Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 8 (Simone Weil)

The Iliad or The Poem of Force
Weil, Simone
The Iliad or The Poem of Force

Purchased online, I think. Or at Talking Leaves...Books. I remember having a little bit of trouble finding this book. Susan Howe suggested that I put this on my orals list, the exact same one mentioned in yesterday's post.

It's sometimes interesting to see how books ordered in a specific way, i.e., alphabetically by author's last name, and removed from the shelf one at a time, sometimes reveal unexpectedly meaningful relations.If I were to order my books by subject matter, these two might very well end up next to one another. To see them end up that way seemingly at random might strike the mystical-minded among us as meaningful. I am not one of those, though I do take pleasure in the coincidence.

This is more essay than book, thus the chapbook format in which it is published. 'Pendle Hill' is the name of the publisher. It's a powerful reading of Homer. I'd put it right up there with Horkheimer and Adorno's reading of The Odyssey in Dialectic of Enlightenment.

from The Iliad or The Poem of Force

The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man's flesh shrinks away. In this work, at all times, the human spirit is shown as modified by the very force it imagined it could handle, as deformed by the weight of the force it submits to. For those dreamers who considered that force, thanks to progress, would soon be a thing of the past, the Iliad could appear as an historical document; for others, whose powers of recognition are more acute, and who perceive force, today as yesterday, at the very center of human history, the Iliad is the purest and the loveliest of mirrors.

To define force–it is that x that turns anybody who is subject to it into a thing. Exercised to the limit, it turns man into a thing in the most literal sense: it makes a corpse out of him. Somebody was here, and the next minute there is nobody here at all; this is a spectacle the Iliad never wearies of showing us...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's Part 7 (Barrett Watten)

Bad History
Watten, Barrett
Bad History

Purchased online. I think I bought this thinking it might make it onto my orals list in graduate school. One of my three lists focused on the poetry of history. These were the book I put on it:

1. & 2. Homer – Iliad, Odyssey
3. Virgil – Aeneid
4. Simone Weill -- The Iliad, or the Poem of Force
5. Alice Notley – The Descent of Allette, Homer's Art and White Phosphorus
6. Herman Melville – Battle Pieces
7. Walt Whitman – Speciman Days and Drum Taps
8. Emily Dickinson – Selected Poems from 1860-64
10 & 11. Charles Olson – The Maximus Poems & Call Me Ishamael
12. T.S. Eliot – Four Quartets
13. Marianne Moore – Complete Poems, Essay on Lincoln
14. H.D. – Trilogy
15. William Carlos Williams – Patterson
16. & 17. Wallace Stevens – Transport to Summer, Auroras of Autumn
18,19. & 20. Edward Kamau Brathwaite – Rights of Passage, Masks, Islands

I don't recall why this book didn't make the list, as it fit right in with the concept of the list. It even fit Susan Howe's nickname for the list, which was "the poetry of war."

This morning, after I cracked open "Bad History," I found myself reading through it again. Part of it felt as if I were reading a newspaper I'd found in attic describing the major catastrophes of my college years: the Gulf War and the Los Angeles Riots. I also found myself taken in  by Wattens insistent abstraction.

There have been times when I have been turned off by this aspect of his work, but not here. I am not sure why that is. It feels like a very personal book, both at the level of narrative and at the level of political engagement. Beneath the abstraction there's actually a personal narrative here. At least, that's one way of reading it.

I found myself making lots of mental notes as I read it. It conjured memories and sent my mind moving in all different directions. It made me want to write. That's about the highest compliment I ever pay to a book. The only higher compliment I can give is when a book actually gets me to sit down and write. Which is what I am doing now.

Surprisingly, I don't think I have ever actually met Barrett Watten. I have been in the same room with him on several occasions. I have seen him give a couple of papers. He came to Buffalo three or four times during my years there, and I have read in Detroit a few times, but somehow we have never actually met.

from Bad History

It is a beautiful gray ironic day, with forecasted clouds in the depthless background to complement the bold relief of our vacant enterprise. These vertical lines simply partition the competing claims of our orchestrated interests, held in on all sides by work cycles of habit and stability. Then our private spheres burgeon out until even we are redeemed! Each sphere comes complete with a view, but that view will never get around this corner. Under the oversized roof of the world, trade in materials has fashioned a culture for all–

Monday, October 29, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 6 (Dana Ward)

This Can't Be Life
Ward, Dana
This Can't Be Life

Purchased online directly from the publisher, Edge Books.

I've met Dana on two occasions. The first time he came to a reading I gave at Xavier in Cincinnati in early 2009. Dana, myself, Norman and Alice Finkelstein, and Tyrone Williams went out for food and beers at a local pub afterwards. Dana and I sat next to each other in the booth and we hit it off instantly, gabbing away most of the night about everything from all the poets whose work we admired to living in older cities that have seen better days.

We got into a long discussion about a few lines in my poem, "A Crowning," which go like this:

Beneath the paving stones
More paving stones

To be pulled up
Into a version

The lines play off a Situationist slogan popular during the May '68 demonstrations in Paris. The original goes, "Beneath the paving stones -- the beach!" We had an interesting discussion about the meaning of both the original and the more world-weary twist I'd given it.

Dana conjures this conversation in a long poem from this book titled, "Typing Wild Speech." In his version, the conversation was not about the line in my poem so much as it was about me being critical of the youthful, utopian dreams buried beneath the stones in the original slogan. He claims that I called the slogan "frivolous."

It's interesting how two different people remember the same thing. I don't doubt that Dana heard something to this effect coming from me, but neither do I recall having said or implied that meaning. And there is a key omission to his version of the events which I think calls into question the recollection: the poem.

When Dana says, "the violence required to effect a wished-for sea-change & the violence used forever to maintain the status quo," this seems to me a reading of these lines, yet he never lets the reader know that we are actually talking not about my ideas in relation to Situationism, but rather about the meaning of four lines in a poem I'd written.

In the absence of the poem and also of the context of the complex relationship between the words on the page and their author, it leaves one with the impression that I am being critical of Dana's "frivolous" love of the Situationists' famous slogan.

But how do you argue with someone's subjective impression of an event?

Ultimately, his is less a poem about ideas than it is about the speaker's attempts to understand the suicide of a close friend. In the same passage, he uses a line from another poem of mine, "A Note on Utopia," that reads, "it/burns a deep hole/inside me that is all," as a springboard out of our conversation and back into mourning the loss of his friend. Ultimately, our meeting plays a small part amid the larger concerns voiced in the poem.

The second time we met also makes an appearance in the book, this time in the opening poem. A month or so after my reading in Cincinnati, someone, possibly Anselm Berrigan, was supposed to have read with Tisa  Bryant in the small press poetry series in Buffalo, but had to cancel at the last minute. Dana agreed to come read in his stead.

We spent the afternoon of the reading following the familiar visitors trail to Niagara Falls and Robert Creeley's firehouse, ending up at a sushi place on Elmwood. Having done this tour so many times with other writers, I don't really have a clear memory of much of the day other than that it happened in much the same way it did a hundred times before.

"Habit is a great deadener," says Beckett.

In Dana's memory, the scene at the Sushi place was a site of humiliation. Apparently, he didn't eat sushi often, so I helped him order and showed him how to use chopsticks more effectively. Nonetheless, he says, "I ended up sneaking it into my mouth with my fingers when I thought they weren't looking. It occurred to me that this part of the reading was about improvisatory parenting."

There seems to be a pattern developing here. In the first poem I "unwittingly scolded" Dana when we discussed the Situationists and now in this poem I am "unwittingly" engaged in "improvisatory parenting." Tisa collaborates by helping Dana put on his seatbelt.

In both cases the speaker sets himself up as a child or innocent "unwittingly" thrown into a world of adults who want to disabuse him of his illusions, what he calls in the first poem, "the silvery lights." I have no truck with holding on to one's childhood, but I am less keen on being set up as the scolding, possibly even abusive, parent, who tries to take it away.

But how do you argue with someone's subjective impressions of an event?

Here's a link to a recording on Dana reading "Typing Wild Speech" in its entirety.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 5 (Robert Walser)

Answer to an Inquiry
Walser, Robert
Answer to an Inquiry
Tr. Paul North, Illustrations by Friese Undine

Purchased from Matvei Yankelevich at the UDP table at Buffalo Small Press Book Fair in 2011. We'd invited UDP to be a featured press and Matvei in particular to be a featured poet at the book fair that year. I have a lot of UDP titles, so I was not looking to buy any more, but this lovely little hardbound translation of Walser's instructions for a theater of self-destruction paire with illustrations by Friese Undine, was just to good to pass up. I think I got it for ten dollars, and then Matvei handed me another five books to carry home with me. Not a bad deal!

from Answer to an Inquiry

Then the houses of the painted scenery topple down like the terrible drunkards and bury you. Only your hand can be seen jutting from under the steaming debris. The hand still moves a little, then the curtain falls.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 4.3 (Rosmarie Waldrop)

Dissonance (if you are interested)
Waldrop, Rosmarie
Dissonance (if you are interested)

I am not sure if I purchased this or if it was sent as a review copy. Something tells me it was the latter, though I never reviewed it. I remember being excited to discover that Rosmarie had written and essay on Charles Olson that I had never sen before.

In fact, there is a bookmark inside marking that very essay. It's not really a bookmark. It's an index card-sized broadside with a poem on one side and an image on the other. The image is an abstraction made of four figures running lengthwise like a river across the center of the page. The two figures to one side are copper-colored, the two on the other black. The two figures closest to the extremities have a floral quality, while the two occupying the center are circles.

On the flip side, printed in blue ink, is a poem entitled, Backbergia Militaris. It goes like this:

when the Borgias set out to do
in ever their closest
loved ones, with bullets
or Broadway shows, the deck
was stacked – this grayish
columnar head knows better

the terminal, dome-like cephalium
of orange-brown bristles
at the thought of anything less
than total self-destruct, controls
one half by blowing off limbs
in random cow fields

the little papery flower
contains a spoonful of curds
dried-up mother's milk
in a field of blasted spines

Mexico (Michoacán)

The poem is unsigned, but I am pretty sure that Jonathan Skinner wrote it, given our friendship and his longstanding preoccupation with all things cactical.

from Dissonance (if you are interested)

from Charles Olson: Process and Relationship

Nobody, not even Olson, can write entirely without analogies and metaphors. But he can and does put the accent on relation by contiguity, which allows him to combine the most insisten concern with particular experience, as Creeley notes, and an infinite context. For as the ability to experience is potentially unending, as there are always further perceptions, The Maximus Poems point toward a total inclusiveness that we have found perhaps in some novels and epics but rarely in a sequence of poems.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Aimless reading: The W's, Part 4.2 (Rosmarie Waldrop)

Differences for Four Hands
Waldrop, Rosmarie
Differences for Four Hands

Given to me by the author.

My other memory of Rosmarie's visit to Buffalo in 1998 or 9 is of getting stuck in the snow. I picked her up at the hotel one morning and took her to breakfast at Cybele's on Allen St. Cybele's was a small cafe that served excellent food. I used to eat there practically every day. A couple of years later they moved across the street next to Rust Belt Books. Lori and I used to go there for the ropa vieja they served at dinner.

As good as the food was, service there was terrible. We used to have to schedule two free hours in order to eat on a Saturday. You'd get a cup of coffee and then you would wait, and wait...and wait. It was always worth it, but it really was absurd how long it took to get your food sometimes.

Sadly, the inefficiency of the kitchen also spread to the management of the finances. The owner, a dear sweet woman who was also a lawyer, got into some tax trouble and started borrowing from an estate she was overseeing in her law practice, fully intending to pay it back. But it never works out that way, does it? When she got caught, she felt so horrible she entered a guilty plea without the benefit of counsel and ended up going to jail for six months.

