Friday, December 31, 2010


Walking around in the snow in the East Village on the last day of the year and soon into the next there are the constants of this time of the year: the lemming-like pursuit of crap and a discussion of crap… and we all know what I am writing about and knowing they and their fans do not care and they sit with the smug confidence that as long as you spell the name right even the most vicious criticism only adds to the ever growing mountain of shit that are as Edward Dahlberg might say: I have heard of him and that is sufficient… another one our well known bad writers…

On the other hand or going into a pleasant room:


THE H.D. BOOK by Robert Duncan. University of California Press. Written over many years and now published long after his death: was it so long ago, 1988?, though he was part of the background at least for me since 1962 or 63 or 64 when reading the Donald Allen anthology of the real poets, because actually alive unlike the academics who seem to sadly, have long lives and are still tormenting us by their presence… W.S. Merwin… comes to mind and Galway Kinnell and Philip Levine… Mark Strand… think of their wretched lives, teaching young people to be poets… the sheer fakery of it all and not an honest line in any poem of theirs--- these so-called teacher poets--- even by accident because always paying homage to their tenured futility they dared not not write, dared not give up their sinecures that dulled their pencils…

THE H.D. BOOK in honor of Hilda Doolittle and we are back in the world of Pound and Eliot and Williams… a book to be read or entered at any page and every sentence gives rise to thought as in: “The heart of the poem (The Waste Land) was the unbearable mixing of things.” But against his wishes, “The fame of the poet (Eliot) itself had triumphed over the pain of the poem. Eliot, was not in the outcome stricken but celebrated.”

A book to read slowly, a page a day. A sentence a day, sometimes…

I doubt there will be a better book written about poetry when looking back to 2010 or even looking forward to 2011…

And two perfect sentences from Duncan: “As I write now, I am in the waiting room again. I do not see any more than my eyes saw.”


ZONE by MATHIAS ENARD. Open Letter. 517 pages as a man sits on a train going from Milano to Rome, carrying documents and memories of the obscure and familiar horrors of the last century. Each page sent me to look for a further book, to look up some historic event I was unfamiliar with: the war in Morocco in the 1920s for instance or photographers in the Nazi camps both guards and prisoners… Atilla Josef, the Hungarian poet, who lay down on the tracks to be cut in half or the detail about Palestinian suicide bombers who went the belt of explosives went off propelled the head high into the sky… the 517 pages of basically one sentence broken into discrete bits: never for a moment does the reader lose his or her place since we never forget we are on a train inside the voice of an appealing narrator who sent me to…


DRIFTING CITIES by STRATIS TSIRKAS, published by Knopf in 1974…703 pages… starting in wartime Jerusalem.. Refugees…echoes of Durrell, again an imagined because real history of the times that shaped me and you: out of Alexandria.. and yet why is this not in paper and easy to find?

Well translated by Kay Cicellis who is till translating Greek books for Dalkey Archive and who even published a novel with Grove Press years ago… the sureness the grandeur of the DRIFTING CITIES.. like I THE SUPREME by Roa Bastos… back when Knopf could publish such books…

Okay, so the opening sentences: “A rustle, a rippling springtime effervescence came in from the window with the pine-scented breeze. And a voice from another age spoke of the perfume of a golden lily unfolding over the river.”

Today an editor would decide that the word effervescence would have to go as it was unlikely that readers of some of the well known bad writers would not know the word or “be comfortable” encountering such a word in the first line of a novel.


Alexandria was not mentioned without the purpose of celebrating the publication of SELECTED PROSE WORKS by C.P. CAVAFY by the University of Michigan Press.

Cavafy is probably the only Greek poet anyone reads, really in English with a few who know the work of GEORGE SEFERIS. And there is nothing really terrible about that. There is a Greek guy who sacrificed his talent on the altar of communism and enjoyed a little fame but again there is Cavafy and Seferis but this is a moment for Cavafy and the revelation of his prose: “On the Poet C.P. Cavafy,” (An anonymous piece): “Rare poets like Cavafy will thus secure a primary position in a world that thinks far more than does the world of today.”
Written in 1930… how he flatters us, how he will be mistaken… the purity of whim is never to be over-looked when talking about writers and about the works that endure…

It is probably true that Philip Roth will disappear within ten years of his death and the fact that the Library of America is publishing his collected work before he is dead is my evidence for this assertion. He is dead.

But Cavafy lives on: On Saint Simeon the Stylite : “This great, this wonderful saint is surely an object to be singled out in ecclesiastical history for admiration and study. He had been perhaps, the only man who has dared to be really alone.”

Not by accident is SIMON OF THE DESERT possibly the best film by Luis Bunuel.. well, along with The MILKY WAY.


PANORAMA by H.G. Adler. Random House. I have only dipped into this novel… Happily as Nabokov might have remarked I have noticed that it is not a play in disguise. There are no long reported conversations.

Mentioned by W.G. Sebald, Adler has slowly begun to make his appearance in English. Of course his great work on the Nazi camp THERESIENSTADT 1941-1945 is not in English while so much… and it seems that this is his great claim upon out attention…

PANORAMA is an attempt to re-create a childhood; it tries to argue with the opening pages of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man… and that is a worthy ambition.

I will report back on this book as I will on his THE JOURNEY and I feel guilt in not having read THE JOURNEY because how could I have avoids a book that Veza Canetti writes is, “too beautiful for words and too sad.”


Dalkey Archive has three books both published and to be published. GOING TO PATCHOGUE by THOMAS MCGONIGLE.

I have established a group on Facebook called Lord Patchogue and people are invited to join…

while that has something to do with GOING TO PATCHOGUE the re-appearance of this book is incredibly sad for me. It came out 18 years ago.

I have written many other books but they have not been seen into print and that will include the one I am working on now EXIT IS FINAL… and just before that I wrote NOTHING DOING…

Both Richard Seaver and Daniel Halpern confessed their powerlessness to publish the more recent books, even Dalkey Archive joined in this group confession and before that there was Sam Vaughan and Alice Quinn and a guy at Norton whose name I have forgotten… they invited my consolation and understanding and how shabby their deaths will be and have been…

GOING TO PATCHOGUE is available but officially from Borders it comes out in April though Amazon and Barnes and Noble have it…

YES, those other Dalkey books: ISLE OF DREAMS by KEIZO HINO made me get a map of Tokyo. That is how good it is. In the same way that one gets a map of Dublin when taking up ULYSSES: a man wants something, but what does he want?:
“He thought of nothing in particular, nor did he reminisce.”

“Though covered with dirt, none of this refuse, including tools and other bits of clothing, appeared the least decayed. Indeed, there was something starkly vivid about it. He was startled to find kindled in him a feeling bordering on the sexual, something which, since the death of his wife, he had thought irrelevant to him.”

AND in April, the cruelest month as Mr Eliot wrote DALKEY ARCHIVE will bring out: SUICIDE by EDOUARD LEVE. A novel about the suicide of a friend of the author. A week after handing in the manuscript the author killed himself. Told in the second person pronoun, that insinuating manner, that refutation of fiction in the death of the actual author, how fortunate for the reader to have a distanced suicide note, a gift to the funeral museum in Vienna, with the author’s death no need to ask if he knew what he was writing about. I do hope Dalkey Archive will publish his four books of writing and…


I didn’t write about GOGOL’S ARTISTRY by ANDREI BELY, heroically translated by CHRISTOPHER COLBATH and published by Northwestern University Press. It is the necessary compliment to Nabokov’s little book on Gogol. What I have most liked about the book is Bely’s actual discussion of the sentences of Gogol, right down to diagramming them so as to show how Gogol created his fiction.

I wish there were more books like this. I wish there was one written on Faulkner like this but I can’t imagine any major writer doing this in the United States of this moment.

Bely of course is the author of ST. PETERSBURG, the major Russian novel of the 20th Century, right there with Bulgakov’s THE MASTER AND MARGARITA…. can anyone imagine a so-called famous contemporary American writer taking the time to write such a book?

Case rested for the unimportance of you can name them…

(However, Tom Whalen who sadly happily, I can’t make up my mind but surely sadly, almost totally unknown has taken up the task and has written a very fine book on Russell H. Greenan… Dalkey will be bringing that out in the Spring.)


I am going to read THREE DAYS BEFORE THE SHOOTING by RALPH ELLISON. Since Ellison wrote the best novel by a man who happened to be Black or as he preferred Negro--- though I do think LORD OF DARK PLACES by HAL BENNETT gives him the only real competition in that rather narrow marketing niche… it can’t be avoided, but it is no accident that the schools never urge students to read INVISABLE MAN because the quality of that novel is simply too intimidating by comparison to the crap they shove down students throats in the interests of diversity… and reading THREE DAYS BEFORE THE SHOOTING allows me to live again in the moment of hearing Ellison read from an early version of this book at Hollins College In the summer of 1970…

And to be a better reader of ORANGES AND SNOW by MILAN DJORDJEVIC. Translated by Charles Simic. Princeton University Press:

My sweet and formless,
Bloodless and colorless,
Best-loved Nothing,
With what eyes shall I look at you
To see you truly
and remember your face forever.


tonight someone will fuck someone
while statesmen negotiate
untie the knots on neckties long underwear
and tense international situations
while secretly they scratch their balls under the table


Or are you the edible miracle that couples
foolishness and depth, like penis and vagina,
in the midst of our electronic Paradise?

Friday, December 24, 2010

COALS FOR A STOCKING: a dash of the dreary

I ran into Sam who lives two doors away in a big loft above Arlo and Esme, a bar, that evolved into a young people’s bar where kids go to get drunk here on East First Street.

Sam teaches a how to course in porn writing for women and others at the New School and a poetry writing class at NYU. He also reviews books and as a result gets piles of the stuff. I wish I got as many as he does, but he has broader interests than I do.

He was coming back from The Strand Bookstore where he has been to sell review copies. They don’t buy everything the way they used to he was telling me. Years ago they bought everything and would give you are a quarter on the dollar but not anymore. The give no where near that and now are picky.

Sam showed me the books they didn’t want. He was saying this is the shit that publishers are now publishing and it is such shit that even the Strand can’t get rid of it. And if they can’t get rid of it no one can.

Here is a list of “shit that no one wants” according to The Strand Bookstore, today 24 December 2010.

WALKING PAPERS. Poems. Thomas Lynch, WW Norton. I guess that is understandable. Lynch wrote one good book of poems and then discovered his Irish heritage and sunk into the bog and got buried which is an easy irony since he is an undertaker and wrote some prose about it, but never about the actual draining, cutting, pasting…

UNDIVIDED SELF. Selected Stories by Will Self. Bloomsbury. Complete with an introduction by Ricky Moody. The English were desperate for a writer they could promote as an antidote to some real writers, like William Burroughs, Hunter Thompson… you get the picture… created by back scratching English hacks and by their Anglophile American cousins, so Self is yesterday’s wild man with a dash of the Jewish thrown in for good measure…

SIGN OF LIFE. Hilary Williams. A Story of family, tragedy, music, and healing. DaCapo. Can any rational person keep a straight face reading the sub-title? In the footsteps of her grandfather, father… this gives nepotism a bad name… Old Hank Williams most have twirled so much in the grave there can’t be much left of him now with what came after him in the family.

REASONS TO KILL. Why Americans Choose War. Richard E. Rubenstein. “Undeniably important,” Publishers Weekly.

TRESSPASS. Rose Tremain. A novel. W.W. Norton. Winner of the Orange Prize. As if anyone knows what that means. Another dreary English novel American publishers decide American ought to read but obviously American still have some sense…

THE GREAT FIRE OF ROME. Stephen Dando-Collins. DaCapo. A prize winning Australian author living in Tasmania who according to the notes is basically paraphrasing, Tacitus and Suetonius…

And maybe the saddest book because it is so typical of what passes as taste and awareness of the world and literature or who knows what: TAKE ME HOME. Brian Leung. A novel. Harper. A third book. “Award winning…takes his reader to the desolate and wild terrain of the nascent Wyoming territory… strong willed young woman…the Chinese man she dares to love… LEUNG who is half Chinese…” An associate professor of creative writing.

