Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Gutenberg Blues

John Olson, whose book of poems Backscatter was reviewed here two weeks ago, asked that I post the following essay that he wrote. Olson has no blog or website. I’m very happy to help out. An earlier version was published last year in the magazine First Intensity, # 22 (Fall 2007).

If you are reading this, you are not the audience I am trying to reach. The audience I am trying to reach is a vague demographic of people I imagine behind the wheel of a leviathan Hummer or SUV blathering inanities on a cell phone. But this is glib. I really don’t know who they are. Perhaps I have met one or two but the conversation didn’t proceed far enough to discover whether they read books or not. There have been many occasions in which, in response to the usual question about what one does for a living, I have answered that I am a writer, which brings the conversation to a listless, awkward halt. My interlocutor looks embarrassed, at a loss as to what to say. Perhaps they aren’t sure what a writer is. Perhaps they assume that as a writer, I really don’t make a living, I just happen to support myself by some mysterious means while indulging in this very strange and eccentric habit called writing. The later assumption is the correct one. But the conversation has already ended and my interlocutor (who would not know the meaning of the word ‘interlocutor’) has moved on to another conversation.

The people to which I am referring are aliterates: people who can read, but choose not to.

I despise them. Detest them. Abhor them, loathe them, hate them.

I hate them because they are allowing our democracy to erode. I hate them for aiding and abetting the degradation of everything of value in this country. I hate them for Bush and Britney Spears and Sarah Palin and Wal-Mart. I hate them for the Patriot Act and cell phones and the death of solitude. I hate them for attention deficit disorder and colony collapse disorder and the lack of disorder. I hate them because the things I care most about in life are being daily shat upon by these mentally lazy shop-a-holics and Paris Hilton wannabes.

“The spread of illiteracy and aliteracy (the ability without the inclination to read) has, at long last, become visible as a national crisis,” wrote Neil Postman in Conscientious Objections. And that was 1993. The situation since then has become exponentially worse.

“The illusion that speed is better is slowly killing off reading for pleasure or reading in depth,” writes Edward E. Gordon in his essay “The Incredible Shrinking Book: The Waning of Print Reading and Its Consequences for America.” “Faster is better technology tells us. The pervasiveness of all sort of tech-gadgets, useful or not, is conditioning us to believe in their infallibility -- when they work! Therefore, slowly reading print text seems like a waste of time to many people.”

This comes as no surprise to me. I’ve become used to seeing the “pod people” as they sleepwalk through the shopping malls, commute to their jobs at Microsoft, and conduct conversations on their hands-free cell phones like pixilated schizophrenics at a startup jobs fair. Even so, I was stunned, when I read Charles Johnson’s essay in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer several weeks ago, that “only thirty-one percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it.” Which begs the question: how are these dolts managing to graduate? Who is giving these grotesques a passing grade? What is the point of going to a college or university at all?

In Rethinking College Education, George Allan argues that “the current goal-orientation of America’s colleges and universities has undermined the very nature of higher education.” He shows that while colleges historically may have been based on a religious sense of mission or on the Enlightenment’s commitment to rational inquiry, “today’s universities have become resource centers organized to serve the needs of a diverse customer base of students. In its commitment to giving students what they want, this model of higher education not only neglects the broadening and deepening of minds, it encourages students to recognize the validity of numerous points of view without ever learning to interact creatively with them.”

In sum, you could get a better education from a comic book.

In a culture (and I use that term very loosely) full of information, books, magazines, newspapers, the Internet, libraries, bookstores, museums, and universities, why would anyone choose not to read? I mean, apart from medicine labels, blogs, MySpace, household cleansers, and street signs.

I have no answer. I find it utterly baffling. It is as if I sat at a table and watched someone given a plate of truffles (Joyce, Melville, Stein, Dickinson) and a plate of dog poop (Danielle Steel, Dean Koontz, Oprah’s Picks, Doctor Phil, My Pet Goat) and that someone went right for the dog poop, smiling imbecilely as they chewed away.

Some of these people don’t read because they have to hold down two or three jobs and don’t have the time to read, or are simply too exhausted, or what little time they have must be spent with their children.

Others are content to surf the Internet; but please note, that’s surfing, not reading. As for Oprah’s Picks or Doctor Phil, et al., that isn’t reading. That’s television on paper. I would include Harry Potter in that bunch.

