The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

forsaking anonymity

I've only had one response so far on whether or not I should forgo that anonymity that this blog maintains. Granted, readership here doesn't rival the NEWS OF THE WORLD, but weigh in.

spreading santorum

Rick is everywhere these days, spreading his Santorum on all of us. And we all know how nasty that can be. The Pittsburgh POST-GAZETTE had a front-page story on Santorum's ubiquity this week,

George Stephanopolous—usually a total tool—interviewed him this morning on ABC, and actually challenged him on his assertions about "radical feminists" who devalue motherhood, the home, etc. Sounding like a teacher of rhetoric, and thus one close to my heart, Stephanopolous poked at Santorum's straw-man argument:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about something else in the book, radical feminists. A second quote from the book, you say, Respect for stay-at-home mothers has been poisoned by a toxic combination of the village elders’ war on the traditional family and radical feminism’s mysogynistic crusade to make working outside the home the only marker of social value and self-respect.
Let’s get specific here. Name one or two of these radical feminists who are on this crusade.

SANTORUM: Well, I mean, you know, you have — you go back to, what’s her name, well, Gloria Steinem, but I’m trying to remember — I can’t remember the woman’s name. It’s terrible. Anyway…

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it’s kind of an important point. Because you paint this broad brush: radical feminists, village elders. Name one.

SANTORUM: There’s lots of — no, there’s lot’s of — well, Gloria Steinem. There’s one. I mean, there’s lots of writings out there…

STEPHANOPOULOS: She’s been on a crusade against stay-at-home moms?

SANTORUM: There’s lots of writings out there, and there is an opinion by the elite in this country across academia, across the media, that stay-at-home motherhood is not adequately affirmed and respected by our society.

I wonder if he was thinking about Steinem's writings such as this one:
"We also have to re-define work, so that the work of caring for children and doing human maintenance in the home is counted as productive work, has attributed value." (Thanks to Bitch, Ph.D., for this quote.)

I'm in academia, in a large city, that votes reliably Democratic. I'm in a liberal department: I bet my department has no more than one Republican voter in it. I bet the college faculty (as opposed to the university, which might be slightly more conservative) would break down 90-10 in terms of liberal-conservative (although of course we'd fight about terminology and nomenclature). Our faculty members come from Harvard, UCLA, Columbia, Emory, Duke, Texas, Notre Dame, Yale, Virginia, other words, we ARE the "elite" of "academia" about whom Santorum speaks. And I have NEVER ONCE heard ANYONE in academia—in my department, in my graduate school, at conferences, on listservs, in the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER ED, anywhere—denigrate "stay-at-home motherhood." I've heard it craved, envied, praised, described, analyzed, but never slagged upon.

I wonder if that same situation holds on, say, Wall Street. On K Street. I wonder what Grover Norquist's young Republican go-getters think about stay-at-home mothers.

Okay, and I have to say this, too. I completely agree that "our society" does not "adequately affirm[...] and respect[...]" "stay-at-home motherhood." Seriously. The federal minimum wage is $5.15. In 2001, Wal-Mart's average wage was 8.23 (that's a grand total of $17,118 before taxes if the employee works 40 hours a week for 52 weeks in a year). If Rick was making his living working at Wal-Mart, I wonder if he and all of his kids would want mommy to stay home?

Santorum's seat is up for grabs in November 2006. The Democratic frontrunner, Bob Casey, is hard to swallow (no pun intended here, santorumphiles) for many of us because he's anti-choice. There's no guarantee that he'll be the nominee, but he's a strong candidate.

Look, I voted Nader in 2000. (No hate mail: I was living in Texas at the time, so I had no effect on the results.) I know the value of a principled stand (sound effect here of a toilet flushing, a la Zonker voting Perot in DOONESBURY 1992). But we have GOT to get Santorum out of the Senate. He's bad news in every way. Aw yinz in Pennsavanya, please help out. Aw yinz in udder states, send money to Casey or the Dems or NOW or NARAL.


I just don't know how single parents do days like today. The boy was just unceasingly annoying, careening between powerwhining, throwing toys at the wife and me, hitting me, making a mess with his food, and being completely timid when we went over to a friend's house. We're able to tag-team. What do people do when they can't do that?

