Monday, January 23, 2012

Jess Heaney

1. The Re-Visionist by Miranda Mellis. I read this book on Christmas Day 2012, cover to cover, laying on a couch at my mom's house in New Jersey, so deliciously delighted to fall into a 80 page book that was so tissue-and-machines-and-feathers-beautiful; I only put down once around page 60 to refill my tea, then finish. I've been re-reading it ever since.

2. The Botanical Garden by Ellen Welcker. "I'm drawing a map, my loves…" I got this book at SPT's 2011 Open House on a rainy rainy afternoon. I bought it because of it's cute size. (it's square.) I think I re-read it every other month. It's like Bhanu Kapil's Humanimal meets Notley's Descent of Alette's quotation marks. HEART.

3. The Importance of Iceland by Eileen Myles. I bought this book at the Mills bookstore because I was bored of work that day. I needed a sugar high. The cover is a delicious Tiffany-box-blue. It's a book of essays; I read on the plane from CA to NJ and it's full of fantastic little conversation bits that colored many later bar conversations. It also serendipitously mentioned Robert Smithson who I have been thinking about and also mentioned, in the same paragraph, Paterson by William Carlos Williams. Since I grew up next to Paterson, and was going home, I read Paterson when I got there. Double!

4. Testimony by Reyznikoff. Stephanie Young lent it to me. I read sections of it every month of so. I like it. It court testimony turned into poems. There's so much place and character and, obviously, conflict, so 5-20 page bites is all I want to take in.

5. The New World Border: Prophecies, Poems, and Loqueras for the End of the Century by Guillermo Gomez-Peña. My friend Lisa Nowlain lent me this book. I read it at home, on the plane and on subways. It's essays and poems and performance texts so I enjoyed flipping it open and reading it in whatever order I chose, whatever piece caught my eye. It's a book that has popped up in many later conversations. I feel full when I read this book. Excited. But, like Poet's Theater, all the pieces are so rich and different, I felt a little bonkers when I read three in a row. Total fan-crush on the author. My office was his green room once for a performance, and he left his half-drank coffee and eyeliner and half-eaten brie and fruit plate on my desk for me to clean up in the morning, which has tempered any fantasy that he's not a real human.

P.S. Excited to read in 2012: Green is the New Red: An Insider's Account of a Social Movement Under Seige by Will Potter. My comrade Tony recommended it to me. Let's get a fresh understanding of one contingent of today's political prisoners! And Playbook for Progressives: 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer by Eric Mann. I took this off my friend Rachel's shelf in NY and began reading it, but had to leave it in her apartment. (She's organizing domestic workers and their employers in NYC- the next wave of the labor movement!) So catchy, inspiring and also whewwww, let's get to workin!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sunnylyn Thibodeaux

My Dearest John
      Congrats sits on the tip of my tongue but I am still grieving and I don't want to talk football anyway right now. I am still your friend no matter how it all turns out or goes down. I will say that Eli is a NOLA boy, so . . . as the one who has been in SF for over 12 years and still renews her Louisiana license, my allegiances are with my swamp-mates, always. But I still love you
      Back to books --
Book Reflections of 2011which are not in a particular order per say, but what my mommy brain could muster. Geez, there are a lot in the sense of what comes our way via the gentile man in the blue outfit pushing his cart uphill, but I was trying to think of what pulled me in or what got at me somehow or maybe it just got at me cause I couldn’t say much in the end due to “ mama, mama, mama”, or a simple loss for words. I’ve forgotten many I’m sure . . .
1.)   Laurie Duggan, Allotments (Fewer & Further Press) So as I have always done, (and do now far less frequently, but way more desperately) when a moment comes to me to be alone I grab 2 things: a book and a drink. I grabbed this book to take with me to the local hole (so that I am in reaching distance in case the holler comes) and I was all jived, like I had a drinking partner. The book was all alive in the bar scene on the page swatting fruit flies and mumbling barroom banter. I had to, just had to, write Jess Mynes (he is F&F Press) and tell him how thrilled I was with my new favorite poet’s work. Commenting with feminine pronouns all the while, I even was spastic enough to say, I have a “poetic sister” as I refer to Lew Welch as my poetic father and this seemed appropriate as Laurie was all in like Flynn on the haps of the poetics that move me to sound out anything and all tapped on the taps that flow, so . . . I decided to find out more, maybe she is on facebook, maybe we can be friends, maybe we can have a drink and gossip about corked wine and project-poetry and then I found her. Well, yeah, “Laurie” Duggan is Laurence James Duggan (born 1949), an Australian poet, editor, and translator. This changes nothing about my love for the book, I just reflect on it with rosy cheeks and a glance downward.
2.) Brian Richards, Enridged (UNO Press) This is a selected, 10 years worth, a narrow and hefty little package, with 160 pages. I am always happy when a poet that has given so much forth to the muse has the opportunity to collect their work and say looky-here, though I would always rather a small book in my hands. And I’m not trying to say 160 pages is large by any means. Let me back up. I first heard of Brian Richards from a professor back in college, Skip Fox. Skip had a little book out on Bloody Twin Press (Brian’s press), actually 2 books: Kabul Under Seige and Wallet and these are two of the most beautiful artifacts ever, you know like the Oyez or Perishable Press books, so much thought about how it feels in the hands, not just how it reads. And that’s what I mean by little books, the intimate art pieces that contain poetry . . .  And point being that I feel Brian Richards, whom I consider a master of the sorts, deserves better. What the hell, with the spacing on the page. Wide open spaces between short nuggets of controlled beautiful verse. It fucks with the eye, the fung shui of the poems. I like so much about this book, all that should be there : the work, the cover, its slenderness, but I want a redo on the layout.
3.) Dayana Fraile, Zinc Landscapes (Cy Gist Press) Another beaut that traveled via USPS, which we received just in time for the holiday break. And the dear husband was home from work so as to take care of Little Miss Lorca and I could slip into the translated (because my Spanish stinks) fierce world of Dayana Fraile. Holy Guacamole. I think she has read the Bloody Chamber often or carries a switchblade or both. Either way I am fearfully excited to see what else she has up her sleeve, but don’t wanna rumble with her on a full moon. And this translation was done by Guillermo Parra to whom I am ever grateful for making Spanish poetry readable to little ole me. It’s all incestuous, yes, as we just typed up a selection of Jose Antonio Ramos Sucre’s verse translated by Guillermo to print on Auguste Press. Ring around the rosie, pockets full of . . . yes, poetry.
4.) Donald Guravich, World At Large (Blue Press) I love getting notes and, even better, books from Donald because of his little drawings. This one is decorated with a little pink rabbit on a patch of grass (the year of the rabbit it is). But this particular book just happens to be illustrated by the artist as well. This is a book that has caused me great grief. For no good reason other than good ole Catholic Guilt. The book is a delight of images, concise language all woven about the days ins and outs, some intimacies of blue collar days and the roll outs of nature. We printed 2 of these even in Morning Train. Are you ever so pleased with a book you don’t know what to say without sounding forced or trite? Add that to the new addition in the household and bam! here comes the guilt. I adore Donald as a person and a poet and I have not said a thing about his book, not even a Thank You, because, well because I’m lazy or I could play the new-mom card, but in the end I think I’m lazy. So here: Donald, Thank You.
5.) I feel like I should list Tumble Bumble or Goodnight Moon here. I have these books and others memorized at this point from going over them sometimes 8-10 times a day. Poetry doesn’t get to come first with a little one running amuck. It’s hard to give the ear over to it sometimes and most of the time there isn’t the time to dive in and swim freely. I find myself reading for a particular purpose these days, cramming it in while I can. Like the new skill of speed-eating that I’ve developed.. Having this drive when reading poetry leaves a meh-feeling. I’m not in school (though sometimes I wish I were) so I don’t have to read this, why I am forcing myself. But if I don’t force myself to try to embrace something I would never read anything. All the books listed above took a little self-butt-kicking beyond the shear curiosity of the personal relationships that lead me to each.
      And so that brings me to the book that I desperately want to read again and want my friends to read so that we can discuss and I can better find my footing in the tightly woven landscape – Karen Weiser, To Light Out (Ugly Duckling Presse).  I took this one to bed with me and devoured it, oh how gorgeous it is! I felt like I was looking through the window to another place of thought that I couldn’t enter. I want in. I felt like I was reading a study, a series of cryptic passages enlightened with myth and beauty, like I was in an Indiana Jones movie and I was close to finding an ancient treasure but I was so in awe of the mystical architecture that the secret traps were about to ensnare me. I know that seems over the top, but I was immersed in the language and it seemed the draw-bridge was crumbling. Maybe I was feeling the tic-toc of my own reading window close. Maybe I was really “in” as I wanted to be, but like a drug experience, came out of it saying “what just happened?” I can’t recall having a book get at me like this – like I was drifting, mouth agape and eyes dazed, ears fixed on sounds that recognize my own head, but addicted. Addicted to what? What was this fix I was craving? I have to read and re-read and come back. I lent it out to another poet, Christina Fisher, because I wanted fresh eyes and another perspective to guide me (and I wanted that perspective to be that of another woman and as we oh-so-often do we’ve cancelled on each other about 5x now). I can’t comfortably plead mommy-brain on this one. I do believe we can fall in love with that which confounds us. So I have. Whoever said art was about understanding anyway? I think it’s more about desire and recognition. And I have surely been left with both. I do expect to revisit this topic in my book list of 2012.

