April 28, 2009

Francis Ponge

Francis Ponge [France]

Francis Ponge was born in Montpellier, France in 1899. His work became known in French literary circles in the early 1920s, primarily through publication in the Nouvelle Revue Française, at the time Ponge worked for Gallimard publishing house as a production manager. Ponge, who had joined the Socialist Party in 1919, had a brief association with the Surrealists in the 1930s, which, in turn, led him to join the Communist Party.

During the same period, he worked for the book distributor Hachette until he was drafted into the army in 1938. In 1942, he published his great masterpiece Parti pris de choses. In the same year Ponge joined the Resistance.

After World War II, Ponge left the Communist Party, and the period from 1947-1951 was a lean time, interruped by a trip to Algeria in 1947-1948 with Henri Calet and Michel Leiris. From 1952 to 1964 he taught for the Alliance Française in Paris. In 1956 the Nouvelle Revue Française devoted a special issue to Ponge, in which Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre both wrote in his praise. And throughout the 1960s, Ponges work was highly praised by the Tel Quel group, Philippe Sollers, Jean Thibaudeau and Marcelin Pleynet, in particular. In 1965 Ponge traveled to the United States, lecturing in over sixty venues at various universities; the following year he spent a term as Visiting Professor at Barnard College and Columbia University. In 1972 he was awarded an international prize by The Ingram Merrill Fondation, and two years later Ponge was awarded the Books Abroad/Neustadt International Prize for Literature.


Douze petits écrits (Paris: Gallimard, 1926); Le parti pris des choses (Paris: Gallimard, 1942); Le guêpe (Paris: Seghers, 1945); L'œillet, La guêpe, Le mimosa (Lausanne: Mermod, 1946); Le carnet du bois de pins (Lausanne: Mermod, 1947); Liasse: Vingt-et-un Textes suivis d'une bibliographie (Lyons: Écrivains Réunis, 1948); Proêmes (Paris: Gallimard, 1948); La Crevette dans tous ses états (Paris: Vrille, 1948); La Seine (Lausanne: La Guilde du Livre, 1950); L'Araignée (Paris: Aubier, 1952); Le Rage de l'expression (Lausanne: Mermod, 1952); Des Cristaux naturels (Saint-Maurice-d'Ételan: Bettencourt, 1952); Ponges [selection, edited by Philippe Sollers] (Paris: Seghers, 1963); Le grand recueil: I. Lyres; II. Méthodes; III. Pièces (Paris: Gallimard, 1961); Tome premier (Paris: Gallimard, 1965); Pour un Malherbe (Paris: Gallimard, 1965); Le savon (Paris: Gallimard, 1967); Nouveau Recueil (Paris: Gallimard, 1967); La Fabrique du pré (Geneva: Skira, 1971)


Two Prose Poems, trans. by Peter Hoy (Leicester: Black Knight Press, 1968); Rain: A Prose Poem, trans. by Peter Hoy (London: Poet and Painter, 1969); Soap, trans. by Lane Dunlop (New York: Grossman, 1969); Things, trans by Cid Corman (New York: Grossman, 1971); The Voice of Things, trans. by Beth Archer (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1972); The Sun Placed in the Abyss and Other Texts, trans. by Serge Gavronsky (New York: Sun, 1977); Vegetation, trans. by Lee Fahnestock (New York: Red Dust, 1987); The Power of Language: Texts and Translations, edited and translated by Serge Gavronsky (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979); The Making of the "Pré" (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1979); Selected Poems (Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Wake Forest University Press, 1994);
Unfinished Ode to Mud, trans. by Beverley Bie Brahic (London: CB Editions, 2007)

The Oyster

The oyster, the size of an average pebble, has a coarser appearance, a less even color, brilliantly whitish. It is a stubbornly closed world. It can be opened however: you have to hold it in the hollow of a rag, use a chipped, rather dull knife and go at it several times. Curious fingers are cut, nails broken: it's a rough job. Nicking it, we mark its casing with white circles, sorts of halos.
Inside we find an entire world, to eat and drink: under a pearly firmament (strickly speaking), the skies above merge with the skies below, forming a single pool, a viscous, greenish sachet that flows back and forth to both smell and sight, and that is fringed with a blackish lace.
On very rare occasions a little form beads in their pearly throats, with which we quickly adorn ourselves.

Translated from the French by Guy Bennett

(from Le parti pris des choses, 1942)

The Nuptial Habits of Dogs

The nuptial habits of dogs are really something! In a village in Bress, in 1946...(I want to be precise because, considering the celebrated evolution of the species, if it were to hasten...or if there were to be an abrupt mutation: one can never tell)...

What a curious ballet! What tension!
It's beautiful! This movement engendered by a specific passion. Dramatic! And how lovely are those curves! With critical moments, paroxystic, and drawn-out patience, perserverance of a maniacal immobility, circumlocutions in very slow revolutions, circumvolutions, pursuits, strolling in a special way...
Oh! And what music! What a variety!
All those individuals like spermatozoa who come together after unbelievable detours.
But that music!
That hunted female; cruelly importuned; and thos male hunters, grumblers, musicians.
This lasts a good week...(more perhaps: I'll correct it when it's over).
What maniacs those dogs. What stubbornness. What heavy brutes. What chumps! Sad. Narrow-minded. A pain in the ass!
Ridiculously stubborn. Plaintive. Ears cocked, on the scent. Busy. Scenting. Raising and knitting their brows, sadly, comically. Everything strained: ears, backs, legs. Growling. Plaintive. Blind and dumb to everything else but their specific determinations.
(Compare this to the grace and the violence of cats. To the grace of horses also).

But she wasn't my bitch. She belonged to my neighbor, Féaux the postman: I was unable to get close enough, to observe the organs of the lady, her smell, her trails, her loss of seed.
I was unable to determine if she had begun by being provocative, or if it had only come to her (her condition, first of all, then her discharges, her smell, then the males and their attention, so long, so importunate), if it had only been for her a surprise, only a timid groan, with calculated and consenting movements.
What a sad story, after all! How life, revealed to her at that moment, must have appeared harassing, bothersome, absurd!
And there she is, wounded for life,─mortally, too! But she will have her pretty little puppies... Alone to herself, for a little while... Then those males will stop hanging around, and what joy with her little ones, even what fun, what fullness,─despite an occasional traffic jame between her paws and under her belly, and a lot of fatigue.
The fact is, we didn't sleep much for a week... But that's of no importance: you can't always have everything,─sleep and something like a series of nocturnal performances at the Classic Theater.

The moon there above (above the passions) also seemed to me to have played a major role.

Translated from the French by Serge Gavronsky

(from Le grand recueil, III, 1961)

Marsden Hartley

Marsden Hartley, Painting No. 47

Marsden Hartley [USA]

Born in Lewison, Maine, Marsden Hartley grew up in a family of poverty. At 14 Hartley dropped out of school and went to work in a shoe factory, joining his family the next year in Cleveland, where they had moved. There he was able to study art, and won a scholarship to study of the Cleveland School (now Institute) of Art. In 1898 he moved to New York City, continuing his art studies at the William Merritt Chase School, but grew frustrated with the Chase methods of painting and teaching. He left the school in 1900 to attend the National Academy of Design. During these early years of 1908 and 1909 Hartley returned often to Maine, painting its landscape and writing poetry.

In 1909 Alfred Stieglitz gave Hartley his first one-man exhibition and took him on at his famed 291 Gallery. Stieglitz also introduced Hartley to the works of European modernisn, including Matisse, Picasso and Cézanne, whose influences began to appear in his still-lives of 1912. Between 1912 and 1916, and continuing in the years 1922 to 1929, Harley lived in both New York and in Europe, traveling, painting and writing.

While in Europe he became fascinated with the works of the Blaue Reiter group, particularly Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, influences that would remain in Hartley’s paintings for several years. He exhibited with the Blaue Reiter group in the First German Autumn Salon in Berlin.

Hartley was a witty conversationalist and noted for his often straight-forward but elegantly expressed statements. But, as a closeted homosexual—at least in the US—Hartley could also be aloof and, at times, distant. Soon after the outbreak of World War I, Hartley lost his dear friend and reputed lover, Karl von Freyburg, who died in battle. He began a series of paintings paying tribute to Freyburg and other German friends who inhabited Berlin’s vibrant homosexual world.

In 1919, having returned to the United States, he began to publish poetry and essays in many of the important small journals and presses of the day, including Poetry, The Dial, The Little Review, and Others. In the early 1920s he came briefly under the influence of Dadaism. He also became close friends with the artists of Stieglitz’s group—Arthur Dove, John Marin, Georgia O’Keefe and Paul Strand—as well as writers such as Arthur Kreymborg, Djuna Barnes (her wrote of him in a couple of her journalistic pieces on “Greenwich Village” life), William Carlos Williams, e. e. cummings, and others.. It was he who first introduced Williams to Robert McAlmon, resulting ultimately in the Contact publications. McAlmon published Hartley’s own book of poetry, Twenty-five Poems in 1925. In Paris Hartley had also become a close friend of Gertrude Stein’s.

As a result of the war, Hartley increasingly moved in a new direction both in his painting and writing to a more regional approach. Influenced by Whitman and others, he centered his writing in more of the plain speech of common people and in his art depicting the fishermen and workers, often in homoerotic images, of his beloved home state. Whereas his earlier poetry had often been experimental, in his later work he often returned some rhyme and meter and to more narrative forms. Yet, Hartley wrote with no particular programme, and it would be difficult to characterize his poetry as following any one trend. As he wrote in his 1919 essay (reproduced in the Documents section of this book), “Personal handling counts for more than personal expression. We can learn to use hackneyed words like ‘rose’ and ‘lily,’ relieving them of Swinburnian encrustations.”

In 1930 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship, traveling to Mexico and them to Germany. Returning to the United States in 1934, he continued to express the language and images of Maine. He died in Corea, Maine in 1943.


Twenty-Five Poems (Paris: Contact Editions, 1923); Androscoggin (1940); Sea Burial (Portland, Maine: Leon Tebetts Editions, 1941); Selected Poems, ed. by Henry Wells (New York: Viking Press, 1945); Eight Poems and One Essay (Lewiston, Maine: Treat Gallery, Bates College, 1976); The Collected Poems of Marsden Hatley 1904-1943, ed. by Gail R. Scott (Santa Rosa, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1987)

Local Boys and Girls Small Town Stuff

A panther sprang at the feet
Of the young deer in the grey wood.
It was the lady who had sworn
To love him,
That rose, wraithlike
From the flow of his blood.
He swooned with her devotions.

