Sunday, April 30, 2006

There is a poem by Francis Ponge about the rain (la pluie) that I am trying to remember as I look out the window, past lilacs and forsythia, to sheets of the stuff falling on a street lamp. The poem is hiding in a book, just out of sight, on my bookshelf. I am (happily) pinned under my snoozing daughter and can't reach it.

Well, is it correct to say that a Ponge poem is about something? Perhaps it's better not to.
Please visit onedit, edited by Tim Atkins, marvelous poet.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The oldest killer was 88; he murdered his wife. The youngest was 9; she stabbed her friend. The women were more than twice as likely as men to murder a current spouse or lover. But once the romance was over, only the men killed their exes. The deadliest day was on July 10, 2004, when eight people died in separate homicides.

Five people eliminated a boss; 10 others murdered co-workers. Males who killed favored firearms, while women and girls chose knives as often as guns. More homicides occurred in Brooklyn than in any other borough. More happened on Saturday. And roughly a third are unsolved...

For more on murder and New York, go here.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

"himalayan blackberries -- ferocious growth pattern, fruits are copious and tasty, [unreadable], steady of blackberries tasty if somewhat seedy pie bracingly pre or post [can't quite read] modern tendency to garland any surface it encounters, its morphological lust structure & fundament itself have been adequately investigated whose lesion would be the least dangerous. Naturalists of the inessential. [word crossed out]. Enough of the least -- what other worlds reside in a single word"

notes taken during a lecture given by Lisa Robertson at Naropa University, July 2005.
Almost too many years ago now to talk about I was something of a runner. At the age of 12, living in London, I would fairly frequently rise at some unreasonable hour and do a lap around Hyde Park or a quick loop around Harrod's, and at the age of 13, living in rural Indiana, I would rise at some even more unreasonable hour and take in one of the big squares the gravel road system offers in that part of the world, all the while thinking, as I loped along, about London and worlds left behind (I don't exagerate much when I say "all the while" -- I had quite a bit of nostalgia going). Well, running, or jogging, I suppose, ended for me a long time ago, but I still very much remember the particular feeling of guilt that would knock me around on those days when I couldn't, for whatever reason, get a run in. I've had reason to think about that feeling, and even to experience little touches of it, since I've started this thing (Heart Hammer), which seems, even this early in the proceedings, to need attention quite frequently and doesn't get quite as much as it needs.

Last night, for example, I was all set to do a little something on a dream I'd had involving The New School, two former students who left Naropa and went to New York and now looked (in the dream) like something out of the late, psychedelic Beatles, and the pesky assistants in The Castle by Kafka, but then it just didn't happen.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

In the middle of a voluntary relocation from one house to another house, I find myself thinking of Jane Unrue's The House, that resonant wonder of a book put out by Burning Deck some years ago. We are fortunate enough to have a signed copy in our possession. I look forward to taking it off the shelf in this house and transporting it to the new house, where, amidst the mess of boxes, I will drink a beer and read a few pages of it aloud.
Just received an interesting notice on Christian Tebordo's forthcoming novel (from Afterbirth -- late 2006), Better Ways of Being Dead, and can't help posting this intriguing outline, from the publicity materials:

"The narrator's investigation leads him to a factory city in upstate New York, populated by a cult of people doomed to immortality unless they die violently at the hands of a stranger, which leads to a series of slapstick scenarios in which the cultists attempt to be killed by him without tainting him with their own condition. When they finally enlist the woman he loves, an agoraphobe who lives in a network of tunnels beneath the University of Cincinnati, and who may or may not love him back, he is forced to choose between granting their desire to die and affirming the inherent value of life."

Who says no one has heard of/cares about/knows what to do with the Oulipo in the States.

Well, perhaps we're speaking about the Oulipopo.

At any rate, something to be on the lookout for.

Monday, April 24, 2006

"To endow the writer publicly with a good fleshly body, to reveal that he likes dry white wine and underdone steak, is to make even more miraculous for me, and of a more divine essence, the products of his art. Far from the details of his daily life bringing nearer to me the nature of his inspiration and making it clearer, it is the whole mythical singularity of his condition which the writer emphasizes by such confidences. For I cannot but ascribe to some superhumanity the existence of beings vast enough to wear blue pyjamas at the very moment when they manifest themselves as universal conscience, or else make a profession of liking reblochon with that same voice with which they announce their forthcoming Phenomenology of the Ego."

