Greenpoint, October, 2015

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Two Roads Converged...

Two Fiats, Gerhard Richter
For Frost, the forest was a temporary idyll, an occasion for metaphysical reflection. Yes, those "two roads diverged in a yellow wood," but there's never a doubt that either will lead the speaker to a cozy inn or hearty tavern (recall Zonker's parody of "Stopping by the Woods": "My little horse must think it queer/to stop without a pool-hall near").

For Creeley, the forest is the place from which we never escape:

The Traveller

Into the forest again
whence all roads depend
this way and that
to lead him back.

Upon his shoulders
he places boulders,
upon his eye
the high wide sky.

(From For Love.)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Goddamn Big Car

(Photo: Poltroon Press)
We approach the monument that is Robert Creeley. Or, better, the work of Robert Creeley. It really deserves a series within our series ("Drivers Ed... For Poets"). Let's begin with one of his most famous poems, "I Know a Man":

As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking,John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ's sake, look
out where yr going.

The poem has an interesting legacy. John Larner used Drive He Said as the title of his 1964 novel. Jack Nicholson kept it when he turned the book into his directorial debut in 1971. I doubt either have the drama of Creeley reading it (28 seconds). Listen here.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Why Not Just the Ford Glück?

Relient-K on Roosevelt (Alliterate that!)
It's well known that, in 1955, the Ford Motor Company invited the poet Marianne Moore to contribute suggestions for new model names. Her list included the "Intelligent Bullet," the "Ford Fabergé," and the "Mongoose Civique." While Ford politely declined to use any of these, I believe Honda owes the Moore estate some royalties for the last one.

As an update on the Poet-Names-the-Car angle, the Research Bureau invited another New York-born poet, Louise Glück, to submit her own ideas. The request must have been lost in the mail (or the imagination), so we took the liberty of extracting a few possibilities of our own from her work. We limited ourself to the selection available on

Here is the Research Bureau's top-five contenders (brands courtesy of RB):

Ford Persephone ("Myth of Darkness")

Chevrolet Solace ("Night Migrations")

Kia Poppy ("Red Poppy")

Toyota Vespers ("Vespers")

Subaru Wanderer ("Persephone the Wanderer")

Some names I liked but the RB nixed based on its extensive marketing research: "Expiation," "Negative Creation," "Witchgrass," "Sex in Hell," and "Frank."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fish Stories, Part II

Which borough has the most bathtub madonnas per capita? The Research Bureau is still crunching the numbers, but Staten Island is a strong contender. I was photographing a beautiful selection at Santacroce Nursery and Garden Center on Richmond Ave. when one of the employees (and likely one of the family) came out to ask me what I was doing. "Just taking some pictures. Is that OK?" "Depends on what for." Was I outed as a heretic? "I like the way they look." True enough. To deflect any more religion-bashing suspicions, I asked him about the old-fashioned seafood store sign on the front of the building.

"It was a pet."

"A pet lobster?"


"When was that?"

"Twenty years ago. More."

I left without thinking to ask what it's name was.

(The poet Gerard de Nerval was reputed to take his pet lobster out for walks on a leash. Why a lobster? he would be asked. "Because he's quiet. And he knows the secrets of the deep.")

Monday, June 24, 2013

Fish Stories, Part I

This is what's visible from the BQE of Marshall's Retail smoked fish store in Greenpoint. At least until 2003, according to the blog, Homarus/Marshall was operating a non-kosher fish smoking business in Middle Village, Queens, specializing in sturgeon (which is considered trafe--who knew?). A better image of the fading sign from Eat in Translation:

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ahab on the M4

How does that part in Moby Dick go: 

"Ship and boat diverged; the cold, damp night breeze blew between: a screaming gull flew overhead; the two hulls wildly rolled; we gave three heavy hearted cheers, and plunged like fate into the lone Atlantic."

Blindly plunged like fate into the lone M4.

From Turtle Diaries by Russell Hoban. The novel, just reissued by New York Review Books, tells the story of two middle-aged Londoners who, independently, decide to release sea turtles from the London Zoo. And then they do it. (The 1985 movie adaptation, with Ben Kingsley and Glenda Jackson, and script by Harold Pinter, is only available on used VHS tapes.)