There was never one
More jolly and boyish
than he was, in the great beginning.
Once his slippers were fastened
With domesticity,
He settled down
Like a worn jaguar
Weary with staring through bars.
The caresses that were poured
Over his person
Staled on him.
Love had grown rancid.
Have you emptied the garbage

(Others, 1919)

To C——


If a clear delight visits you
Of an uncertain afternoon,
When you thought the time
For new delights was over for that day,
Say to yourself, who rule many a lost
Moment in this shadowy domain,
Saving it from its dusty grey perdition,
Say to yourself that is a flash
Of lightning from a so affectionate west,
Where the clear sky, that you know, resides.
The rainbow has crossed the desert once again,
I took the blade of bliss and notched it
In a roseate place.
It shed a crimson stream—
That was our flush of joy.


They will come
In the way they always come,
Swinging gilded fancies round your head.
So it is with surfaces.

They will walk around you
Strip branches of their blooms for you—
Young carpets for young ways.

With me it is different.

Stars, when they strike
Edge to edge,
Make fierce resplendent fire.
I have lived with bright stone,
Burned like carnelian in the sun,
Myself seen braches wither.

Carbon is a diamond—
It cuts the very crystal from the globe.

You are so beautiful
To listen.

(Poetry, 1920)


Is the confession of the leaf—at the brave moment of trembling. The white virginal ones run long thin fingers through the mystic’s fiery hair. It gives a slight twinge to the gelid existence of the virgin, about to perish. This virgin is male. Is the spiral eligible, when it comes too late? Take me with you, upward fire of the man—swirl me away from ethical ethers. Swirl me from this arteio-sclerosis of the soul. I am not known here. I am not known there. I am not in reality known outside myself. God does not covet originality. the virgin twirled a bit of pointed lace that festooned his illicit mind, and settled down to more opinionating at the rusty gate. The university whispers—the mind is carried in another bag, and weighs too heavily with mystic themes on hands not made for work. The lunchroom notes the bookworm fattening its lean body with flesh of other minds. The lunchroom notes the pity of faggot gathering brains. The classroom loves its back and worm as arums love the sickly tropic shade. The white hands turn the leaves of other minds and wander whitely in the world of other men’s appraisals. They never redden with their own incisions in the flesh of proud experience.

A gathering of words of other fondled words begotten is called investigation, and this in turn is called cerebral rapture.

Asceticism is a virtue in itself, the boyish virgin says. It saves a lot of trouble.

(Contact, 1920)

For two more poems, click below:

April 27, 2009

Martin Camaj

Martin Camaj [Albania]

Martin Camaj was born in Temali in the Dukagjin region of the northern Albanian alps. He is an émigré writer of significance both for Albanian literature and for Albanian scholarship. He received a classical education at the Jesuit Saverian college in Shkodër and studied at the University of Belgrade. From there he went on to do postgraduate research in Italy, where he taught Albanian and finished his studies in linguistics at the University of Rome in 1960. From 1970 to 1990 he served as professor of Albanian studies at the University of Munich and lived in the mountain village of Lenggries in Upper Bavaria until his death on 12 March 1992. Camaj's academic research has concentrated on the Albanian language and its dialects, in particular those of southern Italy.

His literary activities over a period of forty-five years cover several phases of development. He began with poetry, a genre to which he remained faithful throughout his life, but in later years also devoted himself increasingly to prose. His first volumes of classical verse Nji fyell ndër male, Prishtina, 1953 (A flute in the mountains), and Kânga e vërrinit, Prishtina 1954 (Song of the lowland pastures), were inspired by his native northern Albanian mountains for which he never lost his attachment, despite long years of exile and the impossibility of return. These were followed by Djella, Rome 1958 (Djella), a novel interspersed with verse about the love of a teacher for a young girl of the lowlands. His verse collections Legjenda, Rome 1964 (Legends) and Lirika mes dy moteve, Munich 1967 (Lyrics between two ages), which contained revised versions of a number of poems from Kânga e vërrinit, were reprinted in Poezi 1953-1967, Munich 1981 (Poetry 1953-1967).

Camaj's mature verse reflects the influence of the hermetic movement of Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888-1970). The metaphoric and symbolic character of his language increases with time as does the range of his poetic themes. A selection of his poetry has been translated into English by Leonard Fox in the volumes Selected Poetry, New York 1990, and Palimpsest, Munich & New York 1991.

-Robert Elsie


Nji fyell ndë male (Prishtinë: 1953); Kanga e vërrinit (Prishtinë: 1954); Lirika mes dy moteve (Munich: 1967); Njeriu më vete e me tjerë (Munich: 1978); Dranja (Munich: 1981); Poezi (1953-1967) (Munich: 1981).


Selected Poems, trans. by Leonard Fox (New York: New York University Press, 1990); Palimpsest (Munich and New York, 1991)

My Land
When I die, may I turn into grass
On my mountains in spring,
In autumn I will turn to seed.