—Roland Barthes (Mythologies)
trans. Annette Lavers
A world where stairs become impassable because of congealed fat. Ah, dark London!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Surfing around a bit, I came to a picture of someone's bookshelf. The bookshelf was meant to be a backdrop, but I found myself fascinated by the lineup of books, that looked so familiar, in their general shape and variety of colors and sizes and font types, and that were completely unfamiliar when I actually read what they were and who they were by. It was an instance of that dream phenomenon where everything looks just like it does on the outside (the outside of your skull) until you actually look at the everything in question and see that it is in fact quite different. The site I was visiting happened to be run by a Canadian. So that explained things a little: similar book design, a whole different group of books. Not that this couldn't happen with a photo of a bookshelf in the US, but even if I haven't read something here, I've likely seen a reference to it. These were titles and authors I couldn't place. Maybe if I looked more closely...
Wonder is too often missing in contemporary fiction. One gets a great deal of wow (not to mention heaps of uck) but not a lot of wonder. Perhaps it's time, already, for this moment that doesn't seem to know whether it wants to be whimsical (oh gee!) or ironic (eyebrow cocked and ready) to move elsewhere.

I'm reading Ticknor by Sheila Heti -- it's rather like Thomas Bernhard does historical novel fascinatingly, movingly. It's a really intriguing gesture, a not quite done before sort of thing (I've been finding these lately), that seems to have little interest in the trick of itself -- using an obsessive, paranoid, relentless (but gentler, more mournful, not as fierce a) voice to inhabitat the mind of an invidual doing his thinking more than a hundred years ago -- too busy, as it is, with achieving itself as a convincing work of fiction.

Often, when I think of wonder, I think of the great variety/frequency of words used to describe it in Medieval courtly romances -- jaws dropping and eyes bursting open left and right. This is not the sort of wonder I feel while I'm reading Ticknor -- it's something quieter, subtler, something that involves duration. But it is wonder. And that's a grand thing.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Lydia Davis did something interesting at her reading at DU tonight -- after she had read a new piece, about (yes rather a loose way of talking about a Lyia Davis construction) trying to find ways to pay homage to people who have died, she asked if after the reading people would tell her whether or not they thought the piece worked (it did). The first question she was asked during the q&a portion of the evening was what she thought wasn't working in the piece. She mentioned a few things she was questioning, then asked what the audience thought. Some thought it was too long, others too short, etc. She took it all in, asked a few follow-up questions and that was it. But everyone in the room (or at any rate a high-enough percentage of those present for me to call it everyone) seemed struck by the moment -- here's Lydia Davis for God sakes not just performatively asking for feedback, but actually asking for it and listening to the advice offered, for whatever it was worth. Humility, detachment, confidence all seemed to be in the mix. Very appealing.
"The task of the translator consists in finding that intended effect upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original."

—Walter Benjamin
trans. Harry Zohn

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

In an article in Slate today on Jason Shinder's "Howl" Fifty Years Later, Stephen Burt notes that after John Hollander wrote "an attempted demolition" in Partisan Review, "Ginsberg sent Hollander a long, serious letter with instructions on how to read the poem."

So that is one way to respond. And certainly strong precedent for response.

Monday, April 17, 2006

It can be hard to know how to respond to negative reviews of one's work. Generally, my policy is to say nothing, publically that is, unless the review is extra-belligerent, mean-spirited or factually inaccurate (and if you write fiction you more than likely get some of all of those from time to time: it would appear that there are more than a few apparently over-caffeinated, probably angry, skimmers of novels and stories writing for review outlets). Ocasionally, though, I have been moved to write letters to the editor or notes to the reviewer in question about reviews that, although at least partially negative, were particularly interesting or thought-provoking. Some of the resultant exchanges have been very worthwhile. I've certainly learned a few things.