Julien Poirier

Five things I didn’t expect to find in 2011: 

Will Skinker’s Feed My Lambs on Lew Gallery came in the mail. The last poem in the chapbook, “Coronation,” really blew me away. California poem, pace the coastal sun on prison walls and the rusted dent on a 70s station wagon. I might have the details wrong but I remember exactly how I felt when I was there. It’s an incredible poem because it brings you to a mindstate of surrender or bleak acceptance through fierce tender language that never lets up. It’s a real poem!

Looking for Paterson in the Berkeley Public Library at the end of the year I bumped into from the warring factions by Ammiel Alcalay. If you haven’t read this great book (published some years ago) I just returned it to the Main Branch today.

Leonora Carrington was someone I had never heard of until Cedar Sigo bought me a copy of The Oval Lady, stories translated by Rochelle Holt, a rare book with a strange acid-green cover that looks like 3 different artists worked on it in a dungeon. The delicately neurotic drawings are by her son, Pablo Weisz. 1975.

Owen Hill’s detective poet novel The Chandler Apartments would have been my favorite one-sitting read of the year if it hadn’t been for his recently published pamphlet Union Steward, which tells the story of an airline workers’ union firebrand none other than the author as a young man.

I read The End of the West by Michael Dickman and was surprised by how striking some of the images were. (I haven’t read the poet’s second book, which I believe was published last year.) He brags too much about what a soulful hard-ass he is, growing up on the tough side of Portland and all, which makes it all the more fun to read. Here’s the one book of the year that I wanted to hate (and checked out for that reason) but ended up enjoying disliking.

---Julien Poirier

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Erica Lewis

John –

Below are a few of my 2011 reads. Hope 2012 has been swell for you so far.

 - erica

Just Kids, Patti Smith – read mostly in bed; it’s such an intimate book that it just didn’t feel right to read it anywhere else. I’m not a Patti Smith fan, but I’ve been interested in Robert Mapplethorpe for a number of years because I’m from Cincinnati and remember well the controversy surrounding the exhibition of his works, and subsequent obscenity trial, in that city when I was a teenager. It was all over the local news and people were really focusing on how indecent Mapplethorpe’s work was. I remember thinking even at that age that I had to get out there; I couldn’t stay in a place that was so small and small-minded, a place where they were actually trying to ban “art” and decide what the public could and could not choose of their own free will to see. Anyway, this is a gorgeous book about loyalty and art. And it’s not really about what I thought it was going to be about, which was such a great surprise. This book actually helped me a great deal in informing a project about poetry and music that I began about the same time I started reading it. Not necessarily because of the subject matter, but because of the way that Smith wrote about art and creativity and passion and the desire to really be an artist, and what all those things really mean. 

an aside – Smith is obsessed with Genet in Just Kids – there was nary a Genet in my library; after reading this, I felt like I needed to be more familiar with his work, so I went out and got his first four novels. Also went back and looked at old footage and articles of the Cincinnati trial – interesting supplemental reading, kind of trippy to “remember when.” Also good post novel supplements - the film Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe as well as Smith’s Charlie Rose interview about the book.

Life, Keith Richards – read mostly in bed, Itunes playing, headphones on; it’s actually quite a sprawling book, detailing Richards’ childhood through the almost present, but full of intimate details, and once you get into it (it took me a good 100 of 500 plus pages) you really “hear” Richards’ voice. The writing isn’t great, but you really get the sense that it’s not just some celebrity book penned by a ghost writer. Quite an interesting read. I was mostly interested in the history associated with events that happened in the book. I wound up Googling a lot of musicians that I hadn’t heard of, looking up lots of events that I hadn’t known about. I love the 60s and 70s, so it was a great cultural history lesson. Surprising amount of technical details re: music and instrumentation, too – I never thought of Richards as a true technician when it came to composing and song writing. Made me rethink music and celebrity in a way. Props to Keith Richards for being so honest and vulgar and open and raw. That’s one thing the Richards and Smith books had in common. Rawness. And probably why they made so much sense together when read back to back.

One Sleeps the Other Doesn’t, Jacqueline Waters – read in bed, at the kitchen table, in the living room – this book felt like it was going somewhere, so it felt okay to let it move about with me from room to room. Personal traveling poems. I love Jacqueline’s writing. I feel honored that she read at the Canessa series while I was curating. Her work is searing and big but feels contained, a poetry jewel box of sorts. So witty. So many lines from this I wish I’d written. I pre-ordered this from UDP as soon as I received their email about new releases. I left this book feeling as if I had gained something, or rather something about this book just made me feel better. Her first book, A Minute Without Danger, made me feel the same way. Rare to find that. Sharpness and catharsis.

That This, Susan Howe – read mostly in bed. Such a quiet book. It reminded me of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. Joan Didion redux. I loved that book, my introduction to Didion’s work, and there are so many similarities with That This, as if the two were in polite ghost conversation. I’ve been a fan of Susan Howe for years, since being introduced to her work in a class at Mills (I think it was Stephen Ratcliffe’s Listening to Reading). I’ve read everything she’s released since that time. Her writing has informed my work in many ways. It haunts me. Sounds. Whispers. Textures. Literal ghosts.

Aerodrome Orion & Starry Messenger, Susan Gevirtz -  read in bed and in transit (which I suppose is appropriate because of the way the text itself moves across the page through space, time); bought at the Kelsey Street launch, signed by Susan. I always wish that I could have taken a class with Susan when I was at Mills, but she didn’t start teaching there until the year after I graduated. She definitely continues to inspire me though in terms of where I want to go with my work and the kind of writer I want to be. Reminded me of : a fairytale from far far away; how to simultaneously be expansive and intimate, accessible but not too accessible. An intricate flight pattern that includes both ice cream and Barbara Guest. Sparse and vocal and intricate. Visuals hover from above. The language ready for take off.

Bonus read: With + Stand, Issue 5,  Dan Thomas Glass’ DIY magazine – this is more than a shout out. Dan curates some really interesting work from a wide and varied group of contemporary writers and puts it all together in a superb spray painted, hand assembled volume. A pure labor of love. He calls it a game of tag, but it’s really a wonderful undertaking and show of support for poets and poetry.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Avery Burns

5 Top Reads for 2011:
The Collected Poems of Odysseus Elytis (Revised and Expanded Edition) 2004 Johns Hopkins University Press. 
Birthday present.  Better late than never.  I almost bought the first edition in 1997, but held off due to the $75 price tag.  I only saw one used copy at Moe’s for $35 and still hesitated.  I kept thinking about it and went back but no luck – gone.  I’m going through the same hesitation about the Eigner Collected, so if the pattern holds true I’ll get that in about 2018.
Kit Robinson. Works.
Basically I read 16 of Kit’s 20 books in preparation for a reading and conversation over at Canessa Park on July 25.  If you only read one – The Messianic Trees: Selected Poems – is the way to go.  I’m not always a fan of the “Selected” but this is a good one.  If you want a few individual volumes: Windows (1985), Balance Sheet (1993), Train I Ride (2009).  (Also recommend the Grand Piano performance from 11/18 available at the Holloway Series on-line video.  No really its fun.)
The Iliad. Homer trans. George Chapman. Everyman edition
Chapman published this in 1611 after working on the translation for years.  The translation has the charge of Elizabethan language.  For me the fact that Chapman was a playwright comes thru in the movement of the language. Ultimately, Keats was right. (Also worth noting that the King James Bible came out in 1611.)
Three Novels. Elizabeth Robinson (Omnidawn 2011)
Elizabeth and I were part of a reading put on by Kevin Killian called The Unexpected: An afternoon of poetry in honor of Fran Herndon (9/24/11), along with George Albon, Lewis Deforest Brown, Norma Cole, Matthew Gordon, Colleen Lookingbill and Steven Seidenberg.  Coffee afterwards and the gift of a good book. You can’t beat that.
Mark Linenthal. A reading from 1979 (recorded by David Highsmith) posted at A Voice Box.
I consider myself fortunate to have had 2 classes with Mark Linenthal during my time as SFSU.  I’d never actually heard him read his own work, and here it is.  Not all readings or readers are created equal and this reading sounds pretty close to the memory, which is to say warm and intelligent with a great care for poetry -- period. Not work that we would call experimental today, nevertheless solid work, give it a listen.  (Also I have to admit I listen to Penn Sound and A Voice Box a lot.)

I could blab on but here you go.  

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Nicholas James Whittington

Hey John,
Happy New Year! Just got back yesterday (Jan. 12) from India. My little sister was married there, in Kolkata, New Year's Day, to a Bengali-born-&-raised, England-&-Berkeley-educated chap. Left the bookshop in the hands of a couple old hands right after Christmas & the whole family went for about 4-5 days lead-in & then the Big Day itself with all attendant rites, including me & my brother having to hoist little sis on a mat & carry her round the bro-in-law-to-be 7 times. Didn't drop her, tho the ritual fire did almost engulf the entire wedding party at one point. Anyway, in the buildup to the trip, maybe three weeks before leaving, I came across a copy of Ginsburg's Indian Journals at the Friends of the Public Library Fort Mason store, I think. Seemed fortuitous, so had to take that along for my plane, train, bus & boat rides (hard to read on a rickshaw). & more fortuitous, he spends the vast majority of the time recorded here in Kolkata, West Bengal, and the state south, Orissa, which were the two states I spent most of my two post-wedding weeks in. I've never been a journal-ist myself, but have read some great selections of such, including Joanne Kyger's Japan & India Journals, Strange Big Moon (which I read a couple years ago & plug here not only for the India connection, but also cuz I'm lucky to be able to include a half-dozen notebook pages from her October in Oaxaca this year in AMERARCANA 2012, too). Journals & notebooks can be very fun stuff to read. Ginsburg's was, for sure. Major obsession of his: melting brains at the ghats (funeral pyres) which make one think of Varanasi, mainly, but actually there're tons of these all over, a half dozen at least in Kolkata on the banks of the river. Also, shit, shit, shit... & poo... Ginsburg writes a lot about poo in these pages. He's also refreshingly insecure about his own place, & work in the period (March 62 -- May 63). & speaking of lists, interspersed in all his brains, poo, & insecurity (poems too, of course, there are poems too, & dreams & photographs & much else; I'm just being flippant) -- interspersed in all this are a couple lengthy "books read" lists, which are interesting. Swahili Ahporisms, Henry Miller, Henry James, Sanskrit stuff, Anselm Hollo, of course Hindu & Buddhist materials, various pamphlets published in Kolkata, which is a major literary city, on the world scale, & has long been. Seagull Books is one of the uber-presses based there now publishing all kinds of great books.
On the planes back, I watched (along with such other fine films as Cowboys & Aliens, The Three Musketeers, & a really godawful flick produced by Emilio Esteves as a vehicle for his daddy Martin Sheen called The Walk, oy!) Hertzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Now, I have a hard time listening to old Werner narrate, & I understand this film was well made for 3D to really put you in the caves, so watching on a 6" screen isn't quite it, still, it was pretty dope to look at those 30K year old paintings, & they're such fantastic works some of them. So I'd like to yak a bit about Georges Bataille's Cradle of Humanity, which is an absolutely fantastic book about such prehistoric art, but I read it a couple years ago, so instead I'll just bridge to Gaudier-Brzeska, hence Ezra Pound, & Hugh Kenner's The Pound Era, which I'm still slogging thru, but think worth mention along with his buddy Guy Davenport'sGeographies of Imagination. Both of these are hit and miss books, to be sure. Half the time Hugh seems to have his head so far up his ass, intentionally, I think, that his navel might serve as third-eye. Guy's impossible much of the time too, but the essay on Agassiz is fantastic, as are a couple of the others. Both books were recommended to me in the same bar, Glen Park Station, but on separate occasions & by different people - Patrick Dunagan & Jason Morris, irrespectively. & in the fairly short time I've known them, I've found those two are pretty damn reliable in their recommendations, so the Kenner I copped at Green Apple, but had to buy the Davenport new off our own shelf at Bird & Beckett. That's one of the great bane/blessings of running a bookshop. If we haven't got it, but a book's in print, all I've gotta do is click two buttons & it shows up a couple of days later. & plenty good poets, & bad poets, & occasionally even non-poets, come & clue me into all sorts of great sounding books & I've an itchy trigger finger on the orders, too, so they stack up quick. Luckily, I feel no remorse ignoring a book for a good long time in favor of another, & another, & don't mind not finishing things either. Most things I don't, especially when they're as thick as that Kenner. We'll see.
But speaking of Patrick & thick books, one of the most worthwhile I read this year, in January, was Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures and Conversations which Clark Coolidge edited. At the end of 2010, talking to Patrick about his then forthcomingThere Are People Who Think That Painters Shouldn't Talk: A GUSTONBOOK, I caught his Guston-bug & ordered a bunch of stuff for the store (& by extension, myself) & insodoing caught wind of the soon-to-be-published Writings, etc., & Clark's hand in it. It was a sort of perfect Gustonstorm. I'd only just gotten to know Clark, thru David Meltzer, the littlest bit that year, & had also just met Bill Berkson on account of a reading he did at B&B with Simon Pettet. Bill had a brand new collection of art writings, including a couple on Guston, too. & out of the blue, just then, Gary Meyer who runs the Balboa Theatre in the outer Richmond in SF called us up to see if we wanted to do any book/film events. So I set up that mid-March screening of the Blackwood doc on Guston, to be followed by Bill & Clark in convo. I tagged Patrick to do an intro & thot I would have him mediate the conversation, but both BB & CC gave me a pretty hard time about setting the whole thing up & then hiding completely in the shadows, so I had to then actually read all that stuff I'd ordered for the store, so as I'd have some sort of foundation to stand on. & I'm really glad, because that Collected Writings, etc. volume is just crammed with fantastic tropes.

Before leaving for India, I packed up (almost) all of my books. We were leaving for 3 weeks, & the 19 year old sister of a friend was to stay in our apt to watch over the cats (& do godknows what else) while we were gone, & then we were expecting in the days after our return to be moving to Oakland. The new apt fell thru tho, so we're staying put until we find another, obviously, which I'm ok with -- it's heart-wrenching to leave the City, which is the City of my birth & upbringing, etc., but, needing to move after 4 years in our spot, we just can't afford it anymore -- except that now all my books (many of them not yet read) are in boxes & I can't rationalize unpacking them all again until we do move, so until then I've got only the aforementioned Kenner and Benjamin's Arcades Project, which I've been plugging away at for some time with great joy. Luckily, if I'm not feeling one or the other of these on any given day, I've also got a whole bookstore above my head, so I guess I'll be ok.
Best, better...

