Friday, March 30, 2012

On a different note: Discovering William T. Vollmann

Although I've been aware of his name for years, I'm just now starting to read and discover the work of William T. Vollmann. The first thing I read was his book about hopping freight trains, Riding Toward Everywhere, and I'm hooked. That book is full of close observation that will make any haiku poet smile, and portrays a gritty, wandering world that Basho and Issa would surely recognize.

Here are a couple of favorite short passages:

Now from the blackness I began to see other stars, right over that foot-high strip of steel that reminded me not to fall into Anywhere. I sent my hand an inch over the edge and touched cold wind. I touched darkness. And beside me there came more and ever more stars, brighter and whiter and clearer than I had seen in a long time. Indeed, I had forgotten the stars, as I so often will on those other nights of my life. No matter what I have accomplished and whom I have loved, how much I have lost by missing the stars for so many of my nights! And now I am grey, and who knows when I will die, and never see the stars again? Who would I have been if I could have been alongside these stars always?

And, talking about the loneliness of riding freights, and the decline in the number of hobos on trains these days:

I had expected my travels to be picaresque, teeming with wise, bizarre or menacing outlaw characters. At the very least, I had imagined that without really trying I would meet dozens of people of Pittsburgh Ed's sterling caliber. In fact my various odysses were haunted by absence, with only here and there a few lost voices... singing about the way things used to be back then, as if they were crickets who had inexplicably outlived their summer.

Man, I love that last line. I highly recommend that book, and now have moved on to a collection of essays, Expelled from Eden -- also excellent so far.

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