Thursday, May 31, 2007

One L

from the diary: “Wednesday 1/6/88

“As I still haven’t gotten a notebook [for a booklog] I might briefly mention my two latest reads -- One L by Turow – about the the first year of Harvard Law School. Very entertaining, makes me feel less anxious about my own exams – [Turow is] studying 8-12-16 hours a day!” The second “latest read” will appear tomorrow.

I have thought of going to law school. The practice of law, like the practice of poetry, insists on a close attention to language and the way it makes meaning. Law pays better. One of the things I like about poetry, though, is the way it plays with meaning, delving into it, breaking it apart. Law wants to do nothing of the sort. Law wants to declare itself with invariant meanings. This does not mean that judges and lawyers don’t argue all the time about what a particular law’s actual meaning is, and the consensus opinion changes over time, but this is not play. One-L and movies like The Paper Chase, make law school look like a lot of work, work that’s doesn’t look fun.

Scott Turow wrote his book about being a first year law student the very year he was being a first year law student. There’s an excerpt from chapter one on Turow’s website.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New Year’s Resolution

from the diary: “Saturday 1/2/88

“The one New Year’s Resolution I wanted to make was to record and write a brief summary/essay/critique/evaluation of every book I read. I figured I’d draw the line at comic books and magazines and newspapers. Well, this means I would have to buy a notebook to keep this information. I only have so much time to write and I’d like to keep that writing to poetry and journal. I could sneak in some time for this book project, but time is not the only consideration. There’s also energy and enthusiasm.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Dinosaur Heresies

from the diary: “Saturday January 2, 1988

“For awhile I did try to record at least the title of and a line or two about the major books I read. You know – the building of a worldview. Look at how varied are my tastes, prove to anyone I have a self-imposed educational regime unmatched by all but a few. Or whatever. Basically, that I’m interested in tons of stuff and that what I consume voraciously, ruminate over, is not just flash-in-the-literary-pan type stuff. I read quality.

“Today I finished The Dinosaur Heresies by Robert Bakker, Ph.D. He’s apparently a mover and shaker in paleontology. And the book was very interesting. The many proofs for dinosaur warm-bloodedness got kinda tiresome after awhile, but on bulk a very worthwhile and enlightening effort.”

I was a kid who loved dinosaurs. I try to pay attention to new thinking about them. I liked what Bakker had to say. He painted a dynamic ecosystem of vigorous animals; Bakker’s dinosaurs seemed anything but primitive or poorly adapted. A profile on the web by Tony Compagna describes Bakker’s position in paleontology, “Bob Bakker was a leader of the handful of iconoclastic paleontologists who rewrote the book on dinosaurs ... He and the others — notably John Ostram and Armand de Ricqules — changed the image of dinosaurs from slow-moving, slow-witted, cold-blooded creatures to, in at least some cases, warm-blooded giants well equipped to dominate the Earth for 200 million years. They argued that dinosaurs are the ancestors of birds. And Bakker contended, long before feathered fossils were found, that some dinosaurs were endowed with insulating feathers. The debate on all those issues continues, sometimes hotly, but new discoveries and research lend strong support to what seem no longer to be minority views.”

Monday, May 28, 2007

James White Review

from the diary: “Friday 12/25/87 Christmas Day

“Mom got me a subscription to The James White Review, money for shoes, etc.”

James White was a gay poet and he died of AIDS. I think the magazine was named for him posthumously. I liked the idea of subscribing to, supporting, and eventually being published by “the premier gay men's literary magazine”. I would read all the poems and send the editors poems, but they never liked anything I sent.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Five Dollar Book of Poems

from the diary: “Thursday 12/10/87

“I just started another poetry book. Called, ‘The Five Dollar Book of Poems’ after a quip by Chris Williams. When we were talking about who was going to get his money when he dead – should I say – when he was talking about who was going to get his money when he dead, I said something about I wouldn’t know what to do with such money. He said, ‘Oh, yes. I’m giving you five dollars.’ And I thought, ‘Fine. I can buy a blank book for five bucks and dedicate it to you.’ I didn’t say anything [aloud], and I don’t know whether I’ll dedicate the book to him but that’s where the title came from.”

