Henry Miller: Books, and Life

 

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In the main photo you see these books by Henry Miller, sitting on a portion of my desk:
The Wisdom Of The Heart, The Books In My Life, Stand Still Like The Hummingbird, Remember To Remember
…books which summon everything he has had to say which resonate within all his works… though there is no substitute for reading all his major works.
And within the photo – top right – these books recommended by Miller in his book The Books In My Life off to the side of the other books on my desk

Visions and RevisionsJohn Cowper Powys
The Absolute CollectiveErich Gutkind
Krishnamurti and The Unity Of ManCarlos Suares
The Dance Over Fire And Water Elie Faure
The Maurizius CaseJacob Wasserman

By the time I was 18, I’d played piano at the Royal Conservatory, been across Canada twice (once by myself), hitchhiked to Montreal from Toronto with …75 cents in my pocket, and slept on the ground in Mount Royal Park, rudely awakened and kicked out by cops on horses and was back, by hitchhiking, in Toronto within 24 hrs.
I’d seen The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Janis, etc etc.

I’d met Burton Cummings, been invited to a late night party with him to talk about meeting John Lennon.
I’d met Albert King, played his Gibson ‘Flying V’ guitar backstage, hung backstage with Paul Butterfield, and sat and yacked with John Hammond.
Been kicked out of high school permanently. Kicked out of the house.
Been to New York City. Gone to Miami and stayed there a few weeks, once again by myself. Witnessed the South as if civil rights had not taken place.

Played guitar, bass and piano in rock, soul, and blues bands. Seen dozens of blues and soul groups.
You still looking at your phone, or the internet, you free and independent person… You have to live it…
which brings me back to the great Henry Miller….born December 26, 1891, he struck out for a writer’s life with $10 in his pocket in 1930, leaving for Paris when he was 39.
Of course I was sneaking Miller’s works into my reading life the entire time. By the time I was able to afford even some paperback books of his I’d written more than I consciously conceived possible and experienced much the same lifestyle to a great degree.

There was no way I could imagine actually meeting the man.. but I did, briefly. He was in Toronto, accompanying Erica Jong. It was like meeting a brother you only suspected you had.
One of the things he did say, about poetry, after speaking of the great Greek poet George Seferis, was that poetry is it.
Hanging out with Lawrence Durrell in Pacific Palisades in California where he lived, whose great book The Alexandria Quartet is a brilliant recreation of life and times surrounding the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy, in the year he died I was fortunate enough – and is it coincidence? – to be shown casual photographs of Miller and Durrell* enjoying every day life, writing, drinking, talking, etc. by a woman who’d just returned from California after living with them, along with letters between all of them.

Miller’s greatest affinity perhaps was with the French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, of whom he wrote in The Time Of The Assassins where he’d might as well have been speaking of the Poet in society and as a personage doing his work despite the rough roads of family and convention. Vague traces of the words of R.W.Emerson, Otto Rank, and John Cowper Powys resonated throughout the entirely unique book.
Whatever these great writers wrote it is a feast, particularly Henry Miller. There is never enough appetite and passion to suffice.

Nothing ever became a static stultification measuring such emotions and trajectories by the accumulation of books, objects, and contemporary mores or status symbols of ‘right thinking.’
Want to be truly free, then read – particularly Henry Miller, the great poets, and live in worlds they only once imagined, then distilled, taking the well-spring of inspiration into themselves.

© Dean J. Baker

  • in 1974, I was fortunate  to have some poems published alongside Durrell’s work in a literary journal.

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