St Tropez

Check out my old friend Seth Sherwood's article in today's NY TIMES Travel section. Seth has worked extremely hard over the last few years in the travel-writing industry, and he's had several front-page feature articles in the TIMES over the last year--on Brussels, on Dubai, and now on St Tropez. The article doesn't make me want to go to St Tropez--I'm not sure anything apart from an unvetted expense account could--but I like it as I like most of his articles.

Friday, July 29, 2005


I'm hitting a quandary here that's making me contront the very reasons I started this blog. I'd made a conscious decision to keep this thing almost entirely anonymous, telling only family that it was me. By doing so I was hoping to see how information spreads on the Web--who would read this, and how they got here.

I was featured for a time on Pittsburgh Bloggers, which led to quite a few page views, but those are way down since I've cycled out of the list of featured blogs. Now I'm thinking of "coming out" and letting my friends and acquaintances know that this is my blog, assuming that they'd have enough interest in me to check on this.

The goal? Increasing page views, of course. And why do I want to do that? Am I just giving in to consumerism--it's not worth anything unless people are paying attention to it?

Still haven't decided. Weigh in, if you care to.

last day of summer school

Finally. Actually, it wasn't a bad summer term, especially considering it was a 6-person freshman comp class. They were a surprisingly good group. I'm showing them the WONDER BOYS film today and will probably have the chance to grade all of their final papers by the end of the day. Wrapping up loose ends before we leave for New York next week.

On the administrative front, I'm still trying to staff all of our sections for the fall, but I'm almost there. My fear that I just hire anyone who comes in the office was allayed yesterday when I had three interviews in a row with candidates whom I immediately informed I wouldn't be hiring. One graduated from college in May. And he wants to teach FYC to freshmen. Oy.

The boy's language skills are leaping along. He had his first four-word sentence yesterday. A bus fanatic, he was disappointed that we weren't seeing enough of them as we drove home from school. I pointed a truck out, hoping that would satisfy him (he'd excitedly seen a cement truck in action that morning on our block.) "No truck, more bus," he replied.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


It's not often that I'll side with Hollywood in a book v. movie version of book debate, but I think that the film of WONDER BOYS may be, if not "as good as" the book, certainly worthy of equal attention. I'm rereading it in conjunction with my summer Pittsburgh-in-literature class, and remembering just how great parts of the book are—the characters of Grady Tripp and Terry Crabtree, the chancellor-Tripp-English department chair love triangle, the narrative voice.

The movie version (script credited to Chabon himself) drops a big chunk of the novel: a long episode in the middle where Tripp and James (the young student, played in the movie by Tobey Maguire) drive up 79 to "Kinship," a town I assume is near Grove City or Newcastle, where they attend the first Seder of Passover with Tripp's wife's family. Tripp's wife Emily is one of three Korean orphans that have been adopted by a Jewish family in Squirrel Hill and raised Jewish. It's a long scene with little dramatic purpose except to introduce a couple of foils (Emily's brother and sister) and Irv, Emily's father, who is more forgiving of Tripp's failings than anyone else in the book. The movie entirely drops the scene, a choice that I think provides important focus to the story.

This focus, in turn, helps make the movie a great portrait of a wintry Pittsburgh (another change from the book, of course, in which it's early spring). The location work (it was all filmed here) is wonderful, and if they move Tripp's house from Denniston in Squirrel Hill to somewhere in Friendship, that's not something I disagree with. The cinematography captures the city's picturesque decrepitude while also showing what's genuinely attractive and appealing about it. And Michael Douglas is perfect. Only Frances McDormand is a questionable choice.

Monday, July 25, 2005

elvis and emmylou

The wife and I got a babysitter and were able not only to have a nice dinner out (Cafe Zinho in Shadyside) but to see Elvis Costello play with Emmylou Harris last night. It was a really impressive show. First of all, they played for 3 hours. The setlist was about evenly divided between Elvis classics, more recent Elvis material (mostly from THE DELIVERY MAN), and covers. The covers were fantastic. Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece," Merle Haggard's "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down," Gram Parsons' "Love Hurts," the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses," and of course some Emmylou songs. It's a great tour and the band sounds great.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Summer Reading Log, pt. 3

Finished Thomas Bell's OUT OF THIS FURNACE this week. It's a generational saga—three generations of Slovak immigrants working in the Carnegie steel mills in Braddock, PA (up the Mon river from Pittsburgh about 15 miles). Bell was the son of a Slovak millworker and did his time in the mills before moving to NYC and becoming a writer. It's not a great book, by any means, but for its time it's quite good. Comparing it to the other popular sagas of the time (GONE WITH THE WIND, ANTHONY ADVERSE) it's got a lot more discipline. Bell's got a workingman's kneejerk hatred of "the bosses," but presents a nuanced portrait of the family and a fairly sophisticated, ahead of its time analysis of the collusion of the government, steel companies, and media in their efforts to forestall the unionization of the steel industry. Bell doesn't give the AFL a pass, either.

I was happy to see that the book taught well, too. I might just have a good class this summer (all preliminary indications to the contrary, this has been a very good group) but we had a great 2-hour discussion on the novel. I have trouble getting 2 hours out of discussing Pynchon novels with graduate students, so this was a surprise to me. It helps that I've got a student who's far better versed in Pittsburgh history than I am.

Still working my way through THE BETROTHED/I PROMESSI SPOSI. It's not what I expected—it's like CANDIDE plus DON QUIXOTE plus ROMEO AND JULIET. Two poor lovers in 17th century Italy, the girl catches the eye of the cruel despotic local lord, the lovers must flee, the lovers are separated and run into endless difficulties and obstacles at the hands of victimizing powerful folk. I'm halfway through.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Public Art/Pittsburgh Authors

As the NEW YORK TIMES reports,

"a new public art installation by Jenny Holzer sends the texts of five books by authors with Pittsburgh roots — Annie Dillard, John Edgar Wideman and Thomas Bell — scrolling upward along hundreds of feet of the swooping roofline of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center."

The POST-GAZETTE has better coverage.

More authors will be added later. From the TIMES report it's unclear whether or not this will be a permanent installation, but the P-G suggests it, noting that the installation "is expected to add about $50 a month to the center's electric bill."

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

john g. roberts

Looks like a smart pick from Bush. The Democratic Senators seem to be retreating to the position of "he could conceivably be worse," which is definitely the strategy cooked up on Pennsylvania Ave. I suspect they're also hoping that the left will expend all of their powder and money on futilely fighting Roberts, just before Rehnquist retires and allows Bush to put up a much more inflammatory character. All this, and they get Rove, Scooter Libby, and McClellan's redass off of the front pages. Hell of a trifecta.

Still, Bush's approval rating is at its lowest point. Maybe this'll help the Dems buy some stones for the Roberts fight.

teaching style

no, not that kind—I wouldn't be able to get my certificate for that. I spent my 135-minute class today teaching writing style, and to a lesser extent grammar, to my first-year writing students. I have a "Bad Sentences Worksheet" of examples culled from real student writing (specifically, papers from my students four jobs ago) and we corrected/revised a bunch of them. It took almost the whole class just to get through 15. This actually impressed me: nobody even fell asleep, and the students came up with some great suggestions. I've been having a crisis of confidence about my abilities as a classroom writing teacher, so I was happy about this.

Then two of my grad students told me about how they use—really well, I'd add—an old Chris Farley SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE clip to teach rhetoric and argumentation, and I felt like hiding under the desk. Does innovation belong only to the un-Ph.D.'ed?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

woeful pirates

The wife had the great idea of taking advantage of the 5pm start for the first game of today's Pirates-Astros doubleheader (she has to work during afternoon games, which are too hot anyway, and the boy goes to sleep at gametime of night games). The boy and I picked her up and we had a time that I would classify as successful: the boy lasted 6 innings! He's never lasted that long, and he's less patient than he's ever been. Thank god for: Dippin' Dots, the playground at PNC Park, bagels, juice boxes, hot dogs, the fact that our section was essentially empty, bottles of water, books starring Elmo, iPods (he loves listening), sunglasses cases...

