23 April 2009

and not only BUFFALO

Me at NY coffeeshop (photo by Tim Peterson)

My 2-week trip away from Tucson was not just about poet-publishers in Buffalo, but began April 8 in Olympia, Washington. Claire Sammons picked me up at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, and I gave a reading, answered questions and engaged students and community in conversation, and met students individually for advice and critique, over the next few days at Evergreen State College, whose poetry & poetic needs are in the talented hands of Leonard Schwartz (author of Chax Press published A Message Back and Other Furors). I stayed with Leonard and his wife Zhang Er and their lively 9-year-old daughter Cleo (or is it Clio?). Zhang Er has, for some time, been one of the best listeners to my poetry, always having something insightful to say, particularly about the ongoing poem Pushing Water. This time was no exception.

Highlights of the Olympia stay were a seder at the home of Ariel and Sequoyah, and meeting their new baby, Isaac; hiking in the Capitol Forest with Leonard, Zhang Er, and Cleo, spotting the "ghost cat" outside the window, seeing early trillium blossoms, talking with the students about their work, particularly spending a bit more time with Claire and Corwin, talking for the radio with Leonard, meeting Ernestine Kimbro at the Evergreen Library, and of course the 3:30am wake-up and ride back to the airport with Claire. I don't have photos from this part of my travels, which is too bad. The radio talk with Leonard will soon be available for listening on the Pennsound web site.

After Olympia, I got to be home for a day and a half (this saved me, I think -- at least a little time with Cynthia & Nora, and an easter dinner with Sheila & Rowe & Brian, too!), then boarded another early morning flight, this time for New York City. Flew into LaGuardia, bussed to my abode there, The Hotel Alexander on W. 94th St., and quickly found, about 8 blocks north, on Broadway, Cafe du Soleil —I highly recommend that restaurant. And this was a Monday night, "steak night," with several steak options, all priced at $12.95. Mine was terrific. I ended up eating at this restaurant 3 times, and I would go back. Reasonably priced, excellent service, terrific food — possible to spend quite a bit here, but, if you watch the choices and don't drink 3 glasses of wine, actually quite reasonable. And on Wednesdays, as I recall, wine bottles are half price.

Tim Peterson at NY coffeeshop

The next morning after breakfast I took off for Grand Central Terminal, catching the train to East Haven, Connecticut, there picked up by Tim Peterson and his mother Lynn, and driven to Storrs and the University of Connecticut. Talk in the car was of Wordsworth, Spenser, allegory, David Jones, and Charles Olson. At 4pm I gave a talk at the university, sponsored by the Dodd Research Center (home of the Charles Olson archive) on David Jones and Charles Olson, issues of space and time in their work. A fair crowd, talk well received, but we hardly made a dent in the lovely spread of food and drink provided. Then we were off for a pizza dinner, with Richard and Lynn, Tim and me. I tried Dogs Head ale for the first time — it was fine, as was the pizza. Always great to see ALL of the Petersons!

I was lodged well at the Nathan Hale hotel on the U-Conn campus, to which I returned, and I was picked up the following morning (now Wednesday), by the Petersons, for a drive across Connecticut to the coast, then down to East Haven, where we saw a bit of Yale architecture, art museum (terrific Picasso/language exhibition), then the Beinecke Library, which is a wonder. Unfortunately, our visit there was cut short as we were literally hounded out. A foreign ambassador or other dignitary was about to visit, and security personnel with dogs came in to clear out the building — oh why can't the likes of them mix with the likes of us?

Lunch at the Anchor Inn, once proud purveyor of fine college fare, now a bit down from its historic heights, but still welcome to the hungry traveler. Then the train to New York and the only mis-adventure on the trip, as Tim, traveling with me, exited the train for a soda, not knowing the train was about to leave. He couldn't get back on in time, I couldn't open the door from inside, so I was off to New York's Grand Central on my own with Tim's luggage. He arrived about an hour later, and I was waiting for him. I think, perhaps, in my attempt to get all of his gear and mine, I may have left my calendar book, with all my travel contacts, on the train; somewhere about that time on this trip, I lost that book, so I didn't manage to contact several people I would have liked to have seen, though most made it to one of the events I presented over the next few days.

Grand Central Terminal, NYC

I made it back to the Hotel Alexander, where my suitcase was waiting, a little late to be able to make the Alice Notley/Ron Padgett reading, which had been on my agenda. So instead I went back up to the Cafe du Soleil again, and had a lovely light dinner of salade mescluns and onion soup, with a glass of champagne. I then went to find a book for my daughter Kate, who was seeking a complete edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, in Middle English. That ended up being harder to find than I thought, and while I couldn't find it that night on the upper West side, I eventually found one later at The Strand bookstore. I was well ready, then, for sleep.

The next morning, Thursday, was about visiting the Met to see the Pierre Bonnard show, which was stunning. Bonnard's late paintings, and his thoughts on painting, hit me at just the right time. I could see connections in his handling of interior/exterior divisions, as well as in his brushwork, to the poet/painter David Jones, who has been the subject of my research and reading for not quite a year now. I also simply felt awed by the paintings. I had gone there specifically at the request of my wife, the painter Cynthia Miller, whose own work bears more than a little relation to that of Bonnard. So I bought the catalogue for her, but in a way, for me. I was then able to drop my purchases at the hotel before having lunch with Kyle Schlesinger (Cafe du Soleil again).

