much to discover outside of his fiction. There was an essay on the Watts riots that appeared in a magazine, but other than that there was very little non-fiction and even less biographical information.

I stumbled upon this book at a bookstore somewhere and was happy to find that it contained a brief, introductory essay that revealed a bit about Pynchon's thinking on writing, politics, the beats, the fifties and sixties, etc. It's actually a great little essay.

One part that always stayed with me was this passage on death:

When we speak of "seriousness" in fiction ultimately we are talking abut an attitude toward death–how characters may act in its presence, for example, or how they handle it when it isn't so immediate. Everybody knows this, but the subject is hardly ever brought up with younger writers, possibly because given to anyone at the appropriate age, such advice is widely felt to be effort wasted.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 46.1 (Thomas Pynchon)

Pynchon, Thomas

Once again, I have no idea where I bought this. When I took it off the shelf this morning, I thought it was the copy I'd read in college, but it has a used price mark on the inside cover, which leads me to believe I may have bought it for Lori, who read through Pynchon a few years ago. It's possible, but highly unlikely, that I bought it used in college. I generally only purchased new books back then, unless I was buying textbooks.

Anyhow, I read V. in college. I think I read it the summer before my senior year. I definitely read it before reading Gravity's Rainbow. I remember feeling glad that I had read them in this order, as this felt like a warm-up for Gravity's Rainbow and probably would have been a less interesting read after having read that one first.

As with all of Pynchon, the frame of historical reference is so broad and my own at the time was so narrow that I have at various times in my life found myself referring back to this book as a point of departure. This usually occurs when I read something historical that refers to incidents or ideas that I first encountered in Pynchon's books.

It's kind of a strange phenomenon: much of what I remember in his work is my ignorance of the ideas and contexts the describes, yet I retained much of that information as a kind of place holder, waiting for me to return to make sense of it once I'd filled in certain gaps in my knowledge.

from V.

Christmas Eve, 1955, Benny Profane, wearing black levis, suede jacket, sneakers and big cowboy hat, happened to pass through Norfolk, Virginia. Given to sentimental impulses, he thought he'd look in on the Sailor's Grave, his old tin can's tavern on East Main Street. He got there by way of the Arcade, at the East Main end of which sat an old street singer with a guitar and an empty Sterno can for donations. Out in the street a chief yeoman was trying to urinate in the gas tank of a '54 Packard Patrician and five or six seamen apprentice were standing around giving encouragement. The old man was singing, in a fine, firm baritone:
Every night is Christmas Eve on old East Main,
Sailors and their sweethearts all agree.Neon signs of red and greenShine upon the friendly scene,Welcoming you in from off the sea.Santa's bag is filled with all your dreams come true:Nickel beers that sparkle like champagne,Barmaids who all love to screw,All of them reminding youIt's Christmas Eve on old East Main.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 46 (Thomas Pynchon)

Gravity's Rainbow
Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

I have no idea where I bought this.

It was during my final year in college. I spent the entire year trying and failing to get through it. Twice I read the first three hundred pages and put the book down. Part of this had to do with the book's interrupting my schoolwork, part of it with frustration. In between attempts I am pretty sure that I read V. and The Crying of Lot Forty-Nine as well as some literary criticism that gave me some context for the book.

At the time I really didn't have a strong sense of history, so I understood the book more within the context of literary history than I did in the context of the history of WWII and its aftermath. I remember reading a long essay about the physics of missile launches and how that related to the title of the book. I remember reading about the V-2 bomb, the bombing London, etc. I did not finish reading Gravity's Rainbow until the summer after I graduated.

The university had allowed me to keep my apartment over the summer in exchange for keeping an eye on the building -- I had worked as an RA to cover my living expenses in college and had been in charge of the small apartment building in the Bronx that I lived in, so this was really just an extension of the work I'd done during the school year.

I spent the summer applying for teaching jobs at private schools throughout New York City and spent the rest of the time reading, writing and playing guitar in my apartment on Belmont Ave. I once again began by reading the first three hundred pages and then setting it down. I had acquired a copy of On The Road, another book I had not yet read, and in the interim finished that. As soon as I did, I went back to Gravity's Rainbow and spent the rest of the summer working my way through it.

I remember being obsessed with the book to the point that when I conversed at parties I would inevitably recount some fascinating or grotesque scene from the novel, mostly to the boredom and chagrin of my friends. I think it took the whole summer to finish, during which time I found a job and an apartment in the East Village and moved downtown.

