Sunday, December 30, 2007

Norse’s Catullus

Harold Norse started translating Catullus (the old Latin poet) while in Rome. Norse’s versions from the 50s attempt to duplicate Catullus’ rhyme schemes. Norse’s versions from 20 years later, written in San Francisco, don’t bother. Here’s one of those:


Commendo tibi me ac meos amores

I am entrusting to you, Aurelius,
all I love most in the world, this boy, and beg
only a small favor, if you’ve ever valued
something beyond price, to be kept chaste and pure,
then guard this boy for me. I don’t mean from strangers;
it is not the man in the street I fear; he’s busy
about his own affairs. It’s you,
you and your big prick
lusting after boys, molesting good and bad alike.
When you’re outside you may waggle your erection
as much as you please at anyone you please, but spare this one,
it’s not much to ask, but if lust
runs away with you, if your dirty mind runs amuch
and you betray me and my lover, you’ll suffer,
I promise you, a terrible fate.
Before the whole town’s eyes, with your feet in chains,
I’ll shove radishes and mollets up your ass.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Norse on Mariah

Working my way through Harold Norse’s collected poems (In the Hub of the Fiery Force) and on page 269 I find a poem dedicated to my old poet teacher, Paul Mariah.

Blood of a Poet

they sent him up for 5 years
set bail at 100 grand
& he did time in the hole
for making love
to a boy of 18
who wanted it
both lonely in Illinois
& he came out with an education
in pain
& breaks down when he tells it
& you feel ashamed
& dumb.

-- San Francisco, July 1972

I don’t know if the poem is completely factual but it tracks Paul’s life. Paul never laid out for me the whole story. I learned more from what appeared in his books than I did from him.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Raymond Luczak

Some time ago I read Raymond Luczak’s anthology Eyes of Desire, which collected writings by & about gay & trans D/deaf people. It seems he has put together a sequel, Eyes of Desire 2.

You can watch him describe it in American Sign Language here.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Josh Simmons

Recently read the first issue of Josh Simmons’ self-published Jessica Farm, a comic that he will be working on, a page each month, until 2049. Looks like he won’t be self-publishing any more as Fantagraphics has committed to producing new Jessica Farm volumes every eight years. That’s 96 pages each volume.

Sadly my copy of Jessica Farm was peed on by one of the cats. I threw away the other things that the cat pee seeped into. But I hadn’t yet read Jessica Farm, and it looked too interesting to just toss. I’m glad I gave it a chance. Having enjoyed it, I still couldn’t keep it. It smelled.

If you visit Josh’s website you can read a God adventure. I snagged page 2 to get you excited.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I hate tipping

In her collection of comics, I Love Led-Zeppelin, Ellen Forney includes a number of single-pagers, most of them non-fiction, even instructional. She devotes one to “How to Tip Your Server”, basing her suggestions (commands? requirements?) on interviews with two longtime servers, “Alianna is a dancer/choreographer, and Gary is a musician and ‘zine writer,” both of whom have been wait staff for years.

“15% is the minimum.” For “crappy service, a really irritating combo of bitchiness and condescension, totally ignoring your table, really, really inedible food,” among other things, a tip may be drastically reduced to “say 10%” – but no lower! Ever!

I tip. I tip because I’m supposed to. I hate tipping.

Restaurants get away with a price on the menu that ignores both taxes and service? Why don’t we tip at the grocery store? Why don’t we tip at the DMV? We could put out a tip jar at the library.

Frankly, I can’t think of any good reason for tipping. Because the servers are paid a shitty wage? They’re not the only ones. Far as that goes tips are a disincentive to unionize, least so far as poor pay leads one to get together with one’s peers.

“Remember,” tuts the book, “if you stiff your server, you’re also stiffing the hostess, busboys, bartenders, etc.” Yeah, you’re the one shortchanging all those folks, not the owner of the business who has no obligation to pay the workers what their labor is worth. If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to eat out, right?

“To Insure Prompt Service”? You mean, without the tip I’m gonna get slow, crappy service? Apparently I’ll get that anyway (see paragraph 2 above).

If you get bad service, Forney’s informants insist, you tip anyway, then punish the restaurant by never going back. Yeah, right. Suppose you just had a shitty server and the next night she’s fired? How would you know? Check the restaurant’s website? Suppose there’s only one restaurant in town? I guess you’d quickly gain a rep among the servers as a bad tipper and be punished with even worse service.

Suppose you just want to be treated well; after all, you are a paying customer. If you get bad service you should complain to management? No way. According to Forney & friends your only recourse is depriving yourself.

A lot of wait staff make good money on tips, cash tips, which often aren’t declared so aren’t taxed. (Doesn’t the government assume now that wait staff get tips so require them to declare something?)

I understand that waiting tables has traditionally been women’s work, one of the few decently paid women’s jobs, and I can’t but sympathize with the idea that people ought to be paid well for good work.

But I still hate tips. And I resent waiters for expecting them.

Monday, December 24, 2007

beautiful beautiful beauty

I’ve been reading Dick Russell’s Eye of the Whale to learn about the gray whale. Next spring we will be visiting Baja’s San Ignacio Lagoon where the grays breed and give birth. During research for the book Dick Russell became fascinated by the former whaling captain, Charles Scammon. In the 19th Century Scammon wrote the first book on gray whales and many of his observations remained until very recently the best testimony on their behavior.

I grew up in Sebastopol. On page 593 I learned Captain Scammon was an early resident. After he retired from the sea Scammon, “his wife, and two of their sons moved more than seventy-five miles away from San Franciso not long after [his whale] book came out. Scammon had purchased a small apple farm in Northern California’s Sonoma County, in the rural hamlet of Sebastopol.”

Russell quotes an 1888 history of the county: “Among the noticeably beautiful residence properties in Analy Township is that of [Captain Scammon] … Captain Scammon purchased the land in 1874 and commenced its improvement in the same year, building a beautiful and convenient cottage residence and suitable outbuildings. … The view from his study window is one of surprising beauty, overlooking as it does the Laguna with its placid waters and the beautiful meadows on the lower plateau. … In fruit culture he confines himself to a family orchard and vineyard, in which he has some of the most valuable and improved varieties of fruit and table grapes grown in Sonoma County.”

Eventually he sold the farm and moved to Oakland.

Sebastopol is still known for apples. And for grapes, though wine rather than table. My mother participated in efforts to preserve what remained of a Laguna probably much reduced by drainage and landfill from what it was in Scammon’s day.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

mixed metaphor

Every so often UC Berkeley’s Center for Latin American Studies sends me their magazine. The one I’m reading now was actually published in Spring.

In an article about the rocky first year of Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet analyst Kirsten Sehnbruch writes:

As long as her brooms continue to sweep independently of each other rather than being reigned [sic] in to some sort of order, the sensation in Chile will be that of a government adrift.

Brooms? What’s that about brooms? In the article Sehnbruch was likening President Bachelet to the Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Mickey Mouse?) who loses control over the brooms he has magicked to clean the house. You use reins on horses (whereas you reign as a sovereign or king). And boats drift. So. Bachelet’s gotta grab the reins on the brooms before they drift away on the spilled water (Mickey is, after all, washed out the door by the excess water the magic brooms have hauled and thrown on the floor). Splash!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

out of town

I’ve been immersed in planning two vacations: one to Disney World & surroundings (supposed to be quiet there ‘tween the holidays), the other to Baja to see the gray whales at San Ignacio Lagoon in the spring, which trip may take us across the Sea of Cortez to the Copper Canyon.

Other than poring over guidebooks and websites like Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree (where travellers share tips) and I’ve been slowly drifting through Dick Russell’s Eye of the Whale and just began Harry Crosby’s Cave Paintings of Baja California.

One trip resource that’s proved valuable is the blog search. Lots of people like to blog about their adventures.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

pile of reading

Ah, faithful readers, I work on through books, yet don’t talk about them! These are those whose pages turn:

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson
I have been reading ED’s Complete for some years now. Nine times out of ten she leaves me cold, baffled. When I don’t understand a poet there can be compensations of another sort – word music, play, surprise. With Emily I’m mostly surprised when I can figure one out. Lately I’ve been reading two pages a night so I can move the placemark along. Otherwise I keep rereading the same page, having forgotten everything about the poems there.

The Mouse and His Child, by Russell Hoban
Not sure quite why but I’ve long wanted to read this book. Because I like the title?

Poetry International #11, 2007
Literary annual of San Diego State University.

Eye of the Whale: epic passage from Baja to Siberia, by Dick Russell
Am making plans to visit the gray whales at their nursery lagoons in lower Baja California.

Within a Budding Grove, by Marcel Proust, C.K. Scott Montcrieff translation
Yes, I am 20 pages into the second volume of Remembrance of Things Past.

Premonitions: the Kaya anthology of new Asian North American Poetry, edited by Walter K. Lew
Pretty good so far.

The Book of Boy Trouble, edited by Robert Kirby & David Kelly
A best-of selection (with new material!) from the mini-comic anthology series, Boy Trouble.

Sunflower Splendor: three thousand years of Chinese poetry, edited by Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo
I finished the poetry part of the anthology and thought I was just going to skim the biographical material in the back. But I’ve been enjoying it too much to skim.

In the Hub of the Fiery Force: collected poems 1934-2003, by Harold Norse
Am acquiring a taste for Norse. Not loving these, but sometimes I find myself liking a 3-page poem on page 2.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

what's new

On my home from the dentist today I stopped in at Pegasus Books on Solano. They had a nice copy of Ginsberg’s Collected Poems, 1947-1997. For a long time I’ve been thinking of reading Ginsberg. More out of curiosity than affinity, though lately I’ve encountered poems in anthologies that have made me more interested.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

what’s new

I was going to wait for a paperback edition but last week I felt flush (selling used CDs!) so I went ahead and bought the hardcover of John Porcellino’s King-Cat Classix, a best-of compilation from his self-published King-Kat Comics. I’m sure I have a good chunk of these in their original photocopy, saddle-staple versions. Now it’s high quality paper & printing! Sewn bindings!

As long as I was buying new stuff I also picked up I Love Led Zeppelin, a collection of “panty-dropping comics” by Ellen Forney.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

pile of reading

The Complete Peanuts, 1950-1952 by Charles M. Schulz
This is the Fantagraphics reprint of all Schulz’s Peanuts strips in chronological order. As a kid I owned several reprint collections. I remember resenting the fact that they were selections. What was I missing?

The Poem Behind the Poem: translating Asian poetry edited by Frank Stewart
I wish I knew another language well enough to feel comfortable attempting translations of poetry.

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
Finely crafted prose, colorful characters, a story without surprises

Asian American Poetry: the next generation edited by Victoria Chang
I was searching for a book with work by a particular poet. She isn’t in here but when I came across this one I thought, there are poets in here I’d like to read.

Muelos: a stone age superstition about sexuality by Weston La Barre
This was a library discard. The cover copy doesn’t tell you what the stone age superstition is. What a tease! There’s a photo on the front of a corpse’s heavily tattooed head. Rather gruesome. Having read a few pages into the Introduction I find the superstition to be the belief that semen and brain are composed of the same material, which notion explains the idea that spending your semen depletes your brain. Fun!

Southern Poetry Review 45:1
When I bought this at the student union on campus the clerk cracked, “Is this real poetry?” He flipped the pages. “Yes,” he said, “I guess it is!”

Sunflower Splendor: three thousand years of Chinese poetry edited by Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo
When I find myself equivocal about three thousand years of poetry I begin to wonder.

Anthology of Magazine Verse and Yearbook of American Poetry, 1980 edited by Alan F. Pater
I read this more than twenty years ago before I’d begun my copying-out project. When I was reading it the first time I put a placemark in when I read a poem I wanted to read again. Then I went back and read the poems I’d marked, took out the marks, and returned the book to the library. It always seemed to me something was missing. I’ve long wanted to come back to this book and see if there are poems in it I want to keep.

Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes
These are all poems Hughes wrote to his wife Sylvia Plath, all written, I believe, after her death. They are rather over the top. Which makes them charming.

In the Hub of the Fiery Force: collected poems, 1934-2003 by Harold Norse
After hearing Norse read in North Beach (& after finishing his memoir) I felt committed to working my way through his collected poems. So I’m doing that.

Premonitions: the Kaya anthology of new Asian North American poetry edited by Walter K. Lew
I like the look of this book. Nicely designed object. I haven’t checked to see where it overlaps with Asian American Poetry: the next generation.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The family, part III

Everything in this diary was written during the London semester. As I work my way through my diary I find myself curious about people who appear in it. Sometimes I don’t leave myself many clues to follow up. I have the first names of many people but few family names. I didn’t record the last names of Chris or Shawn or Tanya or even Julie. Unless I want to do more serious research than Google that’s where it’s going to have to stand.

Since the father of the family I stayed with was an elected official I thought he would be easy to find. I knew him as “Robert” but a BBC page has him as “John Atkinson”. Still, that’s his picture!

Wikipedia has “Robert Atkinson” running (or, as they say in the UK, standing) for election as member of Parliament for the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in 1997. Say the anonymous writers, “It is one of the safest Conservative seats in the United Kingdom.” In the 1997 election Atkinson (Labour) got 10,000 votes to Conservative Alan Clark’s 20,000. Tch.

Daughter Catherine seems to have gone on to a career in politics herself. I can see the eight year old girl in that face.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Mrs Dalloway

from the diary: “Wednesday 12/7/88”

During a class discussion: “Lulie cries incredulously, ‘Virginia Woolf must have been thinking about it [suicide] back then [when she wrote Mrs. Dalloway]!’, I go huff! like How silly of course she was. And I commented on the temperature of the water in the Serpentine when V. Woolf drowned herself. Was it summer or winter?” (clarifying []s in orig.) The Serpentine is a man-made lake in Hyde Park. “[Prof] dint dignify that with a reply & everybody seemed to think I was horrid but, I mean, Septimus in the book worries about dirtying the bread knife – everybody who contemplates suicide worries about such relatively trivial details. As someone who has considered suicide I thought the temperature of the Serpentine was relevant.” Then I add, “Of course, I was sitting in the back of the room next to Brent quietly making snide remarks about everything.”

Sunday, September 16, 2007

reading for class

from the diary: “Sunday 12/4/88

“Didn’t even leave the house yesterday. Read Guide for the Perplexed [by E.F. Schumacher] from begin to end. Oh, I guess I did leave to mail postcards but that’s all.

“Finished [Schumacher’s] Good Work this morning.”

E. F. Schumacher was an economist exploring ways out of our destructive exploitation of the world to a more creative, symbiotic relationship. His books were assigned for the Economics & Environment class.

“I’m lying on my bed tonight reading Mrs. Dalloway [by Virginia Woolf]. P’raps if I have time I’ll start that essay for Eng 1A.”

12/6: “I borrowed the [British Life & Culture] textbook, Modern Britain from Julie & holed up in Maria Asumpta library this afternoon. [Julie] only loaned it to me for the afternoon. Fortunately it’s short. Read it all the way thru. Not sure how much I retained but I feel a little better about the BLC final.”

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Major Great

from the diary: “Wednesday 11/30/88

“[English Prof] went on about how there aren’t any major writers in English now. Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s got something to do with there not being any grand arbiters to annoint ‘great writers.’ Lulie (Beulah) was protesting, ‘Why don’t they write poetry like this anymore?’ Because, dear Lulie, it sucks. Nobody reads it because it’s boring. The only reason anybody does read this crap is because it’s assigned in English class.

“Oh fiddle. What makes anyone think they can extol one man or woman, say man as it’s usually a man – almost always, shall we say – as a Great Writer or Poet or Dramatist? There’s lots of damn good work out there. There’s lots of crap. And who cares? The English teachers have to teach somebody.

“Everybody thinks Shakespeare is the best thing since the world poked her head between the thighs of the sun. Gack! Everybody thinks Shakespeare is great because everybody thinks Shakespeare is great.”

Friday, September 14, 2007


from the diary: “Tuesday 11/29/88

“I’m sitting in the main room listening to the tape of my last [radio] show. [The family’s] tape player component is fucked up, so I have to hold the play button depressed in order for it to work. I sit on the couch, my right leg crossed over my left, my right big toe on the button. I have a pillow stuffed under my right foot to keep it moderately comfortable.

“… I had to return a book to the library. While there I found a book of E.M. Forster’s ‘unfinished’ stories. Contained a story, ‘Imper’, in which men are a scarce commodity. Women just aren’t giving birth to them anymore. So this old guy comes to this village of women doing his duty – he’s gotta get ‘em to begat, y’know. Well, the central committee screws up and sends this young fellow named Imper to the same village. [The two men] tussle in the ‘Birth Room’ and their spunks mingle and begin to … grow! [ellipsis in orig.]”

I had checked out books from both the university library and the public library and even bought a few but I was not listing their titles nor commenting on them in the diary. Which makes the book project part of DIR a mite problematic.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

“’I have a cousin who’s a lesbian. Do you think I could use that?’

from the diary: “Friday 11/11/88

“I went to a gay youth group meeting in Westminster. And it was pleasant enough, altho’ I wish it’d had some kind of focus or direction. We were all just s’posed to sit around and get to know each other.

“The fellow on the couch next to me was named Andrew. We got to talking. He’s 19. Not really ‘out’, thinking about it, though he doesn’t seem to have all that much problem finding lovers and sounds like he’s ready to try cruising – rather likes the idea. I walked him back to his place after the meeting, then he asked my advice.

“How did you tell your parents? [he asked me.] Should I come out?

“I gave him the usual It’s-your-decision-to-make. I-personally-felt-better-feel-better-as-out-of-the-closet. blah blah blah.

“’I have a cousin who’s a lesbian. Do you think I could use that?’

“’Oh, yes. The next time someone makes a faggot comment, you could say, “I don’t like words like that. I have a cousin who’s a lesbian.”’

“Oh, but he couldn’t do that. ‘This may sound snobbish to you, but I wouldn’t want to say that, and, you know, lower the family name. Soil it, maybe.’”

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

a week in England, 10/31 – 11/6/88

October 31 is my birthday. I was awakened at 6:40am (the family was away?) by a ringing telephone. When I picked up, my mother sang “Happy Birthday”, then spent most of the call complaining about how hard it had been to get ahold of me.

Dragged Chris to Drowning by Numbers, my first Peter Greenaway movie. “Lovely weird little black comedy.”

Kept up my journal for English class and was bored to tears in class. Following the advice of classmates I began bringing letters to write and textbook reading to catch up on so when Prof droned I had somewhere to turn my attention. I had two English classes. The nonEnglish classes were British Life & Culture (I remember one visiting lecturer who said he loved real American names like Massachusetts and Narragansett; was contemptuous of such nullities as New York and New Hampshire. Too bad the names he preferred are sometimes all that’s left of the people who owned them.); and a class on Environment and Economics. Small is Beautiful was one of the texts for that class. It was a consistently interesting class. I got the highest score (an unamazing 94) on the midterm. Prof McP had me “read aloud one of my answers. So, with a lot of throat-clearing and in a monotone, I read it.”

Chris & I visited Parliament and listened “in the strangers’ gallery while the MPs debated the new govt policy of denying airtime to the Northern Irish Sinn Fein Party.”

I bought more 45” singles at the used record store in Camden Town – 10p apiece. Also stopped in at Forbidden Planet and “bought AARGH!. It’s another one of those benefit comics – Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia. Pretty high quality. Edited by Alan Moore.” Margaret Thatcher’s government had instituted something called Clause 28 (or Section 28, once enacted) that directed schools to say nothing positive about gay people, so there was noticeable activism over that.

I raised my daily budget from 2.50 to 5 pounds.

