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Recent Woodburners for 2003

 

WOODBURNERS WE RECOMMEND ~ Summer 2002

Reviews by Bob Arnold

 

I'M DONE HERE: In memory of Philip Whalen who died in San Francisco on June 26, 2002. Poet. Many hands removed early news to the woods here reports that he wished to be laid out on a bed of strawberries. If that happens, I love the world.

 

UPDATE, RE. PHILIP WHALEN: We just heard from the Bay Area after mailing out backwoods logic on the death of a very fine poet and how he wished to be laid at rest on a bed of strawberries. This was the information we had at the time. Wrong you hicks! From San Francisco-- unidentified person, came this email whisper: "raspberries... a bed of frozen raspberries." Nothing more but the stars above.

 


 

In the 70s we began "Woodburners", all on mimeo, as part of each Longhouse issue--back then also called Our Poets Workshop, Workshop, Poets Who Sleep and Scout. Something is nudging me to get this going again.

 

*** Books may be found on our web site ~ www.longhousepoetry.com/cats.html


HANK JONES can do no wrong. Even better when he sets-up with two angels like Charlie Haden and Cheick-Tidiane Seck for two separate recordings: Steal Away, spirituals, hymns and folk songs (w/Haden on the Verve label), and Sarala (w/Seck on Gitanes). When next in a record store wondering why, this is why.

 

A HISTORY OF BOMBING, Sven Lindqvist (New Press, 2001): Just the book for Attilla the Hun and Gandhi when they get together to decide what to read in their reading group. Translated from the Swedish, Lindqvist has to be one of the last patriots of common sense on the planet. A remarkable survey of aerial bombing starting outside Tripoli in 1911 straight through the hell of two world wars and just missing September 11th but certainly a prophecy ridge line is here. Weaving military history with popular literature (Wylie, Sturgeon, Heinlein and others) and just-the-facts-mame international law. The cruelty inflicted on civilians better burn a hole into you. This is the total war.

 

*** THE MYSTICAL EXERCYCLE, Gerald Locklin (The Chuckwagon, 2001). Gerald Locklin is some character and he hasn't lost a step in 30 years of writing poems mainly from his Southern California perch. From that school of poetry that I-can-make-anything-fascinating (and funny), he does. His family and friends might think him now a bird brain, all his readers have become accustomed to his attachment to Bukowski-- whether good or bad is how you butter your bread--I always thought for the good. And there were many other fine poets from that era and hygiene, you know. Locklin makes a smart poem, all sizes. The book is handsome as the devil and pocket size. I just love the name of the press, too. (for the devoted: look for old issues of Poetry Now, Vagabond, spirits here or gone: William Wantling, Al Purdy, A.D. Winans, Steve Richmond, John Bennett, Ron Koetrge...I'm going off the top of my head)

 

CAROLEE SCHNEEMANN, Imaging Her Erotics, (MIT Press, 2002) Hands down this is the book on Carolee Schneemann. Don't hesitate. Essays, interviews, projects, loaded for bear, chock full of visuals, you won't be the same after this. Three cheers for that certain someones at MIT Press who have provided that opportunity to be knocked off your feet in a bookstore finding such courageous books. Jed Rasula and Steve McCaffery's Imagining Language was yet another stunner.

 

MICRO FICTION edited by Jerome Stern (Norton 1996): I missed this one until yesterday for $2 on the bottom shelf of a favorite used bookshop. That tiny, just begging to be pulled out of pesky and long forgotten anthologies. Harry Humes, Joy Williams, Russell Edson, Marilyn Chin, Ron Carlson, Michael Martone, David Bottoms, Padgett Powell, Sam Shepard and others come along for the ride. I haven't even read it yet but the editor's photograph has just that look. All submissions had to be under 250 words. Fifteen years ago the same bemused editor initiated a best short short story contest. The winner received a check and a crate of oranges from Florida. This book won't fail.

 

WYETH PEOPLE, Gene Logsdon (Taylor,1988) Another one of those books I read about years ago, never could find (before the Internet easy street) and forgot about until yesterday in that same used bookstore. See why it is a favorite? I automatically like everything Gene Logsdon writes. He brings a personalized intelligence to all his choices. Come on!--a portrait of Andrew Wyeth (hardly a common fellow) as seen by his friends and neighbors (common as all of us). It's fly-on-the-wall city. Done with Logsdon care. Your anti-tell book. And a very moving, spare biography. With photographs.

 

KAREN DALTON, IT'S SO HARD TO TELL WHO'S GOING TO LOVE THE BEST (Koch 1997). You're going to pass up a recording with that title? Harvey Brooks on bass. Back cover photograph of Dylan and Fred Neil with Karen Dalton who plays 12 string guitar and banjo on these 10 songs. A music store friend had this on one morning early before anything was cranked up. I walked around in a flashback haze of remembering that voice from somewhere, in another world and time, but timeless. Nothing for the radio, MTV, the silly grammy awards but oh what a world if she had a chance. Things have never been better since I first heard Rev. Gary Davis sing Harlem Street Singer in a long gone record shop that was once a pool hall. Not until, of course, hearing Karen Dalton again. That worn flesh smooth hardwood floor of the pool hall.

 

JASPER JOHNS, ALMOST: if you're in the area (but really don't come): a few easy rolling miles off The Mohawk Trail in western Massachusetts, on the Shelburne/Colrain town line going past the orchards and some homes tucked away here and there, on the rise of a steep pasture still with snow, there's the American flag. Jasper Johns style. Lit brilliant and bold as heck right after dark by these ingenuous tubes of red white blue lights. It must be over 20 feet wide. Just up there. Some farmer's field. A scar from a backhoe ditch well buried electric line. Someone went to an awful lot of trouble. It glows. Right after September 11th.

 

JIM DODGE, Rain on the River (Grove 2002) I haven't been this excited buying a Grove Press book since the Barney Rossett heyday. It's been a long time.I met Jim Dodge once when he came to Vermont to read along with Gary Snyder, an exciting tandem. Dodge appeared just like his endearing book FUP, a regular guy. Good face, humor around it, lots of the unspoken. This book of selected poems and short prose is the real article of wit, brotherhood, family love. and lavishingly landscaped from the Pacific Rim. For those that need the quick hardy har-har go immediately to the story "Bathing Joe". For lovers, take anything else.

 

*** BILL DEEMER, Variations (Longhouse 1999) I wouldn't be an American if I didn't do a little self-promotion. In that tricky vein of remembering just what it was like when you first read a Richard Brautigan poem during that time (50s-60s) or a Philip Whalen poem, or in further time a Louis Jenkins poem, and now Jim Dodge poem, and Eileen Myles poem, that flash. Never take a flash lightly. Bill Deemer is our Han-Shan and has lived for decades in a quiet corner of Oregon making these well-built poems of flash. There is nothing like them any where. Bill doesn't talk to us anymore since we did this book and had to raise the price a few dollars. I wouldn't want it any other way. It's a Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea sort of thing. We hand-made this book of hand-made poems.

 

BEST LPS OUT OF THE DOLLAR BIN: I don't like these things unless someone is going to be straight and list their titles, semi-duds & all: gone are the days of finding Robbie Basho, Sun Ra and early Townes Van Zandt on a great music store dollar wall, so be content with:Ballad of the Blues, Jo Stafford (Columbia), Emerald Tears, Dave Holland (ECM, bless them), Who's Gonna Save the World, Cindy Lee Berryhill (Rhino), Big Science, Laurie Anderson (Warner), A Peddlers Pack, colonial songs sung by Jim Douglas (Folkways), Sings the Blues, Clifton Chenier (Arhoolie), The Three Sisters: Peggy Seeger with Barbara and Penny Seeger (Prestige), I Too Have Seen the Woods, Kid Creole and the Coconuts (Sire), Some American Folk Songs Like They Used To , John Koerner (Sweet Jane Limited). The last two are real favorites and no one wants to take me seriously when I ask more about Kid Creole. Like I missed the joke. Like I missed all of this time and disco and the best of funk while building stonewalls all around Vermont. Anyway, this roundup was over one week's time far from any city life. Spider John Koerner will be everlasting.

 

SHUFFLE BOIL #1, winter 2002, edited by David Meltzer & Steve Dickison: the idea for this modest looking magazine is to shuffle in poets and other artists who pay attention to music, and musicians who dip into poetry and such for nourishment to come together, and yes, boil. And for this premiere issue they do just that. Nothing like two editors who stand behind their words. Come and hear/read Clark Coolidge with Brubeck drummer Joe Dodge, George Herms get two pages on Sonny Stitt, Fairuz is here, Steve Lacy, Monk Monk Monk permeates, an insert feature of poems by Jack Hirschman which you will want to read aloud, a remembrance of Jeanne Lee (thank you Steve Dickison), many reviews, poems by Thurston Moore, Bill Berkson, one of the Gizzis, quotes, drawings, photographs, and they even go out of their way (and I think it will be a habit) of paying tributes to 'unknowns'like Arthur Prysock and Joe Meek. This is the magazine you've been waiting for at $12 for 3 issues. Write 'em: 1605 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA. 94703

 

*** ALEC FINLAY (editor) The Libraries of Thought & Imagination, an anthology of books and bookshelves. Alec Finley doesn't fool around because he is too busy fooling around with ideas. He has a little band of co-conspirators over in Scotland and they do what the Shuffleboilers are doing in Berkeley: make things that are great to get in the mail or find by chance. The Libraries searches the globe to net a compendium of writing and artist projects inspired by books, bibliophilia and libraries and there is no way you will be prepared for what turns up. The layout is dashing, illustrations deeply toned, and the range of contributors will knock your socks off. A visual feast; you won't know whether to look at it or read it first. pocketbooks, Canongate Venture (5), New Street, Edinburgh, Scotland EH8 8BH

 

THE TINY BOOK OF TINY HOUSES, Lester Walker (Overlook Press, 1993) Exactly the same size as Alec's book above and I admit I have a quick attraction to books that come in this delightfully trim fashion. And this one is done exactly right on the subject: pretty as a tea cup but slam bang functionally brilliant surveying all sorts of ingenuous structures from Thoreau and George Bernard Shaw's huts, to a dune shack, ice-fishing shanty, rolling home, Cape Cod cottage, to the campground cottages of Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard: if you've ever been there to see these you'll appreciate this. And it doesn't stop there since the author is an architect who knows every builder loves his drawings: each unit is crisply described and with a thumbnail sketch or two in case you get it in your head (you will) to build one of your own. There is a more expansive edition of this book but I can't keep the littler one out of my hands.

