Hold It All


Category: Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine

Like Staying up All Night with Your Best Friend

Allen Ginsberg, Allen Verbatim: Lectures on Poetry, Politics, Consciousness, edited by Gordon Ball

There are many influences that went into my creating Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, and Allen Ginsberg was a major one. Here are quotations from reading Allen Verbatim in 2006, with my comments relating to subsequent Dear Layla project in brackets…

So what I do is try to forget entirely about the whole world of art and just get directly to the most economical—that is, the fastest, not most economical—the fastest and most direct expression of want it is I got in heart-mind. 107 [The chapters in novel are certainly economical!]

Start with what you desire, heart, instead of what you think you are supposed to do. 124 [E. once told me after she received my correspondence, “That’s the best love letter I’ve ever received.” That became the end of the novel many years later.]

… in which the prose sentence is completely personal, comes from the writer’s own person—his person defined as his body, his breathing rhythm, his actual talk. 153 [This is why this book of correspondences worked best for me.] Read the rest of this entry »


To Contend, To Enliven, To Distance, To Advocate, To Investigate, To Rally, To Prioritize, To Surprise

I’ve read Anne Waldman since 2001 (Fast Speaking Woman: Chants and Essays got me started). Her epics, poems, interviews, and edited anthologies (from the Kerouac School at Naropa) have stimulate and open up possibilities. One of her most engaging books is OUTRIDER: Poems, Essays, Interviews. For you, friends in the writing sangha, I offer the following passages:  May one or more of these be a goad, an encouragement, an invitation.

Worry the essential library. Write what you would want to read. Utopian poetics, what you want to read. 15

A good idea: Contemplative education. Non-competitive education. 17

Maker of books she might be. Maker of schools. 23

Encourage street corner culture. What happens below the radar. 27

Nowhere to go again but the library. 29

To contend, to enliven, to distance, to advocate, to investigate, to rally, to prioritize, to surprise. 31

To vocalize. To mouth the impossible. 31

I have declared in one manifesto, a writing beyond gender, and have tried to inspire a poet’s Bodhisattva Vow, in which one becomes a bridge, a path, a shelter, whatever is required, for others. And one reads and studies and performs… for the benefit of others. 46 Read the rest of this entry »

Short, Savory, and Sound: Aitken’s Miniatures

In fall 2000 I first encountered Robert Aitken Roshi with his book, The Dragon Who Never Sleeps, a collection of scores of four-line poems, or gathas.  Nine years later, I read his Miniatures of a Zen Master, which served me as a model text —compressed, no excess verbiage, just the pith.  Among Aitken’s inspirations were Thoreau’s journals, and  Bashō and Kenkō’s prose works. In my journal, I wrote “Merge Aitken  with Galeano.  This is the path.  Write one book, 130 chapter titles….His table of contents is an inspiration, for a terse, spare next book.”

The result  several years later was  Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine.  While Aitken wrote in short paragraphs, I typically  composed in short stanzas: transfigured recollections, meditations, lists, stories I carried around for thirty years.  He was a beneficent influence in the generation and shaping of the novel.

Here are some of my favorite Aitken miniatures …


A lot of us start out on the practice because we don’t accept ourselves fully. Under good tutelage we find ourselves in a process of forgetting ourselves, and realize that this is really the way to uncover the unique one that has been there all along. Give the Tao a chance. Give yourself a chance. [17] Read the rest of this entry »

“The Hebrew socialist revolution against the fascist national Golgotha”*

Notes on Eliot Katz, The Poetry and Politics of Allen Ginsberg

Example of George Steiner’s championing learning by heart: Ginsberg knew  hundreds of poems from memory [20]

In Dear Layla and Book of Mev: The multiple instances of  Clara’s “beautiful friendship,” as in theme of interpersonal solidarity, Part 3 of Howl  [84]  Maria Goreth and the elderly, Nora’s letter, Teka’s eulogy, Carla and Perry,  Sabine and Danesha, Layla and Perry…

Book of Mev and Dear Layla: Hold it all, again—don’t have to choose one or other—realism or surrealism, narrative or anti-narrative, elevated diction or American speech; can embrace multiple interests and mix them in original, personal, and surprising ways.  [90]  Kerouac’s advice: “Something that you feel will find its own form.” Read the rest of this entry »

Slow Reading

A young friend decided to read
Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine
(Her family are refugees from there)

Most chapters are a page maybe two
She is reading two chapters a day
H. D. Thoreau said: “I have no time to be in a hurry”

When It Comes to My Novel, Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, Elie Wiesel Took the Words Right out of My Mouth

I no longer see literature as an art or entertainment. For me literature must fulfill a certain mission in categories of history and justice. Literature is the art of correcting injustices. If there is nothing else I can do, I write a book. This is precisely the task of the witness today, of the modern storyteller, of the Jewish writer. We use words to try to alter the course of events, to save people from humiliation or death.

–Elie Wiesel, Against Silence, edited by Irving Abrahamson, v. 3, p. 116

“I’ll Never Know, in the Silence You Don’t Know, You Must Go On, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On”

Working on a kind of sequel to Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, I am imagining a character named Bella Levenshteyn, who in her twenties devotes herself to learning Yiddish, the language of her ancestors.  At one point, she confides to Perry that she once went on a  five-week reading binge of the essays, poems, articles, and reviews by  Yankev Glatshteyn, the foremost U.S.Yiddish writer in the middle of the 20th century.

I’ve been reading several recent works of scholarship on that period, and found some stimulating provocations in Anita Norich’s work, Discovering Exile:  Yiddish and Jewish American Culture during the Holocaust.

The following  passages may inform, or work themselves—somehow— into my story.


People are quite familiar with the conventional label for the Nazi genocide of the Jews, “the Holocaust.”  Norich considers the period well before that word assumed its ascendancy: “Under increasing pressure of news from the war front and silence from home, Yiddish writers re-imagined modernism, the Enlightenment, political engagement, literary conventions, and symbolic language.  The destruction of European Jewry was called by its Yiddish name, khurbn, before it was known as the Holocaust, before the numbers of dead were revealed, even before the concentration camps were built. What Yiddish-speaking Jews meant by khurbn … was a long history of disasters into which the rise of Hitler, the Nuremberg Laws, Kristallnacht, and a host of other disastrous events could fit.  The particularities of Nazism’s rise were not, at the time, perceived as unique, unparalleled, or apocalyptic by the people against whom they were directed.” Read the rest of this entry »

What I Can Use: Notes on Waldman and Birman’s Civil Disobediences

“Emerson was not a systematic reader, but he had a genius for skimming and a comprehensive system for taking notes…. He read rapidly, looking for what he could use.” p. 67

“He read widely in every field that interested him and he was always pushing into new fields. He read, as he wrote, rapidly. He read actively, as a writer does, looking for what he could use.” p. 99

“Not only must one have the courage to appropriate freely whatever one recognizes as one’s own, one must have the much greater courage to resist and refuse everything that is not one’s own material.” 174

—Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire


29 January 2016 Notes from Anne Waldman and Lisa Birman, eds., Civil Disobediences: Poetics and Politics in Action

This work is helpful for re-looking at Dear Layla, ideas for classes, stimulus to various practices.

Dear Layla is, literally, specifically, “an essay.”  [What is his genre? —- “Treatise, memoir, travelogue, elegy, novel, dance of the dead… the books seem built of elements of all of these and of none.”  —Hunt, on Sebald, 394]

Dear Layla —“Sentiment at realizing you’ve arrived at the thing that will penetrate through  your own core to other people’s core, and do it through the real world. Describing the real world in such a way as to find the pattern of the real world.” —Ginsberg,  265

Dear Layla —“Writers and intellectuals bear great responsibility for this because if one gives up the right to narrate or intervene, both at home and in other parts of the world, that vacuum will be filled by the discourses of ‘experts.’” —Alcalay, 451

Dear Layla —“Invoke Investigative and Documentary Poetics. Know the score! Know the history!”  —Waldman, 329 Read the rest of this entry »

Thanks, Jack

I first read this in August 2005, a seed
Dear Layla came out in 2015, fruit

That is why I want to use short chapters, each with verselike heading, and very many such chapters; slowly, deeply, moodily unfolding the moody story and its long outreaching voyage into strange space. And to run up a pace of such short chapters till they are like a string of pearls. Not a river-like novel; but a novel like poetry, or rather, a narrative poem, an epos in mosaic, a Kind of Arabesque preoccupation…free to wander from the laws of the “novel” as laid down by Austens and Fieldings into an area of greater spiritual pith (which cannot be reached without this technical device, for me, anyway) where the Wm. Blakes and Melvilles and even spotty, short-chaptered Celine, dwell.

Jack Kerouac, Windblown World:Journals 1947-1951, edited by Douglas Brinkley

Reading Leads to Writing


Yesterday I was rereading Chilean poet Nicanor Parra’s After-Dinner Declarations, which I first read in 2013, and came across this page with my scribbles:


In Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, these scribbles became this chapter:

Postcard from Gaza/1

Dear Layla

I’d rather be preoccupied with your daily routine
Than be occupied with this occupation
At least for ten minutes

Write me when you have a second
Tell me the names of the bones I use
In the process of writing you this postcard

Doc Schimmel