Chris was a fabulist. I like the term, suggesting a romantic, fabulous life, which doesn’t exist, but which the fabulist seems actually to believe exists. Chris’ weren’t the ordinary lies of “I’ll call you” or “Sure, I’ll be happy to do that.” He was going to marry some rich guy (he even gave me the name and said he was going to send me a ticket to Poughkeepsie for the ceremony). There was another boyfriend with whom he was going to buy a place in Hawaii, Maui maybe. And Chris was going to fly me to Hawaii for a party on their yacht. He drove a flashy sports car so his claims of money seemed to have some basis. Supposedly he’d inherited a huge amount of stock in a Fortune 500 company (yes, he named it). He probably wore expensive clothes but they tended to be khakis and button up shirts and I didn’t know from expensive clothes. He was tall, stocky, had an upper lip that lifted, revealing his two front teeth, and it made him look boyish – no, childish. He would titter in a nervous way. He made me laugh; he could be really funny. Hesitatingly, once he told me he cared for me, wanted more. I didn’t find him physically attractive but that probably wasn’t the only problem. I didn’t trust him. All those exciting things were just about to happen -- those places we’d travel to, those friends we would hang out with – yet the farthest we’d go was to a restaurant and I never met any of his friends.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

used books

Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry edited by J.D. McClatchy
why I bought it: I’ve been wanting to read it for a long time, even though I’m not much of a fan of J.D. McClatchy; at $6 the price was OK.

I never knew what time it was by David Antin
why I bought it: I recently copied out one of Antin’s talk-poems from an anthology and it’s been years since I’ve read one of Antin’s books. This one came out two years ago. It is inscribed, “For my good friend, Peter – [then three or four words difficult to make out, maybe, “comrade worker in the arts”?] affectionately, david” … There’s a Cody’s receipt inside dated 5/20/05. I was already considering buying the world poetry anthology; with a second book ($7) the idea achieved critical mass. Besides, I have the feeling Black Oak isn’t going to be around a lot longer and I felt like dropping some money there.

Native American Testimony edited by Peter Nabokov
why I bought it: When I read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States I found much of the text dry and plodding, but the chapter that extensively quoted from the words of Native speakers was full of rich & interesting language. I’ve been curious about this book. I hope it rewards. It was $2 on the Half Price Books clearance shelf.

Friday, May 25, 2007

pile of reading

The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials trilogy, book one by Philip Pullman
When I asked our children's librarian what she thought of the Harry Potter books she volunteered that she liked Pullman's books better.

Beeswax Magazine, number three
Another handsome issue of the Oakland literary magazine that mixes comics, poetry & pranks.

Forever Free by Joy Adamson
In chapter four Elsa dies and the Adamsons have to try to figure out how to raise her three half-grown, mostly wild cubs.

Mornings in Mexico / Etruscan Places by D.H. Lawrence
Travel writing.

Digerati: 20 Contemporary Poets in the Virtual World edited by Steve Mueske
20 poets, 10 poems apiece. Most of the poets are bloggers.

Haircut and other stories by Ring Lardner
I wonder where he got the name "Ring"?

Sunflower Splendor: three thousand years of Chinese poetry edited by Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo
Out of 520 pages the first thousand years get about 30.

Swann's Way by Marcel Proust
Actually I've taken a bit of a break from Swann's Way but I keep thinking about it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Handmaid’s Tale

from the diary: “Sunday 11/29/87

“I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s been compared to 1984. Well, the writing was better than almost any science fiction novel I’ve read but the ending was kind of weak. Got pretty absurd in the final third.”

In looking around the web for reviews I was surprised to see The Handmaid’s Tale is a frequently assigned text in classes. So there are detailed guides to it, from Wikipedia, to sparknotes and bookrags.

The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a dystopian Xian near future in which men are allowed a sort of second wife called a “handmaid” both for housekeeping and for sexual recreation. I remember a lesbian character; she’s part of the resistance, working undercover in a brothel.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Normal Heart

from the diary: “Monday 11/23/87

“I read Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart today. And found a monologue in it that I’d like to save for future auditions. If or when.”

I like performing and now & then think about writing scripts. If you’re going to write in a particular form it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with what’s been done in that form. Plus I had my eye for possible audition monologues. Plays kept disappointing me, though. I would ask myself which character I would like to play and usually the answer would be, none of them. I think I enjoy plays more in performance than on the page. I mean, if the actor portraying the part is sexy you can spend your time appreciating the visuals and the audio won’t be so insistent.

A 2005 revival of The Normal Heart gets a rave at CurtainUp. The review includes this plot summary: “Ned Weeks, the central character, is a stand-in for the author during the period between May 1981 and July 1984 when AIDS exploded from a health scare with a two digit death rate to a plague of frightening proportions and Kramer was a passionate and often frustrated activist founder of the Gay Men's Health Crisis. The story of Ned's disagreements with the other members of the organization and the the officials at City Hall is concurrent with his first ever intense love affair with a New York Times fashion and style reporter named Felix Turner. Felix is a fictionalized version of an unidentified Times reporter with whom Kramer had a romance. Another important activist whose anger and frustration matches Ned's, is a character named Dr. Emma Brookner. She is modeled on Dr. Linda Laubenstein of New York University Center who, like Emma, was victim of another plague, polio.”

