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(March 2005)

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One never stops reading, though books come to an end, just as one never stops living, even though death is a certainty.

Roberto Bolaño


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Monday, August 24th, 2009

Browsing a friend's library...

Here in Scituate, MA we are staying at our friends' Deedee and Paul's beautiful house -- they are vacationing in Maine this week and lent us their place. This is the best way to travel, I think -- for cheapskate-related reasons and personal comfort, I would much rather be in a house and making our own meals...

In addition to having a lovely house, Deedee and Paul have a great library, full of books that I'm not expecting -- I did not bring along any reading material for the week, just browsing through their shelves. Two wonderful finds so far: Brooklyn Is: Southwest of the Island, by James Agee; and In the American Grain by W.C. Williams.

Brooklyn Is is an essay about the borough that Agee wrote for Fortune magazine in 1939 -- they would not publish it and it was not printed until 1968. I love the descriptions of physical Brooklyn -- I can recognize much of it 70 years on -- and there are some hilarious notes about the people Agee meets in different neighborhoods. I'm reading Fordham U. Press's edition of the essay from 2005, which has a worthwhile introduction by Jonathan Lethem.

In the American Grain is completely unexpected -- I do not really know much of anything about Williams besides some of his poetry, he was apparently also a deeply perceptive amateur historian. This book (published in 1925) consists of short prose pieces that examine figures in American history and the history of European colonization of the Americas -- in his foreword Williams says he has "sought to re-name the things seen, now lost in chaos of borrowed titles, many of them inappropriate, under which the true character lies hid." Some fantastic prose -- it presupposes familiarity with some source texts which I am lacking -- making me wish he had included a bibliography!

posted morning of August 24th, 2009: Respond
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Red Eric

Hardship lives in me. What I suffer is myslf that outraces the water or the wind. But that it only should be mine, cuts deep. It is the half only. And it takes it out of my taste that the choice is theirs. I have the rough of it not because I will it, but because it is all that is left, a remnant from their coatcloth. This is the gall on the meat. Let the hail beat me. It is a kind of joy I feel in such things.
Eric the Red is the first character from American History to appear in Williams' In the American Grain -- its first chapter is pieces of narrative taken (as near as I can tell) from The Saga of Eric the Red and Voyage of Freydis, Helgi and Finnbogi with an internal look at the actors' motivations that is Williams' invention -- it is a little hard to know how to classify this writing but for now I am going with "historical fiction"...

posted evening of August 24th, 2009: Respond
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Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Understanding verse

The poem I posted this morning started out as a response to William Carlos Williams' Spring and All -- I've been reading it in fits and starts over the past week or so and loving the physical and the auditory texture of the words, but far from sure they are making any semantic impact on my consciousness -- when I turn the page, the words I was reading do not seem to persist much as imagery or meaning. This is a common response of mine to long poetry and to dense prose, and the answer always seems to be, just enjoy the sounds and let the meaning follow if it will.

I got interested in this book when I realized that after so many years of pastiching "Red Wheelbarrow" and "This is just to say" on Making Light, I still don't have much knowledge of Williams beyond those two poems. In the interests of repeating the text, here are a few passages I am enjoying. (Generally I am pretty psyched and amazed by the use here of paragraphs within poetry.)

If anything of moment results -- so much the better. And so much the more likely it will be that no one will want to see it.

There is a constant barrier between the reader and his consciousness of immediate contact with the world. If there is an ocean it is here.


Meanwhile, SPRING, which has been approaching for several pages, is at last here.
...

The farmer in deep thought
is pacing through the rain
among his blank fields, with
hands in pockets,
in his head
the harvest already planted.

o meager times, so fat in everything imaginable ! imagine the New World that rises to our windows from the sea on Mondays and on Saturdays -- and on every other day of the week also. Imagine it in all its prismatic colorings, its counterpart in our souls -- our souls that are great pianos whose strings, of honey and of steel, the divisions of the rainbow set twanging, loosing on the air great novels of adventure !

