Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 26 (Michael Sikkema)

Sikkema, Michael

Given to me by the author. The landscape-formatted cover has a slight bend to it. I can't remember where we were exactly when he handed it to me, no doubt at some poetry reading or other in Buffalo.

The book had either just come out or was about to. Michael had a single copy with him, which he was carrying around rolled up like a newspaper. I can't remember if it was rolled up in his hands or in his back pocket. I want to say it was in his back pocket.

I told him I'd like to get a copy at some point. Before I had the sentence out of my mouth he eagerly unfurled this copy, now forever slightly warped, and said, "Here," as he handed it to me.

I remember being slightly surprised because he had told me he was still waiting for his box of author copies to arrive and that this was his only copy.

I think that's the story. It's a little fuzzy. I mostly remember being surprised that he gave me his only copy and also at how poorly he was treating his new book by rolling it up like that.

from Futuring

from Fine Little Hammer


It's February, I'm in my
insufficient fund outfit

I wait for new reports
from the next room

My spinal chord is 
a social animal talking 



Fish lay eggs dead
in dead Caspian

I want something shiny to
look at me for a second

then something shinier

Monday, June 25, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 25.2 (Eleni Sikelianos)

The Book of Tendons
Sikelianos, Eleni
The Book of Tendons

Given to me by the author. Inscribed & dated 4 March 1999. Hmm. She must have given this to me when she and Laird came to read in Buffalo. I think it was around that time, about a year after Jonathan Skinner arrived.

I love these little books from The Post-Apollo press. I love the name, "The Post-Apollo Press," especially the "The." Not many presses use "The" in their official title.

When I say the name I want to exclude the "The," and just call it "Post-Apollo Press."

When I worked at Just Buffalo Literary Center, we had the opposite problem. People always wanted to add the "The," calling it The Just Buffalo Literary Center.

I guess because articles are fairly disposable in English titles and the rules of grammar vague enough that one never knows whether or when to use one and it really doesn't matter anyhow.

That is, there is no semantic difference between Just Buffalo Literary Center and The Just Buffalo Literary Center or between The Post-Apollo Press and Post-Apollo Press.

Thank you for listening.

from The Book of Tendons

She almost sexed her hair aflame
Mixed blood of North & noon

Here is

The Book of Her Tendons
Built by a Hammer of Light

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 25.1 (Eleni Sikelianos)

Earliest Worlds
Earliest Worlds
Sikelianos, Eleni

I think I bought this at Talking Leaves...Books, possibly when Eleni came to Buffalo for a reading. Though I might have bought it at some other time.

Eleni was one of the first poets I met in New York. She and her husband, Laird Hunt, had just arrived in the city after having leaved in Paris, where I believe they met, for several years. We met at a translation open mic that Dan Machlin curated in the Segue Space on E. 8th St. People were told to bring translations of anything and to read one or two of them. It was a great idea. I don't think I have ever heard of someone putting together a reading like this before.

I met Jonathan Skinner and his wife Isabelle that same night. I think we all went out to Odessa or some other nearby diner after the reading. I have a memory of Eleni jumping on to Laird's back and of him giving her a piggyback halfway down the block that night (or maybe it was some other night).

We always seemed to end up at the same readings and parties for the next few months, and we were always friendly. I skipped town and moved to Buffalo not long after we met. I think she and Laird stayed in New York a few more years before decamping to Denver, where they now reside.

from Earliest Worlds

POLAR CITADEL, CHARMED CIRCLE OF DECEMBER: Now that the light has changed, everything's different, whole buildings appear where they were not. Like that hole in the sky there, through which a finger of light is trying to escape. Or is it an eye beam, handed down at an angle? I suspect they are carefully diagrammed–but that tree seems to be flying off sideways. One trouble: many days there are half a million people hiding outside the door, others another five and a half billion riding (the small system of light). Today I saw a bird–regular dun-colored small-to-medium-sized bird hanging by its leg from a thin rope in a tree. Its wings were spread. Gertrude Stein said, "Dear Christian. You are very sweet without hope. Hope is for you." Then there were trees being finger-pressed by light, and the small bars of broke between the leaves.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 25 (Eleni Sikelianos)

The Book of Jon
Sikelianos, Eleni
The Book of Jon

I think I bought this online. I remember buying several autobiographical works by contemporary poets around the same time, as I was trying to think about ways to use autobiography as a part of my own writing. I brought this with me when I went to Florida alone to write for a month in the summer of 2008. I also brought Jennifer Moxley's gargantuan autobiography. I think I read Juliana Spahr's The Transformation before I left. The latter was the most useful to me.

We were living in between houses at the time. We'd spent the past five years rehabbing and living in a house in the Black Rock section of Buffalo. The previous summer we'd decided to sell the house, with the intention of leaving Buffalo. As we had nowhere in particular to go and no way to support ourselves when we arrived, we decided to rent for a while until we figured out where to go. That took four more years!

We hated renting, but we found that we liked where we lived, on Auburn Avenue near Norwood. Eventually, we started looking for houses again. Just before I left for Florida in June we put an offer in on a house. While I was down there, Lori and her father inspected the house and discovered a few structural issues, as well as a hidden chimney that basically destroyed whatever plans we had for transforming the structure. We walked away from that one.

I remember it was really hot in Florida. I spent my days indoors, writing in the air conditioning before heading downtown in the afternoon. I'd go to a little cafe called Latte Art and drink an espresso and eat an almond croissant. After that, I'd drive over to Siesta Key for an evening swim in the Gulf of Mexico. The water was so warm it felt like I was taking a bath at home.

On the way back, I'd stop off at a great video store and pick up something to watch. The store was manned by a very sweet, know-it-all movie buff who went to great lengths to steer customers toward foreign and independent films. Usually, these were older people looking for recommendations. The clerk would ask questions about their tastes, their present mood, etc. Then he would ask if they liked foreign films and if they said yes they would recommend a film by explaining the story and talking about why they thought it was great. Sadly, that clerk died last year. My mother sent me a newspaper clipping. I can't imagine that store surviving without him. It seemed the whole existence of the place depended on his presence and his love of film.

I'd usually pick up some food on the way home and then go eat and watch a movie, maybe do a little reading before bed. Sometimes I'd check over the writing I'd done during the day. I usually called Lori around bed time.

from The Book of Jon

Supermarket, 1968

It is the year of the student revolution in France. Elayne and I are in a supermarket in Santa Barbara, maybe getting some bananas, which I will later ask her to cut “like that” (waving my hand in the air in several directions), and will cry when she doesn’t understand what I still know to have meant lengthwise, and the tears are tears of frustration at not having enough language to say what I mean. A man my mother seems to know approaches. He’s wearing loose-fitting Levi’s, dirty on the thighs, frizzled hair with twigs in it. I hide behind her legs while they talk, one arm around her left knee. He goes away. Mommy, who was that man?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 24 (Cedar Sigo)

Selected Writings
Sigo, Cedar
Selected Writings

Sent as a review copy by the publisher, Ugly Duckling Press.

Cedar Sigo is an interesting name. Whenever I it, the name registers in my head as Caesar Diego. I guess that would qualify as a kind of spoonerism. It's like that old joke from Flip Wilson (remember him? well, that means you are old.)

It goes like this:

This is a story about a Roman. His name was Herman. His name was Roman Herman. The fad of the era was berries. People collected berries. They were a status symbol. One day, while Roman Herman was roaming the outskirts of Rome, he spied a berry. It was the most beautiful berry he had ever seen. He took the berry and brought it to his wife, who loved berries. She saw the berry. She praised it. She said "That's an awful nice berry you got there Herman!" Pretty soon, word got around about the berry. People came from all over Rome to see the berry, and to praise it. One night, there was a menacing knock on the door. It was late. Herman opened it. He said "Who are you?" They said "We've come for your berry." He says "It's not my berry, it's my wife's berry. Have you come to praise her berry?" They say, "No, we've come to seize her berry, not to praise it."

