Here is what I have left in writing from my friendship with David Stoller, which ended in 1985 with his premature death after a “successful” operation to repair a congenital hole in his heart. First, three versions of the eulogy, then a few of our letters. I added these items to this web site because we were very good friends and I miss him, and because the writing gives a taste of that friendship. Along with R.C. (Robert) Morse (another good friend also prematurely deceased), and some other friends, we edited the Modularist Review (TMR) a literary magazine that, in spite of constant editorial wrangling, had nothing to do with Modularism, a movement or concept associated with the architect Le Corbusier. In Seasons of Love and Loss in the Poetry and Prose at Large section of this web site you also will find four poems about David: “Less Than,” “Reunion,” “David,” and “Brain Death.”
(February 8, 1954 -January 15, 1985)
In Memoriam I
David put Detroit on the map. He was the kid from the other side of the Hudson. The guy into tv. One of the few men I could ever talk to about feelings. He was private, too, often impossible to talk to, distracted, watching tv, talking, eating, and writing all at the same time–or so it seemed. Who’d ever expect that from the guy with a thousand hats whose day began at eleven pm and whose night ended at noon? You could expect thoughtfulness from him, too, and honesty, gentle, or determined pressure to do the right thing. You could expect difficulties when you pressed him. We can all hear his voice, in our own way, saying no, although he never liked when I included him in a “we.” Sometimes you wanted to punch him for evading decisions, but you had to admire him for wanting his own way. It seemed to take him a while to decide what he wanted to do. Then, just when he seemed to decide, he still didn’t know what he wanted. He knew what he didn’t want, though. His apartment was the eighth wonder of the world. Now you see it, now you don’t. One time it’d look like a warehouse, neatly organized, with shelves and dividers, certain furniture, my favorite canvas-and-wrought-iron chair, the one I could drift away in listening to Elvis Costello or Frank Sinatra. Next time there’d be futons. And the next time I wondered if I’d even been awake when I’d been there the previous time. I missed a lot, putting David on my map. He never liked when I punched him for fun, the way people punch their little brothers and sisters. He never liked when he thought I had put words in his mouth. I think we liked the friendly competition, seeing each other move from embryonic worlds of poems and stories into harder worlds of facts, ambitions, and money. We worked for the same correspondence school, editing horrible writing–I got him that one. Then we worked for the same tabloid–he got me that one. We drifted in different directions, but the same, trying to shape our dreams and ideas to rent payments. Though I guess I sold out first–David seemed to want something, a good job or more than money couldn’t buy, a cliche but true. And now the rivers of moons sweep the branches away. There’s a gap in the forest, a hole in my side, an exposed flank, a torn wound. The low-slung musicians present the sky with a special tune. In the soft, fragile memories of little birds, in the hard, unbreakable memories of mountains; in the swift sureness of sunrise, I see David, who has called me by name and let me call him by his. And the rivers of moons sweep the branches away.
(February 8, 1954 -January 15, 1985)
In Memoriam II
David Stoller put Detroit on the map. When I first met him I was surprised at how close he wanted to be. I wanted it but was scared. Few men are like that. He also was very private, sometimes maddeningly so.
He always wanted to know who was coming to my parties. When I told him a party was going to be early, he had a characteristic way of exclaiming his displeasure. He always came late, when he felt comfortable.
In recent years David seemed stubbornly determined to be doing exactly what he wanted, where he wanted, when he wanted. He was very clear about what he wanted.
When he worked at home, he turned his apartment into various types of offices, somehow trying to absorb all his papers and books. Then you’d show up one day and think you were in a different place. What happened to the shelves? Where’s my favorite chair? You wondered whether you even had had your eyes open the last time you had been there.
I used to like punching David, mauling him the way older brothers like to maul their younger brothers and sisters. David hated that.
He gave a lot, could listen, and could talk. He sometimes would ask advice, like when he had two good job offers that any of us would have killed for, and then didn’t follow the advice about which one to take. He then worked one job just long enough to decide that wasn’t for him–a week or two–and the other a little longer, but still not very long. He was frustratingly, amusingly unenthusiastic about both jobs–understandable, classically David.
His novel Rushes was, like David, full of extraordinary energy, a rough cut, dapper at times, wearing
different hats in different scenes, buttons, toughness and gentleness, intensely rushing into the meaning of life, getting closer and closer but not quite wearing the right hat yet.
To me he was a little person, I a big person . . . at least in physical appearance. We were competitive, in a fun way.
Death blows a hole in your being. There’s a raw gap in my consciousness. How can it ever be filled? There’s a disturbance in the Force. Watch out. There’s the body. But the consciousness floats everywhere.
Who was he? Each of us knew a different person, like in Rashomon. Together our knowledge is less than the whole. Where is the river of moons? The dark light of remembrance? Detroit’s on the map; only, the cartographer is making a new map for us to follow.
January 16, 1985?
