31 December 2007


[from David Ferry's The Odes of Horace, 1997]

i.3 Virgil's Journey to Greece

May Venus goddess of Cyprus and may the brothers
Castor and Pollux, the shining stars, the calmers,
Guard you, O ship, and be the light of guidance;
May the father of the winds restrain all winds
Except the gentle one that favors this journey.
Bring Virgil, your charge, the other half of my heart,
Safely to the place where he is going.

The breast of the man who was the first to dare
To go out in a little boat upon the waters
Must have been made of oak and triple bronze,
Fearing neither the sudden African squall
Contending with the North Wind, nor the storms
The Hyades threaten, nor what the South Wind, Notus,
Who rules the Adriatic, is capable of.

What way of dying could that man have feared
Who dared to be the first to look upon
The swimming monsters, the turbulent waters and
The dreadful cliffs of Acroceraunia?
The purpose of the god who separated
One land from another land was thwarted
If impious men could nevertheless set out

To cross the waters forbidden to them to cross.
Audacious at trying out everything, men rush
Headlong into the things that have been forbidden.
Guileful Prometheus audaciously by fraud
Brought fire down to the human race and thus
Brought fever down upon us and disease,
And death that once was slow to come came sooner.

Audacious Daedalus, wearing forbidden wings,
Tried out the empty air. And Hercules
Went down to the Underworld, broke in and entered.
No hill's too steep for men to try to climb;
Men even try out getting up to Heaven.
Is it any wonder, then, that Jupiter rages,
Hurling down lightning, shaking the sky with thunder?

The Odes of Horace: Bilingual Edition

27 December 2007

Valerio Magrelli

[from New Italian Poets edited by Dana Gioia and Michael Palma, 1991; Valerio Magrelli's untitled poem translated by Dana Gioia]

Ten poems written in one month
is not much even if this one
will become the eleventh.
Not even the subjects differ greatly
rather there is a single subject
whose subject is the subject, just like now.
This is to say how much
stays off the page,
knocks but cannot enter
nor even has to. Writing
is not a mirror, rather
the rough-surfaced glass of a shower
on which the body falls to pieces
and only its shadow shows through
indistinct but real.
And the one who washes reveals nothing
but his own gestures.
Therefore what purpose is there
in looking beyond the watermark
in case I am a counterfeiter
and the watermark alone is my work?

New Italian Poets

25 December 2007

Joe Wenderoth

"Writer" by Joe Wenderoth

David Shapiro

[from David Shapiro's House (Blown Apart), 1988]

House (Blown Apart)

I can see the traces of old work
Embedded in this page, like your bed
Within a bed. My old desire to live!
My new desire to understand material, raw
Material as if you were a house without windows
A red stain. Gold becomes cardboard.
The earth grows rare and cheap as a street.
Higher up a bird of prey affectionate in bright grey
             travels without purpose.
I beg you to speak with a recognizable accent
As the roof bashed in for acoustics
Already moans. What is not a model
Is blown to bits in this mature breeze.
If students visit for signs
Or signatures we would discuss traces.
             We would examine each other for doubts.
Old work we might parody as an homage
Losing after all the very idea of parody.
Traces of this morning's work are embedded in this page.

David Shapiro: New and Selected Poems, 1965-2006

Fernando Pessoa

[from Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet, tr. Richard Zenith, 2001]

She holds Spring against her breast and stares at me with sad eyes. Her smile shines, because the paper's glossy, and her cheeks are red. The sky behind her is the colour of light blue cloth. She has a sculpted, almost tiny mouth, and above its postcard expression her eyes keep staring at me with an enormous sorrow. The arm holding the flowers reminds me of someone else's. Her dress or blouse has a low neck that reveals one shoulder. Her eyes are genuinely sad: they stare at me from the depth of the lithographic reality with a truth of some sort. She came with Spring. Her eyes are large, but that's not what makes them sad. I tear myself from the window with violent steps. I cross the street and turn around with impotent indignation. She still holds the Spring she was given, and her eyes are sad like all the things in life I've missed out on. Seen from a distance, the lithograph turns out to be more colourful. The figure's hair is tied at the top by a pinker than pink ribbon; I hadn't noticed. In human eyes, even in lithographic ones, there's something terrible: the inevitable warning of consciousness, the silent shout that there's a soul there. With a huge effort I pull out of the sleep in which I was steeped, and like a dog I shake off the drops of dark fog. Oblivious to my departure, as if bidding farewell to something else, those sad eyes of the whole of life -- of this metaphysical lithograph that we observe from a distance -- stare at me as if I knew something of God. The print, which has a calendar at the bottom, is framed above and below by two flatly curved, badly painted black strips. Within these upper and lower limits, above 1929 and an outmoded calligraphic vignette adorning the inevitable 1st of January, the sad eyes ironically smile at me.

