Thursday, December 8, 2011

"displaying signs of triviality"

The surface of "The Book of Ephraim" is so engaging, page by page, that we might be excused for spending most of our time last night on it. To be sure, from time to time, we'd make heroic efforts of plunging to the depths, but somehow like the unsuccessful philosopher "cheerfulness was always breaking in." There is a passage, however, from Helen Vendler's review of Divine Comedies (in which "Ephraim" first appeared) that I meant to read last night and failing to will quote now:

By taking conversation—from lovers' exchange of vows to friends' sentences in intimacy—as the highest form of human expression (in contrast to the rhapsode's hymns, the orator's harangues, or the initiate's hermetic colloquies with the divine) Merrill becomes susceptible to charges of frivolity, at least from readers with a taste only for the solemn. But this espousal of the conversational as the ultimate in linguistic achievement is a moral choice, one which locates value in the human and everyday rather than in the transcendent.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

John Hurt in Samuel Beckett's "Krapp's Last Tape"

For the first time, this evening I went to see a play by Samuel Becket.  This evening will be the last time I go to see a play by Samuel Becket.  But I was glad to see John Hurt performing live on stage for 58 minutes.  He is a great actor.  I am including the link to the Post's review, which, unfortunately, does not mention Hurt's peeling, discarding the peelings, and eating of two bananas during the first 15 minutes of the play.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Turn Your Browser into a Ouija Board

Robert Muir has found a link that may allow you to search through Polito's Reader's Guide to James Merrill's The Changing Light at Sandover.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Life of the Mind

Robert pointed out to me—unfortunately before the discussion—this "difficult" posture on the very first page of Two People:

the [two] boys, each with an arm around the other's neck, and holding hands in the pocket of one of their coveralls….

And then here from a short story of his we read a while ago, "Servants with Torches," about a boy and man sitting close together, on a wooden bench (no backs):

after a while the boy, leaning back, spread himself out so that one of his hands was beneath [the man's] leg.

Given this difficulty of construing some of Windham's concrete descriptions, it is perhaps less surprising that his abstract ruminations can at times seem so mystifying.

Friday, November 4, 2011

More Topography

Giordano Bruno was imprisoned in the Castel Sant'Angelo. "Eight years later, he was brought out one morning and burned alive in the Campo dei Fiori."

how does a man spend eight years finding new ways to present the same viewpoint, to develop the same argument?

This is the question (p. 70) Forrest wants to investigate in the Vatican Archives. It is a question which could be asked about Forrest himself, who has been married eight years. He has a significantly "squishy" experience following the voice of an unseen youth as he nears the place of Bruno's execution (p. 9). And coincidence of coincidences (and not unappreciated by Forrest) Marcello … lives on the Via Giordano Bruno.

There may be more to Windham's list of bus stops than meets the eye.

(Curiously, for all the specified places in Two People, we never learn exactly where Forrest lives, do we? Somewhere near the Spanish Steps, of course, but above them? below? … )

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Windham and sex talk

I was thinking about our discussion last night and specifically about the lack of direct talk about sex in "Two People." In "Last Exit to Brooklyn" Hubert Selby Jr. certainly uses frank language about sex (including homosexuality). That book is from the same period and was a success. So, why is it okay for Selby to use it and not Windham? Is it the violence factor in Selby's novel that makes it acceptable to the reading public of the 1960's? Just thought I would throw that out there.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fontana delle Tartarughe

This fountain appears in Donald Windham's Two People. As there, on my first visit to Rome I happened upon it, knowing nothing about it — a wonderful surprise! I can't remember whether it was then that I fell in love with Rome, but it could not have been afterwards.

P.S. At our discussion some one remarked on how little description of places in Rome there is in this novel whose spine seems to consists of an interleaving list of Roman bus stops. One exception certainly is this fountain, which is described first when Marcello passes by it on his way to school and then near the end when Forrest comes upon it with "wild surmise".

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lezama Lima's "Paradiso"

Well...finishing Jose Lezama Lima's "Paradiso" is, by far, the hardest read I have ever accomplished. Lezama Lima had to be the most educated man that I have ever come across. The references to ancient Greece, the Romans, French literature of every period, obscure music past but great contemporary composers (of his time) like Bartok and great works of art are mind-numbing. There are chapters that are like Plato's "Symposium." And when I thought I had surpassed all my inadequacies, he hits me w/ the last 3 chapters. I need somebody to explain them to me. But I did it and I'm very excited. What a work-out! Can't wait till the essay in "50 Books..." comes up in discussion.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dishing Gertrude Stein

Below is an excerpt from a long article in this morning’s Washington Post, reviewing  the exhibition “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five stories” at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery until January 22.  We discussed “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” at our 4/30/2002 meeting.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I have occasionally perused some of her other writings collected in The Library of America edition of her selected works, some of which are enjoyable to read  but often baffling.

