Archive Page 2


Moving to the new home: Unpacking the books

Books, libraries, printed matter of all descriptions: newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, clippings. I accumulate print, in any and all forms. I live in print, in old yellowed newspapers saved for articles I can barely remember reading, but am pleased and engaged to rediscover.

You learn something about yourself from having to pack and then unpack a lifetime’s accumulation of books. I don’t mean you learn about your own reading preferences; there were no surprises there. But you learn truths, things about yourself that you never knew, or never admitted.

Poets, beloved poets. My books vote by their presence, and wornness. I have every book of poems Denise Levertov published except her very first, have many of her essays and critical pieces as well. And I have read the covers off some. I return to her often. When I find myself needing the jolt into a new thinking that poetry provides, yet can’t settle on one particular poet, it’s often her I default to. And though I’ve read and re read her countless times, I can still find that jolt, that surprising movement, that instant clarification of thought, in her poems.

I also have nearly everything Charles Olson published. But apparently I have only read them once. Bindings are still tight; I don’t remember most of the poems ( I read and re read the ones in Allen’s anthology, tho). I tend to read the same ones over and over: The Kingfisher. I Maximus of Dogtown. I’m busy making up for this neglect, digging back into the poems. And it’s rewarding and stimulating, since it’s like, and in many cases is, reading them for the first time.

Who do I go back to? In instant need: Doc Williams above all. Also Creeley. Max Jacob. Gerard de Nerval. Hayden Carruth. Levertov, as above. Often Philip Lamantia, his first book. Gael
Turnbull. These are the first responders to my poetic emergencies.

Like many readers, I make piles of books-being-read, or intended to be read. And these accidental anthologies can be revealing. Looking over a book-henge by my reading chair once, I found poems by Pam Rehm, Fanny Howe, Peter O’Leary, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and, at the very bottom, The Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton. Uh-oh, I thought, is there a late life conversion waiting in the wings? Unconscious mind, I said, we need to have a talk. After close and careful self interrogation, tho, the many things that have always kept me from Catholicism—its pervasive authoritarianism, an obsession with the psychodrama of the Passion, etc.—are still there and still salient. And at base I can’t believe in absurdities. (Rexroth said the same thing, somewhere). Yet in these writers I find a spiritual insight, struggle and questing not to be found anywhere else (in English, anyway).

The books come out of the boxes, and the order I once had them in, which had its own meaning, is torn apart and atomized, further ripped apart by taking books out in yet a different order. Yet this stripping away of former nets of relation allows each book to be seen by itself, freshly. As I take them out and put them on the floor, forming accidental new orders there in unsteady towers, I plan new arrangements, new orderings, new relations, perhaps never to be realized. I could spend all my time arrangeing and re arranging my library, and never read an individual book again. but I know them all so well, each individual book is like a word in a vocabulary of reading stretching back to my very first books.

And I still have those, or some of them, anyway. A sturdy red binding on a book of farm animal stories, never my most favorite, but loved, and seemingly undamaged by time. My first book of fairy tales, missing its picture of the witch from Hansel and Gretel, which I made my mother tear out. That picture terrified me. She would read these stories to me, and as we got closer and closer to Hansel and Gretel I could feel my anxiety mounting. I wouldn’t let her turn that page. And finally it had to be removed so that we could read the rest of the book.

Whatever happened to the Littles? Doll-sized beings, I think perhaps the denizens of someone’s doll house, who came alive when unobserved. They had a strange, rubbery, insistent presence for me, somehow disturbing, ultimately sexual but I can’t think why. Tiny sex toys? Incarnation of suppressed desires? At that age I cannot have had many (tho sexuality starts younger than most people like to admit).

Some books of course have vanished in time, blown away like dandelion heads (does anyone actually throw a book into the garbage? Shouldn’t they at least be burned or buried or given some means of dignified disposal?)


Ray Bradbury has died

Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it.”—Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury died this morning in Los Angeles:

His strange  stories told me that the mysteries I sensed in the late summer afternoon light had been glimpsed by someone else. I can’t tell anymore whether Bradbury helped create the way I see things, or if (as it felt at the time) I had found a writer who saw things the way I did.

Less interested in the science fiction books such as the Martian Chronicles, I loved the stories in Dandelion Wine set in an eerie, evocative smalltown summer, and the strange, evil carnival in Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Though I began to find his stories too sentimental as I got older, Ray Bradbury is one of the writers who made me write the way I do (it’s not his fault, though).


Bread of the Week

Two loaves of pain au levain, from a recipe given by Daniel Leader in his great cookbook Bread Alone.

Sourdough French bread


The Lurking Fear

The Lurking Fear and other stories, by H. P. Lovecraft. Ballantine Books, 1975 (sixth printing). Cover art by John Holmes.


The Lurking Fear

Rummaging through paperbacks in a thrift store yesterday I came across a copy of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear, one of several collections of HP stories brought out by Ballantine in the early 1970s. I had most of the stories already, somewhere scattered through different books, but with half my library in storage, I would never find them.

And now I wanted to reread Lovecraft. This happens to me periodically, in times of stress usually. For me, Lovecraft is a kind of literary comfort food. This may seem strange to some, but not as strange as the stories themselves.

So I ponied up 50 cents and bought it.

All the things I love about Lovecraft are on display here, as well as the cringe-making parts. The title story is what you might call Early Transitional Lovecraft, still strongly influenced by Poe, with an infusion of pulp magazine male adventure stuff mixed in with the raving neurasthenia. 

But what I like best are the pieces of pure Lovecraft that float to the surface, not yet integrated into a personal style, but unique to the man and completely insane.

Striking and grotesquely disproportionate similes abound:

” . . .vague new fears hovered menacingly over us; as if giant bat-winged gryphons looked on transcosmic gulfs.”

This is what I read Lovecraft for. 

And I love the casual assumptions in this:

“Sometimes, in the throes of a nightmare when unseen powers whirl one over the roofs of strange dead cities toward the grinning chasm of Nis, it is a relief and even a delight to shriek wildly and throw oneself voluntarily along with the hideous vortex of dream-doom into whatever bottomless gulf may yawn.”

I know, right? We’ve all been there. 

People who can’t read Lovecraft often fault him for purple prose.  But “purple prose” ain’t in it; this is over-the-top bad writing taken to wonderful extremes, transmuting into poetry. Extreme overwriting as an analogue to extreme states of consciousness, that was HP’s project, coming out of Poe.

My plan for the day: make a pot of tea and read more Lovecraft.

I feel better already.




Booklovers play rough

Let’s see, elbow pads, knee pads, crowbar (for prying books loose from old ladies who won’t buy them but won’t put them back), backpack rated to 80 lbs., sports crème for strains and bruises, wrist brace (for lifting those 1000-page-plus reference books)—okay, I’m ready for the Friends of the SF Library book sale.


Libraries: Socialism at work

I’ve been thinking a lot about libraries lately, probably because my book addiction is out of control in spite of a thorough shelf-culling both before and after we moved. So it would be better, much better, to have guest books that could be returned to some other bookshelf than the ones in my apartment.

Free libraries are pure socialism, no doubt an invention of the devil to the bugfuck-crazy teabags who don’t want to be helped at any cost, lest they should be asked to pay a nickel to help someone else.

But I have always loved libraries.

I was delighted to find out that Vinnie’s Head had been purchased by libraries in Singapore and Tasmania. And jazzed to find it on the shelf at the wonderful public library in downtown LA. I spent hours in libraries, from the time I could read until I could afford to buy my own books (something that happened fairly late in life). And now in the difficult condition of partial and uncertain employment, I’m spending that time in them once again.

What a pleasure.


Tiny Little Troubles goes paperback

My novel Tiny Little Troubles came out in trade paperback (that’s the large-format softcover) this week. Look for it at your local bookstore.


Meth lab found in funeral home

Ran across this while researching hearses and funeral homes for my novel in progress.

Apparently the drug lab guy has lost a few brain cells to his own merchandise.

At least he didn’t have far to walk to his cell.



I’ve been baking a lot lately. I started baking bread mainly as a way to save a few pennies, and to give myself a focus to my day, now that I’m unemployed (“freelance”).

The plan worked; I learned to bake good bread, and bread is so expensive now, along with everything else in the store, that I managed to save some money.

But beyond that, baking bread has reconnected me to things in a way I hadn’t considered.

For one thing, I didn’t realize how unconnected from daily life, from myself, from other people, I had become. I tended to blame my job, and it was true that my job was problematic–not a physically difficult job, and I felt strangely spoiled to be complaining about it, when so many people have such horrible jobs.

But working there was eroding my belief in myself, my sense of myself as someone who wanted to do the right thing, whatever that was. I felt I was becoming like a character in one of my books, a scammer, a sleazebag criminal who made his living by tricking other people out of their cash.

So when a job opened up at another place I jumped on it. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

Now that job has dissolved away from under me, and I’m scuffling around the fringes of unemployment as a “freelancer.” I like it, like working for myself,  which is good, since regular old-time employment seems harder to get all of a sudden. We’ll see if it’s sustainable.

But in the meantime I have the leisure to bake bread.

Making a loaf of bread takes time. Yeast rises, slowly, and the more slowly it rises (within limits) the better the bread tastes. You need to focus your attention on the temperature of the room, of your refrigerator if you’re slow-rising bread in it, of your oven when it comes time to put the bread in.

And it takes physical effort, kneading the dough until it comes alive. Because bread is alive, like everything else, and this is something you are made to realize as you work with it. The yeast foams; the dough rises; the bread grows in the oven. (The first jump it takes as it feels the heat is called the “oven spring”; I love to turn on the oven light and watch this happen through the glass door.)

“You are the bread,” I tell the forming loaves. “You are the bread.”

Working at home, you need structure, and baking bread provides a lattice, a framework. Each stage in the process requires time to happen; while yeast is doing its work, you can do yours.

The trick is to keep your computer keyboard from becoming a clogged mass of flour, butter and breadcrumbs. Forgetfulness is instantly punished. You pay attention better when you’ve come close to ruining an expensive and necessary piece of equipment.

I’ve gotten into the habit of cleaning each utensil as I finish with it, so that by the time the bread comes out of the oven the kitchen has been returned to its original condition, a clean world for the new loaves to cool in.

I always spend some time, once the bread is baked and cooling on its wire rack, standing there and admiring the loaves. I pick them up, examine them, look at how the slashes have developed during baking, make mental notes about forming the loaves better next time. I feel the weight and heat of each loaf. I can barely restrain myself from biting off big chunks of bread, squatting on the floor and devouring the loaves before they’ve even had a chance to cool, eating all the bread myself.

But I don’t. Because like a proud parent, I can’t wait to show off my loaves, to drag Jane into the kitchen to admire them, to cut off the first slice, cover it with good butter, and share it with her.

It takes a whole day to bake bread properly, but when you’re finished you’ve got something, something you’ve made yourself, like making a chair, a table.

A table you can eat.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 123 other followers