Friday, November 26, 2010

ESSENTIAL PUBLISHERS anti-vomiting remedies

---Like many who read, I remember certain publishing houses as being of importance: Scribners, Little Brown, Viking, Coward McCann, Vanguard, Norton, Braziller, Arcade, Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, Bantam, Avon, Harcourt Brace… but while some of these still exist in form, can it be said they are really essential since it is obvious they publish what might be considered of literary interest only by accident

----Other publishers remain of interest: Knopf, Farrar Straus & Giroux, Grove Press, Bloomsbury but even they are incredibly erratic and no longer reliable in terms of what can be thought of as being publishers of books that are meant to be read by those of us who hold to the method of comparison and tradition--- as Eliot and Pound would suggest--- so that when I begin to read a prose book I always ask myself in what way does this nudge against say for sake of argument: Ulysses by James Joyce, Journey to the End of Night by Louis Ferdinand Celine, The Jardin Des Plantes by Claude Simon, Correction or Gathering Evidence by Thomas Bernhard, First Love by Ivan Turgenev, The Dead of the House by Hannah Green, Life A User’s Manual by Georges Perec, Absalom Absalom by William Faulkner, Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar, Paradisio by Jose Lezama Lima, I The Supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos, At Swim Two Birds by Flann O’Brien… I could go on and throw in Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and Petersburg by Andrei Bely and Larva by Julian Rios and Evening Edged with Gold by Arno Schmidt and Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne…

---So, we come to the essential publishers… does anyone remember when bookstores used to display books based upon publishers, so that when you went into the Eighth Street Bookstore in Manhattan or the main Krochs and Brentano’s in Chicago you would find all the New Directions books in one place and nearby the Grove Press books… so I was thinking in my ideal bookstore only five publishers can still be thought of in such terms and have a sufficient number of titles that it is evident that they can be trusted as reliable publishers of what is the very best:

::::New Directions remains still the absolute gold standard of what a publisher is supposed to be doing and in the Spring 2011 catalog the evidence is plain for everyone to see: ANIMALISSIDE by Laszio Krasnahorkai who is it should be said the only writer who can be listed precisely as coming in that list which begins, Samuel Beckett, Thomas Bernhard… and they announce that both Seiobo and the long anticipated SATANTANGO will eventually be published to join his two earlier books WAR & WAR and THE MELANCHOLY OF RESISTANCE

And they are also doing a newly translated Enrique Vila-Matas, NEVER ANY END TO PARIS and Cesaw Aira’s THE SEAMSTRESS AND THE WIND.. and it should be mentioned that ND is also doing a new Susan Howe a new Roberto Bolano…which reminds this reader that ND in addition to introducing the world to Bolano also introduced W.G.Sebald to the world…

And of course the reason for ND doing these books is that the house inspired by the spirit of Ezra Pound who while not telling the founder of the press James Laughlin what to do showed him the necessary method which I echoed in my first sentences: the method of comparison and tradition…

::::I do not have to discuss DALKEY PRESS again but it is simply a truism: they continue and more rigorously follow in the steps of New Directions and my own GOING TO PATCHOGUE, finally in paper from DA is clinching evidence and I would suggest three books in their Spring catalogue which would indicate the tradition into which my little book falls: EXILED FROM ALMOST EVERYWHERE by Juan Goytisolo, WERT AND THE LIFE WITHOUT END by Claude Ollier and IMPRESSIONS OF AFRICA by Raymond Roussel

:::: then there is NEW YORK REVIEW BOOKS, a sort of spinoff from the New York Review of Books which while once upon a time of interest now seems more like a corpse wrapper in the guise of a book review in which the same boring professors are still going on about the same “relevant” books as 40 years ago , edited by a man who seems like the little guy you meet in derelict cemeteries down South, who for a dollar will show you around…

HOWEVER, the book publisher New York Review Books can be seen as an equal partner with the other four publishers and they seem to hold that their job is to return to print the necessary background to understanding where we are in the present: I value in particular: THE GLASS BEES by ERNST JUNGER, MAWRDEW CZGOWCHWZ , SHORT LETTER, LONG FAREWEELL by PETERHANKDE, PRISONER OF LOVE by JEAN GENET, WITCH GRASS BY RAYMOND QUENEAU, THAT AWFUL MESS ON THE VIA MERULANA by Carlo EMILIO GADDA

And they have been bringing back into print and newly publishing the work of VASILY GROSSMAN and in particular his EVERYTHING FLOWS which is the most revelatory book about the Gulag, at least for me, as it talks about what happens when a victim of the Gulag comes back and confronts the man who sent him to the Gulag. This book encapsulated the sheer awfulness of the moral life of recent times in what was once the Soviet Union and how that awfulness remains that defining characteristic of lfe in Russia today.

The most recent book I have read from NYRB is THE ROAD by VASSILY GROSSMAN and it is the last selection, ETERNAL REST, a meditation on cemeteries in Russia… do I need to write more: Russia, the Soviet Union that vast cemetery and the question is always: how do we treat the dead… which an astute reader would recognize as the theme of ERNST JUNGER’S ALADDIN’S PROBLEM…

And I shouldn’t forget that NYRB in the summer brought out ALBERT COSSERY’s THE JOKERS which might have reminded people of an earlier books by COSSERY MEN GOD FORGOT and THE HOUSE OF CERTAIN DEATH… and which at least for me competed with Lawrence Durrell in forming my imaginary Egypt.

AND NOT TO FORGET two smaller houses, delicate essential flowers:

::::ARCHIPELAGO BOOKS does translations mostly and I will be eternally grateful to them for having done CORTAZAR’s last boo AUTONAUTS OF THE COSMOROUTE which is JC’s report of his journey down a toll road to the south of France from Paris, or never leaving the highway, eating and sleeping in the various rest areas.. I love the use of drawing, photographs and of course the words… such an obvious book and such a critique of all such travel… much as HOPSCOTCH remains ever young, ever the subversive book for those tempted by the autobiographical impulse.

And ARCHIPELAGO also revealed GEORGE LETHAM PYSICIAN AND MURDERER by ERNST WEISS, this is a book I am really afraid of.. I have dipped into it, I am scared of what I am going to find… never have I felt like this except when reading the chapters devoted to Moosbrugger who stalks Robert Musil’s A MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES in the same way that Charles Manson continues to stalk the American imagination

Finally, from England: Pushkin Press is now the only English publisher readers have to give any thought to. There are no other publishers, really, in England which are neither clones of their dreary American/German owners nor perpetuaters of the English novel that has been asleep for hundreds of years ago with the bright exceptions of B. S. Johnson, Ivy Compton Burnett and the example of Anthony Burgess.

Pushkin Press brought to the world Julian Green’s THE OTHER SLEEP, a new translation of Julien Gracq’s A DARK STRANGER and finally we are reading again in English PAUL MORAND via his VENICES and HECATE AND HER DOGS… also they have surely supplied the other Hungarian writer to join Sandor Marai when we try to imagine that country: ANTAL SZERB whose JOURNEY BY MOONLIGHT: “In the deepest stupidity there is a king of dizzying, whirlpool attractions, like death: the pull of the vacuum.”

And Pushkin Press had been faithful to SZERB and three further books have appeared and they are all now joined by LOVE IN A BOTTLE.. a collection of stories and short novels, including the one he was writing in 1943 as the net which would sweep him up to be killed in a Nazi labor camp, but this story, The Duke, An Imaginary Portrait, set in the 16th Century is not escapism but the pitting of the author’s imagination against what of course was death but to which the imagination cannot capitulate… an uneasy consolation which allowed for instance the far more famous Nabokov to survive as a writer: imagination rooted in experience but not beholding to it explains a little why Nabokov did not cease to be a writer when living in exile and SZERB is as alive today as he was then and maybe even more so given the pathetic nature of what passes for literature in the US…

the other day I had the awful experience in the subway of seeing someone reading a novel by Franzen… I wished I could have been transformed into a six foot six Black alcoholic reeking derelict who had just eaten a plate of rice and beans and finding the meal had not agreed with his stomach deposited the masticated mess in the lap of this “reader.”

Saturday, October 30, 2010


I received an early copy of the Spring 2011 Catalogue from Dalkey Archive because after 18 years they are publishing GOING TO PATCHOGUE finally in paperback. Of course I am very pleased and happy that this is happening but what is far more important is the context in which GOING TO PATCHOGUE is to appear.
The perfect modern publishing house was Shakespeare & Co since they published only one book, James Joyce’s Ulysses. They had to do no other. For all of my life there have only really been three publishers: New Directions, the original Grove Press and Alfred A. Knopf. Of course there are many other honorable houses, many others, but in particular with the first two, can there be any question, really.
Today one can say: New Directions and Dalkey Archive and some of the back list of Grove Press but of course good real books get published but they are published almost by accident or forgetfulness on the part of editors. There are in truth some others but their lists are still too short and time will tell…
But the context: in the coming season Dalkey Archive will publish or reprint or republish book by: (and here I just list the author names): Ishmael Reed, Jean Rolin, Edouard Leve, Patrick Ourednik, Juan Goytisolo, Abdelwahab Meddeb, Julian Rios, Mina Loy, Luisa Valenzuela, Asaf Schurr, Gabriela Avigur-Rotem, Joao Ubaldo Ribeiro, Eric Chevillard, Viktor Shklovsky, Tom Whalen, Laura Pavel, Jaques Jouet, Gerard Gavarry, Herve Le Tellier, Kazushi Hosaka, Claude Ollier, Raymond Roussel, Nicholas Delbanco, Goncalo M. Tavares, Arno Schmidt, David Markson, Djuana Barnes, Christine Brooke-Rose, Jacques Roubaud.
What I am getting at: GOING TO PATCHOGUE is not appearing by accident, as a quirk, as a mistake, as a reward for a so-called literary editor for having brought in millions of dollars by discovering some bit of garbage that made millions of dollars by accident so now he or she can go and do a “literary” book.
Of course like many readers I grew up reading for instance Juan Goytisolo, Raymond Roussel, Viktor Shklovsky Claude Ollier but very few of their books were translated (Goytisolo is the exception though most of his books quickly went out of print) but GOING TO PATCHOGUE will appear midst their new books and their other books that have already been published by Dalkey Archive and they will be joined by new books by these authors in the future.

GOING TO PATCHOGUE is appearing with new books by Ishmael Reed and Tom Whalen and Arno Schmidt and Julian Rios and Luisa Valenzuela and Christine Brooke-Rose and Djuana Barnes… down here on East First Street in Manhattan that is pretty fine company for it.
Seeing Nicholas Delbanco’s name was a pleasant surprise as I had met him for the first and only time when we were in Knoxville now a a few years ago to honor George Garrett who would have easily understood both the comic tone of this post and the wonderful critique of the publishing world this catalogue represents.
I am sure the publisher of Dalkey Archive is waiting for me to remind him that I do have a book NOTHING DOING that he can ask to read but that is another day and in other days I would hope to see books by Ernst Junger, Julian Green, Robert Pinget, Georgi Ivanov but if I had to suggest one book it would be BAKUNIN An Invention by Horst Bienek, a perfect book novel, a whatnot, as it takes up the questions how to act, how to be, how to write, how to live… and Bienek does it in 119 pages…

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Being that there was a vast outpouring of support and a myriad number of demands I am here doing a new version of a PERFECT BOOK REVIEW.


From MAN AND THE SACRED by Roger Caillois

The sacred is what gives life and takes it away, it is the source from which it flows, and the estuary in which it is lost.
But the sacred is also that which one would not know how to possess simultaneously with life.
Life is wear and tear, and waste.
It vainly strives to persevere and to refuse every expenditure so as to be preserved.
Death lies in wait for it.

(One discovered Caillois via Michel Leiris and Georges Bataille: the how authors and books lead to other books and other authors. )


THE STORY OF THE EYE by Georges Batialle as anyone knows stands in a tiny circle of books with Hedayat’s THE BLIND OWL and I would add now thanks to Dalkey Archive: ON ELEGANCE WHILE SLEEPING by Viscount Lascano Tegui (1887-1966) who and which exists in that world populated by Macedonio Fernandez’s THE MUSEUM OF ETERNA’S NOVEL all of which are ruled by the shade of the Comte de Lautramont whose MALDOROR never ages, never grows young…

But Tegui: “When my mother died, my father, who was busy dyeing his sideburns, looked me over from head to toe and, finding my hair wasn’t sufficiently serious for the occasion dyed it black.”


As the river crossed our town it jammed the millwheel with the bodies of drowning victims, bashful beneath its surface.


Yale University Press sent me three books.

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO MODERNISM by Gabriel Josipovici was that rarest of all critical books: it is helpful. Helpful in a similar way to ABC OF READING by Ezra Pound and while pointing to the essential books it is also a consolation: I felt less alone reading it, less alone in finding someone else who has wondered how readers could actually think that Franzen, McEwen, Rushdie, Amis, Barnes (FILL IN 95 percent at least of the novels reviewed in the last few years by the NY Times)… the list goes on and on… how can they be taken seriously as they are week after week when Josipovici knows that if you have not read deeply in Claude Simon, Robert Pinget, Thomas Bernhard, just for starters, you might as well have died in 1900. You have not read Joyce or Proust or Eliot if you can think that what passes for literature in the United States is of any real interest beyond who knows what…

THE GLADSTEIN CHRONICLES by Jacob Glatstein. Living on the Lower East Side in New York City I am always aware of what is not here… The people who used to be here… Glatstein’s two short novels describe the Jewish world of Europe in 1934 with the foreboding that it will not be there sooner rather than later… now living in New York and American citizens Glatstein’s narrators return to Europe from which they had left many years before. As I read I am reading at the same time Joseph Roth and I know he will drink himself to death in a room above that cafĂ© in Paris holding in his mind what Glatstein also well knew through foreboding…

CYCLOPS by Ranko Marinkovic is translated from the Croatian and appears in the Margellos World Republic of Letters series. While it might have been popular when it appeared in 1965 it seems more a relic… the jacket blurb accurately both consciously and unconscipously the problem with the book, “Melkior encounters a colorful circus of characters… all living in a fragile dream.” Two of Marinkovic’s stories appeared in a long gone anthology DREAM OF A SIMPLE GIUAN and OTHER MODERN YUGOSLAV STOIRES edited by Branko Lenski. They are not about “colourful” characters but about pain, imagined to be sure or observed to be sure, but actual and hauked to the page by chosen words.

It would have been better if Yale had published a book by Miroslav Krleza.


GREEN INTEGER sent me PENTHOUSE F by Richard Kalich which comes with an off-putting grotesque cover but going beyond the cover and I hope you will the novel or book, since it exists somewhere between those two words: “At a certain point in writing, a Writer becomes his character and from that time on, as already mentioned, does little more than take dictation.”


The book is from the Upper West Side of Manhattan. A place that used to have building supers with concentration camp numbers on their arms, visible in the summer: "Now, notwithstanding the splattered bodies of the boy and girl found lying on the concrete in front of my building."

Gil Orlovitz, author of MILKBOTTLE H threw himself to his death, I believe, as did another writer Richard M. Elman once knew… and Evelyn Scott died up there in a borrow room in an SRO… the author of Calendar of Sin.. the woman Faulkner said was pretty good for a woman.

This is what one thinks about reading this novel.


Oxford University Press sent me:

GULAG BOSS A Soviet Memoir by Fyodor Vasilevich Mochulsky. This is the first memoir by someone who had worked in the vast murderous camp system of communism. Of course, one remembers that no one was ever, NO ONE was ever held accountable for all the millions upon millions innocent victim--- including the grandfather of my wife--- to make it personal.

After six years of working in the camps Mochulsky went on to a long career in the Soviet Diplomatic service… giving lie to all those who thought Soviet diplomats were only diplomats and not members of the NKVD or KGB. It is the coldness, the obliviousness as in the memoir of Rudolf Hoess that impresses this reader…: the re-incarnation of bastardized versions of Pontius Pilate, that very good hand washer.


From Farrar Straus Giroux: CANTI by Giacomo Leopardi translated by the boss there, Jonathan Galassi.

And good work it is as it was allowed to be published because they had pulled in great sacks of dollars from the yokels who have rushed out for the Franzen.

And in three lines the distance between literature and rubbish:

Happy indeed if you’re allowed/relief from sorrow, blessed when/death cures you of all sorrow.


Again from MAN AND THE SACRED by Roger Caillois:

There is no artifice that is as good.
Every living being knows it sense it.
It knows the choice remaining to it.
It dreads give itself, sacrificing itself and is aware of this wasting its very being.
But to retain its gifts, energies and resources, to use them prudently for all practical and selfish goals—
as a consequence, profane--- saves no one in the final analysis from decrepitude and the tomb.
Everything that is not consumed rots away.
Furthermore, the abiding truth of the sacred resides simultaneously in the fascination of flame and the
horror or putrification

Friday, September 24, 2010


Many people have noticed that most book reviews are really boring. The same books by the same authors and I won’t contribute to the clutter by mentioning the same well known bad writers all getting reviewed during the same week--- the problem is even worse in Paris and London where there are only national newspapers and they are sitting on each other’s lap when it comes to book reviews--- but the problem is that book reviews sadly buy into the idea that they are just reporting the news, book news, in the form of reviews of the newly published. They are the prisoners of the accident of the day, much as the The New Yorker is prisoner to its weekly schedule and never do they explain that: well, this week we just have a lot of crap on hand so bear with us… and maybe next week will be a bit better.

So, I thought to show a schedule if I was a book editor of major newspaper: This week we are reviewing and as I start to realize that one of the advantages of internet versions of newspapers is that we don’t have to have a lead review, a cover story. 99% of the time the lead review is of a book that will be surely forgotten within the next couple of years… just as a sure recipe for being forgotten: win the Pulitzer prize for anything.

This week: (I’ll put a one or two line summary which of course is a disservice but I hope to come back to these books. All of these books are at the moment scattered across the table and floor of my cell here on the lower east side of Manhattan)

FOUR YEARS IN EUROPE WITH BUFFALO BILL by Charles Eldridge Griffin ((University of Nebraska Press) A contemporary description of Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show in Europe before the European civil war better known at World War One.

JOINER by James Whitehead (Alfred A. Knopf) One of the few novels that can actually stand comparison to the best in Faulkner.

CANTI by Giacomo Leopardi. Translated from the Italian. Farrar Straus & Giroux. A series of hymns to the absolute hopelessness of the human condition.

THE HOUSE OF ULYSSES by Julian Rios. Translated from the Spanish (Dalkey Archive). A wandering through Ulysses by James Joyce by a writer who exists in the small world described by FINNEGANS WAKE, AN EVENING EDGED WITH GOLD and LIFE A USER’S MANUAL

ANGINA DAYS by Gunter Eich. Translated from the German. (Princeton University Press) An opening to one poem An Inventory: This is my cap,/mycoat,/my shaving kit/in the burlap bag.

IBSEN AND HITLER by Steven F. Sage (Carroll and Graf) A close reading of both men as writers so as to explain what the single most famous person in the Twentieth Century did.

RICHARD YATES by Tao Lin (Melville House) The only American writer who has actually been able to become a nihilist and this is another petal on the flower of his succcess

WHO CHOSE THE GOSPELS? Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy by C.E. Hill. Oxford University Press. Since the trash by Dan Brown has replaced all actual Biblical study and history a reminder of just how stupid are those who have read his novels and think they have learned anything at all

THE MOMENT OF CARAVAGGIO by Michael Fried (Princeton University Press). A making clear, a trying to show… the near impossibility of finding words to describe a painterly gesture.

CORRESPONDANCE: Ingeborg Bachmann Paul Celan. Translated from the German (Seagull Books Dist U if Chicago Press). A model of editing of two of the very best writers in the German language always shadowed by their terrible deaths

TEXAS SCHOOL BOOK DEPOSITORY by Catherine Hankla (Louisiana State University Press. Prose poems which should be read as models of what all prose should be.

Yes and what about the following week?:

THE SIXTY-FIVE YEARS OF WASHINGTON by Juan Jose Saer. Translated from the Spanish (Open Letter) following upon Juan Carlos Onetti and not afraid to have been influenced for the better by Alain Robbe-Grillet

THE ARCHITECTURE OF PARADISE Survivals of Eden and Jerusalem by William Alexander McClung (University of California Press) What it looks like.

NOVEL 11, BOOK 18 by Dag Solstad. Translated from the Norwegian (Harvill Secker) Comes as close to Thomas Bernhard yet remaining his own man

ZONE by Mathias Enard. Translated from the French. (Open Letter). 500 page sentence that encompasses the whole of the late Twentieth Century’s horror as played out on the battlefields of the former Yugoslavia without forgetting the Middle East and even the Spanish Moroccan war of 1921… will send a good reader to find DRIFTING CITIES by STRATIS TSIRKAS (Alfred A. Knopf)

REVOLT AGAINST THE MODERN WORLD by Julius Evola. Translated from the Italian. (Inner Traditions International) A necessary provocation.

AND WHY NOT? here is another week’s books:

LIFE ON SANDPAPER by Yoram Kaniuk. Translated from the Hebrew. (Dalkey Archive). Life in Greenwich Village when that place was not home to Marc Jacob and the editor of Vanity Fair.

ANOTHER FREEDOM by Svetlana Boym (Harvard University Press) Any book that tries to understand the best literary critic to come out of 20th century Russia Viktor Shklovsky is essential reading.

THE BOX by Gunter Grass. Translated from the German. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Grass tries to imagine what his kids think of him.

THE WITNESS HOUSE by Christine Kohl. Translated from the German. (Other Press) An odd book of witnesses for both the defense and prosecution waiting to testify at the Nuremberg Trials.

ZEN AND JAPANESE CULTURE by Daisetz T. Suzuki (Princeton University Press). While it might echo too much a relic of the so-called 60s how to account for why Japan is still a pleasurable thought and actual destination.

SOLO by Rana Dasgupta (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) A one hundred year old Bulgarian man describes his world.

NIGHT SOUL AND OTHER STORIES by Joseph McElroy (Dalkey Archive). Short stories as complex as his great WOMEN AND MEN

THE SIGHT OF DEATH by T.J. Clark. (Yale University Press) A looking at Poussin.

I’d have a feature about books that have not been made into books: THE WORKER by Ernst Junger which only exists in an un-authorized translation. A visionary description of where we have actually ended up though the book was written in 1932 by the only Twentieth Century German writer who can be compared to Goethe

Yesterday I went to a lunch sponsored by William Morror at at the Rubin Museum of Art (of course I wondered what crime Rubin was doing penance for by opening such a museum), which was wonderfully luxurious and the food was very good. I was well prepared for this experience as I had just been watching the English TV series, The Gravy Train, written by Malcolm Bradbury which was about how the European Community actually worked to enrich its employees. The central character is a guy named Dortmund who had been known as the UNESCO official who brought Nietzsche to Zaire and in the episodes I had been watching he came up with a scheme to export plums to Bulgaria… So I guess I was well prepared to hear about a book by a guy, the son of a second string Irish poet, who had been giving out money to the various gangs in the former Yugoslavia so they would postpone killing each other while he was giving out the money. He has now moved on to raising money for an orphanage in Nepal, a cause he cares a lot about and has of course written a book about this: LITTLE PRINCES… but no real taking care of kids: he is a fund raiser, a job creator for himself…

Here is the writer in his own words.

I’m Conor, my name is spelled with one “n”, because my father is from Ireland and that’s how they do it there.
Let’s see…what else…….what………else……..
I am originally from Poughkeepsie, New York, which is the same place that Snookie is from. (I imagine that by the time I post this updated About Me section - it is August 2010 - nobody will remember who Snookie was. Ahhh, Snookie…)
I went to college at the University of Virginia, graduated in 1996 jobless and panicky, and made a rather quick and rash decision to move to Prague, in the Czech Republic. I liked it (beer and fried cheese - what’s not to like?) so I stayed about six and a half years, working for a public policy think tank called the EastWest Institute, focused mostly in Balkan security (back when that meant something.) I moved to Brussels for another year and a half or so in 2002 doing the same work. I liked it but I didn’t speak Flemish and in my neighborhood it meant that it was hard to order the right kind of sandwich so I ate some weird stuff for lunch that year.
In 2004, I took off for France alone for about six weeks to volunteer and trek, then did that solo trip around the world. I volunteered in a children’s home in Nepal for trafficked children, and loved it so much that I returned a year later, and then a few months later, when I started an organization called Next Generation Nepal.
At the end of 2006, in Kathmandu, I met the most wonderful woman in the world, Liz, from California. By coincidence, she also happened to be the most beautiful woman in the world. I immediately informed her that she would be hearing from me on an hourly basis, despite the fact that we lived 9000 miles apart.
Liz found I am a man of my word. After six months of talking non-stop (love that Skype) and emailing equally non-stopfully, I came back to the US and asked her to marry me. She said yes (woo hoo!). A little more long distance relationshipping, and in October 2007 I moved back to the US to be with Liz in Washington DC. We were married in New York City on March 1st of 2008, and it is the best thing of all time.
The next best thing is that our son Finn was born in February 2009. We’re huge fans.
In 2008 I went to business school at NYU Stern, which was totally cool and pretty hard but mostly cool. I graduated in May of 2010. In August we moved to Connecticut.
I also wrote a book, it’s called Little Princes, about my time in Nepal, published by HarperCollins, due out January, 2011. Can you buy a copy of that? Great, thanks.
Lastly: the kids in Nepal really need a lot of support. If you think you might like to support them, I would really be grateful. Please visit our website at

Thursday, September 9, 2010



A Murderous Encounter
A Novella by Ya. A.
St. Petersburg, 1836
This little book has appeared, consequently somewhere in this wide world there must be a reader for it.
---Nikolai Gogol

(Now, that is a model review.)


As the so-called literary world is swept with interest in a recent book by the sociologist Jonathan Franzen, some have remarked that it’s sad that saps in COSTCO or BJ’s who buying their literature will be very disappointed by something called FREEDOM which seems on closer inspection to be inferior to the great work of Vance Packard whose what-can-you- call- them?: novels, sociological novels are the benchmark for such “examinations of the American condition.” You remember them with fondness: The Status Seekers, The Hidden Persuaders, The Waste Makers, The Naked Society, The Sexual Wilderness, The People Shapers… though his life could be summed up by an early title: How to Pick a Mate. These books were met with the same controversy and profound concern for the state of the American family etc etc.


A great thanks to the Library of America for reissuing H. L. Mencken’s PREJUDICES In two delicious volumes.

If you have a child off in that swamp called American higher education this is the perfect gift. But is a mixed blessing in the sense that while Mencken is wholy exhilarating and nearly every page has something to quote and savor , even dipping into it will make the child possibly intemperate, and even unwilling to suffer the idiocy which is the much of what they will have to endure while prisoners of these institutions in particular when taking introductory courses in the liberal arts. Never have we---or I’ll speak for myself--- been in need of his clarity of writing and of his awareness of the nonsense that passes for politics in the US. Just the idea that a man once had the freedom to publish a book called Prejudices is cause enough to wonder at how far we have fallen in our sophistication.

At random:

“This talk of sincerity, I confess, fatigues me.”


“Democracy is that system of government under which the people, having 35,717,342 native-born adult whites to choose from, including thousands, who are handsome and many who are wise pick out a Coolidge to be head of the state. It is as if a hungry man, set before a banquet prepared by master cooks and covering a table an acre in area, should turn his back upon the feast and stay his stomach by catching and eating flies.”
(If anyone thinks the current holder of that office is any bit better than Coolidge then the delusional grandeur of the American mind is greater than can be imagined…)


“What ails the world mainly, at least in the political sense, is that its governments are too strong. It has been a recurrent pest since the dawn of civilization… The men who constitute the government always try to make it appear, of course, that they carry on their activities in a patriotic and altruistic way—in brief, they are full of public spirit. But that pretension deceives no one, not even Homo boobiens. The average man, whatever his errors otherwise, at least sees clearly that the government is something outside of him and outside the generality of his fellow men--- that i t is a separate independent and often hostile power, only partly under his control, and capable on occasion of doing him great harm.”
(On occasion would have to be changed today to: Often doing him great harm)



To die for an idea: it is unquestionably noble. But how much nobler it would be if man died for ideas that they were true. Searching history, I can find no such case. All the great martyrs of the books died for sheer nonsense—often for trivial matters of doctrine and ceremonial, too absurd to be state in plain terms. But what of the countless thousands who have perished in the wars, fighting magnificently for their country? Well, show me one who knew precisely what the war he died in was about and could put into a simple and plausible proposition.

