Wednesday, March 20, 2013


So I'm reading THE GRAND PIANO by reading one poet at a time through his/her contributions in the series' ten volumes. The idea is, if I'm moved to do so after the individual reads, to then compare this type of reading with reading each volume as published in order to determine the significance of "collective autobiography," the terms upon which the project presents itself to the world.  So the third poet I read (after Lyn Hejinian and Ron Silliman) is Tom Mandel.

Tom Mandel. When I was just beginning my attempts at poetry -- in my first year perhaps so this could be 1996/7 -- I stumbled across a poem by a poet named Tom Mandel. That poem -- I don't recall its title now -- it could have been in the prose poem form of a single paragraph -- had such an intense effect on me that I wrote a poem inspired by it (which then was published in a small journal whose title -- my poem or journal -- I also have forgotten). I adored -- nay, I loved/love -- that Tom Mandel poem. Long after my memory can't retain its words, my memory holds dear the affection it bore in me for it. 

Also, since that poem, I haven't had much occasion to notice/read Tom Mandel so I was more curious than normal to read of him.

And yes o yes, Tom Mandel's contribution to Volume 5 is just fi...i...ine. It has all the luminosity of the poem I've forgotten but whose impact I still feel. It's also sweet. Lovely lovely Volume 5 writing by Tom Mandel.

As for his contributions to the other nine volumes? Well, I guess I have to say that I'm understanding some of the criticism that's apparently been levied by others on The Grand Piano (yes dears, I've received backchannel some links to what others have written on The Grand Piano -- why are you sending these? Do you think it'd affect my read? Tsk. Do you not know of the insult you are showing my intelligence if you do believe that? Anyway...). Specifically, I found myself in a kind of wait-mode for the first four volumes -- of course, Volume 5 was worth the wait. But then, except for one moment which I describe below, I read through the rest of his contributions in Vol. 6-10 with some impatience ... I mean, one had to be really interested, it seems to me, in Tom Mandel to find them interesting ... and that's coming from someone who was so impressed by one particular poem that I was curious about him.

Anyway, nuff of that. Suffice it to say that because of Volume 5, I just bought Tom Mandel's book, Realism (Burning Deck). It was published in 1990 and I'm hoping the poem I first read by him is in it, and/or its poem-peers will evoke a similar passion to how I responded to that first poem I read by him...

Oh, wait -- there is that one moment in his contribution to Volume 8 worth noting (by Moi to Moi). Tom Mandel begins his contribution with:

On the train home, we sat across a table in the cafe car and I said, "I'm having trouble getting started on number 8; what should I write about?" "All there is to write about is sex and death," Ron [Silliman] replied. His eyes moved through some pain to a moment of impassive humor. I've often thought that I would write an essay on my friends' eyes. Yet, no matter the angle from which I view my own eyes in a mirror, they show me nothing--that is, I can see that they are looking at me, but no more. They are in the way of self-knowledge.
Three responses to the above -- it's an intriguing topic and I'd love to see what Tom or any other fine writer might essay about such. Secondly, this brief passage shows how well this Dude can write when he's on.  Thirdly, that note about Ron's eyes moving "through some pain to a moment of impassive humor"--that "impassive"-ness, I wonder/feel, relates to what I was calling "equanimity" in my earlier write-up on Ron's contributions. I don't know if I'm right or, even if I'm right, what that would mean.  Possibly, I would know what such would mean (for me in terms of my private project on how an observer observes and then re-observes), if I actually began reading more of Ron's books instead of leaving them on my To-Read-Shelf.

So much to do; so little time ...