Which spelled the end of Cybele's.

Anyhow, my memory is that I took Rosmarie there for breakfast and we talked about Charles Bernstein and Susan Howe and Robert Creeley and the poetics program and Brown and Burning Deck Press and then afterwards crossed the street to my car. It was a very snowy winter that first year in Buffalo. It snowed from Thanksgiving until Easter.  My car was stuck and I remember having to ask Rosmarie to press the gas pedal while I tried to push the car out into the roadway. I think someone may have come along to help us.

We eventually made it out.

from Differences for Four Hands

Clara, you won't be forgiver. Surviving. And by how long. Too practical, too competent. Not yours, the seal of pathos. Clara, I need to talk to you. I too admire the gift for destruction. I need your help on the long way round to death. Difficult. For all but the most sure-footed. You hold the keys, navigate narrows, the space of music in the proportions of blood and air. Strongly the chords, the cascades of angels, falling in counterpoint and entire conclusion.

Play for us, Clara. Play the music we breathe.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, 4.1 (Rosmarie Waldrop)

The Reproduction of Profiles
Waldrop, Rosmarie
The Reproduction of Profiles

Purchased at Rust Belt Books.

I have a memory of wanting to have this book and of not having it. Either I couldn't find it or I couldn't afford to buy it. I don't remember which. Or it may have been one of those cases where I got to the bookstore and saw something else and bought that instead, saying to myself as I walked home that I would buy it the next time.  This could all be make-believe. What I remember wanting is wanting and not having. Lack.

The period during which I wanted this book was during my first couple of years in graduate school. It seemed like Wittgenstein was everywhere. Just before I arrived in Buffalo I bought a used copy of Ray Monk's bio of the philosopher. It's one of the few biographies that I have ever read cover to cover. I think Wittgenstein was one thinker whose life was so strange that it was worth reading deeply about.

I remember the image of him writing the Tractatus while on the front lines in WWI. I remember the image of him watching b-movies obsessively. I remember the image of him living alone in a sparsely furnished home with wood floors in Ireland, obsessively removing the dust by having a servant lay out wet tea leaves to absorb it, sweeping them away when they'd dried. I remember the image of him traveling to the Fjords. I remember underlining a passage in the book in which he looks out at the spires of some cathedral and struggles to understand what they mean.

Most importantly, I remember him having an argument as a student of Bertrand Russell about whether or not one could say with certainty that there was not a hippopotamus under the desk. I remember this because my faulty memory recalled an elephant and not a hippo and so I named a poem and also my very first chapbook The Necessary Elephant. If you would like  copy of this rare book, there is one available for the amazingly high price of $21 from Appollinaire's book shop in Toronto. You can also buy an even rarer copy of my second chapbook and an even rarer event book from a reading I did with Taylor Brady, Nava Fader, Graham Foust, and Eleni Stecopoulos in Toronto in 1998.

Anyhow, Wittgenstein was in the air. In my first course with Charles Bernstein, we read Steve McCaffery's Evoba (pronounced "vubba," it is also "above" spelled backwards), which, like this book, takes The Philosophical Investigations as its starting point. 

I eventually did find a copy of The Reproduction of Profiles, but the memory of not having it remains.

from The Reproduction of Profiles

It is clear that distance devours the variables and leaves us with all propositions saying the same thing, but with such force that the desire takes us out of the body. Tell me that she is beautiful, you demanded, even though you knew that I had always been pleased to lead you astray. A name, I said, cannot go from mouth to mouth, a clear mirror unclouded by breath. Remember that nightingales sing only in the upper pay scales. And we can't logically correlate a fact with a soul, even if fiction sustains the tone of our muscles.  Your lips trembled slightly as you said the logic could take care of itself.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 4 (Rosmarie Waldrop)

When They Have Senses
Waldrop. Rosmarie
When They Have Senses

Given to me by the author.

Rosmarie was among the first group of writers I brought to read at Just Buffalo. Prior to my having taken the position, my predecessor, Ted Pearson, and Debora Ott, who founded and ran Just Buffalo, had written a grant to the Lannan Foundation for the series. They proposed about twenty or twenty-five names of potential visitors, out of which they would select ten to come read over the course of the next year. Everyone I brought that year came from that roster.

The list was divided into two large categories: national and local writers. We usually featured one of each. It was also divided into three monetary categories: $3000, $1500, $500. Local writers all got $500. Younger or mid-career writers from out of town received $1500 and bigger name writers got $3000. My recollection was that we did one or two of the latter per year, four of the middle figure, and then five at the lower end.

The list represented a wide range of poetries. Pattiann Rogers and Dorianne Laux both came that season, as did Margaret Randall. I think she got the big money that year. I was also able to bring Lee Ann Brown and Rosmarie Waldrop on separate occasions. The locals were an equally impressive crew. Susan Howe read with Lee Ann. Leslie Fielder gave one of his last readings. I am trying to recall who he read with, but it's not coming to me. Maybe Irving Feldman. I don't remember who Rosmarie read with, either. I feel like Ben Friedlander read that year, too.

Anyhow, she gave me a stack of books. I think she may have mailed them to me after she left. This one still has a handwritten $4 price tag on the back.

from When They Have Senses
from The Senses Visbly, or Two Very Handsome


the touch keeps at this moment
a trembling of warm
air reflected
weakly each time
he with such concision
the semblance of a wave
again the stubby fingers
whisper strained
passages and as before a matter
of decisive
anticipates once more
the risk
of spectacle

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 3 (Keith Waldrop)

Analogies of Escape
Waldrop, Keith
Analogies of Escape

Given to me by the other Waldrop, Rosmarie, when she came to read for Just Buffalo in, I think, 1998 or 9. I've met Rosmarie two or three times, but I have never actually met Keith. He did come to Buffalo for a reading when I was in grad school.

Rosa Alcalá, a former student of both Waldrops, introduced him. In her introduction she told a very witty anecdote about Keith giving her some advice about translation. Sadly, I can't remember how the story goes. The long and the short of it was that the advice was so obvious that one wouldn't generally even think it needed to be said aloud. But saying it out loud Waldrop gave the seemingly obvious advice a kind of fundamental importance. Damn, it's right on the tip of my tongue and I can't remember it. I am going to have to ask Rosa to chime in on this one.

UPDATE: Rosa sent me her complete introduction, which concludes with the following anecdote. She writes:

Many years ago, while I was a student of Waldrop’s at Brown, and before I had attempted my own translations, I asked him what his approach to translation was, expecting this superb translator of the French to offer me a key to his secret, a way in. He leaned into me, very earnestly, and said, “I start by looking up each word.”

Love that.

Actually, now that I think of it, I may have met Keith on that visit. Rosa threw a party for the two of them. She had an apartment on Franklin St. with a groovy curved staircase leading from the ground floor up to the bedroom. My memory of the party is pretty vague. I remember talking to Rosmarie, and I have a vague memory of seeing Rosa talking to Keith. I think I may have shaken hands with him before I left, but I don't think we spoke.

After Rosmarie's solo visit to Buffalo she sent me a postcard that had a lovely collage by Keith on the front side. I framed it and have had it hanging in my office at each house we've owned.

from Analogies of Escape

from Standard Candles


This is the house I did not build.

This is the room at the top of the stairs in a house I didn't build.

This is the desk–from a different generation_wedged in the window-nook of an upstairs room in a house someone else built.

This is the mess I've made. Under it all is a fire I did not set.

In the noise the world makes there is no windwo and here I lay my words in the loud, in the burning, the built. This is a fire from before fire ever came down.

This is my mess, over the noise of fire, window, desk, stair, house.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 2.1 (Anne Waldman)

First Baby Poems
Waldman, Anne
First Baby Poems

Given to me by the publisher, Geoffrey Gatza.

This is one of many Blazevox titles on my shelves, which contain an equal number of read and unread Blazevox titles. Geoffrey's prolific publication schedule and equally boundless generosity make it almost impossible to keep up with all of the books he publishes. When he used to get really cranking, I could expect to be handed a a bag full of books nearly every time we were in the same room together. I'd guess I've read half or maybe a but more of the books he's handed me over the years.

I just remembered that Anne dedicated a poem to me and Ted Berrigan few years ago. You can read it here.  She wrote it on the train leaving Buffalo after the OlsonNow event mentioned yesterday.

This is one of B'vox's lovelier titles, containing in addition to the poems color collages by George Schneeman.  For today's excerpt I flipped open to this one:


My belly & breasts turn into a lumpy cow's

In a dream, Susan lifts out a translucent orange & shouts "It's a boy!"

Dr. Mary plays the heartbeat for me on a small black box.

It sounds like ponies running in the wind

"That's the placenta wind," she says

Mike explains baby will go through all animal stages before birth

My heart is elephantine

I have a whale's appetite

Last night, creature fluttered inside me like a caught bird

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 2 (Anne Waldman)

Waldman, Anne

Given to me by the author. Inscribed:

For Mike and Lori

With affection and friendship

Anne Waldman

April 15, 2007

Anne came to Buffalo in 2007 for one of the OlsonNow events we put together. She was a great supporter from the start, showing up to give a reading at the first event we did at the Poetry Project in 2005.

Ben Friedlander has some pictures of her in Buffalo here.

I remember after the event we had a party in Anne's hotel room. It was an interesting group of people: Steve Kurtz, the Buffalo artist who at the time was being persecuted by the government for his art; Myung Mi Kim, Ammiel Alcalay, Henry Ferrini, who was screening his film on Olson at the event; Ben, Jonathan Skinner, possibly a couple of other people.

I remember it being kind of a subdued affair. We mostly listened to Kurtz tell us the story of his saga with the post-9/11 government. He woke up one morning to find that his wife had died in her sleep. He called 911. When the ambulance and police arrived, they saw that Steve had all kinds of experimental equipment in his apartment that he used in his art, which at the time was investigating bacteria and the like. Police called Homeland Security, and before he knew it his wife's body, his dog, and all of his equipment had been confiscated and he found himself being prosecuted for terrorism.

He spent the next five plus years defending himself before the government finally dropped the case. I remember being surprised at how he could tell the story with a healthy does of humor, despite not knowing what his fate would be. I remember he also told us about an event he and his comrades in art had recently staged somewhere in Germany. I can't recall exactly what it was, though.

from Outrider

Surface reality is changing so quickly and we are living in such a scary and "endarkening" time. Thinking of the tsunami and our own shameful Katrina disaster here. The lyers of suffering, the extreme poverty, neglligence as the planet spins out of control. I've been living vicariously through my son Amrose of late, who recently visited Angkor Wat. He also went to the killing fields in Cambodia. I guess it's some kind of either genetic or karmic propensity in me  – an urgency ensures just contemplating these places – the whole body and mind warms up. I want to be there as some kind of witness.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 1 (Derek Walcott)

Selected Poems
Walcott, Derek
Selected Poems

Sent to me by the publisher. This is the book Walcott used for his reading in Buffalo. The post-it-notes he used stuck as page markers for the poems he read are still stuck to the pages. It is inscribed thus:

To Michael

with thanks


Buffalo 2008

I wrote a fairly lengthy blog post about Walcott's visit a few years back, which you can read here. I'd write more about it, but my daughter is crying and I have to catch a train to New York.