A few more details from book reviewer gac1003 at “The New York Times wrote 54 articles about the Tylenol poisoning scare of 1982 within a 3-month period, with 4 articles on the front page. During the first 19 months of the AIDS epidemic, the same paper wrote 7 articles, with only 1 appearing on the front page. [Ned Weeks’] anger leads him into becoming an acitivist and creating a Gay Men's health center to spread the word about the epidemic. But, [Ned] runs into obstacles from unlikely places: his friends and the gay community who are scared and don't want to have their freedom of promiscuity taken away from them. And, he also must deal with his partner who contracts the disease.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Memory of Fire: Genesis

from the diary: “Saturday 11/7/87

“Most of the [day] I read Memory of Fire: Genesis/Memoria del Fuego: Los nacimientos por [by] Eduardo Galeano. A history of Latin America orig[inally] written in Spanish. Of course I’m reading the English translation. It’s very good. And tragic. Any history of the conquest of the ‘New World’ is inherently tragic, verdad? The author is also a poet so the language is very beautiful.”

I loved Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy, Genesis, Faces and Masks, and Century of the Wind. It’s like a collection of prose poems / short short stories ranging through history from the creation stories of the indigenous peoples of the Americas through the European conquest, slavery, wars, industrial revolution to the early 80s.

When I got to Cal I told one of my history professors Galeano’s trilogy was one of the reasons I chose to major in Latin American Studies. My professor looked slightly chagrinned. “That’s fiction, you know.”

Is it? An article on the web quotes Galeano, “’Each fragment of this huge mosaic is based on a solid documentary foundation. What is told here has happened, although I tell it in my style & manner.’” The essayist adds, Eduardo Galeano “also often used non-literary sources, songs, letters, newspaper advertisements, oral tradition. Fragmentary Memoria del fuego turns its back on pseudo-objective history - it is subjective, the prose is poetic and the author's own vision comes clearly through the elaborate web of historical scenes and facts.”

A few excerpts appear on the web, as in this piece where an Indian storyteller is confronted by his audience:

The children seated in a circle around the poet will ask: "& all this you saw? You heard?"


"You were here?" the children will ask.

"No. None of our people who were here survived."

Monday, May 21, 2007

Acts of War: the Behavior of Men in Battle

The photograph on the book’s cover captivated me -- a young man with bright and open eyes, looking up at the viewer (flirtatious?) from under his helmet, a Mona Lisa smile on his lips. I never tired of looking at him.

War is a curious thing. We take it for granted, assume it’s a good tool for use against people we don’t like, glorify it (with the occasional caveat), and don’t want to know the details. One could hardly be blamed for not wanting to know the details for the more of them you know the more horrific war becomes. War is Evil. Is war ever necessary? Even a “good war” is bad, there being nothing moral about war unless one’s morals are purely contingent, relative to the situation. Everyone’s morals are at least somewhat contingent, but war is built of brutality, cruelty, injustice, and destruction. That’s what war is. If you’re not engaging in brutality, cruelty, injustice, and destruction you’re not at war. This would be one of the reasons the U.S. no longer has a Department of War but rather a Defense Department. If we don’t call it “war” maybe it’s not. The Congress hasn’t declared a war since World War II. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, those weren’t/aren’t declared wars.

When I read Acts of War I was of eminently draftable age and I knew lots of the soldiers who died & killed in wars were my age (or younger). It’s easy enough to fantasize about offing one’s enemies, but actually shouldering a rifle and hunting humans is something else again.

In this book review the reviewer lays out the structure of author Richard Holmes’ text. Among other things, “He analyses the degree of stress imposed by the soldier's feeling of pre-contact battle apprehension and the stresses as a result of the empty battlefield, shell shock and the feeling of utter disorganisation when the battle begins. In addition, he explores in great detail the soldier's feelings towards injury and death, the experience of watching others die and suffer and examines the major causes of psychiatric breakdown.”

Another reviewer wonders, “Although Holmes discusses the relationship of sexual imagery and language to the language of battle and alludes to the ubiquity of prostitution in war, strangely he does not explore the phenomenon of rape.”

Sunday, May 20, 2007

GLSU poster series, part V

from the diary: “Wednesday 10/21/87

“My new poster – a photocopy blow-up of ‘GI consoles comrade whose buddy has been killed, Korea, 1950’, a beautiful picture of one man gently enfolding another in his arms. I took the photo from Acts of War, a book I’m now about halfway thru. The face of the soldier on the cover (his face fills the cover) is also very beautiful. I know now how people can become infatuated with photographs. He is so lovely. I talk to him once in awhile and kiss him.”

I remember one of these GI posters stayed up a long time, though shortly after I put it up someone neatly tore away the “Gay & Lesbian Student Union” tag on the bottom left corner. The photo was there for weeks, one man tenderly embracing another.

