There are several Joe Brainards you may or may not know. There’s Brainard the internationally-showing collage artist and painter, and there’s also the Joe Brainard who was a downtown NY scene fixture in the poetry world in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The Joe Brainard you probably know, though, is the author of the “cult classic” I Remember, first published in full form in 1975. Written with wit, candor and no pretension to self-importance, the book is a procedural memoir, every single brief entry in the book starting with the title phrase. Rather than offering the drama or grandiosity of an amazing life, Brainard instead provides you with a non-chronological wealth of sly specificity:
I remember after people are gone thinking of things I should have said but didn’t.
I remember how much rock and roll music can hurt: It can be so free and sexy when you are not.
I remember Royla Cochran. She lived in an attic and made long skinny people out of wax. She was married to a poet with only one arm until he died. He died, she said, from a pain in the arm that wasn’t there.
March 30th, 2012 / 12:00 pm
It often happens that I return to the same books I want that are like really expensive. Like the Notebooks of Paul Valéry. Anyway I want a copy of this slick little book so bad it makes me think it a stupid thing to want a book so bad, like I should be wanting things like sex drugs and money so bad, but I just want this little book so bad, with a nice simple cover by Joe Brainard. The cheapest I have seen so far is $300. It is collected in Ted Berrigan’s Collected Poems.
She Skull Spirit Stupid Stupid Sensuality Stands Stars Sky She Shoulder Sun Sword Saint Signature Sandwich Same Scrap Stroke Skin Structure Scratch Skull
Noodz by Modigliani
She Has a Body on Her Dress
A woman’s body is as bumpy as my skull
If you’re embodied with a little spirit
Fashion designers have a stupid job
As stupid as phrenology
My eyes are kilos that weigh the sensuality of women
“You have to develop a feel for it, in your body, as you’re feeling the letters. ‘Everything you’re doing is behind you.'”
Dreaming of writing a breezy pocketbook bestseller called HOW TO HAVE FUN WITH CONTEMPORARY NONSENSE, I had my dream thankfully interrupted by the discovery of the mighty Ron Padgett’s Creative Reading (1997), which is sort of a better, richer, funnier, and broader version of my idea, involving a lot less instances of the phrase “Derridian play as model for invisible friendship” (yeah, I know, sorry in advance, hypothetical sorry, snow sorry, slur saw reed) and a lot more about how strange and terrific all reading can be. And how meeting up with that fact makes you a better reader and enables you to have fun with all kinds of reading, even the nonsense. Best of all, Padgett’s book is available for free by clicking the link above. It includes lots of great, clear and easy-gaited strategies for messing around with the stuff you read, which makes it an ideal text for teaching and/or quoting in the presence of family members who have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about, ever. It’s full of poems, tidbits, cut-ups, cool stuff. It’s basically about letting your mind be playful and less scared. Less scared of nonsense and of the nonsense at the root of language’s conceit, the ticklish arbitrariness of all abstract communication. Here is a blurb:
After a brief discussion of common reading errors that can be used creatively, the central chapter of the book, “Creative Reading Techniques,” suggests exercises that make reading an adventure, highly interactive, and imaginative, using both classic and modern literature in ways that blend reading and writing. Along the way, among other things, the book talks about the influence of typography, movies, and television on reading, the joys of misunderstanding, the music of Spike Jones, skywriting, Dada poetry, reading in dreams, the way words sound in the reader’s head, and the setting in which text is read.
There’s also an awesome appendix about skywriting. Tell me if this doesn’t remind you of anything: