Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Movie. A Book. A Memory. Longing. Forgetting.

A Movie.  A Book.  A Memory.  Longing. Forgetting.
            The other night I was watching the movie THREE COMRADES directed by Frank Borzage, based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque and written for the screen by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Toward the end of the movie Robbie has been visiting the love of his life Pat in a sanatorium where she is dying of TB.  They embrace and she objects to the ticking watch.  He hurls the watch to the floor…
          It all came back to me from Patchogue in the summer of 1965 on Robinson Boulevard.
          But first let me quote from the actual novel:
          After a while she grew restless. 
            “What is it, Pat?” I asked. 
            “It ticks so loud,” she whispered.
            “What?  The watch?”
            She nodded, “It’s so threatening---“
            I took the watch off my wrist. 
            She looked anxiously at the second hand, “Throw it away.”
            I took the watch and flung it against the wall.  “There, it’s not ticking any more now.  Now time is standing still.  We’ve torn it in two.  Now only we two are here; we two, you and me and no one else.”
            She looked at me. Her eyes were very big.
            “Darling---“ she whispered.
            I could not bear her glance.  It came from far away and passed through me to some other place beyond.
            “Old Lad,” I murmured, “dear, brave, old lad.”
            She died in the last hour of the night, before morning came.  She died hard and no one could help her…

          From the scrawled inscription of my name I can say I bought the 50 cent Popular Library paperback in my eighteenth year when I was a Freshman at Beloit College.  I would eventually acquire and read all of Remarque’s novels.  As to their quality, I never gave that a thought.  

          When my son Lorcan was in seventh grade at Grace Church School he was required to read ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT.  Of course I was pleased but he was very disappointed, “The book was interesting but really sentimental, Dad.  I know it ‘s supposed to be about how awful war is but being so sentimental you don’t believe it.” 

          Of course he was right.  And I admitted the justice of his comment and gave him Ernst Junger’s STORM OF STEEL.  This book renewed my credibility and Lorcan told me Junger was really a good writer and he had written a much better book as it didn’t tell you what to feel in the way Remarque insisted.
          But the ticking watch… at the end of June or early July, 1965 I was walking  back from the Patchogue Theatre with Melinda Brady.  We had seen the movie THE TRAIN starring Burt Lancaster and directed by Fred Zinnemann.  It was a long walk from Main Street to Hewlett Avenue where Melinda lived.  We walked by way of the shadows of Robinson Boulevard. We kissed for the first time and I could hear the watch on my wrist ticking.

          I had longed for this moment since sometime in the fall of 1961 when I had first seen her in the second floor hallway of Patchogue High School.  I was a senior and Melinda was a sophomore.

          The ticking watch has an inscription on its face 


          I had a newspaper route before working at Francis Bannerman’s  in Blue Point and before going to college out in Wisconsin, before going to Dublin where everything changed or didn’t change.
         I wrote two short stories about a Melinda  and a guy named Joey who would die on November 6, 1918 in World War One.  Alfred Willis published them in the high school newspaper THE RED AND THE BLACK in the spring of 1962.  Willis did two tours as a Marine in Vietnam…
        In this the one hundredth anniversary of that World War One…
        In the fictional moment labeled the present both Melinda and I have been married three times.  She lives far away in a tiny village in Maine and I live on East First Street in Manhattan.  The watch is broken and on a shelf in front of Julian Green, Ernst Junger, James Thomson, Hannah Green, Pati Hill, Louis Ferdinand Celine and Evelyn Scott books… in another part of that present Melinda asked me how I had known her birthday as Joey had died on… but I had not known and…

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


         I have not posted with much frequency this year. 
It is not for a lack of wanting. 
        I have been reading a number of books that a year or so ago I would have written about: 
                        THE SYMMETRY TEACHER by Andrei Bitov
                        THE MAUOLEUM OF LOVERS by Herve                                   Guibert
                        THE COLLECTED POEMS OF SAMUEL                                       BECKETT
                        ARDOR by Robert Calasso
                        A MILLION WINDOWS by Gerald Murnane
                        and the book that I have ever so slowly been reading  THE WALL by H.G. Adler…ever so slowly in the way that I read the DEATH OF VIRGIL by Hermann Broch.

