Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 42 (Juliana Spahr)

Fuck You Aloha I Love You
Spahr, Juliana
Fuck You Aloha I Love You

I think I bought this online. I think I remember buying a number of other books of contemporary poetry alongside it. I think I was thinking that I had gotten behind in my reading of contemporary poetry and so set out to get caught up and so bought this book along with a number of others.

Or not. I may have bought it at Talking Leaves...Books.

I first met Juliana in NYC at a reading the Segue Foundation. I can't remember who was reading.

It was 1997. I was just getting ready to go to Buffalo and there were a whole bunch of current and former Buffalo people at the reading.

I spoke to Peter Gizzi about Buffalo and he told me the apartments there were very cheap.

I spoke to Kristen Prevallet, who was still studying in Buffalo at the time, and seemed very excited to learn that a new person was arriving in the Poetics Program. I don't remember what else we talked about.

At some point in our conversation Juliana crossed the room to tell Kristen that she was getting ready to leave and Kristen introduced us and Juliana said hi and then they left.

from Fuck You Aloha I Love You

Here's a link to localism or t/here, the first poem in the collection.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 41.2 (Gilbert Sorrentino)

New and Selected Poems 1958-1998
Sorrentino, Gilbert
New and Selected Poems 1958-1998

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I seem to remember this being an impulse purchase: before I bought his essays and long before Matvei gave me the other book. I don't recall the impulse.

It may have been that I had read about his death and recalled that Ammiel had studied with him and saw the book and bough it.

Oddly, I still have never read any of his fiction.

I remember not liking the poems very much. You'd think I could have figured that out before I bought the book, but so it goes.

In Memoriam P.B.

Lavender, vanilla, anything.
The belt worn with such elegance
by the Midas fly.

         How still. How still.
         Dusk ever. The rosy bridge.
         Everything is almost perfect
         In its name.

I give you the coronet, dead man.
Wear it in health. I never dream of you.
Vanilla. Orange ice. Un sombrero.
A lavish sunset soaks Brooklyn
With excruciating love.

         Kings. Kings. Kings. Kings.

         Ah! The streets of dream

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 41.1 (Gilbert Sorrentino)

Something Said
Sorrentino, Gilbert
Something Said

Purchased online.

It was Ammiel Alcalay who suggested I read this collection of essays by Sorrentino. Ammiel had studied with Sorrentino when he'd arrived in New York in the seventies and counted him as a mentor and friend.

I don't think I read all of the 47 essays collected here, but I do remember specifically reading the one about Paul Blackburn, mostly, I think, because it veers off from a discussion of the importance of the poet's work into something more personal.

He talks about how much the two of them differed in their sense of who should be considered a poet and who shouldn't.  Sorrentino describes himself as more of an elitist, in the sense that he believed there were many writers, but only a few worth your time, whereas Blackburn was open to everyone and appreciated them even if they weren't good writers.

I am not describing it well. I'll type out the excerpt.

from Something Said

I suppose the thing that kept us from becoming truly close friends was Paul's conception of poets as being comrades-in-arms, one for all, etc. To him, the most alarmingly dull scribbler was a compatriot. This was nonsense to me. Paul encouraged and assisted anyone who wrote a poem or even spoke of his intention to write poems, as if a plethora of poetry would change the world. My own view of poets is that they are analogous to ball-players; i.e., there are hundreds of thousands of them, but only six hundred in the major leagues. The rest are bushers. There is nothing "wrong" with that–it is simply the fact. The terror of the Pacific Coast League cannot hit the major league curve. It soon becomes apparent. To Paul, the urge to pick up the bat was enough. I think that this was the reason we rarely discussed the merits of particular poets; it was difficult and embarrassing for both of us. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 41 (Gilbert Sorrentino)

Sorrentino, Gilbert

Given to me by Matvei Yankelevich when he stayed with us in Buffalo last year. I think he bought it at Rust Belt Books. Inscribed:

To Mike & Lori

in gratitude for splendid 
hospitality. Yrs–

Buffalo 3/2011

Matvei brought this book up in conversation as we were discussing my blog, I think because of its abecedarian structure. It went on my nightstand once he gave it to me, but did not get read. What with the move and all, I nearly forgot about it. Actually, to be honest, I did forget about it until I saw Matvei at a reading in Brooklyn about two months ago.

He asked if I had ever gotten around to reading the Sorrentino book he'd given me. I had completely forgotten about it. I wracked my brain trying to remember the book. I remembered the conversation but I could not even picture the cover the book. Matvei took it in stride, no offense taken, and suggested again that I read it.

And I am glad he did.

Immediately on arriving home I went to the bookcase to see if I even had the book. My main fear was that I had given it away when I purged my library on the way out of town. But there it was. I immediately put it into my computer bag and spent the next couple of weeks reading it on my lunch break at work.

It's a fascinating example of the genre (of the abecedarium, that is). It reads like a series of prose poems that don't feel like poems, or narratives that don't feel like stories. It's a hybrid of a hybrid. I don't know what it is. It's a great read, though, whatever you want to call it.

from Splendide-Hôtel

from  A

We go about our business in the rooms and corridors of the Splendide-Hôtel. Outside, the black polar night, a chaos of glaciers. In the ballroom, a false orchestra plays false music to which all are dancing. In a small suite somewhere in the rear of the hotel, the poet has abandoned his egoistic rumblings and writes a manifesto that all may understand. Those who loathe and fear the wispiest touch of the beautiful will rejoice in his new-found relevance, and even more in his impotence. Thus is he finally honored for the specious, this dispossessed man whose hated configurations of the imagination now paper the walls. Later, of course, he will go crazy and be awarded a medal. Let us assume it will be called the Medal of Artistic Freedom.

And now the walls are creaking with the weight of the black glaciers that press upon the darkening hotel. You will understand that this is a fantasy: poets are excellent at those and at times are also amusing in their ceaseless babble.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 40.1 (Sophocles)

The Theban Plays
The Theban Plays

I am not sure about this one. I have two ideas about where it might have come from.

I think I got it from my brother. It may have been his high school text book.

It might also have been mine. I definitely used it, as there are markings in it that look like my own.

The paper is quite yellow.

Someone pressed a pushpin or something like that through the upper right hand corner, beginning at the title page all the way through to page eighty-one. The hole doesn't go quite that far, but there is a faint impression of the pinhead on page eighty-one.

That must have taken a lot of effort.