Took a coach tour to Avebury, a town build inside an ancient stone circle. It was cold but I liked the place. “Bath wasn’t so exciting, though I did enjoy the Roman bath. Wish we could’ve jumped in, the warm water was so inviting – they told us not to touch as it’s untreated.”

On Saturday the usual group of us took an independent trip to Hampton Court Palace, mainly for the hedge maze. “I managed to get pretty well lost, which was what I wanted.” That night was Guy Fawkes fireworks and bonfire at Battersea Park. The bonfire was huge. I remember feeling the heat far back from it.

I got some DJ training at the student-run Imperial College radio station. Started planning playlists.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

a history of Bath

from the diary: “Sunday 10/30/88”

We got back to London at 9:00am on Saturday. The family was away for a few days so I had the house to myself. I invited over Shawn, Tanya, and Chris, the girls I’d been hanging out with. I played them records I’d been buying in Camden Town and we ate ice cream. Chris had gone to York “and nearly froze to death. ‘Everything was closed,’ she said, ‘like a ghost town.’ Shawn had fun in Ireland, she says, but for her traveling companion. … Tanya [had visited] the Soviet Union [and returned] bearing trinkets. She unwrapped everything and let us look. She got a couple packs of small propaganda posters. She says everything was colorless. ‘You look out the window of the hotel and see gray and white and a statue of Lenin.’”

“Am reading a book of the history of Bath in prep. for going there this Friday.”

It was a rather dry book, as I recall.

Monday, September 10, 2007

“pulled her from the arms of the mime”

from the diary: “Fried egg [Friday] 10/28/88”

Julie & I had planned to take a ferry & train back to London and hadn’t realized our tickets only allowed us on the 9:30am. We’d missed that. There was nothing for it but the 8:30pm and paying a “night supplement”. Finding ourselves with another day in Amsterdam we went to the Van Gogh museum. I bought postcards.

“As we came up the Dam Rak a mime in a black suit and silver face paint was just getting into his routine. He had a boom box for accompaniment and began with the usual pressing-hands-against-invisible-wall and moonwalking. …

“Julie fished out 2 of her last guilders and took them to his paper cup. As she turned to come back, the mime ducked behind her and followed her to the edge of the circle. When she turned around there they stood, face-to-face. He stuck out his hand & she shook it. Then he lifted the camera from around her neck and handed it to me. Whoop! he lifted her up. ‘Take the picture!’ cried Julie. ‘Take the picture! Help!’ So I, quick, snapped the picture, took Julie’s hand and pulled her from the arms of the mime.”

Sunday, September 09, 2007


from the diary: “Thursday 10/27/88”

In Amsterdam I found “the Gay Center [where] I saw awhile, met another Californian. Jack. He’s 23, also – wait. I’m 22, aren’t I? I said I was 23. I will be in a few days anyway. [Jack] was busy marking a map of Amsterdam with gay spots and asking the gentleman behind the counter about this or that bar in the guidebook. I asked where the Homomonument is and got that marked on my map. Jack asked about slang terms. Eric S. will be thrilled to know that ‘flikker’ means faggot. [Eric Shanower included a character in one of his Oz graphic novels whom he named ‘Flicker’.]

“Jack and I went in search of the Homomonument. We passed it about three times before we finally figured it out. There are three large pink marble triangles in the shadow of a big church. One [triangle] is flush with the sidewalk, another is a foot high and the third pokes into the canal and is divided into steps. All 3 are connected by a thin strip of marble which makes them a large triangle. We were disappointed that it was quite so understated. There was a sign describing the monument’s purpose. ‘celebrate, commemorate, incourage …’ That’s my paraphrase.

“We stopped in at a bakery/deli for lunch. I had a small meat pie, he had a quiche. Then we bought dessert. I saved mine in my knapsack for later. ‘Do you smoke?’ he asked. ‘No.’ I thought he meant tobacco but he had gone to the Bulldog [coffeehouse] and bought some pot. So then he found a corner out of the wind & lit his pipe. I took a hit, got slightly buzzed.”

Jack and I wandered around the Amsterdam city museum together but parted ways when he couldn’t pass up a visit to a torture implements exhibit.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


from the diary: “Tuesday 10/25/88

“Tonight while wearing out my legs I came upon a tattoo parlor. Closed. But in the window a small black & white cat, its eyes wide, wide. I leaned down and held my fingers to the glass. The cat wiggled and pressed itself against the glass – whenever I took my hand away it stared up at me plaintively and mewed. So I held my fingers against the outside while the little cat rubbed itself back and forth against the inside of the window pane.”

On our Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam midterm trip Julie & I arrived in Brussels on Tuesday. “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium,” Julie said as we detrained at the station. This struck as us hilarious, probably because we were plumb wore out.

We left London Friday. Took the train to Dover and the ferry to Calais. When we arrived we sat on the train for an hour, there being a train strike. We were supposed to meet a friend of Julie’s homestay host at the Paris station, so we were anxious about missing her. She was still waiting when the train finally pulled in. She took us out to her house in a nearby town.

The next nights I stayed at a Paris youth hostel and we wandered Paris, together and separately. Visited the Louvre, the Pompidou Centre, the Eiffel Tower, Le Sacre Coeur, etc. Julie and I got on each other’s nerves, but, it seems, never quite fought.

Friday, September 07, 2007


from the diary: “Friday 10/21/88

“Woke from a dream about [English professor]. I dreamt that I was in a room, maybe a classroom, maybe on the tube, and I was talking to a friend on the other side of the room (ten feet away?) about what Ken [a student from one of the other participating community colleges] had told me. 6 authors to our three, more interesting. I glance to the right and there [my prof], standing against the wall. He glowers at me. Then pulls up a chair next to me and starts dressing me down for my criticism. Sweat breaks out on his face, arms turn white like the skin under an adhesive bandage. He’s gasping and ranting.

“[Prof] is an impostor. A never-has-been. His wife claims to have studied under this famous genius-type teacher when really she and [Prof] offed the guy.

“Cut to scene of riverbank, man hands tied behind back. [Prof] & wife drag a hood over his head, lash it tight and shove him into the dark water. It is night. The [killers] smirk conspiratorially in the shadows, wife’s face lit by the yellow lights of a ship at moor, [Prof]’s face seen in 3/4 profile.”

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Gay Plays

from the diary: “Sunday October 16 1988

“I stayed in most of the day again. Read a play from a collection called Gay Plays edited by Michael Wilcox. I’m not sure the title is appropriate.”

I don’t know which play I was reading. I presume I read all of them. The Claremont Branch has a copy of Gay Plays. I’ve seen it sitting on the shelf and thought, “I’ve read that, haven’t I?”

I went to grade school with a Mike Wilcox. Not the same, I’m sure.

One more paragraph from the diary:

“I leaned against one of the big lions under Nelson’s pedestal in Trafalgar Square, strolled down the mall to Buckingham Palace. I liked the fountain with its scowling men spitting water and clams likewise gushing. Looked through the gate at the man in the silly red suit. People live there?”

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

planning the midterm trip

from the diary: “Friday Oct 14, 1988

Julie and I “were in Waterstone’s Book Store looking at guidebooks and she picks up … The Complete Guide to Amsterdam for Gay Men and Lesbians. She notices not the latter part of the title.

“‘Have you looked at this?’ she says.

“‘Yes,’ I say, ‘but you might read the title. I’d be more likely to pick up that book than you.’

“She laughs. As we’re leaving the store she runs this over in her mind. ‘”I’d be more like to pick up that book than you.’” She sort of doubletakes and half-seriously, ‘Why, are you gay?’

“’Yep. That’s what that means.’ I flip off my cap and point to the pink triangle button.

“She says, ‘Does this mean I’m not supposed to talk to you?’

“’No. Unless it bothers you.’

“She’s recovering. ‘No, actually, it might be easier.’”

Julie was about 15 years older than me with two kids at home. (She also had a 20 year old boyfriend.) We both wanted to take a midterm trip through Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam – that was a touring ticket you could buy. Neither of us wanted to go alone so we decided we might as well go together.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Boswell’s London Journal, part IV

from the diary: “Tuesday Oct 11, 1988

“Went to Maria Asumpta Centre & finished Boswell’s journal. Gad but that took a long time. If this diary turns out as uninteresting as his I hope the only people who read it are researchers in biography investigating the minor poets of the late twentieth century. They deserve the stress.”

Monday, September 03, 2007

the diary, 2/25/88 – 10/9/88

The diary opens with the Spring semester at SRJC. I had just been elected president of the Gay & Lesbian Student Union. I roped a young lesbian, Donna D., into being co-president, “welcome to call herself President whenever she wishes,” because I didn’t like the idea of being called the president of anything and because we were the Gay and Lesbian Student Union and I knew seeing men running things always scares off the women.

Got my first parking ticket in March. Expired meter.

More unsatisfying dates. Which had me down. Shortly before I flew off to London for the fall semester a boy developed a big crush on me. I wish I had been into him. Maybe it was just as well. He wasn’t yet 17.

Late in the summer I got a job at McDonald’s. Not the one in Sebastopol. I didn’t want anybody to recognize me. I needed more money if I was going to London. A friend from the GLSU was working at this McD and I was looking forward to working with someone I knew and liked. She quit the day before I started. Four weeks into it I gave my two week notice. Which led to some disgruntlement from my supervisors. Who were nice enough. It was an easy job. I didn’t like the uniform but the work wasn’t bad like I’d expected. I preferred it to other jobs I’d had: dishwashing in a Sebastopol restaurant, flunky at a butcher shop (no, I didn’t do any butchering).

I’ve been quoting a lot from my London diary. Talking more about it would be repeating myself.


Phantasm II
Married to the Mob
Bringing Up Baby (on TV at home)
Big (on the plane to London)
I’ll Take Manhattan (in London, on the TV at friends’ flat)
3 Men and a Baby (in London)

stand-up comedy with Robin Tyler & Linda Gerard (in London)

Mr. Dog (live show in Santa Rosa)
“A Complete History of Sexual Jealousy (Parts 17-24)” by Momus (a song I liked on a sampler album from Creation Records; bought at Tower Records in London)
singles by Big Pig, Housemartins, which I bought from a bin at a street market in London

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Spiral Path

from the diary: Saturday 10/8/88 day 31 [continued]

“Am reading a book by a gay Marxist [David Fernbach]. The Spiral Path. It’s fairly interesting. He advocates the abolition of gender – he also seems to idealize science and says, ‘Any good Marxist must’ look forward to the elimination of sex difference. One sex then.”

