This morning I wandered through the house in a groggy, contented daze, drinking too much coffee and putting off going to work for as long as possible. I felt like I’d been to a party the night before. The reason? I had been to a party…my kind of party.
A random weeknight, after a long day at work, found a friend and me at City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. We were there to attend the book launch party for a former professor of mine. Gillian Conoley, a celebrated writer and the poet-in-residence at Sonoma State University, was to speak about and read from her new book, Thousand Times Broken, a translation of three books by French writer, Henri Michaux (1899 – 1984). The event took place, appropriately, in the upstairs Poetry Room, and was so well-attended that many of us couldn’t even get physically in the room and, instead, sat on the creaky stairs leading up to it, our eyes fixed on posters of Burroughs and Kerouac and our ears tuned to Gillian’s subtle Texan accent. She introduced us to Michaux, a Belgian-born visual artist and writer, and his specific works which she had focused on. They were written by Michaux in the years between 1956 and 1959, during which time he occasionally experimented with mescaline in an attempt to “prove a more intimate connection with human consciousness,” which he then expressed through a variety of media, from drawing to writing, in these books.
As part of the evening, I was able to reconnect with Gillian and other professors who have had a great influence on me and my writing. These are relationships which should be maintained and treasured, even beyond the classroom and graduation (as I’m learning from a belated reading of Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom). Sometimes, even just a quick hello and hug is enough. The setting was perfect, as well. “Poetry” and “experimental” are synonymous with City Lights, located at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Jack Kerouac Alley, founded in 1953 by two members of the Beat Generation, and now a literary landmark of San Francisco. Of course, any time spent in a bookstore or library is pure bliss to me, and as I was sitting on the stairs listening, I made sure to inhale deeply and often, in order to savor the smell of the books surrounding me.
As for today, well, yesterday has spilled over into it, and I continued to spend time with Henri and Gillian on the page, as I began absorbing Thousand Times Broken. The Q&A session after Gillian’s reading had me recalling desperate moments early on in grad school when I realized I had no idea what anyone was talking about! Last night was my first introduction to Henri Michaux, part of why I was eager to attend the launch. Writers need other writers, past and present, familiar and new. I’m learning so much from my reading and enjoying Gillian’s interpretation of Michaux, a quote from her already placed in my treasure trove. I’m especially enjoying that the book includes both the French and English texts, and am more and more in awe at Gillian for tackling the nuances and complexities of French poetry, especially by someone pushing the boundaries of human consciousness! As they say in French, “Chapeau!” Hats off!
For more about Gillian, you need only Google her, but I think one of the best bios and lists of her publications can be found here: