10 April 2007

Is this your bank card? You're crazy!

Some downtime on Sunday in the upper west side, near Columbia U, where I had lunch with Dre, a friend from the Randy Newman listserv. Nice chatting about U.S. politics, Randy, movies. Dre's from Austria, so he has some perspective on this country. After a while, we visited the bookseller with the copy of Bean Spasms. I hemmed, hawed, auto-rationalized, flipped it over and over again in hands. And then I bought it. The most expensive book I've ever bought. But I didn't know if I'd ever get near a copy again, and the only way to read it was to own it. (Today I wrote to Ron and told him I'd bought it: I could almost see him shaking his head sadly as he wrote back, "Keep in mind that it was written by two chimpanzees in bumper cars.")

We hopped the subway and went all the way downtown, to Wall Street station, because Dre had to meet some friends in Battery Park. This was the first time I'd made it to the financial district and I was sorta surprised: I expected wide streets and grotesque pomp, but those streets were like something out of Paris. Narrow and windy. Zillions of people were clustered around the stupid bull statue, which is supposed to represent the bull market. People were posing for photos on the ground underneath the creature's enormous testicles. Dre and I parted ways and I wandered around Battery Park and peered across at the Statue of Liberty. Yup, there it was. A monument in the park displayed Emma Lazarus's famous poem about the statue, and for the first time, perhaps, I understood the ideals this country purports to represent. But the wretched and the huddled masses have no part in this society. Hell, even the Bowery is getting gentrified: a Whole Foods has opened up where drunks once riddled the sidewalks. And Chinatown, once among the most affordable neighbourhoods, is being invaded by yuppies, with small apartments going for $1,700 a month.

A quick coupla trains and I was in Hoboken, New Jersey, where I met with Joel Lewis for an hour or so. Had a nice tour of the waterfront, some Frank Sinatra Landmarks, the gorgeous train station. I didn't get too many words in as Joel expounded on Naropa, Ted Berrigan, the New Jersey poets, and jazz.

Then back to the east Village for another mac'n'cheese croquet out of the wall and some excellent fries from Frites, followed by a tea in Veselka's, where I looked over my St. Mark's score: Starred Wire, by Ange Mlinko (blurbed by Ashbery, who seems to have blurbed just about every poetry book in the store!) (Coffee House Press, 2005), and The Outernationale, by Peter Gizzi (Wesleyan, 2007).

My last full day of the trip I visited the new location of the Teachers & Writers Collaborative, an amazing organization dedicated to promoting the teaching of writing in all levels of schools. All sorts of great poets have been connected with TWC. They've also published a whole lot of books about teaching writing, and I picked up a few I didn't have, including a guide to teaching Whitman that Padgett edited.

I went to Staples and bought a dozen padded envelopes to mail out contributors' copies of If I Were You to Berkson, Clark, Gallup, Veitch, Notley, and Yu Jian, plus the estates of Berrigan, Ginsberg, Oliver, and Schuyler (I'd already given Fagin his copies). I bought the wrong size. I went to the Poetry Project at St. Mark's and asked them if they wanted a bunch of padded envelopes, and I gave them a review copy of the book. When I left, a mildly scruffy guy chased me out into the hallway. He turned out to be Anselm Berrigan, the Project's artistic director, and he thanked me for the envelopes with a laugh, and for the book. I was a little awestruck, as I tend to be, and I told him about the workshop I taught where I played a couple of tracks from one of his poetry CDs and one of the participants got up, said, "I don't need this kind of abuse," and left the class. He seemed surprised and happy about that.

Back to St. Mark's to meet up with Charles George, an artist friend who moved from Toronto to New York seven years ago. He did the painting for my first ECW book, The Inspiration Cha-Cha. We had a great wander down to a dumpling joint in the very depths of NYC's vast Chinatown. Charles has a day gig doing graphics at a tabloid daily and when I saw him last a couple years back, he wasn't doing any art, seemingly worn by the paycheque grind. But now he's making art again: expanding on the insane sculptures he was creating in Toronto when he lived in what is now the Katherine Mulherin Gallery. He's a swell guy. It was good to see him.

Poked around the Strand, where I rarely find anything I want to buy, but this time did snap up a copy of Anne Waldman's Giant Night (Corinth, 1970), with a gorgeous cover by Joe Brainard. It looks like a lot of fun. Found a few good things at another used bookstore behind the Strand, including a book by Maureen Owen and a very old Padgett mimeo books I'd never seen before.

OK, I'm not buying any more books this year. Unless I have to.

I really lucked out with events on this trip: Anselm Berrigan and Eileen Myles were reading at the KGB Bar Monday night. I'd never been to the KGB and was a little scared: everyone there'd be really cool and I'd be this conspicuous grey-haired, hunchbacked Jew. Which is pretty much how it was, but it was also a comfortable place -- like Wall Street, a lot smaller than I'd imagined. Berrigan read in a low-key way, but quiet intense, largely from a project in progress where he's writing 200 poems all called "Have a Good One." His work sprawls from stuff not unlike his dad's Personismish poems to works that are sort of Languagey: but it's never dense, contemptuous, and impenetrable: there is always a very human entrance to his work. Eileen was hilarious and lively: I'd read with her and Gil Adamson at This Ain't the Rosedale Library in 2001 or maybe 2002, and I'd enjoyed her reading, but didn't remember her being *this* personable and entertaining.

It was a good night in that crammed little room. I spoke a little more to Anselm and urged him to come read in Toronto. He'd be a natural for Mark Truscott's Test series, I'd think.

I keep getting weepy after I have a nice exchange with a New York poet. I find it sort of overwhelming.

And the other evening I popped into a bank to use the ATM. I took out some money, then noticed someone had left her credit card lying on the ledge. The bank was closed, so I put it in my pocket, figuring I'd bring it back to the bank when they were open, and I left the ATM chamber, crossed Broadway. I hear a guy yell from the other side of the four lanes. He's waving his arms. I think he means me. So I wait as he scurries across the road. "Were you just in that bank, man?" he asks me. "Yeah," I say. "Is this your bank card? You're crazy -- you just left it right in the slot and the thing was saying 'Do you want to do another transaction?' Are you crazy?" I flipped open my wallet: he was right: I was so fussed over the card I found, that I forgot about my own card. I took the card from him and thanked him over and over: "Man, I'm so glad it was you who found my card!" He just shook his head, maybe the way Padgett shook his when he heard I'd bought Bean Spasms.

Over and out.


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