I can imagine a tenth grader sitting class, bored, and making this his in-class project for the day. He presses the pin as deeply as he can in the first shot, maybe five to ten pages, removes the pin, and repeats until he gets to about page twenty. After that, he does it a page at a time, maybe two or three, then starts at the beginning again, trying to push through the book from his latex hole. Time passes, he makes it only so far before the bell rings.

The next day he's forgotten all about it.

from Oedipus Rex

All the generations of mortal man add up to nothing!
Show me the man whose happiness was anything more than an illusion,
Followed by disillusion.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 40 (Sophocles)

Ajax (Tr. John Tipton)

Sent to me by the publisher.

I took this photograph a few days ago and posted it to flickr, as I do every morning. I even went so far as to load it here and start blogging about it. Then a feeling crept over me that the book was out of place. I think I realized this as I typed out the name, "Sophocles." I thought to myself, I've never read this book, yet I do have another book of Sophocles plays that I have owned for years. I pictured the shelf I'd just taken the book from, and realized that I had not seen that older book next to this one.

Something was out of place. I walked over to the shelf and lo and behold my feeling had been correct! The other book by Sophocles was about three or four books to the right. The names of the authors of all of these books preceded "Soph-" in the alphabet, so there was only one conclusion I could draw: Ajax had been mis-shelved. I replaced on the shelf next to its Hellenic kin and removed "Gary Snyder" instead.

Days passed. Blog posts were written. The path between my living room and my desk at work was traversed. A dogs was walked. A baby was fed, changed, burped, played with, kissed. Meals were cooked eaten. Books were read. Hair was cut and styled. Phone calls were made. Sleep was slept. Alarms went off. Snooze buttons were hit. Movies were watched.

Things were discussed at work, for instance possible titles to a new exhibition of modernist art magazines and how latinate words in English sound clunky in academic titles. Also German science fiction, samizdat publications, gay New York writers of the fifties, and how to imagine a future workspace following a reconstruction involving the movement of large numbers of staff permanently off-site.

Pictures were taken. Newspapers scanned. Dreams dreamt, for instance a very bad one about taking a plane to Spain and realizing we'd left the baby at home without a sitter.


Finally, this morning arrived, and Ajax was removed from the shelf (by me). Ajax was re-photographed (by me). Gray skies made for a blurred photo, so the photo taken previously (by me) was used in place of the one from the other day. The photo was uploaded (by yours truly), tagged (me too), and sent over to blogger (you guessed it).

A bog post was begun. The passive voice was deployed to comic effect. The blog post ended.

from Ajax

Ares draws dread from the eye
and now again yo-ho
now the sharp white
gleams in day's light
as a fast aircraft
Ajax lists off weightless
and obeys natural selection
kills his victim by the book
time eats it all
don't repeat the unsaid
it's such a surprise
Ajax altered in mind 
he finds a path to peace

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 39 (Alexander Solzhenitsyn)

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore for a an undergraduate course called, "The Individual vs. The Institution," which I have mentioned before on this blog. Great reading list, terrible class. I remember reading the book and enjoying it; however, looking back on it now I realize that I had very little context within which to understand the book.

Growing up during the cold war in a conservative family, we knew very little about the Soviet Union or Communism, and even less about dissident Soviet writers. Communism was bad. The Soviet Union was evil. Ronald Reagan was great because he stood up to them. That's pretty much what we were taught.

None of which took away from my interest in the story, it's just that my ignorance didn't lead me outside the book itself, at least not until later on.

from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Reveille was sounded, as always, at 5 a.m.–a hammer pounding on a sale outside camp H.Q. The ringing noise came faintly on and off through the windowpanes covered with ice more than an inch thick, and died away fast. It was cold and the warder didn't feel like going on banging.

The sound stopped and it was pitch black on the other side of the window, just like in the middle of the night when Shukhov had to get up to go to the latrine, only now three yellow beams fell on the window–from two lights on the perimeter and one inside camp.

He didn't know why nobody'd come to open the barracks. And you couldn't hear the orderlies hoisting the latrine tank on the poles to carry it out.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 38.2 (Gary Snyder)

Turtle Island
Snyder, Gary
Turtle Island

Like yesterday's book, this too came from the library of the late Russell Pawlak.

I started reading it at bedtime soon after acquiring it. You can see in the photo the protruding edge of a Talking Leaves bookmark peeking over the top. It's looking at you right now. What is it thinking? Who is that person there, staring at the computer screen? Perhaps there are five or even ten of you reading this blog at once. The bookmark sees all. It feels exposed and vulnerable, but also protected by the book that's wrapped around it. Maybe it tries to slide itself down a little further. Not all the way, just enough so that it can see you without you seeing too much of it. There, that's better. Nice and comfy. Now stop looking.

Our little bookmark rests between pages 42 and 43, suggesting that that is where I left off.

from Turtle Island (page 42)

Black Mesa Mine #1

Wind dust yellow cloud swirls
northeast across the fifty-foot
graded bulldozed road,
white cloud puff,
juniper and pinyon scattered groves
          –firewood for the People
          heaps of wood for all
          at cross-streets in the pueblos,
ancient mother mountain
pools of water
pools of coal
pools of sand
                   buried or laid bare

Solitary trucks go slow on grades
smoking sand
writhes around the tires
and on a torn up stony plain
a giant green-and-yellow shovel
whirs and drags
house-size scoops of rock and gravel

be kind
it will tumble in its hole

Five hundred yards          back up the road
a Navajo corral
of stood up dried out poles and logs
all leaned in on one angle,
gleaming in the windy April sun.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 38.1 (Gary Snyder)

Rirprap and Cold Mountain Poems
Snyder, Gary
Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems

This book came from the estate of Russell Pawlak. I have written about this acquisition before (scroll down a bit).

I only met him once, at one of the first season's Babel events. He came up to apologize for an incident that had occurred during Orhan Pamuk's visit, which you can read about here.

Since Russell had been in charge of the Central Terminal restoration effort, he felt responsible for what had happened between Orhan and the watchman. As a lover of literature, I think he felt doubly bad. He offered to bring any future authors on a personal tour of the station.

I think he died soon after that. I really knew nothing about him. After he passed, a memorial fund to benefit Just Buffalo was set up in his name and several people made donations.

Many of the books that I took from his library are gone. I gave one to a friend. The dog ate four or five of them one day. I still have this and another by Snyder and a few more.

from Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems

Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout

Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.

I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 38 (Gary Snyder)

danger on peaks
Snyder, Gary
danger on peaks

Purchased at a reading by the author at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo in, I think, 2005. I am pretty sure I bought it to give to Lori. It's also possible I bought at Talking Leaves in the days or weeks following the reading because she had told me she wanted to read it.

One of the last projects I worked on with Jonathan Skinner before he left Buffalo was to bring Gary Snyder in for a reading. Just Buffalo, the Gallery, Jonathan and Dennis Tedlock put the event together. It was one of the biggest poetry readings I have ever been to–outside of the Babel Series, anyhow. There were easily 450-500 people in attendance.

I remember my surprise at the sight of a line snaking from the front door of the gallery all the way out to Elmwood Avenue. There are probably about ten poets in America, if that, who can command an audience like that with nothing other than their name to use as publicity. Snyder is one of them.

He wore a red ascot tie and what was, if memory serves, a beige houndstooth jacket. He was much more formal than I expected for a member of the Beat Generation, so-called.

Dennis Tedlock took about twelve of us to dinner before the reading at a very expensive restaurant called Tempo. Lori and I were seated about as far from Snyder as possible, so I really didn't get a chance to talk to him.

I remember he had a very erect posture and that his chest stuck out slightly.

I don't remember anything he said or did except one thing.

At a certain point, we all went around the table introducing ourselves and when it got to Susan Howe, Snyder said, Ah, and then he put his hands together at about chest level, as if in prayer, and bowed his head in respect of the poet.

There were at least five other poets at the table. He did not bow to any of them.

from danger on peaks

Atomic Dawn

The first day I climbed Mt. St. Helens was August 13, 1945. 

Spirit Lake was far from the cities of the valley and news came slow. Though the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima August 6 and the second dropped on Nagasaki August 9, photographs didn't appear in the Portland Oregonian until August 12. Those papers must have been driven into Spirit Lake on the 13th. Early the morning of the 14th I walked over to the lodge to check the bulletin board. There were whole pages of the paper pinned up: photos of a blasted city from the air, the estimate of 150,000 dead in Hiroshima alone, the American scientist quoted as saying "nothing will grow there again for seventy years." The morning sun on my shoulders, the fir forest small and the big tree shadows; feet in thin moccasins feeling the ground, and my heart still one with the snow peak mountain at my back. Horrified, blaming scientists and politicians and the governments of the world, I swore a vow to myself, something like, "by the purity and beauty and permanence of Mt. St. Helens, I will fight against this cruel destructive power and those who would seek to use it, for all my life."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's Part 37 (Robert Smithson)

Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings
Smithson, Robert
The Collected Writings

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books for a course taught by Susan Howe in graduate school.

This book, I would say, had a surprisingly large influence on me and my classmates in graduate school. I say 'surprising' only because it's a book by an artist and not a poet. Susan Howe was a huge advocate of his writing and work and once people started reading it in her classes they began to see it as a template for innovative poetic explorations of place.

Smithson's essay "A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey," in addition to making a literary connection with William Carlos Williams, gave many of us the idea that Buffalo, rather than being a place we had to suffer while we got our degrees, was a place worthy of exploration.

Suddenly graduate student poets were interested in the grain elevators, the Erie Canal, the Niagara Escarpment, Love Canal, and the history of Buffalo industrialization and de-industrialization. All of my Elevator artist book projects took cues from Smithson.  Jonathan Skinner's magazine ecopoetics, as well as his most recent book, The Birds of Tifft, did as well.

Buffalo's post-industrial landscape came to form a kind of collective subconscious for many of us, an infinitely fertile site for creative exploration, and for this poet, a place to live and to work in and at and on for the next fourteen years.

from A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey

Has Passaic replaced Rome as The Eternal City? If certain cities of the world were placed end to end in a straight line according to size, starting with Rome, where would Passaic be in that impossible progression? Each city would be a three-dimensional mirror that would reflect the next city into existence. The limits of eternity seem to contain such nefarious ideas.

The last monument was a sand box or a model desert. Under the dead light of the Passaic afternoon the desert became a map of infinite disintegration and forgetfulness. This monument of minute particles blazed under a bleakly glowing sun, and suggested the sullen dissolution of entire continents, the drying up of oceans–no longer were there green forests and high mountains–all that existed were millions of grains of sand, a vast deposit of bones and stones pulverized into dust. Every grain of sand was a dead metaphor that equaled timelessness, and to decipher such metaphors would take one through the false mirror of eternity. This sand box somehow doubled as an open grave–a grave that children cheerfully play in.

... all sense of reality was gone. In its place had come deep-seated illusions, absence of pupillary reaction to light, absence of knee reaction - symptoms all of progressive cerebral meningitis: the blanketing of the brain ...

–Louis Sullivan, "one of the greatest of all architects," quoted in Michel Butor's Mobile.

I should now like to prove the irreversibility of eternity by using a jejune experiment for proving entropy. Picture in your mind's eye the sandbox divided in half with black sand on one side and white sand on the other. We take a child and have him run hundreds of times clockwise in the box until the sand gets mixed and begins to turn grey; after that we have him run anti-clockwise but the result will not be restoration of the original division but a greater degree of greenness and an increase of entropy.

Of course, if we filmed such an experiment we could prove the reversibility of eternity by showing the film backwards, but then sooner or later the film itself would crumble or get lost and enter the state of irreversibility. Somehow this suggests that the cinema offers an illusive or temporary escape from physical dissolution. The false immortality of the film gives the viewer an illusion of control over eternity–but "the superstars" are fading.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's Part 36.2 (Rod Smith)

Protective Immediacy
Smith, Rod
Protective Immediacy

I am not sure about this one. If I had to guess, and that is what I am doing here, I'd say that I bought it at Talking Leaves Books in 1997 or 8 when Rod and Heather Fuller read at the Wednesdays @ 4 Plus series. But that is only a guess.

Well, today is the last day for Rod Smith. I am sad to see Rod go. I have found his presence on the blog particularly fruitful. Rod's one of those poets that I always hate to say goodbye to after I see him. I think the last time was in Washington. I could be wrong about that. He may have been in Buffalo once since then. In fact I am pretty sure he was there this past spring. Yes, he was.

We went to Allen St. Hardware and sat at the foremost table in front of the window. Kaplan Harris was there and Divya Victor and several current poetics students. I remember that every few minutes Rod and everyone else would stand up and head outside for a smoke, leaving the two non-smokers, Kaplan and myself, alone at the table together. It was during one of these smoke breaks that Kaplan leaned over and told me he was getting divorced.

