Ext. Montage. A Ride on the Reading RailRoad to Mt. Real


> Scene I: NYC to Montreal (reading Sentence 3 and Eye Against Eye by Forrest Gander)

Scene II: Around Montreal (reading Motorman by David Ohle)

Scene III: Montreal to NYC (reading The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders)



This is the account of a trip J and I took to Montreal over Thanksgiving weekend and some of things we saw, heard, ate or read along the way. 

Thanksgiving was actually spent in New York, or Brooklyn rather, at a friends. It was hard to beat the hot x-rated turkey action of last year’s thanksgiving, but this year all we had to worry about was the stuffing. This is the recipe we followed.


Recipe for (jalapeñoless and unstuffed) Jalapeño Cornbread Stuffing:

  1. Our friend's roommate left a package for us with the bartender at his place of employment (Suba on Ludlow street). He wasn't there initially so we went down the street to the Motor City Bar for 2 drinks (happy hour) and a game of Ms. Pacman. Then we finally got the drop-off. Inside the the brown paper bag was an even smaller brown bag of pine nuts, a smaller bag of thawing Hatch green chiles (mild-medium heat, roasted, in need of peeling) and a couple of super hot Chimayo green chiles that another friend of our friend's brought in from Santa Fe the night before.

  2. We rehydrated the Chimayos and reconstituted them in with the Hatch green chiles once they were thawed and peeled (love that smell). This concoction we used in lieu of jalapeños to make jalapeño cornbread stuffing (which then was not jalapeño cornbread stuffing). But I am getting ahead of myself...

  3. Before you can make jalapeño cornbread stuffing (regardless of whether it has jalapeños or not), you must first make jalapeño cornbread. I won’t belabor you with the recipe as we just stole it from the NY Times. At least that’s what we loosely followed—some improvisation was involved, and our chiles were used instead of jalapeños.  

  4. Once we went through the trouble of making jalapeño cornbread, we left it out overnight, uncovered, to reenact the natural process of going stale. The next morning, after sleeping, we pretended the jalapeño cornbread was stale and "leftover" and crumbled it up to turn into jalapeño cornbread stuffing. Again, I won’t belabor you with the details of this recipe as we also got this from the NY Times, and again, improvisation is key to good stuffing.

  5. The stuffing never actually got stuffed into the bird, so I guess technically it wasn't stuffing either. 

Whatever it was, we brought it, a lot of it, along with a bottle or two of wine to our friend's in Brooklyn. Somebody took some pictures of that event and posted them here


Onward. Early next morning we caught a train at Penn Station. The best part about going to Montreal was getting there. As the train trudged along the Hudson, I listened to Cat Power and read Sentence 3.  



Sentence : A Journal of Prose Poetics is a literary journal edited by Brian Clements that is dedicated to the art of prose in all its poetic manifestations and glory. Issue 3 proves that the form is alive and well, from the experimental streaming text of Radu Andriescu (conjuring Celine with its ellipsis ... denoting breaks in the thought packets... well-suited for reading on trains: "... the native glyph, the allogeneic glyph... ciric lake... breaking up on the bridge... breaking up on the island... from concept to discept...") to the minimal, enumerated and concise paragraphs of Janet Kaplan's Applicants: "The letter D applied but I had already packed my things." Or "The letter W would like to apply. A wilderness, it says, is uncontrollable." As applied to my personal mobile situation—isn't that always the inevitable natural tendency? Stealing glances out the train window at the stark landscape fresh with ice and snow, between pages, between paragraphs, between sentences. Drifting in and out of sleep. Reading the moving landscape like reading a stream of words. Latching on to the sentences or passages most relevant to my current state of motion or emotion. 


Some relevant passages... from Leonard Schwartz' The Eden Exhibit:

A man brings a bicycle aboard the A train. You point it out. I concede that a bicycle on a subway car is incongruous, though I've seen it many times before: the shiny metal, the motionless spokes, the silenced horn. This will be a short ride. We are going our separate ways. 

From 030405 by Rachel Levitsky:

Stillness perhaps doesn't capture what I mean as sameness. The man standing in the empty train depot below the elevated subway, far below the window from which I see him, the train window out of which I always look. 

From there is nothing more real than real real by kari edwards:

so, I decided to move; truthfully I just didn't like sharing my toilet seat and I wanted my own call button. and even though humans are just duplicate purchasing machines...nothing deserves to be a hernia probability reduced to a sentence or less. so, I ask you, wouldn't you pull up the stakes and undo the bolts?

Interesting in light of kari edwards recent bio in Shampoo 24, where she claims, evidently, to have up and left us ("amerika") for the ganja-green pastures of Auroville in Southern India. And speaking of "more real than real," as I was reading her piece, I was applying mayonnaise to my sandwich, and the packaging read "REAL Mayonnaise". Is there any other kind? It's not like mayonnaise comes from the gland of an endangered animal. This I observe, on my way to Mt. REAL, which I guess the distinction could be necessary as there are man-made mountains (which are still real, aren't they?). I digress...


Sentence 3 also has a feature on the prose poem form in Great Britain, of which the piece by Alan Halsey from Memory Screen [Dated 15.11.03] was remarkable, though more skirting the text/image boundary (which is a good thing), and interestingly self-referential. In a piece by Rupert M. Loydell, Towards a Definition, he even comes out and gives his interesting (and in my opinion, also accurate) definition of prose-poetry: "It is a key to a house with no doors, to a library full of books you want to read but must use to stoke the fire—". 


In Chris Murray's Yao Ming's ABC of Basketball, she gives one definition of beauty as "aptness to purpose. Another is Basketball." My sentiments exactly. 


There are also two more Steven Stewart translations of Margarito Cuéllar featured in Sentence 3 (two more appeared in Sleepingfish 0.5).


One thing that strikes me about most of the pieces from Sentence is the elegant encapsulation of bits of (albeit fictional, but interesting) narrative data. From Bob Heman's Information:

The boat is the story the ocean tells. The village listens intently and sings for fish. The road carries the carts in only one direction. Where it ends the railroad seems propelled by lights.

Other fragments, captions, scripts, and instructional texts abound, stretching the meaning of prose. And the thing about literary journals that usually grates on me is the often mish-mash of disparate voices and styles—Sentence does a good job of not only sticking to the prose-poetry form (and mostly narrative prose at that), but arranging like-minded pieces together so they gel as a somewhat unified voice. Take the back-to-back pieces by Stephanie Woolley-Larrea and Robin Cunningham—how often do you come across first-hand (or in the latter case second-person) accounts regarding the likes of abnormal fertilization and embryonic development told in a revealing and artful manner? The pieces flow well together like you are reading a single-author collection, followed by a good book review section. Kudos to Brian Clements for bringing us this gem of a collection.


*** Get Sentence 3 at Powell's or better yet straight from the source. ***


Somewhere along the way, the Hudson river, or what I assumed was the Hudson (we didn't have a map, so were traveling blind) switched sides so it was to our right. And then the river gradually widened into Lake Champlain. There were lakes and bogs everywhere, the smaller ones were frozen, and some had beaver lodges dotting the eyes. Frozen waterfalls and icicles hung from the cliffs. It's beautiful country up there for sure.


Inside the train was unbearably hot. We were a self-contained unit, parcels of people with a common destination, temporarily giving up our free-will to travel on the tracks laid down beneath us. Breathing each other's air. We got so hot we had to switch cars. Somewhere around Albany we had to stop to switch engines. And somewhere "in the middle of nowhere" (as disgruntled people whining on their cell phones put it), we sat motionless for over an hour because the signals or switches were iced over. It was hard not to be annoyed by the annoyed people and their annoying cell phone conversations, "I don't even know where I am?! There's, like, not even any signs of any animals living out here, what am I doing here?!"—annoying one-sided blabber that I don't think meant anything to whoever was on the other end let alone the whole train full of people that had to endure it. If only more people read books instead of talking on cell phones. It's all the same driving force—an intent to communicate, a need for information, engagement of the mind, something to pass the time, but at least reading is far less intrusive to others.



After Sentence 3, I read Eye Against Eye by Forrest Gander. I don't read a lot of "poetry" so I (and eye) am probably not qualified to give a proper review. Especially in contrast to the prose of Sentence, lined poetry feels stilted to me. Not fluid. Line breaks don't feel natural to me. They are gaps or divisions in what otherwise could be continuous flow. Ideally, text would not even wrap but would continue left to right (or whatever direction you're used to reading). But I suppose the direction you are "used to" could be up and down, so I contradict myself. I guess what it is about lined poetry that turns me off is that, before you even read the words, it looks like a "poem," and therefore sets that expectation. 


But as far as poetry goes, the poems in Eye Against Eye are classics. There is not a lot of risk-taking, but they conjure nice imagery. The first series, Burning Towers, Standing Wall, despite the ominous 9/11 sounding name, are actually reflections on Mayan Ruins and culture, the kind of reading material that perhaps I should've brought on my recent trip to southern Mexico and Guatemala. They felt a bit out of place in the desolate and cold landscape of upstate New York (or wherever "in the middle of nowhere" we were). But then again, once you get into the rhythm of the poems, they pull you into that world:

the walls swell with oxidation

and orange lichens press outward,

the crust flakes off into rain

and termite clatter, the chimmuck of falling pebbles,

undertones the stones conduct

along cleavage planes

so that if decibels diminish 

as they approach silence

but never entirely fade,

this fresh patter is stirred into a vibrating, immeasurably 

thin memorial ache inside the walls

and as primordial

Earth-shattering stuff just by the sounds of the words alone, but ground-breaking? In Ligature, he lapses into strong one or two sentence passages that embody the strong images he sets forth:

So they inhabit their bodies like music, for a given time. And yet he continues to act as if there were times to come. 

By Present Tense, Gander ventures into territory more relevant to my surroundings:

the mineral -hard quiddity of the world

while half a continent of raptors

funnels into the narrow

corridor along Lake Ontario's edge

or sweeps through the gash of Lake Champlain valley

towards Mount Defiance

with your depression like a retinue of black centipedes
was how you left Arkansas

The last line presumably in reference to Gander's wife, C.D. Wright, and the depression perhaps symptomatic of her daunting responsibility of assuming the reins of Lost Roads Press in the wake of Frank Standford's suicide? 


In Ligature 2, another interlude of strong, insightful prose:

The human ear appears most sensitive to the sound of keening. So that birds seem to vocalize the grief of trees?

Though perhaps better said without "seeming to" vocalize it? The pieces from the Late Summer Entry series go with some landscape photographs by Sally Mann. The combination works well, Gander's words lending themselves to enhancing the eerie landscapes:

For when we find the river holding still—in imitation of itself—it barely impresses a likeness.

Or more aptly, he extracts meaning from the landscapes:

The image strands itself, a word            knocked loose

from the language, a tooth              under a pillow.

And the place itself was neither           fully read nor erased    

                                                                    /since it never 

ceased being written.

*** Get Eye Against Eye by Forrest Gander from Powell's, or better yet directly from the publisher. ***


>>> Onward to Scene 2: Montreal, whilst reading David Ohle's Motorman


Train Blur

Icy landscape

Train Window

Snow and Ice

Train Toilet

Train Tracks




(c) 2005 Derek White