Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Combray, Vienna, Texas & the western front: Where I've been

I dragged my feet reading this year, but still averaged over a book a week, helped by chapbooks. In non-fiction my favorite was Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar, and I began her memoir Wild with tears on the UBahn this morning. In poetry, which I didn’t read enough of, my favorite (chap)book was Extraordinary Power by Emily Bludworth de Barrios. Vilette nearly clinched the fiction title, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way was the most satisfying, awe-striking novel I read all year. It was! Thank god I won’t be going to my grave without it. I plan to read more Proust next year.

My highlighting system went wooey when I tried to implement it this year, with worrying about what I was highlighting and why, etc., so if you're interested in what I thought about any of these titles, I suggest you join me at Good Reads. I've given a lot of them more time there.

1. Apocalypse Theory: A Reader by Kristy Bowen (Jan 4)
2. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (Jan 26)
3. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (Feb 8)
4. My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Feb 18)
5. The Book of Beginnings and Endings by Jenny Boully (Mar 5)
6. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Marie Remarque (Mar 22)
7. Dick Wad by Deena November (Mar 22)
8. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (Mar 3)
9. Sum of Every Lost Ship by Allison Titus (April 6)
10. Trench Talk by Julian Walker and Peter Doyle (April)
11. The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell (April 24)
12. let us now praise the empty parking lot by Jason Heroux (April 27)
13. The Son by Philipp Meyer (May 10)
14. The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal (May 27)
15. The Sick Rose by Richard Barnett (May 29)
16. Ah Xian Skulpturen/Sculpture by Dieter Brunner (Jun 3)
17. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë (Jun 6)
18. Smoke and Mirrors by Toni Clark (Jun 8)
19. Sea/Words by Crystal Gibbons (Jun)
20. A Wicked Apple by Susan Slaverio (Jun 8)
21. The Grotesque by Philip Thomson (Jun 8) 
22. Art & Love: An Illustrated Anthology of Poetry, ed. Kate Farrell (Jun 9)
23. Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan (Jun 11)
24. Everything, Vol. 1 by Lynda Barry (Jun 11)
25. Extraordinary Power by Emily Bludworth de Barrios (Jun 15)
26. The World of the Brontës by Jane O’Neill (Jun 16)
27. The Brontës, ed. Harold Bloom (Jun 17)
28. Imago by Lindsay Lusby (Jun)
29. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed (Jun 18)
30. The Best American Crime Writing, Otto Penzler, ed. (Jun 19)
31. Seriously Funny: Poems about Love, Death, Religion, etc., ed. Hamby & Kirby. (July)
32. Orlando by Virginia Woolf (July 10)
33. Someone Else’s Wedding Vows by Bianca Stone (July 11)
34. Unless by Carol Shields (July 23)
35. Villette by Charlotte Brontë (July 29)
36. Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte (Aug 17)
37. The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst (Sept 13)
38. Heat Wave by Penelope Lively (Sept 18)
39. The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia (Sept 27)
40. Can’t and Won’t by Lydia Davis (Oct 7)
41. Stitches by David Small (Oct 20)
42. Sorted Books by Nina Katchadourian (Oct 24)
43. The Death of Sigmund Freud by Mark Edmundson (Oct 28)
44. A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel (Oct 28)
45. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast (Oct 29)
46. The World in Place of Itself by Bill Rasmovicz (Oct 31)
47. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (Nov 4)
48. Sidetracked by Henning Mankell (Nov 14)
49. Cut & Paste: 21st Century Collage by Richard Brereton (Nov 16)
50. Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively (Nov 19)
51. Dogfight at the Pentagon WSJ (Nov 24)
52. Mörder ohne Gesicht by Henning Mankell (Dec 17)
53. Incident Reports by Caitlin Thomson (Dec 24)
54. Baby-Doll Under Ice by Katie Jean Shinkle (Dec 27)
55. Zoonosis by Kelly Boyker (Dec 27)
56. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust (Dec 28)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Alright, then, I'll be born

Before I assault you with my 2014 book list, here’s a list of some of the poems I enjoyed online in the second half of this year, with links. I've omitted my short list from July of poems I think worth checking out.

1. I doubt that a guy named Alan Shapiro is going to end up a “Country Western Singer,” but I loved this funny ditty anyway, which you can find here

2. “Peace Before Cigarette Butt Storm” by Shahram Shahidi in RHINO. I loved how the butts of the title are immediately identified with the bullet of the first line, and the ironic laugh this short poem provides. It’s a PDF, so you could be two clicks away

3. Dana Weir’s “What Matters To You Matters To Me” in B O D Y, which is a longish prose-ish poem full of kickers, including: 

Let’s just say you have a choice.
You have a choice whether to be born or not to be born?
Who wouldn’t say, all right, then, I’ll be born.

4. Kristy Bowen’s “Apocalypse Theory,” an online chapbook that you can find here. Most of the prose poems begin with “My apocalypse theory (DOES SOMETHING),” and turn fun and imaginative. 

5. Matthew Lippman’s narrative “Marriage Pants” in American Poetry Review is sad and entertaining and has a great ending. 

6. Dave Bonta does a generous series of poems at his Via Negativa site, where he makes the effort of erasure poems seem effortless. His series is based on the Diary of Samuel Pepys. Some of my favorites include Messenger, Downsizers, and Stripper, with its “barn-dark oyster.” 

7. I also enjoyed Dillon J. Welch’s “Jewel Erasure Poems,” which are here at keyhole. 

8. And while we’re on the subject, Jenni Baker’s marvelous erasure poems in Boaat, from the Boy Scout Handbook, complete with nostalgic illustrations. 

9. The outtakes from Caryn Lazzuri’s “The Encyclopedia of Love” in apt are wonderful, especially “A is for April,” in which a person on a train falls in love with a stranger. It’s good to recognize the feeling. 

10. “Please, Space” by Suzanne Wise in Quaint Magazine is an acrobatic prose poem that I much enjoyed. 

11. I loved the list poem “Ways to Dance” by Mark Leidner, which I would like to try to live. 

12. I loved Jessy Randall’s short fables in The Bakery, which she reads herself. 

13. Both of Andrew Grace’s poems in Pleiades appealed to me strongly: “Say Hello to My Little Friend Sorrow” and “Warning to My Mortician.”

Friday, December 26, 2014

Fresh disappointment, fresh encouragement

My mother brought the Dec. 15 New Yorker with her, and after the cartoons I read “Let it Go,” an article about hoarding by Joan Acocella. It dwells at first on two well-known hoarding cases of the genteel variety - the Beales and the Collyer brothers - which give hoarding a dash of idiosyncratic charm before descending into true squalor. The writer mentions ‘postmodern’ explications of hoarding - as practiced by deviants (obviously). One author mentioned is Scott Herring, who says people have a right to collect as much junk of whatever variety they choose (they do), and that doing so is an act of non-conformity, with those who criticize hoarding being anti-individual.

I found this little segment freeing, although I am not a hoarder, although I am generally tidy, and my superego is, if anything, over-utilized. When I’m drawn to things I don’t possess - a mug, a book, a stone, a twig - my second reaction is often negative, i.e. it’s clutter, it’s junk, your house is full, someday not far away you are going to die. 

So, of the three New Yorkers my mother brought, I will clip the bits I want, though I may never glance at them again, and throw the bulk away.

Nov 31
I just got the first volume of John Fowles journals, and this morning I looked through to see if there was an entry for Dec. 26. I didn’t find one, but looking further I was aghast to find one for Nov. 31, 1961.

In third grade we were doing a project about the calendar and one of my classmates put a Nov. 31 on it, to which I reacted with crushing irritation, there simply being no Nov. 31. I let him know that I was an expert, having my birthday on Nov. 30, the last day of November. 

So is John Fowles a fool or has there been some kind of proofreading error? In any case, his entry for Nov. 31, 1961, a day that never was, begins: “On the surgeon’s report it said: ‘Virtually hopeless.’”

I can only agree. I hope this won’t happen again.

As I approach the end of Swann’s Way, I did some reading about the book, and one article told me the madeleine immortalized by Proust was in earlier drafts just a piece of toast. I was disheartened by this - I had been so content to think the rhapsody on this little cake came quickly and naturally, that he had been storing it up a long time, looking for an opportunity to extol upon the madeleine’s taste and texture. And yet it might as well have been a piece of toast, or a pretzel stick, or the heel of an stale baguette.

