30 November 2008

Brooks Haxton

[from Brooks Haxton's They Lift Their Wings to Cry, Alfred A. Knopf, 2008]

Screech-Owl Pie

to Roger Fanning in memory of Tom Andrews and Agha Shahid Ali

A mouse, let's say white-footed,
spooked by headlights, dashed
from under the shoulder grass, owl
stooped, and here beside the road:

owl pie -- a body sacred once
to worshippers of wisdom and dark fate,
now mashed into a feathered plaque
with only wings and talons left intact.

My brain beside the road,
unlike the owl brain eaten by a crow,
felt sun burst into the forward ports,
intense as headlights bearing down . . .

to think: the mouse the car set free
might well have been the species
people train to sing
for ears of wheat. And friends of ours

who taught with us by that same road,
though dead, may train us yet
to sing for them, to say, by reading
from their poems, how beautiful

Kashmir and West Virginia are
without them. Screech-owl pie, wings
spread with talons underneath, contains
no more an owl than shut books do

friends. And as for us who happen by,
who hunker at the guardrail: listen.
Year-round after nightfall
the white-footed mice are singing.

They Lift Their Wings to Cry

26 November 2008

Julio Cortazar & Carol Peters

[from Julio Cortazar's Último Round, Ediciones Destino, 1969]

Sílaba viva

Qué vachaché, está ahí aunque no lo quieran,
está en la noche, está en la leche,
en cada coche y cada bache y cada boche
está, le largarán los perros y lo mismo estará
aunque lo acechan, lo buscarán a troche y moche
y él estará con el que luche y el que espiche
y en todo el que se agrande y se repeche
él estará, me cachendió.

Santiago Colas says this:

I don't know how to translate this poem because it is literally about the sound "che" that appears in a number of words that might otherwise not be found together in the same piece of language: night (noche), milk (leche), car (coche), pothole (bache), brawl (boche), hunt (acechen), pell-mell (a troche y moche), fights (luche), speechifies (espiche), leans (repeche), goddamn it (me cachendió). All these words, in Spanish, have the syllable "che" in them. Cortázar tells us that this syllable is everywhere, even if you don't want it, even if you try to hunt it down, it will be there, in all these words.

And I say, try translate.

Syllable Lives

                - after Julio Cortazar

What's with che, it's here though unwanted
it's in bedcheck, it's in cheese,
in each Chevrolet and each of the ditches and each archenemy
there it is, the dogs will get it going and it will hang tough
though it's searched for, hunted from Chelsea to Cheltenham
and it will be the one that punches and the one that preaches
and in everything that stretches out and pitches in
there they will be, those sons of bitches.

Ultimo Round

16 November 2008

Adam Zagajewski

[from Adam Zagajewski's Eternal Enemies, FSG, 2008]

FSG's blog mentions two of my favorite lines by Adam Zagajewski:

No, ma'am, I said,
this is the nontalking compartment.

from his poem "En Route" and links to audio of the complete poem.

[from "In a Little Apartment"]

the fear and sweet gooseberries of childhood

[a stanza from "Stolarska Street"]

I returned to the city of sweet cakes,
bitter chocolate, and lovely funerals
(a grain of hope was once buried here),
the city of starched memory --
but the anxiety that drives wanderers,
and turns the wheels of bicycles, mills, and clocks,
won't leave me, it remains concealed
in my heart like a starving deserter
in an abandoned circus wagon.

Eternal Enemies: Poems

Glyn Maxwell

[from Glyn Maxwell's Hide Now, Houghton Mifflin, 2008]

Being too young to pass
the gate, we made our distance from a loop.
We'd ride around our house, and every lap
would be another mile
       into the mist.