I can't imagine many TV watchers would actually get this joke now, as it would require both a level of common cultural knowledge and linguistic sophistication that is, ahem, less common among the TV watching audience.

Anyhow, I have never met Cedar Sigo. I have never heard him read. And yet I feel like our paths should have crossed at some point. Alas, they have not.

from Selected Writings

O Fantasma

I have to unbutton
Both sleeves then think of who
For my execution witness list

Who cares?  What is this
Pouring in?  These cakes of ice
I mind are sharp enough

So is the current so I only
Compose compose and compose
On a river less ancient than this

I own this temple
Its passages close
When I am not there

I stand outside
Of my dark past
And applaud for hours

I once rhymed “start”
To “start” and “Us” to “Us”
In the bath and everything

And I was with a razor
Fucking right back.  There is a last
Sentence coming over

The loud speaker,
“Before you leave place your
loved ones into the canon.”

I choose John Huston,
The Enchanted Flood, and Fun
In a Chinese Laundry

The closer to earth
The deeper the pink
And I am without my love

Thoughtfulness now
Behind a bruised mouth
And behind eyes, Why

Do you hold your
Lips that way?  Because
I know it looks adorable

To be sleepless and circling
A make-up counter
I recite the lines remembered

“Skeletons before a dried up spring”
“Black as the mirror is”
“Under my hand the pyramids arose”

Recite the lines
Let them die down
And into the ruins

I used to love this sweatshop...
At night I will return to be seen
The black pearl is set

Into my mouth so I die
With a jaw line like this,
Promise me.  It’s alright

To cut up the early work before.
It was politely romanticized
And never done to death.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 23 (Sir Philip Sidney)

Defence of Poesie, Astrophil & Stella
Sidney, Sir Philip
Defence of Poesie, Astrophil & Stella

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I think I bought this for a course my first year of graduate school. It was not a course on Renaissance of Early Modern literature, but a course on how to succeed in graduate school, which happened to be taught by a professor of Early Modern Literature. We read Sidney and Spencer and Shakespeare, if I recall correctly. I read Sidney in an undergraduate course on Renaissance Lit at Fordham.

I've been meaning to give a shout out to Chris Piuma, a longtime faithful reader of PBH, who recently started a Tumblr blog called 'Wordsmirch.' Each day, he scans a page from a poetry book off his shelf and posts the images, sans comment.  It's great to see the insides of the books!

The url is http://wordsmirch.tumblr.com/.

from Defence of Poesie, Astrophil & Stella

Where the philosophers (as they think) scorn to delight, so much they be content little to move, saving wrangling whether "virtus" be the chief or the only good; whether the contemplative or the active life do excel; which Plato and Boetius well knew; and therefore made mistress Philosophy very often borrow the masking raiment of poesy. For even those hard-hearted evil men, who think virtue a school- name, and know no other good but "indulgere genio," and therefore despise the austere admonitions of the philosopher, and feel not the inward reason they stand upon; yet will be content to be delighted, which is all the good-fellow poet seems to promise; and so steal to see the form of goodness, which seen, they cannot but love, ere themselves be aware, as if they took a medicine of cherries.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 22 (Frank Sherlock and Brett Evans)

Ready-to-Eat Individual
Sherlock, Frank & Evans, Brett

This book presents an interesting dilemma to the would-be librarian. In most situations, it would be shelved under "E" for "Evans," as his "E" comes before "S" in the alphabet. However, it is pretty clear that Frank Sherlock's name has been placed first deliberately, thus confusing the alphabetical situation.

I chose to put it under "S" for "Sherlock" mostly because of this, and partly because I bought it from Frank, who read it without Brett Evans present. Since I don't know and have never met Brett Evans, it is more difficult for me to relate to the book to him. I see the two names and I think of Frank with his spiky hair and dark beard and everything else goes blank.

In my mind, it is, however unfairly, a book by Frank Sherlock.