I saw Rod about a year before that in DC. I had a job interview at the Library of Congress. It took place late in the day -- at five o'clock or so. I stayed in the apartment of Cathy Eisenhower and Ken Jacobs. The two of them went off to work during the day, so I decided to walk down to Bridge St. Books to visit Rod fairly early in the morning. I almost got hit by a passing caravan of black SUVs with smoked glass coming out of the parking lot of a fancy hotel near the store.

Anyhow, Rod took me to the deli next door for coffee and a bagel, then we sat at the front counter chatting over coffee, exiting now and again into the January chill so Rod could smoke. At one point, apropos of nothing I'd said in the moment, he said, I've got one of those anthologies. I said, Which one? He said. Here Comes Everybody. He'd read my blog post about having one of the only extant copies of that book, whose publication had been ceased by a couple of poets that did not want their work published in it. I remember I bought a copy of a book of poems by Japanese poet Hiromi Ito.

Turned out I didn't get that job, and I was kind of sad because I would have liked to have been able to hang out at the bookstore with Rod more often.

from Protective Immediacy


Dice and then try
The character developed a sincere expression
"In life" as more motley arranged the room
recedes          Some attempt at singularity
They say grandiose about a bank guarontee
If seems slightly distracted it's because
The birds lost again

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's Part 36.1 (Rod Smith)

Music or Honesty
Smith, Rod
Music or Honesty

I can't remember where I got this. Either I bought at one of Rod's readings in Buffalo, or I did not. It's also possible that he gave it to me when he came to the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair a few years ago.

I love the title of this book.

Some days I think it sets up an equivalence between the two terms, as in Music, or Honesty, or Music = Honesty.

Others I picture a wealthy, gay couple laying about in their ridiculously luxurious Manhattan apartment trying to figure what to do for the day. One of them, spread out on the divan, smoking a cigarette, says to the other, I just can't decide, Music or Honesty?

Still others I picture a big goon out of a 1940's crime flick. He's got his hand in the right pocket of his overcoat, suggestive of a gun, though it's hard to tell if he actually has one. He's pointing the bulge towards a man in the corner on a bed. All he has to do is pull the trigger.

What'll it be, kid? Music, or honesty?

from Music or Honesty

capsized bubbles scott-free & literary love back at the loping to poi

A heal, or example heard — how the rated net soaks need. Remit 
sentence in a flayed edition, mourning. Unstuck the, copped singular. 
A stupid person is a real event.

          & How often

                         burning for folklore

                                           —you there &
                                in then, undressed— rolling
                                the remembered miraculous pix
                                up the story mocking the 
                                constitutive direct ornament's
                                moot soft buttoned lapidary
                                How often it, clutched, remade
                                the address to coddle
                                Being in the furthering
                                ABBREVIATED bicyclette abreast hopes
                                from the hired car half-happy
                                with raisinette wrappers &
                                reeling in the cajoled bridge-incisor's
                                nut-balm of a naked scrape's butter
                                on it,

                                unmercenary, slightly hungry,
                                with the music very loud.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's Part 36 (Rod Smith)

In Memory of My Theories
Smith, Rod
In Memory of My Theories

Purchased at Talking Leaves…Books when Rod came to read in Buffalo in, I think, 1997 or 1998. It was my first year in Buffalo. 

Rod read with Heather Fuller. I think it was Graham Foust, recently transplanted to Buffalo from DC, who invited the two of them to read. It was he who introduced them at the reading. I had seen the same two DC poets read in New York at the Segue Foundation earlier that year. It was just before I left NYC. I remember talking to Rod after that reading in the basement of the Segue Foundation.

After the reading in Buffalo we went to the Essex Street Pub and we stayed very late. We sat at a table in the back room. I still smoked then and I can remember smoking with Rod. 

Or maybe I just remember that Rod still smokes and that I used to smoke and that it was likely the two of us smoked together that night, as we were both smokers sitting in the same room at the same time, surrounded by alcohol and other smokers.

But that is not necessarily true. It is possible, though only remotely, that two heavy smokers sharing an evening in the company of others, some of them smokers, some of them no, might have refrained from smoking. 

I can picture the two of them, one in his mid-thirties with a dark mustache, an enigmatic smile on his face, the other, in his late twenties, still adorned in the trappings of his deadhead years, long hair pulled back in a ponytail falling over the collar of a colorful Bolivian alpaca sweater (purchased no doubt in some parking lot before a Grateful dead concert), sitting on opposite sides of the table, drinks before them, now listening to the conversation, now drifting off into reverie, and next to their pint glasses, or maybe shot glasses, or both, sit two unopened packs of cigarettes, both Marlboro red, the good stuff. 

Occasionally Rod or I look at the pack, maybe we do it at the same time, then make eye contact and laugh for a moment, as we both realize there is some kind of game going on here -- who can go the longest without a cigarette in a crowded bar -- Rod reaches for his pack, and in relief I reach for mine, then he smiles his devious smile and says, "Psych!"

We probably smoked together. 

I also remember telling a very raunchy story I had heard about the twisted sexual predilections of JFK while he was in the white house and how he used the secret service to feed his sexual jones while taking long hot baths to soothe his injured back. I remember looking across the table at Rod as I told the story and wondering to myself whether or not it was appropriate to tell such an in appropriate story to a stranger.

Rod didn't seem to mind, though.

from In Memory of My Theories

The Latest Attempt

at abandonment, a bruising
snap of pertain. initial

wrought mechanism
sutured by                  or

accomplished. Sedimentary articulation
become the lush agnostic coal of

past insurance agents. The second and final episode:
World at Will in which the sea demon ceases. . . . 

          and all that
bearable distress

"the way one talks"
"with some structure"
"escaped my notice"

Are not our feelings, as it were, inscribed
on the things around us. sandwich man, promoter, publicist,
wellspring, coxswain,

last weather
and well her rendering

of that which is distant:

debris, demands, basalt, insert
everything in this one

nothing in addition.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's Part 35 (Logan Ryan Smith

The Singers
Smith, Logan Ryan
The Singers

Given to me by the author at a reading he gave in Buffalo with Frank Sherlock in 2008. I think I mentioned this reading in the post on Frank Sherlock. I think I also mentioned in that post that there exists an entire set of photos of said reading on my flickr page.

Anyhow, one of the great pleasures of curating poetry readings with Aaron Lowinger was that he always seemed to have his eye turned in a different direction, poetry-wise, than my own, meaning he almost always brought surprising poets I'd never heard of, like Logan Ryan Smith.