(February 8, 1954-January 15, 1985)
In Memoriam III
David put Detroit on the map. He was the kid from the other side of the Hudson. The guy into tv. One of the few men I could ever share my feelings with; few men are like that. when I first met him I was surprised at how close he wanted to be; I wanted it, and was afraid. He was private too, often impossible to talk to, watching tv and talking to me on the phone, eating, typing, all at the same time–or so it seemed. He always wanted to know who was coming to my parties. When I told him the party was going to be early, he had a characteristic way of expressing his displeasure, which I have been hearing and saying to myself over the last few days. He always came late anyway, when he felt comfortable. We went hiking together. Who’d ever expect that from the guy with a thousand hats whose day began at eleven pm and ended at noon. He was a true friend–listening, sharing, giving advice, being cantankerous, who forced me, gently, to look at everything more carefully, more deeply. We can probably all hear his voice, in our own way, saying no–although he hated when I included him in a “we.” Sometimes I wanted to punch him for evading decisions, but he never liked when I did punch him–I guess I felt like an older brother at times. It seemed to take him a while to make certain decisions; then, just when he seemed to know what he wanted, he still didn’t know what he wanted. What it was was a stubborn determination to be doing exactly what he wanted to do, when and where he wanted, on his own terms. His apartment was the eighth wonder of the world. Now you see it, now you don’t. One time it’d look like a warehouse, neatly organized, with shelves and dividers, certain furniture, my favorite canvas-and-wrought-iron chair, the one I could drift away in listening to Elvis Costello or Frank Sinatra. Next time there’d be futons; where’d you put your files? I still wonder if I ever saw anything when I was there. He never liked when I put words in his mouth; I had to be careful. We liked the friendly competition, seeing each other move from embryonic worlds of poems and stories into harder worlds of facts, ambitions and money. We read each other’s novels, worked for the same correspondence school for writers, the same cheap tabloid, getting each other jobs. We drifted in different directions, but the same, trying to shape our dreams and ideals to rent payments. He’s probably saying no, not really, don’t tell me what I was doing. And now the rivers of moons sweep the branches away. The forest is exposed to a terrible wind, there’s silence in the snowy fields. The musicians present the sky with a special tune, one that can’t be sung. In the soft, fragile memories of little birds; in the hard, unbreakable memories of mountains; in the swift sureness of the progression of days, I’m sure I will see David’s work. He called me by my real name, I tried to call him by his, as we went with the rushes, the still pools. Who was he? Each of us has a different piece. But together our knowledge is less than the whole. Where is the river of moons? The dark light of remembrance? Detroit’s on the map, only the cartographer is making a new map for us to follow among the lilies far away.
poem for henry’s birthday 11/16/84
Wichita Falls (pop. 9800)
on me on me on me
when Cummings came home
from the war to
and all wars,
he thought (to himself)
“It ain’t over yet.”
If he went to
no one knows now.
But don’t despair,
As Yogi says, “It ain’t
over till its over.”
[Somehow typed on back of Sheraton postcard.]
Dear David J. Stoller, Esq. (undated but prior to 7/25/78)
Most graciously didst I receiveth your missive & was so happi to here (sic) from u (sick) (sic).
Anyway, I can’t say much now. Glad you took the Elderberry. Sorry to hear Robert is still down, if down is the right word. Done may be better. If Jill goes she’s crazy. If I didn’t know Robert & just knew her I would council her most strongly to stay put in NY, not necessarily for her career, but for her soul. To be with someone who wants to remake you as he thinks you should be would be a disaster. I know, because I’ve always tried to remake girlfriends, though not quite as openly as Robert admits he does. And my remaking is different–though all remaking is bad. It’s not to teach someone to cook and do your laundry. When he said that I felt like throwing up. Oi.
Anyway, about TMR. I’ve thought about it. Aside from matters of money–I cannot afford, under any conditions, to put any money into the enterprise–the title would have to change, as would the editorial policy. My idea of a magazine would be to have featured writers–poets, for example. Do just a few poets, or perhaps longpoems. Then do short fiction, of an ambitious nature, or by new writers. None of this fifty poems by fifty poets stuff. Ideally I’d be interested in articles about music and dance too, but that’s another story. But frankly I think I’ll back out, unless someone can convince me otherwise. I’m not interested in having just another magazine, full of compromises. And I know we’d need more money than a grant. I don’t have Robert’s energy except for my own writing. Also, could you and I really work togethet? As it is we drive each other nuts, and while this tension might be good for a magazine, I’m not so sure about the rest of the show. Also, I don’t like the idea of ten editors. I don’t want a board, or “training” editors. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Collective visions are rare, and rarely last. That’s my say.
Talk to you later.
PS Please consider the enclosed poems for TMR (The Modularist Review).
11 July 1978
Here’s the chapter, complete with idle, irresponsible comments done on the airplane and elsewhere. I liked it, and have already been telling various people I know someone who is having a novel published soon. I also have met a young lady from Detroit, and just realized one of my best friends out here is also from there.
