31 August 2007

Simone Weil

[from Simone Weil's Gravity and Grace, 1947]

Obedience. There are two kinds. We can obey the force of gravity or we can obey the relationship of things. In the first case we do what we are driven to by the imagination which fills up empty spaces. We can affix a variety of labels to it, often with a show of truth, including righteousness and God. If we suspend the filling up activity of the imagination and fix our attention on the relationship of things, a necessity becomes apparent which we cannot help obeying. Until then we have not any notion of necessity and we have no sense of obedience.

After that we cannot be proud of what we do, even though we may accomplish marvels.

Gravity and Grace (Routledge Classics)

26 August 2007

George Steiner

[from George Steiner’s After Babel: Aspects of Language & Translation]

We must not trust the translation whose words are entirely ‘un-broken’. As with a sea-shell, the translator can listen strenuously but mistake the rumour of his own pulse for the beat of the alien sea.

Yet ‘mis-taking’, to grasp in place of, to transliterate, as it were, between seizure and surrogation, is indispensable. We have seen that serious understanding depends on a linguistic and cultural experiencing of resistant difference. But the transcendence of difference, the process of internalizing the probabilities of non-communication, of acute doubt as to whether the thing can be done at all, demands Wahlverwandschaft (elective affinity). At close linguistic-cultural quarters the translator often finds himself in a state of recognition. The hermeneutic and praxis of his decipherment and subsequent restatement are those of mirrors and déjà-vu. He has been here before he came. He has chosen his source-text not arbitrarily but because he is kindred to it. The magnetism can be one of genre, tone, biographical fantasy, conceptual framework. Whatever the bonding, his sense of the text is a sense of homecoming or, as the sentimental tag precisely puts it, of a home from home. Poor translation follows on negative ‘mistaking’: erroneous choice or mechanical, fortuitous circumstance have directed the translator to an original in which he is not at home. The alienness is not one of differentiation undergone, circumscribed as a moment in the dialectic of transit, but a muddled, vacant disaccord which can, in fact, be independent of linguistic difference. Thus there are within our own tongue and culture numerous works with which we have no just relation, which leave us cold. Positive ‘mistaking’ on the contrary generates and is generated by the feeling of at-homeness in the other language, in the other community of consciousness. The point is a central one. Translation operates in a dual or dialectical or bipolar energy field (one’s preference between these terms being simply a question of meta-language). Resistant difference — the integral and historical impermeability, apartness of the two languages, civilizations, semantic composites — plays against elective affinity — the translator’s pre- and recognition of the original, his intuition of legitimate entry, of an at-homeness momentarily dislocated, i.e. located across the frontier. At close quarters, say as between two European languages, the charge is maximal at both poles. The shock of difference is as strong as that of familiarity. The translator is held off as powerfully as he is drawn in. Translucency comes of the unresolved antinomy of the two currents, of the vital swerve into and away from the core of the original. Some such picture seems to obtain in the micron spaces between high-energy particles drawn together by gravity but kept apart by repulsion.

But notice how ‘positive mistaking’, the translator’s recognition or Narcissism on which the business depends for half its logic, sets odd psychological traps. Once the translator has entered into the original, the frontier of language passed, once he has certified his sense of belonging, why go on with the translation? He is now, apparently, the man who needs it least. Not only can he hear and read the original for himself, but the more unforced his immersion the sharper will be his realization of a uniquely rooted meaning, of the organic autonomy of the saying and the said. So why a translation, why the circumvention which is the way home (the third movement in the hermeneutic)? Undoubtedly translation contains a paradox of altruism — a word on which there are stresses both of ‘otherness’ and of ‘alteration’. The translator performs for others, at the price of dispersal and relative devaluation, a task no longer necessary or immediate to himself. But there is also a proprietary impulse. It is only when he ‘brings home’ the simulacrum of the original, when he recrosses the divide of language and community, that he feels himself in authentic possession of his source. Safely back he can, as an individual, discard his own translation. The original is now peculiarly his. Appropriation through understanding and metamorphic re-saying shades, psychologically as well as morally, into expropriation. This is the dilemma which I have defined as the cause of the fourth, closing movement in the hermeneutic of translation. After completing his work, the genuine translator is en fausse situation. He is in part a stranger to his own artifact which is now radically superfluous, and in part a stranger to the original which his translation has, in varying degrees, adulterated, diminished, exploited, or betrayed through improvement. I will come back to the consequent need for compensation, for a restoration of parity. This need is obsessive in the distances, at once resistant and magnetic, of Hobbes to Thucydides, of Hölderlin to Sophocles, of MacKenna to Plotinus, of Celan to Shakespeare, of Nabokov to Pushkin.

After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation


22 August 2007

20 August 2007

Richard Hugo

[from Richard Hugo's "Death in the Aquarium}"]

. . . and wouldn't we welcome dying unknown,
unnamed on the floor of the ocean,
our bones ignored by the only clock there,
that slow unrhythmic waver of kelp --
our bones giving off the phosphorus
that collects in pockets and waits,
then one night washes in glowing?
And lovers, lovers would stop making love
and stand there, each suddenly alone
amazed at that gleam riding sand.

New York reading

Bowery Poetry Club
October 4, 2007
8 PM

I'll be reading with other authors from RealPoetik

Frank O'Hara

[from Frank O'Hara's Collected Poems, 1995]


I don't know as I get what D. H. Lawrence is driving at
when he writes of lust springing from the bowels
or do I
it could be the bowels of the earth
to lie flat on the earth in spring, summer or winter is sexy
you feel it stirring deep down slowly up to you
and sometimes it gives you a little nudge in the crotch
that's very sexy
and when someone looks sort of raggedy and dirty like Paulette Goddard
in Modern Times it's exciting, it isn't usual or attractive
perhaps D.H.L. is thinking of the darkness
certainly the crotch is light
and I suppose
any part of us that can only be seen by others
is a dark part
I feel that about the small of my back, too and the nape of my neck
they are dark
they are erotic zones as in the tropics
whereas Paris is straightforward and bright about it all
a coal miner has kind of a sexy occupation
though I'm sure it's painful down there
but so is lust
of light we can never have enough
but how would we find it
unless the darkness urged us on and into it
and I am dark
except when now and then it all comes clear
and I can see myself
as others luckily sometimes see me
in a good light

The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara

My New Gig

Monthly Fiction Writing Group
led by Sean Scapellato and Carol Peters

meets the second Tuesday of each month
starting September 11, 2007, 7-9 PM
Charleston County Main Library, 68 Calhoun Street

For all those closet novelists out there: bring your favorite pen and paper, your works-in-progress, your fictive mind. During our recurring fiction workshop series, we’ll be tackling major topics of the craft: dialogue, plot, character, tone, point of view, imagery. We’ll look at process, discipline, revision, submitting, editing. Our two hours will be split with instruction and interactive exercises, questions and answers, and brief sharing of exercises. Use this time to meet other writers and to put pen to paper. We’ll be helping you formulate ideas, improve your works in progress, and learn substantive techniques about the craft and art of fiction. Designed to help fiction writers at all levels, from beginning to professional, this time will allow for introspection and work on individual projects as well as a chance to learn about the many techniques of story. Sponsored by the Charleston County Public Library and The Lowcountry Initiative for the Literary Arts (LILA). For more information please call 843-805-6930.

19 August 2007

Buson & Jack Gilbert

[Buson, translated by Lucien Stryk]

A sudden chill —
in our room my dead wife's comb,

[from Jack Gilbert's The Great Fires, 1996]


I came back from the funeral and crawled
around the apartment, crying hard,
searching for my wife's hair.
For two months got them from the drain,
from the vacuum cleaner, under the refrigerator,
and off the clothes in the closet.
But after other Japanese women came,
there was no way to be sure which were
hers, and I stopped. A year later,
repotting Michiko's avocado, I find
a long black hair tangled in the dirt.

Zen Poems of China and Japan: The Crane's Bill (An Evergreen Book)
The Great Fires: Poems, 1982-1992

18 August 2007

Elizabeth Daryush

[Elizabeth Daryush, from Collected Poems, 1976]


The shadeless elms, the poplars shimmerless
Have yellowed, dropped their flaccid leaves a full
Two months before their time; the alder-pool
Is a black miry swamp, ploughed by the press
Of tortured, thirsty cattle; or look where
Once would a spreading line of verdure show
The river’s lush umbrageous path, that now
Is a white hard road, hedged with willows bare.