Frank read from this book in Buffalo right around the time it came out. It was at Hallwalls cinema, I believe, and he read with Logan Ryan Smith. There's a photo of me and Aaron Lowinger and Logan floating around on the internet somewhere. We're standing outside of Babeville in Buffalo. It's still light out, though the sun seems to be setting. Aaron and I both smile at Ryan, who appears to be telling a story. Frank is not in the picture for some reason, though he was probably standing within a few feet of the frame.

Actually, I took a whole set of photos from the reading, which you can see here.

from Ready-To-Eat-Individual

It has been determined
years ago that I will
          never learn          The saints may never
prosper here so many 
martyrs so many blessings
to never be rewarded
I will not believe this
because I am from Philadelphia

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 21 (Percy Bysshe Shelley)

Selected Poetry
Shelley, Percy Bysshe
Selected Poetry

Purchased at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall discount book store. I used to give this store the epithet, "late, lamented," but it is not longer so "late" and it's harder to lament it's disappearance now that I no longer live in the area.

That said, I remember buying this, along with selected poems in the same edition from Blake, Byron and Wordsworth. I had sold my enormous hardcover text book tome of Romantic Poetry (regrettably) after college and really didn't have any poetry by the romantics on my shelves until I started finding cheap copies like this one for two or three dollars. They're nice to have around for reference.

A couple of years ago, when I was on a memorization kick, I memorized lots of poems by the British romantics. The only one I memorized by Shelley, who is not my favorite among them, was "Ozymandias."

I can't even remember how it begins. I can remember the general content of the poem, but the order of the words, which I once had in my head, no longer remains.

Kind of like that statue in the desert, I guess.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.' 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 20 (Mary Shelley)

Shelley, Mary

I am not sure where I bought this. There are three possibilities: The UB campus bookstore, Talking Leaves...Books, or St. Mark's Bookshop.

I am pretty sure I bought it for a course in graduate school called something like "Literature & Film." Most of the course books I bought were sold at Talking Leaves, but there were a few professors who didn't bother to support the local, independent bookstore, and chose instead to sell their books through Barnes & Noble.

I didn't like the professor for this course, so I assume he had no sense of responsibility to local businesses and therefore ordered his books at B&N. This is a purely subjective judgment and may have no basis in fact.

The latter possibility, that I bought it at St. Mark's, is suggested by the presence of a St. Mark's bookmark tucked into page 29. It's possible, then, that I already owned the book when I arrived in Buffalo and then used it for the course. I have a vague recollection of having intended to read this book for a number of years and not getting around to it until I took this course in graduate school.

It was a terrible class. We basically read the book, then watched the movie. The professor would give a definition of the film's genre, usually taken verbatim from Northrop Fry, and then explain how the film was either an exemplar, an apotheosis, or a radical criticism of the genre so defined.

My friend Taylor Brady sat next to me for the first two classes, then decided it was time to drop it. I wish I had followed. I had to stay because I was a master's student planning on leaving after one year and I needed the credit.

I got into some kind of dispute with the professor about the workload. I took the course on an option that required less work because I wasn't that interested. He insisted there was no point in this and that I should take the full work option. I refused and he punished me by giving me an A- for the course, the only one of my grad school career.

Yeah, he definitely ordered the books at B&N. He was that kind of guy.

I am still uncertain whether or not I have actually read this book. I know I have read part of it. The film is so etched into my head that I remember few if any of the images my mind produced in the reading of the book.

from Frankenstein

Fear not that I shall be the instrument of future mischief. My work is nearly complete. Neither yours nor any man's death is needed to consummate the series of my being, and accomplish that which must be done; but it requires my own. Do not think that I shall be slow to perform this sacrifice. I shall quit your vessel on the iceraft which brought me thither, and shall seek the most northern extremity of the globe; I shall collect my funeral pile and consume to ashes this miserable frame, that its remains may afford no light to any curious and unhallowed wretch who would create such another as I have been. I shall die. I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me, or be the prey of feelings unsatisfied, yet unquenched. He is dead who called me into being; and when I shall be no more the very remembrance of us both will speedily vanish. I shall no longer see the sun or stars, or feel the winds play on my cheeks. Light, feeling, and sense will pass away; and in this condition must I find my happiness. Some years ago, when the images which this world affords first opened upon me, when I felt the cheering warmth of summer, and heard the rustling of the leaves and the warbling of the birds, and these were all to me, I should have wept to die; now it is my only consolation. Polluted by crimes, and torn by the bitterest remorse, where can I find rest but in death?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 19.37 (William Shakespeare)

The Merry Wives of Windsor
Shakespeare, William
The Merry Wives of Windsor

Finally, the end of Shakespeare!

