Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 23 (Philip Roth)

Goodbye, Columbus
Roth, Philip
Goodbye, Columbus

It's likely that I bought this at a used book store in the DC area, as there's a sticker on the inside cover that reads:

3523 Fullerton St.
Beltsville, Maryland 20705

It's the only book of Roth's I've ever read. I remember liking it, especially a story in it that centers on the image of two young people treading water in a pool. I remember nothing else about the story except that image and that I thought it was very funny.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 22.1 (Kim Rosenfield)

Rosenfield, Kim

Once again, I am at a complete loss as to how I acquired this book. I am pretty sure I got it before re: volution, but I am not sure. I feel like I got it as a review copy, but I am not sure. It's possible that Rob Fitterman gave it to me. It's also possible that Kim herself gave it to me. Many, many things are possible, yet none are certain. That's today's lesson in philosophy, kids.

But wait! I remember now! I remember!

I read with Kim at the Poetry Project back in 2005 or so. Yes, that's it. We exchanged books. I gave her my book and she gave me hers. The object takes on added significance. O memory!

I used to think Kim Rosenfield's last name was RosenFELD. My mistake was further compounded by the fact that I had a (possibly false) memory of having been corrected on this account. That is, I had a memory of calling her RosenFIELD and being corrected either directly or indirectly.

For instance, I may have overheard someone else mispronounce it RosenFELD and assumed that I was the one who had made the mistake. For whatever reason, I never bothered to verify this. When I read her name, I read RosenFELD in my mind and nothing I did could help me see it as it was.

Then someone actually did correct me, possibly Steve Zultanski. Having been corrected again, I looked at her name on the book jacket, and sure enough, there was the "field" I'd been missing, spelled out in plain English, for anyone to see.

from Tràma


With what force he knocked at the door. Pure Gruel (this was his codename). Good day, Master Fluorine. At what cost are we put on this earth? Recognizing his codename he fell to his knees. I haven't an idea in my head! I'll try to fabricate something that will create a miracle (one white cell to 400 red). This scheme will salt our mortality. I'd like to take a turn through the world, kiss it, and stuff it into a bottle of wine. And the two old ones gave each other back their wigs, shook hands, began to glow in the dark, and were inseparable for the rest of their lives.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 22 (Kim Rosenfield)

re: evolution
Rosenfield, Kim
re: evolution

I am not sure how a acquired this.

The author may have given it to me when she read for Just Buffalo.

The press may have sent it to me before or after her visit.

I may have bought it at the reading.

I may have bought it online.

I may have bought it at a bookstore.

I haven't the slightest idea which of these scenarios might be more correct.

All I can say is that Kim came to read for Just Buffalo a few years ago and I acquired it around that time.

It was 2008.

Kevin Thurston, who'd been running the Just Buffalo poetry series for the past few years, had just skipped town and moved to DC, en route to Seoul.

Aaron Lowinger, his co-curator, was working with me and Steve Zultanski on putting together a new set of readings at Rust Belt Books.

Kim was one of the first people Steve invited that year.

Steve also skipped town, about a year and a half later, for New York City, where he now resides.

I will be skipping town next month, but that's another story.

Anyhow, I have a memory of meeting with Steve and Kim on the corner of Elmwood and Forest, and of eating Indian food before the reading.

I believe the other reader was Marie Buck and that she, too, at Indian food.

Ah, thank you eternal memory known as the Internet! Yes, it was Marie Buck, and the date was October 16, 2008, 10 days before I turned forty.

I am now over 40 and I am leaving town.

from re: evolution

Chapter 16

She has

A Vulva
Labia Majora
And A feminine

A sort of
Which Might Be



True IT






Friday, February 24, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 21 (Reina María Rodríguez)

…te daré de comer como a los pájaros...
Rodríguez, Reina María
…te daré de comer como a los pájaros...

Given to me by the author on a visit to Havana, Cuba.

Reina came to Buffalo in the late nineties on the invitation of the poetics program. Her American translator, Kristen Dykstra, was a classmate of mine at the time and worked to bring her for a visit. I remember she and her partner at the time, Topo, stayed almost a week, during which time they gave a couple of readings, visited a few classes and made merry with the poetics students.

She'd been running a reading series in her Havana rooftop apartment for the past twenty years. Near the end of her visit, she offered us all the opportunity to come visit and to read in her series. Pretty soon thereafter, Kristen went to work to make this lighthearted proposition a reality, securing an official letter allowing us to travel as students to the forbidden island.