Autumn will flush no harvest in these fields
Failed of slow Nature’s sober, ripening clime,
Nor winter in these woods brighten with rime
Red berry, brown nut, her late-lavished yields

To bird and beast: the blighted copse they rob
Already of its last lean hip and cob.

Collected poems [of] Elizabeth Daryush

more from Mary Kinzie

Philip Hobsbaum's rhyme rankings (the larger the number, the stronger the rhyme):

2.00 interior/superior
1.50 mystery/mastery
1.00 terse/hearse
0.75 world/walled, wheels/wells
0.50 bar/fire, hair/got there
0.25 on/organ

W. K. Wimsatt on rhyme:

Wimsatt makes the further point that it is not sounds that rhyme but meanings (or the single-syllabled meaning-nuggets linguists call "morphemes"), which now clash under the cover of likeness. What comes together in the technique we call rhyme are not so much aural signifiers as semantic ones with subtle syntactical identities, for it is Wimsatt's view that "words have no character as rhymes until they become points in a syntactic succession." . . .

In the couplets of Pope, in particular, Wimsatt believes the disparity between the auditory resemblance and the logical divergence--a divergence in both function (syntax) and meaning (root) -- is exploited with unparalleled cleverness. . . . not only words that rhyme, but small parts of larger, countermatching line-segments (clauses and phrases), which come together with a closure in sound that contradicts the contrast in meaning . . .

A Poet's Guide to Poetry (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing)

15 August 2007

Mary Kinzie

[from Mary Kinzie's A Poet's Guide to Poetry, 1999]

Metrical “correctness,” which leads Surrey to pile one closed pentameter line upon another, does not insure good poetry (and the Surrey versions of many Wyatt works seem padded out — note the frequency of doubled phrases linked by and), just as metrical “incorrectness” does not absolutely diminish a fine poem, although it makes the job riskier . . . Of course, meter that always limps and lurches may irk the reader and distract the writer ar the wrong moment. The middle ground may yield greater success — lines, that is to say, in which neither is the variation so wild as to cancel out the background music of metrical expectation, nor the metrical ground base so rigid as to silence all departures from the alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables.

A Poet's Guide to Poetry (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing)

14 August 2007

Timothy Steele

[from Timothy Steele’s After Sapphics and Other Uncertainties: Poems 1970-1986]

Toward Calgary

Out over these parched, gusty plains,
Loose dirt is lifted to a sail;
Beyond wide distances, a train’s
Smoke draws a horizontal trail.

Posts bear a wire, mile after mile,
Across deep views toward which winds roll,
That wire the only obstacle
Between the winds and the North Pole.

Here one could drive what seems an age,
Seeing no more than levelled land
And, on the road, slow-skidding sage
And skating shapes of wind-blown sand.

Here one could try the radio's dial
And, as the inching needle slips
Through far, infrequent static, feel
A stilled world at the fingertips.

And one might sense nothing but thirst
Or soundless hours in this place
Where all horizons are dispersed
Continuously into space.

Yet from caked, crumbly ground and rocks
The spiky purple lupines grow
And cacti shaped like tuning forks.
And some who've crossed such precincts know

The prudent heart is like these plains,
Where quietness has grown immense,
No landmarks rendering its terrains
Measurable to human sense,

And where, remote of any tree,
The sky is an inclusive drift
Of radiance chastening, endlessly,
Needless invention, needless thrift.

Sapphics and Uncertainties: Poems 1970-1986


I belong to the wonderfully supportive Southern Appalachian Writer's Cooperative

13 August 2007


Who we're watching

Alice Fulton

[from Alice Fulton’s “Give: Daphne and Apollo” in After Ovid: The New Metamorphoses, ed. Michael Hofmann and James Lasdun]

. . . Remember how

       music was aroused in the old technology?
The stylus vibrated, shaking a crystal in its head,
       and the groove culled this trembling.
The stylus made electrons fly
       from the atom, climb a wire through
the crystal to the gate. There

       the slight current was amplified,
bridling the large —

       and vinyl gave
rise to sonatas, rise to bop.