(Has this changed: WW2, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, The Iraq War. The Afghanistan War and all the other delightful actions of the US: the attacks on Serbia, Panama, Grenada, Lebanon… the current gearing up for war in Africa)


Farrar Straus & Giroux of course is the publisher of the sociology of Jonathan Franzen and I have to wish them tons of luck and bushels and bushels of dollars to fall into their offices as it allows them to publish real books.

While not from this season I have been reading with profound gratitude the Selected Poems of Giuseppe Ungaretti, the one poet other than Eugenio Montale that I read with real pleasure from Italy… I learn from Ungaretti. I am inspired by him:

In veins already almost empty tombs
The still galloping longing,
In my bones that are frozen, stone,
In the soul the choked regret,
Untamable iniquity: dissolve them;
From remorse, endless howl,
Terrible seclusion
In the unspeakable dark,
Redeem me and rouse your merciful
Lashes from your long sleep
May your sudden pinkish trace
Mother mind, ascend again,
And return to amaze me;
Come back to life, unhoped for,
Measure inconceivable, peace
Make it so I, in the balanced landscape,
May mouth again the sounds of artless speech.
(translated by Andrew Frisardi)


But what had reminded me, again, of Ungaretti was reading also from FSG, THE BARS OF ATLANTIS by the German poet Durs Grunbein. It is a book of essays that is surely the best book of prose written by a poet in many years. He has that ability to quote, that ability to make fresh and it was in an essay on Pompeii that he quoted from Ungaretti, “Life is nothing but a process of decay decorating itself with illusions.”

In that essay on Pompeii, “Volcano and Poem” a tiny hint as to why I read slowly, ever so slowly THE BARS OF ATLANTIS, “Each individual had been sealed up in lava and debris by the volcano, and now they all were returned to the present, the portraits of the gods and the pornographic doodles, the frieze of the mysteries and the latest slogans, the board game and the papyrus scroll and that fragment from the book of one Philodemus of Gadara On Poems--- the ape of Classical poetics.”

“…and now they all were returned to the present” This is genius.


Another book to be made possible by the Franzen booty.

In November CANTI by Giacomo LEOPARDI,translated by Jonathan Galassi. That Italian poet who comes between Dante and Montale and Ungaretti… Leopardi that poet who sang through James Thomson BV once upon a time…never exhausted.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


You hear it all the time: someone should write a book about it, someone should make a movie about it.

Well, Emmanuel Carrere author of the THE ADVERSARY, CLASS TRIP, THE MUSTACHE, GOTHIC ROMANCE has just done both of those things with MY LIFE AS A RUSSIAN NOVEL. A title every writer would kill to have thought up.

Having read a brief news item about the repatriation of aged mentally broken Hungarian who had lived in a small Russian city since being swept up in the aftermath of World War Two Carrere to thinking of what it must have been like for this guy to have lived in a provincial Russian city all those years as a stranger, never learning Russian. The thinking called up his own long dormant Russian (his mother is the leading authority on Russia and a member of the French Academy)… and the family unspoken about secret: her father having been a Georgian refugee in France after World War One became a translator for the Germans during the occupation and was disappeared by the Resistance at the end of the Second World War...

Carrere writes easily about all of this and with his own obsessive problems of the heart--- he reprints an incredibly erotic story he published in a summer supplement of Le Monde the best newspaper in France in an attempt to keep a woman he was desperately in love with--- a story so explicit it is unpublishable in the LATIMES (and I would hesitate to quote some passages on this blog)--- and then there are the multiple journeys to Russia.. the meetings with the ordinary people of Kotelnitch, a precise and not so much caring as a simple honest description of ordinary life and the girl who speaks and sings in French, the wife of the KGB boss of the town.. a vicious unexplained murder, the abyss that this opens at the center of the book is frigidly disturbing and one which will never leave your imagination or memory.

The scrupulosity of Carrere is remarkable in its self-questioning, his fear of exploiting the people he meets... and far more than just a book about the making of a movie the book is wonderfully independent of the movie as is the movie independent of the book. Both exist true to their own forms.

Sadly, the movie is only available in French but the trailer captures the deep and profound sadness that is at the center of Carrere's book...a sadness of a great Russian novel --- Turgenev in particular comes to mind... or the DEAD SOULS of Gogol and you can even write to Carrere--- I hope after you have read MY LIFE AS A RUSSIAN NOVEL as he supplies in his text a email address: (I checked and it works)

SAVE MONEY. SAVE YOUR TIME. Don’t rush out like a lemming and buy Franzen’s FREEDOM. If you are tempted, RESIST and if you must you can read any old book by Vance Packard, THE HIDDEN PERSUADERS, THE STATUS SEEKERS… Packard was writing popular sociology studies of the so-called American people. Don’t be a sucker for the old packaged up as interesting and controversial sociology. You have read this book in any “deep think” piece in PARADE, the Sunday newspaper supplement. And it has as much lasting ”value.” It is the perfect grist for the addled reading groups. Big ideas. Big ideas. Who needs them.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

THE STRAND LOSERS: books they don't buy

I have a friend who works for one of the Conde Nast magazines. Every few weeks he takes some shopping bags of review copies to The Strand to sell. At one time they bought everything but now with the computers there is always a reject pile of books they have too many copies of and which are unlikely to sell. This week he showed me the pile:

WORLD ENOUGH. Maureen N. Mclane. Poetry. FSG
GO, MUTANTS. Larry Doyle. Novel. ECCO
MOSCOW STING. Alex Dryden. Novel. ECCO
BANANA REPUBLICAN. Eric Rauchway. Novel. FSG.
BEACH WEEK. Susan Coll. Novel. FSG
DANCING BACKWARDS. Salley Vickers. Novel. FSG
PIERCE THE SKIN. Henri Cole. Poetry. FSG

The novels he gives to the building super who sells them for a dollar when he has a sale for cleaning out the basemen storage. My friend has put the poetry in the entranceway of his building where people leave magazines they are finished with. Eventually, the super has to throw them away with the three week old Barron’s Weeklys.

Friday late afternoon at The Strand is when you see the kids at their first jobs in publishing selling their weekly stash of books at The Strand. Most of the kids don’t stick around very long in publishing. They are newly graduated from Ivy League or pretend Ivy League schools, still living off of Mom and Dad, but they need some money for cocktails.

Eventually they get tired of publishing: the smell of formaldehyde is finally too over-powering. They go into real estate or into God knows what else but they have had their year or two years at a New York publisher and now they can think barely about being alive since to be within the walls of a New York publishing house is like being in a South American morgue where it is hard to tell the difference between the living and the dead.

Now that these kids have left New York and can resume reading, something that is not really encouraged in New York publishing, they will look back with a certain fondness at their year or two and realize that it was probably better than working in a bottling plant but they know that if they have children they will not have to discourage them from working in publishing since the publishing of what is now called a book no longer exists.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


ONE I noticed a flier for something that sounds truly revolting as the old comedian might have said: THE ACADEMY OF AMERICAN POETS PRESENTS THE 2010 POETS FORUM and then the listing of the verse makers is even more revolting: Anne Carson Ron Padgett Victor Hernández Cruz Marie Ponsot Marilyn Hacker Carl Phillips Lyn Hejinian Robert Pinsky Edward Hirsch Kay Ryan Galway Kinnell Gerald Stern Khaled Mattawa Susan Stewart Naomi Shihab Nye C.K. Williams Sharon Olds.

TWO It will cost $110 dollars to attend all the events. I have left out the list of the “critics” and others--- ass kissers to the post--- who will talk in a language ever more remote from the trivial squeaking of the carefully multi-ethnic- gendered-balanced verse makers.

THREE I’ll except Anne Carson---though the more Carson appears in public the more she diminishes her claim to my attention and maybe Ron Padgett though in the latter case I am dreading the probable forthcoming collected works which will run for many hundreds of pages… all reminding one of his attachment to the so-called New York school presided over by XandYandZ or should it be AandB andC? but of the others: have they in their collective endeavors which must now amount to thousands of pages of “verse” come up with a line that moves over ever so slightly slightly the line of T.S. Eliot, “April is the cruelest month” or even approached within a mile the memorable title of Eliot’s THE HOLLOW MEN… most of these “poets” are on the academic gravy train with six figure salaries for doing remarkably little--- a couple of hours a week preparing candidates for the gravy train… they are all in Flann O’Brien’s phrase members of the “standing army of American poets”… ever prepared to collaborate with the powers to be and never more fervently with the current regime in Washington, collaborators with the status quo, ever remarkable for the banality of their “verse”…. ever prepared to take part in “discussions” with each other and the other writers of “verse”… now that there are no longer any readers of “verse.” In the announcement there is mention of previous years when verse makers such as Gluck, Bidart, Hass, Dove were present though one can be sure that their spirits will also be present…

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

WHAT'S A LTTLE EXCREMENT EATING: the Brett Easton Ellis Story

===At the LA Times website there was a very convincing video for Bret Easton Ellis’s IMPERIAL BEDROOMS which Knopf was publishing.

===I am listening to a compilation of Nico’s greatest songs: it starts with “I’m Not Saying”… it will move through “Janitor of Lunacy” and end with “The End”… does one need to say more…

===I should be reading Philippe Sollers’ MYSTERIOUS MOZART or maybe looking again at David Galloway’s A FAMILY ALBUM…

===But I have been reading IMPERIAL BEDROOMS. A sequel to LESS THAN ZERO.

===I have skipped to the scene toward the end as directed by the NY Times review where the narrator hires a man and woman and does things to them in Palm Springs. You can read the opening chapter. He has learned from Joan Didion and Truman Capote: may their example be forgiven! Skip to the last one.

===People will do anything for a buck, is the usual moral lesson.

===But I guess we all know that.. even stuff with excrement and beatings and all the rest of it.

===The questions: how much per welt?

===How much excrement must be consumed or used?

===How much per insertion of penis?

===Does the receptacle matter in these calculations?

===Do tears cost extra or are they a deduction from the negotiated fee?

===Who cleaned up the mess?

===You might say it is all an incitement to revolution.. .and to think of Ellis as being a revolutionary writer probably takes a little effort but why not?

===Such writing was used to undermine the aristocracy in France before the revolution

===None of the people Ellis--- here I have momentarily forgotten that these are invented characters though the appeal of Ellis is in his being one of those guys like Jay McInerney and all the rest of the crew celebrated in VANITY FAIR to be known as one of the “insiders”--- writes about deserve to live a moment longer and of course he shows what can happen to someone who is tortured to death… but again we now know all about that.. so one thinks of revolution… what a little Maosim could do or how about a Holiday in Cambodia and a little mind cleaning by the Khmer Rouge—those well educated intellectuals, graduates of good French schools--- but then Mao just used revolution so he could infect 12 year old girls with syphilis and kill more than 40 million people: the great helmsman at work...

===So what’s a little shiteating among the rich, I guess is the lesson of Brett Easton Ellis

==================None of this is out of the ordinary. Ed Sanders in the early 70s when he did his book about Charlie Manson THE FAMILY was telling me he discovered far worse things than Manson in Hollywood but the publisher wouldn’t allow him to report on it: thrill killings and the usual corpse fucking among the Hollywood elite, as Sanders said at that party for the Hell’s Angels sponsored by John Lennon (I kid you not)…

===and that is what was scary about Manson and the people he had ordered killed… the then pregnant wife of a rapist now still on the lam … what do you expect?… Hollywood people were afraid their secrets would come out an Manson was part of them at the time… but Manson kept his mouth shut and was grist enough for the mill.. too much reality is more than most people can stand as recently in the Grass Roots a guy was telling me about the distinguished biographer of Picasso who had a thing for dead bodies in the south of France….

===So a great video and writing that reads like a forensics report…

===Maybe it leads to Michael Breslow--- whose LIFE LINE about a guy faking medical research and which came with a nice blurb from Anthony Burgess+++ look for it if you can find it++++ went on to write the unpublished novel POLIO but he himself got killed by throat cancer--- had a girl friend who he wanted to write about who was a lawyer defending guys in a prison riot and how she got a guy off of a rape charge because she was able to prove he fucked the guy after the guy was dead so the charge had to be reduced to just corpse abuse…

===Knopf of course is publishing Thomas Bernhard’s MY PRIZES in a few months and I am sure the great sales of this book will support the disappointing sales of IMPERIAL BEDROOMS…

===One shouldn’t forget that Brett Easton Ellis was unleashed upon the world by Joe McGuiness who stabbed--- how ironic--- Jeffrey McDonald in the back with his book FATAL VISION.

=You remember the case? Green Beret doctor kills his family. Claims it was a Mansonlike gang that did it.. but case re-opened and McDonald went down and is still in jail. The BBC did a documentary suggesting there was reasonable doubt, but no luck, the knife was firmly in the McDonald’s back thanks to Joe McGuiness.

=I can tell you this: I'd rather read Bret Easton Ellis than Raymond Carver or the dread Toni Morrison who I fear is always lurking with another book...Imperial BedroomsLife Line: 2My Prizes: An Accounting

Thursday, July 22, 2010


21 July 2010… 66 years ago this week, Count Claus von Stauffenberg tried to kill Hitler. A few years ago a good movie VALKYRIE came out and is still watchable.

Of course why would I begin with such a detail?

The dreary time of the summer.


