Monday, October 27, 2008

Chapbook Legends: Johnny Appleseed

The following is from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, November 1871, by W.D. Haley, and reprinted in B.A. Botkin's Treasury of American Folklore, Crown Publishers, 1944. pp. 261-270. It has been greatly modified to fit your screen.

Among the heroes of endurance that was voluntary, and of action that was creative and not sanguinary, there was one man whose name, seldom mentioned now save by some few surviving pioneers, deserves to be perpetuated. Jonathan Chapman arrived in Jefferson County, Ohio in the Spring of 1806, transporting a load of apple seeds to the Western Frontier. There is good reason to believe he was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1775. Whether impelled in his eccentricities by some absolute misery of the heart which could only find relief in incessant motion, or governed by a benevolent monomania, his whole life after age 26 was devoted to the work of planting apple seeds in remote places. He used the old Indian trail that led from Fort Duquesne to Detroit, by way of Fort Sandusky, or what is styled the 'second route through the wilderness of Ohio.' With bare feet he would penetrate to some remote spot that combined picturesqueness and fertility of soil, and there he would plant his seeds, place a slight enclosure around the place, and leave them to grow until the trees were large enough to be transplanted by the settlers. In later years, his principal garment was made of a coffee sack, and a hat of pasteboard with an immense peak in front. He was always treated with the greatest respect by the rudest frontiersman, and he was regarded as a great medicine man by the Indians on account of the fortitude with which he could endure pain. Even during the war of 1812, Johnny Appleseed continued his wanderings and was never harmed by the roving bands of hostiles, he traversed the border day and night warning every settler of any approaching peril. He believed it to be a sin to kill any creature for food, and thought all that was necessary for human sustenance was produced by the soil. He entertained a profound reverence for the Swedish seer Emanuel Swedenborg, and always carried a few volumes with him. He was probably not only the first colporteur in the wilderness of Ohio, but as he had no tract society to furnish him supplies, he divided his books into several pieces, leaving a portion at a log-cabin, and on a subsequent visit furnishing another fragment, and continuing this process as diligently as though the work had been published in serial numbers. By this plan he was enabled to furnish reading for several people at the same time, and out of one book. It was his custom, when he had been welcomed to some hospitable house after a weary day of journeying, to lie down on the puncheon floor, produce his few tattered books, and read and expound until his uncultivated hearers would catch the spirit and glow of his enthusiasm, while they scarcely comprehended his language. A lady who knew him in later years writes: 'We can hear him read now, just as he did that summer day, when we were busy quilting upstairs, and he lay near the door, his voice rising denunciatory and thrilling--strong and loud as the roar of wind and waves, then soft and soothing as the balmy airs that quivered the morning-glory leaves about his gray beard."
In autumn Johnny would make a diligent search for lame or broken-down horses, and gathering them up, he would bargain for their food and shelter until next spring, when he would lead them away to some good pasture for the summer. No Brahmin could be more concerned for the preservation of insect life, and the only occasion on which he destroyed a venomous reptile was a source of long regret, to which he could never refer without manifesting sadness. On one occasion when Johnny built a fire near where he intended to pass the night, he noticed that the blaze attracted large numbers of mosquitoes, many of whom flew too near his fire and were burned. He immediately brought water and quenched the fire, accounting for his conduct afterward by saying, "God forbid that I should build a fire for my comfort which should be the means of destroying any of his creatures!" His expenses for food and clothing were so very limited that, not withstanding his freedom from the auri sacra fames, he was frequently in possession of more money than he cared to keep, and it was quickly disposed of for wintering infirm horses, or given to some poor family whom the ague had prostrated or the accidents of border life impoverished. In a single instance only is he known to have invested his surplus means in the purchase of land, having received a deed from Alexander Finley, of Mohican Township, Ashland County, Ohio, for a part of the southwest quarter of section twenty-six; but with his customary indifference to matters of value, Johnny failed to record the deed, and lost it. He procured some seeds of dog-fennel, or May-weed, in Pennsylvania, and sowed them in the vicinity of every house in the region of his travels. He believed that this offensively-odored weed possessed valuable antimalarial virtues. The consequence was that successive flourishing crops of the weed spread over the whole country, and caused almost as much trouble as the disease it was intended to ward off. At seventy-two years of age, forty-six of which had been devoted to his self-imposed mission, he ripened into death as naturally and beautifully as the seeds of his own planting had grown into fibre and bud and blossom and the matured fruit. Thus died one of the memorable men of pioneer times, who never inflicted pain or knew an enemy--a man of strange habits, in whom there dwelt a comprehensive love that reached with one hand downward to the lowest forms of life, and with the other upward to the very throne of heaven. A laboring, self-denying benefactor of his race, homeless, solitary, and ragged, he trod the thorny earth with bare and bleeding feet, intent only upon making the wilderness fruitful. His deeds will live in the fragrance of the apple blossoms he loved so well, and the story of his life will be a perpetual proof that virtues may be found under meanest apparel, far from the gilded halls and towering spires.

Friday, October 24, 2008

What is a Chapbook?

notes towards an essay on culture and the distribution of poetry
The term “chapbook” came into regular use among speakers of English in the late eighteenth century in order to designate a small book containing ballads, poems, tales or tracts. It was typically sold from town to town by a “chapman”, or traveling merchant, and could be easily carried among other portable wares. For centuries, the chapbook was, and perhaps still is, the form of print publication most easily obtained by a large or growing literate population in modern, industrializing cultures. It usually consists of a single signature of text, bound in a paper slightly heavier than its interior pages, and optimally results in a book of 32 to 40 pages in length. A “signature” is a single set of pages folded and separately bound. Most hardbound books are a collection of signatures stacked one atop the other and sewn together and covered in a much harder material (like cardboard, but sometimes wood) which is either glued or sewn to the signatures. Today most chapbooks are based on a set of 6-10 sheets of letter-sized paper folded in half and stapled. The term octavo is typically used for this size of a book (5.5” X 8.5”), since it means a standard sized sheet of printer's paper has been folded three times. The first fold is called a folio (fold) and is usually the size used for a single page of a newspaper. Fold this sheet again and you have the quatro size. Larger books, like photography, art books and graphic novels, come in quatro size. On the third fold, the original sheet is now divided into eight sections—octavo (2X2X2). The term duodecimo is usually used for anything smaller than octavo, since now the number of pages created from the original sheet has hit the double digits (like 16). Of course, the size of the printer’s sheet varies from place to place, which provides for a range of sizes for each of these terms folio, quatro, octavo, and duodecimo.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Audio Recording

An audio recording of my reading at the Welcome to Boog City Festival has been posted online.
It took place on September 20.

Here is the link:

There are also recordings from many other poets:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Poem out of 2004

i wrote this poem in the fall of 2004 and published it in Roofing and Siding in 2007. I'd moved to Fordham Ave., where the sleeping was uneasy, and a rowing machine downstairs kicked in every morning at 6:00 AM no matter what. I'd sent an essay on bpNichol and Patchen to New Literary History and was about to begin my first semester of adjuncting at UB. This is the original version, which is slightly different from the version in the later book, where it goes by the name "Mining That Coppery Tone":

Mining the College, Boy

My mines troubled with wrath,
my lines treacly with thefts.

Stolen: musty lathe of steel,
that a.m. shy penny profile
accused of sprocketry
in the dim melancholy
of false sirens
with true import.

That soap really takes a layer off.
Thanks for the tip on bankruptcy.

Which part didn't you like?
This is your defense,
so why are you so defensive?

I didn't dream it but saw
somewhere projected on the old beach-towel screen
the chin-thrust face of a woman in shame
like a profile on an old penny.

Slack again in various week-timed
month dredge and fact of one's whole private world
cumbered and yet the veil torn and less
strength to continue, to push through.
It is about interior integrity.
Hand it across with your penny.

I looked somewhere crawly
for my soul
almost to address it,
things at hand feeling corroded,
mechanistic, as though imagination had fallen
completely inert.

Our ginger footsteps say what in the
great cold outside has more durability
than the flash of light,
the photographer's flash,
or the bubble-fluff concentration, illusory found sound
of a siren on a rock leading us to memories
of when the keys belonged to each of us,
and all was held in trust,
like a penny.


I guess, reflecting back on the amazing readings I heard last night at Medaille College in celebration of Raymond Federman's 80th birthday, this is a poem that halts midway between a "saying" and a "playing"--it stops to look around after going only so far on its way towards the full pleasures of a writing that says as it un-says, a poetry-performance that can invoke the space of literature even as it empties out any assertive writerly function (as in "authority") by way of content-ment. I was directed to this poem by a line in something Steve McCaffery had read last night--and this is crude paraphrase--to the effect that "Heaven is a bank in which God has failed to invest."

The young man of the house where I lived liked to defend the penny, and would proclaim his cause loudly--"SAVE THE PENNY!" with hand raised in the air. It was fun to bait him sometimes as to the value of using pennies. In the end, I gave him a few buckets of pennies I'd saved up over the years. As an adjunct, the money was tight. Poetic values were uncertain and could fluctuate madly at any point. What was a dollar-value to the mining it would take to make my lines & references add up? "Expenditure without reserve" was the claim made for culture, but that seemed a supply-side injunction. What a crazy line of work!! The college boy had dug down deeply in order to coin the metal within him, though it would have been a lot more fun to swirl around on the multicolored film-surface of the bubble. That way you have air within, and air without, a balance of pressures, and smoky Brownian complexities to keep you from realizing you're about a quarter mile above the earth. If anything, I learned last night (and have to thank Jaye for pointing this out) that the mere context for a story just about brings all the pleasures of storytelling into view, and the more we find genre frames to push through, the more we gain a vantage of just how easy it is to unravel a genre through the slightest tear at its margin. Even though I wasn't drinking last night, I got ripped! The margins let you know the mettle of what's inside them--and yes, I do trust. What was Joyce's first book called? Pomes Pennyeach.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


My goosh. Ten days of digital silence! Perhaps the appropriation of my name for a spurious poem in Issue 1 (actually written by the Erika T. Carter robot) cowed me. I enjoyed the ripples and ferment caused by the book, but I never got around to downloading it. I liked how Nick Piombino described the experience as a really good party, almost a "happening" in the old sense, on the UB UPENN poetics listserv.

What I did lately: I have been working, but, oddly enough for me, having some fun.
I spent a few days trying to learn all the ways and whys of how the economy is failing. Then I watched some presidential debates, shouting out "LIAR" a lot. I am very impressed by Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party, as I've been watching the parallel debates on Democracy Now! I am less dismayed after hearing more candidates.

Then I went camping for three nights. It was amazing. I was taken. I was given amazing gifts. I was happy to give in return. Trains thundered in the distance. The weather was perfect, and the moon lit the night. We built fires on shale creeksides. We cooked simple meals and made coffee. We camped in a wild garlic patch. Spiders and chubs danced merry jigs to our wild ukulele detunings. Green pools chilled us to the bone. Conversations took entire days to unfold.
-- --
Later today I will be pouring champagne at Raymond Federman's 80th birthday party.

Later this month I will be designing and publishing a small anthology of poems by poets who live in Buffalo. Jonathan Skinner's new book, With Naked Foot, will be available from little scratch pad editions very very soon.

On October 26th, with Paul White, I will help inaugurate the "Sundays at Central" reading series at the Buffalo and Erie County Central Library at 3:00 PM. 1 Lafayette Square in downtown Buffalo. The reading will take place in the West Room, next to the Cafe.

Then in November, on Sunday the 23rd, I'll be reading at Rust Belt Books with Martin Clibbens and David Tirrell.

I'm ready to publish Celery Flute 2:1. I swear.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Merest Belief

i believe health care is an inalienable right

i believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should end immediately

i believe the wall st. bailout is the single biggest rapid transfer of wealth upward (and outward) this country has ever seen

i believe that the system that created our economic and social problems is the least likely one to solve them

i believe in mildheartedness

i believe in hard work, and an honest dollar

if you know of a candidate i can vote for in November who may support my beliefs, please let me know, because i haven't seen one mentioned on my nightly news

i'd really like to vote, too

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Poetry Scandal

I'm incredibly busy today, but I have to weigh in on the Issue 1 debate (Kenneth Goldsmith was first to post about it here) even if in less thought-out form than I'd like, mainly because one of its creators is now miserable and wants to pull the work off the internet. I support the work they've done in programming here, and their funny, whisker-pulling approach to e-poetry. They produced an algorithm-based impossible-to-print book (though, if anyone would like to print it out, I'd love to see a copy). The poems are not pirated. People's names were used, and even then in an arbitrary fashion, so that, as Ron points out, some people who are not even self-identified poets are included in the anthology. The most intelligent response to all the anger generated is by Nada Gordon, whose comments are posted at Ron Silliman's blog. I agree with her, and she defines the issue better than I ever could. Ron Silliman is angry, sort of, but I am not. Yes, I am included, and no, the poem is not mine, but it does have a a higher amount of "noun X and noun Y" clauses than other poems, which makes me feel that more than my name was entered into the algorithm that generated the poems. My only full-length collection of poems is entitled Roofing and Siding. I enjoyed the "project" of Issue 1, and skimming through the "book". Those who are angered by it should cool down and see it for what it is: a hoax, an architecture built out of the electronic public sphere and placed back into it to give part of its writing community a chance to do a double-take. Nobody needs to get sued over this. And for the people most upset, they should realize I never knew their names before this, but now I do, and can look forward to reading their works on their own terms, and not feel that anything appearing in Issue 1 reflects their achievement as poets. Anyone angered about the way we do and do not "own" our names can ask me all about it, because I've spent many a wasted moment in my life dealing with stupid people expecting me to laugh with them about my own name. I have more than a few examples to offer proving we don't have ownership over our names.