Whenever I drink too much, I often have a hard time sleeping. Last night, for example, I woke up around 3:30 and never did get back to sleep. And that was merely from dreaming about drinking. In real life, I can’t handle anything much stronger than wine, but in the dream, I was downing shot after shot of scotch, and actually enjoying it. Until my dream-karma caught up with me, that is, and transmigrated with me into my waking life.
Speaking of dreams, Peter emailed me this morning to describe a dream-visit to “a bricks-and-mortar Via Negativa,” located not in Plummer’s Hollow, but in the nearby city of Altoona, PA. “It was in a respectable local mall,” he wrote, “but it was kind of dark and musty — kind of mossy, actually — with large trees interspersed among the displays. There were books and DVDs, but the decor and clientele somehow suggested a beach bong shop.”
Speaking of malls, I was cheered by a story last night on NPR’s All Things Considered about the decline of shopping malls. Many of the anchor-store chains have gone bankrupt, outcompeted by the big-box stores, and the new chains — they cited the mega-bookstore Barnes and Noble — have no desire to take their places, since they already incorporate mall-like features such as coffee shops and kiddie play areas. New owners of old malls have to deal with many empty stores and a general air of decay (which does sound like a good match for Via Negativa, given my affinity for old, decrepit structures). Some malls are even being “de-malled,” they said: the roof is removed, and the storefronts migrate to the exterior wall, facing the parking lot.
Speaking of Barnes and Noble, a couple weeks ago I attended the first poetry reading at the new Barnes and Noble in Altoona. It’s part of a brand new shopping center built right into the side of the same mountain ridge I live on, at terrific environmental cost. But it’s the first real bookstore Altoona has ever had — at least in the 35 years I’ve lived in the area — so we’re not boycotting it, any more than we’re boycotting the so-called interstate built on the mountain’s flanks. At any rate, the reader was my friend Todd Davis, reading from his wonderful new book Some Heaven, whose cover reproduces one of my favorite works of Renaissance art: Dürer’s “Das Grosse Rasenstück.” Todd is perhaps one of the least affected poets I have ever known; he has a down-to-earth style of delivery that’s perfectly suited to his plain-spoken yet hard-hitting poems about landscape, love, death — all the great themes.
Speaking of the mountain’s flanks, the Davises live in a little subdivision about a half-mile to the west of the so-called interstate. If they want to see the sunrise — or the full moonrise — they have to hike up here, as they often do, to get out of our shadow. In “Moonrise Over the Little Juniata,” Todd writes,
The ridge hides most
of the moon until well into the evening, while in the valley,
where it’s still dark, we can see the silhouette of shale
and sandstone, delicate appendages of trees […]
In another poem, “Jacklighting,” Todd describes the physical geography of places like Plummer’s Hollow (though he uses the word “ravine,” rather than “hollow”):
In this part of Pennsylvania, roads run along
streambeds, or beside the narrow tributaries
the highest ridges conceal when they turn
their faces to the north or south–creases
marked the length of their long necks, ravines
as beautiful as the shadowed space at the base
of a woman’s throat.
Todd read from typed copies of his poems rather than the book itself, and used neither podium nor microphone. In his brief introductions to the poems, he often drew attention to members of the audience, making us all feel a part of the web of associations and influences undergirding his work. The bookstore lady hovered nervously, evidently preoccupied, it turned out, with the problem of how to distribute a small number of promised free drinks and pieces of cake to a larger-than-expected crowd. But the pieces of cake were enormous, and it was simply a matter of subdividing them, I think, because somehow, miraculously, everyone got a piece.
And that — as my friend Teju Cole would say — is what the kingdom of poetry is like.