Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Present: 04.28.13

The Present: 04.28.13

It's been well over a month since I last wrote a blog post. These daily musings didn't have the same feeling in the absence of books to write about and I bored of writing them quickly. I thought I would write today in celebration of the fact that my books are finally coming out of boxes once again. This was exactly what occasioned the Aimless Reading projet in the first place. This is the second time since that they have been completely unpacked and re-shelved.

I have some built-ins just outside my office in the hallway of the new house. They were in pretty rough shape when we moved in. The drab, off-white paint was cracked and peeling, one of the shelves was missing, and another seemed to have been added at a later date without any concern for how well it fit into the book cases. It was not as deep as the unit itself and barely wide enough to catch the shelf-clip on either end.

Our initial plan was to have Lori faux-woodgrain the whole hallway, including the bookcases. The house was built in 1949 and all the walls were originally made of luan that had a warm, orange-y finish to it. We decided to try the book cases first. She painted an orange base over them, then started layering a dark brown wood grain over it. It quickly became apparent that this was not the way to go. It was just two dark and it made the house seem less modern.

In the meantime, I had two new plywood shelves cut at Home Depot. It was kind of a pain because they do not sell boards that are truly 12" deep. The boards they call 12" are actually 1/4" to a 1/2" inch less deep than that. I had to by a large sheet of plywood instead and have them cut two shelves out that. I think the sheet cost something like $35. Anyhow, I did that and also had to buy a few extra clips for the added shelf.

In the end, we decided that our current design approach of painting everything white should be followed with the bookcases.  Lori re-painted everything. Painting over the orange was bad enough, but she also encountered a problem painting over the wooden doors on the cabinets beside the bookcases.

There are eight of them and the finish leaked through the white on all of them. She ended up having to prime, then shellack, then paint two or three coats on each one to get rid of the wood underneath. However, we did want a little color, so we bought some playful floral fabric and pasted to the wall behind the shelves. You can see it in the photo behind all the books.

Last night I unpacked all the book boxes. I decided to categorize my books this time instead of just alphabetizing everything in one big clump. I spent most of the afternoon unpacking and separating out the poetry books. Once they were out I alphabetized and shelved them. They nearly filled the entire built-in. I filled in the lower shelves with a Spanish language/Latin American section, which took up almost two shelves. I filled the final shelf in with a few books on film and then a group of unclassifiable practical books on subjects ranging from dieting to wilderness trails to parenting.

My next project is to shelve fiction, philosophy, drama, history, sci-fi, etc. I am trying to decide If I want to keep the cheap shelving I moved from Buffalo with or buy something a little nicer that I can put in my office. I may think on this for a little while before taking action.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Present: 02.24.13

The Present: 02.24.13
The Present: 02.24.13

Yesterday, staring at a blank screen, I took to writing longhand. It seemed to work. That is, something came of it. A poem, perhaps. It allowed me turn away from the screen, away from what I was writing about, to move in a different direction, multiple directions, so that when I returned to the screen, it seemed as if I'd arrived at the place I'd been trying to get to all along. I incorporated what I'd been looking at before turning away directly into the poem. Perfect. That's the way it works when it works.

That and mucus are the stories of the weekend. A house full of hacking, coughing, sneezing, runny-nosed snifflers. This is round two. It starts with my daughter, who gives it to Lori, who in turn gives it to me. I am hopeful it will make a final exit this week, along with more of the snow.

I drove past the Basset Park dog run Friday afternoon. It's a little park about a mile south of us on the way into New Haven. They used the Dog Run parking lot to dump a lot of snow from elsewhere, creating some of the highest snow mounds I have ever seen, some of them thirty feet high. They probably won't melt until July.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Present: 02.20.13

The Present: 02.20.13

A pattern seems to have emerged.

Days I decide to write now seem to be determined by whether or not I take a photo between the time I wake and the time I sit down with my coffee, kefir, and laptop. If, for instance, I take a photo of a tree while walking the dog, I will post that photo to flickr, then write about it on the blog. On the other hand, if I do not take a photo, I don't seem to write.

I am not always inspired to pull out my phone to take a photograph. Thus, I am not always moved to write.

A lovely winter light the cuts sideways through the sliding glass doors in my office in the morning, throwing the silhouettes of the trees on the wall. This morning I was tempted to shoot video rather than a still photo to catch the movement. I shot a still instead. The motion created a kind of blurring effect that abstracted the image.

Consumed with my job lately, I haven't had much time for self-reflection. I've been writing steadily, though, working on poems for my collaboration with Isabelle. I've already written ten of them. I even like a few. I will post some here, as I said before, but not until the project develops a bit.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Present: 02.15.13

The Present: 02.15.13

We've more or less dug ourselves out here in North Haven. The mail comes, the back door opens, we have diapers. New Haven proper is a parking disaster, so I have been hitching a ride with a co-worker each morning and afternoon.

My skin is dry. A crack just opened on the skin between my forefinger and thumb. No blood, but it stings a bit. I still haven't found a suitable replacement for my books as subject matter for the blog, but I am enjoying writing these little diary entries.

I brought home two books by Lisa Robertson last night, R's Boat and Nilling. She's coming to the Poetry Working Group at Yale in a couple of weeks. The way the PWG works is as follows: curators Richard Deming and Nancy Kuhl order books by the visiting poet, which they leave on a shelf in the back of a room at the Whitney Humanities Center.  The group members pick up the books, read them, then get together to talk about the work.

A week or so later the poet shows up, having been prepped on the content of the previous discussion. The group talks with them about their work for a couple of hours. Most of the time the poets do not perform a full-scale reading, but often someone asks them to read a poem or two out loud during the discussion.

Thankfully, Lisa, has been enlisted to read in Nancy's series at the Beinecke, so we'll get the full treatment. I think Alice Notley is on deck after Lisa, which bodes well for spring.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Present: 02.12.13

The Present: 02.12.13

A day of rain and some warmer temperatures have brought on a bit of a thaw. Still a ways to go, however, before things return to normal. Plows (I always want to spell this word like the Brits, "plough," for some reason I prefer the pillowy openness of -ough to the to disappointing finality of -ow) came through and created a lane on the opposite side of the street, leaving our mailbox inaccessible. Don't mail anything for at least a few more days.

Between last week's sick days and this week's snow days, I haven't worked much in the past few weeks, except some emailing from home. Not that I mind. I've gotten plenty of writing done, read a bit, played with my daughter, got to know a few of my neighbors via a blizzard pot luck yesterday afternoon.  We finally made it out of the driveway yesterday to pick up some diapers and chocolate.

Lindt brought out two new flavors of dark chocolate we've yet to try: Strawberry and Wasabi. We've tried all of their flavors, but generally stick to the few we like: Sea Salt, Chili, Orange, and, more recently, Coconut. We do not like Passion Fruit, Caramel-Sea Salt, Black Currant, Cranberry, Cocoa Nut Crunch, or Cocoa Almond Brittle. We used to like the 70% dark chocolate, but after getting into the flavored chocolates they just don't seem sweet enough anymore.

I'll let you know about the new ones once we've tried them.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Present: 02.10.13

The Present: 02.10.13

The photo above depicts the remains of my breakfast. For the past several years, Lori and I have been making kefir smoothies each morning. This began in 2008. We'd sold our first house and were living in an apartment on Auburn Ave. in Buffalo. The apartment was lovely, but the bedroom, formerly a back porch, was without heat and very cold.

We only lived there for about nine months. We'd sold our house thinking we were going to move another city, but then the financial crisis hit and we thought it best to stay where we actually had jobs until we found a place to land. Four more years (and two more houses in Buffalo) passed before we finally made the leap.

Lori at the time began to experiment with fermentation. She started by making sourdough bread in our kitchen. She made one or two small loaves per day. I ate them about as quickly as she could make them. I had a check-up at the time and was told that my triglycerides were through the roof. We determined that my breadmania was the root cause of the sugar surge.

