more summer reading — with bonus representative quotations!


recent reading: 


forrest gander, as a friend


Lyrical, intense, this novel reads like it was written by a southern James Salter, and is apparently based on me:


I never heard him read anything he’d written, but he would sometimes quote a poem, his own or someone else’s, in conversation. It sounds unlikely, self-conscious or pretentious or bogus, but across the booth from us at the High Hat, he could join the lines of a poem to the flow of talk seamlessly. His face was so weighted down by its brooding handsomeness that he seemed older and more convincing than the rest of us. His gravitas sucked us in. He could lock his eyes on you and draw you toward an alien realm where you were given to suspend your habits of thought. It was as if he’d come from a place where excitement wasn’t taken to be a reverse indicator of intelligence and where it was normal to mention Cocteau and blue channel catfish in the same sentence. None of us had his range, none of his had read so much. The opal blackness of his eyes was magnetic. 

























gilbert sorrentino, aberration of starlight


This novel has four sections, one for each of the four main characters. Each section progress through description, letter, dialogue, questions-and-answers, fantasy, pornography, simple narrative, etc. As with everything Sorrentino wrote, structure is all.


It’s probably no use quoting just a portion of Sorrentino’s language – in isolation most excerpts you could pull from the text simply show off his use of the colloquial language of his childhood:


But all the time Tom was cool as a cucumber, his voice nice and calm, a smile on his face, just a gentlemanly difference of opinions. Marie would look up at him once in a while, blushing to beat the band when he caught her eye, my God, she looked like a peach! Frau Schmidt was as busy as a goddamn bee, Christ only knew what kind of baloney she was giving that long drink of water, Mrs. Copan, the poor bag of bones was drinking it all in.




Was Tom indeed a maker of cuckolds? If rumor is to be given credence, the answer is “yes.” Three men putatively so served were: Lewis D. Fielding, a junkman of Ossining, N.Y., through his wife, Barbara; Alfred Bennett Martinez, a plumber of Ozone Park, N.Y., through his wife, Danielle; William V. Bell, a shop teacher of Paterson, N.J., through his wife, Joanne.


But – and this is a big but – the effect of pages and pages of this kind of thing is the production laugh-out-loud black humour: you start to see the jazz-like patterns of repetition and improvisation, and a some point the flatness of the language begins to shift from cliché to grimly ironic understatement.



    Bookseller Photo 


alain-fornier, the wanderer

John Fowles’ favourite book.  Possibly the all-time great portrayal of youthful love outside the pages of Turgenev and Al Goldstein’s seminal (ouch!) Screw magazine.

            (the great edward gorey cover!)


dennis cooper, ugly man


Damn! I left my copy at the Y.M.C.A. 


louis-ferdinand céline, normance

Double damn! I left my copy at the Jewish Y.!  

Normance por Louis-Ferdinand Céline
BONUS: cover art from goldstein’s screw magazine . . . 
which céline no doubt would take as proof positive of the prescience of political views:



gilbert sorrentino’s a strange commonplace


"To the novel—everyone’s novel—Sorrentino brings honor, tradition, and relentless passion."—Don DeLillo


Borrowing its title from a William Carlos Williams poem, A Strange Commonplace lays bare the secrets and dreams of characters whose lives are intertwined by coincidence and necessity, possessions and experience. Ensnared in a jungle of city streets and suburban bedroom communities from the boozy 1950s to the culturally vacuous present, lines blur between families and acquaintances, violence and love, hope and despair. As fathers try to connect with their children, as writers struggle for credibility, as wives walk out, and as an old man plays Russian roulette with a deck of cards, their stories resonate with poignancy and savage humor—familiar, tragic, and cathartic.



book cover of 

A Strange Commonplace 


Gilbert Sorrentino

Gilbert Sorrentino’s novel, A Strange Commonplace (provided it can be called a novel), begins with this sentence, which tells us a little story in itelf:


After her husband left her for some floozie who was supposed to be an executive secretary at the crummy half-assed company he’d worked at for years without a raise or even so much as a bottle of cheap whiskey at Christmas, she packed up a few things, took the girl, and moved in with her cousin Janet on Gerritsen Avenue.


The rest of the book is essentially a process of Sorrentino reworking, revising, and reimagining the particulars of this ur-story; themes of lust, madness, incest, suicide are periodically introduced into this original narrative, then abandoned, only to reappear later on. As with much of what Sorrentino wrote, the book’s formal structure is an area of primary focus for reader and writer.