Oh, and the Pirates stunk it up again. Not as bad as last night's disgusting 11-1 debacle, but it was out of reach by the middle of the third. Now we're watching game 2 on the TV while we wait for Bush to announce just which medieval revivalist he's going to nominate to the Supreme Court.

Is There A Text In This Constitution?

Stanley Fish's op-ed piece in today's TIMES is great, typical Fish—smart scholarship and clever argumentation leading to a conclusion that I think I dislike. His arguments make me uncomfortable but it's hard to dismiss them, which is why I like reading him so much. The article argues that our sanctimonious ideas about interpretation—in this case, the interpretation of the Constitution itself—are grounded in erroneous or intellectually dishonest understandings of what it means to interpret a text. He argues that Scalia's "textualist" position (that we must interpret the pure, carved-in-stone-by-an-unseen-hand text of the Constitution without reference to any intention behind the text, even the intention of its writers) is not only foolish but impossible, and that the only valid type of interpretation of the constitution is the "intentionalist" position—albeit an "intentionalist" position somewhat different than the one so smugly demanded by the ideologues spoiling for another Clarence Thomas. Instead, he suggests discarding the labels—activist, textualist, intentionalist—that will inevitably be thrown around and following the following strategy for vetting nominees:

"So, if you want to know how someone is likely to act on the bench, you will have to set all the labels aside and pay attention to the nominee's reasoning in response to the posing of hypothetical situations. What bodies of evidence does he or she cite on the way to deciding that the Constitution or a statute means this or that? What weight does he or she give to precedent? (Invoking precedent, I should add, is not interpreting, because in doing so one substitutes the meanings delivered by a judicial history for the meanings intended by an author.)

Does he or she construe intention narrowly and limit it to possibilities the framers could have foreseen, or is intention considered more broadly and extended to the positions the framers would likely have taken if they knew then what we know now? In short, what is the style of the nominee's intentionalism, and is it one you are comfortable with?"

I'm not sure that Fish's position is going to advance the cause of the kind of justices I'd like to see on the Court, but it does call the right on their misleading, and frequently dishonest, use of language to try and set the terms of this debate.

Monday, July 18, 2005

the end of the UGL

There's been a lot of lamenting recently about how the University of Texas at Austin is removing the books from its Undergraduate Library to make space for computer terminals, a coffee bar, etc. That such a great library system would bow to the shallow, immediate-gratification demands of its 'consumers' has been seen as something ranging from a crime to a tragedy to a sad reminder of the nefarious times we live in.

I'd like to respectfully disagree while acknowledging the real problems underlying this controversy. The UGL, as it is known on campus, long ago ceased to be useful for undergraduates as a resource. UT's enormous Perry-Castaneda Library, housed in a building shaped vaguely like the state of Texas, is the library of first recourse for the undergraduates there and has been for some time. The UGL's collection survived as a relic of those days when serious academic works deemed fit only for graduate-student and faculty consumption were kept far away from undergraduates. (Leavey Library at USC and Lamont at Harvard are similar, though much better, undergraduate libraries.) The UGL shelves held multiple copies of canonical texts used in the undergraduate classes (dozens of shabby Odysseys and beat-up Coming of Age in Samoas) and some "popular reading." Its small size was meant to encourage browsing, but the collection was housed in two unappealing floors of an unattractive—UGLy—building. Students stayed away, naturally choosing the much better PCL.

I'm sure that the feeling underlying these complaints is academics' general discomfort with how undergraduates, and to an alarming degree graduate students as well, not only don't know how to get information from libraries and books but flatly don't understand how that information differs, in value and credibility, from Google searches. Believe me, this is something I fight against daily. But we have to counter it not by being Luddites—"get thee to the stacks, ephebe!"—but by providing students with the skills to critically evaluate information on the web and use it appropriately, with purpose and audience in mind.

Part of the hostility to UT's plans, moreover, stems from a resistance to the greater willingness of university adminstrations to accept, or even cultivate, students' consumeristic attitude to their educations and to jump in bed with corporations, and I share that resistance. I'm certain that UT will invite in just such a national brand to run the coffee concession, as it did when it allowed national chains to open outlets in the Texas Union. I don't love that any more than I love that they show Pepsi commercials on the Jumbotron during Longhorn football games.

What bugs me is that administrators aren't ashamed of throwing their lots in with corporations; anzi, they gloat about it. I know my POV is quickly becoming outdated, but I see the mission of the university as exactly the opposite of the mission of consumer capitalism: one is meant to foster critical thinking and teach students how to apply it to daily life in a complicated society, while the other is to undermine it and hamper people from using it. I had a disturbing conversation with the director of admissions here recently about how happy he was that a national coffee chain opened up a branch on campus: "students love the brands they're familiar with," he crowed. In fact, I was at the official opening of that store and heard the speakers praise "the union of three great brands" (the food-service contractor, the university, and the coffee chain) just before a priest/administrator blessed the store.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


It's indispensible, I know, but I just don't love the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW. Give me Christopher Lehmann-Haupt or Michiko Kakutani any day, but especially Sunday. Did anyone notice the following misleading sentence in David Carr's review of John Dicker's THE UNITED STATES OF WAL-MART in today's NYTBR? The following sentences irked me:

"Magazines that executives consider too racy end up banned or behind blinders. Wal-Mart refused to stock ''America (The Book),'' the best-selling political satire by the writers of ''The Daily Show,'' though it did, for a while, carry the notoriously anti-Semitic ''Protocols of the Elders of Zion.''"

I can't believe I'm actually defending Wal-Mart here, but Carr appears to be hinting that Wal-Mart wouldn't carry the book because of its (lefty) political slant. According to the company, that just ain't true; Wal-Mart's motivation was pure prudishness. Carr could have looked in his own newspaper's Oct. 22, 2004 article on the subject to discover the real reason:

"Wal-Mart, after ordering thousands of copies, decides not to sell America (the Book), by Jon Stewart and others from The Daily Show because picture of nine nude figures with heads of US Supreme Court Justices might be deemed offensive by its customers."

Stones in his Pockets

Saw the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre's production of Marie Jones' STONES IN HIS POCKETS today. It's a recent (2002?) comedy about a big Hollywood movie being filmed in a small Irish town. The gimmick is that all of the parts are played by two actors who indicate character changes largely by accent, speaking style, and physical bearing. It's a funny play, albeit one with a "message" or two about authenticity, the similarity between colonialism and multinational capitalism, and Irish identity.

On the recommendation of a graduate student, I had one of my classes read the play last year, and I'm having my summer students do the same even though the focus of our class is writing about Pittsburgh. So it was me, five of my six students, five graduate students who like the play, and my wife. This is what passes for a date these days, although to be fair we actually had lunch, just the two of us, before the play. I was impressed by the production: great direction, and the actors were just fantastic. The humor and characterizations were a little too broad for my taste at times, but when there's one actor playing eight different parts it's necessary. I liked the theater (the basement of the Stephen Foster Memorial at Pitt), too. Sadly, I think the play closed today, so if you're interested in attending you're SOL.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

academic blogs

Because of a recent Chronicle of Higher Ed piece on academic blogs and how they can hurt you on the job market, there's been a spurt of commentary on this topic on my favorite academic blogs (most of 'em listed on the left of the page). Bitch, Ph.D., refers us to La Profesora Abstraida, who discusses her POV on the subject. L.P.A. notes that she doesn't think her blog--which is not anonymous--will hurt her if/when she eventually goes on the job market. She doesn't remain anonymous.

I think that's brave but perhaps foolhardy. Although such stories represent the exception, certainly, we've all heard stories about how some anonymous faculty member--or, worse, administrator or trustee--gets a bee in his/her (well, generally, his) bonnet about a candidate for tenure. It's almost impossible to tell what set that person off, and once he's set against you you've got a terrible fight on your hand against a phantom opponent with nothing to lose--Kerry versus the Swifties.

I've decided to remain anonymous here for precisely those reasons. I certainly don't intend to dish or gossip about my department, my university, whatever, but at my university (like most, I suspect) there's a history of tenure cases being scuttled by powerful, anonymous people up the line who didn't like how the tenure candidates bucked the university's conservative forces. I have no plans to go on the job market anytime soon, but I can't imagine letting my offhanded remarks tank my chances at a job just after my offhanded comments have shot down my tenure application.

Yeah, it's gutless ass-covering. But in this job market, where a few blessed academic stars meet an Alex Rodriguez-like free-agent market while entry-level positions with 4-4 loads receive hundreds of overqualified applicants, I'm siding with ass-covering. Why? For starters, see the cute guy below.

Oh: in Profesora Abstraida's taxonomy, I'm trying to be a #3. I agree with her that men tend to write the hard-charging political blogs (Bérubé, et al.) and women the personal ones. I'm trying to swing the other way.

Friday, July 15, 2005

the inevitable realization

head bang 4x6
Originally uploaded by Mantooth.
yeah, he might be only 20 months old, but he just learned that Rick Santorum is his senator.

best friends

best friends
Originally uploaded by Mantooth.
the boy and his new cousin, in Los Angeles, July 2005. Because she's lived most of her life in an orphanage, she knows how to take care of herself. She taught him a little respect, and he loved it.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Rejection Letter

Sometimes, a rejection letter isn't such a bad thing. After sitting on a conference paper for almost a year, I whipped it into what looked like shape and sent it off to Prestigious And Slightly Stuffy Academic Journal. I got a response back in six weeks: the skinny envelope. (Wife: "that quickly? they didn't even send it out to reviewers?" umm... looks like so.) It's not that I didn't expect it; before working on it I was told that it lacked a central argument, and even after editing it I couldn't encapsulate what I was arguing without saying "well, it's about this, and about this, and how this and this work together." Like I tell my students, if you can't state the argument in one declarative sentence it's not done.

Anyway, I figure that the thing really wasn't meant to be an academic paper, but I just needed to have confirmation of that. Now I think I'm going to jazz it up and submit it to someplace like Smithsonian or the clique at The Believer, who still haven't responded after almost four months to my query letter. (I submitted it, as they ask, as an email; no response. Sent it by snail mail, and received a postcard back saying "please submit by email." Did so, again. No response. Nice. You'd think email'd make it easier to say "thanks, but no thanks.") Still a good magazine, even if they're apparently modeling their submissions procedure after the folkways of the popular crowd at New Trier High.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Barrister Jubril

Apparently the Hon. Barrister Jubril is my only reader. He writes:

"Well, I also believe that intimated, at some point, that Jorie Graham was a big ol' ho. And what's with coming down on me like that in your post ('debacle? if you mean--)? Little condescending there, dontcha think?"

Oops, sorry there, solicitor. I didn't mean to be condescending; I hadn't heard of any debacle. I'm amused that Jorie is getting called a "big ol' ho." I've heard third-hand gossip to that effect, myself...

Counsel Jubril maintains a web site that, kinda like Ted Nancy's great LETTERS FROM A NUT books, archives his responses to various incarnations of the Nigerian email scam. It's funny. It does make me wonder--not his site, but that scam in general--what kind of a person would feel okay about taking cash from the accounts of some dead Idi Amin clone like Abacha, who bled his country dry and stole all of the international aid? In addition to gullible, wouldn't that make you greedy and a moral reprobate?

On the subject of moral reprobates and greedheads, my sister-in-law just adopted a 3 1/2 year old orphan from Thailand. The little girl's mother died of HIV and she's grown up in a Catholic orphanage with like children. The wife and the boy went out and spent about 10 days with them in L.A.; I was there this weekend. The girl is vivacious, healthy, independent, and well-adjusted, considering what her life has been. Something to be said for being raised by nuns. My sister-in-law seems to be doing a remarkable job, already.

I remember when the boy was born, the Lou Reed song "Beginning of a Great Adventure" kept going through my head. Now, I think it applies to my sister-in-law far more than to me.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Summer Reading Log, pt. 2

Books completed this week:


I finally finished Naipaul. Although I liked it, I'm not driven to read more of him. I like how hands-off he is with his main character, and how he throws the reader into a culture that's almost certainly foreign—Indian immigrants in Trinidad—without bothering to provide exposition of the local cultural practices. I liked the modesty of the plot and the care of the narration. But it just didn't do it for me.

Carruth's book was a specialist thing. I'm sure none of you have read it, or really even should. I'm interested in the subject matter, so it was worth reading for me. An interesting picture of an artist and a patron that never really got to that place in their relationship where the patron actually patronized the artist, and the artist liked the patron too much to object or be rude about it.

