mark terrill | poems from an expatriate | part I

30 10 2009

PoetryDispatch No. 297 | October 30, 2009


Poems from an Expatriate
Part l

To begin with, a little bio on Mark Terrill:

While everyone else was going to school, Mark Terrill was working and traveling, shipping out as a merchant seaman, and touring with various rock bands in the capacity of road manager. In 1982 he was a participant in Paul Bowles’ writing workshop in Tangier, Morocco, and after extended stays in Tangier, Lisbon, Paris and Hamburg, he’s lived in Germany since 1984, where he’s been scraping by in various guises, including shipyard welder, cook and postal worker. Recent books include The United Colors of Death (Pathwise Press), Bread & Fish (The Figures) and Kid with Gray Eyes (Cedar Hill Publications), and his selected translations of Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, Like a Pilot (Sulphur Literary Review Press). Other writings and translations have appeared in several limited edition chapbooks and more than 300 magazines, journals and periodicals around the world. Four of his poems were included in the anthology Ends and Beginnings (City Lights Review #6), edited by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He’s prone to giving readings of his work at various venues in Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin Prague and elsewhere, the details of which can be found at

The thing I love about Terrill’s poetry—he puts you there, exactly…where he’s comfortable…where you want to be, where he is…what he’s seeing, feeling, thinking—that too, a thinking man’s poetry…the street philosopher ruminating in plain words, ordinary lines set down so seemingly effortlessly. The there for me is heartbreakingly haunting, beautiful…where I want to be, as his poems come sifting through the mind.

I’m going to risk it, use a word most writers hate: “nostalgia”. A good word. A beautiful one. Nothing to be ashamed of. Echoes of ‘home.’ His poems bring me back to a time and place(s) I once knew. The writer (young) abroad. Temporarily exiled from middle-America. A longing to be back there—the old world. Paris …the cafes, the bridges across the Seine, the open buses, the streets that became poems with each step…that ramshackle four-storey walk-up hotel, off the Boulevard St. Michel…the old lady at the front desk with the cat, the tiny room (no bath), the rumpled bed, the flowered wallpaper, the shuttered windows thrown open wide to a small balcony with all of Paris within arm’s reach day and night…a Paris that was still/forever Hemingway’s, Stein’s, Pound’s, Proust’s …where you felt right at home with the long history of writers and artists. So, this is Paris!… I write, therefore I am.

Mark Terrill has been living in Europe for over twenty years. Some of this fantasy of ‘foreign’ has possibly worn off…though I sense it yet, still alive in much of his work. I sense, too, a touch of what Felinghetti saw and found the everyday language to express. A touch of Henry Miller’s gargantuan appetite to take it all in, get it all down, revel in daily life…the common uncommon touch of Jacques Prevert’s, PAROLES.

“I am sitting in the café La Madeleine de Proust in the Rue Descartes on a mild sunny October afternoon…” one of Mark’s prose poems begins…and I’m sitting beside him, (you too) taking it all in… —norbert blei

Ninety-Nine Islands

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaA day off in Sasebo, Japan.
aaaaaaaaaaI’m down the gangway and gone.
I reappear on a sightseeing boat
aaaaaaaaaacruising the nearby Ninety-Nine Islands.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaJapanese tourists along the rail,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaacameras clicking and zooming,
me sitting on a bench, eyes shut,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaabsorbing the fallow winter sun,
aaaaaaaasavoring a brief respite from the
arduous dirty sweaty greasy toil in the engine room,
aaaaaaathe drunken brawling, bitching and whining,
aaaaaaaaaaaaagratuitous violence and hidden racist agenda
aaaaaaathat makes up life on the dilapidated tanker
aaaaaaaaaaaaaawhich has been my home
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafor the last six months.