As an author, she wrote reams of gibberish, either in a singsong style that one critic aptly described as “literary baby talk” or in a hermetically sealed private language that she absurdly considered an analog of cubism. As an art collector, she often showed remarkably bad taste, especially after the early years of her alliance with Picasso. Her theater work, either unintelligible or profoundly cliched, survives because other people set it to music or choreographed it. Even her moral reputation — courageously living with her female partner, Alice B. Toklas, championing a woman’s right to be eccentric — has been sullied by recent scholarship showing that she while she rode out World War II in a French country house, she was protected by a particularly unsavory and anti-Semitic official of the collaborationist Vichy government

Saturday, October 8, 2011

La Clef de "Caracole"

Robert and I have put our heads together and have, with an authoritative assist, come up with a who's who:

Gabriel Keith Fleming (White's nephew)
Angelica his girlfriend at the time
Mateo Edmund White / Richard Howard
Mathilde Susan Sontag
Edwige Keith McDermott (White's boyfriend at the time)
Constantine David Del Tredici
Daniel David Rieff
Walter Richard Sennett
Claude David's girlfriend at the time.

The Man Who Became A Woman

The Ex found a copy of Eight Great American Short Novels in the throw-away pile of books in the town dump while I was visiting him this summer. He picked it up for me because it included Sherwood Anderson's "The Man Who Became A Woman" (Exes—don't you just love them!). I'd never heard of it though I'd certainly heard of him (Winesburg, Ohio) and we've all, even we all in this book club, have read his short story "Hands". "TMWBAW" which I think of rather as a long short story than as a novella, was originally published in Anderson's short-story collection Horses and Men (1923), "originally" as in it first appeared in that book—it had never been published in any magazine before! I more than dutifully read it and had been wondering how to mention it to readers of this blog when I came across an interview of James Purdy in Conjunctions (Fall, 1982). I'll let him do the describing:

PURDY: … Anderson wrote a wonderful story called “The Man Who Became a Woman”: one of the most amazing stories ever written. I don’t know whether he knew how startling it is. It’s about a young boy who is a groom in the stables, he takes care of horses. The story is really a problem of crisis of sexual identification, to use a pretentious psychological phrase. Suddenly, working around these awful, rough men, and being just a young boy who simply loved to curry the horses, suddenly one night he wanders into a saloon and he looks into the mirror and instead of seeing himself he sees a young woman. Horrified, he runs back to the stables. There these Negro … [spoiler deleted] … but there is no real closing to the story: Anderson shows such deep insight into the terror of adolescence in this story.
INTERVIEWER: It sounds to me like a James Purdy story.
PURDY: Yes, it does! It’s the only story by Anderson where I think he really plumbed the depths.

Definitely a must-read! We could pair it with something else on a short night or even give the whole hour over to it alone. Unfortunately, it seems never to have been widely anthologized, and the only book I've been able to find it in (other than the two already mentioned) is the Sherwood Anderson short story collection Certain Things Last. All three are out-of-print. No copy of the story seems to be up on the internet. But there may be cause for hope. Anderson died in 1941 and if his copyright expires in 70 years, it may soon appear. I'll keep you posted (and please, vice versa)!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Les Rêves dangereuses

Some people from last night will undoubtedly enjoy this little tidbit from Edmund White's City Boy (p. 88):

After reading my novel Caracole he [James Merrill] voiced my worst fears, saying "That first chapter, my dear!" and rolling his eyes.

I wonder whether that was in manuscript or publication, and if the former, what changes White made, if any.

A much longer passage from My Lives (p. 212) is worth quoting in full but I'll restrict myself to:

I told someone the book was as if a student was studying world literature and modern European history and fell asleep on the night before the final and dreamed a long, nasty dream.

In Your DreamS

Thanks to David for pointing out the Library of Congress' wishful cataloging of Edmund White's Caracole:

         1. Teenage boys—Psychology—Fiction

Gabriel, arguably, is the main character, but who is the other boy? Perhaps the LOC cataloguer was beguiled—as who of us hasn't been—by Herbert List's wonderful cover photo:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

We Were Here

There is a new AIDS documentary opening at the West End Cinema on October 28 called "We Were Here." The review was quite interesting.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Desert and Solitude

Edmund White writes about Paul Bowles' novel The Sheltering Sky and its potential influence on his own novel The Married Man in this year's July 14 issue of the New York Review of Books.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Alex Ross on Dorian Gray

Alex Ross has a thoughtful piece in the August 8 issue of the New Yorker that examines the new uncensored edition of Dorian Gray published by Harvard University Press. He makes the point that the earlier version submitted to Lippincott's Magazine was shorter and spelled out in more obvious language than ever the nature of homosexual desire. He opines that Wilde was more of a gay liberationist than has been credited. When the novel was published in England, it was filled out and scenes depicting contacts between men were excised. The original Lippincott manuscript is in the Morgan Library, New York, and shows that it suffered cuts even by the American publisher.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Sumner of Our Discontent

The rumors we've been hearing have proved to be true. Thanks to Steve for noticing this story in the Post. (I wonder if we can disguise ourselves as a nine-foot concert Steinway.) Please keep your eyes out for new meeting places!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

eine kleine research project

apophallation: eating dick, literally … as in, off!
apofellatio : getting off task, losing focus,
particularly near the finish

One of these is a real word, the other ought to be. You go figure. I could give you links—I could even post videos—but reverting to the generally high(er) tone of this blog's entries, I'll refrain. ("Desist" might be the more appropriate term given recent uproar, but I'm not taking down the Tiny Alice hyena video!)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Independent Publishers

At last week’s OutWrite event, there was discussion regarding the current state of independent publishers competing against the large, integrated media companies.  These small presses survive when people buy the books and periodicals that they publish.  I would like to recommend one, Assaracus, a quarterly journal of gay poetry published by Sibling Rivalry Press.  I bought a copy of issue 3 on the recommendation of Philip CIark, who wrote one of the poems in the section called “Poems Inspired by James Franco”. 

At first, I didn’t pay much attention to the title of the periodical, assuming it had something to do with “Ass”.  I didn’t totally trust the Wiki result when I finally decided to google Assaracus, and so I consulted my other sources (references available upon request).  Turns out that “Assaracus” is also the name of a descendant of Zeus, via Dardanus, Erichthonius, and Tros.  Assaracus was one of the sons of Tros.  Ganymede was his brother.  Ganymede was, of course, without issue, but Assaracus was the grandfather of Anchises, who was the father of Aeneas.  Aeneas relates this noble lineage to Achilles on the battlefield in a memorable passage in book 20 of the Iliad.   I’m glad that the publisher decided not to call the periodical “Ganymede”.  That would have been too easy.  I ordered a one year subscription.


Friday, August 5, 2011

"The Pleasures of Rimbaud" by Charles Rosen in NYRB



by Arthur Rimbaud, translated from the French and with a preface by John Ashbery
Norton, 175 pp., $24.95

Poems Under Saturn
by Paul Verlaine, translated from the French and with an introduction by Karl Kirchwey
Princeton University Press, 154 pp., $39.50; $15.95 (paper)


Thursday, August 4, 2011

We got a sentence in this Blade Article about the OutWrite LGBT Book Fair

At 3 p.m., BookMen D.C. will host a discussion of the high-spirited erotic adventure, “Caracole” by Edmund White.”


Monday, August 1, 2011

Mercy Me, or The Cardinal's Hyena

I'll never suspicion Albee again!

"Reverting to a Wild State"

Thanks to Ken for pointing out this story in the latest New Yorker (August 1, 2011). Author Justin Torres's first novel, We the Animals, is going to be published at the end of this month. I have come to cast jaundiced eyes on coming of age stories, but "Reverting to a Wild State" is so well done I'm ready to blink twice. It's a very short story (the novel is similarly brief) so please read it first before going on, if you wish, to Willing Davidson's interview in The New Yorker Online. A bonus is a snapshot of the cute young author. (I wonder how many others will find a resemblance to Autumn Whitehurst's illustration↑.)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

White, Ashbery, Rimbaud and Verlaine

Earlier this year we discussed Edmund White's memoir City Boy. Next week (see sidebar) we'll be discussing his novel Caracole. This month Terry's post discussed White's short biography of Arthur Rimbaud, and last month Tom posted a translation of Rimbaud's poem "After the Flood" by John Ashbery. Now interested readers can see White's review of Ashbery's translation of Rimbaud's Illluminations in the July 22, 2011 issue of the TLS (Times Literary Supplement).

Thursday, July 14, 2011

White on Rimbaud

I finished reading Edmund White's short biography of Rimbaud (Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel, 2008) while on a break in Cape Cod and found it worthy if dry. Rimbaud is an intriguing biographical subject because he is so obscure and obscurist -- for three or four years, plenty of intimate details and drama, then years without any information at all. A sudden burst of brilliance and then absolute silence except for nagging letters back home to his cold and abrupt (fed up?) mother during his ten-year period in Abyssinia. He was niggardly and friendless. I think White loved his rebelliousness and outrage and yet it seems to have been directed for naught. In the end, I felt White was distant and cool toward Rimbaud, perhaps unsympathetic. But then how could anyone have been? Yet he is considered the founder of modern French poetry.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Just Say No

I'm not in favor of reading too much by any one author—there are so many we haven't read at all!—and we've read three already by Alan Hollinghurst. So, although I think The Swimming Pool Library is one of the two great gay novels and I will be sure to read his latest novel, The Stranger's Child, I quote the end of The Economist 's recent review to e x c i t e early opposition against it:

It is all beautifully controlled and mordantly funny, but devoid of warmth—a lot like the gilded, heartless people he is writing about.

a great darkening presence

What some of us missed in the acting edition and others informed us of from their reading edition:

(A great shadow, or darkening, fills the stage; it is the shadow of a great presence filling the room …

This stage direction continues for several more lines. A few more lines in both editions from Julian, and then a concluding stage direction that is ampler in the reading edition. Both editions are copyrighted 2001!

This discrepancy remains for me the greatest mystery involved in Tiny Alice. Even the hyena and the anus trail behind.

After our very good discussion of this play—I'm always amazed at how much more we uncover together—I re-read the third act. It's much more readable in the reading edition (of course) and I can appreciate better the themes others were talking about, but my opinion of the play as a whole remains unchanged. And I have to wonder how compelling even its fans find Julian's final speech—long(ish) and rambling (or so it seems to me … with no better memory from Gielgud's delivery forty-seven years ago).

I must confess, however, without having to look too deep into my own soul, that the topic of martyrs and martyrdom hold absolutely no interest for me ... more particularly the wish to be a martyr. Jesus didn't! (And let no one think the motes in his eyes will be any the safer after the parading of this beam in mine.)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"tiny alice"

—nothing in Wayne Dyne's Homolexis. I tried to consult Bruce Rodgers' The Queen's Vernacular but my copy, in some fit of tidiness, seems to have been deaccessioned. The earliest reference I have found to a special meaning of "tiny alice" is in Morris Belsnick's letter of April 8, 1965, to The New York Review of Books, which begins

Philip Roth is correct about the underlying intentions of Tiny Alice, but why does he write as though it were a dirty little secret which Albee cannot face? The very title of the play itself is, within homosexual circles, a phrase for a masculine derrière.

Belsnick's letter is in response to Philip Roth's embarrassing review, "The Play that Dare Not Speak Its Name," published in the February 8, 1954 issue.

The disaster of the play, however—its tediousness, its pretentiousness, its galling sophistication, its gratuitous and easy symbolizing, its ghastly pansy rhetoric and repartee—all of this can be traced to his own unwillingness or inability to put its real subject at the center of the action.

… which is of course homosexuality. A whole book, I am coming to believe, can be written about Homophobia v. Edward Albee, a substantial chapter of which would be centered on Tiny Alice. It's hard for people who didn't live through it to appreciate what a time of fearful orthodoxy the Fifties and Sixties were. People—readers, playgoers, moviegoers, critics, columnists etc—went crazy if they were presented with an experience without clear meaning. Behind much of that anxiety of intention lay the love that dare not speak its name, which is to say, the love that people dared not hear.

By the way, if you consult on "tiny alice" you will see that a thumbs up has been added to the previously reported three thumbs down. Pile on and vote! I've decided this one's a keeper. The biggest laugh in the gay male porn industry is how tops go on about loving a "tight ass" even though it's clear from their performance that many of them would benefit from an anus that's rather looser.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Homosexual Strains

There is, moreover, a homosexual strain running through Tiny Alice, but remaining just barely supraliminal …

So John Simon in The Hudson Review of the time. He mentions the lawyer-butler relationship, the lawyer-cardinal relationship, and a "suggestive waspishness that characterizes many homosexual relationships."

Is all this relevant to the main theme or not? Or is it, perhaps, the main theme? Is the whole play a piece of camp metaphysics or metaphysical camping?

Martin Gottfried writing for Women's Wear Daily was even more … waspish:

… Albee, once more blaming vicious womankind for murdering the tendereness of men [which] in this case is equated with homosexuality [which] the play is all about without once actually alluding to it.

All this, incidentally, a full year before Stanley Kauffmann's infamous "Homosexual Drama and Its Disguises" in The New York Times. (Malcolm had closed a few weeks earlier after Kauffmann's thumbs-down review a few weeks before that.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

What we have here...

As most of you know, I send reminders of upcoming Bookmen meetings and other news from work ( because it's usually easier to maintain and manage a large list of addresses.  However, ever since we upgraded our computer system earlier this month, a lot of messages have started bouncing back, particularly from AOL addresses.  (Not sure whether the problem is at our end, AOL's or the interface.)  Until that gets resolved, whenever I receive an error message I'll resend the e-mail from home.  Apologies in advance for any duplication, but I'd rather you get info twice than not at all.

If you ever go more than a couple of weeks without getting at least one e-mail from me (the longest I've ever gone without sending something), chances are it's because of this glitch.  But even then, you can always find info on upcoming meetings (what we're discussing, when and where) here on the Web site, and can also send me an e-mail by clicking on the link.

Thanks for your patience; hope to see many of you at a meeting soon!  Cheers, Steve

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rimbaud's After the Flood, translated by John Ashbury

This is from the June 23 edition of NYRB.


No sooner had the notion of the Flood regained its composure,

Than a hare paused amid the gorse and trembling bellflowers and said its prayer to the rainbow through the spider’s web.

Oh the precious stones that were hiding,—the flowers that were already peeking out.

Stalls were erected in the dirty main street, and boats were towed toward the sea, which rose in layers above as in old engravings.

Blood flowed in Bluebeard’s house,—in the slaughterhouses,—in the amphitheaters, where God’s seal turned the windows livid. Blood and milk flowed.

The beavers built. Tumblers of coffee steamed in the public houses.

In the vast, still-streaming house of windows, children in mourning looked at marvelous pictures.

A door slammed, and on the village square, the child waved his arms, understood by vanes and weathercocks everywhere, in the dazzling shower.

Madame xxx established a piano in the Alps. Mass and first communions were celebrated at the cathedral’s hundred thousand altars.

The caravans left. And the Splendide Hotel was built amid the tangled heap of ice floes and the polar night.

Since then the Moon has heard jackals cheeping in thyme deserts,—and eclogues in wooden shoes grumbling in the orchard. Then, in the budding purple forest, Eucharis told me that spring had come.

—Well up, pond,—Foam, roll on the bridge and above the woods;—black cloths and organs,—lightning and thunder,—rise and roll;—Waters and sorrows, rise and revive the Floods.

For since they subsided,—oh the precious stones shoveled under, and the full-blown flowers!—so boring! and the Queen, the Witch who lights her coals in the clay pot, will never want to tell us what she knows, and which we do not know.


