Thursday, November 11, 2010

The House of Breath

"I came out and felt alone and lost in the world with no home to go home to and felt robbed of everything I never
had but dreamt of and hoped to have; and mocked by others' midnight victory and my own eternal failure, unnamed by nameless agony and stripped of all my history, I was betrayed again ." -- William Goyen, The House of Breath (still in print)

"My side is on the side of the human being, and the human being moving in nature, which is spirit; and nothing else seems important to me, and if I thought I could not spend my life laboring to perceive and to understand and to clarify what happens to us in the world, then I would want to die." - William Goyen, Selected Letters, 114–115

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Today - Nombre de ______

Love is a beautiful dance that spins
Into the world when the day begins

Sometimes the beautiful are good
And true as they are fair
Sometimes they say please call me up
-- Build castles in the air .....

Her  hands.

Now Snow Again

Now snow again —
“Snow everywhere.
A cold house.
The bright colors of the women”
And my mother
As if peacefully
at Ten Broek;    I
Can’t cry about that much
Nor about being here
In Yankeeland
Not just so close to homeless, but
So far from home

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The 36 Comic Situations

Also in line with Polti's The 36 Dramatic Situations -- can anyone help me think of some of the main comic situations?

The Ghost River

"The ghost river – everything you are right now, that you will forget when you’re grown up, but that you’ll never stop being."
– from La Vie Promise with Isabelle Huppert.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The 25 Lyric Modes?

With a nod toward Georges Polti's The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, I have been wondering if anyone might like to help me formulate a taxonomy of the lyric modes (or moods) (or authorial stances) perhaps beginning with these:

Depiction of or Appreciation of Beauty
Depiction of or Deprecation of Ugliness
Historical Narration

Wry Wit

Dragging My Shield Behind Me

     Dr. Crofts, as he rode home, could not keep his mind from thinking of the two girls at Allington.  "He'll not marry her unless old Dale gives her something."  Had it come to that with the world, that a man must be bribed into keeping his engagement with a lady?  Was there no romance left among mankind -- no feeling of chivalry?  "He's got another string to his bow at Courcy Castle," said the earl, and his lordship seemed to be in no degree shocked as he said it.  It was in this tone that men spoke of women nowadays, and yet he himself had felt such awe of the girl he loved, and such a fear lest he might injure her in her worldly position, that he had not dared to tell her that he loved her.
From The Small House at Allington -- by Anthony Trollope

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Painter's Paramour

“To keep their certainty, they must accuse
All that are different of a base intent,
Pull down established honor,
Hawk for news whatever their loose fantasy invent ....”
William Butler Yeats, "The Leaders of the Crowd"

     “For years, I never knew what to call those colored lights, and before I had a name for them the memory was different.  It was mystery, and close to myth.
     But then my omniscient friend told me that the colored lights were called globos illuminados.  He said the globo man was famous in that part of Mexico, and much in demand at parties and all public celebrations.
     I liked the lights much better, though, when they were just a memory without a name – whey they were dreams.
     And I still think your dreams can rise serenely on the breeze until they self-destruct.  I think your dreams are beautiful and awesome and serene. But life’s not like that.  Life is like the pole.  You know there is a prize.  You know it is impossible to get there by yourself.  But what you don’t know is the way the effort will take all your strength and all of your attention, or how the hecklers in the crowd will hope you don’t succeed because they are afraid to try.”
Christian Gehman, beloved Gravely (Scribner’s, 1984)

     Ah, well, you know -- sometimes things don't work out.  Some books were not meant to be written.  And then there still remain the very real questions -- of what to do next?  of where to go?  where to live? of who still loves me?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

They, too, counted for something ....

"Now when the darkness was coming on rapidly, when lights were twinkling below, and when it seemed as though the mists were hiding a fathomless abyss, Lipa and her mother, who were born in poverty and prepared to live so till the end, giving up to others everything except their frightened, gentle souls may have fancied for a minute perhaps that in that vast, mysterious world, among the endless series of lives, they, too, counted for something, and they, too, were superior to someone; they liked sitting here at the top, they smiled happily and forgot that they must go down below again all the same."
Anton Chekhov, The Ravine

Friday, June 25, 2010

En Pau

"In Barcelona he had had his first experience of being a wonder-figure, of that pleasing flattering veil which, if it grows too thick, can cut a man off from the refreshment of contact with ordinary life and which can cruelly distort his relationship with others, even with those nearest to him in blood. Few people speak to a wonder as if he were a man, which is disagreeable no doubt and impoverishing; but how much more painful when he finds that he is a wonder even in his own home, worse still when he is living on the other side of an invisible barrier -- a wonder that can be exploited, and therefore by definition an outsider. If that were to happen to a suspicious mind every word, gesture, or kindness would come to have an ulterior motive. At some point, unspecified in time, but certainly after Barcelona, he said to Gertrude Stein, "You know, your family, everybody, if you are a genius and unsuccessful, everybody treats you as a genius, but when you come to be successful, when you commence to earn money, when you are really successful, then your family and everybody no longer treats you as a genius, they treat you like a man who has become successful.""

-- from that wonderful and brilliant book
Picasso A Biography,
by Patrick O'Brian

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Writing Is FUN?

Very few writers believe this, and yet it is quite a common conception among people who don't write, and especially among those who don't even read for pleasure. Why else would anyone do it -- if not to make money? or "have fun?"

Into this conversation we ought to insert one or two of Roland Barthes' little ideas that he set down in The Pleasure of the Text. Not that these ideas will do most non-writers any good whatsoever.

Shall we call them "civilians" ... in the War of Words?

One of Barthes' main ideas seems to be that the pleasure of the text -- of the "dream of reading" -- resembles the pleasure of the species-specific human bonding and imprinting interaction, which coincidentally happens "at the reading distance" between two pairs of eyes. Perhaps I have interpolated this idea from Desmond Morris's book The Naked Ape?

The eyes, they make an 8 shape -- lying on its side. A symbol of infinity.

The Pleasure of the Text is a brilliant short book full of luminously paradoxical and counter-intuitive insights. But in describing the pleasure of the text as an intense experience which can be recognized only as one "wakes up" from it, does Barthes give adequate consideration to he startling implication that "pleasure of writing" -- of creating a text? ... must be even more intense than the pleasure of simply reading a text? that the pleasure of creating a text that makes the world "disappear" for the reader is necessarily a jouissance even more intense for the writer.

But fun?

Not that I mean to imply that the pleasure of the text is one of life's simple pleasures. More likely it is astoundingly complex and intensely erotic. Yet another term we should investigate. But alas, my copy of the great anthology Les Chefs d'Oeuvres de l'Erotisme was jettisoned -- with all my other books, many of them irreplaceable -- by that illiterate rascal, the "painter" -- The Strathmore Stripe-ist Shane Guffogg. While he was divorcing my half-sister Martha Gehman.

Other more or less unreplaceable books in the jettisoned-by-Shane-Guffogg category included

My copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer ...
All my father's books but Gary Cooper...
About twenty of my stepfather Lowell Bair's translations, including Liaisons Dangereuses, The Three Musketeers, and the Bantam dual-language edition of Candide ... along with a manuscript for Delgado's A Tikipan Coule le Rio Chongo ...
Signed copies of two dozen books published by personal friends over the last 30 years ...
My copies of the Tolkien game role-playing manuals I wrote for Irown Crown Enterprises ... The Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales...
My almost antique (from the Sixties) two-volume Gourmet and many other cookbooks ... my small Revere ware chili pot.  My three inch butcher block cutting board.
My Abrams Art book about the Woodstock painter Fletcher Martin.
My book of the paintings of Ellsworth Kelly that I got at the Guggenheim show in New York.
The truly irreplaceable last remaining copies of my first two novels, "Upstream to Die" and "Croatan" ...
My science fiction collection containing almost all of Jack Vance and Heinlein ... among other writers.

Total  replacement cost  -- somewhat less than the $3,000 dollars that Shane Guffogg, The Strathmore Stripe-ist owed me at the time and still does owe me for work done around the Courtyard that he never paid for, although he did collect money for the work done from the Courtyard's owner Ed Ruscha.

The Strathmore Stripe-ist!
Because after all, "a stripe is a stripe is a stripe."
Will he ever be more than just another Wall Batterton?  However, Wall Batterton is, after all, not only a better than average painter in his own right, he is also a teacher of painting -- in addition to being a "Friend of Ed."

Of course there are a great many painters in Los Angeles who  who won't rise much above the level of those set decorators whose work has always been so popular with interior design consultants; and most of them probably believe that Roland Barthes is (a) unintelligible or (b) a glibly gibbering  idiotic Francophone "theorist" -- who never wrote a screenplay.  So I say ....

Baja Hollywood Forever!

Why People Don't Write?

Why people don't write has always interested me -- not least because I often don't write myself. Could it be as simple as Simone Weil's notion that "To be free and sovereign as a thinking being for an hour or two a day, and a slave the rest of the time, is such a torment to the soul that, to avoid the pain, most people will renounce the higher forms of thought."

