American Cheese & Ham: Being Notes Toward a Poetics




1) The idea being that had he died only 60 days later there might have been a moment when the father actually touched the son with physical, pulsing fingers.

2) A deceased genealogy, to be sure.

3) A laxative called HINTERLANDS commonly used in the last mid-century.

4) The plane landed, in fact, only thirteen minutes after departing from Idlewild, in a field northwest of Yonkers.

5) The “expressionistic selbst-portrait” of early 1941 evokes this notion with vibrant colors and languid linear import. While tortured inwardly, she was outwardly exuberant among friends and her long, productive life is evidence of her general well-being and healthy lifestyle.

6) Fastidiously labeled and organized in a Kodak field case box, the photographs date from the late 1940s through the early 1970s and the archive includes 15 items of ephemera and 11 photocopies of hand-drawn portraits, presumably featured in a unique handmade book of harmonograms, created between 1937 and 1938 and comprised of 21 pasted-in drawings (manuscript, photographs, negatives, and other items in near fine condition).

7) Sausage balls, stuffed with cheese and baked, dipped in buttermilk dressing, referred to as “heaven’s amusement” in the local, festival parlance.

8) If not pinochle, Sheepshead. Beer or brandy was the favored beverage combination.

9) All of his records had titles beginning with the letter “P” and so the moniker “Mister P” began to stick after the second Gold Record, in the late 1950’s.

10) A reference to his preference for wind instruments and upright basso continuo, and happily mis-spent negligence.

11) The artist himself was immune to such maladies. Ever upbeat, he was considered an extrovert by those who knew and employed him in his brief 39 year life.

12) Loosely translated: If I had wings like an oyster.


14) Interlingua FAST and COLD Fiesta del Muerte.

15) Legend has it the one time he left the country (a 19 day junket through Durango) he met a young novelist named Jerry and a younger poet named Dave and the trio bought a blanket and drank abundantly, looking for Malcolm Lowry amid the rocky, coastal wreckage.

16) Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His family moved, in 1923, to Lorain, Ohio, and again in 1925, to Detroit, Michigan, where his father changed the family’s name to “Evans”.

17) Chinese globular flute, known as a xun.

18) Known among scholars as sleep’s foul befuddlement.

19) A pseudonym for the mistress of the mayor of New York City at the time, Fiorello H. LaGuardia.

20) The three titles, respectively, that influenced the essay are Windblown Headline On a Dark Pavement, Blurry Woman Gazing Up Smoking, and Empty Snack Bar.

21) The auction catalog entry read as follows: Basil Wolverton – Illustration Original Art (c. 1950s). At first glance, this rarity seems typical of many other Wolverton portraits of distorted faces. The difference is the rendering of the features in detailed layers of airbrush painting, combined with the familiar hard-edged pen-and-ink outlines and layered strands of hair. (Wolverton usually achieved the illusion of texture with pen-line crosshatching.) Signature partially obscured by a thin layer of white watercolor. Circled number, “1,” in one corner. Overall toning. Four small stains or blemishes. Rubber-stamp impressions on back cite two private collections or galleries. Ink and airbrush over graphite on Bristol board. Image area, 14.5″ x 11.5″.




1) Most pointedly astute was bullet point #7, which read in full: Art is limitation.

2) The son of Cuban Jews, he became an invaluable asset during the second transition period, mainly in the areas of research and development, general office maintenance all while he became known for a broad understanding of post-Bop jazz and a lively counterpart to the prevailing angst and bitterness of past employees.

3) Brick cheese and crackers with an occasional tin of sardines or smoked oysters.

4) A recent auction house catalog stated in mock emphasis: The present two lots, sun act star law set age stone hand cut bell time age now foot din and “ddddffffffffffffffffffffff” represent rare examples of the artist’s typed poetry which date from the early 1950’s to the mid 1970’s.

5) Consistently considered by the author himself to be his earliest memory, the late March, 1937 date has been argued at length by scholars since the publication of a clutch of letters submitted to, and subsequently published by The Paris Review only months after the passing of the author. The current consensus is that, despite countless key eye witnesses interviewed and documented, often on film (at least by written consent) agree that a sail boat on a lake in the late winter in Wisconsin would be virtually impossible, so the dream must be just that: a dream and not a memory. Both of the author’s sisters, alive and referenced in the dream itself, were present for “just about every waking moment” from the ages of birth to about 9 years old. The imploring letter to his mother of early March, 1937 cites in passing, a story told by an uncle much later, revolving around the drowning death of a now forgotten family member in Black River Falls in the summer of 1844, around the time Wisconsin became a state.

6) While jazz standards sustained him through this lengthy recuperation, the statistics prove that Domenico Scarlatti was the artist he most admired, with some 600 LP records in a Perspex-glass case engraved with scenes of the Portuguese Court circa 1750, each face featuring engravings of the visage of Maria Madelena Josefa Teresa Barbara and labeled as such in a firm-handed Constantia font, embossed with borders of crimson, in the old fashion.

7) In the fourth form, the young poet told Elaine Reichert he needed glasses too, upon learning that the next day of school would be the first day of school she was seen in public wearing spectacles, and thus, presumably, making apparent her actual status as merely near perfect.

8) 555 sonatas, mostly in what is called binary form.

9) Colloquial euphemism for a lady of the evening, or prostitute.

10) By all accounts, the “accident in Minneapolis” was purely legend. Records indicate that the Pontiac was actually at the service station over the Independence Day holiday, and, to a man, the clan states they never travelled anywhere near Minneapolis as a family.

11) Before the entire region was covered with strip malls and big box behemoths being boisterous, there was an expansive craft store called Accents Unlimited very near where the cousins who gifted several bins of baseball and football cards to the lucky 6 year old. Known for pre-cast ceramic baubles from night lights to busts of Abraham Lincoln, the store featured an early iteration of the paint your own work of art gimmick. Often after picking up baseball cards from his cousins, the family would drop by the shop and purchase a weekend project, enhancing the household’s unlimited accents.

12) The Club 400 closed for business a year after the move from Milwaukee to Brooklyn.

13) Two distressed industrial hotel 25 key mahogany cubby boxes for storage or display shelves. Hand painted number detail and curved ends, found on the street in front of the loft of a SoHo artist.

14) Long held belief among transplants that five years in the city does not qualify a resident for New Yorker status.

15) In brief, the essay proposes modestly that at any given moment a smidge more than 50% of the people surrounding a human being in a crowded environment will be dumb as a box of broken rocks.

16) In addition to the full time hours as secretary to the principal of Morgan Butler Junior High School, the poet’s mother also worked as a concierge at the Avalon Manor and tended bar at the Totem Bowl bowling alley in downtown Waukesha.

17) From a letter dated mysteriously “Montage, 1939,” self-redacted and reading in full: “Dear…Love,” the envelope’s postmark reads 14 August 1965, a Saturday, and one day after his death by anesthesia.

18) Or material culture.

19) Project for a Treatise on All Figures in Three Parts, 1971, Belgium Duck Press, Ambulance Pamphlet #11, New York City, page 26.

20) The letter was unopened.




1) “Sprinkling methodologies like powdered cheese.”

2) One would be hard pressed to name another seamless conflation of street photography and conceptual poetry. The poet himself disavowed the sentiment of the essay as “closer to piss-ant sociology.”

3) The second of four lectures given by the artist, addressing Ferdinand Hodler.

4) The third of four lectures given by the artist, addressing Charles Fort.

5) The fourth of four lectures given by the artist, addressing Christopher Smart.

6) The first of four lectures given by the artist on the topic of Domenico’s brother Pietro Scarlatti.

7) Ibid.

8) American poet John Brooks Wheelright (1897-1940).

9) A shortstop since Little League, he made the wise decision (one of the few of his controversial career) to defer to the incumbent upon arrival in the Bronx, and cede to the first ballot captain’s pre-eminence.

10) A four-piece outfit led by Stan Getz, whom Zoot Sims called “a nice bunch of guys.”

11) The first of three known telegrams sent by the poet, which read in full: “TRAIN ARRIVES TOPEKA 1130AM TUESDAY STOP. IF NOT ON PLATFORM CHECK BAR CAR STOP.

12) Schoenstatt is a place of pilgrimage dedicated to Mother Thrice Admirable, Queen and Victress of Schoenstatt. Founded on October 18th, 1914 by Reverend Fr. Joseph Kentenich in Germany close to the city of Koblenz on the Rhine. According to the institution’s literature “people from all over the world are drawn to this Marian Shrine.” A chapter was open at the time of this writing, in Cherry Lane where the extended family is believed to have briefly fallen under the spell of the sect’s “natural peace, beauty and hospitality” which periodically helped them to seek succor in the figure of the Mother Thrice Admirable.

13) The line-up for this LP was Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet); James Moody (tenor sax); Eric Gale & George Davis (guitar); Mike Longo (piano); Nate Edmonds (organ); Chuck Rainey & Phil Upchurch (electric bass); Paul West (bass); Otis Finch & David Lee & Bernard Purdie (drums).

14) Also known as mutter chants.

15) Certain parts of the United States of America boast such extravagant rooms, oft (and pompously) tagged The Florida Room.

16) Americana mostly, or so said Harvard Magazine.

17) Stephen Carrie Blumberg, whose “great-grandfather, Moses Zimmerman, a Civil War-era horse trader, reputedly had a collection of junk that included 2,000 used horse collars and 100 buffalo coats. He also owned hundreds of acres of apparently worthless land he had received in trade for horses. That land turned out to be in what is today the Twin Cities–St. Paul and Minneapolis–and the resulting estate provided Blumberg a $72,000-a-year income from a trust.”

18) According to coincident press reports “a campus police officer at Washington State University began carrying out his own investigation. At first Sergeant Huntsberry was concerned only with books missing from his own campus library, but he sent out alerts (one of which made possible the initial arrest). He rightly suspected that the person apprehended at UCLA and Riverside was the thief who had visited his own library. Fingerprints taken at the time of the initial arrest helped him piece together a complete criminal record, which he sent to the FBI. Throughout the investigation, however, the FBI seems to have been unaware of Huntsberry’s work. The Society of American Archivists and the Association of College and Research Libraries were more appreciative. They issued him a commendation for his role in cracking the case.”

19) Usmail & Usnavy, a pair of homosexual twins from Colombia, South America, whose only American exhibition was hailed by none other than the New York Times called “the most audacious debut since the extravagant premiere of Jean-Michel Basquiat.”

20) See Hurst, “First Glimpse of Greatness,” Boy’s Life, March, 1954, pp 39-65.

21) When added together the sum equals the amount of days in the twelve year period it took him to read the book from start to finish.

22) A small printing house called C.W. Hughes in Mechanicville, New York, the population of which has only recently surpassed the 5,000 mark.

23) The original jersey number worn in his first eight seasons with the San Francisco Giants.

24) See Minch, AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A RIVER, (Volume III), Thames & Hudson, New York, London, 1931, p 1939.

25) Ibid.

26) An acronym for the short-lived restaurant and tavern Hilltop Inn & Pub, frequented by the poet and his chess club. Now under new ownership, it was owned by the his paternal Uncle Jack, known as the Strongman of Philipsburg in his younger days.

27) See Gooch for pertinent (and at times elaborate to the point of purple) facts and salient figures regarding that strip of Death Avenue long-known for cruising and explained in a fairly cryptic, if at times explicit letter from Ashbery to O’hara.




1) An antiquated formal exercise in Sapphics, considered among the more difficult forms to master.

2) Countered by a distinct disinclination to anything dealing with numbers, the poet considered multi-instrumentalist a more apt term than polymath. The quote, being repeated in most summaries of the poetic (if not artistic and titan of industry) career(s), was in fact “How can I be a polymath when I don’t understand math?”

3) “A man with a history of mental problems, Blumberg wore the same burgundy cardigan, brown plaid shirt and blue jeans through much of his trial. His attorneys portrayed him as a man trapped in the past, fascinated by a Victorian age he had known through stories handed down by his grandmother and aunts. His fixation on the era extended to buying antique underwear from the period, which he reportedly wore for weeks at a time.”

4) Among the symbols used by the Independent Order of Freemasons.

5) See Batchworth CIRCA ARMAGEDDON AND THE LIKE, Ambulance Press, New York, 1971 for a lengthy discussion on the lack of a critical poetic apparatus in contemporary times.

6) Expansive research has been conducted over the centuries, and while a consensus is elusive, most people agree that old paper is better than new paper because it’s old.

7) The third of three known telegrams sent by the dealer, which read in full: “TRAIN ARRIVES JOHNSON CITY 130AM THURSDAY STOP. IF NOT ON PLATFORM CHECK BAR CAR STOP.”




1) The SNAFU was reciprocated upon the next publication Gottlieb undertook, whereupon he and his publisher accidentally mis-spelled the poet’s name in the acknowledgements, much to both poets’ and publisher’s chagrin and eventual realization that it is extremely difficult to initiate a second printing of a book of essays by a poet.

2) The first of three known telegraphs sent by the poet, which read in full: “TRAIN ARRIVES TOPEKA 1130AM TUESDAY STOP. IF NOT ON PLATFORM CHECK BAR CAR STOP.”

3) “He also took dozens of elaborate, oversized 15th-Century volumes from the incunabula, the period between 1450 and 1500 after the invention of the printing press.”

4) AKA “Cheesecake or an alley that has a tendency to lead a ball into the strike zone; same as groove.”

5) AKA “Holding Alley” ” an alley that resists hook action; same as stiff alley.”

6) Various electronic resources turned up the following information on the topic: Joe Shlabotnik is a minor-league baseball player who, inexplicably, is greatly admired by Charlie Brown. Joe Shlabotnik is a fictional baseball player featured in the Peanuts comic strip. Shlabotnik was often mentioned as Charlie Brown’s favorite player. Brown spent much of his free time trying to hunt down Joe memorabilia— baseball cards, autographs, personal meetings, and organized a Joe Shlabotnik Fan Club, complete with a newsletter which folded after one issue. Shlabotnik was demoted to the minors after having a .004 batting average over an entire season; his one hit was a bloop single with his team comfortably ahead. His greatest achievements included making spectacular plays on routine fly balls and throwing out a runner who had fallen down between first and second. After being sent down to the Green Grass League (a bush league), Shlabotnik retired as a player and agreed to manage the Waffletown Syrups. Linus van Pelt once invited Shlabotnik to a testimonial dinner for Charlie Brown; unfortunately, the ballplayer got lost en route from his day job at a car wash. Another time he was scheduled to appear at a sports banquet where fans could dine with their favorite athletes (the guest list included Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Jack Nicklaus, and Peggy Fleming), and Charlie Brown, Linus, and Snoopy bought tickets to sit at Joe’s table. He was the only athlete who didn’t show up, explaining later that he had marked the wrong event, city, and date on his calendar. Charlie Brown never did meet his hero. He never appeared in the strip, but is occasionally mentioned by Charlie Brown as his hero and is part of a couple of plots involving Charlie Brown. In one such plotline, Charlie Brown discovers that Joe is managing the Waffletown Syrups in a location near his camp, so Charlie Brown attends the game and cheers Joe on as he manages. Somehow catching a foul ball, Charlie Brown waits after the game for Joe to sign it only to find out that he’s been fired for calling for a squeeze play with nobody on base.

7) Carnival, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1901, celebrated with the merchandising jewel of 500 free giveaway ceramic beer steins emblazoned with a thirteen point buck in the stylized sanguine chalk of the demographic, of which the poet owned number 10.

8) The lyric in question is from the Canadian laureate’s “Field Commander” sequence, and the specific line is “racial rollercoaster rides and other forms of boredom advertised as poetry.”

9) The syndrome struck many within the short-lived inner circle.

10) While Pound stressed, in his later, bitter years, that poetry was for young men; economic essays, most would agree, are for the birds.

11) Birds of prey, predominantly, appeared routinely around monumental moments. The day he buried his mother “in a stone urn, an enormous barn owl appeared in the tree outside a waiting car, in the tree, in plain sight, just sitting there, at Pine Lawn, that saddest place on planet earth.” Journal #77, n/d.

12) From a handbill by the poet and artist Patrick Allen, bullet #853: All public funerals must provide an accompanying comments section so that the gravediggers know whether to bury the casket upside down or not.

13) Emil Cioran, Romanian philosopher 1911-1995.

14) A partial list of invitees included:  David Markson, Maria Lassnig, William Gaddis, William Gass, Lorinne Neidecker, Arno Schmidt, Vanda Vieira-Schmidt, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Cy Twombly, Louise Bourgeois, Henri Michaux, Willi Baumeister, Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, Josef Albers, Bridget Riley, Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Agnes Martin, Fernand Leger, Max Beckman, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Dubuffet, Willem de Kooning, Francis Bacon, Karel Appel, Alice Neel, Romare Bearden, David Hockney, Larry Rivers, Philip Guston, Dieter Roth, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Bruce Conner, George Brecht, Lucas Samaras, Ray Johnson, Edward Ruscha, David Wojnarowicz, Jean Tinguely, Joseph Cornell, Walter de Maria, Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, Gordon Matta-Clark, Eva Hesse, Bruce Nauman, Mierle Lademan Ukeles, Martin Puryear, Joseph Beuys, Guy Debord, John Cage, Allan Kaprow, Carolee Schneemann, though many were already deceased at the time of the pageant.

15) See On the Summits of Despair, Bucarest, 1934.

16) See James R. Mellow “New York Letter,” Art International, vol. CLXXVII, January, 1969, p.53.

17) The pamphlet contained the following treatise: Aim toward less preciousness. Perhaps a little less pride. Too many cohorts can’t get out of their own way. Think they might have the line in, might have the read, might know the subject best among their other peers. Keep that shit to yourself. I’m probably older than you. I’m not a know it all, I just know more than you at any given moment. And the like. Such and such. One hates it when one uses the term one to describe himself or herself to anotherself. Like when a picture dealer tells a prospective client the painting she wants has already been “placed.” Like any picture dealer in New York has ever hung a picture. Some sweaty underpaid beatnik placed the picture. You sold it to the soonest taker. One prefers the term multi-instrumentalist, because it might be a blade, might be an actual photograph, might be a very precious and sentimental, prideful and boisterous “embarking” on bliss known in most circles as a poem, once known among the anointed as “smudging the air with my song.” So one prefers to take another horn to his mouth instead of parse the difference between sculpture and video, torture the carcass of a peach looking for the small meat left on the nut, the scrap of flesh dangling from the spent pit.

18) His father minted coins for a living, and was banished. After being exiled, he criticized most cultural conventions of the city and modeled himself on the rarefied example of Herakles. He believed that virtue was best revealed in action. He used his own simple lifestyle and behavior to lambast the social values and institutions of what he saw as a corrupt and confused society. He had a reputation of sleeping and eating wherever he chose and took to toughening himself against nature. He declared himself cosmopolitan, and a citizen of the world rather than claiming allegiance to any one place. He made a virtue of poverty. He begged for a living and often slept in a large ceramic jar in the marketplace. He became notorious for his philosophical stunts such as carrying a lamp in the daytime, claiming to be looking for an honest man.








Scott Zieher is a poet, artist and co-owner of the contemporary art gallery ZieherSmith with his wife Andrea. His 5th book of poetry was published in 2016 to coincide with a solo exhibition of recent collages at Ampersand Gallery in Portland, Oregon. With AMERICAN CHEESE & HAM, New Theory inaugurates the serial publication of the 6th of Zieher’s proposed 13 volume, book-length poem project, TRISKADEKALOG. He has lived and worked in New York City since 1992.