Before ONE:::::: on the E train, NYC, 21 February, 2012 around 130PM not a single newspaper being read. Electronic gadgets and actual books. Later talking with Hughes P. Garcia, editor and founder of ARTERY, an electronic journal of art and culture (www.arterynyc.com) who is saying, I remember the day in 2000 when I did not buy the New York Times. I had been buying and reading it every day since I arrived in New York City in the early 1970s. Of course I look at it now online.
Before ONE:::: Edward Burns has been showing me some of the letters that he is editing between Hugh Kenner and Guy Davenport. A book to be one of the most important books of letters to be published. Both authors while not as well known as they should be are superb letter writers… and the book becomes at least for me a shadow reproduction of the time when I was first really reading, learning to read as a so-called adult. The books and ideas they discuss create a now written commentary on that time from the late 50s into the 60s,70s,80s…I would justify the genius of the book in one sentence from Kenner to Davenport 9 March 1963: WHOLE POINT OF A BOOK IS WHAT HAPPENS IN THE FIVE MINUTES AFTER ONE HAS FINSHED READING IT
ONE. Samuel Beckett to Robert Pinget: Don't lose heart: plug yourself into despair and sing it for us.
TWO. Found myself again quoting from NOTTURNO by Gabrielle D’Annunzio who you might remember was a romantic flamboyant Italian poet novelist and dramatist at the turn of the century (!900).. the sort now long out of fashion, cut in the mold of Byron.. active in World War One as a pilot…as remote from later Italian poets such as Montale as one can imagine.. closer to Pasolini in the confusions of his life. Injured it seems in a propaganda flying mission against the Austrians. D’Annunzio was forced to lie in bed in a darkened room, forbidden to move so as to prevent the detached retina from fully detaching and blinding him…
But that is just biography and I wasn’t quoting the biography but the lines from NOTTURNO… translated by Stephen Sartarelli. Published it must be said heroically by Yale University Press in its Margellos World Republic of Letters Books...a rare exception to the usual political correct translations that make up so many of these series… probably an accident, it must be said.
A meditation on the usual things, death, sight, night, but while occasionally the language gives way to his moment, a moment before the purifying flame of Ernest Hemingway and TS Eliot changed how we read, but once that is admitted what remains is as gripping… you must get the picture. A man confined to bed in a darkened room, his eyes bandaged, told never to move, to refrain from talking… but the lines in no particular order:
Everything is dark. I am at the bottom of a hypogeum.
I am in a coffin of painted wood, narrow and fitted to my body like a sheath.
The other dead are brought fruit and focaccia by their families.
I, the scribe, am given the tools of my office by my compassionate daughter
I am thirsty. I ask for a sip of water.
The nurse refuses as I am forbidden to drink.
“You shall quench your thirst with sweat and tears.”
The sheet sticks to my body like the shroud that swathes the salt-speckled drowned man hauled to shore and left on the sand until someone comes to identify him, to close his frothy lids sand bewail his silence.
I am blindfolded,
I lie supine in bed, my torso immobile, head thrown back, a little lower than mny feet.
I raise my knees slightly, to tilt the board propped up on them,
I am writing on a narrow strip of paper with space for one line. In my hand is a soft-leaded pencil. The thumb and middle finger of my right hand rest on the edges of the paper and it it slide away as each word is written…
The room is devoid of light. I write in the dark. I trace my signs in the night which lies solid against both thighs like a board nailed in place
Then I remembered the way the sibyls used to write their brief auguries on leaves to be scattered by the winds of fate.
He looks at me from the depths of a desperate sadness.
