The Conversation Continues
Welcome to Page 15 of my “forum.” The subject matter here is anything to do with literature, books, reading, and writing, with a little philosophy thrown in, as well as other tangents and revelations that spring naturally from “intelligent” conversation. To participate, send an e-mail. That’s all there is to it. When I receive your message, I will add it to the bottom of the newest page — unless, of course, it is rude or crude, in which case I retain the right to not post your message. The same goes for blatant advertising. Pertinent recommendations of reading material and related websites, though, are welcome within the natural context of our conversation. We all have plenty to gain from each other’s knowledge and experience. So, whether you are just reading or actively participating, enjoy your visit. I will post new messages as soon as possible after they are received. Be sure to check in often for the latest responses.
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To return to my December 2002 Barbaric Yawp interview with John Berbrich, click here.
To read our original 2001 interview, click here.
William Michaelian: Hello again. At the end of the preceding page, we were talking about haiku and the art of translation. Online, I had found an uncredited translation of Basho’s last poem, which reads as follows:
Stricken while journeying
my dreams still wander about
but on withered fields.
Then, my partner in conversational crime, the esteemed editor John Berbrich, offered the following two translations of the same poem, the first by Harold G. Henderson, the second by Harry Behn:
On a journey, ill,
and over fields all withered, dreams
go wandering still.
In fever dreaming that dreams
These three translations show just how tricky the translation business is, and how strongly a translator figures into our perception of a given work. It brings to mind this question: when we say we have read Dostoevsky, or Balzac, or whomever, have we really read them, or have we read the translator? Or both? J.B. — what do you think? And what is your opinion of the foregoing translations?
John Berbrich: Some authors may be more difficult to translate (like Milton, I’ve heard) than others, hence harder to translate faithfully. Pushkin knew Shakespeare only through a French translation — get that? English, French, Russian. I’ve read Henderson’s many times — let’s say his and your anonymous version are equal in quality, but different in presentation. I don’t care for Behn’s at all. But there’s a story behind it. Peter Pauper Press is (or was) a small publishing company just north of New York City. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s they came out with a lovely 4-volume set of haiku, each book being about 60 pages, hardcover, available for one dollar per book. The translator was Peter Beilenson. Unfortunately, Beilenson died while working on the fourth and final book, so Behn was asked to finish it. And Behn didn’t know much Japanese. So I think what he did was to read previous translations and sort of re-work them in his own words: in the introduction Behn mentions Henderson and someone named Atasaro Miyamori, plus he read Beilenson’s earlier books. So I guess Behn has an excuse, although you’d think that Peter Pauper could have found someone who knew Japanese at least. By the way, I’m missing book 3 of this set if anyone cares. The others I’ve discovered individually over the years, at used book stores.
William Michaelian: I like that — if anyone cares. Don’t worry, I’ll try to get it to you by Christmas. So, Behn replaced Beilenson on Basho. Tell me — what is the current state of haiku? I mean, I hear the term all the time. Is it still going strong in Japan? Are poets from other countries churning them out?
John Berbrich: As far as I know, haiku is still a big thing in Japan — and in the U.S. too. There are lots of journals, mostly on the West Coast, that specialize in haiku and other Oriental forms. Oh, and by the way — I checked my shelf and it’s not volume 3 I’m missing, it’s volume 2. Just in case Santa’s following our conversation.
William Michaelian: Too late. A large shipment of the third volume has already been dispatched. Say, I have news: I finished reading Ulysses. I’m a survivor. I even did a little writeup about it and added to my Favorite Books section. You can read it here. How about you? Are you closing in on the end?
John Berbrich: I have about 60 pages to go and should finish soon. I’ve read your summary of Ulysses and must say that it is clear and thoughtful, examining the book from several different perspectives. In fact It is so clear and thoughtful that I suspect it is the finest summary of the book that I’ve yet to read, or hope to. Let me know when you start Finnegans Wake (so I can hide my copy).
William Michaelian: Wait a minute — you have a copy? I’ll be right over. On the other hand, maybe I’ll try a local used book store. The truth is, I am sorely tempted. But time will tell. Thanks for your kind, somewhat exaggerated, remarks. I do find it helpful to write about a book very soon after I’ve finished reading it. Of course there are reams of criticism available, especially in the case of Ulysses, but my hope was to at least partially capture the book’s spirit and encourage people to read it themselves.
John Berbrich: Or create their own film of it. Seriously, Ulysses is a classic, but I hope to finish it soon. I have lots of sane books I want to read, short ones, like 200-300 pages, written by people whose brains are more like mine, mortal and limited. Have you discussed a possible future forum on Finnegans Wake with Jason Bulger?
William Michaelian: No, I haven’t. But earlier this afternoon, I went with our youngest son to a few used book stores. I was fully prepared to buy Finnegans Wake, but couldn’t find a copy. Then we went into a regular new book store, a small one that’s locally owned, and they had a large Penguin edition that was pretty nice for seventeen bones. But since I’ll be living with the thing for several months at the very least, I’d much rather get a hardcover. Maybe we’ll try Borders. I read a little of the text here and there — captivating. It will be like reading on a completely different level — very good to stir up primal connections in the brain. Are you sure you’re not ready to read it? Think of the fun we could have writing a script for the movie.
John Berbrich: That’s true, but I have other things calling to me — like the magazine. We seem to be falling further and further behind schedule. A book like Finnegans Wake could take over your life for a month. Still, the adventure of it has a strong appeal. Let’s give it a little time, but by all means buy yourself a copy if you feel the need to. As for the film, it’d make a great sequel to our gate-busting blockbuster Ulysses, or whatever we’re going to call it. We never did decide on a title.
William Michaelian: One I had thought of was Paddy Dignam’s Hearse. That could be a working title, at least. But as we go along, a better title, one that’s inevitable, brilliant, and memorable, is bound to suggest itself. And of course you do you have your magazine to work on — Finnegans Yawp. Maybe an entire issue could be devoted to our screenplay.
John Berbrich: I’ll certainly advertise the bloody Jesus out of it when the film is ready. Paddy Dignam’s hearse, that’s right. For some reason, that reminds me of burnt elves or dwarfs or something — pygmies, maybe. Say, have you contacted Leonard Cirino yet?
William Michaelian: The fellow from Burnt Pygmy Press? I did. I dropped him a line and ordered Glossolalia. He replied immediately, and a couple of days later the book arrived. But because of Ulysses and other involvements I’ve read only a few poems so far. I intend to write him again after I’ve finished his book. You’ve got to wonder, though, just how many genuinely serious poets and writers there are, scattered over this land. And by serious I certainly don’t mean humorless, but people who are in it for the long haul.
