Thursday, March 8, 2018


     AFTER a medical procedure the other day,  I was  feeling blessed with the good news and at home now exhausted I opened for no reason in particular Rilke's THE NOTEBOOKS OF MALTE LAURIDS BRIGGE  and reading the opening and forever seductive opening, "So, this is where people come to live...

     I had no need to continue as I was again walking on West 8th Street in the early morning of a May day in 1966 when I went into the Marlboro Bookstore and bought my first version of this book which I have carried in various editions with me across many countries and all these years.  Together with Thomas Wolfe's LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL it set me on my literary road to....

       That morning I was walking from a modern apartment building--- 416 Lafayette Street--- where I had been the fifth person in a very large bed where I had slept at the edge while these two couples were or were not doing things---though early on I must have thought I would be part of it all--- or at least with Julie--- as I had met these two English girls--- Julie Rowland and Beryl Sayers, who it turns out were waiting for these two guys and we had fallen into a conversation in the English pub on Sixth Avenue near the Waverley Theatre. 

      It was late at night and I had arrived there after my  night shift as a copy boy at The New York Times--- one of the girls was from Yorkshire--- and I had talked with her of having  gone to visit Clive Snape from Hull who I had met at Trinity College in Dublin, in 1965, when I was actually at University College, Dublin--- this guy had been a medical student and lived in rooms as was said in  the college and I was much taken with the idea that he had a servant---they had word for this person which I have forgotten-- who made their beds, cleaned out the fireplace etc...

      I was now working as a copy-boy while waiting to go to the Peace Corps training in Los Angeles for going to Turkey...  this was not to be as in the last week of the training I broke my knee playing soccer so went instead back to Ireland and as many know: on my way later in the following summer to visit friends from that training,  I got off the train in Sofia, Bulgaria in September 1967 and of course as I walked on the Boulevard St Michel with Lilia just before Easter in 1968 I thought of, "So, this is where people come to live...

      Over the years I have thought of that line later with Ruth, the mother of my children--- and yes I have thought of this line even later when walking there with my daughter Elizabeth who was going for a term at the Sacred Heart school in Nantes... I have thought of it while walking along it alone on my way to visit Julian Green...and I have thought of it now and of how the line continues, "...I would have thought it was a city to die in. I have been out.  
I saw hospitals. I saw a man who staggered and fell. A crowd formed around him and I was spared the rest."

      The day after the procedure I was watching the Errol Morris documentary on the photographer ELSA DORFMAN and as she was flipping through photographs I saw a picture of Hannah Green, from back when I first met her.  The picture was used on the cover for THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE...

       Hannah would approve of this sort of post as she valued Rilke, of course, and knew why I was attached to this book and she might like the being remembered from the time when we had first met each other when I sat in her class at Columbia... 

      Here is the picture and then the description by Elsa Dorfman of the taking of the picture.

Summer 1972 Harvey and I went up to visit Hannah Green and John Wesley in Peterborough, New Hampshire. I took pictures of Hannah in front of the farmhouse, inside the barn, in an open field by the pond; they weren't spectacular. And we wanted one for the jacket of her book, The Dead of the House. So Hannah and John came to Cambridge and we tried some in my backyard. They worked.

When I had my show at Boston City Hall in October 1971, Hannah and John drove all the way down from Peterborough to see it. But unfortunately, three days before, Mayor Kevin White had made me take it down because he was having a banquet for big-city mayors in the gallery where it was hanging. He was trying to impress the mayors, especially Alioto and Lindsay, and the media who would cover The Event, and didn't want them 'to see all the sad faces in those depressing photographs.' When I got furious that he suddenly wanted the whole installation down after all that work, he said, 'You look cute when you're angry, my dear, but it's my city hall. If they were Rembrandts and I wanted them down, they'd come down.' When Hannah and John got there after that long drive, and it was a hot day, all they saw was a huge empty space. 'Elsa Dorfman? Never heard of her,' the guard told them.

Monday, February 19, 2018

NOTHING DOING. Can it be seen into print?


This book moves between Patchogue, Arizona, Bulgaria, France and Estonia with as much ease as going on the number 6 train from Bleecker Street to City Hall in Manhattan.