The book became so worn that the cover nearly tore off. A couple of years later, a friend, D, who I have written about extensively on this blog, had begun purchasing large quantities of paperback books off the dollar racks at places like The Strand. Most of them were in terrible shape, so so he bought a large amount of clear packing tape that he used to hold the covers of the books together long enough so that he could give them each a read.

One day, D came by my apartment and pulled Gravity's Rainbow off the shelf. He showed me that the cover had nearly separated from the book and offered to take the book home and tape it back together. I agreed. The book has since withstood another reading (by Lori) and nearly twenty years' worth of moves and shelf life. I guess he did a pretty good job.

I now have a strange feeling about this book. It was very important to me at a certain moment in my life. My ardor bordered on obsession. However, unlike, say, reading Proust or Melville, I always felt like the payoff was not there. There was no moment of recognition, no appearance of the white whale, etc., and so over time this book has come to mean less to me than others I have labored over.

from Gravity's Rainbow

It was very early morning. He stumbled out alone into a wet brick street. Southward the barrage balloons, surfriders on the combers of morning, were glowing, pink and pearl, in the sunrise.

They've cut Slothrop loose again, he's back on the street, shit, last chance for a Section 8 'n' he blew it...

Why didn't they keep him on at that nut ward for as long as they said they would - wasn't it supposed to be a few weeks? No explanation - just "Cheerio!" and the onionskin sending him back to that ACHTUNG. The Kenosha Kid, and that Crouchfield the Westwardman and his sidekick Whappo have been all his world for these recent days ... there were still problems to be worked out, adventures not yet completed, coercions and vast deals to be made on the order of the old woman's arrangement for getting her pig home over the stile. But now, rudely, here's that London again.

But something's different ... something's ... been changed ... don't mean to bitch, folks, but - well for instance he could almost swear he's being followed, or watched anyway. Some of the tails are pretty slick, but others he can spot, all right. Xmas shopping yesterday at that Woolworth's, he caught a certain pair of beady eyes in the toy section, past a heap of balsa-wood fighter planes and little-kid-size Enfields. A hint of constancy to what shows up in the rearview mirror of his Humber, no color or model he can pin down but something always present inside the tiny frame, has led him to start checking out other cars when he goes off on a morning's work. Things on his desk at ACHTUNG seem not to be where they were. Girls have found excuses not to keep appointments. He feels he's being gently separated from the life he lived before going into St. Veronica's. Even in movies there's always someone behind him being careful not to talk, rattle paper, laugh too loud : Slothrop's been to enough movies that he can pick up an anomaly like that right away.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 45 (J.H. Prynne)

Prynne, J.H.

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. According to the sticker, I bought this in May, 2006.

I love Prynne's poetry, but I find that I cannot sustain reading it in big chunks. I tried to read this book– quite a chunk itself at 590 pages–straight through once and made it only as far as page 18, which is where my bookmark rests.

The bookmark red. It advertises a fantasy book called Eldest. On the cover of the book depicted on one face a dragon's head twists out of a gray abyss. The caption reads, "The Epic Continues...Book Two in the Inheritance Trilogy."

I appreciate Prynne best when I read one poem, maybe two, then put the book down down again for a long period of time. When I return I am always rewarded, as I was this morning, when I opened the book and read the following.


The fire still glides down
in the hearth, the pale season
and the leaky boat drops
slowly downstream. Like emeralds
the remote figure of a
remote capital gain: the case
of fire rests in a flicker, just
short of silence. So the dream
still curls in its horizon of
total theft, cooled by the misty
involvement of the dew, and at once
it is clear, finally, that this
is not our planet: we have come
to the wrong place. We steal
everything we have–why else
are we driven by starved passion
to the dishonour of force? The
Russian tick was to burn up
wads of banknotes, so as to
clear the imperial stain, the hedged
& tree-lined avenues of our desires.
And what we dream we want is
the whole computed sum of plants and
animals of this middle world, the 
black lands called up by our
patient and careful visits. By any 
ritual of purpose we extend the idea
of loan and we dream of it, the
payment of all our debts. But we
never shall, we have no single gain
apart from the disguise of how far
we say we earn. The ground out-
side mistily involves itself with its
contour, the leaky boat glides down
the morning flood, in this rival
dream all our enemies are with us
and the animals & plants shall
take nourishment from the same
silent and passionless table.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 44.5 (Marcel Proust)

Finding Time Again
Proust, Marcel
Finding Time Again

Purchased at amazon.co.uk. I have to say I agree with the reviewer from the NY Review of Books who criticized the translation of the title. It makes it sound like someone is clearing their schedule or some other trivial act, whereas "Time Regained," though it alters the tense of the verb, sounds truer to the content of the book, and contains a Miltonic echo that rings through in the text itself. That said, it's a great translation and one of the most important reads of my life.

