Monday, February 27, 2006

well I'm back

The University of Louisville's 20th-Century Literature & Culture conference, as usual, was great fun. The normal pleasures of hanging out with friends, acquaintances, and frequent interlocutors – Alan Golding, Norman Finkelstein, Bob Archambeau, Ken Sherwood, Joel Kuszai, Lynn Keller; of meeting folks I hadn't before; the piquant doro wat at Kilimajaro restaurant; and Ear-X-tacy, a very cool record store that I tear myself away from conference-going to visit every time I'm in Louisville. It's by no means one of the world's greatest, but certainly better than anything I know in South Florida. I was relatively restrained: Black Acetate, John Cale's latest; Heaven and Hell, a 'best of' from the Mekons; and a brand new expanded reissue of John Martyn's 1975 Live at Leeds, a hard-to-find concert album that is to British folk what the Who's Live at Leeds is to rock & roll. This is Martyn at his most interesting, having grown out of the pseudo-Dylanisms of his earlier period and still a few years away from his overproduced, keyboard-drenched excesses of the 80s and 90s. For most of Live at Leeds, it's just Martyn's heavily echoplexed acoustic guitar and the astonishing double bass of his then-partner Danny Thompson (formerly of Pentangle). The two of them, according to interviews, spent the mid-70s pretty much continually dead drunk, and while that would certainly seem to be the case here judging from Martyn's between-songs patter, the alcohol hasn't blurred their musicianship one whit. A really dynamic set, hanging around the intersection of blues, folk, and free jazz, and occasionally descending into downright noise.

Down the street from Ear-X-tacy, one of the best guitar shops I've been in in recent years. They have my holy grail: an original Gibson ES-295, circa 1955 – like the one Scotty Moore played. No price tag – does that mean if I need to ask I can't afford it?, I query the counterman. "Naw. Price tag jes' fell off. I'll look it up... right, $7500." For some reason, I don't whip out the credit card, but give the guitar one long look before retreating out the door.

I had planned to fly into Louisville on Thursday, but ended up spending half the day in the West Palm Beach airport waiting to find out how badly my flight was delayed. (I ended up rebooking for Friday morning.) Ever anxious to improve the time, however, I read Christopher Middleton's Of the Mortal Fire: Poems 1999-2002 (Sheep Meadow, 2003), in the process reminding myself just how amazing a poet Middleton is: a truly stunning density of thought and sound, even in a collection he describes as "only afterthoughts" ("odds & sods," Pete Townshend would say). From "The Curlew":
Well, he has done rinsing the sky
Clear of ghosts now.
And the true, still it fools
All the hectic sectarians.
Only the hermits hear
But obey the cry's lash. Heavily
Clouded vistas they spread into
Seldom welcome
Such questioners, each in his arms
Or hers, as they patrol
Targeted streets, cradling
An old cave, snatched up
At the last possible moment,
A crystal hollowness torn
From its crag, now distant, each
Coolly questioning equipoise.

I mean to write some of my impressions of the conference itself – that seems to be a growing genre, conference-blogging (for a shockingly complete take on my own paper, see this post by Joshua Stuart). But I was conscious above all else of a certain "hole" in the proceedings. I've been going to L'ville for over a decade, always with pleasure and edification, always enjoying the company of other poets and scholars. But one motivation I've always had for going there was to jump in my rental, drive over to Lexington, and spend a few hours in front of the fire in Guy Davenport's sitting-room, surrounded by thousands of books, drawings, & paintings, listening to Guy ramble through his encyclopedic knowledge of pretty much every aspect of human culture that one might want to know something about. And now Guy's gone. Louisville is a fine and good thing, and I'm sure I'll be coming back – but the trip will never be the same.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Mark - thanks for stopping by and helping me out w/ the sketchy transcription. I did actually join your table at the lounge later that night, but you left soon after I got there, so didn't have the chance to say hello. Maybe next time.