Friday, August 31, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 57 (Bram Stoker)

Stoker, Bram

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

In yesterday's post, I claimed that we read and watched Frankenstein in the horrible film and literature class I took in graduate school. I was wrong. We read and watched Dracula. I remember distinctly. I had never read Dracula before and I don't think I had ever really watched the whole movie, either. I remember also that Taylor Brady was still in the class with me. We both read the book and watched the film. It was just after that that Taylor dropped the class and left me sitting alone in the back row to suffer through the semester.

I was also thinking this morning about how odd and random it is that two books from roughly the same time period, which also happen to be examples of gothic literature, both of which have spawned many, many film adaptations, happen to have authors whose last names begin "S-T-", making them end up next to each other on the same, alphabetically-ordered bookshelf. I wonder what the numerical odds of that happening are.

And yet there they sit. One is tempted to read some kind of meaning into this coincidence. If it is that unlikely of an outcome, then something must have happened to change the odds, right? An unmoved mover? A secret hand? An intelligent designer? I guess that's how religions get started.

from Dracula


Seven years ago we all went through the flames. And the happiness of some of us since then is, we think, well worth the pain we endured. It is an added joy to Mina and to me that our boy's birthday is the same day as that on which Quincey Morris died. His mother holds, I know, the secret belief that some of our brave friend's spirit has passed into him. His bundle of names links all our little band of men together. But we call him Quincey.

In the summer of this year we made a journey to Transylvania, and went over the old ground which was, and is, to us so full of vivid and terrible memories. It was almost impossible to believe that the things which we had seen with our own eyes and heard with our own ears were living truths. Every trace of all that had been was blotted out. The castle stood as before, reared high above a waste of desolation.

When we got home we were talking of the old time, which we could all look back on without despair, for Godalming and Seward are both happily married. I took the papers from the safe where they had been ever since our return so long ago. We were struck with the fact, that in all the mass of material of which the record is composed, there is hardly one authentic document. Nothing but a mass of typewriting, except the later notebooks of Mina and Seward and myself, and Van Helsing's memorandum. We could hardly ask any one, even did we wish to, to accept these as proofs of so wild a story. Van Helsing summed it all up as he said, with our boy on his knee.

"We want no proofs. We ask none to believe us! This boy will some day know what a brave and gallant woman his mother is. Already he knows her sweetness and loving care. Later on he will understand how some men so loved her, that they did dare much for her sake.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 56 (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
Stevenson, Robert Louis
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

Purchased for a graduate course on films and the novel. I have discussed this terrible class before.

Drawing a bit of a blank this morning. I can picture the classroom in which the above mentioned course took place. It was a sort of lecture hall on the first floor of Clemens hall. We sat at long tables facing a dais and a large projection screen at the front of the room. Actually I don't think it was a dias as much as it was a proscenium.

Anyhow, I sat in the back row next to Taylor Brady, at least for the first few weeks. He dropped the class. I stayed. I suffered. Everything else is a bit of a blank. I can remember a lot the films we watched: "The Gunfighter," "Frankenstein," "Little Caesar," "Double Indemnity," possibly "Alien." If there were others, I can't remember what they were.

The professor was a tall, thin, nebbishy fellow with blond hair and a bald pate. He loved the sound of his voice almost as much as I hated it. He had a faint New York accent and a certain air about him, fairly common among professors at the University of Buffalo, that suggested he felt he was too good to be there and that living and teaching in Buffalo was a kind of exile. He'd probably taken the job there as a sort of placeholder, I'd guess, until he could get a job in a "real" city. Years passed, tenure came, his resentment grew alongside his inertia.

A common tale, I am sure.

from Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable.  At friendly meetings, and when the wine was to his taste, something eminently human beaconed from his eye; something indeed which never found its way into his talk, but which spoke not only in these silent symbols of the after-dinner face, but more often and loudly in the acts of his life.  He was austere with himself; drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a taste for vintages; and though he enjoyed the theater, had not crossed the doors of one for twenty years.  But he had an approved tolerance for others; sometimes wondering, almost with envy, at the high pressure of spirits involved in their misdeeds; and in any extremity inclined to help rather than to reprove.  "I incline to Cain's heresy," he used to say quaintly:  "I let my brother go to the devil in his own way."  In this character, it was frequently his fortune to be the last reputable acquaintance and the last good influence in the lives of downgoing men.  And to such as these, so long as they came about his chambers, he never marked a shade of change in his demeanour.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 55 (Wallace Stevens)

Collected Poetry & Prose
Stevens, Wallace
Collected Poetry & Prose

Purchased at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store for $9.99. I can never remember the actual name of the Outlet Mall or the Book Store, so I identify them by generic titles. I believe the mall is called "Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls." I am not sure about the book store. I think it may have been called "Books, Etc." I am pretty sure the Outlet Mall had a different name before, something like "Niagara Falls Prime Outlets." Whatever. It's just a mall. The book store is no longer there.

I was very happy to replace the three volumes of Wallace Stevens I owned in paperback with this slim, handsome omnibus. I owned paperback copies of A Palm at the End of the Mind and The Necessary Angel, both of which I purchased for a graduate course in modernist poetry I took as an undergraduate at Fordham. I also owned a paperback copy of The Collected Poems, purchased for a course with Susan Howe in graduate school. I traded them in at Rust Belt Books.

I have an interesting relationship with Wallace Stevens. I taught myself a lot of what I know about poetry by reading his work. In my little cubicle at Hyperion Books, where I worked as a temp for about six months in 1996, I used to try to figure out what he was doing in his poems.

For instance, I would take a poem like "The Comedian as the Letter C" and break it apart, making lists of all the words in a particular stanza, organized by sound. I'd make lists of words that all began with the same letter. I'd make lists of words that had similar vowel sounds. I'd cross reference lists to see the relationships between vowel and consonant sounds, between internal rhymes and end rhymes, etc.

After that, I pretty much stopped reading Wallace Stevens.

I enjoy some of his poetry, but much of it I find abstruse and even when I work at it I have found little joy at the end of my hard work. I prefer "Man With A Blue Guitar" to, say, "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven" or "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction." Maybe I'll have a middle-age Stevens discovery like I did with Schuyler.

The irony is that even when I write poems that look more like, say, Creeley's, on the page, people tell me they remind them of Wallace Stevens. There's no telling the things that actually influence you, I guess.

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee, 
And round it was, upon a hill. 
It made the slovenly wilderness 
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it, 
And sprawled around, no longer wild. 
The jar was round upon the ground 
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where. 
The jar was gray and bare. 
It did not give of bird or bush, 
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 54.1 (Laurence Sterne)

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
Sterne, Laurence
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I bought this in, I think, 2004 or 5, just before Lori and I went on a trip to Guatemala. It was a truly strange book to be reading while traveling through a country of dense tropical rain forests, ancient Mayan pyramids, and dozens of smoking volcanoes. But I have never been one to read books related to the place I travel while I am traveling. I have tried it, but I don't enjoy it. It feels to much like homework.

A couple of year earlier I had brought Olson's Mayan letters with me to the Yucatan. I tried to read it. I think I also brought the Popol Vuh and a history of the area. I think I ended up reading Raymond Chandler. It's easier for me to just allow my imagination to follow whatever path it is currently on and let the outside world enter into it as it will than it is to corral it into a culturally edifying educational experience.

I prefer to go to a place, experience it, then read about it after the fact, thus deepening the knowledge gained by experience. Color me empiricist.

from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

—It is as hairy as I am; said Obadiah.—Obadiah had not been shaved for three weeks—Wheu...u...u...cried my father; beginning the sentence with an exclamatory whistle—and so, brother Toby, this poor Bull of mine, who is as good a Bull as ever'd, and might have done for Europa herself in purer times—had he but two legs less, might have been driven into Doctors Commons and lost his character—which to a Town Bull, brother Toby, is the very same thing as his life—
L..d! said my mother, what is all this story about?—

A Cock and a Bull, said Yorick—And one of the best of its kind, I ever heard.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 54 (Laurence Sterne)

A Sentimental Journey
Sterne, Laurence
A Sentimental Journey & Journal to Eliza

This is one of those books I either bought used or picked up for free, saying to myself that I should read it someday. I don't recall where or when or how I acquired it, and I have not read it. But I will.

The past doesn't seem to be too close to the front of my mind this morning, so I'll write about the present. I have to say that I am extremely happy to have full borrowing privileges at a university library again. I can borrow anything at any time without having to return the book for six months!

I currently have out the three-volume collected stories of Uruguayan modernist Felisberto Hernández, which I am reading in Spanish. There are a couple of translations of his work into English. I highly recommend him. He's kind of a precursor to the boom writers like Marquez and Fuentes and Cortazar. Cortazar, in particular, too a lot from him. If you consider Kafka and Borges to be precursors to Magical realism, then you could probably lump Hernández into the same category, but he's a pretty unique voice, so I'd be loathe to do so.

One feature of the Yale library website which I love is that I can create and store a list of the books I intend to read, just like the Amazon wish list. I look for books and then tag them, without having to check them out. I am now planning a lot of my future Spanish reading by this method. Next up: Adolfo Bioy Casares.

A the library today I am going to pick up Duncan's H.D. Book. I have been waiting for this to go on sale for a reasonable price at Amazon, but it's still north of $25, even for a used copy, and I don't feel like paying that, so I'll just read it and return it to the library. (I did manage to find a copy of Silliman's Alphabet online the other day for $8.99. That's my kind of price! I think I am getting cheap in middle age). I also put Lisa Jarnot's Duncan biography on hold. I'll be the first person to check it out once they get a copy processed.

I'll probably return to buying most of my books again once we move into a place of our own, but for now, we are pretty much out of space, which makes the option of borrowing books extra appealing.

from The Sentimental Journey

They order, said I, this matter better in France. - You have been in France? said my gentleman, turning quick upon me, with the most civil triumph in the world. - Strange! quoth I, debating the matter with myself, That one and twenty miles sailing, for ’tis absolutely no further from Dover to Calais, should give a man these rights: - I’ll look into them: so, giving up the argument, - I went straight to my lodgings, put up half a dozen shirts and a black pair of silk breeches, - “the coat I have on,” said I, looking at the sleeve, “will do;” - took a place in the Dover stage; and the packet sailing at nine the next morning, - by three I had got sat down to my dinner upon a fricaseed chicken, so incontestably in France, that had I died that night of an indigestion, the whole world could not have suspended the effects of the droits d’aubaine; - my shirts, and black pair of silk breeches, - portmanteau and all, must have gone to the King of France; - even the little picture which I have so long worn, and so often have told thee, Eliza, I would carry with me into my grave, would have been torn from my neck! - Ungenerous! to seize upon the wreck of an unwary passenger, whom your subjects had beckoned to their coast! - By heaven!  Sire, it is not well done; and much does it grieve me, ’tis the monarch of a people so civilized and courteous, and so renowned for sentiment and fine feelings, that I have to reason with!

But I have scarce set a foot in your dominions.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 53.4 (John Steinbeck)

Steinbeck: A Life in Letters
Steinbeck, John
Steinbeck: A Life in Letters

According to the sticker on the book, I bought this at Barnes & Noble for a whopping $14.95. Hard to believe I paid that for a crappy paperback – twenty plus years ago, no less! I bought it after the summer of Steinbeck. I am not sure which Barnes and Noble fleeced me for it, but I am pretty sure I got it after I became an English major and it I am sure it is the first book of belles-lettres I ever read. I must have spent quite a lot of time reading it.

Opening it now, I am struck by how clearly I remember the font. I couldn't tell you what font it is, but it is a somewhat unusual one for a mass market paperback–some kind of serif with a thick body, almost as if it were bolded. Each letter in collection has a heading with the name of the addressee writ large above a right-justified line running two-thirds the length of the page. The name is justified to the left edge of the line, if that makes any sense.

At the time I read these letters, I had almost no historical reference with which to understand what I was reading. Most of the names of the addressees–Henry Fonda, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dag Hammarskjöld, Adlai Stevenson, et al.–flew right past me. Nevertheless, I remember enjoying it quite a bit.

A couple of years later, after I had become an English major, I was surprised to hear my medieval lit professor, possibly the worst teacher I ever had, mention the name Eugene Vidaver, which I recognized from the letters. Steinbeck was interested throughout his life in the Knights of the Roundtable, and eventually did a translation of the Mort d'Arthur. Vinaver is known for his edition of the works of Thomas Malory, according to Wikipedia.

After class, I mentioned to the professor that I recognized Vinaver's name from having read Steinbeck's letters. He paused, looked at me with a kind of bemused and incredulous look and asked, "Why did you read that?" I said, "Because I like Steinbeck." He stared for another few seconds, then said, "Hunh," and turned his back to me while he erased his etymological notes from the blackboard. That guy was a fairly strong argument against the tenure system.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 53.3 (John Steinbeck)

Of Mice and Men & Cannery Row
Steinbeck, John
Of Mice and Men & Cannery Row

This one is pretty beat up. I am not sure where or when I acquired it. I have a vague memory of having read it, lost it, picked up another copy. But this is a vague feeling not supported by any real memory. Whatever "real memory" might mean. I was going to say "factual evidence" but realized that that would mean a clear memory which, no matter how clear, would have to be suspect on some level. On the other hand, a price tag or an inscription or something along those lines might actually constitute evidence. There is no evidence here.

During my Steinbeck summer I read and loved this book. The character of the kindly, cultured old professor was inspirational to my young, aspirational self. I very much wished that I had someone to invite me over for dinner and explain things like classical music and Sanskrit poetry. I never did have one someone like that. Most of what I eventually read and learned I pieced together myself, with help from lots of people along the way. I never had a mentor, per se, is what I am saying.

I remember being particularly moved by a translation of a Sanskrit poem that forms the emotional center of the story. It goes like this:

Black Marigolds
Even now If I see in my soul the citron-breasted fair one Still gold-tinted, her face like our night stars, Drawing unto her; her body beaten about with flame, Wounded by the flaring spear of love, My first of all by reason of her fresh years, Then is my heart buried alive in snow. Even now If my girl with lotus eyes came to me again Weary with the dear weight of young love, Again I would give her to these starved twins of arms And from her mouth drink down the heavy wine, As a reeling pirate bee in fluttered ease Steals up the honey from the nenuphar. Even now If I saw her lying all wide eyes And with collyrium the indent of her cheek Lengthened to the bright ear and her pale side So suffering the fever of my distance, Then would my love for her be ropes of flowers, and night A black-haired lover on the breasts of day. Even now My eyes that hurry to see no more are painting, painting Faces of my lost girl. O golden rings That tap against cheeks of small magnolia-leaves, O whitest so soft parchment where My poor divorced lips have written excellent Stanzas of kisses, and will write no more. Even now Death sends me the flickering of powdery lids Over wild eyes and the pity of her slim body All broken up with the weariness of joy; The little red flowers of her breasts to be my comfort Moving above scarves, and for my sorrow Wet crimson lips that once I marked as mine. Even now They chatter her weakness through the two bazaars Who was so strong to love me. And small men That buy and sell for silver being slaves Crinkles the fat about their eyes; and yet No Prince of the Cities of the Sea has taken her, Leading to his grim bed. Little lonely one, You cling to me as a garment clings; my girl. Even now I love long black eyes that caress like silk, Ever and ever sad and laughing eyes, Whose lids make such sweet shadow when they close It seems another beautiful look of hers. I love a fresh mouth, ah, a scented mouth, And curving hair, subtle as a smoke, And light fingers, and laughter of green gems. Even now I remember that you made answer very softly, We being one soul, your hand on my hair, The burning memory rounding your near lips; I have seen the preistesses of Rati make love at moon fall And then in a carpeted hall with a bright gold lamp Lie down carelessly anywhere to sleep. Even now I mind the coming and talking of wise men from towers Where they had thought away their youth. And I, listening, Found not the salt of the whispers of my girl, Murmur of confused colours, as we lay near sleep; Little wise words and little witty words, Wanton as water, honied with eagerness. Even now I mind that I loved cypress and roses, clear, The great blue mountains and the small grey hills, The sounding of the sea. Upon a day I saw strange eyes and hands like butterflies; For me at morning larks flew from the thyme And children came to bathe in little streams. Even now I know that I have savoured the hot taste of life Lifting green cups and gold at the great feast. Just for a small and a forgotten time I have had full in my eyes from off my girl The whitest pouring of eternal light ...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 53.2 (John Steinbeck)

The Pearl
Steinbeck, John
The Pearl

I have no idea where I bought this, or if I bought it, borrowed it, stole it, etc. But here it is. I did read it. Of that much I am certain.

I keep thinking about that shopping center.

We lived on a cup de sac in a kind of no man's land between two towns. To the southwest was Oakton, where the sopping center was. To the northeast was Vienna, which also began with a commercial center. About a half mile from our street, on the Vienna side of 123, a sign read "Leaving Vienna." About a quarter mile in the direction of Oakton, another sign read, "Welcome to Oakton."

I always found this confusing. We weren't in Oakton and we weren't in Vienna. However, we did have Vienna mailing address. for some reason, I thought I remembered that the area had become a part of Oakton, but according to Google it is still part of Vienna, although the zip code had changed from 22180 to 22181.

Anyhow, I used to walk to the Oakton shopping center in one direction or to 7 Eleven in the other direction. Those were the poles of my existence as a kid.

I have no idea where this is going. I guess I'll stop.

from The Pearl

Kino awakened in the near dark. The stars still shone and the day had drawn only a pale wash of light in the lower sky to the east. The roosters had been crowing for some time, and the early pigs were already beginning their ceaseless turning of twigs and bits of wood to see whether anything to eat had been overlooked. Outside the brush house in the tuna clump, a covey of little birds chittered and flurried with their wings.

Kino's eyes opened, and he looked first at the lightening square which was the door and then he looked at the hanging box where Coyotito slept. And last he turned his head to Juana, his wife, who lay beside him on the mat, her blue head shawl over her nose and over her breasts and around the small of her back. Juana's eyes were open too. Kino could never remember seeing them closed when he awakened. Her dark eyes made little reflected stars. She was looking at him as she was always looking at him when he awakened. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 53.1 (John Steinbeck)

The Winter of Our Discontent
Steinbeck, John
The Winter of Our Discontent

I have no idea where I bought this, though if I had to guess I would say it was at a chain bookstore near my parents house in Virginia. I think there used to be a small Brentano's at a little shopping center in Oakton, VA, about a mile from where I grew up. It was just far enough from our house to be a long walk. It was also pretty easy to get there on a bike.

I was just about to tell a story about a book I bought at that book store in high school, but I realized that it's due up in the T section, so I will hold off.

But maybe I'll talk about that little shopping center. It's still there, I am sure. We spent a lot of time there when I was a kid. It was an L-shaped plaza with a parking lot that began at the road, Rt 123, or Chain Bridge Rd. as I think it was called. The main reason we went there was to go grocery shopping at Giant, a DC-area chain. Giant anchored the L at one end, People's Drug Store the other.

In between these two existed a series of smaller stores, some of them chains, some of them local shops. They changed many times over the years. Right next to the drug store, tucked away in a little corner was a t-shirt shop. They had a steam press in the back and mostly what they sold were decals that you could add to the front of your t-shirt. You could either buy the shirt there or bring your own.

I remember having them press a Star Wars decal on one shirt and then a "Death Before Disco" decal, featuring a disco ball and a skull with a snake extruding from the eye socket, on another. That store closed and became a video rental store. I think it may also have been a record store at some point. At the other end, near the grocery, was the Brentano's. I don't remember how long that was there.

I have a memory of stealing or buying a pack of cigarettes at Giant when I was about 13 and sitting outside the store smoking with a friend. An older woman came up and scolded us, saying we were too young to be smoking and that our parents should be ashamed.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 53 (John Steinbeck)

The Grapes of Wrath
Steinbeck, John
The Grapes of Wrath

I think this is my high school textbook, but I could be wrong. I don't think I read all of it in high school, though I do remember reading some of it. I had a Steinbeck summer after my sophomore year in college, which led directly to my becoming an English major. It was the summer of 1989. I had transferred to Fordham, my third college, after a miserable, drug-addled semester at George Mason University.

After failing all of my classes for lack of attendance, I had been on the verge of telling my father to put me into rehab, when he asked if I thought transferring to a different college would be the best thing for me. So off I went to the Bronx. It didn't take long before I was up to my old tricks, but something had changed. I knew I had a serious problem with drugs and alcohol and that it would only get worse if I couldn't get a handle on it. About a month after I arrived, I convinced one of my comrades-in-kind-bud to go with me to an AA meeting. Remarkably, we have both remained sober since that day.

I spent the following summer in my parent's basement in Vienna, VA. It was the last summer that I lived at home, I think. I slept on a fold-out couch. During the day, I worked for my father's car rental company, writing car rental contracts and driving all over kingdom come to pick up new cars, drop people off and pick them up at National and Dulles airports, etc. When I was not working, I was in the basement smoking, reading, writing, and teaching myself how to play guitar. I probably spent the most time on guitar, but I was also training myself to read.

I say "training" because I had read somewhere that in order to become a writer you had to be a good reader. I was a terrible reader, so I concluded that if I wanted to write I had to first train myself to read. My biggest problem was that reading put me to sleep. I would read two pages and then my eyes would start to droop. At first I was angry with myself, but then I had a kind of epiphany. I decided to just go to sleep if I felt tired. I would read for five minutes, then pass out for fifteen. I would wake up and start reading again and sometimes fall asleep again. The key was to keep reading once I'd woken up. I managed to read something like fifty books that summer, and I have never had a problem reading since. I also started reading with a dictionary next to me, as my vocabulary was pitifully small.

Steinbeck was the first author I read that summer, mainly because I felt I had to read some of the books I'd missed in high school. Then followed Of Mice & Men, Cannery Row, The Winter of Our Discontent, The Pearl, and, finally, East of Eden. It was the latter that had the biggest effect on me at the time. There's a passage in which one of the brothers decides to become a writer. He sets up a binary opposition in his mind between the turmoil of artistry that pays off with greatness and the comfort of mediocrity that pays off with happiness. He decides that he must choose between the two, and chooses the life of the artist. Of course, he ends up committing suicide (which did not end up in the film version, btw).

In my young mind, though, this seemed like an important choice to make.

from The Grapes of Wrath

Read Chapter 19 here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 52 (Suzanne Stein)

tout va bien
Stein, Suzanne
tout va bien

Purchased from SPD books for $0 plus $3.99 shipping.

I have been ordering more poetry books through the mail since I got here, partly because there isn't a good book store within 90 miles, partly because my new position is not as closely bound to contemporary poetry, thus the river of free books I used to get as part of my job has been diverted to my successor at Just Buffalo, Barbara Cole. It's an interesting adjustment to make. In Buffalo, if I became interested in a poet, I could just invite them for a reading. I'd get a free copy of their book, write an introduction, listen to them read, drive them around town, etc. This was how I connected to poetry.

Now I have to depend more on the poetry itself and less on the poetry scene, as it were. Poets will be coming through here in droves, thanks to the efforts of Richard Deming and Nancy Kuhl, who between them organize eight or ten events throughout the school year, but I definitely feel apart from something now that I am away from Buffalo. Community, perhaps. I miss it, on the one hand. On the other, I don't think it is a bad thing to change one's means of engaging with poetry. If for the next few years I mostly read and write poetry, that can't be all bad, even if it is a little lonely.

Anyhow (I have become aware of this tic I've developed of using "anyhow" to change the subject, but I haven't yet figured out how to rid my blog posts of it. Anyhow,), on a typical day at my new job I arrive at 8:30 and work until about 10, when I take a coffee break. No beverages are allowed in the Beinecke except in a lounge area, thus everyone takes a couple of coffee breaks per day, usually one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I do the same. I bring a book. At lunch I eat out, usually at one of the many food carts that surround the Yale campus.

When I bought Suzanne's book, I carried it to work with me every day for a week, reading it here and there as I had the opportunity. Even though I hate the Godard film from which it takes its name (with a deep, abiding hatred, I might add), I like Suzanne's book, and knowing her as I do, I even enjoy her re-use of said title, despite the deep abiding hatred I have for the film. Which is not to say I hate Godard. There is great Godard, good Godard, run-of-the-mill Godard, and then there is a handful of films or scenes in films that make me want to tear the seat out from under me and throw it through the screen. Tout va bien is such a film.

Suzanne's book made me very aware of not just what I was reading, but where I was reading it. For instance, I read the first piece over a so-so wrap at a so-so coffee place in New Haven called Koffee. I sat on a couch by the door, eating my sandwich, sipping a latte, and thinking about the fact that I was sitting there reading that particular book in that particular spot and how interesting it was because the first talk in the book is very much about giving a talk in a particular place at a particular time while simultaneously recalling another talk of a similar nature, given at another time and place.

I sent Suzanne a text message telling her I was reading her book. This took place on June 7. I wrote, "I am sitting in a cafe in New Haven reading tout va bien and loving it. Will email about this soon. Cheers, m." To which Suzanne replied, "This thrills me. Who is this? Xoxox." It took a while for me to answer back, but by the time I did, she had figured it out. I made a mental note to myself to take mental notes to myself about when and where I was reading the book.

I read the next several sections of the book while eating Ethiopian food from a food cart. The cart parks in front of the Yale hockey rink, known locally as "The Whale," because of the shape of the roof, which resembles a great fish. Across the street, the School of Management has a lovely, shaded, outdoor eating area with picnic tables whose chairs are chained to the concrete. While reading and thinking about how I was thinking about where I was while reading the book and where Suzanne was when she was writing or speaking the pieces in the book, I managed to get Ethiopian food on the cover. I wiped it off and it did not leave a stain.

That evening I remember reading on the couch in the living room. When I took the book out of my bag, I realized that my laptop had been pressing down on it and had creased the cover. tried to straighten it out, but to no avail. The cover now has a crease.

The next few times I read it I was sitting in the lounge at work, my experience of the particularity of my reading experience was growing vague and more generalized. I think I finished the book at night, in bed, and then turned off the light and went to sleep.

I never did send that email to Suzanne.

from tout va bien

Monday, August 20, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 51.3 (Gertrude Stein)

How to Write
Stein, Gertrude
How to Write

I am not sure where or even when I acquired this. I have had it for a long time. I may even have had it long enough that I bought it thinking it might "teach" me something about writing. I don't recall that it did teach me anything about writing, although I have always liked the statement she makes in the heading for chapter two: "A sentence is not emotional a paragraph is."

I can't say I agree with this statement and I don't think that is really the point. A paragraph is by nature no more emotional than a sentence. Likewise, a sentence is no less emotional than a paragraph. The statement is metaphorical. It is talking more about emotions than about the structure of writing. An emotion is like a paragraph, that is, an aggregation of urges and drives whose meaning (like that of a sentence) cannot be well understood until these urges and drives are grouped together in a body with a mind, at which point they become emotions, thus forming the basis of a personality.

 How the hell did I get on this subject?

Anyhow, today is the last day with Ms. Gertrude Stein. I feel her presence hovering about me every day, as my new employer houses her archive. From her portrait staring down at the reading room to the small Picassos from her collection on the wall of Nancy Kuhl's office, right down to the genealogy that leads to my job, there is Gertrude Stein.

The story goes like this. Carl van Vechten was Stein's literary executor. Bruce Kellner, later an English professor and executor of the van Vechten estate, also housed at the Beinecke, joined the Navy during the Korean War. He'd discovered Stein as a teen and while on board his navy ship spent half a month's pay on a new edition of Stein that had just been released. The publisher, a friend of van Vechten's, told him about this, so along with the new book he sent an additional book as well as a personal note to the young sailor, who was grateful. Thus began a friendship.

After the war, Kellner moved to New York and lived down the street from van Vechten. At various parties, he met a gay couple, a writer and an actor, named Donald Windham and Sandy Campbell. They knew each other socially for a few years, but when Bruce left the city their acquaintance ended. Later, while researching a book on Stein, Kellner put an ad in the NY Times asking did anyone have any photos or letters by Alice B. Toklas. Donald and Sandy, who'd known Toklas and published a book of her letters to them, wrote that they had quite a lot.

Thus began another friendship. At that time, Donald had just donated some of his papers and parts of Sandy's library to the the University of Georgia. The relationship had soured and it was Bruce who introduced Donald and Sandy to the director of the Beinecke at the time, Donald Gallup.

Thus began yet another friendship that led to the donation of Donald's papers to the Beinecke. This eventually evolved into a massive posthumous donation to establish a new set of literature prizes.

Nancy Kuhl, an old friend, now the curator of the Yale Collection of American Literature, Poetry, suggested first to Yale that they needed to hire someone full-time to run this prize, and second to me that I should apply for the job.

And so here I am.

from How to Write

Now that is something not to think but to link. A little there. I lost a piece of my cuff button and I found it. That is not a sentence because they remain behind.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 51.2 (Gertrude Stein)

History fo Messages from History
Stein, Gertrude
History or Messages from History

Purchased at Borders Books, most likely the one in Cheektowaga, NY, for $5.95. I bought this thinking is might be useful for one of my orals lists in graduate school, but I don't think I used it.

I don't think I have anything to say about Gertrude this morning.

We've been playing with Emily all morning, trying to convince her to take her first steps. She can walk holding on with two hands. This morning I got her to take five or six steps holding only one hand. She can stand on her own, but when I tell her to take a step she either reaches out to grab hold of my hand or my knees or sits down and tries to crawl. She's almost there.

Otherwise nothing. Well, we are house hunting again. This seems like a perpetual condition of our lives. Maybe it always will be.

from History of Messages from HIstory


What is history. Leaves leave and summer. Lettuce leaves and spring and summer. Leaf when an officer marries a daughter and they will have a home together. A leaf of embroidery. She makes leaves and a leaf very perfectly making it with a better than hopefully. Hope was in praise of hoping. This is the history of a name.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 51.1 (Gertrude Stein)

Writings 1932-1946
Stein, Gertrude
Writings 1932-1946

Purchased with its companion volume at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall discount book store.

I think it may have been Eileen Myles who introduced me to Gertrude Stein's work. I am sure I never studied her writing in college. None of the three modernism courses I took as an undergrad included her. I seem to remember Eileen handing out one of her lectures, "Portraits and Repetition," in a workshop I took with her back in the mid-90s.

We focused in on a part of the essay in which Stein delineates a distinction between "repetition" and "insistence." I remember she recounts a story of her childhood in which her large, boisterous family is sitting around the dinner table and all of them are talking at once. The only way for anyone to be heard is to keep repeating what they say until it is understood. She called this kind of repetition "insistence." I've always liked that distinction.

After that I searched far and wide through the bookstores of New York to find a copy of Lectures in America. I think the best I came up with was a paperback that included "selected" lectures. This was pre-Amazon, so it was a lot more difficult to find books like that if they were not still in print. I am sure these LOA volumes did not exist at the time and the lectures themselves had been out of print for years.

It wasn't long after that when I found myself in Buffalo, inundated with Gertrude Stein. I think we read Tender Buttons and Stanzas in Meditation in the first class I took. And of course the previous generation of Poetics students, especially Juliana Spahr, had not only drawn attention to Stein's work, but had taken some of her innovations in new directions, so the spirit of Stein seemed to permeate the atmosphere.

from "Portraits and Repetition"

The difference between thinking clearly and confusion is the same difference that there is between repetition and insistence. A great many think that they know repetition when they see or hear it but do they. A great many think that they know confusion when they know or see it or hear it, but do they. A thing that seems to be very clear, seems very clear but is it. A thing that seems to be exactly the same thing may seem to be a repetition but is it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 51 (Gertrude Stein)

Writings 1903-1932
Stein, Gertrude
Writings 1903-1932

Purchased at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall discount book store for $9, along with the second volume, also for $9.

At the time I bought the set, my collection of Stein consisted mainly of tattered and ragged-edged paperbacks found at various now-defunct used bookstores in New York City. They were not a pleasure to read when I bought them, and they took up a lot of space on my bookshelf.

I decided to purge.

I took everything by Stein included in these two volumes straight to Rust Belt Books, where I sold them for store credit. I still have a couple of paperbacks not included here, but that is about it.

I obviously was not thinking about this project at the time, as those tattered paperbacks would likely have been more interesting to write about than these neat little hardcovers, neither of which I have ever opened!

Nonetheless it is comforting to know that they are there and that should I need to go back and read more Gertrude Stein her writings will be there waiting for me, tucked away in readable, handsomely bound editions on my shelf.

from Selected Writings 1903-1932

from The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

It is very difficult now that everybody is accustomed to everything to give some idea of the kind of uneasiness one felt when one first looked at all these pictures on these walls. In those days there were pictures of all kinds there, the time had not yet come when there were only Cézannes, Renoirs, Matisses and Picassos, nor as it was even later only Cézannes and Picassos. At that time there was a great deal of Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, Cézanne but there were also a great many other things. There were two Gauguins, there were Manguins, there was a big nude by Valloton that felt like only it was not like the Odalisque of Manet,there was a Toulouse-Lautrec. Once about this time Picasso looking at this and greatly daring said, but all the same I do paint better than he did. Toulouse-Lautrec had been the most important of his early influences. I later bought a little tiny picture by Picasso of that epoch. There was a portrait of Gertrude Stein by Valloton that might have been a David but was not, there was a Maurice Denis, a little Daumier, many Cézanne water colours, there was in short everything, there was even a little Delacroix and a moderate sized Greco. There were enormous Picassos of the Harlequin period, there were two rows of Matisses, there was a big portrait of a woman by Cézanne and some little Cézannes, all these pictures had a history and I will soon tell them. Now I was confused and I looked and I looked and I was confused. Gertrude Stein and her brother were so accustomed to this state of mind in a guest that they paid no attention to it. Then there was a sharp tap at the atelier door. Gertrude Stein opened it and a little dark dapper man came in with hair, eyes, face, hands and feet all very much alive. Hullo Alfy, she said, this is Miss Toklas. How do you do Miss Toklas, he said very solemnly. This was Alfy Maurer an old habitué of the house. He had been there before there were these pictures, when there were only japanese prints, and he was among those who used to light matches to light up a little piece of the Cézanne portrait. Of course you can tell it is a finished picture, he used to explain to the other american painters who came and looked dubiously, you can tell because it has a frame, now whoever heard of anybody framing a canvas if the picture isn't finished. He had followed, followed, followed always humbly always sincerely, it was he who selected the first lot of pictures for the famous Barnes collection some years later faithfully and enthusiastically. It was he who when later Barnes came to the house and waved his cheque-book said, so help me God, I didn't bring him. Gertrude Stein who has an explosive temper, came in another evening and there were her brother, Alfy and a stranger. She did not like the stranger's looks. Who is that, said she to Alfy. I didn't bring him, said Alfy. He looks like a Jew, said Gertrude Stein, he is worse than that, says Alfy. But to return to that first evening. A few minutes after Ally came in there was a violent knock at the door and, dinner is ready, from Hélène. It's funny the Picassos have not come, said they all, however we won't wait at least Hélène won't wait. So we went into the court and into the pavilion, and dining room and began dinner. It's funny, said Miss Stein, Pablo is always promptness itself, he is never early and he is never late, it is his pride that punctuality is the politeness of kings, be even makes Fernande punctual. Of course he often says yes when he has no intention of doing what he says yes to, he can't say no, no is not in his vocabulary and you have to know whether his yes means yes or means no, but when he says a yes that means yes and he did about tonight he is always punctual. These were the days before automobiles and nobody worried about accidents. We had just finished the first course when there was a quick patter of footsteps in the court and Hélène opened the door before the bell rang. Pablo and Fernande as everybody called them at that time walked in. He, small, quick moving but not restless, his eyes having a strange faculty of opening wide and drinking in what he wished to see. He had the isolation and movement of the head of a bull-fighter at the head of their procession. Fernande was a tall beautiful woman with a wonderful big hat and a very evidently new dress, they were both very fussed. I am very upset, said Pablo, but you know very well Gertrude I am never late but Fernande had ordered a dress for the vernissage tomorrow and it didn't come. Well here you are anyway, said Miss Stein, since it's you Hélène won't mind. And we all sat down. I was next to Picasso who was silent and then gradually became peaceful. Alfy paid compliments to Fernande and she was soon calm and placid. After a little while I murmured to Picasso that I liked his portrait of Gertrude Stein. Yes, he said, everybody says that she does not look like it but that does not make any difference, she will, he said. The conversation soon became lively it was all about the opening day of the salon indépendant which was the great event of the year. Everybody was interested in all the scandals that would or would not break out. Picasso never exhibited but as his followers did and there were a great many stories connected with each follower the hopes and fears were vivacious.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 50 (Brian Kim Stefans)

Angry Penguins
Stefans, Brian Kim
Angry Penguins

Given to me by the author.

Brian gave a reading in Buffalo with Miles Champion in the Steel Bar Series, which was hosted by Jonathan Skinner in the studio of his wife, Isabelle Pelissier, on the fifth floor of the Tri-Main Center on Main St. in North Buffalo.

I remember being in the car with Brian and Miles. I don't know who was driving. I have a memory of sitting in the back seat and the two of them being in the front. Or maybe it was Miles sitting in the front and me and Brian sitting in the back. Jonathan must have been driving.

We had just left the building and had turned left off Jewett Parkway, heading south on Main St. towards downtown. I don't know where we were going.

I think the four of us started talking about buying books at readings or something like that and I remember telling them that I was too broke to buy books at the moment, to which both responded by giving me copies of theirs, which I appreciated greatly.

For a while, I was very interested in e-poetry, and I even published Brian's The Dreamlife of Letters in my short-lived journal of electronic writing, lume. My interest in that particular strain of writing waned, mostly because I never developed the tech chops to create it myself, but I've always liked and admired Brian's piece.

from Angry Penguins

"Voici de la prose sur l'avenir..."

Critically acclaimed
sonnets, of all things.

But the oven-roaster
rebels, quasi disparaging
in tense disequilibrium
                (of all things)
cautious with her
behind the screens, behind the skies
–clunky things, those furnishings
that futz with the eyes.

Win weekend's winnings' cup and
muster the bomb, hiber-
nating in cyber-climes, sand
                tough at the feet,
where the intestine is radically hyper: for

production, a line again, replete.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 49 (Sasha Steensen)

A Magic Book
Steensen, Sasha
A Magic Book

Given to me by the author after a reading she gave in Buffalo to celebrate the publication of the book. Inscribed:


Fellow Buffalonian
and Dear Friend.
Thanks for the 


I keep having this image pop into my head of talking to Sasha on the front porch of Gregg Biglieri and Barbara Cole's first floor flat on Ashland Ave.

Sasha and Barbara ran a reading series for several years called "Another Reading Series," which met alternately at Sasha (and Gordon)'s apartment and Barbara (and Gregg)'s. I don't remember who was reading that night, but it must have been in early fall, as it was warm enough to stand on the front porch.

Sasha was telling me about her dissertation topic and I recall thinking to myself that we were entertaining similar ideas related to poetry and history and so on. I took quite a bit of time to think this over and I must have looked very quiet and inscrutable because when I looked up Sasha had a slightly uncomfortable expression on her face, as if she was about to ask if she had said something wrong.

I don't remember where the conversation went from there.

I also remember that I had just caved in and bought a small blue cheap plastic cellphone, my first. I think Lori had needed to get one for work, so we decided to purchase a family plan. It had one of those little black and white screens on it. It did the job.

Later that evening, or possibly earlier, I stepped out on the porch later to talk on the phone, probably to Lori, when my ex-girlfriend stepped arrived arm and arm with her new boyfriend, climbed the stairs, gave me a cold, indifferent stare, and walked into the reading.

I also remember going back into the reading and seeing a copy of The Rings of Saturn on Gregg's bookshelf and thinking to myself that I should read that.

from A Magic Book

Errand #4

Sail (or sell or buy) as much of the shore as possible, or steal, preferably steal. We were to become the biggest producers of steel in the world, the biggest in a thousand senses. All of those grandfathers worked in that big mirrored building to make sure I could have my metal, which brings me around to errand #4: make sure we are in a position to mettle.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 48 (Jane Sprague)

The Port of Los Angeles
Sprague, Jane
The Port of Los Angeles

Given to me by the author. Inscribed:

To Mike–

For friendship
& endurance.