Lori also began reading about Kefir, a fermented dairy product originally from Caucasus region. She ordered some grains online and then began placing them in milk and waiting for the milk to thicken and turn slightly fizzy. During this period our entire refrigerator became a fermentation lab, filled with overflowing jars of sourdough starter and kefir. Kefir on its own tastes pretty nasty, so she started adding fruit and a little bit of sugar.

I took a liking to the smoothies and we eventually started working together on the smoothies, mixing and matching ingredients to produce what has become our healthy morning shake. Each ingredient has some reason for being there.

The kefir is good for the intestines and aids in digestion. We add two tablespoons of crushed flax seed to boost my HDL levels which are always too low. To increase protein in the shake, we add one scoop of vanilla why protein powder. This also sweetens the confection. For a time, we used stevia for sweetening, but I never liked the taste and it's pretty expensive, so we gave that up.  We also add one banana for bulk, flavor and sweetness.

The final ingredient is the one that varies on a day to day basis: frozen fruit. We usually by frozen fruit mixes at the grocery story. Our current favorite is a berry mix that includes frozen cherries from Trader Joe's. We also use blueberries, strawberries, pineapple, mango, et al. About once a week we ditch frozen fruit in favor of peanut butter. When we do we add ice in order to increase the volume.


In other news, we're still buried here in North Haven. We spent about 2 hours trying to shovel the driveway yesterday. We cleared about half of it before we nearly collapsed with exhaustion. When the sun gets  little higher this afternoon, we'll try to finish the rest. Not that it matters. We live on a cul de sac and are unlikely to see a plow until tomorrow at the earliest. Here's hoping the diapers hold out.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Present: 02.09.13

The Present: 02.09.13

Quite a snowstorm last night. I'd say we got at least two feet, if not more. The photo above is the view from my office. The snow drift rises nearly to the doorknob. The door enters on the garage, on the other side of which, in the driveway, my car is completely buried. Not one part is visible. You could ski down the driveway and mistake for a mogul.

All the streets in Connecticut have been closed. Wind gusts blow dry tiny flakes of snow this way and that. I'd like to go out to shovel, but it's just too damn cold. I'll wait, at the very least, until the plow hits our little cul de sac. Or not. If the wind dies down perhaps I'll head out earlier. Of course, where do you displace two feet of snow? We'll have four feet on either side of the driveway when I am done. I wish I had a snow blower. Alas. A little exercise won't hurt.

I just finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson's amazing Mars trilogy: Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars. It's a spectacularly detailed imagining not only of the technological side of terraforming Mars, but of the difficulties of founding a colony, creating a system of government, negotiating with the the mother country, dealing with tensions between immigrants and native born, not to mention the effects of slowing down aging on memory, consciousness, et al. Great stuff.

Immediately after putting that down I picked up Roadside Picnic, the Soviet era sci-fi novel that Tarkovsky used as the basis for Stalker. I'll let you know how it goes. It's great so far.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Present: 02.04.13

The Present: 02.04.13

Very cold out this morning. Zelda seemed to have trouble going to the bathroom on our walk this morning She kept darting from one spot to another on the perimeter of the yard, never really stopping to do her business. I think she needs her anal glands emptied. Poor Zelda.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Present: 02.03.13

The Present: 02.03.13

A dusting of snow last night, just enough to let us know that it was there. Everyone here is coughing and sniffling except me. I am still recovering from gum surgery two weeks back. It's just soreness at this point, but I can't really chew on the right side of my mouth.

Last night we watched Mughal-e-Azam, the famous Bollywood epic about Akbar the Great and his romantic-poet-warrior-rebel son, Salim. I'd been wanting to see this for years, but it hasn't been available on Netflix. It made an appearance in a documentary about the history or world film we watched last week. Turns out they do have it on Netflix now, so I put it in my queue.

For better or worse, it had been colorized. At times the colors dazzled, but the colorization was kind of haphazard. Rather than color everything, they chose to leave white and gray materials desaturated, so that, for instance, in a palace scene all the curtains and costumes and props would be colored in the most garish golds and purples and greens, but the marble walls and columns and floors would be left alone, creating an almost cartoonish disjunct between the two. Comme ça:

Nonetheless, once we'd accustomed ourselves to the colors, we were (or at least I was) able to enjoy it. I am not sure it stands up as a narrative or even as a whole film. Like most Bollywood films, it's about an hour longer than it should be. The advantage of long form films like this, though, is that it allows the filmmaker space for all kinds of poetic innovations, of which this film is chock full. 

The greatest scene takes place about halfway into the film. In the story, Salim, heir to Mughal Empire of his father, Akbar the great, has fall in in love with a maid.  He wants to marry her, but tradition forbids him to marry such a lowly woman. Another maid who imagines herself a rival, plots, Iago-like, to make sure the emperor discovers the relationship, knowing he will put a stop to it. He confronts the maid, Anarkali (which means "pomegranate" in Urdu, in case you were wondering) and asks her, in exchange for her freedom and her life, to tell his son she doesn't love him and never did.

She does what she is commanded, but that night, when she performs her new year's dance, she finds she cannot betray her feelings or those of her lover. What follows is a stunning dance sequence in which her image splits off into a thousand mirrored reflections, hallucinatory expressions of her love that, rather than representing a fragmentation of her feelings, represent their multiplication. It's almost like the mystical evocation of a the godhead so filled with love it must reproduce itself infinitely.

The effect is overwhelming, first to the son, who realizes she truly does love him, and second to the king, who is brought nearly to tears by the dance and by the words of the song that follows. It's the dramatic climax to the film, which doesn't bode well for the next 90 minutes, most of which seem like afterthoughts. I am not sure Lori's enjoyed it as much as I did. She would have preferred that we continue watching the excellent House of Cards on Netflix. We'll return to that tonight.

I am working on a project with my friend Isabelle Pelissier involving poetry, translation and visual collage. We will probably start posting our results here soon, but we need a little more time before we do. 

Stay tuned...

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Present: 01.31.13

The Present: 01.31.13

We had a windstorm last night. Two healthy limbs snapped off one of those pine trees I was talking about yesterday. Both fell away from the house, fortunately. I took a photo, which I was going to post until I noticed out of the corner of my eye a rather striking gray and white long-haired cat perched on a large limb that had fallen in a previous storm.

It just stared at me. I decided to take a photo. The iPhone zoom function is pretty weak, so I never use it. You could barely see the cat in the first shot I took, so I stepped forward another five or six feet, worried I might scare it off before I took it. That was as close as I could get without climbing over the pile of holly branches from a tree I'd cut down with Lori's father back in November.

The cat was un-frightened and unmoved by my presence, a little furry god of the suburban woods. I took the shot and the cat just stared. I stared back. It kept staring. I blinked and walked away.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Present: 01.30.13

The Present: 01.30.13

Awoke this morning to find the whole yard covered in a thick fog. I recall seeing fog like this a handful of times in all the years I lived in Buffalo, yet this is the second time in a few weeks I've seen it here in North Haven. Zelda, the dog doesn't notice, as she pokes her nose in the underbrush beneath the trees surrounding our property.

They're mostly pine trees, but we also have a couple of cherry trees and a big sycamore about ten feet from the house with a wide, bulbous trunk. One of the limbs snapped off in the storm last fall, just before we moved in. The tree people didn't get around to lopping off the rest, so it still has a sharp,  ragged end. A couple of the longer branches extend over the roof, enough to do a little damage in a storm.

It's the pines on the other side of the house that are most worrisome though. There are five or six of them, each about a seventy-five to a hundred feet tall, within ten feet of our living room. If any one of them came down in it could do some serious damage. We think about these things.

The pines leave millions of rust-colored needles around the yard. Our dog has a fenced in area that extends from the living room to the back of the house. The needles for a blanket over all of the growth back there: a little grass, some ivy up near the house, all of it covered in needles. Zelda sometimes sticks her nose beneath the cover to sniff out the earth.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Present: 01.27.13

The Present: 01.27.13

My books still rest in their temporary homes, either in boxes unopened since last year or laying flat on shelves, unorganized in any way. A few – large art books, reference books, lit magazines (in other words, all the books I did not write about in the Aimless Reading Project) – have been removed from boxes and placed in the built-ins next to the fireplace in the living room. The Yale Shakespeare, as well as all of Lori's antique books are also out there.