I think the chapter does well on its own, though in a way it seems more like a preview of the novel than a complete entity of its own.
I thought there could be some editing here and there and took the liberty to make a few picky suggestions. I had other feelings too but thought many of them had to do with my desire to make your writing into mine. I probably would have smoothed out a lot of the sentences. Also I wasn’t sure about the long dialogue, about the name. I was trying to figure why, at this point, you had dialogue, whereas the rest was mostly narrative. I guess I found the other writing more interesting. I like the energetic flamboyance best, and thought of “The House,” of Marquez, of bold, imaginative narrative without dialogue (or does narrative include dialogue?).
Anyway, publish the damned thing, and make sure you proofread the copy–the typeset copy–and don’t let Robert bamboozle you into compromises.
You were right about Robert, but you forgot the mood. I spoke to him Thursday evening and he was on an incredible bummer. I hope he comes out of the slump.
Things here are dull, though I did attend a nice party. I’m not too keen on calling everyone under the sun, and it’s going to be hard to go on a long camping trip–impossible, probably. I’m giving my poetry reading Friday; my name was even “dropped” in the book review section of The Times. A friend of mine heard Charles Wright yesterday, and fell asleep. Wright has three books, publishes in the New Yorker, etc. I’m reading “The House,” in its latest incarnation. I’m almost entirely in present tense now, except for one section–after going through a phase when I put everything into the past. It’s shorter, and tighter too, and probably ruined, but what the fuck, a house is a house is a home.
Ciao, Henry P.O. Box ____ Rancho Palos Verdes Calif 90274
P.S. Publish what you want, or publish nothing, of the enclosed work.
July 25, 1978
Mr. Hankie Pankie
P.O. Box _____
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
Dear Mr. Pankie:
It seems that our letters have crossed. As I was writing to you, you, it appears, were writing to me. Thusly, in the way the mails operate, they crossed. Our letters crossed. This could create bad luck for someone in mid-Kansas or Iowa, or even a close member of your family/.
But fear not! Because I am writing you back, in answer to your epistle, the curse will lift and blue skies will predominate. Ah!
We shall consider the enclosed poems, though one of them was already sent to us in a first bath of her’s you gave us. This one, entitled Brand X, was rejected. Though the idea is good, the poem is not tight enough to evoke the feeling of losing control. Who is this chick (sic) anyway?
As for your comments upon the continuation of TMR: Firstly, I think you and I could work together. At least I believe we respect each other by this point in time; though, I value your friendship above any literary relationship. I’d rather be your buddy than your small mag partner. I do agree with you that just another magazine is redundant and rediculous at this time. I’ve never liked the small press world to begin with, as Robert well knows, and I’ve kept with TMR out of friendship and because I can publish what I please in it and don’t have to worry about rejection or compromise that way (a neat little psychological trick on my part). So, I certainly would not keep up the show without some backing (not financial, but editorial) from others. I have no intentions of becoming the East Coast Modularist Representative, nor will I pretend any longer to love modularism. I believe this is also how you feel, to a degree. But I do like editing and the like, especially something of which I have some control over. At this point, like you, though, my own work comes first. I cannot really say how I will feel when RC goes and when the issue comes out. If money could be found I would be aggrreeable to doing something along the line of featuring writers as you suggest–this has always been my desire, long ago expressed to RC. This is especially true of fiction. The reason, one of them at least, that I have so few publications is that I do not write short snappy pieces, but long, rambling ones. My style does not lend itself to “stories”. There is currently a magazine out that is publishing pieces from small press novels. I don’t know what it’s like, though. Anyway, I ramble on as usual. This is a difficult subject for me, because it is emotionally connected.
As of this point I’d say they are both going to N.M. To speak to Jill is to speak to a brick wall on this matter. She has rationalized it in her mind and that is enough for her, though I can tell she is still hurting but cannot come out and say help. She’s twice asked me for my therapist’s number and twice I’ve given it and she hasn’t called. She has no strong female friend to tell her off and get her straight, and so she keeps to herself and therefore can rationalize her move. As for Robert (pardon my indulgences here) he is a pain in the ass. He comes out of his depression and says not word one about it–acts as if nothing has happened and has not even thanked me or said a kind word to me about my trying to help him. His manners are horrendous, and though I don’t give a damn about manners in general, I do rank courtesy as one way of knowing if a person feels or not. Which I do not believe he does. I am basically disappointed and disgusted with them both, partly as a way of protecting myself because of their immanent move and partly because I am disgusted and disappointed.
Nuts to this.
[Note: Some typos in the original have been left in.]
Note to David sent with article entitled “The Daring Harold Robbins” from the New York Post, January 7, 1978:
I thought of you when I saw this.
I thought: We are in the wrong business.
We should be staring into space, fantsizing sexual escapades in Mexico, instead of in New York, and writing schlock instead of “litrature.” Well, you may disagree, but I am handing back my diploma and flying back to Hollywood.
See you there.