Friday, November 30, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's. Part 23 (Edith Wharton)

Wharton, Edith

Purchased online a couple of winters back. We were living in our house on Norwood Avenue. Lori was looking for something to reading. I suggested she read The House of Mirth, of which I still had a paperback copy I'd used a course I took in college called, "American Literary Realism."

The class was taught by Joanne Dobson, a Dickinson scholar. I remember reading Mark Twain and Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Edith Wharton and William Dean Howells and Sarah Orne Jewett. I think it may have been the first course I ever took solely focused on the novel. This is probably the reason I remember so many of the books.

Anyhow, Lori read The House of Mirth and liked it quite a lot and asked if I owned anything else by Wharton. I did not, I ordered this set of her novels on Amazon. Lori read through the whole thing and when she was done, after I had finished reading both Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, I read The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence.

I later purged my library of the extra copy of The House of Mirth. But its memory remains.

from The House of Mirth

He saw that all the conditions of life had conspired to keep them apart; since his very detachment from the external influences which swayed her had increased his spiritual fastidiousness, and made it more difficult for him to live and love uncritically. But at least he had loved her--had been willing to stake his future on his faith in her--and if the moment had been fated to pass from them before they could seize it, he saw now that, for both, it had been saved whole out of the ruin of their lives.
It was this moment of love, this fleeting victory over themselves, which had kept them from atrophy and extinction; which, in her, had reached out to him in every struggle against the influence of her surroundings, and in him, had kept alive the faith that now drew him penitent and reconciled to her side.
He knelt by the bed and bent over her, draining their last moment to its lees; and in the silence there passed between them the word which made all clear.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 22.1 (Philip Whalen)

Whalen, Philip
Overtime: Selected Poems

Purchased at the discount bookstore in the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall, probably for about three dollars.


I think I just discovered why this book was being sold at the discount store. On page two hundred and fifty, the upper right corner of the page (on the gutter) is folded back towards the center. The poem on this page is called "Message." Here is the message:

from sudden red lily
                                                (Naked lady)
                                     leafless and red
                                                              bright as rhubarb
Uninvited lily
                                (what bulb so dim
                                                             what Dora so dumb
Not to see sun's heat
                                snow's white)
                         howling flower in my skull

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 22 (Philip Whalen)

Goof Book
Whalen, Philip

Given to me by the editor, Michael Rothenberg, when he visited Buffalo a few years back.

That was a really fun event, actually. We had just started the Big Night series when Michael contacted me about coming to town along with David Meltzer and Terri Carrión. I decided to pair them with my next door neighbor at the time, Doug Dreishpoon, who, in addition to being the chief curator at the Albright-Knox, is a jazz drummer.

He brought along a trio he played with called Other Side. We had initially planned on them performing separately, but David and Michael and Doug and everyone got to talking before the event and decided it would be much more fun to have the trio play solo first, and then back up the three readers. It was all improvised.

It started off a little awkward, I recall, but then it all began to come together as first Terri found her feet, then Michael burst onto the stage spinning his Dionysian rhythms. Finally, David finished off the evening. He, of course, was an old pro at working with jazz musicians -- many of his poems are even about jazz or use jazz rhythms. Other Side found a nice groove behind him.

The highlight, though, was the last piece he read, which was an extended tribute to Lester Young. At first, the musicians listened as he read, plucking at the bass here and there, giving a quick tap to the drums. Simultaneously they all seemed to realize that this poem needed no accompaniment, it had a rhythm all its own too strong to play behind, so they just stopped playing and listened.

It was kind of magical.

We went out to dinner at Pano's afterwards. David and I talked philosophy through much of the meal. I drove them back to their hotel. They were reading in Toronto the next day and wanted to get rid of some weed they were carrying before crossing the border. They handed me an envelope with several joints in it. Not being a smoker, I promised to place the package in good hands, of which there are no shortage in the Buffalo writing community.

Note the first: for those keeping score, you may have noticed that WH comes before WI and not after. When I unpacked this box of books last night, I discovered that I had skipped over WH back at the apartment, where I must have had the books out of order on the shelf. This is what happens when you move around so much.

Note the second: for those keeping score, the green background you see this morning is the wall in my new office, which I started unpacking last night.

Note the third: yes, I am wearing a white tie with a gray shirt to work this morning.

from Goofbook 

(Note: Jack is Jack Kerouac)

A book, for Jack, saying whatever I want to say, whatever I feel like saying (I just steped on a tack-- luckily it was lying on edge-- in my sock feet & swore "God fuck us all!") a pretty bouquet of parsnips for Lord Mountjoy herald to the King as any I know or hope to meet. But now Rick and Les are shouting from one end of the house to the other about some professor Rick saw at Vesuvio's for the first time in 10,000 years, since Rick was a student at Berkeley, that is.