All the planning took about a year, during which time the visit became more and more official. By the time we arrived, and much to our surprise, our reading on the rooftop had mushroomed into a full-blown international poetry festival of which this gang of about a dozen Buffalo poets represented the United States.

Our first inkling came at the opening reception, which took place not on Reina's roof, but on the roof of the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, a massive colonial palace overlooking Havana Bay. Waiters served rum and cigars and everyone socialized late into the night. At one point, I found myself in a conversation with the government's official Cuban-American Cultural Affairs liaison.

We spent a week listening to poetry and talks on poetry and generally reveling in the awesomeness of Havana. We never did have a poetry reading on Reina's roof, but she did throw a couple of great parties there. She came back to Buffalo last year, but her appearance was so poorly advertised that I didn't know she was coming until about an hour before her reading, so I missed it. Alas.

from …te daré de comer como a los pájaros...

...un invierno dado por la abundancia y desorden de las palabras (en estado latente) conserva al pájaro enterrado en la breve tierra de una meseta...mi culpa se transforma en la luz que rodea al cuerpo muerto; digo, hizo de diásporas, por donde comenzaron a formarse otros cuerpos numerosos con alas: comenzó a formarse el tumor, a través del cual la realidad fue perdiendo terreno...perdiendo el organismo acumulado por la ausencia del vuelo. mi culpa despoja, actúa en el crecimiento; en cierta acentuación de la ornitología, en una especie semejante a la de la estrella que deja de contraerse y se estabiliza en un posible estado final (enana blanca); su sueño recrea un vigoroso tumulto de pájaros, pájaros que avanzan hacía numerosas cruces de madera clavadas en la tierra.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 20.1 (Stephen Rodefer)

Rodefer, Stephen (Jean Calais)

Given to me by the author, inscribed:


04 09 ought from


I'd say this is probably my favorite book by Rodefer. It's a Spicerian translation of Villon, a al After Lorca, with translations on the top half of the page and commentary on the lower half. Of the many attempts to follow Spicer down this road, Rodefer's comes the closest to matching the brilliance of Spicer's original.

Stephen gave it to me after giving what was probably the most disturbing, upsetting, and awful reading I have ever hosted. We'd spent the afternoon in the Just Buffalo offices at the Tri-Main Center, where I'd set him up on a computer and then was promptly made into his administrative assistant. My first task was to find a video projector, which he insisted we needed for the reading.

Having accomplished this, he asked could I print out a four-page prose work to hand out to the audience as a broadside. He wanted to reduce the pages so that all four fit on an 11" x 17" sheet. When I showed him the proof he drew a set of quadrants around the four pages and then proceeded to scribble symbols over the words contained in each quadrant, including in one of them a swastika. He handed it back and asked me to make enough copies to hand out to the audience.

It turned out that this important "prose work" was a job letter he had sent to the Gray Chair search committee at UB, which had rejected it out of hand.

Anyhow, the day wore one. Stephen discovered the Just Buffalo wine stash, helped himself to many liberal helpings of cheap white wine. Later, he pilfered our office snack box, which ended up being $7 short when the candyman came to refill it that week, either because Stephen ate $7 worth of candy or because he pocketed the contents of the change box.

As the evening approached, Stephen decided that this reading would be so important it needed to be video-recorded and that we should hire a professional videographer to handle the occasion. I drew the line at that point, as there was no money for such an expense.

The reading took place in the Hibiscus room at Just Buffalo. By the time it began, Stephen was in pretty bad shape, having polished off much of our wine stash. His speech was quite slurred. We handed out his offensive broadside and then turned on the projector, which projected soft-porn images of Tanya Roberts over Stephen as he began to read.

He began the reading by telling us all we ever wanted to know about Tanya Roberts, including that her work in soft-porn was actually fine acting that went unnoticed because no one imagined a porn actress could really act. All this while Tanya's spread legs bounced up and down on the wall, with Stephen's head, a dark shadow, an erect stump between them.

He followed this by attempting to read his broadside aloud. Two obstacles stood in his way. First, because the four pages had been reduced to 1/4 their original size, the font was so small that he had trouble deciphering the words. Much of the reading was taken up with him pushing the broadside away, then pulling it close, muttering to himself as he attempted to decipher its contents.

The second obstacle was his inebriation. He could no longer speak coherently at this pont, so when he actually did manage to make out a word or two from the piece he was reading, no one could understand what he said.

My strongest image from the reading, though, came afterwards, when I stood in the hall watching people leave the room, most with facial expressions ranging from bewilderment to rage. Isabelle Pelissier emerged with Bill Sylvester on her arm.

Bill was in his late eighties, possibly even his early nineties at that point. He'd been in the English Department at UB since Stephen was a grad student in the early sixties.

I approached to say hello, when I noticed that Bill had tears streaming down his face. He was weeping almost uncontrollably. I asked if he were alright. He said, "It's terrible, terrible. That was the most beautiful, brilliant student I've had in fifty years of teaching."

from Villon

Mon Corps

Item: my body.
I grant and leave it
to our great mother
the earth.

The worms that turn it
won't find much to munch on
that hunger hasn't already
ferociously consumed.

Let it be quickly delivered
to her from whom
it came and thus
to whom it goes.

Everything if I am not
badly mistaken,
has this agreement
to fill the grave.

If you try hard you can hear the sound of the earth turning. To some it's a whirring sort of noise, to other it sounds more grinding. No one has been able to explain this difference to but some scientists speculate it may have something to do with breakfast cereal.

Death of course is nothing if not dizzy.

The maggots here are either unformed flies or fully evolved revolutionaries we don't know which.

Poetry is the thing in the poem that is not biodegradable.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 20 (Stephen Rodefer)

Passing Duration
Rodefer, Stephen
Passing Duration

Not sure where I picked this one up.

Running short on time this morning, so I'll give you a quick anecdote about Rodefer as told to me by one Robert Creeley.

Rodefer was one of the bright lights of the Olson years at UB. Handsome, brilliant, wild, everything Olson could have wanted in a student. He wrote his dissertation on Creeley. After he graduated, he proceeded to get a job at the University of New Mexico alongside the subject of his dissertation, Creeley, who, it so happened, had started splitting his time between Buffalo and New Mexico since the departure of Olson following the sudden death of his wife Betty in a car accident outside Buffalo.

When he heard from Stephen that he'd gotten the job, he asked him how much he was being paid. The figure he quoted was significantly higher than they were paying Creeley, who immediately fired off an angry missive to the department chair (or a phone call, I can't remember), demanding he explain how some punk just out of grad school, who'd written a dissertation on HIM, for christ's sake, could get paid more than Creeley.

The reply was simple and straightforward. "Well," said the department chair. We've already got you."

from Passing Duration


THE DAY WAS NEARLY FINISHED drawing clothes, and dusk was getting darker, slowing down all the ground hogs, and I was alone but felt like engraving the evening anyway, a little sore I guess, but remembering that nothing really could go wrong and feeling like telling everyone just such a thing as this.

     Help me to brainstorm this real idea and we'll both survive. If you've ever written a plan, give me a chance to break down the court and it'll all pass off. Don't give me any load about the past. I experience the present well enough, and don't need another deal beyond a few hands. I choose you for my toast and salve the entrance.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 19 (John Roche)

Roche, John

Given to me by the author, a Rochester-based poet who also got his PhD from the University at Buffalo. Inscribed:

For Mike Kelleher,

Fellow toiler 

for all 
you do!

John Roche 


In addition to his great work in the Rochester area, John's been a force on the Olson/Black Mountain scene these past few years, having organized the Black Mountain North Conference at RIT last year, which was a lot of fun.

from Topicalities

Virtual Wendell Berry

Rushed out of work and onto the freeway

burning fossil fuels
to get to reading by the famous farmer poet
hear why we need to slow down to mule-speed
and learn to jettison consumerist dissatisfactions
become human beings in human-scaled communities
once again

But first I'm shunted into snaking line around reflecting pool

at the art museum
then herded along with a hundred or more ethical sheep
into the overflow pen (wainscoted and elegant)
to watch our contemporary Thoreau
over live videostream
get an award for truth-telling

Right after two words from our sponsors:

a local state university branch
and a globalizing bank

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 18 (Kit Robinson)

Down and Back
Robinson, Kit
Down and Back

Plucked this little gem from the Just Buffalo library before it got sold off.

It's the only book by Kit Robinson I actually own, but it's a good one to have, containing as it does the poem for which he is best known, "In The American Tree." I believe he used this as the title of a Bay Area radio program he produced with Lyn Hejinian in the seventies. And of course Ron Silliman borrowed the title (and the poem) for his iconic anthology of language writing.

I think Kit Robinson qualifies as a "poet's poet." I would define a poet's poet as a poet widely admired by his peers without being as widely known or appreciated as some of them.

But what makes a given poet a poet's poet?

Perhaps a kind of humility that, while serving the poet well in the execution of his art, harms him in a marketplace that, while trumpeting loudly the importance it places on artistic integrity, in practice values personal style, self-mythologizing biographical narratives, and the will of the group.