This is the 39th volume of the 40 volume set. I am, as I have mentioned, missing the biography of Shakespeare that completes the set.

As I had suspected, I did repeat the heading title in one of the posts, "The S's, Part 19.5." Rather than go back and adjust the numbers for every single title, I decided to change the second entry to 19.5.1, hence the fact that we are only at 19.37 today instead of 19.38. I don't put a decimal point after the first entry for an author, which accounts for the fact that we are not today at 19.38.

Isn't that exciting?

Anyhow, I think I saw this play performed at Shakespeare in delaware Park in Buffalo. Looking at the past production history, it appears they staged it twice during my time in Buffalo.

Speaking of Buffalo, I have to say I got a little nostalgic for Western New York watching Nick Wallenda walk on a tightrope across Niagara Falls last night. I have visited the falls countless times over the years. Lori and I went on our first date there. We got married there. And I have probably driven half the writers on the planet for visits to the falls.

But the nostalgia was more for the sense of community in Buffalo. When events like this, which paint the region in a good light, take place, everyone gets genuinely excited. A great swelling of community pride commingles with a powerful sense of togetherness. It is a feeling unique to Buffalo. I won't try to describe it any further. I'll just say it exists and I sometimes miss it.

from The Merry Wives of Windsor

Have I laid my brain in the sun and dried it, that
it wants matter to prevent so gross o'erreaching as
this? Am I ridden with a Welsh goat too? shall I
have a coxcomb of frize? 'Tis time I were choked
with a piece of toasted cheese.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 19.36 (William Shakespeare)

The Merchant of Venice
Shakespeare, William
The Merchant of Venice

This is one of the first Shakespeare plays I read. I think Julius Caesar was the first and this was the second or third. I definitely read it in high school and again in college.

I want to say that I saw the film adaptation, starring Al Pacino. I definitely have a memory of its having come out in theaters, but looking at the IMDB page does not evoke any memories.

Hmmm...I think I may have seen it performed at Shakespeare in Delaware Park in Buffalo. I just asked Lori, who says she was pregnant at the time it played last summer. She thinks I may have gone with our friends, Geoff and Donna. I remember going to see a play with them, so maybe it was that.

I also remember studying the play in a political science class in college. We talked about how a mercantile society's values differed from those of a monarchy or a republic. Interestingly, we did not talk about how a monarchical society represents a mercantile society in art vis a vis a character like Shylock.

I guess that would have been too political for a political science class.

from The Merchant of Venice


To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else,

it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and

hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses,

mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my

bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine

enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath

not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,

dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with

the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject

to the same diseases, healed by the same means,

warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as

a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?

if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison

us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not

revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will

resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,

what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian

wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by

Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you

teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I

will better the instruction.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 19.35 (William Shakespeare)

Shakespeare's Poems
Shakespeare, William
Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, and the Minor Poems

I should list this the same way I have the other books, using the spine text as the title, but "Shakespeare's Poems" is not as interesting as what is on the title page. I have noted a number of instances in this collection where the title page and spine text do not match. I guess the format of the book and the type of lettering they used for the cover limited the number of characters that could be used on the spine. The titles on the inside of the book tend to be much longer than the spine text or, as here, they're something else altogether.

As I opened this book, a name on the series masthead caught my attention: Wilbur L. Cross. It rang a bell. I remembered just the other day noticing a high school in our neighborhood bearing that name. There's also a highway called the Wilbur Cross Expressway that passes by New Haven to the west. Well, I looked him up. In addition to being the editor of the Yale Shakespeare, he also edited the Yale review for 30 years, wrote a book on Lawrence Sterne, and was elected Governor of Connecticut four times during the 1930's.

In other Shakespeare news, I saw this image posted on Facebook yesterday and thought I'd share it with all my Elizabethan friends.

from Venus and Adonis

EVEN as the sun with purple-colour'd face
Had ta'en his last leave of the weeping morn,
Rose-cheek'd Adonis hied him to the chase;
Hunting he loved, but love he laugh'd to scorn;
Sick-thoughted Venus makes amain unto him,
And like a bold-faced suitor 'gins to woo him.

'Thrice-fairer than myself,' thus she began,
'The field's chief flower, sweet above compare,
Stain to all nymphs, more lovely than a man,
More white and red than doves or roses are;
Nature that made thee, with herself at strife,
Saith that the world hath ending with thy life.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 19.34 (William Shakespeare)

Shakespeare, William

I read this in high school and also in college. I don't think I have read it since.

One thing I remember about the way this was taught has to do with the discussion of race. All of my teachers seemed uncomfortable talking about Othello's blackness. They seemed to want to de-emphasize it or not talk about it at all. They certainly didn't want to talk about racism as a driver of the plot in a play, who had more "important" things to write about.

The most common way to do this was to focus on his being a Moor, meaning an Arab, meaning he wasn't necessarily "black," just "dark," the implication being that we should not read the play in terms of race or racism but should instead focus on the more universal theme of jealousy as a tragic flaw in a king.

It always felt like they were on a mission to resist discussions of contemporary racial issues while reading a renaissance play. As if the worst thing that could happen in an educational setting was for a concept to descend from the plane of abstraction into the abyss of the real.

The irony of course was that when we stepped across the hall into our religion or history classes, these same Moors were depicted as barbaric hordes that overran the pure, gentle, innocent Catholics of Spain, besmirching them with Islam, yet bequeathing a lovely style of architecture.

I wonder what they teach about the Moors after 9/11?

from Othello


Even now, now, very now, an old black ramIs tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise;Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.Arise I say! 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 19.33 (William Shakespeare)

King Henry IV Part I
Shakespeare, William
King Henry IV Part I

Interesting that the title format for this play differs from some of the other history plays. Here roman numerals designate which "Henry" is being referred to, whereas on the other plays the number is spelled out, as in Henry "the Fourth."

Also of note is the absence of a colon between the title and "Part I," also a feature of the other volumes. I wonder if this has to do with the edition. I know that at least two editions of this set were published, one in, I think 1918 and another in the fifties. Looks like this is the later one, published in 1954.

This volume appears in much better shape than some of the others. The binding is tight, the sun-bleaching is less significant on the spine, and the gold letter of the spine titles is more or less in perfect condition. It still looks pretty faded, though.

Of course I keep thinking of, "My Own Private Idaho." I think I was in college when I saw it. It must have been my last semester as an undergraduate. I mostly remember the mood, a kind of gray, melancholy, northwestern sky sort of feeling, everything a little damp. I also remember when the Falstaff character began spouting lines from this play knowing instantly it was Shakespeare, but having no idea which play it had come from, not having read this one myself.

I liked River Phoenix a lot. His performance in "Stand By Me" had really moved me as a teenager, probably because I had just gotten to that age where I was old enough to look back on childhood as "the past." Although i was in such a hurry to grow up and be independent that I probably started thinking of childhood in the past tense long before it actually ended.

I was sort of the black sheep of my family. It was just a given that I was the one causing trouble, whether or not it was always true. It usually was, but, as River's character in SBM says, paraphrased, why do you always have to look at me first? He's not upset about being caught, only that he gets blamed because of his reputation, an early recognition that facts are often less important to people's perception of reality than appearances built on little more than gossip and rumor...