               Under water, & drip through my skylight, rag in the bottom of mountain cookpot silences rain.

               I lie in sleepingbag writing on clipboard arm/shoulder crease fine hairs, naked in feather sack.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 22 (Tyrone Williams)

Williams, Tyrone

I think I purchased this from the author when we read together in Tucson in 2007. Human Scale had just come out and I planned a cross-country trek, with readings in Norman, OK, Tucson, LA, SF and Portland. Charles Alexander set me up with a reading in the POG series in Tucson. He also read with me a few nights earlier in Norman, his home town.

Originally, my reading partner in Tucson was supposed to be Maureen Owen, but she had to change her schedule, so I ended up reading with Tyrone, who happened to be doing a residency in Tucson at the time.

The reading took place in an art gallery in Downtown Tucson. I was excited to finally get to meet Tenney Nathanson, with whom I'd corresponded quite a bit a decade earlier about attending Arizona for grad school. I remember calling out for him during the reading, but he wasn't there. Apparently, some kind of plumbing disaster kept us from actually meeting.

I had never heard of Tyrone before coming to Tucson and I remember being blown away by his work and wondering why I had never heard his name before. After the reading, a group of us went out for Indian food and then Lori and Tyrone and I went out for a cup of coffee. I have this image in my head of sitting in a booth next a big picture window looking out on the street. Lori sat to my right and Tyrone directly across from me.

When I got to SF and told Taylor Brady and some of the other poets that I had read with this great poet named Tyrone Williams they all said, O yeah, we've known about him for years. Krupskaya published him in 2002!

from c.c.


(Got to be the backwardest craze I seen–
Do the stations in reverse–twelve steps
off the hook I got thirty years ago–
If I never see the inside from inside again–
Railroaded once too many–Don't close nothing now–
Open house 24/7 at the shotgun crib–
Every drawer pulled out–cabinet open–door cracked–
Looked like rifled through–(rope-a-dope
fiend)–Important not to look like a fool–
Best study the juniors–'do's, threads, bull...
Ain't even 'bout "enabling," "disabling," "fabling"...
Ain't even...shit...look like I'm up...)

Wussup. Go by Hayes Williams–
long for Say Hey the 2nd–
and I'm a black...I mean, African, American...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 21 (Jonathan Williams)

Portrait Photographs
Williams, Jonathan
Portrait Photographs

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books after a visit to Buffalo by the publishers, Simon Cutts and Erica Van Horn. Simon and Erica are close friends with Susan Howe and they visited Buffalo fairly frequently while I was there.

The first time I met them I nearly killed them.

I was driving us around in a car, talking my head off, when I ran a red light while crossing Delaware Ave. I scared the hell out of everyone, including myself. It was several years later when they visited again, during which time I had been published in a little anthology they had put out of authors published by Phylum press. Enough time had elapsed between visits that I assumed they had forgotten me, so I was a little embarrassed when I re-introduced myself and they said, Of course we know you!

Anyhow, you may have seen some of their other work in some of the earlier photos on this blog. When I was still at Norwood Ave., three years and four domiciles ago, there sat behind me on a shelf a little postcard with the words, "Prolonged Reading Not Appreciated" written on it. I always have this on the shelves in my library, though not always directly behind me. Nancy Kuhl, co-publisher of Phylum and now my colleague at the Beinecke, keeps this card posted on her office door.

Anyhow, this is one of my most prized books. As you may have surmised from the title, it contains photos of many of the mid-century's most important writers: Olson, Williams, Levertov, Creeley, Pound, et al. All are tipped-in full color photos, with accompanying text on the facing page. It's just a beautiful book.

I met Jonathan Williams once. It was during my first year in Buffalo. I was helping out with an exhibition by artists who'd collaborated with Creeley, all of whom came to Buffalo for a few days. There was a little reception at the Creeleys one evening or afternoon -- there may even have been a a reading or something at their house. I can't remember.

I only just barely knew who Williams was at the time -- having just started to do my homework on the Black Mountain poets. At some point Creeley introduced me to a rather tall, slightly dour looking man. He shook my hand indifferently and continued chatting with Creeley. I wish now that I'd pursued a conversation, but alas.

You can see some of the photos here (note: the color portraits are mostly from this book, the b&w are not):

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 20 (Thornton Wilder)

3 Plays
Wilder, Thornton
3 Plays

Greetings from the new abode. We spent the past week moving from our apartment in New Haven into our latest home in North Haven, CT -- about 8 minutes from the city line. It's on a cul de sac built in 1949 by a group of Yale professors, all of whom were close friends. Apparently they were sitting around after dinner one evening, sipping wine, when someone posed the question, "What would be the ideal community?" The general consensus was that it would contain only one's friends and that each home would be custom-built for the owner.

Thus, they proposed building a community that was a kind of hybrid of an intentional and a gated community. They bought a piece of land and one of the group, an architect named Peter Hale, designed nine or ten homes. All of them are midcentury-style, concrete-slab foundation, one-floor ranch homes built from cinderblock, plywood and luan. It's kind of a groovy little neighborhood. If we stay here long enough, Emily will be able to walk about two hundred feet to get to the elementary school every morning, without ever having to walk on a main road.

Let's hope she gets the chance!

I am writing this morning from the breakfast area overlooking the kitchen. My office is still packed up and there is a ways to go before I get to that. I have two more days worth of easily accessible books. Hopefully, I will be set up by then.

I purchased it at the Fordham University Bookstore for a course called "Modern American Drama."

I feel like I must have read "Our Town" in high school, but it is possible that I didn't read it until I took this course in college. I have a memory of seeing it performed at The Arena Stage in DC with my father, who was an avid theater-goer with a penchant for drama. He came of age in NYC during the latter part of the golden age of drama, when plays by Williams, O'Neill, Miller, et al were still playing their first runs on Broadway. He started taking me to see plays when I was about ten, the first being "Ah Wilderness," by Eugene O'Neill.

The production I saw of "Our Town" took place in the round. All I remember is the image of the two young lovers standing on ladders at the center of the stage, pretending they were talking from house to house through bedroom windows. I always liked this play, but I have a feeling now it might feel a little heavy-handed, especially toward the end when the dead characters muse on how blind we are while we live. I'll bet it sounds a little preachy and sentimental. Nonetheless, I have fond memories of the play, both read and performed.

In an interesting coincidence, this summer, while poking around in Donald Windham's archive, I discovered that Thornton Wilder lived not too far from here, on Deep Woods Drive in Hamden, just a mile or so before the New Haven line, in a very exclusive neighborhood. I haven't ventured up the street yet, but I intend to.

from Our Town

In a loud voice to the stage manager.
I can't. I can't go on. It goes too fast. We don't have time to look at one another.
She breaks down sobbing.
The light dims on the left half of the stage. MRS. WEBB disappears.
I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back--up the hill--to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look.
Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by Grover's Corners...Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking...and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you.
She looks toward the stage manager and asks abruptly, through her tears:
Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?--every, every minute?


The saints and poets, maybe--they do some.

I'm ready to go back.
She returns to her chair besides Mrs. Gibbs.

Were you happy?

No...I should have listened to you. That's all human beings are! Just blind people.

Look it's clearing up. The stars are coming out.


Oh, Mr. Stimson, I should have listened to them.

With mounting violence; bitingly.
Yes, now you know. Now you know! That's what it means to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those...of those about you. To spend and waste time as through you had a million years. To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another. Now you know--that's the happy existence you wanted to go back to. Ignorance and blindness/

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's. Part 19 (Oscar Wilde)

The Critic as Artist
Wilde, Oscar
The Critic as Artist

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books for a course with Charles Bernstein in graduate school. I am surprised to discover that this is the only book by Wilde on my shelf. I am certain I used to own The Portrait of Dorian Gray. I also used to have some of his plays. I have no idea what happened to either of those books. Ho-hum. Time to go cut down a tree at the new house.

from The Critic as Artist

Well, while you have been playing, I have been turning over the pages with some amusement, though, as a rule, I dislike modern memoirs. They are generally written by people who have either entirely lost their memories, or have never done anything worth remembering; which, however, is, no doubt, the true explanation of their popularity, as the English public always feels perfectly at its ease when a mediocrity is talking to it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 18 (Elie Wiesel)

Wiesel, Elie

I think I acquired when I was teaching high school in NYC. I am pretty sure I taught the book, though my recollection of dong so is vague at best.

I remember the first time I read it. A friend, W., had invited me to her mother's home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut when we were in college. We traveled by train and then had the house to ourselves for the weekend. I think her parent's were divorced and her mother was away and she was an only child.

Anyhow, she showed me around her neighborhood and at one point we walked down the road to a much more exclusive part of town, where she pointed out a large old New England home overlooking the Sound. That's Katherine Hepburn's house, she told me. That part of town wanted to secede so they could be excluded from paying local taxes. The secession failed. I asked if she had ever met the great actress. No, but I have seen her walking around town.

The two of us had a mutual friend, M., who was obsessed with Hepburn. I am not sure if the obsession began with the knowledge that my friend lived down the street from Hepburn or not. At some point she started talking about her all the time and then she started writing fan letters until one day she received a handwritten reply, signed, 'Kate.' I don't remember what it said but it just about broke her heart with happiness to have received it.

I saw this book lying on a table back at the house and asked my friend about it. She said it was her father's. I started reading it and didn't put it down until I had finished the whole thing a couple of hours later. It was probably one of the most haunting reading experiences of my life.

from Night

Two o’clock in the afternoon. The snow was still coming down thickly. 

The time was passing quickly now. Dusk had fallen. The day was disappearing in 
a monochrome of gray. 

The head of the block suddenly remembered that he had forgotten to clean out the 
block. He ordered four prisoners to wash the wooden floor. . . .An hour before leaving the 
camp! Why? For whom?

“For the liberating army,” he cried. “So that they’ll realize there were men living 
here and not pigs.” 

Were we men then? The block was cleaned from top to bottom, washed in every 

At six o’clock the bell rang. The death knell. The burial. The procession was 
about to begin its march. 

 “Form up! Quickly!” 

In a few minutes we were all in rows, by blocks. Night had fallen. Everything was 
in order, according to the prearranged plan. 

The searchlights came on. Hundreds of armed SS men rose up out of the darkness, 
accompanied by sheepdogs. The snow never ceased. 

The gates of the camp opened. It seemed that an even darker night was waiting for 
us on the other side. 

The first blocks began to march. We waited. We had to wait for the departure of 
the fifty-six blocks who came before us. It was very cold. In my pocket I had two pieces 
of bread. With how much pleasure could I have eaten them! But I was not allowed to. 

Not yet. 

Our turn was coming: Block 53 . . . Block 55. . .  

Block 57, forward march! 

It snowed relentlessly. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 17.2 (John Wieners)

A Book of Prophecies
Wieners, John
A Book of Prophecies

Purchased online.

I took this photo two days ago, but I have been working on the new house for the past few days, so I haven't had time to write about it. I don't have much time this morning.

I have a memory, though, from two mornings ago, when I took this photo, of having had some kind of story to tell about it. It had to do with the some event that occurred around the time I read it. Now I can remember neither when I bought it nor what that story was. I probably made it up.

Maybe it had to do with a poem I wrote that took off from reading the Hotel Wentley Poems. I stole the last line of my poem from "A poem for record players." But I don't think that has anything to do with this book. I guess it is possible I bought this book at around the same time I wrote that poem, but I have no way to tell.

Anyhow, by this time next week I'll be writing these in yet another space in yet another home. This will be the fourth, and final location, for Aimless Reading. Get ready.

from A Book of Prophecies

Under the Moon

When will love come
with all the dreams
I have worshipped, again

indiscriminately, love
its players blind, stalks in
without being asked

takes us in its arms for a little while,
then lets us drop, after so short a time,
leaving us broken, weeping on stones.

After the sunlit afternoons, what then,
the midnight paramours, in fleabag tenements,
oh yes, what then is left to do, where to go?

Oh god, what has become of me, where is the self
that used to flock to bars, always seeking
for the partner, gone, turned away...

(Note: I am not sure if the poem on the following page of the book is a continuation of this one or not. It probably is, but I don't have time to type out the rest!)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 17.1 (John Wieners)

The Journal of John Wieners is to Be Called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holiday 1959
Wieners, John
The Journal of John Wieners is to Be Called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holiday 1959

Purchased online.

This is one of those books that I'd heard about from many people over a long period of time but was never able to find. By the time I had heard about it, it was already out of print and there were no copies readily available. It was one of those books that I searched for periodically and I remember one day being very excited when my search got a hit. I bought it right away.

We're closing on our new house today. Next Friday we'll be moving for the sixth time in ten years. Hopefully, this will the last for a while.

from The Journal of John Wieners is to Be Called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holiday 1959
Download the whole book here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Aimless Reading, The W's, Part 17 (John Wieners)

Selected Poems 1958-1984
Wieners, John
Selected Poems 1958-1984

Purchased online.

I came to Wieners' poetry kind of late. I knew of him. I remember hearing stories about a reading he gave at the Boston experimental poetry festival one summer. And I remember here the sad tale of his death, which is what I think prompted me to start reading his poetry.

It was not long after this that Creeley left Buffalo. He came back in the spring of '03 to be honored by Just Buffalo Literary Center at a ceremony at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. We'd had a broadside printed by Kyle Schlesinger featuring one of Creeley's later poems called "Place To Be." He was staying at the home of Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian in Buffalo. I drove over one morning with a stack of about two hundred broadsides for him to sign.

We sat on stools in the kitchen, talking while he went through the pile, signing each one in black ink in the lower right hand corner beneath his printed name. We got to talking about what were reading and I told him that I had started reading John Wieners. I said, as if I had made an important discovery, "What a great poet!" Creeley stopped writing for a moment, looked up at me and said, simply, "Yeah." There was no sarcasm in his voice at all, but I could almost hear the thought that followed, "No shit, Sherlock. Where the hell have you been?"