Of course most people aren't interested in much more than the next very satisfying but bad cheeseburger movie anyway.

But we have all known people ... indeed, we have all known some very talented people ... who either judged (perhaps correctly) that they lacked enough of the talent they would need, or lacked the courage and drive that would enable them to make something of the talent they actually had.

But I always think it is a pity they just didn't try.

On the other hand, I probably would have made more money by sitting still holding my breath than I have ever made by writing.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"To make you see ..."

He was before all things the artist and his chief message to mankind is set at the head of this chapter ... "It is above all things to make you see. ..." Seeing is believing for all the doubters of this planet, from Thomas to the end: if you can make humanity see the very few simple things upon which this temporal world rests you will make mankind believe such eternal truths as are universal . . .

That message, that above all things, the province of the written art is above all things to make you see, was given before we met; it was because the same belief was previously and so profoundly held by the writer [by FMF] that we could work for so long together. We had the same aims and we had all the time the same aims. Our attributes were no doubt different. The writer knew more about words but Conrad had certainly an infinitely greater hold over the architectonics of the novel, over the way a story should be built up so that its interest progresses and grows up to the last word.
-- Joseph Conrad: A Personal Memoir, by Ford Madox Ford
Although not precisely on the same level of "visual brilliance" as Fifth Queen, for the writer (and especially for a writer who has ever loved Conrad), this is a very valuable -- and brilliant -- book.

I first ran across a reference to this memoir in the same book by Geoff Bocca that led me to Kinglake's History of the Crimean War (Down to the Death of Lord Raglan) -- a book that not only "taught Churchill to write" (and by which -- according to Bocca -- an intelligent man could not fail immediately to be fascinated, no matter to which page he might  open any of the eight or nine volumes) but that also will greatly enhance any intelligent person's understanding of that vast and eternally troublesome area of Asian hinterland we like to call "The Middle East."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A.L. Barker -- Great Novelist

“Who needs fiction with the sort of truth we’re up against?”

“This story is about you.”

– A.L. Barker, The Haunt

Born in 1918, A.L. Barker was seven when my mother came into the world. She won the first-ever Somerset Maugham prize in 1947 for Innocents, a collection of stories, and her novel John Brown’s Body was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 1969. I first heard of her in April, 2010, when, reading the Wikipedia entry on Rebecca West, I came across a quote: “I love the novels of A.L. Barker.” Unfortunately, the only one of A.L. Barker’s books in the wonderful Mid-Hudson library system is The Haunt – which I immediately ordered up from the Mahopac Library. Published in 1999, The Haunt is written in a brilliantly pointilist style, with rather a large cast of characters and several interweaving plot lines, all loosely focused by the location — in Cornwall, near a hotel, the Bellechasse (‘French for ‘good hunting.’”I can’t wait to read more. With Sybille Bedford, A.L. Barker is now one of two female novelists I did not discover until I was in my sixties. Probably I should wonder how many more there might be.

“Who needs fiction with the sort of truth we’re up against?”

“This story is about you.”

– A.L. Barker, The Haunt

Monday, March 15, 2010

Books I Have Loved

Maybe you should read these?  Overall, I think the most important thing to remember is Ezra Pound’s theory that “Art is more important than Medicine, because Art reveals the soul of Man.” Thus, since our time ‘round here is limited, and since most people don’t have enough time to read much anyway, perhaps one properly ought to focus — as much as possible? — on reading the greatest of the writers, whose Art has proved so enduring? These books below I have loved ... in no particular order, certainly not in the order I read them. 

On the subject of War: Probably not the best place to begin, even though war has perhaps been the most enduring passion of the human species. Start with the Greek historians, Xenophon and Thucydides. Read the Iliad (and the Odyssey, even though I agree with Sam Butler’s opinion expressed in The Authoress of the Odyssey, one of the more interesting books I ever read)Alexander Kinglake’s History of the Invasion of the Crimea Down to the Death of Lord Raglan (true subject, character in men, which would make it a novel if it weren’t a history; Churchill claimed reading Kinglake taught him to write – and overall I think the best subject for war writing, ultimately, must be character in men); James Jones, The Thin Red Line, and his other two novels – From Here to Eternity and Whistle – and for its brilliant depiction of the “revolutions” of 1968, which may have been the last gasp of anti-fascism in the West, The Merry Month of May, whose back cover has a photo of Jones going up the exterior stairs to his studio on the Isle de la Cite looking exactly like one of the gargoyles on Nôtre Dame de Paris. Hemingway, for Whom the Bell Tolls and Across the River and Into the Trees; Ford Madox Ford’s brilliant trilogy, Some Do Not, A Man Could Stand up, No More Parades. Although they are not exactly “war novels,” Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Gray Falcon was written during the Thirties as an investigation of the possible causes of the First War set against the background of the endless "wars of collision" between Muslim and Christian culture in Yugoslavia, down in the part of European territory where the First World War began; West’s book The New Meaning of Treason looks at the trials of the WWII traitors and the atom spies; and her terrifically brilliant masterpiece spy novel The Birds Fall Down is about a Russian traitor who betrays an English-German family (read everything Rebecca West wrote, basically, including Parthenope – unless you don’t like her, in which case … there’s little hope for your mind. Anyone who loves Jane Austen will also love Rebecca West, and her novel The Fountain Overflows is my favorite novel of childhood). And I like Marguerite Duras’ memoir of the Resistance in France: La Guerre, which I found at the UVA library. And, see below, Tolkiën’s The Fellowship of the Ring; as well as The Silmarillion and Lost Tales. As with all the best war writing, Tolkiën’s true subject is character – and especially valor – in men. But he includes valor in women too – for which you might like to re-read “Elfhelm’s” hopelessly valiant stand defending Théoden King against the Nazgul on the Field of the Pelennor. C.S. Lewis, the Narnia series is also about children caught up in a war – though CSL is a somewhat more overtly (and I think somewhat more sacharinely) Christian writer than Tolkien. And you will want to read all of George Macdonald Frazier’s hilariously satiric Flashman series (including Flashman at the Charge, and Flashman in the Great Game (and anything else the man wrote, including The Nine Lives of Private Nelson, which was privately printed, which I used to own, and which is probably impossible to find.) Norman Mailer, The Naked and the Dead, though I like his essays from the early period somewhat better than the fiction that came later; I had too much trouble getting through Ancient Evenings and Harlot’s Ghost for me to recommend them, but I did like Why Are We in Vietnam? ….

On what some have called the war between the sexes: Marguerite Duras, read all, but especially Blue Eyes, Black Hair, a love story that seems blessed with an oracular quality (almost) as interesting as The Book of Changes. Don’t believe me? Try opening the book to any page, then read a paragraph as if it were your advice for the day. Hemingway, The Garden of Eden (which was finished before Papa died, but which he left unpublished, in part because it showed the extremely destructive bitchiness of his last wife and also some gender confusion, both of which probably helped lead Hem toward his final madness and despair) and Across the River and Into the Trees, which shows a valiant old soldier approaching death inescapably in love with a beautiful woman who is way too young for him. Although she loves him too. D.H. Lawrence, all, but especially his short stories, which are compressed sufficiently and which don’t show the didactic heaviness of working out “plots” such as one finds in Lady Chatterley and Women in Love. John Hawkes, The Blood Oranges; Travesty; and Death, Sleep and the Traveler, which seem a trilogy of experimental novels told in First Person, Second Person and Third Person. John Colleton, The Trembling of a Leaf (Colleton, a pseudonym for Robert Marks, I met down in Charleston while working on the intro for A Southern Celebration: Charleston and Savannah Proclaimed; he was kind enough to give me what little understanding I could hope to acquire of Charleston on very short notice — on the very last morning of my too-short visit to the city.) “Pauline Reage,” The Story of O. Jane Austen, all, but especially Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and Northhanger Abbey; she’s really brilliant. “Dinesen” Von Blitzen, all, but especially Out of Africa. Henry Miller, all, but especially The Colossus of Maroussi which is about Greece, Tropic of Cancer and Black Spring. Lawrence Durrell, The Alexandria Quartet; its first volume, Justine was one of the “most erotic” books mentioned in that famous conversation I overheard on the the Bear’s porch – between Ian Ballantine, Tom Dardis, Dick Roberts, the Bear, Susan Bair, Betty Ballantine, Nancy Roberts, Marty Fleer and Jane Dardis. But I have never been totally sure they did not mean the Marquis de Sade’s Justine, which is also an interesting read. Lady Chatterley, The Blood Oranges, Justine, The Alexandria Quartet, Liaisons Dangereuses, by Choderlos de Laclos, and Tropic of Cancer were among the books mentioned. My teenage ears pricked up so hard that I immediately read them all. And for a while I liked that woman friend of Henry Miller’s – Anaïs Nin, who wrote her famously erotic diaries chronicling her amatory escapades, out of which she left her husband totally. (He was a complaisant banker who financed the whole project; my friends Hope and Ted, who knew her in Paris, never liked her much.

William Bolitho's essay on Casanova, in his wonderful book Twelve Against the Gods, will help you understand why I believe Casanova's Memoirs should be considered essential reading for all teenagers:

“His love making had nothing more esoteric in it than what every woman who respects herself must demand; all that he had, all that he was, with (to set off the lack of legality) the dazzling attraction of the lump sum over what is more regularly doled out in a lifetime of installments.”

“Many children will form an attachment to reading more easily if you encourage them or at least permit them to start by rreading (a) comic books, (b) soft semi-pornographic romances like Love in the Sun or Warrior’s Rest and (c) science fiction.” I used to like Albert Payson Terhune’s dog stories, too.

On the South: Ralph McGill, The South and the Southerner; William Faulkner, ALL, but especially Wild Palms and Pylon and all of the short stories (even though I think F. needed an editor to save him from his own worst excess); Eudora Welty, all. Larry McMurtry, I think, is a Southern writer – not a Western writer, so read … all, but especially his great novel Lonesome Dove, which made a great movie too. Texas is part of the South. Yankees tend to forget that what Americans think of as “The West” was initially created primarily by the unvanquished Southerners dispossessed after the War – especially as to its concepts of gun-toting personal valor, honesty, honor, and rugged individualism (these elements of the American character were not (and never have been) traits much lauded by Yankees).

While I’m on this topic of “the South,” let me point out that America was created mainly by Southerners – by Virginians! – and a few Bostonians. R.A. Lafferty’s great book – Okla-Hannali – tracks the decline of the incredibly rich pre-White Indian civilization of the Mississippi Valley toward its hideous decay in the Indian Territory that became Oklahoma. Many people don't count Oklahoma as part of the South. But many of the South's Indian remnants after the genocides were transported to Oklahoma, and it is as mouth part of the South as Arkansas. California is its own separate country, not properly part of the rest of the West; though part of Southern California is within the Snoring Desert of the Cacti country of the Southwest, Northern California is just the southernmost tip of the Pacific Northwest. You could draw the line just south of Santa Barbara — where the trees quit growing. Fran and I drove up the coast to visit the Henry Miller Museum at Big Sur; it’s a great trip.

Shakespeare, all, you should at least be familiar with most of the plays, but especially be sure to read Hamlet, As You Like It, Julius Caesar and Twelfth Night; and be sure you go see any of the plays performed as often as possible, several nights in a row is good, as many times as you can arrange, whenever they are available, especially in amateur (free) productions like Shakespeare in the Park, which show off the marvelously dramatic structure of the plays better in some ways than professional productions on a proscenium stage.

Other plays: Becket, all, but especialy Godot and Endgame. And also read his novels and stories. Or as much as you can wade through. Becket’s subject, ultimately, I take to be the experience of writing – from the writer’s point of view. Endgame, for example, starts out with a white sheet in which (bloody?) eye holes have been cut draped over the “writer” seated in a dentist chair – whose parents keep popping up from twin trash cans over there against the wall! … So maybe Becket’s subject is “the mind considering itself” … and talking back to itself … “waiting” for something to happen. Or … going somewhere. Ionesco, all. Marlowe, Faust. I have soft spots for GB Shaw. And for Tom Stoppard, too.

And of course, all the Greek plays: they are where Western Civ begins. Well no I suppose it really does begin somewhere back with Homer and the Trojan War. Emil Ludwig’s account of Schliemann digging through the ruins of nine civilizations and breaking pots with great abandon because they weren’t down to the real Troy level yet is most amusing, but his book The Nile is a really fascinating masterpiece.

Though not strictly speaking plays: Mozart, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) and his last opera Don Giovanni (which for a moment while I was writing this wanted to remain with the nameless, perhaps because it is about death’s approach toward the unrepentant, which I take to be my current situation on Wednesday, July 29, 2009); for the Flute, you will want to see the Bergman film (though sung in extraordinarily, beautifully lilting Swedish! – at least it is sung very beautifully, and its subtitles are a helpful plus – the boys singing as they go soaring away in the balloon is one of my favorite scenes and favorite melodies. Papageno’s entrance melody is stickier – and thank God, a bit less saccharine! – than many of the equally sticky airs in Eine Kleine Nachtmusik); for Don Giovanni, see Ken Russell’s film. The first act of the Flute and the last act of the Don Giovanni each contain what I take to be examples of supreme melodic invention. These tunes, evidently, came out of the air and landed in Mozart? As did the poem Yeats uses as an example of the phenomenon, which begins: “Locke fell into a swoon and died / God took the spinning jenny out of his side.” Or as Philip K. Dick put it when trying to explain where he got his ideas: “A ray of blue light from outer space filled my brain with intresting thoughts….” See both of these operas performed whenever you have a chance; Mozart’s comic operas also, especially “Everybody Does It” (Cosi Fan Tutti), you should see; because although their plots frothy, the melodies are brilliant.

Other choral music: Handel, The Messiah, and J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor, preferably an Archiv CD re-recorded fromthe old vinyl LP Archiv edition that has Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau singing. The Messiah Sing-In at UVA in Old Cabell Hall around the first week of December is worth a long journey.

Ezra Pound, The Cantos – try to read them entire straight through from start to finish, which … will take you most of a summer … read them through entire, skipping ahead – when you find a passage dull or just incomprehensible! … and then after you have some notion of what “game is afoot” you will want a program to sort out the ideas and the players. To the small extent that I can think of myself as an educated amateur, it is The Cantos – and Pound’s other writings – which guided my attempts at self-education. I very well remember reading The Cantos first at age 18 one summer … with my only guide my mother’s penciled in marginalia. Though long they are not hard to read if you are willing to put in a mental “placeholder” for the many unfamiliar characters and notions. The Cantos end at the twelfth decad with Canto CXX … which in its entirety reads:

I have tried to write Paradise

Do not move
Let the wind speak
That is paradise.

Let the Gods forgive what I
have made
Let those I love try to forgive
what I have made.

after beginning with a re-translation of Andreas Divus’s Renaissance (1538) translation of the Odyssey into Latin set into an Anglo-Saxon metre, which starts:

And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.

Guy Davenport’s short book Cities on Hills is at I think all the university libraries; it will give you a guide not only to the first 30 Cantos but also to their milieu in a way that will help you understand why Eliot dedicated The Wasteland to Pound as “il miglior fabbro” (the better maker), and why Old Ez set out to write an epic poem (“a poem including history is an epic”) that took in all man’s achievements – kind of a periplum or portolano chart useful for circumnavigating the mare humanorum, which necessarily includes some consideration of history and economic theory. Carroll F. Terrell’s Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound is an invaluable help in sorting out the names and concepts you don’t already know, although that’s way less important on the first read through than just reading the whole damn poem for the many pleasures you can find there. Terrell’s Companion can be searched online in Googlebooks for individual terms. If Pound had been able to include images of paintings and sculptures, I assume he would have probably quoted them with illustrations right there next to the text of The Cantos – but perhaps not. If the three inch tome seems daunting, you can at least read the short Selected Cantos chosen by Pound himself. Pound’s essay “The Serious Artist” (in Literary Essays) will help you understand why thinks art is more important than medicine, and his translations of Chinese poetry, collected up in Cathay I still find just purely beautiful and a great help, with the Analects and the I Ching in understanding the Chinese mind – despite their many confusions and inaccuracies as translations. I actually lived in the cottage Ernest Fenollosa (who wrote The Chinese Written Character) and his wife inhabited in Cismont, Virginia – perhaps Fenollosa even lived there while writing his essay “The Chinese Written Character” … which is now available in its entirety on Google Books. Or you could start on Pound by reading with the Pisan Cantos, which he wrote while cooped up in the cage at Pisa after WWII, and which won the Bollingen Prize in 1948.

Should you ever find time to get around to reading them, Pound’s ABC of Economics, his ABC of Reading and Guide to Kulchur may help guide your subsequent wandering. Perhaps if one hasn’t read Pound one can’t see through the fudge, or – perhaps one sees through it only as through a glass darkly; one can’t quite make sense of it all. For example, when talking about the current situation, one might substitute for the term “capitalism” the perhaps more appropriate “corporatism” – which in itself is only a euphemism for the exact descriptor: “corporate fascism.” In our country, the dictator is re-elected for an eight year term, our legislature has been totally corrupted by the trigger-makers and the court I know I should never write things like that, but — isn’t it more useful to think that Pound’s descent into the fascist abyss prefigures and is emblematic of America’s postwar descent in the same direction?

WB Yeats, all the verse but especially the early poems, and, among those, focus on the most brilliant very short poems like

Wines comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye
That’s all we know for truth
Before we grow old and die.

I lift my glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.


I the poet William Yeats
With old mill boards and green sea slates
And smithy work from the Gort forge
Built this tower for my wife George.
And may these pudding stones remain
When all is ruin here again.

Other Poets: Emily Dickinson, read ALL, and e.e. cummings, all; Eliot, the same ALL, with maybe a look at the facsimile manuscript edition of The Wasteland, which will help you understand what Pound did for Eliot, and maybe after Ash Wednesday you can start skipping ahead; as I did, like, like by skipping all Eliot’s plays – and his criticism – and when you come at last to Four Quartets, just line out the dull prosy passages like as if you were Pound himself; then you’ll at least be able to read what’s left as a poem – just line out all the dreck – which amounts to half the poem! – the usual Eliot quotient of dreck to rubies.

Sybille Bedford, all, but esp. A Visit to Don Ottavio, a travel book about a trip to Mexico; and A Compass Error, whose subject seems to be “evil in ordinary life” … e.g., not dressed up with vampyres or devils. A nurse might find The Trial of Dr. Adams interesting. I never heard of Syb until 2006, but I do certainly agree with Bruce Chatwin’s assessment, that Syb is “a dazzling practitioner of the fictive art” ….and I haven’t yet read her trial reporting nor her very thick completely annotated official biography of Aldous Huxley (who should be read not only for Brave New World, but also for Chrome Yellow and his other novels).

Jean Rhys, all, but especially After Leaving Mr. MacKenzie and Wide Sargasso Sea. Patricia Highsmith, all; perhaps especially the Ripley novels. I don’t know why I have lumped these two women together, except they both write very well and their ;ast names both begin with an “H.”

Virginia Woolf, read all, but maybe start with Flush, her great stream of consciousness dog story book about Elizabeth Barett Browning's spaniel’s observations of Robert Browning's very entertaining household; but also .. you must certainly at least try read To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway – though you may have to try hard to get through ‘em. Quentin Bell’s sympathetic biography will help you understand her milieu, her relationship with Leonard Woolf and her suicide; about which I can only opine that “madness takes its slow revenge.” She was molested as a child and perhaps never really recovered. And I miss all the books she didn’t get around to writing. Joyce, start with Dubliners and, if you can assume a drunken Irishman’s persona to read Finnegan’s Wake aloud, that might work for you – certainly the book deserves to be read out loud. I have never yet been able to get through it. Maybe I should try skipping to the middle? Portrait of the Artist is more patchily brilliant and perhaps a bit more puerile – possibly because it seems to have been written with one eye fixed on the censor, which Dubliners evidently was not; which eye Joyce seems to have closed after Pound took him up. Like many another reader, I found Ulysses ‘most ‘scruciatingly’ unreadable – not least because it continuously defeats the reader’s expectation of participating in the “dream of reading.” Though I do like Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the end. One of Joyce’s more interesting experiments in Dubliners is “Eveline,” a story that continuously defeats the reader’s expectation of the proper tense for the subsequent sentence – and the “plot” of the story is about going to the boat to emigrate and then not getting on it. I wrote an essay on this topic tracking the variations away from the expected tense for Marguerite Nameless while I was getting my MFA in Fiction Writing at VCU where she and other miscreant dullards decided not to give me a job in academia, but I doubt she’s kept a copy and I have certainly lost mine.

The Oxford History of Technology, I would like to read all, but have only read the volume dealing with the Industrial Revolution, which, to my chagrin, is the only volume of the series I ever owned, and which I ran across by accident. And it is gone off now, years ago. Great section on bridges. And another on food preservation. And even a good treatise on screws. This helps understand the basic industrial processes we still use today.

George Polti, The 36 Dramatic Situations will change your notions about "plot and deepen your understanding of "conflict" and “drama.” There is a short article about the 36 situations online in the Wikipedia.

Marguerite Duras, all, but especially Blue Eyes, Black Hair, which seems to me as oracular as the I Ching; I can open it to no matter what page for a commentary on the happening events around me.

Céline, at least Voyage au Bout de la Nuit, which the Bear claims is impossible to translate, so if you din’t learn French over there you might not be able to parse the argot Céline writes in. It has been translated. And Mort à Credit (Death on the Installment Plan, for which the literal but inexact translation would be “Death on Credit”). D’Un Chateau l’Autre is an interesting novel of flight across the blasted heath of Europe right after WWII ends, and Entretien avec Professeur Y gives some insight into Céline’s thoughts about writing – about what he does, and what artists do, as opposed to all the writing in what he calls the “chromosphere” … just another brilliant genius more or less influenced by the fascist milieu of the Thirties, but, in this case -- also a doctor who spent much of his life caring for the poor of Paris.

For the West’s collision with Asia – with Japan and China, but not India – James Clavell: King Rat, a concentration camp novel set in the Philippines, Shogun, Tai-Pan, Noble House, Gai-Jin … and his last book, Whirlwind – which is about the West’s exit from Iran. The movies were not good, though Clavell himself was a pretty good screenwriter who wrote many screenplays including The Great Escape. And I think Clavell may have rushed it into print because he knew deeth was approaching. Or else it could have been one book of a trilogy, like the Japan trilogy and the China trilogy. And he would have gone on to include some consideration of the West’s collision with Islam. The Sakuteki or placement of stones. My own spiritual guiding star has always been – the Wilhelm/Baynes translation of the Book of Changes.

And on a completely different note, I like Richard Wilhelm’s Book of the It – this is the same Wilhelm who translated the I Ching, since he was in charge of the Red Cross during the Japanese invasion of Tsingtao, and was an early pioneer of psychiatry in treatment of mental disorders.

Tolkiën, The Essay on Fairy Tales seems extremely important; and The Fellowship of the Ring, properly speaking is one of the great war novels – though it starts off pastoral and small, and perhaps a bit slow, Tolkiën’s subject is character – and especially valor – in men. The Hobbit is, however, mostly junk, as are the Peter Jackson films, so I would say … skip ‘em. Skip the films, especially, because – since Jackson didn’t properly appreciate Tolkiën’s subject, the films will only interfere with your sense of the book and its characters. Tolkiën’s son Christopher edited and finished up the supporting materials like The Lost Tales and, especially The Silmarillion, which weren’t yet in print when I first read the trilogy in its pirated Ace edition for Ian Ballantine, who was kind enough to want a lad’s opinion about whether or not he should publish the book.

The Russians, sooner or later, you must read all. This is a partly Western, partly Eastern civilization that has produced some great novelists — and dramatists Including Pushkin and Chekhov. Ed Sanders’ book Chekhov is very interesting; but you should go straight to the source and read all of Chekhov, including the short stories. And as for Tolstoy’s long novel – you might start with  the Constance Garnet translation that Hemingway enjoyed. I liked Anna Karenina, but ... Tolstoy, I dunno; as a friend says, "I can stand my own hypocrisy, but the hypocrisy of others leaves me cold.". I can’t, myself, read much Dostoevsky -- I just don't like all the dostoievschina, and there are plenty of literate Russians who share this view.  But D does have his fans. I liked The Gambler better than The Idiot or The Brothers Karamazov. D. just isn’t my favorite Russian. I like him less well than Mikhail Sholokhov, And Quiet Flows the Don and The Don Flows Home to the Sea; these are wonderful novels about the Don Cossacks and I suppose they should be included with the war novels. Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago, yet another novel of war and revolution, and in this case you can see the movie and like all the characters better. And Goncharov, be sure to read Oblomov, a comic novel is about a man who spends more and more time on the couch.  Gogol, Dead Souls. You can find a lot more information about the Russians -- especially modern novels-- at Lizok's Bookshelf ....

French novels: Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma, which the Bear translated, and which I find better in every way than Madame Bovary, which begins well but peters out into suicide -- I think in a rather desultory, boring manner.  And I like Stendhal's treatise On Love; and also the fragments Lamielle and The Green Huntsman. Red and Black you might skip on the first go ‘round (though parts of it are good) in favor of heading straight for the Chartreuse. Flaubert – “his true Penelope was Flaubert” as Pound says of Mauberly, but since Madame Bovary peters out so dismally, maybe stick with the short stuff: Un Coeur Simple, and the Herodias, which ends with the great line “Comme elle etaient très lourde, ils la portaient alternativement.” Which translates more or less to “Because she was very heavy, they took turns carrying her.” Though ‘they ‘took turns’ is much less elegant than “alternativement” (which gives the phrase in French a slightly risqué connotation. – and for some reason the phrase reminds me of the two guys and a girl in Blier’s film Going Places. The girl can’t reach Niagra! no matter what they try. She never has.  One of the guys has been wounded — at the film’s start —: in the left nut by the hairdresser as the escape from robbing him. And when the girl finally makes it with the old whore’s son – she’s so happy, and so proud of herself for making it finally at last! that she runs out to tell the two guys! … , who are fishing! And so they heave her into the canal! A big splash! She climbs out spluttering ... And again! Certainly one of the great picaresque comic films of the 20th century!  Before which, of course, there were no films at all!  And surely you should read at least two splashy Dumas novels – Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After and The Man in the Iron Mask. Try to find the paperbacks translated by the Bear, my stepfather Lowell Bair, who has told me that Dumas had a team of scribes working for him, then he’d come along and give it all “the Dumas touch.”

B. Traven, all. You are probably familiar with at least one of B. Traven's novels, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, through seeing John Huston's film version, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston. This is a wonderful novel that is not taught in schools because of the author's politics. The movie tracks the novel almost scene for scene. My favorite among B. Traven's books, however, is The Rebellion of the Hanged, about mahogany loggers in Chiapas.

B. Traven was an anarchist writer who suddenly appeared in Mexico City during the Thirties -- about twenty years after Jack London's "death" in 1916. But The Death Ship was published in 1926. London died leaving his last novel, The Assassination Bureau, unfinished. Its plot turns on an "organization" that will kill anyone for a price. Then someone takes out a contract on its founder, who has to disappear. I'm not alone in thinking that B. Traven might have been Jack London; the best argument against this theory is that B. Traven writes so much better.

Most Americans have managed to overlook the notion that Jack London was a Socialist -- a Red! -- which is why he was so popular in Soviet Russia. but often that can be the first step toward the core belief of anarchism: that the government is your enemy. Theoretically the "free press" will protect us from the worst crimes of out government. And that may have been true while the oress was still reporting on the government and its wars, back in the good old days before the newspaper corporations began deriving most of their income from the television stations they own. TV broadcasters don't enjoy freedom of the press -- they have the fairness doctrine instead -- and their license to broadcast anything at all is periodically reviewed (and thus is threatened) by the government. So it's really no surprise that what we still call the "news" now focuses more attention on the current Britney than it does to who benefits from the Obaminable folly of fighting a war at the crossroads of nowhere in Central Asia.

Ford Madox Ford, his brilliant historical romance Fifth Queen, about Cat Howard’s arrival at the court of Henry VIII is one of my favorite novels of all time. Writers like Graham Greene endlessly re-read The Good Soldier for its device of the unreliable narrator. Everything Ford wrote was excellent, including his tetralogy about WWI, A Man Could Stand Up, Last Post, Some Do Not, and No More Parades. This is really a trilogy with a following volume, and as a whole it is about no. 60 on everyone’s best books of the 20th century list. Provence, and The Cinque Ports make very interesting reading, and Ring for Nancy will give you some idea of his qualities as a comic novelist, as will When the Wicked Man. And this great writer finished out his life teaching English at Olivet College after being one of the guiding lights of literary London early in the century before the war. His Memoir of Joseph Conrad is a masterpiece; he and Conrad lived within walking distance of each other for a good while, and they used to read back and forth to each other, and though it’s too much to say that Ford taught Conrad to be an English novelist, they each wrote masterpieces while they were friends.

Cookbooks: Marcel Pouget, The Manual of the Professional Chef (almost impossible to find). And probably vanished from the wreck in California along with he only copy of my first novel Upstream to Die and the rest of my library, including a facsimile of the Kelmscott Chaucer, all jettisoned by X. Robert Courtine, The Hundred Glories of French Cuisine (great essay on cassoulet); the big two volume Gourmet, preferably the old big brown edition; an older Fannie Farmer; Tom Stobart’s Herbs, Spices and Flavorings, my own in progress The Hundred Glories of American CuisineMichael Field’s Cooking School and his other cookbooks; M.F.K. Fisher, all; James Beard, all. Completely almost completely skip Craig Claiborne, his recipes are aggravatingly and often don’t work very well. The Artists and Writers Cookbook, that I gave to Kirsten Perry.

Now as to films you must try to see: Lina Wertmuller all, but especially: Love and Anarchy, The Seduction of Mimi, Swept Away, 7 Beauties. Bertolucci all, but especially: The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, and Stealing Beauty. Fellini, La Strada, 8-1/2. And his film about the circus. And his film about Rome. And Juliette of the Spirits. Godard, all, despite or because of the rouge tint of his politics – because at least Godard keeps pointing out the symptoms of an illness even though his suggestions for a cure might now seem dated – in part due to the collapse of Maoism – and anyway it seems now a well-settled notion that putting the government in charge of anything is a baaaaad idea; but perhaps you should start with Godard’s late films like Prenom: Carmen or Hail Mary or his first film Breathless, which he made from a screnplay Truffaut gave him. You cannot understand films without studying the French films of the Nouvelle Vague (the New Wave). And I like Godard’s very short film Les Derniers Moments, which he made with Anne Marie Miéville, which for a while was available on YouTube. Most of Godard doesn’t get over here (too anti-capitalismo, I guess), so try to see anything that you hear of. FransçoisTruffaut, Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows), which shows the early fifties post-war Paris in which I grew up speaking the Parisian guttersnipe argot, — and keep in mind that the phrase “il a fait les quatre cents coups” means (in French) something like “he really screwed himself;” Jules et Jim, The Last Metro. Jean Renoir, The Rules of the Game, which I like better than his war movie Grand Illusion that everyone talks about so much. La Bete Humaine with Jean Gabin. Bertrand Blier, Going Places, Get Out Your Handkerchiefs. Jacques Tati – all, and the second time you see any of the films you’ll already know when the joke is coming and you’ll start snickering and chuckling before the punch line; all, but especially, Mr. Hulot’s Holiday and Playtime. Tati, née Tatischeff, the child of Russian emigrés, is Chaplin’s worthy successor; he has what I take to be a Russian understanding of village life; the films all exhibit his complex visual punning style perhaps best shown in Playtime when the chef, peering out from his window, is suddenly revealed by addition of a rosette as …. Napoléon. Kurosawa – all but especially Rashomon. Wim Wenders, all, but especially, The American Friend, which he made before joining Hollywood. Eric Rohmer, all, but especially The Marquise of O, his only film shot in German, which is based on the Heinrich von Kleist short story. (You should read all of Kleist too, especially his interesting drama Penthesilea, about a group of one-breasted women who disturb the progress of the Trojan war by chasing Achilles around insisting he shall impregnate them all.)  Benigni’s Life is Beautiful or Wertmuller’s Seven Beauties – the two great concentration camp movies.

For l’érotisme: John Hawkes, The Blood Oranges; Lawrence Durrell, The Alexandria Quartet (of which Clea is my favorite volume); D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover; Christiane Rochefort, Warrior’s Rest; the Marquis de Sade, Justine; Pauline Réage, The Story of O; Marguerite Duras, Blue Eyes, Black Hair. And the French classic collection Les Chefs d’Oeuvres de l’Erotisme. And I enjoyed very much “John Colleton’s” The Trembling of a Leaf.

For laugh out loud humor: James Thurber, all, William Price Fox, read all, but especially Southern Fried Plus Six and Moonshine Light, Moonshine Bright.; Chaplin, Jacques Tati, some of Allen; Alphonse Daude, Tartarin de Tarascon; and above all, Mark Twain, who wrote not only the first Great American Novel but also a brilliant essay on James Fenimore Cooper.

Mysteries: Sherlock Holmes, all; Raymond Chandler, all, but especially The Little Sister; Dashiell Hammet, all, but especially Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon, which I find one of the most misogynist novels in the popular canon, and Patricia Highsmith, all. Though I like Ross Macdonald, I prefer John D. McDonald, for the toughness and the principles of Travis McGee.

As for Science Fiction, isn’t it impossible to understand the world we keep on entering without reading SF?  R.A. Heinlein – read all, but especially Stranger in a Strange Land and Friday. I started out with Heinlein very early on, reading Between Planets and The Star Beast and The Puppet Masters. Frank Herbert, Dune, Children of Dune, and basically all his other earlier slighter works, but especially The Santaroga Barrier and The Green Brain. Philip K. Dick, read all, but especially my favorite book Galactic Pot Healer, which I like better, perhaps mostly for its humorous approach, than the novels on which the movies Blade Runner (the book was titled, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep); Paycheck, The Minority Report and Total Recall were based. And there have been several others; Dick is very filmable. I liked his book We Can Build You -- which I think is a (partly comic) masterpiece. A.E. van Vogt, Slan, The Worlds of Null-A, and some others: all, maybe. Theodore Sturgeon, all, but especially E Pluribus Unicorn, Venus Plus X, and even his swasbuckling romance about the French Revolution he wrote hoping to break out from SF – I, Libertine. Sturgeon got so bored with the project that Betty Ballantine had to write the last chapter.  Sturgeon's son Robin went to school at Onteora while Ted lived in Woodstock; he was a few years behind me in high school. I liked Isaac Asimov somewhat less as I got older, though I did start out fascinated by his Lucky Starr space opera series (like Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids) and both Asimov’s Foundation trilogy and I, Robot now seem inescapable; Asimov, extremely intelligent but empathically so cold one wonders if me may  have had Asberger’s Syndrome, wrote a prodigious amount of books (hundreds), many of them just straight up factual treatments of subjects he found interesting. Ray Bradbury, read all, but esp. The Martian Chronicles; Dandelion Wine; and Something Wicked This Way Comes. I saw Bradbury speak – read? – in Richmond, from which talk I took away the primary idea that there is very little point, perhaps absolutely no point in reading books you don’t find fascinating because you won’t remember any of the dull stuff anyway. I’m not sure Thomas Pynchon is an SF writer, but some elements of his work do at least resemble SF, so, especially, read V., which everybody loved for a while, Gravity’s Rainbow (which they liked less, generally) and The Crying of Lot 49; I dunno about Vineland and the books that came after it, they seem like unreadable dreck to me. Do Pynchon’s books fulfill Kernan’s definition of The Plot of Satire? e.g., an innocent wanders around looking at the world? … perhaps they do. John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar is the title I remember. Hal Clement. Fritz Leiber. Murray Leinster. Edgar Rice Burroughs, all, but especially the Mars books and especially Thuvia, Maid of Mars, and at least the first volume of the Tarzan series, which seems an iconic masterpiece, plus  Pellucidar and Carson of Venus.  Kurt Vonnegut deserves a special mention as a bestselling SF writer, since that’s where he started out, with the Sirens of Titan and Cat’s Cradle, and even his crossover best seller about Billy Pilgrim’s adventures in WWII, as an optometrist in upstate New York, and on the planet Tralfamadore with Montana Wildhack – Slaughterhouse Five – has many science fiction elements, though I think above all Vonnegut was a satirist. Perhaps SF divides itself neatly into three categories? Space opera, satire and utopian/dystopian speculation … Stanislaw Lem, All You Can Find; Tarkowsky, every film you can see; Jules Verne, all but especially 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and From the Earth to the Moon; Pierre Boulle, all. And Romain Gary, for The Elephant’s Walk which always struck me – improbably, I know – as science fiction. Voltaire, Micromegas and even Candide – for its precursor SF approach to satire. C.S. Lewis, the Perelandra series and Narnia. For films, it’s worth mentioning the first Alien, but even more Blade Runner and all the other films made from PKD novels, Avatar, especially in 3D -- and be sure to see every Tarkowsky film you can find. Sam Butler’s Erewhon for utopian speculation (and also, on another note, Butler’s great book The Authoress of the Odyssey, which speculates that the Odyssey was written by a young girl living on the island of Sicily).

The recipe for Texas Chili: beef, cumin, ancho chilis, salt, water, stew until done. The beef? Bone in chuck blade roast, at least two, maybe three inches thick, stew entire, then pull apart in chunks – you need the cartilage – from fairway beef in Worcester. Or The Belmont Butchery in Richmond, Virginia.  Or anyplace they still hang sides. Get good anchos. The mulattos are better than the negros. They should have thick walls with plenty of pulp and should be mild. Roast and grind the cumin seed? Rice and Mexican strawberries – red beans? on the side for the civilians. You wil want to save some of the broth, reduced to a thickness and finished with a bit of butter, for use on steak or on eggs.

The recipe for Cassoulet:: as Robert Courtine writes, “There are many cassoulets.” We might even take Boston baked beans to be a misbegotten bastard offspring of real cassoulet – as may be ordinary American chili, if the beef is good … So, as you like, but maybe start with a fresh fat goose; salt its legs and wings with a few juniper berries until thoroughly preserved, then hang them a few days to dry before you start soaking the beans; meanwhile you will have roasted the rest of the goose and collected its grease, which is lighter than butter. Eat some on black bread with salt and pepper. Use most of the rest for the cassoulet. My problem ingredient has been neither the goose, the pork,  the ham, or the trotters, though they’re increasingly hard to find – it has been the sausages, which they don’t make properly around here in America.  And who knows if I'll ever get to France again?

Now as to Jazz, all, but especially Dixieland, and I am very partial to Stride pianists like Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, and Swing …. If you think you don't like jazz, you might try starting with the Getz/Gilberto CD … and … maybe everything off the KJAZZ Top 100 list, which is available on the internet; they have a good internet stream too (88.1 KKJZ); and you can get Radio TSF jazz from Paris on the internet too ...

Bach, all, but esp. The Mass in B Minor, to which the listening repeatedly until the tunes keep bubbling up in your mind will dispel any case of the mental fog or the emotional blues or blank-mind lack of creativity bubbling up ... the early Archiv recording with Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau and others is now available on CD; everything ever played by Glenn Gould, but especially the English Suites, the French Suites, the Goldberg variations, the Well Tempered Clavier, The Art of Fugue and the Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord; Agnelle Bundervoët’s 1955 recording of Busoni’s transcription of the Chaconne from the Partita D for Solo Violin that won the Grand Prix du Disque – this recording exists now on CD and I actually have a copy!  that I got from !!!At last! After 40 years!; the Oistrakh brothers, esp. their recording of the Concerto for Two Violins; Valeri Klimov, the Handel violin sonatas, which I have seen only on vinyl, so it’s probably not yet been reissued or is rare, and anything else Klimov may have recorded in Moscow, and which I have thus far missed; Clara Haskill and Geza Anda, the two pianos concerto. Pablo Casals, the Prades Festival, and also his recording of Bach’s cello sonatas unaccompanied, the first available at present only on disk … Elaine Schaeffer’s Flute Sonatas! alas still only available on the vinyl.

N.B. Juana Landowska is totally forbidden; as are most French interpreters of JSB (except Agnelle, who -- let it be said -- was after all playing Busoni's transcription of a chaconne for solo violin), including J-P Rampal; their phrasing is too "Frenchified" for my taste and …. and somehow, Wrong.

Mozart, Die Zauberflöte, but esp. the first act for the pure melodic brilliance of its invention. Mozart died wishing he could hear it again, a pleasure you can now have almost any day of the week. And Don Giovanni for its last act. And the Requiem, which M. wrote after first hearing Bach; and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, whose melodies, are so infectiously contagious. M. wrote almost exclusively within what David del Tredici calls the “money chords” C, F and G … and only found Bach toward the tragically early end of his life.  Think of what M. might have written if he'd lived another decade!

For painting – Rembrandt, Monet, Dégas, Van Gog, Picasso, Pollock, all of the Impressionists. Perhaps the light in Holland – and in Paris – on Long Island? ... has some quality ideal for painting. As it does in Woodstock? Would it be the long summer twilight? Would the light not be the same more or less in London? See them on the wall in a museum as often as possible, skip the rest. Pollock’s canvases were not well made and soon will be permanently gone. I have strong attachment to George Bellows and the other Woodstock artists, including Fletcher Martin, Robert Angeloch, Lillian Lent, Eddie Millman, Bud Plate, Bernard Steffen and John Pike. For sculpture, Brancusi, Calder, Giacometti, David Smith. These last two categories, painting and sculpture, I am surely leaving out a lot, painting and sculpture are not my field, and so, as always, ever the amateur, I can only recommend what I have most enjoyed. And go see any show of Russian paintings that appears over here.

What I lack most now for my own education … is a better understanding of the Koinae, so I can read the Gospels in their original Greek, though I do like the brilliant King James version and think Lawrence its main creator perhaps the greatest poet in the English language -- better than Shakespeare? because with just a little more Greek I could start wading through Homer … and also I lack any understanding of the calculus. Which, for a man who rarely feels a need to balance his checkbook is ... hardly surprising.

A few more: Robert Graves, The White Goddess. And his historical novels, including I, Claudius, Claudius the GodCount Belisarius and Sergeant Lamb's America. And Homer’s Daughter. Graves, the foremost Classics scholar of his age, agreed with Samuel Butler’s theory, expressed in The Authoress of the Odyssey, that the Odyssey was written by a young girl living on the island of Sicily. Anthony Trollope, The Last Chronicle of Barset, and all the rest, he’s my favorite Victorian novelist, as Alexander Kinglake is my favorite Victorian historian. Some prefer Dickens. Henry James; read the short stories, like "The Figure in the Carpet" -- but I also liked The Golden Bowl, though I found it here and there a bit tedious. And The Wings of the Dove is a somewhat too-carefully set up study of evil lurking in the human heart.  Washington Square I love because I was born just off that park.  

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Susan Died During a Blizzard

My mother Susan Bair died during a blizzard Tuesday night, February 23, 2010 at age 84.  She taught me to read and write using the Calvert Correspondence Course while we were living on Mallorca with her then-future second husband.

She was born Susan Wiman on August 25, 1925  in Seattle.  Her great-aunt Gertrude Wiman helped chart the Straight of Juan de Fuca; and her grandfather Chaunce Wiman ferried Wobblies up to Vancouver during the “Steamboat Wars.”  Her father, my Grandpa Fred, was a destroyer skipper in the Aleutians during World War Two.

Susan’s wildly impulsive intolerance of conventional restrictions, however, and also her  love of literature, came from Mississippi.  They came from my great-grandmother Pearl B. Winter and my great-aunt Maude Bryan.  Nanny Pearl attended Agnes Scott College, then taught school in the Delta most of her life – until Mr. Winter forbade her attendance at a Women’s Suffrage meeting, whereupon she decamped for Seattle with her two children.

Susan matriculated at Radcliffe at age 16, but dropped out after the Coconut Grove Fire killed many of her friends.  She went to New York to be an actress.  There, after marrying a wildly improbable number of men attracted to her beautiful brunette good looks -- all the marriages were annulled by my grandmother Katie --  she met my first father, Richard Gehman, in Greenwich Village.  Richard was at the start of  his extraordinary career as an alcoholic writer of 400 magazine features, 15 books and many short pieces.  Richard died in 1970 at age 50.  When Susan met my second father Lowell Bair in Paris 1953, my brother Rob threw his shoes out the window.  Lowell married Susan anyway, despite the two young hellions attached to her, and before many years went by they had a daughter, my sister Connie.

Lowell translated over 300 French books including classic French novels like Liaisons Dangereuses, Candide, La Chartreuse de Parme, and Madame Bovary.  A former hand-launched glider champion of Florida, Lowell taught me how to build the glider that disappeared into the clouds at a party in Mead's Meadow back in the Sixties.  He translated his first book, a French detective thriller titled Canal Street to pay our passage back to the States.

My mother and my fathers taught me, by example, to love literature.  I learned what little I know about good letters from reading nearly all of Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad, Stendhal, Flaubert, Hemingway, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, Marguerite Duras, Sybille Bedford , T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.  I first read all The Cantos at age 16 with only Susan's penciled-in marginalia to help me sort out the many puzzles in the text.  I speak French and Spanish, and know enough of the Koinae to parse the Gospels.  That all came from Susan too.

She had a good knack for suggesting the right fun book that you might like to read.   And then she'd let you read whatever you wanted to read, without interrupting you, no matter how thoroughly absorbed in the pleasure of the text you might appear to be.  Our family moved to Woodstock in 195660.  Susan  worked at the Woodstock Library for many years with Ellen Roberts, D.J. Boggs,  Pia Alexander and Joanne Sackett.  Jane Dardis and Jane Axel and Miriam Sanders were good friends.

Anyone who would like to contribute a story to this blog -- about Susan or about Susan and Lowell should email it to me, or post it as a comment, which I'll then post.  Pass the word along -- I'll print anything.  I got that from Susan too, as well as Pound's notion that:

“Art is more important than medicine –
because only Art reveals the soul of man”

As a writer, nothing seems to me more important.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Art v."Scholarship"

Am I the only person who might think it odd to find a crowd of Art Historians totally  in charge of the School of Painting?

In other words, would any painter of sound mind opine that the perhaps worthy and erudite scholarly "Journalists of Art History" could have anything apposite to say about actually teaching a student to paint?

Now that Creative Writing has grown up -- to a certain extent! -- as an academic discipline am I the only writer who thinks it might be time to argue that Creative Writing needs  its own department?

And if it is not quite time -- just yet! --  to argue that Creative Writing now properly belongs in a Creative Writing Department not completely under the aegis of those no doubt worthy and erudite scholarly "Journalists of Literary History" ... when will it be time?

Shouldn't the Creative Writing Department properly be under the aegis of the Schoiol of the Arts?

I mean ... isn't the writing of poetry and fiction art?  ... e.g., not journalism?  and not literary scholarship? of the same type that used to let an English Ph.D. candidate at the University of Virginia specialize in "textual comparison" ???

Haven't the English Departments hijacked the Creative Writing programs for their own benefit?  -- for the warm bodies they needed to bolster their own declining enrollments?

I would be interested to hear of any steps in this direction that may have been taken already.

I would be interested to hear from any fiction writer or poet about how the Creative Writing curriculum -- especially for undergraduates might be different?

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Since all writers procrastinate, can we infer that this behavior is an essential part of the process?

And after all, the deadline is ... the deadline.
Thus, the problem is to structure the procrastination so that it works a bit better for you.

On Writing Badly

Paradoxically, without first giving yourself the freedom to write badly, it will often seem extremely unlikely that you will write anything good — by which I mean, “anything that might last beyond the moment.”  -cg

Saturday, February 13, 2010

From Orient Express

"He determined to be princely on an Oriental scale, granting costly gifts and not requiring, not wanting , any return."
Graham Greene, Orient Express (1932) 
And I think one of his best books.  Many of the paragraphs show off his glittering pointilist style -- by which I mean, small distinct thoughts (or images) are built up sentence by sentence to form the scene.  -- c.g.

A Mantra For Your Children

Love is a beautiful dance that spins
Into the world when a day begins

.................................................Christian Gehman

Use when when ....... when looking at a sleeping child.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Faith and Courage

Real faith takes courage; and real courage, faith.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

People are Cats

Cats are people, people cats
I guess most would agree on that
The cat that I love best, you see,
Is snuggled in the bed with me.

La Princesse de Cleves

An elegant and adroit setting by Madame de Lafayette for what was at the time not quite an historical novel:

The Queen's ambitious temper made her taste the sweets of reigning, and she seemed to bear with perfect ease the King's passion for the Duchess of Valentinois, nor did she express the least jealousy of it; but she was so skilful a dissembler, that it was hard to judge of her real sentiments, and policy obliged her to keep the duchess about her person, that she might draw the King to her at the same time. This Prince took great delight in the conversation of women, even of such as he had no passion for; for he was every day at the Queen's court, when she held her assembly, which was a concourse of all that was beautiful and excellent in either sex.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Greene Gems

Is it possible to write two people better -- or more succinctly -- than this?

“Jules,” she said. “Jules, can’t you wait?” but she had no wish to wait, she welcomed him; she only regretted the promptitude of the embrace when it was so quickly finished that it might have been no more than the gesture he had made her in the park, a salutation across the street. He was with her, he was in her, he was away from her, brushing his hair before the glass, whistling a tune.

“Oh stop it,” she said. He glared at her; he had an idea that he had not satisfied, and he was irritated. He would have been humiliated but for the thought that there were months and years ahead; they were going to marry; he would do better next time. The window was open and he could smell bacon frying in the kitchen below. “Eggs and bacon,” he said. “I’m hungry.” He forgot for a moment what they had just been doing; there was so little to remind him of it, now that his body was quiet again.

She said: “I’m not hungry,” sullenly.
From It's a Battlefield, by Graham Greene
(New York: The Viking Press, 1934)
And in fact the whole novel is a masterpiece of Greene's pointilist style.

Now Snow Again

Now snow again
“Snow everywhere.
A cold house.
The bright colors of the women.”
And my mother
As if peacefully
at Ten Brook; I
Can’t cry about that much
Nor about being here
In Yankeeland
Not just so close to homeless, but
So far from home

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

B. Traven

A kindly reader pointed out that though I had mentioned B. Traven several times, I had not included him in the list of books you should read, so I added the following entry:

B. Traven, all. You are probably familiar with at least one of B. Traven's novels, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, through seeing John Huston's film version, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston. This is a wonderful novel that is not taught in schools because of the author's politics. The movie tracks the novel almost scene for scene. My favorite among B. Traven's books, however, is The Rebellion of the Hanged, about mahogany loggers in Chiapas.

B. Traven was an anarchist writer who suddenly appeared in Mexico City during the Thirties -- about twenty years after Jack London's "death" in 1916. But The Death Ship was published in 1926. London died leaving his last novel, The Assassination Bureau, unfinished. Its plot turns on an "organization" that will kill anyone for a price. Then someone takes out a contract on its founder, who has to disappear. I'm not alone in thinking that B. Traven might have been Jack London; the best argument against this theory is that B. Traven writes so much better.

Most Americans have managed to overlook the notion that Jack London was a Socialist -- a Red! -- which is why he was so popular in Soviet Russia. but often that can be the first step toward the core belief of anarchism: that the government is your enemy. Theoretically the "free press" will protect us from the worst crimes of out government. And that may have been true while the oress was still reporting on the government and its wars, back in the good old days before the newspaper corporations began deriving most of their income from the television stations they own. TV broadcasters don't enjoy freedom of the press -- they have what is called the fairness doctrine instead -- and their license to broadcast anything at all is periodically reviewed (and thus is threatened) by the government. So it's really no surprise that what we still call the "news" now focuses more attention on the current Britney than it does to who benefits from the Obaminable folly of fighting a war at the crossroads of nowhere in Central Asia.

What I Miss Most About Charlottesville

10. Alderman Library, and especially: being able to lay hands on a copy of Wool, Cloth and Gold, or any of B. Traven's novels, or a copy of Alexander Kinglake's History of the Crimean War (Down to the Death of Lord Raglan), or all the back issues of Paideuma -- whenever I want to read them again.  And being able to get a library card there just because I was a citizen of the Commonwealth -- my thanks to Thomas J. 

9. The Riverside.

8. All my friends, but especially Amy and Susan and David.

7. The South.

6. Seven Day.

6. The C & O.

4. The Blue Ridge, and the way you glimpse the Ragged Mountains for a moment going south on the bypass, and riding miles of hunt trails in the Southwestern Mountains around Cismont, where I was a country mailman.

3. Teaching myself to ride down at Round Top, using an old cavalry manual I found buried in the stacks at Alderman.

2. Looking for my basset hounds: Isabel, Sam, Oliver, Alexander, Lem and Yummie. Winding my big horn made from an old Victrola while I looked for them at night on627 between Carter's Bridge and Keelona, though sometimes they would get as far as Roy and Alice Howard's place at Red Brook.

1. My daughter Jessie Jane.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What Writers Need - A Room With A Door

Virginia Woolf had it almost right when she opined: "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

I might update and amend that sentiment to read:

"A writer must have a chunk of money (or an income), a room with a door (and perhaps a good view), and time to write.

So there is usually a balancing act: "time to write" is very, very expensive; shall we say that food and a room with a door and health insurance will cost in the neighborhood of $10,000 per annum? That is two hundred dollars a week. I mean -- if you don't own and drive a car.

The time to write -- and I mean the time to have nothing to do but write for a while, at your own speed, without going to work at the dreary dull job or the fascinating job or the just barely pays the rent job -- costs not only the income you forego by not working -- shall we say, $45,000 a year? which is what my last job as a night word processor paid when the miscreant lawyers sacked me in the fall of 2006 -- but also it costs the retirement benefits that you will not accrue. An actuary could tell you what a pension is worth -- say a half pay pension. But a portfolio of ock solid bonds with no risk attached that will pay $10,00 a year tax free or after taxes -- at 3% per annum -- will cost you $300,000.

Most writers don't have that kind of money when they start out. And writing is not a good way to get it, except for the few very lucky ones.

So ... they work a day job or a night job, as I did, with little thought of a career. Or they attend an MFA program in graduate school -- as I did -- because then theoretically your "job" will be to "study" writing and prepare a "creative thesis."

(In neither of the two MFA programs that I attended -- the famous Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa and the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University that couldn't hire me to teach writing because I didn't have college degree) -- in NEITHER of these graduate programs did I meet any students who -- on the poetry side -- had read any Ezra Pound beyond what might appear in an anthology (Hugh Selwyn Mauberly, perhaps a Canto or two, and the haiku about the "faces in the metro"); and on the fiction side I never met any fellow students who had even heard of Stendhal, let alone any who had managed to read anything he wrote. None of them had read Flaubert, either, though some had heard his name. Goncharov? Tolstoy? Chekhov? Sholokhov?

Well. They were young sprouts, fresh out of some college that had slaughtered their education. They didn't have the same advantages that I did: they didn't grow up in a literary, nor even in most cases a literate environment. Not that this produces great writers. We don't really know what produces great writers. Just reading a lot, evidently, is not enough -- it's not even a prerequisite. Though often writers do read quite a lot.)

So most people get a day job. And write at the edges. Or around the edges. With a tired mind. Instead of going for a walk. Some fire keeps them going. They might take long periods of time off. Some do manage to publish despite the obstacles.

I did. Michael Crichton would be a better example. I think he must have been smarter than me. About something. Plot, I guess -- mainly. And of course he wrote mostly trash. Highly polished, facile trash.

I've read all of Michael Crichton's books. He was very successful, made a lot of money. Gave up doctoring. Preferred writing. Perhaps the pleasure of the text is the same whether you are writing kitsch or art? Do the creators of kitsch sometimes believe in themselves as artists? I don't know.

William Carlos Williams -- one of the more important (and most American) writers of the 20th century -- never made much more than fifteen dollars a year on his poetry. Of course, one expects poets to make any money. Getting published is enough for a poet.

But fiction writers -- one expects a fiction writer to get published. And make some money. Or give up. Isn't that the whole point of the exercise? Most people -- most non-writers -- probably think so.

But I am not so sure that it is. Roland Barthes writes about "the pleasure of the text," which I take to be the joy of reading, the delightful dreamlike state from which one "returns" to consciousness.

How much more intense the pleasure of the text must be for writers -- is something we can gauge only by the privations they are willing to endure ... the privileges they might be willing to give up -- in order to keep on writing.

It might be important to remember that writing is an "interaction" that happens at "the reading distance." Desmond Morris, in his interesting book The Naked Ape, points out that the reading distance -- 18 inches? from the eye to the crook of the elbow? -- is also the species-specific bonding and imprinting distance for human beings.

Thus -- is it possible that the pleasure of the text -- an interaction that is at its most intense for writers as they are writing -- takes on the importance of an interaction without which human life would end?

Maybe in a writer's mind?

Can it really be true, as Ezra Pound opined -- that "Art is more important than medicine because only Art reveals the soul of Man" ... ?

If the writers stopped writing, where would that leave us? Shadowing shamans? Kowtowing to captains? Wondering about everything?

As E.M. Forster wrote, "How can I know what I think until I see what I write." Are writers the only people who think? ... really?

Or are we just leaving thought to all the politicians?

Virginia Woolf's Great Dog Story -- FLUSH

Virginia Woolf is one of the truly great modern writers, best remembered for classic novels like The Waves, Mrs. Dalloway, and To the Lighthouse. But I always loved her great dog story Flush, which is told from the point of view of Elizabeth Barret Browning's spaniel. I am sure you will find it extremely amusing, not just for her use of the flawlessly literary stream of consciousness style but also for its insight into Robert Browning's household.

Casanova, William Bolitho, Geoff Bocca

Yesterday it occurred to me that I had left Casanova's Memoirs out of the Books You Should Read post, so I have added it as follows:

William Bolitho's essay on Casanova, in his wonderful book Twelve Against the Gods, will help you understand why I believe Casanova's Memoirs should be considered essential reading for all teenagers:
“His love making had nothing more esoteric in it than what every woman who respects herself must demand; all that he had, all that he was, with (to set off the lack of legality) the dazzling attraction of the lump sum over what is more regularly doled out in a lifetime of installments."

“Most children will form an attachment to reading more easily if you encourage them or at least permit them to start by rreading (a) comic books, (b) soft semi-pornographic romances like Love in the Sun or Warrior’s Rest and (c) science fiction.” I used to like Albert Payson Terhune’s dog stories, too -- because they helped me understand courage. In dogs. and men.

William Bolitho and Alexander Kinglake, I first ran across while I was living in Richmond, Virginia. The Richmond Public Library had a copy of a book of literary "my life and times" memoirs by the English writer Geoff Bocca, who my father used to know back in the fifties.

In addition to recommending Bolitho's book, Bocca noted his opinion that Kinglake's History of the Crimean War -- to use its short title -- was a book by which "no intelligent man could fail to be fascinated, no matter to which page he might open it."

I thought that an extravagant claim, and all the more so since I had NO interest in the Crimean War. I believed that "Into the Valley of Death rode the 600" from Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade was as close as I needed to come to that dreary subject. Nine volumes!

But they had the book down in the stacks at the Richmond Library. I asked the librarians to bring them all up. I spread all nine volumes out on the reference counter, and asked the librarians to shuffle them around while my back was turned. Then, with my eyes closed, I turned around, selected one of the volumes -- they were all about the size of one of Anthony Trollope's longer novels -- opened it at random, and began reading.

I immediately became fascinated.

Well, that's just an accident, I thought, so I asked the librarians to try one more time again.

Same result. I immediately became fascinated. So I took all nine volumes -- or is it 8 volumes? Depends on the edition, I think -- and read them in a state of happy fascination.

Bocca claims that Winston Churchill said Kinglake had taught him to write. I believe it.

And Bocca told a funny story about a Fleet Street dinner at Lord Beaverbrook's, to which he had been invited as a very promising young writer. Churchill and other luminaries and writers were at the dinner. Lord Beaverbrook was an important Press Lord in London. He occupied somewhat the same position in those days that Rupert Murdoch does today. At some point after dinner, the conversation turned toward the Middle East. Israel didn't exist yet, so it was still possible to have opinions about the Middle East and the "Arab Question."

Geoff Bocca ventured an opinion. Probably a brash opinion. At any rate, conversation stopped. All eyes turned toward the youngster. Churchill, removing the cigar from his mouth, asked "Have you read Kinglake?"

"Why no," Geoff Bocca said. "Kinglake? Who's he?"

No one talked to him again for the rest of the evening.

Back in those days, intelligent men believed that it was probably impossible to understand what we now call The Middle East -- without having read Kinglake.

And even today, Kinglake's History is a good place to begin.

It is a book that has been in print continuously since it was first published. Kinglake's subject, I believe, is "character in men." He was Lord Raglan's aide de camp in the Crimea, and the book breaks off with Raglan's death in front of Sebastopol.

This link will take you to Kinglake's shorter book, Eothen, begins with a marvelous description of crossing out of Christian lands in Yugoslavia into the country of the Turk -- and knowing you could not come back without spending a month in the quarantine house for fear of the plague.