But my disappointment was temporary: I am glad he abandoned the toast, and that he was able to turn so many crumbs into a hymnal of memory and the senses.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

On Christmas Eve, in honor of a particularly marvelous passage from Proust, I wore my monocle

The Marquis de Forestelle’s monocle was minuscule, had no border, and, requiring a constant painful clenching of the eye, where it was encrusted like a superfluous cartilage whose presence was inexplicable and whose material was exquisite, gave the Marquis’s face a melancholy delicacy, and made women think he was capable of great sorrows in love. But that of M. de Saint-Candé, surrounded by a gigantic ring, like Saturn, was the center of gravity of a face which regulated itself at each moment in relation to it, a face whose quivering red nose and thick-lipped sarcastic mouth attempted by their grimaces to equal the unceasing salvos of wit sparkling from the disk of glass, and saw itself preferred to the handsomest eyes in the world by snobbish and depraved young women in whom it inspired dreams of artificial charms and a refinement of voluptuousness; and meanwhile, behind his own, M. de Palancy, who, with his big round-eyes carp’s head, moved about slowly in the midst of the festivities unclenching his mandibles from moment to moment as though seeking to orient himself, merely seemed to be transporting with him an accidental and perhaps purely symbolic fragment of the glass of his aquarium, a part intended to represent the whole, reminding Swann, a great admirer of Giotto’s Vices and Virtues at Padua, of Injustice, next to whom a leafy bough evokes the forests in which his lair is hidden. (Swann's Way)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Via Copernico

Nothing plunged me deeper into exile than living in the Via Copernico in Milan. 

It was not far from the Sondrio subway station, and Vespa-infested.

In the next street there was a horse meat shop and an old-fashioned grocer, where you had to ask the clerk to ferry items down from the shelves. 

I learned a lot of Italian begging for red wine. 

I was both impressed and alienated by our beautiful apartment. We had an old-fashioned elevator with iron doors, a concierge, and a terrace with hydrangeas. Such a snake-like name for such a pretty flower!

Outside the Milanese never cleaned up after their dogs.

The Milanese never cleaned up anything in public, though their homes and persons were impeccable. Never a crooked tie. Never a run in a stocking. But dog shit everywhere. 

Nearby there was a garden named for Gregor Mendel. Herr Mendel, I cried, return me to sober German-speaking lands! Give me parks that aren’t littered with junkie syringes.

I had to look up Copernicus to remember where he was from. Like Mendel and myself, he spoke German but wasn’t from Germany. Though for Italians I might as well have been German, since I arrived there via Germany. 

Which was fine with me. 

But I was not one of the many Germans who tell you they're Italian in their souls. 

First thing to do when a German tells you he’s “Italian in his soul” is make the Italian gesture for “what do I care,” which involves flicking your fingers out from under your chin dismissively. 

I can understand not wanting to be German, but this is baloney I've never bought. 

What does it mean to be Italian in your soul? To toothbrush your eyebrows until the perfect look is achieved, but sneak off when your beagle craps on someone’s front steps? The soul is invisible, not manifest in gestures or good taste in suits. The Italians have no more soul than anyone else, they’re just less inhibited.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Get out your handkerchiefs

This week I continued to struggle with sitting down to write. I waste much time, and I’m uninspired. I fritter away. I vacuum dog hair. I check my mail. I loiter at work. Do I have lipstick on my teeth?

It snowed a little one evening, fat damp flakes that came only to wave their handkerchiefs. Snow you know won’t last makes me want to break into a construction site and smoke cigarettes under the floodlights.

In keeping a dream journal, I notice that trying to recall a dream later in the day is like trying to remember what I charged to my credit card over the course a month, i.e. near impossible. In the dreams I’ve written down I am invariably dowdy and middle-aged. I dote on my son. I command small police squadrons. 

One thing I remember charging is this pillowcase with pussy willows & three oranges. It’s now warming up a place on the couch. 