This is one of my all time favorite poems, btw--

from Selected Poems 1958-1984

Children of the Working Class

to Somes

from incarceration, Taunton State Hospital, 1972

gaunt, ugly deformed

broken from the womb, and horribly shriven
at the labor of their forefathers, if you check back

scout around grey before actual time
their sordid brains don’t work right,
pinched men emaciated, piling up railroad ties and highway
blanched women, swollen and crudely numb
ered before the dark of dawn

scuttling by candlelight, one not to touch, that is, a signal panic
thick peasants after the attitude

at that time of their century, bleak and centrifugal
they carry about them, tough disciplines of copper Indianheads.

there are worse, whom you may never see, non-crucial around the
spoke, these you do, seldom
locked in Taunton State Hospital and other peon work farms
drudge from morning until night, abandoned within destitute
crevices odd clothes
intent on performing some particular task long has been far
there is no hope, they locked-in key’s; housed of course

and there fed, poorly
off sooted, plastic dishes, soiled grimy silver knives and forks,
stamped Department of Mental Health spoons
but the unshrinkable duties of any society
produces its ill-kempt, ignorant and sore idiosyncrasies.

There has never been a man yet, whom no matter how wise
can explain how a god, so beautiful he can create
the graces of formal gardens, the exquisite twilight sunsets
in splendor of elegant toolsmiths, still can yield the horror of

dwarfs, who cannot stand up straight with crushed skulls,
diseases on their legs and feet unshaven faces of men and women,
worn humped backs, deformed necks, hare lips, obese arms
distended rumps, there is not a flame shoots out could ex-
tinguish the torch of any liberty’s state infection.

1907, My Mother was born, I am witness t-
o the exasperation of gallant human beings at g-
od, priestly fathers and Her Highness, Holy Mother the Church
persons who felt they were never given a chance, had n-
o luck and were flayed at suffering.

They produced children with phobias, manias and depression,
they cared little for their own metier, and kept watch upon
others, some chance to get ahead

Yes life was hard for them, much more hard than for any blo
ated millionaire, who still lives on
their hard-earned monies. I feel I shall
have to be punished for writing this,
that the omniscient god is the rich one,
cared little for looks, less for Art,
still kept weekly films close for the
free dishes and scandal hot. Some how
though got cheated in health and upon
hearth. I am one of them. I am witness
not to Whitman’s vision, but instead the
poorhouses, the mad city asylums and re-
life worklines. Yes, I am witness not to
God’s goodness, but his better or less scorn.

The First of May, The Commonwealth of State of Massachusetts,

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Aimless Reading:The W's, Part 16 (Nathanael West)

Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust
West, Nathanael
Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust

I have had this book for a long time, though I am not sure how long. There are four possibilities.

1. This is the copy I read in high school.
2. This is the copy I read in college.
3. This is the copy I used to teach high school in New York.
4. All of the above.

If you want to know what I really think of America, read The Day of the Locust. I can't recall another book whose view of this country has so shaped my own. It's a dark, bleak view I grant, but I think it's about as true today as it was when it was written.

I generally don't write about what's inside of these books, but even though I haven't read this book in almost twenty years, several fragmentary images come to mind when I think about it. They are (since I've started making lists already):

1. "Los Angeles is Burning." This is the title of a painting the main character is working on throughout the novel. It represents the not-so-latent violence of all the people who have come to California to discover the easy life.

2. A cockfight. One of the most brutal scenes in the history of literature.

3. The phrase, "The San Berdoo..." short for The San Bernadino Arms, an apartment complex that plays an important role in the book.

4. A nasty child actor.

5. A midget.

6. A riot at a movie premier. This recalls a paper written by one of my high school students. His name was George. He was one of the brightest kids in the school. I had him in my honors English class two years in a row. Something happened between his sophomore and junior year. I don't know what it was, but he completely shut down. He just stopped doing his homework and stopped studying for tests. I was forced to give him lower grades, even though I knew he was bored and could be doing higher level work. I tried talking with him, but to no avail. He would occasionally turn in a half-baked improvisation he'd written on the subway riding to school, but that was about it. When it came time to write the final paper, we had a long talk. I told him I'd give him the extra time he needed, but he really needed to focus and get this paper turned in. My expectations were low at this point. he turned it in several weeks late, but it was worth the wait. It was probably the best paper written by any student I have ever had, high school, college or otherwise. The subject: Day of the Locust. The main point of the paper was to teach them how to write a structured essay, including a thesis, body, & conclusion. George went out and researched the behavior of locusts. His introduction was a delineation of their violent, swarming behavior, which he went on to compare with the riot at the end of the book. You could argue that this is a fairly obvious point. On the other hand, this was before the internet and I gave him no other direction than about how to structure the paper. It was one of the best moments of my teaching career.

7. It occurs to me that the name of the main character, Tod, is significant in a way I hadn't thought of before. The odd spelling with the single 'd' suggests the German cognate, tod, meaning "death."

