Dear Diane Wald
March 13, 2013
Dear Diane Wald,
Two days ago I received a large box in the mail. It looked as if it had been bounced around in a washing machine for several days. Two corners were crushed. It survived the journey from Pennsylvania to Connecticut thanks to yards of clear packing tape wrapped around it. There were thirty-five books of poetry inside, one of them yours.
It will come as no surprise that I had never heard your name before reading Wonderbender, poetry publishing being as prolific and diffuse as it is. When I first started writing, I could name most of the poetry presses and many of their authors. Now it’s difficult to figure out how many are publishing in certain parts of Brooklyn.
But I am always interested in connections, degrees of separation. I was curious to see how many degrees there were between us. I flipped to the back cover to see who’d written the blurbs. I had never heard of Patrick Lawler, Laurie Sheck, or John Skoyles. Perhaps there were more than I thought.
I had heard of 1913 Press, though. In fact, just last weekend I attended a performance at AWP in Boston celebrating the tenth anniversary of 1913. I went to see my old professor and friend Charles Bernstein read but arrived late and missed his reading. I sat in the back row next to Peter Gizzi. Do you know Peter? He lives in Massachusetts, too.
I did catch the end of a performance by Black Took Collective. They wore paper Justin Bieber masks and danced around the room.
I read the whole book in three sittings on consecutive nights.
The first night, Monday, I read on the couch while listening to BBC Three. We had just watched Roberto Rossellini’s India Matri Bhumi. They were playing Chopin. I read up to the poem called “Ptarmigan.” A ptarmigan is a medium-sized game bird.
The second night we watched Skyfall, the latest James Bond film, starring Daniel Craig. My wife says Daniel Craig is “simian.” I remember learning that word in a medieval lit class. I listened to BBC Three again afterwards, but I don’t remember what they played. I got as far as the poem “Prussian Blue” before going to bed.
Last night we watched Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, with its bloodred sets and spiteful sisters. On BBC Three they played dreamy early twentieth-century music, Debussy or something like that. I am not much of a classical music buff, though I find myself listening to it more often as I approach middle age.
One thing I rarely do is write in my books. I hate having the pages all marked up because I am afraid I will read them again and get angry at myself for having vandalized the site of my encounter. But since I need to remember things in order to write about them, I have taken notes on the cover page of Wonderbender.
I looked up the words “bollixed” and “veridical” on my phone. To “bollix” is to throw into confusion. I sort of knew what “veridical” meant, but I needed to double-check. I kept thinking “vertical,” then I was thinking “green” as in “vert,” and then I looked it up, and it means “truthful” or “veracious.”
Later that night
Writing this letter, I am reminded of what it was like to be interrupted writing physical letters back in the days before email. I wrote lots of them as a teenager and into my twenties. My letter-writing had ceased almost completely by the time I turned thirty.
I used to feel slightly guilty about returning to a letter after an interruption. For some reason, I thought that the veridicality of my epistolary self depended on a kind of temporal continuity which when broken, for instance by the need to go to work in the morning, required an explanation. To continue an interrupted paragraph without alerting the reader felt like lying.
Growing up Catholic will do that to you.
Your bio says you were born (like William Carlos Williams) in Paterson, NJ, then moved to Massachusetts in 1972. I keep thinking about that formulation. It masks your age. I tried to figure how old you were when you left New Jersey. It doesn’t really matter, I guess. My brother was born in 1972.
Tonight we watched an upsetting documentary called Five Broken Cameras. It’s about a Palestinian village being encroached upon by Israeli settlers. I don’t watch many political documentaries. They disturb me so much, I feel the need to disturb other people by describing them.
On my last night in Boston, I rode to Jamaica Plain in a cab with a poet, a translator, and an artist. (There’s the beginning of a joke in there somewhere.) We arrived in time to catch the last five minutes of a poetry reading in an art gallery. I didn’t really want to go, but my friend visiting from England insisted. I wanted to see him, so I followed.
After the reading we went to a bar down the street. We drank and talked about Italian films until my eyes began to fill with sleep. I said my goodbyes and asked how to get back to my hotel. The translator, who lives in the neighborhood, told me to walk straight up the street until I ran into the Forest Hills station on the Orange Line.
I walked a few blocks in the cold until I arrived at a lighted shelter with a train map. I saw the tracks you mentioned embedded in the asphalt, the rails snaking off in several disorienting directions. I wandered bollixed in the dark until I realized that the station was half a block away and the train ran underground.
There were a few other things I wanted to talk to you about. The Infant of Prague. The coelacanth. The conversation I had with an AT&T customer service representative in India named Grace. I’ve probably said too much already. I am still not sure what “Wonderbender” means, but I like the way it sounds.