Friday, December 25, 2009


“A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.”

Jerry Seinfeld

Well—so you may say—after exploring all these byways we should finally reach the wide highway of book acquisition, namely, the purchasing of books. This is indeed a wide highway, but not a comfortable one. The purchasing done by a book collector has very little in common with that done in a bookshop by a student getting a textbook, a man of the world buying a present for his lady, or a businessman intending to while away his next train journey. I have made my most memorable purchases on trips, as a transient. Property and possession belong to the tactical sphere. Collectors are people with a tactical instinct; their experience teaches them that when they capture a strange city, the smallest antique shop can be a fortress, the most remote stationery store a key position. How many cities have revealed themselves to me in the marches I undertook in the pursuit of books!

Walter Benjamin
"Unpacking My Library: a Talk about Book Collecting"

"Public silence indeed is nothing"

George Oppen

"Each bridge is a rendezvous. . ."

Mahmoud Darwish

"Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."

John Keats
[by letter ]


My prime picks from the past few months off the book stacks
real books, not game toys and screen machines, but books that make libraries, friendships, warmth and words in hand that can be passed along & along.

Adonis: Mihyar of Damascus: His Songs
(BOA Editions)


Come up close, sky,

and rest in my narrow grave,

on my broad forehead.

Stay as you are, faceless, without hands,

without a breathing sound,

without a pulse,

and paint yourself as two selves,

my shadow and the shadow of the earth.

translated from the Arabic by Adnan Haydar & Michael Beard

The Letters of Samuel Beckett

When wrapped up by the publisher, this will be a four-book set gathering together 2,500 letters, selected from many thousands written by Beckett over 60 years. Loaded for bear with introductions, indexes, calendar, and biographical profiles of Beckett's associates, plus each letter is annotated with zip and gusto identifying each person, historical background and alliance. The real deal. The typeface, leading and layout of the book plan is quite pleasing as well to the eye.

Edward S. Curtis: The Image Taker
ed. Gerald Hausman & Bob Kapoun
(World Wisdom)

Nothing is past that isn't still here. I'm reminded of this fact every time I climb onto the roof or under the stone of this 210 year old house I take care of. That's what living is — taking care of. And Gerald Hausman and Bob Kapoun have re-appeared from their own past to take care of Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952), one more good American taken for granted. Imagine culling a personal eye as each editor has done to Curtis's 20-volume masterpiece The North American Indian: photographs and the rather neglected Curtis prose from the vast lore of Indian history. In splendid sure strokes 181 photographs are showcased, along with the legend of 26 tribal nations. Come and find yourself.

Charles Stuckey & Richard Howard: Dorothea Tanning

A concise survey of Tanning's paintings Insomnias from her mid period 1954-1965. Beautifully illustrated with the artist's paintings and background. Limited edition.

Manny Faber: On Film (Library of America)

If you need to read one book on the cinema, just one, this one might be the ticket.

Catherine Wagner: My New Job


I make the bird a flying fist
my violence goes on out along the stream.

Things mean, and I can't tell them not to.
Things moralize, to meet

my expectations, because I want advice
on how to live.

Maurice Scully: Humming

Oak, pine, juniper and ash grew here in these
valleys 60,000 years ago where in summer the
ground was covered with wild flowers among the
grasses . . .

the grains in the cave . . . minute dots

drifting in on what we now call "June" breezes . . .
a little pale blue butterfly . . .

or on the bodies of . . . the hides and skins of . . .

. . . . tiny hollows in a bone decoration . . . or . . .

by water in a deep recess----here----(& here)

a little ripple I think


Nick Reding: Methland (Bloomsbury)

One of those heroic tales bigger than life and taking it down at the same time. Crystal methamphetamine in heartland America, in every small town, but this one is concentrated in rural Iowa where they were taught how to grow things and not give up.

Mary Oliver: Evidence

A Lesson from James Wright

If James Wright
could put in his book of poems
a blank page

dedicated to "the Horse David
Who Ate One of My Poems," I am ready
to follow him along

the sweet path he cut
through the dryness
and suggest that you sit now

very quietly
in some lovely wild place, and listen
to the silence.

And I say that this, too,
is a poem.