Zack Haber

1. _______, by: _______ (_______ 2011)

In 2011 I went to see _______ read. It was fun. I enjoyed _______'s reading a lot! I bought _______'s book but when I read it I didn't like it at all! I couldn't even finish it. I think _______ tricked me with _______'s cuteness. I don't think I would have bought _______'s book if _______ wasn't so cute. Then again maybe I should take another look at _______'s book. _______ is very cute after all.

2. _______, by: _______ (_______ 2011)

I read a wonderful book released in 2011 called _______ by _______. I had been enjoying _______'s work for quite a long time; so when I moved to the bay area in late 2010, I was very happy to learn that _______ also lived in the bay area! I went to one of _______'s readings and I talked to _______. _______ was very happy to meet a fan and we agreed that we definitely had to meet up sometime. In 2011, after I read _______'s new book, I asked _______ when indeed would be a good time to meet up. Tentative plans were made. After a few days _______ sent me a facebook message saying: I noticed you read _______ and that you listed _______ on goodreads but you didn't give _______ any stars. Please give _______ 5 stars.

I explained to _______: I loved your book but quantifying how much I like books in terms of stars is not something I want to do. You should notice that I didn't give any books any stars on goodreads.

_______ then sent me a message that said: I worked very hard on _______ and you know it deserves 5 stars!

Then I sent _______ a message saying: I don't want to give books stars but I do sometimes write little reviews of books I like on goodreads and I'd be happy to do that.

So I wrote a little review. And _______ contacted me the day after I wrote the review. We met up and talked about poetry and I showed _______ some of my poems. _______ had very kind and helpful things to say.

3. Parallel Stories, Peter Nadas (Farrar, Straus and Groix 2011)

The hungarian Peter Nadas wrote two novels that are both in my top 20 favorite books ever. Easily. These books are the novels "The End of A Family Story" and "A Book of Memories." They are amazing. Read them. They are the kind of books that give you tingly feelings all over your body on every page. In every sentence.

When I heard that Nadas had written a 1,133 page novel called Parallel Stories, I knew I had to read it. I knew I had to read it in Austin, Minnesota; where my family usually convenes yearly at xmas time at my grandpa's house.

My mother gave me Parallel Stories for xmas. I didn't like it. It was really confusing and too much of it was too boring. Nadas' other books were also confusing but they were way more stylistically interesting. And they weren't boring at all. I gave up after page 156. What makes this even more depressing is that Nadas worked on Parallel Stories for eighteen years.

That year in Minnesota the temperature was about 40 degrees whereas most years I go there around that time it's around 10 degrees. I probably only had three conversations with my grandpa during the weeklong visit but in one of them he said he supported what the occupations were doing and that the wars were mistakes. My mother said it's great that he said that but if he really believes what he's saying he probably won't vote for a republican in the next election again like he's probably going to do. My cousin came for one day and the whole family played taboo which was so much fun! I met my cousin's boyfriend; they've been together for almost five years but I still hadn't met him yet. He was great. He laughed at my jokes and he was pretty funny himself and gentle too. He works as an emergency medic. My family often makes lots of sexual jokes and innuendos. It's really awkward but also hilarious. I'm really glad I like my cousin's boyfriend so much. Hanging out with my family was even more fun than usual. I went for a lot of walks with my mom and then some stuff became a lot clearer to me. I'm glad I gave up on Nadas and didn't use all my time reading some confusing boring book. I feel like, five years ago, I would have mostly ignored my family to read the book.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Sam Lohmann

It seems like I spent a lot of 2011 embroiled with two very big books, Robert Duncan's H.D. Book and José Lezama Lima's novel Paradiso (translated by Gregory Rabassa). Michaela gave me the H.D. Book for Christmas or my birthday (quite the coup Santa-wise as I'd been slavering--is that a word? like when a hungry dog drools?--over it for years). I read it much too fast, without taking any of the useful notes I was constantly meaning to take, or doing much of the related reading it made me want to do (no Piaget or Whitehead or George MacDonald or The Spirit of Romance even H.D.!), but for about a month I really felt like Duncan was my best friend and we were having these great conversations in heaven every day.

Paradiso on the other hand I read way too slowly, taking 1-3-month breaks between each of the chapters. I remember it as completely delightful but strangely exhausting. Each time I picked it up I'd have forgotten all the characters' names and what was going on, but the book is so episodic and varied, and so intricately confusing at every level of its form, that it didn't really matter. I bought it at Powell's after wanting to read it for a long time, because of Julio Cortázar's great essay about it in Around the Day in Eighty Worlds, and because of Chris Daniels' beautiful quotation and use of Lezama in his chapbook porous, nomadic.

The other novel I read this year was equally baroque, or plateresque, or swirly-lumpy--Carlo Emilio Gadda's That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana, translated by William Weaver. Today I described it to James Yeary as: if Laurence Sterne wrote an episode of Columbo set in Fascist Italy. I read it on the plane and in Mexico while Michaela and I were on our long-delayed honeymoon. (Incidentally M. and I also watched a lot of Columbo this year, in bed--I'd never seen it before and only knew Peter Falk from The Princess Bride!)

James became my neighbor this year, and we saw each other all the time. He gave me the first 8 issues of his wonderful c_L newsletter as they came out, and I always read them right away, and they were great. They all have different titles, such as "ixchel," "cauliflower" and "creep of light." He also let me read lots of his wonderful poems, which I think of as having this black-and-white, weathered, newsprint quality that must take terrific spiritual and technical discipline to achieve. I especially remember "spectral cannon number 4" which he gave me as a photocopied and stapled typescript. I read it on the bus and couldn't make any sense of it. A week later I reread it sitting on the tiny "porch" outside my kitchen (more of a nook notched into the roof) on a sunny spring day when the maple leaves were opening ,and loved it, and felt unusually lucid and buzzed afterwards, and wrote James an email about it.

I ordered Lauren Levin's chapbook Keenan because I loved her recordings on Pennsound, and read it once in the spring and once in the winter, and thought a lot about--I guess the rhythm of her work, as sound and on the page. It's very knowingly artificial, cut-up and carefully posed, but at the same time incredibly casual, relaxed or tense, breathy or breathless, funny sometimes in a bureaucratic way, a stoned way, a loony-tunes way, an MTV way, and just so full of prying thought and physical life that I'm quite jealous. I also got to read a few of her newer what I think of as "long skinny" poems which take the same voice to completely different places. I even got to publish one in Peaches and Bats!

Maryrose Larkin's new unpublished long poem The Identification of Ghosts totally changed the way I was thinking about the page, even though I read it as a Word file on my laptop.

I got pretty obsessed with Michael McClure this year, which I never expected to happen--the Aquarian hippy kitsch aspect of his work combined with what I perceived as its aggressive masculinity had turned me off, I thought forever. But for some reason I read the new selected poems edited by Leslie Scalapino, Of Indigo and Saffron, and then was hooked and read a bunch of his books, and copied lots of lines into my notebook, and thought about him a lot, and thought differently about plants and animals and rocks and the body in poetry and in the world, and happiness as political, and again about form on the page.

I met Cedar Sigo in February 2011 and talked to him about Michael McClure and lots of other things. I'd read his book Stranger in Town three times in late 2010 and had a big friend/poet crush on him, so it was exciting to hang out with him and then read his work differently (I discovered that he writes the way he talks). He drew me a picture of Robert Desnos, who I was reading then and returned to in November and now want to read all winter every winter.