       This gives the odd god
and hound dog, dolphin and electron,
       the novation and the moment
of change. Since the truly new
looks truly wrong at first,

       it gives the sublime and grotesque,
hoping you’ll receive them kindly,
hoping for the best — newness
       being not so much a truth

as it is emotion.
Can you feel for the dark

       matter, background
lines of lace of brides? Will you
       receive the hybridized and recombined,
the downsized and the amplified?

The greenery and systemic herbicide:
       the laurel wreath. . . .

After Ovid: New Metamorphoses

12 August 2007

Thom Gunn

[from Thom Gunn's Collected Poems, 1994]


Nightmare of beasthood, snorting, how to wake.
I woke. What beasthood skin she made me take?

Leather toad that ruts for days on end,
Or cringing dribbling dog, man's servile friend,

Or cat that prettily pounces on its meat,
Tortures it hours, then does not care to eat:

Parrot, moth, shark, wolf, crocodile, ass, flea.
What germs, what jostling mobs there were in me.

These seem like bristles, and the hide is tough.
No claw or web here: each foot ends in hoof.

Into what bulk has method disappeared?
Like ham, streaked, I am gross — gray, gross, flap-eared.

The pale-lashed eyes my only human feature.
My teeth tear, tear. I am the snouted creature

That bites through anything, root, wire, or can.
If I was not afraid I'd eat a man.

Oh a man's flesh already is mine.
Hand and foot poised for risk. Buried in swine.

I root and root, you think that is greed,
It is, but I seek out a plant I need.

Direct me, gods, whose changes are all holy,
To where it flickers deep in grass, the moly:

Cool flesh of magic in each leaf and shoot,
From milky flower to the black forked root.

From this fat dungeon I could rise to skin
And human title, putting pig within.

I push my big gray wet snout through the green,
Dreaming the flower I have never seen.

Collected Poems

09 August 2007

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

[from Walter Jackson Bate's Coleridge, 1968]

As to Nightingales — they are almost as numerous with us and as incessant in song as Frogs with you. Ah! (I groaned forth a few nights ago, when qualmy and twitchy from the effects of an Aperient) Ah! PHIlomel! ill do thy strains accord with those of CALomel!

. . .

I envy dear Southey's power of saying one thing at a time in short and close sentences, whereas my thoughts bustle along like a Surinam Toad, with little toads sprouting out of back, side, and belly, vegetating while it crawls


07 August 2007

Terri McCord

The marvelous and prolific Finishing Line Press will soon publish a chapbook by my friend and sister poet Terri McCord of Greenville, SC.

06 August 2007

Jilly Dybka

I suppose everyone except me knew that Wikipedia refers to my friend and sister poet Jilly Dybka in their Dock Ellis entry.

Anne Haines

I'm delighted to learn that Finishing Line Press is preparing to publish a chapbook by my friend and sister poet Anne Haines.

Ron Silliman

Read Ron's blog posting today, or at least this quoted paragraph:

Thus if poetry is about vocabulary & poems themselves are not referential, we have – no one is more clear about this than Ashbery – a hierarchy of vocabulary. At the pinnacle are the three great orienting pronouns, I, you and we, followed very closely by proper names – Rappahannock or Wimpy or whatever – followed by nouns, as such, then adverbs & verbs and then all other words. It is worth noting that what puts the three pronouns at the pinnacle is their implication of presence, these invariably are the pronouns of immanence, as he, she and they are not.

05 August 2007

Ernst Bloch

[from George Steiner's After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation]

We hypothesize and project thought and imagination into the 'if-ness', into the free conditionalities of the unknown. Such projection is no logical muddle, no abuse of induction. It is far more than a probabilistic convention. It is the master nerve of human action. Counter-factuals and conditionals, argues Bloch, make up a grammar of constant renewal. They force us to proceed afresh in the morning, to leave failed history behind. Otherwise our posture would be static and we would choke on disappointed dreams. . . . Bloch has insisted that 'reasonings on a supposition' are not, as Hume in his exercise of systematic doubt ruled, 'chimerical and without foundation'. They are, on the contrary, the means for our survival and the distinctive mechanism of personal and social evolution. Natural selection, as it were, favoured the subjunctive.

