It's all going down tonight at McNalley-Jackson Books in the city. I'll be reading my poem "Formación" from the book of the Universidad Desconocida from last term, which is being presented.
Plus music and dancing! Come by if you're in the neighborhood.
At first I didn't quite know what I would do with the book, other than read it over and over again.
by J. Osner
The book is just a dream
on ink and paper
bound in rags
it's open on the table
just a book.
The book's an ancient river
dried up on the page
it's just a book.
The book was wilderness
and pulped for paper
standing on the bookshelf
just a book.
The book is just a poem
sound of turning pages
read it by the river
just a book.
The book's a dream transformed
edited and copyrighted
pull it off the shelf and open
read the words and hear the whisper
trace the patterns graven
in the book.
(a guest post from reader Jen Digby)
I remember the tattered cover of Ken Kesey’s notorious classic vividly – faded gloss finish, bold typography and the sneering face of a mischievous Jack Nicholson before a wire fence. To me, it seemed like an unusual choice of text to throw on a high school curriculum; obsessively impassioned with the voluptuous prose of the ancient classics and “recents” like Shakespeare and the English Romantics, I had little interest in it at the time. And yet – years after reading about what happened to that rogue McMurphy and his buddies – it kind of hit me with an explosion. Suddenly, Kesey’s edgy and rugged descriptions, his conspiratorial critiques and almost caricature-like characters swept me up in their own world. It made me marvel – and it made me terrified.
Experimenting with the Mind
I rediscovered One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest after listening to a BBC radio documentary on psychedelic music. I had learned about Kesey’s involvement with experimental psychedelics and his work in mental wards, and later discovered just how deep in it the countercultural figure was. Volunteering for the infamous Project MKUltra – otherwise known as the CIA’s Mind Control Program that explored various ways to engineer the behavior of humans, Kesey experimented with a variety of potent drugs, including LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, cocaine, aMT, and DMT. Along with “Acid Tests” – parties which Kesey held at his home – the influence of these substances helped kick-start the psychedelic movement in music, literature, and art.
Though LSD and its relatives were hugely popular at the time, prescription drugs and street drugs often found their way into the hands of poets, painters, and musicians, particularly when the dangers of taking these substances was largely unknown at the time. Without the right treatment centers and resources available, many addicts never completely recovered and frequently relapsed. But unlike today, there was a conscientious movement back then – mingled with revolutionary philosophies and ancient spirituality – where artists actively took drugs for an artistic and metaphysical high. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey points out the irony of so-called “established” medicine, where institutions freely over-medicate patients – a problem which still exists in the present where both patients of psychiatric wards and individuals experiencing mental illness issues outside of the hospital are over or inappropriately prescribed medicine. Kesey covers this issue numerous times in the work, pointing out that individuals refusing medication are often ostracized and treated with hostility and otherness.
Setting Up a Structure
Kesey describes – through his narrator, Chief Bromden, the protagonist McMurphy, and other prominent characters like Martini, Cheswick, Harding, and Bibbit – how a certain “state of mind” is attempted through the structure of the institution from its very setup to the restrictive schedules and medication requirements. Yet what is particularly interesting is that while many writers of the time may have used their hallucinatory influences to conjure up vivid scenes, Kesey does not. There is a peculiar clarify which underlines even the deliberately blurred scenes and descriptions – for instance, while it’s not exactly clear what the elusive “Combine” is, what it represents is fairly straightforward – a symbolic representation of the construct which currently governs – or rather controls – society. A ruthless, impenetrable, and eternal mechanism from which there is no hope of escape. Perhaps Kesey’s own experience with the CIA and his exposure to mind control activities is behind what sparked this poignant representation, and only when Bromden “liberates” himself and McMurphy (though in vastly different circumstances) is there finally some sense of free will. The true rebels in the story – Bromden and McMurphy – are the ones who do not conform. The arch-antagonist, Nurse Rachet, is reflective of a system which strives to quench free thought, although she does not guide that system herself – merely follows the rules without questioning their validity.
While the outside world is perceived as free, Bromden’s own observations on children – and how they are already being conditioned – reveals that the Combine transcends the walls of the asylum. Perhaps during Kesey’s time working on the ward, he saw only a re-packaged, condensed representation of what actually occurs around the rest of the world – Bromden certainly realizes this. Even more remarkable is the fact that, given Kesey’s involvement as well as his friends in the Grateful Dead with the CIA, that the book has been published at all. When I apply these elements to the contemporary world and even set it against other “dystopias” like Orwell’s 1984, I have to alarmingly conclude that this work is more relevant than ever. It’s not just the heartwarming, humorous, or meaningful moments which make it resonate with me – but the sinister world which Kesey is revealing to us in one of the most unlikely settings.
Thursday, July 31st
As the floor wafted up and C's grip finally gave, the last thing Gately saw was an Oriental bearing down with the held square and he looked into the square and saw clearly a reflection of his own big square pale head with its eyes closing as the floor finally pounced. And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.
So what did I think about Infinite Jest the second time? I read it back in '97 or thereabouts, and then lent it to Maurice, and his apartment flooded, destroying the book, so have not looked at it again since, until I picked it up a few weeks back.
My take back then, and what I've always said to people since, was it's a magnificent book for the first 700 or so pages, then trails off and does not go anywhere. And, well, I'm much more enthusiastic now about pages 700 - 9xx. The whole book is just really engaging and beautiful. But the ending. Well, it leaves me hanging in what seem like some important ways.
It seems to me like the two most important characters are Hal I. and Don G. I identify strongly with both of them pretty consistently throughout the book. Hal spends the book quitting marijuana and unraveling -- and it's clear from the first chapter, in the Year of Glad, that his unraveling continues after the end of the book. But I don't have a very clear sense of what this means, or why it's happening. Does it have something to do with the Entertainment? Does it have something to do with DMZ? (What is DMZ even doing in the book, if Hal and Pemulis don't end up taking it?)
Gately spends the novel quitting his narcotics habit and opposite-of-unraveling -- no that's not quite right I guess, he is sober and substance-free by the beginning of the novel, there are plenty of flashbacks to his addicted past and to his 12-steppery, but he is clearly free of that in the novel's present tense. I do wonder where he goes -- does he get together with Joelle? And why does ghostly JOI visit him at such length? Mainly I wonder why the final pages of the novel are a flashback to him getting high. It doesn't really seem to do anything for the story.
And this is a big deal -- what happens with the A.F.R. invasion of the tennis academy? The very last thing that happens in the book's present tense is them arriving on campus. But we know from chapter 1 that they did not kidnap Hal (I think? Or they did and he got back to E.T.A? Anyways something has to have happened.) We know from chapter 1 that ONAN has not been decimated by any Entertainment catastrophe. There was a possibility the master tape for the Entertainment was at the Ennet House, but no follow-up. And I'm completely driven crazy by how Hal made a casual reference, talking to Orin, to digging up somebody's grave -- throughout the book there are veiled hints that JOI's grave was robbed -- but it doesn't really go anywhere.
So -- I'm going to stick with my opinion that the ending is weak. But everything else about the book needs to be underlined and with exclamation points, what a great great book it is, how deeply necessary it is to read this book if you want to understand addiction. That's all.
Saturday, July 26th
The moment of the poem, by J. Osner
Poems you read, they shape you – watch the singsong of their syllables chase images of darkness and light down syntactic tunnels. Follow the syllable along the corridor to where it leads;
act out solemn ritual of determination.
The poem (if it's successful) always
functions on some level as a metaphor
for time: the reader's memory will
integrate the poem (if it's successful)
so its meter and its rhyme make up a cauldron through which filters reader's vision of experience: the moment, just off-kilter, just opaque enough to shadow (just concrete enough to straddle) future and the past which bubble up through the poem (if it's successful) and comprise the self you narrate to the world.
There is no calculus of consciousness.
The moment that you dwell in is no delta t,
its kaleidoscopic boundaries recede.
Thursday, July 24th
Seen lately in the READIN family garden --
Sunday, July 20th
Basta señora arpa de las bellas imágenes
De los furtivos comos iluminados
Otra cosa otra cosa buscamos
Sabemos posar un beso como una mirada
Plantar miradas como árboles
Enjaular árboles como pájaros
Regar pájaros como heliotropos
Tocar un heliotropo como una música
Vaciar una música como un saco
Degollar un saco como un pingüino
Cultivar pingüinos como viñedos
Ordeñar un viñedo como una vaca
Desarbolar vacas como veleros
Peinar un velero como un cometa
Desembarcar cometas como turistas
Embrujar turistas como serpientes
Cosechar serpientes como almendras
Desnudar una almendra como un atleta
Leñar atletas como cipreses
Iluminar cipreses como faroles
Anidar faroles como alondras
Exhalar alondras como suspiros
Bordar suspiros como sedas
Derramar sedas como ríos
Tremolar un río como una bandera
Desplumar una bandera como un gallo
Apagar un gallo como un incendio
Bogar en incendios como en mares
Segar mares como trigales
Repicar trigales como campanas
Desangrar campanas como corderos
Dibujar corderos como sonrisas
Embotellar sonrisas como licores
Engastar licores como alhajas
Electrizar alhajas como crepúsculos
Tripular crepúsculos como navíos
Descalzar un navío como un rey
Colgar reyes como auroras
Crucificar auroras como profetas
Etc. etc. etc.
Basta señor violín hundido en una ola ola
Cotidiana ola de religión miseria
De sueño en sueño posesión de pedrerías
Friday, July 11th
We went to Europe! Stayed with Jacki in Amsterdam, at airbnbs in Gerona and Barcelona, and back to Amsterdam. A wonderful time! As always, a new city for me brings with it the compulsion to visit bookshops -- we were traveling light so I kept my acquisitions to a minimum however. My two favorite bookshops in Barcelona are Librería Antiquaria Studio on Carrer d'Aribau, a seriously old-school antiquarian bookshop where I bought the first book to catch my eye, fortuitously it was Pere Gimferrer's Primera y última poesía; and Laie Librería y Café on Carrer Pau Claris, where I bought Maimónides' Guia de los perplejos and Pedro Salinas' Poemas inéditos.
Also: picked up Bonsái by Alejandro Zambra at a small used-book shop on the Ramblas; and had my interest in Infinite Jest renewed when I opened the copy that was on the shelf of the apartment we stayed in in Barcelona -- I leafed at random to p. 755, 11 Nov. YDAU, and kept laughing for hours. The first thing I did this morning was head over to Words bookshop in Maplewood and buy a copy, and start it from the front. An employee at the salon where Ellen was having her hair done asked what the book was that was making me laugh so hard, and put it on her reading list.
Working on another chapbook -- this one is tentatively titled "The moment of the poem: Extensions".
Sunday, June 22nd
The latest desktop wallpaper chez READIN:
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Check out Ellen's writing at Patch.com.