I am not sure if I ever met Kit Robinson. He's been to Buffalo several times, but I feel like I missed him nearly every time. I may have seen him read once when I was in graduate school, and I may have said hello, but if I did my memory of the event has disintegrated. Thus, I cannot speak to Robinson's personal humility, but I can say he's an awesome poet and that more people should read him.

from Down and Back

In The American Tree

A bitter wind taxes the will
causing dry syllables
to rise from the throat.

Flipping out wd be one alternative
simply rip the cards to pieces
amid a dense growth of raised eyebrows.

But such tempest (storm) doors
once opened, resistance fades away

and having fired all the guns you find you are left with a ton of butter,

Which, if it isn't eaten by some lurking rat
hiding out under the gate, may well be picked

up by the wind and spread all over

The face you're by now too chicken to admit is yours.
Wheat grows between bare toes
of a cripple barely able to hold his or her breath

And at the crack of dawn

we howl for more
beer. One of us produces

A penny from his pocket
and flips it at the startled
who has been spying on her from behind the flames

That crackle up from the wreck.
The freeway is empty now, moonlight
reflecting brightly off the belly of a blimp,

And as you wipe the read from your eyes

and suck on the lemon someone has given you,
you notice a curious warp in the sequence

Of event suggesting a time loop

in which bitter details repeat
themselves like the hands of a clock

Repeat their circular travels in a dream-
like medium you find impossible to pierce :
it simply spreads out before you, a field.

Now you are able to see a face

in the slope of a hill,
tall green trees

Are its hard features,

a feather floats down
not quite within grasp

And it is Spring.
The goddess herself

is really

Feeling great.
Space assumes the form of a bubble

whose limits are entirely plastic.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 17.4 (Lisa Robertson)

Robertson, Lisa

Sent to me by the publisher. A note written on the business card of one Viola Funk, Publisher's Assistant at New Star books, was wedged between the last page of the last eclogue and the epilogue. Written on the reverse of the card in red ink is the the following note:

                    Fri 26.11.99
Hi Mike,
Sorry these're so 
late–we only just
got them!
                    (There's a 
                       doodle or scribble 
                     of some 
                         sort here)
So that means this was sent along with, most likely, a stack of other books to be sold at the reading itself. I don't remember if we ended up giving the stack to Lisa or sending them back to New Star.

I do remember talking about this re-print with Lisa when she was in town. I can't remember if the re-print corrected something from the original edition or if it left out something she had liked about the original, but I remember her expressing dissatisfaction with one or the other.

Well, that's the end of Lisa Robertson. Say, "Goodbye, Lisa. Goodbye!"

from EXeclogue
I'm afraid I'll be misunderstoof
Asleep and sleeping in the clear magnificent
Misunderstood morning like a dahlia
Or some other flower with the strong odour of clothing

I am reminded of my conceit

By a row of pale scars on the ceiling
Whose shy origin I shouldn't identify

Speech bites into my walls
Maybe for that I will never forget the bus
In my dream of an intersection
We eat and hear as we relax

We felt this as the cabinet swung open
We felt a strong burst of vitality

Friday, February 17, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 17.3 (Lisa Robertson)

Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture
Robertson, Lisa
Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I love these little books from Clear Cut Press. They're so nicely crafted. I especially love the little bound bookmark . Mine rests on page 197. I got pretty far in this book, I guess. I am pretty sure, though, that I also read the Seven Walks...section of the book, which begins on 223, which means I only missed 26 pages out of 271. I don't think I ever noticed that the index was actually "composed" by the late Stacy Doris. It's actually a pretty great index, as indexes go. Maybe that should be today's excerpt, in honor of the late poet, who I never met last week, though I was saddened to hear she had passed away so young, leaving two young children behind.

by Stacy Doris

"Hey cobweb," 237
"nut walk," 110
air mile, 15

archaeological metaphor called Troy, the, 142
Artifice is the disrespect of the propriety of borders, 143
awnings, 17, 58, 276
Babylonian doilies, 13
Balustrades, 102, 231
based on twin fantasies, the, 37
basketry, 261
blood, See stiff blood of paradise, the
bosco, 165, 238
chaos, See solitude is chaos
charm-decked, 146
Chili preferred, 92
civic insouciance, 15, 39-41, 54-56, 78, 79, 165, 232, 239, 258, 268, 276-77
cobalt tarp, 139
cognition of thresholds, 79, 143, 164, 184, 198, 204, 243, 257
Colour is structured like a market, 142

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 17.2 (Lisa Robertson)

The Men
Robertson, Lisa
The Men

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

Looks like I didn't finish this one, as there's a bookmark stuck between pages 36-37. O, well.