Sunday, June 12, 2011


Thanks to Terry for pointing out this article in the Observer about Alan Hollinghurst, occasioned by the publication of his fifth novel The Stranger's Child. The following paragraph is so pertinent to the three dicussions we've had about him that I quote it in full:

The other criticism expressed about Hollinghurst's writing is that it lacks warmth, that his characters are essentially unsympathetic, even unlikable. It's a judgment that serves to reduce the novel to a personality contest. What might be fairer to say is that Hollinghurst does not conceal the less appealing human qualities – vanity, selfishness, jealousy – and nor does he seek to delineate his characters according to their distribution. "I don't make moral judgments," he has said. "I prefer to let things reverberate with their own ironies and implications."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Is there a good story with a worse ending …

than "Paul's Case"? There are three failings. First, moral. Cather presents a young man of very limited means (not only financial!) and opportunities who manages to live, however briefly, the life he wishes, and even to end it on his own terms. Though Cather is sympathetic enough to create this portrayal, she loses her nerve at the end and feels compelled to condemn:

When the right moment came, he jumped. As he fell, the folly of his haste occurred to him with merciless clearness, the vastness of what he had left undone.

Oh yes, the vastness of yellow wallpaper and decades of rearing narrow-eyed no-neck monsters (after the distasteful drudgery of each individual conception). Paul's experience in Manhattan has shown him that the life he wants to lead can be had only with money. What sudden epiphany has occurred to him, in mid-drop, to convince him otherwise!? Our narrator abandons her creature with less care than he buried his red carnation. It's not enough he die ... he must despair and die (R3, V, iii, 128).

The next two failings are aesthetic. Part of Cather's success in this story is presenting it as a case study, introducing the latest medicinal pathologizing of homosexuality in describing a person of Paul's "temperament". She shatters that picture-making mechanism when she jumps into his mind for the last seconds of his consciousness (she, who wasn't even sure—"perhaps"—that her subject had looked into the dark corner). This failure of course is more generally one of inconsistent authorial point-of-view, but more acute here because of her adopted "case study" narrative.

The third failing is also aesthetic and embarrassingly bald.

Then, because the picture-making mechanism was crushed, the disturbing visions flashed into black, and Paul dropped back into the immense design of things.

—"the immense design of things"? Oh Willa, give this ember burning in your tea-pot tempest a break! Where did she find that tail to pin on the donkey!? There's been no "design of things" in evidence, immense or minute, explicit or implicit, in this aborted case study. Cather has pulled out all stops and hoped to leave us on a swell.

“Paul’s Case” was originally published in Cather’s first short-story collection The Troll Garden, a few months before its appearance in McClure’s. For reasons of the merest editorial convenience a page-worth of material was omitted from the magazine. Out of respect for both her and for her character, I will read the story's end as

When the right moment came, he jumped. He felt something strike his chest, and that his body was being thrown swiftly through the air, immeasurably far and fast … and that his limbs were gently relaxed.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Is Paul Gay?

Philip gave very good arguments for why a historically informed reading would answer in the affirmative. More naively I wondered whether Paul's "shadowed corner, the dark place into which he dared not look" (sixth paragraph after his escape to New York) might not be his homosexuality. Some handwaving at the time, about Freud (whom Cather would have had to have been very au courant in 1904 to have even heard of) seemed to place that off the table. But looking over "Paul's Case" again—I find it endlessly re-readable, the details are so apt—I notice on the next-to-the-last page, when Paul is planning his suicide, this passage:

Yet somehow he was not afraid of anything, was absolutely calm; perhaps he had looked into the dark corner at last and knew. It was bad enough, what he saw there, but somehow not so bad as his long fear of it had been.

Now the thing in the dark corner might be anything I suppose, but I can only think of homosexuality. If no one can offer anything else, our answer to the opening question has to be, once again, in the affirmative.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Reading Hart

No one who read The Bridge with us a year ago will be surprised by the linguistic difficulty of Hart Crane's "Voyages". Crane was early and notoriously difficult. In a public letter to Harriet Monroe that was published in the October, 1926 issue of Poetry together with his poem "At Melville's Tomb", he answered some of her earlier editorial queries about his language.

You ask me how a portent can possibly be wound in a shell … I ask you how Blake could possibly say that "a sigh is a sword of an Angel King." You ask me how compass, quadrant and sextant "contrive" tides. I ask you how Eliot can possibly believe that "Every street lamp that I pass beats like a fatalistic drum!"

What distinguishes Crane's practice and make his reading so hard (and so poetic) is that he usually dispenses with the subject of the metaphor (the "tenor") and simply launches us off into the associated image or idea (the "vehicle"). So whether a street lamp is ever like a drum or a sigh like a sword we know what drums and swords are being compared to. In Crane we get portents "wound in corridors of shells" and and compasses, quadrants and sextants "contrive[ing] no farther tides." Good luck guessing what those portents and compasses are comparisons of!

In his "General Aims and Theories" (unpublished in his lifetime) Crane explicates the "dynamics of inferential mention" in his "logic of metaphors":

[W]hen, in "Voyages" (II), I speak of "adagios of islands," the reference is to the motion of a boat through islands clustered thickly, the rhythm of the motions, etc.

—something I doubt would have ever occurred to me unaided. And I'm still in some need to understand how this leisurely sailing-by can "complete the dark confessions [which ocean's] veins spell." So this post is a plea for everyone to put on his free-association caps. I'm not suggesting that any reading could be right but conceivably a large number of readings might not be wrong.

Fortunately what makes "Voyages" more accessible than The Bridge, aside from its length, is its clear and familiar theme, that of a love affair, with a beginning, a middle and an end. The homosexuality of that love affair is far from incidental and makes the sequence that much more interesting, even vital, to us. It is arguably the greatest poem on that theme. The middle, I must confess—the crisis and turning point of that affair—, remains something of a muddle to me and I look forward to the insights other readers may bring. I'm unsure even how to parse the first three lines of the fourth stanza. I'd hate to have to diagram them (much more discover their tenors or divine their meaning). I'll let them conclude this post:

Whose counted smile of hours and days, suppose
I know as spectrum of the sea and pledge
Vastly now parting gulf on gulf of wings

Monday, May 16, 2011


Soe: it means the place of man
in the line from earth to heaven;

—no idea where this comes from. You who do please enlighten us now or at Wednesday meeting.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


This novel has been on my bookshelf since it was first published in 1985. It's something of a roman à clef for Susan Sontag and her Mannahatta gang. City Boy writes about them directly and refers to its writing, publishing, and scandalous aftermath. Having enjoyed this portrayal of Sontag et al., I was impelled at last to take up the novel.

White himself earlier describes it in My Lives:

I'd written a difficult novel, Caracole, in which none of the characters happened to be gay. ... I thought it would be amusing to show a race of vain heterosexuals on the permanent make and to set the action in a place that blended eighteenth-century Venice, occupied Paris and contemporary New York.

Three years earlier White's breakthrough gay novel, A Boy's Own Story, was published. Part of the later book's scandalous aftermath was caused by the "race of vain heterosexuals" depicted, who disliked Caracole because White hadn't stayed in the ghetto and stuck to writing about gays. Homosexuals too disliked it because he hadn't stayed in the ghetto and stuck to writing about gays. Neil Bartlett, however, in an early defense argued that Caracole was the ultimate gay novel because it treated everyone as though they were gay!

With hindsight it can now be reread and seen as a landmark, reclaiming a whole prehistory of high camp narratives in which a gay voice rewrites straight lives and in so doing undoes the world.

I'm guessing it's White's best novel (having read many but not all). I'm eager to read it again with the group and hear what everyone else thinks.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Upgrading Bookmen DC Facebook Group -- Facebook will be archiving all groups created using the old groups format

This evening, I upgraded the Bookmen DC Facebook Group.


Over the next few months, Facebook will be archiving all groups created using the old groups format.  We must upgrade if we would like to continue using this group, which makes it easier for members to connect and share. 


Visit the link below for more information about the new Facebook Groups!/groups



Monday, May 2, 2011

World Doctors Orchestra for Whitman-Walker

My doctor plays for the World Doctors Orchestra.

Their next concert is Sunday, September 11th 2011, 7 p.m., at
The Music Center at Strathmore, Bethesda, MD.  Program:

Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major
Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 2 in C minor “Resurrection”

—under the baton of Stefan Willich with soloists: Tamaki Kawakubo, Violin; Jeanine De Bique, soprano; and Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano.

The proceeds of the concert will support the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington. The Clinic serves Washington’s diverse urban community, including individuals who face barriers to accessing care. It has special expertise in providing care for patients with HIV/AIDS.

"Book Buff" Paul Cadmus Painting

The "Book Buff" Paul Cadmus Painting that Tim posted on the BookMenDC Blog is now the logo on the Bookmen DC Group on Facebook.

"Book Buff "

Richard has suggested we might use this Paul Cadmus painting as our logo

—but modesty prevents me from using such an image of my glory days.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Stonewall Uprising

I hope I'm nobody's point person on media alerts. Last night PBS broadcast an episode of American Experience titled "Stonewall Uprising". Aside from generic interest, this eighty-minute documentary is based on one of the books we read (by David Carter, see below). You can watch it on the linked website or tomorrow morning (4/27) from 1:30 am to 3 am on WETA, Channel 26.

Friday, April 15, 2011

from "Sonnet of the Sweet Complaint"

I am afraid of being, on this shore,
a branchless trunk, and what I most regret
is having no flower, pulp, or clay
for the worm of my despair.

never let me lose what I have gained,
and adorn the branches of your river
with leaves of my estranged Autumn.

Federico García Lorca

Author's Guild v. Google

The author of the New York Review of Books article ("Google's Loss: The Public's Gain") proposes a Digital Public Library, free to all. I have been following with great interest the proposed google settlement, which would have given it a monopoly over the millions of "orphan" books (unknown or unclaimed copyright holders). Quoting the judge, "the ASA would give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission…”  Here is the judge’s full decision.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bookmen DC Facebook Group

Because of text limitations in Facebook wall postings, going forward, I am going to add BookMenDC Blog postings in separate topics on the Discussion board.  I will continue to post the epistles from our facilitator to the Bookmen DC Wall on Facebook, but will edit them if he exceeds the text limitations.


Everyone should feel free to post on the wall.





Friday, April 8, 2011

(He kneels beside her

and his fingers find the opening of her blouse.)