Bob Nowlan has an interesting follow-up to The Spiral Path, which you can read if curious.

“In order to even begin to struggle effectively against male supremacy, it is necessary to stop defining oneself as heterosexual,” Nowlan says.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Gay Guide to London

from the diary: “Saturday 10/8/88 day 31”

I met the girls at Hamley’s, the giant toy store. Afterward Shawn and I found a park where we could throw her new boomerang. “Shawn got pretty good. I made an awful job of it; when I threw the boom-a-rang [sic] it tended to come back, hesitate, turn around, then dash off in an entirely new direction – a long way away. Pretty blue.”

That evening I attended the coming out group at the LLGC. Met a 22 year old from Berkeley. And a Canadian “who I developed an instant liking for. It’ll come to nothing, I’m sure; it always comes to nothing.” I left with another Californian, “Franz (looks filipino maybe). We rode the tube in the same direction, sat & talked. He had one of those little Gay Guides to London like mine and he knew of a pub (The Champion) near where he lives. So we dropped in on the spot together – ten min. to closing, pubs close here at eleven. He got somethin’ to drink but I just stood back and felt uncomfortable. Big mass of men, few looking like anything I wanted to talk to (or [presumably] vice versa).”

Friday, August 31, 2007

Blenheim Palace

from the diary: “Friday 10/7/88

“Blenheim Palace was a twenty minute coach ride from Oxford. Huge ‘house’. In a horseshoe around a gigantic graveled courtyard, big gates. We came in through one of the side entrances. Guided tour through the state rooms. The Churchill family (yes, of Winston, though he was not an heir) still lives there. That wing was off limits. But Blenheim Palace was nowhere I’d like to live. Each room was so high-ceilinged anything you said echoed, so all our whispers and the monologue of the guide in another room, and people catching up nearly drowned out our tourguide. Cold, too. And I was not awed by the ostentatious display of wealth. The gold & silver, the tapestries depicting battles against the French which earned the first Earl of the palace his earldom, were all huge and gaudy, grotesque, gross of excess, and so unfriendly. But the grounds were different. Sure they were on the same scale as the house – big formal gardens with statuary and expansive lawns so neatly manicured they looked like carpet. But the statues and the trees had personality. An old English oak, bent & gnarled. And long trails leading down to the river or just along through the grounds. A rose garden with a last few flowers battling the strong wind.”

Thursday, August 30, 2007

finding Gulliver on my travels

from the diary: “Friday 10/7/88

“Dint do much yesterday. After class I sat in Maria Asumpta library poring over Time Out, circling interesting events, listing some on a separate paper for easier reference. I was intending t’go to London Friend for their weekly social but I was afraid it might cost and I’d nearly used up my daily allotment. So I dropped by Chris & Shawn & Tanya’s place. Ended up staying for dinner again.

“Today was the coach trip to Oxford & Blenheim Palace. I hadn’t expected much … Oxford was a dud. … I did like some of the big old buildings with their spyres and domes and ‘classical’ sculpture. Took a pic of building that had no special plaque in evidence, our tourguide hadn’t dawn our attention to it & it was not right on the road, but I liked its style.

“Oxford University is not a place you can visit. Oxford is a city. There are many colleges – each with its own libraries, buildings, chapel, staff, administrators – a college of Foreign Languages, Science, Medicine, etc. All governed by the university. Oxford University is a collective entity, basically invisible – or more, I should say, it is the sum of visible parts. No single campus, but many, strung about. There isn’t much to do in Oxford. Shops! That seemed to be the big attraction. All the well-heeled kids wanted to hit the souvenir shops for Oxford University t-shirts and sweatshirts. … I [did] buy postcards as souvenirs. Then mail[ed] them away.

“Shawn found a little table outside a church. The top of the table was covered with old books. Attached a sign read, ‘10p apiece’. A slot in the wall was a couple feet above for depositing the money. So we shuffled through the books. Shawn found an old edition of Gulliver. I flipped through it. Sound, decent condition, even had a color plate next the title page, was from the late 40s. Bought it for ten pence."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Boswell’s London Journal, part III

from the diary: “Thursday 9/29/88 day 22

After English class, lunch, and a bit of grocery shopping, “I was vastly pooped. Found a [park] bench in the sun, the other occupant moving on shortly after I sat down, stretched myself out using pack as pillow. Napped for about 2 hours, felt wonderful. The air was chill so I pulled my trench coat tight, but the sun delicious. Read about Boswell getting the clap.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Speaker’s Corner, part II

from the diary: “Wednesday 9/28/88 day 21

“While at Speaker’s Corner Sunday [9/25] I spoke with a couple or three older gay men – one of whom enlightened me on a little ‘having fun’ etiquette. He doesn’t want a relationship, he says, and he doesn’t indulge so often anymore but every or every other week he comes to the park to look and choose. Likes men younger than himself – between 28 & 40. He, I believe, was 50. He will wear a walkman radio on such evenings and stand on the outskirts of the cruising area, size up the passersby. When he spies what he likes he establishes eye contact, then turns and strolls away up another path – if the man is interested he follows. ‘They come to me,’ he says. ‘I won’t go to them. Medium risk, you know what I mean? You have high risk, which is in the end you know, then medium risk -- oral. And no risk which is just playing around.’”

By the way, what Senator Craig is into?, in Britain it’s called “cottaging”. Public restrooms being called “cottages”, don’t you know.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Pride & Prejudice & Piano

from the diary: “Tuesday 9/27/88 day 20

“In Kengsinton Library at lunchtime … woman on violin, man at piano, classical concert. Nice accompaniment to Pride & Prejudice.”

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Speaker’s Corner

from the diary: “Sunday 9/25/88, day 18

“I went to Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park. I expected a little thing, so when I saw a big crowd I thought at first, ‘No. I just need to look a little further.’ But when I got nearer the crowd I noticed it was in clumps with one major head jutting out in the middle [of each] shouting. Ah! This is the business. I’d read that there was a gay & lesbian group (calling themselves Gays & Sapphics) that met every Sunday at Speaker’s Corner.

“I browsed along the walk, listening to whomever sounded interesting. The gay group seemed to be setting up just as I arrived. A lovely young man, looked t’be about my age, quite blond, was starting with this gay rights nonsense – ‘I am a homosexual! … We want equal rights.’ One man challenged him for awhile saying he meant privileges. ‘No, no,’ protested blond. For quite a long time this tall young fellow, whose hobby apparently was heckling, told jokes & basically took the floor. Blond dint know how to deflect him. Matthew was the tall one. He’s a regular of Speaker’s Corner. I mostly just listened or grumbled or made small comments only those a foot or so away could hear. The circle was large, say spacious, when I got there, waxed & waned.

“At one point this older man came along who was one of those curmudgeons … who just loves to argue. Thinks he’s smart … reasonable, you know. I-base-my-frivolous-notions-on-the-facts. Yeah sure. He maintained that homosexuality was a lifestyle choice & that if you tried hard enough (sometimes with help!) – he likened gays to heroin addicts – you could change. Become heterosexual, of course. Blond tried the we’re-born-this-way tack. [Curmudgeon] jerk – he was from California ironically enough – came back with the grand unnatural and lifestyle choice (saying the studies he’d read showed that homosexuality was learned behavior, the dominant mother crap). Hm. The old boy was on my ground now. I’m good at this rational debate stuff because I analogize like crazy. And whenever he said, ‘I’ll give you an extreme example –‘ I came back with the mundane. So with lifestyle choice I countered religion. With you-can-change-if-you-want-to I countered with plastic surgery (Can I tell you to change the shape of your nose because I don’t like the bump in it? I fire you because you could eliminate that unsightly bump with a little corrective surgery.) Basically my approach was – You don’t like difference? Difference is wonderful! And you are unreasonable and irrational. Yes, I joined the fray. Two Californians having at each other in merry London.

“He said, ‘Don’t I have the right to fire a transvestite?’ I countered with, ‘Is he doing a good job? If he’s doing what you pay him for why fire him?’ ‘A pedophile!’ he said. ‘Are you a policeman?’ I said.

“I had supporters. The ‘poor’ fellow was outnumbered & though I dint think the arguments from my helpers were all flawless yet I know I wouldn’t have stood up well under a similar barrage.

“Introduced myself to blond afterward. Dye? Have no idea how it’s spelled but I believe that’s what he said. He dint seem in the mood to chat. I talked to some other folks hanging out, then went on my way. Still all keyed-up, arguing the case to myself just about all the way home.”

I guess the arguments haven’t changed much in twenty years.

According to this article from 2006 Speaker’s Corner is still populated. And the Hyde Park Gays & Sapphics may still show up to climb the soapbox.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

London Lesbian & Gay Centre

I found the London Lesbian & Gay Centre and attended a coming out group there. I didn’t feel like I was coming out, exactly, but I was totally new to the London scene and have never been good at bars and discos so rap groups have provided an opportunity to meet people without having to shout over music.

After the Saturday meeting (9/24/88), “I used the rest of the afternoon walking. Walked through the West End, I think, past Harrod’s anyway, dint feel like going in. Was looking for Hamley’s, the huge toy store, but couldn’t find it. Did drop by Gay’s the Word, London’s warm little, jammed & cozy gay bookstore. Hear they’re going to expand.”

According to Wikipedia the LLGC closed in 1991. Gay’s the Word is, according to their website, “the last surviving Gay and Lesbian bookshop in the UK” and they are “under threat.”