Ten laps to France,
twenty there, a picnic in a field,
then twenty more to Germany, an old
box or two a Schloss
       by the back fence

and thirty more, who knows,
Austria, Russia . . . While my little brother
pedalled out of sight I'd fix a border:
a cold guard with a gun,
       a hostile pose,

harder question. Eighty
laps away the world was very tense,
there were shots fired, he found me dead and once
I found him dead and once
       we separately

lay down and died.
Him in a heap by his bike in the back garden.
Me face-down in moss in the front garden.
Nothing happened for ages
       as our mum dried

the dishes at the sink,
and put them away and saw he was still there.
The clouds went slowly over Hertfordshire,
till the rain began to smudge
       the scarlet ink

of our cardboard Chinese flag.
But we stayed down in the drizzle, we were dead.
If the other had gone inside it was too bad.
He didn't cough. I didn't
       scratch my leg.

In distant lands we died
we were thinking as we trooped into the warm,
and washed our hands in water that was steam
in our own home with the day
       dark blue outside.

Hide Now

11 November 2008

10 November 2008

Paul Valery according to George Steiner

[from George Steiner's My Unwritten Books, New Directions, 2008]

As Valery has it in his Platonic dialogue on architecture, the purpose of the architect is to "redistribute light, endowed with intelligible forms and almost musical perspectives, into the space where mortals move."

My Unwritten Books

Pierre Joris translates Paul Celan

Remember Kristallnacht.

08 November 2008

George Steiner

[from George Steiner's My Unwritten Books, New Directions, 2008]

Essentially powerless for some two thousand years, the Jew in exile, in his ghettos, amid the equivocal tolerance of gentile societies, was in no position to persecute other human beings. He could not, whatever his just cause, torture, humiliate, or deport other men and women. This was the Jew's singular nobility, a nobility that seems to me far greater than any other. I hold it as axiomatic that anyone who tortures another human being, be it under compelling political, military necessity, that anyone who systematically humiliates or makes homeless another man, woman, or child, forfeits the core of their own humanity. The imperative of survival, the ethical ambiguities of its settlement in what was Palestine (by what sophistry does a nonbelieving, nonpracticing Israeli invoke God's promise to Abraham?), have forced Israel to torture, to humiliate, to expropriate -- though often to a lesser degree than its Arab and Islamic enemies. The State lives behind walls. It is armed to the teeth. It knows racism. In short: it has made of Jews ordinary men. Demography in fact threatens this soiled normality. There will before too long be more Arabs inside Israel than there are Jews. Only catastrophe in the outside world could trigger a new inflow of immigrants. That the collapse of Israel would produce an irreparable psychological and spiritual crisis throughout the Diaspora is more than likely. But it is not certain. It may well be that Judaism is larger than Israel, that no historical setback could extinguish the mystery of its endurance. Christianity may have been arrogant in the catacombs. We simply do not know. In the meanwhile, however, Israel is reducing Jews to the common condition of nationalist man. It has diminished that moral singularity and that aristocracy of nonviolence toward others which were the tragic glory of the Jew.

My Unwritten Books

06 November 2008

Martha Serpas

[from Martha Serpas's The Dirty Side of the Storm, Norton, 2007]

Bully Camp Road

Every mangled, rusty hood reads "CLOSE!"
In white grease print, as if something might
Escape, like a mad dog through a screen door

Or Freon-charged air from a struggling
Window unit in Cocodrie mid-
July, from this junkyard of car shells

Turtle-stacked along a sagging chain-link fence.
A curl-tip of blackberry springs up
From a chrome gear shift, commanding

What's left of this pickup's interior:
Seat rails, speaker wires, steering column,
A Fritos bag and a few flakes of glass

From the mosaic bubble of punched-
Out windshield. Its bottle-green leaves against
The hollowed dash make it look a little

Lost, a little upstream. Don't think hope, for
God's sake. Think vulnerable. Think of that day
In kindergarten, telling the teacher --

She so pleased with fifteen etched Christmas cards --
Mama got them from the back of some drawer.
Think how complicated truth became.

Most of these jalopies are picked clean
To their Detroit bones: not a rearview
To be had, not a taillight to follow

Down a swamp road. And this road is a long
One, all caked dust and oyster shells, past
The house of a boy who set off a shot-

Gun under his head, so that his tongue,
I'm sure, was the first to go, a collage
Of rote recitals, blunders, and dreams.

