Saturday, April 26, 2008
1) what are you reading?
Over the past three years or so I've come to accept that my earlier reading habits are no longer appropriate. The two major factors affecting my reading are: i) a full-time teaching job (with its own required reading - set texts, student essays, etc); ii) my children & other family commitments (reading time has to be budgeted). Gone are the days of aimless weekends, lulls in free-lance work, grant-assisted time in libraries.
The best model I've found derives from astronomy - writers and texts moving in orbits, creating periodic constellations. It's rare that I finish anything. Instead a book returns, offering a different facet, entering into a different alignment with another text.
Orbit A: (long periods of recurrence) The Odyssey, Pound's Cantos, Moby Dick, Blake, Emily Dickinson, Joseph Cornell
Orbit B: (shorter periods of recurrence) Peter Gizzi, Lisa Jarnot, Graham Foust, Cathy Wagner, Sean Bonney etc.
Orbit C: Berrigan, O'Hara, Notley, Ashbery, Coolidge, Schuyler, Mayer, Guest, Padgett, Ceravolo ...
Orbit D: Creeley, Olson, WCW, H.D., Zukofsky, Oppen, Duncan, Stein, W. Stevens
orbiting satellites, as, for instance, around the Cantos - Bunting, Guy Davenport, Hugh Kenner; around Dickinson - Susan Howe
2) how/where do you read?
- first thing, 6.30am, often astonished how lines jump out and establish a frame for the day
- workdays - snatches between classes or during breaks - often online poems accessed via Blogs or journals. Often I simply have a book with me - a totem object of sorts. Knowing it is there helps. (O'Hara's copy of Reverdy in his pocket?)
- weekends/holidays - the garden if possible - reading Duncan & H.D & Barbara Guest last summer outside in the sun was wonderful. If not, our bedroom or the girls' room (velux windows are conducive to expansive thinking?)
- work evenings - possibly after everything else but essay marking saps the spirit.
- before bed - some incredible dreams provoked by reading certain poems
- on the way to/back from work - sadly impossible (driving)
- trains - ideal
- planes - too terrified
- bike - too dangerous
- walking - too much of a pose (and hazardous)
3) specifically in terms of poetry
- how do you approach a new volume/new poet?
- how do you read a poet?
I, too, share a kind of reluctance - worried it/he/she won't live up to expectations. Depending on the time of year (and the volume) i) a saturation job - intense devotion to that text, one poem dictates the day, plenty of notebooking, excerpting of key lines, plunging into related material such as letters, biographies, etc; ii) a dipping into - certain poems read and re-read; iii) a departure from - the book sends me off in search of something else. On occasions a new writer/new book is entirely skipped over as I've jumped ahead or back; iv) total bafflement or frustration - I can't find anything to latch onto and am filled with feelings of inadequacy (I very rarely blame the text - it's my failing). I then read around trying to find some kind of 'way in'. If all else fails, I leave the volume - only to find some months later I return to it and certain poems now 'speak'.
In addition, I try to source statements by the writer, photos, mp3s. The text acquires further dimensions.
Now and again, I'll even try out a text in a class.
Best of all, I start writing off a text. (Is this the best reading of all?)
4) again, specifically in terms of poetry ... are you reading
- major publisher volumes?
- online texts?
I feel I have to correct a possible misunderstanding - I really don't go for sumptuous limited editions. One of my main gripes about a lot of contemporary French poetry you see in bookshops here and in Paris is that whiff of aristocratic belle lettrism. Yes, I have some first ed. Raworths etc but they were lucky finds and working against connoisseurship as such. And my chapbooks are all via Alan Halsey & Peter Riley at 3 pounds or less - simple fold and staple jobs. It's the hand-produced or small press 'feel' I go for. Somehow it seems truer to intent (as, for instance, that Evan Parker/Derek Bailey CD - terrific original LP liner notes and images).
Magazines: Chicago Review, Fence, LRB. NYRB, PN Review, Modern Painters, The Wire - and anything else I can access for free on the computer (Jacket is great).
5) right now who are your 3 (or 6, or 12) key poets?
Peter Gizzi, Robert Duncan, Graham Foust, then Zukofsky, Pound, Oppen, then Dickinson. In any order. And with several other people intervening.
6) same as 5 - but other than poets?
Right now ... Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Pierre Hadot; Deleuze on Nietszche; Carol Klein on growing vegetables; sci-fi (Ballard, Dick, Arthur C. Clarke); kids books (H-C Andersen, George Macdonald, Lauren Child, etc); A.N. Whitehead (stalled); Wittgenstein (stalled); Gnostic texts.
And a further category:
7) reading in dreams. Maybe once every couple of months a dream in which I read a manuscript or notebook page containing fascinating work - the text being shown by some writer or a 'possessor'/guardian figure. Needless to say, on waking the writing is impossible to recall.
Is there some guiding logic to all this? Who knows?