The Oldest Living Book Lover Tells All

Part One On Reading

Q: When did you start reading?

A: I was so young my older sisters had to hold the books for me, but I was never a lap reader, never a loungey reader, not one to lie about in bed, for example. I am up in my chair by the south window, reading when the sun comes up, and when the sun goes down. I bring some dignity to the act, some respect for the craft, and the art on all those involved in the transmission of ideas from one brain to another.

My sisters were good readers too, but they weren’t as adventurous as I. They started from their interests and worked out a tiny bit. I started by the door and worked my way through to the other side. That took most of my childhood and then I started over again. We had a small library that doubled as the town hall, which meant the administrative offices were in the basement, along with the only pubic washroom, and the mayor’s office, such as it was, was above the library in a small nook that later, when a real town hall was built, became the place where most of us had our first sexual encounters. In the flesh, I mean.

The church was built of wood and not much older than I was. It was painted white with green trim right along the peaked roof. It had the only stone steps in town, and an iron railing in the center leading elegantly up to the church-like doors. There was a coppery old fire extinguisher by the door, and a hissy radiator that made you think tea was always about to arrive. The new books were displayed on a dark oak shelf by the door where the umbrella stand held one single black umbrella my entire childhood. Boots piled up in the winter, and bits of sand trailed through in the summer, the lights went up around the windows in the winter, and came down in the summer, and so on. They were all there: Dickens, Smollet, Montaigne, Sterne, Austen, Pope, Dryden, Shakespeare, Swift–I didn’t care for the children’s versions of Gulliver’s Travels which I found offensive in the extreme–Emerson, Fielding, Twain, James–I remember when I got to James, I was myself, a length of rope and I felt my spine align, strengthen, and somehow expected to be called Sir when I came back to the library the next day, but instead I got the chicken pox and spent the Halloween season in bed.

I was the youngest reader ever in the history of our town which was so small that in truth isn’t remarkable but you cling to what accomplishments you can in this life, and I was the librarian’s pet. I started reading when sentences were so long you had to sometimes check your pulse before you got to the end. Sure, sure, they were paid by the penny, but we weren’t paid to read. I didn’t like that period so much, but it was a nice base to work with.

Laura Huzzy on Carson’s Stacks

By Laura Huzzy
The line at the box office made it look like it’d sell out. It was strange to see such a well-attended poetry reading, not that I’d never seen one before. Just ten months prior, also at NYU’s Skirball Center (which sounds like a stadium, but with its 877 seats is only a stadium in poetry reading proportions), I saw a packed performance of String Talks, a reading of Carson’s Short Talks accompanied by dancers. One of the dancers unraveled and rewound a skein of red string, stretching it about the stage, using bricks or Carson, herself, as anchors. I was late and only caught the last ten minutes, but I found that I really enjoyed going to a poetry reading where there was something else to look at. I left wanting more.

Stacks was a collaboration between Carson, who read new work; Jonah Bokaer, who choreographed; and Peter Cole, whose adaptive sculpture consisted of a wall of cardboard boxes on the stage. While Carson read, the dancers rearranged the sculpture, toppling, relocating and restacking its elements. Even Carson’s unconventional podium, a shorter stack of boxes, was not exempt from the kinetic meddling to which the rest of the sculpture was subject. Carson, serene in her role as Reader, followed her podium across the stage and back several times. Otherwise unaffected by the theatrical setting, her performance was conspicuously conventional. Her voice, steady, sober, soothing, probably wouldn’t have sounded differently in a coffee shop or conference room. She did, however, seem to have dressed for the event. With her hair pulled back, reading glasses at the end of her nose, and stark white button-down + oversized blazer, her look fell somewhere between groom and librarian. I was curious to see how she would top the red cowboy boots she wore for String Talks and was not disappointed. The dancers’ relationships with the sculpture varied from boxes as dance partners to boxes as objects of offense that dancers would sometimes slap or kick across the stage. Boxes smacking the stage sometimes made Carson’s words inaudible. It brought to mind Mairéad Byrne’s Some Differences Between Poetry and Stand-up: “Stand-ups know what a mike is; stand-ups come onstage and grab that mother; stand-ups pace back & forth with that mike, then at the end of their act they fire it down or whoosh it in the air and fire it down: that’s what Chris Rock does: he fires it down.” That’s what the dancers did. They fired those boxes down, demanding your attention but at the same time echoing the words or movement in the poem. What a welcomed distraction.

I have never seen Anne Carson read without dancers, but I’ve seen enough poetry readings, in general, to know that I am likely to get distracted no matter how interesting, thought provoking, etc. the poetry might be. Carson is not Rock. Poetry is not stand-up, but an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to poetry performance such as this one adds a theatrical and engaging quality uncommon to most readings I’ve attended. All the better that I should be distracted from thoughts of what I’m having for dinner after or how long I’ll be waiting for the train by art augmenting art.

Bracko = bracket + Sappho, Carson explained before the second performance began. In this reading of Carson’s translation, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, two dancers, each armed with about 10 feet of white rope, performed beside Carson and three other readers. Reading the brackets—used by Carson in her translation to indicate missing or destroyed pieces of the papyrus on which many of Sappho’s songs were preserved—was the sole task of one reader, while the others read the surviving fragments. Sappho’s lyrics were read somewhat quickly and often in unison, while the interruptive “Bracket… bracket. Bracket” bombarded the audience with indicators of textual absence. Relief from this barrage came in a different form of absence—silence. The two or three instances of silence—which represented larger absences of text—were lengthy. I recall being actively silent, conscious of any move or sound I might make—in effect an audience participant. Each silence was long enough for me to move beyond that self-consciousness and notice that all 700+ of us were sitting there still and quiet as possible. From all the way up in the balcony I could hear the dancers breathing.

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Laura Huzzy
grew up off exit 9 of the NJ Turnpike. At her 8th grade graduation she won an award for her original poetry in the form of a $100 US savings bond. Thirteen years later, the bond is still only worth $80.66. In approx. 8 years she plans to cash it in for the full amount and buy a Weezer CD she wanted when she was 14. While she waits, she is living in Brooklyn and pursuing opportunities for payment (savings bonds no longer accepted) in exchange for legal and appropriate services. She can proofread, transcribe, catalog, serve customers, walk your windows and wash your dog. Who knows the extent of her capabilities? To test these limits you may contact her here.
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Photo from Closer to Home: The Author and The Author Portrait by Terence Byrnes, Vehicule, 2008. A powerful collection in which Byrnes reinvents the notion of author portrait and offers up some of the best of Montreal writers.

The Last Day of Betty Nkomo?

So what makes the following, a favorite multi-media poem by Heavy Industries, work as a poem? When I play this for my students it seems very clear. The lines are simple, they move forward in a natural progression. They evoke. They repeat. Build a scene, a small narrative. They are simple statements: Yes it is. I will lift my head today. I will look up, and that last, haunting repetition. Last year I saw several screens of work from these people at the New Museum in the Lower East Side however, and they failed, in that context at least, to compel me to watch.

There are dozens of other pieces here–what is so moving about Betty?

Speaking of Everywhere you look there you are

Ah, the joys of Facebook. This picture appeared on my wall yesterday because Mr. Bowering was tagged in it. Turns out the source was his nephew who likes to play with Photofunia, a program that uses Face recognition software to place pictures in scenes such as the one above.

This seems a good a place as any to include the following list of essays that should never be written. Apologies if you feel left out. Leave a comment and we’ll try to come up with one for you.

I Know You Aren’t, But I Am! Or, Tactics of Exclusion in the Avant-Garde

Overwrought: Twenty-Seven Poets Who Take Themselves Way Too Seriously

Group Hug: Anglo-Quebec Poets Offer Lessons On Conflict Resolution

We Are The World: Six White Male Poets Discuss the “New Diversity”

My Oulipo Failures, or Why the Avant-Garde Will Suffer: Tracing Roots of Bitterness in Mainstream Reviews

The Making Of The Canadian Canon, or Tracing The Rise of Fundamentalist Language In Canadian Poetry

How Green Is My Verse: How Eco-Poetry, After Decades of Perceived Ineffectiveness, Has Subtly Altered The Brain Waves of Migratory Birds

Tongue In Cheek: Erotics of Humor in Lesbian Poetry

No You Can’t: Inter-generational Discussions In Verse

and a few that miraculously showed up in my inbox (thanks Vanessa):

Community Ain’t Nothin’ but A Proper Name

You Run Like A Girl: How the Avant-Garde Can Stop Seeping Subjectivity Once and For All

Make It Now, or New & Improved: Where the Avant Elite Meet the American Bourgeoisie

I Meant To Say That: a Lacanian Riposte to the Flarfian Kumquat’

And the topper, also from Vanessa, We are Duchampians.

With or without apostrophe?

–Sorry all, I know they are cheap and easy, but I couldn’t resist. They just keep coming. Maybe it was getting a bit too serious around here. Remember, if it bends it’s funny, if it breaks, not so funny. Speaking of funny? Two poems from Jennifer L. Knox, a poet who tends to walk the line.

belladonna offers a year of props

Invitation to subscribe for limited edition Belladonna Elders Series.

Dear Friends,


This year marks the tenth year of the Belladonna Series and to mark we are Celebrating Elders and publishing 8 perfect bound books–one a month! The Elders Series is guest curated. Each book, printed as one time limited editions, is beautifully designed and slightly square (6×7). Each contains the work of the two or three people who read the night the book is released. The books are conversations between writers who are in conversation. In December Bob Glück published two chapters from an upcoming novel in progress, About Ed, and Sarah Schulman published a new play called MERCY.In November, Leslie Scalapino published a new NOH play, A Pear: Actions are Erased, and E. Tracy Grinnell published work from her newest work Helen: A Fugue. And, just last week, Tisa Bryant published [The Curator] and Chris Kraus published Catt: Her Killer.

Our next book in this series will be #4: A Tribute to Emma Bee Bernstein: edited by Emma Bee Bernstein and featuring an introduction by Johanna Drucker, photographs and an essay by Emma Bee Bernstein, an interview with Marjorie Perloff, and artwork and an interview with Susan Bee. Future editions include #5: Lyn Hejinian, Etel Adnan, and Jen Scappettone; #6: Gail Scott, M. NorbeSe Philip and Kate Eichhorn; #7: Jayne Cortez, Anne Waldman and Cara Benson; and #8: Tina Darragh, Diane Ward and Jane Sprague. All of these editions contain some sort of conversation between the writers and artists, engagements on experimental form, gossip, and insights about the writer/artist/thinker in the world.


We’re writing to ask you to subscribe to the series– it costs $100.00. For subscribers, we ship the books free of charge, as they come out. We are only selling up to 150 subscriptions! And, the subscriptions are how we are paying for the series. Go to http://belladonnaseries.org/books.html for more information on ordering.

Yours truly,
Rachel, Erica, Emily, HR, Danielle,…

P.S. Like many arts organizations, we are losing some foundational funding. Please consider helping us out by passing this information along to folks you know who may like to subscribe or by contributing directly to Belladonna Series.

Belladonna Books | 925 Bergen Street, Suite 405 | Brooklyn, NY 11238 | www.belladonnaseries.org

How Poems Work

It was a small, compact mirror

But it was enough. He took it everywhere he went, so snug in his pocket it made a small, pleasant shape in the well sewn suit. For those rare moments he did not see himself reflected back adequately he was always prepared. I am here, he might say, here I am.

>>

Questions for the author:

Q: First of all, why is this a poem? It looks like a chunk of prose to me. What’s the difference?

A: I call it a poem.

Q: And why not prose?

A: I could just as easily call it prose, today it’s poetry.

Q: Are you serious?

A: Yes, and no. I think it’s a poem in the sense that it’s operating on the level of metaphor, it is using imagery to evoke something, the language is slightly condensed–though perhaps not as much as I would like in a poem, or even a prose poem versus a short/short fiction. The argument for categories I find a bit dull however, which makes me misbehave. My apologies.

Q: While I find the mood of the poem affecting, it’s also a bit dark. There is a sense of foreboding.

A: You’re right, it is all of those things.

Q: I am confused by the poem. It seems to be taking place in another world, far away from the one I inhabit at the moment. Can you tell me why that is? Where it is?

A: Well, the poem is in English. It is on a blog. That is already in another world, or an in-between world. It was created in my mind, which was, at the time, in several places including a certain spring day in the English Countryside, Berlin, April 30, 1945, a small restaurant near Haverford College, 2006, my apartment in Brooklyn, 2004, and Montreal, January 2008.

Q: No wonder I am confused. I see no evidence of any of those places in the poem, which really doesn’t give specific clues. Am I missing something?

A: You may well be. Currently I am missing several things. Some of which I have just mentioned, some I can’t mention here, or won’t. The beautiful thing about missing things however, is that while you are longing for one thing, you open up space for other things to appear.

Q: Do you think it’s fair to not be in a specific place in a poem? How do you expect readers to react to such nonsense?

A: No, I don’t think it’s fair. And I expect them to react as they wish to react. Poems are not made to love or understand necessarily, or only, they can also frustrate, compel, sadden and so on. Still, I think the poem is quite specific actually. It takes several moments, having occurred in different times and places, organizing them around a central image. In this case the small compact mirror.

Q: Can you tell me where the poem came from exactly? How did it occur?’

A: As I just said, from the collision of ideas around that image.

Q: So, can you walk me through the thought process leading up to this poem?

A: Do you really want to know?

Q: Yes, why shouldn’t I know?

A: If I tell you where the poem comes from it erases the nuances of the original which I left up to you to fill out.

Q: Perhaps, but I am interested in knowing how it “fills out” for you.

A: Okay. Well, as I said, it was born of several moments that collided in my head very sharply, and which I felt compelled to explicate by way of words in order on a page. The moment evoked feeling, and don’t people like to quote Wordsworth and argue poetry is an overflowing of such? Well it is, and as Wordsworth goes on to say, it is an overflow of feeling given much thought. So to wrestle the thought and feeling into some shape. To transform it from the original. The image at the core was Hitler’s gun. I had dinner once with Lee Miller’s son and he told me the story of Lee Miller having acquired Hitler’s pants (among other things) from his apartment in Berlin. You know she famously arrived there shortly after he and Eva Braun had vacated it. He told me of the small dent in the pocket of Hitler’s pants, made especially for him, with many special features including the secret gun pocket. He said you could still see the outline of the gun itself, how it lay against his body all those years. He said something about gun powder too, perhaps one could still smell it in the air, and he said it would be, and perhaps it is now on display at Farley Farm, which you can visit.

I wondered if he could also smell evil. I thought of Hannah Arendt’s writing on the banality of evil and connected that with lesser forms of meanness in the world, which made me ache a little. I thought of Lee Miller, whom I admire tremendously, having such items in her possession all of her life. I wondered if there was any getting away from such heaviness. One could simply list those heavy items. Objects themselves tell stories. I also remembered Miller’s photographs of the liberation of Auschwitz, and the photograph of her in Hitler’s bathtub. I mourned the fact that she never photographed again after the Second World War. I wondered if she was ever able to see the world though a clean lens after such images were burned in her mind. I thought of how terrible it is that we take our ideas of things everywhere with us and attempt to order the world to align with what we want to see, and then how some of us do this consciously, others unconsciously, and how difficult becoming conscious can be.

I think Hitler also had a mirror, I’m fairly certain Penrose said something about that. But no matter, by now my mind had moved on to ways in which we see ourselves reflected back at us. I had been thinking that in some way nature poetry can seem like a man standing in a field with a mirror, so I thought of replacing the gun with a mirror. There are a few other strands too, but I think I’ve revealed more than enough. In any case, all of these ideas exploded in my mind. I started with the title. Then described the use of the object trying to keep it as simple, as matter of fact, as I could.

Oh, and Happy Birthday Virginia Woolf.