December 31, 2008

Jean Toomer [Nathan Eugene Toomer]

Jean Toomer [Nathan Eugene Toomer] [USA]
1894-1967

Nathan Eugene Toomer was born in Washington, D.C. in a family was of racially mixed blood. His grandfather on his mother’s side was Louisiana politician P. B. S. Pinchback, who grounded his Reconstruction career on an insistence that he was black. In any event, the young Toomer, growing up in an affluent suburb of Washington, was fair skinned, and identified with what he described as a “fusion” of the racial intermingling. Toomer’s father left his mother in 1895, and in 1905 he and his mother moved to New Rochelle and Brooklyn, New York, settling with her white second husband. Upon her death in 1909, Toomer returned to his maternal grandparents, who now lived in a black neighborhood of the city. He attended a black high school.

In 1914 he began at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, determining to major in agriculture. But psychologically, he was not fit for the university, and left after one year, eventually enrolling in other universities but never obtaining a degree. In 1919, at City College of New York, he settled upon being a writer, changing his first name to Jean. His major influences during those years were the bohemian figures of Greenwich Village, particularly the novelist and critic Waldo Frank.

Over the next two years he divided his time between Washington and New York, reading a wide range of literature and writing stories, poems, review, essays and other work. This would be a time of heady experimentation, and most of his works from this period have been characterized by at least one of his anthologizers as “The Aesthetic Period” of his career. He experimented with poems that imitated Imagist work, sound poems, and, in at least one instance—in “Banking Coal”—explored imagery and a voice that came close to that of Robert Frost.

In mid-1921 Toomer accepted an offer to become principal of a black school in Sparta, Georgia. During that period Toomer came to understand his racial roots and came to recognize himself in the folk-songs and accents of rural black America. The result of this, was a new sensibility, expressed in his 1923 in his work Cane, almost a document of his lyrical experience in the South. Freely mixing poetic prose, narrative, and poems broken into lines, Cane reminds one, in some senses, of the experiment, Spring and All, published the same year by William Carlos Williams. But in the work’s free expression of African American forms such as spirituals and work songs, it became one of the most influential documents for the flowering of black writers and artists of the 1920s-1930s that would come to be described as the Harlem Renaissance.

After this period, however, Toomer did not continue with the expression of black culture, but came under the influence of the Russian founder of “Unitism,” Georgei Gurdjieff, who combined elements from philosophy, psychology, dance and eastern religious ideas. In 1924 Toomer began teaching Gurdjieff’s methods in New York and, later, in Chicago; his poetry also became infused with Gurdjieff’s ideas, continuing in that mode even after his break with the guru in 1934.

Toomer had married Margery Latimer in 1931, but after her death in childbirth, he remarried, settling into a domestic life on a farm in Pennsylvania. He continued writing until his death in 1967.


BOOKS OF POETRY

Cane (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1923); The Collected Poems of Jean Toomer, ed. by Robert B. Jones and Margery Toomer Latimer (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1988)

December 30, 2008

Jayanta Mahapatra

Jayanta Mahapatra [India]
1928

Jayanta Mahapatra was born in Cuttack, India, and has spent most of his life in Orissa, where he lives. Raised among poor people, Mahapatra's life often portrays everyday events in contemporary India, and his work champions those who live in a world of hunger, greif, and injustice.

He attended Ravenshaw College and the Science College at Patna before coming a sub-editor at the Eastern Times. In later years he lectured on physics and other scientific subjects throughout India, and as his poetry became more known, was invited to be a visiting writer at the then-famed University of Iowa International Writer's Program. For his books of poetry─ which include A Rain of Rites (1976), Waiting (1979), The False Start (1980), Relationship (1980), Dispossessed Nests (1986), and Selected Poems (1987)─he has won several awards: the Bisuva Milana Award for Poetry and the Jacob Glatstein Memorial Prize among them. He has also written books of poetry and juvenile works, and translated.

BOOKS OF POETRY

Close the Sky, Ten by Ten (Dialogue Publication, 1971); Svaymvara and Other Poems (Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1971); A Rain of Rites (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1976); Father's Hours (Calcutta: United Writers, 1976); Waiting (New Delhi: Samhaleen Prakashan, 1979); The False Start (Bombay: Clearing House, 1980); Relationship (New York: Greenfield Review Press, 1983); Dispossessed Nests (Nirala Publications, 1986); Selected Poems (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987); Burden of Waves and Fruit (Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1988); Temple (Dungaroo Press, 1989)

December 27, 2008

Giulia Nicolai

Giulia Nicolai [Italy]
1934

Born in Milan in 1934, Giulia Nicolai’s mother was an American and her father an Italian, and, accordingly, she grew up learning to speak both languages. Later she learned German and French.

She began her professional career as a photographer, with works in various magazines such as Life, Paris Match, and Der Spiegel. In 1966 she published her first novel, Il grande angolo (1966) and in 1969 her first book of poetry. Associated with the neo-avanat-garde Gruppo 63, she founded, with poet Adriano Spatola, the avant-garde journal Tam Tam.

Among her many books of poetry are Humpty Dumpty (1969), Greenwich (1971), Poema & Oggetto (1974), Russky Salad Ballads & Webster Poems (1977), Harry’s Bar e alter poesie 1969-1980 (1981), and Frisbees (1994). Nicolai has also been a notable translator Beatrix Potter, Gertrude Stein, and Dylan Thomas.

Her poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals. Her work, influenced by her Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, often bridges her literary and spiritual experiences.

BOOKS OF POETRY

Humpty Dumpty (Turin: Geiger, 1969); Greenwich (Turin: Geiger, 1971); Poema & Oggetto (1974); Substitution (Los Angeles: Red Hill Press, 1975); Facsimile (Modena: Tau/ma, 1976); Russky Salad Ballads & Webster Poems (Turin: Geiger, 1977); Harry’s Bar e alter poesie 1969-1980 (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1981); Singsong for New Year’s Adam & Eve (Mulino di Bazzano: Tam Tam, 1982); Lettera aperta (Udine: Campanotto, 1983); Frisbees in facoltà (Bergamo: Edizioni El bagatt, 1984); Frisbees (poesie de lanciare) (Udine: Campanotto, 1994)


BOOKS IN ENGLISH

Foresta ultra Naturam, trans. by Paul Vangelisti (San Francisco: Red Hill Press, 1989).


Utah
To Gianfranco Baruchello

Strawberry strawberry
holden monroe
bountiful farmington
Minnie plateau.
Emory upton
on devils slide
washington terrace
oh enterprise!
Riverton Vernon
elmo woodsie
strawberry strawberry
lofgreen lakesize

(from Greenwich, 1971)


Rising Star

Home sweet home sugar land
richland
dripping springs of sweet water
golden acres where sudan
glen rose a sunray
cross plain and blooming grove
Laredo!
May the crystal sterling silver rising star
fall on dallasterxas.


(from Greenwich, 1971)



Positive & Negative

Anything may happen
have a meaning or not have one.

It does not propose truth
it keeps the meaning open
the sense of things comes by speaking.

The measure of a page
a communication of forms
the hypothesis of a reality in motion:
a vertigo of infinite
diverse inversion.

And that which is opposed
may be always overturned
to its opposite.

—Translated from the Italian by Paul Vangelisti and the author


(from Subtitution, 1973)



The Subject Is the Language

An idea of vengeance: the retaliation
or revenge of the word which has been thought
(make the gesture of inventing language
perform the act by which you appropriate language).

Though dependent or superimposed
the individual and the word exist as separate objects:
not a mutual agreement of words and things
but the pleasure of interfering.

Things exist to be said
and language narrates. It outrages in turn
a language already violated by others
to possess language is a way of being.

The subject is therefore the language
with which to commit a capital offense.

Translated from the Italian by Paul Vangelisti and the author


(from Subtitution, 1973)






The Lockheed Ballad

The electronic brain’s “subconscious” that had
furnished Lockheed’s executives with code names
for those words, verbs, initials etc. which they
under no circumstances wanted to be discovered
writing or uttering, had, as it should, a weakness
for the great characters of tragic drama, particularly
Shakespearian. In Lockheed’s little black book
(supplement to Panorama, June 15, 1976) we can
in fact discover: Othello, Desdemona, Caesar,
Hamlet, Portia, and many others.
For his part time, Shakespeare instead
employed Rumour* (meaning, in English, chatter,
talk, spreading stories, not holding one’s tongue,
gossip-mongering) who, in Henry IV,
plays the role of the announcer (here we quote
the opening lines of the prologue to part II):


INDUCTION

Enter Rumour, painted full of tongues
Rum. Open your ears; for which of you will stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks?


(I think the reader might consult the
following as worth rereading in this
light). From a structural perspective, further
examining the coded terms in the little black book,
we realize they may be subdivided into three other
broad categories: names taken from Flora and Fauna
(antelope, lilac, lion, iris etc.) names with
heroic-epic connotations, (argonaut, cosmos,
gladiator etc.) and words typically anglo-saxon,
monsosyllabic and onomatopoeic which sometimes
correspond to the written sounds of American comics
such as: sob (which in English means to cry, to make
a weeping sound), jab (to knife), tap (to knock on
the door), etc.
Given the richness of the material present in
Lockheed’s little black book, it’s clear
We might obtain an infinite number of poetic

*Rumor: the name of an Italian Prime Minister involved in the Lockheed scandal


Or theatrical texts (epic, tragic, comic, etc.)
And that these texts, with a simultaneous translation
Of the cryptic word into its actual meaning
(or vice versa) offer innumerable possibilities
or wordplay in two or more voices as in a sort
of naval battle of words. But to classify and
elaborate the terms in the little black book
in all their possible combinations
another electronic brain is clearly
indispensable. The text I’ve chosen to write
is composed exclusively of words taken
(in their coded meaning) from the little black book
it uses the names of Shakespearian characters
here present and may be read as a ballad or
an epilogue to a hybrid of tragedies
and comedies.