Echoes endure, chalky dust quiets,
Almost settles, like this passenger cage,
Razed to a mound of glinting red powder.

The Dirty Side of the Storm: Poems

Yusef Komunyakaa

[from Yusef Komunyakaa's Warhorses, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2008]


Lightning struck. It left a courtyard of totems
on their backs or kneeling in the midday dusk,

& a German bomber rose among the clouds,
headed for another grid square on a map.

When cries of the burning city reached Picasso
in Paris, a woman's wailing was in his head,

but all the king's men — all the king's horsemen
couldn't mend this mirage of toppled statuary.

He mounted a tall stepladder to reach the top
of his canvas. Black & white, shades of gray —

days of splintered shadows & angry nights
writhed at the painter's feet. All the years

of exile bowed to him, & then time's ashes
drew past & present future perfect together:

Although it was only a replica woven on a wall
at the UN, before the statesmen could speak

of war, they draped a blue cloth over the piece,
so cameras weren't distracted by the dead child

in her mother's embrace. The severed hand
grips a broken sword. The woman falling

through the floor of a burning house is still
falling. The horse screams a human voice.

The dumbstruck bull pines for the matador.
There's always a fallen warrior whispering

a stone's promise, waiting for a star,
his mouth agape.

[also from Warhorses, the start of "Autobiography of My Alter Ego"]

You see these eyes?
                             You see this tongue?
You see these ears?
                             They may detect a quiver
in the grass, an octave
                             higher or lower —
a little different, an iota,
                             but they're no different
than your eyes & ears.
                             I can't say I don't know
how Lady Liberty's
                             tilted in my favor or yours,
that I don't hear what I hear
                             & don't see what I see
in the cocksure night
                             from Jefferson & Washington
to terrorists in hoods and sheets
                             in a black man's head.
As he feels what's happening
                             you can also see & hear
what's happening to him.
                             You see these hands?
They know enough to save us.
                             I'm trying to say this: True,
I'm a cover artist's son,
                             born to read between lines,
but I also know that you know
                             a whispered shadow in the trees
is the collective mind
                             of insects, birds, & animals
witnessing what we do to each other.

Warhorses: Poems

05 November 2008


Who's for renaming the U.S.of A. to the Republic of ObamabO.

if:book: Rick Prelinger

I mention the The Future of the Book blog often but for good reason. Read this tidbit:

we need to convene and decide how deeply we want to connect culture and property. And when we’ve settled on a particular mix, we might think about whether it maximizes our freedom to speak, to learn and to inquire — in short, whether it leads to the kind of a world we’d want to live in. This will not be an easy conversation — it’s hardly even begun. But one way we can move towards more open cultural distribution and exchange is to make our own works as accessible as possible. We can do this by limiting restrictions on reuse to the absolute minimum, by using permissive licenses, like the Creative Commons licenses, that say “use me this way, it’s OK,” and by using copyright homeopathically rather than as a weapon of shock and awe

Then go to if:book and read the rest of the Rick Prelinger's argument.

03 November 2008


Bob Stein invites you to help if:book spend their NEH grant

Elizabeth Bishop & Robert Lowell

[from three reviews of the recently published Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2008]

Dan Chiasson in The New Yorker:

    "No poet is obsessed with craft per se; craft is just a name for the
    mechanics of immortality. . . . what makes these letters so
    fascinating is their hawk’s eye on immortality, even in the midst
    of lives lived fully, often sloppily."

William Logan in The New York Times:

    "It’s so rare for a writer to find the perfect sympathetic
    intelligence, we think sadly of Melville and Hawthorne, Coleridge
    and Wordsworth, whose hothouse friendships came to grief,
    in part because of the fatal attunement of their imaginations"

Ron Silliman on his blog:

    "I don’t recall anything like this for the letters betwixt Robert
    Duncan & Denise Levertov, two other authors of approximately the
    same generation and at least the same stature as poets."

Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell