Tuesday, January 18, 2011

THE LEPER'S BELL: what new and old books tell us

"There is no literature anymore, there are just single books that arrive in bookstores, just as letters, newspapers, advertising pamphlets arrive in mailboxes."
— T├Ánu ├Ľnnepalu (Border State)


For $3.30 plus postage you can buy the collected works in hardcover of Jay Cantor.

Do you remember his works: The Death of Che, Great Neck, Krazy Kat, On Giving Birth to One’s Mother, The Space Between : Literature and Politics?

I am thinking about him because like Leopold Bloom I was looking at the book carts of dollar books in front of the Strand and found GREAT NECK.

Here is a man who is a tenured professor at Tufts who runs a program in creative writing. He is also a MacArthur Fellow and as such is certified to be a genius.

He has written a comic book that is to be published in the Spring.

Great Neck is 703 pages long and published by Knopf in 2003. The copy I purchased from the Strand was unread.

I stopped reading

The leper’s bell was heard before the leper appeared. But today it seems that the leper bell has acquired multiple voices and publishers ever at the ready for the next or last thing… and of course compassion is the order of the day but what to make of LOUD IN THE HOUSE OF MYSELF Memoir of a Strange Girl by Stacy Pershall… who you will be happy to know is an artist and a belly dancer living in New York City.

28 people are credited by the author for helping her being her book to market and that does not include anonymous others and beasts…

The woman got a lot of problems but her prose is very orderly: “Still, I spend a lot of time wondering if I’d have been a borderline if I’d been raised by liberal artists in New York City. In Prairie Grove, if you don’t bow your head and pray to Jesus you’re culturally transgressive. In New York, I have yet to hear anyone say grace before every meal, but my parents pray before eating a McDonald’s cheeseburger…”

A good line and sure to get a chuckle in parts of New York City but I wonder if she would get a laugh at the storefront churches down here on the lower east side of Manhattan?

But it is the orderly prose that has been carefully prepared by her publishers at Norton which is the problem…

The leper’s bell

If someone you love dies, you mourn . If you are a writer you then probably write about it. Even James Joyce did this. You might remember his beautiful little poem on the death of his father and the birth of his first grandson.

The concluding lines:
A child is sleeping:
An old man is gone.
O, father forsaken,
Forgive your son!

The poem is a model of what ought to be done.

If one is writing prose, Uwe Johnson’s memorial to his friend Ingeborg Bachmann, A TRIP TO KLAGENFURT In the Footsteps of Ingeborg Bachmann, is a suitable example.

80 or so pages and we feel both Johnson’s personal loss and the loss to the world at large but we are given reasons for feeling this grief. The sculptured prose, the shaping, the selection of detail and the brevity all contribute to making Johnson’s book a model memorial.

Sadly, Francisco Goldman in SAY HER NAME chose to go simply with the emotion, with the feeling and allowed the words to flow on and on…

Starting in promise with a series of quotes which sadly go down hill into banality, but the start is from Waiting for Godot:

Vladimir: Suppose we repented…
Estragon: Our being born?

Goldman’s own text also begins in promise: “Aura died on July 25, 2007. I went back to Mexico for the first anniversary because I wanted to be where it had happened at that beach on the Pacific Coast. Now, for the second time in a year I had come home again to Brooklyn without her.

Three months before she died, April 24, Aura had turned thirty. We’d been marred twenty-six days shy of two years."

There are a few more little snips and then as they say the plunge, fall, descend into a cellar of the text. Opened at random: “That first winter of Aura’s death I was fixated on not losing my gloves, my hat, or my scarf… “

350 pages and it seems Goldman has been a guest in Berlin, in Mexico and continues I guess to live and possibly teach in New York… the book comes with many blurbs…

On and on.

He is evidentialy a man of feeling but he is still able to operate in the world with some efficiency, it would seem. Goldman is a fortunate man. But now he has to carry this book around on his back. Might it not have been better to carry the memory of his love since he has replaced this love with this book, a book of 350 pages about himself, which is perfectly sterile.


Those dollar book carts also provided: THE SECRET LIFE OF OUR TIMES. New Fiction from ESQUIRE edited by Gordon Lish. Introduction by Tom Wolfe and dedicated to Lish’s son who is named Attituc. Lish mentions Captain Midnight and he became as I remember it, Captain Fiction, and charged rich people a lot of money to listen to him and to read their ”fiction” --- the bait being he was an editor at Knopf and if you kissed the magical prose orifice you got a book published but then he ran into accounting problems and what happened to Gordon Lish? which echoes a novel by Charles Simmons in which the refrain is Who the fuck is Harold Brodkey?

Tom Wolfe mentions in his intro: “ I do not detect the slightest shred of despair. I detect something buoyant and fun-loving.

This is in 1973.

Now, you know why something was going to go wrong. Esquire, Lish, Wolfe prided themselves on picking the best writers, writing available.

Let’s make list.

Raymond Carver (2 Stories), Don DeLillo, Joy Williams (2 stories), Bruce Jay Friedman, Joyce Carol Oates, Bernard Malamud, GABRIEL Garcia Marquez, Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, A.B. Yehoshua, Richard Brautigan, John Barth, John Gardiner (2 stories) Gail Godwin, John Irving, Hilma Wolitzer, Raymond Kennedy, Earl Thompson, William Harrison (2 stories) Richard Brautigan, James Purdy, David Ohle, David Huddle, Michael Rogers, John Deck, James S. Reinbold (2 stories), Jerry Bumpus, Robert Ullian, Thomas Bontly, David Kranes, Alan V. Hewat

I have arranged the names from the familiar, the vaguely familiar to the…

Of course we are all destined to be forgotten but already some of these names are forgotten except to their few close ones… but these were thought by GL and TW to be the future or at the very least a marker of that moment 1973-7, no despair, buoyant, fun-loving.

We can see now the perils of trusting those who are : fun-loving and buoyant and not given to despair.

A page by Dahlberg, Kerouac, Burrough, Wescott, Julian Green…

I know or knew a few of the less known names in this list: William Harrison taught at the University of Arkansas for many years and had no interest in what I was writing, but he was well liked by George Garrett and Tom Whalen: he had some very popular novels but then dropped to the side… much in the way of how it happens in Hollywood: one day they stop returning your phone calls… it is not because of any great failure but something happens and the phone no longer rings and eventually: I wonder what happened to?... He wrote a novel about a suicide plot of students at the University of Chicago, IN THE WILD SANCTUARY. which should have been made into a movie but that didn’t happen… he began writing novels set in Africa, realistic novels with movie potential… and I guess he will be best known for ROLLERBALL which was made into a movie… he was incredibly handsome, movie star looks, rare in the world of writing

Robert Ullian was a friend of David Black who was one of the very few of the people I met when I came to NY who went on to great success not with his books of which there were many and still of much interest but as a TV writer and producer… so made lots of money… got awards for Law and Order. Miami Vice episodes… you can look him up in IMDB… but he is one of the few who I thought would write a great book… he read much more smartly than I did and was much more intelligent: I still remember him talking about how Nabokov did it… I even went to a freshman comp course he taught at one of the city colleges… he wrote and wrote and got awards for journalism but that real book has eluded him--- he tried with a book about his father: a detail of which I remember, the father hitting someone who was tormenting him and this person in turn permanently paralyzed--- that certain nightmare for anyone who had a relative who had polio and seeing people who were paralyzed… but it was the matter-of-fact cruelty of this moment in the book that has lingered all these years and I am sure DB has long forgotten in… but has gone across into the land of TV and movies but he has that lingering understanding that even more than the book writers: how perishable it all is…:

I forgot … Robert Ullian? I don’t know what happened to him--- Richard Elman said his family sod mattresses or something: how’s that for idle gossip?

Well, anyway, Ullian and a guy named Craig Nova and William O’Rourke were friends of David Black… Nova was married to Irini Spanindau and that ended… she became a Knopf writer… and he went off to the wilderness after writing three fierce little book sbut he quickly started writing novels that were supposed to be popular…

William O’Rourke was a disciple of Edward Dahlberg and wrote a very good firt novel MEEKNESS OF ISAAC and then some powerful essays and then seemed to move aside after some “popular” novels and ended up at Notre Dame, at least with a warm room and a place to go for some hours every week as a professor… he does political writing or commentary…

David Huddle used to invite me and David Black over to his apartment on West End Avenue where we tried to write a group porn novel inspired by both Anthony Burgess’s suggestion and the success of a novel by some Newsday writers… David had been a torturer in Vietnam.. sorry ,interrogator, in Vietnam since he had a little college.. but he got the story in this anthology published and got tenure at the University of Vermont…. He taught creative writing for 30 some years and I guess still does… he keeps writing poetry and stories and novels… but they all avoid the central event of his life: what he did or didn’t do in Vietnam, which is probably understandable…. But he is the epitome of the cheerful, the posiitve, the friendly...


“I do not detect the slightest shred of despair. I detect something buoyant and fun-loving.”

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


---scanned to be available, to be part of something much longer or shorter, a life tangential, intercepted, intercepting, as a way to or from, constantly the double vision---

In a magazine looked at in the bookstore on St Marks, George Garrett is to edit an issue of Southern Writing and I'm thinking as I walk home along Second Avenue, now remembering walking home along Second Avenue because already it was last week this is happening, this walking, however it is now weeks ago and eventually when this is done, this writing, it will be months ago and then years later to be read...I know or knew George Garrett and last saw him maybe four years ago (then) in The West End Bar up on Broadway across from Columbia, in there, at the bar, standing with back to the food counter, drinking I was, soda water with slice of lime and George was knocking back a bourbon or it could have been a Scotch though I am sure it wasn't a beer or A Scots or a gin and something...The West End...I had lived around the corner from it thanks to George who got me a fellowship to Columbia, now almost twelve years ago,(then) to come up from Virginia for the two years to get away or rather to move away from The Bulgarian who was going to stay on at Hollins College and there was nothing for me to do in Virginia and George himself was leaving town to go further south, closer to the clay of Florida, no, they ain't got clay in Florida, clay is for Georgia, but I have him getting closer to THE FINISHED MAN, had to look up the title, climb on the chair because the Garrett books are up on the top shelf due to the rigor of the alphabet, that book is very rare...off the subject, as we say, okay, I'm around the corner from The West End of Kerouac fame, got to mention that, don't ask why, please, something I do know for sure, the last stop in the night after hitting The Gold Rail, now turned into a chink place with plastic lace curtains, and Forlini's, a mafia heroin in the bathroom drop, but serving maybe the best veal in New York according to this Rumanian guy who now lives in Washington, now a little to the right of The Klan...The West End was the last stop just after two in the morning and sometimes it was three in the morning, though
this last time I was seeing George it was sometime in the afternoon,maybe even as early as one and I was thinking that was about the time I was in there up front, crying, even, it was awful, in a front booth because of the available sunlight, reading, over and over the first paragraph of Issac Singer's OLD LOVES and it must have been due to Lucja or that other woman who stole my inscribed copy of Dahlberg's BECAUSE I WAS FLESH

but remember this was myself walking back from the bookstore on St. Marks with the idea of The South and how in Ireland they refer to The Republic as The South and just yesterday (repeat first paragraph for detail of time) not going into which yesterday, I was told people in The North say they are going up to Dublin even though they are in fact going south to Dublin... this had come up because this Irish poet was reading in New York and when I asked him what he was going to do next, said he was going up to Washington... I corrected him, in New York you say you are going down to Washington... though if you lived in The South you could say you were going up to Washington--- or going up North which was what George allowed me to do, go up North to Columbia and leave Lilia st Hollins, not leave her behind, just leave maybe for both our sakes, leave, no, move apart and hope time would take care of, but it don't work like, and I was just thinking, if I am going on 38, Melinda is going to be 36 and she has

this is very subjective
where is the reader's interest?

a kid and a husband with a hearing aid who the last time I saw them was then celebrating, he was, not having to pay alimony to his third wife who had just died from cancer, such an end

try to imagine Petrarch or Dante coming up with such an end to the heart burst with love, sitting those nights while my parents were in shopping and I in the car waiting and wish I was not alone and Melinda was out there...

so Dublin has been suggested, hinted at, if I would drag in popular critical language, and I am not teasing it out. too much, now, however, there has been no contact with George for years because either he originated or just picked it up when he was there, the policy of Hollins College professors to like to get letters coming but write in the newsletter that we are to keep those letters coming but they as in all the years gone by, you can't expect to get an answer, sorry, but that is just the way and they each have their individual reasons but I guess it just comes down to the waste of energy, something like reading magazines and how once began there is no end to them and you get nothing from a magazine: so much cutting, cut and cut...but I ain't about to give you the English sermon against new books as being like buying gin in a pub: always overpriced and shortshotted...while getting from Hollins to Columbia serves me up the chance to link Johnny Greene of Greene County, Alabama with John Green met in Dublin...but first Johnny Greene was up in New York at Columbia University writing and doing research on his recent past in the civil rights movement and holding up his end of The Gold Rail Bar---bar now gone into a Chinese restaurant chain...just the other day walking passed and on the spur of the moment I was walking in and sitting up at the bar to look out at the sidewalk and street and how bright the sun is in the afternoon at that bit of Broadway: Lois who stole the Dahlberg book comes in--- she had the last name of the man who wrote THE SEVEN WHO WERE HANGED and it seems she is also now but a shade on a memorial site---

and Johnny Greene walks passed to take a table at the back of the room: to be hated by the whites and blacks back home, a Greene of Greene County, Alabama, and for all the wrong reasons and he once described the role of the cousin in the sexual rites of The Deep South: having no cousins I can only listen with envy... much like all those boys who have gone to fuck in motel rooms or in the back seats of Chevys with the woman's pants hanging from the ankle because you never know, silly boy, when you're gonna have to pull trou and make a quick getaway, little kids being the worst of the lot...but better than the kids who piss from the balcony
of theatres in Dublin on the smooching couples in the stalls...you can explain away hickeys and lipstick but the smell of urine on your coat as usual, just back from the cleaners, a once a year activity.

Talking about Dublin as if you couldn't tell...and John Green drank for a time in O'Dwyer’s, there on the corner of Leeson Street and The Green and moved across the street to another pub because he was now playing Gaelic football and was said to be quite good at it and even his lessons in the Irish language were said to be going good... going WELL,dummy! if you had done more than just buy the Irish grammar book and IRISH MADE EASY...you wouldn't feel so left out, so cut off from those articles in THE IRISH TIMES (this article was transmitted in Irish and translated here in the Dublin office into English)...I don't know my grandfather's name....The McGonigle grandfather, the one who came over from Ireland, shipped over since he came as a young teenager to work...sent out to America, he was, the whole world for
his asking...and with about as much luck as the coloured guy standing down in front of the gated supermarket on Second Avenue looking up:


but I ain't looking for the moon or even an acre of land just to bring into this room either of the Green(e) boys and I am not about to forget I did go to see Julian Green in Paris since he was the only American in the French Academy and I had liked his diary and... this gets too far from the point which is a way of saying I have gone too far from The South and am stuck with no, I am not stuck with,rather growing old with: I had been able to talk with Johnny Greene in New York about my year in The South at Hollins College and that lead to thinking that John Green in Dublin had a father who was something in the military and was living in Arlington or one of those other military suburbs around Washington--- quick change of gears--- once knew a girl now a woman at Beloit College and this is around 1964 or 65 or maybe even as late as 65 or 66 because I know I was living in North Hall and her father was a pilot for the Strategic Air Command flying around and around in circles over North Dakota... I am not about to tell you about the daughter of the Senator from North Dakota...leave it, leave it alone, please, leave it alone...her Dad was flying, she said, as we lay upon the made-up bed, around and around...the linen had just been changed for the week, waiting--- that was why it was just made up--- for the command. . .I saw no point in making up a bed, Mom always made up the beds, for well, I was also going to excuse myself for talking about this girl, but back then she was knowing this other guy, so anyway, we were lying on top of the made-up bed, the lights were out we could hear kids pass on the walk in front of the window. . . our hands were touching, warm, hot, damp, flesh, wet, don't worry no clothing is gonna come off, finger inserted under buttoned shirt, behind belted pants: it was all so uncomfortable but neither of us could just take our clothes off and jump into bed then there is a big gap looking back that is and she has gone off to Chicago with this guy and he bought her a ring in Woolworth's and they said to everybody that they had gone to Chicago and gotten engaged and had stayed at this nice hotel and then went to the museum and David wanted to look at the Crucifixion scenes, wanting to see how exact medically they were... she disappears from the story and David years later will be the one who fills out a statement saying he will guarantee Lilia's stay in the USA since he had a job and bank account and I didn’t have either, in the USA, us living in Dublin, not having seen John Green in some time