Friday, August 24, 2007

The family, part II

from the diary: “9/23/88 Friday

“Initial interest in me from Robert & Maria has passed. They now largely ignore me, which makes me feel lonely. As soon as they get home it’s turn on the TV, or, in Robert’s case, unfold the newspaper. They don’t ask me questions, ‘What have you been doing? Found anything exciting?’ They don’t make suggestions. ‘You really should see – you can’t miss –‘ When I ask Robert questions, as I did last night about his elected office, he answers my questions quite willingly yet distractedly. His attention is divided between me and the bills. When I said to Maria the other day, ‘I got my first letter from my mother …’ she said, ‘Oh! How nice.’ Then said something about her own mother to the neighbor woman who was visiting. I was going to say something about how fast the mail was or what Mom had said about the cat or [how glad I was the mail strike was over] but [Maria and her guest] carried on as if I weren’t there.”

I tried to make friends with Linda, the German au pair. She was into Duran Duran “& has Duran Duran pen pals around the world.” I remember her telling me she and her friends would make fun of English. “We would say it sounded like somebody chewing gum.”

I took a tour bus to Stonehenge and Salisbury. “I was impressed. This big empty – and today, fiercely windy plain, flat, and these obvious, big, roughly shoebox-shaped stones in a circle in the grass. I wasn’t looking for skyscrapers.” My brother had told me when he visited he wasn’t impressed, expected them to be bigger. “Shoebox-shaped”? I’m not sure that metaphor aids their grandeur.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The family

I’d thought the father was a Member of Parliament. Turns out, no. “Robert is a member of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council – or whatever the official title is. I plucked up enough courage to ask him a few questions. Parliament has approx. 500 members, each represents about 1/2 million Britons. [So there are 250 million Britons? I don’t know.] There are 46 councillors in Kensington & Chelsea, Robert being one of only about 15 who are Labour Party, the rest being Conservatives but one, who Robert says, is an Idiot.” (diary, 9/22/88)

Then I went over my freshly worked out new budget: “I had only spent 1.45 and was prepared for a quiet evening of study & perhaps some television when Maria [the mother] came home in a foul mood. She’d had an absolutely rotten day at work … & was looking forward to just plopping the tortellini in some boiling water for a hot meal. She came into the main room, said to Linda [the au pair], ‘Do you know what’s happened to –‘

“So I admitted that I had eaten it & apologized & asked if I should replace it. Yes, she said. I apologized again & she almost reflexively said, ‘That’s all right,’ but instead said, ‘That’s all –‘ and then did not want to forgive that quickly so finished her sentence with a grumble. She was also in a rush cuz she had to get along to an evening class. When she was out of the house I … hopped the Hoppa bus to Earl’s Ct then over to Sainsbury’s, the nearest supermarket, and got some more tortellini of exactly the same type as I’d eaten. 1.09 pounds. So then I was 4 pence over my ceiling for the day.

“Last week or so Maria had said, ‘Help yourself to anything in the refrig.’ I have been careful in the past – not wanting to eat anything special. Good fruit has spoiled (food spoils here quickly, I suppose because of the humidity) that I would’ve been glad to consume had I known it was going to spoil. I’ve tried to confine myself to eating things which there are a lot of & those whose expiration dates had passed. The tortellini’s expiration date passed 12 days ago. It had been in the freezer so I guess Maria thought that didn’t matter. It must not have because the tortellini was quite edible.”

Then I wrote that I had bought a loaf of bread and planned to pack a lunch from then on, no more cafeteria.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Good-bye, I Love You

from the diary: “9/21/88 Wednesday

“Has anybody been reading Pride & Prejudice? I haven’t. I’ve been putting it off because I’ve read it before – even tho’ I can’t remember much of the story – and because I have so godawful much else to read. [Our first English class assignment is to] analyze one of [William] Blake’s poems. As for Blake – we went on a field trip to the Tate Gallery to see some Blake originals – he was a painter as well as a poet. Was interesting for about ten minutes – we were there 40. [The professor] got us lost on the underground. We had to backtrack to find the correct station.

“I read tonight a good book: Good-bye, I Love You by Carol Lynn Pearson, a Mormon woman, poet and ex-wife (widow?) of Gerald Pearson. The book reminded me of Laura Hobson’s Consenting Adult. But it was a true story. Gerald died of AIDS. So the book was sad.” I was delighted to be able to read something “of my own choosing.” [emphasis in the original] The family had gone out; I was alone in the house. “I put ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon on the stereo and before I knew it was dancing.”

When I do a little research to help recover details about a book and its author I sometimes run across surprises. Carol Lynn Pearson has a play, “Facing East”, in San Francisco right now. And SFGate did a profile of her.

Although I read her Good-bye, I Love You in London and Pearson grew up (& married) in Utah, she’s currently living in Walnut Creek.

Here’s a bit from the SFGate article:

“Born a fourth-generation Mormon in Salt Lake City in 1939, Pearson was a happy and optimistic child ... By the time she graduated from Brigham Young High School and went on to Brigham Young University, she was immersed in theater and writing. She met Gerald, her husband to be, when they were both cast in a BYU production of Thornton Wilder's ‘The Skin of Our Teeth.’ It was during their engagement that Gerald first told her of his attraction to men.

"’This was 1966,’ Pearson said with a measured sigh. ‘We were so naive and so Utah. We accepted the promise that you just repent when you get off track and everything will work out.’

“[T]he couple married in Salt Lake's Mormon Temple on Sept. 9, 1966. Their first child was born two years later. By then, Pearson was something of a local celebrity. Her first book of inspirational poems, self-published with Gerald's prodding and a $2,000 loan, sold an impressive 25,000 copies. ‘Nobody but some outrageously gay man would decide to publish his wife's poems,’ Pearson said with a laugh. She has supported herself and for many years her entire family as a writer ever since.

“Pearson recalled her marriage as one of mutual devotion and fun – ‘in many ways a cut above the marriages of my friends.’ But, she added, ‘what Gerald had hoped would happen didn't.’ He still wanted to have sex with men. Apprehensive about her marriage ending at the heart of the Mormon world, Pearson proposed that the couple relocate from Utah to California. … ‘It was hell,’ she said, ‘the resentment, the anger, the confusion, the divorce. But we also remained close. He was a wonderful father.’ A small smile came and went, ghost-like, across Pearson's face. …

“After Gerald's AIDS diagnosis, and just a month before his death, Carol Lynn was facing a house payment she couldn't make. An 11th-hour sale of a Christmas story to a Mormon publisher saved the day and proved to be a major financial gusher in the years to come.”

Pearson remembers “her Mormon community rose to the occasion.” Her dying husband moved back in with her. “’It was always done, whatever it was - food, transportation, yard work,’ said Pearson. ‘There was no shunning of me or Gerald, not ever, not once.’ …

“In Pearson's own cosmology, 'we're all in the correct classroom, working out the story problems that we should be doing. And the answer to all of them is: "How much do you love?"'

She has published a new book for families with gay loved ones, No More Goodbyes. Most of the stories in it are from the Mormon community, apparently. Sadly, the Mormon Church remains a major obstacle to gay human rights, being a big source of funding for anti-gay ballot campaigns across the country.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Kensington Library

from the diary: “9/20/88 Tuesday

“Got my library card for the Kensington Library. Great library! I s’pose it helps that the borough is very well-to-do. Checked out the limit – 3 books. Gay subjects mostly – I’m looking over what British books on the theme are like & am pleased by the selection.”

9/21: “I just divided out the money I have in British pounds – both that which I have in cash and that which I have in traveller’s cheques. Assuming there are 85 days remaining in my London semester I have approx. 2.90 pounds a day to spend. That’s a division of 250 pounds. I also have three hundred American dollars in traveller’s cheques. I am going to Amsterdam with that. I think. Maybe.”

Monday, August 20, 2007

My Boswell, myself

I scouted libraries – got a card at “the University of London” and at “the Kensington Library.” The Kensington library was closest and, I decided, had plenty to chose from.

My English prof wanted us to keep a journal of our own personal London adventure, with Boswell as a model? John Boswell, if the name means nothing to you, eventually became Samuel Johnson’s biographer. Samuel Johnson was the man who wrote the first English dictionary. Boswell did such a thorough and well-regarded job recounting Jonson’s life that “Boswell” has become another way of saying “biographer”, as in, “The poet has found her Boswell.”

On 9/17/88 I wrote, “I am conducting a documented life. I write poetry, I keep a diary. Not just for myself but for those who might read them. Am I a Boswell whose works [will be] read 300 years after he wrote them? Don’t know. I am always intimidated by those published diaries. These people seem to remember so much. They record dialogue without apology as though their memories were photographic [or phonographic?] and they fill pages & pages a day. I have neither the recall nor the time to write it all down. If you’re writing, you are not living.”

Sunday, August 19, 2007

lawn bowling

from the diary: “9/11/88 Sunday

“Coming back along Hyde Park … I strolled over to watch grass bowling or whatever it’s called. While i was standing next the green an older couple, the man a typical American upper ‘middle’ class paunchy … the wife the usual slender-in-comparison & neatly dressed & made up … They spoke, I recognized the American in their voices. The man asked me about the game.

“’I know as much as you. I recognize your American accent. I’m from California.’ He said he was, too, then proceeded to pay me no more attention. … Overheard the man inquiring: ‘Hate to be rude here but is the object to get the large balls closest to the white?’

“The players genteelly laid out the basics, which I understood no better than my fellow countryman. He persisted with, ‘Is there a winning score?’ & ‘When does someone win?’

“Winning occupied his mind. Prob’ly occupied the players’ minds quite as much tho they made it sound rather secondary. I dint much care one way or the other, I just thought it looked comfortable, sedate, careful, possibly boring.

“After he left with … ‘Don’t know if I got it all, but I’m closer to getting the rules on this one than cricket. That one’s still got me.’

“The elder woman to the younger: ‘What do you usually tell the Americans?’”