I think this was the last poster.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Spirit and the Flesh

from the diary: “Saturday 10/10/87

“finished The Spirit and the Flesh, a book about berdaches.”

From Walter L. Williams’ The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture:

“How many genders are there? To a modern Anglo-American, nothing might seem more definite than the answer that there are two: men and women. [Yet a]mong many cultures, there have existed different alternatives to ‘man’ or ‘woman.’ An alternative role in many American Indian societies is referred to by anthropologists as berdache … Briefly, a berdache can be defined as a morphological male who does not fill a society’s standard man’s role, who has a nonmasculine character. [Berdache has also occasionally been used in reference to women of a nonfeminine character.] This type of [male] is often stereotyped as effeminate … Such a person [typically] has a clearly recognized and accepted social status, often based on a secure place in the tribal mythology. Berdaches have special ceremonial roles in many Native American religions, and important economic roles in their families. They will do at least some women’s work, and mix together much of the behavior, dress, and social roles of women and men. Berdaches gain social prestige by their spiritual, intellectual, or craftwork/artistic contributions, and by their reputation for hard work and generosity. They serve a mediating function between women and men, precisely because their character is seen as distinct from either sex. They are not seen as men, yet they are not seen as women either. They occupy an alternative gender role that is a mixture of diverse elements.

“In some cultures the berdache might become a wife to a man. This male-male sexual behavior became the focus of an attack on berdaches as ‘sodomites’ by the Europeans who, early on, came into contact with them ...

“The berdache receives respect partly as a result of being a mediator. Somewhere between the status of women and men, berdaches not only mediate between the sexes but between the psychic and the physical — between the spirit and the flesh. Since they mix the characteristics of both men and women, they possess the vision of both. … This is why they are often referred to as “seer,” one whose eyes can see beyond the blinders that restrict the average person. ... By the Indian view, someone who is different offers advantages to society precisely because she or he is freed from the restrictions of the usual. ...

“Proceeding from the view that a person’s different character is a reflection of her or his closeness to the spiritual, berdaches are often associated with shamanism and sacredness. Such spiritual abilities mean that berdaches may take on specific ceremonial tasks that are recognized as specifically their own. Whether in blessing ceremonies, providing lucky names, offering spiritual protection, or predicting the future, berdaches are both respected and feared for their qualities of strength and power. ...

“Native American women were (and are still, to a great extent) independent and self-reliant personalities, rather than subservient dependents. Traditionally, women had a high level of self-esteem for they knew that their family and band economically depended on them as much as or more than it did on men. They were centrally involved in the society’s economy, controlling distribution of the food they grew or gathered.

“Since women had high status, there was no shame in a male taking on feminine characteristics. He was not giving up male privilege, or ‘debasing’ himself to become like a woman, simply because the position of women was not inferior. It may be accurate to suggest that the status of berdaches in a society is directly related to the status of women. In societies with low status for women, a male who would want to give up his dominant position would be seen as crazy. ...

“Whether berdaches are seen as a third gender or as a mixture of female and male, with some distinctive elements added, there is perhaps no crucial difference. The Indian languages themselves are in a sense imprecise about this. For example, the Cree word for berdache, ayekkwew, can be translated as ‘neither man nor woman’ or ‘man and woman.’ ... The real problem that scholars have been facing is that there is no good label in the English language to communicate a complex concept like berdachism.”

After my father found out I was gay (my mother told him) he sent me a sympathetic letter revealing that he had done some reading about berdaches and their honored and spiritual (and sexual) roles in Native American society.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Thursday, May 17, 2007

GLSU poster series, part IV

from the diary: “Friday 9/25/87

“Greg Martin [GSLU prez] helped me post more poster #1 after we put away the GLSU club days table. The Wednesday table dint happen, but we did get out on Thursday. And the posters up yesterday were gone today. I even heard (I believe) the tearing down of the one on the library bulletin board, but I dint look out in time t’see who did it. ‘S kinda discouraging. At the mercy of the vandals and censors.”

10/2: “My posters still coming down near as fast as I staple em up. Vigilance. I stalk around with plenty copies. Oop. That one gone. Replace. Gets real tiresome.”

10/7: “The new poster ‘Which of these writers not gay? Woolf, Forster, Shakespeare’ is having a little more staying power than usual.”