A City's Death By Fire
After the hot gospeller had leveled all but the churched sky,

I wrote the tale of tallow of a city's death by fire;
Under a candle's eye, that smoked in tears, I
Wanted to tell, in more than wax, of faiths that were snapped like wire.
All day I walked abroad among the rubbled tales,
Shocked at each wall that stood on the street like a liar;
Loud was the bird-rocked sky, and all the clouds were bales
Torn open by looting, and white, in spite of the fire.
By the smoking sea, where Christ walked, I asked, why
Should a man wax tears, when his wooden world fails?
In town, leaves were paper, but the hills were a flock of faiths;
To a boy who walked all day, each leaf was a green breath
Rebuilding a love I thought was dead as nails,
Blessing the death and the baptism by fire.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Aimless Reading: The V's: Stats

The V's
The V's

10 Authors
12 Volumes
12 Titles

On to the W's!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Aimless Reading: The V's, Part 10.1 (Kurt Vonnegut)

Breakfast of Champions
Vonnegut, Kurt
Breakfast of Champions

I may have bought this at the same place and/or time as I bought yesterday's book. Both the price–$2.75–and the penciled-in handwriting in the upper righthand corner of the first page are identical.  Once again, I don't know where I got it.

I saw Kurt Vonnegut speak when I was in college. He spoke in an auditorium above the cafeteria at Fordham. I hadn't read him at the time, but many of my friends were obsessed fans, so I  tagged along. I remember he gave a very funny talk centered on Hamlet. He used a blackboard and drew all kinds of diagrams intended to illumine his argument. Unfortunately, I have forgotten the argument.

A friend told me to read God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, which I did. I was unconvinced. Which didn't stop me from reading more, but as I have said, my feelings for his work are at best lukewarm.

I remember going to see the film version of this in Buffalo. It came out the first year or so I was there and it played at the North Park Theater. The North Park is a 1920's era theater with a gigantic screen, a proscenium, and a domed ceiling emblazoned with a faded mural. The chairs are uncomfortable as hell and there is a gigantic stain in the middle of the screen, but it's definitely the best place to see a movie in Buffalo.

Nobody has screens that big anymore, sadly.

I don't remember much about the movie, except that Bruce Willis was in it and that I thought it was funnier than my girlfriend at the time did.

from Breakfast of Champions

In all innocence, Kago told the Earthlings about the automobiles. Kago did not know that human beings could be as easily felled by a single idea as by cholera or the bubonic plague. There was no immunity to cuckoo ideas on Earth.

And here, according to Trout, was the reason human beings could not reject ideas because they were bad: 'Ideas on Earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enmity. 

'The ideas Earthlings held didn't matter for hundreds of thousands of years, since they couldn't do much about them anyway. Ideas might as well be badges as anything.

'They even had a saying about the futility of ideas: 'If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."

Monday, October 15, 2012

Aimless Reading: The V's, Part 10 (Kurt Vonnegut)

Slaughterhouse Five
Vonnegut, Kurt
Slaughterhouse Five

I don't even have a guess about where I might have acquired this one. I have had it for a very long time, probably since college or just after.

It says on the inside flap that I bought it used for $2.75 and that it had belonged to the Horace Greeley High School English Department in Chappaqua, New York, which designated it copy number 39. A student, one Michael Baron/Kuntzman '92, wrote his name inside. I must have bought it in New York somewhere.

I suspect that scorn will rain down on my head if I say that I don't like Kurt Vonnegut's writing. He was everybody's favorite writer when they were in high school and college. Even the kids who didn't like to read liked to read kurt Vonnegut. I always found his worldview overly, what? Moralistic? Despite all the humor and cleverness and political venom I always felt like I was being taught something about good and evil, and that there was a clear, obvious distinction between those two things.

I tried hard to like his novels. I read four, maybe even five of them. I even taught him to one of my English classes, hoping they might like him and in turn make me do the same. The experiement failed. Miserably.

So there, I said it. I don't like Kurt Vonnegut. Bring it on.

from Slaughterhouse Five

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Aimless Reading: The V's, Part 9.1 (Virgil)

Eclogues and Georgics
Eclogues and Georgics

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I bought this a few years ago while writing a review of Ed Roberson's City Eclogue for ecopoetics. I felt like I needed a little better grounding in the form of the eclogue before I could understand what Ed was trying to do with it.

I sent to the review to Jonathan and then forgot about it. After a couple of years, he wrote me with some editorial comments. I remember reading them and then removing about half of the review. It read a lot better after that, though by then I'd nearly forgotten what I'd written.

Jonathan was just here two weeks ago, however briefly. He was doing a bit of a farewell tour before he heads off to his new job in England. He and his wife, Isabelle Pelissier, arrived on a Friday evening. We ordered three pizzas from Press, an "artisan" pizza restaurant around the corner from our apartment. We ordered one "fungi" pizza (mushroom and carmelized onions), one white pizza with tomatoes, and one margherita.

Under the old chandelier in our dining room  ate and drank and talked until we were nearly sleeping in our chairs. The conversation turned for quite a long time to a discussion of our early lives among our very different families. I remember laughing hard most of the night at the stories we all told.

Jonathan is terribly allergic, so the two of them slept in our bed, which is located in the only room in our apartment not infested with animal hair. The next morning we ate breakfast and then took the obligatory spin across the Yale campus. I took them to the Beinecke, where my friend Jamie, one of the security guards, let me take everyone downstairs to see the office areas and so forth.

We spent a long time lingering over a map used by Lewis and Clark that hangs in one of the meeting rooms. Upstairs, we looked at the Gutenberg Bible and the Audobon books and the two exhibitions currently showing, one on Stein and the other a collection of Modernist print materials from the Peter Eisenman collection.

Then we wandered back to the house and off they went.

from Eclogue 1

                          Never again shall I,
stretched in green cave, behold you from afar
Hang from the bushy rock; my songs are sung;
Never again will you, with me to tend,
On clover-flower, or bitter willows, browse.
Yet here, this night, you might repose with me,
On green leaves pillowed; apples ripe have I,
Soft chestnuts, and of curdled milk enow.
And, see, the farm-roof chimney smoke afar,
And from the hills the shadows lengthening fall.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Aimless Reading: The V's, Part 9 (Virgil)

The Aeneid
The Aeneid
Tr. Robert Fitzgerald

I believe I stole this from my brother. I read it during the summer of 1989.

