Tag Archives: Henry Miller

Working on a Building

You are what you are because of your past daily habits. Day by day you must make or
break your body. You either build it up or tear it down. –
Angelo Siciliano (Charles Atlas)

The way we live our lives is not one choice

that made, concludes the match or casts the die

beyond a moment’s span or single day.

Like a deep breath once taken, it expires

and needs to be renewed, or else will fail;

and like that ring inscribed “this too shall pass”

that brought a sense of balance to a king:

when happy, knowing there was coming sad,

while in great sadness, finding seeds of joy,

so the decision that we make each day

to sow new life (or increment our death,

as Henry Miller put it so damn well)

determines who we are – not for all time,

but for each precious second of our lives.

07 AUG 2009

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On Destinations

One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things. – Henry Miller, US author (1891-1980)

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The hands that write these words tell lies

The hands that write these words tell lies;
their range of symbols does not jibe
with the instructions they receive
and must translate from eye and ear
through circuits fixed through years of use
to see and hear in certain ways.

When Henry Miller said the thought
that finds the paper is transformed
from its first impulse, pure and strong,
into mere shadow of itself
he was not wrong; and yet, not all
of thought’s initial pulse is lost.

Its shape is change and often blurred,
the leading edge may lose its keen;
a rock may evolve to a bird, almost,
or mutate somewhere in between.

The hands that write these words tell lies;
they cannot speak so clear and plain
without a whisper of complaint
against the mind that bids them work.

Perhaps they think to self-preserve,
in fear that should they speak the truth.
The frequencies they might proscribe
could be those suited to destroy
the mechanism’s source itself;
what good a printed manual then,
with no mechanic, or machine?

28 May 2005

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Moving Rocky to Balboa

About 10 years ago, I was fascinated with both stream-of-consciousness and cut-up, randomized writing. In that fertile stream bed, fueled by endless coffee cups and unfiltered cigarettes, I lay for a period of about two straight years. There was something in me that wanted to cross William S. Burroughs and Henry Miller, and somehow end up with a statement about modern culture. Did I succeed? Who knows. Looking back on that time, it was a frenetic time of perapetitic cavailing. Talking loud, and much, filling in the spaces between words with more words, wild gestures and constant barrages of noise that passed for Music.

Boxing the compass like Muhammad Ali we’re all made from the same Cassius Clay, you know and all along the watchtower once you let them in the door you’ve got to listen to their churchbell’s spieling and somewhere a voice in the darkness cries out: “Quiet on the settle down comforter while I get my thoughts together we stand divided by five gives the solution pi in the sky!” and meanwhile clouds are forming and we’ve got to get inside under the canopy beneath the umbrella situated below the awning. Somewhere along the river in a club where no one goes except to pick fights or china patterns or their noses, Old Blue Eyes is singing a James Van Heusen tune and no one hears him, no one knows the words, but it goes like this: “It’s a quarter to three, there’s no one in the place but me, listen, Joe, I’ve got no place to go, but make it one for me, one for my baby, and one for the road.”

Happily we leave this scene of unrequited, unreturned, unmitigated, and unforgivable love and move along Union Avenue through the desolate streets where traffic lights are holding their breath in remembrance of Hendrix and the wind still cries, I suppose, but its tears are from laughter and as it passes the hospital it seems to say wake up wake up you’re not dead yet but sleeping only sleeping in the thousand years of sleep.

“A mastodon once shit where you are standing!” Homespun cries.

There’s a history of the spot you’re in, the fix you’ve created, the world you’ve denied, that even James Michener wouldn’t have the guts to capitalize on. Visions of sugar plums dried and disgusted turned to weary ancient prunes in the scathing light of summer’s hatred fade to black like those bananas waiting to make bread like all the rest of us who punch the clock and keep hoping the bell will ring and the round will be over.
“Cut me, Mick,” shouts Gravity, “I gotta see. You gotta cut me or I won’t know where I’m standing.”

And so we let ourselves be wounded in battles that have lost their significance and even their ritual charm. It’s been so long since my last confession I can’t remember how much I miss the flail, the rack, the Chinese water torture, the hail storm Mary fighting traffic down the Angelus highway looking for a friendly face in a well-lit truck stop who’ll hand me the key on a cement block and the rain can fall down like water in the porcelain altar where I have prostrated myself in service to an alcoholic kingdom. You cannot serve two masters, it is said, but they never said anything about tequila and whiskey. The piano’s out of tune but it plays on anyway, you just keep your feet moving and eventually the keys will dance and maybe you’ll pick up the beat and find the words scrolling by your right hand me going down for the last time I don’t know return to sender my love is the seventh wave goodbye and tell me that you love me tender is the night prowler and the lights just keep on passing by like stars in the sky or big rigs on the interstate and wish I may wish I might I wish I’d fall asleep tonight and I’ve tried counting blessings instead of sheep – it cuts down on the shit lying around in dreamland, but like Ben Franklin said about fish and houseguests starting to smell after about three days, the bountiful cornucopia that seems to have erupted into my mind at my birth is going like gangbusters or a busted sewer line and where it all ends, nobody knows but they act like they do and you don’t and that, my friend, is where it all begins.


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A Modern Erasmus

When I have a little money, I do not buy food or other such trivialities. I buy books. – Erasmus

Ah, as Lawrence Olivier might say in one of his Nazi- or vampire-hunting roles … “I haf enlarged ze library mit some literature of ze mittle-Europeans.” Today at the bookstore, I picked up a few new volumes in a pre-Yule splurge:

The Sorrows of Young Werther and Selected Writings, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: This is something by Goethe that I have always meant to read. I used to have Kaufmann’s bilingual translation of Faust, but it has been a long time since I read anything else by one of my literary, philosophy and scientific inspirations. About 10 years ago, I was in Switzerland and saw the garrett in Lucerne where Goethe lived for a time.

Mysteries, Knut Hamsun: I was turned onto Hamsun about 15 years ago when I encountered him in the works of Henry Miller. Miller praises him constantly throughout the Tropics books. At that time, I picked up Hunger, which is probably Hamsun’s most known work. I liked it a great deal, but at the time my reading was limited to what I could find at the library, so Hamsun took a back seat to other writers. I’m looking forward to this one.

Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke: Also about 10 years ago, a friend of mine who fancied herself a poet was always toting around a copy of this book. I looked at it briefly, but never owned a copy myself. I really like Rilke’s Poetry, and have seen various quotations from this book floating around recently – so I thought I’d do myself the favor of revisting it.

Beowulf – A New Verse Translation, Seamus Heaney: I’ve plowed through several different versions of Beowulf in the past 25 years. So why would I buy another one? First, I have been reading some things about Heaney as a poet and philosopher that have made me think about writing and what it means to be a poet. Second, I read a few excerpts of the text on-line at Amazon, and I liked the way the verse flowed. Third, this is bilingual edition, in both modern English and Anglo-Saxon. I like bilingual editions as a rule, and really needed no excuse to add this one to the library.

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A Sidebar to my NEA post …

More from Henry Miller, Obscenity and the Law of Reflection:

The chances are that during this transition period of global wars, lasting perhaps a century or two, art will become less and less important. A world torn by indescribable upheavals, a world preoccupied with social and political transformations, will have less time and energy to spare for the creation and appreciation of works of art. The politician, the soldier, the industrialist, the technician, all those in short who cater to immediate needs, to creature comforts, to transitory and illusory passions and prejudices, will take precedence over the artist. The most poetic inventions will be those capable of serving the most destructive ends. Poetry itself will be expressed in terms of block-busters and lethal gases. The obscene will find expression in the most unthinkable techniques of self-destruction which the inventive genius of man will be forced to adopt. The revolt and disgust which the prophetic spirits in the realm of art have inspired, through their vision of a world in the making, will find justification in the years to come as these dreams are acted out.

And to think, his books were banned in this country for the longest time. I do not wonder why.

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More thoughts on war and peace

From Henry Miller, Obscenity and the Law of Reflection:

As civilization progresses it becomes more and more apparent that war is the greatest release which life offers to the ordinary man. Here he can let go to his heart’s content for here crime no longer has any meaning. Guilt is abolished when the whole planet swims in blood. The lulls of peacetime seem only to permit him to sink deeper into the bogs of the sadistic-masochistic complex which has fastened itself into the heart of our civilized life like a cancer. Fear, guilt and murder – these constitute the real triumvirate which rules our lives. What is obscene then? The whole fabric of our life as we know it today. To speak only of what is indecent, foul, lewd, filthy, disgusting, etc., in connection with sex, is to deny ourselves the luxury of the great gamut of revulsion-repulsion which modern life puts at our service. Every department of life is vitiated and corroded with what is so unthinkingly labeled “obscene.” One wonders if perhaps the insane could not invent a more fitting, more inclusive term for the polluting elements of life which we create and shun and never identify with our behavior. We think of the insane as inhabiting a world completely divorced from reality, but our own everyday behavior , whether in war or peace, bears all the ear-marks of insanity. “I have said,” writes a well-known psychologist, “that this is a mad world; that man is most of the time mad; and I believe that in a way, what we call morality is merely a form of madness, which happens to be a working adaptation to existing circumstances.”

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Jesse Helms.

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