Sunday, August 31, 2008

NOT TO BE READ and a little discovery



not to be read


not to be read

not to be read.

Increasingly, I have given up any thought that my manuscripts will ever be read and then published. From everything I know about publishing I no longer believe that there are editors capable of reading and publishing what I have written. I am sure there are editors who know how to read but they are no longer willing to go through the necessary motions of preparing the way for the publication of my manuscripts. Most editors defer to either the sales force or their imagined sales force when deciding on the possibility of publishing a manuscript.

An editor when considering a manuscript is always dealing with the thought of filling out the projected sales figures for the book: copies advanced, first month sales, three months, six months, year one sales, year two sales...

Of course these figures are all imaginary and they are closer to the reality of the lottery where it is more likely you will be hit by lightning than winning one of the big lotteries... as they say in New York a dollar and a dream...

As we all know lotteries are a wonderful tax on the poor who are the biggest suckers for this form of gambling. And so you might say the sales projection form is a sort of tax on the imagination or maybe better it is the closing of the imagination.

And do not think that there is any hope in the smaller independent presses. They now operate along the same lines and in many cases are even less adventurous than houses like Knopf or FSG. They are even more given to suppose trends and all too often gone over into the multi-cultural sham as they know it is way to squeeze money out of the government or foundations.

Agents are not much better. When my books were published and well reviewed across the country, including the all important New York Times,I made the rounds agents with a list provided by Sam Vaughan then a senior editor at Random House and the former publisher of Doubleday. The most honest agent simply said, I can not eat lunch off of you... and that is the bottom line with agents.

Of course there are still accidents and that is how they have to be characterized when actual literary books are published today. If you have been reading this blog you know what I mean by literary books. I am not talking about fake books by Paul Auster and Don DeLillo... and the list of these is too long to go into... again.

Truth be told: some of the impetus for these thoughts came as a result of driving last week to and from Nashville where I returned my daughter to her third year at Vanderbilt. The poverty of Vanderbilt in terms of literature is legendary... the academic bookstore is more interesting in selling t-shirts and water bowls for dogs... but Vanderbilt is not as awful as Harvard as it lacks the actual hatred of the imagination which is the hallmark of Harvard and the city of its location, Cambridge.

As we were driving along 40 we saw the signs for the Book Cellar in Crossville, Tennessee. Located in a down-at-the-heels mall, the shop is a huge barn of a building with a vast collection of mostly mass market paperbacks. A large section of Christian Fiction and self help books that were of help another year. There was a stand alone bookcase with multiple copies of all of Danielle Steel books. A daughter was calling her mom on a cell phone while standing in front of the James Patterson collection. She did not know if they had read this title and her mother thought they might as well read it again as she also had forgotten if they had read it...

I could go on and make lists of the various collections in the shop... but it was the tiredness, the ache of what could be that tore at me.

I think it would be better if there was more illiteracy in the country. Remember some time ago I mentioned Albert Jay Nock noting that the best bookstores in Europe were in Portugal which at that time had the highest rate of illiteracy: there was no market for books geared for the semi-literate.

In Virginia just off 81 we were drawn to the Green Valley Book Fair which is open for a week or so at different times throughout the year. Again a vast size and all the books are newly remaindered. Stuff that doesn't sell... and in every category... last season's self help books and it was nice to see a very big pile of the last novel by Rick Moody but of course that will not stop his stupid publisher from printing more and more books by this guy... of course seeing these piles you realize that those wonderful sales figure projections must not have worked... it was a shop as testament to the fallibility of these editors... yet they continue to be guided by them when it comes to the sort of manuscripts that I have produced...



not to be read

not to be read

not to be read


Finally I found a copy of ISLANDS by Jean Grenier published by Green Integer in 2003. Of course it was not much talked about. Grenier (1898-1971) is unknown in the US thanks to the genuine stupidity of American publishing.

ISLANDS is a book essentially of essays introduced by Albert Camus. Camus writes in his introduction about what this book did to him, "Suddenly a great theme of all the ages began to resound in us as a disturbing novelty. The sea, the sun, the faces from which we were suddenly separated by a kind of invisible barrier, removed themselves from us without ceasing to fascinate us. In sum ISLANDS initiated us in disenchantment; we had discovered culture... (Grenier) prefers to speak of the death of a cat, of a butcher's illness or the fragrance of flowers of passing time. Nothing is really said in this book. All is suggested with incomparable force and delicacy. This nimble and agile language at once exact and dreamy has all the fluidity if music."

And so the opening line of ISLANDS in the chapter The Attractions of the Void: "In each life, particularly at its dawn, there exists an instant which determines everything..."

A little later, " I was one of those men predestined to wonder why they live instead of actually living or at most living only on the margins."