so this does tie in Hollins College and you thought I was just on a long-winded round about as a way to getting you no-where-fast. . .Johnny Greene, last I heard was back Down South on the masthead of INQUIRY (at the final typing he is off it) though I had always thought he was of some sect on The Left. . . could have been the distortion of the drink--- and as I am typing this again in something called the present--- at this moment--- Johnny Greene died of AIDS after writing something about it in PEOPLE---

but back: and my waiting to play Kit Marlowe in the back of The Gold Rail, George enters from the sun, with knife in eye socket, on the other hand, maybe, we were agreeing all along and just didn't know it about what how can I say at such a late date was it the other afternoon at Frank's Roadhouse, down the road from Hollins, I was sitting there with John Currier and Mike Mayo, I was telling George as I was raking his leaves, drinking a small Rolling Rock, this black guy, or coloured guy or negro shuffled himself into the bar through the back door. These other guys sitting on the other side see him when he finally gets himself up to the bar and yell, Hey, Rastos you got to have some money if you wants a beer. I have it, he shouts back and starts to go through his coat and eventually pulls out this woman's purse. One of the guys sees it and yells, You fool around with those women, you're gonna get knots all over your head. There's a pause. Theys don't call them knots no more, Rastos says, They call them no-you-donts.

those panties… remember those panties? hanging on the ankle of that woman will just have to wait for another time. awful trying to find your life in the alumni
magazine? or looking up biographies of writers known just to remember which ones are the enemy bang down the memory bank to Trieste and getting off the train and the rush to find the canal that gave the name of Little Venice to Trieste and couldn't find the house where Mr. Joyce lived but anyway George had written about this city last one visited before heading off to Sofia and the meeting with Lilia on Botev Boulevard which will though George never asked Lilia if she had been to Trieste maybe he wasn't interested in comparing geography lessons though he did know where Bulgaria was beyond saying it was east of the statue for the wreath for Garibaldi which is better than most Americans who I tell calmly: Bulgaria is north of Greece, east of Yugoslavia, somewhat south of Hungary and a little to the west of Romania all more or less; of course north of Turkey less more or less because Frank's Roadhouse ain't there anymore: soft music in the cocktail lounge, please, getting in ten frames of bowling before church, heavy on the whiskey, Joe, light on the ginger, while just down from the guy who is musing on the days of the journey to the moon are more guys standing in front of the liquor store who have already said as I pass

"I am tired off"

"Yes, I am tired off, too"

"Is this Nighttrain?"

"No, this is the real Thunderbird."

"Better watch out for them birds, they’ll crap all over your head.”

Which is where this should end, but BUT I didn't work in the fact, are you chewing your cabbage twice could be because when I lived around the corner from The West End where I am still standing with George, I had a Japanese room-mate who told me Japanese Moms are always telling their little children to chew each grain of the rice three times to get all the flavor: from on the first chew, nothing, to the second which is sour to the third which is sweet and how many times have I used George's line of poetry: when the heart breaks it doesn't make a sound, there it goes again. me back there in the Rialto Theatre in Patchogue watching what I later found out to be a movie written by George, THE PLAYGROUND, that clapboard house near the canals in Los Angeles how important those canals in Trieste, that canal in Trieste which is another story of waking up in the morning light not yet in the sky with a South African woman in a beach house and this Swedish guy still had a bottle of wine so we three go walking along the coast road looking for the boat to Pula... having turend from the direction of Miramar, where the widow of Maximillian...

So, still in The West End George Garrett takes a sip of that drink ice has melted a bit there was this guy from Patchogue who was telling a story and the way he was telling the story was another way of describing the guy he was telling the story to and I guess about