Ah -- here's the excerpt I was looking for -- the one that initially, when I was reading it, made me want to write this post, but which, when I went back to look, I could not find.

Even the most robust constitution has its limits, though the Roman feast with its reliance upon regurgitation to prolong it shows an active ingenuity, yet the powers of a man are so pitifully small, with the ocean to swallow -- that at the end of the feast nothing would be left but suicide.

That or the imagination which in this case takes the form of humor, is known in that form -- the release from physical necessity. Having eaten to the full we must acknowledge our insufficiency since we have not annihilated all food nor even the quantity of a good sized steer. However we have annihilated all eating: quite plainly we have no appetite. This is to say that the imagination has removed us from the banal necessity of bursting ourselves -- by acknowledging a new situation. We must acknowledge that the ocean we would drink is too vast -- but at the same time we realize that extension in our case is not confined to the intestine only. The stomach is full, the ocean no fuller, both have the same quantity of fullness. In that, then, one is equal to the other. Having eaten, the man has released his mind.

posted afternoon of August 28th, 2011: Respond
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Monday, August 29th, 2011

Whenever I say „ I ” I also mean „ you ”.

This post is inspired partly by a conversation I had with Ellen last night. I asked what she thought of the poem I had posted about writing poetry, and she said she thinks that kind of writing is worth while mostly for working it out of your system in order that you can write more immediate poetry... I'm finding interesting that much of Spring and All, at least the prose sections of it, is just this kind of writing about writing, about what I can write and how I can expect the reader to respond to it.

This is from the opening section of Spring and All (perhaps what Williams needs to work out of his system before he can move on to poetry) --

The reader knows himself as he was twenty years ago and he has also in mind a vision of what he would be, some day. Oh, some day ! But the thing he never knows and never dares to know is what he is at the exact moment that he is. And this moment is the only thing in which I am at all interested. Ergo, who cares for anything I do ? and what do I care ?

I love my fellow creature. Jesus, how I love him : endways, sideways, frontways and all the other ways -- but he doesn't exist ! Neither does she. I do, in a bastardly sort of way.

...

And if when I pompously announce that I am addressed -- To the imagination -- you believe that I thus divorce myself from life and so defeat my own end, I reply : To refine, to clarify, to intensify that eternal moment in which we alone live there is but a single force -- the imagination. This is its book. I myself invite you to read and to see.

In the imagination, we are henceforth (so long as you read) locked in a fraternal embrace, the classic caress of author and reader. We are one. Whenever I say „ I ” I also mean „ you ”. And so, together, as one, we shall begin.

Well, this seems great. I can picture myself saying this, can identify fully with Williams, as he is quite explicitly inviting me to do. Of course my project is not complete there -- I want to say something of my own, that's why I'm writing...

(A side note: the introduction to this edition (New Directions, 2011), written by C.D. Wright, is just great.)

posted evening of August 29th, 2011: Respond
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Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Yes, Mrs. Williams

I started reading William Carlos Williams biography of his mother last night. It is promising to be great -- it is taken from dialog with her at the end of her life, when they were translating Quevedo's "El perro y la calentura" together (from a copy that Ezra Pound had given him!) -- kind of as a pretext for getting her to talk in a situation where he could surreptitiously be taking notes. (2 things about that text -- it is apparently not by Quevedo but by Pedro Espinosa, long misattributed to Quevedo; and the Williams translation is available from New Directions, in print.)

How does it begin? I asked her.

It begins with two men walking in the fields and talking.

Oh yes, I said, una novella peregrina. Let's begin:

So we began. It served its purpose which was to draw out her comments. Let her come first, her childhood and early years, in her own words exactly as she told it.

I heard about this book, and got inspired to read it, from Marta Aponte, who is currently working on a novel about Mrs. Williams. Williams himself wrote in one of his letters (according to a fragment of Aponte's work) that it was his most important book.

posted evening of September 30th, 2014: Respond
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