Clouds

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From Mark Jarman’s Epistles:

26. In the Clouds

Simply by thinking I stood among the clouds. They surrounded and passed me, being and becoming. Blood released into clear water. Breath into cold air. Formlessness entering form, forced into form. . . .

Brothers and sisters, consider the taste of cloud in a Sherpa’s mouth, of fog in a surfer’s throat. Consider the flocculent muscle of the cumulus. The icy elevation of the cirrus. But especially the thunderhead, full of zeal, hurrying in with its beveled wind, white slanting rain, its electric personality, its aftermath. . . .

As they change, clouds grow neither better nor worse. They alter because it is their nature to alter.

And on the cover a cloud study by John Constable:

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Painting is a science and should be pursued as an inquiry into the laws of nature. Why, then, may not landscape painting be considered a branch of natural philosophy, of which pictures are but the experiments?” John Constable

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Blanche McCarthy

Look in the terrible mirror of the sky

And not in this dead glass, which can reflect

Only the surfaces- the bending arm,

The leaning shoulder and the searching eye.

Look in the terrible mirror of the sky.

Oh, bend against the invisible; and lean

To symbols of descending night; and search

The glare of revelations going by!

Look in the terrible mirror of the sky.

See how the absent moon waits in a glade

Of your dark self, and how the wings of stars,

Upward, from unimagined coverts, fly.

William Carlos Williams

[thanks to Richard Gate for this]

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Translation

Emily Wilson’s review of Mark Polizzotti’s Sympathy for the Traitor: A Translation Manifesto (in the current edition of the NYRB) makes me think about my own work as a translator.

Should a translation, as Walter Benjamin argued, “be powerfully affected by the language of the original text”? Should a translation impose a “foreign otherness”? Should a translation, as Dante Gabriel Rossetti demanded, not turn a good poem into a bad one?

I agreed to translate a catalogue for an exhibition on the German Army’s role in genocide primarily because of the section on crimes in Yugoslavia.

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I worked hard to make this a readable English text rather than a word-for-word translation in which the German original was all too evident. An editor retranslated passages into often awkward English that more closely conformed to the German. And thus the double attribution on the title page.

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More interesting were my interactions with the Viking Press editor who commissioned a translation of Peter Handke’s A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia.

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He had a keen eye  for detail and a good sense for language and made several suggestions that improved my work. But when he asked that I rethink the common use of the conjunction and to begin sentences and paragraphs, especially as the book approached its end, I pointed out that Handke used and as a bridge between warring parties and in contradistinction to a divisive or. The editor understood immediately.

The German writer Peter Schneider, however, understood nothing as he reviewed the book for The New Republic. His animosity may have been fueled by an earlier interview with Handke in which Handke revealed that Schneider had told him that when he sat down to write he always did so wearing tight pants that stimulated him.

I replied to Schneider’s review in a letter published in the subsequent edition of The New Republic:

The Reader Takes a Hike

Are we reading correctly? Peter Schneider asks in his review of Peter Handke’s A Journey to the Rivers, Justice for Serbia. The answer is no. Schneider may be a writer, but as in his polemical attack on Handke in Der Spiegel, he here again proves he cannot (or will not) read.

At issue are Schneider’s repeated assertions that Handke has denied the atrocities of the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. Handke’s text says the opposite. Note the following   contradictions:

Journey to the Rivers: What, are you trying to help minimize the Serbian crimes in Bosnia, in the Krajina, in Slavonia, by means of a media critique that sidesteps the basic facts? . . . You aren’t going to question the massacre at Srebrenica too, are you?

Schneider: Handke doubted or disputed . . . whether [the Serbs] really established concentration camps, whether a genocide really took place. . . .

Journey to the Rivers: Isn’t it, finally, irresponsible . . . to offer the small sufferings in Serbia . . . while over the border a great suffering prevails, that of Sarajevo, of Tuzla, of Srebrenica, of Bihac, compared to which the Serbian boo-boos are nothing?

Schneider: There was no genocide? Then prove it.

