Sunday, February 19, 2017

KICKING THE OLD MAN, and how it relates to ST. PATRICK'S DAY another day in Dublin

               In ST. PATRICK'S DAY another day in Dublin, the narrator sees put on a very short play he wrote, A BEAUTIFUL GOOD WHOLESOME GIRL, a curtain raiser to the first student production in Ireland of Samuel Beckett's ENDGAME.  

                 The play was produced by DramSoc  the student theatre at University College, Dublin.  Beckett himself gave permission for the production and one might think he had taken a tiny ironic pleasure in this as he went to Trinity College, Dublin as his Protestant class background dictated while he well knew James Joyce had gone to this other college, founded by Newman and where Gerard Manley Hopkins taught classics and my little play was performed in the complex where the famous argument between the priest and Stephen takes place in A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN

            I did write another play which had come out of this little poem and the thought of my dead father:  KICKING THE OLD MAN.  

          I showed the play to two people and one theatre.  I never heard from the theatre and Roger Dixon, a classmate from Beloit who did direct  dismissed it as psychodrama.  

The play's second reader was John Benson who was a bartender at The 55, the bar on Christopher Street in NYC.  He had had a small role in THE BLOB and directed summer stock.  He thought the play funny and sad and well worth putting on...  but of course where and and and... 

          I used  a few pages from the play at the beginning and end of JUST LIKE THAT... another unpublished book  that I think of as about THE end of the so-called Sixties of the last century.  The Notre Dame Review some years ago published a section from this book centered upon the narrator's life encounter with Anthony Burgess


down the street
down the street
as hard as you can
           kicking the old man
           kicking the old man 
down the street
down the street
           he knows and looks

kicking my old man
          as hard as you can

down the street 
down the street
         laughing at you 
         laughing at you
kicking my old man 
kicking my old man
           as hard as you can 
           as hard as you can
                     kicking me 
kicking me
with a smile 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


       On the way back from the AWP (Associate Writing Program’s annual conference) in Washington, I bought THE RILKE ALPHABET by Ulrich Baer at Dedalus Book Warehouse because under the letter K:  For Kafka and King Lear.  In the book Baer writes about the storm Rilke experienced at Duino on the Adriatic coast that in some way precipitated the great elegies… and this goes on to the storm Lear experiences in the play long after he has made the famous demand upon Cordelia…
           This lead me: while I had not been to Duino, I was on the Adriatic coast in August 1967 aware  the train had gone by Duino and having left that train at Trieste (the city of Joyce and Svevo, I knew even then) I was staying at the youth hostel right on the coast to the east of the city…         I met  Michael J. Peters who was on his way to Lebanon to see The Cedars of… we met two South African girls and went drinking and missed the curfew and found ourselves locked out and as the rain came down we found shelter in a cabana back from the beach and all night the rain on the metal roof… the holding of a damp shivering body and being held in turn…
          In the morning Michael  and I found a windowless room in a shabby hotel in the city… [I know his name as it is inscribed in an old address book, neatly block-lettered in his hand] we went up to the cemetery that overlooks the city… the bright garish decorations… the large mostly deserted official buildings of a city that had once been important... the parody of the canals of Venice… we took the ferry to Pula—as I knew even then that it was actually the first place Joyce lived in Italy… we stayed at a mostly deserted grand hotel… complete with gambling salons presided over by fellows who seemed to have stepped out of Last Year at Marienbad… in the early evening we sauntered, to be exact, around the central square with all the other young people looking at each other… we took the train for Zagreb and then went our separate ways as Michael was going to Athens--- I have not seen him since but have a few letters from back then when he had returned and was living in Seattle but I do not know what became of him--- and I was going to Sofia---to meet as I didn’t know at that moment Lilia, on Hristo Botev Boulevard within an hour of leaving the train--- and my life would change and be forever walking in the streets of Sofia.  
         The year before in Dublin in a UCD lecture hall I had heard Denis Donoghue lecture on King Lear and use as the center of his discussion of silence in Shakespeare the line of Cordelia’s in response to the demand of her father: I cannot heave/ My heart into my mouth

To this day and until I die I will never… so these books these sentences…  my new book’s failure, the absence of readers, my publisher’s failure---none of that equals the failure I feel in thinking about all of this and writing this as I wonder as surely any person would do::: to what end does a man buying a book, a remaindered book at that, have himself back in a storm near Trieste on the way  East to…

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


         On the anticipated publication by New Directions of two new books by FLEUR JAEGGY : THESE POSSIBLE LIVES and  I AM THE BROTHER OF X.X. in July 2017.
           Here is a review that was never published of SWEET DAYS OF DISCIPLINE by Fleur Jaeggy.  New Directions.  I forget why either the Washington Post or Chicago Tribune refused to publish my review back in 1993.
       Sweet Days of Discipline is a masterpiece.  Probably there is no overcoming a reader’s skepticism at reading such a sentence.  Frankly, I was also skeptical about my own initial reading of the book and so to check it I took the advice in the blurb by Joseph Brodsky, “Reading time is approximately four hours.  Remembering time as for the author, the rest of one’s life.”
INTERJECTION:   I wrote this review in 1993... so 24 years later… not a word has to be changed.

        Rereading Jaeggy’s novel I found myself increasingly sadder because the novel is short and the inevitable last page gets closer and closer: I wanted to continue to live in the world of the author’s sensibility and dreading the difficulty of how to convince another to read it…
         Like all truly great works of literature the story can be summed up quite simply.  The un-named narrator is remembering a year, among many years in the 1950’s spent at a boarding school in Switzerland.  But this year was different because it was the year that a new girl, Frederique, was also a student at the same school. The novel traces out the course of that year and the growing friendship between the two girls.
        Every cliché that such a situation might suggest is avoided:  there is no sadistic headmistress, no randy kitchen help, no lesbian sexual encounters.  Instead Jaeggy creates an entire world populated by the children of the high bourgeois of Europe who are destined to be equally comfortable in Zurich, as in Paris, Milan or Munich.
The opening of the novel suggests in the sureness of the language what is to come:
       “At fourteen I was a boarder in a school in the Appenzeel.  This was the area where Robert Walser used to take his many walks when he was in the mental hospital in Herisau, not far from our college.  He died in the snow.  Photographs show his footprints and the position of the body in the snow.  We didn’t know the writer.  And nor did our literature teacher. Sometime I think it might be nice to die like that, after a walk to let yourself drop into a natural grave in the snow of the Appenzeel after almost thirty years of mental hospital in Herisau.  It really was a shame we didn’t know of Walser’s existence, we would have picked a flower for him.  Even Kant, shortly before his death was moved when a women he didn’t know offered him a rose.”
         Upon re-reading this opening paragraph I am again captivated by the tone of elegiac sadness and the author’s ability to both distance and involve the reader.  I am flattered in my knowing who Robert Walser is and having seen those famous photographs of his death steps and I appreciate the apt detail from the life of Kant which avoids the commonplace of the citizen of Koenigsberg setting their clocks to the punctuality of his daily walk through the town.
      Such a paragraph sets the tone and allow the reader to enter Jaeggy’s world by remembering too that he or she has probably had a similar experience of growing up.  Going to grammar school in Patchogue on Long Island I did not know and my teachers did not know that Henry David Thoreau had passed through Patchogue on his way to look for the bones of Margaret Fuller who had drowned off of Fire Island, opposite Patchogue.
         Never have I read such an accurate description of the process by which one attempts to become the friend of another--- knowing that friendship is the near physical absorption of the other.
        “In our lives at school, each of us, if we had a little vanity, would establish a facade,  a kind of double life, affect a way of speaking, walking, looking.  When I saw her writing I couldn’t believe it.  We also most all had the same kind of handwriting, uncertain, childish with round wide ‘o’s. Hers was completely affected. (Twenty years later I saw something similar in a dedication Pierre Jean Jouve had written on a copy of “Kyrie.”)
(LATER: again I was flattered as of course I knew the French writer, didn’t everyone at that moment who really read even only in English)  

Of course I pretended not to be surprised, I barely glanced at it.  But secretly I practiced  And I still write like Frederique today, and people tell me I have beautiful handwriting.”
          And I too remembering a boy who came to my school in four grade in Patchogue who wrote with the left hand and of how I tried to write with my left hand so as to become this friend.  And to think how far away a boarding school in Switzerland is from Patchogue!
       But the novel does not isolate the narrator: she takes walks dislikes her roommate rejects another girl who wants to be her friend.  The narrator suggests a complete world and that is what we demand of an author: invent a world into which we can fall, slide, insinuate our own experience.
       Of course Frederique is not destined for great happiness but for something more interesting: she has taken up residency in the memorial heart of both the narrator and the reader.
         An anthology of epigrammatic items of truth could be culled from this book and to set it in its proper context the reader would have tocall to mind such books as Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge or Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles or Glenway Wescott’s The Grandmothers or Fred Uhlman’s Reunion.

      Years after the year at the school the narrator runs into Frederique at the cinemateque in Paris.  They go back to her attic room, “Frederique was about twenty now.  She dressed as she always had.  A dark zinc grey over body, narrow hips, long neck.  The jugular was pulsing. She had pushed back her hood. The pale oval of her face, legs crossed.  The perfection of school days had taken up residence in this room of hers… She lives, I thought, as if she were in a grave.”
PS  I did not describe  Jaeggy's other books, LAST VANITIES, SS PROLETERKA, THESE POSSIBLE LIVES, I AM THE BROTHER  OF XX... I did not write about Jaeggy's husband Roberto Calasso... I suspect that SS PROLETERKA belongs in the Pantheon of the greatest of modern books... I guess you can say I hold Jaeggy's book in the same imaginary hand that I also hold the books of Hannah Green, ERNST JUNGER, GLENWAY WESCOTT, JULIAN GREEN, JUAN CARLOS ONETTI, JOSE LEZAMA LIMA, PETER NADAS...

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

trees on the hill ain't talking

        trees on the hill having nothing to say
                                  ---Nick Drake


       On a Thursday I went walking out... walking is shedding the recent present moment while in response to what is seen... a bringing back to life that something, that someone, that moment, in the garden between Second and First Avenue...

      ---five--- along First Street to HOWL HAPPENING  where they had AMPLIFIED SPACE  an installation by Jonnny Detiger.  You could sit in a series of plastic cubicles on a pillow covered cube and listen to versions of disco music.  Howl in a space that tries to capture the ephemeral aspects of the present and the recent past and more ephemeral the better...  the one word that is always avoided: why?...  There are usually nicely printed catalogues that sell for $20+ dollars and written in a language defying criticism or understanding.

And then.


           SPERONE WESTWATER on the Bowery.  I have been going to this gallery since the 80s when they were in SOHO.  Their building is a very functional modern building and the space is made up of three floors.  I often think it is the best gallery in NYC, the most sensual, the most...  and today paintings by KATHERINE BRADFORD  (the photographs do no real justice to her work because  long ago as a result of reading THE ART OF ARTS by Anita Albus who definitively for me anyway showed that any work of art had to be seen for one's self and not to rely on reproductions, no matter the quality. And I was glad to have never taken a art history class with those awful slide shows I had heard about.  There was a reason people went on tours of the grand places in Europe: to see for the self...)

and a second painting

and a third painting

         A certain mystery and a depiction of powerlessness, stasis, a hoping... the unwell in great baths... each isolated within his or her own pain.

        Or not...I guess we are to talk of paint, color,...

----five five---

          And one continues to walk south of the men's shelter... the frantic remodeling....  after saying goodbye to W.H. Auden... which recalls and I even discovered that I have been quoted:

       Which was a story I wrote about being at the moment W.H. Auden left NYC... that aftermath took place in a loft opposite the shelter...the woman... a go-go dancer of... a model... living with a dealer and another... years later I ran into this woman who had survived in some fashion...

      ---five five---  Of shoes designed by art students in Israel in the form of a pop-up display of shoes right down from a show of outsider art...complete with a pleasant friendly talkative hostess  who tolerates me going on about shoes in TRASH...the memorable scene of Holly Woodlawn resisting the welfare worker's demand for the shoes she is wearing and I am even talking about my Daughter in the musical Guys and Dolls because there is a shoe dedicated to Lady Gaga, and I am saying my daughter was in the play with the then girl who would become Lady Gaga... of course the photographs were only focused on the daughter rather than on the other girl who was going to be...though Elizabeth is now in this gallery and 

One of the displays saying more than the artist could possibly imagine or am I mistaken



         In another gallery 11R on Christie Street  the truly useless and vulgar and am surprised by my thinking this... a horse peeing by TM DAVY... to what purpose, what wall to bear such a work... the cock lake of Joyce opening..

                        ---five five five---

          Near the end of the walk and the finding myself back again living up MiLady's on the corner of Thompson and Prince in a tiny three room  apartment to which ruth and I moved from the Earle Hotel, back then when the woman who had the apartment was moving to a better one, a garden one at that, for less than what we would be paying $160 a month... and the working as a messenger for Maple Vail and also at New Morning Bookstore on Spring Street... 

....but the reason for being back then was looking at the work of Boris Lurie  that is on display t Westwood Gallery on the Bowery

          I should have taken other pictures of his work as he was doing something that must have caught my eye:  great collages using photographs from  men's magazines and combining them with news clippings... Lurie was a survivor of the Nazi murder camps, lived as bohemian anti-artist in NYC while slowly and very quietly acquiing a vast fortune in penny stocks and slum properties so that his estate is now keeping his work alive... that impulse embedded in the great dadaists of another time... but my own homage I still have and took a picture of part of it...and this hung on the wall of the apartment above MiLady's.  You can see Brezhnev makes an appearance as does Joan Crawford  and Catapult 70 was a construction on the top of the tall building on the southwest corner of Houston and Broadway...I don't remember the name of the guy..but you climbed up this ladder and then further as if to be thrown into space


     A review of a book that still remains of interest.

A CONSEQUENCE:  My article in the Village Voice on W.H. Auden followed by another one A SON'S FATHER'S DAY allowed me to believe the delusion that I was a published writer and did not need a second Master's degree, in this case from I didn't bother to type up the pages I had written in the two years I was at Columbia..though being at Columbia I was given among others friends and acquaintances such as Hannah Green, John Wesley, William O'Rourke, Anthony Burgess, Nicanor Parra, Julio Marzan, David Black, Jakov Lind, Nelida Pinon, David Huddle, Richard M. Elman,  Al Levine, Marcia Cebulska, T.E.D. Klein...