The only other books not in boxes are those I took out to write about in W-Z and those I've been reading (or intending to read) for the past couple of months. There's a healthy stack on both nightstands in our bedroom, as ever. Emily's books have grown numerous enough that we commandeered a bookcase for her room. I cleared out everything from the built-ins in the hallway so Lori could paint them.

Once they're painted, we can take everything out of boxes. We may get rid of the rickety shelves – purchased a few years ago from Matt Chambers before he moved to Poland – in the photo and replace them with something that looks a little nicer, perhaps a set for my office and one for out bedroom. I am still contemplating a new organizational scheme for the books once they do come out. Alphabetical order is so yesterday. Categories are kind of dull, too.

Maybe size or color is the way to go.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Present: 01.26.13

The Present: 01.26.13

It's quite cold this morning, but the sky is a clear blue and the sun is shining. I have been pondering new blog projects, but haven't stumbled upon anything I am ready to commit to yet.

One idea as to create an imaginary archive or library. This could be an interesting idea, but I am not sure what it means. Would it be a list of books I'd like to own? Would it be a list of books that I think others should own? Would the archive have some specific or esoteric purpose? Could it be completely random? And what would I write about each day? New acquisitions? Highlights of the collection? Definitely some potential there, but it needs some more cooking.

Another idea I have had for a long time would be called something like "My Anthology." Each day I would select a poem that I would include in an anthology that best represented my ideas and feelings about poetry. I could select anything I wanted, the only qualification being that the poem be significant to me. I worry that the writing would end up being a kind of argument for inclusion in someone else's anthology. So that would have to be the first rule. No argumentation. So what would I write about each poem? Something about its significance to me -- perhaps another form of autobiography? Would this veer too closely to Aimless Reading? Or could it be a kind of extension? Hmmm...

I also thought about taking photos of the same tree in the back yard every morning. I take the dog out each day and stand around beside a lovely old cherry tree in our back yard while I wait for her to take care of business. I have taken a few photos of the tree, which have been relatively well "liked" on FB. But that seems more like a photo project, and I am not a photographer. What would I write about the same tree every day? Well, it would certainly be a challenge.

Maybe I could have multiple projects going at once. I could have My Anthology as one and The Imaginary Archive as another. I've always wanted to do something about entropy. Harder to do here than it would have been in Buffalo. Again, what would I write about? Maybe it's time to write a novel. I doubt I have the patience and persistence for that, though I have discovered a love for fiction in the past few years.

It will come to me. I am sure of it.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Present: 1.25.13

The Present: 1.25.13

I've been experiencing Aimless Reading withdrawal for the past few days. One of the reasons I kept at the project from start to finish was because I enjoyed the easy routine of it. I had tried to blog before, but blogging can be a lonely pastime, especially if you aren't blogging about "something."

At various points I tried to write about film, the literary scene in Buffalo, my cross-country reading trek in 2007, but it never materialized into a regular practice. Like many part-time bloggers, my entries often began with phrases like, "I haven't blogged in a while" or "I need to get caught up on my blog."

This almost never happened during the Aimless Reading project. Each day, I pulled a book from the shelf. I did not have to choose the book. I simply pulled the next book in line. All had been previously arranged in alphabetical order. I photographed myself holding the book, then spent several minutes setting up the post.

This involved giving the photo a title and a few tags before uploading the photo to Flickr. After it had loaded, I would grab the photo's HTML code and carry it over to Blogger, where I would create a new post, click the HTML view, and drop the code into the page before clicking COMPOSE, which revealed the image laid out in the page. I titled each post, making sure I'd used the correct letters and numbers.

My index code was simple:

Project name (colon)
Letter of the alphabet (comma)
Sequence number, with added decimal point signifying additional titles by an author (comma)
Author's first and last name (in parentheses)

Labeling followed. Labels affixed to almost every post included: "Aimless Reading," "Books," "Library," "Michael Kelleher," and "Pearlblossom Highway." I realized later that some of these were redundant, but kept adding them for the sake of continuity. I would also add the name of that day's author. After writing the post, I would add further labels for proper names I'd mentioned in that post. Sometimes I could not add them all due to the character limit in the label box.

After the set-up, I would write.

After writing, I would reread the post once for egregious errors and strange wording, then hit PUBLISH at the top of the page. I'd read it over once more in published form, mostly for layout errors, then post the link beneath the original photo on the Flickr page. Networked Blogs sent it immediately out to Facebook, which was the main outlet for the posts. I would also post it manually to Google+, where nobody I am aware of read it. (The series had approximately 56 subscribers on Blogger and another 562 on Networked Blogs. It averaged about 50 visitors and 100 page views per day. Modest, but steady.)

Longing for the familiar, I followed more or less the same strategy this morning before I began writing this post. I think I will use this blog to write what I feel like writing about each morning. At least, that is, until I come up with a new project. I'll post a photo along with the posts because photos attract attention in a way that letters unadorned do not.

Postscript: since the final post, I have been approached about two separate writing projects, both of which could lead to something interesting. I will keep you posted when and if they develop. In the meantime, my random musing will have to suffice.

Postpostscript: The photo above shows the built-ins in the (38-foot!) hallway outside my office in the new house. They desperately need paint, which means that my books are likely to stay in boxes for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Aimless Reading: Crunching the Numbers

Full Boxes

Crunching the Numbers

Number of days between the first entry and the last: 1,499
Number of entries using the phrase "Aimless Reading": 1,308
Number of volumes examined: 1,272
Number of titles examined: 1,252
Number of authors mentioned in blog headings: 634
Number of photographs taken of books and library: 1,308
First author in series: Peter Abelard
Last author in series: Louis Zukofsky
Most cited author: Robert Creeley (62 times)
Number of letters in the alphabet not cited in the project: 3 (Q, U, X)
Number of mentions of Antinomianism: 1
Number of mentions of Zelda, our Catahoula Leopard Dog: 11
Number of times the whole library was moved in 1,499 days: 3
Number of houses lived in during the same period: 4
Number of cities or towns lived in: 3
Number of bookcases destroyed by movers: 2
Number of times I changed jobs during the process: 1
Number of animals that died during the process: 1 cat (RIP)
Number of pets acquired: 3 (1 dog, 2 cats)
Number of children born: 1 (girl)
Number of marriages: 1 (Three Sisters Island, Niagara Falls, NY)
Number of broken bones: 1 (left radial head)
Number of medical and dental surgeries: 3 (2 gums, one elbow)
Number of break-ins during which no books were stolen: 4 (3 car, 1 house)
Number of boxes of books given away or sold before moves: 11
Age at the beginning of the project: 40
Age at its completion: 44 (sigh)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Monday, January 21, 2013

THE FINAL POST: Aimless Reading: The Z's, Part 1.6 (Louis Zukofsky)

Zukofsky, Louis

I guess this day had to come. I imagine Zukofsky would be pleased to know that once again his name had become the hinge connecting the end of the alphabet to the beginning. This book was taken from the shelves of the Just Buffalo library before it was sold. I once had a paperback copy–the newer one with the blue cover. That's the one I actually read. I eventually sold it in favor of keeping a sturdier, if older, hardcover.

It's hard to know where to begin or end this post. I am sure to follow with some stats and perhaps some appendices, if for no other reason than I have become so used to writing these posts each day that I won't be able to stop. But I did set out using the alphabet and my existing library as constraints, so it makes sense to bring this part of the project to a close.

I began reading Zukofsky's "A" over the winter break my first year in Buffalo, December 1997. I drove with Taylor Brady and Tanya Hollis from Buffalo to Florida. My father had died a year earlier and my mother had moved from Virginia to Sarasota that spring. She bought a house in a new development. It had an in-ground pool inside a screened-in patio that looked out on a manmade pond, replete with sleeping alligators.

I think at least one if not both of my brothers visited, but I could be wrong. I remember going to see movies every night at the multiplex in downtown Sarasota. We saw "Titanic" and "Good Will Hunting" and "As Good As It Gets." I went to the bookstore across from the theater and found books by Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein and Clark Coolidge remaindered and on sale for a couple dollars apiece.