I open my eyes and see a black-haired kid,
aaaaaathree years old at the most, with dark shiny eyes,
aaaaaaaaaaaasoft pink face, and outstretched hand,
aaaaaaunsteadily holding out a crumbling rice cracker
aaaaaaaaaaaain my direction, gently encouraged
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaby a silent smiling father behind him.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaThe kid smiles and I have to smile too.
I watch him working to overcome
aaaaaaathe last barriers of shyness and timidity,
seeing his tiny struggle as emblematic
of some greater, more meaningful struggle,
aaaaaaain which all of us are teetering on the invisible edge
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaof some last confining indecision.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaNext day, back on board the rusty tanker,
aaaplying the waters of the East China Sea,
amidst the deafening boiler-turbine cacophony,
aaaaaaabelly full of chicken-fried steak and pie a’ la mode,
pumping bilges, reading gauges, mopping oil and sweat,
aaaaaaaa sudden flashback puts the salty delicate taste
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaof the little kid’s sweaty rice cracker
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaright back in the middle of my tongue.

[from The Salvador-Dalai-Lama Express, Main Street Rag, PO Box 690100, Charlotte, NC 28227 (, 2009, $10/8e


I leave my hotel in the
rue du Cardinal-Lemoine
and walk down the hill
to the banks of the Seine.
I sit down on a massive stone abutment
just across from Notre Dame,
where grace hovers hesitantly
above the shoulders of stalwart gargoyles.

Still young and single,
no permanent address,
my pockets full of seaman’s wages;
a liter bottle of vin rouge
can still be bought for 90 centimes,
which stains the teeth a deep violet
and leaves the brain
throbbing in the morning.

In my bohemian apprenticeship
I’ve lingered outside
Hemingway’s old apartment,
drank endless cafe au laits
in Lipp’s, The Flore, and Deux Magots,
tossed down beer after beer
and bottomless Pernods
in Paul Celan’s favorite dive.

Now I watch an old man fishing;
black beret, rumpled army surplus sweater,
and all the churlish patience
of a surly Captain Ahab.
The name of the game
is perseverance.
What could Paris possibly teach me
that this old man doesn’t know?

[from The Salvador-Dalai-Lama Express, Main Street Rag, PO Box 690100, Charlotte, NC 28227 (, 2009, $10/8e

The Kiss

Early Monday morning the night train from Hamburg pulls into the Gare du Nord & I step down from the train & make my way through the crowded bustling station & emerge through the front doors & am confronted with the spectacle of intense rush hour traffic now almost at a standstill making the Place de Roubaix seem like a giant sea of sheet metal or a vast cubist-futurist collage accompanied by honking horns & idling motors & clouds of exhaust & the staccato rattle of jackhammers & the piercing blasts of the traffic policemen’s whistles as they struggle to maintain a semblance of movement through the obstacle course of metal barricades set up by the street department who have torn up huge sections of the street for some expansive construction project while people are loading & unloading luggage from cars & taxis & pedestrians are streaming in & out of the station working their way through the maze-like ever-shifting gridlock & delivery drivers & motorcycle couriers are vainly struggling to inch ahead as the collective tension increases exponentially becoming a palpable pulsing presence & suddenly I catch sight of a young couple standing beacon-like in the middle of the stagnating chaotic scenario locked in an embrace apparently totally oblivious to their surroundings deeply immersed as they are in the obvious sensual pleasures of a prolonged & passionate kiss thus putting a particularly Parisian-romantic spin on the otherwise harrowing reality of another Monday morning in the grinding-to-a-halt City of Light.

[from Sending Off the Godhead in the City of Light, Hydrogen Jukebox Press, Burg, Germany, 2006]

The Time Time Takes

I’m sitting in the cafe La Madeleine de Proust in the Rue Descartes on a mild sunny October afternoon having just finished a tomato & basil tarte & green salad & a glass of red wine now leaning back in my chair lingering over a cup of espresso aimlessly soaking up the atmosphere admiring the cloudless blue sky & the sheen of the black slate roofs & the stalwart stone edifices of the buildings & the cobblestone streets polished to a high gloss from all the endless years of use & eventually my eyes come to rest on the receipt in the little silver tray on the green metal table with its patina of age & spots of rust & reading the name & address I find myself in a sudden interstice where the names Proust & Descartes are overlapping & refracting my perspective & perception accordingly & then I’m thinking about thinking and the time time takes & all that goes with it when it goes & what little actually remains as proof that we are what we are merely because we’re able to think about it which in terms of substantiality really doesn’t seem like very much at all.

