Thursday, February 07, 2019

All Prose Selected Essays and Reviews by William Corbett

All Prose Selected Essays and Reviews
© 2001 by William Corbett
ISBN 978-1-40396-43-9
First Pressed Wafer Edition 2018
Pressed Wafer, Brooklyn, NY 11226


This delightful collection of essay, criticism and memoir arrived with a grim announcement by Michael Russem who is Pressed Wafer’s design and production department, “I'm not sure I know the Pressed Wafer origin story. Unfortunately, I do know how it will end: with lawyers and accountants and courts and the IRS – and without Bill Corbett showing us how to plow ahead by force of will, ignoring the lawyers and accountants now, but trusting them to take care of the courts and IRS later.”

All Prose was a perfect choice for the concluding volume of Bill Corbett’s eclectic, idiosyncratic, unique and chocolate ice cream with Tabasco sauce list of publications that he selected for Pressed Wafer over its18 years of life. Annual subscribers to the press would receive a variety of postcards, novels, nonfiction and poetry, which often would make you go, “Oh! Yes!” but sometimes go, “!!?” The list was sprinkled with book length monographs on artists (illustrated as if they were miniature catalogs for a shows at the MFA) and best selling, by Pressed Wafer standards, compendia of the lucid political essays of George Scialabba (they ought to have also been best selling by the standards of the NYT.)

The 99 essays of All Prose, arranged in three sections (Arts & Artists; Books & Writers; and Memoir, Movies, Music) make a perfect memorial volume for Pressed Wafer and William Corbett. All Prose displays an expanse of curiosity, imagination, and subject that makes it a doppelgänger to the spirit of Bill’s press.

He writes with an ambling conversational prose as in these lines on Fanny Howe's Selected Poems:

The geography of her poems is Boston and, over the long selection from O'clock that closes this book, Ireland, her mother's homeland. But Howe’s poems are no more about these places than Dickinson’s are about Amherst. The place from which they emanate is the spirit. (p. 233)

or in this paragraph on a photography exhibit at the DeCordova Museum:

And from here on because of the show’s size – 231 photographs by sixty photographers – I offer my own guided tour. A step back first. Marie Cosindas’ color portrait Bruce Pecheur (1965) demonstrates an Old Master command of exquisite, masculine browns. She has contrived such a volume in the photographs (5 by 7 inches) that the image is more powerful in the mind's eye than its actual size suggests. Now on to the Edgerton room. (p. 146) 

Many of the essays display a dry wit that fairly drips with pleasure. I know; I know; “drips dry” makes sense but “dry drips?” Here is the first paragraph of his movie review “Pablo Picasso Asshole,” which provoked that mixture of metaphors:

If, as the song says, “no one ever called Pablo Picasso an asshole,” that is no longer the case. Not that the vulgar Surviving Picasso does the deed. It doesn't have the nerve. Instead Merchant Ivory and their screenwriter Ruth Prawer J. Jhabvala create situations to which the viewer can respond only with, “Who does that asshole Picasso think he is?” or, “How can those women put up with that asshole Picasso?” Neither of which gets answered, and that is only part of the problem. (p.380)

I found Corbett’s integrity, which gives all of his prose its substance, most simply revealed in “Senator Eugene McCarthy,” a succinct essay of 30 lines. He begins this memoir about his three meetings with the senator, “He rounded the corner of a friend's house in Vermont. It was 1974. I was 31 and as eager to impress as I was to be impressed.” (p.361) And it ends as Corbett describes their third meeting with an honesty of self-examination that brings Montaigne to mind:

“He remained charming and polished as only politicians (I have now met two or three) can be, but he was making hollow noises. As I judged him harshly I began to see how hollow I had been, how quick to put on airs, most readily the air of attention, from the moment we met. Now, 10 years after our last dinner, it seems like a three act play in which I played a role I am somewhat ashamed to know I had in me.” (p. 362)