Othello’s feline ire fobs his granite
Fingers; his vim hath sealed his willow
Goddess’ lips. The flametree’s firethorn
Doth spear the lady’s reb; Desdemona
The jonquil, the ladybird , the opal oriole
Now cold and dab like flotsam upon
The tidal ebb. Woe to Hamlet, the moonbeam
Upon his silver sword, the bleak phantom’s vox,
The prophet’s raven cloak, the hemlock
And the hammer hard. An ode to Juliet
To Portia, to the actors in the barnyard.

Translated from the Italian by Paul Vangelisti



(from Foresta ultra Naturam, 1989)




from Frisbees

for Bob McB,
messenger of the gods of Cazadero Valley

Once
Opening the refrigerator
I too happened to say
“There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark.”

*

One doesn’t play Frisbee with words alone.
It’s good to do it also with arms and legs.

*

“Beati I poveri di spirto”
ought to come out in English:
“Blessed are the half-wits.”
Instead it’s “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
(Yet another reason for me to drink a lot.)

*

Presidents of the United States
(even since television has been television)
when they speak to the American people,
always fix on a spot above the camera lens.
(See: horizon. See: infinite).
But do they have their feet on the ground?

*
Careful that the Frisbees
May become nauseating.
The order in which they follow each other is important.
Certainly there may be something
Still elusive in all this
Be it for you and for me!
I am becoming a socially committed poetess.
Am I becoming a socially committed poetess?

*

To be able to establish
the morning after,
serenely,
in the light of day
that even my own presumption
and stupidity
are bottomless
are limitless…

is a most lovely thing.

*

I suggest listening to Bach
For arthritics and rheumatics.
Unlike the cold,
And humidity
—and like ultrasounds—
it heals
as it enters your bones.
Holy Bach heals.
Holy Bach makes whole. By Joe!

*

(Relax
so as to hear the vibrations
even with the bones.)

*

Let’s think of the brain
as a shriveled prune.
Immerse it in Bach.
It swells and pulses
like a sponge.

*

Bach is beautiful to have in the blood.
The organist and clavichordist
Who plays Johann Sebastian
is called Janos Sebestyen.
What else could he do?

*

I gave myself
a facial
with Bach’s Orchestra
Toccato (in E major bmw 566).

*

The way I walk
has always made me wear down
the outside edge of the
heels of my shoes.
Playing Frisbee
I wish to begin wearing down a little
the inside too.
To even things out.
I wish also the Frisbees
Might help
Make my mind work
In a new way.
Do I ask too much?
For this purpose
it might help
to start calling them
Frisbeezen or Zen-Frisbees.

*

So what’s this?
A Frisbee of head or legs?

*

And why didn’t I write
A Frisbee of legs or head?

*

(The first steps
are always a little problematic.)
What about a Porno-frisbee?
Yeah, a dirty-minded one.

*

In any case
and here we’re on easy ground
the Frisbeezen
sound more German
than Zen-Frisbees
which in turn
sound more California
than Japanese.
(We’re still along way from satori.)


*

I wouldn’t want the Frisbees
To be my last will.
Certainly, they have something
Of the exquisite corpse about them.

*

I called my father affectionately “Rhinoceros,”
“old yellow rhinoceros.”
Years after his death
I dreamt of a Rhinoceros
Sniffing with his horn
At a poppy in a field.
And he got furious,
he got beastly
and pissed of
because with his horn (plugged up)
he couldn’t smell the perfume.
(I knew, in the dream,
that poppies have no smell
but I didn’t dare go near the Rhinoceros
to tell him.)
The rhinoceros in the distance
fussed and stamped
Then in anger with contempt,
he pissed on the poppy.
He let go on to p of it a long mighty piss.
poppy
pop pee
Ciao Sigmund!

*


Roman Polanski.
And now we have a Roman Polanski Pope.
It was Paul Vangelisti
of Los Angeles
who made me understand
that Poles and Italians resemble each other.
Petrus, where are you?
I missed you at the Pasticceria.
They make an excellent Paradise cake,
Ça va sans dire.

*

The Goethe-Frisbee.
There was on the window-sill
A can of Oranjeboom beer.
Black can I notice
looking out the window
when the pavement too
is black with rain.
I say: “How much alike
and how beautiful they are
the black of the can
and the black of the pavement.”
Then I notice the little orange tree
and register
the Dutch House of Orange.
But then
(and here I’m not sure if it’s the fault
of Marguerite Yourcenar
whom I’m reading
and who in Les yeux ouverts
speaks of Goethe),
suddenly this demented line
springs to mind:
“Kennst du das Land wo die Oranjeboom.”

*

I tell the cashier at the Scimmie
I want to pay for two reds.
“Wine?” he asks me.
(He must be very politicized).
Soon after at the bara
I see Pavese’s double
And Sanguineti’s double.
Could these be then
The cashier’s two reds?

*

And I
How many hours must I stay at the bar
how many reds must I drink
before I see
my own double?

*

(How about that!
Sex!
What liberties it takes!
What transformations!)

*

To explain to her woman friends
American and English
How little she knew Italian,
My mother would always say:
“I give tu to strangers
and lei my husband.”



PERMISSIONS


“Utah” and “Rising Star”
Reprinted from Foresta ultra naturam (Villa, Niccolai and Caruso), trans. by Paul Vangelisti (San Francisco: Invisible City 6, 1989). ©1989 by Red Hill Press. Reprinted by permission of Paul Vangelisti.

“Positive & Negative” and “The Subject Is the Language”
Reprinted from Substitution, trans. by Paul Vangelisti (Los Angeles: Red Hill Press, 1975). Translation Copyright ©19975 by Paul Vangelisti. Reprinted by permission of Paul Vangelisti

“The Lockheed Ballad” and “from Frisbees”
Reprinted from Luigi Ballerini, Beppe Cavaatorta, Elena Coda, and Paul Vangelisti, eds. The Promised Land: Italian Poetry After 1975 (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1999). ©1999 by Luigi Ballerini and Paul Vangelisti. Reprinted by permission of Sun & Moon Press.

Alexander Vvedensky

Alexander Vvedensky [Russia/USSR]
1904-1942

Born in St. Petersburg in 1904, Alexander Vvedensky grew with a mother who was a gynecologist and a father who was an economist. From 1917 to 1921 he attended high school, meeting Leonid Lipavsky and Iakov Drusky, who would become the major philosophers in his circle. From his teacher, L. V. Georg, the young boy learned of the latest developments in Russian poetry, including Futurism and other experimental poetries. He started at the university after high school, but soon dropped out.

His major poetic education took place at GNKhUK, the State Institute of Artistic Culture, headed by Kazimir Malevich, with researches into zaum (sound) poetry by Igor Terentiev, for whom Vvedensky worked. In 1925 he and his high school friend, Iakov Druskin, became friends with the aspiring poet Danill Kharms, who was a student of the Futurist sound poet Alexander Tufanov, himself experimenting with theories of zaum thorough narrative time. For the next year and a half, Vvedensky, Nikolai Zabolotsky and Kharms sought to establish an organization that would unite all avant-garde and left-wing artist of Leningrad. The first of their radical projects, the theater company Radix, “experimenting in the area of non-emotional and plotless art and aiming to create a pure theater not subject to literature,” fell apart while rehearsing the Kharms and Vvedensky montage My Momma’s Got Clocks All Over. They also made attempts to join forces with Malevich, but after political denunciations in the press forced the closure of GINKhUK, Malevich left for Warsaw. In late 1927, they were offered a base at the Leningrad Press Club on the condition that they assume a new name, since the word “left-wing” sounded to authorities to be to close to Trotsky’s views. Thus was born OBERIU, a neologism standing for the Union of Real Art.


The same year, children’s writer and editor Nikolai Oleinikov invited OBERIU members to write for the State Publishing House for Children (DETGIZ). Vvendensky would later confess that he was attracted to children’s literature because it was non-political, allowing him to experiment with nonsense. Neither he nor Kharms achieved greatness as writers for children, but it allowed them to work on their more serious writing.


OBERIU was unable to publish most of their writings, but the organization to provide raucous performances in Leningrad clubs and educational institutions. Transpiring under nonsensical slogans hung for the occasion, the performances united poetry, theater, film, magic tricks, juggling, and general clowning around; they culminated in debates that often turned into shouting matches. The State’s tightening control over the arts, threatened these performances, however, and audiences grew increasingly hostile to their work. After an April 30th reading at Leningrad State University, OBERIU was forced to dissolve because of newspaper accusations of counterrevolutionary activity. The press also voiced accusations against their children’s writing. Vvedensky and Kharms were detained in December of 1931 along with other members of OBERIU. Vvedensky, suffering hard imprisonment, cracked under interrogation, naming others and admitting his guilt. He was sentenced to three years of internal exile, forced to remain away from major population centers. By 1933, however, both his term and Kharms’s was reduced, and they returned to Leningrad, allowed to write children’s books but not to compose poetry. The avant-garde movement was over, and they wrote privately only for their friends.

In 1936, Vvedensky met the woman who would become his third wife, and he moved with her to Kharkov, where he spent much of the day gambling and writing frenetically at night. In 1937, his wife gave birth to a son. A month later, Nikolai Oleinikov was shot, charged with being a Trotsyite, and Nikolai Zabolotsky was seized on a terrorism charge. Soon after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Vvedensky himself was arrested and shipped via a prison train from Kharkov. He died of dystentery while being transported. Kharms, arrested a month earlier, died in a prison asylum in February 2nd the following year.

Most of Vvedensky’s work has been lost—both his poems and his novel, Murderers, You Morons. Of the pieces that survived, the majority were saved by Iakov Druskin, who was also responsible for saving much of Kharm’s writings. In 1980, Druskin’s student, Mikhail Meilakh, published Vvedensky’s collected writings in the United States in the Russian-language publishing house Ardis. Vvedensky’s work was published in his homeland during perestroika.

