Saturday, March 24, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt six)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

To a young rural flatlander cities like New York, Boston, and San Francisco are impenetrably immense, incomprehensible. You don’t understand why they are there any more than why you’re there except they are exciting, especially contrasted to manual labor and the torpor of college. And in these cities invisible novelists and poets were writing books so it was logical to go there and invisibly write a book. I had a journal I had filled with gists, piths, quotes, apothegms, quotes of brutally inclusive wisdom. (Whitman said poets must “move wild laughter in the throat of death.” How?) There’s nothing quite like reading great literature on a daily basis to freeze the writing hand. You had convinced yourself, your parents, and a few friends that you were a poet and now all that remained to do was write some poems. You had pumped up your ego, your hubris, to an unconscionable degree simply to mentally survive but the evidence of any real talent was lacking. Every single day and into the evening you drew in what Ginsberg called “incredible music of the streets.” I even got Babe, the bartender at the Kettle of Fish, to read me Ungaretti and Gaspara Stampa aloud in Italian though he appeared to be somewhat embarrassed. Louis, a waiter from Positano, was very touched and I got a free serving of chicken cacciatore before closing. The discovery of garlic seemed an important aspect of my development as an artist, equal to that of figuring out that red wine was better for the imagination than beer. One afternoon Babe introduced me to the renowned politician Carmine DeSapio who asked me what I did and I said that I was a poet. He said, “Why not?” One night I was attacked by a burly guy in the toilet and managed to demolish him. I was utterly shocked when Babe told me that the guy liked to be beaten up. This was a subtlety of behavior I hadn’t encountered in the Midwest.

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