Hotel Julian Lobby Lending Library

I returned to the fallout shelter to retrieve the books, carrying out several full boxes through the tunnel. I also carried up the bookcase, recruiting Cajetan’s help, our second Right On Moving Company job. I was living now in a monthly room on the 3rd floor of Hotel Julian, Seattle and Walter and my Risk Management career receding like a Ship of Fools in a bottle on an outgoing tide. Sylvie was preoccupied, occupied, post occupied, and will have been occupied with her baseball team and league business commitments. She enjoyed the game: the travel, the players, the games from the press box, the scouting, the trades, the score and stats keeping, the smells of the locker rooms, bats and balls and gloves and towels, the lighted ballparks – oasis in the urban night, where she arrived early and stayed late. I set up a self help lending library in the lobby of Hotel Julian with the books from the fallout shelter. I didn’t bother organizing the books but filled the shelves hodgepodge, figuring they’d just get all messed up anyway. I made a card catalog using some 3 by 5 cards I’d found in Rosella’s. I pasted an envelope on the inside flap of the back of each book. In the envelope I placed a 3 by 5 card, cut to size for some of the smaller paperbacks. On the card I wrote the name of the book and drew a table with three columns: name, date checked out, and date checked back in. On the wall above the bookshelves I affixed a card rack and posted instructions: patrons are encouraged to take a book, one at a time, sign your name and your checkout date, place card in rack, return book when finished, find the book’s card, write in check in date, and return book to shelves. Inside the front cover of each book, I wrote: Property of Hotel Julian Lobby Lending Library. I made an index of the books in a spiral notebook that sat on top of the shelves, and took a simple count. At the launch of the library, celebrated with Dawn and Eve and other members of the hotel staff, and also Rosella and Ramon and their four girls, and Cajetan and Minerva, the following books were available for checkout: War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, Ivanhoe, The Scarlet Letter, The Voyage of the Beagle, Experiments on Plant Hybridization, A Tale of Two Cities, The Death of Ivan Ilych, Vanity Fair, Lorna Doone, The Red Badge of Courage, Trilby, Pride and Prejudice, Middlemarch, Madame Bovary, Heart of Darkness, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Little Women, Principles of Geology, King Solomon’s Mines, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Works of Li Po The Chinese Poet: Done into English Verse, Chinese Military Dictionary (War Department Technical Manual), Flatland, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Time Machine, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Dracula, Not Without Laughter, The Turn of the Screw, Moby-Dick, McTeague, On the Origin of Species, On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences, Banjo, Speeches of Abraham Lincoln, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Experiments with Alternate Currents of High Potential and High Frequency, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, Mansfield Park, Ulysses, The Last of the Mohicans, The Plays of William Shakespeare, The Holy Bible, The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby, The Call of the Wild, Winesburg Ohio, At the Mountains of Madness, and Wuthering Heights. Also, Webster’s New International Dictionary (second edition, 1934). Thus the library consisted of 58 books.

“Hotel Julian Lobby Lending Library” is episode 36 of Inventories
a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Note: With episode 30, the title of the novel was changed
from the original working title of “Ball Lightning” to Inventories.

Notes on the Difficulty of Reading a New Poem

Poem WalkingWhat happens when we encounter a new poem? New poems can seem impenetrable. But maybe the idea is not to penetrate. If the poem is new, the reading experience is also new, unfamiliar, foreign to our eyes and ears, to our sensibilities. What happens when we read a poem?

In the darkroom, the developer slides the photographic paper into the chemical bath. Slowly, an image emerges. Reading a new poem is a similar process in as much as the full picture does not immediately reveal itself. But that’s as far as that analogy might go. A poem is not a photograph.

The poem as montage, as mosaic, the narrative line pieced together stitch by stitch. Begin anywhere.

Poems are made with words, usually, and words have two basic kinds of meaning, denotative and connotative. With regard to connotative meaning, words suggest, have associative meanings, colloquial twists, and personal meanings. We have our favorite words, and words we find distasteful. “Are you going to eat those adverbs?” “No. I got sick on an adverb once, in grammar school.” Cultural, contextual meanings. We can’t control language.

When encountering a new poem, we ask the traditional questions: who is speaking, with what voice, and what is the intended audience, remembering not to confuse the speaker with the author, the audience for ourselves. What’s the speaker doing, talking about? What the diction, what the tone, what the setting, what the irony?

Here’s the poem under question: “Foxxcan Suicide (Stylish Boys in the Riot),” by Russell Bennetts (the editor of Berfrois). We look for help. Suicide we know. Painless, as the song says, though we doubt that, and that song is not about suicide. A soldier’s choices are limited. Are a reader’s choices similarly limited? Does “Foxxcan” suggest Foxconn, the so-called Foxconn suicides?

I recognize Starnbergersee, from T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, but is a single word enough to create an association? Why not? Eliot’s poem is fragmentary. “Foxxcan Suicide” is fragmentary, or so it seems. What if picking up on an Eliot reference is wrong? We could ask the author. No. What can the author know of the reader’s experience? Words are out of control once they hit the paper. The poem is a reading experience. And something more than Starnbergersee reminds me of Eliot: the many references, obscure to this reader, though I know who Axl Rose is, sort of, but I can’t say I know him, though he’s from my home town, big town. And the Roses had a label: UZI Suicide. So? Threads, though, links. And I know who Legacy Russell is, though not well enough to get the three asterisks at the end of that line, asterisks that point to no footnote.

Still, I like the new poem. I like the fragmented narrative. I like it for its changes in diction and speech, its orality, its lyrical last stanza, or paragraph, the socio-economic comment it ends on. I like the almost hidden poetic characteristics, the rhyme, for example, of “Legacy,” “easy,” and “please me.” Gradually, more of the picture seems to emerge: the teen spirit (Nirvana). Maybe it’s language that has become suicidal. The poem casts this reader as a kind of outsider, beyond the pale. Maybe I just don’t get it. “Well, how does it feel?”

Some time ago, in a workshop with David Biespiel, we used a kind of shorthand response technique as a way of quickly getting at new reading experiences. David called the technique, “What I See.” You had to tell it, what you saw, in 25 words or less, or so. Kenneth Koch taught a similar kind of technique, an attempt to get at the poem’s “idea.” What’s the idea, Koch asks, of Blake’s poem “The Tyger”? The speaker is asking questions of the wild animal, but of course the Tyger does not respond. The questions the speaker asks seem to have something to do with who made the Tyger, the maker’s character. Blake uses images of a blacksmith to try to picture the Tyger’s maker. For Blake, the blacksmith would still have been a powerful and practical individual, a maker of things useful, but his work was being subsumed at the same time by larger manufacturing forces that would come to be known as the Industrial Revolution. And that revolution would give way to more: “Stylish Boys in the Riot.”

What happens when we read a poem? From the Paris Review Interviews, this one with August Kleinzahler:

INTERVIEWER: Recently Poetry posed a question about the social utility of poetry. Does that interest you?
KLEINZAHLER: No. I agree with Auden that “poetry makes nothing happen.” Nothing else needs to be said about it.