Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chris Martin

When I picked up Fred Moten's In the Break, on the suggestion of Thom Donovan, I was expecting it to be full of interest and challenge but holy fuck. In addition to being completely brilliant, it's also very generous. My only guess is that I'll be reading that book for the rest of my life, though I hope I can say something more thoughtful about it sometime soon.

Stephanie Gray's new book is yet-to-be-published, but I got a chance to read it last year and it totally blew me away. She works so directly. I mean, her style is so direct it can afford music and detours and repetition and all of it only gets to you quicker. Her first book Heart Stoner Bingo is great and so are the films she makes. Someone publish her next book; the world will thank you for it. Here's something new:

Letter Machine, which has been tearing shit up of late (cannot wait for the new Eddie Berrigan), dropped a beauty on us last year with Farid Matuk's This Isa Nice Neighborhood. If Farid quits writing tomorrow, he will have written "Tallying Song" and no one could ask much more of a poet than that. But he won't quit. He's too tall to quit. Not to mention dark and handsome. You eat a burger with the guy and it's somehow both a sensual and intellectual experience. Look out for a long, thoughtful review by Mary Austin Speaker in Painted Bride sometime soon.

Speaking of MAS, my favorite single event of last year had to be her chapbook party in Jay Grabowski's West Village backyard last fall. J (Push Press) published a selection of her long poem, The Bridge, all written while commuting back and forth to work over the Manhattan Bridge. We stapled and creased until the moment it began and then sat back in a wash of starlight and whiskey to hear Mary just kill it, all our voices creating the bridge as she went. It's a love song to NYC and its sheer peopleness, the way so much is shared and borne, the way a most uncommon living becomes common. Oh yeah, and I'm lucky enough to share a life with her.

Toward the end of the year so much outrageous gold dropped I sort of lost count. First there was Brandon Brown's Catullus book. Amazing. I've already lent it out three times. I keep talking about it. Every time I opened it up I learned something. Then there was Dana Ward's This Can't Be Life. I could have easily made my whole post about this book, but I'm too busy thinking about Dana's next book, which I have the honor of midwifing with Futurepoem. My guess is not a single Dana Ward book will be less than indispensable this decade. Sorry for the double neg. And it's been said a million times, but "Typing Wild Speech" is the achievement of a civilization. I've never bought ten copies of a chapbook before. People need them. Not to mention "Sugar Falls" and just about everything else. Finally, I was overjoyed to receive my copy of Noel Black's Uselysses, accompanied by a beautiful special edition large format chappy, Moby K. Dick. Noel is like the consummate culture worker. He transforms whatever community he's in. Often he's loud and opinionated, which draws energy to issues and events. But his writing is almost, I don't know, gentle. He wants you to sojourn with him as he thinks across world/worlds, even if the journey never leaves the bathtub. He lives the life of the mind, but lets it splinter with the joy of domesticity, introducing far-flung minds to each other in the city of word people that occurs in the kitchen, the living room, the bedroom. He introduced me to Poetry when I was young and dumb in Daly City. It looks like he's still doing it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Paul Ebenkamp

Moby-Dick: January 1 2011: Picked this up again to pluck up my spirits while teaching Kieslowski's Decalogue to unwilling-to-be-valorously-depressed college students. "Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!" The chapter entitled "The Candles" rattles the bars of the cumbersomely designed mailroom of my soul's vaunted country every time.

War and Peace: February 4 2011: This was an easy choice. I discarded the Garnett translation after 100 pages and recommenced with the Pevear/Volokhonsky which, though I can't vouch for a syllable of Russian, seems more robust and deft in the world it has to translate. A singularly long meditation on the insignificance of greatness; on the excellent stupidity of the upper classes (particularly Petersburg's, for choice); on property, writing, the limits of imagination, the limits of force, the limits of care and solicitude; and on the slow inexorable crawl of a particular seven years of God's time. It is a chronicle of aging as much as of an age; watching Tolstoy's characters senesce was perhaps the principal pleasure I took in the book. Yes, they all get wiser.