I have been begging the LATimes to review MY LIFE AS A RUSSIAN NOVEL (Metropolitan Books Henry Holt and Company) by Emmanuel Carrere and while I have not given up hope the publication date in early August is a-comin-in and they have a new editor and who knows what direction the section is about to take and again: how to interest anyone in a book about a man who notices a little news item in a French newspaper, digs a bit deeper and then the thought why not go to that small obscure Russian town that was the site of the article and of course the next and very common thought: well, that might make an interesting movie and then on to an intriguing book because since that news item was about something in a Russian town and, you, the author Emmanuel Carrere has a Russian speaking mother who is the leading French expert on Russian matters and is a member of the French Academy, and you Emmanuel Carrere have grown up in that rarefied world of wealth and intellectual privilege with the require grand apartment and summer homes but there is the family secret of your mother’s father who was from Georgia and who was “disappeared” at the end of WW2 by the resistance as he was a translator for the Germans… and your book will be full of sex with a French woman who comes from another class and who… and there will be one incredible terrible act of real violence in that obscure Russian town and its consequences and yet: ::: a book translated from the French about something happening in an obscure Russian town….

And I have the dvd of the resulting movie RETOUR A KOTELNITCH which I am waiting to watch with my daughter who can do the simultaneous translation as I had to order the dvd from French Amazon, since it is not available in the US…
And I can well imagine the sheer jealousy of all who never gave thought to such a great title for a book…


May I suggest that you order ARRIVING IN AVIGNON by Daniel Robberechts to be published by Dalkey Archive in October. This is the most interesting book they are doing so far this season though I have not read the new Julian Rios or a few other books they are doing and everyone knows that Knopf is doing in November Thomas Bernhard’s MY PRIZES which joins PROSE which Seagull Books published this month--- which to many is the highpoint of Knopf’s FALL LIST
(as an aside Seagull is also doing the collected correspondence between Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann and a play by Peter Handke--- Seagull, based in India but distributed by U of Chicago---

But back to ROBBERECHTS: ARRIVING IN AVIGNON is the first of what one hopes will be his collected works. Totally unknown in the US and mostly unknown in his native Belgium… there is a heart breaking moment in the introduction by his publisher, who I assume in John O’Brien, who mentions meeting Robberechts’ daughter , the daughter of a suicide father, who did not have most of her father’s books and all of his books were out of print in Belgium.. but from a selection from another of Robberechts' books published in the Flemish issue of the RCF one knew that this was the real thing and that was the first inclining of what was to come.

ARRIVING IN AVIGNON, refusing to admit to being fiction, non-fiction, biography, autobiography, travel narrative, recite becomes the perfect book, a book that flies all categorization and easy description but is easily readable…the opening, “In the diary that he has kept since he was eighteen… (but we his readers know that he will be a suicide when he is 55)… as if Rimbaud had really returned and not in a parody as represented by Patti Smith’s self-ID but in Rimbaud’s total abjection though invigorated as if possessed by Celine… Robberechts will trace all his connection to this French city… it must be stated that ARRIVING IN AVIGNON was originally published in 1970.. so more strikes against it… giving lie to all those who say there are no undiscovered great writers in the world today because we are all so well informed.. any culture that considers Paul Auster, Ricky Moody, Don DeLillo and they are just the figureheads of the well known bad writers in Edward Dahlberg’s phrase… but now ARRIVING IN AVIGNON is there --- with more to come--- along with that other great and unique book Dalkey published some years ago: CHRIST VERSUS ARIZONA by Camilo Jose Cela and which I think is the best book they have published and the most essential, the most innovative, the most daring…


But at the same time you should not be tempted by another title Dalkey Archive is publishing. The more books a publisher publishes the possibility of some duds creeping in… and this season coming Dalkey Archive has found an Irish dud in the form of SLEEPWALKER by John Toomey which is nothing more than another adolescent coming of age novel set in the present time with a gesture at distancing but for the publisher of Flann O’Brien and Aidan Higgins this is an embarrassing fall into trying to find the equal of a Jay McInerney, one of those books that seeks to explain the so-called contemporary…

Until Dalkey Archive begins to publish and republish the work of Desmond Hogan , the only genuine successor to Joyce, Beckett, O’Brien, Higgins now writing in Ireland they can not be taken seriously when it comes to Irish matters….

Yes, they did do Dorothy Nelson’s IN NIGHT’S CITY at my long ago suggestion and still a sadly over-looked novel to come from Ireland when compared to the trivial exercises of Colm Toibin or the blurb writer for Toomey’s book .

But it is DESMOND HOGAN in books such as A FAREWLEL TO PRAGUE and THE EDGE OF THE CITY that claim his place in that pantheon of Irish writing to which I would also add Francis Stuart via his BLACK LIST SECTION H... there is nothing else in Ireland at the moment…My Life as a Russian Novel: A MemoirMy Life as a Russian Novel: A MemoirMy Life as a Russian Novel: A MemoirArriving in AvignonArriving in Avignon

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


It was bad enough last week to discover in the bookstore next to McDonald’s on Vitosha Boulevard in Sofia that Faber in London had published the complete works of Paul Auster in a multi-volume hard cover edition as here it sat on the shelf awaiting a buyer.

Later on the plane to New York I began to read the bound galleys of his most recent novel SUNSET PARK (to be published in the US in November). The novel concerns a man who is fixing up foreclosed houses in Florida. By coincidence his publisher is also publishing a non-fiction book about the same subject, EXILES IN EDEN, Life Among the Ruins of Florida’s Great Recession by Paul Reyes.

Of course anyone who could seriously consider Florida an Eden is probably beyond help… but by now it is all old news and there have been the long human interest stories in the quality newspapers… but book publishers seem to have an addiction to news that would not now be fit wrapper for dead fish…

But, Auster: SUNSET PARK. I will type out why exactly why I did not continue reading the novel that wants the reader to be interested in this guy Miles who has taken up with some jail-bait:

“The first time they went to bed together, she assured him she was no longer a virgin. He took her at her word, but when the moment came for him to enter her, she pushed him away a told him he mustn’t do that. The mommy hole was off-limits, she said, absolutely forbidden to male members. Tongues and fingers were acceptable but not members, under no condition at any time, not ever… Did he understand? Yes, he understood but war was the alternative? The funny hole, she said. Angela had told him all about it and he had to admit that from a strictly biological and medical standpoint it was the one truly safe form of birth control in the world. For six months now he has abided by her wishes, restricting all member penetration to her funny hole and putting nothing more than tongue and fingers in her mommy hole.”

But why stop? Isn't it obvious?: the deadness of the ear, the condescending vulgarity, the knowing nudge to the shoulder: I know these people are… and then the fact that most likely no one at the publisher even read the manuscript since they were just publishing another Auster book, another book that will be reviewed… and no matter the quality of the reviews SUNSET PARK is another bit of product to keep alive the brand, keep the brand in the marketplace, occupy the shelf space, provide an excuse to re-republish in paper some earlier equally forgettable books .

SUNSET PARK is a squeamish bit of rubbish from Paul Auster who is writing an old guy’s book about a lecher who wants to fuck a teenager who really only wants to get fucked in the ass…

AUSTER wrote one good book, THE INVENTION OF SOLITUDE and should have stopped right there in 1982. Nothing has been added to that book by all these subsequent books. He knows this...

Thursday, June 10, 2010


A letter from Dan Halpern at Ecco Press

Nothing Doing is a terrific piece of writing, Thomas - experimental in the ways we used to admire, smart, challenging. You gotta love George the psychiatrist with his suitcase of ties. And a nice touch, the footnote introducing a new character… It seems to me that you’re pursuing some serious insights about life, about the nature of immigration, s subtle book, layered, demanding, moving – the character who can’t read poetry in English, despite his fluency, because he can’t feel in English. Wonder where that came from.

It’s good, but I don’t think it fits on our list – we don’t publish this kind of fiction – and our salespeople don’t know how to sell it. Aside from the fact the fiction market is shit right now, I’d be doing you a disservice having our group attempt to sell this worthy book. I understand this isn’t the kind of response that interests you, but it’s what I’ve inherited here. I wish we could jump in and try to do something with what you’ve accomplished on the page.

I wish you luck finding an editor and publisher who knows how to make magic out of the magic you’ve spun here.


AND another manuscript to put in the pile for the children or widow to dispose of...

I have in the past had this experience. Richard Seaver wrote pretty much the same thing about the previous mansucript and some guys at Dalkey Archive wrote in the same vein.

I send a manuscript to one or two editors. That is it. And then later there is always the accident and I forget what it really feels like to wait and again I send out a new manuscript...

Where is the persistence, you might ask?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


David Markson is dead.

The news came to me here in Montecatini, near Lucca in Italy. A nice place to be aware that I am alive and he is dead.

A mean and nasty man.

I had been one of those who read the manuscript of Wittgenstein's Mistress and urged Jack O'Brien to publish it.

Markson objected to an essay I wrote about knowing him as a writer which was published in the Review of Contemporary Fiction. He threatened to beat me up... I am not kidding and he was not kidding as he was a barroom brawler or at least aspired to that role...a boozed up blowhard that gave the unlamented Lion's Head in a New York City some sort of reputation where midst Joe Flaherty and Pete Hamill he never tired of exploiting the accident of his friendship with the drunk Malcolm Lowry, a far better writer.

Monday, May 10, 2010


The Fall Dalkey Archive catalog arrives and I noticed that my book GOING TO PATCHOGUE has disappeared from the list. THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV remains within the archive in its hardcover form.

When GOING TO PATCHOGUE was published by Dalkey Archive in 1992 it had to be quickly reprinted as the publisher has under-estimated its appeal. The book was favorable reviewed in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice and Newsday. The Washington Post ran a stupid review of it buried in a weekday edition. There were articles about the book and the author in both the New York Times and in Newsday. It has been written about in a number of critical books since was seen to be part of something called Irish American literature.

So it can be said the book has a little critical bibliography attached to it.

Now it has disappeared from the Dalkey Archive.

At one time Dalkey Archive was concerned with rescuing books that had disappeared such as Season at Coole by Michael Stephens, Cadenza by Ralph Cusack, Splendide-Hotel by Gilbert Sorrentino and others.

Early on, Dalkey Archive began to publish new books and GOING TO PATCHOGUE was one of the first and so appeared in hardcover as that was seen as a way to publish new books. They also published Kenneth Tindall’s BANKS OF THE SEA but that book has also disappeared though it has not really been reviewed anywhere and DA early on gave up on it. Northwestern University Press in 2000 published a paperback version of PETKOV as it seemed to fit into their then interest in Eastern Europe.

A melancholy note. While Dalkey Archive remains a very important publisher and both of my books helped form their history and credibility, it is still sad for me to see readers deprived of GOING TO PATCHOGUE that defines in some ways the experience of travel to exotic places, that reveals the shape of that voyage, that…

The Village of Patchogue--- as such a place does exist--- does not have a government agency to help pay for the republishing of GOING TO PATCHOGUE.

So unlike most of the books that Dalkey Archive is publishing these days--- at the behest of among others the Slovenian, Estonian, Israeli, Finnish, Dutch governments--- GOING TO PATCHOGUE will be temporarily residing in a place even the Roman Catholic Church has placed under suspicion: limbo.

Friday, April 9, 2010

NOTHING DOING how it begins


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 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

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?

----too much being asked?---

Could it be believed that by being down there on the Sandspit dock I was trying to understand the goings off to Europe which I had always thought about doing while I lived in Patchogue and as being a place somewhere out there beyond Fire Island that ran parallel to the shore on which Pete Phlite and I were now standing between our cars, turning our backs to the sun to allow Karolin to take a picture of us, but in fact Europe was actually off to the left, somewhere, in the direction where the sun came up, while of late I had come back from the desert, from Arizona, from America really, as was often said, and it lay out there where the sun was now setting to our right when we turn away from the camera while suddenly a modified cigarette boat was speeding by hurling up a vicious wake?

Could it be believed as Karolin and I were driving out on the Long Island Expressway from The City and had made the turn for the Veterans Memorial Highway that arrived at an angle into the heart of Patchogue after passing the Pepsi Cola bottling plant as I had called Pete Phlite: he being the only person I still knew who lived in the village and was likely to be free since he didn’t work on days without an r in them and thus was likely to be free to meet us down there on the Sandspit dock where I could talk with him about Sean Patrick Bradford, George Kamenov and Al Wells who had been in our class but left Patchogue not to go away to college but to enlist in the Marines as he was tired and fed up with school?

Could it believed as I was standing there between our cars with Pete Phlite, shielding my eyes from the sun and looking into his eyes shielded by aviator sunglasses and pulled down baseball cap, there on Sandspit dock, I had said my friend George--- you haven't met him but I do think you have heard me talk about him--- was once sitting in the Grassroots bar on St Mark's Place in The City hunched a little towards his glass of scotch in front of him on the bar with his right hand about the glass and saying just before lifting the glass: what I have difficulty with is the great ignorance now: men think the sun rises and falls like some sort of fiery balloon for the benefit of the likes of us sitting here in this bar?

Could it be believed I then had to tell Pete Phlite as the time really had worn on down there on the Sandspit dock that George had been the best man at my wedding to Karolin in the Estonian church in The City and he had given us an oil painting depicting that church by a former patient of his who was an artist who had a series of small shows in bars around Gramercy Park and other places in The City but I couldn’t remember her name and in fact the painting wasn't very good and stayed out in New Jersey which tells you nothing really about George's taste in art or in fact anything about him other than: I did have this friend, now missed very much, which as you really do know, Pete, even if I have never ever heard you say you had missed any of the people we used to know who have died, been killed or passed as is said by more and more people?

Could it be believed Pete Phlite and I standing, sitting and the getting back into our cars to head out where we had to be getting to had moved right along from the start to the end yet it seemed so much had been left out so surely we had to get together again real soon and this was as good as any place though Pete did like to go to the Blue Point Diner in particular if you come out during the winter when the Sandspit dock as you should remember can get biting cold and you have to sit in the car with heater really going full blast because the wind can whip like a sledgehammer off the bay?

---to be going places?---

…for thy mind is very opal. I would have men of such constancy put to sea, that their business might be everything, and their intent everywhere; for that's it that makes A GOOD VOYAGE OF NOTHING Twelfth Night: II iv 75-79
---a little misplaced overture---

The other night, I was asked what is the connection in having been to Arizona, having been to London, having been to Paris and talking with Sean while George had died before the year had begun and before the going to visit with Al Wells for the first time in Delaware and being able to drive again after thirty years and this going out to Patchogue into which you put so many words while at the end of the evening you were mis-quoting < I wanted to rescue from forgetfulness > from a blurb Peter Handke wrote for: BEAUTIFUL DAYS by Franz Innerhofer: a book which by means of his language has torn not only Innerhofer and his youth from forgetfulness…

----keep all this in mind?----

Where is the plot?

You got to go to the Bible, an easy reach as you remember the story of Cain and Abel--- And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering But onto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.

---- why ----

No one has gone to jail or even brought to trial and I don’t expect given the world we are in that any of that will come to pass but over the years all of these men--- George, Sean and Al--- have been in various courts both in the United States and Europe. All of them have lived out their lives in the latter half of the Twentieth Century.

One went to the Marines because he didn’t know what to do after high school and so ended up in Vietnam.

Two of these men spent most of their lives outside the country of their birth. One of these had to flee that country.

Their lives braid themselves through my life as my own bumped against them. Place yourself once again in front of Poussin's Landscape with Travelers Resting there in the National Gallery in London those three men… look through their eyes at the funny looking clothes these viewers from the late Twentieth Century are wearing--- what is strange: no matter where you come from in Europe or America the men all dress alike


and no longer are there identifying signs revealing where a person might be coming from.

Here is Al Wells, Sean Patrick Bradford and George Kamenov. Gradually their voices will be revealed and the road will be seen.

The man in red is caught--- it could be said--- walking. His left hand holds some sort of plant or a slightly come apart wreath. A blue blanket or possibly a piece of clothing is wrapped around the stick which he carries resting on his right shoulder and held it seems firmly by his right hand. He walks very erect and is seen in profile. His head is small resting on a long neck. He seems to be too perfect in his composure… or at least, that is what my eyes tell me today. How could he ever have been… or maybe that is just an impression…

The fellow in blue is fixing or tying his sandal. His stick is leaning against an outcropping of rock and on the ground some sort of pack. His left foot is bare. Where is the other sandal? The guy walking is barefoot as is the…

The fellow in yellow is sitting on the ground or better it is a slight rise from the pathway given the angle of his body. His weight is supported by a very muscular right arm on which he is leaning so the arm becomes a striking study of musculature made visible. He is looking, on this day, in the direction of the man fixing his sandal. Of course “he” is formed by paint…

My eyes are aware of being controlled by a voyeuristic apprehension of these three men and in particular the man sitting and turning… and I wanted to add, turning and looking as I am now doing again by way of words, noticing how the man in yellow has his stick leaning against the front of his left shoulder and the stick is positioned between his legs and could be touching the inner thigh of his left leg which is bent in an acute angle backwards.

---let’s get to one of these guy, okay!---

George said he came to America with only a suitcase stuffed with neckties.

Yes, stuffed with neckties, he said, but couldn’t begin to tell anyone how many ties were in the brown suitcase because both the number, three, seemed so insubstantial when it came to trying to see how three ties could fill up a suitcase and how could anyone who hadn’t come to America with only one suitcase stuffed with ties, begin to understand how a suitcase--- even a large brown fake leather suitcase from Bulgaria--- could be stuffed with three neckties, two of which he never wore after he began to live in America, which is not to say he had ever worn those three neckties as he and his wife moved about the United States during the year and nine months before establishing themselves in Brooklyn, on the edge of Greenpoint, to be exact, a street over from McCarren Park--- though there was a moment before that when they lived at another address in Brooklyn, in a street given over to as a topical description might: light industry, in a building stuffed, George later said, with Bulgarians and you can imagine what that was like, I am sure, stuffed with Bulgarians but we are not talking of that time…

No, he wore only one of the three ties as it was hard to unpack a suitcase stuffed with three ties and he was not trying to be thought philosophical because he and his wife had flown TWA from Frankfurt, that most factual of German cities, where they had been in residence immediately before receiving the notification that their application for a visa to the United States of America had been approved after having lived--- for how many years had it been--- in Hamburg where George was an attending psychiatrist in a clinic where fresh-cut flowers were placed in each patient's room reminding visitors of the complex glimmer of a possible recovery or funeral.

And it was not that he had always ever worn those three neckties in Germany or even before in Bulgaria. He was sure of having worn one of the ties and it was that tie he was wearing as he arrived in the United States of America and which appears around his neck and under the collar of the white shirt in the photograph his wife took of him as he walked down the steps from the plane.

Later, he learned that both actions: the walking down the steps from the plane and the picture talking were very rare actions, events almost, it could be said. Katya was standing on the runway, smelling the kerosene fuel he was sure, having paused, turning telling George STOP as he was about to continue his walking down the steps having been separated from Katya by a very large man and two women who had pushed their ways in front of George, who gave way as was his wont.

Never again in all the times they were to come back from journeys abroad did any of these now three actions re-occur: the walking down the steps, the picture taking, the being separated by pushy large people.

There must have been some sort of renovation of the terminal going on and while they did not have to board a bus for a short ride to the ARRIVALS as they were familiar with in Sofia, George does not remember any obvious signs of construction but he was hardly looking out for it on this, his first arrival in The United States of America, wearing one of the three ties which he always said later filled up his suitcase.

Katya some time later must have had the snapshot enlarged into a framed 8x10 photograph. It was installed on the wall just before the bathroom door next to a drawing by Christo of an aspect of his plan to wrap the Reichstag in Berlin. One of the children had typed on faded slip of lined school notebook paper: DAD'S ARRIVAL and inserted it in front of the glass but behind the wood of the lower right corner of the frame,

The tie, at the moment of the picture being taken, was blown by the wind up to George's right in the form of an abstract representation of the letter J in the Latin alphabet.

Indeed, it was this same narrow woven wool black tie which he constantly wore all those months as they traveled about in the United States and to be scrupulous, something George did not advocate, as it only led to the dreariest of consequences, though he was not making any real argument for lying, if someone might jump on his claim. There is however a difference between lying and being scrupulous and it might be supposed in some way he did not have three ties in his suitcase if he was wearing one of them both arriving and then while traveling in the country by train, plane, bus and rented, borrowed or private automobile.

George did not have an epiphany while traveling, as had Powys, in Houston. George was not given to any sort of religious enthusiasm. The very word epiphany frightened him because of its religious overtone and while he did not think very highly of the anti-religion campaigns of the communists in Bulgaria, there was still a residual materialist component to his life as a psychiatrist and now he did believe, if he could use that word, that there was really nothing much beyond the room in which he and his patient sat, right now, pretending of course all the while, there was something beyond the room, a dire necessity for many reasons: his patients were so lacking in imagination! If only they had imagination and the ability to forget! His patients were too often gripped by memories as tenacious as a terminal cancer and held by fantasies occasionally nailing them to the floor as in the famous joke much repeated with curious variations in the cafes in Sofia when he had been a medical student and still repeated to this day, Tomov told him only recently even with the fall of the communism now more than ten years ago.

George did wonder, when he thought about it so many years later, why Powys could use a word like epiphany when describing his discovery of the absence of sewers in Houston. Powys had ended up in that city while on his own journey around the United States, a journey which turned out to be both his first and final trip around the country. It was there in Houston Powys knew why he was moving to France with his family.

At the very least in France, Powys believed then, the French would not refuse to build a sewer system when there was only a need for one every three or four years, if even then, because how could a person look forward to living in a country, living out the years remaining in a country where there was a city with many millions of people that could be built without a sewer.

However, when you arrive in a country with only a suitcase stuffed with neckties, you have only your own intelligence, George would say. You arrive with only what you have already put into your head. They could take everything away from you and they did that as far as they were able when you left a country like Bulgaria, back then, and it is hard to explain this, now, after the fall of the communism but then: you are suddenly in this country, in The United States of America, where you have to always remember you arrived with only a suitcase stuffed with neckties and you have to be always prepared to survive, once again, as you did then, as you stepped down from that plane--- it was a TWA plane, an airline long gone from the skies and how it seemed then that TWA, Trans World Airways, along with PANAM, Pan American World Airlines, were symbols of the country George was coming to and this observation, one of so many, came back to him when he came to think about his curiosity about this Powys and his being able to decide on such a radical move as he had after his trip by railroad around the United States and from that moment in Houston as Powys tried to get across a main highway now under a foot of water because that was the year of the one flood every three years or was it four years and Powys wanted to get across the highway to have a drink which he needed and when he got back to St. Marks Place couldn't get it out of his mind that there were people in this country, in the United States of America, in a rich and powerful city of the United States of America who could make such a decision that prevented him on that day from getting across that highway to have a drink after a hard day... no, it was more like days which seemed like months of traveling on the so-called Amtrak where you didn't know what would break next, which part of the train would fall silent, dark, stop working and again Powys thought there had to be some better way to live and while he was prepared to think traveling by railroad was maybe not the best way to see America and he was prepared to make allowances for all the things that didn't work on the train

he had learned to be tolerant, though that wasn't exactly the word he wanted, but anyway, he learned, somehow, as a grave digger for the Archdiocese of Brooklyn, when he was in the last years of high school, to over-look, to be prepared for nasty surprises, to the finding of things that they didn't expect to find when they went digging into these graves where surprisingly things move about which are not supposed to move about and really most of the time no one knew what was just a shovelful of earth away and later after both of the decisions were done into the past: when Powys had moved to France and when George and Katya had left Germany for The United States of America eventually finding themselves living in Brooklyn, Powys on a brief visit from Paris for the fortieth anniversary of his brother's ordination, asked George: did you think you would end up here in this bar on St. Marks Place--- or where you are living in Brooklyn?--- when you stepped down from that plane out there at Kennedy? and found yourself in a country where even the white people didn't have brains because by now I am sure you have discovered: white people in America are prepared to put up with the most awful situations if they think they are bound to get better--- which of course they are not really--- but there is no way to ever convince anyone in this country of that and you learn to be an American within an hour of landing in the United States of America, if not earlier as the world is full up of people who are destined to be Americans and are saturated with the idea life is going to get better and better no matter what either the life or experience teaches them:

isn't it a wonderful country where people in their eighties are thinking about, as they put it, career changes, though so much energy goes into not seeing what is going on as when I was on that train where at first the air conditioning broke and when that was fixed the toilets blocked up and then the kitchen no longer served food in the dining car and then they were able to serve hot food but the drinks could not longer be either heated or cooled while all the while the voice on the intercom was both apologizing for the temporary inconvenience and pointing out, you could now if you wanted telephone loved ones from the special booth in the dining room and next year Amtrak was planning to introduce on-train shopping: it went on like this for the whole journey. Every train was being run into the ground and about the only thing you could say in its favor was for the most part the trains were empty except for these clumps of negroes and they were exactly that, clumps of negroes with fixed hair, from God knows where, going God knows where and then old white couples:

is there anything uglier than an old white couple who have a sporty look to themselves?: couples, mostly two women traveling together, having chopped off the balls of the dead husbands long before they were dead and now as the husbands were really dead the women were free to do, as they said, exactly what they wanted to do and Powys listened to the one couple, a man and a woman:

the man was dressed in yellow and she had clipped off his balls--- carrying them around in a sack and he had probably even forgotten she had done this--- and the man had long ago forgotten he had ever had balls and both of them were pulling his and her carts along behind them on which oxygen bottles were strapped and they said together in almost one voice, they were on the way to some sort of special Olympics for older people not that we are that old and Papa here has a lot of pep--- and you get to compete to see who will not die this year and it could go on like all those days and yet it was in Houston when Powys tried to get across that highway, a highway that was probably not meant to be walked across in the first or second place--- there are a lot of places like that in America: when you go out to the suburbs there are all those streets without sidewalks and that tells you how you are supposed to get around in a way that is not subtle at all, Powys told George in the bar on St. Marks Place in New York City and George heard it and George was thinking as he stepped down from the Trans World Airlines plane in New York City that day, here I am, as had so many people before me--- he really did think those words to himself:
here I am, as so many of course before, I guess, he thought though wondering, a little, if they had consciously thought those words: here I am and there would be room enough for him and Katya, he was sure, it was a big country, The United States of America, and coming from a small country George knew very well what it was like to travel to a large country as when he went to Germany from Bulgaria and even earlier when he went to what was then called the Soviet Union--- that was a big country, but in some way--- he had to think about it more--- the Soviet Union seemed to be a very small country even though he knew from the maps how large the Soviet Union was but it still felt like a tiny place and surely there would be room enough for their daughter who would be born in New York and would be an American: you can tell your teacher, George told his daughter in second grade upon the announcement of an ethnic festival to be held at the local elementary school: you do not have any ethnic foods, any ethnic costumes, because you are American even though your parents were born in Bulgaria, you are an American--- even though your father arrived in this country with a suitcase stuffed with ties.

