Flotsam

Go West, Young Man: Jon Frankel in Missoula

Whiskey Tit author Jon Frankel recaps his trip to Missoula and beyond:

I set out for Missoula with far too many books, yet fewer than I typically take on a trip. John Clare’s Major Works, Isaiah Berlin’s Vico and Herder, Lawrence Block’s Hope to Die and Hit And Run, God’s Middle Finger, a travel book about the Sierra Madre, by Richard Grant, and one copy of each of my own books. This covered the essentials, and other than the Lawrence Block books, which I knew I would read because most of my time would be spent on planes, well grilled with Xanax, and there is nothing like Lawrence Block to make any ride go by fast, they were there mostly for comfort, so I wouldn’t be stranded without poetry, or philosophy, or voyeuristic non-fiction.

What would I do if I found myself alone for a few hours and didn’t have these things? Panic. When I set out for Missoula I did so without consulting a map, so I had no idea how far west it actually was. Surrounded by mountains, some covered in pines, some bare and brown, it looks like the town I come from, with wider western streets, and perhaps a few more restaurants. It was a book festival, so I was there to buy books after all. After seeing a wonderful presentation by three food writers I wandered up the main road to meet Miette and Joey at a dive bar I couldn’t resist a visit to the whorehouse, er, used bookstore where I found two Mari Sandoz books, Slocum House and The Buffalo Hunters. Sandoz was a friend of Marianne Hauser’s, and lived in the Village in New York, in a building owned by Mary and Wesley Towner.

Wesley Towner was Marianne’s drinking partner and the model for Mr. Ashley, the eponymous and deceased anti-hero of The Memoirs of the Late Mr. Ashley. Slocum House is the companion to Sandoz’ biography of her father, Old Jules, and The Buffalo Hunters is the first in a series of histories of the west she wrote. I love Sandoz’s writing. After a free drink at the author’s reception, held in an elegant old building of red marble, with a large fireplace, and a meal of pork stewed in salsa verde with tortillas, beans and rice, we attended the keynote reading. It was held in an old restored theatre, The Wilma.

The featured readers were Eileen Myles and Gregory Pardlo. I’ve known Myles’ work since the 80s, when I lived in New York, but I’d never heard of Pardlo, due probably to reverse snobbery as he won the 2015 Pulitzer in poetry, a distinction that would normally make me avoid a writer. The reading was absolutely brilliant and I eagerly stood on line to get each of their volumes signed and to thank them. I doubt I’ve ever been to a better poetry reading.

The next morning I flew to LA, where I met Douglas Messerli, the most important independent publisher of the 80s and 90s and the publisher of Marianne Hauser. Sun & Moon Press is a goliath of great titles, and his brilliant work continues with Green Integer. We ate eggs and drank too much coffee and talked. After breakfast he brought me to his office, stacked high with his beautifully produced books. I loaded him down with all of the Whiskey Tit titles, and he loaded me down with Djuna Barnes, Marianne Hauser, Russel Banks and a few of his own. It brought the weight of my checked baggage up to 47.5 pounds. It’s a good thing he didn’t have extra copies of his poetry anthologies!

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