“I go on with my life as if none of this has ever happened.  I do what I do to make my life in the present tense as simple as possible.”

Gerard Malanga: Under the Muse’s Spell

Poet, photographer and filmmaker, Gerard Malanga, the son of Italian immigrants, was raised in the Bronx borough of New York City. Worked closely with Andy Warhol during the artist’s most creative period in the mid-Sixties. His several books of poetry, have earned him worldwide recognition. Gerard Malanga’s photography has been sought after by publishers worldwide and by collectors of discriminating taste for over twenty-five years. The strength of his archive is primarily in the uniqueness of the image as well as the ephemeral shot.

                Gerard at Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz, NY, 2000. Photo © Asako Kitaori

A large number of the candid and formal portraits are internationally known images, such as Mick Jagger, William Burroughs and Iggy Pop. Specialties range from Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground, Edie Sedgwick, and Robert Mapplethorpe to the 1939 New York World’s Fair and a wide assortment of nudes and erotica. Extensive collections exist of Keith Richards, Patti Smith, John Ashbery, Nico, Rene Ricard, and Allen Ginsberg and the Beats. New additions include Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Richard Wright, and Robert Moses. Historical imagery consists of New York cityscapes.

Author of several books of poetry, his most recent is Mythologies of the Heart(1996, Black Sparrow Press). Two books of his photography have also appeared: Good Girls (1994, Kawade/Tokyo) and Resistance to Memory (1998, Arena Editions). In 1985, Malanga edited the first in-depth survey on voyeurism in photography, Scopophilia : The Love of Looking. With Victor Bockris, Malanga co-authored Up-Tight: The Velvet Underground Story (2003). Malanga’s other works include two compact discs : 3 Weeks With My Dog with the Belgian group, 48 Cameras and Gerard Malanga Up From the Archives (Sub Rosa), comprising tapes from his personal collection with recent contributions by Iggy Pop and Thurston Moore.

Interview by Michael Limnios 

M.L: When was your first desire to become involved in the art?

GERARD MALANGA:  Which art are you talking about?

ML: That’s my question… what does “ART” means to you?

GM:  What does art mean to me?  I never really think about the “meaning” of art.  Yet, obviously, that’s what I do.  I’ve always felt that the initial impetus had much to do with curiosity, which reaches back to my childhood.  Children, by nature, are curious, though without the intellectual capacity to understand why.  Ezra Pound once remarked in a BBC interview, that without curiosity, the artist is dead.  That seems about right.  Whether it’s a poem I’m working on or a picture I’ve snapped, it all has to do with the curiosity I feel without thinking about it.  I don’t presume otherwise.  The end-result should “astonish” me; a favorite word of Cocteau’s.  If I’m astonished by what I’ve done, then I know I’ve been somewhere in the making of it, but not during the making of it.  Only after the fact.  If I’m not astonished, then I’ve failed in the making of it.  I have my ‘on’ and ‘off’ days; but then I welcome those moments between moments when I’m not making anything.  I just like to observe or kick back with a good book.  Re-charge my batteries, as it were. Whatever.

ML:  What do you learn about yourself from your projects (poetry, photography, films)?  Is it a way of psychoanalysis?  What has Art offered you?

GM:  I get this feeling that each time I write a poem I’m in touch with a secret language.  My work in photography and film, including the poetry, has really nothing to do with psychoanalysis.  I don’t treat my work as a form of analytical therapy.  I feel that I’m blessed with the ability to express myself in ways that satisfy me and hopefully will give enjoyment to others.  I look upon all this on a spiritual plane that makes it almost impossible for me to define.  What has Art offered me is such an abstract question because I never think about what I’m doing as something that Art has offered to me.  I live my life and have experienced much and have met many interesting people along the way.  I have been inspired to write about these encounters or make portraits of the people I’ve met as becoming a record of who they are and the enthusiasms we’ve shared or of the knowledge exchanged.  All this has nothing whatsoever to do with “Art” per se.  It has to do with ‘life experience,’ I like to call it.  As I said earlier, I don’t think about the process of creating while I’m writing or photographing.  I just do it, and then I move on.

                      Gerard & Jedi performing at The Cooler, 2001. Collection © Archives Malanga

ML:  What experiences in your life make you a good poet, filmmaker, and photographer?  To conclude what experience in life is the trigger for the creation?

GM:   It’s not what experiences in life make me a “good” poet.  I want to be the best that I am in what I do, and I say that from a professional position.  And it’s not that I want to maintain this level of receptivity every day in my life.  There are moments that have nothing or very little to do with my poetry, and I welcome those moments the way I welcome the morning when I get up to feed my four cats, go out to buy the morning papers, and head over to my favorite cafe and read and sometimes write, too.  I never know when the muse will pay me a visit, but when she does I’m under her spell.  I think of her as an angel.  I become hypnotized and lose all sense of time.  There was an ad in the newspaper back in November for the new Hermes wristwatch, and the headline selling-point was “Le temps suspendu.”  Now I know what that means, but I never thought how it would sound in French, but remarkably I’m very good at pronouncing French words and le temps suspendu just rolled off my lips and without thinking about it I was immersed in the dream world of poetry; and what seemed like a few minutes turned into an hour when it was all done.  In the mornings, my mind is clear and receptive, and I’ve found that to be the best time of day to write.  ‘Time suspended’ originates with Coleridge, reminding me of Eliot’s remark about “the willing suspension of disbelief” where stream of consciousness takes over.  Actually, that’s a misnomer.  It’s actually the unconscious that takes over.  I don’t know where the making of art comes from.  It’s more like a blind date with the unconscious.  Some mornings it works; some mornings not.  Then, back in my conscious, awakened state, I’ll look back at what I’ve written and if it works, then I’ve “astonished” myself.  And it gets better for me with repeated readings.  But the final test for me is to see how it works in an oral situation, like a poetry reading.  That’s the fun part for me, because here I get the opportunity to share what I’ve made with others.  I’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve become a receptor for those poems coming into me.  As I said, some days it works and some days it doesn’t.  But I don’t become frustrated.  The next big one is just around the corner, I like to think.  When it will happen I have no idea.

ML:  What do you miss the most nowadays from the past?

GM:  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  A friend of mine from the 60s once said to me, “Gerard, your life is existing without you,” and I know what he means.  My life has been like turning pages in a book.  But who’s life is it, I wonder?  I’m detached from myself when it comes to time.  I’ve reached a point where perhaps my life, my name have become myths.  But I don’t pay attention.  I go on with my life as if none of this has ever happened.  I do what I do to make my life in the present tense as simple as possible.  I have created an environment for myself, surrounded by an immense library with the artworks of friends on the walls and 4 loving cats who are my companions.  I read a lot.  I write nearly every day.  To quote Don Juan/Carlos Castaneda:  “I follow my nature to be happy.”  I learned long ago I don’t need to be in the whirlwind that is New York City.  I much prefer my quietude; my distance from all of that.  If I need to go to the city for whatever reason, I adapt in an instant.  It’s like time travel.  You see, I grew up there.  I’m a Bronx boy.  An editor friend, Don Allen, came up to me when I was living in Bolinas with a manuscript for Lew Welch’s poetry which he was editing.  He asked if I could put a date to a kind of haiku which Lew had dedicated to me.  First, I never met Lew Welch, but I obviously made an impression, for him to honor me with a poem!  It goes like this; it’s in his Collected Poems:

Poem for Gerard Malanga

More people

know you

than you know.

Fame.

I would loved to have met Lew, but our times were not synchronous.

ML: What is the relation between words and image?  People say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  How poetic can be a photograph? 

GM: One person tends to repeat what someone else says, and pretty soon you have “people” en masse repeating the same stupid thing.  It had to take someone too lazy to read to come up with a remark like that which has now become part of the lexicon.  I’ve found myself in this lucky or perhaps not so lucky position of constantly going back and forth between photography and poetry with ease, but scarcely relating one to the other because I’ve always found the “poetic photograph” noxious to my taste.  I don’t think any one photograph can be equated with a value given by the number of words it takes to describe and define what we are seeing.  And both mediums to my recollection have never had an equal footing to begin with.  Language has the clarity and ability to describe what’s in a photograph, but the vice versa I’ve never known to achieve the same effect.  You can’t photograph a group of words or a paragraph even exactly what the language is describing.  It’s like the fable of the chicken and the egg.  Which comes first?  The image or the word?  It’s apparent that the word comes first because it serves photography through description; and while each in its own way compliments the other by documentation, a photograph is essentially static whereas language is fluid.  Photography becomes subservient to language and never the other way around.  Being both a published poet and a published photographer, I’m able to touch upon my own experience in saying that I find photography to be extroverted in space whereas poetry is introspective in time.  Henri Cartier-Bresson once remarked that you cannot photograph and print a memory.  Once the picture exists, its memory is displaced.  The photo becomes a substitute for what we remember and therefore acts as a ‘resistance to memory,’ which ended up being the title for one of my picture books.  Poetry, on the other hand, allows you to magically see images through words, and that’s part of the magic of poetry.

ML:  Let’s talk about the music: how important was the music in your life?  How does the music affect your mood and inspiration?  How does the music come out of your poems?

GM:  At the age of 11 I went to see this movie by Walt Disney called “Fantasia.”  It was playing at this little art house called the Guild around the corner from Radio City Music Hall.  I didn’t realize at the time that it was what they called in those days a “re-release.”  Actually an older movie brought back by “popular demand.”  The movie was mesmerizing because it was filled with all this classical music which I’d never heard before, especially the segment with Mickey Mouse accompanied by Paul Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and a whole segment devoted to Moussorgsky’s “A Night on Bald Mountain.”  I went looking for the soundtrack in the neighborhood record stores.  I was too young to realize there was no soundtrack, but that I could actually obtain individual records of the music.  I made this discovery sometime later.  Ha-ha.  So classical music has stayed with me all this time.  In 1967, I was a guest in my friend Peter Hartman’s house in Rome.  He was a composer and a poet and had apprenticed with Hans Werner Henze whom I also met at this time.  Peter had this one vinyl called “Four Places in New England” by someone named Charles Ives, and conducted as I would remember by Howard Hanson whom I would later learn was also an important American composer.  So my education in classical music has broadened from that time to include an eclectic mix of 19th and 20th century French, English and American music; mostly composers like Edgard Varese, Stefan Wolpe, Vaughn Williams, David Diamond, Francis Poulenc, Gabriel Faure, Stravinsky, Howard Hanson and Charles Ives.  One vinyl I keep returning to among many others in my collection is Moussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”  It never fails to put me in a certain mood.  I play my records every day here in the house.  The music sets the mood, so it clearly motivates me when I’m writing.  I’ve even written pieces on a few of the composers I listen to.  I wouldn’t say that the music comes out in my poetry in any obvious way, but it provides a mental picture that only I can work from.  I tend to write in very erratic line lengths as a measure to my breath and how I hear the rhythms in my ear; some very very long lines interspersed with short ones.  I call this ‘scoring.’  They’re beginning to look like sheet music on the page!  In alluding to Pater, Ezra Pound makes the following claim that “for poetry to approach the condition of music, it is not necessary that poetry should be destitute of meaning.”  That’s something I reflect on from time to time in associating music with my work.

ML:  What is the common line that connects the legacy of Romanticism, later to Ezra’s “Lost Generation,” with “the Beats” and continue your generation and beyond?

GM:  I’m not so sure there is a common thread between the legacy of Romanticism with Ezra Pound’s “Lost Generation” and later with the Beats.  Each movement has its leader or leaders and each group has its parameters and agendas.  I’ve always treated each one separately in my extensive readings about them because of the intervening decades I wanna say where transitions didn’t really exist.  But perhaps I can convey a few observations I’ve made that would make each more distinct.  First off, it should be remembered that the Romantics existed as a coherent group, and I assume you’re thinking here of Keats, Byron, Shelley, Coleridge and Wordsworth–and who knows, I’m sure there were minor players as well–who lived in a time before the invention of photography.  So the whole locus of communication was through correspondence exclusively.  Yet we don’t have any photographic likenesses of any of them from that time, peculiar as this sounds.  All we have are a few oils and etchings; that’s about it.  Being a photographer, this discovery stared me in the face because no one else noted it.  The Romantic movement had much to do with departure from the cities, whether it was a retreat to the English countryside; or else travels abroad.  Keats, Byron and Shelley all died on foreign soil.  It was primarily a rural movement, I’d say.  The term “Lost Generation,” I believe, was conceived by Gertrude Stein at one of her Sunday salons where she quipped at Hemingway, “You are lost!”  She gave the movement its name and its declaration.  She and Ezra Pound were the primary movers. He in London and she in Paris.  It was more or less an urban movement but characteristic in ways directly connected with the artists, especially in Paris, whereas the Beats were strictly a literary movement.  In fact, they weren’t highly educated in the other arts at all.  There was never even a concentration of the Beats all in one place.  You had Burroughs basically moving all over the map; Allen and Peter in New York; Kerouac first out on Long Island and afterwards in Florida, but the movement was still urban in many respects.  Each of these movements, as I’ve said, had their leaders dedicated in their pursuits.  The Romantics and The Lost Generation have pretty much been part of the academic curriculum for over fifty years now.  The Beats still have a lot of catching up to do.

ML:  Are there any “memories” from Charles Olson, William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Charles Bukowski, and Robert Creeley which you’d like to share with us?

GM:  It’s gotten to the point that with so many poets and artists I have known, I’m hard put to remember any one instance that would stand out right now.  Burroughs and I shared a love for cats.  Whenever we’d meet, the first thing Bill would say is, “How’s Eban?!” Once, when he came over for lunch where Diane [Costello nee Hersey] and I were living on East 14th Street, our black Siamese Eban leaped into Bill’s lap in the most affectionate sort of way, and he’d never forgotten that.  There are many anecdotes with Creeley, but you might wanna go the the Academy of American Poets website and access my piece on Bob.  It’s in their magazine, American Poet [www.poets.org] in the Fall 2005 issue.

ML:  As you say you love the cats–and you have four–what are the characteristics of their behavior that fascinates you–and what should we (people) can learn from these?

GM:  I’ve had a love for cats for as long as I can remember… ever since childhood.  I can date the very first time I was photographed by a professional photographer, it was with a Manx cat; the photographer wasWalter Chandoha.  I read in the newspaper about this cat show in midtown Manhattan at the Belmont Plaza Hotel.  I was curious; I’d never been to a cat show and certainly didn’t know what to expect.  So my dad took me.  We travelled all the way from the Bronx by subway.  It was 1952 or ’53.  Chandoha is still around; lives somewhere in New Jersey.  I asked his name, and he told me.  I was good at remembering names.  I never had pets when I was growing up and my parents had no patience for them, but when Diane and I moved from Boston to New York City, we answered an ad in the Village Voice for a kitten that was up for adoption.  So we went to see the kitten and fell in love with him at first sight.  He crawled all the way up and bit Diane on the chin.  He was already claiming us.  “OK Buster!  We’re taking you home.” 

Turns out he was a pure-bred black Siamese.  So Diane named him Eban as a pun on the word ebony.  He had a long and loving life of nearly fourteen years.  I now live with four cats and we’re one big happy family.  I have one tortoiseshell and one tortoiseshell & white; both girls.  Then there’s a domestic shorthair, nearly all black with a patch of white on his chest.  And then there’s Sasha named after Alexander Hammid, one of the world’s great cinematographers who was a dear friend and at one time Maya Deren’s first husband and co-collaborator on their underground movies.  Sasha is a French Chartreux pure-bred.  All-grey.  They’re indoor cats, so they have their hiding places.  I don’t see them an awful lot, but we have our conversations every day.  They’re presence is a blessing.  I also photograph them when I’m in the mood or when they’re in the mood.  Cats are great to photograph.  Their so photogenic.  I once asked my friend, Wolf Suschitzky who is known for his cat pictures what it takes to photograph a cat, and he replied with just one word, “Patience.”  What fascinates me about my cats is that they have a mind of their own.  They come and go at will.  They don’t crave attention.  Cats have been depicted in art and literature for centuries.  They’ve been deemed sacred in certain cultures, past and present.  They are truly mysterious creatures.

ML:  What is your favorite photo and what is the story behind this?

GM:  I can’t say that I have one specific photo in mind that’s my favorite.  If I go through my collection of photography books I could easily pick out dozens, but I’m not about to take the time to do this; it’s all too-consuming.  My favorite photo changes monthly.  It arrives in the post as a cluster of photos in my favorite magazine, The World of Interiors.  It’s the only print-media periodical I subscribe to.  It’s chockfull of wonderful stories about peoples’ homes and lifestyles of the famous, the not-so-famous, or just private folk, families; interior designers.  Artists and writers.  The history of a run-down house and how it was saved and built up and renovated through time.  It could be anywhere in the world literally.  The stories behind how fabrics are selected or the discoveries made in some out-of-the-way flea market.  The histories of family-owned businesses involving home interiors; or of someone’s personal collection of one thing or other.  And all this illustrated with the most amazing photographs, most of them in color.  The power to charm, to draw you in, to transport you to another time and place.  There’s no other magazine quite like it.  And every month there’s something new to read about and look at, study.  And the writing is excellent.  The book reviews are excellent.  All in all, it’s such a magical experience.  It’s a wonderful change of pace from just looking at “art.”

ML:  What is the relation between music and poetry?

GM:  From my own personal experience, as I may have said earlier, classical music conjures up images in my mind’s eye of being totally surrounded by nature; of the wind whistling through tree branches; of an open field in late afternoon against a cloudy or sunny sky; of the golden hour before twilight descends.  Music is a form of quietude for me.  That’s what I feel when I have a record on the turntable while I’m sitting at my dining-room table working on a poem or a piece of non-fiction.  It’s the very energy and passion in the music that drives me forward.  All outside distractions are blocked out.  I don’t know what the relation between music and poetry is for someone else.  There have been instances where I’ve seen advertised some public panel discussion or other between poets about this tenuous relationship; but unless poets listen to classical music on a daily basis; unless they’ve immersed themselves in the music they claim is an inspiration, no such claim can be made to justify their work on that level if the work itself is completely devoid of musical rhythms of any kind.  Being fully immersed in the vinyls I listen to has made me a more intelligent poet in my own writing.  I have enormous respect for composers because I feel a kinship with them, immersed as they are in an equally ‘secret language’ like the one I discovered when I was 16-years-old.

Gerard ID photo. Tibetan Photo Shop, Dharamsala, India. 1972. Collection © Archives Malanga

ML:  You have been travelling all around the world.  What are some of the most travels you’ve had?  What inspires you from the world?

GM:  I have literally circumnavigated the planet; not once, but two times even.  The first time was in 1972, but let me run back the clock a year earlier.  I have a close friend, Jim Jacobs, who doesn’t live far from me.  Back then, when we were hanging out in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, we were into living our lives in the most minimal ways possible.  I was reading a lot of Salinger, and we both were into the Carlos Castaneda books, the first two:  The Teachings of Don Juan and A Separate Reality.  They’re actually his best.  After that, he gets repetitive.  They formed the focal point for me to see how far I could go in doing away with my everyday desires and attachments.  This inspired me to wanna see more of the world, even though I had already travelled a great deal.  I bought what was in those days a cheap round-the-world plane ticket allowing me to fly in one direction only.  I financed the trip by selling my first library to Bob Wilson of the Phoenix Bookshop.  Bob was very liberal with the purchase, seeing as I was on a quest, and he wanted to help out.  There had to be at least 3000 volumes in all, maybe more.  Many signed, rare first editions.  Part of the plan was to detach myself from worldly possessions; but hey, I figured I could always replace them later on if I wanted to.  Detach and travel light.  That was the plan.  Jim had given me a pattern to make my own leather shoulder bag.  Everything I needed for this journey had to fit in this one bag.  No extras.  My camera and one lens, toiletries, notebook and little cotton Indian shirts that could be rolled up to conserve space and that was pretty much it.  By the time I left Israel I had already shipped my camera to my publisher back in L.A. to lighten the load by at least 5 pounds!  The trip was intense and I met many remarkable men along the way, but I’m not going to get into this at the moment.  There’s just too much, too much to cover.  Halfway through my journey I managed to reach Tahiti.  Here I was, literally in the center of nowhere in the South Pacific without knowing a soul; that is, until one day I was coming out of the American Express office and I heard a voice call out, “Gerard, is that you?!”  I turned, and at first I didn’t recognize the person, but he introduced himself.  Jim Bowack was his name, and then I remembered meeting him a few years earlier in New York.  At the time, he had just graduated from SUNY-Buffalo where he was studying poetry with Robert Creeley.  Suddenly, my anonymity was blown!  Jim immediately moved me out of my hotel and into his house with his family.  He had just started publishing a bilingual English/French weekly newspaper covering Tahiti and the outlying islands.  It was during my stay with Jim, he introduced me to a remarkable man, a yachtsman named Bernard Moitessier.   He wrote a book called La longue route, roughly translated The Long Voyage, about the 1968 Plymouth Cup race, in which he was in the lead and, as he recounted it to me on the last leg as he was about to turn the boat north into the Atlantic and up into Plymouth, England, he pulled a zen number and chucked it all and sailed into the Indian Ocean and on into the Pacific where he ended up in Tahiti which is where I then found him 4 years later.  I never knew what happened to him after that, but he left an indelible impression on my memory, and we saw eye to eye on a lot of what it meant to live one’s life as variously as possible, unhindered by worldly desires, staying focused at all times, and to regret nothing.  I made a couple of portraits of him with Jim’s camera.  He signed his book over to me.  I left Tahiti shortly after and headed back to the States, to the West Coast.  His legacy is my memory of him.