I first met Jane at a conference in Ithaca she organized called, "Small Press Culture Workers." It was one of my all time favorite literary conferences. We gathered a small hotel conference room near the Cornell campus, where we spent the day showing each other our wares, conversing, talking shop.

A very small number of non-academic panels convened. Panelists talked about their presses, their philosophies, etc., in a very casual and entertaining way. Afterwards, we all went out to a bar, where everyone read their poems.

What was great about the conference was that it focused on the work of small press publishing, while also recognizing that almost all small press publishers are also poets. Jane's feat was managing to do this without having one thing overshadow the other.

I have been to other conferences where all the books and magazines are exiled to a nearly empty room, while "star" poets are flown in to give a reading, which they give with barely a mention of the presses in the empty adjacent room that are working to bring their work into the world.

Anyhow, that was a touchstone conference for me, for sure, and also the beginning of my friendship with Jane, a publisher and poet I greatly admire.

from The Port of Los Angeles

we arrived

the big empty

we follow yachts

the path of canals

we watch fires burn

Courtney Love tied down and thrashing

Michael Jackson's felt codpiece

this is the nightly news

this is the promised land

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 47 (Daniel Spoerri)

An Anecdoted Topography of Chance
Spoerri, Daniel
An Anecdoted Topography of Chance

Purchased in the Amazon marketplace. I bought this a year or two ago on the recommendation of someone who said it reminded them of what I was doing on this blog. I found a copy of it online and ordered it.

I remember feeling that the condition of the book had been misrepresented by the seller. I don't recall the exact nature of my complaint. Whatever it was, I decided to say something about it in the seller's comment section. He immediately wrote back and told me that it was I who misunderstood the wording in his description, which was completely accurate bookseller language, not he who had mis-described it.

After he explained this to me, I went back to the original description to determine whether or not I agreed with his assessment of the situation. I decided that I was, in fact, mistaken, and removed the offending comment. One unfortunate thing about the Amazon comment system is that you cannot change your comment. You can only remove it. It would have been nice to say something nice in order to acknowledge my mistake, but all one can do is take it back.

Anyhow, if ever there was a spiritual predecessor to this blog, Spoerri's book is it, despite the fact that I had never heard of it until I was two years into writing it. One day, Spoerri, decides to document every object then sitting on a blue table in his Paris apartment, in order "to see what the objects on a section of this table...might suggest to me, what they might spontaneously awaken in me in describing them."

He draws a map of all of the objects on the table. He draws illustrations each of the objects individually (actually, I think the illustrations are by Topor). He then writes an entire book that includes the sketches and descriptions of the objects. His friend, Robert Filliou, writes anecdotal footnotes to the objects. Fluxist Emmet Williams,who translated the book adds a third level of commentary with his own set of notes.

It's much less subjective than my project because of the fact that three or four people are involved, even though Spoerri is at the center of it. Anecdotes might reflect something of the subjectivity of Spoerri, but they might just as well reflect the thoughts of Till or Filliou. Everything starts with the objects, but once it is documented, the entire universe if open for discussion, so long as Spoerri or the others happen to think of it while they are describing the object.

from An Anecdoted Topography of Chance


Box of Granulated Sugar 
(drawing of object appears to the right of the text in the original ↓)

Labaudy-Sommier† Brand,
used to sugar the coffee the
morning of the breakfast
(Nos. 1 and 30).


          †I found out recently that the birthplace of the French baroque, the château of Vaux-le-Vocmte, built by NICOLAS FOUQUET, superintendent of finance of LOUIS XIV, who banished FOUQUET out of jealousy after a magnificent fete the Sun King attended at the château, is now owned by the SOMMIER sugar family, and to visit  it you have to apply in writing to MADAME SOMMIER.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 46 (Benedict de Spinoza)

On The Improvement of the Understanding, et al.
Spinoza, Benedict de
On The Improvement of the Understanding
The Ethics

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books.

One of my all-time favorite books of philosophy is Deleuze's book on Spinoza, Expressionism in Philosophy. (Two of my other favorites are his books on Nietzsche and Bergson). After reading D's book, I got the itch to read Spinoza himself, so I went out and bought this one. I have never gotten through it.

Ah, to return someday to the planes of immanence. Wait, I am already here!

I have been meaning to return to the film by Bela Tarr that I mentioned the other day, but I am afraid I have run out of time this morning.

If you go back a couple of days, you can see what I am talking about. The literary outlaw Richard Deming responds in the comment box.

I keep thinking about it.

There's something there.

What is it?

You should really see it and tell me what you think. All of you.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 45.1 (Art Spiegelman)

The Wild Party
March, Joseph Moncure
Spiegelman, Art (drawings)
The Wild Party

I guess this should have been filed under "M" for March, but then it really wouldn't exist if it weren't for Art Spiegelman. You could argue it either way. Spiegelman is the headliner, so I'll call it his book. It was given to me as a gift on my 27th birthday, with the following inscription:

26 October 1995


Now that you're in your late twenties I thought you might need this to remind you of days gone by.



I am pretty sure that I have spoken about R. in some detail on this blog. She was a friend from the end of college until a little while after I arrived in Buffalo, when many of my old college friendships simultaneously came to abrupt ends, often with much drama.

This one was no exception to that qualification. It ended with a couple of teary phone calls and a very final, thudding email that send what was once a lovely friendship spiraling into the past.

I am sure I wrote about this before, but I can't recall in what entry, so if you really want to know more, you'll have to dig through the blog in search of R. (and also T., another figure in the story).

Ah, there, I've done it for you. Two entries immediately appeared when I searched for "R."

from The Wild Party

Queenie was a blonde, and her age stood still,
And she danced twice a day in Vaudeville.
Grey eyes.
Lips like coals aglow.
Her face was a tinted mask of snow.
What hips–
What shoulders–
What a back she had!
Her legs were built to drive men mad.
And she did.
She would skid.
But sooner or later they bored her:
Sixteen a year was her order.
They might be blackguards;
They might be curs;
They might be actors, sports, chauffeurs–
She never inquired
Of the men she desired
About their social status or wealth: 
She was only concerned with their health.
She knew:
There was little she hadn't been through.
And she liked her lovers violent, and vicious:
Queenie was sexually ambitious.
Now you know.
A fascinating woman, as they go.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 45 (Art Spiegelman)

Maus I
Spiegelman, Art
Maus: A Survivor's Tale
1 My Father Bleeds History

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

The first year I was in charge of "If All Of Buffalo Read The Same Book" (2003, I think), I wanted to do something different. One of the books we considered for the project that year was this one. I think Just Buffalo bought the set and we passed it around the office for everyone to read. Somehow I only ended up with Part I. I have no idea what happened to Part II.

I remember asking Creeley if he knew how to contact Spiegelman. I think he got me Spiegelman's mailing address. I wrote a letter, but he never replied. A few years later I noticed that he had been picked up by a speaker bureau, which would have made it a whole lot easier for me in the beginning.

We never pursued it, but the Buffalo Public Library brought him as part of a year-long celebration of graphic novels. I remember them telling me something about him having a clause in his contract which demanded he be allowed to smoke on stage, and that he would not perform unless he could do so.

On a completely unrelated note, the Literary Outlaw Richard Deming, now my neighbor, came by last night to watch my recently purchased blu-ray copy of The Turin Horse, supposedly the final film by Hungarian director extraordinaire Bela Tarr (I think his Satantango and especially Werckmeister Harmonies are two of the greatest films I have ever seen).

The Turin Horse begins after a legendary incident involving Frederich Nietzsche, wherein he walks into town and sees a man beating a recalcitrant horse. The philosopher stops the man and becomes so upset he throws his arms around the horse's neck and begins to weep uncontrollably. A neighbor has to take him home, where he lays in bed for two days, descending into the final madness of his last years.

Nietzsche does not appear in the film, which follows the man and the horse home, presumably after the incident. The man lives a hardscrabble existence with his daughter on a bleak farm in a barren landscape, very similar to the one depicted in the apocalyptic Satantango.