THREE. NOTTURNO is unimaginable in a world of poetry dominated by saps like Galway KInnell, Philip Levine, Sharon Olds, Mark Strand, C.K. Williams… how many years they have spent teaching kids to write poetry like the poetry they write since these students are supposed to pay the constant flattery of imitation and who then In turn can be imitated and these saps themselves writing and writing and living in the academic splendor of their uselessness… and the hordes of lesser names no better no worse but all of them teaching teaching and living lives of manufactured unease for finally with tenure… never again a single worry not even a doubt when the collected poems will appear in how many hundreds and hundreds of pages never really to be read like those millions of volumes of the collected writings of the various communist bosses in Eastern Europe… that is what these collected poems feel and are like… pages and pages of poetry… and and
FOUR. A secret of Dalkey Archive is contained in 4:46 by Carlos Fuentes Lemus.. the collected poems of Carlos Fuentes’s son who died at 19 of the complications of hemophilia and meningitis and HIV… genetics, plus accident and thus an early death: some poems, scraps of films and photographs all enabled by the fame of his father… but the poems are readable and come with an afterword by Juan Goytisolo… but death is ever present and no matter the connections, the privileged life.. no minimum wage job at McDonalds or at the local supermarket… but the book is a monument and one does not begrudge anyone a monument, even a monument as fragile as a thin book of poems, so one does not envy the marble tombstones or even the plastic flowers that decorate the soon to be swept away graves one sees in southern Arizona where the constant wind becomes the perfect mourner treating each in the same sure way
While his father is well published, respected, honored… but there is about him a perfection for he was such a good subject for an interview profile I did once of him for Newsday— every line he said was calculated to make my little job easier so nothing to complain of… or even to be resentful of… and even fond memories of reading TERRA NOSTRA in Istanbul in 1984… in a English paperback… can take away the suspicion that Carlos Fuentes is finally not a very great writer… as everything is too perfect, too calculated to fulfilling of all the normal expectations.. Carlos Fuentes is the perfect A student, the perfect Summa Cum Laude student, the perfect diplomat… with no secret life.. no daily church going like Queneau to be revealed at his death.. he is not Juan Carlos Onetti or Juan Rulfo to take two in contrast… but his books and his fame lend credibility to Dalkey Archive but his son’s book has more life in it, strangely, than all of his father’s heaped up so-called major works of art
FIVE. Going along the Arizona and New Mexico border between Douglas, AZ and Columbus NM, one feels very far away…and while I know this is both reality and the product of living on East First Street, in Manhattan in New York, there is no denying that driving from Douglas AZ to Columbus NM.. one drives through a mostly deserted landscape.., but a contested landscape, a place both left behind, a place that people pass through and other people try to stop people passing from south to North…
But books seem very far away… in a little grocery store and restaurant in Rodeo a few rows of beaten up massmarket paperbacks… in Douglas a rather good public library...where books rest quite contented not to be moved too much as I must have been the first to look through the Arizona history journals for an article about the invention of Boot Hill in Tombstone.. but still many books though the computers are what people seem to treasure though I do know I wish I had a book in that library.. to be in the same room with the best American novel of many many years, CHRIST VERSUS ARIZONA by Camilo Jose Cela (Dalkey Archive 2007)… well , American in content as I know primitive provincial people will point out that Cela is Spanish and is dead and writes in Spanish and even has a Nobel prize--- though that is no recommendation when you think of Pearl Buck and Toni Morrison and Mikhail Sholokhov and Sinclair Lewis--- but they make mistakes in Sweden and Cela is probably one of them… as was Beckett and Simon; if you get my drift… but Cela’s novel free of plot development, free of character development, free of beginning middle and end.. free of relationships, free of setting the scene… free and yet honed so as to populate one’s imagination with both the actuality of what it means to find one’s self in these United States both in and around Tombstone… is that not what life is: in and around one’s tombstone.
SIX. From the Library of America… THE CIVIL WAR The Second Year Told by Those Who lived it… like the first volume, It is a book to be opened at random… but then the minutes turn into hours… that you are there of memory… to the side are chronology, causes, results etc
More on this at a future post as I want to write about it in conjunction with the David Goodis and Joe Brainard volumes. The Library of America is a constant criticism of the present moment.
And I have been reading THE LOSS LIBRARY by Ivan Vladislavic, published by Seagull Press, which together with Dalkey Archive and New Directions and Archipelago might be the last publishing houses in the United States. Of course people will ask: what about Random House, Penguin.. you know THEM… but does anyone have the sneaky suspicion that their days are numbered as are the days remaining for Barnes and Nobel. Is it now just a question of when? What will remain..that tiny band of independent bookstores who long ago cut their dependence… and the more completely they cut their dependence on the big publishers, the sounder their chances of surviving….