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Boswell’s London Journal, part II

from the diary: “9/9/88 Friday

“On the plane I read the Introduction to Boswell’s London Journal and amidst the lavish praise for everything else the editor singled out Boswell’s habit of displaying the events in chronological order – quite the opposite of my own [method] where I not only give away the present but mishmash the past. [Boswell’s chronological method, says the Introduction,] instills suspense and fictionesque drama.”

Friday, August 17, 2007

cultural differences

A few observations upon arriving at London’s Heathrow airport Sept ’88: “’It’s the coach with capital on,’ said the gentleman who [had come to pick] us up … pointing the confused lot of us down the passage. I, apparently, was the only one who heard him properly tho I still dint entirely understand. ‘the capital on’? Turned out to be a bus with the word CAPITAL written across the back of it. … ‘Way out’ here on street signs instead of ‘Exit’, ‘Give way’ instead of ‘Yield’.”

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Boswell’s London Journal

from the diary: “Tuesday 9/6/88

“Was reading some of the introduction (which is interminable) to Boswell’s London journal. The lad was 22 when he wrote the journal in 1762-3. A page was pictured of his handwriting and, my! – but it’s incredibly legible, something one can say for few people of any age. Aren’t I 22 & ain’t I gonna write a London journal? Oh, yeah, I think [Prof] Sherak wants us to keep a journal – I suppose that means he wants us to turn it in for his perusal. Yuck, what a drag. That’ll sure sap my energy for my own journal and gak but I hate sanitizing my thoughts for old fuddy duddies let alone letting somebody run his rough old eyes over perceptions that are still raw & personal. In 20 years I’m sure I won’t/wouldn’t give a fine fling who plowed his weary eyes down the fields of my suspect prose, but the present is not the time to consider the present.”

This was one of the books that had been assigned by the English teacher, an SRJC professor, whose class I was taking in London.

“I’m taking textbooks aboard the plane with me – Boswell, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway & Small Is Beautiful, think I’ll leave the Stephen King books David brought over here at home. Just don’t have room! And if I do get to reading I might as well get a jump on studying I don’t want to do anyway.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

sending out poems

from the diary: “Monday 9/5/88

“Last night I … typed up 4 poems for Sonoma Mandala. These prob’ won’t go in their precious literary annual any more than the stuff I’ve sent in the past cuz my poor poems do not fit their ‘little literary magazine’ type poetry. Green Fuse called the 2 poems I sent them ‘precious’ & ‘intellectual’. Intellectual as an insult again. Why is being smart considered not smart? I don’t write oh-so-awe-filled poems about brooks and babies and babble. My poetry is good. So much of what is published is so damn usual. Oh, I’ve read this before & before & before that. The poems that aren’t little concrete packaged images – in the ‘little’ magazine style – are abstractions of abstractions that make no sense and are praised lavishly becuz they are ‘difficult’. They appear in the big magazines. With everyone all over the country churning out words on paper, how can anyone’s work stand out? Just another tiny poem in some literary magazine fourteen people and the author will read – the same 14 who read the last poem. Yuck.”

Sonoma Mandala was the literary magazine of Sonoma State University.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Understanding the U.K.

from the diary: “Monday 9/5/88

“Mom & I went to Salmon Creek Beach this morning fairly early. I brought along my scarf and was grateful for it. Chilly – ooh. I picked up a small piece of driftwood and a particularly nice gull feather which I think I’ll take along to gift to my English family in lieu of the ‘plant or chocolate’ that the AIFS handbook recommends upon arrival.

“An interesting and helpful book I picked up, Understanding the U.K. (published ’87) recommends taking along some little American thingies to give to new friends in Britain. Yeah, any souvenirs I take along would be ‘made in Taiwan.’ I can’t think of anything to take, anything that wouldn’t uncomfortably drain my cash reserves or take up space in the luggage.”

I don’t know why I let spring & summer of 1988 pass largely unrecorded in my diary. I had been protesting that I was tired of hearing myself talk; I got tired of talking to myself in my journal, too, I suppose. I wanted a big change, something that would catapult me from the rut I was stuck in. I had $5000 saved. That was enough to purchase a car. A used car, but a decent one. But it was also enough to do something else. And the something else I decided on was a semester in London. Here was an opportunity to live somewhere totally different for three months, a place with lots of possibilities, abroad. Perhaps I could visit the continent at the midterm break. I knew when I got back that I would be poor again, that I would be stuck in Sebastopol as ever. Then again – I would have gotten away! Really away! The JC also offered a semester in Spain, I think, and Italy. I considered those. My Spanish was so halting that I didn’t want to have to rely on it, and I’m shy, I didn’t want any more barriers than I could help.

It was essentially an SRJC semester transplanted. We brought our professors with us. We had the option of taking additional classes at a college in London. I applied for a homestay with a London family. The family that took me was Anglo-American, the wife was American and worked for AIFS (the American Institute for Foreign Study), the company that put together the program. They had two young kids, a girl and boy. As a gift I brought a jar of Mendocino Mustard. I remember worrying that the glass might break in my luggage.

Monday, August 13, 2007

pile of reading

In the Hub of the Fiery Force: collected poems, 1934-2003 by Harold Norse
Having read Norse’s memoir recently I thought I should get to his poems. I’m only a few pages in.

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
I try to keep a novel in my pile. Too early to have much of an opinion.

580 Split, issue 9
The literary magazine for Mills College. Deadline is fairly soon. October 1. So I figured I should read it soonish.

Twinkle Tales by L. Frank Baum
I recently read the short stories starring Twinkle (a little girl on the frontier) and her friend Chubbins (a boy) that were gathered under the title Twinkle and Chubbins. Bison Books now has a volume that also includes the full-length fantasy novel Policeman Bluejay, which continues their adventures, so I’m reading Policeman Bluejay.

Bay Poetics edited by Stephanie Young
This collection of SF Bay Area poets came out last year. I’m not in it.

Sunflower Splendor: three thousand years of Chinese poetry edited by Wu-chi Liu and Iring Yucheng Lo
Mostly these English versions don’t impress me as poetry. Just read some nice translations of Mei Yao-ch’en by Jonathan Chaves. “I just saw the gatherer of shepherd’s-purse / walk out alone from the capital’s south gate: / brittle iron knife eroded by the earth; / green bamboo basket mottled with frost.”

Indian Days of the Long Ago: Indian life and Indian lore by Edward S. Curtis
This is written in a not-quite idiomatic English that, I suppose, suggests the otherworldliness of the Indian for Curtis’ average American reader. “Far into the night lasted the dancing. … Furious was the dancing of the old chiefs and warriors as they acted in pantomime the story of their battles.” The whole is probably a novel, a didactic novel, I guess, in which Curtis has two travelers from far tribes stop to tell their life stories to a plains Indian tribe (and drop a bunch of ethnographic information on us).

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith
I’ve never seen Smith in performance but I like the idea of building a story from disparate voices, voices that can disagree. Smith went to L.A. shortly after the riots and recorded interviews. These are rendered as monologue-poems. So far my favorite is the one attributed to an anonymous juror in Simi Valley. The jury had just acquitted the officers of all charges in the beating of Rodney King. To his horror, as the jurors are being led to the bus that will take them home, he hears a reporter asking, “Do you know that buildings / are burning / and people are dying in South LA / because of you?” He sounds earnest, tried to do his civic duty being a juror. He had no idea what that would mean. He seems shaken by a look at the world entirely new to him. What is fair? Was he fair? He thought so. He claims still to think so ...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

“Sometimes I get tired of hearing myself talk.”

from the diary: “Wednesday 8/3/88

“My last date with Scott – last Thurs. was bust. He’d had some great revelation of how he’d been acting immature and irresponsible and had decided he’d all shape up all-of-a-sudden like that. He proceeded to talk about himself all evening with minor detours into ‘past’ loves (‘I’ll always love Anthony.’ This on a date with me.) He told me his philosophy of money; his career plans; his love needs. He even went so far as to ask me to be his mirror – ‘What impression do you get of me?’ he asked.

“At first I was diplomatic as I really dint know what to say. Finally, after he’d changed his mind about going dancing … He dint seem to want to do anything. I was, frankly, bored. And depressed. He ast if I was tired. I said, ‘No.’ Then I came out with the bad stuff about him. The ‘second’ date he’d stood me up after I’d taken the bus in to Santa Rosa especially to see him, I waited, he never showed. I called 2 days later and he apologized. Yeah. Who called? The one who did the standing up or the standee? Out of our four dates – 2 were fun & 2 were total disasters as far as I’m concerned. Diana said she went out on a date with a ‘nice guy’ and one line seemed to sum it up. He said, ‘I was never really much of a reader when I was young.’ The quip of doom.

“When I said, ‘Sometimes I get tired of hearing myself talk,’ Scott answered, ‘Oh, I never get tired of hearing myself talk.’ A few minutes later I said, just as I was about to take him home, ‘There’s a point at which I get tired of talking. And there’s a point at which I get tired of listening. There’s a point at which I get tired of listening. To you talking. About yourself.’”

Saturday, August 11, 2007

She Broke My Heart and It Left Little Bits of China under the Edge of the Kitchen Cupboards

The Spring 1988 issue of the SRJC literary annual, First Leaves included one of my poems.

“She Broke My Heart and It Left Little Bits of China under the Edge of the Kitchen Cupboards”

She lifted my heart from the table, carried
it carefully and I watched her for a minute, not
puzzled, just interested. It wasn’t a
minute, though, that she held it above
the kitchen floor. She was standing by
the stove, I didn’t have to turn around to
see – wouldn’t have done that. I turned a
page in my book.

I always thought one made more noise
than that. When a bottle falls and shatters it
certainly makes a pop, a smack, a huff like anger or
the dog you woke by stepping on. I looked up
again and she was sweeping. She had to get down on
her knees to reach under the stove with the broom. She
dumped a pan of red glazed white porcelain crumbs into
a paper bag.

