W.H. Auden kept a notebook for jotting down interesting passages from the pile of books he was always reading; it was published posthumously under the title A Common Reader. The practice is quite common among writers, but it's helpful to anyone. Here are some of my gleanings, and some recommended books. "The work of madmen is always based on a law that has ceased to operate. Madmen are men who have lost their imagination. Their manual memory belongs to a realm of rigid mechanism. It is an infernal machine that breaks down and not an intelligence that progresses and constantly creates in order to progress ... The work of a madman is dead work; the poetry it contains is like the ghost which refuses to give up its corpse." Picasso (Quoted in SEMTEXT, Plastic 3, ed. Louis Armand, Prague, 2001)
Louis Armand, the editor of SEMTEXT, is an Australian-born Prague resident and philosophy professor. His poetry (collected in Land Partition, Textbase: Melbourne, Australia, 2001) bears some affinity to the work of the American Language School poets. The language of "internally fissured realities" (in quotes in the original) is dense, sound-driven, and erudite. The territory being mined is somewhere between language and geography, but there is a stubborn (and tenaciously coherent) essay on the modern here, particularly modern art. The equally tenacious reader will be rewarded by a sober sensibility.
Every decade is marked by a brick of a book, on which is inscribed: "All is not well, but the art keeps on going on. Onward, whippets!" Over three-and-a-half decades, Anselm Hollo has advanced both the art of poetry and the pleasure of intelligence as if they were one and the same thing. He has been an indispensible philosophe of the word who has taught us that to play and to know that you are playing is nearly enough in this (overall) unfair setup. This collection shares shelf in my house with Ted Berrigan's So Going Around Cities, Robert Creeley's Selected, the collected works of Williams, Pound, Olson, and Mina Loy. We are strict here at Canon HQ: Poetry teachers, teach this book! In my quarter of a century teaching I found few poets more inspiring to the young and better equipped to put them in the know than Master Hollo. An event! A magnificent book! (ANSELM HOLLO: Notes on the Possibilities and Attractions of Existence: Selected Poems 1965-2000. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press)
Here is my most recent favorite found quote. It comes from a Czech police detective, quoted on November 1st, 1999 in the New York Times, and requoted by Susan Gevitz in the literary magazine AUFGABEN 1, 2001: "A body by itself doesn't mean anything. You have to surround it with a story."
Nobody can say it better than that. There was a crime, and you know it. Speaking of crime, I recommend also Jimmy Santiago Baca's memoir, A Place to Stand (Grove Press), and At Home with the Marquis de Sade, by Francine du Plessix Gray. Both Baca and de Sade became writers in prison, but Baca became a great poet and a good man, while de Sade just went crazy. There might be other differences. See quote by Picasso. ♦
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