        I did post a short notice about the 100th anniversary of the birth of the author of HOPSCOTCH---  a book that has always been a touchstone within my imaginative life--- a book that freed me from the crap that was being served up to readers in the 60 as worthy--- from those well-known bad writers (in Edward Dahlberg’s phrase) John Hawkes, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow etc etc---Hawkes in particular was the darling of so called with-it profs, but I would have said but did not have Dahlberg’s suggestion: it is better to watch daytime television than to destroy your sense of the book with the efforts of a Hawkes… another writer who was served up was Thomas Pynchon but the truth is that only V remains readable and was the only one which was readable… the profs went for other books of his which are more useful as intimidating clubs to really discourage students… but I am not even going to mention those titles…
        Of course, I still treasure my discovery of Samuel Beckett’s HOW IT IS and just before that on the night ferry from Glasgow to Dublin, Beckett’s FROM AN ABANDONED WORK…I remember announcing to Professor David Stocking at Beloit College…that Beckett has ended the so-called traditional novel and the smug reply of Stocking:  Beckett’s ended it for himself  of course these smug professors got theirs when they invited the feminist critical theory race-hustling post-colonial etc ideologues to take over the English departments thus sending those who still wanted to read  into the science departments…

What has stopped me: I was murdered with forethought and intent by John (Jack) O’Brien, the founder and owner of of Dalkey Archive Press by his not publishing my ST. PATRICK’S DAY. 
        On May 20, 2012  he signed a contract to publish the book within two years. That time came and went and there was not even a note offering any sort of excuse. 
        Just silence.
        Hard to believe and yet the common reaction is that this happens all the time, what’s so unusual about his actions, you got the 300$ advance and he didn’t ask for it back… you got the rights back… so what? move on… it happens all the time and no one really cares as there is no public out their hungering for more and more books, let alone your book…
        Of course Dalkey Archive continues on and is now distributed by Columbia University Press.  O’Brien maintains three offices here in the US, in London and in Dublin… and he has contracted to publish the Korean library of Literature in translation, beginning with 15 titles for which there has been a huge and growing demand in the United States and all other English speaking countries.  O’Brien has also contracted to publish a Georgian (the country not the state) Library of Literary works beginning with 10 books for which there has been an unprecedented demand in both England and the United States.
        As to O’Brien’s motive--- and that is what one waits for--- I have known Jack for more than 30 years.  He is the godfather of one of my children.  He has published two of my books.  He even began publishing parts of ST. PATRICK’S DAY in the earliest issues of the journal he owns, THE REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY FICTION.  We have visited back and forth over the years.  We have witnessed each other’s divorces and awhile ago O’Brien suffered a devastating breakdown of his circulatory system which required major life-threatening surgery.  Happily he survived that surgery and while in the recovery room we talked by phone and he said, “Tom, I don’t know if I am alive or dead.”
        That confession of momentary abject powerlessness and his knowing that he said this to me, I believe. is at the root of his failure to publish ST. PATRICK’S DAY. 
        The oldest crime in the Bible: Cain and Abel: animal sacrifice versus crops from the soil--- the sheer arbitrariness of God preferring Abel over Cain---who knows.. and that is my understanding…the god-like arbitrariness… the ultimate power of God and what Lucifer’s rebellion aspires to…  And unlike Jack--- in his unloved solitary life of travelling the world looking for countries who would like to pay very big sums of money to see libraries in English of their novelists’ books… I have been blessed by meeting Anna and having been with her now for more than 20 years… 
        So, my final understanding is that O’Brien was exercising his freedom and so performed this sort of gratuitous act, an attempt at a mortal wound, an attempt to destroy, to hurt.

                                        GOOD NEWS

        John (Jack) O’Brien had murdered me but—here is the good news--- he did not kill me as I have now learned that ST. PATRICK’S DAY another day in Dublin will be published in the Spring of 2016 and is due to receive some sort of prize. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

THE WALL by H.G. Adler

ONE   Of late I have been reading an advance copy of THE WALL by H. G. Adler.

TWO    I had looked into the two previous books by Adler that had been translated: THE JOURNEY and PANORAMA.  However the what-ever-it-is that gets a person to actually read a book was not there.  THE WALL has been different.
THREE   There is no way to read THE WALL quickly and that of course is what is always demanded and while I asked to review the book for the Los Angeles Times--- where I had reviewed over a hundred books over the years--- I have not heard from the editor.  

FOUR    THE WALL is to be published by Random House in December, an appropriately dead and proper time for a book that as I am reading makes me think of books I have had the privilege of reading and reviewing: THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES by Roberto Bolano, THE EMIGRANTS by W. G. Sebald, EXTINCTION by Thomas Bernhard, A BOOK OF MEMORIES by Peter Nadas, and FIASCO by Imre Kertesz.

FIVE    I was prepared to read these books by having read among what are now classic authors and thinkers:  Max Stirner, James Thomson BV, Julian Green, Ivan Turgenev, Ernst Junger, E.M. Cioran, Louis Ferdinand Celine, Robert Pinget, Jack Kerouac, Nina Berberova... all such lists are just that: lists.