Once I bumped into someone who had been pretty harsh in print on my first book. He said he had had occasion to revisit the book and thought maybe his review had been the way it had been at least in part because he hadn't really gotten the thing the first time around. He was slightly sheepish about it. Of course, he may mainly have been sheepish because we were standing there talking about it. He may, also, have been feigning sheepishness and may not, for that matter, have actually gone back to look at the book. He may, in fact, have been shining me on about not having gotten it.

I do wonder though how often that happens. I mean that reviewers just haven't gotten it. This not having gotten it, when it happens, probably has a lot to do with doggedly projecting one's own aesthetic frame onto a work it just doesn't fit. I'm thinking here of the absolutely unfair drubbing Gary Lutz's I Looked Alive took in Bookforum a year or so ago. Unfair because the reviewer really wasn't reading Lutz's book -- she was reading the space between Lutz and the book he hadn't written but that she liked a lot.

It's all pretty strange. And takes up rather more of one's mental space than it should.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

I can't make sense of today—
A day somehow yellow mouthed.

Osip Mandelstam
(trans. James Greene)

Friday, April 14, 2006

After a very nice reading by Lance Olsen at the University of Denver this evening, as I was driving along I-25 on the way back to Boulder — an unpleasant, screetchy highway affair that has at times reminded me of the driving scene in Tarkovsky's Solaris — I found myself trying to start up a mental catalogue of the books I had read in my life and being surprised that I couldn't call a single one to mind. I mean, for the few minutes I was actively thinking about Lance's reading, which was from his new novel, Nietzche's Kisses, which I'd like to read but haven't yet (meaning it didn't count), and finding myself prompted (something about Lance inhabiting Nietzche's dying mind, those final, extraordinary, half-mad thoughts, made me momentarily desperate) to call forth as many books as I could to kick around and think about, not a single one would appear. Nothing. Blammo. Blank. Just the highway. The car. The other cars. The night. After a while, when I'd mostly stopped thinking about it, a couple of books popped into my head, one of them being Jean Toomer's Cane.

This brings to mind a radio interview I did quite some number of years ago now in New York where I was billed, not entirely accurately, let's say, as a representative of the St Mark's Church poetry scene and was asked what books had been influential on my development as such. My brain went absolutely dead and for what I later had confirmed was a pretty excruciating interval I said nothing. Just as the interviewer was about to give up on me and toss what should have been this juicy bone to the poet Bill Luoma, who was also present, I managed to stammer, Stein and Hemingway. As I remember it, I never really recovered and everyone who was listening was grateful that Bill was there to keep it all from being too awful.

There isn't really much more to say about this, except to note that these are not the only instances of books and momentary blankness that have afflicted me and that, generally speaking, this doesn't happen when I try to think about other things.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


Septimius my beloved friend swings
beyond the genius of the sea
In a landscape of
Poppers & spilt milk
If I cannot talk because your biting
George Michaels the line
Or rest home in Cheltenham

No squeezy balls
When I am
Buster’s The Meaning Of Language
Clamps the tone like a
Donut the fortune-teller mentions
A metal tray of endless
Love in incontinence or wish for garlands
The Carpetbaggers Bagvhad-Gita Mike & Bernie’s Blondes
On your chopper when I am spilt ash
No friends
Would ask for less

—Tim Atkins (after Horace)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Today it was time to return E.H. Gombrich's A Little History of the World to the library. Given the state of my reading life, which includes 2 400 pp. dissertations plus a couple of slightly slimmer ones this month, I wasn't able to finish it, but I have a feeling I will go looking for it again, at the library again. I recently read somewhere or other online a writer, tongue only slightly, I think, in cheek, exhorting readers of his note to buy books rather than get them from the library, that by checking them out instead of purchasing them, one risked being complicit in cutting careers short in this bottom line publishing world we live in. My thought on this was, what about those of us who buy so many books it's almost like a disease or some tyrannical compulsion, who buy so many there have to be stopping points, momentary pauses, fingers periodically stuck in the dam, etc., and use the library at those junctures?