BOOKS OF POETRY

Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Ardis, 1980); Polnoe sobranie proizvedenii: v dvukh tomakh (Moscow: Gileia, 1993).

in Russia’s Lost Literature of the Absurd: A Literary-Discovery. Selected Works of Daniil Kharms and Alexander Vvedensky, edited and trans. by George Gibian (New York: Norton, 1974); An Invitation for Me to Think: Poems (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2009).


Snow Lies

snow lies
earth flies
lights flip
in pigments night has come
on a rug of stars it lies
is it night or a demon?
like an inane lever
sleeps the insane river
it is now aware
of the moon everywhere
animals gnash their canines
in black gold cages
animals bang their heads
animals are the ospreys of saints
the world flies around the universe
in the vicinity of stars
dashes deathless like a swallow
seeks a home a nest
there’s no nest a hole
the universe is alone
maybe rarely in flight
time will pass as poor as night
or a daughter in a bed
will grow sleeping and then dead
then a crowd of relations
will rush in and cry alas
in steel houses
will howl loudly
she’s gone and buried
hopped to paradise big-bellied
God God have pity
good God on the precipice
but God said Go play
and she entered paradise
there spun any which way
numbers houses and seas
the inessential exists
in vain, they perceived
there God languished behind bars
with no eyes no legs no arms
so that maiden in tears
sees all this in the heavens
sees various eagles
appear out of night
and fly inane
and flash insane
this is so depressing
the dead maiden will say
serenely surprised
God will say
what’s depressing what’s
depressing, God, life
what are you talking about
what O noon do you know
you press pleasure and Paris
to your breast like two pears
you swell like music
you’re swell like a statue
then the wood howled
in final despair
it spies through the tares
a meandering ribbon
little ribbon a crate
curvy Lena of fate
Mercury was in the air
spinning like a top
and the bear
sunned his coat
people also walked around
bearing fish on a platter
bearing on their hands
ten fingers on a ladder
while all this went on
that maiden rested
rose from the dead and forgot
yawned and said
you guys, I had a dream
what can it mean
dreams are worse than macaroni
they make crows double over
I was not at all dying
I was gaping and lying
undulating and crying
I was so terrifying
a fit of lethargy
was had by me among the effigies
let’s enjoy ourselves really
let’s gallop to the cinema
and sped off like an ass
to satisfy her innermost
lights glint in the heaven
is it night or a demon



January 1930

Translated from the Russian by Eugene Ostashevsky



The Meaning of the Sea

to make everything clear
live backwards
take walks in the woods
tearing hair
when you recognize fire
in a lamp a stove
say wherefore you yearn
fire ruler of the candle
what do you mean or not
where’s the cabinet the pot
demons spiral like flies
over a piece of cake
these spirits displayed
legs arms and horns
juicy breasts war
lamps contort in sleep
babes in silence blow the trumpet
women cry on a pine-tree
the universal God stands
in the cemetery of the skies
the ideal horse walks
finally the forest comes
we look on in fear
we think it’s fog
the forest growls and waves its arms
it feels discomfort boredom
it weakly whispers I’m a phantom
maybe later I’ll be
fields stand near a hillock
holding fear on a platter
people montenegrins beasts
joyfully feast
impetuous the music plays
finns have fun
shepherds shepherdesses bark
barks are rowed across tables
here and there in the barks
mark the minutes’ haloes
we are in the presence of fun
I said this right away
either the birth of a canyon
or the nuptials of cliffs
we will witness this feast
from this bench this trumpet
as the tambourines clatter
and flutters, spinning like the earth
skies will come and a battle
or we will come to be ourselves
goblets moved among mustaches
in the goblets flowers rose
and our thoughts were soaring
among curled plants
our thoughts were soaring
among curled plants
our gods our aunts
our souls our breath
our goblets in them death
but we said, and yet
this rain is meaningless
we beg, pass the sign
the sign plays on water
the wise hills throw
into the stream all those who feasted
glasses flourish in the water
water homeland of the skies
after thinking we like corpses
showed to heaven our arses
sea time sleep are one
we will mutter sinking down
we packed our instruments
souls powders feet
stationed our monuments
lighted our pots
on the floor of the deep
we the host of drowned men
in debate with the number fifteen
will shadow-box and burn up
and yet years passed
fog passed and nonsense
some of us sank on the floor
like the board of a ship
another languishes
gnashes his wisdom teeth
another on dull seaweed
hung the laundry of his muscle
and blinks like the moon
when the wave swings
another said my foot
is the same as the floor
in sum all are discontented
left the water in a huff
the waves hummed in back
starting to work
ships hopped around
horses galloped in the fields
shots were evident and tears
sleep and death in the clouds
all the drowned men came out
scratched themselves before the sunset
and rode off on a carriage beam
some were rich some not
I said I see right away
the end will come anyway
a big vase is brought this way
with a flower and a cymbal
here’s a vase that’s clever
here’s a candle snow
salt and mousetrap
for fun and pleasure
hello universal god
here I stand a bit sullied
glory be to heavens washed away
my oar memory and will

1930

—Translated from the Russian by Eugene Ostashevsky


An Invitation for Me To Think


Let us think on a clear day
sitting down on stump and stone.
Us around flowers grew,
stars, people, homes.
From the mountains tall and steep,
water fell at breakneck speed.
We were sitting at the moment,
we kept our eyes on them.
Us around the day shines bright,
underneath us stump and stone.
Us around the birds fluttered,
the blue maidens puttered.
But where oh where us all around
is thunder’s now absent sound.
We perceive the river partially,
we’ll tell the stone contrarily:
Night, where are you in your absence
at this hour, on this day?
Art, what is it that you feel or sense,
being there without us?
Government, where do you stay?
Foxes and bugs are in the woods,
concepts in the sky above—
Come closer God and ask the fox:
so, fox, is it far from dawn to dusk?
will the stream run a long distance
from the word understood to the word flower?
The fox will reply to God:
it’s all a disappearing road.
You or he or I, we’ve gone but a hair,
we hadn’t even time to see that minute,
and look God, fish and sky, that part has vanished
forever, it would seem, from our planet.
We said: yes, it’s apparent,
we can’t see the hour ago.
We thought—we’re
very lonely.
In a moment our
eye covers a little only.
And our hearing, down and out,
senses only one sound.
And our soul
knows but a sad snippet of science’s whole.
We said: yes, it’s obvious,
it’s all very upsetting to us.
And that’s when we flew.
And I flew like a cuckoo
imagining my lightness.
A passerby thought: He’s coo-coo,
he’s made in a screech-owl’s likeness.
Passerby, forget your stupid gloom,
look, all around putter maidens blue,
like angels, dogs run smartly round,
why is it all boring and dark for you.
We’re tickled by what is unknown,
the inexplicable’s our friend,
we see the forest walking backward,
yesterday stands all around today.
The star changes in volume,
the world grows old, the moose grows old.
We once happened to be
in the saltwater body of the seas,
where the waves let out a squeak,
we monitored the proud fish:
the fish floated like oil
on the surface of the water,
we understood, life was burning out everywhere
from the fish to God and the star.
And the feeling of calm
caressed everybody with its arm.
But noticing music’s body
you did not burst into tears.
The passerby addresses us:
Hasn’t grief taken hold of you completely?
Yes, music’s magic beacon
burned out, evoking pity.
The ruling night was just beginning,
we cried a century.

1931-1934

Translated from the Russian by Matvei Yankelevich



PERMISSIONS

“Snow Lies,” “The Meaning of the Sea,” and “An Invitation for Me to Think”
forthcoming from An Invitation for Me to Think, trans. by Eugene Ostashevsky and Matvei Yankelevich (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2009). English language translation ©2005 by Eugene Ostashevsky and Matvei Yankelevich. Reprinted by permission of Green Integer.

Edvard Kocbek

Edvard Kocbek [Austria-Hungary/
Yugoslavia/now Slovenia]
1904-1981

Born the son of a church organist in 1904, Edvard Kocbek grew up in the section of present-day Slovenia that was then Austria-Hungary. He studied classics and foreign languages in high school, but by the time he had finished his studies Slovenia had lost much of its independence and had become part of the new country of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. He entered a Catholic seminary in Maribor with the intention of becoming a priest. After two years, however, he left in, protesting the rigid rules of the community.

In Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia, Kocbek studied Romance languages and literature at the university and edited the Catholic magazine, Cross, while also contributing to the Catholic Socialist Fire. Writing poetry, he began find a space between the provincialism of much of Slovene literature at the time and the avant-gardism of poet Srečko Kosovel.


Two trips of western Europe to Berlin and France, where he discovered German expressionism and French surrealism, highly influenced his writing, and upon his return to Slovenia, he began writing a cycle of “Autumn Poems,” which, with other such poetic cycles, would make up his first published book, Zemlija (Earth, 1934).


By the mid-1930s, as the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes changed its name to Yugoslavia and became a monarchist dictatorship, Kocbek began speaking out against the Slovene support of Franco, as he moved closer to socialism. By the beginning of World War II the poet called for a new political order: [The intellectual] must opt for a new order as soon as possible, without supporting any particular ideological group in its entirety.” Throughout the war Kocbek was active in anti-Fascist groups, and he had attained the rank of general, serving, briefly, as a minister in Belgrade by the end of the war. Returning to Slovenia he became Vice President of the Presidium of the National Assembly of Slovenia.


