Sunday 27 January 2008

New York, Day 1 (highlight: Susan Howe's reading)

I arrived Friday, to be fair, but as I arrived about 5:15 on account of Supershuttle's ineptitude, it wasn't a day so much as a night. Lytton and I went for dinner at a hole-in-the-wall (in a downbeat, not romantic, sense) Mexican restaurant, where I had mole poblano for the first time in years, washed down with Negra Modelo. From there we went to a lovely wine bar, In Vino Veritas, where, as we were already drinking beer, we tried some Belgian varieties. I wish I remember what mine was called; the description of it suggested whispers? of apple and pear, I was intrigued, and it was delicious.

On our return Lytton and I talked for a while before he headed for a late gathering with some friends (something that would never happen in London, given tube closing times) and I looked at some lit mags for a while before crashing (and crashing is the word).

This morning I woke just before six a.m., and from the sixth floor window, I could see the city below, with the sky dark overhead and the streets lit by shop signs and streetlights below. I drafted a poem, "Pleurisy," before going back to sleep for a couple hours. When I woke again, I read around a bit before drafting another short piece. Today's day 6 of my writing spree (where I write or must average a poem a day), and I feel quickened. Also, with the regularity and frequency of my writing during a spree, I tend to vary more in my shapes/forms; today, for example, I found myself writing in short-lined couplets, something I haven't done for some time.

Lytton took me to a nearby diner for breakfast: $3.50 for eggs, toast, a thimbleful (close) of juice, coffee, and breakfast potatoes. Later, we headed for Soho and the Bowery area, stopping in at Housing Works Bookstore and Cafe, where I found a (supposedly) used copy of Mary Jo Bang's latest, Elegy. From there we walked to St. Mark's Bookshop, where I bought a book I've long meant to read, Susan Howe's My Emily Dickinson, recently republished with a new introduction by Eliot Weinberger.

Walking out of St. Mark's, I decided on a $100 book, $50 magazine budget for the trip. I'm going on the illusion of having U.S. money from having transferred money to my U.S. account just before Christmas, to cover my expenses on that trip and pay as many future student loan payments as possible. This illusion was probably enhanced by this week's receipt of a $100 check from The New Republic for "Postmarked."

For lunch Lytton and I stopped at a falafel place that actually sells baked falafels. With a fair dose of tahini, that balanced out the dryness of the chickpea pucks, the falafel was pretty good.

At 3:30 Lytton and I arrived at The Bowery Poetry Club. It's as cool as it sounds; I really like the atmosphere of its performance space. We were there to hear Susan Howe read, and it was good we were there early for close seats, as the place was standing room only by the time the event began.

Susan Howe read perfectly. I cannot think of a single tiny thing I would have had her do differently. She read first from Pierce Arrow; next from The Midnight, which she described as being centered on "her mother, insomnia, sewing," etc. I need to buy or borrow a copy, to read for myself the wonderful section on the bird woman (don't try imagining what this means in advance, unless you want your expectations mocked by the creative power of the work).

Lastly, she read from her new book, Souls of the Labadie Tract, and from that the poem/sequence, "118 Westerly Terrace," about Wallace Stevens' house and what it was for her to be in it. I think my mouth hung open as I admired what I heard and waited, fully engaged, to hear how the piece would unfold. That's the standard to aim for, I thought.

After the reading, Lytton and I parted, he to visit his girlfriend, I to tromp about, which lead me about Soho and into Greenwich Village. Amid this tromping I came to Mercer Street Books, where I found a painfully strong poetry section. The first "narrowing down" resulted in a stack of seven books, at which point I asked myself, Which ones do I absolutely have to buy? The answer was Susan Wheeler's Ledger, which I've been wanting to read since I learned of its existence (I've been following her since her first book, Bag 'o' Diamonds; for those of you who don't know her work, Ledger is her fourth); and Brenda Iijima's Animate, Inanimate Aims. I was curious about her book as it's a recent Litmus Press title, and she turned out to be one of the organizers of today's reading. We met when I was waiting to have Howe sign some books, and I said I'd try to make it to her signing at AWP. I was startled, less than an hour after meeting Iijima, to find a copy of her book.

I had some fairly good Chinese food for dinner before heading back to Washington Heights, the area in which Lytton lives. Nearby I picked up a bottle of Chilean reserve Cabernet, Santa Rita, luckily delicious, and climbed the six floors to Lytton's apartment (yes, six, and I've been up them four times in just over 24 hours). It's 11 here, I'm feeling sleepy, and I'll continue reading Ledger (I began reading it on the restaurant and continued on the subway; I'm about halfway through already) and perhaps do some writing. I've had a perfect day.

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