26 July 2009

Caroline Bergvall

[from Caroline Bergvall's essay "A Cat in the Throat: On Bilingual Occupants," in Jacket #37, 2009]

In French, one doesn’t just clear one’s throat, one has a cat in the throat. One would need to spit the cat (‘le chat’) out to clear one’s throat. Literally, ‘un crachat’ is a spittle. One could also clear one’s throat and realise that one has spat out a chatte (French slang, pussy). This adds and maintains a crucial libidinal and erotic bond with one’s pussycat. At a profound level, one could certainly argue that this phrase is a reminder that what separates humans from animals, at least since the 18th Century, is articulated language. It is articulated language that keeps the cat from turning into a human. Articulated language that separates the human from the asocial groaning of the ‘noble savage’. Articulated language is all that which becomes possible once the cat, the animal, the pure physiology of sound, has been successfully removed from my throat.

Conversely, it is all that which is threatened with inarticulacy if the throat is not cleared, if the cat still meows. As I become aware that I am trying to speak, my body morphs, my cat appears. Cat is the tone in my speech, its accentedness, its autography. Cat is my hesitations, my speech’s subjective accent, the tone in my speech, the stutter of my silencings, the explicit accentedness of its functionality. So what if I were to decide to talk with a cat in the throat? The question is highly charged. While it leads to libidinal fantasies, it also addresses questions of cultural and linguistic dominance, and attending issues of language policy and language erasure within the culture.

I am reminded that English-speakers do not so much struggle with cats as with frogs. It is a croaking frog that the English will wish to clear. Given the dubious and long-standing historical traffic of culinary jokes and insults between the French (‘frogs’) and the English (‘rosbif’) and bearing in mind the old wars of invasion and occupation between the two countries, one could here speculate that ‘having a frog in the throat’ resonates more with military and political history, and the known influence of French on the development of English vocabulary, than with strictly contemporary matters. However, John Tranter brings contemporaneity to it when he signals to me in a correspondence the wonderful John Ashbery line: ‘I hear the toad crooning’.

25 July 2009

Paul Hoover

[from Paul Hoover's Poems in Spanish, Omnidawn, 2005]

The Presence

We know it and we feel it —
the fierce will of things

to set themselves apart,
isolated by their beauty,

bereft in isolation.
Museum of the Thing:

the living glove, earthen shoe,
a parakeet’s soft feather

that seems to be made of fur —
yellow tuft of sunlight

falling through the air
like nothing but itself,

as water is nothing but water,
grinding and turning as if

there were no passage.
Where does the work get done

that tenders so much beauty
and leaves us in such grief?

Sweetmeat and papaya,
your own face in chrome

with its hint of speed —
all these chaste subjects

love us in their way —
needle & thimble, dog & bone.

Whatever is absent in them,
let is speak its name:

fingerprint, blue smudge,
a typewriter with new keys —

one for infinity and one for sleeping.
Each night the objects come

to watch us in our beds,
above which hang

the dusty family portraints
retreating toward a quaintness

that can only be remembered —
mother in her kingdom

of white gloves and black bibles,
the mouse she trapped in her hand

as it leaped from a cabinet.
And father, poor father,

whose kindness went on forever,
into a clear confusion,

what were those sounds I heard
from the bed beyond the wall?

Which way should I drive now
to find the house we lived in,

vanished including its trees?
Gone the upstairs bedrooms

with their perfect shining floors,
not even a ghost to warm them.

All things come to witness
these absences like objects —

pears so near to ripeness
they melt in the hand

and roads that go only south,
with a sound of tires like rain.

Buy Paul Hoover's book @ SPD or Amazon

22 July 2009

Gerard Manley Hopkins


This dárksome búrn, hórseback brówn,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A wíndpuff-bónnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a póol so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wildnerness yet.

19 July 2009

Hayden Carruth

[from Hayden Carruth's Collected Shorter Poems: 1946-1991, Copper Canyon, 1992]

The Wreck of the Circus Train

Couplings buckled, cracked, collapsed,
And all reared, wheels and steel
Pawing and leaping above the plain,

And fell down totally, a crash
Deep in the rising surf of dust,
As temples into their cellars crash.

Dust flattened across the silence
That follows the end of anything,
Drifted into cracks of wreckage.

But motion remained, a girder
Found gravity and shifted, a wheel
Turned lazily, turning, turning.

And life remained, at work to
Detain spirit: three lions, one
Male with wide masculine mane,

Two female, short, strong, emerged
And looked quickly over the ruin,
Turned and moved toward the hills.

But Hayden Carruth's book @ Amazon

16 July 2009


Read poems by Annie Finch, Sampson Starkweather, Evie Shockley, Tomaž Šalamun, and many more in issue two of Ekleksographia, guest edited by Amy King.

15 July 2009

Kent Johnson on Eliot Weinberger

[from Kent Johnson's "Notes on Notes on Translation," Jacket 36, 2008]

[Eliot Weinberger]

21. To translate is to learn how poetry is written. Nothing else is so successful a teacher, for it carries no baggage of self-expression.

[Kent Johnson]

To translate is also to more deeply learn, and marvel at, how grammar works — in one’s own language and in another. And it is to begin, however tenuously, to learn and marvel (this via J.H. Prynne) at the mysterious space or interval between languages — that shimmering area between repelling poles of grammar, which traces or residues of meaning cannot traverse. An area which is very much at the heart of poetry’s substance, perhaps . . .