Pair of Deuces


He held a pair of deuces, a king of diamonds, a four of spades, and a seven of clubs. He drew three cards and waited to look to see if he’d got the third deuce. If he had drawn it, what? What would happen? What did he want to happen? Warren and Ray and Blackie were arranging their cards as best they could: Warren, shaking with palsy, Blackie, Jesus, Blackie had almost forgotten how to play the game, thought he was playing rummy half the time, and Ray, half-blind, who’d opened and drawn one card, looked irritated, so it was clear that the two low pair he’d probably been dealt had not miraculously become a full house. Even though he’d probably prayed to St. Anselm or St. Jude or the Blessed Virgin, or maybe the Infant Jesus of Prague. He’d Infant Jesus of Prague him right up his ass if he’d got his third deuce. And if he had, a big black Packard would appear on the lawn where they walked the pitiful Alzheimer’s patients around and around. He’d find his beautiful Borsalino on his shelf next to the idiotic baseball caps his daughter-in-law brought him; he’d make sure to lose them, but she brought more. They all had those logos or dim-witted messages on them. The one he liked best matter-of-factly stated: BORN TO LOVE TRAINED TO KILL. What an impossibly stupid woman she was. Well, he didn’t have to live with her. So, he’d have his Borsalino on, maybe that powder-blue tropical worsted suit he’d babied for years and years with the beautiful drape to the pants. He’d step into his Packard. That sweet young girl he’d got half-drunk with about three lifetimes ago in a bar off Gun Hill Road would be on the seat next to him in a little sun dress, a white sun dress. They’d finish what they started, oh the hell with it. What he really wanted to happen was for Warren and Blackie and Ray to disappear, for the Ridge Meadow Manor to disappear, and for himself to be as if he had never been: not to disappear, but to have never existed. Three deuces would do the trick. He looked at his cards, pushing the tight little booklet open with his thumb, card by card. The card that should have been his third deuce was a four of clubs. Ray, squinting as he laid his cards down, won, of course, with his lousy two pair. Well, all right. Tomorrow he’d try another magical route to oblivion.






The fathers:


and their lost children on gray and hopeless Saturdays: after the puppet shows and the botanical gardens, the parks, the zoos and rowboats; after the ice-cream sodas and hamburgers, the hot fudge sundaes and roller coasters, the Yoo-hoos and Shirley Temples; after the loose change pressed into the dirty, sticky little hands, the dollar bills; after the museums and museums and museums and pony rides, the Cracker Jacks and new sneakers and toy fire engines and dolls and hair ribbons and plastic barrettes; after the thin fake smiles and the small talk with the wives’ understanding and kind and reliable new boyfriends, the sharp words about meager child support and clothes for school; after ruining their shoes in the rain, after their sodden overcoats, the dark bars where nobody knows them but where the children get their 7-Ups on the house; after the introductions to Graces or Mollies or Annes or Elaines or Lindas or Charlottes or Anybodies dressed so as to look serious, so as to look like Moms, to look like Somebodies who could be Moms, who were just like Moms, just as good as Moms; after the long nights later over whiskey and beer and worries about how nothing had gone right; after the movies, the ice-cream parlors, the diners, the melted cheese sandwiches, the pizzas, the aimless walks; after the friends who say how big the children are getting, how pretty, how smart; after the long trips back to the wives’ little apartments in Bensonhurst or Washington Heights or Bay Ridge or Marine Park or Park Slope or the Lower East Side or Sunset Park or Brighton Beach, Ozone Park, Kew Gardens, anywhere; after the buses and the penny arcades, the boardwalks and amusement parks, the hot dogs and lost gloves and scarves and hats; after the boredom and tears and silences and bewilderment, the cheap souvenirs; after Snow White and Dumbo, Pinocchio and Tarzan and Mickey Mouse andDonald Duck; after the Neccos and Charms and Nibs and Black Crows and Baby Ruths and Milky Ways and Mounds; after the quarrels in hateful whispers because they were back too late or too early or because the children were too tired or over-excited or spoiled again, as usual; after the rages over who had been at fault, who had stopped caring about anything; after the old accusations of adultery and gambling, drunkenness and abandonment, withdrawal and frigidity and contempt, nights with phony friends, days with venomous bitches, yes! on the phone; after the discoveries of other men’s clothes in the closets, shoes, razors and after shave in the bathroom; after the nights watching television, playing records suddenly disliked, held in contempt, hated; after coming across old gifts given them by once-young, once-passionate, once-loving, once funny and warm and caring women who had been, was it possible? their wives; after shouting and cursing and blaming and suffering; after meandering affairs with secretaries and office assistants and receptionists, widowed or divorced neighbors, waitresses and God knows how many faceless unhappy women met at bars and parties and weddings and, Jesus, wakes; after the unbearable old photographs with their images of contentment and joy and love and now-harrowing smiles of optimism and hope and endless and wonderfully stupid youth; after all this, after walking from the subway in the rain, it seemed always in the fucking rain; after all this, the doomed, the hated Saturdays, again and again, the fathers remembered, in a dazzle of candor, the specific moments when the last tenuous links between them and their restless and distracted children began to dissolve, disintegrate, remembered their children in the act of fading away from them, fading into their actual lives: to which the fathers had no access, of which the fathers knew nothing at all and never would.


The fathers would sit with their beer and their whiskey, their Camels or Luckies or Chesterfields, their crossword puzzles and sour jingo political columns and imbecile horoscopes and righteous editorials and think about the time when they were not expected to be anything but simply alive. Alive and waiting for the glittering future: of beautiful wives and happy children and perfect lakes and summers and long vacations and bright beaches. And the absurd, wholly impossible bliss that awaited them, a thing of beauty.



the devastating ending of gilbert sorrentino’s red the fiend

Гилберт Соррентино Изверг Род Red the Fiend

Cover of Russian edition of Red the Fiend (2003)

After 200-plus pages of abuse from his Grandmother and neglect from his Mother, the transformation of Red the boy into Red the Fiend is finally complete:


Red is plunged into misery when it occurs to him that photographs of Grandma, taken when she was young, show clearly that she looked then almost exactly the way Mother looks now.


The corpse of a rabid dog, shot by a cop on the corner of the Cities Service station, looks to Red so remarkably peaceful that even the shining flies clustered and buzzing on his bloody head cannot dispel the sense of calm surrounding him, the stillness, the repose, the hush.

On a photograph of Grandma standing beneath a tree, smiling yet severe in a fur coat and cloche, red, in careful letters, writes DIRTY OLD CUNT. He props the photograph against the sugar bowl on the kitchen table, and goes in to sit on the couch, to wait quietly for Grandma and Mother. Ecstatic, he feels the world on the edge of obliteration.


chapter two of gilbert sorrentino’s red the fiend

book cover of 

Red the Fiend 


Gilbert Sorrentino

Set in the early 1940s, Sorrentino’s Red The Fiend is unstinting in its portrayal of a brutal, dysfunctional Irish-American family. Red, the adolescent protagonist, lives with his mother in his grandparents’ dingy Brooklyn home. The constant target of his grandmother’s sadistic urges, Red seeks escape into the dangerous city streets.



chapter two of sorrentino’s red the fiend


Since Grandma knows that Red is conscienceless and thoroughly depraved, it falls to him to kill the mice that have been caught but not killed in the cabinet beneath the kitchen sink. Grandma and Grandpa—and, halfheartedly, Red’s Mother—know that he is as black as sin itself because of the terrible something that happened on the roof with that idiot daughter of the bohunk super of the adjoining building. Not that there’s any bohunks with half a brain to begin with. But when a good Irish Catholic boy who’s made his First Communion—and he looked almost presentable in the blue serge suit that Grandpa spent good money for, God help the poor man!—mortifies his grandparents, who took him in off the street and kept him and his Mother out of the poorhouse, and a lot of thanks they get for it!, mortifies them with his filthy sinful acts, it’s not the idiot girl who can be blamed. Not that Grandma didn’t drive Red’s mother to tears scolding her to do the right thing and go over and talk to the unfortunate lump of a man about his slut of a daughter, a twelve-year-old tramp, idiot or not, and threaten him with the police if he can’t keep an eye on her. 


Grandma says, again, that’s that all these bohunks and scowegians and greaseballs understand, a big Irish bruiser of a cop, not one, God help us, like Jimmy Kenny with his lard ass, to scare some decency into them and their disgusting families. Can’t speak two words of English, any of them. Damn shame what this country’s coming to. And Mother has to punish Red, too, does the woman, who can’t even hold on to a man who was halfway decent when she married him, think that Grandma should always be the one to discipline the boy? Does Grandma have to do all the dirty work? She’s had her child and raised her, much good it did her. She’s got her cross to bear, although not many know it, for she never complains.


Had Mother put her foot down when the man started to come home drunk every night from work, and sometimes not come home at all, things might have been different. Now she’s a divorced woman, a sinner in the eyes of the Church, not much better than the floozies who hang around with the bookmakers in front of Gallagher’s. And God only knows—Grandma gazes at the ceiling with an expression of fierce piety—God … Only … Knows … what the truth of the matter is that drove the poor hardworking dumbbell of a man to drink. More there, Grandma says, a catch in her voice, than meets the eye. Grandpa nods and relights the cigarette butt he has already stubbed out twice. They’re not made of money!


Red, the degenerate, the corrupt, the sinful, opens the door of the cabinet, from which have issued scraping and scratching noises. Behind a can of Drano is a half-dead mouse, his crushed, bloody snout and right front paw caught between the steel bar and wooden base of the trap. Grandma tells Red to do the job that she knows he loves to do, abnormal little morphodite that he is. And Grandma will not have Red flushing the mouse down the toilet! Drowning is the crudest of deaths.


Grandpa adds that when you drown your lungs fill with water and explode and you feel everything. The mouse is to be battered to death quickly, any way Red wishes. He is sure to think of something, since he loves such things, says Grandma.


Red picks up the trap and flings it on the floor. The mouse squeaks and its body twitches, but it does not die. Red throws the trap on the floor again, harder, and the mouse goes into convulsions. But it is still alive. Grandma remarks on Red’s almost unbelievable cruelty, Grandpa shakes his head and leaves the room, Mother, anguished, looks at Red’s flushed face. Red desperately throws the trap up to the ceiling and after it hits the floor this time, the mouse is still.  Red pokes at the body with his foot and Grandma looks at Mother and rolls her eyes atthis instance of sadism. She says that the mouse is to be disposed of, but not down the toilet as she does not want the filth and germs from the dead thing in her spotless bathroom that Mother just scrubbed this morning, does Red think that his Mother is a nigger maid? And, as usual, the trap is to be scrubbed with laundry soap, reset, and put back in the cabinet. And, Grandma smiles wisely, Red is not to eat any of the store cheese when he baits the trap.


Red, as depraved as always, rudely shakes the broken corpse onto a peace of newspaper and considers how remote the mouse seems now, and peaceful. He rolls the lucky little bastard up in the sheet of paper.




“grandma smiles her malevolent smile, displaying both her gold tooth and her brownish-black tooth”

Gilbert Sorrentino’s Red the Fiend is a harrowing account of a few months in the hellish life of “Red,” a twelve-year old boy who endures on a daily basis physical and verbal abuse from his maternal grandmother.


In his book of essays, Something Said, Sorrentino observes that the writers with whom he most identifies:


agreed with my own artistic necessities, which are: an obsessive concern with formal structure, a dislike of the replication of experience, a love of digression and embroidery, a great pleasure in false or ambiguous information, a desire to invent problems that only the invention of new forms can solve, and a joy in making mountains outof molehills.



Under the Shadow

Gilbert Sorrentino




Grandma smiles her malevolent smile, displaying both her gold tooth and her brownish-black tooth. She wonders, again, if someone might go down to the cellar storage bin and get her something.

She wants something.

Perhaps a hot-water bottle. An ice bag. A moth-eaten blanket. A chipped egg cup. Something personal, some treasure, something to bring back memories of her innocent childhood, her winsome first days as a new bride. God knows, they didn’t last long.

At the thought of the hot-water bottle, the ice bag, Red brightens internally, secretly, for such need may possibly signal pain somewhere in Grandma’s body. He takes care to show nothing in his flat, brutal face. Pain that might foreshadow, perhaps, death itself, although Red does not even think this word.


Grandma says that it is out of the question for Grandpa to go because he’s been working hard all day as he works hard every day to keep a roof over Red’s and his tramp of a Mother’s ungrateful heads. He has been working, today, like a nigger. That famous nigger!