Anna Karenina: Mid-May 2011: What else was I to do? This book is incredible. A smartly hybrid love story + feisty rake on crass sanctimonious proto-theosophic religiosity in 1870s Russian intellectual culture esp. as it relates (and is unable to relate) to changing social mores. Many excellent wheat-threshing scenes; Levin's and Anna's numerous quasi-epiphanies proceed in what I'd call sublimated counterpoint and accumulate into what's got to be one of the most ended books ever written.

2666: July 10 2011: There were certain moral agonies in Anna Karenina that perhaps led me to this. The five novellas that make up this book interact in a way that induces in the reader a new kind of brain for novel-reading; they overlap and echo each other, and they build very well (i.e. their order is purposeful), but they're also independent of each other to such a degree that finally reaching the fifth book feels like discovering a new planet, or (to put it otherwise) as if the beautiful violin solo and its heartrending key change at the end of This Heat's "Twilight Furniture" had somehow, on this listen, stretched out for a few whole beautiful days. This book has a phenomenal ending, and by "ending" I mean pages 350 through 890. The gentle reader will note that this includes pages 427-437.

(A little intermezzo scherzando: In the midst of these readings I was writing an instructor's manual for a college health textbook; this probably only took me 250 hours from June to October, but you try writing outlines about starting a family, sports injuries, healthy eating and death a couple hours a day and see how you feel.)

Ulysses: Mid-August 2011: I was so traumatized by 2666 that I turned to Ulysses for a fifth read like a PTSD patient who hears compulsively in his head odd songs from his childhood. This is a real metaphor; such a thing really happens, as I learned when my grandfather survived the big Amtrak crash in Oklahoma 12 years ago that you probably heard about. Ulysses is a novel, it can be read, it's tenacious in its methods yet deploys an abundance of different methods, each with their context and purpose. The Ormond hotel scene is beyond description (and is, worth noting, the referent of an excellent allusion somewhere in Lolita). I don't like how the chapters in Ulysses are now commonly referred to by their Odyssean correspondences as per the Linati scheme. They should be referred to using their location and time. The Ormond hotel scene takes place at 4 PM, in the course of which hour the low air of a hotel bar at the close of day bewitches all, a waiter waits, a stripling cane taps, a song that you can practically hear is sung and a watch stops - the whole composed in mostly new words that halve and double as echolocators in a waking-dreamlike pattern-notation system with lots of cues and feints and reiterations... Ulysses is mainly about surfeit and titles: a relentless, yet in important respects nonlinear, snowballing between private and public speech which describes a particular experience of modernity, subjective and objective genitive. Maybe it's basically a matter of the difference between what one calls oneself and what one tells oneself. "Love. Hate. Those are names. Rudy. Soon I am old."

Dog Years: Early November 2011: This is a vexing one. Grass has a style that you could call "flat," meaning 1) it can stay on one tonal level for the duration of a novel, or a significant portion thereof, and/or meaning 2) it's histrionic or loose or dull in some way, but even that's often parlayed into a strength upon the meaning previously stated. I think this describes the paradoxical feeling of reading this book, which has an excellent narrative structure and conceit, stages bizarre ordeals and mock-epic sequences admirably, contains a lot of side-splitting (and ultimately climactic) Heidegger-obsessed tomfoolery, and I guess Ralph Mandelheim is translating acceptably since he's done all of them and I think I've only ever seen one other translation of The Tin Drum. I'd say Dog Years is easily as strong if not stronger than that book's picaresque style; its two main focuses are the interrelations of the narrators and the many canine and other lineages whose travails and diversions and final ends are totally engrossing, but all rather vestigial still. A war book, it gives a generally creepy picture of Danzig, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Bavaria, and other pre-post-industrial Allemanic lands. Again, great narrative scheme; much is awesome in it, but...I just don't know. You should read it.

Postscript: Over the holidays I read Wallace Stevens' "Someone Puts a Pineapple Together"; Borges' Fictionnes, in the Andrew Hurley translation (I like "A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain" best), and am now on Gogol's collected stories, followed by Dead Souls, which I read at an irresponsibly young age knowing not what to think. Same thing happened to me in 2nd grade with Sphere by Michael Crichton.