Tag Archives: Europe trip

City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology

This post is in the theme “Constructing an identity through media”. Read the first.

September 30, New York: I’ve never been very good at reading poetry. I don’t say I’ve never liked poetry or that poetry has done me some offense, no, it’s just that I rarely have the patience for it. I do not read and reflect, I read for volume. I read for progress made. I consume prose, rarely do I marinate.

One of the few times I broke that was hurtling around Europe on trains at 19. I kept this book tucked close to me in a man purse (a camo green Army surplus bag) next to my writing notebook and whatever novel I was reading. No matter how often the novel changed, this book remained a constant. The pace of life for that six weeks was different; there was much time to kill across Europe. For once, I was happy to spend much of it reading these poems.

The City Light Pocket Poets Anthology is a compilation of beat and post-beat poems spanning multiple decades of City Lights’ history. There is Ginsberg and Kerouac, and also Frank O’Hara and Pablo Picasso and Malcolm Lowry. This little book is a treasure. When I first thumbed through it I still had never been to San Francisco; I hardly knew what City Lights was other than I knew Kerouac and Ginsberg and had heard Lawrence Ferlinghetti had been named the city’s poet laureate. The very first time I ever made it up to SF, long before I moved there or even thought of it, I made a pilgrimage to City Lights. Originally, it was for this book, but I fell in love with the store. When I moved to San Francisco, I’d try to go at least once every couple of months.

Photo by Ris Rosko, from here.

This time, I read this book all wrong. I am in the middle of a reading sprint! I am measured by books completed! So I would open this guy up on the subway, struggle with a poem or two and then just begin to page through, scanning. Terrible poetry reading! Ultimately I focused on reconnecting with old favorites.

“Mexican Loneliness” by Jack Kerouac: “And I am an unhappy stranger / grooking in the streets of Mexico—”

“Why I Choose Black Men for My Lovers” by La Loca: “In 1967 I stepped through a windowpane / and I got real / I saw Mother Earth and Big Brother / and / I clipped my roots which choked in the / concrete / of Sunset Boulevard”

“Why is God Love, Jack” by Allen Ginsberg: ” Because I lay my / head on pillows, / Because I weep in the / tombed studio”

I discovered a handful of new poems this time around, which is actually one correct way to read this book. Of course, my Neal Cassady theme made a heart-shot out of “Elegy for Neal Cassady” by Allen Ginsberg: “Kesey’s in Oregon writing novel language / family farm alone. / Hadja no more to do? Was your work all done? / Had ya seen your first son? / Why’dja leave us all here? / Has the battle been won?”. And I loved Kenneth Patchen and Jacques Prévert and really, really liked “Room 5600″ by Ernesto Cardenal, all about the Rockefellers: “They had a happy childhood on the banks of the Hudson / on a 3500-acre estate / with 11 mansions and 8 swimming pools / and 1500 servants / and a great house of toys / but when they grew up they moved into Room 5600 / (actually the 55th and 56th floors of the tallest skyscraper / at Rockefeller Center) / where hundreds and hundreds of foundations and corporations / are managed like / —what truly is— / a single fortune.

Perhaps then, it is not that I read this book the wrong way, because this is how I believe one can appreciate poetry: groping around for the gem that catches you. To be between 34th Street Herald Square and 28th Street on the N/R and suddenly be bowled over by a line like “See how those stars tramp over heaven on their sticks/Of ancient light” (Patchen). Now if only I was reading poetry on the subway every day. I hereby resolve to have a bit more poetry in the 66 Project.

Buy the City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology straight from the source itself.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

This post is in the theme “Constructing an identity through media”. Read the first.

September 21, New York: When I was 19, I went to Europe. It had been a bad year, maybe a bad couple, and the summer rolled around and my high school friends and I had scraped together and borrowed enough money to take a six week trip to Europe. We had plane tickets, Eurail passes, big backpacks, and wild ambitions. Our great inspiration was The Sun Also Rises, so we had to go to Spain and we had to bring some Hemingway. This was the book we chose.

Our itinerary, loosely recalled: Joey and I flew into Madrid; took a bus to Pamplona where we walked the medieval walls and drank far too much red wine; took a bus to San Sebastian and the TGV to Paris then a train to Cherbourg and a ferry to Portsmouth and a bus/ferry combo to Dublin; in Dublin we picked up Jonathan and kissed a girl or two and then we flew to Amsterdam; we did the thing 19 year old Americans did in Amsterdam at that time and we left; in Paris I moved in with a French girl for a week (this is not a lie) and Chris joined us and then things didn’t really work out with the French girl and I fled; by train we went to Prague, which was amazing, and two spots in the Czech countryside; then a whirlwind through Vienna, Florence, and Rome, where we were ripped off by a hotel but took baths, glorious hot baths, and drank ice cold red wine on a hot summer night; then back to Madrid after a brief French Riveria stop and Joey and I had one final night together in the Spanish capital and we got shitty drunk and relieved ourselves on some government property while guards yelled and gave chase and we ran away as quickly as we could to America.

It was a hell of a trip.


One of the most important packing decisions we made was what media to consume, what books to bring with. A Moveable Feast was on the top of our list. It was one of maybe a dozen books we shared between us and all read by the end of the trip. And it was exactly the magic of what we wanted from a trip to Europe. Seeing Paris and reading about Hemingway’s Paris, together, is magical. (It is also, to my adult eyes, the very definition of cliché, but we forgive our younger selves some things.)

I half blame this book for nearly not coming home from that trip. The French girl I met, fell in love with, and moved in with— she was going to support me while I wrote books in Paris. In her top floor apartment in Montmartre. I mean, come on. Ripped from these pages. I wrote my mother a beautiful letter explaining that I wasn’t coming home and my wise friends forbade me sending it until it had been at least, I don’t know, a week. And it turned out to be unsurprisingly tempestuous and that was all a part of it until it ended. (On her side, she was on the rebound from a multi-year relationship; we were both playing out narratives on one another.)

Reading A Moveable Feast today still has the same power, the same impact, to make me want to move to Paris or to move to any place in exile and live there in the truest possible way. I’ve never known exactly what that means— “truest”— other than I hope I’d know it when I felt it, sort of like Hemingway did. The great lesson I took from the book and from the trip on which I first read it was how powerful a change of scenery can be. To be in a new place, in a foreign place, is inspiring in so many ways. And reading this book again, today, I want it again. I want that right now. For real.

Buy, own, cherish this book.