 (the book concerns itself with a number of men: a priest accused of abusing boys, a man whose wife has threatened to kill their child, a psychoanalyst struggling to over-come the futility of his vocation as a therapist and a number of other men who find themselves wandering in southern Arizona... there is a painting by Poussin, "Landscape with Travelers" in the National Gallery in London which organizes in a way this book...)

                   NOTHING DOING
                Thomas McGonigle

For in that she poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.
                                              (Matthew 26/12)

Writer:          …I’m called the Writer.
Professor:     And what do you write about?
Writer:          Readers.
Professor:    There’s obviously no point in writing about anything else…
            Writer:         There’s no point in writing, full stop.  About anything.
(STALKER  dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)

Looking for a house to die in and a place to have a hole dug for my corpse which shall no longer be mine.
Gone west to die echoing what was said of the dead in World War One but knowing, I suppose,  is a way of saying I knew it was getting closer. Once you pictured yourself flung into a tree or bridge abutment when something didn’t work out with her or him or anything else and the thought of the resulting tears is sufficient consolation for leaving the party earlier than expected 
If anything, back then I thought I would have ended up somewhere in North Dakota as I had long ago been thinking of those little towns slowly closing up shop and  occasionally getting written up as examples of how things are changing with the passage of shriveling time: the school closing, the shops going. 
But that was not what happened. 
Somewhere in Arizona between Douglas and Apache or it could have been between McNeil and Elfrida or between Ajo and Sells I turned off the radio or turned off the CD player--- I forget what was playing--- and pulled to the side of the road. 
It came down on me…   which probably echoes too many songs…

-----------Does it go on to this-----------

In the National Gallery in London there is a painting by Nicholas Poussin.  Landscape with Travelers Resting.   Three men wearing Roman looking tunics are shown.  At the bottom of the painting a man is resting and looking.  In the center right a man is adjusting a sandal.  In the upper left part of the painting a man is walking.  The men are distinguished by the colour of their clothing: yellow, blue and red
            Remember, when Marina was saying as we walked in the Louvre, Look for the yellow as it is often at the center of the painting about which the eye is to turn.  But she was not there in the National Gallery that afternoon.
What if the three men are the same man? 
Can that be imposed upon this canvas?
And then in the catalogue there is another painting mentioned as being painted at the same time--- Landscape with a Man scooping Water from a Stream --- like this one, there is no reference to classical sources.  But it was not meant to be shown as a pendant, the writer of the catalogue asserts.
            Three men together. 
The men in the painting are about the same age.  That has always been a problem for them.  They know and do not know the same things.  Of course they do not look out at the world with the same eyes, though they are being looked at with
   left to stutter>
eyes connected to a central nervous system.              The difference in their ages is minimal. They come from the same town.  They have had the same schooling.  They are on the same road.  At the moment they are going in the same direction.  They have come from the same place though because of the way they are being seen that is possibly a mistake, an assumption easily made and for the moment without consequence. 
Nothing is being hidden.  A person has to start from some place and three men had to have started from some place.  They are stuck into those funny clothes which to the viewers in the early 17th Century were as remote from their own day as they are from a viewer today, almost four centuries later though it is possible this is the costume many viewers would have expected these men to have been caught in, at this moment, in oil on canvas.

-----------Or does it go on to this-----

Could it be believed that on another afternoon I was leaning against my car at the Sandspit dock in Patchogue in late summer waiting for Pete Phlite to show up? 
Could it be believed that Pete Phlite and I were sitting on the bench in front of our cars parked on the Sandspit dock watching the boats enter and leave the Patchogue River between two jetties made out of great boulders with those small light houses at the end of each of them?
Could it be believed that Karolin and I had been waiting at the Sandspit dock for Pete Phlite to show up after he said, be right over and Karolin then listening, I would often come down here and watch the boats enter and leave the Patchogue River when I was a kid in high school or back from college. 
Could it be believed Pete Phlite asked me why I wanted to meet him at the Sandspit dock in Patchogue?
Could it be believed I had asked to meet Pete Phlite down at the Sandspit dock--- you know where--- at the end there, where we can watch the boats enter and leave the Patchogue River?
Could it be believed Pete Phlite and I were talking about Al Wells, Sean Patrick Bradford and George Kamenov while sitting up on the back of the bench in front of our parked cars down there on the Sandspit dock? 

---- jarring transitions?-----

The sun made me shield my eyes as we watched boats enter and leave the Patchogue River.  I had wanted to talk about Karolin's stepsister coming unwelcomed by her now many years ago from Estonia to Edison, New Jersey to see their father a week after he had died unbeknownst to this woman who had been traveling many days by way of Tartu, Leningrad, Moscow...
Could it be believed I was telling Pete Phlite about meeting Al Wells, Sean Patrick Bradford and George Kamenov and how their lives had intersected mine as did Karolin's life and the memory she had of her stepsister coming from Estonia many years ago to see their father a week after he had died.
So, three men described by saying their names. It would be a mistake to assume the men whose names have now been revealed are wearing the costumes that might now only be worn in a high school Latin end of the school year celebration if the teacher had been trying to inspire the students to the lively nature of what most people think of as a dead language, morbid and gone, really gone.  Existing only in books and possibly in some Vatican documents, written in the dilemma of finding Latin words that can be applied to helicopter and ballpoint pen.

------all these names?-----

            If you blink you miss Apache, as they could say.  A closed up gas-station and some other buildings.  A u-turn to go back                                through the place (a line of cow skulls in front of that building to be photographed) and another u-turn and pulling off to the side of the road.  Nothing to pick up as a significant souvenir.  Flattened grass and types of cactii I could not begin to name.  No garbage or broken bottles…the constant wind on the face but no waving trees… a 360 degree turn, a low water tank across there in a far field… barbed wire fencing on either side of the road… not a house to be seen… wanting to say, nothing to be seen… but then I would have to describe how I could be standing by the side of the road… the sharp incline down from the edge of the shoulder…
Realizing that in all of this movement not a single car has passed by.

----Arizona to Patchogue and Arizona and Patchogue…----

Could it be believed that I was telling Pete Phlite down there on the Sandspit dock I had come back from the desert in Arizona and wanted to tell him about it and about meeting Al Wells who had been in our class at Patchogue High School and about this guy Sean Patrick Bradford who I had met again in Paris last year and more recently I had been and was still  mourning the death of George Kamenov who had been a Bulgarian psychoanalyst who had spend much of his life outside of Bulgaria and when he had gone back to Bulgaria it was to study the curious behavior of the guards and  the prisoners in the Communist concentration camps which had continued to exist in Bulgaria up into the  early 1980s which is hard to believe but it was not hard for Karolin to believe in any of this as she had met her stepsister when that now middle aged woman had come to Edison, New  Jersey from Estonia a week after their father had died and who smelled of someplace where… she did not have the words for the… but wanted this woman to go away as soon as possible while at the same time…
Could it be believed I had wanted to talk with Pete Phlite about a lot of such things as I was still wondering if it was possible to talk  and hope my interlocutor who maybe did not even know where Bulgaria or Estonia were on the map but knew that Paris at least was in France and could he be found to have an interest in this telling while I was also interested in talking about someone who had gone to high school with Al Wells and me at Patchogue High School and who had not really been back to Patchogue after our parents had died?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

                  A Bulgarian Novel Written in English
                             By Thomas McGonigle

                            the book concerns itself with a violent useless death in Upstate and the journey by two people about in Bulgaria later in the same year on what is called the Aerial Tollway which in the Bulgarian Orthodox tradition, a person upon death finds his/her soul taken on the tollway to be judged... this goes on for forty days and then                      


