Twelve Picks from
Our CoEditors
In 2012, we will be publishing
The Noisiest Book Review in the Known World,
a collection of the best writings
from RALPH's first fifteen years.
The editors have begun their selections for this volume,
and here are a dozen or so of their favorite
readings, poems, articles and reviews.

§     §     §

Ham on Rye
Charles Bukowski
It's been years since we've sampled Bukowski, and we wanted to see if he had aged, as we have --- for better or for worse. After three pages of Ham on Rye, we were hooked --- and after three days, we knew why he, along Henry Miller, R. Crumb, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and J. D. Salinger were the word mavens of our salad days.

We have to point out though that Bukowski is special. We might call it the Midsummer's Night's effect. Years before it was fashionable, he was able to turn all that Americans thought was great and good and right and honorable on its head. Fathers were not loyal and strong --- rather, they beat their children mercilessly and lied. Mothers were not wise and loving --- they whined.

Boys fought like hoodlums, talked of little more than what was in their pants or in girls' panties. Female teachers were there at the front of the class so the boys could look up their dresses. Pimples and boils could and did create an agony inside to match the agony outside. Wars and politics and "true-love" were stupid. Getting blind drunk was the highest virtue --- especially if it devolved into a bloody knock-down-drag-out between you and your best drinking buddy.

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Rebuilding the Church of the
Novgorod Kremlin

Ryszard Kapuscinski
Many smaller churches and monasteries had stood in the vicinity of the Novgorod kremlin. Among them was the Church of the Lord's Transfiguration, built in the fourteenth century on a small hill three kilometers away. In 1380, a group of anonymous painters decorated the interior of the church with magnificent frescoes. Their surface area totaled around 350 square meters.

During the Second World War, Russians turned the church into a bunker and an artillery observation point, at which the Germans constantly took aim with cannons and mortars. Because they fired at the church for more than two and a half years, after the war all that remained on the hill was a mountain of rubble more than five meters high.

For the next twenty years, the mountain was overgrown with grasses, weeds, and bushes, until, in 1965, someone started to poke around in the rubble and discover small, colorful fragments of the frescoes.

Over the next several years, three hundred cubic meters of debris were carefully dug through and ten cubic meters of colored bits were sifted out of it, then transported to the Novgorod kremlin, to the building where for the last twenty years Professor Grekov, his wife, and a group of enthusiasts have been attempting to piece together again from these little stones, morsels, and particles, thoroughly shattered and ground up by artillery fire, the old, fourteenth century frescoes, in which anonymous painters conveyed their vision of the Lord's Transfiguration.

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Isaac Bashevis Singer and
The Lower East Side

Bruce Davidson,

(Mead Art Museum/
University of Wisconsin)
Late in life, Bendit Pupko got rich. To paraphrase Blossom Dearie's My Attorney Bernie, "Someone told him to buy, he bought; they told him to sell, he sold."

He was a writer, and his stories, our narrator informs us, "lacked any sense of organization, but on every page I found some lines to surprise me." Such as? "The day was cloudy and the sky loyal."

One day, Pupko told another writer --- the writer persona for this story --- that he, too, would one day praise him. The writer replies, "There isn't enough money in the world to make me write about you."

    "Not even for ten thousand dollars?"

    "Not even for ten million."

Pupko goes into decline. His wife, who has a beard (Pupko likes beards on women, refuses to let her shave it) comes to the narrator's apartment. She lights a cigar.

    "When you told him you would never write about him, he took it very badly ... You won't believe it but from that day on he was never the same. Sick as he was, he was always full of joy. He used to make plans years in advance. But since that day he never lifted a pen."

When our author decides to give in, it is too late. However, just before Pupko dies, he reads the hard-won praise in proof-sheets. "Didn't I tell you?" he scrawls in the margin.

Later, our author runs into Mrs. Pupko at the Automat. "She still had her beard and wore a man's hat and shoes. She immediately limped over to my table and sat down as if she had an appointment with me."