8. The other memory this book always recalls is the death of Nathaniel West in a car accident on the way to the funeral of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

O, the bitter irony.

from The Day of the Locust

All their lives they had slaved at some kind of dull, heavy labor, behind desks and counters, in the fields and at tedious machines of all sorts, saving their pennies and dreaming of the leisure that would be theirs when they had enough. Finally that day came. They could draw a weekly income of ten or fifteen dollars. Where else should they go but California, the land of sunshine and oranges?
Once there, they discover that sunshine isn't enough. They get tired of oranges, even of avocado pears and passion fruit. Nothing happens. They don't know what to do with their time. They haven't the mental equipment for leisure, the money nor the physical equipment for pleasure. Did they slave so long just to go to an occasional Iowa picnic? What else is there? They watch the waves come in at Venice. There wasn't any ocean where most of them came from, but after you've seen one wave, you've seen them all. The same is true of the airplanes at Glendale. If only a plane would crash once in a while so that they could watch the passengers being consumed in a "holocaust of flame," as the newspapers put it. But the planes never crash.
Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize that they've been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies. Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars. This daily diet made sophisticates of them. The sun is a joke. Oranges can't titillate their jaded palates. Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies. They have been cheated and betrayed. They have slaved and saved for nothing.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 15 (Lawrence Weschler)

Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder
Weschler, Lawrence
Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder

Purchased online after having visited one of the two greatest museums in the U.S. (the other being Graceland). I am talking, of course, about the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. If ever you need a reason to visit Los Angeles, this is it. It is so startling, so original, and so maddening that I remember almost every single thing I saw when I went there.

I remember the Proust machine, with its inhalers that you stick your nose into in order to take a whiff of tea and madeleines.

I remember the room full of books on Napoleon and the Napoleon sculpture built inside the eye of a needle.

I remember the taxidermy dog or wolf or coyote or whatever it was with a holograph projected onto its cranium of a man sitting in a chair, then standing up and barking every few minutes.

I remember the room full of models depicting folk remedies such as mice on toast.

I remember the room dedicated to mobile homes and the objects collected by people who lived in them and how there was a banner suggesting a connection between the mobile home and Noah's Ark.

I remember the display of decaying dice.

I remember the exhibit of various machines used in the practice of the ars memoria.

I remember going upstairs to where they had a Russian Tea Room and hearing voices, all of which were speaking Russian and how I started to feel a little unnerved about this and chose not to go into the tea room. And then I walked into another room whose walls were adorned with portraits of dogs painted over brightly colored backgrounds. I got even more freaked out when I read the cards and realized that all of these dogs were Russian dogs that had been sent on space missions. I started to feel like I was in a dream, where all kinds of incongruent things seem to make sense until you try to make sense of them and then they stop making sense and your realize that however tantalizingly near meaning seems it will never actually show itself in the form of a connection between these things.

I remember stepping outside onto the sidewalk and immediately being accosted by an insane homeless man and thinking how appropriate that felt.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 14 (Darren Wershler-Henry)

The Tapeworm Foundry
Wershler-Henry, Darren
the tapeworm foundry: or the dangerous prevalence of imagination

Give to me by the author. Inscribed:

For Mike

and or

the passion considered as an uphill bicycle race

cheers, Darren

I met Darren pretty soon after I moved to Buffalo. A group of Buffalo poets, including myself, Joel Kuszai, Bill Howe, Eleni Stecopoulos, Taylor Brady, Graham Foust, and visiting British poet cris cheek, all went to London, Ontario to give a reading. Before the reading we went to a party at Tom Orange's apartment. Darren was there and Christian Bök and Peter Jaeger. Actually, the party might have been after the reading. I can't quite remember.

On the drive back we passed through what seemed like an infinite strip mall along the road out of London and I remember cris cheek naming the fonts used on each on of the lit-up storefronts along the way.

Darren's readings were always great fun. He and Christian formed a kind of poetry geek squad in Toronto, bringing all kinds of weird things into poetry like science fiction and alien languages and math and mixing them all up with Steve McCaffery and Bpnichol and Apollinaire. The two of them together were a major center of poetic activity in Toronto back in the late nineties and early Aughts.

I think the last time I saw Darren was at a reading given by Ted Greenwald in Buffalo about five years ago. Ted read upstairs in a back room at an old church converted into a manuscript museum. Ted wasn't feeling very well, I recall.

I remember being surprised to see Darren sitting across the room because he lived quite a ways from Buffalo and I hadn't seen him in a few years. The shape of his face had changed. Gone were the rounded edges that I remembered, replaced by sharper, more definite lines. I don't know why I remember that. Unfortunately, like Ted, I wasn't feeling so well that night, so we didn't get to hang out for long after the reading.

from the tapeworm foundry: or the dangerous prevalence of imagination

using raspberry coulis and olive paste for ink and then stak the plates sequentially in a dishwasher as a form of binding andor take any three things that you have never been able to do and then apply the principles of their making to your life andor read nothing during your readings andor  conceive of a book as a three dimensional matrix of twodiminsional grids in which each letter fills a cell at a time column by column in order to form words and sentences andor read existing books as if this model is the case andor mistake sketches of empty squares for maps of desolate places like the middle of the ocean or the surface of a cloud andor change the captions andor write scenarios describing the serendipitous evolution of animals that have undergone domestic breeding so that for example you might describe the labrador retriever as a species hunting happily in small packs for tennis balls strewn throughout the ancient african savannahs and or copy out all the references to fear in the canots by ezra pound andor always pretend that youre gettting the feeling of hickory wind and or run the poems of bill bissett through a spell checker andor better yet run the incantations in the books of aleister crowley through a spell checker andor compose a symphony in which at every beat all the notes of the chromatic scale

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 13 (Eudora Welty)

The Wide Net and Other Stories
Welty, Eudora
The Wide Net and Other Stories

I am not sure where I acquired this. Something tells me it was either at East Village Books of 7th Street Books. Those were my two main used book haunts when I lived in the East Village. I definitely bought it used. I paid $3.50. Above the price on the inner flap is written, "Current 7.95."

The question I keep asking myself is: Why did I buy this book? In general, I don't read short stories. I don't have an abiding interest in southern writers. What gives? I don't know. I don't recall anything about the stories other than that many take place in and around Natchez, Mississippi and the Natchez Trace. I remember puzzling about that name. First of all, I did not know anything about Natchez, the Natchez Indians, the Natchez language, or the Natchez Trace. I didn't know where the "trace" was or what it was used for.

The Natchez Trace, also known as the "Old Natchez Trace", is a historical path that extends roughly 440 miles (710 km) from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, linking the Cumberland, Tennessee and Mississippi rivers. It was created and used for centuries by Native Americans, and was later used by early European and American explorers, traders and emigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Today, the trail is commemorated by the 444-mile (715 km) Natchez Trace Parkway, which follows the approximate path of the Trace, as well as the related Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail. Parts of the original trail are still accessible and some segments have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Wikipedia)

As I try to remember the experience of reading these stories, the thing that stands out the most is a kind of knot or brick wall in my mind represented by the phrase "Natchez Trace." Things like this usually spur me on to learn something. I puzzle over the phrase, the sound of the phrase, the meaning of the individual words in the phrase, and the more I do so the more opaque they become. Finally I start to look up each term until I feel like I have created something solid that my imagination can hold onto.

I have a recollection of looking up this information at the time I read the stories and still being puzzled by the word, "trace." I had never heard it used before to describe a trail or a path. I remember nothing about the stories in this book, but I remember my coming to learn about the Natchez Trace quite vividly.

from The Wide Net and Other Stories

from First Love

Whatever happened, it happend in extraordinary times, in a season of dreams, and in Natchez it wa the bitterest winter of them all. The north wind struck one January night in 1807 with an instant penetration, as if it followed the settlers down by their own course, screaming down the river bends to drive them further still. Afterwards there was the strange drugged fall of snow. When the sun rose the air broke into a thousand prisms as close as the flash-and-turn of gulls' wings. For a long time afterwards it was so lear that in the evening the little companion-star to Sirius could be seen plainly in the heavens by travelers who took their way by night, and Venus shone in the daytime in all its course through the new transparency of the sky.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 12.1 (H.G. Wells)

The War of the Worlds
Wells, H.G.
The War of the Worlds

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books.

I bought this towards the end of grad school, or possibly just after I left. I was poking around in the book store one day, towards the rear, where they used to sell all the course books. Teachers would send their lists to the book store to be processed. Students used to be able to browse through the stacks by course number, conveniently locating all the books for each class in the same place. I used to browse through there pretty regularly in search of books that seemed interesting.

One autumn, the autumn of '04, according to the sticker on the back, Jonathan Skinner taught a course in Science Fiction at UB. As I was browsing through the stacks I happened upon Jonathan's course list. My first thought was surprise, because I hadn't known Jonathan to have any particular interest in sci-fi. My second thought was curiosity, as I had't read much myself. It looked like a good primer, so I decided to buy the whole set.