Back at my mother's I swam and ate and smoked. I can recall holding Zukofsky's big book in my lap. I read to myself mostly, but when I was alone I read out loud. I had just gone through a semester of graduate school, where I felt like a salmon swimming upstream. Most of my new classmates were steeped in the avant-garde cannon of American poetry, having read Zukofsky and Olson and the Beats and the Objectivists and the Black Mountain and New York School poets, as well as everything in the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E vein.

I spent the next year or so playing "catch-up." Every time I heard a reference in a seminar or conversation to a poet (or theorist, this being Buffalo and graduate school, after all) I hadn't read, I nodded ambiguously, neither acknowledging my ignorance nor suggesting I'd actually read the work. Then I would write down the name and put it on a list of books to read in my spare time. I read the whole of "A" over the month-long break.

I was skeptical at first about my mother moving to Florida. It all happened so quickly. My father's body was barely cold before she sold the house (not my childhood home, but a townhouse they'd lived in for a few years), the extra car, and the furniture. She moved to a place where she knew no one, leaving behind all of the friends she and my father had made over the years. Frankly, I thought she was having a meltdown.

When I asked her about this, she said, "If I have to start over, I am going to start over completely." I came to like Sarasota, to my great surprise. You could walk downtown and go to the beach and they even had a little art house theatre with a tiny screen and a great video store with a pair of clerks who knew everything about film and were eager to share their knowledge with you.

A decade later, I spent a month in each of two succeeding summers living there by myself, writing while my mother was away. My most recent book, due out later this year from Chax Press, was written mostly in her kitchen. She moved around Sarasota almost as often as I did around Buffalo during that period. The only difference being that she kept making money off the houses she bought and sold, at least until the crash. Now she lives in Nashville, of all places. I've visited her once.

I don't remember much of "A."

I remember the opening section at the concert.

I remember not knowing what the St. Matthew's Passion was.

I remember the musical staves of "A-24."

I remember puzzling over a horse motif that runs through the poem.

I remember being moved by the section in which he addresses his young son, Paul. I think it's "A-12." I guess I liked to imagine my father addressing me that way, so candid.

I remember I bought the St. Matthew's Passion years later, after hearing it in one of Tarkovsky's films.

I seem to be rambling now.

I guess I am looking for a way to end -- or better, a way not to end --  this project. I find myself regretting having purged so many books from my library over the past few years–easily another year's worth of blog entries. I could, I suppose, start writing about all of the chapbooks, reference books, art books, and literary magazines I own. That could easily take two more years. I could also go back and write about all the books I've acquired since I began writing this blog. Six months. Easy.

We've also acquired at least three shelves full of children's books. I imagine in a few years I'll have a lot of memories to share regarding Good Night Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and The Cat in the Hat, but for now those memories are still "in progress."

Perhaps it's time to go back and reread what I have written. That could take at least a year. Maybe a poem or two will come of it.

Anyhow, it seems "I need a new project..."

from "A-12"

These are some things I wanted
To get into a poem
Some unfinished work
I may never finish.
Some that will never be used anywhere
You don't have to type–
That'll be nice
You won't have to type–
Much of it in pencil–blurred–other
                   notes written over it
I can't read back thru the years–
It is worth jotting down
In ink, as sometime
I may be sorry
When the sense is entirely destroyed.
Perhaps an unwarranted loneliness 
                    prompts me to it
For not much in it interests me now
If it can't be turned into poetry.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Aimless Reading: The Z's, Part 1.5 (Louis Zukofsky)

Complete Short Poetry
Zukofsky, Louis
Complete Short Poetry

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books for $19.95. The price is written in the upper righthand corner of the first page, in pencil, without a dollar sign or decimal point. One might reasonably conclude it cost $1,995 or that the purchaser wanted to commemorate the hypothetical year of its purchase, 1995. Maybe "reasonably" is too strong. One could conclude, playfully, that this was the case. But enough of hypotheticals.

One thing I regret as I look over this project is not tagging each entry with the name of the bookstore where I bought the book. I suppose I could search by name, but it would have been interesting to have a head count of all the books I remembered buying.

It's not hard to guess which stores would top the list. Most of my books were purchased at Talking Leaves...Books. The second most were purchased at the Niagara Falls outlet mall discount bookstore. Online stores, usually,  come in third. St. Mark's Books or Rust Belt Books would follow that, with the Fordham University Bookstore coming in behind them. Then there is East Village Books, the Strand, Seventh St. Books, Borders in Cheektowaga. Those are all bookstores I have patronized over the years. I wish I could say they'd been replaced by something here, but alas. I do occasionally go to the B&N that is the Yale Bookstore just to be around books, but it's not much fun.

Fortunately, I work in a literal cathedral to the written word, so I am surrounded by books all day long. One of the great things about working at the Beinecke is that I am regularly surprised to the point of emotion by objects that appear in boxes, display cases, or simply on the desks or walls of the various curators. Friday evening Nancy Kuhl took me around the current exhibit, "By Hand." It's the opening exhibit of the 50th Anniversary of the library and features handwritten manuscripts from throughout the collection.

She showed me some postcards by Joe Brainard and a stunning manuscript by Jonathan Edwards on oval paper. She showed me H.D.'s notes on her sessions with Freud. But the thing that moved me unexpectedly was a notebook that belonged to John Donne. A small, landscape-oriented leather book, it contained handwritten poems penned by Donne himself. On display was his famous poem, "The Flea," which was a poem that I studied closely in college.

It's not that I am a huge John Donne fan, but there was something about the singularity of the object that moved me. It's one thing to encounter manuscripts from twentieth century writers, who are much more important to me than Donne. It's quite another to see the original manuscript of a poem that is nearly 400 years old and which has since become a significant entry in the canon of western poetry.

I had a similar feeling when I stepped into a curator's office a few months back and saw, tossed among a hundred other books on a table, an original of El Lissitzky and Vladimir Mayakovsky's stunning collaboration, For the Voice (in Russian, of course). I had seen this book reproduced, but it was a powerful experience to hold it in my hands.

I am remembering now one of the first days of class in a course with Susan Howe. She took us to the poetry collection at UB to look at various first editions and manuscripts. When she took out the handwritten manuscript of Stevens' "The Man With The Blue Guitar" she was moved almost to tears.

What is it about nearness to the singular object that moves a person so? Is it perhaps the sense that the past is present, that some fragment of a time we never experienced has survived, as if to speak directly to us in the present? Or is it that we are not only close to "the past" in a general sense, but are witness to the evidence of the moment of creation -- the single page on which a poem came into being and the moment itself, as if the past did not exist at all, was simply a part of the present we hadn't yet encountered?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Aimless Reading: The Z's, Part 1.4 (Louis Zukofsky)

Collected Fiction
Zukofsky, Louis
Collected Fiction

Charles Bernstein handed these out in class one day, as I recall. He often had stacks of books from one publisher or another stacked on the window sills in his office/classroom in Clemens Hall. On occasion, he would hand them out as we entered class. My recollection is that they rarely had anything to do with the reading list proper for his classes. They just happened be taking up space he needed to reclaim.

Well, we're getting very close to the end. Two more books, and still I have no idea where to go with this after we get to 'A'. I met writer Joan Richardson the other night. We got to talking about my blog, memory palaces, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, et al. She told me about a project she is working on that resonates with this one. For years she's been collecting quotes and citations and documents and putting them into folders, a kind of memory palace.

A few years ago she stumbled on the index to Jonathan Edwards' Images, Shadows of Divine Things, which she has used partly as the organizing principle to collage these collections together into what she calls a "secular, spiritual autobiography." It also echoes Benjamin's Arcades Project. I'll be very excited to see how that project turns out.

As I've been trying to distill my thoughts about this project, it seems that one of the questions I have been asking myself is about how I store my memories. I think it is often assumed that we passively receive experience and that the things which have the most profound emotional affect on us as well as those things which repeat, tend to be the ones we remember.

Or, at least, those are things we can most easily call to mind when reflecting on the past.