    I wanted to ask Mrs. Pupko why, since her husband is no longer alive, she had kept her beard, but I remembered her words, "Nu, one musn't know everything."
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Ben, Dan,
Sam and Ned
Vladimir Nabokov

I learned to read English before I could read Russian. My first English friends were four simple souls in my grammar --- Ben, Dan, Sam and Ned. There used to be a great deal of fuss about their identities and whereabouts --- "Who is Ben?" "He is Dan," "Sam is in bed," and so on. Although it all remained rather stiff and patchy (the compiler was handicapped by having to employ --- for the initial lessons, at least --- words of not more than three letters), my imagination somehow managed to obtain the necessary data. Wan-faced, big-limbed, silent nitwits, proud in the possession of certain tools ("Ben has an axe"), they now drift with a slow-motioned slouch across the remotest backdrop of memory; and, akin to the mad alphabet of an optician's chart, the grammar-book lettering looms again before me.

The schoolroom was drenched with sunlight. In a sweating glass jar, several spiny caterpillars were feeding on nettle leaves (and ejecting interesting, barrel-shaped pellets of olive-green frass). The oilcloth that covered the round table smelled of glue. Miss Clayton smelled of Miss Clayton. Through the window one could see kerchiefed peasant girls weeding a garden path on their hands and knees or gently raking the sun-mottled sand. Golden orioles in the greenery emitted their four brilliant notes: dee-del-dee-O!

Ned lumbered past the window in a fair impersonation of the gardener's mate Ivan...On later pages longer words appeared, and at the very end of the brown, inkstained volume, a real sensible story unfolded its adult sentences (One day Ted said to Ann: Let us... the little reader's ultimate triumph and reward...)"

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A Woman of Rome
Alberto Moravia
(Steerforth Italia)
Adriana is a whore, and she is a good one. She tells us that early on, "I had taken up a very hard profession --- the simulation of passionate love for men who actually roused the most contrary feelings in me..." She tells us the way she accomplished what every prostitute must accomplish with every man --- that is, satisfying them, despite her own feelings: "I quickly learned to pick out at first glance the one good or pleasing aspect in each man that would make intimacy bearable."

Moravia has magically created a woman with an enveloping personality, one that makes her assume good in those who are least good. By this means, Moravia paints her almost as a saintly figure, one who can say to herself, when finding out that her first love is cheating on her,

    I suppose he had been weak rather than wicked, carried away as he was by desire, and that the fault, if fault there was, lay with my beauty, which made men lose their heads and forget all their scruples and obligations.

We've all heard the cliché of the saintly whore with the heart of gold. In the hands of Moravia, it stops being a cliché, takes another form. She pulls all men into her, sees them all with a dispassionate warmth that leads us to believe that perhaps she is one of the divine, a Mary Magdelaine, the Sweet Mother of Jesus, our Lady of the Streets. Her forgiveness is what sets her apart; no, better --- it is her clear her ability not to judge those who deceive and steal from society, or, at times, from her.

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Allen Ginsberg:
The Voice of the Poet

(Random House Audio)
It was 1950s America, the years of bleak Dwight Eisenhower and eerie Stalin; gray Russia and the dark United States prepared to hurl missiles at each other, no place for any of us to hide. The poem is dedicated to Carl Solomon in Rockland Mental Hospital "where the faculties of the skull no longer admit the worms of the senses," but it may well be dedicated to a world gone crazy, the leaders willing to destroy all for a couple of hazy political systems.

Howl says it is about hipsters, the "best minds of my generation, destroyed by madness," but throughout, there is the sense of comic waste, not only young men destroying themselves in the alleys, but, too, old men who run the world show wasting all on a would-be war of fall-out, radiation, and death.

There wasn't anything like it before in American poetry. They say Whitman was an inspiration --- but if you study "Leaves of Grass," there is an unpleasant me-ness that makes one want to distance oneself from the poet. Whitman simply isn't crazy enough to make it in this bailiwick.

Ginsberg's rant works because it's probably the first shopping list of lunacy --- sex and dope and madness raised to high art, breathlessly enumerated as brief sketches of those who have gone to the edge.

There are sixty Who's --- a who's-who of who's --- dopesters going into total recall, jumping off fire escapes, suffering Eastern sweats, cowering in unshaven rooms in their underwear, jumping in limousines "with the Chinaman of Oklahoma." It's a jazz riff dedicated to madness, madness as a state to be desired, something to be sought with peyote and heroin, and "an angry fix: Hipsters out walking with their shoes full of blood ... waiting for a door in the East River to open to a room full of steam-heat and opium."
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A Cricket in the Telephone
(At Sunset)

Lolita Lark, Editor
(Mho & Mho)
This is ostensibly an anthology of the best poetry that appeared in the peculiar quarterly called The Fessenden Review during its five year existence. If one pays attention to the sequence of the poems, and the names of the poets themselves, and the so-called "Introduction" (and even the "Index of First Lines"), one gets the distinct feeling that one is being diddled with. Indeed, this may be the first time, in late 20th Century English literature, that a book billed as an anthology of poetry turns out to be a Nabokovian chess game, with a puzzle of names right out of Joyce, and mystery worthy of Raymond Chandler.