            The book left me regretting that I hadn't found out about this prose of his earlier; I could have (Zoland Books published a first edition in 2001.) This regret was evoked by his review of “We Are the Real Countries: The English Patient.” when he wrote, “The few poorly staged scenes – Hana’s friend’s jeep blowing sky high and the death of the sapper Kip’s sergeant hardly mattered.” (p. 385) As I read that, I wanted to set off and find Bill and tell him why the friend’s death is the scene from the movie that I have held most vividly in my memory. The exuberance of that spring day and of Hana’s friend as she jumps out and back into the Jeep with the money for the evening’s wine—all of that vivacity naïvely ignoring the line of infantry beside which the Jeep speeds to the explosion that kills her. Her death, in the words of a poet, Ramon Guthrie, who knew much about death in war, “like a puppy’s lunge parting a frayed leash.”[i] That conversation with Bill would have been fun to have. What he tells us about The English Patient, he learned because he acted on a felt need to see it a second time. It makes me think I need see it again myself, and ask as he does, “What did I miss the first time?”
That question “What did I miss the first time?” which Bill asks or implies in other essays, such as “Senator Eugene McCarthy,” and in the review “Das Boot,” which I recommend, is, I think, a key to the substance of this work. He renders to us opinion not theory nor artistic ideology but that one question, which implies another, “What do you think?” With that implicit question he includes us in a conversation with a spirit, the same he brought to our attention in his remarks on Fanny Howe’s poems.
            Although I won’t have Bill around reminding me to look and then to look again, I will have the 90 or so remaining essays (averaging 4.02040816 pages apiece) in length, which is, I think, a good one for a good read to wake up your mind and relax it at the same time. Perfect to put by your night table, or beside your desk for a quick pick me up when your mind has gone stale, so you can return to your task with a fresh perspective you will have osmoticly absorbed from Bill.

A final note on the book’s quality, All Prose is bound in signatures, the spine is not merely the edges of loose pages dipped in glue. So, because I suspect the paperback it comes in will get worn from much picking up and putting down, I may take it to the bindery for a sturdy hardcover or, who knows, give it the dignity of leather it deserves.

In closing I give you Michael Russem’s appeal that arrived with my copy of All Prose, as a reminder to not forget Pressed Wafer:

In an effort to appease the aforementioned lawyers and accountants, the courts and the IRS, the remaining stock of Pressed Wafer books must be sold off as soon as possible. To that end, all books published in 2017 or earlier are now available for 75 percent off the retail price. Visit to order more recent titles held in our warehouse. Or visit and search Pressed Wafer to order new, old, and rare titles directly from the distributor. And then ask your
friends to do the same.

As we were posting this review we got this update from Michael Russem:  By the end of this week will go offline and all Wafers will be removed from the distributor’s site. How people will get these books short of visiting the basement at 375 Parkside in Brooklyn I do not know. The Harvard Bookstore picked up twenty copies of All Prose the other day, though—and they dropped off all the other old books (which were then put out on my stoop and picked up for free by pedestrians).

[i] “Dead, How to Become It,” Maximum Security Ward and other Poems, Persea Books, New York, New York, 1984, p. 7

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Feb 12 5PM Doug Holder Interviews Novelist Belle Brett about her new novel, " Gina in the Floating World"

Novelist Belle Brett 
see it live on 5PM on Somerville Media TV  channel 3 

In Brett’s debut novel, an American student embarks on a journey of self-discovery while pursuing her future in Japan.
Dorothy Falwell, a 23-year-old woman from Illinois, arrives in Tokyo in 1981, eager to start the banking internship that she believes will ensure her admission into an international MBA program. When she arrives at the bank, however, she’s dismayed to discover the internship is unpaid. Desperate for paying work, she accepts a job as a hostess at a suburban club. The owner, Mr. Matsumoto, dislikes the name Dorothy and renames her “Gina,” after his favorite actress, Gina Lollobrigida. Intent on pursuing her banking career, Dorothy soon quits the club, but financial realities force her to return to hostessing at a place owned by Mr. Matsumoto’s wife. There, she befriends the other hostesses and attracts an admirer, Mr. Tambuki, a wealthy businessman. He’s also a former Buddhist monk, and he introduces Dorothy to the way of Zen and the beauty of Japanese art. When she isn’t entertaining clients at the club, she indulges in a passionate affair with him. As their relationship deepens, she enters an intoxicating world of art and sexual experimentation; however, her lover maintains an aura of mystery. Then an encounter with a client takes a dangerous turn, making her take stock of her life. Brett’s engaging and compulsively readable debut traces one woman’s erotic coming-of-age in a frank, intelligent manner. Dorothy is an appealing protagonist—a recent college graduate anxious to leave her hometown of Joliet and see the world. Her initial culture shock and disappointment regarding the internship are believable, as are her close friendships with lifelong residents and members of the expatriate community. The well-developed supporting characters include Hiro, a Japanese student and Dorothy’s erstwhile boyfriend; and Gabe, an American expatriate. Her scenes with Mr. Tambuki are intensely erotic without being gratuitous, and Brett effectively uses their shared love of art as a means of expression, seduction, and, in a particularly powerful scene, stretching personal boundaries.---Kirkus Review