[from Sending Off the Godhead in the City of Light, Hydrogen Jukebox Press, Burg, Germany, 2006]

Sending Off the Godhead in the City of Light

Time to kill before the reading at the gallery—walk over to the Seine & descend worn stone steps in the darkness-fractured shimmer of neon & streetlamps scattered across the wavelets—over there two lovers kissing in the shadows-over there a dope deal going down—over there a lone cigarette glowing secret agent-like in the inky gloom under the bridge—& just downstream Notre Dame all ablaze in the zillion-watt glow of the incessant incandescent full-fathom perennial millennial fossil-fuel maximum blowout illumina¬tion apparently necessary to eradicate the brooding darkness in which all our latent fears might otherwise take root as a party boat motors by with oblivious revelers unknowingly celebrating the end of an age not yet named.

[from Sending Off the Godhead in the City of Light, Hydrogen Jukebox Press, Burg, Germany, 2006]

Also by Mark Terrill


  • Postcard from Mount Sumeru | Bottle of Smoke Press, 2006
  • The United Colors of Death | Pathwise Press, 2003
  • Bread & Fish (prose poems) | The Figures, 2002
  • Kid with Gray Eyes | Cedar Hill Publications, 2001
  • Love-Hate Continuum | Green Bean Press, 2001
  • Sorry Try Again | Red Dancefloor Press, 1998
  • Subliminal Madness | Triton Press, 1978


  • Here to Learn: Remembering Paul Bowles | Green Bean Press, 2002


  • Like a Pilot: Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, Selected Poems 1963-1970  | Sulphur River Literary Review Press, 2001

ed markowski | three by…

23 10 2009

Poetry Dispatch No. 296 | October 23, 2009


Heaven’s Gate

she kissed me where
the beach turned mean
an hour after winter began
we drank the draino
we loved each others others
with dread & disease
cascading down for seven years
every black cat that
crossed our path had
all nine lives reduced
to none then blew
two flutes for luck
& love was blazing
bleak where one last
look confirmed our sex red
big finned fleetwood idled
in the shade & panic
of a ponderosa pine
on the outskirts of
a one way window
in a half horse town
between three pains of
shattered glass we laughed
& crackled twice as crisp
in the heat of a
sixty watt light bulb aglow
with sin & sensation &
lies laced with honey
adrift in the dust of
an ancient desert on
a mattress stuffed with
amber roses that scented
those nights we free fell
from the ledge of
orion’s lips & rumbled
through a sheet of stars
then drowned in the depths
of a souvenier shot glass
from mickey ratt’s rio roadhouse
when i was doc hologram
& she was ma darker
on cloud double zero at
the heaven’s gate motel.

death bed
in the calm between tremors
her vow to guide me
when i get there

the argument,

yard chickens

on my shadow.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaashows up

michael koehler | tangletown & beyond

19 10 2009

Drawing by Emmett Johns

PoetryDispatch No. 295 | October 19, 2009

Michael Koehler: TANGLETOWN & Beyond

I stand before a shelf of thirty-two Cross+Roads Press books published to date. Staple-bound, the earliest ones–beginning with a small book of poems, AN EVENING ON MILDRED STREET by Mariann Ritzer 1995. Perfect-bound, all the rest of them, since 2004. I turn my head sideways, running down titles and authors, recalling many of the works by the color of the cover.

I could write a book on each of them, writer and work, from the initial idea of the project to publication day. Most of the books (limited editions, 250, 300, to an occasional run of 500 copies) immediate sell-outs. Others, still available–from a few copies to ‘a-little-more-remaining-than-I-expected.’ Most of the authors, still in touch; some, never to be heard from again, dead-and-gone…writers, like Curt Johnson, Don Olsen…two guys in particular I really miss. The silence of those others still out there—who knows?

Not, I trust, anything I did or did not do as a publisher, fellow-writer, friend. We move on. We are busy. We forget. We’ve become better, maybe different writers since then. We are seeking other publishers. We may have become somebody, something else. We may have given up? But I remember them all. Especially the joy in guiding their first book toward publication, finally seeing it in print.

My memories of Mike Koehler and TANGLETOWN go something like this…in ‘short-hand’ if you will, since I have neither the time or desire at this point to write those books on every CR+Press writer I’ve worked with, published.