John Berbrich: I don’t know for sure, but I suspect there are plenty and that Cirino is one of them. I won’t say that his book is profound, but certainly I found nothing trivial in its pages. As you said earlier, Cirino holds his head up high, and I tend to agree with that remark. His work contains strength and intelligence, a felicitous combination. Nature is abundant in his poems, fresh and old and ragged. He’s not fooled by the whispers of a decadent society. He is a force of good.
William Michaelian: A nice summation. Your comments belong on the back of his book. I think while I’m casting about for a copy of Finnegans Wake, I might just as well concentrate on Glossolalia. At least I’ll be able to understand it. Any progress in your poetry gatherings, or has that been hard to organize?
John Berbrich: I haven’t had a lot of luck, so I told Lucas the owner and manager to go ahead and schedule a poetry night and I can guarantee at least some people will show. From among those faithful, I shall try to organize something. But Lucas has been featuring jazz at the cafe, two nights thus far. All local musicians. Although one fellow did drive all the way from Boston to perform with a couple of local friends. He’s in a band called baby boy h, a semi-hardcore rock ensemble back in Beantown. The guy can play anything. I had a nice talk with him. Anyway, this Friday night a jazz band called Fifth Edition from a local high school will perform. After hearing a little CD they’ve produced, I can say they do a nice job with Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.”
William Michaelian: The café sounds like a pretty active place. A noisy one, anyway. We’ve said before that the woods are crawling with poets. It might even be more so where musicians are concerned. These days, most every bar and coffeehouse features live music, the quality of which ranges from torture to excellent. And thanks to new technology, everyone produces their own CDs. It reminds me, I never did record readings of any of my poems, or whatever they might be called. Yet another project, with the added obstacle of having to learn which buttons to push. Oh, the burdens of modern life.
John Berbrich: It can be rather confusing. That’s why one has kids, to push the buttons and flip the switches for us. If you can send me a decent recording of poetry recitations, I can play them on the radio. I play at least one poem on the air every Saturday. A CD is better than a cassette, if you can manage it. To play a cassette, we have to rearrange a bunch of wires, and the quality isn’t always that hot. CD’s always sound good. We can play LP’s too, if you can record on one. I bring six or eight of my own for each show, and the studio has hundreds maybe thousands in the vault. Too bad you can’t listen to Howie & the Wolfman “live” at home.
William Michaelian: It’s definitely a source of heartbreak in our house. We like the variety, which you cats supply. According to our resident computer expert, we can easily record our own CDs. I do have sort of a long-range plan for a website Voice Project — notice the upper-case letters. It has advanced that far in my mind. But I haven’t decided just how extensive it will be. I might record all of the poems, or some of them, and parts or all of Songs and Letters, which continues to grow — 138 entries in 4 volumes and counting. I don’t know yet about the stories. Short pieces will be easier and less time-consuming. There’s also one minor question that needs to be answered: would it really be a worthwhile addition to the website?
John Berbrich: Well, start small and see what sort of response you get. Try a few poems. Personally I’m not too big into the spoken-word thing and would just as soon read the poem. I’d prefer to work on something new rather than fiddle around with old material. But it is worth a try. And if you can get us a CD, your dulcet tones will be heard all across the nation, from New York to Alaska.
William Michaelian: Ha! What a thing to inflict on the world. I’m not sure what started me thinking about adding voice to the website in the first place. But it might add an interesting dimension. Then again, if it isn’t fun to do, or if I really sound as stupid as I think I do, I won’t continue with it. I won’t find out until I actually try it. And you’re right — new stuff always comes first. That’s one reason I don’t read enough, and also why the house is falling apart around me. Several of the tunnels have already caved in, leaving burrows threatened. Outside, community patrols have been increased. During my last trip to the mailbox, I was questioned, fingerprinted, and photographed — by kids, no less. God, you should’ve seen them. They wore expired campaign pins and these strange, reasonable expressions. One let slip that he was studying to be an accountant. It was a real nightmare, let me tell you.
John Berbrich: Willie, you’ve got to move — get away from all those shopping malls. When you start marketing your poetry CD, maybe you’d better use a nom de plume. If they find out who you are, there could be real trouble.
William Michaelian: You mean more than I’m in already? No matter what name I choose, I know they will find me. To put it another way, I wouldn’t be paranoid if people weren’t out to get me. But I agree, we’ve got to get out of here. A nom de plume is always a tempting idea. I think the last time we talked about this, we ended up inventing Jian Brichiam — or he invented us. So maybe we shouldn’t pursue it. Or should we?
John Berbrich: I don’t know. I’m still grooving to the final chapter of Ulysses, which I finished last night. That’s Molly’s chapter. It reminds me of nothing more than a river, this continual gushing flow of words. It’s one of my favorite chapters in the book. What a great book. Despite the dumb and dull parts, it remains captivating, fabulous, amazing. A bold concept, and what diligence to write it out.
William Michaelian: Now you see why I want to read Finnegans Wake. It’s only natural after a language-expanding experience like this. When I do, I’ll probably chip away at it for months, as my speech patterns are slowly altered and all prior knowledge is erased.
John Berbrich: I want to read it too but I need a break. You let me know how it’s going, that is if you are still able to communicate. So much of modern prose-poetry sounds like weakened versions of Molly’s chapter. Joyce anticipates the Beats by several decades. Joyce is more intelligent than the Beats — well, it’s a bad comparison; he’s in a different world.
William Michaelian: That he is. But he did give his strange blessing to generations of nuts to follow. Really, the last chapter was quite readable, despite the lack of punctuation. I enjoyed it. By and large, the sentences and pauses were easy to discern. It was a matter of getting used to the approach. But that happened time and again in Ulysses. Joyce was always changing gears. And saving Molly to the end like that, using her to shed light on Bloom — well, let’s just say it was interesting. It reminded me of the way he ended some of the stories in Dubliners.
John Berbrich: I haven’t read Dubliners in years and can’t recall any specific ending of that type. I do remember vividly the snow falling at the end of “The Dead,” an amazing story. Gabriel imagines the snow falling upon the grave of the dead boy, who is somehow the main character of the story, even though he’s dead the whole time.
William Michaelian: Right. I should have been more clear. I didn’t mean the sentence structure in the Molly chapter reminded me of Dubliners. I was thinking, rather, of the combined sense of beauty, despair, and realization that Joyce created at the end of stories like “The Dead.” I’ve read Dubliners only once, and it was at least ten years ago. I’ll bet that book would make an easier forum topic than Ulysses. At this point, I wouldn’t even suggest Finnegan Wake — although, you know me, I wouldn’t mind talking about it here.
John Berbrich: Hey, we’re big boys. We can talk about anything we want.
William Michaelian: Right again. In fact, we can talk about Finnegans Wake without even reading it. I mean, why go to all that extra work? Do you really have a copy, or were you just joshing?
John Berbrich: Actually I don’t. But years ago I used to go to the local library just to open the book and gaze in wonder at its pages, like some kind of scripture from another world. It was nearly all unintelligible. Maybe like looking through the old Latin missals at church, an ancient and apparently holy language. And about as indecipherable.
William Michaelian: That’s the impression I always had. But now, after reading Ulysses, the text somehow seems more — how shall I put this? — while quietly thumbing through the pages the other day in the book store, a warm glow was radiating from behind the words.
John Berbrich: Sounds like a mystical experience. Maybe when art is created with love, the creator’s aura supplies the magic. Maybe that’s the definition of art. It’s created through love and passes love along to others. Maybe that’s the definition of love, something to do with creation, with art — the creative feeling.
William Michaelian: And when one is receptive . . . but let’s not try to define it any further. One thing I noticed during the short time Finnegans Wake was in my hands was that same musical quality that was so strong in Ulysses. The phrasing is magnificent, even where the words appear at first glance to be nothing but gibberish.
John Berbrich: I’ve been thinking about this since you mentioned the musical elements in Ulysses. It’s like reading with your heart rather than your eyes, or listening to music with your heart not your ears. And then I realized that intelligence is thinking with the brain but wisdom is thinking with the heart, or at least with the heart and brain connected. Am I making sense?
William Michaelian: You’re asking me? Wow — you really do have a sense of humor. But yes, what you say does make sense. We might see wisdom as a thinking and seeing beyond what intelligence supplies, an unselfish, sympathetic understanding of knowledge and experience. The fact that it is possible to read Ulysses in so many ways and on so many levels is a tribute to its author. When I started reading the book, I saw right away that Joyce was writing from a deep musical understanding. It was partly the poetic nature of his writing, and partly the way he arranged words on the page. As I continued on, I really got the sense that he had combined literature and music. And while reading, I found that I was actively engaged in a kind of whole mind-body experience. This has happened when reading other books, but not to this extent. It makes me curious now to see what I’ll find when I read other books, what I’ll notice that I might not have noticed otherwise. Or, in the case of some of my old favorites, what I will discover in them. I find it all fascinating and inspiring.
John Berbrich: As great literature should be. What are you reading now? Making much headway with Cirino?
William Michaelian: At the moment, Leonard Cirino is pretty much all I’m reading. The last few days have been tremendously busy. But at least I’m managing to read a few of his poems here and there. My plan was to read Glossolalia from beginning to end, but I soon found myself jumping around. I’m guessing I’ve read half the book. The poems have a nice spirit about them. Some are a little more densely packed than I like, if that means anything. Sort of like limbs with too much fruit on them. Others, like the ones you mentioned some time back, are really quite nice.
John Berbrich: Yes, the spirit is the thing, along with some magnificent lines. I have a pile of unfinished books on my desk (actually a folding card table) that I need to complete. Also I need to start thinking about Christmas, that awful time of the year that could be so grand. Really though, I do like the lights and all the rushing about, the increased intensity of daily life, and the rich food. But I could do without much of it — the advertising, the guilt, the anxiety. Thanksgiving is much better — a day of shameless feasting with family and friends, very little obligation required. Or the 4th of July — let’s go watch the fireworks! What could be simpler or more fun?
William Michaelian: A great atmosphere — especially way back in the early 1960s, when we would go to the Kingsburg High School football field to watch fireworks with Aunt Mildred, my mother’s father’s sister who liked to show me her false teeth when I was little. When I saw them sitting in a glass in our bathroom, I was amazed. The old firework displays were so simple — every five minutes or so there’d be a big explosion, a cloud of smoke, and a solitary, blossoming shower of sparks. In between, the voices of people talking and laughing in the stands. There’s another great celebration in Armenia that goes back to pagan times, in which girls wear flowers in their hair and everyone douses each other with water, or tries to, at any rate. Cars, buses — throughout the day, everything and everyone becomes a potential target, except for ancient grandmothers and grandfathers, who are watching from the sidelines, their hearts leaping with gladness and memory.
John Berbrich: Willie, that’s beautiful! What’s the name of the celebration? Do you know the story behind the flowers and the water?
William Michaelian: Sort of. The celebration is called Vardavar, and coincides with the Church holiday of the Transfiguration of Christ, observed in July. There are many customs associated with Vardavar, depending on where you’re from. Two goddesses are involved: Asdghik, who corresponds with Aphrodite, and Anahit, the goddess of purity, kindness, and fertility. According to legend, Asdghik’s beloved Vahagn — another god — was once injured in a battle against evil. When she rushed to his aid, she stepped on some roses with her bare feet and her blood from the thorns turned them red, thus bringing red roses into being. The vard part of Vardavar means rose. Asdghik had her own temple, where people would make pilgrimages, sing songs of praise, and offer flowers. Anahit’s association with purity is where water comes in — water being a cleansing, purifying agent. My father’s aunt is named Asdghik, by the way. But all these years, lo and behold, she’s gone by “Stella.” Such is life in the Diaspora.
John Berbrich: Well, stella is the Latin word for “star,” so perhaps there is a connection — we could always devise a connection, of course. I don’t know much about the Armenians except that they seem to be the type that attracts bullies.
William Michaelian: It continues to this day. As they say, location is everything. Meanwhile, there is a connection with the name Stella. In Armenian, Asdghik means star. But I didn’t know the meaning of stella while growing up. It was the same with my grandfather, whose name was Haroutiun, or Harutyun, depending on the transliteration you use. Everyone called him “Harry.” His name means “resurrection.” Can’t you picture people waiting impatiently outside the tomb, saying, “Harry up, Jesus, the world’s waiting”?
John Berbrich: Or imagine them singing, “O holy night, the Asdghiks are brightly shining”? Still, your knowledge of the Armenian language is fascinating, as well as those mythological stories. I have no such connection with the world of the past, or with a world radically different from this one. I sometimes envy those that do.
William Michaelian: We’re all connected — to a common past, and to each other. People are people. Customs and languages vary and are beautiful, but they belong to everyone. At the heart of our experience is an elemental folk wisdom, I think. Like fire, it is something ancient and eternal.