04 August 2007

Sir Thomas Urquhart's Logopandecteision of 1653

[from George Steiner's After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation]

The object is 'to appropriate the words of the universal language with the things of the universe'. Only a 'Grammatical Arithmetician' . . . will bring about this indispensable accord. Urquhart's interlingua contains eleven genders and ten cases besides the nominative. Yet the entire edifice is built on 'but two hundred and fifty prime radices upon which all the rest are branches'. Its alphabet counts ten vowels, which also serve as digits, and twenty-five consonants; together these articulate all sounds of which the vocal organs of man are capable. This alphabet is a powerful means of arithmetical logic: 'What rational Logarithms do by writing, this language doth by heart; and by adding of letters, shall multiply numbers; which is a most exquisite secret.' The number of syllables in a word, moreover, is proportionate to the number of its significations. Urquhart kept his 'exquisite secret' but the anticipation of his claim on modern symbolic logic and computer languages is striking. As is Urquhart's assurance that the phonetic and syntactic rules of his 'universal character' have inherent mnemonic advantages. A child, he says, will acquire fluency in the new speech with little effort because the structure of the idiom in fact reproduces and reenacts the natural articulations of thought.

After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation

Kamau Braithwaite

[from Kamau Braithwaite's Dreamstories, 1998]

from The Black Angel

                                          . . .but like he cdn't hear be->
cause i cdn't speak and in anycase my words. as words. fall>>
chalk & foolish on my tongue

Dreamstories (Longman Caribbean Writers)

03 August 2007

George Steiner

[from George Steiner's After Babel: Aspects of Language & Translation, 1998]

It is likely that the current of language passing through the mind, either in voluntary self-address or in the perhaps random but almost certainly uninterrupted soliloquy of mental activity, contributes largely to the definition of 'interior time' . . .

The modulations of inference, of provisionality of conjecture, of hope through which consciousness maps ahead of itself, are facts of grammar. . . .

The tragic vision of Greek literature turns on this deep paradox: the event most expected, most consequent on the internal logic of action, is always the most surprising . . . We know precisely what Oedipus will discover -- in a crucial sense he too has known all along. Yet with each narration or performance of the fable our sense of shock is renewed. . . . Eteocles' knowledge that death waits for him at the seventh gate does not void his action; it gives it the dignity of meaning.

[Thucydides] The past tense of the verb is the sole guarantor of history.

After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation

Christopher Isherwood

[from Christopher Isherwood’s novel, Prater Violet, 1945]

The King’s Road was wet-black, and deserted as the moon. . . . The little houses had shut their doors against all strangers and were still, waiting for dawn, bad news and the milk. There was nobody about. Not even a policeman. Not even a cat.

It was that hour of the night at which man’s ego almost sleeps.

Robert Creeley

[from Robert Creeley's The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 2006]

The World

I wanted so ably
to reassure you, I wanted
the man you took to be me,

to comfort you, and got
up, and went to the window,
pushed back, as you asked me to,

the curtain, to see
the outline of the trees
in the night outside.

The light, love,
the light we felt then,
greyly, was it, that

came in, on us, not
merely my hands or yours,
or a wetness so comfortable,

but in the dark then
as you slept, the grey
figure came so close

and leaned over,
between us, as you
slept, restless, and

my own face had to
see it, and be seen by it,
the man it was, your

grey lost tired bewildered
brother, unused, untaken —
hated by love, and dead,

but not dead, for an
instant, saw me, myself
the intruder, as he was not.

I tried to say, it is
all right, she is
happy, you are no longer

needed. I said,
he is dead, and he
went as you shifted

and woke, at first afraid,
then knew by my own knowing
what had happened —

and the light then
of the sun coming
for another morning
in the world.

The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1975-2005

David Ferry

[from David Ferry’s Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations, 1999]

Character Analysis of Mary in Earlier Life

Her spinster eccentricity often
Said things for the sake of startling you.

She was like that. It seemed a form of shyness,
Putting you off with her charm flirtatiously.

It was a powerful entrapped wild innocent conventional nature.

The rage in her charm steadily
Burned its way through the materials of her life

So that there was always almost nothing left.
To put it another way:

Where she was was always stranded on a high platform
She got to on high heels getting across

On a tight rope strung out over the abyss.

Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations (Phoenix Poets Series)

Thomas Hardy

[Thomas Hardy]

I Look into My Glass

I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, “Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!”

For then, I, undistressed
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
With equanimity.

But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.