And Grandma says, smiling, her teeth again defining the poles of death and artifice, that Red’s Mother can’t go. She’s not finished doing the dishes yet and then she has to scrub the kitchen floor and then the bathroom from top to bottom. Somebody, God knows who, got it filthy today, just washing. Washing! How anybody can get a bathroom so filthy just washing his hands and face, and not a face to brag about either, is beyond Grandma. Grandpa nods, signaling that it’s beyond him too. Grandpa has been famously working this day like the famous nigger.


Grandma looks at Red and has a sudden inspiration. Red can go down to the cellar and get the something that Grandma wants! But Red is afraid, so he says, of the storage bins, they are dark and haunted, monsters find themselves attracted to the weak lights that tenants use to illuminate their doings. They eat boys or parts of boys, and chew on their things. Red tells Grandma that he’s afraid and Grandma looks as if she is about to have a heart attack, her eyelids flutter, her hand touches her sagging bosom, she looks wildly around the apartment, reaching shakily for the glass Grandpa has just refilled with beer, as if an explanation for this refusal may somehow be discovered, somewhere, for this confession of fear, this lack of respect. Grandma takes a swallow of beer and cracks a pretzel on her bottom front teeth, then suggests that Red cannot be afraid because he is not afraid of anything, ishe? Wasn’t he brazen enough to open Grandma’s dresser drawer, her forbidden dresser drawer, so that he could look at a color postcard of the Budd Lake Casino? Her thin patent-leather belt taught him a lesson that day. Brazen, yes, brazen is the word, too brazen to cry.


Mother comes out of the kitchen and Red looks at her hopelessly. She looks at Grandma, who tells her that there’s not enough beer left for her to have a glass, so she may as well start on the kitchen floor that her clumsy brazen son has marked up, out of spite, with his cheap black-rubber heels. Grandma shakes her head pityingly, and as if in wonder that anyone in the good old USA in the year 1940 could wear such cheap shoes. It’s not as if they’re wops. Mother’s eyes are flat and dull.


Red suddenly stands up and says that he’ll go down but he’d like to know what Grandma wants him to get. He talks loudly and with great confidence. Grandma smiles and holds out the key to the bin door’s padlock. Her smile grows larger as she tells Red that he’llknow just what she wants as soon as he sees it because if it were any plainer it would bite him. Red is a smart boy, stupid in school, but, God bless the mark, he can’t help that, thanks to his shanty-Irish bum of a drunken Father. The boy can’t help it!


As Red leaves, Grandma tells him not to take the flashlight because batteries are dear and money does not grow on trees but has to be earned by Grandpa who works like a coolie. Like a nigger and a coolie. Oh, Grandpa works.


There’s a candle end in the bin and a box of matches. Red is to take care that he uses no more than one match. Money has to be sweated for by the nigger coolie. Who nods.


Deep in the rear of the bin, Red finds an old photograph album, its leather binding dry and powdery, covered with dust. Attached to it by a rubber band is a packet of photographs. He thinks for a moment, stiff with fright as he watches the weird shadows on the walls, feels his legs wobble, weak beneath him, and decides that this is what Grandma wants. He puts it under his arm and blows out the candle. His bowels feel dangerously loose.


Grandma is warmly astonished, and wipes her beery fingers on her greyly dirty housedress. The packet is exactly what she wanted! So, Red can overcome his stupidity whenever he puts his mind to it. Red beams and preens, thankful. He is about to explain his abstruse methods of reasoning, his methodical process of elimination, when Grandma laughs girlishly, one of her more horrifying laughs, and announces that since Red is afraid of nothing, it will be his permanent job to make all necessary trips to the bin. How does Red like that? Suddenly, Grandma stops laughing, her face darkens, shrivels, and she looks, amazed, at the packet of photographs. Then she says, as Red knows, as he has known all along that she will say, that these are the wrong photographs. There is nothing else for Red to do but take these wrong photographs back to the bin and look for the right photographs, no matter how long it takes. Grandma holds the wrong photographs out to Red, shaking them back and forth impatiently. Now.


A grotesque smile on his face, Red takes a step toward Grandma and completely loses control of his bowels. Beneath Grandma’s incredulous and disgusted scowl is a faint expression of delight.


“every decision you make is a mistake”—an edward dahlberg miscellany

Edward Dahlberg was admired by and a friend to an exceptionally diverse group of writers: Jack Kerouac, Lydia Davis, Guy Davenport, Paul West, Anthony Burgess, Charles Olson, Samuel R. Delany, Gilbert Sorrentino, Thomas McGonigle, Jonathan Lethem… 

edward dahlberg biography (from wikipedia)

Edward Dahlberg (July 22, 1900 – February 27, 1977) was an American novelist and essayist.