10/8: At the gay youth group meeting in Marin “I passed around copies of the poster series. A person in the group said her friend had told her about the ‘Smile if you’re gay’ poster. So, yay. Also Bonnie (name familiar but not the face) was interested in the poster for College of Marin to post. So I gave her my address. I said it’d be fine with me t’send her a poster which she could copy and post.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

GLSU poster series, part III

from the diary: “Monday 9/21/87

“All but a few of my GLSU posters were gone. I found one in the ivy – stomped on, with a big gash in the middle. Another place the poster was replaced with a Miss America or Miss Somethingrother flyer. Tacked neatly in the exact spot where mine had been. The one on the library bulletin board had ‘AIDS’ scribbled across [it] in orange felt pen. I took the one from the ivy, folded it, and stuffed it in my bookbag. Make a nice homophobia display if I can recover enough others in the future. Maybe ‘Smile if you’re gay’ will be less objectionable. I don’t intend to let the vandals dictate my messages, but the incident has been me ideas for peaces, love, and nonviolence posters. And I’ll adjust my expectations accordingly.”

9/22: “Of the three posters I put up in the coop (outside cafeteria) at least one – way down low, of course – is still there. All the others I’ve checked for in the less populated areas are gone – even the ones way down low. Saw Teresa at bus stop downtown, she been restricted to bus schedule since car broke down mid-summer. She said she glad we’re offending people. She’d be inclined to be even more radical/controversial/whatever. That made me feel good, tho’ I was planning to do ‘Smile if you’re gay’ cuz I like the design I came up with.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

GLSU poster series, part II

from the diary: “Wednesday 9/16/87

“Another Gay and Lesbian Student Union meeting. I dint fight with anyone this time so I felt much more comfortable. The poster series wasn’t discussed much although some ‘suggestions’ for future posters were aired and written down. Don’t know if any will become posters. I’m going to make up one tonight. When I showed ‘Watch this space’ and ‘Read the Writing on the Wall’ – the two posters I posted this past weekend, there were murmurs of recognition. Teresa said she’d seen ‘Watch this space’ and wondered about it. Somebody said, ‘Didn’t know it was you.’ The one I’ll do tonight I’ll keep as noncontroversial as I can and still be interesting. Might put some of the other ideas today suggested in the Bear Facts [the SRJC student newsletter].”

9/18: “I have GSLU poster #1 YOU’RE HAVING TROUBLE PICKING UP GIRLS BUT HAVING A GREAT TIME PICKING UP GUYS ready to post. I put one on library board but dint have stapler to post the rest. Do that this weekend.”

Monday, May 14, 2007

artifact reading

Saturday night I went to SF for the Artifact reading. It’s once-a-month, the second Saturday. Somebody put the Poetry & Pizza email on their email list and, since I’m the one who checks the P&P email, I’ve been seeing their reader roster and now & then saying to myself, “I got to get to one of these.”

Summi Kaipa, Neelanjana Banerjee, and Emily Wilson were to read. I knew the name “Summi Kaipa” but why is an odd little story. I was running my name in search engines, as one is wont to do every so often, and I came upon this: “I'm looking for contact information for Glenn Ingersoll.” This was an email from “Sumana Kaipa” that Patrick Durgin (editor of the poetry magazine Kenning) copied to the SUNY Buffalo poetry listserv in 1999. I don’t know why Kaipa was looking for me eight years ago. But when I discovered the listserv email I became curious about her and looked around. She seemed also to be known as “Summi Kaipa” and had edited an Asian American literary magazine called, Interlope. (Last time I looked for it the zine still had a web presence; that seems no longer to be the case.) She also has work in Bay Poetics, last year’s anthology of SF Bay Area poets.

Saturday night I introduced myself to Summi Kaipa. No flicker of familiarity with my name was reflected in her face. Whatever reason she wanted my contact info has evaporated, no doubt. I did not tell her how I came to know about her. I bought her chapbook, The Language Parable, which she then read aloud in its entirety. I guess I’ll put it aside for awhile, read it again when my memory’s fogged up some. I also picked up Tantalum, a zine from New York.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Job’s Year & A Smile in His Lifetime

from the diary: “Sunday 9/13/87

“I finished the second of two novels I’ve read now by Joseph Hansen -- Job’s Year and A Smile in His Lifetime. Neither ends happily. But the books aren’t despairing. The main character of both books is gay. They have some hearty happinesses but so many tragedies.”

Joseph Hansen is the author of the Dave Brandstetter mystery series which I’ve recently been working my way through.

“In the post-Stonewall Brandstetter mystery series, some of Hansen's characters are able to achieve happiness and stability in gay relationships, but in his two ‘mainstream’ novels of the 1980s, A Smile in His Lifetime (1981) and Job's Year (1983), the gay protagonists are plagued with loss and loneliness.” That’s from the glbtq encyclopedia.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

GLSU poster series

Trying out a new take-charge persona and sick of the persistent dwindling of the Gay & Lesbian Student Union at SRJC I imagined up a poster series. As I describe it in my diary (9/4/87): “provocative. interesting. unusual. quotes. items. poems. whatever.

“First one:

Have you ever watched a beautiful woman and thought,
‘Damn! Wrong sex!’