But there is a whole lot of other information being stored, repressed, hidden away, forgotten, that doesn't disappear simply because we can't actively recall it. I have been finding that as this stuff comes up it feels very powerful and palpable, yet at the same time when I write about it I get the feeling that I am constructing something, making a collage from fragments that may or may not have any real connection.

Memory feels both true and false in this way. False in that a hypothetical video taken of the moment I am trying to recall would likely contradict most of the facts as I recall them. True insofar as the construction resembles some idea I have of this thing called the self and how it connects to the past, this connection being time, which both obstructs and connects it to itself, providing a continuity that can just as easily dissolve into fragments as form a coherent whole.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Aimless Reading: The Z's, Part 1.3 (Louis Zukofsky)

A Test of Poetry
Zukofsky, Louis
A Test of Poetry

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I took this photograph yesterday morning, but did not write anything before I left for work. I sat with the book for a moment, then opened and began reading Robert Creeley's introduction. I had an experience I've often had since he died, in which I start reading his words and then begin to hear his voice. The syntax of his written sentences hewed so closely to the way he spoke in person that reading it now is a bit uncanny. I caught myself listening to his voice in my head and then went back and started reading again to see if I was just making this up. I had the same experience all over again. The sentences sound just like the man.

I remember having a similar experience once when he was alive. I met him for lunch in a diner in Buffalo. It was around the time that Life and Death came out. My mother had recently moved to Florida and I had visited her for the first time that winter. I told him my impressions of Florida and then he started talking about people on golf carts and those little scooters that constitute a fourth kind of traffic in Florida after cars, bikes and pedestrians. Mostly I remember this contempt he expressed for the whole idea of retirement and moving to Florida to stop working, as if not working were actually preferable to work.

And then I had that same uncanny feeling, only in reverse. Here I was, listening to the great poet speak and I suddenly felt like I was inside one of his poems. His speech sounded exactly like his writing. That night I went home and read the poem Histoire de Florida, which contains descriptions of people on scooters and the poet's contempt for retirement (and death, too). The uncanniness came not from the repetition of the stories but the repetition of the rhythms and syntax of his speech. He somehow got down his words as he would have spoken them so that there was an incredible seamlessness between the two.

from A Test of Poetry

The test of poetry is the range of pleasure it affords as sight, sound, and intellection. This is its purpose as art. But readers have rarely been presented with comparative standards to quicken their judgments: 'comparative' in the sense that the matter with which poems deal may be compared. To suggest standards is the purpose of this book. By presenting for comparison several translations of the same passage from Homer, an elegy of Ovid and lines from Herrick that read like an adaptation of Ovid, or a fifteenth century poem about a cock and a recent poem about white chickens, and so on, a means for judging the values of poetic writing is established by the examples themselves.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Aimless Reading: The Z's, Part 1.2 (Louis Zukofsky)

"A" 22 & 23
Zukofsky, Louis
"A" 22 & 23

Purchased at East Village Books for $6.00. This price is written on the first page. Opposite, on the flap, is printed the original price, $3.95. Beneath that someone has written, "Cloth $4.95." I guess this must have been written in by a merchant selling both the paper and cloth editions at the time is was published. Perhaps it was suggestive selling, an attempt to push the more expensive cloth binding on the buyer. Obviously, it did not work on the person who brought this one home.

Unlike yesterday's book, from the same publisher, purchased at the same used book store, which presumably bought it from the same person, this book does not contain the signature of "Tony," whose last name I could not read. Yesterday's book also contained a list of other titles published by Cape Editions, whereas today's contains a list of other works Cape published by Zukofsky. These include "A" 24, Autobiography, Little, Catallus (with Celia Zukofsky), and Ferdinand.

It appears that Cape Editions may have changed hands between the publication of the two books. The publisher of Ferdinand was Grossman Publishers/Cape Editions. This volume says "A Viking Compass Book/Cape Editions."

It snowed last night.

from "A" 22 

                                             AN      ERA
                                             ANY  TIME
                                             OF    YEAR

Other letters a sum owed
ages account years each year
out of old fields, permute
blow up against yellow
–scapes welcoming young birds–initial

transmutes itself, swim near and
read a weed's reward–grain
an omen a good omen
the chill mists greet woods
ice, flowers–their soul's return...

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Aimless Reading: The Z's, Part 1.1 (Louis Zukofsky)

Zukofsky, Louis

Purchased at East Village books for $6. It was previously owned by someone named Tony. I can't make out his last name. The light was terrible when I took the photo. The image of the cover you see is much darker than the original, but such is light.

I actually took the photo yesterday, then got distracted before I left for work and skipped a day. The cover flap lists other books published by Cape Editions. It's quite an eclectic mix. In addition to Zukofsky, they published titles Claude Lévi-Strauss, Malcom Lowry, Nazim Hikmet, Charles Baudelaire, Julian Huxley, Charles Olson and Fidel Castro. The series editor was Nathaniel Tarn.

When I bought this, I picked up another edition in the series, also by Zukofsky, which contains excerpt from "A." Its cover, as you will see, has a mustard color.

I am struggling to get going on this entry this morning and, oh, look the time has run out. I must go to work.

from Ferdinand

It was fine weather in mid-August when I woke anxious to go on writing the story that in the dark hours did not let me rest.

I had promised my wife not to stay up and strain my eyes, and had failed her. So I was happy to be up before she was, to tell her that I was not tired. The birds had anticipated me with their song: early birds–a dark comedian used to say–catching worms. As I listened before the mesh window screen which a few hours before in the dark had let through only the hot wave of midsummer, a drop in the temperature brought in a breeze as from some basin filling with torrents of air.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Aimless Reading: The Z's, Part 1 (Louis Zukofsky)

Selected Poems
Zukofsky, Louis
Selected Poems

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books. I can remember seeing it on the shelf in the new poetry releases section, alongside a few other volumes in the series. It was another of the many books I ogled for a while before buying it. This is one of the many things you lose when Amazon takes over the world: ogling. It's hard to ogle a thumbnail sketch. It's hard to take a thumbnail sketch off the shelf and hold it in your hand, weigh it, determine whether or not the book seems worth it's weight in coin.

I can recall Charles Bernstein, who edited this volume, and who also introduced me to Zukofsky, going over the reading list on his syllabus with the class. In addition to the required reading, which covered a couple of books per week, he appended a "suggested" reading list that filled several pages and included some two hundred books. When discussing his expectation he told us that he did not expect us to read all of these books.

He paused, reflected a moment, then revised this statement, saying he didn't expect us to read any of the books, including the required reading. Ideally, he said, we should handle each one. He suggested we hold them in our hands, feel the weight, the texture of the cover, perhaps even run our fingers over the text, and then, when we had fondled each book, we could report back on what we had learned.

No one took him seriously, of course, but why should we have? We assume that the only pleasure one derives from a book should be in reading it and, if we happen to be in graduate school, interpreting its meaning via well-formed paragraphs and syllogisms. But books provide other information than the content of the words written therein, which was a I think the point.

Charles and his generation of poets made formidable arguments about the significance of language in its materiality. Just as we're taught to assume meaning is outside the text, we also assume that it is contained outside of the book. Each book is a reproduction of a text whose meaning resides in the intention and will of the author who wrote it. We're trained to close our eyes to everything else when talking about meaning. The font, the color of the ink, the weight of the paper and its texture, the smell of the book, are all beside the point.

"Read the words, interpret their meaning." This kind of argument is fitting for the Amazon age, I guess. It follows that we can call text "data" and like all other information of its kind we can buy it from sellers like Amazon knowing that all data is identical. The only difference between data and text is the assumption of a deeper meaning. In terms of our reception of the object, there is no material difference.

Not so with books. Each book has a certain shape and color and texture and feel that exists apart from the text or the "data" inside. It has some individuality even when it is sitting on the shelf at the bookstore. If there are five copies of the same book, I often choose one of the five after inspecting all of them. Usually, I just want the one in the best condition, but who's to say there isn't some other unconscious attraction to s specific book that draws me to tje one I choose?