Dahlberg was born in Boston to Elizabeth Dahlberg. Mother and son wandered through the southern and western United States until 1905, when she opened a barber shop in Kansas City. In April 1912 Dahlberg was sent to the Jewish Orphan Asylum, Cleveland, where he lived until 1917. He eventually attended the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University.

In the late 1920s Dahlberg lived in Paris and in London. His first novel, Bottom Dogs, was published in London with an introduction by D. H. Lawrence. He visited Germany in 1933 and in reaction briefly joined the CommunistParty, but left the Party by 1936. From the 1940s onwards, Dahlberg made his living as an author, and also taught at various colleges and universities, most notably Black Mountain College. He married R’Lene LaFleur Howell in 1950.

Dahlberg died in Santa Barbara, California, on February 27, 1977.


assorted quotations

life, truth & the self

Every decision you make is a mistake.

Everything ultimately fails, for we die, and that is either the penultimate failure or our most enigmatical achievement.

So much of our lives is given over to the consideration of our imperfections that there is no time to improve our imaginary virtues. The truth is we only perfect our vices, and man is a worse creature when he dies than he was when he was born.

Men are mad most of their lives; few live sane, fewer die so. The acts of people are baffling unless we realize that their wits are disordered. Man is driven to justice by his lunacy.

Ambition is a Dead Sea fruit, and the greatest peril to the soul is that one is likely to get precisely what he is seeking.

There is no place to go, and so we travel! You and I, and what for, just to imagine that we could go somewhere else.

The people who think they are happy should rummage through their dreams.

Genius, like truth, has a shabby and neglected mien.

We cannot live, suffer or die for somebody else, for suffering is too precious to be shared.

What most men desire is a virgin who is a whore.

When one realizes that his life is worthless he either commits suicide or travels.

It takes a long time to understand nothing.

Man hoards himself when he has nothing to give away.

I would rather take hellebore than spend a conversation with a good, little man.

merica & society

We are a most solitary people, and we live, repelled by one another, in the gray, outcast cities of Cain.

No people require maxims so much as the American. The reason is obvious: the country is so vast, the people always going somewhere, from Oregonapple valley to boreal New England, that we do not know whether to be temperate orchards or sterile climate.

Intellectual sodomy, which comes from the refusal to be simple about plain matters, is as gross and abundant today as sexual perversion and they are nowise different from one another.

One of the weaknesses in the cooperative is that it has never been sufficiently leavened by the imagination. This is a quick-silver faculty, and likely to be a cause of worry to any collective settlement.

The ruin of the human heart is self-interest, which the American merchant calls self-service. We have become a self-service populace, and all our specious comforts — the automatic elevator, the escalator, the cafeteria — are depriving us of volition and moral and physical energy.

There is a strange and mighty race of people called the Americans who are rapidly becoming the coldest in the world because of this cruel, man-eating idol, lucre.

A strong foe is better than a weak friend.

One cat in a house is a sign of loneliness, two of barrenness, and three of sodomy.

Men are mad most of their lives; few live sane, fewer die so. The acts of people are baffling unless we realize that their wits are disordered. Man is driven to justice by his lunacy.

Nothing in our times has become so unattractive as virtue.

The Americans have always been food, sex, and spirit revivalists.

The ancients understood the regulation of power better than the regulation of liberty.

The machine has had a pernicious effect upon virtue, pity, and love, and young men used to machines which induce inertia, and fear, are near impotent.

The majority of persons choose their wives with as little prudence as they eat. They see a troll with nothing else to recommend her but a pair of thighs and choice hunkers, and so smart to void their seed that they marry her at once. They imagine they can live in marvelous contentment with handsome feet and ambrosial buttocks. Most men are accredited fools shortly after they leave the womb.

It is very perplexing how an intrepid frontier people, who fought a wilderness, floods, tornadoes, and the Rockies, cower before criticism, which is regarded as a malignant tumor in the imagination.

writers & writing

The earnings of a poet could be reckoned by a metaphysician rather than a bookkeeper.

Herman Melville was as separated from a civilized literature as the lost Atlantis was said to have been from the great peoples of the earth.

Though man is the only beast that can write, he has small reason to be proud of it. When he utters something that is wise it is nothing that the river horse does not know, and most of his creations are the result of accident.

The bad poet is a toady mimicking nature.

Hardly a book of human worth, be it heaven’s own secret, is honestly placed before the reader; it is either shunned, given a Periclean funeral oration in a hundred and fifty words, or interred in the potter’s field of the newspapers back pages.

Writing is conscience, scruple, and the farming of our ancestors.

To write is a humiliation.

What has a writer to be bombastic about? Whatever good a man may write is the consequence of accident, luck, or surprise, and nobody is more surprised than an honest writer when he makes a good phrase or says something truthful.

We can only write well about our sins because it is too difficult to recall a virtuous act or even whether it was the result of good or evil motives.

Writing is conscience, scruple, and the farming of our ancestors.

Those who write for lucre or fame are grosser than the cartel robbers, for they steal the genius of the people, which is its will to resist evil.

Recognize the cunning man not by the corpses he pays homage to but by the living writers he conspires against with the most shameful weapon, Silence, or the briefest review.


Edward Dahlberg, Because I Was Flesh (1964)

Would to God that my mother had not been a leaf scattered every-where and as the wind listeth. Would to heaven that I could compose a different account of her flesh . . . Should I err against her dear relics or trouble her sleep, may no one imagine that she has not always been for me the three Marys of the New Testament. Moreover, whatever I imagine I know is taken from my mother’s body, and this is the memoir of her body…

Kansas City was my Tarsus; the Kaw and the Missouri Rivers were the washpots of joyous Dianas from St. Joseph and Joplin. It was a young seminal town and the seed of its men was strong. Homer sang of many sacred towns in Hellas which were no better than Kansas City, as hilly as Eteonus and as stony as Aulis. The city wore a coat of rocks and grass. The bosom of this town nursed men, mules and horses as famous as the asses of Arcadia and the steeds of Diomedes . . . Kansas City was the city of my youth and the burial ground of my poor mother’s hopes; her blood, like Abel’s, cries out to me from every cobblestone, building, flat and street…


When the image of her comes up on a sudden—just as my bad demons do—and I see her dyed henna hair, the eyes dwarfed by the electric lights in the Star Lady Barber Shop, and the dear, broken wing of her mouth, and when I regard her wild tatters, I know that not even Solomon in his lilied raiment was so glorious as my mother in her rags. Selah.

Edward Dahlberg,
Bottom Dogs (1929)

The next five years were spent in a kaleidoscopic succession of occeupations, which took him all over the country. He has been a Western Union messenger boy in Cleveland, trucker for the American express, driver of a laundry wagon, cattle drover in the Kansas City Stockyards, dishwasher in Portland, Oregon, potato peeler in Sacramento, bus-boy in San Francisco, longshoreman in San Pedro, clerk in a clinic, and vagabond everywhere. . .

She moved from town to town, selling hair switches, giving osteopathic treatments, going on again when she felt the place had been played out. In this way she hoped to save a little money and establish herself in some thriving city. She had taken Lorry with her wherever she went.

Edward Dahlberg,
Do These Bones Live? (New York, 1941)

There are no abstract truths—no Mass-Man, no proletariat. There is only Man. When the Pulse has been nailed upon the crossbeams, lo, Reason gives up its viable breath and becomes a wandering ghostly Error. Truth and folly are ever about to expire, so that we, like our beloved Sancho Panza kneeling at the death-bed of Don Quixote, must always be ready to go out to receive the holy communion of cudgels and distaffs, for the rebirth of the Pulse, living anew, in our veins and bones, as the quickened Truth.

Finally, this Whitmanesque poem (in its entirety):

Edward Dahlberg, “The Leafless American,” (1967)

How old are we?

We are still a horse and buffalo
people, heavy, lumbering cattle, with
prairie and grain virtues, and our avarice
is primitive wigwam barter; we ought to
adore the great fish god, for we are a
costal people, and New Mexico and Arizona,
which are saurian undersea country, breeding
pine, cactus, and snakes, are Galilean land.

We are passing from a morning horse
innocence to unusual vices, and we are not

Is Pike’s Peak a hummock of old world
sin, or the Rockies Scythian debauchery,
or the mineraled Colorado dawn the Orient
pearl? It is hay and brook and sweet pony
corral, appled meadow garnished with odors
more virtuous than spiced Eden.

Take no stock in American turpitudes;
look to the Toltec of the Mayan for the
lascivious parrot and monkey.

The Platte River, the pine, the sage
brush are hardy character, but not history,
and I admit that nothing has ever happened
to me, and that I am mad for events.

Whatever we do is vast, unconscious
geography; we are huge space giants of the
mesa, surd, mad rivers that rush along, and
we do not care to be near each other; this
is not ancient wickedness, but solitary
prairie grazing.

We cannot bear each other because we
are immense territory, and our most malignant
folly was to closet us up in cities, and take
away our ocean past.

We should have the deepest reverence
for poverty, because we are New Testament
ground. Every day I offer a sacrifice to
the extinct bison, the horse and savage
Iroquois, who are our muse of cereal, yam
and maize, and when somebody strokes my
head, I walk to Mt. Shasta, or the Oregon
orchards which are my epistles to the

Who is my Father?

The rising sun-man disappeared,
and the step-father, the petticoat parent,
is rearing the children since the tent,
the wagon, and saddle have gone.

The great, grassy basin, the Catskill
eagle made us tribal and fierce; the Pawnee,
leading the sorrel of the Platte by a bull-hide
rope, lessoned us in poverty, for want too
is a tough, rude god make out of dried buffalo
skin, to which we must offer our orisons, lest
we perish of sloth and surfeit.

Our forefathers were giant volcano-horses;
we were a hot earth animal as the elephant
shaped mounds found in Kansas show.

Give us back our origins, for I am out
of season in any other land, or plant except
the corn seeds of Quetzalcoatl, the yucca,
the cactus, and the Mojave joshua tree,
dearer than the desert tamarisk beneath
which Saul sat.

We have lost ground, city-cursed
that we are, left it behind us like the
Quiche did the Yaqui for whom they wept.

Return the Platte, the bison, the hoof-print
of the deer, for I am as hungry for them as
the wandering Quiche who had to smell the points
of their staffs to deceive their empty stomachs.

Our Mother paps were rabid gulches
in which the white and gray wolves howled,
and now that the Toltecs and the Pawnee
are dead, we are their evil genius, looking
for a relic, a flint arrow, a teepee, a
harness, a piece of bread.

I need confidence, the antelope, the
pack-mule, the Indian apple, but we have
killed the old bread gods made of plums,
incense and the coca plant. Until we find
the Quiche bread idol, we are orphans.

The word together has become a tabu
devil; everything is public except guilt,
which is hidden like hands that are pursed
and pocketed lest they be demanded for
hand-shaking, which is some uneasy, first
sin; touch a man and blood goes out
of his cheek; the mountains, the hills and
the grass are turning against men, and
every man dreads every man.

The mating season that once cattled
the fingers of the marriageable now brings
the alley tree, cemented in the side walk,
and the tuberose poodle together. Aging
men walk through the macadam auto ravines,
until magnolia dusk, and then they go to
their rooms, walking from faucet to window-hole.
They crawl under a mealy blanket seeking that
primeval night that came before creation, and
fall at once into a water of sleep, void of
vegetable, animal or root.

The highways have no ancestors;
the 19th century American was kinless
iron, and these men of the
20th are houseless sepcters because
they have never claimed the continent.
They have destroyed the old, rooty
deities of the Cherokee and the Huron
which are now howling in their dead,
double-breasted coats and pants. The
city auto man has killed everything,
going through the unowned land without
branch, leaf, trunk or earth. The
autumn comes, and he has no foliage
to shed, and the winter appears, and
he cannot rest or sleep or die until
April, and his destiny star, too, is
dead. He has no green May shoots and
no loam in which to sprout. He feeds
listlessly and is alone when he genders
with his wife. He is an unseeding,
hating man who has forgotten to plant
a street, a blue-bell, a house.

Prophecy, O lost people without
a fate, is seeing the quick of the
instant. You have no porch, no yard,
no steps, you are groundless, and bitten
by gnats because you have slain the
earth. Can you die? Death is sweet
and dear, for it is quiet. But there
are no hills to appease you, and no
mountains to give you hard, striving
will, or rivers to wash your eyes to
make them see.

Homeless, denatured ghost of many
leafy races, where do you blow? who
will gather you up?

— from The Leafless American and Other Writings