Live from the Hong Kong Nile Club: Poems: 1975-1990

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Live from the Hong Kong Nile Club: Poems: 1975-1990

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The early poems of an American master

"I have loved the air outside Shop-Rite Liquor

on summer evenings

better than the Marin hills at dusk

lavender and gold

stretching miles to the sea.

At the junction, up from the synagogue

a weeknight, necessarily

and with my father--

a sale on German beer.

Air full of living dust:

bus exhaust, air-borne grains of pizza crust

wounded crystals

appearing, disappearing

among streetlights and unsuccessful neon."


August Kleinzahler's first collections won him a cult following but have long been out of print and hard to find. Here Kleinzahler--acclaimed by The Times (London) for the "vision and confident skill to make American poetry new"--has selected the best of the poems collected in Storm over Hackensack (1985) and Earthquake Weather (1989) and added an autobiographical Preface.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[Kleinzahler's] world is one of inundating multiplicity, noise, hubbub, traffic, crowds—a federation of intense and disparate states unified in a single sensibility. . . . Kleinzahler's concern with getting it exactly right is also Pound's, and his best successes here are just as crisp and pungent as Pound's most startling images."—DeSales Harrison, Boston Book Review

"Kleinzahler's verse line is always precise, concrete, intelligent, and rare—that quality of 'chiseled' verse memorable in Basil Bunting's and Erza Pound's work. A loner, a genius."—Allen Ginsberg

"August Kleinzahler is surely one of the best lyric poets writing today. . . . A typical piece is fleeting, unstable, almost improvisatory, entirely seductive in its aimlessness."—Stephen Knight, Times Literary Supplement

Boston Book Review DeSales Harrison

[Kleinzahler's] world is one of inundating multiplicity, noise, hubbub, traffic, crowds--a federation of intense and disparate states unified in a single sensibility. . . . Kleinzahler's concern with getting it exactly right is also Pound's, and his best successes here are just as crisp and pungent as Pound's most startling images.
Allen Ginsberg

Kleinzahler's verse line is always precise, concrete, intelligent, and rare--that quality of 'chiseled' verse memorable in Basil Bunting's and Erza Pound's work. A loner, a genius.
Times Literary Supplement Stephen Knight

August Kleinzahler is surely one of the best lyric poets writing today. . . . A typical piece is fleeting, unstable, almost improvisatory, entirely seductive in its aimlessness.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Kleinzahler's odd, enticing, deceptively informal powers of description, memory and offbeat contemplation have earned him plenty of fans in the last few years. Those excited by 1998's Green Sees Things in Waves will be happy to learn that the poet has been at work for decades, releasing poems like "The Sausage Master of Minsk" in chapbooks and volumes for Canadian, U.K. and U.S. small presses. Long-unavailable poems from those books reappear in this very welcome gathering, where verbal contraptions and slangy gizmos join forces with lovingly elevated epithets. For Kleinzahler, "the Mind is a too much thing/ cleansing itself like a great salt sea"; "the burnish of late autumn afternoons" with its "sadness coming on in waves is not round/ and sweet/ as the doleful cello/ but jagged, intent," like wind through a cracking-up house; and "Lavender smoke from the Con Ed Stacks" drapes itself over industrial "monuments of clunkish whimsy from an Age of Boom." Poems that look at first like impressionistic sketches or snapshots open out into subtle disquisitions; languor and alertness join hands in sinuous poems on down-trodden neighborhoods, "greasy soup," snow, playing hooky and the sounds of jazz. A disarmingly off-the-cuff new introduction shows the older poet remembering travels through "places like Vancouver Island, Alaska, Idaho, Montreal, Portugal, New Jersey, Manhattan and... San Francisco," and describing his British master Basil Bunting. Kleinzahler splits the book into "East" and "West": both halves show off the virtues that have made Kleinzahler one of the most enjoyable poets around. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Kleinzahler has risen to a position of considerable eminence in American poetry; his last two collections (Red Sauce, Whiskey and Snow; Green Sees Things in Waves) have been widely praised in reviews, and his poems appear in some of the larger publications to include poetry in their pages. His new work collects all that the poet wishes to preserve from his first two collections, and while his autobiographical preface constitutes something of a mild disclaimer of his earlier writing, readers should find familiar Kleinzahler here. No other American poet fuses the artful and the queasy-making so well: "Memory stinks,/ like good marinara sauce./ You never get that garlic smell/ out of the walls." Kleinzahler's manner is not unique, but he is one of the deftest practitioners of the disaffected manner: his poems are like records of bad dreams that it is better somehow to remember than to forget: "An ache so sweet was born those nights/ in the heat, in the grass, at summer's waning / that we try for it years later in the dance / of lust and lust's passing .../ but the heart is soon corrupted / and love's accoutrements grow fierce." For all collections of poetry.--Graham Christian, formerly with Andover-Harvard Theological Lib., Cambridge, MA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Stephen Knight
August Kleinzahler is surely one of the best lyric poets writing today...a typical piece is fleeting, unstable, almost improvisatory, entirely seductive in its aimlessness.
Times Literary Supplement
Kirkus Reviews
Sixty poems drawn from Kleinzahler's early books, all of which are now out of print. In his introduction, Kleinzahler declares that he knew from his teens that he would be a poet, and the apprentice work that makes up much of this collection clearly came from someone who was a more astute than usual reader of contemporary verse. There are two sections (labeled "East" and "West"), but there is no indication of the chronology of the poems in either grouping; given that Kleinzahler now lives in the Bay Area, it would appear that the eastern poems came first, but within each part of the book there is a sense of a progression from gifted tyro to real master. The problem is that the development seems to run parallel, with weak efforts at the outset of both halves of the book. Kleinzahler's verse reveals from the outset many of the same mannerisms that can be found in his most recent work: a fondness for clever (or over-clever) anachronisms, a weakness for arch non sequiturs, and—at its best—a knack for making use of abrupt shifts in tone that presage a movement towards darkness and poignancy (which can be quite effective when it doesn't descend into sentimentality). For someone who is often sold as some sort of rock-music, post-beat bard, Kleinzahler employs language that is surprisingly mature and literary, even in these early works, but this collection will be of interest mostly to those who are already his fans.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374527013
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 5/1/2000
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 112
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.26 (d)

Meet the Author

August Kleinzahler's most recent collections are Green Sees Things in Waves (FSG, 1998) and Red Sauce, Whiskey and Snow (FSG, 1995). He lives in San Francisco, where he writes a music column for The San Diego Weekly Reader.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


No telling where: down the hill
and out of sight—
soapbox derby heroes in a new dimension.
Don't bother to resurrect them
unless some old newsreel clip
catches them shocked
with a butter knife in the toaster.
Countless snaps and episodes in space
once you hit the viewfinder that fits.
It's a lie anyway, all Hollywood—
the Mind is a too much thing
cleansing itself like a great salt sea.
Rather, imagine them in the eaves
among pigeons
or clustered round the D train's fan
as we cross the bridge to Brooklyn.
And make that a Friday night
July say. We are walking past
the liquor store to visit our love.
Two black boys are eating Corn Doodles
in the most flamboyant manner possible.
She waits, trying
to have the best song on as we arrive.
The moon is blurred.
Our helicopters are shooting at fieldworkers.
The Mets are down 3-1 in the 6th.


                 That was a book I think you
were the Duchess
me the Stableboy
I remember now the horseapples
and itchy wool it was never that way
but God were you ever a Sireen
that I do remember and how the Townsfolk
flushed you'd have thought a gram
of niacin was in them instead of you
on your way out of the Butcher's
with half a roast and some mustard
under your arm turning suddenly
with that look of sexual malice I think
you were rich but I forget who
it was betrayed whom and were we
in love the Players most of them are
still in the Directory we could phone
and ask that is except your Sister
who perished poor thing the Actress
who took her part was gallant but missed
that delicacy of nature which killed
your Sister whom I do remember
but the rest what was between us
how the garden smelled the electric
storms were we or not I wonder
how we are punished for forgetting
or let go numb
somewhat more smooth charming and mean


The burnish of late afternoons
as winter ends—
this sadness coming on in waves is not round
and sweet
as the doleful cello
but jagged, intent
finding out places to get through the way wind
tries seams
and cracks of the old house, making
the furnace kick on
or the way his trumpet
through cloud and paradise shoal, nosing
out the dark fillet
to tear apart and drink his own


Lavender smoke from the Con Ed stacks
assembles its tufts
into bubbles of thought (viz., the funnies) high
                    over the chilly river
and her bridges,
monuments of clunkish whimsy from an Age of Boom.
For the sky is synchronous this evening;
through the windshield its vistas
exactly right.
         Yes and speed too is sweet
at the golden hour,
dipping under viaducts and out
into heraldic light on the bounce
off Citicorp's roof,
the only pentahedron in sight,
up way up
          high for a street-rooted thing
but no kin of sky
as are those puffs wind
fails to scatter
but simply hang there like smudged zeppelins
one might be induced to
think scented
              while small craft higher yet
aimlessly over the factories and luncheonettes
of Queens
          clearly beyond this spectacle
and thou,
dreamily seeking your exit.


No one said
jiggle stuck syllables till the sow
drops piglets
and we'll buy
you a cottage way back in the trees
with fat fat June bugs
that slap the screens
No one said
grub your noggin night
and day
and here's a stack of 78's
by the one the only
Memphis Minnie
Sing for your supper and look
what you get
potato eyes and a helium crepe
And for dessert, Monsieur?
Sincere best wishes
Put in another slug
and I'll tell you what else
No one said

(Montreal, 1977)

She snowed
a night, a day
and another night, laying down deafness
as she went
and deafness again on top of
what she had let down
as she wound continually out of herself.
          And when she was done
she pulled
a wind onto the town, routing
snow into spindrift
off the mortar between bricks,
then blowing it back down.
threw cats
     off each shed's sweetest angle.
The week that freighters slept in the ice
a day from port,
and the dove at our window
coo'd till first light,
my love gave herself over to making a broth.
With the fluid and pith of pale legumes
she came on a savor
         that visited our rooms
like a certain thought.
Those nights near the turning
when beacons on snowplows flashed until dawn,
and caravans of trucks
brought snow to the river as snow fell
on the river,
my love gave herself over to the making of broth
while I, in turn,
stirred until thick my greasy soup.


A net of capillaries, veins, the full moon
beats through
     the sky late winter
between sunset and night
more clarifying to the spirit
than the ancient Chinese glazes, tea dust,
     plum shade,
the celadons from Hangchow
that take hold of the mind,
fastening it;
      and when a bird shoots through
between shadow and snow, branch and roof,
the heart tracks it
washed in a pleasure so distilled,
    so exquisite and sharp,
as to seem a kind of ecstasy
(for Ralph Mills, Jr.)


Falling, falling
until breath wanders out of itself, transforms and is lost
and then there is simply a disembodied pulsing
a small dark bird
a nub
with a single lamp ride the water's lip, and the quiet
keeps vigil for a small intrusion: the shadows
presage so many things
but no intrusion, only some memory unhoused


There was no hazard so we left off
when night fell.
The wind spoke too slowly to fathom.
Voices, lights
drifted away from us like a cloud of gnats.
I can remember that first morning
when we woke athwart the world.
Even the light had its own strange scent.
Any sudden shadow of bird or branch
triggered a shock between our genitals and spine.
The worst, naturally, was the waiting.
Whiskey, chess and sentences
that broke off
only to reconnect past memory's gate.
The gardener scything out there was wild himself.
When the girls arrived we swam to the point, fucked
and walked back
along the gravel road to the highway.
The sun drew out the echoing in our blood
but by then we were already listening like tourists.
After a winter the villagers,
dull salacious eyes in tiny heads, warmed
to us, confided to us
their peculiar gossip and lore.
Their wives brought cookies.
We learned nothing.
The cookies tasted like rancid dust.
But when we looked in the mirror
we were both ourselves and otherwise.
Spirit and flesh played blithely in each other's yard.


          Headed north
on the sodded-over trolley track
to Coytsville
            or until carbons blew free
of the brain stem, out
both ears, settling like soot on wet grass
I heard a honk and made to duck
but two geese slanted past—
getting the hell out of here,
honking all night up the Hudson Valley.
Just like that: honkhonk:
a honk about as straight as their necks.
Two big geese can scare up the dead.
Then they're gone,
          Azalea blossoms stir,
like so many tiny nightgowns.


The creases in the schoolboy's pegged wool slacks
blow flat against his ankles
as he puffs uphill in the Bronx. The day is
raw and new. He didn't do his Latin.
Below and to the east smoke braids
and drifts farther east. Levering and stoking
out there grown men in coveralls slog through
the dead hours, while in their lunch pails
bologna sweats. A bird is in the schoolboy's head:
Shelley's skylark. Ha, that prink
never lurched uptown on the El with squads
of plump domestics lost in romance comics
and down each night
past the Italian cookie factory, its sigh-fetching
smells. Life
is a tunnel the kid's soul spills out of—
blithe crystal missile
kissing down in a meadow, high
over the Bay of Naples.
Girls are there
in bright cotton dresses pulled just past
the knee. In gestures ritual,
tacit and wild,
they offer him glances, then sweet things to eat.
This is the place our friend shall run
the circuit of every glad thing, flare
and perish


Get all of it, boys,
every brick,
so the next big storm blows out
any ghost left with the dust.
In that closet of air the river
wind gnaws at
was where the crucifix hung;
and over there
by the radio and nails,
that's where Galluccio kept
with his busted leg
in an old, soft chair
watching TV and the cars
go past.
     Whole floors,
broken up and carted off ...
Memory stinks,
like good marinara sauce.
You never get that garlic smell
out of the walls.


The same old stories whip around
and around,
streaking the air between dark buildings,
breaking apart in the updraft.
A million tough chances
and Dina's bad back—
a nebula of complaint and spattered talk
flying apart in the wind:
the wind off the Hudson,
wrapping itself round the Hotel New Yorker,
riding the aluminum twigs
of a cyclone fence—
something about the wind,
how it roots around in the passageways and lots,
a kind of animal;
and in the night itself,
so dark,
as if everything had been washed out of it—
absence, an unearthly absence,
like space.
And who is it out there
in the shadows and doorways,
at every window and busted skylight?
Who is it I sense there out on his rounds,
keeping the ledger,
taking the last soiled scraps of it in?
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