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reading tiger

Reading, Wednesday

Finished How the Beatles Destroyed Rock'n'Roll; it ends, appropriately, with a chapter on the Beatles. This book really upends a lot of received wisdom about popular music in the 20th century and I dearly love it for that; I love it doubly for the fact that it offers a coherent alternative framework to examine both historical and present-day musical movements.

I bought Madness, Rack and Honey by Mary Ruefle at the bookstore on Monday. It's a book I've been meaning to pick up for a while, consisting of her collected graduate lectures on poetry. Ruefle was the other poetry instructor at the Bennington summer program I attended back in high school; mine was Jack Driscoll, whom I'd met a few months before during a field trip to Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. But we baby poets, we hung out a lot together and compared notes on instructors and, you know, hung around the dining hall with the adults and things like that. So I met Ruefle and I heard good things about her and I liked her poetry. And even if this all happened a zillion years ago it had a big influence on me. Meanwhile, Ruefle went on to win the William Carlos Williams prize in 2011 for her volume of selected poems. So maybe I bought the book out of nostalgia for a previous me. That's cool. I am of an age. It happens.

Also, I love the fact that the book consists of lectures because "I am a rotten and unsteady extemporizer" so she wrote it all down beforehand.

And also:

"I do not think I really have anything to say about poetry other than remarking that it is a wandering little drift on unidentified sound, and trying to say more reminds me of following the sound of a thrush into the woods on a summer's eve -- if you persist in following the thrush it will only recede deeper and deeper into the woods; you will never actually see the thrush (the hermit thrush is especially shy), but I suppose listening is a kind of knowledge, or as close as one can come. 'Fret not after knowledge, I have none,' is what the thrush says. Perhaps we can use our knowledge to preserve a bit of space where the lack of knowledge can survive."

And folks, that's before Page 1. We start at "On Beginnings," move through "On Sentimentality" and "On Fear" and so forth, and end at "Twenty-Two Short Lectures" and then "Lectures I Will Never Give."

By the way, the word 'lectures' implies a formal argumentative structure, but these essays are more meandering and impressionistic than that -- although quite coherently bound by theme ("On Theme, p. 53). And that's why I like them. I like them more as we get deeper into the book and, as Ruefle says in the introduction, "anyone can see the lectures become increasingly fragmentary and turn, who knows, even against themselves."

I think I will be quoting some of "Twenty-Two Short Lectures" in this space soon. But For now I am going to give you a short paragraph from "Lectures I Will Never Give" instead -- in fact, the first "lecture" after the introductory matter:

"I love pretension. It is a mark of human earthly abstraction, whereas humility is a mark of human divine abstraction. I will have all of eternity in which to be humble, while I have but a few short years to be pretentious."