My immediate response to the film was that I didn't like it.

Tarr is always serious, but his best films have a comic touch and a kind of visual lyricism that overcome some of the existential horror they depict. The Turin Horse, however, is relentlessly bleak. The soundtrack threads together a windstorm howling outside throughout the film and a droning score a la Philip Glass, and very little happens.

Over the course of seven days (each one a "chapter), we watch the pair, dress, eat, pull water from the well, drink brandy, feed the horse, clean out the stable, etc. We live in their world in almost real time, to the point that we become aware of a series of small, yet potentially catastrophic changes taking place around them: the horse refuses to eat and threatens their livelihood, the well runs dry and threatens their well-being, finally, the oil lamps refuse to light after darkness descends..

All of this rolls past in what often feels like real time. It's an endurance test to be sure, one I wasn't sure was justified in the face of the bleakness of the film. But then I woke up this morning still thinking about it. It may actually be a great film. I'll need to think about it some more. Maybe RD would like to chime in?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 44.2 (Jack Spicer)

The Collected Books of Jack Spicer
Spicer, Jack
The Collected Books of Jack Spicer

Purchased at The Strand. For $6. This has the original embossed cover, which you can't tell from the photo. This cover disappeared from subsequent editions.

I bought this in 1996 or 7. I was still living in New York and I had started reading Paul Hoover's Postmodern Poetry anthology, which included a section on Spicer. I wanted to discover contemporary poetry that was not like the poetry I read in the New Yorker, so I picked up that book and started discovering.

I loved After Lorca when I first read it, so I was excited to find a collection of Spicer's poems on the cheap. I can't remember if I encountered his work before or after taking a workshop with Elaine Equi. We used that same anthology in her class and I am pretty sure we talked about him at some point.

Actually, my memory is changing slightly as I write this.

I remember now that my feeling about Spicer may have been more vague when I bought this. I may not even have read him yet, but had seen his name in the anthology. I may have bought the book only on that information–that he was in this anthology and that he might be worth reading. That sounds like a more accurate account of things.

There you have it. I still like After Lorca the best of all his books. I remember in graduate school feeling a kind of, how shall we say, 'pressure' perhaps, to focus on the later books, especially Language, because they influenced many of the language writers of the generation that followed, but I never quite took to that one like I did to the first.

De gustibus non est disputatum, as they say.

Too lazy to type this morning. Here's a link to a poem from After Lorca at The Poetry Foundation:

Monday, August 6, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 44.1 (Jack Spicer)

Poet Be Like God
Ellingham, Lewis & Killian, Kevin
Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer & The San Francisco Renaissance

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. I have a memory of seeing this book oat a Borders in Cheektowaga, NY, possibly of even holding it in my hands there. I guess I could have bought it there, but it seems unlikely. Maybe I just saw it on the shelf, took it off, put it back.

One of my most vivid memories of my first year in the Poetics Program in Buffalo was the talk Kevin Killian gave on the writing of this book. As I sit here thinking about how to tell this story, I feel suddenly aware of how anecdotally inclined I am. Kevin told several great anecdotes about his more unorthodox research methods and I remember them very clearly. Yet, I remember almost nothing about the biography itself, except one anecdote about Spicer living on peanut butter sandwiches.

The two anecdotes that stand out both involve some creative sleuthing on Kevin's part. In the first story, Kevin looks up the apartment Spicer rented when he was a young poet living on peanut butter sandwiches. I think he lived in the same building or house as Philip K. Dick. Anyhow, Kevin contacts the current occupant and goes to investigate. Kevin had read a description of some hideous wallpaper in, I think, the bathroom. During his tour of the apartment, he excuses himself to investigate said john. Inside, he gets behind the toilet and peels off a layer of newer wallpaper to get a look at the one he'd read about -- and there it is!

My other favorite, which I often tell people, involves Allen Ginsberg. Spicer wrote a poem mocking one of Ginberg's poems. I forget which poem. Funny, I always remember it making fun of the "King of May" poem, but I feel like that must have been written after Spicer's death. Regardless, Spicer pokes fun at Ginsberg in one of his poems, so, during his research, Kevin asks Ginsberg what he thinks of it. Ginsberg says he isn't aware of any such poem.

Kevin raises an eyebrow.

Months or years later, two friends of Kevin's are staying in Allen's apartment in the East Village and call Kevin to tell him so. He immediately asks them to check the library for a copy of Spicer's poems and to turn to the poem in question. They find the book on the shelves, open to the poem, and discover that Ginsberg has heavily annotated that page!

Anyhow, like most biographies, I never got through this one, which says nothing about the quality of the book itself, only that biographies tend to bore me. Anecdotes, on the other hand, well, that's another story!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 44 (Jack Spicer)

The House That Jack Built
Spicer, Jack
The House that Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer
Edited with and Afterword by Peter Gizzi

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

A chapter in the imaginary book about my first two years in Buffalo could be titled, "Waiting For Jack Spicer," so intense was the anticipation of the release of this book, along with Kevin Killian's biography, Poet Be Like God.

Everyone in Buffalo knew that Peter Gizzi, who has just graduated, had been preparing this volume, his dissertation, for publication. It was due out at any moment.

In Charles Bernstein's seminar, we read from a xerox of the first lecture, "Dictation and 'A Textbook of Poetry,'" wherein Spicer expounds his theory of poetry as dictation. The poet receives radio signals from Mars, a la Cegeste in  Cocteau's Orphee. His only job is to listen to and transcribe the messages.

In addition to reading Spicer's lectures and poems, everyone in Buffalo started renting Orpheus from Blockbuster which, for whatever reason, kept a copy in stock. We also rented Blood of a Poet and Testament of Orpheus. On VHS!

My friend Anya wrote a paper on Spicer and talked about him a lot on the poetics list.

My friend Nick ordered a very reasonably priced collection of first editions of Spicer from a newly created auction site called eBay.

My other friend Nick organized a beach party in Canada based on Spicer's "Poetry as Magic" Workshop.

Kevin Killian came to the seminar to discuss his forthcoming biography.


I think both this and Poet Be Like God were released at the end of that school year, which kept the enthusiasm for Spicer high all the way through the next year, if not beyond.

And then it died down as people graduated and moved on from the Queen City.

Of course, I stayed around long enough to see the second resurgence of Spicer, led by the intrepid David Hadbwanik. In his time in Buffalo he has brought Spicer back with a vengeance, directing poets theatre events around Spicer's plays, writing papers and giving talks on Spicer, even going as far as starting a writer's group called Poetry Still Magic.

Anyhow, you can read the first lecture here:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 43.1 (Edmund Spenser)

The Faerie Queene
Spenser, Edmund
The Faerie Queene

Purchased at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall discount book store, for $5.50. I started to read this a few years ago, but put it down after the first book, despite the fact that I had been enjoying it. I remember in college deciding not to read Spenser when I read about genocidal proposals for colonizing the Irish.

Anyhow, long-time PBH reader Mongibeddu requested more diary-like entries after yesterday's post, so, since I had an interesting day yesterday, I thought I'd oblige.

Actually, the story begins the day before yesterday. In the afternoon, I was walking through the public part of the reading area at the Beinecke towards the bathroom. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man with a salt-and-pepper beard sitting in the reading room, who looked quite a bit like the poet-scholar Grant Matthew Jenkins.

I first met Grant at a reading I gave in Norman, OK in 2007. He teaches in Tulsa, which is pretty close to Norman. We've run into each other a few times since -- once in Buffalo, another time in Denver -- and we've kept up tangentially on Facebook and in emails. One of his former students wrote to me that he really liked my book, which was very moving for me.

So there I was, staring into the reading room at this man with a salt-and-pepper beard, thinking that it might be Grant Jenkins. I wasn't wearing my glasses and after a few moments I decided that it was not in fact him. Fast forward to yesterday, and there I was again, this time walking in the opposite direction, that is, from the bathroom towards my desk. I looked to my right and there he was again.

This time, I was pretty sure it was Grant Matthew Jenkins. I decided to verify this. Not, mind you, by approaching him directly, but by running back to my desk and looking to see if he had made mention of the Beinecke library on his Facebook page. Sure enough, there was a photo of him standing before one of the little blue signs that identify buildings at Yale.

