Wild Rides and Wildflowers: Book of the Year Award Finalist

Sam’s and my book has been named a finalist for Forward Reviews’ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award. Click HERE for the announcement.

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Kissed by Nietzsche

Lance Olson’s Nietzsche’s kisses begins . . . well, after two epigraphs it begins, and for that matter the epigraphs follow the title of the book and, I should note: the title of the first part—on the despisers of the body—precedes this beginning . . . Lance Olson’s book begins, then, with a kiss: Every sentence is a kiss.

“And next you are wandering the aisles of a secondhand bookstore.”

I have opened the book randomly to pages 42-43. Somewhat randomly. A sales receipt from Ken Sanders Rare Books is lodged here. Before I bought Nietzsche’s kisses I wandered the aisles of a rare and secondhand bookstore and now I am wandering the pages of, it says inside the cover, in pencil, by hand, a

signed

1st

edition of Lance Olson’s book Nietzsche’s kisses, a brilliant book that ends with the word “Again.” With the sentence “Again.” With an eternally recurring kiss.

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In Your Wildest Dreams: Alex Caldiero

Alex just gave me a disc titled “THREE (holograph) BOOKS.” It contains (does that metaphor still work digitally?) digital reproductions of three notebooks, 2004, 2005, and 2006. The gift of an author’s notebooks is almost beyond comprehension, possible only in  my wildest dreams, as this image from the first notebook proclaims (click on the image for a larger version):

wildest dreams

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bawdy riddles, anthems to no flag, and answer, and so on

“I will do what I can,” Schiller wrote to Goethe in 1794, “and when the building collapses I will perhaps have rescued what is worth preserving from the fire.”

Despite the fragility of his health, Schiller produced most of his best work over the course of the following nine years. Or should I say because of the fragility of his health?

Why mention that in a response to new books by Alex Caldiero? Because after losing 12 inches of his colon last year (which left him, I told Alex, a semi-colon), Alex has been increasingly aware of his mortality. And that awareness has pushed him to finish projects he has had working on for years.

When Alex’s book Some Love is published by Signature Press next month, it will be the latest in a most remarkable series of recent publications, including sonosuono (Elik Press, 2013), a series of chapbooks, some of which I have written about (click HERE for one example) and the new books pictured here.

Alex Caldiero, A. F. Caldiero, A. A. F. Caldiero, and A. (AIMG_6601.) F. Caldiero, and Alissandru (Alex) F. Caldiero — these are the various appellations asserted by my dear friend Alex on the covers or title pages of these ten new (old) books. New because they have been created in the last few months. Old because they have not been created ex nihilo but ex notebookio. They bear double dates: 1991, 2014; 1989, 2014; 2008, 2014; 2004, 2015; 2007, 2014; 2006, 2015; and so on. Small editions, they are rarities from the moment of creation. My copy of Island Soul (Part One), for instance, is the 5th of 8 copies. The books have passed so quickly from Alex’s hand to mine (and they run from 16 to 120 pages) that I haven’t read them all yet. But I couldn’t help but peek into them. Here some first reports from those initial explorations. First the titles (I love Alex’s titles, once wrote a poem of his titles):

BAWDY RIDDLES AND TONGUE TWISTERS OF THE SICILIAN FOLK (Collected & Translated by A. A. F. Caldiero

bed

anthem to no flag

KINESTHESIA3a

ISLAND SOUL (Part One)

TEXTSPIRE “the heartbeats of sleep”

[the title of this little book is two Hebrew letters]

2004 / 2005 / 2006 (a grid book)

and answer

X-ing the Calendar [I wrote about this in an earlier post]

In his foreword to the Bawdy Riddles Alex writes that “The riddles and tongue twisters here collected were gathered in the late 60’s and early 70’s. They were all uttered by women — beautiful, old women who got a kick out of seeing the expression on my face as I sought to unravel their riddles. For the most part, I could not solve a riddle, because my mind was so prejudiced by the content that only obscene replies suggested themselves. This, of course, was the intent of telling these earthy riddles.”

Three examples:

Men with men can do it; Men with women also; But women with women, no. – Holy Communion –

Five little pricks / And one big cock; / Bumpitibump, / Into the twat. – Toes and foot going into the sock –

It goes in hard / And comes out soft. – Pasta –

The book titled bed  is a series of poems about experiences in bed. It is printed on long sheets of off-white paper. Two of the more religious of them:

BED PRAYER lord, lead us lovingly onto our mattresses

BED CONFESSION bless me father for I have slept.

anthem to no flag is a book of over 100 pages, rich with poetry and drawings. Here a representative page: alexanthem And here a poem about (as so many of Alex’s works are) language and meaning:

next you should

write the word fuck

but you don’t want little

children to read it

and you don’t want

certain sensitive or

impressionable people

to read it or hear it

said and have them

get upset and get nauseous

& have nightmares and

get urges they don’t

understand but which

could lead to random acts

of sex or god forbid

self abuse that’s how

it happens that’s how

that thing & things like

it happen and it’s

not worth the risk &

it don’t justify

aesthetic value

saying it not fo’

if you

would I’

not help

think

problem you

brink

forbidden

KINESTHESIA3a is, in some ways, the oddest of the books, a book from Alex’s past, a mystical book growing out of a poet’s use and creative misuse of the Hebrew language. Facing pages from the little volume: img005 Island Soul (Part One), printed on 8X10 paper, the largest of these books, if not the longest, contains several self portraits, of which this is my favorite: img006

Mind/body problem posed. Mind/body problem illustrated. Mind/body problem no problem.

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A Dairyman’s Lament: Braden Hepner’s PALE HARVEST

When I was in junior high school my family traveled from our home in Farmington, New Mexico to visit my mother’s sister, Marilyn Israelsen. Marilyn and her husband Earl Israelsen lived just north of Logan, Utah. Marilyn was a painter of some note and Earl was a professor at Utah State University. Earl had grown up working with his numerous siblings on the family dairy farm, the Buttercup Dairy. When we visited he drove us over to the farm to introduce us to life on a dairy. I was fascinated by everything I saw and smelled and tasted. Even now, whenever I think about milk and dairies, the images I experienced that day come flooding back.

Today, however, after reading Braden Hepner’s novel Pale Harvest (Torrey House Press, 2014), I have a new and contrary set of images in mind.

In the novel, 21-year-old Jack Selvedge has returned to the dairy farm his father left. His work is crucial for the success of the dairy and he hopes to inherit the farm from his grandparents. It is incessant, backbreaking labor, fraught with danger, financially risky as milk prices rise and fall and nature favors or disdains them. Jack savors it all. He thinks about the land like he thinks about the body and soul of a troubled young woman who has returned to the little town after having lived in Salt Lake City.

IMG_6592The entire landscape testified of a simple existence. Here it seemed a man could live a good life in simplicity and purity, where his considerations held meaning and substance each and were therefore fewer and less wearisome, and a man sought to stay rather than to leave. . . .

He believed in the living God and in good and evil but he believed also in her, in her warm and ample body, in her mind—her body because of its power and beauty, and her mind because only it could be kept until she wished to give it. She could give him of her spirit, her body, her life. She could give him of her substance. . . .

He was on the ground tangled up in the disc plow, replacing bent discs and thinking about the long acres of soil he would work with them. Discing and plowing were the best tractor work of all, to feel the earth pull back as he took the heavy implement over it and laid its soil open.

This novel is as brilliant an evocation of the textures and details of complex labor as any I have ever read. In different hands, this could be a romantic back-to-the land story with a happy ending for cows and people alike.

In Braden Hepner’s exploration of human existence in the contexts of a small town and the workings of a dairy, however, Jack’s hopes and desires and plans and struggles to be a good and whole person are countered by familial perfidy, exploitative greed, sexual violence, and troubling aspects of his own character. The evil is no more absolute than is the good, but the interplay between good and evil would make a mockery of any possible happy end or of any harvest other than a pale one.

It is a profound novel, I think.

When I look at Hepner’s website for the book, I find that he grew up in Cache Valley, Utah and that his grandfather had a small dairy farm where he worked as a child and young man. His grandfather would have known my uncle Earl’s father (hell, his grandfather may have been Earl’s father!).

There is a wonderful set of photos at the website as well, fields and cows and landscapes as gritty and beautiful and real as the novel itself.

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X-ing the Calendar by A. F. Caldiero . . . or “From the Abyss”

I’ve been reading Alex’s book X-ing the Calendar, concieved in 1989 and 1990 and published in 2014. The book was written at a difficult time, so difficult that crossing off the days on the calendar as they passed was a desperate attempt at structuring a life. The book is painful and made up of pain. The poem “Pain (I),” for instance, ends with this stanza:

But something’s gone wrong –

Instead of talking

I’m singin’ a song –

And when I try to tell it,

Enunciate & yell it,

I start to sing –

And I don’ say a thing –

I start to sing –

And I don’ say a thing —-

Stanza four of “Pain (II):

the whole body

too tight to fit

into & walk about

wearing my face

my

hands are gloves for my hands

my feet are shoes for my

feet & I’m all dressed

to kill (no one but myself)

Thoughts of suicide lead the poet to John Berryman, to the biography of his end, and then to a poem in his memory in which Alex becomes Edgar and Berryman becomes Henry (click on the pages for larger images): berryman berryman2 I use Alex’s “biographies of suicides” for my own examination of pain after my brother John died — Immortal For Quite Some Time. And in lines “From the Life of Edgar” I find my life lived because of a death remembered: “Between the pages of the book / written / and the pages of the book / being written, there’s a life lived / and a death remembered.” Coincidentally, I also ran into John Berryman in the company of Zarko Radakovic:

We walk on through the sweltering city. Zarko wants to introduce me to the poet Srba Mitrovic “He was the librarian at our gymnasium in Zemun,” Zarko explains. He told us what books to read. We met with him weekly for discussions. Several of us from that class became writers. With our encouragement, he began to publish his poems. He has won several major prizes.

The retired librarian and active poet lives several floors up in an aged but once splendid apartment house. The elevator rises reluctantly through an open iron-work cage and delivers us to a landing where a short, solid, bald man dressed in half-slippers, shorts, and a purple cotton shirt greets us.

On the table in the front room, a game of solitaire is laid out next to a tabloid newspaper with a naked woman on the cover.

The poet introduces me to Milan Djordjevic, a younger man, bearded, slight, with whom he has translated English and American poetry.

We sit, four translators, around the table. The poet brings out a bottle of amber-colored rakija. A black oak cross floats in the aged brandy. Zarko proclaims the smooth-biting liquid a wonder of the art.

The poet’s bald head glistens with sweat. Behind thick glasses, his eyes shine brightly. “It was at this table,” he says, “that Milan Djordjevic and I translated John Berryman.”

Djordjevic remembers the table heaped with dictionaries and grows ecstatic as he describes the quantities of rakija imbibed in the process.

Zarko asks if we can’t see the poet’s study. It is a spacious room, or was once spacious. Lined with books floor to ceiling, a bed tucked into one corner, a big desk into another, the room is navigable only by means of a pathway snaking through piles of books and boxes. “Here,” the poet points out, “is my unmade bed. There, my desk. There my literary prize. And hanging from the bookshelf, my pants.”

Back at the front-room table, I ask about the other persons we have seen in the apartment, several of whom are watching TV in a closed-off end of the front room.

Refugees, the poet says, relatives, three families of them, Serb refugees from Bosnia.

Zarko mentions our trip along the Drina River. The poet says an acquaintance of his recently ran into trouble there, a Serb who had owned an inn in Gorazda before the war. Emboldened by the agreements in Dayton, he drove back to see what was left. He parked his car and went in. Having a drink with several people he had known, he heard glass crashing outside. He went out and found his car being demolished. The crowd grabbed him and might have demolished him as well if SFOR soldiers hadn’t appeared on the scene.

