Alexander Stille’s The Sullivanians is a compulsive read. For several years, I intersected (peripherally) with the Sullivanians, always wondering but never quite knowing who they were and what they were about. Their base of operations extended from Columbia University down to the Lower East Side, with primary activities on the Upper West Side. They began as what might be called a noble experiment, a necessary, pioneering challenge to 1950s socio-sexual norms; they became, inarguably, a cult that was undone “by the thing [they] had set out to destroy: the family.” I highlighted many passages; here are a few that give a sense of the tensions around which Stille structures the book:
There is some redemption; there’s more heartbreak. The impact lingers.
I want to thank C.D. Johnson, editor, and the excellent team at Rogue Scholars Press, for the long hard work of putting together this excellent anthology. The poems are two ways of remembering New Orleans. "Afternoon Rain" grew out of a translation workshop I took with the remarkable Sholeh Wolpe; it springs from a passage by Forugh Farrokhzad, the "Rebel Poet of Iran." I'm honored to be included alongside friends and luminaries such as Patricia Carragon, Wayne Kral, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Sarah Sarai, and so many others.
In the blizzard of obits, testimonials, and encomia following the terribly premature passing of Martin Amis, a lot of very good writing has pointed to a lot of other very good writing. I’ve been wasting away the better part of a day enjoying some of the connections. In the online publication UnHerd (thank you, Robert Anasi), Terry Eagleton takes Amis (& Co.) down a peg for failing to develop anything resembling a viable alternative to the political perspectives he parodied, critiqued, or denounced (The liberal complacency of Martin Amis). In that piece, Eagleton references a hilariously mordant takedown of the JFK legacy by Amis’s dear friend and partner in slime Christopher Hitchens (If JFK had lived much longer – available in The Free Library). The occasion of the Hitchens piece is the publication of historian Robert Dallek's bio, An Unfinished Life. The tone is pitch perfect:
A widely shared opinion on Amis is the excellence of his nonfiction, the memoir, essays, and reviews. This sends me back to his collection, The War Against Cliché, wherein we find abundant evidence of the old Saul Bellow observation that writers are readers moved to emulation. Amis analyzes dispassionately, but admiration, even envy, percolates subtextually. We learn, for instance, from Amis’s brief survey of the William S. Burroughs catalogue, that halfway through The Wild Boys, “there’s forty solid pages of rectal mucus …” Rectal mucus. Can you imagine the paroxysms of shoulder-shaking Beavis-and-Butthead snickers that phrase produced in Amis? And we learn in the title essay that the new (1986) edition of Joyce’s Ulysses corrects this seemingly minor error in the Circe section:
which reverts to the author’s original intention, the sublime
“Nes. Yo.” is my favorite line of the day.
Discussing the release of his first-ever album in The Guardian today, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch says, “Lately, I have an aversion to blues-based rock’n’roll guitar solos.” Jarmusch would have had a hard time at last night’s appearance of Lucinda Williams at City Winery, where a pair of gunslingers, one from Alaska, the other from Ventura, CA, shredded the necks of a half-dozen Guild and Fender guitars. It was a complicated, exciting, nostalgic, but perhaps irrelevant evening, during which I kept thinking, there’s a part of America that doesn’t exist anymore, or at least doesn’t matter, and it’s called America—that vast expanse between the east and west coasts, and especially the region south of DC—and that’s where Lucinda Williams and her band come from. Lake Charles and Baton Rouge, Nagodoches and Nashville, all these towns and cities Williams name-checks and criss-crosses in her songs, they’re all in some gravel road dream of the past that her songs evoke with fondness but expose as nightmare. So many meaningless deaths at the ends of meaningless lives. So much promise cut short by pills and pathologies. The men, especially the Scorpios, assholes, put on pedestals by the women who worship them.
I saw Williams at the Palladium in 1988. The self-titled lp that restored her career had just come out. She opened for Pylon (who seemed hopelessly, joylessly self-important) with two accompanists: fiddle and guitar. Saying nothing, she stared at the ceiling for forty anxious minutes and vanished. Last night, still clearly in recovery from a stroke, she stayed on for one hour and forty-five minutes. And she spoke. A lot. The band standing around looking at the stage floor. Nervously, I thought of the onstage ungluing of Barbara Jean in Robert Altman’s Nashville. But this was healthy banter, comfortable conversation, warm and almost fuzzy. She talked about some of the men in her life, especially the Scorpios, the ones she used to call beautiful losers but who’ve been upgraded to beautiful misfits ("Hard to lose, but harder to live with," was how she put it). She talked about her father. She talked about the stroke. She talked about where songs come from.
Lucinda Williams is 70. Her audience is her age. A lot of big bellies, wide hips. A lot of men in baseball caps, several in cowboy hats. Gray hair, dyed hair, no hair, white hair. Her guitar player has white hair. She has white hair. And they all come from America, where they celebrate getting left behind together.
A couple of other things: from as far back as I can remember, Jim Jarmusch had white hair. I still love blues-based guitar solos. I prefer sturdy, enduring songs. The Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” is one, and that was Williams’s first encore.
Honored to have a new story up on the screens of Live Encounters. Many thanks, Mark Ulyseas!
Honored to have new work appear in the esteemed Beltway Poetry Quarterly. Many thanks to editors Indran Amirthanayagam and Sara Cahill and the BPQ team. "The Wall Meditations #3, 4, & 5" are part of a recurring sequence in Listening to Fish: meditations from the wet world (soon to be a collection). Earlier "Wall Meditations" appear in Lighthouse Weekly, and Live Encounters. To help save our friends the fish, and their homes, the coral reefs, you can do no better than to donate to the REEF Foundation.
11/11/2022 1 Comment
Honored to have new work appear in Live Encounters, Dec 2022. Many thanks, Mark Ulyseas, for including me in another killer issue. "Death, Sex, & Transition on the Coral Reef" is an excerpt from Listening to Fish: meditations from the wet world, a current project-in-progress involving processes of and perils facing the world's reefs as experienced through the lens of a diver, i.e. me.
Honored to have a new story in Tin Can Literary Review Vol 2 (reprinted below). There's an accompanying interview here: Haunted Waters Press.
In New York City, a lot can happen in fifteen minutes. But here’s a story about fifteen minutes when what should have happened didn’t.
I had this hat, see. A cap, actually. A gray Donegal tweed, kind of a newsboy’s cap I guess you’d call it, made in Ireland, land of the Celtic mystics. Jack Kerouac wore one on the cover of Scattered Poems. Maybe that’s what triggered the dream I had in which I wore one exactly like his. I woke up that morning with a purpose: acquire that hat. But in those years you couldn’t find a decent hat in New York City, you couldn’t find an indecent hat. So I saved up, and borrowed, and borrowed more, and used what I borrowed as collateral to borrow again, until I had enough money to fly to Ireland. I took Aer Lingus to Shannon. The guy seated next to me was Irish. He asked what I planned to do on my visit to his country. I was a bit wary about sharing with anyone that I was visiting their country to get a hat. It seemed at once twee and trivial—twee because the motivation to undertake so costly a journey for something as non-essential as a cap, triggered by a dream, no less, could appear foolishly whimsical, or whimsically foolish, something fucking Donovan might write a song about, and trivial in the sense that the entire sweep of the country’s history, culture, landscape, and people would appear as if it was of little to no interest to me. Joyce, Yeats, Cuchulain, and all I wanted was a cap. But I experienced that want with great urgency. I kept seeing images of Kerouac in his cap—the weathered cheeks, the searching eyes, a supplicant on the byways of spiritual fulfillment, which is how I’d appeared to myself in that dream: a lonesome pilgrim on a soulful mission, but a mission that couldn’t be fulfilled without the proper costume. I had another reason not to share the object of my quest. Given the scarcity of headwear for gentlemen, at least in New York City, I didn’t want to plant an urgent need in anyone else for gray Donegal tweed caps—there might be but a few left, and what if they ran out of my size? So I told my Irish seat-mate that I was visiting his country simply to hitchhike around, have a bit of a look-see, as it were. He said hitchhiking isn’t as easy as you might tink. I said, well, that’s not what I heard. He said, well, begging to differ, but you might, as an alternative, consider the trains. I thanked him for the tip, having neither the intention nor the money to take trains in Ireland or anywhere else for that matter. What else, he wondered, might I have planned? I said I thought I might go up to Belfast. Belfast, he said, why in the world would you visit Belfast? Do you have a side? I said not a side, as such, just an interest, really, a curiosity. He said, well, if I might, let me give you a piece of advice. No one’s interested in being the object of a stranger’s idle curiosity, and if you go up just to gawk at their troubles, they’ll want to know which side you’re on, and they’ll assume you have one because why else even bother entering a war zone, and if you deny having a side they’ll tink you’re a liar or a damn fool, and they’ve already got sufficient numbers of both running around, do you take my meaning? I thought, what am I, on Candid Camera? We hadn’t even reached Nova Scotia and this cocksucker was shooting down my whole trip. I wondered if I could change my seat. I said, take it easy, Paddy. If you want to know the truth, I’m going up to Donegal to get a cap, a gray tweed cap. A cap, he said. That’s about the stupidest ting I’ve ever heard. I said, yeah, I thought so too, but it came to me in a dream, and to me, I told him, dreams have more power than the most perfect equation in quantum physics. So if it’s all the same to you, I said, I’ll go the fuck up to Donegal or any other place I like for whatever goddamn reason. He said, take it easy, sonny, you’re misunderstanding my point. Fuck your point, I told him, and don’t call me sonny. Well, he said, snapping open his Irish Times, and you don’t call me Paddy.
We passed Greenland (I think—we flew at night, I was guestimating), and started curving south toward Shannon. We exchanged not another word, landed, took opposite sides on the luggage carousel, and when my bag came, I took it to the exit and went looking for a place to stick out my thumb. Half an hour went by, then another. A total of three cars, each giving me barely a glance. It seemed like the sonofabitch was right. In another half-hour, it started to drizzle. I thought, I’m not spending my visit to Ireland on the shoulder of the road, if you could call what I was standing on a shoulder, and in the goddamn rain to boot. I needed a hostel, or a train. I crossed the road and stuck out my thumb in the other direction, toward Limerick, which was close by. I’d always liked limericks. There was an old man on Aer Lingus, who acted like I was a dingus ... I got that far in under a minute, began working on the interior couplet, when a blue Volkswagen bug from the early 70s geared down and puttered to a stop. It was spooky to see the driver on the same side as me, watching through the sideview mirror. He wore a gray newsboy cap that looked at first glance a lot like the Kerouac cap. Already things were getting mystical. I reached the driver’s door all breathless, the window came down, and it’s the same sonofabitch from my flight.
He pointed back behind him and said, “You’re going the wrong way, sonny.”
Then he rolled up the window and puttered away.
But that’s not the fifteen minutes when something didn’t happen. That came later. First, I made my visit to Donegal, and I got my Donegal cap. I drank a few pints, spent a few nights in a hostel that smelled like dirty feet, forgot about Belfast, and flew home. The fifteen minutes happened when I took the subway downtown to catch a set of Mose Allison at the Bottom Line. I changed for the local at 14th Street, took a seat on a bench and flipped through a Village Voice. A few minutes later the Broadway #1 appeared, I hopped on, and as soon as the doors closed I realized I’d left my Donegal tweed cap on a bench. One stop down on Christopher, I squeezed through the doors, ran up to the street, crossed to the uptown side, and caught the next train north. A fool’s errand, I know. This was New York City. They’d steal the hat right off your head. Leave it on a bench, well, you’re giving it away. Back at 14th Street I didn’t even run. Why bother, what’s gone is gone. But when I arrived on the downtown platform, there it was, on the bench, sitting neatly on top of a folded copy of the Village Voice, which I’d also forgotten. And alongside the cap sat a fetching young woman with a short bob. She wore Thai fisherman pants, Addidas trainers, and a serape.
“Anyone forgets a cap like this,” she said, “they come back.”
Her name was Terre. She’d recently visited Ireland, too, with her sisters.
“What was the purpose of your trip?” I asked her.
She said, “The health food.”
“The health food?” I said.
“And strawberry apricot pie.”
I skipped the Mose Allison set. We went for tea in a café with a mezzanine window overlooking Greenwich Avenue. But I didn’t look at Greenwich Avenue, even with all the amazingly cool people passing by. I looked at Terre. We fell in love, or at least I did. I stayed glued to her side for close to two months. She looked so soulful playing guitar with my cap on her head, her fringe pinned to her eyebrows. Then she stopped returning my calls. Typically it took women two weeks to see through me, sometimes three. I credit all extra time to the cap, which I hope she still wears.
Getting over Terre wasn’t easy. I spent a lot of time at home behind drawn blinds. If I went out, it was to the Strand where I purchased books I’d add to the stacks of things I’d never read. One day I found a biography of Henry Miller. On the cover he wore a Borsalino fedora.
Honored to included on the screens of A River Sings (Indolent Books). Many thanks to editor Michael Broder. This "Underwater Haibun" is from the growing collection, Listening to Fish: meditations from the wet world. (Also from that collection, "Wall Meditations #1.")
Honored to have "The Wall Meditations #1" up on the screens of Lighthouse Weekly. It's from the ms-in-progress, Listening to Fish: meditations from the wet world, an essay-poem-cnf hybrid focused on the perils facing the coral reefs, their populations, and, by extension, everything else. More work from LtF appearing soon. Many thanks to the Lighthosue team, esp editors Caroline and Alice.
On Saturday, Sept 17, New York Writers Workshop launched a new series of readings at the utterly charming Underland Gallery, the vital nerve center of cultural activity in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn (conclusively supplanting Rocky & Nicky's Pizza on Colonial and Bay Ridge Ave.). Featured readers at the inaugural event were Ravi Shankar, Deedle Rodriguez-Tomlinson, and me. It was a night to remember, and to be repeated.
Honored to have this new work, "Blame It On My Youth," appear on the vaunted screens of Jerry Jazz Musician. Many thanks to editor Joe Maita and to the Jerry Jazz team. Thanks to Karrin Allyson for the haunted, deeply inhabited version of the song. And thanks to Oscar Levant/Edward Heyman for writing it.
I'm excited to be returning next month to Bonaire, an island I haven't visited in over twenty years. I'll be carrying along my new bible, Ned & Anna DeLoach's Reef Fish Behavior, a companion volume to the great set of fish, coral, and creature identification guides Ned DeLoach put together with the brilliant Paul Humann. There isn't much these people haven't seen, and photographed, underwater. The cover shot of this volume captures Butter Hamlets in a spawning clasp.
Much of the work that went into Reef Fish Behavior was conducted in Bonaire's waters, which have been protected as a marine reserve for over four decades. In that reserve, I'll be doing field work (diving, writing, photographing) for a project long in the works, a hybrid collection of poetry and prose called Listening to Fish. The idea is to listen closely to what fish and corals and reef creatures have to tell us about their imperiled environments. In particular, I'll be thinking about the health of the reefs today compared to what I recall from when I first began diving in the 1970s, when dropping down on a reef was like entering a psychedelic circus. Now, of course, many of the world’s reefs are desolate graveyards. I’m hoping conditions in Bonaire aren’t quite so bleak. And I hope whatever work I do can contribute to the preservation and restoration of what remains.
In the new collection, I’ll be including “Night Dive,” which originally appeared in the Tule Review back in 2015 (or thereabouts), and then in my book. I think its octopus will fit right in with the other creature encounters, and I hope I meet some of her grandchildren.
Once on a moonless night
I lost my companions.
Their beams were bright
but I’d edged over
an outcropping into
darkness and touched down softly
on a rubble ledge
where the wall pulsed
with half-hidden forms, eyes
on the ends of stalks,
spiny feelers testing the current,
in a blink,
spaghetti worms retracting.
So sadly familiar--
things I desire withdrawing,
I extend a hand.
The reef folding into itself
like a fist. Then,
from the stacks of plate coral,
the arm of an octopus slid,
and another, two more,
for my fingertips,
my palm. The soft sack
of the octopus followed,
the flesh of my wrist,
my arm. My heart
pounding. Turquoise pink
explosions rushing across
the octopus’s form. At my armpit,
she tucked in,
sliding her arms
around my neck
and shoulder, her skin
the blue and yellow
of my dive skin.
She stayed with me
such a short time,
those narrow slits,
heavy with trust,
and my breath
so calm, so easy.
banged on their tanks,
summoning me to ascend.
How we worry when one slides over
a ledge. How urgently
we admonish the lost ones
to turn back.
Honored to have work up at The Antonym: Bridge to Global Literature, and thrilled for another of the Parentheticals series to appear, this one "Parentheticals V: Nothing About Nothing." Many thanks to the editorial team, and especially to Bishnupriya Chowdhuri.
Honored to be included in this Father's Day suite of poems that includes giants like Kwame Dawes and Jacqueline Bishop. Many thanks to editor Ann-Margaret Lim for this opportunity to appear in the Jamaica Gleaner. The photo is of me and Dad, ca 1962, taken in either Queens or Brooklyn.
I was asked by publisher (and photographer) extraordinaire Mark Ulyseas to edit an issue of this very fine literary journal. This is the result (link takes you to my editorial for the issue, from which you can access the rest). I was honored to have been asked, and I'm thrilled by the outcome. Brilliant work by so many--too many to mention, so I'll confine my citations to one contribution, the debut publication of the extraordinarily gifted Rafael Fajer, whose creative nonfiction, Notes from the Borderline, will become one of the critical new additions to the literature of addiction.
Delighted to learn today from an inquisitive student that the title story of my collection is online. It first appeared on the screens of the late, lamented Medulla. Here it is, hosted by Literary Shanghai. I'm honored.
Luck of the English-Sicilian (Ethiopian-Coptic), I guess ... I was hoping this would have appeared by today. In its lieu, I'll provide this little teaser.
"I had this hat, see. A cap, actually. A gray Donegal tweed, kind of a newsboy’s cap I guess you’d call it, made in Ireland, land of the Celtic mystics. Jack Kerouac wore one on the cover of Scattered Poems. Maybe that’s what triggered the dream I had in which I wore one exactly like his. I woke up that morning with a purpose: acquire that hat. But in those years you couldn’t find a decent hat in New York City, you couldn’t find an indecent hat. So I saved up, and borrowed, and borrowed more, and used what I borrowed as collateral to borrow again, until I had enough money to fly to Ireland. I took Aer Lingus to Shannon. The guy seated next to me was Irish. He asked what I planned to do on my visit to his country."