Centennial Conference on Life & Myth of William Burroughs

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William S. Burroughs was born 100 years ago today. A centennial conference will be held at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York as part of a month-long WSB@100 Festival in April. The conference, sponsored by The Center for Humanities, "will explore the life and myth of one of the most innovative and influential twentieth-century American writers and artists." [You can expect] a series of talks and roundtables by editors, artists, and scholars on a range of issues from the problem of gender in Burroughs' work to his role in … [Read more...]

Clayton Patterson on Jewish History of the Lower East Side

'Jews: A People's History of the Lower East Side'Edited by Clayton Patterson and Mareleyn Schneider [New York, 2012]

Nobody I know is better versed in the history of Manhattan's Lower East Side than Clayton Patterson. And I'd be willing to bet that nobody at all is more devoted to, or more articulate about, the history of the Jews who lived on the Lower East Side. He was interviewed a year ago -- Feb. 13, 2013, to be exact -- by Suzannah B. Troy, about the three massive volumes he edited on the subject. Because he's not Jewish and because the volumes are "a people's history," he says, there's a tendency to think that the account they offer is "incidental" … [Read more...]

Setting the Stage for Barry Miles’s ‘Call Me Burroughs’

'Call Me Burroughs -- A LIfe' by Barry Miles [TWELVE Books, 2014]

I asked Barry Miles, author of the newly published biography Call Me Burroughs: A Life, how he felt about the review he got in this week's New Yorker. "Delighted," he said, adding that he had only skimmed it and intended to give it a thorough read as soon as he had the time. Miles is on a hectic book tour, thanks to TWELVE, his publisher. He's right to be delighted because Peter Schjeldhal's review sets the stage for the book's reception. Despite his moralistic assessment of William S. Burroughs, life and literary product both, Schjeldhal … [Read more...]

Beautiful Hand-Made Paper Gems from Hanuman Books

Willem de Kooning's Collected Writings [Hanuman Books, 1988]. This is a 1990 second printing.

Earlier this month my staff of thousands put up a blogpost about Willem de Kooning's appreciation of the early analytical Cubist paintings by Braque. Soon after that Gerard Bellaart sent me an excerpt he scanned from the de Kooning essay "What Abstract Art Means to Me" describing the attraction to Cubism. The essay had been reprinted in Collected Writings by Hanuman Books, and Bellaart asked the publisher (Raymond Foye) to send me a copy. (Foye and Francesco Clemente co-founded Hanuman in 1986.) When the book showed up, I was startled to see … [Read more...]

Do Many Women Admire William Burroughs?

Hanne Lippard

My staff of thousands hasn't taken a survey, but I can count his female fans on one hand. When it comes to the number I actually know, make that one finger. Her name is Hanne Lippard, the Berlin-based poet and performance artist with the killer voice. I've blogposted about her before: Prick Up Your Ears for Hanne Lippard and Every Crumb Can Become a Piece of Cake. "By the by, speaking of Burroughs," she emails, "this one is actually somewhat inspired by his reading of Junky." Go listen: It's a tongue twister called Boys. … [Read more...]

A Poet Chases Away the Pallbearers

William Cody

The American expat poet Cody Maher messages that "some years back in a diabolical playful mood" he jotted down a few notes called "The Pallbearers." "Most of those pallbearers have already bit the dust," he adds. In a similar mood, I asked my staff of thousands to post the poem, which I like for the grim story it tells and for its mordant humor. THE PALLBEARERS The pallbearers arrived late It was uncomfortable to say the least I didn't like the looks of them from a distance and they looked even worse up close It looked like they … [Read more...]

Ginsberg Does Indian Mantras on Sloow Tapes

'London Mantra' Sloow Tapes cassette [2014]

Speaking of Allen Ginsberg, I'm told a new Sloow Tapes cassette entitled "London Mantra" is about to be released. Bart de Paepe, producer of the indie label, writes, "It's a recording George Dowden made at his home in July 1973." The tape features "Ginsberg solo on his harmonium, singing Indian mantras and a few of his own songs." As I replied to de Paepe, "The truth is I've never been a fan of Allen's harmonium singing." One of Ginsberg's closest friends, William Burroughs, couldn't stand his off-key droning either. Which is being … [Read more...]

Amiri Baraka Has Died, a Remembrance

From VDRSVP#2 (enhanced with Amiri Baraka photo)

Amiri Baraka's obituary in the NY Times this morning mentioned his first contact with Allen Ginsberg. ...to whom, in the puckish spirit of the times, he had written a letter on toilet paper reading, “Are you for real?” (“I’m for real, but I’m tired of being Allen Ginsberg,” came the reply, on what, its recipient would note with amusement, was “a better piece of toilet paper.”) It reminded me that back in 1968, long after they'd connected, Ginsberg wrote up a dream he had about Baraka and sent it to me for a little magazine I was editing. … [Read more...]

Above the Wintry Fields

The poem "A Murmuration of Starlings" is by Heathcote Williams, the narration by Alan Cox. After a visit to the Wordsworths in the Lake District, Coleridge caught a glimpse from his stagecoach Of a gigantic flock of birds as it swooped, rose then fell Above the frozen, wintry fields of a passing farm. It was November 1799 and he described the phenomenon As “a vision” in his Journal, then detailed the way This “vast flight” drove along “like smoke, and expanded Then condensed”, then continually shifted shape. First he saw the … [Read more...]

How a Brilliant Writer Got in His Own Way

'Humpty Dumpty' [1924]

I'm told Ben Hecht was recently inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. That could be why I was asked to write a piece about him for a special "Chicago Issue" of the Chicago Quarterly Review, but something tells me it was pure coincidence. I also have a feeling the Hall of Fame won't appreciate the piece. Since I wrote it pro bono (of course), one of the editors told me I'm free to sell it elsewhere after the issue comes out (of course). So now that the issue has gone on sale as a whopping 357-page whale of a doorstop with none of the … [Read more...]

‘In Praise of Folly’: Advice for 2014 or Any Year

Early 17th-century illustration for Erasmus' 'In Praise of Folly'

Excerpt from Erasmus' 'In Praise of Folly' (translated by John Wilson) Spoken by Folly in her own Person Do but observe our grim philosophers that are perpetually beating their brains on knotty subjects, and for the most part you'll find them grown old before they are scarcely young. And whence is it, but that their continual and restless thoughts insensibly prey upon their spirits and dry up their radical moisture? Whereas, on the contrary, my fat fools are as plump and round as a Westphalian hog, and never sensible of old age, unless … [Read more...]

Notes on Writers: Maugham Offers a Handful

Somerset Maugham

Edmond White writes: "I was invited to a dinner at the apartment of Ted Morgan on the East Side. Later, in 1982, I would write a positive review of his biography of Somerset Maugham, in which he gave a horrifying portrait of the aging writer as having lost his mind to Alzheimer's though he was pumped full of youth-enhancing monkey glands. Virile and hyperactive but incapable of thinking, the once witty and ironic author would greet guests at the gates of his Riviera compound by present them with a welcoming handful of his own shit." -- … [Read more...]

‘The Red Dagger’ by Heathcote Williams

The Red Dagger

London's symbol for the hub of global finance in the City (Shown on the city's flag to convey heraldic grandeur) Comes from a blood-soaked dagger that killed the rebel, Wat Tyler, For Tyler had challenged London on behalf of the poor. The dagger survives and is on display at Fishmonger's Hall In the City's secretive ministate within a state And, like a trophy, its red silhouette is on the City's coat-of-arms As if Tyler's murder were something to celebrate. But the hundred thousand marching on London in 1381 Were serfs objecting to … [Read more...]

On Burroughs, The Adding Machine, & Blurbophobia

'The Adding Machine' by William S. Burroughs, with a New Introduction by James Grauerholz [Grove Press, 2013]

I see that Grove Press has just put out a spanking new edition of The Adding Machine by William S. Burroughs. I also see it has what Grove calls on the front cover a "new" introduction by James Gauerholz, the numero uno keeper of the righteous Burroughs flame. Since there never was an old introduction, I wonder what Grove means by "new." I know there was an old edition, though, because I reviewed it. That's where the blurb on the back cover comes from: "Sheer pleasure. . . . Wonderfully entertaining." —Chicago Sun-Times I'm not one of … [Read more...]

Nelson Algren on Frank Lloyd Wright

This is Algren reading his poem "On the Heart It Don't Matter How You Spell It." It's from a 1972 recording. Frank Lloyd Wright was the saint of American architecture. He liked steel buildings, stone buildings, tall buildings, low buildings. He liked new buildings and old buildings. He like dry buildings and damp buildings. He liked buildings on mountaintops. He liked buildings on deserts. He liked buildings broken by suffering And buildings that were happy from morning till night. He even liked buildings built on top … [Read more...]

Terkel Reads from ‘Chicago: City on the Make’

I've been going through all my old Nelson Algren files to give to Colin Asher. He recently landed a contract to write Algren's biography for Norton -- that's W.W. Norton & Co. (one of the last big indie publishers, and a great one, too). My files include all sorts of primary documents, among them a recording of the memorial tribute to Nelson that Studs Terkel organized at Second City on June 29, 1981, not long after Nelson died. Studs arranged the program, emceed the event, and concluded the evening by reading this excerpt from Nelson's … [Read more...]