I think every poet-curator gets kind of stuck in his or her own generation at some point. Once you've gone through all of the arguments for or against certain kinds of poetry and begun to see the poetry terrain harden among your peers, it become more difficult to look beyond it into generations of younger poets.

The ten-year age difference between Aaron and myself always meant that he brought fresh views to my sometimes tired and cynical poetry gaze.

from The Singers

Toys in the basement are throwing up. Bent over
like doubles of those that abandoned them. Vomiting
the same things, chunks of this and that similar to the
way their children would be. Garbage-Pail-Kid-Face.
Zitty Zane and Pockmarked Paul. Gathered together
in the November hall in the late afternoon where
the light fails and falls and causes a sense of weightlessness.
Crashing down, these astronauts are cushioned only
by the plush, neon carpet of the city skyline. Get on.
Go on, get on. Get out of here, away from forests, into
the bright lights and flash of city life. For a while.
Row your boat out. Go. Get. Gather in the second
chance at life you only get once. Get it now while
the getting's good. Gotten. Get. It's not over yet. No
not yet but getting closer. Move over, Rover, the sound
of the world is coming over. Get over to the other
continent and let tongues touch. Take not the granted
but gather in the forsaken. Clouds gone grey and
dirty. Betray the white-bright halo around the
sensation of waking; but don't wake up swinging.
Keep both eyes open even during prolonged periods
of immobilization. When hearts begin to burst all over,
surround sound, hold tight and watch. Burst after burst of
star-red springs, spring forth. Set forth only after the creation
has granted access. Sample, first, each taste from each
spring. Decided that stagnant can kill and below
toys are clicking their lungs out; listen. Rooftops.
Lick your gums.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's Part 34.1 (Dale Smith)

Smith, Dale

Given to me by the publisher, the inimitable Richard Owens. The letter-pressed wrap fits around the cover. The wrap is glued to the cover itself, but only on the front. The back is loose. On my copy, the back flap was mis-folded by a quarter of an inch. It sticks out about that far. The book is inscribed:

Dale Smith (signature)

For Mike

"ingesting the word"

Buffalo 2008

I believe Richard brought Dale to Buffalo a second (possibly even a third) time in 2008. There was a party at their apartment.

I remember there being stacks of books out for people to take with them.

I can see all the food laid out on the dining room table.

I remember baby carrots and dip.

I remember sitting on the couch in the living room at the front of the house and looking at Richard's records and posters.

I have seen Dale a few times since then, perhaps most memorably when we ran into each other on the streets of Gloucester during the Charles Olson Centennial. We popped into a local bar for an afternoon drink (soda for me, natch), then took a guided tour of Dogtown led by Jonathan Skinner. All three of us read that night in a group reading at an old church. It was quite a night. All kinds of amazing people read: Ed Sanders and Kristen Prevallet and Ammiel Alcalay and the list goes on.

Dale and Hoa Nguyen moved to Toronto and started coming down for lots of events in the months just before we pulled up stakes and headed off to New Haven. Alas.

from Susquehanna

In Europe young men planned

a utopia on the banks

                        of the Susquehanna

properties freely shared

                                      in sensus communis

a dream that men and women

                        would partake equally

in the resources of this land

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's Part 34 (Dale Smith)

American Rambler
Smith, Dale
American Rambler

Purchased at Talking Leaves…Books, sometime after 2006, according to the sticker on the back. I used to think this sticker indicated the date of purchase, but Jon Welch, proprietor of said bookstore(which I miss terribly, btw, because New Haven is a desert as far as bookstores are concerned, especially those that sell poetry), informed me that it indicates the date the book arrived in the store, in this case 09/06.

It must have been the first time Richard Owens brought Dale to Buffalo. I remember the reading less than I remember going out after there reading. We went to the Founding Father's pub and I remember talking late into the night and being struck by how different Dale's offline personality was from his online one.

I had only known Dale from a few somewhat testy exchanges on the Poetics list back in the nineties. His online personality was often combative, whereas the person sitting before me was warm and welcoming and a lot of fun to talk to.

I remember thinking this must be true of many people, that the personae we encounter online are images separated from the bodies they inhabit. Not completely, but just enough so that the inhibitions caused by physical proximity and its attendant social mores often lose their hold on the utterances we make.

I've come to like and admire both Dales over the years, and also the third one, exhibited below.

from American Rambler

cicadas called
in damp heat
to mate
the racket
alive in trees and
men smeared
fat into skin
to repel mosquitoes
breezeless August evenings

Friday, July 13, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's Part 33 (Richard Slotkin)

Regeneration Through Violence
Slotkin, Richard
Regeneration Through Violence

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. Or, possibly, online. Not quite sure.

I associate this book with Susan Howe. I don't recall if she recommended it to me or if it was on a reading list for one of her classes, but I do know that I somehow heard about the book through her.

I think I may have considered it for one of my orals lists, but I never used it.

I don't think I finished reading it, actually. There's a bookmark on page 473 (out of 670), so I must have read most of it. Hmm...the bookmark has a date from 2006 and I am sure I read this long before that, so that could have been how far Lori got when she tried to read the book.

That's all for today, folks.

from Regeneration Through Violence

The mythology of a nation is the intelligible mask of that enigma called the "national character." Through myths the psychology and world view of our cultural ancestors are transmitted to modern descendants, in such a way and with such power that our perception of contemporary reality and our ability to function in the world are directly, often tragically affected. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's Part 32 (Daniel Judah Sklar)

Sklar, Daniel Judah

Given to me as a going away present by the staff at the 52nd St. Project in Manhattan, where I volunteered from 1992-1994. Inscribed by several staff members. This book formed the inspiration and the basis for the project.

Towards the end of college, and for a couple of years thereafter, I flirted with the idea of working in the theater. I wrote & directed a play as part of the Fordham Playwright's Festival during my senior year. It was there that I met Jerry McGill. Jerry was a quadriplegic who acted, directed and wrote plays. He, too, had a play in the festival and we became friends working alongside one another.

During the summer after graduation, Jerry invited me to a play in Manhattan at a place called the 52nd St. Project. He told me that he worked there and that the plays were written by kids, yet staged & performed using professional actors and directors. I attended with a few friends and found the plays absolutely charming, so much so that I asked Jerry if I could get involved. He signed me up as part of the stage crew for the next production.

Over the course of the next two years, I worked on many productions, mostly helping to put up sets and strike them between plays.

