Men of Letters

Further selections from the correspondence of Blagg and O’Brien, May 2011


23 May 2011


Dear Max,

I was wondering how the poetry business is going. I think I got out just in time, but every once in a while, when I’m making a perfume commercial or naming a painting for Kostabi, I sort of miss it. I have a lot of painting titles in notebooks that could be good poems. “God Asked Me to Love You”, “Ministry of Vibes”, “Secrets of the Middle Ear”, “You Don’t Need a Messiah to Know Which Way the Wind Blows”, “Check your Marks for Arms”. Maybe on summer vacation.

It’s funny how when we got to this city there was such a glamorous scene with all the crazy poets and fantastic zines and Joe Brainard and Ted Berrigan. Now poetry seems like stand-up comedy with footnotes. It’s like the Lesbian Greetings Card class in Women’s Studies. Are you still making poetry? I was thinking a while ago that maybe one could make a living out of writing that copy that’s supposed to get past the email junk filters. I actually started writing a poem using spam. I called it Spam Ashberry. Here’s a stanza: “Number off more even. Low, girl food sea. Natural play of natural may. Made done street always, early to enter. For engine create cow. Hand heard come able point. Town state, cross these. Note, century order five. Figure fish now time. Natural short were quiet street history. Quick, care good.” Probably doesn’t pay and it’s not performable.  

Maybe there’s some way for poets to make money on the internet. Are you available on iTunes yet?

Love, Glenn


24 May 2011

MAX BLAGG {07:12}

Dear Glenn,

Your note came out of the blue, like a Neil Young song, though I was listening to the Marcus Aurelius of qawwali… Nusrat Ali Khan, God rest his soul, he ate too many kebabs and so he died, but his poetry lives on. That found spam poetry could go over well if read aloud correctly, as long as you don’t care about meaning. I used to be good at reading stuff aloud. In the style of the “all chest and no heart” slam poets. Walter Thomas, in his cups, once threw a cereal box in my direction at one of our legendary readings by the sea in Bridgehampton, and I swear I made that Cheerios copy sound like Yeats. Or was it Keats? Today, by purest chance, I was sitting on Second Avenue right opposite Saint Mark’s church, which used to be the church of our hearts, the heart of the poetry we came to New York for, the pilled-up, name-dropping, “I do this, I do that” kind of stuff for which we both still retain a deep fondness, but Saint Mark’s is now a postmodern feminist-run operation that would fain exclude the old school hetero poet crowd, well this old school hetero anyway. They wouldn’t even give me a spot at the annual New Year’s reading last year, that special night when over 200 unknowns hurl their neutered pentameters into the sweet air of the church. “But I never met a dyke I didn’t like!” I squawked to the directrice. “I fucked Patty Highsmith [a white lie]! And furthermore I’m a friend of Eileen Myles!” And the directrice said, “I’m a better friend of Eileen than you!” and I guess she was because Eileen, thrice petitioned, didn’t even look up from the page or the clit she was studying to say a word on my behalf. I’ll cry tomorrow. Poetry today is like art today, there’s too much of it about and not much of it is any good. I do subscribe to Poetry magazine, and sometimes it is not half bad. Sometimes it is half bad, but they have a hundred million dollar trust fund, all for poetry, so that’s not so bad. There is also Poets House on the river at Murray Street. It is so great to go to a library that has only poetry on its shelves. You and maybe a dozen other people would appreciate the strange thrill of that. Lovely women run the place; Miss Lee Briccetti directs the operation and a particularly fetching librarian/poet named Maggie Balistreri always enhances my visits with her vast knowledge of modern poetry and the way she looks over her glasses while flashing a clutch of Schuyler first editions, as if to say, “Dream on, abuelo!” 

 Love M


26 May 2011


Dear Max, 

I just looked up the Poets House, the existence of which surprises the hell out of me. I was especially surprised when I saw that it is housed in what looks like one of those apartment buildings that now make Sixth Avenue look like Avenue of Middle America. I thought it would look like the old seamen’s home. Slightly musty and spider filled. It looks prosperous. Are you sure it’s not a front for something? Maybe it’s the CIA. Didn’t they once run some poetry magazines? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Maybe we should have tried getting them involved with Bald Ego. Speaking of writers of some note, have you read Lynne Tillman’s new book Someday This Will Be Funny?It’s really good. It makes you feel like going on living. I can’t say I have read much else lately that interested me. I read The Lost Books of the Odyssey, and as you know I’m up on Homer, and it is certainly clever, but it’s too “experimental”. I mean, all writing is experimental. You don’t have to flaunt it. Have you ever read Robert Fagles’ translations of Homer? He even makes the Iliad read like a novel. I heard he was Alexander McQueen’s muse. I’ve got Fagles’ translation of the Aeneid sitting here. The Jesuits used to make me memorise that as punishment, but I think this might be actually good, even though Virgil is second rate compared to Homer. Speaking of classics I just picked up Loeb’s volume of Aelian (175-235) – ever heard of him? I think he might be the earliest known gossip writer. A Roman who wrote in Greek during the reign of Heliogabalus – the emperor who publicly married a male athlete, prostituted himself in the palace and deified himself. Right now I’m reading a chapter on famous gluttons. He says there was a temple devoted to gluttony in Sicily. I’m getting hungry, going to the Waverly Inn for dinner.



27 May 2011

MAX BLAGG {06:54}

Dear Glenn, good morning. It’s 6.54am in New York. Yes, Robert Fagles’ translation is a killer. I have it sitting here, too, and plan to read it in my dotage. Lee McQueen was very literate, wasn’t he? I heard he also drew inspiration from The Golden Bough, a good book to read while tripping on acid. You’ll never walk in a cornfield again. Your man Aelian, didn’t he invent some kind of harp? I’ve never read his gossip. I did find a nice Tibullus at the Strand that had belonged to the late David Markson. The Strand bought his library for a kilo of peanuts and now it’s scattered around the store… Tibullus was supposedly the poor man’s Catullus, but rather tame compared to the Cat who lashed Roma. This summer I’m launching a new line of intellectual/pretentious T-shirts to counteract the stupid ones, like “I’m with Stupid” that you usually see around. First one will feature this line from Catullus, “Pedicabo ego vos, et irrumabo”. All the classics scholars will be begging to pedicate me as I stroll along Bleecker in the summer heat. Are you reading this under the table on your iPad at the Waverly Inn? Who’s there tonight? Is that Fran Lebowitz over at her “special” table? Wasn’t she just in a Scorsese movie? Eating cannoli? Or did she leave the cannoli? She’d be happy to see you if she had a gun in her pocket. Say hello to [co-owner] Eric Goode if he’s there. I’m hoping to do the voiceover for his next thrilling film, Invasion of the Chelonians, about the world’s most dangerous, I mean endangered, turtles. Most animals seem endangered these days. Is it insensitive to suggest the recent earthquake and tsunami might have been Neptune and other sea gods taking revenge for the imminent extinction of the big-eye tuna? People just don’t realise the power of the gods until they get smitten, and then it’s too late to repent. In a used bookshop today I found The Mirror of Art by Charles “Three Finger Charlie” Baudelaire [Doubleday 1956]. I’ll probably never read it but it almost gave me a stiffy just looking at the cover. Charlie’s elongated forehead and opiated gaze, telling me not to fold, to keep rhymin’. There was also a three-volume set of Van Gogh’s letters, in German, that I thought I needed. Books, who reads ’em? How is your book [How to Be a Man, Rizzoli 2011] doing? Do you look at the Amazon listings every morning? Are you going to tour England when it’s published there? It should be required reading for chavs…

Talk soon,

Love M


28 May 2011


Dear Maximus,

Did you have an aeolian harp in Bridgehampton? I think being wind-driven it would be annoying, although it probably would have been great to have one for Hurricane Bob. I don’t think it had an inventor but was named after the god Aeolus, for whom my favorite islands are named. My most beloved restaurant Dal Filipino is located on Lipari where we spent a few weeks last summer. I am just now recovering from last night’s dinner at the Waverly. They kept filling my glass with pink champagne. This morning none of us could remember paying. Fran Lesbowitz [sic] was indeed behind my back on the mural, unarmed fortunately. We discussed that Scorsese film, made at Graydon Carter’s behest no doubt – all agreed she said not one funny thing in it. Tibullus also said, “In solitude be a multitude to thyself.” He was a great bunch of guys. David Markson still sits unread on my shelf. Now that he’s dead I can read This Is Not a Novel, or try again. Maybe that was his copy of Scouts in Bondage that I bought at the Strand. I agree that all animals are endangered now, even us. Nuclear power in the hands of idiots may do in everything but the cockroaches. Nuclear power must piss off Jupiter and Poseidon. The gods are definitely gaining ground again. Have you read Gods Behaving Badlyby Marie Phillips? Funny novel with a great premise, down-and-out gods of Olympus sharing a broken-down town house in London. Apollo accidentally puts the sun out, people start to believe in the gods, they get their power back. They’re dependent on believers, just like Tinker Bell in Peter Pan. “I do believe in fairies!” I believe in most of the gods, except the 53 deified Roman emperors. I think you should break down and read the Baudelaire – his writing on art is tops. On the Essence of Laughter, dealing with humour in art, is brilliant. It’s in The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays [Phaidon 1964]. As for How to Be a Man, I stopped looking up my Amazon ranking because its wide daily fluctuation was making me nervous. I looked today, though, and let’s just say I’m ahead of Baudelaire. I think it’s coming out in England in September.


MAX BLAGG {07:03}

Dear Glennicus,

we have not fired a single critical shell in this entretien amicable so far. Where is the beef filled with needles that we put down for the dogs? Who are the dogs of the day? Let us now twang our bawdy lyres. My daughter Nelly graduated from high school today. Without much help from me over the past nine years, merely proving her own sweet genius. I was dreading meeting all the other CEO/hedge funder-type parents, close friends with Strauss-Kahn, Dom the Sailor or whatever the maid-nobbler’s name is. Was. Before he ruined his career by allegedly clubbing the hotel help with his Johnson. She wasn’t even a French maid. He’s currently holed up in a luxury “town house” round the corner, on Franklin Street. A French TV crew accosted me nearby as I walked Machiavelli, our mini-pin king dog, asking me who lived in this neighbourhood, are there famous people here? “Brigitte Bardot has a penthouse round the corner,” I replied, intent on broadcasting my rapier wit to Europe, “and I think Paul Eluard’s nephew lives in that building – but why aren’t you guys in Kabul or Tripoli?” They quickly moved away. Well, why should they be in medieval Kabul when our own USAF should not be there, getting blown up while trying to unravel a thousand years of internecine tribal bullshit? Have you seen Restrepo? Fucked up. Karzai’s dress sense impressed me momentarily but the man and his clan are totally corrupt. And now NATO gets to live-test the latest in uranium-tipped ammo on actual humans in Libya. Anyway, the press, intent on bringing us important news, squatted like vultures outside the horndog’s 50k rental, half a block from the Thom Browne store, where DSK might want to pick up a pair of those beetle-crushing brogues [$650] for self-defence if he should be compelled to return to Rikers Island. He looked good in that courthouse photo, though, the old fox at bay, the lech brought down by morning wood. Allegedly. Alain Delon should play him in the doubtless forthcoming movie. Let’s get that script turned in. Canal+, écoutez-vous?


30 May 2011


Cher Maxi,

I’m not good with the parents of Oscar’s schoolmates. Don’t know why. Many of them are Italians, hence less obsessed with forcing their young up the ladder. When O was in pre-school, the other moms, in their running shoes and sweats, would look at Gina’s Blahniks and says to their tots in baby-talk tones, “Look at those shoes. How do you think that mommy manages to walk in those?” I have little sympathy for DSK. Did you see the photo of Barack Obama physically holding him back from mugging Michelle? But it’s a disgrace the way the media has handled this. The New York Post calling him a FROG in a headline? Andrea Peyser, their attack dog columnist, wrote: “The sordid affair brings into sharp relief the vast cultural, legal and moral differences between a young United States and a cowardly and decayed France.” The Post is still furious that France opposed the US invasion of Iraq. Remember when a knucklehead congressman forced the serving of “freedom fries” and “freedom toast” in the Congressional dining room? And Andrea P says France is part of the “Axis of Weasel”. I agree on the movie. Alain Delon is perfect. DSK has the remains of good looks in his face. How about Halle Berry for the maid, Catherine Keener for the wife? Jerry Seinfeld as Sarkozy? The French were right about Iraq. As for Afghanistan, if we simply legalised drugs, the war there would end for lack of funding. The French, by the way, whose empire once included about a third of the African continent, were the first to bomb Libya, whose leader Gaddafi has pushed for a United States of Africa. The situation of Libya is not simple. Mitterand’s foreign minister Roland Dumas is prepared to defend Gaddafi in the Hague. It’s hard to say who’s killing more innocents, NATO or Gaddafi or the anti-Gaddafi forces.  


29 May 2011

MAX BLAGG {08:20}

Dear Glennaldo,

Don’t you mean Jerry Lewis to play Sarkozy? They love him in France. The Post’s Francophobia is indeed quite mad. They really gave DSK a hosing, though some of their headlines have a certain discordant, minimal music to them: Frog Legs It is funny. Now Rep Weiner is on the cross because he pressed the wrong button on his CrackBerry. Eejit. The Post is run by Australians, not echt New Yorkers. Whatever happened to Richard Johnson by the way, I never get a mention on Page Six since he bailed. (I got one in 10 years while he was there.) You mentioned Scouts in Bondageearlier. Keith Sonnier gave me his reading copy. Such well-developed scouts! They really look like professional models. Were you ever a scout? I don’t see you in that beige uniform somehow, much less the cap. Impressed that you found a copy at the Strand. I’ve searched for years for a similar volume, The Girl Guides’ Guide to Fellatio and other Latin Games, which was supposedly in Philip Larkin’s vast collection of erotica that his girlfriend Maeve put to the torch after Philip croaked. What a waste! As if we didn’t know PL was a chronic masturbator just from looking at his author photo. As the poet said of himself: “Later, with inch-thick specs/evil was just my lark/me and my cloak and fangs/had ripping times in the dark/the women I clubbed with sex/I broke them up like meringues.” Sounds quite serial, out of context like that… Where were we? Ah, the backbiting MILFS at pre-school, awful creatures, whose motto is “We don’t judge, we only condemn.” That whole pre-school thing is just another urban scam, because if you don’t enroll the kid, he/she is less likely to get into the kindergarten that will eventually lead to Harvard Yard, thousands of dollars later. Never mind that a two-year-old ought to be at home, putting his finger in light sockets and torturing the cat. Enjoy the last of May.



1 June 2011



Jerry Lewis has now gotten to the point where physically he could only play Jerry Lewis. I’m thinking cameo appearance. But it’s funny how Americans dislike the French. I guess it shows the extent of our puritan streak. The French are still swinging, while Americans have become prudes, channelling their sexual energy into eating. Have you seen The Biggest Loser? I haven’t the stomach for it. The Australians are probably more American than Americans. The  Aussies hate the philosophical delicacy of the French.   Froggers, it’s Australian for queer, mate! The snobbery of the French, well, it all comes down to “tu as raison”. And faith is the enemy of “raison”. Remember when Oscar Wilde presented himself at Australian immigration and they asked him if he had a criminal record and he replied, “Is it still necessary?”

Richard Johnson has, I believe, gone to California to take another position in the Murdoch organisation, in “digital ventures”. Apparently the internet is headquartered in Los Angeles. He has been replaced by Emily Smith, who looks sort of like Dina Merrill circa 1957, but with more Veronica Lake-like hair. I hope she discovers you soon.

I still get the Post delivered every day but I only read Page Six and the sports page – unless the headline of Andrea Pisser or Michael Goodwin gets my goat. The sports page remains surprisingly good. Phil Mushnick is a remarkably tough critic of the sports media, and other beat writers, like Mike Vaccaro, are far more intelligent than those who produce the editorial pages.  I usually read the Post after I send the kid off to school and I’m not fully awake. It’s very dreamlike. I can only read the Times after coffee.



2 June 2011

MAX BLAGG {11:31}

Dear Glenn,

A finely wrought critique of the Post’s sports and pastimes department. I don’t know what Dina Merrill looked like but whenever I think of Veronica Lake I think of Alan Ladd standing on an apple box so he can look her in the eye that’s not obscured by golden hair finer than Shulamith’s, whoever she was. You’re right about Jerry Lewis, I had forgotten how old he must be. Out of sight, out of mind, as they said about his “clown in Auschwitz” movie. He was really good in King of Comedy. Andrea Peyser was young when that movie came out. I wonder what drives her rage? Peno-pause? But calling America “young”, compared to ancient decadent France? To paraphrase Bill Burroughs, this country was “old and evil before the Indians… ” and look what we did with the Indians… First Whiteman: “Here, Injun, wrap your women and children in these nice blankets, infused with smallpox virus, but 100% wool.” Yeah, we have a lot to answer for. “We, whiteman?” as Tonto said to the Lone Ranger before turning him over to the Tribal Council’s tomahawks. Anyway, I am glad you are raising your boy in the sunlight of America. At least he is not subject to the English “class” system. The boarding schools of England were, and probably still are, run on strict military lines, because the only kids permitted to attend and undergo such ritual abuse in the guise of education, would later run the country and/or officiate in the armed forces, where they would blithely send in the cannon fodder, my people, the salt of the earth, the dumb-as-oxen working classes, to be sacrificed to the howitzers and the demonic machine guns. Culled us something terrible, they did. At least back then they didn’t have the kind of weapons they have today, land mines designed to resemble toys so kids will pick them up, ordnance that contains tiny fragments that continue to expand inside the body… Oops, no more coffee for me. I just finished Hans Fallada’s  Every Man Dies Alone, which proved most brutally that everyone in the end will give up his fellow… Yes, Glenn, I’m afraid if “they” were to waterboard me to find out where we buried those copies of Bald Ego #1, I’d be drawing a detailed map for my interrogators in no time, my upper lip wilted “like a pizza in the rain”. A final note: an article in the NY Times records the non-appearance this year of the annual influx of young and crusty “travellers” on the Lower East Side. Traditionally they arrive in the spring, from wherever they’ve been wintering, to begin their summer mooching. Great premise for horror movie, disappearing youth, cars and trucks stopped and searched, freight trains diverted into sidings and the youngsters hustled off to secret camps, where their vital organs are harvested… Hey, isn’t that already happening to political prisoners in China? Love M


3 June 2011


Dear Marx,

Raising my boy in the sun of America? Let’s not forget that it’s an Italian school he goes to, even if it’s in Manhattan. They still learn manners there, and dress in nice egalitarian uniforms. I suppose the English system is quite flawed. Hooman says that the headmaster (at St Paul’s, I believe) used to lecture the lads, “And if you must have sex, for God’s sake have it with a boy” to save them from clutches of downscale townie gals. I think Chris Blackwell is still trying to get over Harrow trauma, and he’s 74. I was schooled by Jesuits and usually, when they wanted to spank you, they’d take no for an answer.

I met some Indians not long ago. They hate it that white liberals insist on calling them Native Americans. They like “Indians”. I was very impressed with them. I really think we should turn a fair share of land back to them. I say let’s say everything west of New York and east of California. Let them have all the middle states and rule over the whities living there as they see fit. Part of the mythos of America is that America was practically deserted when the superior whitey arrived, and so what he did was inevitable and excusable. Scientists would opine that there were fewer than a million inhabitants pre-Columbus, so the Indians were more lurking than living here. Now we’re getting many estimates 20 times higher or even much more. One dissenter, what they call a “high counter”, was anthropologist Henry F Dobyns, who suggested that there were 100 million people in the Americas before Columbus. Charles C Mann’s great book 1491 argues that the Indians were in no way inferior to the Europeans, even in technology, and that they were only defeated by the diseases Europeans teemed with. America was not a wild natural environment, but it had been altered consciously by Indians, who used fire as an agricultural tool. Moccasins were superior to European shoes, canoes superior to European small craft, and Indian arrows were far superior in accuracy and range to the guns of the Spaniards. 

Devolution and tribalism are the only answers to America’s biggest problem, bigness. The only hope for the USA is to follow the lead of the USSR and devolve into more manageable units. Like tribes. I and thou have nothing in common with the mid-American volk. We are natural enemies, in fact. The Athenians, who originally thought up democracy, believed it would only work in a demos, or a unit of population of the size where one could know everyone else in it. I think their figure was about 360 people. Otherwise you can’t trust the bastards. Remember it was a democracy that condemned Socrates to death. I think we could deal with demos of about 2,000. Small units. If you don’t like it, move!

by Max Blagg & Glenn O’brien

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