Someone at our discussion of A Streetcar Named Desire mentioned this stage direction in Stanley's last line of the play as evidence of his inherently bestial even depraved nature, thinking that he could evanesce Stella's grief by arousing her (shutting off the waterworks above, so to say, by putting those below in flow). Incredible as this seems for any character we may have seen on the stage it certainly is in keeping with Williams' original view of the "gaudy seed-bearer's" effect of "narcotized tranquility" on his ex-Belle Reve wife. This stage direction is in the play's first edition (published less than three weeks after its premiere) as well as in the second edition three years later (and incorporating for the first time changes in the script that had come about in that production). In the next year (1951) the film appeared and two years after that the Dramatists Play Service published an acting edition, which has some changes in the dialogue but many more in the stage directions. One of those changes is this stage direction — deleted!

All of which makes wonder what Marlon Brando did in the film. Anyone remember? Please let us know or look for it in the future. Brando himself was a very sensitive man and brought that sensitivity, with memorable effect, to the various low-life or out-law characters he portrayed. Elia Kazan, director of both the original production and the film, feared that the play was becoming "the Marlon Brando show ... What would I say to [him]? Be less good?" Brando himself thought that both he and Jessica Tandy had been miscast. And of course, as I mentioned in our discussion, Harold Clurman famously criticized Kazan for tilting the audience's sympathy away from Blanche and onto Stanley. The film—and this is a delayed and very roundabout response to Terry's earlier post—is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it records this truly phenomenal performance (his best on film—one of the best on film), and a curse in that it perpetuates a performance so at odds with the play. Brando was only offered the role after Jack Garfield and Burt Lancaster refused it (the former "because he felt Blanche [!] dominated the play"). How much safer they would have been, as well as his understudy Jack Palance. The first national tour was directed by Harold Clurman with Uta Hagen and Anthony Quinn. That must have been definitive!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bernard de Zogheb and Edmund White

There's a short reference to de Zogheb in City Boy (p. 129, paperback edition) whom White met at James Merrill's house. He is described as "an Egyptian" who once acted as a "tourist guide." On both counts de Zogheb might have blanched, since he liked to call himself a "Levantine"—the family came from Syria (Lebanon) in the 19th century to make their fortunes and acquired a title from the pope in the course of that century, and then formed as part of the creme de la creme of Alexandrian society for the few short decades that the cosmopolitan world of Alexandria lasted—and he might have acted as a tour guide in moments of desperation but he is known as a librettist and artist. De Zogheb had a brilliant personality, was profoundly witty, and had a way with the four or five languages that flourished in the city during these decades. He wrote librettos for operas, some of which were published with introductions by James Merrill (and now very expensive): "Le Sorelle Bronte" was one; "Phaedra" was another (mentioned in White's book). His death in 1999 was a sad event because it marked the end of the cosmopolitan period in Alexandrian history. A nice obituary was published in Al-Ahram Weekly, which gives some of the flavor of the man. A study of "Literary Alexandria" by John Rodenbeck, an emeritus professor of English at the American University in Cairo and a friend of mine, was published by the Massachusetts Review, the last four pages of the article are somewhat devoted to de Zogheb.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Prissy Closet

An interesting theme that runs through Edmund White's City Boy is his passage from the eternal and universal to the contemporary and particular, both as a reader and a writer. In his twenties he "still had an unquestioning admiration for the Great … because they were Great." As a writer, "I defended myself against … immersing myself in my own period. … A writer must be eternal and universal." With an artist's instinct he moves against his prejudices. But later, when successful, he has to put up with such fulminations as Richard Poirier's (slant rhymes with "warrior"):

Gay writers! I've never heard of anything so absurd. It's obscene! … it's a betrayal of every humane idea of literature. Have you never heard of universalism?

To answer his ilk in kind: "yeah, that dago guttersnipe, writing in the vernacular — Dante!"

The NY Times obituary of the "warrior" concludes

Mr. Poirier never married. No immediate family members survive.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Confederacy of Dunces: Some Useful Links

Greetings, Colleagues—

I encourage all of you to (re)read John Kennedy Toole's rollicking novel, A Confederacy of Dunces. Here is an extract from the Introduction to Joel Fletcher's recent book Ken & Thelma.

According to Wikipedia Thelma Toole is described as educated and "highly cultured" (unlike Irene Reilly), but quite controlling. Toole's father, Ken, was less of a force in his son's life, but hardly absent, either (unlike the barely mentioned Mr. Reilly, he of the "weak seed").

Note, too, that Ignatius is apparently based in good part on his former professor, Bob Byrne, but jumps off as well from Toole's own experiences (e.g., short-lived jobs in a men's clothing factory and vending tamales).

Finally, some pix. (And thanks to Glenn for all these links!)

Cheers, Steve

Sunday, March 20, 2011

tu barda llena de mariposas

"Not for a moment, beautiful aged Walt Whitman, have I failed to see your beard full of butterflies."


Sunday, March 13, 2011


Probably don't need to point out to anyone Randy Shulman's good interview with Edward Albee in the latest MetroWeekly, occasioned by Arena's current and continuing Albee Fest, most of which is free (?) and at least some of which some of us are going to. This raises the question of what we might read by him (having read nothing). Malcolm—both Purdy's novella and Albee's adaptation—seems an obvious choice, except that the Purdy I think is o.o.p. Of course, anything by Albee is arguably a candidate (ex persona, as it were). At Home at the Zoo—old "Zoo Story" with its new prequel "Home Life"—might be a good recommendation. Others?

blast from the past

This was the cover of a CD that another book club member made for me for my 40th birthday.  He sent me a spreadsheet with almost 7,000 music titles that he had downloaded from the internet.  He put the 20 songs I picked onto the CD.

Friday, March 11, 2011


I've been a fan of Anne Carson since Autobiography of Red (discussed at our meeting on 7/20/1999). Next time you are meandering through the poetry section of your favorite book store, see if they have a copy of Nox, spend a few minutes browsing through the pages, and let me know what you think about it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Warren Cup

I've just learned about this, or heard about it but never saw an image (or am approaching senility more quickly than I ever imagined possible) — in any event, to share with those of you who have been as ignorant or clueless (or witless) as I … The Warren Cup. By the way, NSFW (but what do I know) … or TGIF — it's the weekend (that much I do know)!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pingpong Howl

I was not, forty years ago, nor now, so captivated by "Howl" as most people were last night. Some verses I would have read aloud then—except for the overwhelming liveliness of our discussion—exemplify for me the "brilliantly absurdist poem" Perloff characterizes in her review below:

and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol electricity hydrotherapy psychotherapy occupational therapy pingpong & amnesia,
who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic pingpong table, resting briefly in catatonia,

I'm with you in Rockland where you scream in a straightjacket that you're losing the game of the actual pingpong of the abyss

(verses 68, 69, and 104; pages 120, 121, and 174 in the graphic novel).

The first "pingpong" has to evoke a laugh; the second, reflection; and the last, if memory serves, poignance. Taken together, the best three lines in the poem. If I can find a way to read the rest of the poem this way, it will be for me not merely historically important (both as literature and as event) but intrinsically memorable.

"Holy, holy, holy hyperbole!"

When the young Allen Ginsberg (ably played by James Franco) reads this line from the "Moloch" section of "Howl" in the smoke-filled Six Gallery in San Francisco (on October 7, 1955), the guys in the front row, including Neal Cassady, "secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver", break into laughter. The whole boatload of sensitive bullshit: they know, and Allen knows, that "Howl", far from being the romantic cry of the heart or grand political jeremiad it is often presumed to be, is in fact a brilliantly absurdist poem, whose complex baroque structure teeters between high seriousness and wry self-mockery, hallucinatory fervour and comic deflation.

So the beginning of Marjorie Perloff's exceptionally interesting review in the February 18, 2011, issue of the Times Literary Supplement. I would provide a link but it would only work for subscribers. Still, anyone interested in the movie, the poem, the poet, or the times (his then, ours now) will be rewarded by the trek to any library with a copy.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Unspeakable Love, New Edition

Brian Whitaker, the Guardian Middle East correspondent, wrote on (in?) his blog recently that despite covering the uproar that continues to take place in his beat he is preparing a second edition of Unspeakable Love which we read four years ago on homosexuality in the Middle East. He says that in the five years since it was published, much has happened and changed. I for one will be ordering a copy as soon as it's available.

Buy Frank A Drink

Frank Kameny needs no introduction to BookMenDC. Unfortunately his meagre social security check is no longer covering his basic needs. Today and tomorrow all donations to Helping Our Brothers and Sisters go directly to Kameny. HOBS volunteer Ben Carver has set up a FaceBook page "Buy Frank A Drink". If you read this after March 1st and want to contribute, go there.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

"A Man Within"

Two local PBS stations will be broadcasting the latest episode of Independent Lens — "William S. Burroughs: A Man Within," tomorrow, Sunday, February 27: WETA at 2:00 am, and WMPT2 at 10:30 pm. We've read The Wild Boys, and Burroughs was a pal of Allen Ginsberg, whose "Howl" we are discussing this Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


There is an essay in the Canning book on page 183 "Howl and Other Poems." It might be of interest to read it before next week's meeting.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Streetcar Named Desire - the Film

I just finished watching for the second time the complete Streetcar film with Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando, and was tremendously moved by the film. Remembering some of the comments at our discussion two weeks ago, I know some thought that Brando was overemphasized in the film version, and it's true his performance is so mesmerizing you can't take your eyes off him -- or his body -- when he is performing. Leigh was deliberately dressed old fashioned and fussy and somehow it didn't add much to her character, and despite the occasional lapse into her Scarlet O'Hara voice, she delivered most of her lines in an affecting, scattered way that helped tremendously in making the last scene very moving. I now understand why this is one of the great roles for women and why Brando can be accused of skewing it. At the same time I don't believe he gave a better performance in any other film. But those who have never seen it, the wait is worth it.

By the way, the music didn't seem to jive with the music directions in the stage version.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Two Old-Time Brits

A couple of articles of interest to our members and available online: James Fenton in reviewing Christopher Isherwood's second volume of diaries in the TLS makes timely animadversions on the recent heteronormativity of "gay marriage"; and Joan Acocella surveys J.R. Ackerley's œuvre in a recent The New Yorker. To my surprise in checking our list (v.i.) I discover that we have read none of his work! My Father and Myself would be an obvious choice, though My Dog Tulip about his Alsatian bitch "Queenie" is incomparably droll and has much to recommend it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Larboard Watch

Those of you who don't read music won't be able to thank me … and those who do, will probably not want to! Zheesh! I guess you had to be there. Cope is interesting in showing how much people a hundred years ago had to rely on home/self-entertainment. Illustrating that was the best part of the movie Bright Star where Keats got to sing clarinet in the Mozart Adagio.