Throughout World War II, Kocbek had continued to write, but he was not eager to publish. The rise of Yugoslavian Communism, coinciding with the new wave of Stalinism in Russia, meant that there was a high level of censorship throughout this period; and it was only when Tito broke with the Comintern in 1948 that Kocbek ventured to publish excerpts from his war time diary, Comradeship. But his next book, the collection of stories Fear and Courage, resulted his public disgrace and his being outcast as an official. For the next ten years he became a nonperson, his watched, his phone tapped, and quarantined to his neighborhood. He earned a living only through translation. Only in 1963 was he allowed to publish a new collection of poetry, Groza (Dread). In 1967 he published a second volume of war-time diaries, Document, and, in 1969 another volume of poetry, Poročilo (Report). His collected poems, Zbrane pesmi, appeared in 1971, containing three new volumes of work, Pentagram, Embers, and Bride in Black.

Late in his life, Kocbek received the acclaim that had been previously denied him, and he was welcomed to literary circles in Slovenia and traveled to several countries, including England, France, Germany, Austria and Italy, becoming a particularly close friend with Nobel Prize-winning novelist Heinrich Böll. Upon his death in 1981, he was granted a state funeral.


BOOKS OF POETRY

Zemlja (Ljubljana, 1934); Groza (Ljubljana: Slovenska matica, 1963); Poročilo (Maribor: Zalozba Obzorja, 1969); Zbrane pesmi (Ljubljana: Cankarjeva zalozba, 1977).

POETRY IN ENGLISH

At the Door of Evening, trans. by Tom Lozar (Ljubljana: Aleph, 1990); Edvard Kocbek, trans. by Michael Biggins (Ljubljana: Slovene Writers’ Association, 1995); Embers in the House of Night, trans. by Sonja Kravanja (Sante Fe: Lumen Books, 1999); Nothing Is Lost, trans. by Michael Scammel and Veno Taufer (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2004).





The Lippizaners

A newspaper reports:
the Lippizaners collaborated
on a historical film.
A radio explains:
a millionaire had bought the Lippizaners,
the noble animals were quiet
throughout the journey over the Atlantic.
And a text book teaches:
The Lippizaners are graceful riding horses,
Their origin is in the Karst, they are of supple hoof,
conceited trot, intelligent nature,
and obstinate fidelity.

But I have to add, my son,
that it isn’t possible to fit these
restless animals into any set pattern:
it is good, when the day shines,
the Lippizaners are black foals.
And it is good, when the night reigns,
the Lippizaners are white mares,
but the best is,
when the day comes out of the night,
then the Lippizaners are the white and black buffoons,
the court fools of its Majesty,
Slovenian history.

Others have worshipped holy cows and dragons,
thousand-year-old turtles and winged lions,
unicorns, double-headed eagles and phoenixes,
but we’ve chosen the most beautiful animal,
which proved to be excellent on battlefields, in circuses,
harnessed to princesses and the Golden Monstrance,
therefore the emperors of Vienna spoke
French with skillful diplomats,
Italian with charming actresses,
Spanish with the infinite God,
and German with uneducated servants:
but with the horses they talked Slovene.

Remember, my child, how mysteriously
nature and history are bound together,
and how different are the driving forces of the spirit
of each of the world’s peoples.
You know well that ours is the land of contests and races.
You, thus, understand why the white horses
from Noah’s ark found a refuge on our pure ground,
why they became our holy animal,
why they entered into the legend of history,
and why they bring the life pulse to our future.
They incessantly search for our promised land
and are becoming our spirit’s passionate saddle.

I endlessly sit on a black and white horse,
my beloved son,
like a Bedouin chief
I blend with my animal,
I’ve been traveling on it all my life,
I sleep on it, and I dream on it,
and I’ll die on it.
I learned all our prophesies
on the mysterious animal,
and this poem, too, I experienced
on its trembling back.

Nothing is darker than
clear speech,
and nothing more true than a poem
the intellect cannot seize,
heroes limp in the bright sun,
and sages stammer in the dark,
the buffoons, though, are changing into poets,
the winged Pegasi run faster and faster
above the caves of our old earth
jumping and pounding—
the impatient Slovenian animals
are still trying to awaken the legendary King Matjaz.

Those who don’t know how to ride a horse,
should learn quickly
how to tame the fiery animal,
how to ride freely in a light saddle,
how to catch the harmony of the trot,
and above all to persist in the premonition,
for our horses came galloping from far away,
and they still have far to go:
motors tend to break down,
elephants each too much,
our road is a long one,
and it is too far to walk.

Translated from the Slovene by Sonja Kravanja

(from Poročilo, 1969)






PERMISSIONS





“The Lippizaners” and “Who Am I?”
Reprinted from Embers in the House of Night, trans. by Sonja Kravanja (Santa Fe: Lumen Books, 1999). Copyright ©1997 by Sonja Kravanja. Reprinted by permission of Lumen Books.

Wallace Stevens


The Wallace Stevens House, Hartford, Ct.

Wallace Stevens [USA]
1879-1955

Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Wallace Stevens was the second of five children of a lawyer father and a mother who had been a former schoolteacher. Stevens’ upbringing in this middle-class, Presbyterian, bible-reading family was quite conventional. He played football, was educated in the classics, and graduated in 1897, the same year as his brother.


Stevens attended Harvard University as a special student, allowing him a reduced tuition but no degree. While there he began writing fiction and poems for the local campus magazine, and in following years he was elected president of the Harvard Advocate, the literary magazine. While at Harvard, Stevens also encountered the noted philosopher-poet George Santayana, with whom he met several times and with whom he shared some of his poetry.


Leaving Harvard in 1900, Stevens was intent to become a writer. In New York he worked briefly for the New York Tribune and then as an editor at World’s Work. His father, however, strongly disapproved of his literary aspirations, and under his pressure, Stevens entered law school in New York in 1901, from which he graduated two years later. For the next thirteen years Stevens continued living in Manhattan, working in a legal capacity and regularly attending literary salons and readings that included figures such as William Carlos Williams, Marcel Duchamp and the composer Edgard Varèse. His career seemed to go adrift, as he moved from one law firm to another and worked at four different insurance companies. However, he continued to write poetry, composing many of the works that would make up his 1923 volume, Harmonium.


In 1909, after a long courtship, he married Elsie Viola Kachel Moll, but the relationship was tempestuous at best. In later years, they lived separate lives in their Hartford, Connecticut home.


In 1916, Stevens found himself unemployed and was forced to leave New York to take a position at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Insurance Company in Hartford. During these years, Stevens worked his way up in the company, gaining substantial financial success, but his interchange with contemporary authors shifted as he became more isolated and reclusive.
Harmonium was not a financial success, but contained some of this most outstanding poems of any first publication by a poet. Among the works in this volume were the noted poems “The Snow Man,” “The Emperor of Ice-Cream,” “Sunday Morning,” “Anecdote of the Jar,” “Peter Quince at the Clavier,” and “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”


He did not publish his second volume, Ideas of Order, until twelve years later, in 1935. Over the remaining years of his life, Stevens published essays and poetry at regular intervals, and late in his life, won several prizes, including the Bollingen Prize in 1950, National Book Awards in 1951 and 1955, and a Pulitzer Prize in 1955. The same year as the Pulitzer, Stevens was diagnosed in incurable stomach cancer, and died August 2nd in Hartford.


BOOKS OF POETRY

Harmonium (New York: Knopf, 1923; revised and enlarged, 1931); Ideas of Order (New York: Alcestis Press, 1935; enlarged edition, New York: Knopf, 1936); Owl’s Clover (New York: Alcestis Press, 1936); The Man with the Blue Guitar & Other Poems (New York: Knopf, 1937); Parts of a World (New York: Knopf, 1942); Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction (Cummington, Massachusetts: Cummington Press, 1942); Esthétique du Mal (Cummington, Massachusetts: Cummington Press, 1945); Transport to Summer (New York: Knopf, 1947); Three Academic Pieces: The Realm of Resemblance, Someone Puts a Pineapple Together, Of Idea Time and Choice (Cummington, Massachusetts: Cumming Press, 1947); A Primitive Like an Orb (New York: Gotham Book Mart, 1948); The Auroras of Autumn (New York: Knopf, 1950); Selected Poems (London: Fortune Press, 1952); Selected Poems (London: Faber & Faber, 1953); Mattino Domenicale [in English and Italian, translations by Renato Poggioli (Turin: Guilio Einaudi, 1954); Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (New York: Knopf, 1954); The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1954; London: Faber & Faber, 1955); Opus Posthumous, edited by Samuel French Morse (New York: Knopf, 1954; London: Faber & Faber, 1959); Poems of Wallace Stevens, edited by Samuel French Morse (New York: Vintage, 1959); The Palm at the End of the Mind: Selected Poems and a Play by Wallace Stevens, edited by Holly Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1971).



Claude McKay

Claude McKay [USA]
1889-1948

Claude McKay was born in 1889 in the rural village of Nairne Castle, Jamaica when it was still a British Crown colony. The youngest of eleven children, he was the beneficiary of his father’s successful rise from a day laborer to a commercial farmer. His brother U. Theo, a noted schoolteacher who favored Fabian socialism and was a supporter of Aldous Huxley, and Walter Jekyll, An English-born scholar who compiled a collection of Jamaican folklore, saw to it that the young Claude received a free and liberal education. As a young man, McKay read a wide variety of literary figures from Villon, Baudelaire, Pope and Bryon to the Elizabethan lyricists, Goethe, Heine and Schopenhauer. Jekyll particularly encouraged his young student’s writing, and served as audience to his poetry. Through Jekyll’s support, a newspaper in Kingston declared McKay a Jamaican “genius,” and published several of McKay’s Creole-based poems. At the same time, McKay began to work as a constable outside Kingston, but feeling uncomfortable with the position, he quit the police force and returned to Clarendon in 1911, leaving, a year later along with numerous other black islanders to the United States.

McKay stayed for brief periods in Alabama (where he attended the Tuskegee Institute and Kansas before finally settling in Manhattan in Harlem. After his lunchroom business failed along with his marriage, he worked as a head waiter on the Pennsylvania Railroad dining car; in the meantime he continued his associations with the literary communities of both Harlem and Greenwich Village, exploring both sexual and political liberation, discovering his bisexuality at the same time he explored radical political involvement. By 1917, he had begun to be published in leftist journals such as Seven Arts and the Liberator, edited by Max Eastman, who became an ally and financial backer of McKay. In 1919 he sailed for England and the Continent for two years, returning to Harlem as an editor of the Liberator. In 1922 he published his only American poetry collection, Harlem Shadows.


A trip to Moscow in 1923 to observe the Bolsehvik revolution gained him a reputation as a Communist sympathizer and began the FBI investigations into his activities which would result in extensive reports of his writing and work, which encouraged him to leave the US in 1922, and he lived for twelve years in Europe and North Africa. Throughout this period and into the 1930s, McKay wrote fiction, including Home to Harlem (1928), Banjo (1929), and Banana Bottom (1933). His short stories, Gingertown, were collected in 1932. He also continued to write essays and journalist reports on African American history and culture, including Harlem: Negro Metropolis (1940) and, in Russian, Trial by Lynching: Stories about Negro Life in North America.


In 1934, having denounced Stalin’s Soviet Union, he returned to the US, writing poems that reflected his religious involvement with Catholicism. He died of heart disease on May 22nd, 1948.



BOOKS OF POETRY

Songs of Jamaica (Kingston, Jamaica: Aston W. Gardner, 1912); Constab Ballads (London: Watts, 1912); Spring in New Hampshire and Other Poems (London: Grant Richards, 1920); Harlem Shadows (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1922); Selected Poems of Claude McKay (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1953; reprinted in 1969); The Passion of Claude McKay: Selected Poetry and Prose, 1912-1948, edited by Wayne F. Cooper (New York: Schocken Books, 1973); Complete Poems, edited with an Introduction by William J. Maxwell (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004).



My Mountain Home

De mango tree in yellow bloom,
De pretty akee seed,
De mammee where de John-to-wits come
To have their daily feed,

Show you de place where I was born,
Of which I am so proud,
‘Mongst de banana-field an’ corn
On a lone mountain-road.

One Sunday marnin’ ‘fo’ fe hour
Fe service-time come on,
Ma say dat I be’n born to her
Her little las’y son.


Those early days be’n neber dull,
My heart as ebergreen;
How I did lub my little wul’
Surrounded by pingwin!

An’ growin’ up, with sweet freedom
About de yard I’d run;
An’ tired out I’d hide me from
De fierce heat of de sun.

So glad I was de fus’ day when
Ma sent me to de spring;
I was so happy feelin’ then
Dat I could do somet’ing.

De early days pass quickly ‘long,
Soon I became a man,
An’ one day found myself among
Strange folks in a strange lan’.

My little joys, my wholesome min’,
Dey taught me what was grief;
For months I travailed in de strife,
‘Fo’ I could find relief.

But I’ll return again, my Will,
An’ where my wild ferns grown
An’ weep for me on Dawkin’s Hill,
Dere, Willie, I shall go.

An’ dere is somet’ing near forgot,
Although I lub it best;
It is de loved, de hallowed spot
Where my dear mother rest.

Look good an’ find it, Willie dear,
See dat from bush ‘tis free;
Remember that my heart is near,
An’ you say you lub me.

An’ plant on it my fav’rite fern,
Which I be’n usual wear;
In days to come I shall return
To end my wand’rin’s dere.


(from Songs of Jamaica, 1912)




J’Accuse

The world in silence nods, but my heart weeps:
See, welling to its lidless blear eyes, pour
Forth heavily black drops of burning gore;
Each drop rolls on the earth’s hard face, then leaps
To heaven and fronts the idle guard that keeps
His useless watch before the august door.
My blood-tears, wrung in pain from my heart’s core,
Accuse dumb heaven and curse a world that sleeps:
For yester I saw my flesh and blood
Dragged forth by pale-faced demons from his bed
Lashed, bruised and bleeding, to a piece of wood,
Oil poured in torrents on his sinless head.
The fierce flames drove me back from where I stood;
There is no God, Earth sleeps, my heart is dead.

(1919/Complete Poems, 2004)






The White House

Your door is shut against my tightened face,
And I am sharp as steel with discontent;
But I possess the courage and the grace
To bear my anger proudly and unbent.
The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet,
And passion rends my vitals as I pass,
A chafing savage, down the decent street,
Where boldly shines your shuttered door of glass.
Oh I must search for wisdom every hour,
Deep in my wrathful bosom sore and raw,
And fine in it the superhuman power
To hold me to the letter of your law!
Oh I must keep my heart inviolate,
Against the poison of your deadly hate!


(1922/Complete Poems, 2004)



The Tropics in New York

Bananas ripe and green, and ginger-root,
Cocoa in pods and alligator pears,
And tangerines and mangoes and grape fruit,
Fit for the highest prize at parish fairs,

Set in the window, bringing memories
Of fruit-trees laden by low-singing rills,
And dewy dawns, and mystical blue skies
In benediction over nun-like hills.

My eyes great dim, and I could no more gaze;
A wave of longing through my body swept,
And, hungry for the old, familiar ways,
I turned aside and bowed my head and wept.


(from Harlem Shadows, 1922)



The Harlem Dancer

Applauding youths laughed with young prostitutes
And watcher her perfect, half-clothed body say;
Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes
Blown by black players upon a picnic day.
She sang and danced on gracefully and calm,
The light gauze hanging loose about her form;
To me she seemed a proudly-swing palm
Grown lovelier for passing through a storm.
Upon her swarthy neck black shiny curls
luxuriant fell; and tossing coins in praise,
The wine-flushed, bold-eyed boys, and even the girls,
Devoured her shape with eager, passionate gaze;
But looking at her falsely-smiling face,
I knew her self was not in that strange place.

(from Harlem Shadows, 1922)





The Lynching

His Spirit in smoke ascended to high heaven.
His father, by the cruelest way of pain,
Had bidden him to his bosom once again;
The awful sin remained still unforgiven.
All night a bright and solitary star
(Perchance the one that ever guided him,
Yet gave him up at last to Fate’s wild whim)
Hung pitifully o’er the swinging char.
Day dawned, and soon the mixed crowds came to view
The ghastly body swaying in the sun
The women thronged to look, but never a one
Showed sorrow in her eyes of steely blue;
And little lads, lynchers that were to be,
Danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee.

(from Harlem Shadows, 1922)

Archibald MacLeish

Archibald MacLeish [USA]
1892-1982

Born in Glencoe, Illinois, Archibald MacLeish was the son of Andrew MacLeish, a dry-goods merchant, and his third wife, a college professor, Martha Hillard. The father was reserved, stern, and removed from his four children. The mother worked to develop in them a strong sense of social responsibility, which would come characterize MacLeish’s own life.

He spent his childhood on their estate on Lake Michigan, attending a private school, Hotchkiss, from 1907-1911 before attending Yale University in 1911, where he majored in English. At Yale, MacLeish wrote poetry and was involved in campus literary and social activities, as well as participating in college football. In 1915 he graduated from Yale, and entered Harvard Law School in the fall. The next year he married Ada Taylor Hitchcock, with whom he had four children, one of them dying in infancy.


Upon the U.S. entry in World War I, MacLeish enlisted as a private in Yale’s hospital unit, but soon shifted to a combat unit. At the same time Yale University Press published his first collection of poems, Tower of Ivory (1917).

MacLeish returned home from the war without his beloved younger brother, Kenneth, who had been killed in air combat. Upon completing his law degree, MacLeish taught government at Harvard briefly before joining the Boston law firm of Choate, Hall, and Stewart. He was successful as a lawyer, but found it confining since he gave him little opportunity to write. He 1923 he was offered a partnership, but MacLeish chose instead to quit the firm, his father promising to support him and his family.

Taking his family to Paris in order to live more cheaply, MacLeish remained there for five years, befriending the numerous émigré American writers already living there, including Hemingway, Dos Passos, Fitzgerald, and Cummings. In order to transform himself into a modern poet, MacLeish learned Italian and studied the history of English-language poetry. Over these years, he produced five books, including The Pot of Earth (1925), Nobodaddy (1926), Einstein (1926), and The Hamlet of A. MacLeish (1928). Several of the poems of this period— including “Memorial Rain,” “You, Andrew Marvell,” and “Ars Poetica”—would become his most famous works.

Returning to the United States in 1928, he and his family moved into a farm in Conway, Massachusetts. In New Found Land of 1930, MacLeish proclaimed his love of the United States, despite his attraction to Europe. Another long poem, Conquistador (1932), dealt with issues symbolizing the American experience. In 1933 he won a Pulitzer Prize for that work.

Soon after his return to the U.S., MacLeish began writing from Henry Luce’s magazine Fortune, contributing numerous pieces on the American and international scenes and defining his relationship between art and society. Rejecting the modernist alienation from society and emphasis on the individual, MacLeish saw the poet as inevitably involved in his society. During the later 1930s, as Americans and their culture suffered under the depression, MacLeish wrote a number of radio and stage plays that dealt with current issues, Panic (1935), The Fall of the City (1937), and Air Raid (1938) among them.

Despite his strong American sentiments, MacLeish also criticized American values, arguing that Americans had no clear vision of their national goals and potential, something which he felt poetry could offer. But he was also highly criticized for these views as well as being scorned by the modernists for attempting to write a “public” poetry. The left attacked him, accordingly, as an unconscious fascist and the right saw him as a communist sympathizer, coining the word “fellow traveler” in particular reference to him.

His rising liberalism brought him into the circle of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, and later he would write speeches for the president. In 1939 Roosevelt nominated him to become the librarian of Congress, an organization he would radical reorganize. He 1941 he also directed the information/propaganda agency, the Office of Facts and Figures, moving from there to become the assistant director of the Office of War Information from 1942-1943. These positions left him little time for poetry.

Upon Roosevelt’s death, MacLeish returned to private life, writing, in 1948, his first collection of poetry since the late 1930s, Actfive andOther Poems, a statement of his continued love his country but also his ultimate disillusionment with its actions. In 1949 Harvard offered him a position as the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, a position he held until his retirement in 1962. During this period he continued to write, publishing Collected Poems 1917-1952 (1952), which won him his second Pulitzer Prize. His disgust with MacCarthyism resulted in the play The Trojan Horse, published the same year. In 1955, after a visit with Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeths hospital, MacLeish fought for Pound’s release, which was accomplished in 1958. That same year, he finished his Broadway play, J. B., a work based on the biblical tale of Job. The play won another Pulitzer Prize.

After his retirement from Harvard, he continued to be active in writing and journalism, writing another play Herkales in 1967. He died in Boston in 1982.


BOOKS OF POETRY

Tower of Ivory (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1917); The Happy Marriage and Other Poems (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1924); The Pot of Earth (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1925); Nobodaddy: A Play (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Dunster House, 1926); Streets of the Moon (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1926); The Hamlet of A. MacLeish (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1928); Einstein (Paris: Black Sun Press, 1929); New Found Land: Fourteen Poems (Paris: The Black Sun Press, 1930 /Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1930); Conquistador (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1932); Poems, 1924-1933 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1933); Frescoes for Mr. Rockefeller’s City (New York: John Day, 1933); Actfive and Other Poems (New York: Random House, 1948); Collected Poems 1917-1952 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1952); Songs for Eve (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1954); The Wild Old Wicked Man and Other Poems (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968); Collected Poems (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1963); The Human Season: Selected Poems, 1926-1972 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972); Collected Poems, 1917-1982 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985)
For other information and poetry by MacLeish, please click here: http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/m_r/macleish/macleish.htm

December 21, 2008

Vachel Lindsay

Vachel Lindsay [Nicholas Vachel Lindsay] [USA]
1879-1931

Born in Springfield, Illinois the hometown of Abraham Lincoln, Vachel Lindsay was the son of a Scottish doctor in prosperity, living across the street from the governor’s mansion. His mother was a fundamentalist Christian, given to mystical visions, which would influence much of the Christian-based poetry of her son.

Lindsay studied medicine for three years at Hiram College, but dropped out in 1900 to learn drawing at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he met the famed American artist Robert Henri, who encouraged him on the route of poetry.

For most of his early years, Lindsay lived in such deep poverty that he even attempted to sell his poems door-to-door for enough money to eat. Soon after he embarked on a “tramp” journey of the South, begging for food and lodging. Returning to his Springfield family home, he was determined to embark upon what he described as a “New Localism,” a poetry that would encourage each American locality to support their local talent. Later, with Carl Sandburg and Edgar Lee Masters, Lindsay would achieve a kind noted localism in what critics described as the “Middle Western School,” which found its best expression in poetry written from 1915 to 1925.

Lindsay’s first major work was solicited by Harriet Monroe of Poetry magazine; the poem he sent, “General William Booth Enters into Heaven” made him famous, and led him to a career at performing this poem and other later ones, collected in The Congo and Other Poems of 1914. Just as the Beats, Cowboy poets and performance artists of today, Lindsay presented his poetry as a kind of vaudevillian performance, replete with choruses and musicians. Lindsay also wrote one of the first serious books of film in 1915, The Art of the Moving Picture.

During the 1920s, continuing to live in Springfield, Lindsay briefly courted the poet Sara Teasdale before marrying, in 1925, Elizabeth Connor. By the end of that decade, however, his popularity had seriously waned. At the same time, his epilepsy, which he had previously kept secret, grew more serious. In 1931 he killed himself by drinking a bottle of Lysol.

Today much of Lindsay’s poetry seems outrageously naive, the writing seeming at times to have more to do with popular lyrics and a circus-like atmosphere than with serious modernist achievements. However, Lindsay’s incorporation of music, particularly jazz, and his interest in African-American rhythms of speech and music, alongside his incorporation of a Whitman-like populism, has continued to make his work of interest to some readers and critics.


BOOKS OF POETRY

Rhymes to Be Traded for Bread (1912); General Booth Enters Heaven and Other Poems (New York: M. Kennerley, 1913); The Congo and Other Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1914); The Chinese Nightingale (New York: Macmillian, 1917); The Golden Whales of California and Other Rhymes in the American Language (1920); The Daniel Jazz and Other Poems (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1920); Collected Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1923/revised ed., New York: Macmillan, 1925; Johnny Appleseed (New York: Macmillian, 1928); Selected Poems (New York: Macmillian, 1931); The Poetry of Vachel Lindsay (Spoon River Poets Press, 1984)

For a Vachel Lindsay website, click here: http://www.springfield.k12.il.us/schools/lanphier/projects/lindsay/

General William Booth Enters into Heaven

(To be sung to the tune of `The Blood of the Lamb' with indicated instrument)

I

(Bass drum beaten loudly)
Booth led boldly with his big bass drum --
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
The Saints smiled gravely and they said: "He's come."
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
Walking lepers followed, rank on rank,
Lurching bravoes from the ditches dank,
Drabs from the alleyways and drug fiends pale --
Minds still passion-ridden, soul-powers frail: --
Vermin-eaten saints with mouldy breath,
Unwashed legions with the ways of Death --
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)

(Banjos)
Every slum had sent its half-a-score
The round world over. (Booth had groaned for more.)
Every banner that the wide world flies
Bloomed with glory and transcendent dyes.
Big-voiced lasses made their banjos bang,
Tranced, fanatical, they shrieked and sang: --
"Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?"
Hallelujah! It was queer to see
Bull-necked convicts with that land make free.
Loons with trumpets blowed a blare, blare, blare,
On, on upward thro' the golden air!
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)


II

(Bass drum slower and softer)
Booth died blind and still by Faith he trod,
Eyes still dazzled by the ways of God.
Booth led boldly, and he looked the chief,
Eagle countenance in sharp relief,
Beard a-flying, air of high command
Unabated in that holy land.

(Sweet flute music)
Jesus came from out the court-house door,
Stretched his hands above the passing poor.
Booth saw not, but led his queer ones there
Round and round the mighty court-house square.
Yet in an instant all that blear review
Marched on spotless, clad in raiment new.
The lame were straightened, withered limbs uncurled
And blind eyes opened on a new, sweet world.

(Bass drum louder)
Drabs and vixens in a flash made whole!
Gone was the weasel-head, the snout, the jowl!
Sages and sibyls now, and athletes clean,
Rulers of empires and of forests green!

(Grand chorus of all instruments. Tambourines to the foreground)
The hosts were sandalled, and their wings were fire!
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
But their noise played havoc with the angel-choir
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
O, shout Salvation! It was good to see
Kings and Princes by the Lamb set free.
The banjos rattled and the tambourines
Jing-jing-jingled in the hands of Queens.

(Reverently sung, no instruments)
And when Booth halted by the curb for prayer
He saw his Master thro' the flag-filled air.
Christ came gently with a robe and crown
For Booth the soldier, while the throng knelt down.
He saw King Jesus. They were face to face,
And he knelt a-weeping in that holy place.
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

(from General William Booth Enters into Heaven and Other Poems, 1913)

Jackson Mac Low

Jackson Mac Low [USA]
1922-2004

Poet, composer, essayist, performance artist, playwright and painter, Jackson Mac Low was born in Chicago in 1922. His poetry began to be published in 1941. Since 1954 he has often employed chance operations and other nonintentional, as well as intentional techniques, when composing verbal, musical, theatrical, and multimedia performance works. Mac Low’s turn to nonintentional methods was inspired by Zen Buddhism (as taught by Dr. D. T. Suzuki), the I Ching, and John Cage and his music composed in the early 1950s by chance operations, some of which is indeterminate in its performance.

By the middle 1960s, Mac Low was well known for his readings, performances, and theater works. The Marrying Maiden, a play chance-operationally derived (1958-59) from the I Ching, was performed by The Living Theater in New York in 1960-1961; it was directed by Judith Malina, with décor by Julian Beck and music by John Cage. Mac Low’s Verdurous Sanguinaria (written in 1961 and published in 1967) premiered in 1961, produced by the composer La Monte Young in Yoko Ono’s New York loft. His Twin Plays was performed in 1963. Selections from The Pronouns, forty poems that are instructions for dancers, was written in 1964 and performed in 1965 by Meredith Monk and a group she organized.

In 1963, with the editor La Monte Young, Mac Low co-published the first edition of An Anthology, which through George Maciunas gave rise to Fluxus, of which Mac Low was the first literary editor. Mac Low published several books of poetry throughout the 1960s and the 1970s, including August Light Poems (1967), 22 Light Poems (1968), Stanzas for Iris Lezak (1972), 4 trains (1974), 21 Matched Asymmetries (1978), and Asymmetries 1-260 (1980).

The 1980s saw Mac Low working more often in intentional poetic forms, influenced, in part, by the “Language” poets, some of whom themselves claimed Mac Low’s poetry as an influence. Among the major works of this period are From Pearl Harbor Day to FDR’s Birthday (1982) and Bloomsday (1984). A large selection of his work also appeared in Representative Works: 1938-1985 (1986). Over the past decades Mac Low continued to publish important works including Twenties (1991), Pieces o’ Six (1992), and 42 Merzgedichte in Memorium Kurt Schwitters, which won the 1994 America Award for the best new book of American poetry. In 1999 Mac Low was awarded the Tanning Prize for Poetry.

Mac Low died in New York in 2004.


BOOKS OF POETRY

The Pronouns—A Collection of 40 Dances—for the Dancers (New York: Mac Low and Judson Dance Workshop, 1964); August Light Poems (New York: Caterpillar Books, 1967); 22 Light Poems (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Books, 1968); Stanzas for Iris Lezak (Barton, Vermont: Something Else Press, 1972); 4 trains (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1974); 36th Light Poem: In Memoriam Buster Keaton (London: Permanent Press, 1975); 21 Matched Asymmetries (London: Aloes Books, 1978); phone (New York and Amsterdam: Printed Editions and Kontexts, 1979); Asymmetries 1-260 (New York: Printed Editions, 1980); “Is that Wool Hat My Hat?” (Milwaukee,: Membrane Press, 1982); From Pearl Harbor Day to FDR’s Birthday (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1982); Bloomsday (Barrytown, New York: Station Hill, 1984); French Sonnets (Tucson, Arizona: Black Mesa, 1984); The Virginia Woolf Poems (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1985); Representative Works: 1938-1985 (New York: Roof Books, 1986); Words nd Ends from Ez (Bolinas, California: Avenue B, 1989); Twenties: 100 Poems (New York: Roof Books, 1991); Pieces o’ Six (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1992); 42 Merzgedichte in Memorium Kurt Schwitters (Barrytown, New York: Station Hill, 1994); Barnesbook (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1996); 125 Postcard Poems (Ellsworth, Maine: Backwoods Broadsides, 1996); Thing of Beauty: New and Selected Poems, ed. by Anne Tardos (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008)

The Jackson Mac Low online site can be reached at this link: http://www.jacksonmaclow.com






Winner of the PIP Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative Poetry in English
2005-2006



Feeling Down, Clementi Felt Imposed upon from Every Direction.

( HSCH 10 )

“Democracy imposed from without is the severest form of tyranny.”

Lloyd Biggle, Jr.,
“The Problem of the Gourmet Planet,”
Analog, November 2003



Feeling down, Clementi armored herself against unwanted compliments.

The effects of painful desperation were imposing their influence, she felt, on every democracy.
She always felt worst for a crowd rightly punished for wrong reasons.

Could frugal Clementi have been beaming dispositive influences directly at others?
Had she, without a thought, imposed a negative influence on everyone near her?
Possibly, she supposed, someone of limited understanding had mistaken an ironic remark for a revelation.

Desperately, she noted, freedom competed with itself and murmured at opportunities imposed on it.
The dire effects of forced dependence were being repulsed by the desperate.
Indelicate competition in the midst of imposed democracy was imposing desperation.
Imposed democracy was imposing desperation.

Early on she’d recognized a great many sorts of pretended feeling.
Clementi had shamelessly declared compunction at the slaughter of fishes.
She wrongly supposed that no dependent would notice her myriad contradictions.
Wouldn’t that have influenced her freedom’s recognition?
She herself murmured at every opportunity imposed on her.

The tyranny of desperation was the crowning affectation imposed on her.
With delicate compliments she declared her objection to that desperation.
Was that when she declared imposed democracy a punishment?
She felt it a punishment greater than being found out
Clementi found that she’d been disposing noxious beams in all directions.
They directly revealed her own dependence and what she depended on!

How could she reply to what she revealed to herself?
All were insisting they were desperate for freedom.
But what seemed to be the effect of what they called democracy?
A myriad murmured desperately at every opportunity.
What could compete with that massive indelicacy?
Clementi had learned the effects of what was being called democracy.
She felt imposed upon from every direction.


Seven strophes of which the numbers of sentences in successive strophes follow the sequence of cardinal numbers 1 through 7. Diastic text selection utilizing a mix of sentences by Charles Hartshorne, Gertrude Stein, Lewis Carroll, and Gerard Manley Hopkins as source text and the poem’s epigraph as seed text produced a non-grammatical text from which the author “took off” when composing the poem. Words were modified, added, deleted, etc., as needed. Everything was tampered with.

Jackson Mac Low
New York: 9-13 October 2003; 14-15 April, 15 May 2004


____
Reprinted from The Poker, no. 6 (2005). Copyright ©2005 by Jackson Mac Low.
Permission to reprint granted by Anne Tardos.











December 20, 2008

Gentian Cocoli

Gentian Çoçoli [Albania]
1972


Gentian Çoçoli comes from the southern Albanian town of Gjirokastra, near the Greek border. He is founder and editor of the literary periodical Aleph and works with Aleph Press.

Çoçoli has published three collections of poetry, most recently “Human Soil” in 2006. He has also translated several contemporary American poets and won a prize for his translation of Seamus Heaney.

His “Circumference of Ash” was selected a Best Poetry Book of the Year in 2001 by the Ministry of Culture in Albania.

He heads the culture and art department in Albania’s Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports.

BOOKS OF POETRY

Qytetrime të përkohshme (Tirana, 1996); Perimetri i hirit (Tirana, 2001)


In the Hand of the Author

for Parid Teferiçi
I. 1921

So just like Nikolay Gumilyov
With aching feet, attention!
His snowy compass set for the last course,
Clutching the Iliad, hands outstretched,
To put into perspective what will happen
When the plummeting bullets accent his body
And let the entire, eventual revelation
Take its final path brooding on his brow.
Then a profound silence will fall,
Lighter than fresh snow on latter day drifts,
Polite whispers in Russian and ancient Greek will waft
From the broken down door, black as ink,
Leathery, ponderous, punctuated: "Please, madam, ladies first,"
"I insist, madam, ladies first."

II. 2005

December. Piazza d'Autore, Fontana di Lingua.
A meeting of men in marble. But bingeing
Has beaten, besmirched their bodies, even the strongest,
And in this transparent air, purposefully etched as well,
One of them, away from the rest, emerges not a step
From the medium, being a bas-relief, incomplete at that,
And with very human traits refined,
Though even the missing parts mirror what is human.
In his teeth he clenches a spout of wood (also made of marble),
Blocking the rest lodged in his body, undefined by the author,
While all that unseen water gurgles from his Adam's apple,
'round the backs of his heels, spurting out of a crack
Which the chisel's tip, held in a well-tanned fist, incised on his brow.

III.

Inhabitants of 1995. Not very far from here,
A siren of our age is heard,
Then shots, wailing, unfathomable silence.
And everything from the start again.
The human season has begun.
And even farther from us,
An ancient forest, attentive and morose,
Retains the power to close its heavy gates in time,
This time forever.

IV. 1998

In the silence of a foreign house, at the foot of the hill,
Burdened by the autumnal pathos of vineyards,
Translator Lirim sits down to unfetter a marble language.
It is a rare moment as thousands of eyes watch, as if on screen,
The point of his pen which has finally pierced
The capillary path, so deathly grey,
That ends at the heels.
Yet the blinding light in which he squints and flinches comes not
From the copper clasp of ancient sandals, but
From the barrel pin of sniper No---, who from the hill crest,
Hiding in houses nourishing fructose wisdom,
Hastens at high noon to shoot a hole in the tip of the quill
Which in the blink of an eye unleashes that hexametrical magma.
So nigh was language, but it was not to be written.

—Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie


[Në dorë të autorit.]


The Skotini Cave


Excursion into the dark, this most primaeval of motherhoods.
With our heads resting on those shadowy palms,
We crept, delving into the body of the cave,
But we did come back, we always came back.
North winds on the waters in the womb of the deep,
Sombre breezes blowing in the bowels of our beings.
We were there to give birth to awe, and our brows - to script,
The cave lent us her gravities,
A bevy of bats fluttered by towards the light.
"Once, the speleologists poured untold litres
Of fluorescein into the waters down there,
Which resurfaced miles away,
Where the Drino and Kardhiq rivers meet
At the Palokastra Cascade."
Its essence distilled in a mist teeming with words,
The fluorescein mapped the halves of our skulls.
And then, a free return. Subpassages or
Submeanings of synapses swelled to their margins,
With all of us there, and for one moment, we were language itself.


Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie


[Ne shpellën e Skotinisë.]

Amelia Rosselli

Amelia Rosselli [Italy]
1930-1996

The daughter of an Italian father and an English mother, Rosselli was born in Paris in 1930, and spent her childhood in France. Growing up speaking French, English and Italian, Rosselli was, from her childhood on, multilingual, which, turn, would highly influence the syntactical complexity of her poetry.

The second determining factor of her life, the fact that she experienced the murder of her father, the anti-Fascist martyr Carlo Rosselli, and her brother─both brutally killed, by order of Benito Mussolini and Galeazzo Ciano, at Bagnole-de-l'Orne, Normandy. This event, and its aftermath─during the war she and her mother traveled throughout Europe to escape the Nazis─would have a lasting effect on her mental health. Much of her life was spent in therapy, and in 1996 she leaped from her high-rise apartment to her death. Rosselli herself has described the death of her father leaving an emotional void, which she attempted to fill through her writing.


After the war, she and her mother returned to Italy, staying for a short while in Florence before moving by herself to England, where she studied music: violin, piano, and composition. The following year, her mother died in Florence, and Amelia was forced, at eighteen years of age, to find self-employment. She began as a translator for Comunità in Rome. And here, directed by her father's cousin, Alberto Pincherle (who wrote under the name of Alberto Moravia), she began reading Italian writers while continuing to study music in her spare time.

During these years, she also met the Italian poet Rocco Scotellaro at meeting of resistance partisans. They would remain close friends until his early death in 1953.

Influenced by writers such as Giuseppe Ungaretti, Cesare Pavese, Sandro Penna, and Eugenio Montale, Rosselli began moving toward literature as a career. In the late 1950s she was already writing some of her earliest lyrics, some of which were to be included in her two major early books, Variazioni belliche (1964, War Variations, 2003) and Serie ospedaliera (1969, Hospital Series). These two early works her championed by Pasolini and others. Her third major collection, Documento, 1966-1973, published in 1976, followed by a hiatus from poetry for several years, until she published Impromptu (1981) and Appunti sparsi e persi (1983). Rosselli also composed experimental musical compositions of musica concreta.

BOOKS OF POETRY

24 poesie (Turin: Einaudi, 1963); Variazioni belliche (Milan: Garzanti, 1964); Serie ospedaliera (Milan: Saggiatore, 1969); Documento, 1966-1973 (Milan: Garzanti, 1976); Primi scritti, 1952-1963 (Milan: Guanda, 1980); Impromptu (Genoa: San Marco dei Giustiniani, 1981); Appunti sparsi e persi (Reggio Emilia: Aelia Laelia, 1983); La Libellula (Genoa: SE, 1985); Antologia poetica, edited by Giacinto Spagnoletti (Milan: Garzanti, 1987).

ENGLISH LANGUAGE TRANSLATIONS

Sleep: Poesie in Inglese, trans by Amelia Rosselli (Milan: Garzanti, 1992); selections in Shearsmen of Sorts: Italian Poetry 1975-1993, edited by Luigi Ballerini (Forum Italicum Supplement, 1992 and in The Promised Land: Italian Poetry After 1975, edited by Luigi Ballerini, Beppe Cavatorta, Elena Coda and Paul Vangelisti (Los Angeles: Sun and Moon Press, 1999); War Variations, trans. by Lucia Re and Paul Vangelisti (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2003); On the Dragonfly: Selected Poems, 1953-1981 (New York: Chelsea Press, 2010); Locomotrix: Selected Poetry and Prose of Amelia Rosselli, trans. by Jennifer Scappettone (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012); Hospital Series, trans by Deborah Woodard, Roberta Antognini, and Giuseppe Leporace (New York: New Directions Poetry Pamphlet #19, 2015)


Poems from War Variations
Roberto, mother calls out, playfully rocking on the white
divan. I do not know
what God wants of me, serious
intentions rending eternity, or the frank laughter
of the puppet hanging from
the railing, railing yes, railing no, oh
postpone your heartfelt prayer with
a moving babble; car the dry and yellow leaves ravish
the wind that stirs them. Black vision tree that tends
toward the supreme power (pasture which in fact I
think bleaches instead the ground beneath my feet, you are
my lover if the sky darkens, and the shiver
is yours, in the eternal forest. Empty city, full city, city
that soothes the fantastic for
the most part pain of the senses, you sit
sweltering after the meal you made of me, toy of leveling wind
from the coast I no longer dare
to face, I fear the red wave
of actually living, and the plants that say goodbye. Tom-
boy I straddle your bridges, and make them maybe
my own
nature.
I no longer know
who comes and who goes, let
delirium transform you into a senseless
gaming table, and the wild broom (room) faces out
spreading your sun across the reflecting glass.


*

I was, I flew, I fell trembling into the
arms of God, and may this last sigh
be my whole being, and may the wave reward,
held in difficult union, my blood,
and from that supreme deceit may death
become vermillion be given back to me, and I
who from the passionate brawls of my comrades plucked
that longing for death
will enjoy, finally─the age of reason;
and my all the white flowers along the shore, and
all the weight of God
beat upon my prisons.


*

What is it with my heart that beats so softly
and esperate makes, maketh
the hardest soundings? you Those
tutories that I imprinted on afore he
tormented himself so
fiercely, and are vanished for him! O if mye
rabbits coursing throughthe nervies he for
frosty canals of my lymph (o life)
they don't stop, then yes, tha' I, me
yetsaclose to they dead! In all sinceauity my soul
may you remedy it, I ambrace you, you,─
may you find der Softe Worde, may you return
to the fathomed tongue that allows love to stay.

*

tomorrow's claws, ignite in deaf
whirpools the lympth of your growth; don't
gothere; don't play with
your strength in the hell of wind and
hail today obliges your majesty to bow! If
you believe in the grammar of the poor, listen then to
the growing envy of the rich,─you will soon get used to
being born one of them.

*

And who can guarantee you are not one of those
who die on the shovel instead─who can warn
me of your spider web. Too late I
called the flies to shelter.

*

and what did that crowd want from my senses other than
my scorched defeat, or I who begged
to play with the gods and stumbled
like a poor whore up and down
the dark corridor─oh! wash my feet, take
the fierce accusations from my
bent head, bend
your accusations and undo all
my cowardice!: it wasn't my wish to break the delicate layer of ice
not my wish to break the mounting battle, no, I swear, it wasn't my
wish to break through your laughable
laughter!─but the hail has other reasons than
serving and the wet eastern wind of
evening does not dream of standing
watch by my
disenchanged lion sobs: no longer will I run
after every passage of beauty,─beauty is defeated, never again
at attention will I snuff out that fire now glimmering like
an old tree trunk
in which hollow swallows make nonsensical nests, child's lay,
unreckoning misery, unreckoning misery of sympthy.


*

That violent rustling of birds, their flirtatious
rising in swarms from the hardest trees
(the tender lion roars in a flight of thought
and my faith lights up) their perching on the thinnest tops
their distracted gazing into the distance, this
is your desire, flying over my mountains of anxiousness
this is your warm thread of unknowing
anxiousness.

*

Inside of grace the number of my friends increased
and joy wove stories of impossible loves. Inside of
grace the poor tormented the rich and the hat was lifted
in an act of pure gratitude. Inside the Tao boredom vanished
outside of grace the murdered poet rhymed. Inside of
grace the passing bird dirtied the furniture
yesterday the day before yesterday there was a compass, today
the rain sadly pours and the promises of the rich are
a light that does not add up. Close to grace lay
love inside of grace every flower looked bad and at dawn
hell dirtied very light. Outside fury a hurricane
sinisterly scoured the main avenue of all our
frenzies. Such is the birth─such is the revenge of
the poor in spirit. Against the spirit of mercy
arose unanimous my salacious heart that came down touched
by grace but was unable to find the daytime sun except
in a cry of business. To find Chaos again a clarinet's
note was enough. (Indifference itself.)


*

We count endless dead! the dance is almost over! death,
the explosion, the swallow lying wounded on the ground, disease,
and hardship, poverty and the devil are my cases of
dynamite. Late I arrived to pity─late I lay among
bills in the pocket troubled by a peace that was not offered.
Near death the ground returned to the collectors the price
of glory. Late he lay on the ground that returned his blood
soaked with tears peace. Christ sitting on the ground on
reclined legs also lay in blood when Mary labored
with him.

Born in Paris labored in the epos of our flowed
generation. Lay in America among the rich fields of landlords
and of the stately State. Live in Italy, barbaric country.
Fled from England, country of sophisticates. Hopeful
in the West where for now nothing grows.

The bamboo-café was the night.

The congenitals' tendency to goodness awakening.

*

The hell of light was love. The hell of love
was sex. the world's hell was the oblivion of the
simple rules of life: stamped paper and a simple
protocol. Four beds face down on the bed four
friends dead with a gun in their hand four keys
on the piano that give back hope.


─Translated from the Italian by Lucia Re and Paul Vangelisti

(from Variazioni belliche, 1964)



from Serie Ospedaliera

I sell you my cooking stove, then you scratch it
and sit unprepared on the desk
if I sell you the light yoke of
my diseased mind, the less stuff I have, the
happier I am. Undone by the rain
and by sorrows immeasurable menstruation
senility approaching, petroleum
imagination.

*

Search for an answer to an unconscious voice
or believing, through it one's found it─I saw the muses
dazzled, spreading empty veils on their hands
not correcting themselves at the portal. Searching for
an answer to reveal, the oriastic meaning of events
the particular obfuscation of a fate
that through brief rips of light opposes─the only sense
this prestigious act: that does not forget, lets
the walls graze the skin, suffers no estrangements
and does no revolt, against this shattering
and sobbing hurt, that is my moon on the face
the smell of angels on the arms, the step firm
and not concealed: the ruin slow by complete:
a non-detachment from low things, writing of them
supine.
─Translated from the Italian by Lucia Re and
Paul Vangelisti

(from Serie Ospedaliera, 1969)



from Documento (1966-1973)
The angels exit
white and blue
and I sit at the balcony
black and white

Crisis of bovarysm
crisis of impoverishment!
crisis of flowers
crisis of workers

Dialogue is done in four
like a diagonal line
I describe buses
I start up again
more prayers
why are the trees blue?

(Things themselves
sow my heart with light)

*

As if I knew what the opposite means
things quite remote in the small homeland
outside the forest, and from the tropical heaps
in the beige of the tricolor
morgana with uncorrupted wings
in the poverty turned by now into a horrid kennel
victim that perpetuates her pain
as if truth were reborn from this clash
with the putrid air of these lost faces
in the unromantic hour of the very late morning
what if now you said
what is not conveniently said
in poetry?

Translated from the Italian by Lucia Re and Paul Vangelisti

(from Documento [1966-1973])


from Impromptu

When on a tank I get close
to that which was a tango, if

mercy was with me
when I won, or instead

if the late night were not
now the morning hour, I would

no longer write these beautiful
notes!─You really torture me?
and really teach me not to
torture the agonizing mind

of others without agony, though
missing in the sun of all the

splendid money you recognized
in that Capital of vice

that was Rome? And you ash-tree
a long brother of once
called Pierpaolo, a memory

is all I have of your vainglories
as if at bottom ambition were

to cast the last look
from the last bridge.
─Translated from the Italian by Lucia Re and Paul Vangelisti
(from Impromptu, 1981)




Permissions

Selections from War Variations, Serie Ospedaliera, Documento (1966-1973), and
ImpromptuReprinted from The Promised Land: Italian Poetry After 1975, edited by Luigi Ballerini, Beppe Cavatorta, Elena Coda and Paul Vangelisti; trans. by Lucia Re and Paul Vangelisti (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1999). Copyright ©1999 by Luigi Ballerini and Paul Vangelisti. Reprinted by permission of Sun & Moon Press. Reprinted also from War Variations, trans. by Lucia Re and Paul Vangelisti (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2003) . Reprinted by permission of Green Integer.