Once it comes home the book takes on a life of its own. I leave a trail behind in every book I read. Each contains within it the history of our relationship. Some or all of the pages will have been touched by my fingers. I might spill coffee or water on it. I may drop an ash from a cigarette (in the old days, anyhow) between the pages. I might put the book on the shelf and leave it there for years to gather dust, turn yellow, fade, dry up, crack and wrinkle. We age together.

If I stay in one place forever, I may decide to retain all of these little histories together on my shelves. If I move around, as I have often these past few years, I may choose to purge a few (or a lot), that is, to send our shared histories anonymously into the world, where their particularities might evoke for another reader a sense of mystery, the same way they sometimes do for me when I buy a used book and ask, Who is the person whose name is written on the front page? Who underlined THIS passage? Why did they fold over this corner?

This book here in my hand, Zukofsky's Selected Poems raises questions I can't quite answer with a quick survey of the cover. There's a small coffee stain in the lower righthand corner. It's just a droplet, really, not the classic shape of the mug one often sets on the book, as if it were a coaster.

Below that is a slight puncture. It's dead center at the bottom edge of the dust jacket. Whatever went through it also damaged the cloth cover of the book itself. It looks like it's about the size of a small nail or a thumbtack. But how could this have happened? And if I hold the book up to the light I can also see a nearly invisible smudge in the pink area just above the title. A liquid of some kind? Glue perhaps?

I like the compactness of this book. It feels good in the hands. This is not true of some of Zukofsky's books. The Complete Shorter Poetry is an abomination (no offense to the editors). Its gigantic page format is awful for reading and it's not beautiful enough to be a display book. This size, this weight, this density, is the perfect size for reading. The embossed cover art pleases my hand as it runs over the surface.

You can appreciate any of this after you have made your Amazon purchase, of course. But you don't get to enjoy it before you've bought it. I feel this loss more acutely here in greater New Haven, where there is nothing resembling a decent book store, much less one with three shelves dedicated to new poetry releases.

I try to ogle the thumbnails, but they don't carry much weight.

from Selected Poems

Can dogs

Dogs in a vise,
and a wood saw
can aw an anatomy
of dog

Such as you never saw.

If it yowls
shut the eyelid on a bad dream,
Let not the snarls take,
With its virus in you
You are imune.

What hounds
you means to.
Not all woodsawyers
grow animal.

Aimless Reading: The Y's: Stats


The Y's

4 Authors
6 Volumes
6 Titles

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Aimless Reading: The Y's, Part 4.1 (William Butler Yeats)

Yeats, William Butler
Autobiographies: Memories and Reflections

Given to me by my father. He bought this on a trip to Ireland taken while I was in college. It looks to have had a price sticker on it that's been torn off. I have a vague recollection of tearing it off. I have now a small feeling of regret for having done so. I remember the price was printed in Irish pounds. I even remember asking myself if later I would regret tearing off this novel item. I did it anyway and now I am sorry.

One thing writing these entries has taught me is the value of leaving certain things alone. Items like price stickers, bookmarks, stray pieces of paper left between pages, inscriptions, et al, are the very things that call memories and feelings out from their hiding places. It's the specific details of the object, like how much it cost, where it was purchased, what page I was on when I left off reading it, what the bookmark said and where it came from, what slips of paper I had in my possession or happened to be touching the last time I read the book, that are often the most evocative parts of a book.

As I flip through this book, there is nothing else about its physical presence to distinguish it from any other book in the world except for the gummy traces of the Irish price tage obscuring the last two letters of the author's last name. There are no marks, no slips of paper, no inscriptions. Which isn't to say this book doesn't contain powerful memories for me. The fact that it was given to me by my father means a lot.

I would guess he gave it to me sometime in the early nineties. He died in 1996. I have all of his letters in a box somewhere, but I don't read them often. Somewhere I have a few recordings he made -- diary entries, really -- on one of his trips to Ireland. I also own a recorded letter he made for his friend Ned. They used to record audio letters to each other on casette tapes and send them back and forth across the country. My father never sent this one, which dates from around 1976 or 1977.

He's recording it while taking a bath. You can hear the water splashing as he speaks. A couple of times he makes sexist remarks about how since he'd been in the hospital recently with a bleeding ulcer he'd discovered why "broads" loved taking long, luxurious baths. He tells his friend that this was the year I'd discovered that Santa did not exist. He said I'd been very good about not sharing this information with my two younger brothers, then masculinely augments his Brooklyn accent and proclaims, "Of course I said I'd break his legs if he ever told them."

The diary tapes, made after he'd been sober for twenty years or so, reveal another side of this complex man. In the most memorable of them, he's staying at a small inn on the Aran Islands, alone. He takes a walk along the cliffs over looking the sea. It's nighttime and up ahead he can see lights on the beach. He walks towards the light. As it come into focus he can see a fire and people carrying torches arrayed around it.

He realizes he is watching a kind of ceremony. He becomes self-conscious and doesn't want anyone to see him, so he finds a spot hidden spot from which to observe. He watches with amazement, not knowing what he is seeing. The beauty of the scene transfixes him. There is no longer any Brooklyn masculinity in his voice. It's all wonder.

Not long before he died he spent a few weeks out at the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. He was helping do some work on the Red Cloud Indian School. one of the last things he did before he died was to arrange for their basketball team to travel to DC to play in a high school tournament he had founded. But for now he was just working as a volunteer. He attended some kind of ceremony on his final night. Everyone sat in a circle around a fire and watched Native American dancers perform.

When he got home he took a creative writing course at a local community college, where he met, of all people, a gay Argentinian dance instructor, who happened to be Robert Duvall's dance coach. My father, who was anti-everything, especially gays, befriended this man, who invited my parents to a dance party at Duval's farm, about an hour outside of DC.

My father was thrilled because he had always been a fan of Duvall and also because one of his childhood friends was an actor who had played minor roles in several movies with the famous actor. He was thrilled to be able to meet the man and say that they both knew Tom Signorelli.

Anyhow, my father wrote a short essay for the course about his experience watching the dancers perform by the fire. He typed it out and mailed it to me, asking my opinion. I had spent the past few years in a writer's group where we spent hours each week trashing each other's work. I told my father over the phone all the ways I thought he could improve his writing. There was a meaningful silence on his end of the line, which I interpreted at the time to be anger, but which I now realize was something else.

It wasn't important to him if the writing was good or bad. What he wanted was for me to experience the wonder he felt and which he was trying to describe in his essay. I was too busy trying to show him how much smarter than him I thought I was to see that he was just looking share his experience with me.

When he died, I gave his eulogy in front of hundreds of people at the church we went to in Virginia. I wrote the whole thing out, then tore it up, leaving only an outline to improvise from. At the end, I pulled out his essay and read the final paragraphs.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Aimless Reading: The Y's, Part 4 (William Butler Yeats)

The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats
Yeats, William Butler
The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats

Given to me by the Mulholland family when I was in college. Before that, it seems to have belonged to the Davis Community Library in Bethesda, MD. I had a copy of the selected poems that I used in a couple of classes in college, but I got rid of it a few years ago during one of the pre-move prunings of my library. Weird, spell check does not like "prunings." There are many occasions when I really wish spell check would leave my words alone. This is one of them.

I really have pruned a lot of books in the last five years. Before we moved to New Haven, I got rid of seven boxes. Although many of them fell outside the purview of this project, those boxes surely would have kept Aimless Reading going for the next few months.

I am starting to wonder what I am going to do when I hit that final book in a week or so. It seems impossible that I am already up to Z. I probably have another six months' or a year's worth of books that I have acquired since I began the project, but which have been left out because the author's last name began with a letter I had already covered.

But that doesn't seem quite right. Most important for me is the daily habit writing. Also, the delving into my memory to reconstruct whatever I can from the past. I also like the public aspect. Even if the daily readership here is modest, I like knowing that what I write is being read by a few loyal eyes. I write for an audience.

On the other hand, this project has always had a structure and a telos and we have almost arrived. It will be time to move on to something else.

But what? But what.