“I would have used plastic,” she said, placing
the folded-over bag on the tble next to the novel. “But
there weren’t any.” I would’ve told her to go away,
but I didn’t have the energy. “I wish you wouldn’t talk
to me,” I said.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Another First Leaves

from the diary: "Tuesday 3/15/88

“I turned in an entry for the SRJC literary awards. I don’t know if I can win anything since I won the Manalli last year but Wayne Neel, the advisor for First Leaves who gave me the application, said, there’s nothing that says you can’t. Not on the application anyway. My selections this year are much better than last year’s. I only got the application a day or two before I had to turn it in last year and I was in a very down mood. I hated everything I’d written. This year I had a chance to be much more clearheaded. I found out Lou (the guy who runs Papa Ron’s’ poetry readings) thinks First Leaves is a rag (along with Chris Evans) but he submitted several poems this year anyway – on D. Emblen’s urging, I gathered.”

There were no poems by Lou in that year’s First Leaves. Nor is there mention in the diary of my winning any of the English Dept awards.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Queen of Diamonds

from the diary: “Sunday 3/13/88

“[I] went to a poetry reading at Papa Ron’s. Read a selection of very short poems that I titled, ‘Love, Truth, and Shoes: the Cheap Poems’. They dint go over way big. Some, I decided, were too hostile. Spent a lot of time preparing them, practicing, selecting, so I guess I had a lot of expectations to be let down.

“Ann Erickson came and I got her chapbook, Queen of Diamonds.”

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

diary, 5/18/87 – 2/16/88

Some dating (mostly unsatisfying), a few parties.

Summer I took a swim class. I remember shivering in the pool – got my first leg cramp!

A friend attempted suicide. Pills. I phoned him at the hospital. “I don’t remember you,” he said, “but my diary says good things about you.”

Attended the Winkie Convention at Asilomar. When I asked David M if he would give a congratulatory kiss to Eric S after the “Woggle Bug” play performance – all the girls were getting kisses, the boys handshakes – David said, “He’d probably deck me.” Surely not!

Signed up for fall classes at SRJC: Review Algebra, Spanish Conversation, Critical Thinking, and American Sign Language … And got a 4.0 out of the semeseter.

Was taking driving lessons, got my learner’s permit. Paid for driver’s lessons because when it was Mom trying to teach me she would cringe or snap at me and we would end up shouting at each other. I think Mom helped pay for the lessons, though. At the end of August I got my driver’s license. I looked at cars but did not find one I liked & thought I could afford.

As documented on DIR (here, here, here, here, and here) I initiated a poster series for SRJC’s Gay & Lesbian Student Union. As always the club dwindled over the course of the semester and I pitched in to keep the club going.

Room with a View
Children of a Lesser God
Swimming to Cambodia
The Untouchables
Man Facing Southeast
Prick Up Your Ears
Snow White
The Lost Boys
King Kong vs. Godzilla
The Living Daylights
La Bamba
Superman 4
Animation Celebration
Monster Squad
Parting Glances
Desert Hearts
Pink Triangles
I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing
Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Talking With …

The Jewel in the Crown
Miami Vice
America’s Top Ten
Star Trek: the Next Generation
Agronsky & Co

Camper Van Beethoven
Culture Club
Steeleye Span
Jimmy Cliff
The Wiz soundtrack
World Party
George Michael
Los Lobos
“Reggae Dance Party”
Bob Dylan

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

selling the book

When I got to the end of the diary I’d been working my way through back in June, I stalled. I didn’t want to reread it for a “story so far” post. Going over that period of my life … I’d just done it, hadn’t it? How many times was I going to have to?

A couple nights ago I got through it the second time. And this try wasn’t so tough. The DIR memory project. Bring up old emotions, stir old pots. Let them settle. Some incidents came clearer in my memory this time, others more distant, documentation of something that might as well have happened to someone else. Tomorrow I’ll put up a post on the 5/87 – 2/88 diary. Then I’ll get back to the chronological book log.

The Word document DIR occupies on my Mac is 343 pages long. That’s a lot of writing. It may be something to turn into a book. Who knows? It’s not something I’d try to sell a New York publisher on. But with the new print-on-demand technology (see yesterday’s post) selling isn’t so damn necessary.

Monday, August 06, 2007

making the book

SFGate has an article today about Blurb, a self-publishing vehicle. Dan Fost says he chose Blurb (rather than Lulu, say) because Blurb is local. He doesn’t say in the article that he took advantage of that. Can you stop by Blurb’s offices to pore over their books? The article is accompanied by photos, Fost’s family book, which looks OK, but also a table at Blurb heaped with Blurb-made oversize photo books that, from a distance at least, certainly look attractive.

Kevin Kelly at Cool Tools also likes Blurb for a photo book, though he recommends Lulu for one that’s text only.

Kelly has professional experience designing books, it sounds like. Fost doesn’t. So Fost’s endorsement actually means more to me. It sounds like making his book wasn’t a snap, but it was easier than he expected and he didn’t find the tweaking painful.

Says Dan Fost, “One of the most fun parts of creating Plumlee's book [Sybil Plumlee, 96, is Fost’s grandmother-in-law] was making a cover, and especially putting Plumlee's photo on the back inside flap, just like a real author.

“My wife, Betty Barker, and I also enjoyed fiddling with the software, playing with layouts, and inserting photos to get the project looking just right.

“We did hit a few glitches, however, that made the experience somewhat less than perfect. Some of the pages didn't come out flush left, so that looked a little strange, and I wasn't able to cancel the order [for the unsatisfactory version]. … Additions to different parts of the book sometimes threw things out of whack later on in the book. Headers and page numbers sometimes needed a little wrestling. But for the most part things worked simply and well.”

Of the result Grandma says, “It really looked like a book.”

Sunday, August 05, 2007

[poet's name redacted]

A few years ago I took a creative writing class at the new Harvey Milk Institute, an attempt at a sort of gay community adult school in San Francisco. Not sure whether it still exists but I liked the idea and wanted to support it. Plus I hadn’t taken a writing class in years.

E.. was one of the other students and she had a wounded, brittle air, always wearing long-sleeves and long pants and wide-brimmed hats. She said she had been badly injured and was still recovering. Every so often since I’ve seen her around Berkeley and she still covers up.

Last week she hung out at the Claremont branch where I work. She had an essay in the San Francisco Chronicle about the breakthrough she’d made in her recovery, and the article was the first time I got the details on what she was recovering from.

“I learned it was a propane explosion at a factory nearby. In the emergency room I heard the phrases, ‘explosion,’ ‘third-degree burns’ and ‘skin-graft surgery.’ I must have been in shock because all I could think about was going home to Berkeley and bicycling.”

It was nice to see E.. smiling. She seemed almost bubbly, her enthusiasm infectious. It seems she has a poetry chapbook forthcoming from a small press, too. She entered a contest, didn’t win, then was asked by the publisher if she wouldn’t mind them publishing her book anyway.

Update 7/22/10: E.. remembers this blog post as being very hurtful. Not wishing to hurt her feelings I thought I would remove it. Having reread it I have decided to leave it up, redacting her name. You may follow the link above if you wish to know it.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Recycling Day

Recycling day
reading the Vanity Fair history of The Simpsons
at the curb

Recycling day
two issues of a New York literary magazine
don’t smell of smoke or coffee

Wednesday evening people wheel their garbage cans out to the curb, and next to the garbage they snuggle up blue bins filled with cans & bottles & bagged paper.

I walked about the neighborhood that evening. The two copies of the New York literary magazine were issues of Open City from 2003. As they were clean and had a few names I’d heard of, I brought them home.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Winkie Convention haul

Kent & I went to the Winkie Convention last month, weekend of the 6th, 7th and 8th. Haven’t been to Winkie in years. 12 years. I’ve kept sending in my Oz Club dues. But going to Winkies hadn’t seemed essential. Used to go every summer.

I figured I’d pick up some of the Club publications, save the shipping charges. But I didn’t figure I would buy anything at the auction. The auction takes up most of Saturday afternoon. Was there anything I needed? Not really. I’m not much of a collector anymore. Even though now I can afford most anything I want (a first edition of The Wizard of Oz is not on my list). I recently read L. Frank Baum’s non-Oz fantasy, John Dough and the Cherub, got it via interlibray loan, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. If there’s a copy of John Dough and the Cherub at a decent price, I said to myself, I’ll get it.

And there was a copy on the auction table. The cover image is printed right on the cloth of the binding. The copy I saw recently at a bookstore in Berkeley was badly faded, or perhaps the ink had rubbed off. The copy in the auction was bright. The binding was tight (a repair job?). One of the pages of the illustrated endpapers was missing. But nobody’d penciled (or crayoned) on any of the interior, other than the owner’s name. Edward Eager.

Edward Eager? I said to myself. Author of Half Magic, Magic By the Lake, etc?

I sat through hours of auction, not so bored as I’d expected. Fact is, I’d planned to skip out to the beach (which, at Asilomar, means putting on your long pants and jacket). After occasionally looking at the prices of Oz books in bookstores and on the internet I was startled to see people snapping up bargains at the auction. Of course, these are folks who’ve been collecting for years. Probably they have most everything they want; why bid on it just because it’s cheaper than you’d find elsewhere? After all, if all you wanted was the book it would have been cheaper to pay the premium and not fly yourself out to Monterey for a weekend. When at last the John Dough came up I gave myself a mental budget of $75-100. The auctioneer entertained an opening bid of $15. I raised my auction card. And got the book for $25. The auctioneer made no mention of Edward Eager. I was so surprised to get Dough for $25 I immediately bid on a copy of Patchwork Girl of Oz which I neither wanted nor needed and got that for $50. I had instant buyer’s remorse but shrugged it off. After all, I could say I bought Dough for a reasonable $75 and they threw in a Patchwork Girl.

When I got home checked up on author Edward Eager’s middle name and it matches that written in my new copy of John Dough.

Also bought at auction:

an original illustration by Dick Martin from the Oz Club published Enchanted Island of Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson

Magical Mimics in Oz by Jack Snow

Bought new:

Dorothy, v.1, a graphic novel retelling of The Wizard of Oz starring a punked-out Dorothy, a robot Toto, laser guns, etc. Mark Masterson, one of the creators, gave a presentation.

Annabel, a young adult novel L. Frank Baum published under a pseudonym, this reprint from Hungry Tiger Press

Speedy in Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson, an Oz Club hardcover reprint that includes the original color plates (no sooner did I take this out to show someone than I put a little tear in the dustjacket)

Hidden Valley of Oz by Rachel Cosgrove, an Oz Club paperback reprint

The Scarecrow of Oz, one of Baum’s original Oz books in a Club reprint, my first edition with the color plates

Aunt Jane’s Nieces, a book L. Frank Baum wrote using the pseudonym Edith Van Dyne, Oz Club publication

The Hidden Prince of Oz by Gina Wickwar, an original Oz Club publication

The 2006 issue of the annual Club publication Oziana, which features fan fiction and art … I remember David saying he’d been asked to illustrate a story; I didn’t realize his illustrations would be so extensive & elaborate.

Der Zauberer der Smaragdenstadt, a German translation of the Russian Alexander Volkov’s version of The Wizard of Oz … no, I can’t read German (or Russian) but I love the illustrations by Leonid Vladimirski

When we registered we were handed the following:

Animal Fairy Tales, the only collected edition of L. Frank Baum’s animal tales, published by the Oz Club … as Kent and I both were given a copy he handed me his. (I have since passed one of the copies along to an old Oz friend who didn’t make the convention.)

A tin lunchbox designed by Eric Shanower. Kent says he is going to send his to his sister for her birthday. Which was last month.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

five used & two new

five used

Karen Brown’s Mexico 2006

I picked this one up at Half Price Books because Brown lists two itineraries that I’ve been contemplating. A trip via rail through Copper Canyon (Barrancas de Cobre) and a visit to the lagoons on the Sea of Cortez where the gray whales give birth.

Ceremonies by Essex Hemphill

This was on the 25c sale shelf the Friends of the Library maintains. I remember Hemphill from the poetic documentary Tongues Untied and I’ve long been curious to read more.

Shark’s Tooth by Marc Elihu Hofstadter

I saw this at Black Oak. I read Marc’s two other books. Poetry.

Ploughshares Spring 2007

This was also on the Friends shelf.

Indian Days of the Long Agoby Edward S. Curtis

Another Friends item. Curtis is mainly known for his 19th C. photographs of Indians (sometimes staged). This little book has a lot of photos and drawings. I couldn’t pass it up.

two new

America: a prophecy by Sparrow

Sparrow is great. I saw this new at Analog Books. Or was it Signal? I forget. That bookstore up on Euclid. Come in the door and there’s the stack of the new Harry Potter book. Somehow I think I will be able to survive the wait.

580 Split, the literary magazine of Mills College in nearby Oakland.

I oughta send ‘em stuff. Deadline is October 1st.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I skip the long ones too

Tim Donnelly writes good poems. He also performs them very well, at ease before an audience. He doesn’t write a lot so when I heard him read last Saturday (7/14), several months since I last heard him read, more than half the poems were familiar to me. Yet they were still fresh. Of one Tim said afterward, “In all the times I’ve read that poem, this was the first time I’ve gotten a laugh.” A poem likening orgasm to a sugar egg with a diorama inside of a naked bunny wedding? Got no laugh?

I picked up Tim’s self-published chapbook, I skip the long ones too. “You already have that,” he said. He’s right. So I’m offering it up here. You want it? I’ll mail it to you. (If you would prefer not to leave your address in comments you can email me – lovesettlement[at]

As additional enticement here’s a Donnelly poem:

I flunked the trial separation
lost my identification
lost identity
in a soft sweat museum
my body scooped dead as a bowl
not other fish but the sea I’m scared
of you are no piranha I
am no shark
the part where we give ourselves
every hand is a mouth in the shower

UPDATE: The giveaway is spoken for. However, if you want to give me your contact info I’d happily pass it on to Tim.

Friday, July 20, 2007

reading in Alameda

I gave a featured reading Saturday night (7/14). First time in years. Tim Donnelly, the poet friend I made shortly after moving to Berkeley, asked me to join him at the Frank Bette Center for the Arts. I debuted sections from the long manuscript, Autobiography of a Book, and got praises for it. There was a rack of books by locals so I bought one from Patricia Edith, The Commute: an extended poem in xxvi parts, which seems to be based on her daily commute to San Francisco. She signed it, “May you write long things forever.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Don Emblen, publisher

Got a letter yesterday from Don Emblen. He offered to produce a chapbook for me on the letterpress in his garage so a few months back I sent him a manuscript. “Sorry about the delay in getting to your sampler. Don’t be dismayed, just be patient. At least that’s the advice I give myself … I’ve been working for a year now on a Collected Works volume, going through all extant poems I’ve written and am appalled by the masses of manuscripts going back to the early 1940’s.”

Don includes a copy of his The Reader’s Rejoinder a monthly response to books. How Dare I Read! Looks like it’s as much a response to correspondents, quoting from letters sent to him from Cotati, Carmel, Santa Rosa, and Eagle Creek in Oregon.

Don gives the thumbs down to The Last Days of Pompeii, a 19th Century novel by “Sir Edward George Earl Lytton Bulwer Lytton”. Don was “sufficiently seduced by [the] gorgeous reproductions of classic artwork to buy a used but still elegant edition … Just as the volcanic rain of fire and rock from Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii in 79 A.D., the egregious faults in Bulwer’s writing reduced his novel to a litter of worn, Byronic phrases.” Don says he’d heard it was bad. He can now pass on his agreement. Don was perplexed to read “an introductory essay by Edgar Johnson, a respected literary scholar,” in which Johnson acknowledges the novel’s many flaws but claims it “’triumphs over all its deficiencies.’” Deficiencies, yes; triumph, no.

Wasn’t a bad writing contest named after Bulwer Lytton?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

more Norse

From Harold Norse’s Memoirs of a Bastard Angel:

marriage: two deluded individuals vow to deceive each other till truth do them part.

Other bloggers have written about attending the Norse reading. Michael Petrelis even has pictures. I snagged one for this post.

renegadepathos posts one of the poems Norse read, “I am not a man”. Middle of the poem Norse said, “’And it goes on like that for a while.’ He made to turn the page to another poem, until we all cried out ‘Keep reading it!’ So he continued.”

Monday, July 16, 2007

Harold Norse

I went to see Harold Norse read Sunday (7/15) at the Beat Museum in San Francisco. First time I’ve been to the Beat Museum. My friend Tim calls it a tourist trap. The museum is upstairs. It’s less than half the size of the gift shop at street level. The major artifact is one of Allen Ginsberg’s organs, which is about 2/3 the size of an upright piano. Most of the exhibits are big photo blow-ups with captions. A couple cases filled with books by the Beats and books about them, including racy paperbacks from the 50s: she found her kicks among the denizens of the Beat underground

I bought Harold Norse’s Memoirs of a Bastard Angel last December. It’s been sitting by the bed since. When I heard Norse would be reading to celebrate his 91st birthday I figured I ought to go. I brought along Memoirs, beginning it on the BART train. I had just read Edward Field’s memoir, The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag, and Field doesn’t mention Norse. The two had friends in common. They are near the same age (Field is eight years younger). Both are gay, Jewish, New York natives. Both are poets. You’d think they’d have an inkling of each other. Of course, a memoir is not a methodical chronicle of everything. Most of life ends up left out. I haven’t finished Norse’s book yet (Field is not listed in the index), but I can say it’s better written. Not saying I didn’t enjoy the Field memoir.

Harold Norse read from his collected poems, In the Hub of the Fiery Force. He has a deep, resonant voice, which would have carried well without a microphone. Norse would hold the book up and say, “It’s a big book, isn’t it? More than 600 pages. Lot of poems in it.” He seems to be having trouble with his short term memory. He would introduce a poem, read a line or two from it, which would lead him to make some other remark, then he would return to the poem, reintroduce it with the same words he had just used and read it from the beginning. More than once he was uncertain whether he’d yet read it. “Yes, you did!” chorused the audience. Or in one case: “No, no. You haven’t. Read it!”

I got my copy of Memoirs signed after the reading. Actually, I thought Norse had already left and was getting ready to leave myself when I saw him sitting at a table near the cash register. “I’m tired,” he said, “so I’m just going to write my name. Is that OK?” But when he’d finished with his name he looked up and asked if I wanted him to add my name. I did, so he did.

Harold Norse is living in an assisted care facility and the friend who had brought him to the reading encouraged us to make contact. He even had a hand-out. I will quote from it.

“Harold’s ability to stay strong and healthy is [greatly helped by] outside contact … Please make an effort to reach out to him … Remember that being 91 is no walk in the park.”

Harold Norse
Hayes Valley Care
601 Laguna St, Room 13
San Francisco CA 94102

I am going to send him a card. My thanks to Todd Swindell for the contact info.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

what’s new

Friday I don’t start work until two. I had a 15% coupon for Half Price Books and I thought I’d swing by there on the way. Get lunch downtown. Half Price had a batch of 2006 guidebooks including ones for Disney World in Florida. I’ve been contemplating a trip in December, which is supposed to be the quietest time of year (though, it seems, there is no time of year when you are not assured of lines on the big rides). It’s a childhood dream thing. I also want to drive over to the so-called Space Coast and visit the NASA launch sites, maybe even “have lunch with an astronaut.”

I also stopped by Comic Relief. After flipping through new stuff I checked out the small press shelves and decided on the newest issue of Fuff, a comic created & published by Jeffrey Lewis. It’s a mix of autobiographical and fantastic stories. Lewis likes words and crowds the panels with them. At Jeffrey Lewis’ website I followed a link to a video for "Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror", a song (& video) that shortly had my jaw dropping – likes words? this boy challenges that old FedEx spokesman for spilling. The lyrics are witty, yearning, ironic, and dare you to pay attention. I enjoyed Fuff and will get what earlier issues Comic Relief has on the shelf, but I’m also going to look around for Lewis’ music.