I have written about this summer many times before on this blog. It took place after I stopped drinking and using drugs. I spent the almost entire summer in my parent's basement reading, writing, and teaching myself to play guitar. When I left the basement it was usually to go to an AA meeting.

This was the first classical epic I read. I think I also read Fitzgerald's translation of the Iliad that same summer. I remember keeping a copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology by my side so I could learn the names of all the gods and heroes.

One of these years, I'd like to embark on a new learning project in the way that I used to when I was younger. Learning has in some way become a habit, whereas once it was a challenge and an adventure. I remember the feeling of encountering for the first time a body of knowledge about which I knew nothing and of trying to teach it to myself.

It was an exhilarating feeling. All my old notebooks have lists and lists of the books I was reading and intending to read. I guess this blog is a commented list, in that sense, but it's also retrospective. Maybe that will be the next project. After I reach 'z' I'll start the Aimless Reading Projection. I'll write long pieces about books I intend to read and forecast the kind of reading experience I expect to have with each one.


from The Aeneid

He sank his blade in fury in Turnus' chest.
Then all the body slackened in death's chill,
And with a groan for that indignity
His spirit fled into the gloom below.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Aimless Reading: The V's, Part 8 (Enrique Vila-Matas)

El mal de Montano
Vila-Matas, Enrique
El mal de Montano

Purchased online.

I bought this after guest blogging at the PEN World Voices festival in, I think, 2008. I saw Vila-Matas at two events. The first was a celebration of Anagrama, the publisher of this book. Most of the great Spanish writers are published on Anagram, which is sort of like the New Directions of the Spanish world. Vila-Matas was one of six or seven writers on the panel. I think I wrote about this event before. The on-the-spot translation was so bad that they pulled the translator from the stage and brought out a new one. People were actually standing up and shouting "No, no!" at the translator.

The next day I saw a conversation between Vila-Matas and Paul Auster, which was equally awkward, as Vila-Matas speaks no English and Auster no Spanish. The translation was better, but the triangulation of English-Spanish-Translation made it feel like you were watching a private conversation.

I liked Vila-Matas, though. He had a kind of bemused wit about him and all of his answers were delightfully playful. His book is similar. I read 233 pages of it, but I didn't quite make it to the end. My memory of the reading experience was that his cleverness finally wore me out.

from El mal de Montano

Al finales del siglo XX el joven Montano, que acababa de publicar su peligrosa novela sobre el enigmático caso de los escritores que renuncian a escribir, quedó atrapado en las redes de su propia ficción y se convirtió en un escritor que, pese a su compulsiva tendencia a la escritura, quedó totalmente bloqueado, paralizado, ágrafo trágico.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Aimless Reading: The V's, Part 7 (René Viénet)

Enragés and Situationists in the Occupation Movement, France, May '68
Viénet, René
Enragés and Situationists in the Occupation Movement, France, May '68

Purchased at St. Mark's Books.

After I read Greil Marcus' Lipstick Traces I went on a quest to read all about Dada, Situationism, Lettrism, etc.. I bought Robert Motherwell's The Dada Painters and Poets, Debord's Society of the Spectacle, and this, which was, I thought, a historical account of May 1968. I remember it being very difficult to find these things and getting frustrated in my search. I don't recall this book being very informative as a historical account. I remember that I just wanted a kind of straightforward history of the era. This was more about the ideas behind the revolts, which was interesting but difficult to decipher without more context. The internet came into its own a few years later, but I had already moved on to other things.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Aimless Reading: The V's, Part 6 (Gimbattista Vico)

The New Science
Vico, Gimbattista
The New Science

Purchased at the Niagara Falls outlet mall discount bookstore. Vico was on my orals list, but I am pretty sure I bought it after the fact. My memory is of having read a library copy in preparation for the exam and then of buying this one because I wanted to have my own.

I said I would continue yesterday's thread about Janine Pommy Vega today. I brought Janine to Buffalo once. She read as part of the Boomdays celebration. It a strange gathering. The organizers asked Just Buffalo to put on a writing contest in which people wrote poems about the removal of the ice boom across the Niagara River as a harbinger of spring. I think Janine judged the poems and then we had the winners read them aloud at the event, a loud, raucous, drunken party in a waterfront party bar. Janine also read. I think they billed her as the "last of the Beat poets."

I worked on one other project with her. During my second stint in the migrant camps, a migrant worker from Mexico showed a truly keen interest in writing poems. He wrote them on his own, and he wrote lots of them. Janine and Sylvia, the director of the center, gave him extra attention, allowing him to come to the center to work with Janine on his poetry instead of having to wait for her to come out to his camp in the evening. When I came, we did the same. I even brought him a couple of volumes of Pablo Neruda's Odas to read. After I left, he began sending me his poems.

Janine asked me to work with her on translations of his poems so we could put out a chapbook. She even found a publisher. I think it was Bob Holman. Then one day I wrote to Sylvia asking how to get in touch with him. She wrote back saying he had left the country suddenly to attend his daughter's wedding, no forwarding address. And that was the last we ever heard from him. I still have an envelope with a group of his poems in it.

He had a strange first name that I can't quite jar loose from my memory. Alas, middle age. O, wait, I remember now. His name was "Rómulo."

Monday, October 8, 2012

Aimless Reading: The V's, Part 5 (Janine Pommy Vega)

The Green Piano
Vega, Janine Pommy
The Green Piano

Given to me by the late author, inscribed thus:


for Mike Kelleher

under the fireworks
this spring night


Janine Pommy Vega

I first met Janine in 1997 or 8. I had been working on a project for the NY State Council on the Arts and they asked me if I would like to earn a little extra money writing reports on various projects sponsored by the council.

One of these was the Geneseo Migrants Center in Geneseo, NY, about 90 minutes east of Buffalo, which ran a remarkable program that brought art into migrant farm worker camps. At various points throughout the year they brought painting, poetry, music, et al into the camps. This had been going on since the 1970s.