Sorry kids. But Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island, Huckleberry Finn, Gulliver’s Travels and My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts by Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola are way better than Harry Potter. These books have actual ideas in them. The authors of these books have labored hard to make sure the words flow in a manner that is graceful when the subject is graceful, rough and hard when the action is rough and hard, and are in every possible manner vivid and alive. In other words, the words are important. What am I saying? The words are everything. Sure it’s great that kids are reading, at all. But it’s mostly adults I see reading Harry Potter.

Always be wary of books that sell a lot. There is usually a reason they sell a lot. They entertain, but do nothing to challenge the intellect of the reader. The words are intended to be transparent, like windows. Words are not windows. Words are skin. Words have the same shine and click as billiard balls. They are hard, like dimes and knuckles. Soft like wax. Sleek as feathers. Reverie is the flotation of thought. Words are the raft.

Let us assume an ideal situation: a non-reader comes to me full of wistful receptivity and says “I feel you’re on to something here. I feel empty. There is a hole in my life. I’m fed up with the World Wide Web. I’m all ears. What can you tell me that will make want to read books?”

Books are wonderful. They are time machines. They can transport you elsewhere. They are full of enchantment. They will dilate your mind until it grows shiny with speculation. Turns amethyst with dazzling constructions. Glides over mountains. Marinates into bells. Sprawls into reverie. Opening a book is like going to sea. Sounds have shapes. And the shapes will lick your mind until it becomes huge with thought. There is nothing better than words. Words in print. Words fleshed out in ink. Words pirouetting in the mind. Images so vivid they brim with heat and thicken into trowels of sound.

You can get lost in books. Find yourself in books. Boil philosophies out of books. But it takes effort. You will need to learn how to concentrate. How to reflect. How to mull. How to think critically and scrupulously. How to weigh thoughts with the slow muscles of time. How to ponder what the words are saying and agree or disagree with them. Challenge them. Scrutinize them. Bounce them. Squeeze them. Chew them. Wrestle them.

Then, when you are so engorged with ideas and meanings and passion and blood, you will want to sit down and write. And everything you’ve read will ovulate into sonatas. The large silent music of thought.

-- John Olson

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Viva Lamantia!

Philip Lamantia was born 81 years ago today – that is, on October 23, 1927.

I say, let’s party! Make a little noise, do a little dance, get down tonight!

Philip died in March, 2005. His death was news in his native San Francisco and in major papers in New York, Los Angeles, and London. Of course, it was also huge news among his friends, including in the jazz-beat, surrealist, New York art-poetry, Catholic bull-fighting, and young California poetry worlds.

Philip’s poetry lives on. Although only few of his poems can be found on-line (see for example the prose poem “The Romantic Movement”), three of his books are in print. There’s his selected poems, Bed of Sphinxes (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1997), and his last full-length book, the magnificent Meadowlark West (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1986). There's also Tau (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2008), a mid-1950s manuscript published just this year to positive reviews. Philip’s nine other books are out of print, but can be bought (if you have the money, natch) or borrowed (if you have the right credentials).

Philip lives too in the knowledge he passed on to others. Lamantia was an extraordinary teacher. He lacked the temperament or desire for the front of a classroom or for permanent work of any kind aside from cultivating his mind and writing. Philip taught in part through the allusions in his poems and statements in the few critical essays he published. But mostly -- and most especially -- he taught via one-on-one talks, in-person or on-the-phone. When Philip was active (when his depression did not lay him low) he could and usually would effortlessly carry a conversation for several hours, laying long associational tracks of thought across your brain’s terrain.

Philip could talk about history, poetry, biography, the news of the day, the news of (for example) the Thirteenth Century (the greatest, he said), medicine, religion, movies, food, wine, science, music, psychology, the theoric, ornithic, and hermetic, plus just about anything else. Sometimes, most all of this would be touched on in a single universe-expanding conversation that would verge on the monologic. Philip would talk in great detail, tangent off this way or that, then spiral or rocket off into now for something completely different and suddenly it was 3:00 in the morning. He was very generous with his time. I quickly decided that while questions, counter-assertions, and other active listening courtesies couldn't be discarded completely, the best approach was to mostly keep quiet and take in Philip's miraculous cavalcade of words and ideas.