The word of the week was integrity, which is a word I use more and more to talk about physical things. Today it was the Christmas tree, which was too tall for the living room. My husband said he would lop off the top and I said it’s important to preserve the tree’s integrity. I don’t even know if I’m driving it quite right but I am at the wheel. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

it happens now every evening

I understand wanting to go by foot, but I suggest the UBahn. It’s two short stops. Otherwise you could walk this street past the seedy Hotel National, the Colour Hotel, the sari shop and Arabic grocery. After the intersection, you’ll reach a sandstone bridge. Set off across it until you find the stairwell down to the promenade, and follow the river eastward. I can’t vouch for the safety of the riverside at night, never having ventured it. The linden trees are almost bare. Keep walking about 15 minutes until you see the lights of the Christmas Market on the left. Somewhere there are stairs back up to the street. You can’t miss it, the smell of spilled wine, the sound of an accordion, the flocks of people. If you pass beyond the Eiserner Steg footbridge you’ve gone too far.
photo: abisag tuellmann

Sunday, December 07, 2014

A week of limited daylight

Read: Walter Benjamin radio broadcast on dogs. I enjoyed the stories, but objected to how Linneas’ description takes the male as the norm and sets the female aside as a special category of dog.  
Listened to: Sharkey’s Day

Laughed:  Loud eating in the library
Learned: Pigeons, through a genetic glitch, can breed all year round.

Failed: Photography. I need to photograph a stationary, outdoor object for a piece I wrote and I can’t seem to get it right. Limited daylight has not helped.
Triumphed: Guided two well-coiffed Swiss ladies from the Hauptbahnhof to the Chrismas market via the UBahn 

Watched: A typeface video using part of Borges’ poem “Break of Day” (below)
Observed: It is too warm for December. 

Started: Keeping a dream journal
Dreamed: (Dec. 7) "I wanted to become a detective in a seaside town, and as part of the application I had to write a poem. As a prelude, the police department required I sleep with a young man, then write the poem. I was anxious about this, also because I’m married. I had to really consider how much I wanted to be a detective. I was worried the poem would be worse than the sex. I was worried the sex would be worse than the poem. The police department was populated by nicely dressed middle-aged people, polite, but not particularly sympathetic. They did not look like poets."

Discarded: A scarf I never wore. Threw it away once before, then rescued it. For real this time. 
Acquired: A tablecloth. This may seem trivial, but since our kitchen tablecloths serve anywhere from one to three years, it’s revolutionary. 
Received: A Pushcart nomination for my poem “Smoking Jacket” 

Ate: Braised carrots with honey and thyme
Drank: Glühwein without alcohol, though I’m not sure how that’s possible

Visited: Drawn by the children’s books in the window, the bookstore Weltenleser
Realized: No matter how many ads you ‘hide’ on FB, there are more. 

Word of the week: Skirmish. A quirky-sounding word related to scrimmage, probably from old German skirmen, to defend. 
Pithiness of the week: Tradition is the most sublime form of necrophilia. - Hans Kudszus

Thursday, December 04, 2014

I interview myself about some of the books I read this year

Reading is elemental. Which book would you associate with earth?
My favorite, Villette by Charlotte Brontë, because it is tied to the ground and intent on the hearth. Our English heroine is planted on French soil, where she does some serious suffering. 

“I too felt those autumn suns and saw those harvest moons, and I almost wished to be covered in with earth and turf, deep out of their influence; for I could not live in their light, nor make them comrades, nor yield them affection.”

Which book would you associate with fire?
That’s easy: Carol Shields’ Unless. And also with fury. 

“At certain moments, for no reason -the smell of apple wood burning in the fireplace- I become convinced that everything is going to be alright.”

And, skip the water, which book makes you think of ice?
Obviously Virginia Woolf's Orlando, for its skating scene. As a whole, the book moved slowly, but the love affair with Sasha was magic. Where did she disappear to? Sasha, you minx. 

“‘All ends in death,’ Orlando would say, sitting upright on the ice. But Sasha who after all had no English blood in her but was from Russia where the sunsets are longer, the dawns less sudden, and sentences often left unfinished from doubt as to how best to end them--Sasha stared at him, perhaps sneered at him, for he must have seemed a child to her, and said nothing. But at length the ice grew cold beneath them, which she disliked, so pulling him to his feet again, she talked so enchantingly, so wittily, so wisely (but unfortunately always in French, which notoriously loses its flavor in translation) that he forgot the frozen waters or night coming or the old woman or whatever it was, and would try to tell her--plunging and splashing among a thousand images which had gone as stale as the women who inspired them--what she was like. Snow, cream, marble, cherries, alabaster, golden wire?”

And with air?
Can’t and Won’t by Lydia Davis, for its buoyant humor, and “Waiting for Takeoff,” one of my favorite stories in the book, which takes place in an airplane.

"We sit in the airplane so long, on the ground, waiting to take off, that one woman declares she will now write her novel, and another in a neighboring seat says she will be happy to edit it."

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