George Albon gave a wonderful reading in David Abel's apartment. There were irises on top of the heater so I guess it was spring. I'd never read his work. David turned out to be one of the main characters in the long prose piece Albon read, which was a pleasant surprise. I came back to David's apartment a few weeks later and the irises had dried, and it looked great. We talked about George Albon and the beautiful little poems in quatrains called "Hill and Dale," "Air and Water," and "Love and Strife." Then in November I bought Albon's Brief Capital of Disturbances at David's basement book sale, and read it in one sitting the next day, in complete awe. A few days later I was in David's car and he mentioned what a great title that is, and it reminded him of another great title, Christopher Dewdney's Spring Trances in the Control Emerald Night, which I hope I get to read in 2012.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jason Morris

I read The Long Goodbye at the lake in Vermont where I go to see my family every summer. Chandler has long been one of my favorites & I was sure I had read this one but it turns out I hadn’t. So I was reading it on the plane to Vermont & then I finished it there & I really enjoyed a lot how persistently anomalous it remained, to my setting. This was both formally & in terms of the book’s subject-matter. Chandler is pretty pitch-black reading material, & his dialogue is dispatched in stylized & clipped bursts. But as I read The Long Goodbye, I heard the lake lapping up against the dock & smelled cut grass. I on vacation, waking up late with an expanse of hours ahead of me. The weirdest idea I had was that there was no prelude to The Long Goodbye. This more came as a deliberate confusion on my part between the Chandler novel & a Rolling Stone article I had read on the plane about environmental collapse. The article was written by Al Gore, & it was very good & terrifying. It provoked a feeling of dread in me that trumped Chandler while strangely complementing him. As far as ecological devastation goes, it is a non-fiction Long Goodbye to which there is no prelude. Or maybe the prelude has always been there, prefigured in the earliest cave paintings & wooden carvings of our Neanderthal & Cro-Magnon ancestors.

Deliberate confusion between books is one of reading’s intensest pleasures, for me. I enjoy it when excellent books send you racing to read other books that they seem to have interleaved within them. This was exactly the case with Catherine Meng’s Tonight’s The Night, which I’d read earlier in the year. Tonight’s The Night eponymously quotes one of my favorite albums of all time, Neil Young’s master channeling of the panicky feelings one is exposed to in the adult, pre-dawn hours of the morning. It’s a last-call record. & Meng’s book uses the same spare methods of recording, while pointing to how the songs form variations of one another. They mutate. Like other serious & seriously satisfying books of poems (see, for example, the last one in this list), it uses repetition & variation at a frequency where the music begins to generate itself. There’s a hum. So I started reading that, & the mighty explosion, like shrapnel, really, of quotes—from Wittgenstein, D.H. Lawrence, Beckett, Neil Young, & many others—which kicks off the book veered me off in the direction of Watt by Samuel Beckett. I hadn’t read it & unlike The Long Goodbye I knew I hadn’t. You want stories about where & how the books got read so I won’t waste space trumpeting what a mind-blowing masterpiece Watt is, we all know what a genius Beckett was. Instead I’ll tell when I was reading the gruesomely funny section toward the end of the novel, where the magistrates (they’re characters in a kind of exponentially embedded frame-tale) keep turning to one another, trying to catch one anothers’ eye, thereby to decide their own verdicts & beliefs (Beckett catalogues each useless movement with his neatest Stein-like precision) I was eating sushi at a kind of a beat up sushi joint by a strip mall. Drinking a two dollar large Asahi for their happy hour special & laughing aloud at the table by myself.

So then I went back to Tonight’s The Night, glad it had recommended me Watt & I remember reading Tonight’s The Night glad for its tough web of books & music, all pretty dark & rigorous (Beckett & Neil Young, also Glen Gould’s Goldberg variations are a massive presence). & the days were getting longer & I was reading other good books of poems during that time of the year—Micah Ballard’s Waifs & Strays, Free Cell by Anselm Berrigan, Julian Brolaski’s Gowanus Atropolis—so I sat with Tonight’s The Night & that song too in my head as I read it, I remember one long afternoon of spring light at the bar that used to be called Sadie’s, a can of Tecate, digging lines like these:

.....................................This is to say a thief sleeps soundly.
.....................................This is to say there is only one melody, the rest
.....................................are borrowed. Occasionally one will return
.....................................& burn down the barn.

I read Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer in the fall, I finished it right when the protests were really starting to heat up & actually carried it downtown with me one afternoon to check out a march. It was probably late September & on the bus I read the section of Agamben’s book where he is likening the sovereign’s right to decide with legal definitions of “death.” The term has a history of definitions, and the point is that the state can decide—most significantly, the state can determine when to make exceptions— about whether a particular subject is dead. I looked around in light of this thinking & was impressed by the fact of all these bodies marching around to protest the calculus of greed which global sovereignties work so hard to protect. Lots of soft pink fleshy bodies shouting & marching to protest that shit.

& finally The Crystal Text by Clark Coolidge. I became so fascinated by this book that I began to research crystals. Here are a few facts about them:
  • a-Quartz is the most common mineral on Earth
  • Many crystals are piezoelectric: they emit an electric charge under pressure
  • Crystals naturally occur in the human brain. In 2002, calcite crystal was found to make up part of the composition of the pineal gland (third eye). Bataille was interested in the pineal gland; it secretes serotonin.
  • Certain crystals are biogenic. Calcite is formed biogenically, out of the compressed lenses of the eyes of trilobytes.
  • Crystals rotate the plane of polarized light
I also brought The Crystal Text to a protest downtown, this one against the Keystone XL pipeline. I had The Crystal Text in my back pocket plus a sign I had made on foamcore in red & black Sharpie that said “STOP KEYSTONE XL DOWN WITH BIG OIL!!!” It was a gorgeous hot day & there were about a thousand people south of Market Street, where President Obama was holding a fundraiser at a luxury hotel. Most of the people there were protesting the pipeline although Occupy SF was there as well as people opposed to federal raids of pot clubs, a big pro-Bradley Manning banner & so on. It was good full spirited airing of public grievances, there was nowhere else I would have rather been that day but I was by myself & am averse to large crowds generally so I wound up slouched against the granite wall of a building, reading Coolidge with my sign propped up on my outstretched legs. People walked by chanting in unison & carrying signs. I agreed with most of what was being said but preferred to remain quiet. Bartleby is my model for civil disobedience, & I think there is an explicitly political dimension to Daedelus’ injunction Silence Exile & Cunning. So yeah, No Pipeline for the One Percent!, but I also think of the scene from The Day The Earth Stood Still where all human activity halts.

I started to feel like I myself were a crystal, weirdly both reading & speaking. Reading the Coolidge book & “saying” stop Keystone XL. & then it became clear to me, in our current absurd situation, the sign I was holding could say any number of different things & still retain fidelity to my awareness of the nihilistic way humans have come to inhabit the earth. My awareness which is so sharply felt & so nauseatingly diffuse. “MORE LAWLESSNESS, LESS BUSINESS!,” “REINSTATE GLASS-STEAGALL,” “END CORPORATE PERSONHOOD” or just a drawing of a salmon, a photo of the Pacific Trash Vortex, or this line from The Crystal Text: “FIND ANOTHER SOLUTION.” You need books like The Crystal Text to show single filaments of thought are useless. As Coolidge puts it: “this useless activity is at the core of the work.”

Micah Ballard

Hey Johnny and Steve,
Wondrous to hear from you John, and thanks for the lovely poemage left on my voicemail o'er the holidays. I feel like Donald Allen, collecting all of your poems left over the phone (I've saved them all). We could prolly do a 20-30 minute cassette tape of you reading your new poems to me. Dig it. Love it. Here’s a lil' rambling of thy five favorite books read in 2011. Hell, there was so many, but here's off the top of my widow's peak this morn' as I just stepped into the dungeon (office) and gearing up for work-lurk.
1. Dylan by Dylan Rieder. I know it's the year previous, but this video part still rings true for a number of reasons. For starters, let's face it, a video part from a skateboarder is either a chapbook or a full-length collection of poems. It takes a few years (mostly) to get one's greatest hits recorded, poem by poem or clip by clip, into an ongoing stack of paper, or in this case, video footage. Then one has to sift thru all the hits and misses, and edit the thing into a suitcase of verse or tricks (they're one in the same right?) that feels right in the hands, the heart, the eye, and ear. Basically, into something that hits all the cylinders, sensations, etc. Dylan Rieder's video part is his book and it does just that. He's got RANGE. Tricks from the past get reinvented (he Makes it New, Pound would be proud), hell, he impossibles over that bench in NY then follows with a tre-flip worthy of Kalis' steeze, then there's multiple lines coupled with all the "hammers" (gaps, rails), with tech-ledge lines to boot, and even huge wall rides in seemingly unknown ditches. His trick selection is top notch, street meets vert and vert meets street- 70's meets 80's meets 90's meets 2000 meets NOW. There's no over the top handrail or ledge dancing, no run-of-the-mill cardboard cutout trendy trick selection with dress code to match. He's his own creative individual, on his own terms, on and off the board. Imagine that! He's got style for miles, and skates to Cass McCombs, followed by "Better Days" by Graham Nash. A great short film to watch and write to, or not watch and write, but have in the background while you're reading. Too bad he’s extremely good looking and into fashion in an industry that frowns upon such. Being called Skate Moss isn't that bad, right?
2. Hanging Quotes: Talking Book Arts, Typography, & Poetry edited by Alastair Johnston. This BEAST. Not so much in page count (I love it when I accidentally crack the spines off books that are too big and intimidatingly unreadable for us OCD sorts, who like small occasions with vast proportions, and so forth) but in everything you want to know about your favorite printers and poets and the gossip that you thot you knew but didn't. In the legendary New American Poetry anthology one of Edward Marshall's poems is really a Robin Blaser poem! I was particular drawn to Dave Haselwood’s (Auerhahn Press) interview. He’s my all-time favorite printer (John Wieners’ The Hotel Wentley Poems, Philip Lamantia’s Ekstasis and Narcotica, Lew Welch’s Wobbly Rock, Philip Whalen’s Self-Portrait, from Another Direction, and so forth) whom I’ve had the pleasure to hang with a couple of times at Joanne Kyger and Donald Guravich’s home. The last time I was with him (some five years back), everyone else had walked to Radio Beach, so we sat under a tree and chatted for two hours strait. Half way through our talk that magical brownie I had eaten hit me full force and right then he started quoting Lamantia poems. His eyes were so alchemical looking, like crystal balls, full of the poem, and it felt like they were shooting light strait thru me. He then told a wonderful story about inheriting Lamantia’s owl that he absolutely fell in love with. Later on in the day Joanne caught me trying on Philip Whalen’s ring, but that’s another story. At any rate, I got this book for Christmas from Sunnylyn and Lorca. Amazing interviews with Bob Creeley, David Meltzer, Graham Mackintosh, Holbrook Teter, Walter Hamady, Noel Young, and a host of others. A serious must read to dive deeper into the lineage of printer/poet collaborations.
3. A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos, edited by David Trinidad. FINALLY. Thank you David Trinidad, now I don’t have to keep making pirate editions of Tim’s books to give to friends. However, after the last one I did of Entre Nous (Little Caesar Press) I vowed to stop. It turned out so good that I felt guilty for doing it, but still had to pass it along. It’s a lovely collection of verse, with a very comprehensive Notes section in the back, a useful Chronology in the front, and a thorough and very moving introduction. Even tho the book’s over 500 pages of poems, it’s still very inviting, like you could read the whole thing in one sitting, as opposed to putting on a football helmet when sitting down with the Maximus Poems. What really nailed me about this book was the occasion that happened when reading his long, heart-breaking poem, G-9. Well, I wasn’t reading it but Sunnylyn had just finished reading it when we had quite a tremor from an earthquake, which literally and figuratively shook her up even more! I didn’t feel the thing as I had taken the elevator (for some odd reason, change of scenery at work perhaps?) down to the basement to go to the restroom. So, when the quake happened, there I was, lurking in the basement restroom. The next week I decided to go to the basement to read on my lunch break and when I passed by the restroom, the room number was G-9. Total body chills. Thanks Tim, I love when the poem scares and finds you, not you it. Isn’t it supposed to be that way?
4. Excess Space by Christina Fisher. Anything that Christina writes is going to be extraordinary. Trying to get writing from her on the other hand is nearly impossible. For twelve years I’ve been courting her to let me see what’s she writing, and I’ve learned to respect and expect to wait. That’s probably why I love this new book so much. It’s the perfect suite of poems and I’m glad that we go to publish it as a Lew Gallery edition. & speaking of, others that we printed right after were Carrie Hunter’s Angel, Unincorporated, Alli Warren’s Grindin, and Ava Koobar’s Sinusoidal Forms, translated from Farsi with Patrick James Dunagan, Will Skinker’s Feed My Lambs,  and Matt Gonzalez’s The Violet Suitcase. They’re all amazing books of sequential poems. And there’s nothing better than typing someone else’s poems on ye ole Remington (which I now refer to as the ghetto letterpress). You become part of the poems and just for a moment you feel like you actually wrote them (then they write you). And there’s not a higher magical experience then typing a whole little book in one sitting with no typos. Light just coming out of the fingertips.
5. The H.D. Book by Robert Duncan. I can’t believe that it’s finally in the world, in one bound book. It’s pretty much THE Holy Grail. For years, I’ve had David Meltzer’s leather, hardbound copy (with a collage of a bear grabbing at some tree branches on the cover). It’s all of the pieces of the H.D. Book that had been published in various journals and zines over the years, photocopied into one book. Something grand, seeing the H.D. Book pieced together that way, like Leaves of Grass, all these parts that make a whole. At any rate, I don’t think there’s another book written by a poet about another poet that will ever compare. Duncan had an IV directly into the muse’s arm. & as he said via Blake, “the authors are in eternity.” I want to be in eternity with Duncan and there’s not a week that goes by that I’m not with his books. He’s the Lantern Along the Wall as John Wieners might say.

Hope this finds you both well and hope to hang soon.

Much love,


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

John Bloomberg-Rissman

Books read 2011

10 Jan 012


Guys, this “Books Read 2011” thing was harder than it looked, because I thought I ought to interpret books read as books completed and it quickly became obvious that I read in dozens  / hundreds  / who knows how many books a year but hardly finish any of them. Which is a comment on uh something, but not on the quality of what I pick up. I think we live in a golden age for writing and reading, really.

Books I read in doesn’t mean books I’ll never finish, just books I haven’t finished yet. (Well, that’s the wish) Some of the most notable books in progress, well some of those that came straight to mind are:

Sean Bonney’s Happiness: Poems after Rimbaud (which didn’t come out til year’s end. The back cover blurb demands quoting in full:

“It is impossible to fully grasp Rimbaud’s work, and especially Une Saison en Enfer, if you have not studied through and understood the whole of Marx’s Capital.[JBR note: which is a funny take on Lenin’s ““It is impossible to fully grasp Marx’s Capital, …if you have not studied through and understood the whole of Hegel’s Logic. (memory quote, so please excuse if not entirely accurate] And this is why no English speaking poet has ever understood Rimbaud. Poetry is stupid, but then again, stupidity is not the absence of intellectual ability but rather the scar of its mutilation. Rimbaud hammered out his poetic programme in 1871, just as the Paris Commune was being blown off the map. He wanted to be there. It’s all he talked about. The “systematic derangement of the senses” is the social senses, ok, and the “I” becomes an “other” as in the transformation of the individual into the collective when it all kicks off. It’s only in the English speaking world you have to point simple shit like that out. But then again, these poems have NOTHING TO DO WITH RIMBAUD. If you think they’re translations you’re an idiot. In the enemy language it is necessary to lie.;

Gramsci’s Prison Letters;

Brian Massumi’s Parables for the Virtual;

Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism (another year’s end book);

Teresa Brennan’s Transmission of Affect;

two spectacularly good non-fiction dystopias, Evan Calder Williams’ Combined and Uneven Apocalypse, and Owen Hatherley’s The New Ruins of Great Britain;

Anne Waldman’s IOVIS (which I plan to savor for a long time);

and Franklin Rosemont’s bio of Joe Hill (the perfect Occupy book – I mean, check out how the IWW’s Mixed Locals worked).

