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The Currency of Fashions

By Anselm Berrigan

My favorite font is Goudy Old Style. My favorite whiskey is Jameson’s, on the rocks, though I’m off the sauce. My favorite facial expression on others is the slightly astonished smirk. My favorite memory is my father saying “gimme five” upon discovering I’d saved $1.35 by asking for money to buy candy a few times and just pocketing the change, then borrowing the money. My favorite reading experience is Harryette Mullen reading “Muse & Drudge” at the late New College in San Fran in 1995, tied with Philip Lamantia reading for ninety minutes at the Poetry Project in 1999 from his whole body of work and remarking to Ted Joans after the reading that “I could feel Breton standing next to me the entire time!” My favorite mugging was the one that happened when I was fourteen in Manhattan, NY when this guy took my five bucks and we had a long conversation about life and drugs and sex and music and poverty once he realized I wasn’t rich despite my clean (then) sneakers. He was totally high, truly frightening, and made a long speech that involved getting out of jail and hunting down me and my family. And breaking my glasses. My favorite poem today is “G-9” by Tim Dlugos, which I can’t get through without slightly breaking down, and which always leaves me in awe of its ability to do even-tones via short lines in the face of utter heartbreak and personal doom while casting friendship as the poem’s star.  My favorite book of poems at the moment is Hoa Nguyen’s Hecate Lochia, especially after hearing her read from it at a house party in Brooklyn a few weeks ago – readings during parties at someone’s house or apartment are my favorite kind of readings by the way, other than the ones you might do in the dead of night to yourself when you’re wondering if it’s any good and the only thing you can do is get it done.  My favorite front page from the New York Post this year so far was the cover of the June 5 edition: color photo of two guys from Hamas, black face masks on, machine guns in laps, watching Obama’s Cairo speech on a television-with-dvr in a little grey room with the phrase ‘Let’s be friends’ in big type above the tv and the lines “Hamas thugs/watch Bam/woo Muslims” in smaller underlined type under the tv. And underneath that box of information were the words, in giant thick black letters, “HUNG FU!” in reference to David Carradine’s death. My favorite bird is an ugly pigeon. My favorite image of a bird is any heron in Doug Oliver’s writings. My favorite putdown is Reggie Jackson remarking in the late seventies that Oscar Gamble hit like he was worth his million-dollar contract but played the outfield as if the whole amount was stuffed inside his uniform. My favorite concept is the peanut butter fold (spread peanut butter on single piece of bread/fold), followed closely by the wall painting and maybe Robert Smithson’s statement that serious artists can be divided into those who watch sci-fi movies and those who watch horror movies. My favorite putdown of poets was hearing one American critic/translator at an independent so-called conference state that poets got the government they deserve (referring to first-term GWB). My favorite terrible line from a bad movie is in Doom, when, in reference to a room full of slaughtered scientists, the soldier played by the guy who played an abandoned Viking in some other movie monotonally inquired “If they were so smart how come they’re so dead?” My favorite mode of consciousness at the moment is digression. My favorite poetic line containing the word ‘politics’: “All politics the same crux: to define humankind richly,” ­– the opening line of Doug Oliver’s long satirical poem Penniless Politics. My favorite recent sentence: “I place no value on my life, I value only the lives of others, and nonetheless I love life, but I love it only because I hope it will give me the opportunity to throw it away in some respectable fashion.” That being spoken by the Simon character in Robert Walser’s The Tanners which I just started reading the other night and haven’t been able to put down. I couldn’t read novels other than this or that piece of trash for a good fifteen years until this past spring when the dam finally broke and I can read novels and it’s totally great, but I can’t watch movies anymore, so that’s my current favorite non-activity, that and brooding, which I’m writing this particular post in order to avoid. My favorite weather is neon reflecting on wet streets during the first moments of no sun.

Comments (18)

  • On October 16, 2009 at 8:49 am Paul Killebrew wrote:

    It seems gratuitous to comment on something like this, but I read this before getting ready for work today and followed a line of thought about it while I did what I do before 8 am, so why not. What I thought of after reading this list of favorites is how I get to a point in reading some people where I don’t really read the poems or novels or essays or whatever on their own anymore, but more like transmissions from a sensibility, and it’s that sensibility that I’m actually moved by. I guess by sensibility I mean however that particular human being contorted themselves to make his or her life meaningful or bearable, or how they thought life could be meaningful or bearable for others. And anyway when I get to this point in reading someone, however any individual work stands on its own seems totally incidental to the critical information in the work about this person’s disposition towards experience or beauty or what-have-you, because, in the end, this is what will get me by. Someone was telling me about a recent interview with Eileen Myles where the interviewer asked if she had any advice for younger poets, and she said something like, “Have an interesting life.” Another poet told me once that he was getting to the close of one of those epic conversations with your mother when you’re in your twenties and not doing a lot of things that would seem to make sense to her, and finally, in tears, she asked him, “Why do you decide to do these things?” and he answered, “Because they’re meaningful.” Which is so funny and beautiful, especially considering that I think the actual topics at hand were smoking and turning down a job with health insurance. But anyway, it occurred to me that to read poems in this sensibility-centered way is kind of like reading them as a list of favorites. I don’t mean that to be trivializing. To actually like something is shocking, really.

  • On October 16, 2009 at 9:34 am Daisy Fried wrote:

    Thanks for the Tim Dlugos rec. Here’s a link to it, for other people who (like me) didn’t know the poem before: http://chax.org/eoagh/issue3/issuethree/dlugos.html

  • On October 16, 2009 at 10:06 am Matt wrote:

    <3 <3 <3 W a l s e r <3 <3 <3

  • On October 16, 2009 at 10:10 am Richard Epstein wrote:

    At the risk of pedantry, the line quoted from Doom comes first from Richard Condon’s Prizzi’s Honor. In the movie made from that novel Jack Nicholson, sick of hearing about Kathleen Turner’s late husband, says, “If he’s so fucking smart, how come he’s so fucking dead?” I shouldn’t be surprised to learn it has an longer pedigree than that.

    RHE

  • On October 16, 2009 at 10:18 am Don Share wrote:

    Here’s some more Dlugos, from Poetry magazine:

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=111256

  • On October 16, 2009 at 1:13 pm Steven Fama wrote:

    Yes and Double-Yes to the seventh power for the mention of Philip Lamantia at the Poetry Project in 1999.

    It was grand! True to his nature, between each poem Philip recited he had something to say, and his thoughts and thus his verbal talk went on (and on) via whatever associational tracks that materialized within or without his mind, It was very, very rich, exactly perfect Philip.

    Also of note is that Philip himself wrote the program notes for that reading, which are (here’s the word again) rich in bio-poetic information. Philip’s self-introduction, typed up such that the filled (single-spaced) a single page, were faxed over to the Poetry Project just a day or three before the reading; the Poetry Project just photocopied the fax and gave it out at the door.

    • On October 17, 2009 at 1:26 am NEG wrote:

      Is there a recording of this reading??

  • On October 16, 2009 at 8:41 pm Mairead wrote:

    Thanks for this – love the quotes, love the quips, didn’t know the Dlugos. Ditto on the Jameson.

  • On October 17, 2009 at 9:00 am Edwin Torres wrote:

    Thanks for this Anselm…lovely!

  • On October 17, 2009 at 7:23 pm Prageeta wrote:

    I have a favorite quote given to me by friend and poet Ken White, here it is:

    Early in his football career when asked why he trains in the weight room at 3:00 a.m., Edgerrin ‘The Edge’ James replied, ‘I’m getting it right while the haters are sleeping’.

    Love your postings, Anselm!

    Warm wishes,
    Prageeta

  • On October 17, 2009 at 8:26 pm LH wrote:

    Ditto on the like, Anselm.

  • On October 17, 2009 at 10:22 pm Steven Fama wrote:

    Hi NEG —

    Someone from the NYC Poetry Project, I clearly recall, did record Lamantia’s 1999 reading. I remember asking about it while the night of the reading (I traveled from SF to hear Philip read), and then asked again by telephone after I returned home. I can’t remember what exactly I was told, but I didn’t get a copy, that I know. Recordings can be fragile and occult things — I wonder if it still exists and if so, who has it?

    • On October 18, 2009 at 12:45 am NEG wrote:

      AB, as an ex-PP person any ideas here?

  • On October 18, 2009 at 3:05 am john wrote:

    “G-9″ is awesome. Thanks, Anselm, and thanks for posting the link, Daisy.

    Such a poignant post, Anselm, for so many reasons. Thanks.

  • On October 18, 2009 at 7:44 am Jordan wrote:

    Reggie: the best Yankee quote machine after Yogi?

  • On October 18, 2009 at 9:17 am Anselm wrote:

    Thanks for all the comments – I’ve been in a cave the past two days. Daisy – thanks for putting up the link to “G-9″ – I didn’t check to see if it was up anywhere before posting, and so that’s really useful. I think a collected Dlugos is in the works – I know that David Trinidad had been working on a manuscript for a long time.

    As to the Lamantia recording – yes, the reading was recorded. The events at the Poetry Project are regularly recorded, and in 2007 the Project’s archive – paper and recordings – was sold to the Library of Congress. There is a chat with current Artistic Director Stacy Szymaszek in issue 215 of the P.P. Newsletter that is downloadable here: http://poetryproject.org/publications/newsletter

    And she goes into greater detail about the archive. Eventually the readings – the idea is, anyway – will be made available on-line. The LOC is slow in processing everything, though it’s possible the paper archive is accessible now. Not sure.

    • On October 18, 2009 at 6:10 pm Steven Fama wrote:

      Thanks Anselm, for confirming my memory of Lamantia’s reading be recorded, and providing the update / reminder that the tape (and everything else recorded at the Poetry Project) is in the Library of Congress. We’ll all see if that institution processes / digitizes / makes available on-line (if the poet and our copyright successor agrees) all that audio.

      Stacy S. in the newsletter interview calls the Library of Congress work with the tapes a “multi-year” project and so . . . who knows when it might get done. I’m guessing the Library isn’t REQUIRED, either by the contract under which they bought them or otherwise, to do ANYTHING with the tapes. Let’s hope the institutional tendency to do nothing (not enough money, not enough staff, too huge a project, etc.) does not apply in this instance. I’m keeping my poem-reading fingers crossed, if only to someday enjoy hearing the Lamantia reading.

      That said, and said with pessimism, I agree that but for the sale to the Library of Congress, there’d be little if any chance that this audio (the thousands of hours of Poetry Project readings) would EVER be professionally preserved and made available (but see PennSound, maybe?).

  • On October 19, 2009 at 3:51 pm Don Share wrote:

    Here’s a recorded Lamantia lecture on poetry to tide us over:

    http://www.archive.org/details/AM_1979_08_20


Posted in Uncategorized on Thursday, October 15th, 2009 by Anselm Berrigan.