I remember they had an ingenious mobile production set that allowed for an infinite number of simple stage variations. The backdrop was a tri-fold set of doors with, I think, some kind of plastic laminate on the surface that allowed for large sheets of paper-thin plastic to be stuck to them simply by spraying water to the surface and rolling the plastic sheets onto it. These sheets usually contained simple drawings used for backgrounds and so forth.

The props were a set of about ten simple geometric shapes, including a flat, padded, rectangular board often used as a bench, a couple of trapezoidal boxes, a couple of cylinders, and so on. At the time they did not have their own theater, so the mobile set made it possible to move the shows to different spaces.

There was an incredible number of well-known stars of stage and screen who volunteered there, including Joel Coen, Frances McDormand, Jeremy Piven, James McDaniel, Martha Plimpton,  et al. I smoked a cigarette with Frances McDormand at a cast party once. We were the only two smokers in the apartment.

One of my favorite productions featured McDormand alongside a young boy. The play was written by Joel Coen, her husband, and was about a cavewoman and her son. It had to do with evolution and the acquisition of language. The pair attempted to communicated through gestures and grunts which were replaced by phonemes and eventually words. Evolutions quickly sped up so that before long their first sentences sounded just like those a modern mother and son arguing with one another about something. It was hilariously written and acted.

Anyhow, I eventually began working with the kids on writing plays. I did this for a couple of sessions before I took off for Ecuador in 1994, which was the occasion of my receiving this book as a going away gift. I volunteered briefly when I returned, but I was going through a pretty seriious emotional crisis at that point and ended up bowing out, never to return.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's Part 31.2 (Jonathan Skinner)

Birds of Tifft
Skinner, Jonathan
Birds of Tifft

Given to me by the author. Inscribed:

For Mike,

The shepherd on the hill.




(On a completely random side note, the blogger interface is very frustrating when it comes to line spacing in blog posts. Single spacing works fine, but double spacing, especially of single likes, creates problems. If I type in a poem, for instance, the line breaks look okay, but the stanza breaks always add an extra space, so it's really a triple space. This is fairly common in internet interfaces, and one can usually get around it by using shift+return when doing paragraphs. For whatever reason, this has stopped working on blogger, so I have to go into the html code and remove the extra
tag after each mis-coded line. I am sure you find this fascinating.)

Inside the book I found a photograph of our old cats, Mamacat and Babycat. They are sitting on the floor of our old kitchen, squeezed into a pair of cardboard boxes in which had been delivered our most recent shipments of Peet's Coffee. We no longer order from them. They were expensive to begin with, but when they raised their prices a year or so ago, it was just too much.

Anyhow, this is the last day for Jonathan Skinner.

Tifft is an urban nature preserve in Buffalo. Overlooking the shore of lake erie, it sits on a landfill and an old railroad bed in the shadow of Buffalo's towering monuments to the industrial age, the grain elevators. Jonathan discovered Tifft soon after he arrived in Buffalo and started taking regular walks there. It's kind of a remarkable place, and you get a great sense of it from reading Jonathan's book. Not being a huge nature person myself, it took meeting Lori, who is something of a nature person, to get me to start visiting Tifft myself.

We visited a few times a year, usually once or twice in summer and once in the winter, when you can rent old school snowshoes to wander through the barren wastes. Often you'd see large herds of deer wandering through the woods. I always found them kind of terrifying. They would act as if they had just been stopped in the proverbial headlights, only as a group. I'd be walking along one of the paths snaking through the woods when suddenly I'd look to one side and see ten or twenty deer, frozen still, all of them staring at me. I was always waiting for them to start charging after me. They never did, thankfully.

Either through Jonathan or on our own we discovered that the chickadees in Tifft were quite sociable. If you brought some bread and held the crumbs in your open palm, arm elevated slightly skyward, the chickadees would land in your hand and take the bread. I always took a kind of child-like pleasure in seeing them eat from my hand.

I took many poets on walks through Tifft when they visited. Not as many as I took to Niagara Falls or just to see the grain elevators, but a fair number. I remember wandering around with Anselm Berrigan. Jonathan may or may not have been with us. One time, Laynie Brown got snowed in and stayed with us for a weekend and we took her for a hike in the snow one February day.

Another time I remember sitting on a bench with Lori holding hands.

from Birds of Tifft

Tifft Log

washed the bird shit
off my car
training for combat
in urban centers
Ayn Rand institute
supports the blacklist
Schlesinger's still afraid
of the commies

put your names
at the top of the paper, kids

Monday, July 9, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's Part 31.1 (Jonathan Skinner)

Political Cactus Poems
Skinner, Jonathan
Political Cactus Poems

Given to me by the author at our dual Buffalo book launch at Just Buffalo's Hibiscus Room in 2005.


For Mike
Fellow bard
in flight ...
with Love 



I feel very close to this book. It's almost a record of my friendship with Jonathan while we were in Buffalo.

When he first arrived, Jonathan gave me a small chapbook, which I still have, called "Political Cactus Poems." It's about 2.5 x 2.5 inches, saddle stapled, with a white cover and black text. Each cover was individually hand-painted with an abstract black image by Isabelle Pelissier.

We had a reading together with Eleni Stecopoulos in NYC in early 1999. I put together a little event chapbook called, "Three," containing three poems each by the three poets. One of the poems from the "Mined" series was published therein.

"The Little Dictionary of Sounds" was conceived in conjunction with another of my publishing efforts, the Elevator "Box Project." I asked poets to spend the summer collecting something and to produce some writing around what they had collected. Meanwhile, artist Brian Collier built 40 masonite boxes to house these collections. Jonathan chose to collect sounds. He recorded them mostly around Lake Erie, then began making poems to place alongside the recordings. The collection inside each Box contains a manilla envelope with the poems typed or printed on cards and a cassette tape with the recorded sounds on it.

"Unfolder," it says in the acknowledgments, appeared under my press, Elevator, which means I was somehow involved in its publication. I can't recall if this was as part of the "Postcard Project" or as part of the little one-off anthology we produced in an afternoon at Jonathan's apartment called "Sugar in the Raw."

from Political Cactus Poems


              for Anne-Marie Albiach

infinite scale, neither down nor up, the same
heard even as silence, made tangible
as a dormouse or a rock, a tick
conceivable but not by any vertebrate...

longing spouts into a lake
an exploding quasar [quasi-stellar radio
larger than any ever known
fills telescopes for less than one second
the time of a million suns
and falls with our faces toward receding
light points, crowding out darkness

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's Part 31 (Jonathan Skinner)

Skinner, Jonathan

Now this is a rarity. It's a copy of Jonathan Skinner's dissertation, of which only a few copies exist. Jonathan gave me a copy after he'd graduated, saying he would only give it to me if I promised to read it, which I did.

I thought that I had already talked about how Jonathan and I met, but if I did I cannot find that post. One thing that is a little odd is that our meeting began with a book that I am almost certain I still own, yet have not written about on the blog despite having long passed that letter in the alphabet.

It's a book of poems by a very obscure Venezuelan poet named Juan Martín Echeverría. When I returned from Ecuador in 1995 I started immediately practicing my translation skills to make sure that my Spanish didn't go rusty. I found it at Seventh St. Books in New York. I think it cost a dollar. It was written in plain, direct language and was fairly easy to translate. I translated the whole thing at my job as a temp at Hyperion Books over the course of about two weeks.

I brought the poems to read at a translation open mic organized by Dan Machlin at the Segue Foundation. Jonathan and his wife Isabelle also attended the reading and read from some of their own translations. This was also the first time I met Eleni Sikelianos and Laird Hunt.

After the reading, Isabelle approached and told me she liked the poems and said she'd like to see the them in the original Spanish. I had a copy of the book with me and handed it to her, saying, "Just make sure to give it back, it's the only copy I have, and possibly the only one in North America, as his work is not known at all."

She promised to do so and took the poems with her.

A month or two later I got a call from Jonathan telling me that they were moving to New Mexico and could we meet up at the next Segue reading so he could return the book to me. We agreed to meet there, but it turned out that the reading was canceled. Off they went to NM and I didn't think I would ever see them or my book again.

Fast forward almost two years to the summer of 1998. I had moved to Buffalo and was living in an apartment on College St. My phone rang. It was Jonathan.

He asked if I remembered him. I said I did and by the way did he still have my book!

He said he would look for it and by the way he was moving to Buffalo and could he stay in my apartment while he looked for a place to live.

I said of course and before long he moved in to the apartment below me.

We became de facto roommates for the next year until Isabelle also arrived and they moved into an apartment on Huntington Avenue.

from Ecopoetics

"Eco" here signals–no more, no less–the house we share with several million other species, our planet earth. "Poetics" is used as poesis or making, not necessarily to emphasize the critical over the creative act (nor vice versa). Thus: ecopoetics, a house making.

ecopoetics is also conceived as a sort mcu or "mobile contamination unit" (thanks to mycologist Paul Stamets for the term), cutting across divisions of labor, crossing and acknowledging linguistic, cultural and species borders.

Put ecopoetics in your pocket, and lace up your walking shoes.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's Part 30 (Aleksandr Skidan)

Red Shifting
Skidan, Aleksandr
Red Shifting

Given to me by Matvei Yankelevich. Another beautiful UDP book, translated by my old friend, Genya Turovskaya.

I met Genya at a party in NYC back in the mid-nineties. About a month later I bumped into her at the corner of Avenue and, I think, 6th, across from Benny's Burritos. We ended up standing on the corner talking for more than hour before deciding to get a bite to eat 7A, where I think we talked for a couple of more hours, mostly about poetry and what we liked to read especially movie, which we both had very strong opinions about. We both smoked a lot. Or at least I did. I think she did, too. Ah, to have three hours to talk to a random person you meet on a street corner. Those were the days!

On a side note, it is strange being on the east coast again. We have had a lot of visitors lately and I have been running into all kinds of people I haven't seen in years. Buffalo was just far enough from all of my old friends that it made visiting difficult, so we rarely saw them unless we traveled ourselves. Now that we are a quick train ride from NYC, it seems like family and old friends are suddenly much closer. Which is a good thing, I think, as what we miss most about Buffalo is our friends there. Being able to connect easily with people we know, though no substitute for our Buffalo chums, at least makes the transition less painful.

I ran into my old friend S. at a 4th of July party this week. We were very close in college and for five or so years afterward, but we drifted apart after I moved to Buffalo and I probably hadn't spoken to him in ten years prior to unexpectedly running into him Wednesday. It was great so see him.

It was a lovely party, thrown by the parents of A., another college friend, who have a waterfront home in Madison, CT. Everyone at and talked in the afternoon and then sat on the porch and watched the fireworks shoot up over the Sound in the evening. And there was a rainbow in the afternoon and blood red moon that rose out of the ocean in the evening and just after the fireworks ended a storm rolled in and drenched us all.

from Red Shifting

from The Large Glass

hieroglyph of breathing

sensual environment

three or four inches from the groin

to specify is to ruin poetry

to kill the tongue in order to touch life

image of the red slaughter

arterial and venous blood

gall bladder

it's necessary that I fall

trampled revolt

kabbalistic triad

there is no mouth no teeth=

it's time to finish with masterpieces

the scream will complete the rest

Friday, July 6, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's Part 29 (Justin Sirois)

Secondary Sound
Sirois, Justin
Secondary Sound

Given to me by the author. I think it was at the first or second Buffalo Small Press Book Fair.

I had an alienating language moment this morning while typing out the title of this book.

I kept staring at the word "secondary" in the title, thinking I had spelled it wrong.

I looked it over once, twice, a third time. It still looked wrong.

I checked it letter for letter, left to right. Nothing.

I ran it through spell check. Fine.

This all occurred while I was uploading the photo to flickr. In the newer version of the uploader, you add all of the info: title, tags, sets, etc., before uploading it. When you type out the title in the dialog box it simultaneously appears under the photo itself, just as it will appear on the website.

Maybe it was the mirroring that was throwing me off. Once the image arrived at its destination online, everything looked fine.

from Secondary Sound

the chime should & the chime will learn new things

the chime will alert the cellphone owner when a person is sending a text & it should sound like a cinder block through a bay window in the early morning or a hummingbird flocked with powdered sugar. I'll take this xylophone hammer to your reclined ribcage to illustrate the pitch. Please lie down & blouse loosely the boardroom; think of us as working vacation; thinking of the ceiling as a field of probability, the parking garage above us is a drum, a sieve & an empty

there is a real communication problem when I can't find any bars

now that you're comfortable in our economic cocoon
look at the graphs we've provided &
spoon portable narcotics

the repairing sickles & tum
tumbling ringing crescents that red rover 
white ravers

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 28 (Ignazio Silone)

Bread and Wine
Silone, Ignazio
Bread & Wine

Purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore for a course I took as an undergraduate called, "The Individual vs. The Institution." It cost $4.50.