            There must have been places in the trailer in the mobile home, in Linda’s house, where she lives as she wants to live…
            Places of what might have been… 
            A very arch way of…
            Folders stuffed with pieces of paper covered with Cyrillic writing.  No one could read it.
            It all gets tossed. 
            No one wants any of it and in truth it is all just a mess, her brother say.
            To see the ragged edges of the folders, I don’t know when she stops looking into them or when she decides she can’t do anything with them. 
            Surely, she knows there comes a moment but still you can’t throw them away, Linda must have been thinking… and then there is mess from the dogs, over the years, but the stuff is still there and now it is even a bigger mess but no one can read any of it.
            What must it have been like to realize she isn’t about to get right back to the Bulgarian stuff?
            Linda must remember when she jokes about how Americans are always starting again, even when they are in their 80s… we are always starting again, wiping out the past and getting on with it as they say in Nebraska.  Everybody in Nebraska knows someone who has moved on finally, finally after a hundred years of trying to make a new start… and they end up down there in Arizona or some such place…
            She must be thinking  someday some way she might get a chance but she never talks to her brother about any of this or to any of the people she works with.  While one or two of them might know where Bulgaria is no one really wants to talk about that far-away place and she hadn’t much patience, anymore with explaining and gradually even she is aware of how hard it is to work up interest in that place that doesn’t want her interest in their history.
            Linda isn’t like the naïve girl who wants to research a Rumanian village in Bulgaria and how Rumanian memory survives in Bulgaria… to even have to begin to  explain to someone why that is a taboo subject…
            Those pages in their folders, she must look at them or looked toward them and knows what is there: the pages of notes because it is hard to make photocopies… there are limits and permissions to be gotten and then the machines didn’t work…
            No one could know the sheer difficulty of working in Bulgaria. 
            And then there is the actual pages before her… written in a cursive penmanship in the 19th Century and then trying to find someone who she could talk to about this and there is really no one and anyone who might be interested is more interested in using her to get to the US or wanting to talk about the price of jeans or God knows what…
            Those pages of her notes, those ladders never going up into the scholarly air of accomplishment, as might be…
            Each time, Linda must think when I open a folder all I find is myself digging a hole into which I will be thrown:

                                                                            how could I have ever picked this topic of women in 19th Century Bulgaria… always wives or sisters or mothers of who is supposed to be a more famous man… it is not an edifying situation, she must be thinking on a good day.
            WOMEN IN BULGARIA.  She is discouraged and then the sitting in Mississippi in a college for women worshiping at the shrine of Eudora Welty whose age has sanded off just how radical a woman she had been: but now she is a shrine…
            Linda must look at her penmanship, at those notes…
            When did she…


Saturday, January 6, 2018

DEVASTATION of a sorts

     This post is to serve as a preface to a short voyage to California and on to the Arizona desert...


EMPTY AMERICAN LETTERS a Bulgarian novel written in English







       By making the list I see what I have done... but I also see what has not happened: these manuscripts have not been seen into print.  
      Of course the fault is mine.  
      To even hesitate about: of course the fault is mine

      Most  of these manuscripts have been seen by editors---guys like like Richard Seaver, Daniel Halpern, and others whose names... who claimed they admired my work, guys who I knew for more than 35 years at least but the excuse: sales and being dictated to by the sales department... for whatever reason they were not prepared to suspect the books might sell well as happened at DALKEY ARCHIVE, where John O'Brien under-estimated sales and reviews so had to go back to press for GOING TO PATCHOGUE


      Sections, parts, prepared slides from the following books have been published:  FORGET THE FUTURE in BOMB as well as in THE CREAM CITY REVIEW...  AND AGAIN CHANGE: JOHN WESLEY in THE NOTRE DAME REVIEW, as was THE END AND A BEGINNING...  JUST LIKE THAT--- the opening and the conclusion appeared in THE READING ROOM edited by Barbara Probst Solomon.

AND so, even I, a connoisseur of self-loathing  can't go on with this and was thinking of the positive response to the selection from EMPTY AMERICAN LETTERS an Bulgarian novel in English that I read at the Bulgarian Consulate in New York City and I will not refrain from mentioning the sort of thumbs-up from Georgia Gospodinov and his wife Biliana Kourtasheva who introduced the reading  which lead me to realize that both THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV and EMPTY AMERICAN LETTERS a Bulgarian novel written in English revolve or are instigated by the contemplation of a dead person.  PETKOV found a home in both English at Dalkey Archive Press and at Northwestern University Press and even in a  Bulgarian journal Svreminik , a "thick" journal much like Novy Mir, the famous Russian journal, upon which it was modeled while EMPTY... is a pile of pages on the desk by which I type this and in a digital form within the machine... but the corpse that launched this manuscript was turned to ashes for which there was no burial site in Upstate New York, while that narrator journeys on the aerial  toll-way of a soul within the Orthodox Christian belief looking for a place to... in Bulgaria.