Adam’s Curse

We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,   
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,   
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.   
Better go down upon your marrow-bones   
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones   
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;   
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet   
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen   
The martyrs call the world.’
                                          And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake   
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache   
On finding that her voice is sweet and low   
Replied, ‘To be born woman is to know—
Although they do not talk of it at school—
That we must labour to be beautiful.’
I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing   
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be   
So much compounded of high courtesy   
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks   
Precedents out of beautiful old books;   
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;   
We saw the last embers of daylight die,   
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky   
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell   
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell   
About the stars and broke in days and years.

I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:   
That you were beautiful, and that I strove   
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown   
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Aimless Reading: The Y's, Part 3 (John Yau)

Radiant Silhouette
Yau, John
Radiant Silhouette: New & Selected Work 1974-1988

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books.

John Yau visited Charles Bernstein's seminar during my second semester in graduate school. I have two specific memories related to the visit, one from after the reading and one from before the visit.

After the reading, we all went out for dinner at the Anchor Bar, the birthplace of the Buffalo chicken wing. It's a large Italian family restaurant on what was then a pretty bleak stretch of Main St. (the area around it is much improved). It had a bar, multiple dining areas, and a small stage where they used to (and probably still do) have live jazz a couple of nights a week.

A large group of us occupied a table in the smoking area, which was off the bar, separate from the main dining area. Everyone ate and smoked and drank for several hours. Charles and John sat beside each other at in the center of the table. I sat across from them. There was a young couple there -- Aaron and Michelle. They were undergraduates who had taken Charles' seminars and came to every single reading. Both were vegan. This came out when we ordered our dinner. Charles asked them a few questions then moved on to something else.

Later in the night, however, Charles started a conversation with John that was a kind of performance. He began by asking John what his ideal city would look like. Before John could answer, he began to expound a vision for his own city. He did this by proposing one rule after the next. All of this was tongue in cheek and very funny. The only rule I remember had to do with veganism. "In my city, you can BE vegan, you just can't SAY you are vegan."

My other memory takes place before Yau arrived. That semester I was meeting once a week with Robert Creeley to discuss my poetry. At our first meeting, I handed him a stack of poems to take home with him. At our second, we met at Spot coffee on Delaware Ave. and Chippewa St. Creeley brought his blue plastic suitcase with him. He set it on the table, opened the latches, and removed my pile of poems as well as a copy of this book and also Yau's Forbidden Entries, which had just come out.

Then he started talking a blue streak, mostly about punning. He was obliquely suggesting that I needed to think more about the individual words I was using in my poems, their multiple meaning, how those multiple meanings built themselves up into a poem. He never said any of this directly. He spoke mostly by pointing at things and talking about what was interesting in them.

He started talking about "Dear Old Robert Duncan" and how he had asked of Williams red wheelbarrow. "Red (Read) What is red?" Then he pointed at Forbidden Entries and said something about all the puns he saw in that title. As I recall, my head was spinning. I kept waiting for him to tell me whether or not he liked my poems.

The closest he came was when he said, "I read these poems and I feel like I am walking down a city street peering into all these hidden alleys and doorways and I keep asking myself how the doors and alleys connect to the street."

I am still working on that one.

from Radiant Silhouette

After Moving

Even as the street becomes familiar to you
             almost incidental
the way details in novels can add
             their unblendable color
to the overall scheme; and faces pass
             from strangers to companions
without the intervention of touch;
             and the traffic
no longer sounds harsh, but grows muted
             as the gray afternoons
that occasionally fill the sky with a festering sun
             behind clouds rubbed smooth;
you feel removed from the surrounding scenery
             though is you were asked
you would not deny you have a place
             in this circumstance
and partake of events, though they rarely
             if ever
seem connected as the street do
             angles of one block
joined to another, the building jammed together,
             with a child playing on the stoop
or covering her eyes while her friends
             run into the darkness
the game takes into account

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Aimless Reading: The Y's, Part 2.1 (Frances A. Yates)

Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition
Yates, Frances A.
Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books. I remember ogling this book for a long time before buying it. It was quite expensive, as I recall, and I didn't have a lot of money. I eventually did buy, but I am pretty sure I didn't read it. Or not all of it, anyhow. It didn't quite have the narrative sweep of the art of memory and I had so much else to read in grad school that I think it simply ended up on the "I'll get to this later" shelf.

I am drawing a bit of a blank this morning. Last night I fell asleep pretty soundly at around 11:30, then woke up with a case of the jimmy legs at about 12:30. I tried to fall back to sleep, but ended up getting out of bed and coming into my office to mindlessly roam the internet superhighway until I felt tired again. In other words, I didn't get my beauty sleep and it is going to be a long day.

I can say for certain that I read the first chapter, as several passages have been underlined by me.

For instance:

Man's history was not an evolution from primitive animal origins through ever growing complexity and progress; the past was always better than the present, and progress was revival, rebirth, renaissance of antiquity. The classical humanist recovered the literature and the monuments of classical antiquity with a sense of return to the pure gold of civilisation better and higher than his own.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Aimless Reading: The Y's, Part 2 (Frances A. Yates)

The Art of Memory
Yates, Frances A.
The Art of Memory

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

This is one of my all-time favorite books. I discovered it my first year in graduate school. I forget who it was that recommended it. Probably Susan Howe, but I can't say for certain. I became completely obsessed with it. My favorite memories of teaching at the university level, which are few, involve using this book to teach writing.

In one class, I mixed in the study of Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space with this and Edgar Allen Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher.  I can remember drawing a picture of Bachelard's archetypal French home, with its multiple floors, basement and garret, then using this idea to map out a rudimentary memory system. I somehow connected all of this to the house in Poe, but I can't recall exactly what the connection to memory was.

My favorite class, though, came the following semester. I decided to try an experiment teaching poetry. Instead of covering a lot of ground, I decided to cover only a little. One poem, in fact: "Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow," by Robert Duncan. The first exercise was to have the entire class memorize and recite the poem. The idea being to make everyone intimately familiar with the words before we started thinking about what they meant.

Following the memorization exercise, we read a chapter from Yates on how to construct a memory system. The gist is that you first have to visualize a detailed map of a place -- a city, a neighborhood, a house, whichever -- and then you need to create startling images to help you recall specific words and phrases in the piece you are trying to memorize. You set these images in rooms, niches, whatever, in a specific order and then as you recite, you follow the exact path through the space, using each image to recall the next line in whatever it is you happen to be reciting. The assignment was to build a memory system around Duncan's poem. Students were asked to map out a place, create startling images, set those images in a specific sequence in areas throughout the map, then present the map to the class an explain how it worked.

Following this, we moved on close reading. I showed the students how to read a poem without referring to outside texts. I asked each of them to produce a five page close reading of the poem. The final exercise involved using outside sources to produce a research paper. I provided them with all kinds of texts that they could use to analyze the poem and asked them to research these sources and produce a paper based on that research.

All in all, I think we spent about six or eight weeks on that poem. I have no idea what I followed it up with to close out the semester. It can only have been a letdown.

from The Art of Memory

At a banquet given by a nobleman of Thessaly named Scopas, the poet Simonides of Ceos chanted a lyric poem in honour of his host but including a passage in praise of Castor and Pollux. Scopas meanly told the poet that he would only pay him half the sum agreed upon for the panegyric and that he must obtain the balance from the twin gods to whom he had devoted half the poem. A little later, a message was brought in to Simonides that two young men were waiting outside who wished to see him. He rose from the banquet and went out but could find no one. During his absence the roof of the banqueting hall fell in, crushing Scopas and all the guests to death beneath the ruins; the corpses were so mangled that the relatives who came to take them away for burial were unable to identify them. But Simonides remembered the places at which they had been sitting at the table and was therefore able to indicate to the relatives which were their dead. The invisible callers, Castor and Pollux, had handsomely paid for their share in the panegyric by drawing Simonides away from the banquet just before the crash. And this experience suggested to the poet the principles of the art of memory of which he is said to have been the inventor. Noting that it was through his memory of the places at which the guests had been sitting that he had been able to identify the bodies, he realised that orderly arrangement is essential for good memory.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Aimless Reading: The Y's, Part 1 (Matvei Yankelevich)

Alpha Donut
Yankelevich, Matvei
Alpha Donut

Given to me by the author.

