Thursday, July 28, 2005


It was just too hot when I got out of my meeting to drive 135 miles in an un-air-conditioned car (a vestige of my days in Berkeley, where nobody needs air conditioning), so instead I drove a couple of miles north the Palisades Center Mall, whose faux-Pompidou interior is looking a little worn & downscale after just seven years, to wander through Barnes & Noble. I looked through its poetry section, which is pretty dismal. I gazed at several newish translations of Dante, cringing my way through the opening stanzas of each, wishing more than ever that the Dorothy Sayers translation was still in print. I also noted that there were three versions of Gilgamesh in what amounted to three small five-foot book cases, one by Stephen Mitchell that I’ve got sitting in one of the “unread book” bookcases at home, one by David Ferry, the third by somebody I not heard of before. There was a collected Auden & I was already aware of the flack I was catching for my offhand remark here that day, so I picked it up and headed over to the chairs by the faux café. I tried the early work & late & in between & never was able to get beyond half a page of any poem: too prolix, too full of generalities, a sense of meter to doze for. I had to walk all the way across the store to reshelve it in Poetry again.

This time, I picked up Jack Gilbert’s Refusing Heaven, and The Laura (Riding) Jackson Reader. These I bought, knowing that they were both books I was destined to get eventually. For reasons that are obscure and have to do with the problems of architecture & store layout, this B&N has poetry directly across from the cash register and that may have helped. I paid, then wandered over to Legal Seafood for dinner. I was in no hurry. The trout was overcooked & dry rather than flaky & I’ve gotten better baked potatoes at Wendy’s, but the still-overheated part of me did appreciate the key lime smoothie. I didn’t read the books over dinner exactly, but thumbed through one, then thumbed through the other, then did it again. Gilbert & (Riding) Jackson seemed like a bizarrely apt combination, these two gloomiest of poets. One so in love with truth she sounds like Fox Mulder in the old X-Files, the other equally in love with beauty and the romance of the difficult. It’s funny how very much alike they sound – but both are totalitarians as poets. Both use generalizations, but they each absolutely are committed to the concepts that underlie them. Neither is at all like the bland muddle of Auden.

Done, I wandered around awhile, trying to decide whether there were any other stores in the mall I wanted to investigate. I even found a bench and took a few minutes just to meditate, shutting my eyes & listening to the ambient sounds of passing shoppers. Then I made my way back to the underground parking lot where my car was still cooling off. The sun was finally starting to set as my Mazda emerged from underneath the mall & headed for the Garden State Parkway.

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