Ed Markowski : 15 Poems
(Lilliput Review #172

282 Main St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15201)

sunday funnies
a joke?






born again


The Sound of Poetry/The poetry of Sound
edited by Marjorie Perloff & Craid Dworkin

More mumbo-jumbo from the poetry egg-heads, but important mumbo-jumbo. To truly pack a punch it should have come with a CD, been even more aware of the ground breaking work Alcheringa/Jerome Rothenberg did in this field with recordings and earth voices, and mined its ever present avant-garde (which has become a big whatever) with varied literary experiments. Literary should include, at least, hunting calls, raps and hollers amongst the brilliant texts. Go wander in some splendid essays.

Paul Celan: Snow Part
translated by Ian Fairle
(Sheep Meadow)

and what pressed and
drove and held me:


the pinewood frenzy, once,

the unbridled conviction
this should be said other than
it is.

Robert Cozzolino, Marshall N. Price,
N.Mellisa Wolfe: George Tooker (Merrell)

Still with us in homestead Vermont, this showcase splendor offers the first full portrait of George Tooker as artist, enduring gay love, small-town squire, with an elegant display of his paintings over 70 years long.

Norman Schaefer: Bluest Sky, climbing & wandering in the Sierra Nevada
Introduction by Gary Snyder

Voices From the American Land

Richard Holmes: The Age of Wonder
( Pantheon )

Through earlier and stunning books on Shelley and Coleridge, Holmes now lands in a bed of stars, weaving science and the romance of literature.

Luljeta Lleshanaku: Child of Nature
(New Directions)

I've already typed out one poem by this excellent poet elsewhere on the Birdhouse, here's another:


In my family
prayers were said secretly,
softly, murmured through sore noses
beneath blankets,
a sigh before and a sigh after
thin and sterile as a bandage.

Outside the house
there was only a ladder to climb
a wooden one, leaning against a wall all year long,
ready to use to repair the tiles, in August before the rains.
No angels climbed up
and no angels climbed down —
only men suffering from sciatica.

They prayed to catch a glimpse of Him
hoping to renegotiate their contracts
or to postpone their deadlines.

"Lord, give me strength," they said
for they were descendants of Esau
and had to make do with the only blessing
left over from Jacob,
the blessing of the sword.

In my house praying was considered a weakness
like making love.
And like making love
it was followed by the long
cold night of the body.

Rebecca West: Survivors in Mexico

Cicely Isabel Fairfield (1892-1983) better know as Rebecca West, savage social activist, feminist and world traveler who lived to a ripe old age and managed to live three lifetimes — befriending or lovers with CIA founder Allen Dulles to comedy founder Charlie Chaplin. And that is a stretch! Prolific writer in a myriad of genres, and with no formal education after the age of 16. She visited and survived skirmishes and full bloodied wars in Yugoslavia and elsewhere, penning her masterpiece Black Lamb and Grey Falcon from the Slav region. Survivors in Mexico was meant to be her follow-up, taken on well into her 70s and left unfinished at her death, branching politics, philosophy, psychology, religion, and culture. One well made bed of West prose is enough to keep you for days on end. She's mighty.

What is characteristic of Mexico? The sound of brooms sweeping courtyards and pavements in the early morning; cotton-woolly tortillas stuffed with the clotted heaven of avocado-pear puree; gesticulating cactus; flowers so bright that they seem to be audible; people who walk silently; and this historical oddity of insurrections by a subject people on the side of stability and tradition. (RW)

Robert Morgan: October Crossing


The lot that's poisoned by a spill
of toluene or gasoline
and tons of industrial swill
and drops of mercury dispersed
among the bits of asbestos
and rusting nails and tangled coils
with scattered beads of Styrofoam
all tossed among the posts and beams
of rotting wood and toads of grease,
exploded garbage bags and inks
of asphalt floes, and silty sinks,
is touched in one remote spit by
an ironwood's purple mystery.

Wendell Berry:Bringing It To the Table

A farmer, writer, poet, thinker who stuck to his crops.