I rushed toward the reading room and saw Grant walking off in the direction of the bathroom. I called out his name, he turned around, called mine back, asked what I was doing there. I told him I worked there now and asked him what he was doing there. He told me he was working on the Ron Padgett papers. I said cool. He said let's have lunch. I said how does noon sound? He said cool. We had lunch.

We went to Sushi on Chapel, where I had the Sashimi lunch box and he the Sushi combo for one. I drank green tea. He drank Sake. We talked about Ron Padgett. We talked about Ted Berrigan. We talked about innovative African American poets like Nate Mackey and Harryette Mullen and Tyrone Williams. We talked about Charles Alexander, Tucson, Tenney Nathanson, the POG series.

We talked about David Shapiro and Eileen Myles and Alice Notley and Joe Brainard. We talked about Berrigan's Sonnets. We talked about Berrigan's notebooks in Buffalo. We talked about the various generations of the New York School and how to identify them. We talked about literary hierarchies in New York.

We talked about writing poetry and the difficulty of bringing disparate poems together into a book that seems coherent. We split the check between cash and credit card. We walked through the Old College courtyard back to the Beinecke. I told a story about Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt. We paused before the Sterling Memorial Library so Grant could take a photo of the two of us standing in from of the Sterling Memorial Library. I told him he should apply to be a fellow at the Beinecke so he could keep studying the Padgett materials. We said goodbye at the entrance to the reading room and promised to keep in touch.

I worked until the afternoon, during which time I also exchanged several emails with poet Susan Howe about effective treatments for benign positional vertigo, schools in Guilford, Ct., etc. I tried out two new desk chairs for my office, which is about to be redone. I walked home, changed, got in the car with Lori and Emily and drove out to Bethany, where we ate paella and got eaten by mosquitoes with our friends Eric and Lina and there friends, Francine and Dan.

from The Faerie Queene

Lo I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske,

As time her taught, in lowly Shepheards weeds,

Am now enforst a far unfitter taske,

For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds,

And sing of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds;

Whose prayses having slept in silence long,

Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds

To blazon broade emongst her learned throng:

Fierce warres and faithfull loves shall moralize my song.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 43 (Edmund Spenser)

The Shorter Poems
Spenser, Edmund
The Shorter Poems

Purchased at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Bookstore, along with a copy of the Penguin Edition of the Faerie Queene.

Speaking of Penguin, last night at the Beinecke Library, Gruff Rhys, of Super Furry Animals fame, gave a free concert. It was the kickoff for what he is calling an "investigatory" tour.

He's discovered a distant Welsh relation named John Evans, who, it seems, believed that a tribe of Native Americans was actually descended from a group of Welsh explorers. In 1792, he set out to America to find this tribe, traveling 1800 miles up the Missouri River, only to discover that this mythical band of Welshman did not exist. He died in New Orleans, they say of a broken heart.

Rhys' journey began at the Beinecke because they possess several maps he made of his travels, which were eventually copied and used by Lewis & Clarke on their famous expedition into the American interior. This latter phrase, by the way, will be the title of the theme song and the accompanying album.

There will also be a print book and some kind of digital media book or app produced by this, which is how I ended up sitting next to the head of Penguin UK digital publishing for half an hour or so before the event. He told me all about the transition to digital media, how in England people are more into apps than into e-books, but that in the U.S., it's the opposite.

He also told me about his previous job in the record business and some of the insane lengths they went to to combat digital piracy. In one instance, he said there was a computer with its own broadband line, at which someone was stationed whose job it was to download porn sites and strip them apart to see how they worked. This in the hope of keeping on top of trends in the porn industry, which always seems to lead the way in terms of technological innovation.

He also told me that, personally, he prefers reading books to using an e-reader!

from The Shorter Poems

from The Shepheardes Calendar

Willye. Perigot. Cuddie.

TELL me Perigot, what shalbe the game, 
Wherefore with myne thou dare thy musick matche? 
Or bene thy Bagpypes renne farre out of frame? 
Or hath the Crampe thy ioynts benomd with ache? 


Ah Willye, when the hart is ill assayde, 
How can Bagpipe, or ioynts be well apayd? 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 42.2 (Juliana Spahr)

Spahr, Juliana

I am not sure where I got this book, but I have this vague feeling I got it on the cheap, possibly at a remaindered or used book store.

I feel like I have had it for a long time.

I love the cover.

It's very clean and stark and spooky.

I think I saw her read from this book at the Ear Inn back in the mid-nineties.

I am kind of drawing a blank this morning.

I feel like the silhouetted figure in the photo, contemplating an empty screen.

That is almost a literal truth.

I am seated, and I am staring at a screen thinking.

However, the screen isn't empty.

It is full.

It is over full.

It is overflowing with images and icons and text, all of them prodding me to take action.

"Send Feedback"

I will use the "Publish" button at some point.

But that wasn't the point at all.

I was comparing myself to the seated figure on the cover of the book Response, by Juliana Spahr.

I am not silhouetted and the screen is not empty.

The figure on the cover is both passive and contemplative.

I am contemplative, but not passive.

I am interacting with the screen.

I am producing text.

I am preparing to edit and self-publish the text that I produce.

The figure on the cover stares at the blank screen.

The blank screen stares back.

Or it doesn't.

The blank screen glows.

The light in the room in which I sit is bluish this time of day.

It bears little resemblance to the stark whites in the photo.

I read that the photo depicts a sculpture by Nam Jun Paik called TV Buddha.

That is a very literal title.

Unlike the Buddha, I am seated in a chair at a desk.

My legs are not crossed.

I am not looking at a TV monitor.

I am looking at laptop monitor.

The laptop monitor is not looking back at me.

Not as far as I am aware.

from Response

You can download the whole book at ubuweb:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 42.1 (Juliana Spahr)

The Transformation
Spahr, Juliana
The Transformation

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

This is one of my favorite books by a poet in the last five years. I bought it on my way out the door for a month of writing in Florida, probably in 2008. I had begun trying to work autobiographical material into my poetry and I was looking for interesting models.

What struck me about this book was how effectively it tracked the obsessive, sometimes neurotic, attempts of a mind to align itself with a political ethics. Whereas Juliana's writing always foregrounds its artifice, here that artifice seemed to find an objective correlative in these very intimate and personal strivings toward a set of ideals.

At times I found this maddening, as I am often resistant to overt political statements in art. I don't seek out expressions of my politics in the writings or performances of others. I don't know why this is exactly, as I am generally politically inclined in my thinking.

I think what most frustrates me is the certainty expressed in such writing. There is often an assumption that the reader, the audience, humanity in general, is living in the dark, while the person speaking has seen the light and is going to shine that light on the rest of us, like it or not. The tone is often cold and shrill. This tends to piss me off.

At first, the politics of this book had that same effect, but the incredibly complex rhythmic structures enticed me to read on. I guess I went through a kind of 'transformation' myself when I realized that this was not a performance of ethical certitude, but exactly its opposite: the performance of a mind uncertain of its truths, one that wanted those truths to be actualized so strongly that it seemed willing to shred itself apart in the process of making them come to be.

Rather than being told that I hadn't seen the light, so to speak, I became witness to the process of a mind attempting to reach the light itself. It's a book about the excitement of trying to change oneself while trying to change the world. The final chapter culminates in a kind of breathless, heart-thumping exuberance that left an impression on my mind that I associate with great literature.

from The Transformation

Then back around to another heart, through the pulmonary veins they pumped long sentences and lists of connections, both paranoid and optimistic. Pumped with the left atriums attempts to map things out through writing so as to understand them. Pumped through the mitral valves the words of others. Pumped with the left ventricles the admission that they didn't have any real answers, only the hope that if they kept writing others might point them to answers. Pumped through the aortic valves changes. With grief, with worry, with desire, with attachment, with anything and everything, they began listing, inventorying, recognizing in the hope that a catalogue of vulnerability could begin the process of claiming their being human, claiming the being human of the pace that their little and ring fingers made when they held a pen, the space that when they were learning to write in first grade they had been forced to fill with a small cool marble so as to learn the proper way to hold the pencil.