The woman who ran (runs, still, I think) the program, Sylvia Kelly, had all kinds of amazing stories about the changing demographics of the workers. Initially, most were southern blacks who made the trek north in the spring and worked their way southward by winter. By the seventies, many African Americans had transitioned into more permanent industrial positions in the north, at which point many of the workers came from places in the Caribbean, mostly Jamaica, from what I understand. By the eighties, though, almost the entire work force was comprised of Spanish-speaking laborers from Central America and Mexico.

This is where Janine came in. She brought poetry workshops in Spanish into the camps a couple of times per year. I was dispatched to report on the program. Sylvia drove me out to a very isolated farm that had a row of cinderblock barracks housing the workers. I would say about 15 lived at that particular farm. Janine brought all who wanted to participate together around a table, read them a little poetry, and then gave them an exercise.

After a while, I became less than an observer, utilizing my knowledge of Spanish to help some of the men (they were all men) with their poems. Janine and Sylvia were both surprised I could speak Spanish. Janine said to Sylvia that she thought I should get invited to be a writer in residence. And so I was.

I gave my own workshops in 1998 and again in 2005. There may have been a third time....

I have to run, so I'll continue this thread tomorrow.

Song to the Moon

In the waning days of red October
you make the shadow of my house
a turreted castle
a walled medieval city
I am propelled to the easter window
to see what you're up to

Upside down over rising mist
your smaller than usual size,
a yellow half-penny
nailed to the sky,
your intentional remoteness–you're
up to something, moon.

I'm watching.

Willow, New York, October 2002

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Aimless Reading: The V's, Part 4 (Thorstein Veblen)

The Theory of the Leisure Class
Veblen, Thorstein
The Theory of the Leisure Class

Purchased at the Niagara Falls outlet mall discount book store for $2.50. To get there from Buffalo you take the 190 north and get off at Niagara Falls Boulevard, turn right, then left onto a service road that runs alongside the highway, turn right into the lot, and park. I usually parked outside Saks. A trompe l'oiel mural depicting happy, multicultural families of tourists looking out over the falls covers one whole wall of the building.

I'd enter through Saks, where I often shopped for clothes. You used to be able to get great deals on marked-down designer duds there, but those deals became harder to find over the years. Once a year, they'd rearrange the store, which I always found disorienting. One trip the men's section would be in the rear and I would know where to find everything, and the next trip they'd be in the front and I'd have to figure the whole place out all over again.

I once took Nobel Prize-Winner Orhan Pamuk there. We were driving to Niagara Falls and he was cold and wanted to stop to buy a winter cap. We pulled into the mall, parked, walked past the mural and into Saks. Pamuk bought a Holden Caulfield-esque hunters cap, complete with woolen earflaps. I have a photo of him standing at the counter making his purchase. You can't really see the cap, as it is sitting on the counter. You can see it in this one, though, where he is taking a photo of the old train station in Buffalo.

Anyhow, to get to the bookstore you stepped out into the mall and walked directly across the hallway. The section I always visited was towards the back of the store in the center. One row of books contained Penguin Classics, Library of America, and poetry. I used to allow myself about fifty bucks per trip and often walked home with a bag of 9-10 titles, sometimes more.

This is another of those books I couldn't resist buying because of the price. I have always meant to get around to reading it, but alas, alas, alas. I think I first heard of it through Susan Howe or possibly Charles Bernstein. I've always liked the former's reformulation of the title as "The Leisure of the Theory Class" in one of her books.

A witty little dig at academe.

from The Theory of the Leisure Class

On this head of purity of speech, as at other points where a conventional usage rests on the canons of archaism and waste, the spokesmen for the usage instinctively take an apologetic attitude. It is contended, in substance, that a punctilious use of ancient and accredited locutions will serve to convey thought more adequately and more precisely than would be the straightforward use of the latest form of spoken English; whereas it is notorious that the ideas of today are effectively expressed in the slang of today. Classic speech has the honorific virtue of dignity; it commands attention and respect as being the accredited method of communication under the leisure-class scheme of life, because it carries a pointed suggestion of the industrial exemption of the speaker. The advantage of the accredited locutions lies in their reputability; they are reputable because they are cumbrous and out of date, and therefore argue waste of time and exemption from the use and the need of direct and forcible speech.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Aimless Reading: The V's, Part 3 (Kevin Varrone)

Passyunk Lost
Varrone, Kevin
G-Point Almanac: Passyunk Lost

Sent to me by the publisher.

I was asked to blurb this book for the UDP website, which I did, so I guess you couldn't exactly call this a review copy. I guess I'd call it a 'thank you' copy. As in, Thank you for blurbing our book.

I've never met Kevin Varrone, except on Facebook, which is sort of surprising given how many friends we have in common. When I used to take long walks on Sunday mornings with Gregg Biglieri, Kevin's name used to come up now and again.

We may have been in the same room once, as I recall a reading at Thom Donovan's apartment in Buffalo many years ago that featured Kevin's partner, Patty McCarthy. I don't know if he was there or not. But he could have been.

That's about as proximate as we've ever gotten.

from Passyunk Lost


I dreamt the pigeons a sort of rosary
on the powerlines

a kind of broken army of amens

a harmony kinked
& undressed by february

things pass, or passing, or to come
in the insolid shrapnel wind

sunshot, transposed
like a bird in the picture window
of the comcast tower

Friday, October 5, 2012

Aimless Reading: The V's, Part 2 (Marc Van De Mieroop)

Cuneiform Texts and the Writing of History
Van De Mieroop, Mark
Cuneiform Texts and the Writing of History

Purchased online. When I first met Ammiel Alcalay, he was teaching a very Olsonian kind of course at the CUNY grad center, which had one of the most exhaustive and exciting reading lists I had ever seen on the syllabus. I think I read five or six of the books over the next year.

Oddly, though, I don't remember anything about this one.

The name of the author, Marc Van De Mieroop, has always stayed in my head. As soon as I pulled it off the shelf this morning, I remembered the name. I think its the last syllable, "roop," that makes it stick. It rhymes with "hoop" and "poop," both of which are also goofy sounding and thus memorable.

I just opened it to discover my bookmark on page 43, so I guess I didn't get very far. This probably explains why I remember so little.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Aimless Reading: The T's, Part 1 (César Vallejo)

The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo
Vallejo, Cesar
The Complete Poetry

Tr. Clayton Eshleman

Sent as a review copy by the publisher. I remember receiving this when we lived at our house in Black Rock. It was a very productive writing period for me. I woke up early every morning, often before the sun rose. I'd fix myself a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee and read a poem of Vallejo's while I ate. I think I was also taking notes on words I didn't understand in Spanish. I may even have had a Spanish dictionary by my side.

This was before I started reading all of those novels in Spanish, so my reading chops were not the sharpest. I could make it haltingly through one poem each morning. After that, I'd go into my office and work on my poetry. I think this was in the period just before I was writing the poems that eventually made up most of Human Scale.

I think I was also going to the gym early in the morning, too. I wish I could always remain that productive. It's hard to work, write, have a relationship AND go to the gym on regular basis. Throw a baby, a dog and two cats in the mix, and something has to give. Usually it ends up being the gym. Sigh. If only I could sleep a little less.

from The Complete Poetry of Cesar Vallejo


Hay golpes en la vida, tan fuertes... Yo no sé.
Golpes como del odio de Dios; como si ante ellos,
la resaca de todo lo sufrido
se empozara en el alma... Yo no sé.

Son pocos; pero son... Abren zanjas oscuras
en el rostro más fiero y en el lomo más fuerte.
Serán tal vez los potros de bárbaros atilas;
o los heraldos negros que nos manda la Muerte.

Son las caídas hondas de los Cristos del alma,
de alguna fe adorable que el Destino blasfema.
Esos golpes sangrientos son las crepitaciones
de algún pan que en la puerta del horno se nos quema.

Y el hombre... Pobre... pobre! Vuelve los ojos, como
cuando por sobre el hombro nos llama una palmada;
vuelve los ojos locos, y todo lo vivido
se empoza, como un charco de culpa, en la mirada.

Hay golpes en la vida, tan fuertes ... Yo no sé!


There are blows in life, so powerful...I don't know!
Blows a from the hatred of God; as if facing them,
the undertow of everything suffered
welled up in the soul...I don't know!

They are few; but they are...They open dark trenches
in the fiercest face and in the strongest back.
Perhaps they are the colts of barbaric Attilas;
or the black heralds sent to us by Death.

They are the deep falls of the Christs of the soul,
of some adored faith blasphemed by Destiny.
Those bloodstained blows are the crackling of
bread burning up at the oven door.

And man...Poor...poor! He turns his eyes, as 
when a slap on the shoulder summons us;
turns his crazed eyes, and everything lived
wells up, like a pool of guilt, in his look.

There are blows in life, so powerful...I don't know!

Aimless Reading: The T's: Stats

The T's

13 Authors
14 Volumes
14 Titles

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Aimless Reading: The T's, Part 13 (Ivan Turgenev)

Fathers and Sons
Turgenev, Ivan
Fathers and Sons

Purchased at the Fordham University bookstore for an undergrad summer course–mentioned several times before on this blog–called, "Politics and the Novel."

I remember there was duel, but that's about all.

One of the things I remember about the course was that we were assigned something like eight or ten novels in six weeks. In fact, the original reading list included even more than that. I bought every book on the syllabus, even those we never got around to, like D.M. Thomas' The White Hotel.

Speaking of which, I have this sneaking suspicion that some of the books in the 'T' section of my library have remained in a mislabeled box. I find it hard to believe that I only have thirteen books written by authors whose last name begins with 'T.'

For instance, D.M. Thomas.

It's possible, I guess, that I sold it when we moved, as I purged my library pretty mercilessly before we left Buffalo, but still, it seems like there should be more. Hopefully we'll be buying a house soon so I can unpack all of my books again.

from Fathers and Sons

A gentleman in the early forties, wearing check trousers and a dusty overcoat, cam out on the low porch of the coaching-inn on the – highway. The date was the twentieth of may in the year 1859.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Aimless Reading: The T's, Part 12 (Su Tung-P'o)

Selected Poems of Su Tung-P'o
Tung-P'o, Su
Selected Poems Su Tung-P'o
Tr. Burton Watson

Another from the library of Russel Pawlak. I haven't read it, but I intend to. Really I do.

I remember the day we went to look at his library. Russell was a very active person in the Buffalo Preservation community. I only met him once, but from what I understand he headed up the group that was trying to restore the old train station there. Turns out he was also an incredibly avid reader. When he died, his daughter asked Just Buffalo if we had any idea of what to do with all his books. We agreed to come take a look.

He lived in a two bedroom apartment in a building on Delaware Avenue. Every room was lined with books. He seemed to read everything, though I did notice a few areas of interest. He read a lot of Polish and Russian authors, a lot of Jewish authors, and a lot of authors like Gary Snyder, to whom, for instance, this book is dedicated.

We looked around and quickly determined that there was nothing useful we could do with these books, as none were terribly valuable and many were in pretty poor condition. I got on the phone and called Rust Belt Books, who immediately agreed to come by and take the whole lot. I remember Russell's daughter began to cry and she gaves us a big hug and a thank you and soon thereafter made a donation to Just Buffalo herself.

I took a few books and DVD's myself. He really did have a great library!

from The Selected Poems of Su Tung-P'o
Dipping Water from the River and Simmering Tea

Living water needs living fire to boil;

lean over Fishing Rock, dip the clear deep current;
store the spring moon in a big gourd, return it to the jar;
divide the night stream with a little dipper, drain it to the kettle.
Frothy water, simmering, whirls bits of tea;
pour it and hear the sound of wind in pines.
Hard to refuse three cups to a died up belly;
I sit and listen–from the old town, the striking of the hour.