I talked it up to two GLSU cohorts and, I reported, they “both sound enthusiastic.”

Unfortunately I was given a rougher time when “I introduced my poster series to a much enlarged GLSU. Many having been attracted to the teaser in the [SRJC student newsletter the] Bear Facts, ‘We’re planning a party.’” (diary, 9/9/87) It’s also true that at the beginning of a semester more people turn out for everything.

“Show off first poster. Big laugh. Almost instantaneous objection. Woman new to club wants it changed to, ‘Have you ever looked at a beautiful person and thought, “Damn! Wrong sex!”’

“… Well, we wrangled. I said I wanted to be editor & be something of a dictator on it. Don’t think that went over great guns. But Clift’s suggestion of making a list and voting on the ‘saying of the week’ made me nauseous None of this voting crap. And compromise. Compromise takes all the zip out of the stuff. I had to leave in the midst of the argument cuz I was just on half hour lunch break. Guess I’ll hafta schedule more time for this thing. Apparently the talk continued in my absence. Frank said maybe I should do it on my own if I dint want interference. Fine, I sed, but the idea was to help the club. I’m going to start it out myself with teaser posters this week. A less controversial poster next week. And see if I can still get club sponsorship [as in, reimbursement for photocopying]. But if this lies around waiting for a big DECISION then it’ll never happen. I certainly won’t do it.”

Saturday 9/12: “I drove over to JC campus this eve and tacked up posters that say, ‘Watch this space’ and ‘Read the Writing on the Wall.’”

Friday, May 11, 2007

Dancing on My Grave

from the diary: “Wednesday 9/2/87

“Library really dead. I spent a lot of my desk time reading the autobio of Gelsey Kirkland.”

I have little interest in ballet. I like dance and I like to dance so I’m not indifferent to varieties of it in performance, and ballet would be one of those. I admire the athleticism of ballet dancers. But I find the costuming, especially those tutus, to be ugly. And I’ve never admired the en pointe tiptoeing. It looks painful. (OK, maybe as a kid I did try to tippytoe like that a few times, and -- ouch!) I guess I read Kirkland’s book because I’d heard it praised and because it was said to be bringing to light the hidden unpleasantness of the supposedly sublime, high culture artform. Who knows maybe it amused me that the title, Dancing on My Grave, was so similar to another book I’d read, Dance on My Grave. I must have learned all sorts of things about ballet that I didn’t know previously; but equally, I’m sure, I missed much, having so little familiarity with the subject. Frankly, the book bored me.

A bio of Gelsey Kirkland appears in the Ballet Encyclopedia. “In 1976 her complicated personal life caught up to her. She had been very concerned about her looks and undergone several plastic surgeries. She was also anorexic and addicted to cocaine. Finally she collapsed due to nervous exhaustion and a potassium deficiency and was forced to stop dancing. This kept her from appearing opposite Mikhail Baryshnikov in the movie The Turning Point.” The man she later married (“they helped each other out of their drug problems and depression”) also helped her write the book.

Before the breakdown Gelsey Kirkland was Mikhail Baryshnikov’s main dancing partner. “The partnership between Miss Kirkland and Mr. Baryshnikov was incredibly successful - they were the same size and had the same way of disguising difficulties on stage.”

Thursday, May 10, 2007

In Exile from the Land of Snows

from the diary: “Friday 8/28/87

“a very good book about Tibet and the Dalai Lama”

The next day I wrote, “Wow. This book on Tibet is amazing. I discover I knew nothing about Tibet. So much I’m learning is horrible – the Chinese invastion and subjugation of Tibet. Ak!”

A good synopsis of the book is here. “John Avedon chronicles the destruction of Tibetan religion, culture and language by the Chinese, as well as the efforts of 100,000 Tibetan refugees to preserve their ancient heritage under the guidance and inspiration of the Dalai Lama.”

An excerpt appears at Powell’s. The excerpt concerns the search for the latest incarnation of the Dalai Lama (the highest lama). “[Tibet’s regent] Reting Rinpoche witnessed a remarkable sight. On staring at the clear alpine waters [of lake Lhamo Lhatso], he discerned three letters from the Tibetan alphabet float into view: Ah, Ka and Ma. The image of a great three-storied monastery, capped by gold and jade rooftops, followed. A white road led east from the monastery to a house before a small hill, its roof strikingly fringed in turquoise-colored tiles, a brown and white spotted dog in the courtyard. Later, the Regent dreamt of the same humble farmer's home, this time with oddly shaped gutter pipes emerging from the roof and a small boy standing in the yard.”