Journey to the Rivers: When the first photographs, soon photo sequences or serial photos, were shown from the Bosnian war, there was a part of myself repeatedly standing for my whole), which felt that the armed Bosnian Serbs, whether the army or individual killers, especially those on the hills and mountains around Sarajevo, were enemies of humanity, to slightly vary Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s phrase in reference to the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Schneider: Handke is insensitive to the thousands of citizens of Sarajevo [who] were murdered by snipers and grenades.

Schneider: Handke writes about the notorious bandit and war killer Arkan as if his quotation marks suffice to disprove what is commonly known, which is that Arkan was one of the worst butchers of the war in the Balkans.

If Schneider could read, he would notice that when Handke here quotes a rhetorically overblown close chain of denunciations in an article in Le Monde, he puts them in quotation marks, but that when, in the same sentence, he himself refers to Arkan, he calls him a war criminal, with no relativizing marks.

For a man who can write in two languages, Schneider demonstrates a surprising inability to read in either. He quotes my translation, “Doubtlessly really suffering,” and suggests that “it is worth noting that in the German original, Handke’s words were ‘wohl wirklich leidend’ — supposedly really suffering.” He is intimating that Handke here calls the facticity of suffering into question but that my translation covers for him. Schneider might well consult his dictionary. He would find the meaning that exactly fits the context in which the word is used: wohl — to be sure, no doubt (nachdruecklich, was von anderer Seite in Zweifel gezogen wird; durchaus).

Finally, Schneider begins his review by pointing out that Peter Handke’s American   publisher presents him as Germany’s foremost living writer. Is he referring to Viking, the publisher of A Journey to the Rivers? If so, this is what it actually says on the dust jacket: “one of the most popular postwar German language writers.” And if he is referring to Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Handke’s usual American publisher, the assertion must be especially galling, for that is Schneider’s publisher as well.

Peter Handke’s carefully written essay deserves careful readers. And then the discussion can begin.

Scott Abbott, Provo, Utah, 27 February 1997

The long poem To Duration was a pleasure to translate, especially given the chance to work with the editor and designer Philip Baber.

Handke himself is a prolific translator, works from French, Slovenian, English, and Greek. In his translation of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, Handke has Autolycus describe one of the songs he is selling: Eine ganz lustige, zu der Melodie “Mitten in Mobile wieder in der Mangel des Memphis Blues.” I asked him about that and he said: Ja, daß habe ich mir erlaubt. What he allowed himself was the imposition of foreign otherness, a move that makes me smile whenever I think of it.

For PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, I translated Handke’s Voyage by Dugout, a play provoked by the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia and one scene of which was drawn from an experience in Visegrad on the Drina River which I witnessed myself.

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More recently, I translated Gregor Mendel’s “Experiments on Plant Hybrids” with geneticist Danial Fairbanks. It was a “Darwinian” translation, incorporating marginalia from Mendel’s copy of the first German translation of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Our translation was joint work in the best sense — a scientist making sure we got the science right and I making sure our English reflected the German. My only regrets with this are the sentences in which we emphasized Darwinian English phrases to the detriment of an English that approximated Mendel’s beautiful German.

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Mark Jarman: Devotional Poetry

A couple of years ago, poet, translator, and critic Kimberly Johnson organized a conference at Brigham Young University on Devotional Poetry. Poet Susan Howe suggested that Kimberly invite me to introduce their keynote speaker, Mark Jarman, who had been a colleague of mine at Vanderbilt University. I told Kimberly that some of the members of the English faculty might not and members of the administration certainly would not welcome my presence on campus. She said that didn’t matter to her and so I agreed. Mark didn’t make it to the conference, delayed, if memory serves, by a snowstorm that closed the Nashville airport.

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This morning, looking through a notebook, I found notes written for the introduction:

. . . Mark Jarman, Centennial Professor of English at Vanderbilt University.

. . . Books include those in the photo and Unholy Sonnets and Questions for Ecclesiastes.