He appeared one spring in my annual Clearing class in writing. He was big, burly, rough along the edges, bare-armed (tattooed?). A sense of ‘the biker’ about him. Not much formal education. And just on the verge of the writer’s life-long journey of becoming well-read. He liked the outdoors. Talked about his down-and-out Dad with admiration, love. Wrote some interesting, ‘beginning’ stuff. Worked at the usual, low-pay, shit-jobs many writers are prone to—in the beginning—or stuck with the rest of their lives. Caretaking people who needed such service—perfect. Works well/into the writing. Real. Small town (Midwest). He knew the territory. Lived it. Was still looking for the words.

The outward appearance—roughness along the edges—was exactly that. Superficial. He spoke softly, tellingly, passionately, with more concern about that sad old “human condition,” than anyone might expect. “All heart,” as they used to say. A gentle giant.

If memory still serves me well, I had no idea how he found the class or could afford a week’s tuition—though he may have come ‘recommended’ to me by another writer, and I did what I could to get him some help.

On the pathway to class the first day, he walked beside me and said: “I’m looking for a mentor.” And I knew without saying, he had found one—though it was not something I had ever considered myself or ever been called before.

Eventually (a year or two later?) he put a pile of poems in my hands…eventually I went through them—good, bad, indifferent, okay, almost, great. But one thing above all stayed with me. A single word which popped up occasionally in only a few poems: “Tangletown.” There’s the poetry, I said to myself. There’s the book. Now to explain what I saw.

I told him the book was “Tangletown”…told him to read Anderson’s WINESBURG, OHIO…Masters’, SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY…probably Edwin Arlington Robinson’s, TILBURY TOWN…and anything at all by Dylan Thomas (UNDER MILKWOOD for sure)..any book that rang true about small town place. I told him to go home and write about it…tell me everything he knows about TANGLETOWN, everything he remembers and imagines. Maybe even consider beginning each poem with the identical first line: In Tangletown…

Times passes. When the all the words were set in ‘place’…the book of thirty-six ‘final’ poems chosen, agreed upon, arranged…I asked my good friend, artist Emmett Johns, to read the TANGLETOWN manuscript straight through…show me what it looks like, though his eyes, his drawings…Michael Koehler’s words.

And this is some of what TANGLETOWN is all about—still, 12 years later…destined for “Midwest classic.” The kind of thing only small presses, who care about this stuff, do best. —Norbert Blei

In Tangletown

lives a young man
22, may be 23,
who writes of walking
the tracks in November,
looking for things lost
among old mills and abandoned shafts.
He carries a battered collection of Hart Crane poems,
a spiral notebook,
has eyes much too old for his age.
When his buddies are gang-banging
in back alleys and dying,
he writes of biker love, the moon,
the elephants of summer.
He reads poems at his father’s grave.
That slab of stone looms in his dreams.
He walks all night along
the tracks- searching
in Tangletown.

Drawing by Emmett Johns

In Tangletown
the streets are narrow
and tavern signs hang low.
Walking, at 3 a.m.,
windows dark with sleep
except for the uncertain
glare of insomnia.
From those windows,
cigarette smoke and loneliness
pour into the cool night air.
Nearby someone cries into a saxophone;
the bricks of buildings are moved to tears,
curtains flutter like kerchiefs.
Whole blocks at a time weep.
The gutters run with rain all night
in Tangletown.

Drawing by Emmett Johns

In Tangletown
on Sunday mornings,
the bars are quiet as churches,
prayers rise off the blacktop
in waves toward heaven.
Claude pushes his apartment
down the street on its creaky wheels
picking up empty beer cans
and cigarette butts
all the while talking to God.
Hung-over hearts wake up
next to unfamiliar faces,
regrets buried under loneliness.
Here, what is holy
is what gets you through the day.
We are sinners, all,
in Tangletown.

Drawing by Emmett Johns

In Tangletown
one year
the union called for a strike
because management wouldn’t listen to grievances.
We voted 1089 for to 6 against
at a meeting at Center Park
one Thursday afternoon.
After the meeting,
feeling united and powerful,
some of us went to the National Miners Bank
to cash our paychecks.
The shades were drawn, a padlocked chain
was passed through the door handles.
The Red Owl Supermarket closed.
The taverns were dark, dry and empty.
From far up the hill where the big houses were
came a whistle calling us to heel,
and like the kicked dogs we were
we tucked tail and crawled for home
so we could go to work tomorrow
in the mines
in Tangletown.

Drawing by Emmett Johns

In Tangletown
Mayor Ed runs the dry cleaners,
plays poker in the back room
at Hunan Harry’s with the police chief
and Monsignor Cushman,
drinks dago red by the quart.
Ed pinches the waitress’ ass
and accepts campaign contributions
passed inside handshakes.
His wife gave me head
last year at the charity ball.
He has my vote.
Besides, it was nice doing to his
what he has done for years
to all us poor suckers here
in Tangletown.

Drawing by Emmett Johns

In Tangletown
last week
Aaron Dobbs went crazy.
After sixteen years of marriage
his old lady split.
Maxed out his Gold card,
wrote him a hate letter,
threw her wedding ring in the fish tank.
Didn’t take anything but the clothes on her back,
her dildo and a scruffy tomcat with one ear.
Aaron went down to Armand’s about five,
then hit every joint on the strip.
Drank enough to fill a tanker car,
still sober as a judge.
He was in bed by ten,
at work by seven.
At first whistle, he sat on the fork of a tow motor,
opened an empty lunch box,
and started to cry.
When the men from the mental hospital came at noon,
he was still sobbing.
From what I’ve heard, he ain’t stopped yet.
Everyone is still talking about Aaron Dobbs.
In little towns even small things happen in big ways.
For a moment the streets paused,
sharing the hurt that we all knew
in Tangletown.

Editor’s Note: TANGLETOWN is officially out-of-print. Contact the publisher regarding availability of archived copies and price: ngbleiATgmailDOTcom.

Michael Koehler Bibliography:

To my knowledge, only his recent book, RED BOOTS is available, $12. Contact: Little Eagle Press, P.O. Box 684, Baileys Harbor, WI 54202

Bonus: A new Michael Koehler poem:


I could get used to windows with curtains,
or looking through a curtained window
to see a pink plastic bucket in a green turtle sandbox.
I think I could learn to like laughter
coming from the sandbox in the back yard
near the corner of the cedar fence.
I could even handle mowing the lawn.

I love the idea of stairs going upward,
and the pale rose light falling at angles
upon the bedspread.
I would love the forms that remain
after the sleepers wake and rise.

The cat sleeping on the sewing table
I would surely love, as I would the hands
gathering cloth under the needle,
as I would the quiet chatter that
announces creation is love,
even a simple yellow dress,
maybe with blue flowers.

More on Michael Koehler can be found by clicking here… and for Emmett Johns please click here… and here… for the Emmett Johns web page.

norbert blei | minding faulkner | part 2 | writer-at-work

7 10 2009

William Faulkner’s Underwood Universal Portable typewriter in his office at Rowan Oak, which is now maintained by the University of Mississippi in Oxford as a museum.

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 201 | October 7, 2009


Part ll

Norbert Blei

To take a full measure of a writer’s life, work, character, I relish the possibility and surprise of looking beyond the book, the style, the body of work he or she is most noted for.

Yes, Faulkner IS Sanctuary, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying… (Hemingway IS The Sun Also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea; Tolstoy IS War and Peace, etc.) but could there be something else that might prove revealing?

I see within most serious writers both ‘the dancer’ and ‘the walker”–or the pedestrian. The dancer, in Faulkner’s case, is exemplified in the passage I quoted from his story “The Bear” in the previous entry (#200), Part I.

The dancer is where the art lies, where discovery lives, where everything comes together, words and ideas in a swirl…there is form, rhythm, movement…there is meaning and beauty and immense satisfaction. It’s the magic act, right before the writer’s eyes. He can hardly believe his own words—coming from where? He is in that zone again, where time has no meaning, the day disappears.

The ‘walker’ is more careful, deliberate, perhaps a little unsure of his steps … casting an eye before, around, glimpsing back at times. Leisurely. He checks his watch. Moves in a straight line. Time may be of the essence, but there is no hurry. He’s fairly certain where he is headed, that he will accomplish what he set out to do. He slows to examine a plant, stops to turn over stone, pick up a stick, check a bird in a tree…all the while proceeding toward his destination, almost within sight. Just ahead.

Here’s Faulkner, in that ‘pedestrian’ mode. Faulkner on Camus… Hemingway…Melville.

Great stuff. Insightful.

Albert Camus

CAMUS said that the only true function of man, born into an absurd world, is to live, be aware of one’s life, one’s revolt, one’s freedom. He said that if the only solution to the human dilemma is death, then we are on the wrong road. The right track is the one that leads to life, to the sunlight. One cannot unceasingly suffer from the cold.

So he did revolt. He did refuse to suffer from the unceasing cold. He did refuse to follow a track which led only to death. The track he followed was the only possible one which could not lead only to death. The track he followed led into the sunlight in being that one devoted to making with our frail powers and our absurd material, something which had not existed in life until we made it.

He said, ‘I do not like to believe that death opens upon another life. To me, it is a door that shuts.’ That is, he tried to believe that. But he failed. Despite himself, as all artists are, he spent that life searching himself and demanding of himself answers which only God could know; when he became the Nobel laureate of his year, I wired him ‘On salut l’ame qui constamment se cherche et se demande’; why did he not quit then, if he did not want to believe in God?

At the very instant he struck the tree, he was still searching and demanding of himself; I do not believe that in that bright instant he found them. I do not believe they are to be found. I believe they are only to be searched for, constantly, always by some fragile member of the human absurdity. Of which there are never many, but always somewhere at least one, and one will always be enough.

People will say He was too young; he did not have time to finish. But it is not How long, it is not How much; it is, simply What. When the door shut for him, he had already written on this side of it that which every artist who also carries through life with him that one same foreknowledge and hatred of death, is hoping to do: I was here. He was doing that, and perhaps in that bright second he even knew he had succeeded. What more could he want?

[from: ESSAYS SPEECHES & PUBIC LETTERS by William Faulkner, edited by James B. Meriwether, Random House, 1965. Originally published in Transatlantic Review, Spring 1961; the text printed here has been taken from Faulkner’s typescript.]

The Old Man and the Sea

His BEST. Time may show it to be the best single piece of any of us, I mean his and my contemporaries. This time, he discovered God, a Creator. Until now, his men and women had made themselves, shaped themselves out of their own clay; their victories and defeats were at the hands of each other, just to prove to themselves or one another how tough they could be. But this time, he wrote about pity: about something somewhere that made them all: the old man who had to catch the fish and then lose it, the fish that had to be caught and then lost, the sharks which had to rob the old man of his fish; made them all and loved them all and pitied them all. It’s all right. Praise God that whatever made and loves and pities Hemingway and me kept him from touching it any further.

[from: ESSAYS, SPEECHES & PUBLIC LETTERS…Originally published in Shenandoah, III (Autumn 1952)]


It is a difficult question. I can name offhand several books which I should like to have written, if only for the privilege of rewriting parts of them. But I dare say there are any number of angels in heaven today (particularly recent American arrivals) who look down upon the world and muse with a little regret on how much neater they would have done the job than the Lord, in the fine heat of His creative fury, did.

I think that the book which I put down with the unqualified thought “I wish I had written that” is Moby Dick. The Greek-like simplicity of it: a man of forceful character driven by his sombre nature and his bleak heritage, bent on his own destruction and dragging his immediate world down with him with a despotic and utter disregard of them as individuals; the fine point to which the various natures caught (and passive as though with a foreknowledge of unalterable doom) in the fatality of his blind course are swept—a sort of Golgotha of the heart become immutable as bronze in the sonority of its plunging ruin; all against the grave and tragic rhythm of the earth in its most timeless phase: the sea. And the symbol of their doom: a White Whale. There’s a death for a man, now; none of your patient pasturage for little grazing beasts you can’t even see with the naked eye. There’s magic in the very word. A White Whale. White is a grand word, like a crash of massed trumpets; and leviathan himself has a kind of placid blundering majesty in his name. And then put them together!!! A death for Achilles, and the divine maidens of Patmos to mourn him, to harp white-handed sorrow on their golden hair.

And yet, when I remember Moll Flanders and all her teeming and rich fecundity like a market-place where all that had survived up to that time must bide and pass; or when I recall When We Were Very Young, I can wish without any effort at all that I had thought of that before Mr. Milne did.


* Faulkner was one of a number of authors asked what book they would most like to have written.