Henry David Thoreau: The Journal 1837-1861 (NYRB)

I first read Thoreau's Journals at age 17 from the tall, two tome Dover edition in green cloth, and I didn't stop until I was done. Fourteen volumes, lots of years reading. Since then everybody has jumped into the act and either tried to better that Dover showing, by adding new material or scholarly bonuses. As we put our heads together here in a Birdhouse, Princeton is busy issuing a spruced up definitive new library of the complete journals. Each volume costs about 100-bucks. Way out of Thoreau's league. The hard working editor Damion Searls doesn't even get his name onto the cover of this abridged edition of The Journals. By this time in his life he has maybe gone near blind with Henry anecdotes about turtles, owls, frogs. Thoreau would drive one Concord farmer nuts just biding his whole day watching bullfrogs, while this workingman slaved. Thoreau was a whole different kind of workingman. Yes, Thoreau believed his personal approach was the only truthful way to speak to the world. A truth of living and writing almost lost on the world today. So we always need a handy version of these Journals at hand, these truths. It's true that the glory of the full Journals has always been its dailyness, scope and mesmerizing rhythm of living & noting & living some more. One of the closest experiences we'll get to a wild squirrel talking to us. I trust the editor's abilities to do his best and not lose the essence, knowing full well in the hands of Thoreau you are working with a word tinkerer who put himself through seven drafts while writing Walden, in longhand! Never mind living the experiment. Think of that computer whiner. This edition, fit like a brick, of The Journals, is just short of 700 pages. That's quite enough — although 6,000 pages short of the original.

Unpacking My Library: Architects and Their Books
edited by Jo Steffens (Yale)

Book lovers who design structures we work and live within. I'm for it. A visual feast of personal libraries with invigorating choice and range, scaling from Thomas Pynchon as a favorite to John Hejduk, Diderot, Joyce and Jane Jacobs amongst thousands shown on hundreds of feet of open bookshelves. A feast for the eye.

Heather McHugh: Upgraded to Serious
(Copper Canyon)

Glass House

Everything obeyed our laws and
we just went on self-improving
till a window gave us pause and
there the outside world was, moving.

Five apartment blocks swept by,
the trees and ironwork and headstones
of the next town's cemetery.
Auto lots. Golf courses. Rest homes.
Blue-green fields and perishable vistas
wars had underscored in red
were sweeping past,
with cloudscapes, just

as if the living room were dead.
Which way to look? Nonnegative?
Nonplussed? (Unkilled? Unkissed?)
Look out, you said; the sight's on us:

If we don't move, we can't be missed.

Larry McMurtry: Literary Life
(Simon & Schuster)

McMurtry keeps writing one little book of non-fiction wonders after the other. If they weren't so enjoyable we might be irked at how the publisher is squirting out a fee of $25 per book or so for something that could have been welled into one mighty tome of self-portraits. He's Texas enough to know there's no reason to lie.

Jack McEnany: Brush Cat
( St. Martin's )

Just the way they talk-it standing in the dooryard — chain saws, pickup truck of snow, chains,oil cans and tires — and just the right kind of humor to get through one more sticky spot. A little classic in modern times at looking at the old school.

Goethe: The Metamorphosis of Plants
( MIT )

Before Wendell Berry, before Thoreau....there were the faraway minds.

Theodore Brasser: Native American Clothing

Gorgeous throughout with all the finest details between illustrations and knowing text.

Gail R. Scott: E. Ambrose Webster, Chasing the Sun
( Hudson Hills Press )

Independent scholar Gail Scott has been a wunderkind with Marsden Hartley, and now it's E. Ambrose Webster turn — mastering just what it is that puts a spell on us by these innovative colorists from 100 years ago.

Robert Palmer : Blues & Chaos
( Scribner )

As Manny Farber was to cinema, Palmer has been to music. This is the book we have been waiting for.

Edward Sanders:
Thirsting for Peace in a Raging Century
Let's Not Keep Fighting the Trojan War
(Coffee House Press)

An Economy for Those who Dwell in Blake-Light

that's what we need
no war
no hunger
no poverty

lots of freedom & free time
no oppression
& a ten-week vacation for all every year!

so that we can figure out

what is going on

out here in the boondocks

Keith Waldrop: Transcendental Studies
(U Cal)


Dark forms of belief. I have
made a design: to shape Mount
Athos into the statue of a man.

In his left hand a city, in his right
a bowl for all the water of all the
streams from the whole mountain, so that it might
from the bowl into
the sea.

