Want to know something that’s really tedious? Indexing! I’ve just completed indexing a 253 page ms. on the career of Bob Dylan. Since that’s the last piece—after the time-consuming process of proof-reading page proofs and then scanning each of the 144 pages needing corrections—I can now say with some degree of satisfaction that this thing is happening. The book will be out, in January I expect. Until then, excuse me if I take a break from contemplating Bob Dylan. No, that’s not true . . . I still want to post about Another Self Portrait, so, yeah, stay tuned.
The arrival of those pages needing proofing—I had from Oct. 24th to Nov. 11th to do this thing—coincided with some other notable events and some of that stuff is what I’d like to talk about. Otherwise there’s the very real possibility that it will all become a blur, mixed up with the inevitable procrastination that starts to sap your energy when you’re trying to gear up for or avoid a task that pitilessly awaits.
1. Friday 10/25 featured a visit from the poet C.K. Williams to Richard Deming’s Working Group in Contemporary Poetry at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale. The main burden of the discussion was his book Writers Writing Dying and how he includes what might be called the “essayistic” (not Williams’ term) into poems. The best thing about the poems in his most recent book is that they simply follow a train of thought, though of course with the attention to sound and form that make them poems rather than simply rhythmic writing. As one who believes that prose can sing and that poems should not be prosaic, I found the discussion worthwhile as touching on matters close to my sense of the possibilities of writing. A poem like “Watching the Telly with Nietzsche” isn’t really profound as a reflection on Nietzsche or television, but it does get across the poet’s irritation with television filtered through Nietzschean ideas of “all is interpretation” and “there is no ding an sich.” Two poems Williams read for us at the meeting stuck in my mind. In one, the poet goes off on a contemplation of God, or, more particularly, his own ambivalence toward that concept as it has played out in his life, but the reflections are very concretely situated in a room where his grand-kids are asleep on the floor. By the end of the poem, one of the boys wakes up and wants to know what his grand-dad is doing. The feeling that comes across is how real the boys are and how ephemeral is all of grand-dad’s inner turmoil over God’s existence or lack thereof. It seems not to matter a jot against what really counts. Williams also read a poem coming out in the New Yorker about advertising, essentially, that had a very comic sense of the absurdity of what we spend money on and how we let the lust for things dominate our thinking most of the time. It’s rare that a poem makes me laugh but that one certainly did.
2. Sunday, 10/27: on the very evening I learned of the death of Lou Reed, I—after posting some of the most apropos Reed songs I could think of to my facebook page—went to the Yale Ghost Tour hosted by certain shadowy members of the Yale School of Drama. We met at the gates of the Grove Street Cemetery where, engraved in stone, the words “The Dead Shall Be Raised” might give hope to those inclined to meet up yonder, but which tend to sound rather creepy in these zombie-obsessed times. Anyway, it was a slightly chill evening and it was fun to walk about in the fallen leaves in a tour group led to places where, legend has it, hauntings and bizarre occurrences abound. A bit like an Ivy League version of a haunted hayride, but with the added interest of moving through some truly labyrinthine hallways and winding stairs and visiting some paneled room with seat boxes where an impromptu witch trial took place (and wouldn’t you know the person I had chatted blithely to upon my arrival at the cemetery gates would be the accused!). Tanya was let off the hook though sentenced to death because The Woman in White interceded and then enacted the part of Zul in the ending of Ghostbusters as we all stood on a rooftop. I’d say this entertainment was the best evocation of the Halloween spirit I encountered this year—thanks to Kelly Kerwin, Jessica Holt, Emily Zemba, Tom Pecinka and their attendant sprites.
3. Monday, 10/28, I shuffled along to a poetry reading by Glyn Maxwell because I’ve always heard good things about him. The poems were formally accomplished and he was an affable enough reader. I can’t say much stayed with me except for two things: one was from an anecdote he told wherein Derek Walcott had read poems Maxwell submitted in his class and repeated the phrase “collapsed into sleep” from one of the poems. Maxwell owned that it wasn’t such a great phrase, to which Walcott replied it was good and all the rest was crap. The other thing was Maxwell reading from a prose work in which he teaches four writing students. It’s not that the characterizations were ungenerous (he himself had been some version of each at some point, he admitted) but that it, like the Walcott anecdote, suggested to me that all teaching is largely a one-on-one affair and best left there. There were a number of students at the reading and I suppose there were lessons in there for them, but it wasn’t a lecture about writing, it was amusing “bits” about students commenting on each other’s work. A bit demoralizing, if you ask me. Not that anyone did.
4. On Tuesday, 10/29, it was a visit to The Visit, the first YSD thesis show of the season, directed by Cole Lewis, which I had been looking forward to as it featured actors I haven’t seen since the Summer Cabaret ended in August. The play is long and varied. I reviewed it here. What I don’t mention there is that the audience had to walk across the playing area, greeted by inhabitants of Güllen, to take their seats, which kind of put us in the play from then on, and that the play was very draining. It would’ve been nice to go have a drink at Sullivan’s after, but, alas, Sully’s is no more, and nothing else in the area is serviceable.
5. On Halloween itself, Thursday, 10/31, my wife and I attended the opening night of Caryl Churchill’s Owners at the Yale Rep, which I reviewed here. What I don’t mention there is that we attended wearing the face-masks I kept from Sleep No More, so from about a block before our arrival at the Rep’s portal till the lights went down we were masked. I had hoped there might be others present in Halloween outfits of some type, but no. The play, following last month’s Streetcar, shows the Rep is on a roll, so far. The reception after was a bit subdued (I suspect many went off to Halloween events), but I stayed around to chat a bit with two recent YSD grads in the cast as well as some of the cast of The Visit. And had two free glasses of wine. Larvatus prodeo, folks.
6. The next night, Friday 11/1, my daughter and her boyfriend came to town to attend two events: the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale in his Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960) and his 2nd Symphony (1980), with, sandwiched in between, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, conducted by Toshiyuki Shimada with soloist Henry Kramer. It was a free concert and the Threnody alone was draw enough. It’s famously known as the disconcerting music on the soundtrack of The Shining when, for instance, Wendy discovers what her husband has really been writing for weeks, and in person it’s a thrilling experience with string sounds that seem eerily alive and a tempo that feels like trying to run in a dream and not getting anywhere. The 2nd Symphony is more lively but not as sublime—I greatly enjoyed the array of percussion instruments on the stage and there is an uplifting power at the end. The piece by Prokofiev was actually my favorite part of the evening because the piano-playing was so expressive and that little phrase in the first movement was hauntingly familiar somehow. During an intermission we looked out the windows of Woolsey Hall to see a large crowd in the Beinecke courtyard celebrating Divali, the Hindu festival of lights, with sparklers. After the concerts we went, with my wife, to the first late night Cab show we’ve attended this year: the 11 p.m. show of Radio Hour which featured radio programs done in the style of the forties, and which I reviewed here.