07 April 2007

New York is Hell

This is my third day in New York City.

It is a poetry trip (Dana suggested I declare it so) I built around a Kenward Elmslie reading at the Bowery Poetry Club later this afternoon, but it also coincided with a showing of Joe Brainard's erotic art at the Tibor de Nagy gallery and with an opportunity to get Ron Padgett to sign the special edition copies of If I Were You, the book of collaborative poetry by him and his comrades that I've just published. (Some special editions still available at $50 a pop! Inquire within.)

Upon arrival on Thursday, I wasted no time in getting to St. Mark's Bookshop, and visited again yesterday. So far: Citizen Of, by Christian Hawkey (Wave Books, 2007); Kenneth Koch: Selected Poems, edited by Ron Padgett (The Library of America, 2007); The Curious Builder, by Paul Violi (Hanging Loose Press, 1993); Cadenza, by Charles North (Hanging Loose Press, 2007); Selected Prose, by John Ashbery (U of Michigan Press, 2005).

I was thrilled to discover an incredible new magazine, The Sienese Shredder (#1), edited by Brice Brown and Trevor Winkfield, and containing a huge selection of recent poems by Padgett, including some really long ones, and a big batch of prose poems by Larry Fagin — I haven't seen anything by him since 1980's Be Seeing You, and this new stuff is fantastic and very, very different. I'm so glad he's beginning to publish again. It's a huge and heavy magazine, printed in Italy on glossy thick paper.

I'm staying in midtown, in a shoebox-size room in the Herald Square Hotel. I really like the Spartan aspect of travelling: some clothes, a notebook, my computer, some books. And this room I'm in is so tiny it reminds me of some of the places I stayed in Guatemala. In fact, it's about the size of 62-cent room I slept in in Momostenango, except it's $69 and the bed has a mattress instead of straw. Oh, and there's a TV, crammed up near the ceiling on top of a narrow wardrobe. And I have a sink in my room, which also makes it not unlike the sleeper car I stayed in during the Via Rail Writers' Tour in 1997. It's a little less shakey, though.

In the afternoon, I went to Tibor de Nagy, and the Brainard show was wonderful. It was a great complement to the Buffalo show, which concentrated on the books and the comics, that I visited last month. In the space of just a few weeks, my whole understanding of what Brainard did as a visual artist has expanded exponentially. So, yeah, a big room of pretty raunchy drawings, paintings, and collages, and a smaller room of Joe's "regular" stuff. His visual art is much like his writing: lots of references to friends, lovers; lot of humour; and he tries out so many different forms and approaches. I picked up the catalogue for the show, and a nice catalogue of Jane Frielicher's abstracts. It was sorta awe-inspiring to be there, at the legendary de Nagy gallery.

Thursday night, I checked out a launch/reading for an anthology called Best New Poets 2006 (not to be confused with the David Lehman-edited series). It took place at the McNally-Robinson bookstore (Canadian-owned!) in SoHo. Lovely bookstore, with a great poetry section, and it was nice to see a bunch of chapbooks on display, including some from BookThug! The reading, though — oh, man, that stuff was really boring. And so earnest that I feel awful being critical. It just all sounded like bad workshop stuff. Really, though, that's what most poetry being written in North America is like, I guess. No crimes committed, so I won't press charges.

Picked up a little lit mag from Ugly Duckling Presse, called 6x6, mainly because there was work in there by Guy R. Beining, who I haven't read in many years, since the days that jwcurry published him regularly. As it turns out, all six poets in there are really interesting. Also bought a novel by Roberto Bolaño called Distant Star. Bolaño appeared as a character in the brilliant Javier Cercas novel I read recently. There's a nice feature on him in the new issue of BookForum. He died, after a measley 50 years, in 2003. I think my friend Anne met him once. Did you, Anne? Anyway, I've only read the first few pages, but wow, is this good stuff.

Friday started off with an early-morning breakfast with Larry Fagin, who generously made some time for me. He's a great guy, and like I said, I'm so excited that he's publishing again. He always has fantastic advice (unasked-for); I can see why he's such a busy poetry teacher. What gets me most is his complete devotion to good lines of poetry, and his enthusiasm. It's a real learning experience spending an hour or two with him. Always feel lousy that I have so little to offer in return, though I did give him his contributor's copies of If I Were You, which he thought looked great.

Then, lunch with Padgett. He signed and lettered the special editions of the new book. He let me look at his copy of Bean Spasms, a huge and now-rare book for which he collaborated with Ted Berrigan and Joe Brainard. I'd never looked through it. It is incredible. I've got an appointment tomorrow to check out a local book dealer's copy: if I buy it, it'll cost me about as much as a Toronto-New York flight (I flew from Buffalo, though, so I figure I can buy this book). Ron and I had some mediocre matzoh-ball soup at a nearby deli and talked about travelling. He's such a nice guy. And then Richard Hell walked in by chance and I got to meet Richard Hell. I guess this kind of thing happens in New York, where everyone is famous.

In the evening, I went to the Pink Pony West reading series at the Cornelia Street Café. It was packed. The open-mic list went into overflow. I got the last spot, at #31, and we'd only get there if time permitted. So I didn't expect to read. There was a lot of bad stuff in the open mic, and some pretty good stuff. The feature performer was Bruce Weber with two additional voices, and I just couldn't concentrate (or hear) from the back of the room. To my surprise, I got to read, and I read two short poems, which went over well. I gave out some poetry leaflets afterwards and a bunch of the regulars invited me to join them for dinner on Bleecker Street. I went. Among them was Bob Heman, whose work I knew but couldn't recall why. Turns out he has been published a lot in Joel Dailey's Fell Swoop, and in John M. Bennett's Lost & Found Times, magazines that I've also appeared in. And both he and I were in Bennett's Loose Watch anthology. He gave me a copy of his litmag clwn wr, and it's really good: all the poems are under 20 words in length. Nice buncha people, the Pink Pony regulars.

Moving right along, here's the cover for my new book. It's by the great Gary Clement. The launch info is on that vertical bar to the right.

Over and out.


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