I am remembering more of the time I brought Lisa to Buffalo. I remember driving her to see the grain elevators in South Buffalo. I remember her being really impressed. I remember exchanging humorous anecdotes about Stephen Rodefer. I remember her telling me about working as a re-forester in the great northwest and about owning a small feminist bookstore for in Vancouver.

The grain elevators really stick out in my mind, though.

You have to drive past them on the 190 and then turn around and drive up a side road in the opposite direction in order to get a good look. Just before you enter the Old First Ward, you cross a steel beamed bridge over the Buffalo river. We stopped in the middle of bridge and looked over the railings to the place where the river flows between two sets of silos, giant hunks of rounded concrete adorned with rusted iron skeletons descending from the very peak down to the level of the water, where the elevators once dumped the grain into barges heading down the Erie Canal for New York.

I have taken dozens of writers to that very spot, but I feel like perhaps the first time I did this was with Lisa Robertson.

from The Men

I'm making a record of the men as I know them, their hours and their currencies and their simple sex. I'll be their glamorous thing and then I won't. Their coats are casual, they are entirely casual in their stance and I paste my record up.

When a man rides with a demon, when he transmits and snags, when a man feels his psyche work all over america in its humble way, when he has no obligation, when he marches on, when a man marches on, when he has hideous knowledge and he marches with it in the burnt grass, when men believed so many things, when a man's name is sewn in the label of my coat, when the men's cocks face out to sea, lovely

And I thank them.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 17.1 (Lisa Robertson)

Debbie: An Epic
Robertson, Lisa
Debbie: An Epic

This was either sent by the author or by her publisher in advance of her visit to Just Buffalo many moons ago.You may notice creeping into my writing over the coming months more phrases like "many moons ago." If you haven't heard the news on Facebook, then you maybe interested to know that I and my family are leaving Buffalo after nearly fifteen years. We'll be moving to New Haven, Connecticut in mid-April, where I will be starting a new job at Yale.

I arrived in Buffalo to pursue an MA in Poetics in the summer of 1997. I intended to complete the degree in a year and then to move swiftly back to New York, where I had sublet my rent-stabilized apartment in the East Village. Before the year had ended, I decided that it might be nice to stick around and be among a great community of poets, living on borrowed money, spending my time reading, writing, and talking about poetry and poetics.

Even so, I thought I might be in Buffalo for five or six years at most. I think I always planned to return to New York, job or no, but something kept me here: love, a great job, a wonderful community of poets, cheap cost of living, etc. In short: Buffalo is a comfortable place to live.

Suddenly fifteen years have passed. I have a long-time partner (soon to be wife!), a newborn daughter, a mortgage, a car payment, medical expenses, a huge career change on the horizon, concern about our future.

And I find myself often brooding on the passage of time, how it seems to go faster and faster, especially as life becomes more dominated by routine, how the ways I experience time change also, like when I was a child my impatience led me often to feel that time was not passing quickly enough or on some days not at all or at the very least so slowly I could not perceive it with my senses, this compared to now when ten years can pass by with equal stealth applied in the opposite direction.

So forgive me if I spend a bit of time brooding, waxing nostalgic, glorifying or vilifying specific moments of my life. I am sure it will all settle down soon enough. Unless of course it doesn't.

from Debbie: An Epic

as hard sky spent cancelled horizon
my own mouth barking perhaps I am
unmentionable ticking against the
dark adjacency of prose lovely home
of gods and punctuation I say this
against the long and burning hills in the 
slatey cold of debt.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 17 (Lisa Robertson)

The Weather
Robertson, Lisa,
The Weather

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. Interesting that The Weather follows Atmosphere Conditions alphabetically on my bookcase, no?

I collaborated with Charles Bernstein to bring Lisa Robertson to Buffalo around the time she was writing this book -- so, 1999 or thereabouts. She read for Just Buffalo at Hallwalls' old space in the Tri-Main building and then gave a talk in Charles' seminar the next day.

She'd just returned from a semester in Cambridge, England, where she'd been on some kind of fellowship. I remember she talked about being amped up to converse at lunch with the likes of Jeremy Prynne about all kinds of theoretical issues surrounding poetry, but to her surprise discovered that the primary topic of conversation in the Cambridge lunch room was, in fact, the weather.

So, being Lisa Robertson, she delved deeply into a study of the discourse on weather. During the reading she described doing research into the meteorological journals of an 18th century English parson and borrowing liberally from it for this book.