If I recall correctly, I bought this, Solaris by Stanslaw Lem, Dawn by Octavia Butler, Nova by Samuel R. Delany, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. le Guin, &  Ubik by Philip K. Dick. That's all I can remember. I read Ubik first, and then spent the whole winter reading Philip K. Dick books. I've since read through most of the books on the list, except for this one and the LeGuin book, and I have become a fairly avid reader of science fiction. My latest interests are Kim Stanley Robinson & China Miéville.

from The War of the Worlds

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 12 (H.G. Wells)

The Time Machine
Well, H.G.
The Tim Machine

I have no idea where I got this or how long I've had it or if it even belongs to me. This edition was printed in 1988 and this copy is in perfect condition. I don't think it has ever been opened, much less read.The only guess I can make is that I bought it for a grad school class on literature and film. It's possible that this book was listed on the syllabus but not used or that it was used and I never got around to reading it. I'd say that is the most likely explanation. It's the best I can muster this morning.

from The Time Machine

The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us. His grey eyes shone and twinkled, and his usually pale face was flushed and animated. The fire burned brightly, and the soft radiance of the incandescent lights in the lilies of silver caught the bubbles that flashed and passed in our glasses. Our chairs, being his patents, embraced and caressed us rather than submitted to be sat upon, and there was that luxurious after-dinner atmosphere when thought roams gracefully free of the trammels of precision. And he put it to us in this way - marking the points with a lean forefinger - as we sat and lazily admired his earnestness over this new paradox (as we thought it:) and his fecundity.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 11 (Lew Welch)

Ring of Bone: Collected Poems 1950-1971
Welch, Lew
Ring of Bone: Collected Poems 1950-1971

Purchased at Rust Belt Books.

I think everyone knows three things about Lew Welch: he walked off with a gun and disappeared, he was Huey Lewis' uncle, and he may have written the famous tagline, Raid Kills Bugs Dead.

I would imagine many more know these three facts than have read his poetry. I have to include myself in that group.

I had heard all of these stories. I even had a copy of this on the shelf in my office at Just Buffalo, before it got sold along with the rest of the JB library. But I had never read a line of his poetry.

One day I saw a copy sitting on the shelf at Rust Belt Books and thought to myself, hmmm, I think I'll buy that. And so I did.

To be honest, I have only flipped through it. I haven't spent any real time reading it. I don't know if this is because of me or the poems or just a kind of general inertia.

But there it is.

from Ring of Bone

I saw myself
a ring of bone
in the clear stream
of all of it

and vowed,
always to be open to it
that all of it
might flow through

and then heard
"ring of bone" where 
ring is what a

bell does

Friday, November 2, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 10 (Damian Weber)

Prospect Park
Weber, Damian
Prospect Park

Given to me by the author.

When he is not busy staying up all night in Buffalo writing songs, Damian Weber is busy writing poems and publishing his books and chapbooks under the aegis of House Press. When I think of Damian, I think of a man with a big smile and lot of books to give away.

The first time I met Damian, he handed me four chapbooks, all of his own writing. This was in Buffalo.  They had bright pink, blue, green, & orange covers.

Later, he moved to New York. I think every time he came back from New York he handed me at least one chapbook.

Then he returned to Buffalo, where he continued to hand me chapbooks. But this last time in Buffalo, he had fewer chapbooks and more songs, so that now when I think of Damian, I think of him playing his guitar for a crowd of people, singing his songs in his quiet voice.

from Prospect Park

The North Lullwater Woods

These shrubby, woody slopes speak of winter as a stubborn brightness forested with black locust trees. Yet each place speaks of winter and the brightness speaks of a woods providing food and shelter for warblers, black-capped chickadees, woodpeckers and native sparrows. each place speaks of winter, and in winter owls have been seen to roost here in the evergreens.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Aimless Reading: the W's, Part 9 (Karen Weiser)

To Light Out
Weiser, Karen
To Light Out

Advance uncorrected proofs sent to me by the publisher, UDP. I never did get a copy of the actual book.

I have several memories of meeting Karen.

The first time we met was in Buffalo. She and Anselm were just dating and she had blonde hair. Alice Notley was there and Dan Machlin and Serena Jost and we all had brunch with Robert Creeley at Cybele's cafe.

The second time we met was at the Poetry Project. I had just given a reading with Kim Rosenfield and we were all standing around outside by the cemetery and this woman with black hair came up and said, "Hi, Mike!" It took a moment before I realized it was Karen. I said, "Hi Karen!"

The third time we met was at AWP in NYC. Karen had just recently given birth to their first daughter, Sophie. Anselm was carrying Sophie around in a swaddle. Karen had brown hair and I took a photo of her with Charles Bernstein. After that, the proud parents and I shared a cab down to Washington Sq. I am pretty sure I was going to meet someone, but I can't remember who.

I think that was the last time I actually met Karen in person.

Then Facebook was invented and now I have watched her daughter start to grow up and seen her second daughter born and start to grow up right alongside my own daughter, born a few months later.

We have a lovely Facebook relationship and her hair is still brown.

from To Light Out

Who Can Find a Ragged Dick in Richard Hunter

Teach me to be loveable or teach me a clear conscience
My work ethic's bedroom and character are smeared with general drift
The more I fill in doubt no more,
so warped by law, or no law
that honest government inside tongue-ties the pleasure of possession
Who can find the robin in the venison, when it's money that renames me
I can not glue the missing piece in place
Its shape, like mine, has given up the plum-stone of its edges for a rush
though its music;s of a better class of fellow