I was sitting at a booth at a book fair a few weeks ago, waiting for my reading slot to open up and a woman sidled up to me, looked at my pile of books, then at me, then thrust a finger at my face: what’s this then? What’s your poetry about? I don’t fucking know. Look, lady, I just wrote it. I can’t even tell you if it’s good, but i do know it’s a thing i do and I have competence at this thing. What’s this then? well it’s a lot of words, for one thing. Words I noted down, words I collected, some words I got from a dictionary, some words I got because I misread my handwriting and I liked the misread word better than the one I wrote. What’s this then? Well, I don’t know. My body is in there and the horror and squeamishness I have with it, the heavy bear that walks with me. In it there’s me as a man, me as a woman, me as a word, maybe there’s not me at all. My grandmother was supposed to be in there but maybe this book has tiny holes in it and things that I put in slipped out. I don’t think i can tell you what this poetry is about. Is it about the terror of losing my mother tongue, or about the time I almost died or the other time I almost died or that other time. Maybe there’s love in it, I don’t know, I read it aloud and it doesn’t look like any love I know. So what’s your poetry about? Is it about drugs or alcohol or loneliness, surely it’s about loneliness, because how can it not be, on the other hand look at all the words and they are right here with me and with you too, just look at the book, you can have it, for free, if you want, Miss, take it with you it needs a reader and a better one than me. Someone who knows what to answer when asked So, what’s this poetry about?
A church burns, someone dies.
Sentient poop takes over, no lies.
A man with a prehensile tail
In love with a whale
becomes a refugee and then cries.
A flower blooms, a woman is sad.
A trip to Macedonia, a woman is mad.
A science fiction story
about poets and glory
someone dies, someone cries, and someone is glad.
I also have some drafts about suicide,
those stories never turn out quite right.
They live on
on this laptop, offline. Good night.
(I am not sorry)
Two videos reading poetry, two 3 minute clips from a longer reading.
Anthony (on Twitter as @timesflow) asked people on Twitter to talk about their personal canon – and since I am emotionally unwell today and can’t get anything done I decided to give this a stab. It’s hard, I love making lists as much as anyone and I admire a great many writers and novels, but I’m going to list the writers and books that 1) I would take with me if I had to move and get rid of 99% of my personal library or that I would immediately rebuy if my apartment burns to the ground and 2) had the biggest impact on me as a writer and reader. As a result this list skews more German and more towards older books, despite so many excellent books coming out recently. I’m also limiting myself to 20 fiction books, 20 nonfiction books and 20 poets because, I mean, you know. I’m also writing this in one sitting. I mean the list would probably look different tomorrow. Who knows. Finally, only one book per writer.
I have one exception: the following 15 writers I cannot possibly pick one book and skip all others. Their whole oeuvre is important to me, in different genres and across many volumes (paradigmatic here is probably Thomas Bernhard who is one of my favorite poets, playwrights and novelists and whose books in all three genres I’ve been reading since I was a teenager). Not on this particular list, but on lists lower, writers where I do place importance on their complete work, but whose complete work basically fits into one book (i.e. Emily Dickinson, Hertha Kräftner).
- Ingeborg Bachmann (Malina is the single novel by anyone. living or dead, that is most important to me)
- Herman Melville
- Uwe Johnson
- Paul Celan
- Iris Murdoch
- Sarah Kane
- Sam Beckett
- Thomas Bernhard
- Alfred Döblin
- Christa Wolf
- Heinrich v. Kleist
- Elfriede Jelinek
- Jean Rhys
- Heiner Müller
- Gustave Flaubert
- Gerald Murnane
- John Berryman
- Emily Dickinson
- Boris Pasternak
- Hilde Domin
- James Merrill
- Delmore Schwartz
- Hart Crane
- Sylvia Plath
- Peter Huchel
- Rose Ausländer
- Ted Hughes
- Elizabeth Bishop
- Philip Larkin
- Ezra Pound
- Christine Lavant
- Thomas Brasch
- John Ashbery
- James Wright
- Hans-Magnus Enzensberger
- Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
- William Gaddis, Recognitions
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov (narrowly didn’t make the list of 15 writers, because I dislike The Idiot)
- Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks
- Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day (really, would be on 15 writers list above, if not for my dislike of early prose and Lot 49)
- Don DeLillo, Libra
- Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans
- Proust, the whole Récherche, but particularly Le côté de Guermantes
- Irmtraud Morgner, Trobadora Beatriz
- Samuel R. Delany, Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand (should probably be on the 15 writers list above)
- Hans Henny Jahnn, Fluß ohne Ufer
- A.L. Kennedy, Everything You Need
- Henry James, Wings of the Dove
- Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum
- Lawrence Norfolk, The Pope’s Rhinoceros
- Josef Winkler, Das wilde Kärnten
- Harold Brodkey, Stories in an Almost Classical Mode
- Patrick White, The Vivisector
- Robert Walser, Aus dem Bleistiftgebiet
- Hemingway, The Sun Als0 Rises
- Yukio Mishima, The Sea of Fertility
- E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class
- Wilhelm Reich, Die Massenpsychologie des Faschismus
- Wittgenstein, Philosophische Untersuchungen
- Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic
- Hannah Arendt, Vita Activa
- Thomas Browne, The Major Works
- Adorno/Horkheimer, Dialektik der Aufklärung
- Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity
- Louis Althusser et al., Lire Le Capital
- James Clifford, Routes
- Michael Taussig, Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man
- Wilhelm Dilthey, Der Aufbau der Geschichtlichen Welt in den Geisteswissenschaften
- Emmanuel Lévinas, Totalité et Infini
- Michel Foucault, Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique
- Judith Butler, Gender Trouble
- Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Soziologische Theorie der Erkenntnis
- Eric Wolf, Europe and the People without History
- Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode
- Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Jenseits von Gut und Böse
Yes, it is I. In case you want to support my current reading/writing projects, you know what to do 😉
Have a great 2017 everyone. I’m listening to an Otis live records right now, drinking a lovely gin. Who knows how long I will be around, any of us really. Have a drink on me, on you and the new year.
Read poetry, write poetry, read books, punch a fascist, you know, you do you next year.
Is this a blog about books or about my adorable cat? I haven’t quite decided. Here’s the cat: