Tuesday, March 26, 2013

THE BRIDGE OVER THE NEROCH: evidence for why you should buy and read it RIGHT NOW


The smell of the metro in 1972 is identical to that of the metro in 1936, and for a second I experienced the same feeling of irrational trenchant joy that I did then, in 1936; it seems to me that right now, when I rise to the surface, I’ll be under the same blinding July sun near the Sokol metro station. I don’t remember why I was there, I only remember the blinding sun the tall, new buildings I’d never seen before, and the burning, cold taste of an Eskimo Bar--- Moscow is the only place they have Eskimo Bars, nowhere else, they’re almost synonymous with Moscow.  However, for some reason I can remember the faces of the people who sat in my train car, rode up the escalator, and walked down the streets: What did they look         like?  Who did they look like?  Like heroes from the films Circus or Jolly Fellows in overly wide ties (back in fashion again now) and baggy trousers, their na├»ve good-natured faces filled with belief in a happy future, or like Natalya Rozenel, in a long dress with short hair, and wide-open eyes spinning in amazement?  I exert my memory but in vain: there are no faces, no suits, no people.  What is it--- my forgetfulness or the forgetfulness of history?  And will my neighbors in the subway train of 1972 and I disappear in the same way from the memory of the schoolboy in a nylon jacket sitting right across from me now?  He already has an almost fashionable haircut, and I can make out the features of a youthful student in him, tall and thin, sweeping their hair out of their eyes with a casual movement of the head like this entire generation--- I see his features when he is no longer a student, but a husband, a newlywed with a wedding ring and a string bag in hand, hurrying home with his purchases; and just like me, he will disappear from the memory of those who will see him, and for a moment I imagine all the people filling this car--- worried, carefree, having just left a woman or traveling to a rendezvous, discussing the morning planning meeting, riding with sketches, folders, synopses, with lawyer’s briefs typed on twenty-two pages--- the lawyers’ pencils follow the lines and underline particularly important places that should be emphasized during the hearing.  For a moment, I imagine all of them lying in identical poses their arms crossed on their chests, their heads arched back. their faces yellow, wax-like:   All of them, as though on command--- some sooner, others later--- will disappear, leaving nothing behind, and the crowds sauntering along the wide streets during the holidays will disappear in the very same way, and sometimes I imagine that they are all riding with me in one car--- bipeds dressed in suits with briefcases and purses in hand.

THERE IS NO NEED TO SAY MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK.  YOU MIGHT KNOW TSYPKIN'S SUMMER IN BADEN-BADEN... if so, you know why I am only quoting this passage... If the sentences I have quoted do not catch you then there is nothing more to be said...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


I have been sitting in the chair by the window and the biography of Robert Duncan by Lisa Jarnot is now to gather dust though I have  now again read the death of the poet scene.  One always reads that scene first in any biography.  I also have the first of the collected poems of Robert Duncan from University of California Press and I have the complete GROUND WORK published by New Directions.
And that is as far as I have gotten.  Really.  Does a single poem of Duncan’s remain in common currency, a poem a person might open their own shroud to be with?
I think not.  He “lives” on in the publicity of San Francisco, a background to the story of Jack Kerouac sending his creations Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarity…. Duncan, part of that “ever expanding American Bloomsbury” as Fank MacShane labeled them  too many years ago… with the same proliferating biographies and collected works by every single person who can in anyway be connected to the foundation book by Jack Kerouac, ON THE ROAD. 
And no matter: ON THE ROAD is fully secure as MOBY DICK in the imagination of American literature.
            The Jarnot biography is the last biography of a poet I will ever attempt.  A catalog of trivia:  and this happened and then this happened and then this happened… if only there had been some real attempt to let the reader into the why of Duncan which of course is poetry… but I think I was hoping for some attempt to give me a reason to read Duncan… it is more just a listing of readings, classes taught, men groped…feelings, feelings for something.
            Duncan’s work arrives after Eliot, after Pound, after Zukofsky… after Olson  and Olson just about exhausted my patience which is actually sustained by the memory of John Currier a native of Gloucester--- you can see the connection to Olson--- but remembering Dahlberg’s objection to Olson: he wanted to be original---  John  who died too young and at whose wedding I was best man and to my regret did not make better my case for becoming the husband of the woman who I had introduced to John and with whom… a walking about with this widow in England near Brighton… the ravens in the trees and just apart: Denise is now in Trinidad… she who I showed Patchogue to… John whose work is only remembered now in the stacks of the Hollins University library:  the only American heir to Firbank and Lewis Carroll. (poetry division)
Yet there is room for Ronald Johnson and Lorine Niedecker and Jack Spicer and Susan Howe who seem  at this moment of--- as they say--- an urgency as I am also attempting to read the notebooks of Leopardi, the Zibaldoni (2502 pages including introduction, indexes and notes…)…
And of Duncan:  “The Mind   ---the fucking Mind!      The stars in Its thought/shine forth in abysses, “night” spaces,/ the fucking alone brought us deep into.?  Circling.   Circling,   circling,    the matter of Love. (GROUND WORK pp 184-5)
On 19 March 2013:  I am neither strong enough nor weak enough to continue.

Friday, March 8, 2013

RENATA ADLER'S NOVELS: unfinished praise

Leopardi the greatest Italian poet in succession to Dante, Petrarch, writes: "There are two truths which most men will never believe: one, that they know nothing, and the other that they are nothing. And there is a third, which proceeds from the second---- that there is nothing to hope for after death." And true to that he was able to write about his own "work": "I never achieved any real work. I have made attempts..." and Finally, "if I were a poet..."

By now most people are familiar with the line from  E. M. Cioran that  each book is a postpone suicide.  He was referring to his own books and of course we want that quality in any book we read so I think that while I would hope my own writing might postpone my suicide, I also am aware reading certain books postpone suicide and that is how I remember originally reading both SAPEEDBOAT and PITCH DARK by Renata Adler, both published in hardcover by Knopf in the late 70s and early 80s of the last century. 
Both books are fragmented and have a wonderfully cold distant narrator who assumes the reader is widely read, has seen many movies, listens to music and has traveled. 
Now republished by New York Review Books I am pleased that the books have not dated and still remain the sort of novel I think of as being right in the center of what everyone should read but so rarely find, in particular from American writers published by American publishers. 
The uniqueness of form in the Adler books is what has always held me and I of late have realized that this form comes--- if such can be written--- from Joan Didion’s PLAY IT AS IT LAY, published as far back as 1970  and while I am sure it is as they say a stretch, I  also seem to detect the voice of Mike Hammer as transcribed by Mickey Spillane in I, THE JURY and VENGEANCE IS MINE.   Didion’s novel was always viewed as flawed because of its Hollywood setting but that is what makes it special as only Nathaniel West has done  justice to that seductive place…. Everything else about Hollywood excepting only the Hollywood pieces by F. Scott Fitzgerald who of course you remember Cioran mentioning that it was with THE CRACK-UP  “in which he (Fitzgerald) describes his failure, his only great success.”
From the opening of SPEEDBOAT:  No one died that year. Nobody prospered.  There were no births or marriages.
From PITCH DARK:  We were running flat out.  The opening was dazzling.  The ending was dazzling.  It was like a steeplechase composed entirely of hurdles.  But that would not be a steeplechase at all.  It would be more like a steep steep climb.
From PLAY IT AS IT LAYS:  What makes Iago evil? Some people ask.  I never ask.

Adler presciently refused, I am told, to allow her novels to appear in paper in the much hyped Vintage Contemporaries  back then so that they could nestle next to  Jay McInerney’s  novels which were the flavor of the month as had been shortly before,  The White Hotel by D. M. Thomas… and I refuse to mention the title of another extinct novel by another once-upon-a-time famous writer John Irving.  McInerney’s novels are today mentioned but not really read… they are tied to their moment and when the moment goes…: at least he has married well a number of times and lives in great comfort which is a fitting purgatory: you remember, he’s the guy who once was…
SPEEDBOAT and PITCH DARK have survived because they are written in the moment for that one really existing flesh and blood reader, as Osip Mandelstam mentioned, who lives two hundred years in the future.
There have been no more novels from Adler.  She fell into the law and has written books after getting a law degree.  The heart sinks.  How much more interesting she would have been to be around if she had taken up mathematics as did Paul Valery?  The law is designed for those who want to give the appearance of thinking but really simply want something of…. do I dare use the word relevance… a sad human failing.
Maybe I am mistaken about Adler’s work after these two novels.  Maybe there will be the notebooks as Valery devoted his life to and her thinking of the law, though I doubt it as there is a uniqueness to Valery who writes for instance in volume 4 of the English version of his CAHIERS/NOTEBOOKS: 
Crime = the mask falling away.  Social life covers everything in a plaster-cast, and allows only those movements that preserve this artificial character.  Violence of those movement that smash the mask.
Criminals would not be punished if the judge were forced to imagine in the extreme the circumstances in which they had been put and which drove them to commit a crime.  The judge accords criminals a freedom that he himself has, not being what they are, and thus condemns them as not being what they are.