No, you don't have to tell her and you are wondering why the teacher wants you to lie about what you are supposed to be when in fact she knows it as a fact that you were born here in New York City in Brooklyn Hospital and both of your parents were speaking English you are an American and if she wants to call me I would only be too happy to tell her this but I doubt she has the time or the inclination to call anyone who questions this sort of nonsense because it seems so strange anyone would question the idea of celebrating all the wonderful contributions... but Katya is saying George should remember their daughter is only in second grade and no second grade teacher wants to think about anything beyond getting through the day without having to listen to parents who want to remind her of the world beyond the teacher's desire to get home ahead of the traffic tie-ups on the LIE and of course plenty of room even for their son because it would be unfair to the daughter to be their only child, a one child who would have no society into which to be born but with a brother she would never be allowed to just think of herself, like so many only children, but maybe, George was saying, an only child spends all of its time thinking of being an only child so it has no time for thinking about how it will get on in the world while their daughter, with a brother now a year or so later, would have to think maybe a little about someone other than herself and George was getting ahead of himself by a long way and he still had to face the ordeal of going about The United States of America during their first year--- at least not, as they say, cap in hand since he did not have a cap: hats, caps, berets, all such head coverings were a complicated business in Bulgaria and it all seemed so remote though he did notice the negroes of America had a great love for head coverings of all sorts and have always had the most peculiar desire to cover their heads though such a ramification would be a welcome respite from having to deal with people coming up to them, later, asking were they happy in New York? and hadn't they thought maybe it would have been better to have lived and been in other places in the United States of America before settling in New York City and George was trying to tell this to Powys who was still talking about the highway covered with water and how he was finally able to find a liquor store on the side of the highway where he was walking and he was lucky to get back to the train on time with his package from the package store because he didn't want to have to look for a hotel in Houston.

A few hours was enough time to see everything that was worth seeing in Houston and Powys did think it was fortunate the train was delayed for five hours in Houston for some reason though by then he no longer cared to know what was the source of the delay and he didn't have to be anywhere really on time. That was the best way to travel though he did find he was somehow absorbed by what other people were feeling about the delays and strange as it might seem some of the old people even thought they had to be someplace on time or their lives would have real problems though he did have to say it for the clumps of negroes: they just sat on their seats
like bumps on the logs they must have carried with them as a sort of Platonic resting spot because there was an art in the way they just waited, just sitting there and they did not complain, did not move a muscle of care but it could have been because we were Down South and they knew what was out there in Texas.

But what could be out there? as you say, in Texas that was not in every other state in The United States of America? George was asking and I am sure you had to hide the bottle of liquor when you got back on the train. I noticed a young man once when we were flying somewhere in the United States of America who was drinking from his own bottle and suddenly this very large man was there pointing a gun at his head and demanding that he not do that anymore to which the young man asked if he was objecting to the humming or the way I get my mouth wet?

Katya and I were in the row behind this young man who I had not noticed for most of the flight as he was stretched out across four seats. The plane was pretty empty and this was back a long time ago just after we got here in as I said 1980 and I just didn't understand what it was all about and what the young man was really saying and the man put away his gun and went and sat in the row behind us. He had been drinking because I could smell the whiskey, I think it was on his breath, like he had been drinking all day and all night and he was there I guess to protect us, a man of the law, one of those, what do you call them, sky marshals?--- we had read about sky marshals in Germany but the title seemed like something from a Karl May novel--- people in America, I know, don't read Karl May novels but I had read them in Bulgaria and in Germany but not that he was really approved of in Bulgaria because he was disapproved of by all the communists who had read him years ago when they were learning German but I had that aunt who I once told you all about who was the reason why my father wanted me to learn German and she gave me a Karl May novel: yes, I do know they are trash but trash is still readable sometimes and I wanted to look at the museum that was somewhere in Germany but I never went there because that is too much like wondering why my father knew this woman and maybe it was part of the family romance a child has that she was my real mother and since my father never ever told me she was not my mother and I am sure I asked him who she was and now of course: how did this German woman come to live in Bulgaria and live in the street where I lived? But if I had not been there on the plane I would not believe anyone who told me a story like this...

Well, I don't doubt you, Powys said. But many people would try to explain what happened to you and how you didn't understand and maybe you made a mistake or are you really sure you saw this man put a gun to the young man's head for humming and drinking from his own bottle on a plane flying or are you sure you aren't exaggerating or maybe you are making it up to make a point about something you think should have happened--- where did you say you were flying from?

It was during that year before we settled down in Brooklyn and having to make money and once you start at making money you have to continue at making money but there is a moment before you start at making money when you worry about making money and you don't have a lot of money and we didn't have a lot of money but once you stop this short part of your life and then you are making some money and worrying about paying the Petes, as Americans like to say, paying the Petes: I used to make lists of idioms so I would know how people wanted me to talk... so you start making money and you are paying your Petes and you don't have the time anymore to just travel because all your time goes to making money in order to pay the Petes that making money forces you to do.

To settle down is one of those phrases that must have been on your list of idioms, Powys is saying. I don't know Bulgarian but I know you could not say something like that in Russian or in French. You are here now in the so-called New World and that is what people do in the New World: they settle it, settle down in it like a dog going round and round squashing the grass down making a nest into which to flop and then it sticks its nose up its rear-end to sleep, making the perfect circle, the perfect example of what Americans mean when they say they have settled down and are now making something of their lives: that constant remaining frustration because the back is not flexible enough to shove the nose as far up the arsehole, pardon my English, as they would really like and that is why Americans are a people that likes to move around a lot. They might think their shit smells sweet, as Edward once said, but they just can't get their noses as far up their own arseholes as they would like.

It's always possible, George is saying to Powys, now on St. Marks Place, but it must have still been dangerous to drink on the train from your own bottle unless you had one of those little rooms they have...

No, I didn't have a couchette. I thought I'd rough it and that was a mistake--- another one of your idioms--- it is hard enough to live with your wife's snoring but to listen to a car full of snoring people as it crosses the so-called Great Plains and you are thinking where are the Indians now that we really need them, armed with hand held missiles. Just put these people out of their miseries and no matter how much one drank the train just kept going on and on--- I should have known better, I was always telling myself--- and stopping for no reason at all though once in some spot the train stopped and this family was by the side of the train at a station that some senator forced the train to stick there for who knows why and this father was shaking his kid's hand and the kid was standing tall and looking like he was going off to take it like a man and get away from that awful place and find himself naturally in some other place that was even worse--- it was all so moving: it would make you shit or throw up and so not able to make up my mind I just fell asleep thinking of a father shaking hands with a son he will never see again because the father will die in a car accident and the mother will get raped and strangled by some marauding Mexicans having a good time for the Cinco de Mayo and then they will burn the house down with all the other kids inside just for the hell of it because Spanish speaking people have a thing for fire.

I always told my brother, the priest there in Brooklyn, nothing disappeared in Brooklyn until the Puerto Ricans got there and then whole streets started to burn. The negroes like to squat. They don't like to burn--- you can say that for the negro: they do not burn each other out while the Spanish have a thing for fire and for some reason, well, the Jews do too and it is no accident that in Brooklyn they talk about Jewish lightning--- I wish I knew how to say it in Spanish as I am sure the Spanish give credit where credit is due and you know the joke about the two Jews who get together and are talking about business and one Jew talks about The Fire and losing all the stock that had just come in and other Jew is talking about the flood and all the stock that had just come in and the first Jew asks in a rare gesture of politeness, I can tell you, might I ask you a question: how do you cause a flood?

Growing up in Brooklyn you learn about these distinctions and no matter what they tell you--- you know--- they are true and the newspapers never ever are going to tell you the truth and no one will ever draw out any conclusion, in public, because if you do it in public the shit hits the fan and the resulting shit storm is of such giant proportions: everyone ends up covered in merde and while people like to play with shit they like to do it in the privacy of their own homes where they can let out their belts and really dig in, if you follow what I am getting at?

Maybe, George said wondering how he had gotten so far from that moment as he stepped down from the plane at JFK, as he was thinking, falling really, he should have said, off the plane and into this country that was to become his home or at the least the place where my children would be born and the place they could call home.

Where he came from didn't matter, really, he hoped, George would say sometimes and even now with Powys in front of him he wanted to say: yes, we do come from some place but what does it matter? you have only this moment in which you are sitting here in this bar talking with me and we are both accidents of what has happened to us and never is there any way of ever understanding, and don't think I can tell you what to understand means even in German as I could add letters and words to words building the precision for which the German language is known but it would still be unclear what anyone means when they say, I understand what you are saying.

Well... Powys is again on his train, his Amtrak train, as it made for New Orleans--- no, not his train: the train he was riding on, in, with--- while he is thinking and not happy to just be thinking, he thinks, the negroes are growing agitated. They are back in the promised land of their ancestors stirred with the thoughts that got them out of this place to the streets of Chicago and New York: you know the negroes of Louisiana ended up in Chicago and we got the negroes from North Carolina in Brooklyn: isn't it wonderful when you hear a negro in New York going on about home to North Carolina so full of pride of where they come from, back home down there, as they like to say--- not like here in Brooklyn--- you can leave your back door open and no one is going to walk in and strip the house bare but even in North Carolina, they slyly admit, things are changing and are not the way they used to be and it has something to do with all those people from Up North moving down here bringing with them... and I am thinking, Powys is saying, of the forgetfulness involved, more so than in any Irish person though no one has ever measured the ability of the Irish to either remember or forget though it is said the Irish never forget or learn anything from what they have remembered, so what's the point? but that is to expect too much of any people: no one really learns anything from history or from what is remembered, just words repeated over and over again becoming a glob of tasteless bubble gum you can't even stick under the desk.

While Powys was sitting on the train measuring heads, it could well have been--- like that Greenwich Village character who wrote a story for Ezra Pound about being sent out to North Dakota to measure heads of Indians for Harvard University--- but all that was before all of your times, Powys says quickly, I mean, the Greenwich Village stuff which I only saw the end of before the tourists and the kids set up permanent homes on the streets of the Village repeating that old song: the Village was a’changing while the only people who ever referred to Greenwich Village were--- God, who knows?--- and there was no room in the inn for any of us and while it would be easy to steal everyone's present by going on and on about the good old days there were still some characters left about in the Village, when I got here and had those rooms over on First Avenue.

One of those guys was drunk most of the time and he was always talking about measuring the heads of Indians with that other drunk who got himself killed by some sort of drifter back in the summer of love or what passed for it in New York City: boy, that was a brief season... Bergen told me this, I didn't know him myself but sitting on the train I thought it might have been interesting to get out the measuring tape and start measuring the heads of the negroes and see if Harvard University might be interested in some primary research... like when that man Carleton Coon was at Harvard--- you can't make up names like that--- sending out young men to measure the heads of Indians in North Dakota.

They don't measure heads anymore, George is saying, even in Bulgaria where the communists held on to certain theories of development of the new man, the new Socialist man who was going to run the world if only they could get the social system exactly established and then the brain would follow and you would have men who would walk naturally with chin on high, eyes looking to the future, hearts beating to a drummer that never let up the beat of the necessary production goals for whatever month we are talking about.

But in The Unites States of America I have noticed people talked about other sorts of the future and I could never figure out the American sense of time and still can't figure it out. Little children here I notice were already in mourning for what they had experienced in their childhoods, they told me, when I tried to talk to these children when I went to pick up Nikolas from his school. These little children, maybe eight or nine years old, and were already talking as if half their lives had been lived and they were wondering what had happened to the years gone by: of course I had to get used to the rituals of American life, as they told us to call them: how children graduate, is that the word, from their pre-kindergarten class and then they graduate from their kindergarten and then they are ready to enter first grade and they graduate from that class and then there is a little break and by then what can come along: everything is commemorated--- even in the sports club Nikolas joined, because his mother thought he should, there was a graduation ceremony of some sort and that was made a big deal of and you wonder when something really big comes along and there is no celebration for it--- has it really happened?

Maybe I should have read American poetry or something but I don't like poetry and people are always giving me poetry books to read. I can never really read it because I think you have to read poetry in your mother language as that is the only poetry you can really understand.

In Bulgaria there was no poetry coming from my mother and of course I had two mothers as I told you or thought I did have two mothers which is the same as having two mothers which can complicate a life but my father did not allow it to be complicated. Instead, my father, he provided shadows and shade into which I could find my own life and when I went to Sofia I did not think of these things--- even at the Medical Academy--- and when I came to The United States of America I had other things to think about which was a good thing and soon enough after Katya and I traveled about in The United States of America we had too many things to wonder and worry about that there was no time to think again and again about my two mothers or the thought I might have two mothers--- but that is more a strange sort of poetry wanting to take up a place within my memory because for the longest time nothing much happens in my life until I too took a little journey in these United States of the Americans but I didn't go to Texas, to Houston, Texas, like Powys did but to Washington for a conference on what I had been thinking about and what I talked about in Bulgaria after I went back there after the fall of the communism--- but all of that is far in the future from the moment when walking down the steps from the plane at JFK and all of The Unites States of America was before our steps, you could say if you chose to, I suppose, though there was just a little hint of that, I guess, but in the afternoon as we made our way to the customs and before, the passport office where they were to look at our papers surely as if we were criminals, I thought, as we walked through curving corridor after corridor--- of course we were criminals: that is the point of such a suspense before the presentation of our passports--- with all the people from the plane, and at each bend of the corridor large uniformed men who were always smiling for some reason and then halted where we were separated from returning citizens of The United States of America and being told, one by one to go to this sort of booth where I placed my passport on the counter but suddenly this officer looked up, from what he was reading, looking at my picture and then he walked out of his booth and I thought something truly had gone wrong and he reached out and I understood I was to shake his hand and he was saying, Welcome to The United States of America.

As quickly as the officer walked out of the booth he had returned to the booth and was pushing my passport back across the counter and was turning to the next person coming along behind me. I was looking for Katya who was stuck behind this I forget who it might be and eventually she came along, though no one had welcomed her with a handshake and she didn't really believe me and it must have been a mistake, she was saying, as we went to look for the luggage: my suitcase with the ties as I said.

