Tuesday, March 2, 2010


So many good books come my way – by mail, by other hands, by used shops, by rummage, by friends, by trade. Can't beat a book, people.

So while the snow took out our power one more time last week, and that makes it 5 days out of 7 with no power, books got read, when we weren't working at throwing the snow out of the way.

Sweetheart was out in the studio where more books are housed finding things and heard something behind her where she kept the glass door open, and there were two horses wanting to come inside! We've had bear, moose, bobcat, the sly fox in the dooryard, and now two wandering horses lost awhile in the snowstorm. They mangled all the fine lace work of snow paths I had just finished shoveling but so what, horses in the yard are a nice surprise. They must have been extra dainty to get in and around the narrow gauge pathwork along the woodshed. Somehow they did it.

Knowing horses, Sweetheart led the them back out onto the road and down river a ways until they got their bearings. . .we sort of think we know where they came from.


Thanks to his poem about a garbage can
lid being smashed into a likeness of King
George the Third's face, my sixteen year old
son is now writing poetry. This activity has
recently led him into drinking alcohol and
experimenting with drugs, which makes
it difficult for me to say, but I'll say it
anyway: Thank you, Kenneth Koch,
for your marvelous contributions to Poetry.

Kent Johnson, Homage to the Last Avant-Garde
(Shearsman Books / www. shearsman.com)

Two books of poetry that excite me — and I'm the kind of guy who gets excited by a good working chain saw, new spring birds, and catching a whiff of my true love's dress flying out the back door — so. It's to Kent Johnson and Ange Mlinko. If I recall, Kent had a thing there for one of Ange Mlinko's books, so I thought to read the two poets together. It hummed along.

I like Kent Johnson's writing & self, because he is full of beans. Every generation has to have a tireless and bold bean counter, and Kent Johnson is the one. When spoken of to Walt Whitman, Walt said: "'Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes' and Kent Johnson is my son." When brought up with Virgil, the V. Man said, "'Be favorable to bold beginnings' and my son is Kent Johnson." Taking off his wide brim hat Goethe sighed then grinned and said "'All my works are fragments of a long confession' and I know my son is Kent Johnson."

The blue book pictured above is the water the horse was led to.


Where the curve of the road rhymes with the reservoir's
and cleared of the leafy veils that for six months
obscured it,
the landscape's wet chestnut
in the gray descended cloud
intones You're lucky to live in a watershed
so no vast tracts of tacky drywall
turn the land into peremptory enclosures.
You've bought in.
The venial sin:
being exceptional.
Reading Holderlin.
And the natural hallucinogen of joy
leaving wordy outputs
hanging on piney tenterhooks
while all the wild protected liminal woods
contrive a blind.

~ Ange Mlinko, Shoulder Season
(Coffee House / www.coffeehousepress.org)

Kevin O'Hara, A Lucky Irish Lad

I prefer the author's first book, and it is a classic all its own, Last of the Donkey Pilgrims — where Kevin O'Hara and his donkey companion travel 1800 miles around Ireland on-foot. This new book is a sequel of the Irish quest, but this time it's where the author was raised in the hills of western Massachusetts in the 50s-60s, and of course the stories and family characters abound.


----It was the longest opera ever written. By the time the fat
lady sang most of the audience had died in their seats still holding
their programs, the theater full of flies and microbes.

----Some began to think that perhaps the opera was a bit long,
that maybe the fat lady should start singing a little earlier so
the audience might have time to write their wills, and to say
goodbye to friends and family.

----But others felt, what better way to die than waiting for the
fat lady to sing in the make-believe of theater, where nothing's
real, not the fat lady, not even death. . .

~ Russell Edson, See Jack
(University of Pittsburgh Press / www.upress.pitt.edu)

I'm not sure what one does about Russell Edson, so I keep on reading him. Have for a long time. I saw him read at a small venue over the last 10 years and he was unlike anything to be heard from. Almost a carnival act — that unpredictable and unexplained. Ideal for poetry. He also paints and has been married a long time to Frances Edson, and I once found a charming and unique book of her writing and have never seen anything of hers since. I'm pretty sure this is all mysteriously for the good.

I can't even begin to extract from Heimrad Backer, concrete poet and visual wonder, who was part of the Austrian avant-garde after a youthful experience with Hitler Youth before joining the Nazi party at eighteen.

As the record shows — and transcript is one — "the Holocaust was not unspeakable, but was eminently describable and a described act spoken by thousands of people concerned with the precision and even beauty of their language." Backer's documents, poems, lists, found-poems are drawn from the Nazi's paperwork, victims letters, medical and train charts and schedules from the records of Auschwitz.

Heimrad Backer, transcript
(Dalkey Archive / www.dalkeyarchive.com)

A sound and modest collection of essays by Ilan Stavans making the range from literary, historical, cultural and autobiographical, leaning with a sure eye to his own Latin American background and giving forth on Neruda, Marias, renegade Bolano, Cisneros and mixing in Sebald, Kapuscinski, Edmund Wilson, with personal venues on keeping a notebook, teaching Spanish and more. He's wise and unflappable enough for the publisher to have given him a large type font and less words per page and a fatter book and thus a more readable book, but alas the publisher did not.

Ilan Stavans, A Critic's Journey
(University of Michigan Press)

This book is as large and glorious as it looks. Actually a national treasure. America is still capable, much of it hidden in them thar hills. Hills you may live in and are possibly unaware of what lives with you. Musicians, potters, weavers, fiddlers, hand craftsman, blacksmiths — the timeless stuff. Gorgeous large black and white portraits of each visitor, and that's what this book becomes, a visit. Followed by a later section in the book with easy to follow layout detailing who is behind each of the photographs by interviews, talks, or portrayals. There are eighty visits and Tim Barnwell has spent thirty year's setting it all into play. In a beautifully sewn cloth edition with an accompanying CD. You'll be in the southern Appalachian region, and you may want to stay.

Tim Barnwell
, Hands in Harmony

How do I best show to you Louise Landes Levi's latest book of poems and travel journey, which includes photographs from Margarita Island? I'll just snap two photographs of the books sitting beside me.

Very beautiful and clean black and white edition with the one exquisite color photograph like a birthday sweet on the back cover. Do read that poem if you can. All of Louise's poetry is of devotion. There is a glossary offered to guide the guideful through an exotic landscape political, philosophical, religious and planetary. With Louise the raga goes on.

Louise Landes Levi, The Book L
(Cool Grove Press, 512 Argyle Rd., Brooklyn, NY 11218)

Speaking of a national treasure — Walker Evans! Every new book about him or of his work continues to spellbound.

With no dustjacket and instead steering by the possible vogue way of publishing for the future: decorative cloth boards with no fuss or muss. It suits this old fashioned subject of American folklore: the picture postcard.

This treasure trove (over 400 pages, often two postcards per page) is drawn from the Walker Evans Archive which includes as one would imagine in a master photographer's booty: thousands and thousands of black and white negatives and color transparencies, never mind correspondence, diaries, writings, proof sheets, and 9,000 picture postcards of which Jeff L Rosenheim has beautifully signified, along with excerpts from Evans thoughts on the subject and one WE lecture from Yale (1964). But mainly it's for the postcard, vintage-eyed Evans style, and it's a feast.

Jeff L. Rosenheim, Walker Evans and the Picture Postcard
(Steidl, The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

photo © bob arnold