The next day she came to Charles' seminar and played a recording of a BBC news program, whose name I can't recall (the Shipping Report?), that ends the broadcast day by providing a port by port, highly technical and detailed, weather report geared toward ships at sea. She described going to bed each night listening to these broadcasts until she'd completely, almost involuntarily, assimilated their rhythmic structures. After playing a recording that lasted about ten minutes, she read several of the poems from The Weather which, indeed, did mimic these rhythms with a a remarkable exactitude.

It was for sure one of the more memorable of many memorable visits to Charles' seminar.

from The Weather

from Wednesday

A beautiful morning; we go down to the arena. A cold wintry day; we open some purse. A day is lapsing; some of us light a cigarette. A deep mist on the surface; the land pulls out. A dull mist comes rolling from the west; this is our imaginary adulthood. A glaze has lifted; it is a delusional space. A great dew; we spread ourselves sheet-like. A keen wind; we’re paper blown against the fence. A little checkered at 4 pm; we dribble estrangement’s sex. A long, soaking rain; we lift the description. A ripple ruffles the disk of a star; contact thinks.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 16.1 (Ed Roberson)

Atmosphere Conditions
Roberson, Ed
Atmosphere Conditions

I think I bought this online, but I am not sure.

I remember driving around Buffalo with Ed. He's such an interesting guy. He worked for many years in a non-academic position at a college in New Jersey -- Rutgers, I think, but don't quote me on that. He rode a motorcycle all over the country and down into Central and South America. He's a trained mountain climber. I told him about my brother, Brian, who is a rock climber, and how he'd fallen something like fifty feet in Mexico, landed on his back and managed to survive, relatively unharmed. Ed's reaction to this was one of solemn respect. He said, Your brother's a pro. He's learned how to fall properly. That's why he's alive.

from Atmosphere Conditions

IV. The Understanding

That kind of walking where
its steps are hiding places,

the witness no road
but ways          of turning up

that hand
that waves you through,

a trackless win.          Almost as if
not played          so innocent.

and nothing shows
up later on          a doorstep

or the line         a vanishing too
nor point.

The removal of shoe          to walk in
that retracts          the understanding.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 16 (Ed Roberson)

City Eclogue
Roberson, Ed
City Eclogue

I wrote a review of this that was published in ecopoetics 6/7. I can't remember if Jonathan Skinner sent me the book as a review copy or if I bought it at Talking Leaves...Books.

I think Taylor Brady first mentioned Ed Roberson's name to me, way back in the mid-nineties, after I'd just arrived in Buffalo. Taylor, polymath, poet, seemed always to have read everything long before anyone else had heard of it.

Years later, I brought Ed to read at Just Buffalo. He read in the old Hibiscus Room, Just Buffalo's performance space in the Tri-Main building. It took its name form the yellow-green tint of Benjamin Moore paint we'd used to cover the walls. Isabelle Pelissier contributed six beautifully painted collage panels depicting hibiscus flowers. They stretched in a straight line across the wall behind the podium. Except for the skanked-out gray carpet, it was a lovely room for readings.

Ed gave a great reading, but I have to say I have never seen someone struggle so hard to overcome his shyness in order to perform. It didn't affect his reading at all, but I could feel him struggling right up until he read his last poem. When he'd finished he said, "Ok, that's it," and collapsed in an exhausted heap on a chair against the wall, letting out a huge, "PHEW," as a set himself down. It was a heroic performance.

from City Eclogue

Stand-In Invocation

One of your clairvoyances who could've
seen her way to speak          stared clearance through.

A New York scoping out instead of eye
contact.          No voice or vision, no called muse–

one of your sightings that would be a dream

if it cared, if it loved you more, kept you
awake asleep and fucked you woke with your eyes
rested in the open beyond what's seen.

No. One more of the feeling un-invoked

spoken out of these days' put you through
proofs before granting speech          testifies
she is not the mouth of anything you wrote

these days                                             ould've


She knows the form, her tongue's just sharp and short of.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 15 (Donald Richie)

A Hundred Years of Japanese Film
Richie, Donald
A Hundred Years of Japanese Film

Purchased online.

I bought this a few years ago when I was watching a lot of Japanese film. It started in the early part of the decade with Japanese horror, but soon spread to the entire history of Japanese cinema: Samurai and Yakuza films, and then all the classics by the great Japanese directors: Mizoguchi, Kurosawa, Naruse, Ozu, Ichikawa, et al. I bought this as something of a primer as I was watching them. I think I read about half of it.