Charles Bukowski: The Continual Condition

I saw a tramp last night

the way the old dog walked
with dotted, tired fur
down nobody's alley
being nobody's dog. . .
past the empty vodka bottles
past the peanut butter jars,
with wires full of electricity
and the birds asleep somewhere,
down the alley he went —
nobody's dog
moving through it all,
brave as any army.

John Ashbery: Planisphere


A piece one held out —
of useful packaging
and other tales
of men beyond the sunset, foreheads slumped

in strange appreciation.
Others, still at school, charily accepted
the premise that lay outside.
Poems, dream-dipped,

accosted certainty at fixed points along the way:
the land of No Can Do.

I spent years exhausting my good works
on the public, all for seconds.
Time to shut down colored alphabets'
flutter in the fresh breeze of autumn. It
draws like a rout. Or a treat.


It's me and the kitten and the wood fire before I head upstairs and read more from Larry McMurtry's new book of short essays. I have been reading the new Ashbery throughout the day, some of it aloud to Susan. I haven't cared much for his poetry for the last two decades — just too mopey, but his prose I've relished. The titles in this new book are delightful to begin with, and the poems have a supreme balance of doing as they wish. There is a lovely air of devil may care. Bravo to any poet who reaches that mark in the trail.
(from a letter Bob Arnold to John Levy one night in Dec 09)

Eliot Weinberger: Oranges & Peanuts for Sale
(New Directions)

Okay, as I have Manny Faber is to cinema; and Robert Palmer is to music; Eliot Weinberger is to modern literature, including translation and a rowdy dose of kickass political activism in theory. He isn't dangerous on the street, but his writings are certainly dynamite or sweet magnolia to the mind. You take your pick: peanuts & oranges. What we are witnessing in our reading and pleasure is a prime candidate who has studied the classics and moved into the modern era (with its many stages) emerging with defined sureness and character.

Benjamin Moser: Why This World
( Oxford )

Clarice Lispector —Ukranian born and Brazil raised, just raising the hairs on the neck of every reader. A biography that opens door after door.

Robin D. G. Kelley: Thelonious Monk
(Free Press)

Of the Twentieth Century jazz musicians after WW2, none came even close to the look, the majestics, the independence, longevity, stride and vibe as the one with the middle name of "Sphere" — Thelonious Monk. We love Miles, Coltrane, Mingus, Mary Lou Williams, Coleman and they have already had many books and studies and accolades, but as in real life, Monk was all alone. A richly historical marvel and portrait supreme. It was fourteen years in the making. Savor it.

Amiri Baraka : Digging
(U Cal.)

Maybe the most intriguing activist (playwright, poet, novelist, essayist, publisher, musician, teacher, hipster, neighbor, African-American) America has experienced since Ezra Pound. Every book a milestone.

William Eggleston: Democratic Camera
photographs and videos 1961-2008

One of my favorite photographers — who likes to take that singular shot — and one almost must insist on watching all the documentary films showing a portrait of the man at work in the field, and at home in what I guess can be called play. Prowling small town streets at all hours of the day and night to catch it awake by camera. Or an abandoned building and what can be found in five precious minutes of exact lighting. The mesmerizing eye between photography and a film still.

Lao-Tzu's Taoteching
translated by Red Pine

(Copper Canyon)

Every so often I say to myself, or aloud, "Thank goodness for Red Pine." The same way I have said all my life, "Thank goodness for Willie Mays, thank goodness for clean woods rivers, thank goodness for women." Of course all three together could make up a, "Thank goodness for Lao-Tzu." It's time to leave the playground. Time to shoot a swish shot. Time to clean the pallet. No better way to help us along than Red Pine with Lao Tzu. Red Pine is a real fellow with a name as old as mountains. He's a scholar, a father, a foot traveler and a lover of baseball. In this third edition of the Taoteching he is simply adding to the goodness of a 6th century Chinese text that has been translated more than any other text short of The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. As Red Pine aptly likes to explain it: "These are the two poles around which the Taoteching turns: the Tao, the dark, the body, the essence, the Way; and Te, the light, the function, the spirit, Virtue. In terms of origin, the Tao comes first. In terms of practice, Te comes first. The dark gives the light a place to shine.The light allows us to see the dark. But too much light blinds. Lao-tzu saw people chasing the light and hastening their own destruction. He encouraged them to choose the dark instead of the light, less instead of more, weakness instead of strength, inaction instead of action. What could be simpler?" With the English translation by RP and Chinese facing text, plus commentaries from 2,000 years of mulling and studying and easing into place by scholars, poets, seekers & such. Good people. Yes, a book to go home to the moon with.