I learned countless things from Philip. Here follow four things I love that I first learned about from him. These matters were chosen because they show something of the range of his interests and because each one allows me to share a bit of biographical detail about the amazing life of a dear friend:

1. The writings of Paracelsus. In 1944, less than a year after his first poems were published (at age fifteen!) in View magazine, Philip left high school, bought a cross-country ticket, and rode the train to New York City. Philip told me he carried aboard, and read during the trip, a copy of the massive two-volume red leather-bound1894 first edition of E.A. Waite’s translation of The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus (the big red books are pictured above, at the head of this post). Imagine the hypnotic rhythmic clackity-clack-clack deep night surge of the train on the Great Plains, young Philip in a window seat reading the essay “Hermetic Astronomy” in Volume II and coming across this line, on page 310: “besides these there is another star, imagination, which begets a new star and a new heaven.” In days, he would arrive in NYC, where he'd meet Andre Breton and many others, including the film-maker Maya Deren.

2. The poetry of Mina Loy. In a 1976 essay, Philip identified Loy as one of the few historical American poets worthy of being called “marvelous” (the others were Samuel Greenberg, Harry Crosby, and Poe in a few of his works). Philip called Loy’s first book, Lunar Baedecker (Paris: Contact Editions, 1923 (photo above)), “a singular flowering” of “alternating . . . subtleties of wit between sensible convulsions in darkest luminosity.” (“Poetic Matters,” in Arsenal Surrealist Subversion, No. 3 (Spring 1976), page 9 (italics in original).) In the years just before his death, Philip told the story of how dozens of years before he had loaned his copy of Loy’s first book, an exceedingly rare treasure, to a fellow poet who never returned it. Philip was still angry not to have the book, and who wouldn’t be?

3. Washo peyote songs and texts. In the early 1950s, Philip participated in all-night peyote rituals with the Washo in Nevada. Philip also knew at that time Warren L. d'Azevedo, the eminent anthropologist of the region who recorded and arranged publication of the tribe's peyote songs (by Smithsonian/Folkways, photo of LP above) and texts (Straight with the Medicine: Narratives of Washo Followers of the Tipi Way (Reno: Black Rock Press, 1978 (first edition); (Berkeley: Heyday Press, 2006 (second, expanded edition))). Decades later, Philip wrote of his experience with the ritual, “with the Washo peyotlists from the morning prayer in the bowl / of dawn / none shall ever steal from me our sixty eyes to the smoke hole at / the Tipi flue” (from the poem “Native Medicine” in Meadowlark West)

4. Bruce Conner. A black and white photo of one of Conner’s collage-assemblage works serves as the cover of Philip's Destroyed Works (San Francisco: Auerhahn Press, 1962 (photo above)), a superior collection of poems with a highly apocalyptic edge. Reading this book many years ago, I first saw and became interested in Conner’s art. At the time Destroyed Works was published, Lamantia and Conner both lived in Mexico City, and would see each other often. For years after he returned to San Francisco, Conner kept, read, and admired Lamantia’s “Crystals,” a long unpublished poem that Philip had given him in manuscript in Mexico. Conner, who died earlier this year, gave the manuscript to the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library several years ago, and it is now a part of the extensive Lamantia archive at that library. When Lamantia published his collection Becoming Visible (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1981), he sent Conner a signed copy inscribed, “For Bruce Conner / who is visible / in Buster Keaton” (emphasis in original). This was a particularly apt inscription since Conner had a life-long enthusiasm for the silent comedy genius. Philip and Bruce had a short reunion one Sunday afternoon in 2000, when by coincidence they both showed up at the de Young museum during Conner's traveling exhibition, “2000 BC: The Bruce Conner Story Part II.”

Thank you, Philip, for these four keys of knowledge, and for the many other interests and enthusiasms you helped unlock. And thank you too for your poems. Oh my oh yes I said yes oh my oh the poems! Long Live Lamantia!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

“Fire On The Page!” (Yeeee-haw!)

Jordan Scott, Blert (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2008)
John Olson, Backscatter (Boston: Black Widow Press, 2008)

These two books feature words set by explosive experts. Prose-poems, mostly, packed with high potential thermo-chemical sentences that when detonated by imagination can shatter settled notions of language and the world while offering thrills of the kind usually experienced at a fireworks spectacular. Blert and Backscatter, my friends, will blast yr brains.

The back-story for Blert, explained in a two page end-note, involves author Jordan Scott’s experience as a stutterer. Although this may not exactly square with how Scott tells it, the poetry of Blert seems to have at least three purposes:

1. Relay, poetically, something of Scott’s struggle with the stutter, as experienced by him and others;

2. Give readers an idea of what it feels like – really feels like – to have words back up big-time in the mind and mouth; and;

3. Exact a measure of earned vengeance on language for its role in the stuttering, by grabbing words by their throat, putting them into a full-nelson, bashing them against the turn-buckle, and then, having so mastered them, make of those words astonishing accretions of sound, sense, and no-sense compelling as coral reefs in an octopus’s garden.

Here’s a paragraph from the book, picked at random. May I suggest reading it aloud, or at least articulating it in silent-speech? If you do, think of the words and phrases in your head as alliterative-dissonant airplanes, circling in a holding pattern above the LaGuardia of your mouth. Feel the vowels and consonants congest in your laryngeal apparatus:
Fog to cleft a passing tango, rank with mashed mango, lobs chunk to crunk the courtyard, lungs to glide the rung-out shards, slang and Lougheed. Cleft and fog trip tango reek with split citrus, spill darkens sod, lungs thrash, slang stacks. Fog to cleft, the tango rank. Each clavicle tides Courvoisier. Lean scythe, fog scatters.
Blert, page 41.

Here are two more sentences, taken from a paragraph near the book’s end. Dig the sounds, the zounds, the percussive rhythms, the allusions to music (including Sly Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher!”), the near allusion to song (a Mary Poppins tune at that) via the multi-syllabic, verging on glossolalia term “chincherinchee” (a type of flowering lily), the pair of italicized phrases towards the end that are delirious variations of one another, and the smash-burst action of the verbs paired with wild nouns:
Puke gauze sphagnum and purr: outbreaks will diminish against the chincherinchee festooned on bronchial, you go on go on, urge backwash cha-cha- cha, homily into boomshackalacka like fungi canoodle sequoia: say nosh cricket merengue, your turn, say gnash locust meringue. I blip blip, hijack sasquatch fib and grovel into jungle camo, while you nerf viscera, tryst anemone in the thick of ABCs.
Blert, page 61 (all italics in the original).

It must stun to hear Jordan Scott read Blert aloud. I don’t know where Scott lives these days. But I dream of spending the bucks to get him here to San Francisco, so I and others here might hear him read his book aloud. Why not?

And why not also get Seattle’s John Olson down here to read from his new book? I’ve written at length of my love of Olson’s work – see here – so I was jimmy-jazzed when earlier this year Black Widow Press published Backscatter, an almost 200 page collection of new and selected poems.

The poem selection in Backscatter, from a half-dozen previously published editions plus several new works, is excellent, and the book’s preface is Olson’s extraordinary essay on poetic autonomy and other matters (“gunpowder vowels,” natch, are mentioned). Unfortunately, in the six months since publication, Backscatter has been noticed about as often as gegenschein in a brightly lit city.* Aside from a few lines I posted on the book’s page at Amazon, there’s been only a single review (in the ‘zine The Believer). Two local bookshops here in San Francisco that stock much contemporary poetry – Books and Bookshelves and Bird and Beckett – put Backscatter on their shelves, but the copies are still there, waiting on a lover.

Two of the new poems in Backscatter deserve special mention. “Kinema” is a three page prose poem centered on Olson’s admonition that you should make a movie. Not a camera and film movie, but one (as Olson puts it near the poem’s end) “right there at the frontier between the external world and the life of the mind . . . .” The idea that the imagination can make one hell of a motion picture is common. Olson’s poem stands out because it persistently posits pulchritudinous plentitudes of possibilities for your mind-movie. Here’s a typical suggestion from the poet-auteur:
put a tornado in it a larynx of dark whirling air an old man affirming an iron hatred in a rocking chair in West Virginia a doorknob wrestling free of a door a watch ticking on a train rail protestors clashing with police a plumber moving to the back of a French restaurant a mirror whistling like a ghost a parachute opening over Damascus the pulse of sedition in a wrist of words the sincerity of earth cough up pennies and mountains Bob Dylan driving a semi light breaking on a rose a man standing on a rock overlooking an alpine lake a blue so intense so extreme it constitutes another world.
Backscatter, page 157.

Throughout the poem, the suggested scenes and shots relentlessly pile up, one after another, some hard and real (“[t]he punishing evidence of asphalt”), some real but not so hard (“[s]team from a laundry vent whipped, jerked, whirled by the wind”), some hard, real, and trending toward the out there (“a disease called real estate absolved by octaves boiling in the leg of a thundercloud”) and a few just giddy giggle fun (“Tarzan working at a car wash in Mozambique scrubbing SUVs with a loincloth”). [All these quotes from Backscatter, page 156].

Reading “Kinema” reminds me of Andre Breton’s story about how he and his friend Jacques Vache would see movies in Nantes during World War I. The two would go into a theater not knowing what film was playing or when it began. They’d just go in and see whatever was on the screen. When they’d seen enough, they’d leave and rush off to another movie house and do the same thing, and then move on to another, and so on. Breton called the experience “magnetizing” (italics his). So too is reading Olson’s poem. It’s a cluster-bomb of kaleidoscopic images that attract at an elemental level and re-orient the mind to the true north of creative imagination.

Another of the mind-blowing new poems is “The Taste Of Ocher Forth,” a twelve-part, twenty page prose poem. “I’m constructing a dream of words,” Olson writes in the first section, and he arranges hundreds of sentences which for most part must be taken as one would the most oneiric of Joseph Cornell’s box-constructions. Olson’s words are recognizable enough, and so too is the concern in the poem about language and certain philosophical concerns. But just as the familiar can become fluid or torque in dreams, so too the referents and syntax in this poem. “Energy Saturday did bark,” reads one sentence, or, even more plastic, “Absolution raft since length is one husky pummel bolt that need to pump is even what tracks a throat a chatty interlude pushed into all institutions up where the mocha is pressured into since.”

Yet “The Taste Of Ocher Forth” also has moments – also similar to dreams – when word bursts become pyrotechnics of colorful illumination suddenly here then gone. “That ecstasy is lush that dreams itself an egg, ” writes Olson, or “Poetry is the engine we all envy for its episodic onyx and indiscriminate parallels.”

“Never interview an elegant dream,” Olson suggests, and that advice seems wise. This dream-poem’s questions and answers are its own. We readers are but witnesses to the ignition of its high-energy reveries, and that’s mighty fine. We’re crazed Stetson-waving Slim Pickens straddling the poem-Bomb, ecstatically yee-hawing and ooh-ya-hoooing as we free-fall to a massive explosion of otherness.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Ultimate (Deconstructed) Bridge To Nowhere

Introduction: When out in the garden, I enjoy clearing away weeds and overgrowth, and adjusting or adding stepping stones and borders, so as to better showcase the flowers, vegetables, and trees. Such efforts can reveal
previously unseen wonders. The same can be true with a text. Prune away words, re-arrange or perhaps add a bit of punctuation, and oh the things that can be seen! Latent messages emerge, language can shine in the full glory of its thing-ness , and humor can bloom. What was vacuous can become vacuous as can be; the calculated and pompous, nakedly and ridiculously so.

I hereby guarantee that except for the title (for which Senator Joseph Biden gets partial credit), all the words that follow were spoken, in the exact order in which they occur below, by Governor Sarah Palin during the October 2, 2008, Vice-Presidential debate. Your humble gardener has cleared away certain weedy and obscuring words, and rearranged or added punctuation, including periods, commas, and paragraphing.

Hey, can I call you?

Joe, ya know this bad kids’ soccer feeling? I’ll betcha some fear fear. Fear about a fear, perhaps. That warning bell – the alarm. Referring to the entrenched “mavericks.”

96 proof, you know, get down cravin’ something. Come and I’m happy, darn right. Also though, let's commit ourselves, Joe. Six pack hockey moms across the need and say never again, never do what our parents told us. A heck of a lot never.

Again, kill jobs. Wanna? Ya know, I may.

Not answer. The questions heated up. Ya know the nice thing. Somethin’ else you know I guess. Bless their hearts, ya know, aren’t comin’ kinda a whole lot. Got to.

I would have more revelation made. Aware now. Look back kinda. Toxic mess main streeters like me. My record on energy: a nonsensical position – to tap into tapped into very, very hungry the key. A heck of a lot more than that goin’ on? Yes, well I don't want to argue I want to argue.

Got to Got to Got to Got to Drill Baby Drill! That’s hundreds of trillions raping the outer tiny footprints. In a rope line too. I do. I do. Closer and closer, dear. Friends, straight up.

Straight up non-support for anything but my answer: a great American hero surge. In fact, even grow our military a white flag of surrender. That’s for sure you guys. Closer and closer.