I think only one scene in another book that I have read achieves something similar to the effect of the ball scene in this one, and that is the appearance of the white whale in Moby-Dick. In the latter, one is forced to slog through chapter after chapter detailing the processing and storage of whale by-products. At various points these chapters threaten to derail the entire reading experience. But the reader who stays the course and pays attention is rewarded late in the book when the whale finally makes its appearance.

I remember feeling as if I had known everything there were to know about whales and then having everything I thought I had known exploded by the appearance of the beast itself.


I experienced something similar, yet more emotionally profound, when reading the final volume of In Search of Lost Time. Having slogged, page after torturous page, through one tedious salon after another, I had been many times ready to give up on Proust. Unlike Moby-Dick, I felt as if all I were learning were how to experience monotony and misery in real-time. In fact, many of the salons unfold at a much slower pace than real time, so that a single evening of petty sniping among the elite is stretched into several weeks of actual bed-time reading reading experience.

And then we arrive at the final scene, in which Marcel sits in a study or library, awaiting entry into a ball. Again, he seems to wait forever, but then the doors open and we discover that while he waited, something like twenty years had passed, and that he and everyone else in attendance has grown old. Time, as we had experienced it throughout the novel, as slow, languorous tedium, has now concentrated itself to such an extent that we haven't realized how much of it has passed.

This is what I meant the other day when I talked about having experienced time in much the same way the protagonist does, as real, palpable duration, which expands and contracts in ways highly specific to age, habit, repetition and variation. I felt almost as if I, too, had suddenly grown old.

This is making me want to read it again! I wish I read French. I would love to read this in the original before I die.

from Finding Time Again

And it was not just these colours which filled me with joy, but a whole moment of my life which aroused them, which had probably been an aspiration towards them, which some sense of fatigue or of sadness had perhaps prevented me from enjoying at Balbec, and which now, freed of whatever was imperfect in the external perception, pure and disembodied, filled me with delight.

...for the only true paradise is the paradise that we have lost.

So many times in the course of my life reality has disappointed me because at the moment when I perceived it, my imagination, which was my only organ for the enjoyment of beauty, could not be applied to it, by virtue of the inevitable law which means that one can imagine only what is absent.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 44.4 (Marcel Proust)

The Prisoner & The Fugitive
Proust, Marcel
The Prisoner & The Fugitive

Purchased on amazon.co.uk.

You may have noticed that this volume, containing books five and six of In Search of Lost Time, is housed in a different wrapper than its kin. I discovered while reading Proust yet another example of the absurdity of American copyright law. It turns out that the first four volumes of the original Moncrieff translation have expired, while the latter three volumes have not and will not for something like another decade.

I don't understand how a translation can hold other translations in check through a copyright, but then I guess I am not a lawyer or literary heir, am I?

I had to visit amazon.co.uk in order to get the last two volumes, which are published in the UK in cheaper, flimsier editions than they are here. That said, the cheaper editions are much more readable, lacking as they do the page-turn-frustrating deckled edge of the deluxe. On the other hand, they are already showing their wear, while the deluxe look almost brand new.


So, Happy New Year, everyone! I think I forgot to celebrate the anniversary of Aimless Reading back in December. The project is slightly more than three years old. Thus far, we've covered "A" through "O" and part of "P." I think it will take another year or so to complete the alphabet, at which time I'll return to some of the earlier excusions I made into the non-alphabetized portions of the library, like reference works, anthologies, literary magazines and art books. I might also go back and add to the existing alphabet the books that have arrived on the shelves since the project began, but not in time to be included in their particular letter. We'll see.

2011 was a pretty good year in terms of visitors. There were 8,608 of you. The most visited blog posts were my two posts on the Blazevox controversy. The first, with its provocative title, garnered the most visits of any post in the history of the blog, 1,856. The second post garnered another 631. I am happy to report that this post on Jackson Mac Low garnered the third most visits of any post, logging 87. That should give you a pretty good idea of how much of a spike in readership that controversy brought to Pearlblossom Highway.

Anyhow, I am still enjoying myself. I hope you are. I'd love to hear which posts you most enjoyed from 2011 in the comments section.

from The Fugitive

When, much later, he found at that Albertine had been living with me then and realized that I had been hiding her from everyone, he declared that he understood at last why, at that time in my life, I never wanted to go out. He was wrong. Very understandably so, since reality, even if it is inevitable, is not completely predictable; those who learn some correct detail about the life of another promptly jump to quite incorrect conclusions and see in the newly discovered fact the explanation for things which in truth are completely unrelated to it.