Joe Brainard may be my favorite writer. As I was reading "The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard" I didn't want the book to end, and its over 500 pages. What strikes me the most brilliant aspect of Brainard is that he's not overly writer-like, but just naturally breathes as a writer. He is mostly famous for his "I Remember" which is an unique form of memoir writing, that to this day is taught by writing teachers. It is an effective way to open up the writing process, but in the hands (and mind) of Brainard, it's a work of genius.
The beauty of his work, including his artwork, which he's equally known for as well, is how simple he describes a piece of literature, art, or just commenting on day-to-day journals. But that 'simple' is quite complex and there is something very organic in the way he processes his subject matters to the readers or viewers. He is sometimes beyond zen, for instance "Short Story"
"Ten years ago I left home to go to the city and strike it big. But the only thing that was striking was the clock as it quickly ticked away my life."
Or his little prose piece "Ron Padgett"
"Ron Padgett is a poet. He always has been a poet and he always will be a poet. I don't know how a poet becomes a poet. And I don't think anyone else does either. It is something deep and mysterious inside of a person that cannot be explained. It is something that no one understands. it is something that no one will ever understand. I asked Ron Padgett once how it came about that he was a poet, and he said, "I don't know. It is something deep and mysterious inside of me that cannot be explained.""
Brainard is one of the great critics as well as a prose stylist. He writes like a visual artist who is extremely talented in giving the reader a picture. It's interesting that he never wrote a novel, because it seems that was one of his favorite literary formats. But again, the narration is not the key, but the way he observes his world, and it is a fascinating world. He was close the New York School Poets and the painters around that scene. His observations are fresh and non-cliché, it is almost like looking at the world for the first time. But looking at it with intelligence, great wit, and telling the tale in a very uncomplicated manner.
The Library of America should get a nice pat on the back for publishing this book, and also extra stars to Paul Auster for writing an interesting introduction, and most of all to the skills of fellow poet Ron Padgett for editing Joe's writings. This book is a must for those who write, and for those interested in 1960's/1970's Manhattan art culture. In other words, the book is a keeper, and I'll never loan it out.