John Berbrich: Yeah, but I mean something really tangible, like an uncle from Greece who lived with us or a grandmother from some exotic country that doesn’t even exist anymore, but she sang in unknown tongues and talked to snakes. That sort of thing. I never met any relatives of mine that were born overseas. My big ties are to New York City, but now all of the family has either moved away from there or died, so it’s like that Diaspora you mentioned. I do have a cousin who moved back down there from Las Vegas, but I’m not sure exactly where she’s at. The City used to be the hub, and it’s becoming my Old World.
William Michaelian: Interesting. If you’re not already, it seems likely you will be a bridge to that world for your kids and their kids. Someday, you will be the ancient bearded grandfather who knows and remembers the Old Life and the Old World. This whole melting pot experiment is really amazing. As luck would have it, I did grow up around people who were born in the Old Country. That’s how they referred to it. And they told stories of those who lived before, and those who stayed behind, how they lived, how they conducted themselves. It definitely influenced my thinking and writing. And now we’re here, and it’s almost 2006. Where it all leads, no one knows. Tell me more about New York City. How has it changed since you were a kid? What about it is still the same?
John Berbrich: Well, for one thing, there are a lot more of those big glass towers. The city is quite a bit cleaner now and less violent, with less tension in the air, like something bad is about to happen. It’s a great deal more expensive. There seem to be more out-of-towners than before, less natives. Things that haven’t changed: 1) street art and music everywhere, lending spirit and vitality to your day; 2) still plenty of homeless people, some stretching out for a nap in the shade of those colossal towers. Walking down any street in the City is an adventure. There is an incredible amount and variety of culture — food, theater, museums everywhere, concerts, art, discussions and debates, comedy, magic, religion. And history. And buildings, bridges, trains, subways, the Statue of Liberty, ferries, rivers, the bay, islands, boats, prisons. All in flowing profusion. But the big thing is — it’s expensive. I’m excluded. But you are right; I can tell stories of the Old Country, and I do.
William Michaelian: Good — I know I’d like to hear them. It’s a shame about the expense, although that’s pretty much the rule everywhere these days. It’s a great modern tragedy that the average person can’t afford the opera and other types of performance — indeed, even has to take out a loan to go to a baseball or football game. Whether the performances are worth seeing is another question. Street culture and performance is something — good, bad, entertaining, and immediate all at once. Best of all, it’s real. How about Greenwich Village? What’s it like there now? Is it anything at all like it was in the Sixties, or has corporate muscle turned it into an overpriced tourist trap?
John Berbrich: Greenwich Village is not the Bohemian haven/heaven that it once was, having grown a tad more gentrified over the past three decades. Yet still the Village is an artistic center, with lots of poetry readings and the more risqué sorts of musical ensembles. The Village is more of a neighborhood kind of place, lacking the gleaming financial towers of Midtown and Lower Manhattan. There are lots of old churches and statues and wrought iron. It’s a lot less grimy than in my day, when drugs and gangs were more open, if not more prolific. One thing that’s still absolutely free in the city — at least it was free when I went there in September 2004 — is the Staten Island ferry. The ferry leaves from the dock in Lower Manhattan and travels across the bay to Staten Island. I think it’s a 30-minute trip, one way. It affords excellent views of Miss Liberty, the Verrazano Bridge, Brooklyn, part of the Jersey shore, and of course Lower Manhattan’s skyline. So when you go there, check it out!
William Michaelian: Okay, I will. In fact, when that glorious day comes, maybe we can make the trip together. You can be my guide, and we’ll get into all sorts of trouble. My pal Chris is headed to NYC in April with his wife and two kids. I’ll be looking forward to his report. I’ve been in New York exactly once — didn’t make it out of the airport, which I can say of a few other major cities. Amsterdam was lovely at two a.m., the molded plastic chairs, the antiseptic lighting — just what a person wants from a large airport. Moscow in 1982 was strategically gloomy, and in Paris everyone spoke French and carried this funny-looking money with them. My brother and I ate an enormous Armenian meal in the St. Michel district at almost midnight. Not far from our table there were a young dreamy-eyed father and mother dining, with their baby asleep in a little carriage. The father smiled and said, “Ouzo in the milk.”
John Berbrich: That’s a touching scene. Funny, I’ve never been in any NYC airports. But let me know when you’re headed east and we’ll see what can be worked out. Are most Armenians in Armenia bilingual?
William Michaelian: A great many are, Russian being the second language. For a few decades, Armenia was a Soviet republic. Little by lttle, English is creeping in, but in general the man on the street doesn’t know more than a few words. I know you’ve thumbed your way all over the States. Have you done any traveling outside the country?
John Berbrich: Only in Canada, which hardly counts. Quebec is rather alien though, with its French signs and desire to secede. I’ve been to Toronto and Montreal a few times, and up through the primitive woodlands of New Brunswick. A long time ago I was going out with a girl who was a full-blooded Mic Mac Indian. We once spent nearly two weeks on the Restigouche Reservation right on the border of Quebec and New Brunswick, at the foot of the Gaspe Peninsula. That was quite an experience. The reservation was a beguiling combination of opulence and squalor.
William Michaelian: Oh? Tell me more about this place. It hardly sounds like a typical vacation.
John Berbrich: Staying there was quite an experience. Some of the Indians lived in lovely fancy homes and didn’t seem to want to associate with the majority, those living in ragged shacks or trailers. These dwellings were all jammed close together along the streets, with the ornate places scattered here and there amidst the general squalor. We watched a softball game played by two Indian teams, the roughest softball game ever, very competitive. More like watching football. We had a party one night out in the deep woods, drinking brandy, and stirring salmon-head soup in a big black cauldron fit for some of Shakespeare’s witches. I swear this thing was three feet tall, filled with the usual soup-type ingredients and gigantic bobbing salmon heads. The soup bubbled over the roaring fire. The Canadian government had placed a limit on the amount of salmon that the Indians could catch, and there was quite a thriving black market. Some of these guys made enough money in a couple of months to last all year. My girlfriend’s uncle Tony was the Mic Mac Chief; he had a full ceremonial outfit complete with headdress and hundreds of bright feathers.
William Michaelian: Except for the salmon heads, this sounds like some of the parties I used to go to back in the early Seventies. So, you had an in with the chief. Or did he wonder what in the world his niece was doing with a scruffy wildman from Long Island? I’ll bet the soup was great, especially with the help of the brandy.
John Berbrich: For some reason I recall the brandy better than the soup. Actually all I remember of the soup were the dead staring eyes of the salmon. Regarding Chief Tony, he was a pretty liberal guy, especially so considering he was gay. He wound up attending college in Hawaii, some course specifically designed to assist someone in his position — chief of an Indian tribe or anything similar — to get all the government money possible for the tribe and its members — cash for schooling and job training. He knew the old ways, but also knew that the tribe would have to face the modern world on its own terms or be swept aside into the past. You and I have discussed Chief Tony before because I remember talking about Glooscap, the Mic Mac god. That was probably several pages back.