The second essay Mouloud the Cat begins, "The world of animals is made of silences and leaps."
The death that will eventually come to this cat is the stuff of the most awful nightmare that any horror novel you might have ever read... pales by comparison.. while I had to read Grenier's words, and as you must, and not for a second regretting reading them, I do not know what to make of this new understanding... the only consolation is that I still have more pages of Grenier to read...

I hope you will find ISLANDS and also be on this voyage.

Thursday, August 14, 2008



In 1968 when Lilia and I went from Sofia via Dublin to join my parents in their exile in Menasha, Wisconsin I came to learn the name of a young writer who had just taken up teaching at Lawrence University (then College) in nearby Appleton, Mark Dintenfass. In the following year he would publish a novel MAKE YOURSELF AN EARTHQUAKE. I never met MD as I was teaching seventh grade at St John's Polish Catholic Church School and getting ready to escape to Hollins College via George Garrett and Chad Walsh. I did go to listen to Kenneth Burke, I think in that year, but I might have gone to see Burke a few years later up in Appleton...

MD typified what I thought was going to happen to me: I would contrive to publish a novel, have some sort of MA and end up teaching and living out my life as a writer in residence at some leafy college like Lawrence, teaching a writing course, teaching a course of my own creation on writers I liked and meeting visiting writers... having a house within walking distance of the college... growing old with many trips to Europe and eventually a second home somewhere or other to provide a contrast to the winters of Wisconsin or the north or maybe it would be the reverse in terms of weather if i lived in the South.

Of course that did not come to pass. The white male writer with tenure at a small college is now nearly an extinct creature having been replaced by various women and the far more fashionable and necessary ethnic writers of whatever sex.

The occasion for these "thoughts" was finding MONTGOMERY STREET by Dintenfass among the books in my storage unit. It is a surprisingly good book that is of necessity and sure fragmentation as his narrator assembles a possible film from his memories of growing up in Brooklyn.

Of course like all of Dintenfass's books---THE CASE AGAINST ORG, OLD WORLD NEW WORLD, A LOVING PLACE, MAKE YOURSELF AN EARTHQUAKE--- it is out of print and I went to the computer to see if he was still among the living. On the jacket of MONTGOMERY STREET there is a photogrpah of a chunky dark haired man with dark glasses, heavy eye brows and brooding moustache.

MD is still among the living at least according to an article from the Lawrence University magazine: which writes of his many years of teaching and how twentyfive years ago the novels stopped and he was teaching writing, directing plays and is now a professor emeritus: it is mentioned that his favorite novel came within a few thousand copies of making the NY Times best seller list... one or two students talked about him as a good teacher and he remembered playing softball for Lawrence for 20 years. His hair is now white or gray; he has softened at the edges and he is remembering that one of his novels came within a few thousand copies of making the New York Times best seller list


I have not been able to write of my parents' exile in Menasha,Wisconsin and I do not use the word exile lightly as it was an exile from Patchogue and my father's job in New York City. He was sent there by the American Can Company which owned his flesh as was very common back then.

Menasha is a factory city on Little Lake Butte des Mortes... a city of taverns, factories, next door to Neenah home of Kimberly Clark and a museum devoted to paper weights. My father and I went up to stand by the grave of Joe McCarthy who is buried in Appleton... I published a poem or two in the local newspaper... I remember Roger who worked part time at the funeral parlor who had the job of making sure that eyelids did not pop open during viewings... he had taught eighth grade in the same school and his mother listened to country/western music...


All writers prepare today to be forgotten if they have any brains about them. The books are on library shelves. The books are in the fewer and fewer second hand book stores. The books are in the rather insulting or humiliating listings at Amazon where prices start at .01 cents plus postage.


If a book does not generate some sort of critical response it is doomed to disappear into the...


One could write and essay on MONTGOMERY STREET and nothing would happen... maybe MONTGOMERY STREET would no longer retail for .01 cents for brief moment.

One could celebrate the quality of the writing, the writing as an attempt to deal with the persistence of memory and the attempt at shaping of memory into film.. and while the novel leaves it open at the end, the reader is left with the exhilarating feeling that this book is an actual real substitude for what would only be a very derivative movie... MD creates in MONTOMERY STREET that miracle of demonstrating that the read word has advantages over the word that has been used to provoke moving pictures...


I wonder if MD ever tried to describe the winters in the Fox Valley where Appleton along with Menasha and Neenah are? Did he try to describe the smells of the paper manufacturing plants? Did he try to describe the go-go bars up on the highway or the taverns that seemed to be on every corner of those cities? Did he think of Glenway Wescott who came from near there in Kewaskum and wrote a book of stories GOODBYE WISCONSIN and just maybe the great American novel if such needs to be mentioned, THE GRANDMOTHERS? Did he think of Lorine Niedecker also living nearby and working in hospitals as a cleaning lady while corresponding with Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky?

Or did he think too much of Brooklyn or waste a lot of time thinking about being so far away from...

Or has he been saving himself, for that moment when he will be free of students, and now able to once again...

Friday, August 1, 2008



--Fragments which in many ways exemplify the total powerlessness of writing in such a medium.

--Back from a voyage with my son through the deserts of Arizona and California and from being at Hermosa Beach, near Los Angeles.

--I did not know my son very well because he lives four streets away from me in New York City, with his mother, because many years ago she decided her feelings had changed and she wanted to grow spiritually.


--I came back with few words that insisted on being written down.

--I did not know the names of the plants through which we walked or drove by.

--I did not know the names of the geological formations we passed through or upon.

--I could not say one word of the language of the Tohono O'odham nation through we drove.


--We toured Pomona College as my son is entering his last year at a prep school in New England.

--Pomona College seemed to be a little paradise whose whole educational purpose was centered upon the actual individual student.

--I would hope my son would go to Pomona.
I do not know if he will be able to resist the well cultivated seductive attractive illusions of the Ivy League.
If he falls for one of those colleges or universities it will be too late.
He will discover as countless students have done that the undergraduate student at these institutions is always an afterthought to the professors they encounter.
They will discover their role of being the student as nigger as was said in the so-called Sixties.
Of course for the vast dull majority of such students they will be too embarrassed to ever admit their mistake in going to these so-called institutions of higher education.


--In Los Angeles the book section of the Los Angles Times was being merged into the larger Arts and Entertainment section. There were the usual protests. Most over-looked the one fringe benefit: books would no longer be segregated from the other arts. It will be the duty of the book section editor to assert the absolute necessity of books and that books of course are intimately connected to the other arts as indeed they in turn are connected to books. Books for too many people are seen as just stepping stones to the supposedly higher realm of movies. No good writer really wants to see his book translated to the silver screen.


In Long Beach, Acres of Books, a vast second hand bookshop, is closing to make way for an arts complex in an area of Long Beach called the East Village. Only a real estate genius could not see the humour of such a situation.


We voyaged through the land about the Salton Sea on our way to Palm Springs.
Both places are two sides of a coin that should provide the setting for a great novel.
I would love to have a house in Salton City or Salton Sea Beach.
I would think living midst what was once promised to be a great resort would be like living in Year Zero in Berlin in 1945.


But it might also be nice to have also another house in Palm Springs or Rancho Mirage (again the genius of the real estate wonder workers) as I could imagine myself as being Ingmar Bergman or Max Frisch traveling from their Palm Springs or Rancho Mirage (Sweden and Switzerland) through the devastated landscape of Germany in 1945. How these places are the necessary complements of each other.


I came back to New York City knowing that there was no purpose in my unpublished books.

We had lunch with the owner of Green Integer Books (Sun and Moon Press) Douglas Messerli. Conversation turned to Richard M. Elman. Messerli had published TAR BEACH the last novel of Elman who is now dead. Messerli has two unpublished novels by Elman in his files. He showed me one with the title LOVE HANDLES.

If you have to ask who is Richard M. Elman? If you don't know who Richard M.Elman is or if his name is obscure you know why those two manuscripts have not been published.


How to imagine, again, the possibility of ever publishing another book?


I wanted to


SATANTANGO the great seven hour film by Bela Tarr was waiting for me when I got home.


I had wanted to talk about the Library of America books devoted to Katherine Ann Porter and William Maxwell and John Ashbery.


I had wanted to talk about the new Collected Poems of Jack Spicer.


I had wanted to talk about MUTE OBJECTS OF EXPRESSION by Francis Ponge (Archipelago)


I had wanted to talk about SENS-PLASTIQUE by Malcolm de Chazal. (Green Integer)


I had wanted to talk about TRANQUILITY by Attila Bartis. (Archipelago)


I had wanted to talk about THE UNIMAGINABLE MATHEMATICS OF BORGES' LIBRARY OF BABEL by William Goldbloom Bloch (Oxford University Press)


I had wanted to talk about ESTHER'S INHERITANCE by Sandor Marai (Knopf)


But I did finish reading Robert Pinget's SOMONEONE (Red Dust, 1984): "That's my own personal and private blessing, to forget and to lose my papers. If I had a good memory I wouldn't lose anything and then I wouldn't know what to do, I'd be bored rigid. Always having to ask yourself what have I forgotten, this keeps you going. And when you find something you'd forgotten to look for, what joy. This is very frequent."

In an afterword Pinget mentions, "As for the subjects treated in my novels, they are taken from the most banal, apparently derisory, everyday events in which there is nothing than can make a novel,
but which I have chosen for my material.


I had wanted also to talk about ON THE BRINK by Gerhard Roth (Atlas Press) and HOMAGE TO CZERNY: STUDIES IN VIRTUOSO TECHNIQUE by Gert Jonke (Dalkey Archive)


Ed Burns came back from Paris with a report on the actual death of Albert Cossary. The titles of two of his little books can sum up all these words: MEN GOD FORGOT and THE HOUSE OF CERTAIN DEATH