The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Classics)

23 December 2007

George Oppen

[from George Oppen's Collected Poems, 2002]

The Whirl Wind Must

for the huge
events are the       symbols

of loneliness (a country

poem of the feminine) and children's

trinkets in the gravel
of the driveways the warm

blood flows
in her the hot

river in the drama
of things caught
in the face

of things village
things long

ago a wind destroyed

shelter       shelter more lonely
than suns

astray over earth music
in the dark music

in the bare light suddenly I saw
thru Carol's eyes the little road leading
to her house the trampled

countries of the driveways to face
the silence of the pebbles the whirl wind must

have scattered under the sun the scattered

words that we can muster where once
were the grand stairways

of sea captains       language

in the roads speech

in the gravel the worn
tongues of the villages

New Collected Poems

21 December 2007

Larry Levis

Thank you Blackbird for reprinting this Larry Levis poem:

1974: My Story in a Late Style of Fire

Denise Levertov

Woman Alone

When she cannot be sure
which of two lovers it was with whom she felt
this or that moment of pleasure, of something fiery
streaking from head to heels, the way the white
flame of a cascade streaks a mountainside
seen from a car across a valley, the car
changing gear, skirting a precipice,
climbing . . .
When she can sit or walk for hours after a movie
talking earnestly and with bursts of laughter
with friends, without worrying
that it's late, dinner at midnight, her time
spent without counting the change . . .
When half her bed is covered with books
and no one is kept awake by the reading light
and she disconnects the phone, to sleep till noon . . .
selfpity dries up, a joy
untainted by guilt lifts her.
She has fears, but not about loneliness;
fears about how to deal with the aging
of her body -- how to deal
with photographs and the mirror. She feels
so much younger and more beautiful
than she looks.
                   At her happiest
-- or even in the midst of
some less than joyful hour, sweating
patiently through a heatwave in the city
or hearing the sparrows at daybreak, dully gray,
toneless, the sound of fatigue --
a kind of sober euphoria makes her believe
in her future as an old woman, a wanderer,
seamed and brown,
little luxuries of the middle of life all gone,
watching cities and rivers, people and mountains,
without being watched; not grim nor sad,
an old winedrinking woman, who knows
the old roads, grass-grown, and laughs to herself . . .
She knows it can't be:
that's Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby from The Water Babies,
no one can walk in the world any more,
a world of fumes and decibels.
But she thinks maybe
she could get to be tough and wise, some way,
anyway. Now at least
she is past the time of mourning,
now she can say without shame or deceit,
O blessed Solitude.

The Selected Poems of Denise Levertov

20 December 2007


[from Dante's Convivio, tr. Ralph Mannheim]

Canzone, I think there will be few
who wholly understand your thought,
so strong and arduous is your utterance.
Therefore if by chance it happen
that you should meet with persons
who seem not to have seized it fully,
I pray you to take comfort,
my cherished poem, and to say:
"Consider at least how beautiful I am!"

Michael Burkard

[from The Body Electric: America's Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review, edited by Stephen Berg, David Bonanno, and Arthur Vogelsang, 2000]

The Dogs on the Cliffs

They are there
after having long departed
from their memory, and whether there is any memory
of a master is hard to say, for they were
born into an island
which was poor, could not support the birth of dogs
except with the whiteness of the tourists'
faces, a whiteness like the wallets
and purses, the loose change of the lives
which brought them and their own memories to this island,
injury after jury.

The jury on the island says this:
the dogs may roam each summer
til it is obvious they are a menace,
chickens attacked, an occasional tourist
attacked, lingering now in small
pathetic packs. And thus they are herded
to the sea from the cliffs above,
enticed perhaps by some ice memory
(surely the local islanders don't entice them fully
with a little meat, are they that hungry?)

— an ice memory of the dogs of the year before,
and the fall before that, in the month of September,
upon an island which despises animals anyway —

and the dogs are brought to the cliffs and herded off.
To the sea. To the rocks and the sea below.
It is a long drop, even for a dog.


I did not so much live upon this island
as hear this story, more vividly told, with a particular
dog which followed a particular man — the dog even did a double
take one summer — when the man reappeared on Eos after departing
for a month to Athens — and the dog followed the double take —
just seeing the face twice — with following.