William Michaelian: Several pages, or several lives? I don’t remember Glooscap, or anything to do with the Mic Macs. Isn’t that odd? But if you say we talked about them, then we talked about them. By the way, I knew a guy who got drunk and had cat stew somewhere in southeast Asia, I think it was. He said there was a big kettle, and when it was stirred all the way to the bottom, a cat worked its way to the surface. This was after he’d eaten the stew. So, what about Glooscap? If you don’t mind, run that one by me again.
John Berbrich: Well, maybe we didn’t talk about it. Either way, from what I remember, Glooscap was the Mic Mac creator god, who fashioned mankind out of an ash tree. There was an ancient prophecy that went like this: Glooscap eventually became disgusted at his creations for fighting amongst themselves, so he left them, heading into the west. And the prophecy part was that white-skinned people would arrive from the east and take over and the old ways would be gone. Prophecy or history?
William Michaelian: I don’t know. Sounds like a history lesson to me. Change peoples, races, nations, and the story applies numerous times all around the world. I like the part about the ash tree. It reminds me of two things: Ulysses because of Stephen’s ashplant, and the place where I grew up, because there was an enormous ash tree that shaded the west end of our house. The ash provided shelter to hundreds of birds — the racket in the summertime was deafening. Any creator who would use an ash tree to make the human race, I have to like.
John Berbrich: How stories get twisted. I was once telling my aunt, an English professor, the story of Glooscap and the prophecy. When I got to the part about the ash tree, she wrinkled her nose and said: “Ashtray? He created them out of an ashtray?” I set her straight and we all had a good laugh. But you can see how things get distorted. If I hadn’t corrected her and she had passed on the story, the entire mythology of the Mic Macs would have been quite different.
William Michaelian: Yes. Now, you take this Foolscap, for instance . . . or not. Finnegans Wake update: It looks like I’ll have to settle for the paperback edition, as hardbound copies are generally expensive and/or hard to find. Then again, I could buy a first edition copy published in 1939 in the UK from the Powell’s Books rare book room for a mere $4,500. Or, they have a first edition from the U.S., published the same year, for $450. Which one do you want?
John Berbrich: Nothing but the best for you, Willie. You buy that $4500 book for yourself. And tell you what — you type it in & I’ll download a copy for myself. We’re a real team!
William Michaelian: Okay — I’ll type it, and you download it, but then I want you to read it and make a recording, which I will in turn upload, and then everyone can listen to it by downloading it from the website. What do you think? For background music, you can use a continuous loop of Drei Equali.
John Berbrich: Good thinking! We’ll make a million, on top of the million we’re gonna make on Paddy Dignam’s Hearse. Say, we could use the uploaded downloaded audio version of Finnegans Wake as the soundtrack for Ulysses. Ja, and we’ll even include Beethoven. What do you think?
William Michaelian: I think we should also have a stage version, which includes as characters several melodic workmen who actually build, add to, or repair the stage while the play is being presented. Darn — that’s the trouble with having so many brilliant ideas. It leaves very little time to actually work on them, leave alone bring any to fruition.
John Berbrich: Hold on — I believe I see a metaphor here. Scientists tell us that there are like six-bazillion different species, right? And that 99.9% of them have gone extinct. See what I’'m getting at?
William Michaelian: Yep. We have Creator’s Syndrome — otherwise known as Glooscap Disease. We’re addicted to creation, and we go on helplessly creating, even at the expense of our previous creations. Or something like that.
John Berbrich: I like it! How totally non-static! A slogan — We’re ec-static about non-static! Willie, make up ten-million t-shirts bearing our slogan, quick! The universe is changing! Be swift, or we’ll miss our chance!
William Michaelian: Worry not, my delirious friend, I was anticipating this moment, and have already placed our order — your order, rather, as the shipment will be made to your address, and then of course there is the small matter of the bill, but I’m sure you’ll come up with a creative way to handle so trivial a matter.
John Berbrich: Willie, always worried about filthy lucre you are. Although I am a bit short at the moment so this bill could spell t-r-o-u-b-l-e. Speaking of creative, I’ll let my old pal Jian Brichiam figure something out. He’s a whiz with surprise endings.
William Michaelian: An old man wearing inch-thick glasses and a moth-eaten coat wanders onto the stage, tapping his ashplant. The music stops and everyone looks up. “Ello, old man,” the bartender says, “what brings you in from the cold?” The old man takes off his glasses, gives them a rub with a phlegm-stiffened handerkerchief, then holds them up to the light. Says, “I’m looking for Paddy Dignam, I am. He’s run off from the morgue again — and quite before I was finished, mind you.”
John Berbrich: “Ah, yes,” sez the bartender. “I expect he’s run off to attend old man Finnegan’s wake, being held at O’Leary’s funeral parlor around the corner, it is. A beastly business, and no mistake,” he mutters to himself, keeping one eye on the old man in the tattered coat. He presses a tap, fills a mug with foaming ale. “Here’s a blinker, Pops,” he sez, sliding the mug to a stop in front of the old fellow. “Wet yer whiskers; it’s on the house.”
William Michaelian: “Finnegan, eh? Might be. Might be.” And he swigs a swill, one eye wandering, the other still. “Knowing Paddy as I do . . . say, that looks like him playing the piano — Finnegan, that is.”
John Berbrich: “Aye. ’Tis his brother Finnegan I was meaning. This chap’s the live Finnegan, in a manner of speaking, tickling the blacks and the whites, and his brother’s the dead chap, round the corner in a box at O’Leary’s, flat on his back. Can you sing, old-timer?”
William Michaelian: The old man puts on his glasses. His eyebrows look like two snow-dusted caterpillars out for a drunken stroll. With a merry-defiant squint he says, “Better than either Finnegan, when my mind is right, as if I ever find him dear Paddy will attest. You heard about his widow, I suppose.”
John Berbrich: “Aye. More of the devil’s work, sez I. To think that all of that black business had been going on for years behind dear Paddy’s back. Well, it’s no wonder he’s run off. The shame of it.” The bartender pours himself an ale. “But what’s the latest on the widow, now?” he asks.
William Michaelian: “No one’s seen her. Imagine — Mind the expense, she told me when Paddy was not yet cold. He left me nothing but holes in my stockings.” The old man absentmindedly pats his pockets in a fruitless search for tobacco, pulls out a wrinkled envelope with scribbles on it instead, looks at the scribbles without reading them, then puts the envelope on the bar in a puddle of ale. “Not that Paddy was a saint, mind you, but there never was a better bricklayer. He was a worker, all right. But, bless him, blind when it came to what was going on under his own roof.”