But the main book-in-progress I want to mention is Rob Kovitz’s Ice Fishing in Gimli, which is an absolutely giganto-stupendous mash-up novel.To quote the website blurb,

Ten years in the making, Ice Fishing in Gimli is an 8-volume image/text montage bookwork by Winnipeg artist/writer Rob Kovitz. Set in and around a strange small town and a large frozen lake in the uncharted center of Canada, it’s an epic citation saga of desire, ambition, weather and landscape; of drownings, freezings, murder and cannibalism; of alien architectures, bizarre conveyances, inscrutable soothsayers and esoteric ice-fishing techniques; of the search for enlightenment, the poignancy of fish-flies and the indeterminacy of maps; of prairie writer and double-agent Frederick Philip Grove, Gimli-born Arctic explorer VilhjalmurStephanson, and numerous other quixotic characters both real and imagined; of boredom, failure, madness, nothingness, unrequited love, best-laid plans, the Wandering Jew, the House of Squid and mysterious things that may or may not be hidden beneath flat, frozen surfaces, to name a few things ...

8 volumes, about 4,500 pages.Dance massive, to get all 70s Jamaican. Wonderful stuff. And great production values, tho Rob did tell me that what he did with photographs pissed some people off …

I should note that Frederick Philip Grove was born Felix Paul Greve, and that early in life, before he reinvented himself as a Canadian writer, eloped with a woman named Else, who later became Baroness Else von Freytag-Loringhoven.


My book-reading habits are really worse that it might seem from the above. I mean, I do tons of reading on the web. Hundreds if not thousands of poems here and there (as if I could name all the names … but Heather Christle was new to me this year, and I like her work); blogs, lots of blogs (including your BOTH BOTH, John).Some of my important blogs in 011: Bhanu Kapil’s, Nina Power’s, Jodi Dean’s, Aaron Bady’szunguzungu, Montevidayo, Evan Calder Williams’, wood s lot, Levi Bryant’s, Tim Morton’s, Graham Harman’s, Richard Seymour’s,Geoff Manaugh’s, HTMLGIANT, Alexander Trevi’s, Kate Zambreno’s, John Latta’s, Eileen Tabios’, Prodigies & Monsters, etcetcetc … tumblrs, poetry zines …  Al Jazeera  Jacket2  Mute Magazinen+1 … I think my Google Reader, which organizes my writing practice, also organizes my reading. And I do tend to take tangents, and click links.

So I don’t know if “the book is dead” for me. I sure buy a lot of them … [Someday we might want to talk about “the future of the book” and “the future of the journal” – as a librarian, I’ve thought a lot about this stuff] Or just … well this was also a year spent on the run, so to speak. My daughter spent the first 2 months in the hospital, trying to hold off the premature birth of her triplet boys. The, in March, the boys arrived. So I was extraordinarily busy and in love, which also made reading cover to cover kinda … silly. I mean, I had to just read what held a charge. Then I had some heart arrhythmias and vertigo issues, not life threatening, but there’s nothing like a health crisis to kill off a book (as in: I was reading that in some other lifetime while I can't reach back to) and make me begin somewhere new again. That happened a lot …


I did read all of »SOUS LES PAVÉS« and Eccolinguistics. Good good stuff. But, for no particular reason, I don’t want to talk about them here. Anyhow, here are 5 books I actually finished (well, 6 …)

Karl Marx, Capital, v.1. I’d never read it all the way through before. Given the events of the big world (the obvious slow crumble of the western world, the so-called Arab Spring, Occupy, etc, it seemed like the year for it. I have no special training in “political economy”, but I still got it, so I understand now why it’s been called the workingman’s bible (pardon the gendered language). A funny book, too. And it introduced me to some unsung heroes: the doctors and others sent out by Parliament to investigate and report on the conditions of the working class. These people, or so many of them, at least, were so unbought it’s hard to imagine them in our time. Marx included many lengthy quotes from them, and they some absolutely horrendous conditions. This was kinda my year’s anchor book.

Brandon Brown, The Persians By Aeschylus by Brandon Brown and his translation of Catullus.Two wonderful books. The latter may have been the most satisfying read of the year. I don’t have anything to say about it, really, except you go, Brandon, I can’t wait to read what’s next. I reviewed the former for Eileen Tabios’ Resurrects, so I’ll quote the review’s first few paragraphs:

Aeschylus’s The Persians opens with this scene: “Before the Council-Hall of the Persian Kings at Susa. The tomb of Darius the Great is visible. The time is 480 B.C., shortly after the battle of Salamis. The play opens with the CHORUS OF PERSIAN ELDERS singing its first choral lyric.” (Robert Potter version, as seen at The Internet Classics.

I’ve examined four print translations, all of which, if they say anything, say more or less the same thing. Except for Brandon Brown’s version, which eschews theatrical illusion in order to begin with: “1-184 / SUNDRY PROLOGUES EXPLAINING / AMONG OTHER THINGS / THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR / BETWEEN THE GREEKS AND / THE PERSIANS; ITS CONDUCT, / STATUS, AND PROLEGOMENIC PREDICTIONS FOR THE FUTURE”.

One is struck immediately by Brown’s approach. It’s reminiscent of Brecht’s Epic Theatre, in that Brecht always wanted the audience to be aware that it was watching a play.

The chorus speaks. I’ll use Robert Auletta’s translation, published during the first Gulf War by Sun & Moon, because it too has ambitions above and beyond moving a text from one language/culture to another (“In this modern version … Robert Auletta shifts the action of the play from Persia to a modern-day Iraq, and like Aeschylus, asks Americans to question and challenge their views of our recently defeated enemies.”)

We are the chosen ones,
the Persian Council
left here to guard
the sacred documents of our country,
while all our forces
have gone to war in Greece.
It is a strange time,
this early morning
of both hope and fear,
with rumors running wild,
and the heart pounding
with terror and joy. …

This is very similar to the other versions I’ve examined. Brown’s chorus does a radically different thing:

t’s been a few years since we went
to fight with Persians. I meant to
fight with Greeks. No, I meant to say
t’s been a few years since we went
to fight with Greeks, since we’re Persians.
If this is confusing, it’s be-
cause I’m saying this to you in
Greek. In fact, we’re Greeks, because we’re

speaking Greek. But isn’t it as
if we were Persians, making this
speech about fighting with Greeks? All
the more rich I’d venture since we’re
making the speech in Greek. That’s what
Persians do after all in The
Persians. Speak in Greek ‘bout fighting
with Greeks, or rather against them.

Beside the Epic Theatre proscenium-breaking, the most important thing to note, I think, is that these Persians are aware of and enacting their own defeat and enslavement from the very first lines. Everyone in Aeschylus’ audience knew the Persian defeat to be the case. Yet, as is evident from the lines from Auletta’s version above, the audience was still allowed the frisson of pretending that neither they nor the Persians knew that. However much Aeschylus “humanized the enemy” (Peter Green, intro to Auletta’s version), he still, and other translations still, begin the play as if the Persians are still free. Brown does not allow his readers, or audience, or his Persians, even one moment of that luxury. 

Alice Notley,  Culture of One.I don’t know how she does it. She goes places I didn’t even know existed. It’s as if she’s a priestess or something. I think her books are pure terrifying magic. This one’s a novel, sort of. It takes place back in her home territory, a small town in the California desert. I could summarize it, but the story alone is not the truly important thing. It’s how she does it. The twists and turns of her lines, and her dictions, and her, well, this can be read at any scale, from the syllable to the whole narrative, from the narrative to the sensibility behind it, and … well, this isn’t even her best book and it’s still so far up there I bleed when I read it.

Sean Bonney, THE COMMONS. He’s one angry man. And he should be required reading for all who think political passion is bad for poetry. I also reviewed this for, so I’ll roll the wheel I already invented (again, only the first bit).

“The work was originally subtitled “A Narrative / Diagram of the Class Struggle”, wherein voices from contemporary uprisings blend into the Paris Commune, into October 1917, into the execution of Charles 1, and on into superstitions, fantasies of crazed fairies and supernatural bandits //// all clambering up from their hidden places in history, getting ready to storm the Cities of the Rich //// to the bourgeois eye they may look like zombies, to us they are sparrows, cuckoos, pirates & sirens //// the cracked melodies of ancient folk songs, cracking the windows of Piccadilly //// or, as a contemporary Greek proverb has it, “smashing up the present because they come from the future”.”

“Hi, my name is John, I am 14 years old and hate the Tories, and this book exploded my political consciousness, now a brick through a window is never enough, I want to reawaken the dead.”

Both quotes are from the back cover of the book. My name is John, too, and I’ll be 61 by the time this is published, and I too hate what little John hates, and I too know that brick through a window feeling, and I too know it’s never enough, and I too want to reawaken the dead, at least in Walter Benjamin’s weak messianic sense. Whatever you do, don’t laugh. Or, go ahead, but first think twice.


Even Wikipedia gets it: “The commons were traditionally defined as the elements of the environment—forests, atmosphere, rivers, fisheries or grazing land—that are shared, used and enjoyed by all.

Today, the commons are also understood within a cultural sphere. These commons include literature, music, arts, design, film, video, television, radio, information, software and sites of heritage. The commons can also include public goods such as public space, public education, health and the infrastructure that allows our society to function (such as electricity or water delivery systems). There also exists the ‘life commons’, e.g. the human genome.

Peter Barnes describes commons as a set of assets that have two characteristics: they’re all gifts, and they’re all shared. A shared gift is one we receive as members of [the human] community, as opposed to individually. Examples of such gifts include air, water, ecosystems, languages, music, holidays, money, law, mathematics, parks and the Internet.

[JBR: I’d add food and shelter to the list …]

There are a number of important aspects that can be used to describe true commons. The first is that the commons cannot be commodified—and if they are—they cease to be commons. The second aspect is that unlike private property, the commons is inclusive rather than exclusive — its nature is to share ownership as widely, rather than as narrowly, as possible. The third aspect is that the assets in commons are meant to be preserved regardless of their return of capital. Just as we receive them as shared gifts, so we have a duty to pass them on to future generations in at least the same condition as we received them. If we can add to their value, so much the better, but at a minimum we must not degrade them, and we certainly have no right to destroy them.”


But the powers-that-be just say: Fuck that shit. So I can’t help but read THE COMMONS in light of the Occupy movement. Which, in a way, has a very simple message: Let’s Just Take It All Back.


The poem begins with the first bit of an old song, “The cuckoo is a pretty bird, she warbles as she flies.” It’s got an interesting recent history, which kind of sums the whole thing in a nutshell. According to The Annotated Bob Dylan, “This is a line from a very old folk song that has many variations. It probably originated in the British Isles.” It was appropriated by Dylan for reuse in his “High Water (for Charlie Patton)” (Love and Theft, 2001), which is fine; old lines from old songs are there for re-use. But Dylan’s re-use of old material is controversial. He has a long-term habit of releasing versions of old songs and copping all the credit. Of enclosing the commons. Thus, when I read the first few lines of Bonney’s poem,

the cuckoo is a pretty bird,
she warbles as she flies
The cuckoo is a
- BANG -
he was a big freak:

I can’t help but hear the bang as—well, obviously as a gunshot that kills the poor old bird—and also as a bang that kills the commons (I can’t claim that anyone but me would hear “he was a big freak” as a reference to Dylan, and to his famous line, now redirected as in a mirror, “How does it feel to be such a freak?” … but I’ve always resented his taking credit for stuff he didn’t write, just as I resent Goldman-Sachs for taking money they didn’t earn).

(Bonney credits Clarence Ashley’s version, by the way).

Noah Eli Gordon, The Source. This is an interesting project (peace, Dorothea Lasky; sometimes poetry can be a project!). He did manage to make something out of a million little bits. This books stands out for me because I was asked by the good people at futurepoems to respond to page 26 of it (I was asked because I’m a librarian, and a number of librarian/poets were asked …). So I’m going to share some of my response. But first the method, because Noah’s method used to create his book demanded a suitable response:

A modified version of a process first used by JBR in the part of the 1000 Views of ‘Girl Singing’ Project titled “... high theory and daily life/speech crossed and crashed into each other. ...’ View of “Girl Singing”, and therefore named the HTADL/SCACIEO Transformation. Since it’s modified here for The Source it’s known as HTADL/SCACIEO/TS Transformation.]

Modification: For this project I utilized a two-option process with a one strong and one weak formal constraint, and I allowed myself one (bracketed) interpolation, which begins with the last noun in stanza 2.

Option 1: I took the nouns in order and matched each with a proper name beginning with the same letter as the noun (e.g. Source/Frank Stanford) found in the index to Lynn Keller, Thinking Poetry: Readings in Contemporary Women’s Exploratory Poetry, or CarenIrr, Pink Pirates: Contemporary American Women Writers and Copyright (Stanza 1); Juliana Spahr, Everybody’s Autonomy: Connective Reading and Collective Identity (Stanza 2); Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987-2007 (Stanza 3); googled the resultant noun-and-name sets, took (and occasionally mangled) what I wanted.

Option 2: I took the nouns in order and, using my own home library, matched each with the proper name of a author whose name begins with the same letter as the noun (e.g. Source/Frank Stanford), opened one of that author’s books, and sampled and (occasionally) mangled. I used p.26 when I could.

Strong formal constraint: mostly all sentences, each with a first-person singular pronoun or possessive adjective in it.

Weak formal constraint: 5 words/line.

So. Here’s the first and last section of what came of the above:


I have a revolver in
my possession. I step from
the bus into a sequencing
tool that is moist and
carries the scent of quince.
I carry a bag with
severed heads. I keep the
eel alive until ready to
skin. In my view, this
tradition of documentary and the
idea of a native culture
waiting-to-be revealed stand
as companion myths. If I
could prevent entropy from rusting
the gears of the neo-
machinery, I could contact my
familiars of another wavelength. I’m
going to get a glass
of whiskey now; would you
care for a glass of
absinthe? In my mind’s
eye it is more like
one of those strobe photographs
in which each increment of
the jumper’s act registers on
the single image. I cut
off my bird to spite
my face. I’m sorry, but
I was born with a
towel on my head, which
“excited the cherries”. For this
reason, I have found it
necessary to rewrite Lautréamont’s famous
trope in the following way:
“Butter on the knife. Water
table. Itch of the coccyx.
Deer fetus wine of China.”


I feel bound to state
the obvious warning: Cthulhu is
not to be approached lightly …
Hyperstition strikes me as a
most intriguing coinage … We thought
we were making it up,
but all the time the
Nma were telling us what
to write. He was pulling
me along on an immaculate
silver table, larger than a
serving tray, I thought, sheet
over me then, white linen,
and their faces soothing, shapes
of words and eyes I
couldn’t identify. I assume that
we grant that Art, Love,
Politics, and Science are affections.
Whether there are more affections,
etc. I am not debating.
Rather, I wish to understand
how they topologically relate to
the body α as it
is paired in α1 x
α2 x α3 x α4.
What I’m trying to text
is unreduced to its molecules,
dark matter acronymically textured into
temperate understanding; money talks, dear,
and the silence is deafening –
or heartening – or – but, at
some point, wouldn’t it serve
us to consider other foundational
questions, like why “unicorn hardcore
softporn abortion e-cards” is
a rather succinct and accurate
description of contemporary consciousness in
the developed world in the
early 21st century, an immersive
media environment in which we
can “stay warm on a
cold night” of the “Ka
kaaaawwwwwwwKakaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwww” 1 Star
2 Stars 3 Stars 4
Stars 5 Stars … (5.00 out
of 5); … patty melts and
corn dogs and shrimp wiggle …
bloody earlobes and other appendages
litter the aisle ….. the baby’s
still breathing .. maybe .. standing in
for the epidemic … in the
era of the global polka-
dotted lobster flu .. the
aging white man of the
popular saying … Still, he worried
about …the fact that the
goat had …a beard, and
he secretly consulted …an oracle
in a neighboring country, …who
assured him that only a
…bearded spirit could seriously threaten
his rule … And if you’re not well,
let’s face it … “Kakaaaawwwwwww
Kakaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwww” … up close you
look like the anemone’s tentacles …

I can provide all the source notes if anybody wants them …