[from: ESSAYS, SPEECHES & PUBLIC LETTERS…Originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune, July 16,1927]

norbert blei | minding faulkner | part 1

5 10 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 200 | October 4, 2009


Minding Faulkner…
Part I

Norbert Blei

today, this morning. Another rainy, overcast, cold dead morning …the trunks of trees darkened with rain water…the woods drenched in the scent of decay…the dying already on its way in the suddenness of wind, falling temperatures…in the hands of hunters spotting deer, surveying the forests after dark…yet the green prevails, momentarily…green leaves of maple, birch, beech…greener still, rain-washed, awaiting final falling act of color…those stretched out, singularly beautiful days of light spangled in braches, free falling in waves down to earth… before winter rearranges the landscape once more in starkness, sharp texture…

I carry three books of Faulkner to the coop from last night…books I took from the shelf at god knows what awkward hour of darkness, or why. Faulkner? Someone I’ve never been that close to in all my writing life…someone I turn back to upon occasion…an image…a remembrance of a story (“A Rose for Emily,” “The Bear”)…some recollection of the author’s life or words, suddenly brought to mind.

Maybe it was the beginning of Garrison Keillor’s, The Writer’s Almanac for September, 25th– Faulkner’s birthday…that I was remembering

September 25th….is the birthday of William Faulkner born in New Albany, Mississippi , 1897. He liked to get up early, eat a breakfast of eggs and broiled steak and lots of coffee, and then take his tobacco and pipe and go to his study. He took off the doorknob and carried it inside with him. There he wrote his novels by hand on large sheets of paper, and then typed them out with two fingers on an old Underwood portable. He was prolific this way — in a four-year span, he published some of his best novels: Sartoris (1929), The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Sanctuary (1931), and Light in August (1932). In 1949, he won the Nobel Prize in literature.

Or maybe it was coming across those old books of his on my shelves…NEW ORLEANS SKETCHES by William Faulkner, which I purchased from my favorite used book dealer, Paul Romaine, back in Chicago…1959? The writer within me, just beginning to stir. Romaine placing this very early book of Faulkner (only 25 when he wrote it?) in my (about the same age then?) hands—saying, in effect: “Read this. Early Faulkner. When he met Sherwood Anderson (already a favorite of mine) in New Orleans.” This, a paperback edition, published in Japan, The Hokuseido Press, $1.50.– which I read that evening, thinking: This is newspaper work, apprentice stuff…(not realizing that some of the pieces were indeed freelanced by Faulkner for the Times-Picayune)…that this was the kind of stuff I was beginning to learn to write and publish for Chicago newspapers and magazines… And certainly not quite realizing at the time that this is where it all begins–or once did for young writers who fed newspapers, which in turn nourished young writers—Anderson, Hemingway, Faulkner, Sandburg, Masters…

Early Faulkner/New Orleans for sure (I see now)…no sense of what lies ahead, just the sheer joy of being in ‘place’, observing, listening…turning everything into words, scenes …’sketches’–in search of stronger forms, firmer language… heft, resonance, all that it takes to raise the voice to story—that stays

More birthday bio from Garrison’s Almanac:

He grew up in Oxford, Mississippi. When he was 24, he went north when a friend got him a job at the Doubleday bookstore in New York. His uncle, a judge in Oxford, said, “He ain’t ever going to amount to a damn — not a damn.” At first, Faulkner was a good salesman, but pretty soon he started telling his customers not to read the “trash” they wanted to buy. He went back to Oxford and took a position as a fourth-class postmaster at the University of Mississippi, but he was forced to resign because he kept magazines until he’d read them, let holiday hams spoil before he delivered them, and closed down early to drive out to the golf course in his yellow Model T Ford. He went to New Orleans, where he met the writer Sherwood Anderson. In college, Faulkner had written poetry, but Anderson said: “You’ve got too much talent. You can do it too easy, in too many different ways. If you’re not careful, you’ll never write anything.” Anderson encouraged him to try fiction, and Faulkner moved into his apartment and wrote his first novel , Soldiers‘ Pay (1926).