When I die, may I turn into water,
My misty breath
Will fall onto the meadows as rain.

When I die, may I turn into stone,
On the confines of my land
May I be a landmark.

Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie

(from Lirika midis dy moteve, 1967)

Moutain Feast

Blood was avenged today.
Two bullets felled a man.

Blood was avenged today.

Under the axe-head
The ox's skull bursts by the stream.
(Today there will be great feasting!)

Blood was avenged today.

The wailing of men gone wild
Mingles with the smell of meat on the fires.
And the autumn foliage falls
Scorched on the white caps
At the tables, outside.

Night. At the graves on the hill
Fresh earth, new moon.

The wolves have descended from the mountains
And drink blood at the stream.

Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie

(from Lirika midis dy moteve, 1967)

A Bird Languishes

The Canon of Birds says:
Every bird shall stretch its wings and perish on the grass,
Punishment for having plied the forbidden border
Between heaven and earth.

A bird languishes upon the lawn, at death's door,
The leaves in the trees are
Unreachable birds and companions
Frolicking in the sunlight.

In the distance are two millstones pounding
At one another, as is their wont,

Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie

(from Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, 1978)

Death - Crackling

Death - the crackling
Of a dry leaf,
Wait for me at the end of the earth
With no chrysanthemum in your hand.

Wait, benumbed swallow,
With wings o'er the waves, for my breath

To soar to the heavens,
Feathered like a white raven.

Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie

(from Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, 1978)

Unexpected Guest in Berisha

When the guest entered the house at dusk,
Seven brothers looked askance
As if he were walking over their heads and not
Over the dry floorboards.
Nor did they, as ancient custom demands,
Greet and speak with him, but stared at the ground.

The youngest of them broke the silence,
Removed the lahuta from its place
And laid it in the guest's lap for him to play.
When he held the lute's body,
Gently stroking its side
With his rough fingers,
And plucked its foal-hair string with his thumb,
The brothers and the old man, head of the household,
Understood that the stranger was a singer
Like no other among them.

The beginning holds the heart in sway,
Not the end of the song.

—Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie

(from Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, 1978)

To a modern poet

Your road is good:
The Parcae are the ugliest faces
Of classical myths. You did not write of them,
But of stone slabs and of human brows
Covered in wrinkles, and of love.

Your verses are to be read in silence
And not before the microphone
Like those of other poets,

The heart
Though under seven layers of skin
Is ice,

Though under seven layers of skin.

Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie

(from Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, 1978)

The Old Deer

The shepherds abandoned the alpine pastures
For the warmth of the lowland valleys,
Sauntering down the trails, talking loudly
About women and laughing
Beside the water of the stream bubbling forth
From well to well.

The old deer raised its head from the scorched earth
And observed the pale foliage. Then
It departed to join its sons,
They too with their minds on the does.

Broken, it too abandoned the alpine pastures and followed
The merry murmur of the stream below, a fiery arrow,
The wanderer in search of warmer pastures and winter grass
Which it will never touch!

When they slew it, the shepherds pried its eyes open
And saw in the pupils
The reflection of many deer drinking water from the stream.

Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie

(from Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, 1978)

Fragile Land

(To the tribes below the Drin)

Between Molç Mountain and Qerret
There opens a gorge leading down to the river,
Formed as if it had been a lake,
And we were out there alone, on it, still,
In dugouts of maple.

We used to know by heart
The names of choice fish and not
Of preying birds and wild

Even the sheen in our eyes
Would be blue and not black.

We would float in the water
Not in the clouds.

Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie

(from Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, 1978)

Simon Vinkenoog

Simon Vinkenoog [Netherlands]

Born in 1928, Simon Vinkenoog, like others of this volume, experienced as a teenager World War II and the German occupation. Like many of his generation he was drawn to Paris after the war, in the days when writing appeared as a subversive act. He worked in Paris for several years, keeping in close contact with artists such as Karel Appel, at whose exhibitions he recited his poems and prose. Here also he published a journal Blurb, in which he explained his ideas for a new order of the arts. His important anthology of poetry, Atonaal, became a major influence for experimental Dutch poets and others.

Returning the The Netherlands, Vinkenoog became involved with the Dutch Fiftiers, sharing their radical sense of poetic structure and subject. Later, in the 1960s and 1970s, Vinkenoog embraced many of the socially and artistically radical groups, including the Beats, becoming a sort of “guru” for many younger Dutch authors.

He died on July 12, 2009.


Wondkoorts (Amsterdam: U. M. Holland, 1950); Land zonder nacht (1952); Heren Zeventien (Amsterdam: De Beuk, 1953); Tweesprakk (with Hans Andreus) (s’-Gravenhage: Stols, 1955); Spiegelschrift-Gebruikslyriek (Amsterdam; De Bizige Bij, 1962); Gesproken woord (Jazz & Poetry) (1964); Eerste Gedicthe 1949-1964 (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1966); Wonder boven wonder (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1972); Mij best (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1976); Het huiswerk van de dichter (Massbree: Corrie Zelen, 1978); Made in Limburg (Massbree: Corrie Zelen, 1979); Poolschoogte/Approximations [bilingual] (Heerlen: Uitgerverij 261, 1981); Voeten in de aarde en berge verzetten (Amsterdam: Guus Bauer, 1982); Op het eerste gehoor (Amsterdam: De Beuk, 1988); Vreugdevuur (Groningen: Passage, 1998); De ware Adam (Groningen: Passage, 2000); Goede raad is vuur (Groningen: Passage, 2004)


And the Eye Became a Rainbow, trans. by Cornelis Vleeskens (Melbourne: Fling Poetry, 1990)

For a reading by Simon Vinkenoog of his poetry go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqHsLlmUEeA

ik ken de woorden van de taal niet die ik spreek
en verwonderd zie ik mijn gedachten na,
het zijn de handen van de liefste niet
het zijn geen zwanen in het water
het is geen hulpkreet
die de muur doorbreekt,
het is ook de wereld niet
waarin ik verga.

