Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: World Literature

The Best Minds of My Generation: For Rob Trousdale and Lindsey Trout Hughes

Re: Allen Ginsberg, The Best Minds of My Generation:A Literary History  of the Beats, edited by Bill Morgan

Dear Rob and Lindsey,

I’m grateful to you both for sharing your writing  with me and through me, to others—may these poems and pieces continue to animate  “Mayahana bodhisattvic compassionate empathy” (A. Ginsberg) in the years to come, ever reverberating through world wide web.

I recently finished Allen’s personal history of  his generation of writing comrades put together from his lectures at Naropa and Brooklyn College. I particularly enjoyed the many chapters on jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso, and want to share with you some passages that may offer you stimulation/encouragement/anamnesis for your own writing practice.

As prof, his method was “to read from the texts, read my favorite fragments or things that were important to us as a group at the time. Big sentences that knocked everybody out, that turned everybody on…. [the] gists [that were] historical epiphanies for us.” [11] Lindsey, as actor, think of the tens of thousands of lines you learned for your roles—you could regale us with  so many that would knock us out.

In commenting on Kerouac’s first novel, Ginsberg observed, “I think Kerouac was reading The Brothers Karamazov at the time, and so divided himself up somewhat similarly into Dostoevsky’s characters.”  I’m currently editing 400+ pages of manuscript material and find myself doing something similar.  [93]

Maybe you both have your versions of Kerouac’s scribbling away in notebooks: “These little notebooks provided raw materials of two kinds: diaristic details, like a reporter’s notes, about events at hand and an endless retracing in memory of all the events in his life, reaching back to his earliest childhood memories in Lowell.” [266]  I never tire of mentioning the exuberant text along these lines, Joe Brainard’s I Remember. Read the rest of this entry »

Lexical Luxury

Take such words as “A poor man.” How many expressions are there in English for poor? You can say: “a poor man, a pauper, a beggar, a mendicant, a panhandler,” and this exhausts all that can be said about it. But in Yiddish you can say: “A poor schlemiel, a begging schlimazel, a pauper with dimples, a schnorrer multiplied by eight, a schlepper by the grace of God, an alms collector with a mission, a delegate from the Holy Land, a messenger from a Yeshiva, a miracle worker without a following, a Rabbi without a congregation, a poorhouse resident, a hungerman, a flying wanderer, a warden for his own needs, a squire with a hole, a barefoot count, an owner of a cabbage head, a bag carrier, a house-to-house visitor, dressed in seven coats of poverty, a crumb-catcher, a bone-picker, a plate licker, a daily observer of the Yom Kippur fast,” and more.

–Isaac Bashevis Singer, quoted in Florence Noiville’s Isaac B. Singer: A Life, p.86.

 

–Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary, edited by Gitil Schaechter-Viswanath and Paul Glasser

Learning by Heart, the Joy of Music, and the Power of the Prophetic

Dear Lauren,

I received your letter today about the online Good News class and your hand-written adaptation of Kipling’s famous poem. The fact that you have had “If” as a companion in your work and life at Casa Maria Catholic Worker reminds me of a short book I recently read. It’s titled, A Long Saturday, and it’s a translation of a series of interviews from French between  journalist Laure Adler and literary critic George Steiner.

Steiner was born in 1929. His father had the prescience to move his family out of Europe by 1940, thus escaping the Nazi juggernaut. He went to New York where his teachers included the noted Thomist philosopher Etienne Gilson (whom Dorothy Day probably read at some point!). He later studied at the University of Chicago, was a Rhodes Scholar, worked for The Economist awhile, then joined Princeton’s Center for Advanced Studies. He’s been at various elite universities for decades and published many books (on topics like Antigone, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, translation, Homer). His contemporaries include Elie Wiesel and Noam Chomsky, and I’ve learned a lot from all three. Read the rest of this entry »

The Endless Net

Ten years ago, I read Eliot Weinberger’s anthology, World Beat: International Poetry Now (New Directions, 2006). Looking back, I’m grateful, because that volume (re)introduced me to Israeli Aharon Shabtai, Iraqi Dunya Mikhail, and Chilean Nicanor Parra, all of whom I have read over and over since then. I encourage anyone to read Mikhail’s “The War Works Hard,” Shabtai’s “As We Were Marching,” and Parra’s “Seven Voluntary Labors and One Seditious Act.” In his introduction, Weinberger offers a sobering yet hopeful case for us engaging poets outside the U.S.: “All translation sends the essential message that one’s own culture is not enough, and that the way to avoid intellectual stagnation is to learn from other ways of thinking about, perceiving, luxuriating and despairing in the world. This book appears at a moment when the United States is particularly self-absorbed. Less than a fifth of its citizens have passports; a third of its high school students can find the Pacific Ocean on a world map; its rulers dream without embarrassment of a global empire. Poetry, though not the salvation of the world, presents a small alternate model: an endless net of individual dialogues between writers, and between writers and readers, regardless of governments, nations, and communal identities. Its books are a way out of one’s world and a way into the world at large.” Twenty years ago, I received a doctorate from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. I rarely read theologians these days, and I eagerly take joy and refuge in the poets. Weinberger’s books helped facilitate this shift for me.

 

Eliot Weinberger

The Good News of the Barakats, 4.6.2017

Last night, Sharifa Barakat and I had dinner at Central Cafe (along with Imman Musa and Dania Saffaf Atienza).  Sarah Dwidar introduced me to Sharifa her freshman year at SLU on  sunny day on West Pine.  Later, she took a Social Justice  class with me, and we were part of SLU Solidarity with Palestine.  I have long been impressed with her humor,  love of literature, and keen sense  of responsibility.

After dinner, we walked to Left Bank Books to hear author Ibtisam Barakat (no relation to Sharifa) share her philosophy and read from her new book, Balcony on the Moon: Coming of Age in Palestine.  Someone asked her a question about the political solution to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian people, culture, and land, and she said point-blank, there’s no solution politically, there can only be a “soul-lution.”  Accordingly, her contribution is to tell the story of her life as a Palestinian in Palestine and the Diaspora.  She has  published two books so far, and she mentioned at least three others to come, insha’allah.

I was struck by Ibtisam’s clarity, calm, and compassion. Her presence is her message.

It was an intense, gentle, and inspiring evening.

Note to Cami on Reznikoff

I read Reznikoff in summer of 2010
As much as I could find

Used, at Amazon
By him, about him

I like his spare style
That was the year

I was generating a piece a day
For my project that later

Became Dear Layla
So he influenced me

Toward that spareness
Most chapters very short

To the point
Like the one on p. 123

Reading influences writing!

–9.27.2015

 

The Good News of Translation, 3.17.2017

Opera excepted, I never asked myself, in those early years of reading literature in translation, what I was missing. It was as if I felt it were my job, as a passionate reader, to see through the faults or limitations of a translation–as one sees through (or looks past) the scratches on a bad print of a beloved old film one is seeing once again. Translations were a gift, for which I would always be grateful. What–rather, who–would I be without Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and Chekhov?

–Susan Sontag, At the Same Time: Essays & Speeches

 

The Good News, 3.8.2017

I once asked Mayuko and Minami (both in my fall 8 a.m. MWF Humanities class) if they had heard of Sei Shōnagon (清少納言). Of course they had!  They had read her years ago in school.  I only recently made acquaintance with SS through Meredith  McKinney’s translation for Penguin.

Reading her renowned Pillow Book, I thought of Allen Ginsberg’s maxim, “If we don’t show anyone, we’re free to write anything”:  

At times I am beside myself with exasperation at everything, and temporarily inclined to feel I’d simply be better off dead, or am longing to just go away somewhere, anywhere, then if I happen to come by some lovely white paper for everyday use and a good writing brush, or white decorated paper or Michinoku paper, I’m immensely cheered, and find myself thinking I might perhaps be able to go on living for a while longer after all.  212 Read the rest of this entry »

The Good News, 3.7.2017

The  Good News is the radiance, wit, resilience, and hard-won wisdom of Elizabeth Quiros, with whom I was reunited today at RISE. I wonder: how many Share the Wealth evenings can she animate? How many books shall we read?  How much soul-sharing will ensue?

A More Lively Mode

I read James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson in the summer of 1999. At the time I was gathering materials for what eventually became The Book of Mev.  The following passage from Boswell left its mark on me in that project…

Wherever narrative is necessary to explain, connect, and supply, I furnish it to the best of my abilities; but in the chronological series of Johnson’s life, which I trace as distinctly as I can, year by year, I produce, wherever it is in my power, his own minutes, letters, or conversation, being convinced that this mode is more lively, and will make my readers better acquainted with him, than even most of those were who actually knew him, but could know him only partially; whereas there is here an accumulation of intelligence from various points, by which is character is more fully understood and illustrated.