I suppose part of my thought was that I would hate to imagine a bookshelf that would, without question, finally collapse if another book was added to it, collapsing under the weight of one of my own books, which could as easily have been checked out of the library and so placed in the small stack of library books by the door or in the hallway or under the staircase or in whatever nifty place the household in question keeps such books.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Some 20 books have accumulated on my desk here in this office that is gradually, perhaps I should write inexorably, becoming a nursery. This means that in addition to these approximately 20 books there are things like miniature overalls, a stuffed lamb, several diapers, a bib, some very small socks, a bottle of baby massage oil, etc. There is no good reason that there are, in addition to the baby gear, something like 20 books on this smallish desk -- they've just sort of crept up, as they say, on me. The Sesshu Foster, see below, is sitting splayed open on top of the monitor. I can see Serge Fauchereau's Complete Fiction sticking out near the bottom of one of the piles. Mary Gaitskill's Veronica is under the lamb. A corner of Lawrence Weschler's Everything That Rises is visible. E.H. Gombrich's A Little History of the World, due back at the library day after tomorrow, is sort of wedged up against the side of the keyboard. The most recent issue of Rain Taxi is flopping over the edge of the desk and out over the diaper basket. For some reason, looking at all this, I am put in mind of a James Wright poem about lying in a hammock on someone's farm. How can this be?
If it appears that I am using a centered-text approach here on Heart Hammer, in other words, if everything here is centered, rather than left-justified, this is a browser issue, and not intentional, as I am not a centered-text-approach kind of individual, or at least not yet/anymore. I once wrote a series of pieces, this was long ago, in which I did a little centering of the text, but this quickly came to seem like kind of a crummy and sort of boring way to inhabit the page, so I stopped. Those pieces are pretty much long gone. Well, a great deal is pretty much long gone. Marooned on hard drives long-since hauled off to the dump.

Monday, April 10, 2006

"A student asks what sustained me in translating so many volumes of Jabès. I say: Envy and pleasure in destruction."

—Rosmarie Waldrop, Lavish Absence

Translation much on my mind, I have been reading Waldrop's gorgeous meditation on writing, translating, friendship and deep reading. Sartre's now perhaps half-forgotten, "Il faut s'engager," pops oddly into my head as I turn these pages. I know he mostly had something else in mind, but, vicariously experiencing Waldrop's deep engagement with Jabès, with writing, with life, I say to myself, this is what "Il faut s'engager" means. Or could.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

"Those who no longer believe so are not immune from believing so again in accordance with the notion requiring as long as it holds that here all should die but with so gradual and to put it plainly so fluctuant a death as to escape the notice even of a visitor."

—Samuel Beckett, The Lost Ones
In an article on the state of/fate of the novel in the most recent print issue of Rain Taxi, R.M. Berry, quoting John Barth, writes, "Becket and Borges confront the emergency -- 'in everything from weaponry to theology, the celebrated dehumanization of society, and the history of the novel' -- not by making their writing difficult, but by making it matter." Reading Sesshu Foster's Believer Book of the Year award winning novel, Atomik Aztek, I keep coming back to this notion of making work that matters, which right this second means to me making work that diverges, at several points, from consensus notions of what constitutes standard mainstream and standard "avant-garde" writing. Foster's novel, which is simultaneously a speculative alternate history parable (in which the Aztek's, not the Spaniards, came out on top), and a gritty look at the soul-destroying work conditions in a meat-packing plant in California, satisfyingly keeps not quite being like any other books my memory has been able to come up with and, satisfyingly, authoritatively, consistently grows more and more like itself as I move forward through it.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Prompted by a reference in Shelley Jackon's mixed review (in Bookforum) of Magnus Mills's latest novel, Explorers of the New Century, I went looking for his first book, The Restraint of Beasts. I wasn't disappointed. The Restraint of Beasts, which follows the misadventures of a team of fence builders in Scotland and England, is part Ishiguro (when he's being deadpan, understated, weird, funny -- I'm thinking of When We Were Orphans), part Flann O'Brien (I'm thinking The Third Policeman) and part Monty Python (I'm thinking about the fishtank in The Meaning of Life: Morning. Morning. Morning. Morning...). It's also, of course, not quite any of these. And while at surface the novel is very straightforward, to read it is to discover a devious, tricky, more than just a little scary thing.