Jack Cardiff: Girl on a Motorcycle


Preston Sturges: Christmas in July

Back When Interviews Were Interviews
Or Monologues
(Sterling Hayden)


The Sacred Shakers, various, including Eilen Jewell
(Signature Sounds)

aw, shucks, there's always too much good music to steer by. Being a holiday season, why not listen to some gospel — this by a Massachusetts bunch of skilled musicians who get together and just sound like they're having a good time. It's about time! Sparkling renditions of Rev Gary Davis and Son House just for starters.

When Musicians Were Music on the Spot
(Buffy Sainte-Marie & Pete Seeger)

and peace

The Catholic Worker ~ peace activism & fellowship ~

We should be clear about what happens when we destroy the living forms of this planet: The first consequence is that we destroy modes of Divine Presence. If we have a wonderful sense of the Divine, it is because we live amid such awesome magnificence. If we have refinement of emotion and sensitivity, it is because of the delicacy, the fragrance, and indescribable beauty of soul and music and rhythmic movement in the world about us. If we grow in our life-vigor, it is because the earthly community challenges us, forces us to struggle to survive, but, in the end, reveals itself as a benign providence. But, however, benign, it must provide that absorptive drama of existence whereby we can experience the thrill of being alive in a fascinating and unending sequence of adventures.

If we have powers of imagination, these are activated by the magic display of color and sound, of form and movement, such as we observe in the clouds of the sky, the trees and bushes and flowers, the waters and the wind, the singing birds, and the movement of the great blue whale through the sea. If we have words with which to speak and think and commune, words for the inner experience of the Divine, the words for the intimacies of life, if we have words for telling stories to our children, words with which we can sing, it is again because of the impressions we have received from the variety of beings around us.

The change that is taking place on the earth and in our minds is one of the greatest changes ever to take place in human affairs. Perhaps it is the greatest, since what we are talking about is not simply another historical change or a cultural modification, but a change of geological and biological as well as psychological order of magnitude. We are challenging the earth on a scale comparable only to the changes in the structure of the earth and of life that took place during some hundreds of millions of years of earth development.

What is happening is psychic devastation and an imaginative emptiness. It is not simply the physical loss of resources in an economic sense. It is even more devastating to us inwardly than it is to the planet out-worldly.

The natural world renews itself, bridges and concrete road don't. That's why it is already determined that our children, and our children's children, are going to live amid the ruined infrastructure of the industrial world and amid the ruins of the natural world itself. And they are going to have to face a restricting process with diminished psychic and spiritual resources — that is the real terror of what we are doing.

While such a change in order of magnitude can produce a paralysis of thought and action, it can, we hope, also awaken in us a sense of what is happening, and move us to a program of re-inhabiting the earth in a truly human manner. It could awaken in us an awareness of our need for all the living companions we have here on our homeland planet. To lose any of these splendid companions is to diminish our own lives....

So the question is, as G.K. Chesterton once said, how to be sufficiently dissatisfied with the situation in order to change it, and how to be sufficiently satisfied to think that it can be changed, to be motivated to change — that is, how to reject something and create something at the same time.

~ Thomas Berry
from an interview in The Catholic Worker

Music on — while preparing this long page for Christmas eve: Sun Ra "Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy / Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow" , Franco & TPOK Jazz "Francophonic",
John Fahey
House in snow all-bright!

Remembering ~

Lenore Kandel
Jim Carroll
Thomas Berry
Mike Seeger
James Gurley
Vic Chesnutt
Jennifer Jones
Ali Akbar Khan
Dennis Brutus
David Bromige
Rashied Ali
Simon Vinkenoog
Sam Hinton
Milorad Pavic
Charis Wilson
Jim Dickinson
Tim Hart
Donald Harrington
Carlene Hatcher Polite
Harold Norse
Morton Marcus
William Witherup
John Storm Roberts
Jack Rose
Liam Clancy
Soupy Sales
Mercedes Sosa
Mary Travers
Merce Cunningham
Natasha Richardson
David Carradine
Jack Cardiff
JG Ballard
James Purdy
Koko Taylor
Sherry Taylor