The "Introduction" says that the magazine depended on its readers for reviews, but

    We also created a stable of fake names so that people would think we had a vast staff awaiting our assignments: Ignacio Schwartz, Jeremy Colon, Wanda Felix, Carlos Amantea, T. F. Bierly, A. W. Allworthy...and my personal favorite, P. P. McFeelie.

Confoundedly, this anthology includes poems ostensibly produced by these very same "fake" writers. Furthermore, in one of the footnotes, the publisher states that The Fessenden Review featured on the cover of its penultimate issue names of such authors as

    Günter Grass,
    Nadine Gordimer,
    Nancy Mitford,
    Umberto Eco,
    Lawrence Durrell
    (even though neither reviews of works of these authors nor their writings appeared in the magazine.)

He then says that the list also contained

    ...names that sounded literary but that were strictly whole-cloth: Isabel Luis Corazon, Anwak Fayoumi, P. J. Weise, Jorge Amado, Lolita Lark, Laura Huxley. Names to test people. Just to make sure they were paying attention.
The puzzle here is that Laura Huxley is in no way "whole-cloth" (she is a respected writer and critic.) But even more peculiar, at least to this reviewer, is the fact that the very editor of A Cricket is the same (supposedly mythical) Lolita Lark. Unless, of course, there are many more Lolita Larks floating around out there in literary la-la land.

Finally, in the "Index to First Lines," we find not only poems carried in the collection, but Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita (which is the opening line of Dante's Divine Comedy,) and Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab orbis which is, I believe, the beginning of the Aeneid.

In all, A Cricket is a very peculiar collection of fancy, but --- despite all this tomfoolery --- the poetry some of the best to come out of America in the 80s and 90s. If there weren't so much dicking-around here, perhaps the volume would receive the credit it deserves.

--- P. P. McFeelie

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on this book.

Gates to Buddhist Practice
Essential Teachings of
A Tibetan Master

Chagdud Tulku
To some, Tulku's Buddhism may not sound all that different from fundamentalist Christianity. The latter says that we are born sinners and we will die sinners because of the evil committed by our forefathers --- we are creatures of suffering because of evil propagated by those who came before us.

In Tulku's Buddhism, suffering comes from much the same cause --- sins; but they are sins committed not by humankind in general, nor our forefathers --- but by our own selves in previous lifetimes.

In addition, Tulku's "lower realms" don't sound all that much different from the hell of the Pentecostals.

    The very worst human experience is still a thousand times more bearable than that of the least-suffering beings in the lower realms. Their suffering is so extreme that we can scarcely imagine it; the length of time it lasts is unfathomable. For some beings, even death provides no escape until hundreds of thousands of years, sometimes eons, have passed.

Dying is equally scary.

    Upon death in our last incarnation, when our mind was plunged into the bardo, the frightening and chaotic intermediate state between death and rebirth, we were blown about helplessly, like a feather in the wind, without any stable frame of reference or support, experiencing terrifying sights and sounds. We finally found safety in our mother's womb...

Then, there is the master's sense of morality. On a question about the use of drugs, he even outdoes the DEA:

    With drug use you will establish a karmic pattern in which you have little or no control over your mind. In your next rebirth, you may be mentally retarded or very unstable; you may even be born as an animal.

I called my friend Sybil. She and her husband Herb are regular pot-heads. I explained to her what was in store. She thought for a moment and said she'd be willing to come back as a ocelot. Herb, on the other hand, said he didn't care; he'd be willing to return as a spider --- as long as he could be near Sybil.

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The Muckrakers
Arthur and Lila Weinberg,

(University of Illinois)
Baker also published a highly readable article on the railroads, how they cornered public opinion and managed to destroy editors who wrote deleterious articles about them. And Charles Edward Russell writes a moving story --- albeit with a bit of overheated prose about "chalk-faced children" playing under "weary trees" with "uncertain grass" --- on Trinity Church in New York. The church owned hundreds of tenement houses around the city, and fought vigorously any effort to clean them up. There is also a Russell piece on the Georgia prison system. The state rented out the labor of most of its prisoners to contracting companies who ran operations that don't sound all that distant from Dachau.

William Hard writes on the making of steel, and the agony of the workers who are ill-protected from faulty equipment. As with so many of these muckraking stories, it is the detail that provides what the reader needs to understand exactly why he or she should be enraged. Here he is addressing himself to the question of why a hook on a "slag pot" operated by the Illinois Steel Company slipped off:

    It was attached merely to the rim of the pot, and not to the lugs. That pot had no lugs. It ought to have had them. Lugs are pieces of metal that project from the rim of the pot, like ears. They are put there for the express purpose of providing a proper and secure hold for the hooks. But they had been broken off in some previous accident and they had not been replaced.

Note the simple, teacherly repetitive language. Hard is not only a reformer, but an instructor here --- instructing the reader on how equipment in steel mills is supposed to work, and how, through company negligence, it does not.

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Dream Whip
No. 14
The Lakeshore Limited pulls into Penn Station in New York. Penn Station used to be one of the world's great train stations, designed by Charles McKim in the early 1900's and partly modeled after a Roman bath. But way better, because those old Roman baths were just full of naked Romans, while Penn Station was full of trains: sleek stainless steel trains highballing in from the hinterlands. Back in 1967, they knocked down the old station and replaced it with the current one: a big hole in the ground where commuter trains skitter around like fat dumpster rats.

I spend the night on my friend's couch in Bushwick. When I wake up in the morning, it's windy. A cold wind from Canada that blows away all that talk of an early spring. Puffy clouds, tattered and torn to shreds, scud over the city. Like the remnants of some cloud massacre that took place in the sky west of here, above Indiana or Ohio. And here's what's left: corpse clouds, dismembered and drifting downwind over New York. "Corpse clouds?" My friend in Bushwick says when I tell her what I'm thinking, "that's kind of fucked up."

When my friend goes to work, I take the subway to the village and get a slice of pizza at the kosher pizza place on Second Ave. It's a good slice: veggie sausage, olives, and some crumbled-up tofu. It's good, but it's not as good as I remember. Nothing's ever as good as that. This thought cheers me up. It means there's nothing to go back to, and there's nothing to keep you around. It means the next really good slice of vegan pizza is somewhere else, waiting for you, and the only thing to do is hit the road and go looking for it.

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Danse Russe
W. C. Williams
If I when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists above shining trees, ---
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!"
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades, ---

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

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The Tattered Cloak
And Other Stories
Nina Berberova
(New Directions Classic)
    Every city has its own smell. Paris smells of gas, tar, and face powder; Berlin, when I was younger, smelled of gas, cigar, and dog; New York smells of gas, dust, and soup, especially on hot days and hot nights, which can only be broken by a sudden thunderstorm or a hurricane from Labrador or the Caribbean.

So much of Berberova lies in that vague word, pacing. We live with Evgeny during the heart-stopping sequence of digging up enough funds to emigrate to America; we are with her when she finds Ludmila in love with her; then, during all this, she turns, paints a picture of herself that is at odds with what we have experienced of her. A contrary self-portrait that, despite all that, rings true. For, she is like all of us, what we are and what we say we are must be in conflict:

    "Ludmila Lvovna," I said. "Be quiet. I have no idea how you've managed to deceive yourself to such an extent. I lack what everyone else has --- the ability to die inside and come back to life. I don't like life or people, and I'm afraid of them, like most people are, probably even more than most people. I'm not free, I haven't really enjoyed anything for a long time, and I'm not honest because I didn't tell you anything about myself for so long, and now, when I do, it's so difficult."

With this singular speech ("the ability to die inside and come back to life!") she takes her leave of Ludmila, entrains for Chicago, ostensibly to find Druzhin. She has told all the others that ultimately she will go to Chicago to find Druzhin. And when she finally gets there, it turns out... o no: Druzhin doesn't exist. Never did.

It is this exquisite marriage of detail, imagination, paradox and perfidy that drives Berberova's stories --- drives them with a singularity that makes it hard to stop reading (often because we want to save some for tomorrow).

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Democracy's Prisoner
Eugene V. Debs, The Great War,
and the Right to Dissent

Ernest Freeberg
Well, Debs was certainly a prickly pear. After they arrested him, tried him, and finally stuck him in federal prison at Moundsville, West Virginia in 1919 --- he had more than a few chances to be pardoned. He refused them, saying that he would only consent to be set free of all other "political prisoners" were pardoned as well. Besides, he said, the speech that he gave at Dayton (the one that got him busted) was not inflammatory, and only broke a law that was unjust, unprecedented, and in violation of the Free-Speech clause of the Constitution. The feds didn't believe him. But the voters gave him almost a million votes while he was behind bars. The slogan was "From the jailhouse to the White House."

We learn from Democracy's Prisoner that Debs was conscientious, usually consistent, and a valiant old geezer. And he was a certified geezer: by the time they salted him away, he was sixty-seven, not in the best of health, beset with "nerves" and heart problems. If nothing else, we are left with no small respect for one that the various newspapers of the day (including the august New York Times and the Washington Post) labeled terrorist.

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Reality Poems
(Teachers & Writers)
What is Reality?
Life formed on Earth
Does it exist with the energy of space?
Yes, no, maybe so
No one will ever know

Why are flowers used as a person's name?
Is it because they're beautiful and
have attraction
Do you think it's because they feel like it?

What is up in space?
Gases and features only?
They work in a special way
The sun as a light bulb, the stars as
fireflies, and the sky as blueberry juice

Does it exist at all?

--- Rose Garcia
Sixth Grade
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A Woman's Work
With Gurdjieff, Ramana Maharshi,
Krishnamurti, Anandamaya Ma & Pak Subuh:

The Spiritual Life Journey of Ethel Merston
Mary Ellen Korman
Ethel Merston was one of those insufferable not to say indefatigable English women who set out early on to have a Meaningful Spiritual Experience and ended up meeting with the five gurus listed in what must be one of the longest book titles in all of spiritualdom.

Merston, born in 1883, lived damn near forever, and visited, studied with, and --- we might say --- collected all these famous masters as well as a host of other celebrities, including Gertrude Stein, Ruth Benedict, Hemingway, Brancusi, Lipschitz, Joyce, Ghandi, and both of the Cayces. She doesn't mention becoming a familiar of Jesus, but we assume that may lie further on in the book. We wouldn't know for sure, because we got lost there somewhere between Bhagavan Maharishi and Krishnamurti, just south of the Arunachalesvara Temple in Tiruvannamalai.

One thing that Merston was good at doing was exasperating the bejesus out of the various mystics she scared up. Only Gurdjieff seemed to know how to handle her, she being the product of the agonized, stuffy English upper class. She and Gurdjieff were at his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, in France, and he told her that she was in charge of the cows. Huh? She didn't know squat about cows, but there she was, at five in the morning, milking two large bossies and giving them feed.

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The Soul of a Dog
Named Found
He touched his master's hand with his cold, damp nose, someone really should have taught this primitive animal to proffer one of his front paws as all dogs trained in the social graces end up doing perfectly naturally, moreover, there is no other way of preventing the master's beloved hand from abruptly fleeing that contact, proof, if it were needed, that not all has been resolved in the relationship between human persons and canine persons, perhaps because that dampness and coldness awakens old fears in the most ancient part of our brain, the slow, viscous caress of some giant slug, the chill, undulating touch of a serpent, the glacial breath of a cave inhabited by beings from another world. So much so that Cipriano Algor really does withdraw his hand, although the fact that he immediately strokes Found's head, clearly by way of an apology, must be interpreted as a sign that one day he might react differently, always supposing, of course! that their shared life together lasts long enough for what currently manifests itself as instinctive repugnance to become mere habit. The dog Found cannot understand these subtleties, the use he makes of his nose is natural, it comes to him from nature, and is therefore more healthily authentic than the way humans shake each other's hands, however cordial that may seem to our eyes and touch. What the dog Found wants to know is where his master will go when he finally emerges from the state of distracted immobility in which he sees him now. In order to communicate to him that he is awaiting a decision, he again touches him with his nose, and when Cipriano Algor immediately headed off toward the kiln, Found's animal mind, which, regardless of what others may say, is the most logical of all the minds to be found in the world, led him to conclude that in the lives of humans once is never enough.

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