SIX    Here is a passage from THE WALL

 The wall before me has never disappeared; I have known it for many years, not knowing when it first sprang up, though I didn't always see it.  Only when I peer forward intently and want to believe that I exist do I see it.  Otherwise it does not appear to exist; for hours, often for days, even many weeks on end, I do not notice it...

SEVEN      THE STORY:  Arthur is happily married with two children and living in what seems to be London.  He has survived both the Nazi attempt to murder him and the Communist aftermath...

EIGHT     As far as I can tell, as a reader of THE WALL,  I live only in the time of the passage of the pages...  those mythical places: past, present and future are always present on every page but sometimes there is a hint of something that might be called a back and forth momentarily in time...

NINE     672 pages.

TEN       A last quote in which Arthur talks of his wife, the who she is to him:

It's unimaginable to me what would remain of Arthur Landau without Joanna, because I have ceased to exist, called it quits, am completely spent, the vestige of a memory of who I no longer am, maybe even a message from nowhere, someone who can never find his footing, never land in one place.  Other people are just as dubious...

ELEVEN     I have not mentioned the names of the camps that Adler endured as I was wondering if we have gotten to a point where we can read say the books of Adler, of Imre Kertesz, of Abram Tertz, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn without mentioning this experience?

TWELVE    I probably should have been talking about Hermann Broch and Elias Canetti and Hermann Langbein but I have already indicted and convicted myself with the previously mentioned books and authors.


Monday, August 4, 2014


It has been reported that Dalkey Archive Press has died. Founded in 1984 in Elmwood Park, Illinois, USA, by John Thomas O’Brien, the press at its moment of passing had three offices in London, Dublin and Champaign, Illinois, USA with a small staff out of proportion to its great mission. 
Details of the passing are few in availability but more are due.
                                    Provincial newspapers please copy. 

*** this blog post has been edited in the interests of protecting the innocent, the interested and the guilty… a complete version is available upon application to:   Monsieur Jacques Rigaut at
A minimum of one sentence and a maximum of two sentences must accompany the application and this or these sentences must state the reason for wishing to see the post.


A concerned commentator can only express the hope that while Mr. John Thomas O’Brien might have suffered a temporary anal blockage, this will not interfere with the task at hand:  Dalkey Archive Resurrected.


        1 JULY 1912  FALLEN LEAVES
                   --VASILY ROZANOV

That this sentence did not make the final version of this blog posting… :
               he murdered me but did not kill me, yet.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

SINCERITY IS A GIFT: Green, Niedecker, Wescott, Noll

To begin

there is the possible hint of irony in this photograph… though that popular and ever contemporary  illusion of an alternative to an acceptance that each day is in some sense a constant postponement of a willful end to this thing called living, undermines any possibility of mourning, of regretting, of loving, of hating, of…

and while the tombstone for Hannah Green is self-explanatory, the second photograph is only that, a picture, of the cabin on Blackhawk Island on the Rock River in Wisconsin near Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin where Lorine Niedecker lived and wrote her claim upon posterity: a posterity in the forms of a collected poetry/prose works from the University of California Press,  two books of letters to/from Louis Zukofsky and Cid Corman,  a couple of books of selected poems and the resulting:a few studies of her work, a biography,  a room in the Hoard Museum in Fort Atkinson, which contains her writing desk, a few paintings that were in her cabin, a few manuscript pages and copies of manuscripts--- while the local library has her archives.  There is a state marker on the road in front of this house on Blackhawk Island  which is still a private residence.. 
        What one knows of her life: writing poetry, the dreary work of washing floors in the local hospital, other menial work…two years of college at Beloit and leaving to take care of ailing parents and being without money, an abortion of twins fathered by Louis Zukofsky… a correspondence with a few people out in the world… but of course  the poetry is meant to…
Lake Superior
In every part of every living thing
is stuff that once was rock
In blood the minerals
of the rock.
From THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE by Hannah Green:
  I have tried to write, seemingly, a very real book, which is, in fact, a dream.  I got the idea from life, but I have proceeded from vision.  I have made use in equal parts of memory, record, and imagination.  Members of my family and other people, I have loved, my feelings about them, and theirs about one another and many other things as well, have provided the inspiration, the starting point, for this novel but the characters in this book bear no more relation to their real-life counterparts than the characters in a play bear to the actors when they have left the stage.

At Beloit College, I walked about the campus where I had spent three years (the junior year was in Dublin as I dropped out of Beloit---) a pretty campus looking the way a campus is supposed to look: late 19th century buildings, lots of trees, the ugly modern science building, all built on a bluff overlooking a debased and broken city, ever trying to come back: riddled with poverty and crime, mixed with natural food stores and cute gift shops… but Beloit was Bink Noll who died in his late 50s… three little books of poetry… and in a letter 8/10/86 to me--- three months before his death--- he wrote:
You are, of course, feverishly bookish, and I love you for it; but as for myself I don’t think books count for much--- esp. “creative” ones. I favor them, too--- read quite a bit, among other things; but all in all I don’t think they  (writing them) are a satisfactory way of generating self-esteem.  I set great store by happiness and see that most famous authors and literary ones, too, are fairly miserable.  I have been spending the summer among strewn corpses, no better for their delusions about craft and talent while they lived.  I prize your happiness.  Keep writing but “without attachment,” treating your stuff,  mine, and everybody else’s as the ephemera and mere amusement that it surely is. 


To underscore:  ephemera, ephemera ephemera…  the University of Wisconsin bookstore in Madison is a vast t-shirt superstore… there is only one bookstore, Paul’s, on street level on State Street, and that presided over by an elderly woman... there are no independent bookstores in Menasha, Neenah, Appleton or Oshkosh… (home to a branch of the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh and Lawrence University in Appleton). There is a Half Priced bookstore in the mall zone near Walmart and Target.

  None of the three librarians I talked to in Neenah and Menasha public libraries had heard of Lorine Niedecker or Glenway Wescott.  This is not unusual as they spend a large part of their days helping people get on the internet.   
In the Neenah library where I had begun a manual search through the microfilm version of the Post Crescent newspaper for a poem I thought I had published there in the early 70s;  another woman was copying obituaries for a newsletter of some sort. 
    Eventually one of the librarians suggested I use an internet search of that paper which they subscribed to.  I did not find the poem but I did find a letter I had published on 19 September 1971  suggesting that the killing of George Jackson--- do you remember who that is?--- was a murder perpetrated by the prison guards. 


After this visit to where my parents had lived in exile from 1965-1972 I drove for Milwaukee by way of Kewaskum as that is where Glenway Wescott is from. 

Wescott is another writer who has shaped me.  For a long time  I would argue if we in the US need the great American novel his THE GRANDMOTHERS is a worthy candidate.   
And then I had that his title essay from GOODBYE WISCONSIN is a necessary addition to who he is.  I do know he acquired brief  contemporary fame later on for a short novel THE PILGRIM HAWK and that is how most people today will meet his work.
Jerry Rosco has been a tireless promoter of Wescott with a biography and the editing of two volumes of Wescott’s journals and a book of his short fiction… and while his immediate claim upon the current moment is through his never hidden homosexuality he is of course far more than just that… something the poet Elizabeth Bishop understood in not allowing her work to appear in anthologies devote to “poetry by women” and the same could be said of Hannah Green who was happy with the simple declaration: Hannah Green is a writer.
 Wescott appears in the first year of the first version of Julian Green’s journal and it is to me the closest definition of my whole experience of writing:
19 December 1928:  Lunched yesterday with Wescott.  He told me that it seemed to him impossible for a journal to be written that should be absolutely sincere and bear the stamp of truth.  But sincerity is a gift--- one among others. To wish to be sincere is not enough.

I have often thought Green was “a success” only because of the gift of his conversion to Roman Catholicism.
In Goodbye Wisconsin, Wescott writes, 

“By birth the best of these young people are Protestants of some sort; by accident, or thanks to their own efforts, the classic Protestant rules have given way to an almost equally scrupulous open-mindedness.”

Of course now, I would suggest an open mind is an empty mind.  The only minds I find interesting are strewn with nasty dead-ends, uncomplicated urges, irrational beliefs… and simple knowings beyond the necessity of words.
Wescott  gave in to a public amiability, a willingness to please and was unable to find his way back to his early books that still are his claim upon me--- but I will grant him his THE PILGRIM HAWK and possibly it is his A CALENDAR OF SAINTS FOR UNBELIEVERS  with its subtitle: Daily readings for eccentrics heretics revolutionaries and other fallen angels  which might be his best claim though ironically it can really only be read by believers who are capable of understanding the necessary wit and genius of this book as it makes such uncomfortable in that all belief is always a little comic, a little tragic in the echoing of Unamuno’s: THE TRAGIC SENSE OF LIFE, another self-defining book.

I did try with my limited ability to picture the place where Wescott came from and if only he had remained in some fashion there instead of decorating the American Academy… ironically and in a wonderful final gesture: Julian Green might have been an elected immortal to the French Academy but he had the decency before his death to try to resign…”

An aside:  I think I personally shall fail as doesn't it seem obvious from what I have just recorded.


two photographs.  What remains.  

 The first was a postcard from Juneau, Wisconsin with a 

message to Lilia back in Menasha while on  my  drive to 

see Iowa City to see Elliott Anderson 

2 June 1969:

and this photograph from this summer, 2014:

what passes and does...