In the story author John Avedon tells in In Exile from the Land of Snows the Chinese army invaded Tibet, an independent country, and incorporated it through violent conquest into the Chinese state. Contrasting that story with another a reviewer notes, the Chinese regard the invasion as the liberation of an oppressed province, “a feudal society similar to medieval Europe but subject to much harsher conditions. [Indeed,] venereal disease afflicted 90 per cent of the population and smallpox 30 per cent in the early part of this century.” The Tibetans, naturally, strewed the streets with flowers to welcome the Chinese. Being as flowers don’t much grow that high up in the world no doubt they threw snowballs and the Chinese took them for flowers.

Avedon’s account of the escape over the mountains of the court of the Dalai Lama is thrilling stuff.

The Tibetan government in exile (in India) has a website.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


from the diary: “Tuesday 8/25/87

“I got my SASE from the lit magazine Everywhere, the place to which Emblen suggested I send ‘On a Blue Plain.’ They sent back the other three poems I’d sent along with ‘OBP’ and a note saying, ‘We have read your poems and like "On a Blue Plain" quite a lot,' signed Greg Booth. Curiously, perhaps, I was disappointed they’d picked that one and rejected the others. I think I understand what makes that poem work for them more than the others, but I still like the other ones and am at something of a loss as to why they’re not ‘good enough.’”

I was never sent a copy of Everywhere, although a former teacher showed me hers, and there was my poem. I wouldn’t mind having a copy. Anybody have an extra they could send along?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Best American Essays 1986

from the diary: “Monday 8/17/87

“Spent most of the day in house, watch TV, read. Finished bk of interviews [Against the Grain] & 1986 Best American Essays, many of which I really dint read cuz they wuz much too boring.

“I finally did go down to the bookstore to buy blank books. Got a couple. Also bought a book of gay short stories. I haven’t bought a book to read in ages and ages. Especially new. When was the last time? Maybe years. I buy comic books[;] graphic novels might be called books. Otherwise I haven’t bought a new book in forever. And haven’t bought a used book in ages either – months & months.”

I loathed writing essays in high school. I still flinch at the word. The creation of an essay, according to what I was taught, was painful, slow, mechanical, artificial, unfriendly, and ugly. How could reading one be any different? I certainly enjoy much nonfiction writing, but I refuse to believe anything good could be called an "essay".

OK, yes, my antipathy has mitigated over the years. My favorite take on it was a writer saying s/he felt reassured by the origin of the word “essay”, which, the writer claimed, started out meaning “attempt”. Where was the pressure if what you were writing was called, from the get-go, an “attempt”?

Teacher’s red pen?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Against the Grain

from the diary: “Saturday 8/15/87

“I’m reading this bk: Against the Grain [which consists of] interviews with small press ‘maverick’ publishers. Some are really interesting characters, some are not. I kind of despair when I read these – I’m a populist I guess and these guys say, ‘There are only so many good writers or artists …’ So much junk or mediocre or ‘competent but has nothing to say’ and every time I read my name. Always, always I wonder why I’m writing or what I’m writing. Will I ever be famous? Will I ever be considered ‘the great writer’ or will I be labeled ‘minor poet’? Will I be unrecognized throughout life then hailed after death? Or hailed as I live then vilified as an overstuffed hack upon death, vanishing from history? Or will I write and write, remain unnoticed, die, and disappear into eternal oblivion. Maybe in a few years I’ll stop writing and look back on follisome youth or ‘Oh, yes. I wrote poetry when I was in college. Even got a little published.’ And then, not write.

“Glenn’s nightmares.”

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Scarlet Pimpernel

from the diary: “Saturday 8/8/87

“All I’ve done t’day’s been sleep, read the free SF Examiner I’ve been receiving as part of a promotion, fix dinner, wash dishes, watch King Kong versus Godzilla, and read The Scarlet Pimpernel. It’s a fun book, but I guffaw upon bumping into lines like, ‘It was terrible to see a young and beautiful woman – a girl in all but name – still standing almost at the threshold of her life, yet bereft of hope, bereft of illusions, bereft of those golden and fantastic dreams which should have made her youth one long, perpetual holiday.’ What’s the problem? Her rich husband no longer loves her.”

So far as I’d experienced it, “youth” had little relation to “one long, perpetual holiday”. Some holidays are more perpetual than others.

Hafta confess I was surprised to come upon mention of The Scarlet Pimpernel. I thought it one of the many books I have yet to read.

Not long before she died, Kent says, his mother wondered if there were any sequels to The Scarlet Pimpernel. He says he’d never heard her talk about the book before. When he was going through her things later he found Pimpernel and decided to read it.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Poetry & Pizza poets

Last night I did the hosting duties at Poetry & Pizza. Barbara Tomash and Roxane Beth Johnson read to benefit Support for Families of Children with Disabilities.

We announce the reading for 7:30 and, typically, we only get a few stragglers after that time. Since we’re serving food we don’t start the reading till about twenty minutes later so the clatter of the kitchen and the bustle of people back & forth to their tables don’t distract from the poet. Last night we had a rush of ten or fifteen people between 7:30 and 7:40. There was still a line at the pizza counter at 8:00. We had to push the reading back a bit.

Barbara and Roxane gave good reading. The mic worked. People were quiet and attentive. Each had a book. (Jubilee by Johnson, Flying in Water by Tomash.)

Paul Geffner, the owner of Poetry & Pizza, has put up on the restaurant’s walls two 12 foot high poems. I’ve read them so many times I barely see them these days. One is by Paul Zimmer, the other by Galway Kinnell.

So I’m listening to Barbara Tomash, following the rhythms of her voice, when I realize, lit by one of the outside lights, a young blond woman is standing at the corner of one of the tall windows. As she is on the sidewalk I can’t hear anything she’s saying but I can see her mouth moving, her rapt expression. I tiptoed over to Paul who had Barbara’s book open in his hands and tugged him to where he could see the woman outside, her mouth still moving. “Look out the window,” I said. “She’s reading aloud the Kinnell poem.”

After P&P wrapped Paul told me the rest of the story. He slipped out to speak with her. As I suspected she was reading the poem to someone next to her (hidden from view by the wall). Two years ago, she told Paul, she had eaten at Escape from New York, loved the poem, and copied it out. Now she was with a new man (first date, I think) and she brought him by to share the experience. They had their first kiss out there on the sidewalk, Paul said.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Green Fuse again

from the diary: “Monday 8/3/87

“Cuz there’s never anything else to do I made my usual Seb[astopol] Public Library stopover – had to renew a book. … [S]aw Marcia Keller-Smith reading Publisher’s Weekly. She’s studying for her new parttime position at Copperfield’s. Has to brush up on the latest bestsellers. We talked some about Green Fuse, but dint talk about the poems of mine they returned. She said she’d seen the ones in First Leaves, but I don’t remember whether she said she liked them or whether she expressed any opinion on them.”

Marcia Keller-Smith helped her husband, Ralph Smith, put together Green Fuse, a magazine devoted to poetry celebrating the natural world and decrying human destruction of it. After Ralph died, Brian Boldt, another Sonoma County poet (& the father of one of my coworkers at the SRJC library), produced issues.

I got a few poems in early numbers but as time went on I seemed to write few poems that could be remotely construed as on theme.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Iron and Silk

from the diary: “Wednesday 7/29/87

“I read more of Iron and Silk, a wonderful book by a young man, Mark Salzman, who taught English in China.”

Mark Salzman is a gentleman of many talents. I searched the web for the hunky photo of Salzman shirtless that appeared in Interview Magazine but no luck. A body crafted by years of martial arts training; he trained in China, too. He also plays the cello. Not that I knew any of that when I read Iron and Silk. I’d read books on contemporary China and picked up Iron and Silk because it promised a more personal than political take on a country that still offered limited access to outsiders. I’m sure I stood in the library reading from random pages; I always do that before I bring a book home.

I haven’t yet gotten around to seeing the movie Salzman made based on his experiences.

My mother read Iron and Silk. It was one of the few books that Mom read after me.

Kent tells me he knew Mark Salzman in college. Yale class of ’81. Kent would spar with Mark, which, Kent says, meant he would try to parry Mark’s … thrusts? During one summer break Kent studied Wing Chun but upon returning to Yale found Mark had broken with his Chinese girlfriend. Mark had renounced all things Chinese, including the martial arts, so the sparring days were over. The existence of Iron and Silk suggests Mark got over his pique.

(Kent says “would spar” sounds like it was a regular thing. “It only happened a couple a times!”)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

sensational art by Salvador Dali?

from the diary: “Tuesday 7/28/87

“On the bus home … Kim … told me a story about Salvador Dali … Dali had thrown a dinner party for a bunch of [titled nobility] … [A]fterward he led them into the ballroom of his palace/mansion to show off his latest work. Down came the curtain – he had purchased a real car wreck, even down to the dead bodies. Created quite a sensation. Some folks even vomited. I was dubious about the event’s occurrence. Kim dint doubt it tho she wasn’t sure she agreed with Dali’s methods …”

I haven’t been able to find any verification of this story on the web.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

what’s new

I’ve picked up a few more readable items in the last week:

Out of Water, a comic by Matthew Bernier

Optic Nerve #11, a comic by Adrian Tomine

Parthenon West Review #4, 2006, edited by David Holler & Chad Sweeney

Poetry International #11, 2007, an annual out of San Diego State University

Phoebe 2002: an essay in verse by Jeffrey Conway, Lynn Crosbie, and David Trinidad; 615 pages (not including notes) on All About Eve