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.