I first met Matvei when Brendan Lorber scheduled us to read together at Zinc in, I think, 2005. Actually, I was asked to give a talk of some kind. I ended up talking about Charles Olson along with Ammiel Alcalay. The two of us had just gotten the OlsonNow project off the ground and this was our first public presentation of the idea. It was sort of a prep for the event we put on at the poetry project later that year.

I remember Matvei handed out little slips of paper that had short poems -- or maybe aphorisms or epigrams -- typed out on them. At some point during the Aimless Reading project, one of these fell out of a book I was examining and I may have even written about it on the log. I can't recall which book it was in and a quick search for Matvei's name in the archive turns up nothing.

Matvei came to Buffalo two or three times in the ensuing years. Two, I think. I first brought him and two other UDP editors up for a reading at Big Orbit Gallery. He and Anna Moschovakis and Genya Turovskaya all stayed at our house in Black Rock. Then Matvei came to read at the Buffalo Small Press Book fair reading two years ago.

I saw him again this summer at the UDP studios, which I visited for the first time. After the reading we all went out to a great Italian place down the street and sat outside at a table on the sidewalk, eating and drinking and talking.

He came up to New Haven for a reading with Eileen Myles last fall. They read in a big greenhouse, surrounded by large, medium and small tropical plants. It took place in the March Botanical Gardens. I remember strolling around in the cactus room after the reading.

from Alpha Donut


I am writing this poem against the image. Look at me–you see that I'm engaging with you, so look out into my eyes. The soul is out for a walk but you can't see a soul, see smoke but only as in rising, see fish as in preserved for future generations. A sudden flash of numbered days like lost and boring minutes that shine with green envy, that last as long as night. Words fear their nature: together we trust each other the ay woods trust wind–they cannot see it. Out "wind," our "time," our "we," built on drift.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 34 (Richard Wright)

Native Son
Wright, Richard
Native Son

I think this was my classroom copy of this book from my high school teaching stint in NYC 1992-1994.

Catcher in the Rye was probably the most significant book I read during my adolescence because in helping me find a voice for my own sense of alienation from my peers it also opened up the world of books and reading. That said, Richard Wright's Native Son runs a close second in importance becuse it took the feeling of alienation and made it political.  Holden's alienation is the result of a thwarted search for authenticity among the members of his social class. Bigger's social circumstance is one of de facto alienation and his resistance to it is both tragic and revolutionary. If ever a book I read at that age helped me develop a political consciousness, this was it.

I remember teaching it in NYC. I also taught Black Boy, Wright's autobiography of his youth, to the younger students. I seem to have lost my copy of that. I remember reading aloud from the latter to a group of freshman, about half of whom were black. There was a lot of talk in urban schools at the time about the use of the n-word among black youth. My friend's school in Harlem had posters all through the hallways that had ""N-word" inside a red circle with a slash through it.

There's a passage in that book where a couple of young boys are playing around on a street corner, using the n-word over and over to refer to eh other. Naif that I was, I read this passage aloud to my students. thinking that it would raise a few questions about what it might mean to use this word. After I had said it aloud five or six times, using the same kind of inflections my students did when they spoke to each other, they started to rebel. Kids were shouting out "stop it!"

What ensued was not a discussion of the use of the word by the students, but about the use of the word by me, a white teacher. They were insistent that whatever questions their use of the word raised, I was not allowed to use it. Ever. That pretty much ended the discussion. In my ignorance on the subject I had gotten everyone so angry at me that teaching the lesson was no longer possible. A lesson learned, I suppose.

The debate rages on in the wake of the release of the latest Tarantino movie.

from Native Son


An alarm clock clanged in the dark and silent room. A bed spring creaked. A woman's voice sang out

"Bigger, shut that thing off!"

A surly grunt sounded above the tinny ring of metal. Naked feet swished dryly across the planks in the
wooden floor and the clang ceased abruptly.

"Turn on the light, Bigger."

"Awright," came a sleepy mumble.

Light flooded the room and revealed a black boy standing in a narrow space between two iron beds,
rubbing his eyes with the backs of his hands. From a bed to his right the woman spoke again:

"Buddy, get up from there! I got a big washing on my hands today and I want you-all out of here."

Another black boy rolled from bed and stood up. The woman also rose and stood in her nightgown.

"Turn your heads so I can dress," she said.

The two boys averted their eyes and gazed into a far comer of the room. The woman rushed out, of her
nightgown and put on a pair of step-ins. She turned to the bed from which she had risen and called:

"Vera! Get up from there!"

"What time is it, Ma?" asked a muffled, adolescent voice from beneath a quilt.

"Get up from there, I say!"

"O.K., Ma."

Friday, January 4, 2013

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 33 (James Wright)

Above the River
Wright, James
Above the River

Purchased at St. Mark's Books. This is a book that I should have purged from my library by now. I bought it, literally, because I like that one poem about the football team in the coal town, Martin's Ferry, OH.

The one reason I had any interest in that poem at all was because I actually went to college for one year in Wheeling, WV, which is on the other side of the bridge from Martin's Ferry, OH, so the place was familiar to me. We used to go over the bridge to buy beer, which you could still buy as a nineteen-year-old in Martin's Ferry, when it had already risen to twenty-one in Wheeling.

This was the mid-eighties, when coal-mining industry that had sustained the area had more or less collapsed and both places felt kind of hopeless. It didn't feel dangerous, like many cities at the time, just demoralized.

I wrote quite a bit about my time in Wheeling in these posts here. They're mostly about my friend M., who I'd assumed I'd probably never see again. We'd drifted apart many years ago. I made that assumption as Facebook was busy taking over the world, but hadn't quite done so. It wasn't long after I wrote those posts that I established contact with him again on Facebook.

We've exchanged a few notes and birthday wishes since. I was glad, though, that I wrote all that before we'd established contact. Not that I am embarrassed by it or anything, but I might have hesitated here and there if I'd thought he'd be reading it.

Autumn Begins in Martin's Ferry, Ohio

In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.

Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other's bodies.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 32.1 (William Wordsworth)

Selected Poems
Wordsworth, William
Selected Poems

Purchased at the Niagara Falls outlet mall discount bookstore.

In the two college courses that I took on the the Romantics, we used a thick, sturdy, expensive hardcover anthology. Even in 1990 I think it cost thirty dollars, which was a lot for a book. I am not sure you can even order it anymore, which is a shame, as it happens to be a great anthology: comprehensive, well-chosen, nicely set.

There are very few collections of 18th and 19th century poets that are readable. Either they are overloaded with footnotes and critical analysis or they are crammed into small formats that force all kinds of typographic compromises on the poems. One of my regrets in life is that I sold it back to the bookstore.

As these things go, the Penguin selected is pretty good. It's fairly thorough, although there is no good reason for them not to have published the entirety of The Prelude, at least one version. It's not that long, and it's kind of essential. And it would let me get rid of my Norton Critical edition, which is an absolute nightmare to read, unless you happen to be a textual scholar, which, ahem, I am not.

I few years ago I used this to memorize the entirety of Tintern Abbey. It took two weeks of practicing everyday. I was able to recite it start to finish about five times before I moved on to something else. It disappeared from my memory almost immediately.

I can remember the content of the poem, but not the order of the words. I also memorized all of Keats' Odes. I can recite pretty close to the entirety of "Ode to a Nightingale" still, which is no small feat, but the rest disappeared rather quickly.

This may have to do with the fact that I studied that poem thoroughly at a younger age and so still retained some of it from twenty years ago. I didn't much like Wordsworth in college, making this a kind of first go at his work, which I have come to appreciate more than I did then.

It may also have to do with the fact that Ode is written in digestible stanzas that I can visualize when I recite it, where as Tintern Abbey is more prose-y, with relatively few stanzas (not to mention it's about twice as long as the other).

Somethings we remember, others we don't. Not much use ascribing meaning to such things, I guess.

from Selected Poems

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed---and gazed---but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.