11 July 2009

Sara Michas-Martin

[Sara Michas-Martin's poem from Jubilat 16, 2009]


I didn't notice last time
the hooked branches and fenced-out
sky -- the leaves' flammable
glare. I didn't hear the bells swing
in my sideways glance or see
the creatures with spiked horns
clash in the bark's design.
In the ferns a nervous shadow, a person
stooped to bury
tokens in the ground. A squirrel
splashes the brush and I'm
spooked, a flood-burn
to the exterior. The lady in the briar
jostles the bats in her hair. Up close
they are heavy birds, thunderous
when they snap away.
Through filtered light I see
my lion take shape. I watch her
pace, maybe swagger, no
this time she's lying down.

09 July 2009

Fanny Howe

[from Fanny Howe's The Lives of a Spirit & Glasstown: Where Something Got Broken, Nightboat, 2005]

Crosses and Branches

I shall not be married, I suppose. Berry by berry and nut by nut, the tree will grow bare. Like a bird feeding its fledgling, the visionary clasp will first melt, then chill. And stately raindrops will fall on the long lawns, beyond the portions of the poor, myself hutted and hatted, face up.

The service is over. Will he look at me? No, and I grieve. Mute is my mouth, which can only speak the truth, or nothing. Probably I will be an old maid, asking, What was I created for? My children, after all, have grown and are gone. Still I long for something daily, to discover and to know like numbers. A man was never a thing to love, but an experience to have.

I visited its brink one twilight, it was like a certain old thorn, the kind that looks sharp but crumbles between your thumb and forefinger. My black apron was carrying roses toward a glass door. I was told he could never do with a talkative wife. In company he is quiet. It's a poor harbinger of luck who has no knowledge of happiness. I was not pricked.

I paused behind the monuments, and gazed toward the city lights beyond the rectory. If I seem hard to you, while the stars gather and glitter in my eyes, it's because these indefinite abstractions put a shawl over my hopes. G-d of Heaven, be clement! Not often do people test the divine conflicts and come out prevailing in prayer.

See, I've had a suffering night! The whispering of zephyrs, the carol of crickets. I felt I was imprisoned in a drawer between shrouds and sheets, all folded and cold. If there was bread, butter, pastry, and salt on the shelves of my own pantry, none of it could nourish the breath in me. A terrible dream seized me like a tiger trainer.

I was a little girl being shipped from America. We were seated at a table, the food like ashes on each plate, and he puckered his black eyebrows and smote his chest with the force of Demosthenes. The boat rocked to and fro. The elements were in a ferment: tempests and whirlwinds and mountains of waves on either side. The wind came almost wholly from NNE, and the sails were in rags. Oh Papa, save me and leave!

His smutted face engraved itself in my terror, as he thought I was happy! It was then that the water changed color, and apertures in the clouds gave glimpses of writings. My underminded structure sank into childhood. The boat grew wings and was flying like a twin-engine on a runway of sea.

This little girl sat in her chair, strapped, her face pale with suffering. She smoothed her hair under her beret, and gazed steadily through the porthole into the stormy sea. A silk ribbon hung around her neck, and a gold chain -- both in the repository of her jewel casket at home. She carried a little satin bag with a tassel of silver beads, and was the image of polar winter. He handed her a cookie, this man who was dangerous people.

Like the hollow tree or chill cavern, forsaken, lost, wavering, the little girl's expression. Then she bit, as if with the wild beast and bird, as if hunger and cold were her comrades, the green wilderness her mother, and as if she was chewing a juicy berry, or saccharin root and a nut. It was wonderful then to see the ocean turn into mossy banks, soft as pincushions and the pinions of the plane wobble and fly.

She was alone again, and free -- all this expressing the force behind fragility. I woke and woke again, and went out to walk in the designated area. You can't make a diagonal path across any part of the grass here, but must follow the asphalt. Little wire fencing is looped along the borders there, and no signs are unnecessary. When I look at a wire, or a knife, sunk into the earth, I know that one element accepting another is really saying NO.

Yet because I lived here, and had been instructed, I also sensed that this landscape wanted to represent the Messianic age. How? Each path was designed as if the next, at last, would represent progress; and each step was, paradoxically, drenched in the tangle and nostalgia of the old days. There were a good many rules driven toward field and furrow (don't walk on ice, don't stray and get lost) and none of them together has produced perfection of action in one soul. The pleasure of reliving old flaws may be irresistible.

Now when there's only a very small splash of disarray (a bent red tulip, a snap of thorns across the grass) and the rest around remains in order, you imagine that this disarray was meant to be! So, too, the human being is composed of intentional mess, of necessity, and the will. Misreading, buoys the spirit. I think every event is unpredictable.

Papa's rules are innate to his landscape; they force you to think twice. How can I scale that wall, never? If the watchtower man has his back turned, can I make a dive into the flume, and crumpled up, get shot? And it's only when you lie down defeated and dream that you experience a love that is frosted with hot lightning and colors, shapes and textures so transparent, they are apparitions of perfection.

In dreams you see through solids! It's Papa's way of showing you how to know G-d: with all your parts abandoned, cast down, while your spirit is free to move about.

Buy Fanny Howe's book @ Amazon

02 July 2009


You can read what they feed you or . . .