No idea where this is going from here. How about an excerpt?

from King Henry IV Part I

Marry, then, sweet wag, when thou art king, let not
us that are squires of the night's body be called
thieves of the day's beauty: let us be Diana's
foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the
moon; and let men say we be men of good government,
being governed, as the sea is, by our noble and
chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 19.32 (William Shakespeare)

Shakespeare, William

Somehow I managed to make it through high school and half of college without ever having read Hamlet. Chance played a role in this. I simply never happened to register for a class in which the play was assigned, even despite taking a required course at Fordham  called "Chaucer, Shakespeare & Milton" my sophomore year.

I finally did read it during my junior year, in preparation for a course on Joyce's Ulysses. Over the winter break, we were told to prepare for the course by reading Hamlet, The Inferno, The Odyssey, as well as Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It was a pretty hefty reading load for a three-week vacation, but I was quite motivated by the challenge and managed to get through most of the list.

Looking back, I am pretty sure that I never formally studied Hamlet. I remember seeing the Mel Gibson version of the film at the Paramount theater in midtown. A couple of years later, the much-anticipated Kenneth Branagh version came out. I saw it opening night at Plaza Theatre with my friend, M., who later became a literary agent. We both hated it. I taught the book a couple of times, at both the high school and the college level.

It never ceases to amaze me how deeply the language of this book has become embedded in English culture. Practically every line in the play has become a cliche. Fortunately, the play itself has so far resisted this transformation, if only just.

from Hamlet

A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets:
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse:
And even the like precurse of fierce events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 19.31 (William Shakespeare)

Henry the Sixth: Part I
Shakespeare, William
Henry the Sixth: Part 1

I can't figure out how to write the sentence I am trying to write. What? I am still feeling stuck in a rut with this blog. Part of this has to do with the sheer number of unread or unremembered titles in the Shakespeare section. I have noted this before. Add to this that the fact that I did not put the books in any kind of order when I shelved them after the move, resulting in titles like this, which is part one of three, appearing after parts two and three, and I find myself feeling extra futile. I still have not written that how I want to, but who has the time?

I take a little bit of heart from designer Michael Bierut, who has for the past five years been using an exercise similar to the concept of this blog in his graphic design class at Yale. It's called "one hundred days," and the exercise involves asking students to perform some repetitive graphic design task every day for a hundred days. He says the exercise is mostly about pushing through to the end and coming to understand that boredom and frustration are a part of the creative process. Most students, he says, start to lose focus after 10-20 days. Here's his essay on the first five years of the class, with examples from his students:


Anyhow, I don't think any of the students have taken it this far. We've been going now for over 1200 days, missing a few here and there. I definitely find pushing through these periods of boredom and frustration useful. After the fact, of course! I also feel that this process of daily engagement has not only augmented the creative process that goes into my poetry, but has fundamentally altered the poetry I've been writing. I'll let others judge if that is for better or for worse, but I have enjoyed learning how to push forward into a different mode of thinking about my work.

You can see examples of this on the web in various places, most recently at Halvard Johnson's On Barcelona blog. While the poetry in my first two books tended toward compression, the poems that make up my forthcoming book, as well as the ones I continue to write, have moved in quite the opposite direction, pushing towards expansion, and I think the flow of them has been derived from the practice of recalling and writing out various memories on a daily basis here at PBH.

So, bear with me. I am sure I'll push through the tedium soon. I am also sure that whatever I am doing here will look quite different at the end than it did at the beginning. Which is part of the point, I guess.

from Henry the Sixth: Part One

Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!
Comets, importing change of times and states,
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky,
And with them scourge the bad revolting stars
That have consented unto Henry's death!
King Henry the Fifth, too famous to live long!
England ne'er lost a king of so much worth.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 19.30 (William Shakespeare)

Measure for Measure
Shakespeare, William
Measure for Measure

Well, we have reached the .30 threshold for only the second time in the history of this blog. Charles Olson's section of the library went as deep as .36. It looks like Shakespeare will take the record, making it all the way to .37 or .38.  If he only makes it to .37. that would still mean I am missing a book. Or that I miscatalogued one of the books by repeating the number from the day before.

This is a common mistake I make when I get to an author with a lot of books on the shelf. Rather than type out "Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 19.30 (William Shakespeare)," I cut and paste the previous day's title into the dialogue box and then, for instance, change .30 to .31. I often forget to do this and end up catching my mistake later.

I sometimes reread a post later in the day. Whenever I do I find a million typos and grammatical errors that need to be fixed. Also, I often find that my morning sentences, which I rarely revise on the spot, tend to be longer than than my afternoon sentences. They show the strain of my thinking trying to work itself out.

I have thought about putting part of this blog into book form, but with each passing day the task of editing all of these entries, many containing innumerable typos and grammatically questionable sentences, seems daunting. I guess I can worry about that if I ever get to the end.

I have no memory whatever of having read Measure for Measure, but I feel as if I have seen it performed and/or adapted to the screen. I don't recall when or where. Oddly, I have a recollection of having seen it performed as a play within a film sometime very recently, but I don't remember which one. Alas.

from Measure for Measure

We have strict statutes and most biting laws.
The needful bits and curbs to headstrong weeds,
Which for this nineteen years we have let slip;
Even like an o'ergrown lion in a cave,
That goes not out to prey. Now, as fond fathers,
Having bound up the threatening twigs of birch,
Only to stick it in their children's sight
For terror, not to use, in time the rod
Becomes more mock'd than fear'd; so our decrees,
Dead to infliction, to themselves are dead;
And liberty plucks justice by the nose;
The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart
Goes all decorum.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 19.29 (William Shakespeare)

Shakespeare, William

I don't recall if I have ever seen this play performed. I have read it and taught it many times, and I have seen several film versions, including those by Roman Polanski and Akira Kurosawa. I once showed the bloody Polanski version to my students at an all-boys Catholic high school in New York. They got very excited about the naked witches.

from Macbeth

SCENE I. A desert place.

Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches

First Witch
When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Second Witch
When the hurlyburly's done,
When the battle's lost and won.

Third Witch
That will be ere the set of sun.

First Witch
Where the place?

Second Witch
Upon the heath.

Third Witch
There to meet with Macbeth.

First Witch
I come, Graymalkin!

Second Witch
Paddock calls.

Third Witch

Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 19.28 (William Shakespeare)

Romeo and Juliet
Shakespeare, William
Romeo and Juliet

Like most people in the world, I have seen this play adapted nearly to death. I've read it several times, taught it several times, used it as the basis for a creative writing exercise with students, etc. And let's not forget West Side Story.

At this point, I have to say, I am ready for the next phase of this project. Frankly, I am sick of Shakespeare. Sick sick sick. I don't know if I can get through ten more books.

The malady is so bad that yesterday all it took for me to decide not to write my blog entry was bad lighting. I woke up to a cloudy, drizzly, rainy sky, took this book off the shelf, sat down at my desk, thought about having to adjust the light to make the text legible, then decided it wasn't worth the trouble.

Shakespeare will do that to you after a while.

Here. This put me in a little better mood. We need more adaptations like it.

No worries, though, I will persist. Ten more days before we get to Mary Shelley. Ten. More. Days...

from Romeo and Juliet

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 19.27 (William Shakespeare)

Richard the Third
Shakespeare, William
Richard the Third

I saw this performed in Central Park many moons ago, with Denzel Washington starring in the title role. I don't think I read the play until I bought this set, however.

I am having difficulty thinking this morning because of my daughter. She's not making noise. She's not even in the room. It's because over the past few days Lori and I have been showing her videos on YouTube featuring alphabet songs in different languages and now I have those songs stuck in my head.

This morning's song is a French alphabet song sung by Chantal Goya, who you may recall as the star of Godard's Masculin/Feminin.

After having worked with Godard and also as one of the "yé-yé girl" pop singers of the mid-sixties, Goya went on to a successful career as a singer of children's songs. She also had a long-running musical television show for children on French TV.

Anyhow, I found clip of her singing this song the other day and showed it to Emily, who was absolutely enthralled.

Now, the melody is stuck in my head. Yesterday, it was the melody for a Spanish alphabet song with a salsa beat.

Welcome to fatherhood, Mike.

from Richard the Third

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up,
About a prophecy, which says that 'G'
Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes.