by Jay Ponteri, April 5, 2013 10:00 AM
Here are THREE books I'm looking forward to:
1) September: Poems by Rachel Jamison Webster, TriQuarterly Books. I published some of Rachel's poems in the online magazine I edit, M Review, and her work is beautiful, weird, OPEN. It does not shy away from despair, from joy, from human mystery, from the expressions of deep grief, of childlike wonder. Look at some of her poems from the recent issue of Poetry magazine, and click here to listen to a recording of three poems from her forthcoming book.
2) Trances of the Blast by Mary Ruefle, Wave Books. Enough said.
3) Zibaldone by Giacomo Leopardi (translated by Michael Caesar and Franco D'Intino), Farrar, Straus and Giroux. This is like a gazillion-page prose journal by the Romantic Italian poet Leopardi, one that Italo Calvino quotes from generously in his eloquent, elliptical book of lectures on writing, Six Memos for the Next Millennium.
Today I find Plastic Indigenous Man by Sarah Arvio's new book of poems, Night Thoughts: 70 Dream Poems and Notes from an Analysis. Clearly it's a sign I should purchase this book. I offer the plastic peoples coffee from the Brown Room (World Cup café!), and it turns out all three of them — before being deployed to Powell's — were in a writer's group together, working on short, tiny novels.
I asked them what they've been reading, and they say, "We are reading the books great writers have yet to write."
"Whatever," I say.
On February 26, 2013, at 1:29 pm, Kevin Sampsell (see yesterday's post) sent me the following text message: "Your book is here!!" That's right. Two exclamation points. The next day, after my latte at Coffeehouse NW, I drove to Powell's and found my memoir Wedlocked not in the Blue Room but in the Green Room, where Powell's promotes upcoming author events (book launch last Friday), and there it was. Just like that. My book, my inside skin, my various faces, terrible and lovely, right there, available, communing with others (my friend's book The Next Scott Nadelson), and now, a month later, Wedlocked has found its place in the Blue Room,
where it communes with Proust and Pritchett, where it calls out to Mary Ruefle, Ginny Woolf, and Robert Walser or sneaks over to the poetry section (as I always do, sneaking with the softest of steps from the fiction camp to the poet's camp), doing this on its own, separate from me, for Wedlocked for me is history; it's yours now, and what's present for me, what belongs to me, is the composition of this very blog, this word in this blog.
If you see me in Powell's (you probably will), and if you happen to like Wedlocked too, feel free to ask me to read to you from the book on the spot.
I always have the desire to drop off thank you cards to the Blue Room booksellers but fear they'd think I was truly fucked up.
The Blue plastic soldiers type in .5 Helvetica font.
They don't revise their work, and it doesn't show.
Dear Powell's employees, thank you for your work.
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by Jay Ponteri, April 4, 2013 10:00 AM
Just had a good conversation with writer (also Powell's employee/small-press-room curator) Kevin Sampsell
I told Kevin about the dream I had last night in which he read from his forthcoming novel (This Is Between Us, Tin House Books, November 2013) at a shopping mall to like hundreds of people, and his reading was very very funny and darkly poignant, and I teared up as he finished, and then we walked part of the shopping mall TOGETHER as I told him how much I admired his work and the numerous, numinous ways Kevin supported other writers and small-press endeavors from not only Portland but from all over the country.
I ask Kevin if he thinks it's weird how frequently I come into the bookstore.
He says: "It's much better to be a regular at a bookstore than a regular at a bar, strip club, gun shop, office supply store, or emergency room."
I will sometimes recommend books to friends, students, and, well, total strangers, and I will follow it up by saying, "Powell's Downtown has three used and two new copies available. Hawthorne has a used copy, and if you're out in Beaver-tron..."
A friend once told me perhaps I go to bookstores so frequently because I'm unconsciously looking for my own book (which, at the time, didn't come close to existing).
I go into Powell's five days per week to be in touch with The Other and myself at the same time. All that revelation of other writers, all that inside skin, those inside faces, my Dreams of The Other made manifest, those stiff spines and crisp edges and clean white pages uncut, deckled, or perfectly cut, her hands touching and lifting those spines, wrapping her fingers around those spines that I, soon after, wrap my fingers around, one person whispering to another: "I want to share this inside-self with your inside self. I want to gift you with what lies inside the hearts and minds of The Other."
I also shop at Annie Bloom's.
I also shop at Elliott Bay in Seattle.
I also shop at Woodland Pattern in Milwaukee.
I also shop at Malaprop's in Asheville.
If I could spend the night in Powell's, I'd put my sleeping bag in Aisle 213, the very west end of the Blue Room nestled between Poetry, L to Z, and Classics.
My favorite bookstore in the entire world: Open Books, A Poem Emporium, run by poets John (J. W.) Marshall and Christine Deavel. Next time you're in Seattle, go there, go to Open Books, and don't ask them if they carry anything other than poetry.
This just in: plastic cowboys, indigenous peoples, and soldiers have been spotted in front of Barry Hannah's Long, Last, Happy: New and Collected Stories and Gertrude Stein's Three Lives. What kind of American conflict gives way to a shootout in front of Barry Hannah and Gertrude Stein? Perhaps these plastic peoples in the Blue Room seek out exquisite sentences? Wondrous digressions? Idiosyncratic American idiom? I like to imagine Barry and Gertrude in heaven, riding in Barry's Ford Fairlane, smoking Cuban cigars and sharing swigs of SoCo and discussing the effects of the single simple-sentence paragraph or how certain adjectives (like "snowy" and "freckled") tickle the chin.
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by Jay Ponteri, April 3, 2013 10:00 AM
It's hump day at Powell's, and I'm (not surprisingly) a little hungover from the excitement (that reach for The Other) of yesterday's purchases (Salter
). May I recommend three titles that Powells.com and Powell's downtown currently carry?
1. Mary Ruefle's Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures
Collected over many years of giving lectures at Vermont College's low-residency MFA program, these are not simply poetry craft essays but essays searching hard for discovery in the face of rampant uncertainty, death, despair, and wonder. Ruefle's prose reveals her very intense passion for poetics while arguing in multiple ways (and across all her lectures) that the most impactful writers write with humility and devotion to mystery and confusion and uncertainty in the face of death and reverence for those (e.g., Keats, Clare, Dickinson) who have spoken before. I don't know more than you don't know. This passage is from her lecture "On Secrets":
I used to think I wrote because there was something I wanted to say. Then I thought, I will continue to write because I have not yet said what I wanted to say; but I know now I continue to write because I have not yet heard what I have been listening to. (77)
This title — now in its second edition! — is published by Wave Books in Seattle (and New York), and (not bragging here) I have been told by Wave staff members who shall remain nameless that I am their "number one fan." I teach their books a lot to my Marylhurst students and order multiple copies of all of their titles. Enough said.
2. Selected Stories by Robert Walser and translated mainly by Christopher Middleton, published by FSG and later reissued by NYRB Classics
Walser was a contemporary of Rilke and Kafka and wrote in poverty, illness, and obscurity over the course of 25 to 30 years before he was involuntarily moved to a mental hospital in 1932. I just gave a talk to the MFA nonfiction program at Columbia College on what I call The Unparagraph — that is, prose not organized in manageable chunks for the reader. Here's what I said about Walser in that talk:
If us Unparagraphers end up choosing a team captain, Walser's our man. As W. G. Sebald said in his Walser essay, when reading Walser, one feels oneself beckoned by Walser, as if from the other side. His prose is maximal. He takes pleasure in staying with a sentence indefinitely, expanding through self-reflexivity, equivocation, digression, extending the Present Moment of Composition, so that our first French kiss with Anne XXXX will never ever ever ever end!
3. Edouard Levé's Autoportrait, translated by Lorin Stein, published by Dalkey Archive Press
I love this book for many reasons. It unabashedly, unapologetically explores the self-illuminating other (Yeats). Levé's narrator speaks frankly (and personally!) about sex, death, and religion, uttering so often what seems unutterable, each utterance another salvo fired by the warring selves, e.g., self-diminishing self, the detached self, self as lonely, self as separate from others, the silent self, the self in incessant resistance to others. The accumulation of utterance — the self has SPOKEN AND SPOKEN AND SPOKEN — exalts the self, lightens the self even amidst the bulk of revealed despair and futility. The list is pleasingly labyrinthine, built from layering stances contradictory and/or analogous to one another, varying in content, mode (dream, thought, anecdote), and register (private, banal, philosophical), sans transitional phrase, sans paragraph breaks. No matter what the narrator describes — his sexual relationships with women, his dietary preferences — the tone is detached, tired, stripped of emotion. Here's a little taste from pages 114-115:
When I was a child, I didn't ask riddles. I don't know how many animals I could recognize by scent. To survive an ordeal, I break it up into sections. I cannot remember having spoken to a New Zealander. I improvise only on the piano. Despite myself, I look away when I pass a dwarf. I hear the word "marvelous" and I marvel. I do not use the word "gamine." As far as I know, only one woman has gotten pregnant by me. Borrowing is an ordeal. They took out four wisdom teeth, unless maybe it was two. Because of their names, certain acts strike me as outdated, for example, "laying down a deposit." Tonsils (amygdales) make me think of spiders (mygales).
And, bonus book!: Brandon Shimoda's Portuguese: Poems, newly published by Tin House Books and Octopus Books, a terrific collaborative publishing project brought to us by Portland poets Matthew Dickman and Zachary Schomburg. Buy Portuguese by Brandon Shimoda. And buy Schomburg's books. Buy Dickman's books. If you can't afford them, I might have extra copies...
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by Jay Ponteri, April 2, 2013 10:00 AM
Tuesday's my favorite day! It's the day of new releases! If I'm not mistaken, James Salter's new novel, All That Is
(Knopf), is newly available, although I cannot bring up James Salter without mentioning his most amazing novel, Light Years
, one of my favorite marriage novels (right up there with Paula Fox's Desperate Characters
), and may I recommend the North Point Press edition
of Light Years
, of which the Blue Room has two copies. North Point Press, I miss you!
Before I forget: Jay Ponteri here, author of Wedlocked (Hawthorne Books), confessed bibliophile, embedded in the Blue Room of Powell's, blogging on Powells.com about the Powell's experience.
Powell's opens at 9 a.m., and around 9:30, the Blue Room booksellers roll out the fiction and poetry carts for shelving. Imagine the home team coming out from the locker room onto the court to an ecstatic crowd of fans. To see all of the new books together — like a new employee orientation? — before being shelved, before mixing in with all of the other books, the new Dara Wier (You Good Thing) finding a comfy spot next to Dara Wier's Selected Poems, or the new Armantrout (Just Saying) cozying up to a used copy of John Ashbery's April Galleons, perhaps emitting cozy aesthetic signals a few shelves over to Michael Burkard's selected poems, Envelope of Night, which is trying but failing to ignore (the way one avoids an extremely gregarious person at a reception) the poetry anthology directly across from it, Poems for Weddings.
Getting here early, I can grab the cleanest copy of whatever new book after which I've been pining. Anne Carson's Red Doc>. Charles Simic's New and Selected Poems: 1962-2012. The NYRB reissue of Renata Adler's Speedboat.
With any book I buy, the dust jacket or paper cover should have stiff, unbent corners, free of dust and dirt or inadvertent slices made by the box cutters the fine folks in Shipping and Receiving wield to open and unpack cartons. If you are a Blue Room employee, you have probably seen me sorting through new, faced-out copies of the same title to find the cleanest copy!
As a very, very responsible book owner, I do not bend the corners of covers and dust jackets. I realize this is all illusion upkeep — my desire to be eternal — but at least I recognize the illusion to the extent I can laugh to myself at myself while fastidiously brushing box dust off the white cover of Mary Ruefle's Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures.
I'm a "peeper," which means as I read, I don't open the book's boards too widely so as not to crack the book's spine. I open the book only slightly. From another reader-person's perspective, it might look as if I'm peeping into the book, as if something inside might jump out and attack me! My friend Jeremy does a spot-on imitation of me peeping-reading.
I do not write in my books, or if I want to write in a book, I buy an extra copy or a trade paperback copy and mark the Shit Out of It. If you can't keep the book in perfect condition, then you might as well obliterate it beautifully. Reminds me of Lars von Trier's film Melancholia.
My friend and poet Emily Kendal Frey
mentioned to me that poet Anthony Madrid (I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say) marked up a copy of her stunning book of poems, The Grief Performance, with margin notes and annotations and then mailed it to Emily as a gift.
My current struggle is twofold. One, staying within the agreed-upon book budget (no longer have a credit card), and two, not getting too many copies of a single title.
"What did the SuperFreak just say?" The Close Reader of this blog asks. "Why do you need more than one copy of a single book? You really are fucked up."
OK, perhaps I really am fucked up. (See Wedlocked by Jay Ponteri.)
One copy I give myself permission to bend corners, ruffle, and crease dust jackets. This first copy I call my "reading copy." Second copy is my shelf copy, the pristine copy; of course I won't die, of course I will never age, of course every woman I desire desires me and Kim and Thurston didn't divorce and Mr. Gladstone the pug and Chewbacca the wooky pug will never ever ever ever die.
I can always pull the pristine copy off the shelf and try to reexperience the beauty (the ecstasy!) of holding that clean copy for the first time, whatever Tuesday it was, just after it was published and released.
"But why, my FreakyBaby, do you need more than two pristine copies?"
For example, I own THREE pristine trade paperback copies and TWO pristine hardcover copies of Madness, Rack, & Honey: Collected Lectures by Mary Ruefle (that's in addition to reading copies in both trade paperback and hardcover).
"Would you call this hoarding behavior? Kind of?"
When the apocalypse comes and the Planet Earth loses electricity, when we HUMANS are cut off from all Sources of External Power, all of you Kindle and NOOK people will be FUCKED, and I will be SET UP.
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by Jay Ponteri, April 1, 2013 10:00 AM
My name is Jay Ponteri, and I wrote Wedlocked
, newly published by Hawthorne Books. The book is a memoir about a rough patch (imagine: Grand Canyon) in my marriage. It considers what it looks and feels like to be a lonely (hu)man inside a marriage, what it looks and feels like to push away the one who loves you, what it looks and feels like to FAIL as a husband, to say, You are not what I want
. The prose is deeply private. It looks inside an American marriage and describes what it sees through the lens of human loneliness. (And believe me, there was plenty it didn't see.)
Normally I would go on and on (imagine: Grand Canyon) about my thoughts regarding marriage in our culture, about my own work and the work of others, where and how I write, my Selectric typewriter, the craft of nonfiction prose, et cetera,
but I would prefer to discuss Powell's, or more specifically, myself at Powell's. That is to say, I'm not only blogging on Powells.com but I'm blogging on Powells.com from Powell's downtown store (E. Burnside) about My Experience of Powell's. I have embedded myself inside the Blue Room Battalion of Booksellers, although admittedly at the moment I'm in the World Cup café (Brown Room!), bellied up to a long table with other customers looking at unpurchased books and/or typing away at their own books. Beautiful factoid: every other person sitting in an independent café in Portland happens to be writing a book of poems or a novel or both.
Here is my sincere confession: I'm a bibliophile!
I come to Powell's on average 4-5 times per week, about 20 minutes per visit. My days off from Powell's vary: usually one during the week (Mondays and Wednesday are always tentative) and either Saturday or Sunday. When my wife and son are out of town and I have extra time on my hands, I hit not only the downtown store both days but also Powell's on Hawthorne (late evening), and if I'm really bored, I might venture out to Beaver-tron to Powell's at Cedar Hills Crossing. I buy at least two or three books a week, sometimes more, and I've been living here in Portland since 1999.
You do the math.
I care not to (my wife doesn't either). For more on that, read my memoir, Wedlocked.
During the years 2007 to 2009, I started getting very paranoid about going into Powell's downtown store so often. A handful of factors gave rise to my heightened feelings of paranoia. One: I had a part-time job at a wind power company located on NW 11th and Couch, i.e., the building adjacent to Powell's. And I will admit that I had some downtime on that job. Enough said. Two: I spent WAY too much money I didn't have (read: taking my credit card to its limit) on books. This spending was unfortunately another secret (among too many) I kept from my wife. (Read my memoir, Wedlocked.)
So at that time, when I meandered through the Blue Room, seeing the same five or six booksellers shelving books or sitting at the information desk, I was absolutely certain, CERTAIN!, these people knew how unhealthy I was; they understood how my unhappiness — that is, the deep loneliness I felt in my marriage at the time — gave rise to various kinds of secretive behavior (for more information, purchase Wedlocked by Jay Ponteri),
e.g., like running up a credit card my wife didn't know about. This is what the experts call Impulse Buying — an addiction where one buys buys buys, and the crisp burst of slick serotonin one gets from reaching toward that purchase, from the feeling of The Raised Self (the feeling you are the only person who sees you) Reaching Toward the Other, IS THE POINT. What I was purchasing is NOT the point, although I disagree with myself! I love my books, all of those beautiful words revealing other people's inner lives, our inside skins, helping me to feel less alone in the world, helping me to feel both that I'm idiosyncratic and part of something larger and commonplace. This was more complicated than any of us can imagine, which is to say, I loved reaching out toward that new or used book I thought would "complete me," would "help me" work out a problem in my own work; I mean to say, this was a book or writer that a writer-slash-reader like me MUST read, MUST possess. If you do not liberate this book, somebody else will. If you don't have this one book, one less thing stands between you and death.
This was all shimmery, delusional thinking, and even though I still rock such illusions, I no longer have a credit card, and I carefully budget how much money I spend on books, thus removing my bibliophilia from the level of secretive-shameful to viewing it as a public eccentricity with limits!
Tomorrow's Tuesday — my favorite day of the week, the day new books are released! My dispatch will include a meditation on book condition, plus I will buy too many books! Tune in, baby!
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