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