. . . When I told the Vanderbilt Dean of Arts and Sciences I was going to take the job in Utah after he had awarded tenure, he asked if a higher salary would have kept me at Vanderbilt. I miss the scent of sage, I answered, and I want to contribute to the education of the next generation of my fellow Mormons. Mark was one of the few who understood that a person could miss a scent — of sage, or of Pacific saltwater in his case.

. . . I first experienced Mark as a religious person while back-country skiing with him and Susan Howe in Utah during a previous visit to BYU. Inexperienced, and burdened by the inferior equipment I supplied for him, Mark let loose a rich string of religious words  to express his frustration.

. . . In the mid-1990’s when I was writing my way through the death of my brother John of AIDS, when I was deciding to leave BYU and the LDS Church out of solidarity with John, I travelled up the California coast from San Diego where John had worked as a chef. I carried Mark’s book Iris the way Iris carries the Selected Poems of Robinson Jeffers. Iris accompanied me as I thought about family and fraternity, about loss and survival, and it guided me to Jeffers’ Tor House and Hawk Tower where I, like Iris, found the flowering iris in the garden a more productive metaphor for my life than the phallic and patriarchal towers built by the inheritors of the religious tradition that had, for better and worse, been the foundation of my identity.

In retrospect, divine providence may have had a hand in the Nashville snowstorm.

 

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Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight

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We order our lives with barely held stories. As if we have been lost in a confusing landscape, gathering what was invisible and unspoken . . . sewing it all together in order to survive, incomplete. . . .

Now and then there would be days in the Archives when I’d come across information from distant events that overlapped with my mother’s activities. I would in this way glimpse details of another operation or place. And so one afternoon, following a tangent to her activities, I came upon references to the transportation of nitroglycerine during the war. How it was transported secretly across the city of London and, because it was dangerous freight, how this needed to be done at night with the public unaware. This had continued even during the Blitz, when there was just warlight. . . .

In Michael Ondaatje’s new novel, two children, 14 and 16, are left by their parents in the care of men and women they do not know, people whose underworld skills have made them invaluable to the British secret service. The boy, now an adult working to understand those years, searching to know his mother and himself, narrates the uncertain story. What they knew in the aftermath of the war was only slightly illumined by the warlight that lingers. What he learns is no less nebulous. From discovered details he constructs whole stories, whole fictional lives, unreliably true stories layered like a large and impossible pearl.

The novel is about the waterways of London and the rural hills of Suffolk and the secrecy of spies and the boy’s awakening sexuality and his mother’s courage and criminal brilliance. Yes, it is replete with those people and events and places. But for me, the book’s power lies in how it turns me to my own checkered and sketchy histories, to the true stories I have constructed that are anything but whole.

I searched the Archives while writing Immortal for Quite Some Time. I’ll search them again with new impetus.

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Into the Unknown with Charles Bowden and Edward Abbey

Scott Carrier begins his foreword to the forthcoming reissue of Charles Bowden’s Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing with a caveat:

Instead of a foreword I should start with a forewarning to those with a desire to feel safe—put this book down and walk away now.

The warning applies as well to Bowden’s book The Red Caddy, just published nearly four years after his death and eighteen years after he wrote it. In fact, Bowden begins this book with a “HOLD HARMLESS AGREEMENT: warning, vehicle not equipped with seat belts or air bags.”

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It wasn’t hard to be friends with Abbey, Bowden writes: “He was reasonably polite, didn’t shit on the floor, and was well read.”

How do you write about a friend? (That he asks the question and then explores possible answers makes him, for my taste, a writer I can learn from.) Bowden says writing about a friend requires details and contradictions that unsettle what you know and enrich your uncertainty:

There is a clutter to life that ideas can never tolerate or make go away. To unravel something, you have to have a thesis. But to understand the dead ends, back alleys, and side roads of life itself, you have to mistrust your thesis and constantly keep an eye on it lest it blind you to detail, contradiction, lust, love, and loneliness. I can’t write about a friend and make it neat and tidy unless I intend to kill my friend. And this is not my intention. To be an expert on someone you know, I truly believe, is never to have known them at all. Which is why we assign such work to scholars. We say they will be objective, while we ourselves cannot promise such a feat. But we also think they can be certain, while we cannot comprehend such a fantasy. To really know someone, to break bread with them and talk and drink and laugh and argue, is much like knowing an ecosystem. You can get the drift, draw a map, know many trails, but the more you know the more convinced you become that absolute knowing is impossible.

And so Charles Bowden tells stories, damning stories and endearing stories, stories as much about himself as about Abbey. I hear both of their voices — Bowden’s resonant from deep barrel and Abbey’s a clipped monotone — in this book. I’m sorry they are no longer with us. I’m grateful for their books.

…………………………………….

Writing about The Red Caddy takes me back to the review I wrote about Bowden’s book Inferno. The night I first met Bowden, standing in Ken Sanders’ kitchen, eating Ken’s barbecue and drinking beer, I introduced myself to Bowden (more than a little nervous, or perhaps shy is a better word) and mentioned that I had reviewed the book. Yes, he said, you’re the only reviewer who understood the book.

Reading and writing about a book by an author you respect and perhaps even adore while squirming at what he is saying is humbling and exacting. In the back of my head while I write anything are the critical voices of writers I know and whose critical praise I want to deserve. Here the review first published in Catalyst Magazine:

 

“Supposing truth to be a woman – ” Nietzsche wrote at the beginning of  Beyond Good and Evil; “what did philosophers, at least the dogmatic ones, know about women? Weren’t the ghastly seriousness and the awkward thrusting with which they have always approached truth unimaginative and unseemly tools to win, of all things, a woman?”

inferno, Charles Bowden’s new book (with striking black-and-white photos by Michael Berman, and with an exquisite design that values print as it does image) knows all about truth being a woman. The book’s sometimes hallucinatory, often contradictory, and always white-hot prose is a supple and sensuous organ of seduction.

The woman in question is a patch of Arizona desert, and this woman too has had relations with William Jefferson Clinton, who, as one of his last acts as President, in response to lobbying by Bowden and others, established the Sonoran Desert National Monument.

Bowden sits “on the ground of a great desert. . . . I’ve come here because this place has always worked for me and has forced me to surrender the buzz of my ideas and taste the limits of my power.”

In the hours before dawn, sipping a cup of espresso made on a little camp stove, Bowden chases thoughts and memories with the exquisitely bitter coffee and his fierce, rampant desire to live outside his mind:

“Or I should have been a dog. . . the eyes bold, the manner cunning, running up the wash, running for miles, slipping under the barbed wire, dodging the mesquite, the cholla, the prickly pear, snorting down the books written in the air, eyes cocked for danger, nose alive to the noise of scent, the muscles toned and pulsing, lungs gulping air, feet hard and taking the rocks with ease, a blur moving through the tall grass by the washes, weaving in and out of the bottom land, hawks in the sky, idling, noting the passage, coyotes wary but alert to an opportunity, in sync with everything as the sun falls down, wary of snakes, eager for the miles, and then suddenly at the door of a house where I lived edging the great desert.”

“Or the snakes,” he writes, “unblinking, watching and ever so good at waiting. I see them as a door into the miasma and the messy smear . . . where I want to go. . . . Inside, I want inside, toss the guidebooks, to hell with the anatomical detail . . . take me inside to the place I cannot find inside myself, at least not often or easily . . . the place where unconscious and conscious cease to have meaning.”

He thinks/tastes/smells his way inside badgers and owls, hummingbirds and bighorn sheep, back into dogs: “into that miasma, the same one within me, the place inside the cells, the place hidden inside the word mind, the thing flowing through the nostrils of a dog sucking in the literature of a wet spot and reading millions of years of life in a flash.”

Wine and sex and drugs and the tiny cup of hot espresso keep Bowden’s mind at bay, keep him focused on the woman who is the desert: “I think that is why I hate nature writing. . . . Hate it because it seeks a throb, a big moment, a chamber of time full of meaning and narrative and song and story and fails to know the scraping of the shoes on the bumpy ground. . . . because all it is or ever can be is what flows into my eyes and nostrils and across the blank sheet of the place where my mind once festered.”

“I also worry,” he writes, “that people with a deep interest in the natural world seem to lack a deep interest in burlesque, makeup, high heel and the Kamasutra. .  .  .”

And here the crux of Bowden’s approach to the desert, to the woman: APPETITE. The appetite to possess is killing the world (seen in an amazing, contradictory portrait of a Mexican truck driver preparing lines of cocaine and a 12-pack of Tecate beer for a quick 1000-mile haul of consumer goods). Yet only appetite, animal appetite, is the truth of the desert (and in the Mexican’s appetites Bowden finds his own). “What if,” he asks, “when we get out here on the hot ground in the August night, we discover that this is the way it should be but cannot be for our kind. And that is the very reason we must preserve it – not for beauty, biology or God and country, but so that we can always know the place we dream of being, the place we cannot belong. The place for our yearning.”

“You want to live ‘according to nature’?” Nietzsche asks in Beyond Good and Evil. “You noble Stoics, what a fraudulent use of words! Consider a being like nature, profligate beyond counting, absolutely indifferent, aimless, merciless, without pity and justice, simultaneously fecund and desolate and uncertain, consider indifference itself as power – how could you live according to this indifference? Living – isn’t that simply the desire to be other than this nature? . . . Your pride wants to force your morals, your ideas onto nature; you demand that nature be ‘nature according to the Stoics. . . .’”

Bowden’s nature (and yes, he’s aware that it is “his nature”) is anything but.

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Hunting the Truth

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Reading a review in the NYRB of Beate and Serge Klarsfeld’s memoir, I see a photo of Beate Klarsfeld with her arm raised in the Bundestag where she is shouting at the Chancellor before being removed from the chamber: “Kiesinger, Nazi, resign!” The date is April 1968.

On November 7, 1968, the review says, “Beate . . . slapped West German chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger, a former Nazi Party member, during a public meeting.”

Where was I that November? I open my book Immortal for Quite Some Time and find the answer on page 10:

November 1968, Language Training Mission, Provo

     Missionaries have been assembled in a large lecture hall to learn advanced techniques of “Motivational Psychology.” A young, bald, and energetic man named Stephen Covey shows us a double-sided drawing and asks us if we see the face of an ugly old woman or of a beautiful young woman. Your conditioning determines what you see, he explains. The keys of influence depend on the point of view, he tells us. When we criticize, judge, and reject we freeze a person’s point of view and they become defensive and hostile. If we understand and accept, they will be open, teachable, and fluid.

     Then we’re back to German verb forms: er glaubt, er glaubte, er hat geglaubt, er hatte geglaubt. He believes, he believed, he has believed, he had believed.

We weren’t going to be hunting the truth when we arrived in Germany, we would be delivering it. There was no need to learn about the current politics of the country or about its history. Verb conjugations and memorized lessons about the restored gospel would suffice.

Over the next two years, I delivered the truth as well as I could, and found myself hunting it as well.

7 April 1969, Cologne, Germany

     The young couple invites us into their booklined apartment near the University, curious about our American religion. She asks about the war. I explain we aren’t political, that as missionaries we are trying to make the world better one person at a time by teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. He argues that persons can’t flourish unless political and social institutions make that possible. He sings protest songs, bangs on his battered guitar. We read together from the Book of Mormon. Their little boy succumbs to the sandman. Nephi cuts off Laban’s head to get the brass plates inscribed with family history: “It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.”

     What?

     That’s Nephi, my companion responds. The Lord commanded him. It was an exceptional case, I argue. God ordered Nephi to break the law because his people needed to know their family history and God’s law.

     I’ve seen violence in the service of God, our host explains, and in the service of dialectical history for that matter. “Exceptional case” means “the end justifies the means.”

     What are those books on your shelves? I ask, pointing at a rainbow-colored row of paperbacks.

     It’s a series published by Suhrkamp: Brecht, Marcuse, Frisch, Benjamin, Weiss, Adorno, Hesse, Bloch. Do you know them?

     Not yet.

     Before the week is out I am carrying a slim purple edition of Bertolt Brecht’s Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder. I bend over the dialect-strewn text on the streetcar, reading my way into a radical new world. I savor the vinegary words on my tongue: “Eia popeia / Was raschelt im Stroh? / Nachbars Bälg greinen / Und meine sind froh.”

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River of Lost Souls

I just read Jonathan P. Thompson’s The River of Lost Souls (Torrey House Press, March 2018). The book unsettled me. Profoundly.

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On August 5, 2015, EPA contractors who were investigating a portal of the Gold King Mine above Durango accidentally released an estimated 3 million gallons of acid drainage laden with heavy metals that had been backing up for decades in the abandoned mine. [Photos and timelines at the High Country News ]

I never knew that the name of the Animas River, one of the three rivers running through my hometown of Farmington, New Mexico, meant River of Souls. Still less did I know that someone later added the adjective “perdidas” to the name, making it the River of Lost Souls. Jonathan P. Thompson knew that, however, and now I know it too.

Nomen est omen.

I knew the Animas was deadly, having experienced that on a tubing trip in junior high school during which I and my inner tube were swept into a downed tree raking the swift current and then down onto the rake’s teeth. Before the heavy water drowned me, I grasped a thick branch and hauled myself to the surface. Gasping there, I discovered that the branch was one leg of a dead steer, like me swept into the teeth of the dead tree.

Before I read Thompson’s River of Lost Souls, subtitled “The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster” (Torrey House Press, 2018), I didn’t know that the baby teeth we donated to science in Farmington in 1959 were used for a study of the effects of spills at a uranium mine upstream.

The Animas River below Durango was polluted with chemical and radioactive materials. Water, mud, and algae samples from Station 2, two miles below the [uranium] mill, were one hundred to five hundred times more radioactive than the control samples taken above the mill. . . . Water that [people] drank from [their] taps in Farmington had ten times the radioactivity of Durango’s tap water. . . . In addition to the radioactive materials, the river had high levels of zinc, arsenic, aluminum, lead, and other toxic metals, both from the upstream metal-mining tailings and the uranium mill.

Now I know this and much more about the river that drains the mountains from Silverton to Durango of the waste products of rapacious and unregulated mining and that runs through the San Juan Basin between Durango and Shiprock, a landscape that has been devastated by unregulated and rapacious drilling.

Reading the book was like reading an intimate history of my acidic home waters.

My book Immortal for Quite Some Time grew out of the years in Farmington that were an early and indelible influence on who I am. I worked in the first power plant on the Navajo Reservation Thompson writes about, one that metastasized into a set of massive coal-powered plants that have thoroughly fouled the air of the region. I put myself through college working as a roughneck in the oil fields he writes are now the source the world’s worst methane leakage into the atmosphere. I bought a season pass for Purgatory ski area’s second season, not suspecting the resort was financed by oil field profits.

Of course Farmington was a coal- and oil-powered town at the confluence of the La Plata, San Juan, and Animas Rivers. We moved there because of the boom. We hiked in the mountains above Durango. We found the old mines with their colorful tailings quaint reminders of the history of the region.

We didn’t know the Gold King Mine would color the river bright orange in 2015. We didn’t know about the uranium mines that had irradiated the river. We didn’t know about earlier spills that had dyed the Animus the color of aluminum and that had hourly dumped as much mine waste into the river as the entire Gold King spill.

The 2015 spill is simply the latest disaster in an ugly history of disasters perpetrated by people and corporations for whom profit trumps (pun intended: see the current administration’s dismantling of EPA protections and opening up the “interior” to rapacious and unregulated drilling and mining) the health and well being of inhabitants (plant, animal, human) for whom this entire beautiful and deeply troubled ecosystem is home.

This is Thompson’s home as well, and in the book he weaves his own personal history as a child in Durango and as an investigative newspaperman in Silverton into the history of the mining region. It is a potent mix.

I, however, was one of the “folks downstream” who had no clue.

A final note: for some reason the High Country News essay by Thompson doesn’t mention the book from which it is drawn. It should. This is a wonderful and terrifying book.

 

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Gratis Currency / Free Books

On Saturday I finished an essay about the chapbooks Alex Caldiero has been producing at a rapid pace over the last couple of years.

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In answer to my question about why the sudden and prolific production, Alex said that he “wanted to reach out, to create a current and a currency, a gratis currency to exchange what I call documents of our common presence.”

That same day I received this book in the mail from Concord Free Press:

 

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I ordered the book online, where I found an explanation that the press is an experiment in “subversive altruism,” and in return for the free book they ask that you donate to a charity or to someone in need and to report your donation. The final step in the process is to pass the book on to another reader when you are done, and there’s a page at the end for you to sign your name and for the next reader to sign their name and so on.

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The project reminded me of the Free Store in the Haight in the 60’s and of the zines Alex cites as inspirations for his chapbooks: Semina, Beatitude, Origin, and Clown War.

I already have the novella Brian Evenson published earlier as a limited edition with Tyrant Books,

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but I don’t know Paul Tremblay’s work . . . and, the idea of free books + generosity + altruism tickled my interest.

I made my donation to Scott Carrier’s podcast Home of the Brave to support the series on Bears Ears National Monument in which he interviews several of the Native Americans whose land that once was. They  worked eagerly with the Obama administration to develop a proposal that protects a place they hold dear. The Trump administration has shoved aside those collaborative interests to privilege what it calls “local voices” — meaning the voices of extractive industry.

Check out the Concord Free Press, Scott Carrier’s podcast, and watch for my essay on Alex’s chapbooks in a future edition of 15 Bytes, Utah’s Art Magazine.

. . . CONTINUING AND DEEPENING THE DISCUSSION, ALEX sent me the following today:

“here are some further notes on gratis currency (thanks to your blog post this
morning, i felt a need to further clarify myself and distinguish “gratis
currency” from “free” or “gift” or “object/thing”)—.
gratis = favor/ grace /not by work / gratitude /even gratuitous, etc.—
currency = current (in the present) current (flow as in a river) current (as
in an electrical impulse) currency (a money-value-mode of exchange)—
ergo
gratis currency is a mix of these two concepts including all their
ramifications—
result: an exchange of BEING, hence, the “more i give the more
i am”—  the gain primarily an inner phenomenon, more akin to consciousness
and conscience, than to any kind of reward or payback and such—  the
chapbook, as object/thing, is a vehicle for this exchange. but as object and
product it has a double life, depending on the intent of the giver and the
expectation of the receiver. thus, It can be gratis currency or a mere
publication with aesthetic qualities—  gratis currency is a “para-object”!”
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The Afternoon on the Sava

The journal RIC (red in corner) just published my essay about a long afternoon on a houseboat restaurant outside of Belgrade on the Sava River. It will eventually be a section of the book We: A Friendship, co-authored with Zarko Radakovic.

https://ricjournal.com/2018/04/17/the-afternoon-on-the-sava-with-peter-handke-scott-abbott/

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skyplains

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This morning I finished (or have I just started?) reading Australian novelist Gerald Murnane’s The Plains.

The book opens with these paragraphs:

plains

The unnamed filmmaker who is the novel’s narrator has in mind a film of the plains that will get at some elaborate meaning behind appearances. The flat land around him seems like a place that only he could interpret.

Over the years he finds his way into a vast library of works about the plains and writes elaborate notes while, for the most part, ignoring the actual plains. He makes no film.

My mind turned repeatedly to the clouds I photograph, to the vast skies over Utah Valley, and I thought of the brilliant sunsets and sunrises that anyone can interpret, scenes whose meaning is brute brilliance. And then I thought of scenes like this morning’s, subtle and largely undistinguished clouds with, surely, elaborate meaning behind their appearances, clouds that only I can interpret.

sky

And then came a wry smile.

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