The course was taught by a professor of Italian whose name escapes me. It was one of the many times throughout my academic career that I have been seduced into registering for a terrible class because it had such a great reading list.

We read Camus, Sartre, Kafka, Malraux, Silone and a few others.

Given Fordham's religious mission and also the anglophilia of the English department, it was a miracle I was even able to find a course featuring a slew of secular, mostly atheistic, European authors.

Anyhow, I remember loving this novel when I read it, though I can't recall a single character or incident in the book.


Hmm...I just opened the book to find an excerpt and found an inscription on the inside cover:

Michael Kelleher, alias "Big Papa."

I have no idea who wrote that or what it means. It is not in my handwriting.

from Bread and Wine

Don Benedetto, sitting on the low garden wall in the shadow of a cypress, was reading his breviary. His black priest's habit absorbed and prolonged the shadow of the tree. Behind him his sister sat at her loom, which she had placed between a box hedge and a rosemary bed, and the shuttle bobbed backwards and forwards through the warp of red and black wool, from left to right and from right to left, to the accompaniment of the rhythm of the treadle that lifted the warp cords and of the lamb that lifted the warp.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 27.1 (Ron Silliman)

The New Sentence
Silliman, Ron 
The New Sentence

Purchased at Rust Belt Books, not the newer version on Allen St., but the previous one, at the corner of Ashland and Lexington, kitty corner from the old co-op.

At the time the two employees of the store, aside from owner Brian Lampkin, were Taylor Brady and Graham Foust. I think it was Graham who told me they had a copy of this for sale.

I had read it previously during my time working at the Segue Foundation in New York. There were about a hundred copies on the shelf in the basement. This title always stood out because of its bright yellow cover.

I remember when Ron read in Buffalo in the late nineties. He gave a talk for about twenty people in a classroom in Clemens Hall. It was not Charles Bernstein's room, the usual location for such a talk to take place, but some other room in the building. Charles may have been on Sabbatical.

Ron had a gigantic ledger that he used as a notebook. I am not sure what he was writing in it, but he spoke quite a bit about his process at the time and how this giant ledger book was an integral part of it. That's all I remember: Ron Silliman and a big notebook.

This was before the birth of Ron Silliman the blogger.

When that Ron Silliman was born, he became the talk of the town. Everyone in the poetry world seemed to read that blog. It became the poetry world equivalent of SNL jokes at the proverbial water cooler.

Did you hear what Silliman called mainstream poetry? The School of Quietude! Quietude! That's the best one I've heard in a long time. Etc.

I was kind of sad to see Ron's blogging fade away. I admired the dailiness of his engagement with poetry and his aggressive attempts to create conversations that made it feel relevant. I can imagine it is difficult to sustain that level of engagement for more than a few years, especially given the amount of negative commenting and so forth. Blog posts of mine that generated that kind of energy left me so exhausted after two days that I felt I needed a vacation.

There's a Residential College at Yale named Silliman College. I pass it on the way to and from work each morning. It takes up an entire city block. I always think of Ron Silliman when I read the little blue plaque with the college's name and coat of arms emblazoned on it. Silliman College, the school where poetry matters most. Maybe I can sell that.

from The New Sentence

from The Political Economy of Poetry

The social composition of its audience is the primary context of any writing. Context determines (and is determined by) both the motives of the readers and their experience, i.e., their particular set of possible codes. Context determines the actual, real-life consumption of the literary product, without which communication of a message (formal, substantive, ideological) cannot occur. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 27 (Ron Silliman)

Silliman, Ron

Given to me by Joel Kuszai, when he lived in Ithaca, NY.

I drove down there one winter with Jonathan Skinner to attend a conference organized by Jane Sprague called "Small Press Culture Workers." It was one of the more meaningful and useful literary conferences I have ever attended.

Joel, as you may know, published the legendary Meow Press during his time in Buffalo. Meow published poets from all over in small runs of handmade chapbooks. I have a boxful that he published in the nineties by the likes of Silliman, Lisa Robertson, Charles Bernstein, Graham Foust and many others. I have at least one copy of this in chapbook form, possibly more, though I may have gotten rid of extras when I culled my library before leaving Buffalo.

Joel left Buffalo about a year after I arrived and eventually landed in Ithaca, where he taught for several years. Somewhere around that time he started Factory School, part of which was dedicated to continuing Joel's publishing efforts. If I am not mistaken, this was one of his first, and also one of his first using digital or on-demand printing.

It's not the only poetry book I have read by Ron Silliman, but it is, oddly, the only one that I actually own, even odder because I really like his poetry. I can remember sitting in the basement of the Segue foundation in New York, where I had access to a treasure trove of small press poetry titles from the eighties. I once read Silliman's What in a single sitting. What is part W in his long poem, The Alphabet, while Xing is part "X."

I keep meaning to buy The Alphabet, but then I hold back. Maybe I will finally buy it now that I am admitting to not owning it. Maybe I will. Yes. Maybe. I. Will.

I met Ron for the first time this past year. I'd seen him read years earlier, when I was still in grad school, but I'd never met him. After his reading we sat down in the front row on two folding chairs and talked about composing longer works. As I had begun to move in that direction myself, I was curious to ask him a few questions about how he approached the composition process.

Open Paren. I am trying, before I hit the "publish" button, to remember the content of this part of the conversation, but my mind is drawing a blank. I can't even remember the specific questions I asked. Hmm..what were they? I asked him something about whether or not he approached composition as a kind of tour de force performance act or as something more sustained. I seem to remember him answering that it was neither, exactly, that it was more of a daily focus combined with a kind of systematic formal approach to his subject matter. I may be paraphrasing or misremembering. I wish my memory functioned better. Sigh. Close paren.

I asked him the inevitable regarding this particular book:

Question: Is it pronounced "exing" or "zing" or "king" or "crossing"?

Answer: "Yes."

from Xing

By the time her son
reaches the hospital
she's died. My eye

instead of an onion.
The coffee at Lufkin's Diner,
twice boiled, burned, blue

with mold. Time of year when
you don't like to leave
your car parked all night

under the plum tree. He
Sits on his porch, his pipe
doused by rain, eating

for the sensation of loss to pass.
Happy to see her, car alarm
yips at her approach. At a 

distance, one sees birds, 
flowers, stitched into the place
curtains. The problem of

address: If I write, "at a
finger's touch, you come,"
who does the reader think

I mean? Cattle sing. High
dull sky. Before surgery,
one fasts. Themes weave.