I again told Katya of the officer who shook my hand with no explanation and she couldn't believe it had happened to me, though she thought she saw him do it and she thought it was probably a way they had to make sure I was of the right height as it stated in the passport and also it was a way to really intimidate people when they came to The United States of America: what better way to do this than to shake your hand but I had to tell her I didn't think it was like she was saying--- maybe the officer really did feel like welcoming me to The United States of America and there are some things you can't explain and any way it had happened and it was just one of those things, sometimes, that happen to you which maybe means something and maybe does not mean something though in this case I thought it interesting that Katya suddenly became suspicious and sounded like sentences from a newspaper in Sofia where a journalist would describe how hard it was to come to The United States of America and how Americans didn't really want anyone to come to their country and they were always suspicious of people who came from the Socialist Countries because we were bringing our ideals of how there was a better way to live and no American was eager to talk and be with people from our country because of the fear of the police and all the questions that would have to be endured if such a conversation was held.

Of course such articles were rare because they reminded people that they were not able to travel to find out for themselves what it was like to arrive in The United States of America.

Katya understood it was maybe foolish on her part but George was never ever really sure of knowing this and allowed it to pass as they gathered their suitcases: well, George gathered his suitcase and together they found themselves before another man who just looked at the form they had filled out: they declared they were not bringing any animal or plant materials, had no gifts for friends or family, had not bought anything while abroad.

The form stamped and they were waved ever so slightly with a sweep of hand to the exit.

Dutifully they found the Carey bus into the city as a German colleague of George's has instructed them to do and when they were deposited on the street perpendicular to the front of Grand Central Station they were told to walk two or was it three avenues to the west and found themselves in a large hotel which is no longer there now in the present of this writing. They had been warned that the hotel was not as bad as it looked and they would surely find it interesting as a place to look back upon when they were more established in The United States of America. It would be a good place to begin the stay in the country because you will see all the different sorts of people who make up the country and there will be many people from Europe also in the hotel--- the sort who are looking for the authentic American hotel--- so it will be a transition and you will see there are some people who live in the hotel and you can shop with them in the store next to the hotel where you can buy all the things you will need and you will not have to eat in the restaurant in the hotel which will not be appealing to you and might even remind you of Bulgaria, though this friend who said it was as sure as George would be after he looked into the restaurant on the second day of their stay. It was a very large room with a very high ceiling and tables seemed to hug the floor and everyone for some reason was huddled over their food not looking up even as the waiter placed or removed plates or when there might be a sudden scream from one of the many corners, it seemed, of the room… no one looked up because to look up was to be engaged and possibly… George was sure of this from his reading and his experience in the hospitals in both Germany and in Bulgaria: if you look in the direction of a scream you will eventually or suddenly become caught up in the life of the screamer and there is no escaping then because the look will fasten on the person replying even with only a look and no matter what you later do it was the wrong step to have taken.

So, George well understood why no one looked up when a scream went out from one of the corners and no one answered it though by holding his napkin to the side of his head as if scratching his earlobe he saw that the loud scream, belonged to a tiny well-dressed woman who was sitting by herself at a round table and on each of the three chairs about the table she had placed a yellow chicken doll that he had noticed a man selling on Times Square last night and which it seemed ugly fat girls demanded from their boyfriends as part of the down payment for what might happen later in the evening. These chicken dolls, the size of a child, were covered with rows of filmy cloth to represent feathers and the chicken's beak was bright orange and its mouth open in an appalling gesture of affection. The eyes were of a startling blue and a tiny tear was represented as falling from each of these characteristics.

The woman was at lunch with three of these objects and George, you might say, as he did to himself: surely this woman might be thought eccentric and it would all be too easy to caricature The United States of America through her as a lonely place where people were so desperate for companionship that they... but no reflection was really possibly, he had to admit, when it came to the mad: he noted this woman, went back to the possibility of staying in the restaurant but decided that he could wait to dine later.

George would remember the woman but refuse to limit his memory to such an example. The world is packed with the mad, with all those we would not want to live with though in so many cases we were already living with them and choosing not to really see who they were. If we look too closely, if we discriminate with too much scrupulosity among those who we come into contact with, if we as they say in the villages: keep pulling up the roses to see if they are doing well you end up with a fist full of dead weeds to be stuffed into your own mouth when they dump you into your final hole.

George went exploring--- self-consciously even saying: let's explore the streets--- with Katya in those first days in New York. The movies in Germany, he had to admit, had prepared him a little for his walking about the streets. He knew not to look up at the skyscrapers (he did call them that, rather saying the tall buildings--- skyscraper seemed a word you read but never spoke) and not to always be wondering about how straight the streets and avenues were and how quickly people walked, how everyone walked with an air of knowing where they were going.

However, he was not prepared for the silence of the New York streets. Never did he hear human voices. He noted this as a fact and either it meant something or it was a something for further investigation.

He did not like the process--- even then before the years had convinced him of the truth of it--- by which an experience could be turned into a word like epiphany, that same word that Powys had used so freely. The very word epiphany frightened George a little because of it religious over-tone and while he did not think very highly of the anti-religion campaigns of the communists in Bulgaria and his own children would be baptized into the Bulgarian Orthodox Church when that time came, there is still a deep--- he was aware of it--- anti-religious component to his life as a psychiatrist and now he did believe there was really nothing much beyond the room in which he and the patient sat, pretending of course, there was something beyond the room which was necessary for so many reasons.

His patients were so lacking in imagination or they had imaginations so totally un-connected to any sense of what George for lack of words, thankfully, simply described as being in the real world without worrying about how to go about defining any of those words: the real world--- if only his patients had the ability to forget: wasn't that the first hallmark of a genuine imagination… to forget and then invent… so gripped they were by in-action or often action so frantic as to be a sort of in-action wearing away the earth from under their moving feet , down so deep, they could be said to be digging their own graves.


But George is demanding more attention and Caphart is nudging himself into the tale and wants to get on with the lash across the backs of those recalcitrant obstreperous sacks of work who thought they could escape their fate * and George is saying the lash never leaves the world --------------- and even in the camp in Bulgaria the superintendent would initiate his son into the routine and place him in such a way that his coat would be speckled with the clubbed flung blood…

To have a grown son who for years had been going on about how I had abandoned him to his mother who did not want to be a mother, who so quickly tired of the tedium yet somehow she had raised him as best she could with no help from you which even if it was her addled decision to keep me in the world should have demanded of you some sort of human response.

Nothing is what he got and nothing I gave.

That is one version but no worse than my telling the mother of two children…

----is this foreshadowing or personal indulgence of a voice wanting to be heard----

Quickly, George was a book buyer. I would see him sometimes after he had come from The Strand with a new edition of the stories of Tolstoy or a classic history of Rome or a complete Shakespeare that was actually well printed and readable: he bought these for his children and while I do not know if they will ever read them I have bought them and they are on the shelf. That is what a father is supposed to do even if he knows they will never read the books. I didn't read the books my father had bought for me. That did not prevent me from buying books for the children.

The books would be on the table in the kitchen until Katya came home if George had returned early that day from his patients. She would notice the little pile of books when she came home, why have you bought even more books for the children who have no interest in them and have never opened a single one of them. You pile them on the shelve and I noticed you bought a second copy of The Three Musketeers as if a second copy would have a different effect on…

George did not argue. There was nothing to be said and while he knew, silence is the most awful weapon, there were times when he simply did not know what to say and even after listening for so many years and this is what people found strange: he did not remember what people said. He was not supposed to remember what people said. That is what fiction writers do and then do something with those memories. His patients said things and the saying was in their own interests. If he missed something, he knew, from all the years, whatever it was would be said again and if for some tiny reason it was not said again it was of no importance.

People repeated themselves. They certainly did not realize how frequently they repeated themselves.

However George resisted as well as he was able the temptation to give into totally forgetting what people said. He did know what people were saying and while he did not keep notes, and that was a failure on his part, a Balkan sort of laziness, he might even say---it was not a Turkish form of laziness.

Powerful people were always forgetting things. The powerless forgot and forgot and then were suddenly beaten over the head by what they had forgotten and turned on their tormentor with great claims to having remembered every single slight, ever slip of the tongue, twist of the blade.

The children had their busy lives and he would not insist upon the books. The books would be available and just this availability seemed such a pathetic reason he used it only once and Katya looked at him with that look--- how well he knew it--- reminding him, she was the one who made the bigger income in spite of having no education.


George wanted to see me at the Grass Roots. On Tuesday not like the usual Wednesday. He had called, was I planning to be there on Wednesday? Are you sure you will be there? Can you be there on Tuesday? Will the others be there? I have something to ask you, both.

Being of sound mind. I qualify, do you think?

Here, right now in the Grassroots?

Never did George ask questions he didn’t have the answers for. He was polite in that way. To ask a question was to show either some sort of respect or just simple trust. He would never ask a question with no possibility of an answer. What is the point of asking such questions?

Why do children die?

The perfect way to end the possibility of talking.

What is going to happen?

I am going into the hospital. They are going to replace my heart valves with pig valves. A routine operation, the doctor says. For you I said and the doctor said yes for me and you know the consequences and the risks and what will happen if we don’t do the operation and I told the doctor I knew what would happen if he did the operation and I know what will happen eventually to me, of course, and he said that is for everyone and you are no different except you know it more clearly.

I can die right now or right then on the operating table or after the operation or in three weeks or in eight months or in ten years…

Like everyone, the doctor said.

Except I am the one who is going to be opened up.

That is true.
The operation didn’t kill George.


Pages of …

It is the futility, George was saying, a patient comes to me and tells me his story, no, that is not exactly right because it is better to say, a patient comes to me and tells me and tells me.

I listen to him and it is in what I can not tell him there is the possibility of his life.

Think, George says, if I had said, a patient comes to me and tells me his story and tells me his story again and again or he tells me again and again his story.

Of course it is obvious, is it not obvious? a patient tells the story and he tells his story over and over again for years in the most ideal circumstances.

(You have heard this, George says with his two hands in front of him as if forming a parenthesis, all your life. It so common that: to suggest otherwise is to be thought obvious and stupid and even patients will perform so faithfully their assigned role)

Naturally, George would pause, drink from the Scotch in front of him, finding it empty puts the glass down on the bar top and with a shy sort of gesture involving the slightest movement of the second finger of his right hand begins to try to catch the easily distracted eyes of Bobby and while it is not possible as in the 55 Bar in desperation to call from the payphone in the back to the phone behind the bar in order to speed the movement of bartender from one end of the bar to the other…

It is the futility, George is saying, again to me, a patient brings to me what he thinks is his story and it is in the telling of it---

However, can I say that? he has to come to realize

if it is only a story there is probably no hope for him, the futility of the story--- the storying of his life is such a powerful and ever thickening shell encasing him in the miserable situation that has found him:

but at least it is his story, but at least it is his story, his sole possession: he is adamant in this--- this man has in his possession all that the world has to offer otherwise he would not be able to afford to come to see me.

I have never had a patient who has ever missed a meal in his life even if he is dressed in rags or verbally proclaims his poverty or a financial situation becoming impossible: how they do like to say that all too often as they write out the check or say that the check will be coming from a parent, a lawyer ---and I listen, I listen and if I ever indicate any of this, I might as well shove him into a hole in the ground, off a tall buildings, cut his throat, wrist.

Occasionally a crack might develop in the story so, the tiniest sliver of hope appears…

Oh, please don’t remind me of how contaminated hope has become: a steel jaw in Svabodna Park pointed to the sky.

---so where are we?---

That would seem to be so obvious?: near Apache, near Ajo, near Douglas, near Hermosa Beach, near East First Street in New York, on the way to the Salton Sea: had we been to Sofia? Or Dublin… how peculiar the expectations of travel books: going from place A to place B and then there are those mixing everything up and those sorting out everything and pretending to have you going along with the guys travelling and suspending your belief as to who is doing the writing down while fending off the lions, beggars, nasty cops out for a payoff or the old man renting a twelve year old boy for the pleasures…

Who is this we?

Near Nogales, near Barstow, near Twenty-nine Palms, near Patchogue, near Bellport, near Tombstone, near Sells…

Not looking for fire. Not looking for fire.

---that’s a pretty good allusion--- if I say so myself---

At first I thought I would like to have my body end up in the Tombstone city cemetery, not to be confused with Boot Hill, which is no longer receiving the dead.

Then I thought of the cemetery on the road from Ajo to Sells, but that is within the Tohono O’odham Nation and they have not made up their mind as to whether they are interested in the world beyond the reservation or even in wanting that world to come visiting let alone as serving as a place for the foreign dead.

Far from Arizona I had been visiting Wodehouse and she took me walking in the woods and fields out behind her parent’s house in Vermont. We stopped in a shady spot and she said this is where my sister is buried. A slight depression in the ground now that she had said this.

Because my family has lived for so long on this land they had permission to continue to use it as a cemetery…

When Joan killed herself…

Not like most women, she used a gun

Our unrelenting father

People said was the reason

No cremation

Just into the ground

No box

And Wodehouse said--- as she always did--- I will outlive you. You were born with those rotting genes about which you can do nothing: genes that will hollow out your life, unlike mine which will keep me in the world.

Joan decided otherwise.

…although cardinal directionality is ritually and pragmatically of paramount importance in Navajo culture, almost no native place names known to me include designations as to east, south, west or north--- the exceptions being application of ‘eastward’ and ‘westward’…
BY Stephen C. Jett

If the sandal strap had not broken, if I had not lost the other sandal, maybe I never lost it and it is just over there out of sight, and I will not give into what that guy is wanting, is the phrase badly translated::: as I was looking at him from under my eyebrows:::: as if your eyes can be somewhere else, who does he think he is, who is this I, this your, this… maybe the strap did not break but had become loosened with my walking.

copywrited 2010 THOMAS MCGONIGLE