Next book up: Manzoni's BETROTHED, the most important Italian novel. I want to answer a question I've had for years: with the artistic patrimony that Italy has, why is Manzoni exalted so highly?

Books purchased in a consumeristic orgy at several "book barns" in central NY State:

WISE MEN FISH HERE (about the Gotham Book Mart)
Emile Zola, about eight novels
Lytton Strachey, Modern Library edition of EMINENT VICTORIANS
Two books of Laughlin's poetry, one signed
About a dozen other books

BTW, avoid "A Book Barn of the Finger Lakes" in Dryden, NY. A pretty good selection, but the place is a mess. Books shelved haphazardly and stacked everywhere. Owner seemed irritated that I wanted to browse. I showed up there an hour after opening time, was the only customer on July 4, was treated rudely by the owner, and had him ask me suspiciously, "how did you hear about this place?" I was looking at a huge collection of Pittsburgh-related books he had recently bought and found a great copy of Wideman's HOMEWOOD BOOKS in near-mint condition. The owner said, "those aren't ready yet." "So you won't sell it to me?" I asked. "No."

barristerjubril writes:

"Speaking of Jorie Graham--have you followed the whole debacle?"

Debacle? I know that tracks what it calls "fraudulent" contests—do you mean this? or did something else happen? If barristerjubril is just referring to foetry's mission, I guess the idea that poets tend to give prizes and good reviews to their friends and students isn't one that's surprising to me. Pound had Eliot write an anonymous appreciation of him back before Eliot became famous (it's called EZRA POUND HIS METRIC AND POETRY, Knopf published it), and even back in the Romantic days Coleridge and Wordsworth logrolled for each other. Wasn't that what the EDINBURGH REVIEW was for in the early nineteenth century?

Just to say that if the Iowa-Harvard mafia (Graham now has the Boylston chair in Cambridge, a job that used to belong to Emerson, MacLeish, and Robert Hillyer) keeps the treasures to itself we shouldn't be surprised—it's in the best tradition.

On another tip, I had a Young Poetic Lion come to class today to speak, a good young poet trained at Pitt and other places, with a good perspective on the place of workshop writers versus the self-trained. He was a little of both—even had a funny story about how he applied to Iowa but, coming from the rural South, he didn't have a good idea of where the school was, so he sent his writing sample to Iowa State. Needless to say, neither Jorie Graham nor Frank Conroy wrote him back.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Great Poet

Because the wife and boy are gone this week, off meeting the brand-new niece, I took the opportunity to spend the weekend of the 4th getting some legwork done for the new book. I drove up to central New York State (Munnsville) to interview a Great Poet who had been involved in the 1950s magazine that I'm currently writing about. Beautiful drive. I've never been in what is apparently called the "Southern Tier" of New York State, and I got to wander all over it.

Great Poet was, in many ways, straight out of central casting. Crotchety, potbellied, with a beard almost covering his "Where the Hell is Truckee?" t-shirt. Because of emphysema he's on oxygen, and his air compressor hummed through our interview. (I taped it with a Dictaphone that I picked up on 14th St. in NYC about eight years ago before another interview—I haven't used it or changed the batteries since, so I hope it worked.) He lived in a ramshackle little house in farm country, and when I went to the door and knocked loudly several times nobody answered. I called from my cell, got an answer, and told Great Poet that I was standing in front of his garage, here for my 1:30 appointment. He's well into his eighties, so his hearing's not great.) We talked for an hour, he mostly retelling stories that I had just read in his book but occasionally giving me some good material. Although he is certainly a Great Poet—his National Book Award was piled on the kitchen table next to some old newspapers—he's also largely an Unrecognized Poet with a chip on his shoulder about that. We talked a little poetry; he's partial to the lions of his generation who are gradually being phased out (Allen Tate, Randall Jarrell) and slagged on Jorie Graham, who (he told me) plopped down in his lap and tried to get him to join the faculty at Iowa several years ago.

I didn't get a great deal of material for the book, but he did confirm that a few of my paths were dead ends, as I suspected.