Tuesday, February 14, 2017

THE AFTERMATH OF A CONFERENCE

       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 that seems to have steps 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

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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…

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