So the story is not mine, but I feared the man would never tell it —
though versions of stories like this must abound.

I can hear the stories on the cliffs,
I can hear the lamps wailing sometime
much later in the winter, in winter
when the animals are all dead, all of them, all
the past times down below
near the rocks off Eos.

Now the ice memory wakes: the jury reports
in a different dream
that the town and the villas are sold out
already for still another summer,
another history for history,
another past
for past.

Today, after only
at the morning paper

I thought of that phrase
history repeating itself,

thought if history repeats itself
it is still the same history,
more repetition, no

because it is the same history
the same hysteria
which could include even me

The Body Electric: America's Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review

16 December 2007

Susan M. Schultz

[from Susan M. Schultz's A Poetics of Impasse in Modoern and Contemporary American Poetry, 2005]

What if we begin our discussion not
From the point of "how do we start writing, given that it's difficult?"
But that of "why is it that we are having such difficulty writing,
And how is it that we can meaningfully begin to write about subjects
That are not easy to tackle?" At the level of the beginning writer,
Perhaps it's best simply to set pen or pixel to paper and scribble,
But for any serious writer, the question of block is not simply
A technical, or even a psychological, problem, but one that
Leads us to consider the larger forces that inform our writing,
Or our lack of it. The notion that any writing, however private,
Is "free," while it may result in words on paper, does not ask
The hard questions about "freedom" (or any such abstract noun/
Concept) that need to be addressed before or during our hoped-for
Move from writer's block to writing practice. What Goldberg ignores
Is the content of the block, even as she offers remedies
For the block's effects. Get at that content, my argument goes,
And the reason behind the block becomes the content
Of the writing that follows; at the least, writing resumes
At the moment one recognizes why it has stopped in the first
Place, and the content of that writing inscribes both reason
And release, is not perhaps liberation but a means to elucidate
Ways which are implicated in the larger structures
That silence us.

A Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (Modern & Contemporary Poetics)

15 December 2007

Sarah Lindsay

Sarah Lindsay's "Cheese Penguin," text and audio provided by From the Fishouse; originally published in Primate Behavior, 1997

Primate Behavior: Poems (Grove Press Poetry Series)

Mark Doty

If you know me, you know I don't love dogs. Dogs scare me, even the dogs I know and like scare me, so I probably wouldn't have read Mark Doty's book Dog Years except that when I bought my Kindle, this was the only book by a great living poet that I could find in the Kindle catalog. I downloaded a sample and recognized the marvelous Doty voice -- it's prose, not poetry -- so I clicked on the "Buy" button and waited for the right moment, which turned out to be yesterday's Atlanta to Los Angeles flight.

This is the first book I've read straight through on the Kindle, and believe me, the Kindle is a reading joy. I wish all the books I want to read were on the Kindle. They're not, so for now I'm buying the dead guys -- Dante, Milton, Pope. And Pullman (need to read the book before I see the movie).

Dog Years is a GREAT book. Read it.

Dog Years

06 December 2007

Herbert Mason's Gilgamesh

[from Herbert Mason's Gilgamesh, 2003]

All that is left to one who grieves
Is convalescence. No change of heart or spiritual
Conversion, for the heart has changed
And the soul has been converted
To a thing that sees
How much it costs to lose a friend it loved.
It has grown past conversion to a world
Few enter without tasting loss
In which one spends a long time waiting
For something to move one to proceed.
It is that inner atmosphere that has
An unfamiliar gravity or none at all
Where words are flung out in the air but stay
Motionless without an answer,
Hovering about one's lips
Or arguing back to haunt
The memory with what one failed to say,
Until one learns acceptance of the silence
Amidst the new debris
Or turns again to grief
As the only source of privacy,
Alone with someone loved.
It could go on for years and years,
And has, for centuries,
For being human holds a special grief
Of privacy within the universe
That yearns and waits to be retouched
By someone who can take away
The memory of death.

[the earliest versions of Gilgamesh are dated 2150-2000 BC]

Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative

02 December 2007

Willem de Kooning

[from a Michael Sonnabend interview with Willem de Kooning, 1959]

When I'm falling, I am doing all right. And when I am slipping, I say, "Hey, this is very interesting." It is when I am standing upright that bothers me. I'm not doing so good. I'm stiff, you know. . . . As a matter of fact, I'm really slipping most of the time into that glimpse. That is a wonderful sensation, I realize right now, to slip into this glimpse. I'm like a slipping glimpser.

01 December 2007