Who coined that central war? Just downright dangerous finger-pointing backwards ruffled feathers. The be all end all of again. Got to real quick also okay I'd like to just really quickly. Reckless, reckless again. Also in, in also. Different conditions in that different country and conditions are certainly different. Anything opposite of that over there on this have not said anything different but that oh yeah it's so obvious. And you guys here, you now, you who or vice-versa. Cravin’ that straight.

Talk! Hey, tell us why. I beg here again. He knows what evil is: mistakes and blunders, a war (heaven forbid yes that, that!).

What did you expect, a little bit of reality?

Ya know, just get out of my way. Take more, say it ain’t, so there. You go again, again now. Doggone it and god. Bless heaven, right? Got to. Be really ramped up. Shout out, “got to right now it’s near and dear to my heart very, very.”

Got to, I guess of course. No, no, of course, very seriously. Also near and dear to my heart: I want you, I want you. Founding fathers tapping into (yeah!) heartland of America mom. Sit around the kitchen table unapologetic here, making a – really people aren’t looking – party party party party! Diverse coming together tumultuous!

Got to, got to, got to. Not anymore not got, to last. Go-around, for the last change is comin’. Quasi-caved the purse strings zero-base up. And that’s what you do: party!

And even in it’s a, and we all in there also, so just that – you know – at the end of the day as long as okay. Got to and again our, our kill jobs. The record on the table. Saying no to independence. Clear? Well again, without the filter.

Fight. Fight what the hurts are and God too. Fight our freedoms and children in the bloodstream. Fight sunset years. Children children’s children, fight!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Poetic Transcribed Baseball

Sports, by Kenneth Goldsmith (Make Now Press, 2008)
Yo-Yos With Money, by Ted Berrigan and Harris Schiff (United Artists, 1979)

In Sports, a verbatim transcript of a radio broadcast of the longest nine inning baseball game ever played, conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith swings . . .

. . . and lines a double off the top of the left field wall.

Almost a home run, in other words, but not quite.

Sports is the final part of a trilogy that includes Traffic (a day's worth of six-times-an-hour traffic reports) and Weather (a year’s worth of weather reports, frequency not specified). The text of each of these consists entirely of words transcribed from radio broadcasts. These books, then, are conceptual acts: appropriated or found poems, arguments for the (ir)relevance of quotidian blather, verbatim history, a selection of words found useful to sell ads on radio, and a recording of some of what is caught by the ear of poet Goldsmith. Maybe surprisingly given the commonness of the source and the project's heady intellectual underpinning, the books are mostly compelling reads. There are stories and characters, both in what happens, and among the people (identified or not) who spoke the now-transcribed words we read.

All this is especially true of Sports. A baseball game is a drama in which the and plot outcome are uncertain. There are strategies which unfold, unexpected twists, stretches of the prosaic, and, usually, moments of intense focus and sudden energy. Baseball also has performers both on the field (the players) and, when broadcast, in the booth – the announcers, whose choice and method of relaying details of the game, as well as the opinions they share, reveal different facets of personality.

So Goldsmith’s decision to use a baseball game is pretty savvy. On top of the sport’s inherent charms, Goldsmith chose a ringer of game to transcribe: The New York Yankees playing the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, a match-up of traditional rivals in a classic setting. But even more: this particular August 2006 contest was the longest nine-inning game in baseball history, taking four hours and forty-five minutes to complete. The game literally was one for the (record) book.

People who like baseball will love Sports. The game lives again in the transcription of the play-by-play, color commentary, paid commercials, and even – right in the first paragraph on the first page of the book – the major league baseball boilerplate copyright and permissions announcement, prohibiting any and all reproduction of any and all “accounts and descriptions” of the game! This is big fun to read. Grab your glove and cap, get some peanuts or CrackerJack, open the book, and have at it.

Although not all pages in Sports keep your attention, there are plenty that do. The top of the seventh, for example, is epic. The Yankees rally to take the lead and the announcers just go crazy along with the action. There are rookies and veterans, statistics, loaded bases, and innumerable balls and strikes (except, of course, you could count them!). There are numerous foul balls, including one that hugs the first base line causing everyone to stop – a sort of Joseph Cornell moment – while the umpire figures it out. There are enough hits and runs to fill out most normal games, and enough in-the-clutch two-out heroics for a Hollywood blockbuster or any ten year old’s dream.

The half-inning also features a fairly major milestone, players who fail dramatically or redeem themselves marvelously, and events or sidebars that allow the announcers to talk about spring training, the World Series, Lou Gehrig, and (who’d have thunk it) Glen Cove, Long Island. There are also, natch, paid commercial announcements, including from Indian Point Energy Center (“the regions most reliable source of electrical power”) and Allstate Insurance (“for every year of safe driving, you earn $100 off your deductible”). Eventually, of course, there's a third out.

This half-inning is a majestic marathon dramatic comedy action adventure opera poem movie, right there on the pages. As one of the announcers puts it, “pretty fabulous.”

Goldsmith, however, makes one big error in Sports. His transcription does not indicate the silences or pauses in the broadcast. The broadcast instead appears as a more-or-less constant flow of words. But baseball on the radio is not an uninterrupted stream of words. Even the most loquacious announcers pause. These silences are important. The pauses in the announcer’s talk show the passing of time. The silences, even if momentary, also build or relieve tension. The pauses also allow ambient crowd noise to come through to the listener. More generally, the pauses and silent moments frame the announcers’ spoken words, providing the yang to the talk’s yin, similar to what white space on the page does for lineated poetry.

The yang of silence is missing from Goldsmith’s book. This absence seems especially significant here in the longest nine inning game in hours and minutes. The eliding of the pauses and brief silences is a major league mistake. I don’t understand it. The gaps in the broadcast talk could have been indicated with . . . ellipses of varying lengths, corresponding roughly or (better yet) precisely with the length of the pause or silence in the broadcast. Goldsmith, though, uses the “dot dot dot” marker only to show that a spoken sentence was interrupted or otherwise left incomplete.

More simply, silence could have been shown with

[white space]

including indentations and

double or

triple spacing, again depending on the length of the pause or silence. In Goldsmith’s transcription, white space on the page is entirely unrelated to silence in the broadcast. It appears only when there is a paragraph break, and those breaks are used to mark when one announcer stops and another starts talking, without regard to whether there was any appreciable pause between the words.

Measuring the lengths of pauses in the broadcast, then relating them to textual devices that could be seen on the page, would have been a time-consuming task. But that’s what a pro would have done. Oh the wonder if Goldsmith had done it. Sports could have been a majestic home run, a transcript that truly reflected the words in time as they were said.

[Note: An update regarding silence in Sports, including information from Goldsmith himself, can be found by clicking here]

Those interested in baseball, poetry, and transcription should also track down Yo-Yos With Money, a collaboration between Ted Berrigan and Harris Schiff that presents a verbatim transcript of the two friends' and poets’ conversation in the stands during a Yankees vs. Red Sox game held in September, 1977 at the now dearly departed Yankee Stadium. The book was published in 1979 in an edition of 500 copies.

Berrigan and Schiff were loaded, by which I mean (to use Schiff’s term on the first page) “totally ripped.” The back cover reproduces photographs of the two popping something in their mouths outside a subway entrance, and the transcript references washing down codeine and other pills, and having a few beers. As such, the description of the on-the-field action is neither complete nor always coherent, to say the least.

Yet – or perhaps in part because of the observers' impairments – the Yo-Yo transcript, including the game narrative, is transfixing and a hoot-and-a-half. A chief charm is irreverence. A player who makes an out is likely to be described as a “jack-off,” and there are similarly profane descriptions on nearly every page.

There are plenty of musings too on rarely discussed ballpark oddities, such as the varying amounts of space between various numbers on the scoreboard and whether a batter who “squares around” to bunt should more accurately be described as forming the shape of a parallelogram. Poets are important because they often take sideway looks at things usually considered only straight-on. The de-centered perspectives in Yo-Yos are of all-star caliber.

Berrigan and Schiff also pay close attention to what goes on in the stands, including fights between fans and the “loveliness” of “the girls” sitting to their left (and whether they could “score” with them). There’s also an admirable and mostly successful attempt to transcribe the chants and noise of the crowd (“REGGIE REGGIE REGGIE” and "LouLouLouLouLou” for example).

Maybe best of all, the transcript of the poets’ conversation uses white space to indicate pauses in the talk. The reader here experiences more precisely the ebb and flow of the words and the game.

The impaired-fans-in-the-stands transcript of Yo-Yos With Money is a kind of through-the-looking-glass parallel universe to the professionally announced game transcript of Sports. Taken together, the two are an amazing double-header. Play Ball!