 

PETER GURALNICK: do you want to know what kind of consumer I am? I buy about anything Peter Guralnick puts his name to. Well over 20 years ago I was a long drive down from Vermont at one of the Barnes & Noble downtown Boston stores. Back in the day of their "a buck a book" wall display. Many treasures. There was something else going on in the store where John Havlicek was there to sign his new book and being an old Celtic fan I should have gone. But I got caught on a sale table with this newcomer Peter Guralnick's Lost Highway and couldn't move: pages and pages on Sleepy LaBeef, Charlie Rich...and all written with this letter-from-home care. And Guralnick does it every time whether a miniature CD liner notes or his Elvis masterpiece. That day in the store there was a browser across from me who might have picked up my stuck in the mud bemusement whether to stand there all day and read all the book, or buy it. Glasses and tousled hair this elf whispered, "Go ahead, buy it". And so I did. And five other copies I found stuck around the joint. Later on I had another glimpse of the author's photograph and quickly noticed the encouraging elf looked an awful lot like Guralnick. Would he have done that to me?...he lived in the area. What Gurlanick has gone on to do is edit DA CAPO BEST MUSIC WRITING 2000: that year's finest writing on rock, pop, jazz, country but no classical. This is a tremendous series. The next year was edited by Nick Hornby and it's a toss-up which one is better. Forget it, you can't put these books down. Everything from the Shaggs to Billy Strayhorn.

 

BEST BOOK DEAL OF THE YEAR (Cloth): The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernandez, edited by Ted Genoways with a foreword by Robert Bly, bilingual, University of Chicago Press, $25 for a solid hardcover of some of the most tender and riveting poetry ever written on social injustice, war and an early death. Annotated throughout as an illuminating biography all its own. A miserable curd by the name of Franco sentenced Hernandez to death, as Stalin killed Mandelstam, and the US war machine is without a doubt killing voices now. The most comprehensive collection of Miguel Hernandez to date. The photographs included are a peek into heaven.

 

BEST BOOK DEAL OF THE YEAR (paper): Rolf Jacobsen, The Roads Have Come to an End Now (Copper Canyon, 2001), another Robert Bly connection and simply a coincidence but he has had his hand in on many excellent poets over decades, joined here with translators Roger Greenwald and Robert Hedin. They all know a thing or two about poetry. Important. This honed beauty sets up like a stone wall 50 years of work, plus his final poems that will really melt you down. Norwegian. The spaces. And the guy really loved his wife.

 

ALLEN GINSBERG: everybody who knew him has a piece of him. Some make it unbearably known. Others, like a close friend of the family, who knew him since she was a teenage poet, has planted a tree to AG down the backslope of her rocky rubble yard. She had to find and bring in by hand enough topsoil to do it right. That's just the nurturing and quiet we now need after all the noise and on going industry of Beats now a half century old at least. I'm prone to recommend something before HOWL but if you're young, you'd best go read this first. We all did. Then go with everyone else and find Family Business, selected letters between a father and son. The father is Louis (a poet, read him too or you are not getting the whole Ginsberg scene) and the son is AG and what a caring and patient son he is. A role model. One can't help but think of Nietzche's happy is the poor soul who harbors within himself not just one immortal soul but a thousand moral souls. One library presented Ginsberg a million or so dollars for his literary archives just before his death and it may as well been a zillion dollars. Thee shuffleboiler of the last 50 years whether in Europe, Asia, his tiny apartment or tiny farm,with all those cool dudes at Naropa, with Dylan at the start of Don't Look Back, and where I like to remember him the best smack dab on American television debating William F Buckley or instigating Laos heroin conspiracy thoughts with Mike Douglas or Dick Cavett, singing with harmonium on prime time tv in rumpled suitcoat, old white jeans, and always always always moving an idea or a plan with that scholarly beatific power of wisdom. Straight into American homes. And it's all in these letters. His father loved him without a doubt. Editor Michael Schumacher guide-posts the reader along the way with sharp annotations and a compadre's spirit.

 

FILM PICKS: and I'm just a guy going to matinees (only) with my little family in small towns where we can find them: Amelie, Under the Sand, Monster's Ball, Gosford Park, Amores Perros, Iris (where Iris Murdoch plays Judi Dench--or is it the other way around? that good), missed Mulholland Drive, so far. Wish I had missed A Beautiful Mind. As to video: go kill yourself with Klimov's Come and See (Russian). The antiwar film of antiwar films. Then bring yourself back to trashy fun in Joy Ride with Steve Zahn.


 

Part 2: Woodburners We Recommend/Spring 2002/from Longhouse Publishers & Booksellers

These are times when even a masochist must cry out --Jack Smith

 

SCHOENBERG: illustrated some by musical examples throughout the text, for the non-musician, this book wraps around an involvement that just may make you want to understand more than you think you may want know about Arnold Schoenberg. Allen Shawn's Arnold Schoenberg's Journey (Farrar 2002) is an immensely attractive appreciation through a series of linked essays, asides and photographs showcasing a Schoenberg portrait in music, painting and relations. Webern is here. Exotic Vienna is a backdrop. Stravinsky and S. stopped talking from 1912 on; all classical composers can be a touchy bunch. Some were also shrimps: Schoenberg, Webern, Stravinsky, Mahler, Schubert were all under five feet four inches tall. The author draws sympathy to this "being short" by describing its highlights of the short person "aspiring upward generally" and of being "shrewd judges of proportions and measurements". It's all here in this wise and concise portrait study since the author is an exploratory and imaginative five foot/two.

 

 

THE BOOK OF 101 BOOKS, Andrew Roth (PPP Editions 2001) This is the killer of all photography books because it attempts to broadcast and describe 101 of the seminal photographic books of the Twentieth Century, so you soak into many photographs of everything all at once. And about everyone has shown up: from Edward S. Curtis North American Indian sepia tones to David LaChapelle's camp and celebrity fetishism; plus Paul Strand, Doris Ullman, Man Ray, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Harry Callahan, Warhol, Danny Lyon, Larry Clark, Diane Arbus, Michael Lesy, W. Eugene Smith, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Allen Ginsberg, Bill Burke, Weegee...but I'm already missing Dennis Hopper; and how in the world did Cindy Sherman miss this one? She is everywhere else. It may be adequately all explained in the introduction but I've skipped that the past few times paging through this expensive book in bookstores. The photographs just pull you along, which is the point. Then I found a copy in our local library and have been dying to immerse but now I'm wondering if I need to own this beauty? I think so. It's built like a Mercedes and absolute care went into the book production. A must.

 

 

DAVID IGNATOW never wrote a clunker. There are a few poets still alive that can also say that--never a dull book, but Ignatow had a way to write book after book, mostly published from Wesleyan, of modest size poems, prose poems and a pretty much forgotten memoir, that never fail from catching me by surprise. And I like to read Ignatow, and I do anyway because someone is always bringing his name up which then heads me back to all the books. Shadowing the Ground (Wesleyan 1991) was one of his last I had missed. So spare are the poems that the poet is content to let each poem go with only a number for a title. Quite Dickinson. "I must train myself to no longer exist", Ignatow offers in one of the last poems of the book after taking the reader on a no frills passage of what it must be like to die with your eyes open. But since "The world is so difficult to give up" we are gifted with this fine book of poems by someone who just couldn't miss seeing, and writing down, what is haunting that was once loving. Don't think glum here, think a whittler busy with his hands.

 

 

MORE MUSIC: I've lost my place where I was between the last piece and now having put on a record called Harmonites International Steel Orchestra, the deans of Antigua, flipping through about everything from the Blue Danube Waltz to Scott Joplin and a mindset taking one to never neverland in spunky Calypso beat. So where was I? It was on the idea of those songs that can start off the morning. Horribly personal, you understand. But I've always liked the way Brian Wilson's two daughters had that unison memory as almost a shriek remembering just what song their father played every morning over & over & over again (daughters eyes rolling in disbelief) "Don't Worry Baby" --which just happens to be my favorite Beach Boys song-- and to get a real feel for those that suffer under the law of a music junkie, take a week and play that song every morning. I dare you. Three other ones I've been doing lately Steve Young's, "Little Birdie" (others leave the room), David Blue's, "These 23 Days in September" (which only gets better with time), and my favorite version of "Summertime" --at the moment-- by The Zombies. That breathless, open ended high sky vocal ascent. Funny how it didn't mean much to me when it came out in 1965. Hazel Dickens is always a eye opener for those early hours as well.

 

JACK SMITH, Wait For Me At the Bottom of the Pool, edited by J. Hoberman and Edward Leffingwell (High Risk, 1997): I feel like this book was missed and so throw it a line, since one doesn't get out of 60s American cinema without passing through both The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and Jack Smith. Smith was filmmaker, ultra performer, and jack of many trades. This collection offers the writings & drawings of Jack Smith as edited by one of the best film critics in America today, J. Hoberman. My copy is a used edition that was underlined by an eager Smith oriented soul. Let me share some of the lined passages as a way to describe one other reader's interest, Smith, and a time refusing to die: the essentially visual nature of movies / the mystery of the human presence / exotic beauty and flamboyant self-promotion than any discernible acting talent/Trash / a city organized around a giant junkyard. 'I think this center of unused objects and unwanted objects would become a center of intellectual activity. Things would grow up around it'/Exotic/ Moldy/Pasty/pasty normal/Superstar/mynah birds/Lobster/A bad actor is rich, unique, idiosyncratic, revealing/The more rules broken the more enriched becomes the activity.

 

ANTLER, The Selected Poems (Soft Skull 2000) with one of the better covers to come with a poetry book in a long while, from Spencer Tunick"s "Scopes" Series. Antler (Brad Burdick) showed up at age 23 in August Derleth's NEW POETRY OUT OF WISCONSIN--which I just happen to own and won't part with--along with James Bertolino, John Judson, Felix Pollak and Lorine Niedecker in those clannish pages of Wisconsin lore. Back then Antler wrote of father loss and ice boat adventures in the wild and though neither poem make it into this collection, he has never lost it. His Ginsberg blessed "Factory" is here complete in all its urban wilderness; so too boy love, girl love, star gazing, eco-warrior, planetary earthbound epiphanies. You never once have to wonder where this poet stands. Camp out with him in the poem "Pussysmell Candlelight", you'll see. Or abide by the charm of "Babyteeth Necklace", a poem we first published and that was the last time we heard from Antler for awhile. He's out there somewhere, thank goodness. Writing just the poems they teach you--with diligence--NOT to write. Go find this shooting-star.

 

THE RAW AND THE COOKED, JIM HARRISON (Grove, 2001)This is my favorite Jim Harrison book because of all the author's guilty pleasures, which makes it such a good time to read. One almost gets greasy fingers reading this book. You used to hike amongst Hemingway's upper Michigan in Harrison's fine poems and it is a testament to this writer that he still writes fine poems in a day and age when most everyone else of his ilk (successful novelist) are jet-setting around on a publicist's play list of appearances, writing screenplays for Hollywood, hobnobbing with the rich and famous but then Harrison has already done all that and still written sensible poems after Ikkyu. The one time editor of Sumac (along with Dan Gerber) used to look awful good naked slipped into a pair of overalls leaning against a sodden horse pastured together somewhere as an author's photograph. He's written many feral novels that a million male wannabes would kill to have written. And there's another million that collect his books real seriously. But I get the sense Harrison is happiest as a roving gourmand like his only literary counterpart, A. J. Liebling; both gorgeous stylists with insatiable appetites. Of course they both had trouble being fatsos. No one can write about hiking four hours in the mountains and then sitting and feasting with relish on one hard-boiled egg with a one-ounce bottle of Tabasco, and an orange for dessert quite like Jim Harrison. There was a time I subscribed to Esquire just for his monthly column about eating up life, and much of it has ended up right in this crock pot of a book.

 

FOLLOW THE MUSIC, Jac Holzman and Gavan Daws (First Media 2000) Jac Holzman started his own record label at age nineteen and ended up with 500 albums and a lot of stories to tell between recording everyone from Jean Ritchie to Queen. This one-of-a-kind oral autobiography of sorts puts it all together for less than twenty-bucks in a sturdy gate-fold softcover that packs along a commemorative CD sampler. It's really too good to be true. The layout is fresh and a photographic feast of album jackets, personalities, and an unwinding, frank saga about the music industry circa 1951-1973, which some might consider the last of the glory days. For those that care, Elektra was the label with the sitting folksinger or multicolored butterfly. There's a well researched discography included to walk you through all the albums you bought, or may have missed. All stops were pulled for this beauty.

 

*** PAUL WILLIAMS, Back to the Miracle Factory (Forge, 2002) I found this book in the same bookstore where I came across the Jac Holzman a year earlier and I tip my cap to the adventurous book-buyer who works for that store. It's just so much easier not to stock these original monsters of an individual bent. Paul Williams has his own history and anyone involved with popular music knows it--Crawdaddy since 1966, and with an unusual and blessed talent at closing the gap between the professional critic (like himself) and the swaying, blissed-out listener (like himself) and in this one he has finally gone and done it. A heavy-duty lover of anything Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, Smokey Robinson, Beach Boys, R.E.M., Neil Young, but I hate to pigeon-hole him because you won't. These are all names and means to get his mind thinking elsewhere. Not since Lester Bangs have I read a book that physically feels like I was reading/listening/shouting above the music, one to another, in the beginning spin of a mosh pit. Definitely take the ride.

 

*** No Vision Will Tell, Scott Watson (Bookgirl 2002) When he is gentle and spacious--as he often is in these poems--you see all sides to Scott Watson. I read this book one morning sitting by the woodstove without a care in the world. That was a momentary balance because of who-knows-what and this book that already looks fine just flipping the pages forward and back and not even reading. You know when 100 selected poems are set up just right. After the squall/every/thing/in/drops. Scott Watson is an American who has lived and taught in Japan these last many years. It hasn't been lost on him.

 

GREG BROWN, Over and Under (Trailer Records,2000, CD) The native Iowan's best album to date, and not on the Red House label. The songs aren't as pretty as the other albums but they are truer, rougher, rockier, pathetically strong & tender songs, and one gets the feeling that this is the album Brown always wanted to make, co-produced with Bo Ramsey. With a crackerjack backup band.It must be the stuff he plays when he gets back home from touring. In with the home crowd. The songs, Fairfield and Your Town Now could just as well be national anthems for any town trying to keep its face and dignity. I bet Woody Guthrie would have liked these.

 

DINAH WASHINGTON, What A Diff'rence A Day Makes! (Verve, 2000) Somedays,like today, Dinah Washington could sound like the greatest singer that ever lived. Recorded three years before her untimely death in 1962, these 15 standards are played with Kenny Burrell, Joe Zawinul, Jerome Richardson, Milt Hinton and with that rapturous Washington way of wrapping up each song as all hers. Fills a room on reissued CD. Or open the door, and take it outside, like I did.

 

BACKWOODS BROADSIDES (edited by Sylvester Pollet, 963 Winkumpaugh Rd., Ellsworth, ME 04605-9529): a chaplet series, meaning a fold-out of 8 x ll sheet on fine stock paper and every choice an interesting one, and that means every one up to 67 issues and counting. Good track record. Latest contributors include Nicole Brossard, Osip Mandelstam, Jennifer Moxley...these just came to me in the morning mail from friend Greg Joly and I had already received the same from Backwoods a day or so ago. So you see, the attractive issues are meant to get around. $10 for 8 issues per year--$1 for any back issue-- one of the best poetry deals going.

 

AFRICAN AMERICAN WRITERS, portraits and visions by Lynda Koolish (U Press of Mississippi, 2001) As handsome as Christopher Felver's portraits in The Poet Exposed, and with a resounding clarity, this gallery of sixty black and white photographs is thirty years work by this accomplished photographer who also lays in excellent biographical essays for each author. A few folks are missing--where is Ted Joans, Jay Wright and Jayne Cortez?--there's always somebody missing in action. This is a landmark volume. It's good to see long time struggler John A. Williams peering out from the pages.

 

FOLK'S MISSING LINK (Dave Van Ronk) by Gene Santoro (The Nation, April 22, 2002 issue) Many thanks to Santoro for this nutshell appreciation to the late great. And for the quote of Van Ronk reflecting on Newport Folk Festival and such, "Put yourself in my position, or any singer's position: How would you like to sing for 15,000 people with frisbees?" Farewell, for now, wisdom songster.

 

GEORGE OPPEN, New Collected Poems (New Directions, 2002) To see this book on display, amongst the European modern giants with recent collected poems like Montale and Milosz, put a thrill in the heart to once again see an American poet that means a great deal to many of us. And the right people are behind this book: Eliot Weinberger writes a personal scope, while Michael Davidson edits and guides, and there is some guiding to be done through a slush pile of selected unpublished and uncollected published poems that are steered to the rear of the book. One gets an immediate impression leafing through this section that George Oppen knew very well then and there what worked and what didn't. After all, he was a carpenter and furniture maker, small boat builder and sailor; there's a sense just looking at his hard scrabble old age face that this guy had been through some shit..unless you're an academic, why diddle with mostly a reject pile? Its value is as a full resource but the notes for the poems are more important, a few vivacious photographs, and of course the poems are burned into place. I recommend skipping everything-- preface, introduction, formal thankyous, don't peek back at the notes, nothing. Just read the poems start to finish and be alone with the language and event. Then go back and learn about this poet who wrote "I am a man of the Thirties" and what that entailed. Starting a press (To Publishers). A soldier at The Battle of the Bulge. Winning the Pulitzer Prize (there was a window there when some unique & struggling poets earned it). Communist Party. Mexico. Political refugee. The jacket painting for the book is by Mary Oppen, love of the poet's life since age 18. Whether you enjoy the tale of their horse & buggy tour through France, or sailing a small boat past the Great Lakes and into Lake Erie, drifting out into the Hudson River and New York City, you have to know you can't wait to read this poet's work.

 

A WAD OF BOOKS: Books of poetry I haven't been able to quite put up on the shelf because I keep looking back into each: Winter Morning Walks (Carnegie Mellon, 2000) by Ted Kooser: while recovering from a bout with cancer Kooser began writing poems each day on a postcard and sending each one along to Jim Harrison; the poems often sparked on his before dawn country road walks. Screw-driver simple, you'll be reaching for these again & again. Mysteries of Small Houses (Penguin, 1998) by Alice Notley: I just like the way Alice Notley thinks, always have. This collection lets loose. Honest renderings. And some of the best post Vietnam poems brought back home. Ted Berrigan also moves through this house. Laugh At the End of the World (BOA, 2000) by Bill Knott: will someone wake up and finally do a Collected Knott? Uncompromisingly original and just begging for a big sprawling nutcase masterpiece. Most of his contemporaries have learned from him. These are the comic poems between 1969-1999. Laugh out loud if you must. Old Taoist (Columbia, 2000) by Stephen Addiss & Jonathan Chaves: poems and biography of 'the last firefly' Fukuda Kodojin (1865-1944), with a treasure trove of poems, art and calligraphy. Taoist influenced poems to the bone in both Chinese and Japanese poetic traditions. Highly attractive edition. Unlocking the Exits (Coffee House,1999) by Eliot Katz: a poet who worked for years as a housing advocate for homeless families and probably one of the more exciting poets I've read in years. Mongrel tough & sweet. As if Phil Ochs never died, or Whitman. That good. Nanao or Never, edited by Gary Lawless (Blackberry 2000) short essays, poems, appreciations, photographs by many poets & friends who clearly show they love to be with Nanao Sakaki--poet, earth wanderer, and maybe one of the last of the human beings. Should be required reading in all schools, everywhere. *** Home and Clotheslines` (both Abrams 1999, 2001) I really like what Stan & Jan Tymorek do with anthologies--combining poetry with art work and photography, and for once it fools the coffee table book crowd because they are in for excellent poetry without any hint of in-school connections. One gets the mutual feeling editor Tymorek chose poems from the heart. Reasonably priced by Abrams with their signature well-built quality. Selected Letters, Charles Olson (U California 2000) edited by scholar Ralph Maud who has been all over Olson since they met in the early 60s. He's the guy. This is the book we've been waiting for and it reads exceptionally well as part biography and a continuation of the Olson oeuvre. For the university price, photographs should have been included, since this poet moved in fascinating circles. A must. Plus: House Organ (1250 Belle Ave., Lakewood, Ohio 44107) editor Kenneth Warren has an excellent and smart as a whip long essay review stretching over a few issues on these letters and everything Olson. Poets galore also comes with each issue. It's snappy and easily sent through the mail. Best 'last words' by Fielding Dawson were in a recent issue. The Century of Artists' Books, Johanna Drucker (Granary 1995) This book has been out awhile but nothing beats it. An exhilarating source book on the development of artists' books as a 20th c. art form. No stone seems left unturned. Well illustrated in typical Granary fashion, which we have come to expect but are still pleasantly surprised each time. The titles from this press just leap off the shelf either for subject matter, attractive appearance or bold infectious spirit to all things good. Their anthology for The Angel Hair years of Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh is yet a recent example. Sidewalk (Farrar, 1999) by Mitchell Duneier: you just want to shake the hand to the one responsible for this book about Greenwich Village street vendors selling secondhand goods, hawking for spare change, and rummaging up books and magazines to sell left out for recycling. The author spent five years, often with photographer Ovie Carter, meeting and working with bigger than life figures last seen chiding with you on the sidewalk or setting up shop. It includes a "Who's Who on the Sidewalk" and a down and dirty thoughtful text. A must. Why Read the Classics? (Pantheon 1999), Italo Calvino: only a fool passes this book up--Calvino on The Odyssey, Galileo, Flaubert, Ponge, Borges, Queneau, Montale's cliffs, the artichoke, knowledge as dust-cloud in Stendhal...need I go on?-- mesmerizing cosmological range. He should have lived forever. Nature Writing (Norton, 2002), edited by Robert Finch and John Elder: what happens when a Middlebury College influence and a Cape Codder get together to edit a book, pretty good things. This door stopper size book (well over 1000 pages) should be picked up from the floor from time to time to reread classic chestnuts from American and English-speaking worlds, updated to include newer voices but somehow still missing Jaime deAngulo and Harlan Hubbard. An unwielding subject that is tough to harness but still a few literary wild types, well-respected, and reflective trail-blazers have made it to this same watering hole. Sacagawea's Nickname (New York Review of Books, 2001) Larry McMurtry: very few in recent times write about the love of books and the American West quite like McMurtry. One imagines this young looking Sam Bottoms sort of kid being pushed around by rural Texan ways and all along just wanting to be holding a book by Angie Debo--she wrote the magnificent The Road to Disappearance and is one of many literary and landscape love affairs McMurtry maintains to this day. Over the last few years he has been on a roll producing these nutshell size gems of travel, booklore, and wide open places. Think of these as an excellent continuation after Lawrence Clark Powell. How Buildings Learn (Viking 1994) by Stewart Brand: one of my all time favorite books from the wizard of The Whole Earth Catalog and multiple computer savvy-- this book remains one of the best on the subject of what happens to buildings after they are built: from the structure to how one occupies and refines the said place. Lavish layout. Unique reports from the field. Goes places no other book on architecture thought to go. Should be sold at the counter of every hardware store. Shearsman 50, spring 2002 edited by Tony Frazer (58 Velwell Rd., Exeter EX4 4LD, England/www.shearsman.co.uk) Tony's always neat and quite attractive magazine has now reached its 50th issue with poems by Andrew Duncan, Charles Hadfield, Gary Hotham, David Miller, John Muckle, Geoffrey Squires and prose by Martin Anderson. Plus bite-size filling reviews. There was no extra fuss made for the half-century mark, so we will. Internationally scoped, but quite often bridging fine poetry between England and America. It is about to launch its availability in both printed and electronic formats. Rivendell (PO Box 9594, Asheville, NC. 28815/www.greenmanwalking.com : $10 per issue) edited by Sebastian Matthews, is a new journal that is focusing on a specific place for each issue--pairing a community with shared sensibilities and seeing what cooks. Issue #1 "City of Angels" all deals with artists & writers that live in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains such as Wanda Coleman, Dick Barnes, Peter Harris, Barry Sanders and much more. A blast from the past tiny tribute to Wallace Berman. A very handsome issue. I know for a fact the editors are roaming around New England high & low for the next issue. So watch your back.

-- Bob Arnold

 

 

Part 3: Woodburners We Recommend/Spring 2002/from Longhouse Publishers & Booksellers:

since in northern New England, in May, it is still cool enough early morning and late at night to have a woodfire

 

POETS ON THE PEAKS, text and photographs by John Suiter (Counterpoint 2002) In "scriptural time" Jesus had his 40 days in the wilderness; Buddha sat 49 days beneath the Bo Tree; Thoreau paddled Walden Pond, built his thrifty hut with three chairs and was often seen hiking home to mother for dinner. The cover photograph for this book is a gloriously clear one of Sourdough Mountain Lookout, circa 1998. A wildly romantic notion was in the heads of poets Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and Jack Kerouac who once upon a time in the 50s headed up into the North Cascades to sit as fire lookouts in structures the US Forest Service built between the late 20s and early 30s. It is now legend that Snyder stood 10 feet tall at this life and remains that height in this book. Sort of a mini biography of Snyder throughout with deep passages at his pals Whalen and Kerouac who did okay at this sort of thing--provided Whalen had his satchel of complete Shakespeare and reading Chaucer in Middle English, and Kerouac enough tobacco. Hats should be off to Suiter for researching closely with all living participants, making his own trek to mountain tops and snapping photographs that brings it all back home.The text is likewise clear as a bell. This book will catch you by the heart when seen in book shop windows.

 

 

FINN WILCOX, Nine Flower Mountain (Tangram 2002), Finn Wilcox is a poet I wish more knew and there is no better welcoming than this exquisite book of poems Finn made while on his trip 'tramping through the southern sacred mountains of China.' All part of a larger work in progress but this one will fill your weeks with repeated readings. Tangram compliments every inch of the poems with all the right touches of splendid paper,format size, type, even a simple as hell way of highlighting the cover title. Finn does the rest with humor, feet on the path, stranger in a strange land satori. The irreplaceables Li Po and Robert Sund are respectfully behind the title of the book and illustration. Get going because only 150 were printed. Craftsman Jerry Reddan is sole proprietor at Tangram: 1639 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA. 94703

 

 

DONALD PHELPS, Reading the Funnies (Fantagraphics Books, 2001) Yes, the same Donald Phelps who edited the important FOR NOW magazine and wrote the zesty book of essays Covering Ground has worked the last 30 years on this book of essays on comic strips and you may as well have asked the grand wizard to take a swipe at the subject at how nourishing this really is. With no holds barred illustrations given over by the publisher. Fielding Dawson chopped in an introduction, then Phelps made sure Dick Tracy, Popeye, Peter Rabbit, The Bungles, the gang from Out of Our Way, Gasoline Alley, Little Jimmy, Major Hopple, Little Annie and the one-of-a-kind-world of B. Kliban show up. A must reading for those that think comics started with R. Crumb and Spiegleman and they'd probably be the first to agree. Phelps always rolled up his sleeves when he came to his essays. Don't miss this one.

 

 

DECCA From the Vaults, Country Classics 1934-1973 (MCA 1994) a 3-CD boxset gemstone to find stuffed on a store shelf between expendables and just the ticket for the redneck and religious graces in you. No one has yet figured out where the name "Decca" originated but one thought has it taken from the vast topographical region that makes up most of India called the Deccan Plateau. In the late 20s when the Decca Record Company was launched in Great Britain, the shellac that was a chief ingredient for how phonograph records were made, was drawn from resources in India. The Depression contributed to desperate business jugglings between British and American interests in securing the rights of popular music hits that eventually wound up in America in 1934 as Decca Records. The rest of the story is generally regarded as hillbilly heaven for the next forty years as Decca connected strings from swing bands to Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells and Owen Bradley--best known as the father of the Nashville Sound. This is the cream of the crop on 3 CDs that could have easily been four. Ride down the road smoothly, windows open, with Webb Pierce, Jimmy Martin, Patsy Cline, Jack Greene, Loretta Lynn, Marty Robbins and others. Red Sovine's If Jesus Came To Your House is sure to send a recitational chill up your spine.

 

 

*** JOHN MARTONE: It's time to say three-cheers to John Martone, father of two daughters, Illinois "Apt. B"  house dweller where we have exchanged back and forth for many years now handmade booklets of poetry of many sizes and shapes and often overlapping joyously the same poets & friends, tiny book implosions of John's own from dappled garden paths to Vietnam sojourns, to his forthcoming editing of New York City's own angel Frank Samperi (due from Station Hill this year) and his years of what must have reached to 100 publications, easily, from his tel-let: individual homemade booklets, magazine issues nabbing poets world wide, one of the few editors left that drives a stagecoach through the poetic plain: booklets arrive in the mail/not on a screen (heavens to betsy!) and you can go off to a favorite tree and sit underneath and waste away an afternoon reading. And if you think that's being romantic, well then go fuck yourself. John could use a little TLC, a little extra dough if you have any to help tel-let along: send what you can with that degree of the kindness of strangers to: 325 W. Tyler, Charleston, IL. 61920       and I'm sure John will send in return poetry by either an Enslin, Baker, Seligson, Miller, Corman, McLaughlin, Rosenow, Perlman, Grumman, Eigner, Giannini, Cutts, Joly, Greene, to make your day. Most issues are very limited and may already be long out of print. Check Longhouse, we have some. But John's still working away; on a Stefan Hyner book so I hear.

 

 

Just when the poetry section of your local bookstore is starting to look much too pretty with all the same size books and always the same names, comes an old standby in flashy clothes to beat 'em all out--boy wonder Arthur Rimbaud in Wyatt Mason's RIMBAUD COMPLETE, 600 pages soaking wet from Modern Library (2002) cloth sewn edition at $25. Championed as the first and only truly complete edition in English, it maps a vivid choreography of the poet's work gathering up the very latest in manuscript scholarship, unpublished work, early draft of A Season in Hell (time to go there again?), multiple versions, uncollected works and over 200 pages of the same provided in French. At the same price as four hungry workers going to MacDonalds for lunch. A bargain. It's here in one package: mystic boy wanderer meets admirable scholarship. After awhile it may make you scream to grab that old New Directions favorite copy of Illuminations and be content (you should) but this book will be right next to it on the shelf. A keeper.

 

 

LANDSCAPE DESIGN, Elizabeth Barlow Rogers (Abrams 2001) a cultural and architectural history and at $75 I read a library copy. It's huge and dense and quite formal and skilled with over 600 illustrations and a massive unit of full color plates. The real mccoy in other words, and wishing not to leave any stone untouched from mossy Kyoto gardens to embroidered French chateaus to hunched stone national park shelters to caught in hell downtown Wichita and all much dedicated to the author's appreciation to the men and women "who built and rebuilt Central Park". Robert Olmstead lurks everywhere in the shadows, as he should. Same with Petrarch, same with the power & glory of empires; Delphi to the new metropolis. Pick your own paradise. Poets should go immediately to pages 497-498 for a taste-and-see of Ian Hamilton Finlay's Little Sparta and further to Maya Ying Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and my hat is off to any art historian who ends a seminal text on a final illustration from a mobile home with garden in tiny Pecos, New Mexico.

 

 

HOTTER THAN A PEPPER SPROUT: in this day & age of relentless hype and fear factor terrorism, it's been worthwhile to return to more Americana, and where better than a relisten to Nancy & Lee (Reprise lp). That's Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood, singing and talking their way in husky bass and smooth daddy waves through songs "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'", "I've Been Down So Long (it looks like up to me)", Lady Bird", and of course "Jackson". Such clarity and schmaltz, makes all this fuss over Wilco's latest and Lamchop appear so, um, pretentious? Hit Nancy and Lee, do up a Mancini martini of film soundtracks (Peter Gunn can still rivet you across the room), Bachrach naturally, Vikki Carr (who shows up by name in the best brief second in the film Vanilla Sky) and a play over and over from a few songs from Cassandra Wilson's new one Belly of the Sun (Blue Note) where she has the good guts to do a Jimmy Webb masterpiece "Wichita Lineman" that may finally put Glen Campbell's to rest. Some of this album was recorded in Clarksdale, Mississippi--in a train depot, even in a boxcar--and whatever else it takes these days to be down right natural.

 

-- Bob Arnold

 

 

Part 4: Woodburners We Recommend/Spring 2002/from Longhouse Publishers & Booksellers:

 

 

Ah your face / but it's whether / you can keep me warm --Lorine Niedecker

 

 

MINESHAFT, ed. Everett Rand (16 Johnson Pasture Dr. Guilford, Vt. 05301) You would think two guys that live in the same small, rural town would have run into one another by now. From home I can look across the river slip and up over hillside to where I snowshoe winters and just about see Johnson Pasture, where Everett hangs out, plans another Mineshaft and now at issue #8, octopus-eye cover by Jorin Ostroska and back cover art by R. Crumb who is given a bunch of pages inside the issue along with more & ever more from Irving Stettner, mutual pal to all Tommy Trantino, Darlene Fife, Michael Basinski, Bryan Fortey, Ronnie Burk collages, photo essay visit to Joyce Ulysses locations, back woods ink sketch by Robert Volckens, poems of Neva Cavataio and Robert Head, prose by Everett and little stab connections to Bukowski, Crumb, Chaplin and a Paul Bowles talk via Ira Cohen. I don't care what anyone says, this is a fun-loving editor! 3 issues for $12. Can be found in all family bookstores from City Lights east to Ecstatic Yod Collective.

 

 

*** MICHAEL CASEY, Obscenities (Carnegie-Mellon 2002) Still one of the best books of poems that came home from Vietnam in a rucksack, Casey was an MP on duty in the Quang Ngai Provence early 1970s.  First issued in yellow paperback by Yale in their Younger Series series and chosen by Stanley Kunitz, there isn't an inch of workshop, academic prettying-up or infiltration by anything more than Casey's terrific ear for speech and keeping these poems in their place. A living classic then unbeknownst to itself. Just imagine a young man just graduated from Kerouac's hometown Lowell Technological Institute and soon after patrolling 30 miles of Vietnamese National Highway One and sending back  "letters" (like these poems)  home to any brother. Straight talk. Slam bang companion for Michael Herr's Dispatches. Casey would wait, oh, 24 years! before his second book of poems and do much the same for mill town work and life in his Millrat (Adastra Press, 1996). Someone should really grab Mike and do an expanded edition of poems from the mill.

 

 

THE GREAT AMERICAN PAPERBACK (Collectors Press, 2001) If you have only a fleeting interest in old time paperbacks you will want to at least page this beauty in your favorite bookstore nook, or borrow a few weeks from the local library. If your interest is greater, than don't delay purchase because author Richard A. Lupoff is a monster on the subject of all corners Penguin, Fawcett, Ballantine, Avon, Bantam, Signet, Popular Library, Dell, sleaze, cult, sci-fi, sex, and a number of classy voyeuristic lures in over 600 cover illustrations. All laid out on bright glossy paper stock that highlights the covers magnificently but makes it a chore to slog through the author's beneficial text. It must have been designed by the antitext savants who issue CDs these days? Each book is well attended by citations of publisher, date, cover artists (much of a collector's draw) and a scale evaluation for collectibility. All with a nice touch to it. You might see that a few of the prized books have already passed through your hands.

 

 

EDWARD ABBEY: tell-all books are often to be avoided--those hatchet jobs or sugar-coated miseries by former husbands or wives, daughters and sons, former mistress, distant relations, a cranky neighbor. But let's think of the exceptions to the rule: Levon Helm on The Band and all things Robbie Robertson in This Wheels On Fire single handily buries most popular music biographies, along with Nick Tosche's on Dean Martin, Dino, which is just as much growing up in America just before and a long time after the bomb fell. For city/country boys Edward Hoagland's Compass Points is actually breath taking in its skill and range of writing about one's self. For real backcountry critters you have to read Doug Peacock's Grizzly Years, Richard Nelson's The Island Within and most recently Hayden Carruth's all-things-horrible & sweet Reluctantly: precious few poets have been quite able to describe as well as Hayden just how living in the country isn't all peaches & cream. A year may go by and you come to realize you haven't looked up from your work of scrabbling by. So now we come to ADVENTURES WITH ED (U/New Mexico Press 2002) a portrait of Edward Abbey by drinking, hiking, monkey-wrench cohort Jack Loeffler. Abbey on cover with big cigar and that faraway look. Yes, it could easily be an all cock and balls nightmare. But instead it is an absolute testament of respect and religion all points desert Southwest, the struggles of a literary and environmental visionary (see Desert Solitaire, pronto) and all told with Loeffler's steady gaze as if warning the reader, now, are you ready for this one?  A beautiful book, never bashful at either bashing or adoring its subject with earnest and Loeffler should be known with his own equal parts free spirit. This is the first book to be put on the shelf along with Abbey's own books. One has the sneaky feeling, without Loeffler, an important character or two would have been missing from one of Abbey's novels. The account of stealing Abbey's dying body from the hospital and bringing it home to a secret location in the desert rivals anything from traipsing Boswell & Johnson.

 

*** EARTH FIRST! one side note, for anyone who wishes to attach to more Abbey and cohorts, background, and whatever "off the grid" is supposed to mean: read Susan Zakin's COYOTES AND TOWN DOGS  (Viking 1993). I read it so long ago but the excitement hasn't rubbed off on the personal and philosophical portrait of the environmental movement. Naturally no photographs are provided of any rascals. The author modestly and with a wink dedicates the book to Jack Burns, fictional hero to both Abbey's novel The Brave Cowboy and Kirk Douglas film Lonely Are the Brave. I trusted Zakin's story from that moment on. An entrenched chapter on Pynchon's Vineland country and those places where road signs are torn down and you-can't-get-there-from-here. A book that should be piped into all high-school civic classes, at least.

 

 

UNCOMMON NATURE (Wood Thrush Books, 85 Aldis St., St. Albans, VT. 05478): emerging literature of the wild. Wood Thrush Books is a tidy operation run by editor Walt McLaughlin who has a hankering at finding many of the quieter woodsy voices in poetry and prose drawn from  small presses and little magazines. McLaughlin, Martha Zweig, Joe Napora, Walt Franklin, Steve Lewandowski, Kimberly Berg and many others come to the circle. Wood Thrush also distributes many fine books from its modest catalog of gleaned items by Leonard Cirino,  Rob Faivre, Howard Nelson...much work goes into running a tiny book outlet dealing with near extinct lifestyle and customs. The editor claims his "goal is to amaze the reader"--what more do you need? Write 'em for a catalog. The anthology can be had postpaid at $11.

 

 

THE GRANITE KISS (Countryman 2001) by Kevin Gardner. I've laid stone walls a long time for a living but have never heard this term "the granite kiss" though I certainly know it--"that inevitable experience in stone work when a fingertip or two fails to escape the contact point between two large stones on the occasion of their first meeting". In other words, it hurts.  Some stone books concentrate on areas California, Kentucky, wild rock regions of old Europe, and every region has its own setup, rock and terminology. Gardner is a stone builder himself, knuckling in on traditions and techniques of building New England stone walls and along the way he makes a very handy book, stylish notebook in size, with companionable illustrations, good ear glossary and bibliography to take you further afield. Many stone books are either cut and dry boring or else monumental testimonies loading up a trophy home coffee table. I still like Curtis P. Field's very practical The Forgotten Art of Building a Stone Wall (Yankee) which has the old guy budging rock no one should think of moving. Nothing fancy pants about it, good photographs and the few tools required. The bible of just looking over stone remains The Rock is My Home by Werner Blaser and nearly an impossible book to find.  The Granite Kiss  takes one by the hand down the garden path of getting started with stone--fitting, structure, rhythm, design, plus the never ending hobby for a stone builder of restoration and repair. Being a worker raised in a small family New Hampshire business of stone wallers Gardner's writing and duty habits are impeccable, mixing a good deal of common sense with local and literary side lines. Plus, he knows to dedicates the book to his mother.

 

 

PHIL OCHS isn't the only Ochs name in music but in these times of needing a true arbitrator, he's truly missed. His brother Michael Ochs has been at work as long and still going and his book CLASSIC ROCK COVERS (Taschen 2001) comes in two versions--the sensible and handy but not nearly satisfying selected edition of a few hundred lp covers spanning through the decades 1950-1990, or else the mother lode complete edition of 1,000 lp covers in unwielding chunky size softcover bursting at the seams. What else would one expect from a collector and music historian who established the Michael Ochs Archive in Venice, CA. gathering up his own 100,000 albums and over one million photographs. Many of the reissue CDs and rock, blues, soul books on the market today are drawn from these archives. The author's own story and addiction to such is a delight, starting off with childhood years as a record thief to later heading the publicity departments of ABC, Columbia and Shelter Records in the 60s-70s. Somebody had to believe in all this with a good degree of passion and preserve. No one better than Michael Ochs. The text is in English, German and French.

 

 

NICOLAI FECHIN: Fechin: The Builder by Eya Fechin (Fechin Art Reproductions,1997: PO Box 220, San Cristobal, NM 87564): Russian craftsman Nicolai Fechin was born in Kazan in 1881 and died in America in 1955 having lived a life as an artist on both continents. The house that he built in Taos, New Mexico of sculptured doors, columns, stairways and furniture is celebrated in this well illustrated book as a builder who when finishing off a room, and the light was good, he painted. When the light failed he worked as a carpenter, carver and sculptor. The days were full. Fechin's background in Leningrad's art academy was a discipline of each student learning as much about architecture and the human anatomy as those specializing in the fields. Not exactly something brought up at Home Depot these days. This is a book for anyone who appreciates what is built well with simple elegance. Nonbuilders be invited.

 

 

JOE BRAINARD: when he stopped painting for good he read Victorian and other novels by the hundreds, went at his own speed, graced the lower East Side poetry bunch of the 60s with all the delight of his drawings, collages, assemblages and paintings, wrote his legendary memoir I Remember (which should be heard on recording in straight ahead delivery by Brainard) and sadly died a little after the age of 50. Joe Brainard, a retrospective by Constance M Lewallen (Univ. of Calif Press & Granary 2001) returns Brainard in a stunning document/part biography and gaze into the inventive and varied art works. With essays by John Ashbery and Carter Ratcliff. The artist's still life flowers always make me think of a James Schyuler poem. The layout of photographs of Brainard, the art work, interviews, visitation by friends/poets and sketches makes a wholesome presence. The many cover illustrations the artist prepared for poets' books through the years would make another nifty retrospective all its own. He could have his photograph taken on some rusty fire escape probably in New York City, glasses taken off for the shot, tie and sweater, clean jeans, white socks and sneakers with kid size laces and bows. What a guy.

 

 

EZRA AND DOROTHY POUND: Letters in Captivity 1945-1946 (Oxford 1999) by Omar Pound and Robert Spoo: from the poet who wrote "Quite simply: I want a new civilization" comes the correspondence Pound held with the only person he was allowed to write while incarcerated at the end of World War II and indicted for treason, his wife Dorothy Pound. Fascinating, almost day by day letters between partners, while the poet is confined in a U.S. Army detention camp outside Pisa--often for weeks at a time struggling for his health in open air cages--and all along productive as hell on his Pisan Cantos and the translations of Confucius. With photographs of solitary cells and cages as recently seen being rebuilt elsewhere today. Pound remains the poet many just can't agree upon. The best kind. Essential reading.

 

D.A. LEVY: always known best as d.a. levy, The Buddhist Third Class Junkmail Oracle, the art and poetry of d.a. levy (Seven Stories Press, 1999) is edited with an investigative essay by Mike Golden determined to get to the bottom of just who killed d.a. levy, or was he in fact a suicide? One thing is sure, levy remains eternally young and sneering in this marvelous assemblage of his poetry, collages, artwork. The title is taken from one of levy's many small press magazines and publications along with Seven Flowers Press and Marrahwanna Quarterly where he drew in many of the early works of cult heroes and outlaws in his role as enfant terrible of the Midwest. Many hundred levy fascimiles have risen since his death in hot year 1968--one of the charms of his dynamics--but they all age gracefully now. From the grave--and the likes of this excellent collection--levy remains more than with us kicking & screaming, having never-ever left. i am dead / i am lost in the land of the / pharaohs along the endless nile

 

 

LORINE NIEDECKER  Collected Works (Univ. of Calif. Press, 2002) edited by Jenny Penberthy and of course it is about time a woman showed us all how to do a man's job. And Penberthy makes no secret about the "pervasive textual errors" of the 1985 'complete writing' of Niedecker but doesn't linger in the whirlpool of poet politics and never-ending bickering and moves along for years now gathering/editing/pinching to get this edition almost as right as rain. And I would guess at the combined good wishes of all the poets who came before and championed Niedecker, and none greater than Cid Corman, his Origin Press and all the spokes of literary family & friends from Ian Hamilton Finlay, Jonathan Williams, James Weil, Jonathan Greene, Louis Zukofsky who directly published her books or put her into good hands. And it's taken 32 years since the poet's death to finally receive this collection. Looking immediately too small in size for a lifetime work but so thankful to finally have it you can convince yourself the edition has a cozy enough feeling. However, there is no excuse for the wrecking of poems on the page, often snapped-in-two fitting them from page to page and the ultimate travesty for a craftsman like Niedecker who hand carved her words in backwater Wisconsin and wished for that surrounding silence of her marshes. Someone should have fought for her space. For best work / you ought to put forth / some effort...I believe Adrienne Rich is wise to dismiss the Sappho/Emily Dickinson comparison to Niedecker that always shadows her--as if only woman legends make another--to be precise she was a native midwestern, working class, self-created modernist. All spit & polish. It is absolutely incredible how academics have avoided or been plainly dumb about her work for decades when she is the ultimate complete package--regional and cosmic at once. I was the solitary plover / a pencil / for a wing-bone... *** For those who wish to complete the 'collected works' see A Cooking Book (Longhouse 1992) poems by Lorine Niedecker missed in this new collection, and to extend the message: From Your House And Mine (Duke 1986) letters from Lorine Niedecker to Cid Corman. Cid is literary executor and longtime nuturing soil for all things Lorine.  what cause have you / to run my wreathed / rose words / off  The poets loved her, kept her, more alive than ever, and still do.

-- Bob Arnold 

 

 

Woodburners: Summer Coming 2002

 

when I no longer see you / may those who see you see you well --Tom Pickard

 

CHARLES HARPER WEBB: Tulip Farms and Leper Colonies (BOA Editions, 2000): this book title leapt off the page when I was leafing through the latest SPD catalog so I circled and ordered. I'm still wondering if this is the same Charles Webb that once wrote fine prose poems published from Northwest magazines like Madrona and elsewhere? Not that it matters and not that I can think of anyone to ask. The blurbs on the back of the book from Thomas Lux is, at least, credible, and the one from Jonathan Holden makes me creepy all over as he makes note to poet Webb's profession as a practicing psychotherapist and even goes so far as to address him as "Professor Webb". What a nightmare. Like most poets, Webb had a life (or didn't) before he became a poet and I'm most attracted to those fifteen years as a rock singer/guitarist since he still has a look on the cover photograph of a cleaned out Ted Nugent type, or a kid brother of Chris Hillman. I'm only midway through this book of poems and am already confident to write a rousing notice. It is sectioned into three parts and I couldn't help but to continue onto the second part despite the layout finery by BOA making the book seem as if it is three separate acts. It isn't. Webb can't stop babbling on and he has a unique gift to write both a very serious poem about a murdering Rwanda (one of the best I've ever read) sandwiched between two hilarious poems about being helpless and feeling sorry for oneself. The walls shake with laughter and still Webb has the flair to stroll back onto the stage and calm the crowd down. He grew up in a time--50's/60s--when a boy really loved his dad and then trouble came (Vietnam) and now the boy is middle-aged, with a second wife, new baby poems, and enough haunting and vulnerability stuck inside him to let it all hang out and for a blessed change it makes an awful lot of sense. It isn't magic. This hard-working poet has a gift for wit, wisdom and whacko. I'd marry him in a minute.

 

TOM PICKARD, Hole in the Wall: new & selected poems (Flood Editions PO Box 3865, Chicago. IL. 60654-0865, $15 pb) : another book I caught in the web of the SPD catalog and just about impossible to find in your local bookstore. Those in the big cities might be luckier but otherwise all others can order from the above address and feel assured you will get your money's worth. This is purported to be British poet Pickard's first American publication but how can one forget the slouched long-hair Pickard on the cover of his excellent US City Lights edition of Guttersnipe. It was written as prose but everything Pickard touches is poetic--with his own trademark for stirring the boldly erotic and graphic language in the same stream flow of the pastoral. Basil Bunting buddy and everything positive has rubbed off on the protege, along with a rugged grab of street and working class lingo. Pickard is one of the few to mix the oils of the street tough and sensitive intellect time to recycle the contours / of my psychological geography. The book itself is exquisite, well cut and sewn wraps. Mischievous photograph of the poet at age 15 years ala Rimbaud with side ward glance at the camera, and I like the ascot. Frontispiece collage and ornaments throughout the text by fellow countryman Tom Raworth and the poems are culled like ladling jewels from six books since 1967s High on the Walls to Fuckwind (1999). The publisher didn't cheat on paper quality or handsome layout. This one is a book to own. Poems that must be read aloud, even when alone. They startle things. sunlight after sex / first frost on the fells

 

TOMAS TRANSTROMER, The Half-Finished Heaven (Graywolf Press, 2402 University Ave., Suite 203, Saint Paul, MN. 55114. $14 pb) a 'taster' of Tomas Transtromer as chosen and translated by one of his first translators, Robert Bly. One wonders what came first, the chicken or the egg as to Bly and Transtromer? Having first read Bly in the 60s and being excited by his simple but reverberating imagery, one now sees he was the good disciple to Transtromer, Hernandez, Martinson and the others he gave to us from his international savvy. Let's hand it to him. But while Bly's own best poems are now behind him, Transtromer progresses deeper. Well over 40 years of the Swede's poetry is reprinted here, from ten books spanning the years 1954 to 1996 and if you have never read this poet it is a primer to hold to. For others, all one can do is lament that a expansive collected poems has not been issued in English-- Fantastic to feel how my poem is growing / while I myself am shrinking -- and to reread the poet's memoir Memories See Me or attempt to find his latest book of poems Grief Gondola . Ever the field-guider, Bly has written an ample introduction to welcome all readers' passage.

 

WHEN WILL THE BOOK BE DONE? edited by Steven Clay (Granary Books, 307 Seventh Ave., Suite 1401, NYC. 10001, $40 pb) a fairly bland cover for Granary who knows how to put the spice into books, but still gatefold, sewn, hefty and quite remarkable throughout. The gist is to bring together bookmakers, writers and artists with all sorts of visual and verbal bent and talk about the books they made at Granary. Simon Cutts is here, Susan Bee, Kurt Schwitters, Timothy Ely, Robert Creeley, bill bissett, Jane Wodening and many more, plus Charles Bernstein adds an appreciative introduction. Publisher of Granary, Steven Clay, appears a very modest master of ceremonies as he patiently details his start as a bookseller in Minneapolis of Origin Books (not to be confused with Cid Corman's Origin but actually named after it) and garnering fellowship along the lines a la Jonathan Williams, Dick Higgins, Jerome Rothenberg, Tony Zwicker and a subsequent move to New York City and the rest is, well, history. Featured in all decked out glory in this book are nearly 100 books, annotated by the artists and writers, while the glory of illustrations have a personalized feel. One can't help sensing that Clay simply enjoys what he is doing. Granary's editions run from a handful of self-made masterpieces up to a run of several thousands that are easy enough to find. Some squawk that the prices can be steep on some of the rarer items--they are--but have you ever made a quality handmade book? Clay makes the business of publishing a celebration, and by the list of his forthcoming publications chart, he appears unstoppable.

 

BATTING AVERAGE OF GEORGE SAUNDERS, THE NOVELIST: the author of two short story collections: CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (Random House 1996) is an out & out deranged masterpiece and probably too much to ask anyone to compose again (never mind live through); Pastoralia (Riverhead 2000) is written well enough but it's refried beans, alas; and his children's book The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip (Villard 2000) despite Robert Coles' praise and Lane Smith's handsome, splashy illustrations is an absolute bore. Better to read, or reread the splendidly cracked and joyous Time Warp Series books by Jon Scieazka.

 

SUMMER READING:in this time of national safety and treasures, why not give old Tom Ridge (as good a name as Sergeant Rock) a break and take up an American writer with three classic books under his belt and absolutely ideal to read one of these books per month over the three month season. William Least Heat-Moon-- great name and he's been around a long time now. Blue Highways covers the backroads of America and one sure way to stay off the interstates and out of the malls and look the better part of this country over again by traveling the slower blue-line routes of the highway map. 13,000 miles and 38 states later you'll put the book down and want to go! The next book PrairyErth will keep you designated pretty much to tallgrass country: one single county in Kansas that the author has now abandoned the automobile and set off to discover on foot.It's a modern prose equivalent to Leaves of Grass. The third and latest book River-Horse continues the 19th century mindset of this modern Heat-Moon marvel by now voyaging across America, from sea to shining sea, on a single journey by American waters. His companion on this voyage is "Pilotis" and it sounds an awful lot like Melville and it is as good for you. Get all three of these books read by Labor Day and I guarantee some part of your house will be in order.

 

POETRY PROJECT NEWSLETTER: (St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery, 131 East 10th Street, NYC. 10003: 5 issues per year/$20) Summer 2002: by now an institution. A role model. Good to their own within the city and those visiting for festive readings. Many readings, year after year, decades, anthologies made, journals, marriages have been made and ended as well as once young poets aged old and now passed on as legends and St. Mark's lives on. This issue with a fond farewell to John Wieners by William Corbett as well as to Fielding Dawson by Mitch Highfill. Poetry, punchy reviews and enough gab. One would only wish more hicks from the boondocks would get into the city slicker pages--a questionnaire sampler has correspondents flaging in from all parts urban. I've seen poets in trees, smudging a life in the brush, fishing off the waterline, eating berries like bears; I know I have!

 

BOOKS FOR UNDER A SHADE TREE:Inch by Inch, 45 haiku by Issa (La Alameda Press, 9636 Guadalupe Trail NW, Albuquerque, NM. 87114, pb. $12) translated by Nanao Sakaki who could pass as a descendant of Issa in his own right and wisely printed out by the publisher in both English and Japanese versions with what must be Nanao's hand-script which somehow disappears the book from your hands and now you're holding poems. A conversation under old mulberry and cottonwood trees with Nanao and publisher Jeff Bryan and the poet John Brandi closes out the book and it is all things Issa, poetry and friendship. A Book of Luminous Things (Harcourt 1996) ed. by Czeslaw Milosz is one of the finest anthologies in years. Teachers take note. An international survey of poetry short, clear, readable, and...loyal toward reality with a magnificent guide in Milosz along the way. The poems are ageless and forever young. This one has the touch.

 

MICHAEL MOORE: have you all been receiving his messages from www.michaelmoore.com : a lively mixture of news, political claptrap, and updates on his delirious bookselling/book tour for his newest book Stupid White Men which looked pretty skimpy in size and too high-priced when I handled a copy, so I am waiting to pick up a 49th printing or so when it fizzles down. In the meantime, Moore, who is of the body size and barking ability of PT Barnum wields forth a new film Bowling for Columbine that did well recently at Cannes, plus his backlog of other films Roger & Me, and his high-octane television series The Awful Truth. Like his pal Bill Clinton, the more attention he receives the more fruitfully out of control he becomes. In the former's case, he remains a sleaze bag and yes all the bigwigs that were after him are likewise sleazebags.There's a city between Virginia and Maryland chalk-filled with 'em. However, Moore continues to be one of the Good Guys.

 

TOWER (Farrar 2000, cl. $22) Bill Henderson has made some important contributions to us all--his Pushcart Press & Prize--and in this tiny book detailing his construction with simple tools and no electricity, a three-storey wood frame tower for himself somewhere in and about Deer Isle, Maine. Overlooking the sea. It has all the endearment and charm of an amateur builder but wins us over by its struggle at learning the construction ropes with a touch of scholarly asides and photographs to other towers of Yeats, Jeffers and Henry Lueher's. All good company and so is this book.

 

CALIFORNIA DREAMING: Hell's Angels by Ralph "Sonny" Barger (Morrow 2000), Education of a Felon by Edward Bunker (St. Martins Press, 2000), Sleeping Where I Fall by Peter Coyote (Counterpoint 1998): some might say, heavy on the bullshit. I'm not one of them. Mainly tales told out of California during overlapping times, and to borrow a line from Peter Coyote: they lived life as they imagined it possible might be scripture & song for each book. Each author has been an actor-- Coyote the most evident, Bunker was Mr. Blue in the film Reservoir Dogs, and Barger was a real mccoy in a few biker films--and each has their story to tell; whether recounting the birth of Oakland's Hell's Angels in Barger's, which will flicker up in Coyote's sixties counterculture ride, which will be lost on Bunker stuck in Folsom Prison, or San Quentin or some other California prison since age 17. Bunker has been out of prison since 1975 (when Sonny Barger was coincidentally in Folsom) and is best known for four searing novels either written while in prison or out. Either way they deal best with what he knew, and Education of a Felon is the real life story.The four novels are absolute can't-put-down. Barger's life and times is a must read for the straight-talk, Modesto bred and Oakland seasoned critter. Plus you'll get his low down on Hunter Thompson, Altamont and a hundred other things you've forgotten and shouldn't have. The photographs through the book are like a secret stash. Coyote lived and Emmett Grogan died. And later Richard Brautigan was found dead and whole memorial of others were either killed or gone, from James Rector to George Jackson to Janis Joplin all in this unaligned (but aligned!) cause of allowing one to let one's freak flag fly. At the moment we live in the very moment, right as you read this, of having everything boiled down to "you're either with us or you're with the enemy (an EVILdoer)":thanks, but we always knew this. Peter Coyote's 15-year sojourn of California sixties and beyond feels like it could have been 1000 pages long, or is or was or someday might all be. Digger, Mime Troupe, urban/rural communes, Angels, poets, tricksters this is one of the few books from that era that attempts to have both participated and survived to tell the tale. These days, Coyote has the only voice-over on television worth listening to. Which is not a slight but an extension of his gifts. Master mechanic Barger rides somewhere in the southwest; and Bunker you have to hope is writing another Dog Eat Dog, helping to raise a family and thanking his lucky stars.

 

FATHER FOX'S: now is the time to celebrate a book over 30 years old that I just pulled free from a culled box of books from my son weeding his library--replacing Goodnight Moon and Roald Dahl with Nietzche and John Cage--so I thought I'd rescue the invaluable Father Fox's Pennyrhymes (Harper & Row 1971) written and illustrated by two sisters Clyde & Wendy Watson with all the seasonal, rural-life passage a community of foxes justly deserves. I really want to go off and find this place where they all live, or maybe I have? Ding, Dong,/Sing me a song,/That way the/Work day is/Not so long. A beautiful tale. Some of my favorite passages are two foxes boarding a rowboat and getting into a squabble over nothing and squabbling still as they capsize. Or two male foxes catching an unlucky goose with a sack but finding out it's her birthday,letting the goose go with a song. What a world. The rain falls down/The wind blows up:/I've spent all the pennies/In my old tin cup. I'll hang onto this book until my son wants it back.

 

-- Bob Arnold

 

WOODBURNERS:  SUMMER TIME 2002 : in memory of Philip Whalen

 

over the temple over the mind-ways touching   --Besmilr Brigham

 

ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKIN' IN: in an earlier Woodburner of Michael Casey's Millrat I suggested there should be an expanded edition on more of this good stuff from his working experiences as a kettleman in a textile mill dye house outside Lawrence, Massachusetts. It turns out there is just that edition from Adastra Press (16 Reservation Road, Easthampton, MA. 01027. pb. $8) and no better publisher or printer than Gary Metras--a sleeves rolled up, inky, letterpress craftsman all his own--who has a thing for the working class poet. This expanded 'Rat nabs all the voices on the job; cramming style, character, situations and full-fledged nuance into a lunch pail. There is a written clause on the book's copyright page that states: This is a fictional work of poetry and the characters herein are not real people: you could have fooled me! The talk of these poems quite simply glides fifty million dumb cops in the world / and this guy / has to be a genius.

 

 

DENNIS COOPER: All Ears (Soft Skull Press 1999, pb. $13.25) cultural criticism, essays and obituaries: no one writes best about so much worthless subjects than Dennis Cooper. He makes an art form out of it. He's always been best on gay terrain, risk attitude, spikes of music...but then he insists on taking seriously Keanu Reeves, Courtney Love, the shotgun paintings of William Burroughs, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sonny Bono, Stephen Malkmus-- brain dead material but here I am eating it like popcorn at the fair. My mistake or his? No, he is very good with junk, mostso when he spins it around other essays on AIDS, Nan Goldin, Bob Flanagan and the best obituary yet on William Burroughs titled King Junk. Cooper has been at it a long time with ravaged novels. occasional poetry, editing Little Caesar and pushing the enfant terrible. No phony.

 

 

LITTLE LABELS - BIG SOUND by Rick Kennedy & Randy McNutt (Indiana Univ. Press 1999, pb. $17.95) two journalists with inroads to the entertainment world and they get this one just right. The book is less than 200 pages and loaded for bear. Out of oblivion Al Kooper stamps down a short but authoritative foreword and then the two authors really dance, taking us on a historical tour on the backgrounds of some of the juiciest small record labels ever: Gennett (King Oliver, and um, the Ku Klux Klan), Paramount (Charley Patton and one of the sparkling chapters of the book),Dial (Charlie Parker), King (James Brown), Duke-Peacock (Big Mama Thornton), Sun (Sam Phillips), Riverside (Monk, Evans, Adderly ...), Ace (Huey Piano Smith) Monument (Roy Orbison), Delmark (Magic Sam)...names of musicians and personalities after each label are just the tip of the iceberg. Even The Beatles cut their teeth on the small labels (Tollie, Swan, Vee Jay). With discography, excellent notes, photographs and enough smooth intelligent writing to hold your reading for hours. Once upon a time everything appeared so simple; for instance, Dial Records copped its name from The Dial literary magazine edited by Marianne Moore, and its record label logo was developed by none other than Wallace Berman. Another nifty yarn is from the 1920s when Wisconsin Chair developed the Paramount record label to help promote the wooden phonograph cabinets they built. By the 30s Wisconsin Chair closed the Paramount division (only to be rekindled in the 40s by a music enthusiast) and abandoned all equipment to rust, sold master discs as scrap copper; and the one I like the best but cringe--allowed one former employee to haul off Paramount metal masters to build a chicken coop. The very label that debuted Patton, Blind Blake, Blind Melon Jefferson, Ma Rainey, Skip James, Son House. It's allright Ma, I'm only dying. Love music? read this book.

 

 

RALPH EUGENE MEATYARD, Judith Keller (Phaidon 2002, pb. $7.95) If you're going to accompany a text alongside Ralph Eugene Meatyard photographs it best be as good as the visuals. Steak & eggs. And this one isn't. Pahidon has a novel idea of issuing nearly square size soft cover editions of photographers in el cheapo prices, and they've now done many and on a bookstore shelf it gangs up before you like a little army. Great touch and marketing plan. Meatyard is long overdue to be handled by the masses, if they can handle him. An Illinois/Kentucky visionary who made his living as an optician and his landmark with a camera...often using as models every stitch of his family, friends, local habitat and a penchant for the literary. There are folks today in Appalachia counties and the art world who take very seriously their adopted son (who died in 1972 just shy of his 47th birthday) so I know I am treading on hallow ground. There is something forced and as if wanting to market Meatyard in the Keller text; suggesting symbolic artifacts in the photographs abound, whereas the eye should be allowed to discover, be astounded, soak. For years I thought one prominent figure in the photographs, Cranston Ritchie, was Meatyard. He just looked like what a Meatyard should look like to an innocent bystander. In my own world with Ralph Eugene Meatyard and allowing the photographs to invent. Now knowing what I'm supposed to be looking at spoils everything! This is the one photographer of them all that had the strange name, quirky au natural, and an unbeatable aura this side of Edgar Allan Poe. Good sources tell me a new edition of Meatyard's classic The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater is due for republication with a reliable text by James Rhem. A book for the ages --everyone wears a mask.

 

 

CORNELIUS EADY, Brutal Imagination (Putnam 2001, cl. $24): by the way, the majority of the books and such I work into Woodburners are not review copies, nor necessarily ever sold through Longhouse. We're simply back country book loving readers who, when seeing a good thing, just can't help themselves. This Eady was found in a library, some others are as well; most are bought out of pocket. Same thing I am trying to entice you to do. I've always liked the integrity and grip to Cornelius Eady's poems--African American poet but with no high falutant. His ideas on a poem are as matched as the skill of his writing. The first half of this new collection takes the reader on a ride narrated by the invented black kidnapper conjured up by Susan Smith (remember her? : mother, the two small sons, the lake)--how this kidnapper was "born", who is he, his prevalence with the law,the media; all in smart as a whip portraits of the ominous black man in white imagination. So Uncle Tom has to be included, Uncle Ben, Jemima, Buckwheat and Stepin Fetchit. Mark Twain move over. The second half of the book showcases poems that became the libretto for a jazz opera Running Man. Once again Eady storms the barriers of color and class in stark portraits of one black family. Maybe a bit more refined here; I like the liar Susan Smith attempting to cover up the killing of her two small sons and Cornelius Eady to the rescue. Not for Susan Smith, but maybe Eady is here to rescue the rest of us.

 

 

GRANTA: a magazine that is good for you, excellent writers. Twenty-One, the best of Granta Magazine (Granta Books 2001, pb. $14.95): look for the hot pink softcover book collecting a portion of the best in a magazine's first 21 years. Begun at Cambridge University by students wishing to revive a defunct student magazine and taking its title from the old name for the River Cam. It also had a mission amongst its editorial staff (some English/some American) to revive the dead horse of English fiction. So, once again, UK came to America.It is 1979, bookselling chain stores haven't yet gobbled up the neighborhood, the publishers, your literary taste, and Granta has landed with its impeccable but feisty mood to stir things up. Creating issues on dirty realism, travel writing, money, and pulling many of the best writers from around the world. But at this point I am sick of Raymond Carver whose influence dominated early issues with that realistic narrative of his and none of it was his fault. Read him. But also delve into the natural born killer storytellers like Nadine Gordimer, Seamus Deane, Diana Athill and Joy Williams. Williams begins her story with the notion of Glenn Gould bathing his hands in wax and then they felt new and then continuing on to describe her intense love but abrupt emotional pain of having to put her pet dog down. It's a novel in 15 pages. Only from Granta. The magazine with catchy, ugly covers.

 

 

FOR THE FINEST JAZZ RECORDINGS & MORE: the connoisseurs already know this but for the uninitiated :please check out www.truebluemusic.com / www.mosaicrecords.com :the new Mosaic catalog has a gorgeous happy faced Sarah Vaughan (yes I've left it out just to see it each day) and from both resources you may mine some of the recordings from the small record labels mentioned in the book review above. At your fingertips; and the prices can be dear but so are many of the recordings.I rarely buy from catalogs--liking archeological digs in true blue record stores--but both these catalogs are sent from heaven as a last resort.

 

 

THANK YOU CAROLYN KIZER: for The Essential Clare (Ecco 1992, pb $8) that's John Clare (1793-1864) contemporary of Byron, Keats and Shelley, who he would outlive, dying around the birth of William Butler Yeats. A country bumpkin who ended his formal education at age 13, worked as a common laborer, kept his illiterate wife, 7 children, and his fragile parents under one roof and somehow under this crushing commitment and anxiety never stopped writing poetry. Nature for Clare was his heartbeat, not some handy model to illustrate a philosophical concept as it was for many of his contemporaries and my own contemporaries. He ate leaves of grass! No surprise that he was rejected by his community, even farmers, and eventually was condemned to madhouses for what one doctor described as "years addicted to poetical prosings". Judge for yourself who is mad by the intuitive selection of Clare made by lifelong admirer and poet Carolyn Kizer, whose Clare possessed teacher, once upon a time, was Theodore Roethke. Go read these three poets together and swim your head with animals, primroses, bees, and ivy. For my part I love to look on nature with a poetic feeling which magnifys the pleasure...Kizer's introduction is a remarkable companion for this tidy, companionable book.

 

 

GREAT BOOKS FOR TEACHERS, LIBRARIANS, YOU: The Teachers & Writers Guide to Classic American Literature, 2001 (Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 5 Union Sq. West, NYC. 10003-3306) ed.Christopher Edgar & Gary Lenhart: leave it to two poets to gather a highly sensible crew of other writers/teachers together to make whoopee on some of the best of American writing down through the ages. There is synopsis, teaching elements, writing ideas and most importantly a human touch throughout. Don't delay. Next: Antonia Darder's Reinventing Paulo Freire (Westview Press, 5500 Central Ave. Boulder, CO. 80301 pb., np) : Brazilian educator Freire believed that education was a vehicle for liberation by assisting those to best reflect on their experiences and the  varied hardships of racism, sexism and the exploitation of the workingclass. This homage, written by a protege, surveys the unique legacy of Freire through personal passages of action, reflection and ultimately solidarity. Finally: Harp Song for a Radical, the life and times of Eugene Debs by Marguerite Young  (Knopf 1999, cl., $35) Thirty-five years in the writing and fine tuned edited and masterfully introduced by Charles Ruas...this is a mesmerizing portrait of a man and century like few others. Eugene Debs--native Hoosier, worker in the railroad yards after the Civil War, organizer, founder of the Industrial Workers of the World, five time Socialist candidate for president of the United States--orchestrating three of those campaigns from prison. One more heart-breaking tale of what could have been. Better looking than Dick Cheney. The author Young is an extraordinary tale in her own rite, with her sweeping historical hand and buttery literary spread catching Presidents,George Custer, Fourier, Heine, Marx and the pioneering of this country as unified portrait. Remember the name, Marguerite Young. Read everything.

 

 

MEMOIRS WITH DIGRESSIONS: I'm only midway through Rick Moody's memoir The Black Veil (yes, it has something to do with Hawthorne) and being a novelist and middle class with much a gift for gab, addiction, recovery and fearlessly chasing mysteries, it's an orderly mess. But I'm liking it. In the same vein of privileged background with a ton of regrets, C. K. Williams Misgivings (Farrar 2000, cl. $21) has all the ingredients of his best poetry: truth and struggle within scrupulous portraits of a mother, father and himself.There is not much room for cheating in this cut to the bone classic as Williams spares us so much usual filler, excuses, treading in warm water. Pairing short chapters as memories within memories, the book intimately surrounds the reader in an unbearable connection to the human condition. You've heard it a million times, right? : not this way. The death of one's parents-- which is told much in our mutual living--somehow Williams universally and passionately senses all of us. I only put the book down for a rest so the experience of a brilliant telling would last me into two days. Imagine, found on a sale table.

 

 

BESMILR BRIGHAM:her first book of poems is the only one I ever owned heaved from the earth (Knopf 1971). It was released back in a time when many poets, or their publishers, were aligning themselves with some Native American connection. Brigham is part Choctaw, and even more fascinating, mother-in-law to the fine southwestern poet Keith Wilson. I would have walked 10 miles into town to share the experience of hearing these two relatives read together. Now the poet C.D. Wright has edited and selected the short poems of Besmilr Brigham in a very handsome edition published from Lost Roads (351 Nayatt Rd. Barrington, R.I., 02806., pb $12) titled Run Through Rock. Wright includes a personal reflection as preface to the book that unravels a sort of fascinating, miniature biography on a very unusual poet and woman. I will raise from my chair and go to you .There is nearly nothing in the modern American lexicon I can compare with Besmilr Brigham. Her poems have the look, feel, sound of artifacts left outdoors. Let it rain. Let it pour. Minus the rules and making up her better rules. Certainly she understands all uses of language and then she just lets it go. Unteachable stuff--where poetry just loves to be a parasite. how silent the fields are / growing food

 

 

SIMON CUTTS: with Simon Cutts poems you just 'had to be there'. It doesn't do any good to select a few lines out of context since context is everything with Simon. A printer. A poet. And the twain meets. A Smell of Printing (good title, eh?) from Granary Books (307 Seventh Ave., #1401 NY. NY. 10001) and Coracle (Ballybeg, Grange/Clonmel., Co. Tipperary, Ireland. pb. $15). Sometimes poets  send me leaves and seeds and greenery from places around the world. They often spill out from the letter, sometimes tattered as pieces, and I believe they mean for me to be there with them, have a smell, a texture. And it always works. As one gets older one tends to do less of this, which means you're dying. A Smell of Printing is all about leaves, many, slipping out of an envelope. Cutts has a sure sense--both strong and delicate-- of combinations the wreathe / has died of / the weather. Like someone who understands the care of setting type, Cutts doesn't waste his time with the wrong words nor a jiggly poem, each one lands like a cat. When the poems aren't in your head as images, they are before your eyes as a visuals; he's equally strong there and often meshes the two without bleeding any colors. I like this poet. Taking poems from 17 books over the years 1986 to 1999 and I read it before breakfast. Heck, it was breakfast! the slightly saffron /taste of tea /in Hastings. Simon Cutts lives "in the plain between the mountains of South Tipperary". For all the right reasons, quietly showcased here, he has been known as the editor of spaces. The book production is another gemstone between publishers-- jacketed wraps and noticeably odd-size with a 1942 cover photograph of Madame Desvignes, in silk scarf, dressed warm, at work in her kitchen hand-sewing-new-books! It just makes you want to pick up this one.

 

 

YOU ARE BEING LIED TO, ed. Russ Kick (Disinformation, 419 Lafayette St., NY NY 10003 pb., $19.95): some of the best stuff for you comes from this zip code in New York City. A very impressive size and contents anthology, and one that should be in every bookstore, library and school. Editor Kick admits to wanting to cover a great deal of ground and thus mixing politics and persuasions; it happens. A diverse group of dissidents, scientists, academics, rogue scholars, big-names, no-names, and try as the editor might attempting to stick rightists with leftists in the same book, it doesn't quite jell but it still works better than most. Some contributors include Noam Chomsky, James Ridgeway, Howard Zinn, Sydney Schanberg,lots & lots of men;an insider on school textbooks, anatomy of a school shooting (Columbine), drug war mythology, AA Lies, Who's Who in Hell, Church of the Motherfucker, Toad-licking or toad-smoking, Gay Teen Suicide Epidemic,How to be a Successful Drug Dealer (CIA-South American pipeline), Why They Hate Oliver Stone, and before I continue on sounding like it's all cheap tabloid headlines be assured it is nothing of the sort. And for much more contact: www.disinfo.com. There is also a second anthology of similar goods now in some book stores. I'm off to read it.

 

 

BEST ALBUM IN JUNE:(Roots&Rock&Roll):Los Lobos: Good Morning Aztlan (Mammoth) How good? --stay away from the speakers on the first cut; if you aren't dancing by the title track...there's no hope for you. This is all Los Lobos and Latin Playboys et al., albums over almost 30 years ripped into one. Isn't it time to crown these guys the longest driving coolest rock & roll band in the land? Check out more at www.loslobos.org., but be warned, the operator on the other end can be a sourpuss.

-- Bob Arnold

 

 


 

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