For most of my life I have lived two parallel tracks. I returned to the US after living and working South America in 1998 and I have been both poet/critic and businessperson. The result of this dichotomy is that I could move between these two worlds picking and choosing my reality at will. It was a comfortable existence because you were never totally consumed by one or the other and this lead to innovations in my thoughts and a variety of influences. I spoke about this with Ron Silliman once that not being an academic allowed for more innovation and sense of being grounded in two worlds and he agreed. In this area I have always admired Ron and tried to emulate his efforts living my parallel lives.
The Dichotomy of parallel lives ended for me in January when I lost my job in the Tsunami that is the Great Recession. Immediately self reflection and the Nexus of change became reality and for me and I began to search for answers. I found some in books of course.....
I have always loved autobiographies, collected letters and memoirs. I find these books to be very revealing. In the way the Bible or Zen Koans give us guidence I find solace and inspiration in these types of books. I began by re-reading old favorites, St Augustine's Confessions, Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain, Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Pablo Neruda's My Life, and from these old friends I found some solace and some inspiration.
Then I moved on to other books, Nadezha Mandelstahm's Memoir, Kenneth Rexroth's Fictional Memoir which I have come to really treasure, The Duncan/Levertov Letters, William Everson's Autobiography, the Pound/Zukofsky Correspondence, the Camus Diaries and Letters and many other books.
Out of this melange of reflections I realized that I was standing at a nexus in my life. That I was being broken down and watching all that I knew being destroyed in front of me. All that was to be decided was whether this destruction would be creative or just plain destructive. The verdict is still out on that front. But one thing that has become clear to me is that for many of my literary heroes the key to their creativity and growth has been a lack of fear of what would happen if they dispensed with convention.
Rexroth's fictional memoir offers us a vision of poet on a quest that is inspiring because he did not lose his self worth as poet even in the fact of national depression. He continued to quest and search as a poet and that made his memoir interesting and inspiring. Merton, and Kerouac owe something to Rexroth. He is going through the same type of questing that they would go through in the 40's and 50's ten years earlier. These three writers for me encapsulate this type of Augustinian literature that in many ways in lacking in our society. For an unemployed executive/poet they offer much solace in times of despair.
Mark Tardi, recommended the works of Nicholas Mosley to me. I am reading Inventing God, Children of Darkness and Light and Hopeful Monsters. Normally Mark's recommendations are spot on. Mosley is a real brain fuck. Mosley is not light Sunday afternoon reading. But the one thing that comes out of this work is a sense of loss and a sense of piecing together what was once the established assumptions into a kind of Antonio Gaudi crockery work that makes some sort of crazy sense.
Mosley's books do not give solace but I am challenged and this too is good for someone reading at a Nexus in their lives. Robert Frost in his hackneyed poem Yellow Wood talked about two paths- but there are really hundreds and in our current environment these are full of minefields where one's legs can also be blown off without sentiment. I think that is what comes out in Mosley's books.
In the end what I have left is my writing and my literary life for what that is worth. As the rest of what I have known and assumed would always exist continues to melt slowly into the sea like a soft glacier the books are still there holding me and letting me know that something else has meaning and value.
It is in books that we will receive our answers- not by watching CNBC or reading Tarot Cards....