John Berbrich: “Aye, he had a way with grout, Paddy did. But now, Bloody Jesus, he’ll be haunting someone. Run off like that from the morgue. Reminds me of when old man Healey ran off years ago. Now there’s a ghost story scary enough to jar your ancestors, mister.”
William Michaelian: “A restless spirit, Healey is, with a real mean streak besides,” the old man says with a thoughtful nod. “Not good-natured, like Paddy, who I expect will settle down after a winter or two up on the hill. If he comes back, that is.” He picks up the envelope, now soaked nearly through. “My money says he will. But the boys all bet against it. Say Paddy’s going to get even — spill his bride’s tea in her lap, or some silly thing. Bite her toes when she climbs in bed with — what was that rascal’s name? You know who I mean. The one who thinks he’s a singer and smells like skunk cabbage.”
John Berbrich: “You mean that Scottish fellow, Rusty MacPherson. Ah, he’s a fool to dip his wick anywhere near Paddy’s wife. You’re right about the singing, aye — he’s crooned in this establishment before, with old Finnegan here, the live one, tickling the 88’s. MacPherson cleared the house, he did. ‘Out of my joint,’ sez I to him, but he was too blotto to leave, so I offered those two young Killeen lads three ales apiece, gratis, to toss him out — and that MacPherson, he ended up piled outside the door like a week of dirty clothes. Only he wouldn’t leave off singing, so I paid them two more ales each to cart him down the road. When they finished those ales, the Killeen boys started trading fists with each other — and both ended up bloody. Ah, the travails of an honest merchant such as myself. If MacPherson wants that widder, he can have her.”
William Michaelian: “You’re right about MacPherson and the Dignam woman. They deserve each other — one a foghorn, the other a cackling hen. . . . Now, who’s that sneaking up on Finnegan, I wonder. Looks like he’s about to collect a debt.”
John Berbrich: “That looks like Paddy’s third cousin, twice removed. Now, there’s an old feud between the Finnegans and the Dignams, if you haven’t heard the story. It goes back several generations, starting up in County Sligo, it was. It seems that one of Paddy’s ancestors was mayor of one of the little villages, a mossy sheep and goat paradise, and he ran afoul of a Finnegan — I forget the name — but still it was a Finnegan and that means trouble — course the Dignams have had their fair share of knots in the plank, if you catch my meaning, but still all in all a hard-working lot — and it seems that there occurred some unauthorized sheering of the Dignam sheep, as they say, and a general implication pointed to the Finnegans, as there was Finnegan lads known to be high-spirited, as was said all around the region — and when some of the bolder Dignams approached the domicile of the Finnegans and started casting accusations — well, those Finnegans couldn’t very well sit still and listen to them barbed words...” “Do you think I could wet me whiskers with another ale, my friend,” sez the old man; “you’re coming to the conclusion of your tale as quickly as a dead man walking backwards.”
William Michaelian: The bartender willingly fills another glass, then continues his tale. About this time, three members of the stage crew enter from the right with hammers, saws, and boards, and set up an infernal racket as they work at adding a new section to the bar. The bartender doesn’t notice; neither does the old man. Paddy’s cousin places himself firmly in front of Finnegan, slams shut the piano lid on his fingers, and the two get into a bitter argument that no one in the audience can hear. Several small girls in ballerina outfits slowly dance across the stage holding subtitles in random order.
John Berbrich: “What’s all this about?” wonders the old man out loud. The bartender speaks: “It’s something new, the improv or something. It’s a crazy new-age sort of drama — Publiners, or some such foolery. Every Friday and Saturday evening these loony bins from the city invade our peaceful environs unleashing devils of the night — smoke and bottle-demons. It’s pretty good for business but rough on the furniture. See that fellow with the saw?” “No,” laughs the old man; “but I saw that fellow with the sea.” Everyone laughs uproariously. But Finnegan and the Dignam cousin keep right on trading insults.
William Michaelian: Gradually, the lights go down. The workmen lay down their tools and join the merry throng, which now contains dozens of historical figures, from Aristotle to Lenin. Surrounded by a tumult of language and ideas, Finnegan and Dignam sit side by side at the piano and try to out-sing each other. Enter a band of angels, bearing Paddy Dignam on a stretcher, grinning and nonchalant.
John Berbrich: “W-e-l-l-l-l....Mr. Dignam, welcome back,” says the old man, standing up. “I wasn’t quite finished with you. What do ye mean, running off like that, when ye belong in a box and no mistake. It’s enough to drive one to drink; of course it’s a short trip,” he concludes, lifting the mug to his lips. “Pretty good crowd,” says the bartender, a gleam of satisfaction in his eye. A group of French philosophers have started a poker game, led by Blaise Pascal. Martin Luther is nailing a paper of some kind to the door. Augustine is telling a story about a man he knows who can flatulate a musical tune. And Paddy Dignam, naked as truth, smiles as wide as the universe.
William Michaelian: “You should’ve seen the look on Mrs. Dignam’s face,” says he, “when I tip-toed up behind the captain as the two were about to — but who’s that at the piano? Why, it’s none other than my dear cousin, Eamon! Bah! What’s this? Singing? With a Finnegan? I don’t believe my eyes.”
John Berbrich: “It’s time for a change,” sez Eamon. “Paddy, the world’s a different place it is, warm and fuzzy. All men are brothers and all that sort of thing. Just ask your wife; she’s always believed in Love Thy Neighbor.”
William Michaelian: “You’ve never once uttered a sentence that didn’t cut both ways,” Paddy replies. “It’ll be the death of you yet.” The old man laughs, struck by the irony of Paddy’s remark. “Speaking of which,” he says, shaking a gnarled finger at Paddy, “let’s be off. There’s still some unfinished business between us.” At this, the angels reappear, with foam on their lips. The ballerinas dance by again, going the opposite direction. While Cousin Eamon isn’t looking, Finnegan slams the piano lid on his fingers. “How’s that, brother?” he says. “Warm and fuzzy enough for you?”
John Berbrich: The bartender smiles, “I love this place,” and we cut to a commercial about dog food.
William Michaelian: Does the commercial turn out to be part of the movie, with eccentric dog characters and their strange besotted owners, or do we give people a legitimate chance to get up and go to the bathroom?
John Berbrich: I kind of thought of it as a real advertisement for a fake dog food. Something that’s maybe not sold in any store, but should be sold in every store. We’ll really need to put our heads together for this one.
William Michaelian: Okay, we’ll begin by conducting a search for fake dogs. Or is it the food that’s supposed to be fake?
John Berbrich: I was considering fake food but now you’ve got me thinking about pseudo-canines. Maybe like clones or something. Or some radical science morphing cats into dogs. These scientific experiments could turn hideously wrong.
William Michaelian: How about fake dogs and fake food, raised by fake farmers? Sort of a corporate Twilight Zone. Wait. I know — Farrago.
John Berbrich: I should have guessed. Every path twists its way to Farrago. This is growing more frightening by the minute — and it’s not even Christmas yet! Christmas — that explains my recent obsession with advertising. Whose chimney will Farrago crawl down tonight??!!
William Michaelian: That’s what happens when kids have been bad during the year — Santa sends Farrago to drill holes in their teeth. Hey, how about this for a title: “Dance of the Pseudo-Clones.” By the way, how does Santa get down your stove pipe? Or does he come in the front door?
John Berbrich: Personally, I think he sends in the elves while he’s hitting the rum. An elf could fit down the stove-pipe, but he could get burnt. Hey, that’s a great name for a new small press magazine — Stove-Pipe. No, better yet, Burnt Elf.
William Michaelian: Burnt Elves would be even better. But, you know, I do like Stove-Pipe. The magazine could be cut in the shape of Abe Lincoln’s hat. Of course that would drive up production costs. Maybe it would be better to hang the issues in a smokehouse for a month or two before mailing. “Have you read the hickory issue? I thought it was excellent.” “No, but I did read the maple edition.”
John Berbrich: Ah, Willie, I have some news. I hate to break your rhythm, but I have news both good and bad. Which do you want first? I’ll give you the good news first — I found my copy of Finnegans Wake. I had forgotten about it, but Nancy knew where it was. So now I can read it. And for the bad news — I found Finnegans Wake, so now you’ll make me read it.
William Michaelian: That’s bad news? Come on, I know you’re dying to get at it. And I know your mind has been infected by Ulysses, and that you’re helpless against the disease. Don’t fight it. Give in. Meanwhile, I’ve decided to go ahead and get that Penguin edition I mentioned. What edition do you have?
John Berbrich: It’s a soft cover, apparently printed in 1959 by Compass Books. 628 pages. I can find four chapters, and they even are numbered. The book does look interesting, I’ll give you that. Skimming its pages, I find that I even understand some of the text. Hmmm....
William Michaelian: Ha! I see that gleam in your eyes. You realize, of course, that now is the best time to read the book, while we are still under the spell of Ulysses and in tune with Joyce’s language. I know you have a life to live, and all that, but I’m afraid this time around you will have to set your life aside. We simply must read this book.
John Berbrich: Okay, you animal — how do you talk me into these crazy things? It’s a good thing we didn’t grow up together — I can imagine these wild adventures — “Let’s get drunk in the graveyard” — “Tonight let’s get drunk on top of the old church; you climb the steeple and hang upside down” — “Bring your guitar and your amp, we’ll serenade the block at dawn” — “I can scream louder than you can!” — “Here’s a good street corner, pretend you’re my retarded brother, go on, drool, drool. Put the bucket out.” Okay. Do we have a reading schedule, you sadist?
William Michaelian: First of all, I still think we should do all those things. Just because we didn’t grow up together is no reason we shouldn’t have a little fun. But since you’re still in Russell and I’m still in Salem, we’ll have to put that on hold. Why don’t we start reading on the first day of January — New Year’s Day. That’ll give me time to go out and get the book, and also to check into a sanitarium. I think that’s going to be key. It’s something I should’ve done long ago anyway. So. Are we agreed, then, you twisted church-climbing loon? Or do we need to draw up a formal agreement and calendar?
John Berbrich: Okay, okay — I’ll start reading on New Year’s Day. I have this feeling that I’ll be lagging way behind you. My gods, it’ll take months to read this book. And I’m going to read it without any bloody academic help, either. It’s merely a distraction and destroys the music. Ready?
William Michaelian: As I’ll ever be. In fact, since I don’t have the book yet, I think I’ll go ahead and start reading tonight. Doesn’t that make perfect sense? As for lagging behind, I plan to take this slowly, because I intend to savor every word — or whatever those strange splotches turn out to be. Now, about those churches. Do you have any good old ones there we can climb?
John Berbrich: There’s a Methodist church up the road that was built in the middle of the 19th century. We could climb that one. Way up high at the base of the steeple is a little sign proclaiming ME Church. I think this must be an abbreviation of Methodist, but it’s a little joke in our home, this “me church.” Sounds rather self-serving.
William Michaelian: It does. I’ll bet it’s a joke for some of the members as well. I hope so, anyway. Another thing we could do is build our own church, and then climb it. We could work on it for several years, without telling anyone what it’s going to be. We could mix forms of ancient architecture and use all sorts of colorful scrap materials — make the place look as if it were swathed in rainbows. And we could make it nearly impossible to find the entrance. Or maybe not even have an entrance, except through a tunnel that begins in another part of town.
John Berbrich: This is a pretty good idea, except that the construction sounds rather involved and time-consuming, leaving little time for reading books like Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. But are there any other books like Ulysses and Finnegans Wake? Do you know of any?
William Michaelian: No, but I’ve lived a rather sheltered life, far from the great universities and cultural centers. It’s an interesting question. Was Joyce really that strange and that different? Maybe he just said he was Irish, but was really half Martian or something.
John Berbrich: I’ve read some books that resembled Ulysses in some ways, but of course they all were written after Joyce. There was a huge science fiction novel called Dahlgren by Samuel Delaney, an excellent work. It employed some of Joyce’s techniques and was really quite a masterwork. After 30 years I still see images from that book in my brain, vivid scenes lighting up my mind.
William Michaelian: I’ve read a tiny bit about Delaney and his work. Some say Dahlgren is great, others say it’s unreadable garbage. Not everyone is willing to put in the extra effort, of course, and there are always those who will be offended by an author’s background, outlook, personal preferences, or themes. That you tackled a book like that in your early twenties says something about you, too — beyond being nuts, I mean. And now I have some good news: I brought home my copy of Finnegans Wake today. Six hundred twenty-eight pages, not counting the introduction by John Bishop, which I refuse to read until after I’ve finished the book, if I read it at all. I’m really looking forward to the first day of January, even if I read only one page. Later on, we just might look back on 2006 as the strangest, most inspiring year yet. I hope so.
John Berbrich: I’m putting Finnegans Wake at the top of my New Year’s Resolutions list, which is usually rather banal. In fact, I haven’t started on it yet — the List I mean. Let’s see, get more exercise, keep office clean, don’t let mail pile up on the kitchen table, flush, floss, remember to feed the cats every day, read Finnegans Wake, play with the dog more, wash dishes. You get the idea. This is not an official list, you see. I’m just toying with ideas. Usually I’m a lot more specific with resolutions. I’ve found that specificity leads to complicity. If I’m vague in theory, I’m vague in practice.
William Michaelian: I don’t think I’ve ever made an actual list of resolutions. There have been times when I’ve resolved to do a certain thing, but it was usually so big that it would take years to complete. My resolutions coincide with fits of so-called inspiration, and come without warning at various times during the year. Anymore, I don’t really see Time in the traditional sense — our arbitrary measurement of the universe. I see the days and nights, the weeks, months, and years as being on one continuous roll. Sure, I say I will do this or that tomorrow or the next day, but it’s in the narrow practical sense. It’s like bathing in a river, and gradually being changed by the water as it washes over you and penetrates your skin — stepping into the river as a child, stepping out of it as an old man — or being left high and dry by the river when it abruptly changes course, as happens to those of us who are taken at an early age by war, accident, or disease. Anyway. And here comes a strange-looking piece of driftwood — Finnegans Wake, like a ghostly iceberg. Who knows how much of it is hidden beneath the water’s surface, mossy and ancient, with knots like eyes?
John Berbrich: Sounds ominous — and intriguing. Sounds like a living entity — aware and barbarous, in an inscrutable way. Like an unfathomable creature from the past in an H.P. Lovecraft story. Watchful, intelligent, with purposes of its own, none of which can be understood by mere puny humans. It’s an entity obviously created by a titan, a god-like being, a thing of power. . . .
William Michaelian: Or we could simply resolve to stop speaking in these far-out terms . . . but no. That would be totally out of character. I was looking at my copy of Finnegans Wake awhile ago. It’s just a book. A piece of merchandise. A chunk of paper filled with print. It has an ISBN, a barcode, and all the rest. How could it be watchful, as you say, and intelligent, with purposes of its own? Or are our individual copies part of a larger contagious whole?
John Berbrich: We spoke earlier of spirit. Spirit seems to be the sort of substance that soaks into unexpected items. I don’t think I really understand it all, but “spirit” is a great and handy word to explain things that are otherwise unexplainable (and possibly don’t really exist). Science cannot comment on Spirit cuz science doesn’t know how to measure and observe it. I don’t think that Spirit is bound by our puny laws. Without Spirit — or the possibility of Spirit — the world begins to look pretty prosaic, all chunks and barcodes. The world is a synergy, Willie — the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Sounds wonderful, magical. Poetic.
William Michaelian: Indeed. I remember wandering around on our farm as a kid, and feeling just that way about the trees and vines and weeds, the buzzards circling and the clouds, the neighbor’s big-eyed cows — everything was part of a grand symphony, a harmony of communication. We could mark it down to a child’s imagination, or to his simple attempts at making sense of the world — or we could accept these early impressions as a child’s uncomplicated recognition of the way things really are. This reminds me — which philosopher thought that the world we know is a projection of our minds, and that the real world, as it were, is something else that exists apart from that projection? Was it Kant? I’ve probably muddled the idea. I heard someone talking about it a few weeks ago on the radio while I was driving somewhere. The discussion was just beginning when I arrived, so I missed everything.
John Berbrich: Yeah, I think it was Kant, but other philosophers have said the same thing. It does make sense, in a way. All we know is our perception, & you gotta figure something is out there providing these phenomena, triggering our sensations. Aristotle said that over 2000 years ago. But all you really know is the sensation, not the cause. Now, I believe it was Bishop Berkeley who suggested that all of material reality is really a projection into our minds from God, so everything is sensation with nothing behind it but God the puppeteer. How could you ever know? There is no logical contradiction, although the very notion seems outlandish. Still, you cannot disprove it.
William Michaelian: Nor would I care to try. But it’s interesting, isn’t it, all these creatures in the world, with their senses refined to different degrees according to their environments, and so many of those creatures with eyes, gazing out, looking upon each other. And we’ve talked about supposedly inanimate objects before. I wonder what they think? Tell me — are you getting worked up about Finnegans Wake, or have you been too busy with other stuff to give it much thought? And will another Yawp be out soon?
John Berbrich: I’m not exactly getting worked up about Finnegans Wake but I’m not dreading it either. It’ll work out fine, I’m sure. Funny how strong Ulysses remains in my head. Certain scenes are so vivid & seem to gain in significance over time. We just finished printing & stapling the Yawps. Now I just gotta mail ’em out. I’ll send you one, gratis, cuz you in a way inspired my introduction to the issue. You’ll understand when you see it. (Hint — it has nothing to do w/ James Joyce.)
William Michaelian: Well, that certainly narrows it down — to what, I don’t know. But your introductions are always a highlight, and I’ll be looking forward it, and to the whole issue. Thanks. I’m not overly agitated about Finnegans Wake either, but I am eager to see what it’s all about in the strange, broad Joycean sense. Ulysses does leave an impression. And speaking of music, which we surely are, last night we were lucky enough to hear Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in a performance by the Leipzig something or other, conducted by Kurt Masur. It wasn’t the best performance I’ve heard, but it was quite good. Years ago, on Public Broadcasting, we heard a performance done on period intruments that was tremendous. We never did find the CD. But the music had a real immediacy, as if we were in the room with Beethoven and several of his friends. I still recall the timpani, and how it rattled my sternum and sent vibrations along my spine, which then climbed my neck and crept into my brain, bathing my consciousness in light and warmth.
John Berbrich: Wow. The Ninth is an amazing piece of music. Where did you see the orchestra, or was this on radio? We huddled down in the Partridge Café last night and saw the Fifth Edition again, playing jazz — John Coltrane, Henry Mancini, Dave Brubeck. Excellent performance — they played for over two hours. We had a great time. They have music down there every Friday night now, and Lucas wants to start shows on Saturday night too. It’s the sort of thing that can bring a community together. No poetry yet, though. The music has been too successful, and I don’t think he wants to tamper w/ his success.
William Michaelian: Sounds like the new place is going in a good direction. Maybe the poetry will come about later, and start up of its own accord rather than as a planned event. Someone might read or recite something while the music is playing. We listened to the period instrument performance on the radio. What a journey that piece of music is. What a great human triumph. I think I’ll be able to hear it even after I am dead, if I’m not dead already.
John Berbrich: You’d better not be dead, buddy, cuz you’ve got some reading to do — starting today!! Finnegans Wake, in all its glory!!!
William Michaelian: Ah — still drunk, I see. The perfect condition for reading Finnegans Wake. But since the New Year has arrived, let’s continue our discussion on a new page.