Kyle and I then spent a few hours in Central Park amid the walkers and the cherry blossoms, and he interviewed me for a book he's working on, of interviews with poet-bookmakers. Kyle himself is the new (not so new now, though, as he's been up to it for several years) lion in this field, and is doing heroic service by documenting, presenting, and celebrating the work and thoughts of others in the field. I'm happy to be included in his work.

I stayed with him through the day, arriving at a few minutes before 6pm at Steve Clay and Julie Harrison's loft, also home of Granary Books, in Soho, where I was to give a talk in the "Threads" series, a group of talks by poet-bookmakers. The talk I gave was an early preview of what would be my talk at the Buffalo Poet-Publishers symposium a few days later. Before a choice audience of great friends and book people and poetry people and art people, including Simon Pettet, Tim Peterson, Jen Bervin, Jessi Atwood, Joe Sierra, Summer Browning, Steve Clay and Julie and their lovely daughters Ruby and Naomi, and just a few others (small "studio" audience, with the talk intended for web broadcast later via Pennsound), I gave this talk which traces my own life toward books, during (and forecasting after) books, and between the various places that poet-bookmakers find themselves between. A mix of memoir, poetics, poetry, and consideration of problematics of poetry & book issues, this was a truly important piece for me to write, and I was really glad it was received so well.

Mark Weiss at NY coffeeshop

Afterward, dinner at Fanelli's, where my diabetic diet had me eat the sesame chicken salad and only glance lovingly at everyone else's famous Fanelli burgers. I was in great company, though, and that was true throughout these travels.

Next morning, Friday, spent shopping at Columbia for my daughter Nora, finding not one but two t-shirts, though not the sweatshirt (it had to be a very specific one) she wanted. Then off for a late morning conversation with Charles Bernstein at his apartment, a few words with Felix Bernstein, too, and a lunch with Charles at Saigon Grill.

After that, I made my way to the lower east side to rendezvous with Simon Pettet outside St. Mark's. Simon is a love, my friend, one of my favorite conversationalists, my co-reader of Wordsworth and Keats, a part of my heart. We were together for five and a half hours, sharing thoughts on Keats, David Jones, Allen Ginsberg, recent poetry history, problems with ambition in poetry circles, our common friends like Ed Foster, Leonard Schwartz, and Zhang Er, and a lot more. We shared bench time, a walk through community gardens, a bit of time in front of Charlie Parker's last residence, a pint of beer in a local tavern, and eventually a lovely Hungarian goulash dinner at The Neptune (favorite meeting place and dining place, always, for Simon), a meal entirely off my diabetic charts (but ok, my one indulgence on this entire trip), and eventually parted about 7pm, where I went back to the hotel to read the Belladonna book by and for Emma Bernstein (also by Susan Bee and Marjorie Perloff, with an additional essay by Johanna Drucker).

Emma full of life and art, Emma we miss — my two lasting memories of Emma will always be of her in Tucson at about 5 years old playing with her doll Angelina, holding a person-doll conversation under the dining table, and Emma at 15 riding in the back of my pickup truck on the way to a dinner for the Tucson Poetry Festival. Losing Emma, for all who knew her and her terrific family, was the low point of the last seveal months, and will continue to effect us. Thank you, Charles, for the book, and for a lot more. The book is terrific, although one prime effect was that it made me want to be with my family, amid such primary connections.

The next morning I breakfasted with the terrific Jessi Atwood, Chax bookbinder and New York art school model, in Soho, and went with her to Chelsea to see Richard Tuttle's "Walking on Air" show, which is well worth seeing. Then across the street to the CUE Art Foundation (Jessi had to leave for work about this time), where I said hello to Ryan where Cynthia had her terrific show last year and where I read with Ron Silliman. Ryan as bubbly and enthusiastic as ever, wanted to know everything about Cynthia's work now and my New York outings.

I then had enough time to go back to the hotel for an hour or so of rest before going to the Bowery Poetry Club for my reading at 4pm with Akilah Oliver. That reading was a treat, both the doing of it, the talk with Charles Bernstein and Ulla Dydo and Tim Peterson and Mark Weiss and Akilah and others. I was so glad Ulla (our great Gertrude Stein scholar and elucidator) could come. And I was particularly happy to see Susan Bee and talk with her!

Tim Peterson and me at NY coffeeshop (photo by Penelope Bloodworth)

That night we went to a fine and inexpensive Turkish buffet restaurant, then for dessert (I had a bit from others' plates) and coffee at a historic lower east side (1st Ave at about 11th St.) bakery and coffee house, with more conversation with Mark, meeting Tim's good friend Penelope Bloodworth who was delightful, and Geoff Olsen (I think, though I am beginning to mis-remember names, not quite a week later —I met so many people on this trip!). About midnight or so I made it back to the hotel, and the next morning, early, checked out and caught the M60 bus to LaGuardia for a flight to Buffalo, along with Brenda Iijima. And that is the subject of a different post!

Brenda Iijima in Buffalo

What a terrific trip to New York, and always a pleasure to read for the audiences there, and this time, to give much more of a glimpse, through the "Threads" talk, into who I am and what I do, largely among people who share the work and the life in some important ways.

And it is absolutely terrific to be home in Tucson with my family, my loves.

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