I never read SOLDIER’S PAY. Never read much of his poetry. I re-read SANCTUARY and THE SOUND AND THE FURY a few years ago. Marvels, both. Yet neither book ‘comfortable’ to my reading nature. (I am not alone.) Still the writer, the work continues to nudge one—in my darkest hours? I promise to return to him more often…something there, in him, I need to know, to learn, to untangle the privacy (honor?) of his provincial (sophisticated?) art. (Heart?)

William Faulkner’s most violent book was probably Sanctuary (1931), which he first wrote as a potboiler. He wanted it to shock people. He said he wrote it after having “made a thorough and methodical study of everything on the list of best-sellers. When I thought I knew what the public wanted, I decided to give them a little more than they had been getting.” There are nine murders mentioned in the story, and a college student is raped with a corncob by a gangster. When Faulkner’s publisher read it, he said, “Good God, I can’t publish this. We’d both be in jail.” But Sanctuary was published, and it sold more copies in three weeks than The Sound and the Fury sold in two years. When his wife read it, she said, “It’s horrible.” Faulkner said, “It’s meant to be.”

William Faulkner said, “The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one.”

[Source: The Writer’s Almanac, September 25, 2009]

Last night, along his New Orleans Sketches , I pulled a small paperback from the shelf: THE PRIVATE WORLD OF WILLIAM FAULKNER by Robert Coughlan, An Avon Book, 50¢. (1953).Though old, dusty, discolored, the book is brand new. A biographical portrait. Untouched—but for a bookmark only 36 pages in, beginning with Chapter 3: “The Artist as a Young Man.” As far as I read…all those years ago. I thumb through the slim volume and come upon this…

William Faulkner is a small, wiry man with closely cropped iron-gray hair; an upswept mus¬tache of a darker color; a thin, high-bridged aqui¬line nose; heavy-lidded and deeply set brown eyes in which melancholy, calculation and humor variously are reflected; and a face tanned and webbed, especially near the eyes, with the creases and lines and tiny tracings of advancing middle age and the erosion of many days spent in the open in all weathers. He is entirely self-possessed, with a manner easy, courteous, speculative, and deadly. He is a quiet man; yet when he is at ease, with his short legs outstretched and a blackened pipe in his thin lips, and perhaps a drink at his elbow, he is like a somnolent cat who still in the wink of an eye could kill a mouse. Faulkner does not look or act like what he is. He acts like a farmer who had studied Plato and looks like a river gam¬bler. In the way he looks there is something old-fashioned, even archaic.

I place the book next to my chair to read straight through, another night soon. “Ruthless” settles in. If I could sleep, I would. But the woods, the cold, the darkness, the “Time”…the end of summer, the persistence of fall, (the stalk, the hunt—THE END)…death in the woods/winter…all this and Faulkner got my mind going again…I go back to the shelf to find and feed on more of his work…Where was that beautiful rippling prose passage from “The Bear”?

He was sixteen. For six years now he had been a man’s hunter. For six years now he had heard the best of all talking. It was of the wilderness, the big woods, bigger and older than any recorded document:–of white man fatuous enough to believe he had bought any part of it, of Indian ruthless enough to pretend that any fragment of it had been his to convey…. It was of the men, not white nor black nor red but men, hunters, with the will and hardihood to endure and the humility and skill to survive, and the dogs and the bear and deer juxtaposed and reliefed against it, ordered and compelled by and within the wilderness in the ancient and unremitting contest according to the ancient and unmitigable rules which voided all regrets and brooked no quarter; — the best game of all, the best of all breathing and forever the best of all listening, the voices quiet and weighty and deliberate for retrospection and exactitude among the concrete trophies — the racked guns and the heads and skins — in the libraries of town houses or the offices of plantation houses or (and best of all) in the camps themselves where the intact and still-warm meat yet hung, the men who had slain it sitting before the burning logs on hearths when there were houses and hearths or about the smoky blazing piled wood in front of stretched tarpaulins when there were not. There was always a bottle present, so that it would seem to him that those fine fierce instants of heart and brain and courage and wiliness and speed were concentrated and distilled into that brown liquor which not women, not boys and children, but only hunters drank, drinking not of the blood they spilled but some condensation of the wild immortal spirit, drinking it moderately, humbly even, not with the pagan’s base and baseless hope of acquiring thereby the virtues of cunning and speed but in salute to them. Thus it seemed to him on the December morning not only natural but actually fitting that this should have begun with whiskey.