Monday, September 27, 2010
15. Readings } Portland, ME & Chicago, IL
John just finished reading Ciaran Carson’s translation of Inferno, so we talked about Brunetto Latini, Dante’s former teacher, mysteriously damned (by Dante) to the ring of the sodomites: “To me he seemed like one /who, in the fields around Verona, runs /for that prize, a length of green festoon. /He seemed to be the one that wins, not loses.” The conversation turned to Daniel Mendelsohn’s recent piece in the New York Review of Books about Edmund White’s latest book City Boy; Mendelsohn criticizes White’s “intellectually grotesque” reading of Inferno, specifically regarding Latini: “This reflexive tendency to reduce everything to the dimensions of [White’s] erotic interests and predilections can become wearying….” Then I brought up a short essay by White himself, and a line that had caught my eye regarding The Beats: “Early on, when they were just inventing themselves and their original brand of writing, Ginsberg and Kerouac decided to turn all their friends into myths.”
Though lightly attended, the reading in Portland was a great pleasure. Chris Bowe (the owner of Longfellow Books) gave excellent introductions, excellent because they were not merely recitations of bios John and I wrote, but a response to our work. People came because they read and were intrigued by descriptions of our books. Cupcakes were served that were frosted to be Color Plates. After John and I read we answered thoughtful audience questions for an hour.
After the reading, fog fell. John and I sat outside and ate burgers at Shay’s (seated near us, a group attempting to consume a fishbowl filled with an absinthe-blue cocktail). We walked for a while, drove a while, ended the night in a locked courtyard surrounded by sprinklers with a stoned couple who’d been asleep or screwing when the gates were closed, and couldn’t figure out how to get out. We showed them the way. As a gift, they handed us two marbles, one with the face of Mao, the other, an eye.
I read twice in Chicago, Friday (the 18th) with Jennifer Karmin at Myopic Books, and then as part of the Orange Alert series at The Whistler Saturday night. Matthew Klane and Amy Nowak drove from Iowa city to see me and Jennifer; Jennifer packed the room and I was just as pleased to see Aaaaaaaaaaalice sold as I was to sell a couple copies of Color Plates. This was the first time I’d seen my book, and it’s an odd moment: books by other people are real, books by you own self are objects imported from an alternate reality.
After the reading at The Whistler, I ate a brilliant meal in Logan Square with Rose Metal Press co-publisher Kathleen Rooney, her husband Martin, fellow reader Davis Schneiderman, Jennifer Karmin, and the poet Snezana Zabic. I’m terrible about self-promotion. Snezana emailed to ask if I was reading in Chicago days before I left, then told me she would be at my reading. I, of course, should have invited her. I was delighted she was there.
Lastly, an odd moment in Portland. Very early in the morning—was it four? was it five?—I woke to a noise—a “huff, huff.” I swore it was made by something at the end of my bed. I sat up—waited for my eyes to adjust—they didn’t, quite, heard the sound again, got up, walked to the door—I was now sure the noise came from the hall. I peered through the peephole—nothing—opened the door, and stepped into the hall. At the end of the hall—where the hall met a bay of elevators, stood an enormous white horse. It huffed. It turned its head and the dim light caught something—something crystal that sprouted from the horse’s forehead. I panicked, slammed the door shut, stood behind it a moment, breathing hard, calmed myself and thought: I did not see a white horse in the hallway of the Holiday Inn. I opened the door, looked out, and I was right, of course, there was no horse. Not only that, but the hall was configured differently. It did not end at a bay of elevators, the elevators were down a side corridor. I went back to bed.