ML:  What can you tell us about “Three Weeks With My Dog” and “Up From the Archives”?  How that came about?

GM:  I owe it all to Philippe Franck who not only co-curated my first-ever museum retrospective, at Le Botanique back in ’99, but was also the catalyst who made so much happen for me in Brussels, including meeting his intern, Sandrine Mons, who is now my exclusive gallerist for all of Europe.  It was through Philippe that I met Jean-Marie Mathoul, leader of the group, Forty-eight Cameras with whom I collaborated on the CD, “Three Weeks With My Dog;” and with Guy-Marc Hinant who, as Sound Editor, was instrumental in getting “Up From the Archives,” which Phlippe and I co-produced, placed with Sub Rosa.  Later I would co-produce with Guy-Marc the double CD, “Angus MacLise: The Cloud Doctrine,” also with Sub Rosa.  It was also during this time I met Freddy Thielemans, now the Mayor of Brussels, and himself a fine poet.  Freddy brought me over to Brussels in 2007 where I read my work to a packed audience at City Hall.  The great thing is there will always be opportunities to work with Philippe again.  He has been a stalwart supporter of my work from Day One.

ML:  How would you like to characterize your work?

GM:  My poetry has certainly evolved over the years.  51 years now I’ve been publishing.  That’s a long haul, I would say.  And in all that time my work has grown just as I’ve grown as a person through “life experience.”  To get to where I am now in my work, I’ve had to break a few rules; I have the confidence to do it. Marianne Moore has pointed out that Mark Twain “despised the avoidance of repetitions out of fear of tautology” which relates exactly to what I’m doing in my own writing.  The general rule was to avoid repetition of the same word in a poem; but I find myself doing just the opposite.  In a recent poem I have the word ‘ghost’ appearing four or five times.  I realized I was breaking a rule after I broke it, but I didn’t care.  If it works, it works!  I have the authority to do so.  Sometimes I’ll knock out a preposition like “of,” for instance.  For me, it simply drives the line forward.  Allen Ginsberg was known for this.  The gate of heaven becomes heaven’s gate.  See how the phrase becomes more immediate.  Montesquieu said “Good writing is the art of omitting transitional thought,” and I know what he means.  In music, “transitional” means a sudden change of key.  In poetry, I find it relates more cinematically to the “quick cut,” where you’ll be following a line of thought along, and suddenly there’s this quick cut.  It’s a kind of codified abbreviation.  I’ve even reached a point where in nearly all my poems I’ve eliminated the “I,” the noun, and now I write in the 3rd person-singular.  By refocussing the attention away from me, the poems take on this story-telling voice.  So my poems have evolved into these short short stories.  They’ve become story poems is what I call them. That’s how I would characterize my work now.  The voice in them is disembodied.  My voice shifts and takes on the tone of a narrator.  I’ve removed myself from the foreground.  The poems are not about me anymore; they’re about someone else.  That ‘someone else’ becomes the subject-matter.