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Wordly Goodman

The Palisades in Autumn
Jasper Francis Cropsey
Given his proposal, with architect brother Percival, to ban cars from Manhattan, Paul Goodman seems an unlikely poet to include in our summer series, "Drivers Ed... For Poets." Indeed, in one poem, "My Car Wrecked Between Bennington and Brattleboro," he is explicit about his aversion to driving: "A bad road, a bad car, and a bad driver...." (He crawls from the wreck, giving thanks to Castor and Pollux:"Savior Twins! teach me still not to care/as sparkling bright in the blue-black ye shine.")

Goodman is happier as a passenger, as here, in perhaps his most famous poems, "The Lordly Hudson":
"Driver, what stream is it?" I asked, well knowing
it was our lordly Hudson hardly flowing.
"It is our lordly Hudson hardly flowing,"
he said, under the green-grown cliffs."

Be still, heart! No one needs
your passionate suffrage to select this glory,
this is our lordly Hudson hardly flowing
under the green-grown cliffs.

"Driver, has this a peer in Europe or the East?"
"No, no!" he said. Home! Home!
Be quiet, heart! This is our lordly Hudson
and has no peer in Europe or the east.

This is our lordly Hudson hardly flowing
under the green-grown cliffs
and has no peer in Europe or the East.
Be quiet, heart! Home! Home!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"I Went Southwest" - Lew Welch, Part II

Iain Sinclair tells the story well, at the end of a London Review of Books piece about Gary Snyder. In May 1971, Lew Welch had been visiting Snyder in Nevada County, in northern California. He planned to build a cabin on adjoining land, which he'd bought from Allen Ginsberg. He walked into the woods, taking Snyder's revolver and leaving this note in his parked car, along with many empty beer cans:
Truckee, CA (Courtesy
"I never could make anything work out right … I had great visions but never could bring them together with reality. I used it all up. It’s all gone … I have $2000 in Nevada City Bank of America – use it to cover my affairs and debts. I don’t owe Allen G. anything yet nor my mother. I went southwest. Goodbye."

They never found Welch's body or the gun. Leaving the car seems to me as meaningful as anything else in this sad story. Welch's poetry is riddled with references to driving, from the "Taxi Suite," cited earlier in this series, to one called "In Safeway Parking Lots, Old Men Drive Slowly. Backwards" (the title itself is a poem).

A late, previously uncollected poem appears in Ring of Bone: Collected Poems.

Sometimes I Talk to Kerouac When I Drive


Yesterday I thought of something
I never had a chance to tell you
and now I don't know what it was


Monday, June 17, 2013

Cranes and Propane

Maspeth is a busy on a Monday afternoon.

Look closer. Another BQE-christened business.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"When I Drive a Cab" - Lew Welch, Part I

Lew Welch & Allen Ginsberg (Courtesy:
Lew Welch was associated with the Beat poets. In the late 1950s, he drove a cab in San Francisco. Here is part one of his "Taxi Suite":


When I drive cab
         I am moved by strange whistles and wear a hat.

When I drive cab
         I am the hunter. My prey leaps out from where it
         hid, beguiling me with gestures.

When I drive cab
         all may command me, yet I am in command of all who do.

When I drive cab
         I am guided by voices descending from the naked air.

When I drive cab
         A revelation of movement comes to me. They wake now.
         Now they want to work or look around. Now they want
         drunkenness and heavy food. Now they contrive to love.

When I drive cab
         I bring the sailor home from the sea. In the back of
         my car he fingers the pelt of his maiden.

When I drive cab
         I watch for stragglers in the urban order of things.

When I drive cab
         I end the only lit and waitful thing in miles of
         darkened houses.

In On Bread and Poetry, a discussion with Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder, Welch described sharing his taxi poems with other cab drivers: "The cab drivers like my cab poems. They said, 'Yeah, that’s just the way it is. By gosh, you write like that, hunh? That’s good.'" 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Recalculation Nation

In the wilds of central Jersey with its cloverleafs and "jug-ears," I heard more than one GPS-siren repeat the call "Recalculating... recalculating...." The L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poet Charles Bernstein's latest collection pairs this mot du jour with a painting by frequent collaborator Susan Bee. The dedication to the couple's daughter, Emma Bee Bernstein, is lovely:

The road tells you what to do. Throw on some shades;
pump up the radio, put your hands on the wheel.
Retrace your route in reflection, but look only as far
as the blur of passing yellow lines to see the present.
Race your future to the finish line.

(In December 2012, Emma Bee Bernstein committed suicide in Venice. She was 23.)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Emily Takes a Checker

"Emily's Carriage" by April (2005)
What kind of car would Emily Dickinson drive?* I was giving some thought to this question when I came across this painting on the EBSQ site for self-representing artists. It is titled "Emily's Carriage," and the artist is April Fontaine, described as "self-taught artist from Boston living in New England" (her EBSQ profile with other works is here). Shakespeare seems to be putting a move on ED, and Jack Kerouac is at the wheel. The piece won an award in EBSQ's Conversations with Dead Poets series. Of course, the piece is a response to Dickinson's poem beginning "Because I could not stop for Death":

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

(*I picture Dickinson in an early 70s muscle car. Maybe a black Chevy Nova SS. What about you?)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tireless Ravelling

Time (Sept. 1958)
Our most automotive poet? Reader, my candidate would be Tom Clark. I base this judgement not only on the content of his poems, like the beautiful and enigmatic "The Tire" (below), but also on his fine Beyond the Pale blog, which depicts our automotive culture and its detritus.

Clark is an inveterate collector of images, often from the American west of myth and reality. Sometimes he combines these with original poetry, other times not. The image at right comes from a post titled: "Industrial Archaeology: 'You could be only 1/16 of an inch from eternity,'" in which he collects tire ads from the 50s and 60s from Time, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, and other mags.

The Tire

The story thread runs out through your hands
To many places, indicating them as snags.
You take the tire apart. Even so, the process
Solves its own knots as it continues--gingerly--
To slip out of your hands. There is always
A looseness, open and moving, it says here
In the event. Then why does every tug on the 
Strings complicate everything, raveling
Up further the almost impossible ball? When
Know-how shows itself for what it is, will Grace
Grow free and exact to award the useless
Virtues their place? Do I have to wrestle
With every thought on earth like this? I mean
Will an angel arrive and untangle them all?

(From Light and Shade: New and Collected Poems.)

In another post, you'll find photographs of Edward Burtynsky, showing massive dumps of tires and other automotive wastage, like the one below from Westley, CA.

Edward Burtynsky, 1999

Monday, June 10, 2013

Why the Doily?

Kimberly, WI DX filling station (c. 1937-8)
Here's Elizabeth Bishop's "The Filling Station." If you listen to Bishop read it here, you'll hear her express some misgivings, especially about the ending. ("I'm afraid that's wasted.")

Oh, but it is dirty!
—this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated
to a disturbing, over-all
black translucency.
Be careful with that match!

Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it’s a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.

Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch
behind the pumps, and on it
a set of crushed and grease-
impregnated wickerwork;
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy.

Some comic books provide
the only note of color—
of certain color. They lie
upon a big dim doily
draping a taboret
(part of the set), beside
a big hirsute begonia.

Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?
(Embroidered in daisy stitch
with marguerites, I think,
and heavy with gray crochet.)

Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all. 

Well, I suppose the whole thing is a bit classist, but I love the ESSO-SO-SO-SO audiovisual pun--EXXON-XON-XON-XON just doesn't have the same lullaby quality. (The photo comes from Kimberly-Little Chute Memorial Library Centennial Memory Project.)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Brotherhood Triumphs

(A Sunday break from our summer series.)

"What kind of weirdo goes around taking pictures of garages?" I could hear the customer's question from across the street. I approached. Should I explain that they were for my BQE blog? Probably wouldn't help. Instead, I said, "I like the name," and pointed at the sign. Everybody looked at the sign. "What does it mean?" "Lots of Chinese brothers," the mechanic said, smiling.

Across the street, wedged into a driveway on Junction Boulevard, the car of my youthful fantasies...

Sadly, the worse fof wear.

How many Chinese brothers would it take to fix a Triumph Spitfire?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Poets and Cars/Cars, Cows, and Girls

Hayden Carruth (1921-2008)
Friend of the blog, Troy L., contributes today's entry (and the post's title) to our summer series, "Drivers Ed... For Poets." It's a poem by Hayden Carruth, surely the greatest poet ever produced by Waterbury, Connecticut. You can hear Carruth read it here. The Independent did a good piece on the poet and his lifelong struggle with mental illness. (See also Carruth's "Fragments of an Autobiography" from the excellent prose collection, Suicides & Jazzers.)

The Cows at Night

The moon was like a full cup tonight,
too heavy, and sank in the mist
soon after dark, leaving for light

faint stars and the silver leaves
of milkweed beside the road,
gleaming before my car.

Yet I like driving at night
in summer and in Vermont:
the brown road through the mist

of mountain-dark, among farms
so quiet, and the roadside willows
opening out where I saw

the cows. Always a shock
to remember them there, those
great breathings close in the dark.

I stopped, and took my flashlight
to the pasture fence. They turned
to me where they lay, sad

and beautiful faces in the dark,
and I counted them–forty
near and far in the pasture,

turning to me, sad and beautiful
like girls very long ago
who were innocent, and sad

because they were innocent,
and beautiful because they were
sad. I switched off my light.

But I did not want to go,
not yet, nor knew what to do
if I should stay, for how

in that great darkness could I explain
anything, anything at all.
I stood by the fence. And then

very gently it began to rain.

(Special note for Omi: Photo is of Hayden Carruth, not Troy.)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Minicab War

Corso was the guiding spirit behind a spoof or political action (or both) in 1961. Along with two other poets, Anselm Hollo and Tom Raworth, he produced a special edition of the nascent literary journal Outburst that purported to include interviews with T.S. Eliot, Bertrand Russell, and John Betjeman, along with those of a taxi cab driver and a minicab driver. The issue at stake was the introduction of a fleet of "minicabs" onto London streets, which produced an outcry from the traditional cab drivers (as pictured on the edition's cover).

There were only 250 copies of the edition. NYU's rare books library has one, and the Research Bureau has promised to provide excerpts. (Covers courtesy

For more on the minicab controversy (actually, Ford Anglia 105Es, pictured below), see this excellent Cab4Now post.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Dream Driving

Here's Gregory Corso's exquisite driving-dream (or dream-driving) poem from Gasoline (1958):

Last Night I Drove A Car

Last night I drove a car
not knowing how to drive
not owning a car
I drove and knocked down
people I loved
. . . went 120 through one town.

I stopped at Hedgeville
and slept in the back seat
. . . excited about my new life.

(Columbia U. Archives)
Corso was born on at St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village. He went to jail at 17 for stealing a suit from a tailor's shop for a date. He died in Italy in 2001, with lots of rambling in between.

Allen Ginsberg wrote in the Introduction to Gasoline: "He's probably the greatest poet in America, and he's starving in Europe."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

In the Shoebox

(Photo: Phil Degginger, Mira Images)
My favorite of Renata Adler's set pieces comes from her first novel, Speedboat, also reissued by NYRB. She describes a friend's encounter with a tourist bus this way:

At six one morning, Will went out in jeans and frayed sweater to buy a quart of milk. A tourist bus went by. The megaphone was directed at him. "There's one," it said. That was in the 1960's. Ever since, he's wondered. There's one what?

It's an uneasy feeling New Yorkers share. Not so much of being pointed out (at 6 a.m. no less) than of being exhibits in a vast animated diorama.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Summer Series!

Today's post initiates a special summer series,  "Drivers Ed for Poets," in which we explore the diverse and often fraught relationship of writers to their cars (and others'). We begin with this quote, which occurs early in Renata Adler's 1983 novel Pitch Dark, just reissued by New
York Review Books:

Well, what did you pull ahead of me on the road for, from a side street, when there were no other cars in sight behind me, if you were going to drive more slowly than I did? (p. 8)

Adler's reported speech is pitch perfect, as always, and her vignettes of urban, intellectual society mercilessly precise. But what does it all add up to?

It reminds me of what my college Chaucer professor replied, when asked by a student what contemporary writers he read: "None, aside from detective novels. Otherwise they are all the same: People in apartments having relationships." Still, good beach reading if you like your the schadenfreude warm and your shade cool.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Loaves and Fishes...and Watermelons?

The interior of the Verduleria Jah-Jireh produce shop in Vicuña (site of the Gabriela Mistral Museum). The name sounds vaguely Rastafarian, but is actually from Genesis and means "Jahweh will provide." The arid mountains in the background are typical for the Elqui Valley in northern Chile; on average the region gets less than 70 mm (2.8 in) of rain a year. Its altitude and clear skies make it a popular spot for observatories. Some think it is a vortex for spiritual energies. Perhaps Jesus thought so too.