In fact, there is a bookmark on page 134:

As the occupation ended and a more independent Japan was envisioned, directors increasingly searched out alternate roads to truth, beyond the traditional one. Concomitantly sought were the means to express these. The postwar emphasis upon the individual rather than the group occasioned a number of changes, among them the very way in which a craft such as filmmaking was learned.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 14.1 (Soleida Ríos)

libro cero
Ríos, Soleida
libro de cero

Given to me by the author. Inscribed:


Por la democracía 
del lenguaje
y del pensar
Mucho gusto!


y (illegible) vemos
la franja 
"del peligro" tal cual.
¿no? Cajitas.

I have memory of being in Soleida's apartment with Jonathan Skinner and Isabelle Pelissier. Soleida read our runes. She kept them in a little bag and asked us to take them out one at a time and place them on the table. She then read our fortunes from the little stones.

My fortune, as I recall, started off rather pedestrian. There was change on the horizon, I needed to be open to it, good things will come by embracing it. But then the last thing she said was that a blonde woman would come into my life and change it forever. A year later, I met Lori, my eternal blonde.

Isabelle, as I recall, did not like her fortune. It began: Tienes que relacionarte con el dolor. Roughly: you need to get in touch with your pain. I remember Isabelle kept asking if she could re-read the runes. I think Soleida told her it wasn't possible.

This incident appears in my prose poem, "Cuba," which was published as a chapbook by Phylum Press and later republished in Human Scale. Soleida is the star of the poem. Much of the "action" takes place inside her apartment.

Of all of my poems, it is still one of my favorites.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 14 (Soleida Ríos)

el libro de sueños
Ríos, Soleida
el libro de los sueños

Given to me by the author. Inscribed:


Toda la suerte, el amor

Soleida *

Junio 2001

(Encontrada, reencontrada)

I met Soleida in Havana in 2000 at a poetry festival I attended with several of my grad school classmates. We became fast friends. I remember visiting her small apartment in the old town of Havana, not far from where we were staying. She had a bedroom and living room and a kitchen and a bath. I think it was on the second floor of the building. She made me supper the first time I visited. She was into santería, fortune-telling, and dreams.  I remember she filled a small shot of rum for the gods and poured it onto the floor for them to drink before we at out meal.

She had already written and published this book at that time, but was working on something of a sequel. The title means "The Book of Dreams." In the 80's, someone gave her a cassette recorder and she began using it to record people's dreams. They would come visit her or she would go to them and she would ask them to recount a dream on the tape recorder. Later, she'd transcribe the dream and turn it into a prose poem. She finished this book in the late 80's, but it took ten years to see it into print.

On one of my visits, she asked me to recount a dream. I had recently had a dream about Cuba. In it I was walking with poet Roberto Tejada, who did not come on the trip with us. Suddenly a limo pulled up and Fidel Castro got out. Roberto became enraged and began shouting obscenities at Castro. I was begging him to stop, but he would not. Suddenly another black limo pulled up in front of us. Two men in black got out, grabbed Roberto, shoved him in the back of the car and drove off.

She recorded the whole thing, I recall. I couldn't get a read on how she responded to the content. Anyhow, I love this book. I've been slowly trying to translate it, but I haven't worked on it in a while. Here's the first poem in the original and my translation.


Cuando era niño algo se acercaba a mi cama. Era una cosa metafísica. Se iba acercando poco a poco, acercando acercando acercando y me daba mucho miedo aquello que se acercaba y se acercaba. Y dormía siempre con mosquitero porque con el mosquitero aquello quedaba ahí, en el límite mismo y como mirándome. Quizás yo pensaba que ese mosquitero era como una muralla que me separaba de eso y siempre le decía a la vieja que me lo pusiera. Era por temor, no por los mosquitos, pero cuando no me ponían el mosquitero yo no soñaba eso. Nunca. Yo veía, veía y no veía algo a través de la niebla. El mosquitero era la niebla. Sabía que detrás de esa niebla había algo, mirándome. Se acerca, siento que algo se va acercando y que se agranda. Y es una niebla.


When I was a child it approached my bed. It was a metaphysical thing. It was getting closer, little by little, closer closer closer and this thing getting closer and closer made me afraid. And I always slept behind mosquito netting because with mosquito netting that thing stayed where it was, outside the netting, watching me. Perhaps I thought the mosquito netting was like a wall that separated me from it and I always told the old woman to drape it around me. I did it out of fear, not because of the mosquitos, but because when they left the netting off I didn't dream about the metaphysical thing. Ever. I looked and looked and saw nothing through the fog. The mosquito netting was the fog. I knew that behind the fog there was something, watching me. It's getting closer, I feel it getting closer, it's growing. It is the fog.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 13 (Arthur Rimbaud)

A Season in Hell & The Drunken Boat
 Rimbaud, Arthur
A Season in Hell & The Drunken Boat

Not sure where I bought this.

No idea. None.

Not when, not where, not why.

It feels newish. The pages are crisp. I still don't know.

I always start reading Rimbaud, but never finish.

He always make me want to read French.

What little I do read sounds so much better than the translations, no matter how good they are.

I end up jumping back and forth between the two until my head spins.

I can sound out most of the French, but can only understand a little, so I turn to the English.

The English sounds terrible.

Something is missing.

Frenchness, I think.

You can't bring Frenchness into English.

It's like oil and water.

I need to learn to read French.

There, that's the ticket.

from A Season in Hell

Song of the Highest Tower

O may it come, the time of love,

The time we'd be enamoured of.

I've been patient too long,
My memory is dead,
All fears and all wrongs
To the heavens have fled.
While all my veins burst

With a sickly thirst.

O may it come, the time of love,
The time we'd be enamoured of.

Like the meadow that is dreaming
Forgetful of cares,

Flourishing and flowering
With incense and tares,
Where fierce buzzings rise
Of filthy flies.

O may it come, the time of love,

The time we'd be enamoured of.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 12.2 (Rainer Maria Rilke)

Rilke, Rainer Maria
Letters to a Young Poet

Last book in the Rilke section. I am not sure if this is the copy of this book that I read in college. I know I gave away several copies to students and so forth when I taught. It's useful insofar as it advises would-be poets to ask themselves some honest questions about their dedication to writing.

You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you - no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must", then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. (Tr. Stephen Mitchell, not this volume).

I am sure no one answers the question: "No, I must not write." How could any young poet answer such a question in the negative? I think it actually takes years of working at one's writing to be able to answer. If it were a simple, honest yes or no, then most would have to say no and move on to something else.

I guess the most important part comes after the question, the part about building a "life in accordance with this necessity." Following that dictum, one can at least create the conditions that make possible a simple, honest answer to the question.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 12.1 (Rainer Maria Rilke)

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
Rilke, Rainer Maria
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

I am not sure where I bought this, but I am pretty sure this is not the copy I read. I have a memory of reading a borrowed copy during or just after college and then buying this one years later. This could be a false memory. One thing I do recall clearly is that I learned the word "purblind" reading this book.

The word, which means, "Having impaired or defective vision. Slow or unable to understand; dim-witted," appears on the first page of this translation and I have never understood how the translator intended it.

He writes:

Then I saw a curiously purblind house; it was not to be found on a map, but above the door there stood, still fairly legible: Asyle de nuit. 

What is he saying here? That the house has impaired vision? That it is slow and dim-witted? It's always seemed that he must be saying something else, like "obscure" or "half-hidden." There is nothing before, during or after the description to indicate what the house personified so should signify.

I can say that I picked up some vocabulary from this book, but not much in the way of usage.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 12 (Rainer Maria Rilke)

The Selected Poetry of Ranier Maria Rilke
Rilke, Rainer Maria
The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke

I bought this towards the end of my senior year in college, but I am not sure where. Possibly at St. Mark's Bookshop, possibly elsewhere. I would say Rilke was the most read poet of my early twenties. I probably read something by him every day for a year. Sadly, I never learned enough German to read the original, but I've always liked Stephen Mitchell's translations.

I have a memory of one of my literary compadres of that time sneering at Rilke, mostly out of pure ignorance. He'd gotten very excited by a French Symbolism course he taken with a priest at Fordham and basically rejected any poet that had not been taught in that class. I didn't try to defend Rilke too adamantly, as he didn't seem to want to expand his world beyond the Symbolistes.

from The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke

The Spanish Dancer

As on all its sides a kitchen-match darts white

flickering tongues before it bursts into flame:
with the audience around her, quickened, hot,
her dance begins to flicker in the dark room.

And all at once it is completely fire.

One upward glance and she ignites her hair
and, whirling faster and faster, fans her dress
into passionate flames, till it becomes a furnace
from which, like startled rattlesnakes, the long
naked arms uncoil, aroused and clicking.

And then: as if the fire were too tight
around her body, she takes and flings it out
haughtily, with an imperious gesture,
and watches: it lies raging on the floor,
still blazing up, and the flames refuse to die–.
Till, moving with total confidence and a sweet
exultant smile, she looks up finally
and stamps it out with powerful small feet.