He opens the newspaper with the naked woman and shows us a photo of the man.

“I was in the United States last month,” he says. “I went to Minnesota to visit a family member at the Mayo Clinic. While I was at the clinic, I had an examination. The doctor told me I had several physical problems, that I drink too much, that I eat too much, and that I don’t exercise enough. I told him that far from being physical problems, those were signs of a good life. The real reason I went to Minnesota, however, was to find the bridge John Berryman jumped from. I asked several people which bridge it was, but none of them had heard of Berryman.”

We exchange books. The poet receives Zarko’s and my Ponavljanja (Repetitions), which I inscribe “from one translator to another.” I receive Snapshots for a Panorama (From the Abyss), published in 1996 in the Cyrillic alphabet.

Alex, I wrote inside the copy of Zarko’s and my Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary (which includes this visit with Srba Mitrovic), you and Zarko are present in every sentence I write. As is pain.

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before the storm / after the storm

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Double Consciousness: Two Books by David Albahari

The new edition of Open Letters Monthly (December 1) has my review of Albhari’s two new books in English. The review ends with my realization that I have immigrated into Albahari’s books:

The characters in this and the other fine stories by David Albahari are all—humorously and gently and each with his or her quirks—miserably away from home. Which leaves me sad as well in the early darkness of this November afternoon. All readers are immigrants.

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Preparing for a Review of David Albahari’s Two New Books in English

I’m just about done with a review I’ve been working on for over a year. Here is how it will begin:

Double Consciousness

David Albahari

Globetrotter

Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać

Yale, 2014

Learning Cyrillic

Translated from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursać

Dalkey Archive, 2014

“Translated” or “Translated from the Serbian”? These two new books by David Albahari pose a more difficult question than one might think. Yale has decided to avoid the “Serbian,” leaving it to the book flap to describe Albahari as a “Serbian writer and translator” who “has published eleven short-story collections and thirteen novels in Serbian.” Dalkey Archive highlights “the Serbian” and calls Albahari “a Serbian master” on the back cover. Ellen Elias-Bursać, who has translated several of Albahari’s books, including Words Are Something Else, Götz and Meyer, Snow Man, and Leeches, is listed variously as translating from “the Serbian,” from “Serbo-Croat,” and from “Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian.”

The language once spoken on the “Highway of Brotherhood and Unity” that connected Zagreb and Belgrade was officially Serbo-Croatian, a unified and unifying language taught and spoken and used in all the republics of Yugoslavia. Books translated into English during the time the highway acted as a hyphen between the two cities, like Ivo Andrić’s Nobel-Prize-winning The Bridge on the Drina, routinely included a hyphen of their own: “translated from the Serbo-Croat.”

But since the brutal wars of the 1990’s that separated the republics into sovereign states and that shattered multicultural Yugoslav identities forged over five decades, publishers have struggled with how to designate the language of books coming out of the former Yugoslavia. . . .

I have read and read and read — books written since the wars by authors from the former Yugoslavia, books in English and German translation, and most importantly, books by David Albahari.

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Here is what they look like on my shelf.

Although I have read them all, only three or four of them are actually mentioned in the essay about Albahari’s books (of which I have read eleven).

It is, however, a remarkable collection of books, a record of displacement and exile and immigration and language and identity and the human spirit.

Not a single one of these books, not a single one!, is about the enemy Serb or Croat or Bosniak. Every single one of them is about the true enemies—war, nationalism, misuse of language.

That shouldn’t surprise me, knowing these books are all the progeny, in one way or another, of that extraordinarily wise and  peace-loving book The Bridge on the Drina, Ivo Andric’s Nobel-Prize-winning novel from 1945.

The two books written by Zarko Radakovic and myself — Repetitions and Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary — are certainly progeny of that fine book as well as of Peter Handke’s Repetition. They too protest war, nationalism, and misuse of language.

(more about Zarko’s and my books under the tab at the top of this blog)

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Snow Clumps/Piles/Huddles

A very light powder snow yesterday left the snow oddly bunched around single stems of grass. snow

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