                                      Conte Biancamano post card, c. 1930s. Collection © Gerard Malanga

ML:  What are the daily things that you do and enjoy?

GM:  My interests in things go all the way back to my adolescence.  And this has much to do with my curiosity as a motivating factor.  In Hannah Arendt’s 1968 introduction to a collection of Walter Benjamin’s essays, she points out that “collecting is the passion of children, for whom things are not yet commodities and are not valued according to their usefulness…” and that much can be said about me as well.  When I was 9 or 10, my dad gave me a couple of post cards of oceanliners he had saved from when he travelled on them in the mid-1930s to visit family and friends back in Italy.  I was fascinated by the look of these ships because I had not seen anything quite like them.  The cards were beautiful to look at and also to hold; and I had this yearning to want to collect more of them for myself, to while the time away, like they say.  So these two cards the Conte Biancamano and the Rex were the seeds that began a collection that I’ve maintained to this day.  I also have a substantial collection of vinyls of classical music which I’ve mentioned earlier; and I’m surrounded by I would say at least 5000 books on various subjects, though there is no precise order to where things are.  Walter Benjamin, in his seminal essay, “Unpacking My Library,” says that “every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memory… and indeed, if there is a counterpart to the confusion of a library, it is the order of its catalogue,” except in my situation I have no cataloguing system!  It’s all by memory.  The certain placement of books will remind me where to look for others; but things don’t always work.  So truly my memory can be “chaotic” as much as my library suggests.  All in all, my collections give me great pleasure whenever I leaf through the post card albums or just the feeling I get from all these books staring down at me from their shelves.

….for the end of  interview an autobiographical poem by Gerard Malanga

Gerard Malanga, 1943 to the present.

        It’s only after that they remember you.  Total strangers, mind you!

They remember you for what they’ve read.  He lived the life!

They remember your ghost even as a clue to the existentiel.

They remember only your shadow in passing;

your elongated silhouette across the paving-stones

at 5:00 p.m. a summer’s day somewhere the East Village,

the Bronx, where have you.

St.-Germain de Prés the VIe 1970.

Loulou waiting at the Flore, all-smiles.  The drifting off…

via del Babuino, ’67 winter closing in and someone from behind,

Benedetta grabs my scarf, swings me round.  All-smiles…

and then everything goes ghostly.  The snowy twilight settling in.

Years of wanderings, homelessness, house-sittings,

the Sloppy Joe’s, and still the poems keep coming.

Round-the-world in one delirious direction only.

“Follow your nature to be happy.”

I’m happy! and then the happy shaman voice drifts off

as in a dream somewhere the rambla, the arroyo,

and still the poems keep coming strong.

This morning everything seemed a bit blurry.

I need to reach for my reading glasses, oi, vai!

but they’re left outside the dream… and I’m inside!

No way can I reach through without crashing the unconscious.

The choice do I sleep or do I wake?  I wake.

Now all else is in the past.  The sleep.  The dream.

Mallarmé is in the past by candlelight and really drifting off!

Shelley is in the past remaining imageless before photography;

before the mirror-image.  Way before.

Names and names and more names become a scrambled mess.

I wanna reach out.  The looking-glass reflects back

the one side only; not the other.  The dark side.  The existentiel.

The 1920s.  Paris.  No!

The late 60s.  Milano.  Rome.  Yes!  No!

Cities of the night.

Cities in the rain.

The names remaining and what comes after.

So much more.  Best to forget.

Tell me the time.  What time is it?  I wanna know.

Has it all been make-believe, after all?  I wanna know.

Has life been blessed?

The many friends.  The many lovers.  Some gone to rest.

Names criss-crossed and star-crossed.

The drifting off.  Even the pre-posthumous.  Gossipy.

All’s well that ends well… or does it end?

Oh, I thought he died years ago!

Who was he really?                               © Gerard Malanga

                   Gerard in front of his favorite noble oak. Ghent, NY, 2010. Photo © Asako Kitaori

Gerard Malanga – Official website