(from Podium, 1950; collected in Eerste Gedichte 1949-1964, 1966)

I don’t know the words
of the language I speak

and in amazement
I follow my thoughts,

they aren’t the hands of the beloved
they aren’t swans on the water

it is not a cry for help
that breaks down the walls

it is not even the world
in which I perish.

Translated from the Dutch by Cornelis Vleeskens


een brandende schemer hangt al jaren
over deze voorstad van de dood
de vonkende straten zijn verlated
de schaduwloze huizen lege gaten
maar in de ramen spiegelt kinderleven

vermoeden: het ongerijpt verlangen
vaaraan als natte vlaggen
bloeiende vogellijken hangen—
dit wordt het weten

ik heb gezichsloos deze buurt doorkruist
en heb me zoeklmoede ogen
die de mijne niet waren
stervende drempels overschreden

—ik ben verloren en hervonden
verward geraakt
en verbannen geworden—

nu volgt een uitgebluste nacht
op deze schemer op de regen
en op de tijdloze dagen
die van mijn dwalen de
verlamde getuigen waren
want dit is het eeuwige nodeloze
wanhopige groeiende verdergaan

(from Wondkoorts, 1950)


for years a scorching dusk has hung
over this suburb of death
the sparkling streets are deserted
the shadowless houses empty holes
but the windows mirror childplay

suspicion: the immature longing
on which birdcarcasses blossom
like wet banners—
this becomes the knowing

faceless I have crisscrossed the district
and world-weary eyes
that were no longer mine
I stumbled over dying doorsteps

—I was lost and found
confused and was banished—

now an estinguished night
follows on dusk on this rain
and on these timeless days
that were the lame witnesses
to my wanderings

for this is the eternal needless
desperate growing hanging in

Translated from the Dutch by Cornelis Vleeskens


ik heb verwonderd naar
dat eerste gedicht geluisterd:
waarvan wellust is gebleven
ik was als kind
bij moeder thuis
de haren in mijn ogen
de voeten in het lauwe
en het eerste gedicht
als een bromvlieg om mijn hoofd

also grijze haren uitgevallen
een deernis-tweemansbed
en het laatste woord
door haar belet

(from Wondkoorts, 1950)


I listened in wonder
to that first poem:
that led to well-being
at home
hair in my eyes
feet in the tepid
and that first poem
like a blowfly around my head

the past—
wonder shed
like gray hairs
a pathetic double bed
a meetingplace for words
the last word
silenced by her

Translated from the Dutch by Cornelis Vleeskens


dit is het handschrift van een ziek genie:
vergaan aan de hemel
ik ben het brandende water
getroffen, torens
en de roes der elementen

ik ben het ontvluchten gespaard gebleven
laaghangende wolken
een stromentrekkende regen
en de dorst der goden

ik ben de huilende bomen
en het nadersluipen van de herfst
ik ben de regen
de donder wn de wrakk der stormen—
de nacht het niet geloven aan de zon

het blijft deze weg zonder hizen
de bomen de gedroomde glimmende keien
en het onweer de regen

nu in de plassen gaan liggen
languit wachten
tot mij de bliksem raakt

(from Wondkoorts, 1950)


this is the handwriting of a sick spirit:
perished under heaven
I am the burning water
that’s been hit, towers
and the drunken stupor of the elements

I have been spared the desperate escape
lowhanging clouds
and the thrist of gods

I am the crying trees
and the slow approach of autumn
I am the rain
the hunder and the revenge of storms—
the night the not believing in the sun

it remains this road without houses
the trees the imagined shining rocks
and the storm the rain

now lay me down in puddles
and wait spreadeagled
for the lightning to hit me

Translated from the Dutch by Cornelis Vleeskens

Karel Appel

Was hij van vuur?
Stamde hij niet van de aarde af?
Hij was geen engel
en speelde niet voor Satanas.

Branden zou hij,
hongeren en begeren,
tranen kokende olie storten
en schateren: Messias in Texas.

Opraken zou hij, vlugger den aderen,
zuurstof, stikstof, een zucht
van goddelijke verlichting;
kortleven, branden en as.

Het wataer is gebroken,
de koude heeft schipbreuk geleden,
onder de adem woont het ijs,

het bloed van beulen versteent,
fossielen tieren welig
in dit landschap.

(from Spiegelschrift-Gebruikslyriek, 1962)

Karel Appel

Was he made of fire?
Wasn’t he from this earth?
He was no angel
and didn’t play the Stanic role.

He would have to burn,
to hunger and go wanting,
to exude tears of boiling oil
and rorar: The Messiah in Texas.

He would use up, faster than others,
oxygen, nitrogen, a sigh
of godly enlightenment;
shorliving, burning and ashes.

The waters are broken,
cold has suffered a shipwreck
beneath the breath lives the ice,

the blood of the executioner turns to stone,
fossils thrive and luxuriate
in this landscape.

Translated from the Dutch by Cornelis Vleeskens

Tenzij de dingen uit zichzelf gaan spreken

een kraan het hoog geluid van liefde fluit
een waterstraal die onoverslapte aandacht trikt
een dronken boodschap in de brievenbus
een onverwacht bezoek aan de deur gevonden

de zee die door de straten weifelt
de zon een onbeholpen minnaaar op mijn huid
en de doofstomme takken van de bomen
in mijn ogen etcetera

Tenzij ik jaren op je wachten wil
en op je mond het stempel ongepend druk

als met een zegelring die woorden bloed
en vlijt in de nagels drijft

de handen die niets meer weten
van het feest dat morgen
in de cijfers van het heden
wijdbeens staat geplant

(from Eerste gedichten, 1966)

Unless the Things Start to Speak for Themselves

a tap whistling the high notes of love
a waterstream holding your unswerving attention
a drunken message in the letterbox
an unexpected visitor found on the doorstep

the sea wandering the streets
the sun an univited lover on my skin
and the deafdumb branches of trees
in my eyes etcetera

Unless I want to wait years for you
and press unanswered on your mouth
a seal that bleeds the words
and puts dirt under your fingernails

the hands no longer aware
of the feast that in the morning
stands with legs spread
over the symbols of today

—Translated from the Dutch by Cornelis Vleeskens



Wij wonen in een kleine stad schandalen
rukkend aan de pas-toe
wind in de zeilen gesmeten

Reeds 15 jaren schettert en ment men het paard der geliefde,
knelt men de zweep in een dijbeenbreuk
waarvan overal dezelfde adem spreekt,

dankend voor de brieven van destjds
Voetvenvegend in het paradijs,
op de thuisreis—om nooit te vergeten
Een vlucht gepenseeld in de ogen


Zij tasten mij
en andere stenen
tasten andere dieren

Men wacht op mij,
Ik wacht op u,
het slaphangend volksdeel in de handen
in een stadscentrum,
op de rand van een trottoir
dat naar de voorstelling leidt—

En barend in de morgen
de kinderen van de nacht
met een handvol dromen spoedend through tunnels of love

(from Eerste gedichten, 1966

from Topographic


We live in a small town
with scandals laid bare
vandals ripping in formation
with the wind in their sails

for 15 years we’ve yelled
and driven love’s horses
cracked the whop on their thighs
with everywhere the same breath blowing

thank you for your letter from whenever
wiping our feet on paradise
we’re going home—and won’t forget

A flight brushed on the eyes


They touch me
and other rocks—
touch other beasts

They wait for me
I wait for you
the slack community under control
on the city square
on the endge of the pavement
waiting for the show—

And bearing in the morning
night’s children
with a handful of dreams
racing through tunnels of love

Translated from the Dutch by Cornelis Vleeskens


Er woont een zachte zuster in mijn huid
een vrijbuiter die in mijn lichaam bijt
ensoms haar handen op mijn zijde legt,
‘s nachts stelten loopt, of danst of rust.

Dan dringt zij ook haar dromen aan mij op
en ik leg mij huiverend naast haar:
een dode, een schamel geraamte,
knikkend en stamelend.

(from Eerste gedichten, 1966)


A soft sister lives in my skin
a freeloader who bites into my body
and sometimes lays her hands on my side,
at night walks on stilts, or dances or rests.

And then she offers her dreams to me
and I lay shuddering next to her:
a corpse, a frail skeleton,
nodding and stuttering.


Weet je nog hoe fris het gras was?
Weet je nog hoe de bladeren ruiken,
die van de bomen vallen, als het najaar wordt?
Ruik mee: er is een wereld, achter je neus gelegen,
waar de zon zich, ook als het regent, toegang verschaft
met de geur van een roos, of een kus uitdelend,
want al wat geurt, geurt naar leven:
geboorte orgasme dood en weerom.

Weet je nog toen je wist:
ja, zó is het,
dit zal het altijd zijn
en nooit is het anders
Weet je nog?
Weet je nog wel?
Weet je nog, helder?
Weet je nog:
al wat je ooit hebt meegemaakt?
Sta je nog op scherp,
aan de rand van de afrond
die leven van dood scheidt
en niet vergeten: dit is mijn weg,
en elke weg is een ander?

Doe je nog wat?
Doe je nog maar wat mee?
Laaat je je nog leven,
of heb je allen macht al in handen,
onderweg zijnd: jezelf zijn,
in je eigen leven?
Heb je al gevonden?
Weet je nog,
alles dat pijn deed
alles dat je liever vergeet
al wat je ooit is te binnen geschoten?

Klaar. Duidelijk. Vatstaand. Zeker,
heb je het vast kunnen houden?
Ben je het al vergeten?
Zoek je nog?
En ik, ik babbel maar wat,
vraag me wat af, op het gras,
in het Oosterpark,
tussen slapende Marokannen,
kaartende, dammende bejaarden,
vrijende paartjes
en een jongen, die de eendjes voert...

Ik zit hier maar wat,
ik open het gehoor,
ik ruik het frisse gras
en de geur van de eerste vallende bladeren.

Zacht maar wat,
rust maar wat,
doe maaar wat,
maar doe het:
met overgave,
want er is niets anders
dan wat je nu doet,
niet wat je gisteren deed, telt—
niet wat je morgen doet,
maaar hoe je je nu, hier, voelt
ontroerd, bewogen, of zo maar wat dromend,
van de wind de in de boomtoppen ruist,
een hond die opgesloten, onophoudelijk blaft,
een rustig ogenblik in het Oosterpark,
mijn fiets die omvalt
en een vliegtuig dat een kijk- en geluids-spoor trekt...

En ik, die dit gedict achterlaat,
beschreven blaadjes, waarom het gaat,
wie wil not de wereld veranderen,
als alles verandert?
Wie wil nog zijn buurman te lijf,
als die eend al zó luid kwaakt?



(from Mij best, 1976)

City Gardens (Oosterpark)

Do you still know how fresh the grass was?
Do you still know how the leaves smell,
that fall from the trees, as autumn approaches?
Smell with me: there is a world behind your nose
where the sun, even when it’s raining, provides entry
with the smell of a rose, or blowing a kiss,
because all that smells, smells of life:
Gestation Orgasm Death and around again.

Do you still know when you knew:
yes, that’s how it is,
this will always be
and never has it been
Do you still know?
Do you still know it?
Do you still know, clearly?
Do you still know:
all you have ever experienced?
Are you still finely tuned,
on the edge of the abyss
that separates life from death,
and not to forget: this is my way,
and each way is different?

Are you still doing?
Are you still just playing along?
Do you let yourself be lived,
or have you taken all power in your hands,
being on the way: being yourself,
in your own life?
Have you found it?
Do you still know,
everything that cuased pain
everything you’d rather forget
everything you ever thought of?

Clear. Obvious. Fixed. Certain,
have you been able to hold onto it?
Have you forgotten it already?
Are you still searching?
And me, I just babble on,
question myself, on the grass,
in the City Gardens,
between sleeping Morroccans,
cardplaying, chessplaying old people,
courting ocuples
and a boy, who’s feeding the ducks...

I’m just sitting here,
I’m opening the conversation.
I smell the fresh grass
and the smell of the first falling leaves.

Easing a bit
resting a bit,
doing a bit,
but doing it:
with conviction,
because there is nothing else
but what you’re doing now,
not what you did yesterday, counts—
not what you’ll do tomorrow,
but how you feel her and now,
touched, moved, or just dreaming a bit,
about the wind whispering in the treetops,
a locked-up dog, continuously barking,
a peaceful moment in the City Gardens,
my bike which falls over
and a plane that makes a sight and sound-track...

And me, leaving behind the poem,
written leaves, what it’s all about:
Who still wants to change the world,
if everything is changing?
Who still wants to attack his neighbor
if that duck is already quacking that loud?



Translated from the Dutch by Cornelis Vleeskens


“[I don’t know the words],” “Powerlessness,” “Youth,” “Lightning,” “Karel Appel,” “Unless the Things Start Speaking for Themselves,” “from Topographic,” “Sister,” and “City Gardens (Oosterpark)
Reprinted from And the Eye Became a Rainbow, translated by Cornelis Vleeskens (Melboure: Fling Press, 1990). ©1988, 1989 by Cornelis Vleeskens. Reprinted by permission of the translator.

Antonio Porta [Leo Paolazzi] (Italy) 1935-1989

Antonio Porta [Leo Paolazzi] (Italy) 

Antonio Porta (Leo Paolazzi) was born in Vicenza in 1935, lived most of his life in Milan, and died on a business trip to Rome in 1989.

       In the early 60s he was one of the youngest members of the editorial staff of Il Verri and, with Corrado Costa and Adriano Spatola, also co-edited the poetry magazine Malebolge from 1964-1966.

     In 1961 his poetry was included in the revolutionary Italian anthology, I Novissimi. He participated in the various manifestations of "Gruppo 63," as a linear and visual poet, and was one of the founding editors of Quindici in 1967. For many years he worked as an editor in the publishing industry, with such houses as Bompiani, Sonzogno and Feltrinelli, and was also the literary critic for the daily Il Corriere della Sera and a regular contributor to the weekly book review Tuttolibri.

     In 1979 he edited the well-known anthology Poesia degli anni settanta, and, from its inception, was on the editorial board of the influential cultural tabloid Alfabeta.

     Among his publications as a poet are: La palpebra rovesciata (1960), Aprire (1963), Cara (1969), Metropolis (1971), Week-end (1974), Quanto ho da dirvi (1977), Passi passagi (1980), Melusina (1987) and Il giardiniere contro il becchino (1988).

      As a novelist his published work includes Partita (1967), Il re del magazzino (1978) and Se fosse tutto un tradimento (1981), while as a playwright he published La presa di potere di Ivan lo sciocco (1975) and La stangata persiana (1985).


La palpebra rovesciata (Milan: Azimuth, 1960); Zero: Poesie visive (Milan, 1963); Aprire (Milan: All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro, 1964); I rapporti (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1967); Cara (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1969); Metropolis (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1971); Week-end (Rome: Cooperativa Scrittori, 1974); Quanto ho da dirvi (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1977); Passi passaggi (Milan: Mondadori, 1980); Melusina: Una ballata e un diario (Milan: Crocetti, 1987); Il giardiniere contro il becchino (Milan: Mondadori, 1988). 


As If It Were a Rhythm, trans. by Paul Vangelisti (San Francisco: Red Hill, 1978); Passenger, trans. by Pasquale Verdicchio (Montreal: Guernica, 1986); Invasions and Other Poems, trans. by Paul Vangelisti and others (San Francisco: Red Hill, 1986); Melusine, trans. by Pasquale Verdicchio (Montreal: Guernica, 1992); Metropolis, trans. by Pasquale Verdicchio (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 1999); Kisses, Dreams and Other Infidelities, trans. by Anthony Molino (Las Cruces, New Mexico: Xenos Books, 2004).


Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore with poet Langston Hughes

Marianne Moore [USA]

Born near St. Louis, Missouri, Mariane Moore grew up in the house of her Presbyterian minister grandfather, John Riddle Warner. Moore’s father, Milton, was an engineer-inventor who had suffered a mental breakdown before her birth; he had been committed to a psychiatric hospital, and Moore’s mother left him, returning to her own father’s home in Kirkwood. Moore never met her father.

At age seven, Moore’s mother moved the family to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where she was to teach English at the Metzger Institute, a preparatory school for girls, and it there that Marianne received her education. In 1905, Moore began college at Bryn Mawr, near Philadelphia. Denied entry into the English program, Moore majored in Law, History, and Politics, and minored in Biology—an aspect that would be represented in her knowledge and love of animals, often represented in her poetry. Although she was not in English, she continued to write, becoming the editor of the college literary magazine.

After graduation, Moore returned to Carlisle, where she took a course in education at Carlisle Commercial College, and after which, she taught stenography and typewriting at the Carlisle Indian School. During the same period she worked for women’s suffrage, while beginning to publish poems in various magazines such as Others, Poetry, and The Egoist. When, in 1916, she and her mother moved to Chatham, New Jersey, she began regular trips to New York, developing friendships with H. D. and William Carlos Williams. In 1918 she and her mother moved to New York, and Marianne began working at a branch of the New York Public Library.

Moore’s poetry, particularly, her earliest work, which was collected without her knowledge by H.D. and Bryher in Poems (1921), was highly modernist, embodying methods of collage and bringing together various quotations and typological experimentation. In 1924 she published a longer book, Observations, which won The Dial Award and led to her being appointed, in 1925, as acting editor of that journal.

In 1935 she published Selected Poems, but in this volume readers begin to see the results of her severe revisions and rediting of her works. The poem “Poetry,” for example was cut transformed from a poem of 31 lines, was republished as a three-line statement-like work, and other poems, such as “The Fish” were utterly changed in with regard to typography, spellings and line-breaks. Indeed, her constant reworking of her poetry has led, over the years, to an outcry from several editors and critics (including this one) as over the years she winnowed down the complexity of her early works into brief, easily assimilated writings. Her popularity, however, only increased with the years, and she won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize for her Collected Poems, published in 1951.

In the poems selected below, I have tried to return to the earliest printed versions to demonstrate the nature of the work in its original, more experimental form. Two of these poems did not make it into her own Complete Poems of 1967.


Poems (London: The Egoist Press, 1921); Observations (New York: The Dial Press, 1924); Selected Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1935/London: Faber and Faber, 1955); The Pangolin and Other Verse (London: The Brendin Publishing Company, 1936); What Are Years (New York: Macmillan, 1941); Nevertheless (New York: Macmillan, 1944); Collected Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1951/London: Faber and Faber, 1951); Like a Bulwark (New York: Viking, 1956); O to Be a Dragon (New York: Viking, 1959); The Arctic Ox (London: Faber and Faber, 1964); Tell Me, Tell Me: Granite, Steel, and Other Topics (New York: Viking, 1967); Complete Poems (New York: Macmillan and Viking, 1967/London: Faber and Faber, 1968); Unfinished Poems by Marianne Moore (Philadelpia: The Philip H. and A. S. W. Rosenbach Foundation, 1972)

[Please note: because of the restrictions of blog formating, line breaks in these poems
follow the left margin, while in the originals they appear in several indented formats.]

To a Steam Roller

The illustration
is nothing to you without the application.
You lack half wit. You crush all the particles down
into close conformity, and then walk back and forth on them.

Sparkling chips of rock
are crushed down to the level of the parent block.
Were not '”impersonal judgment in aesthetic
matters, a metaphysical impossibility,” you

might fairly achieve
it. As for butterflies, I can hardly conceive
of one's attending upon you, but to question
the congruence of the complement is vain, if it exists.

(1915/from Poems, 1921)

Black Earth

Openly, yes
With the naturalness
Of the hippopotamus or the alligator
When it combs out on the bank to experience the

Sun, I do these
Things which I do, which please
No one but myself. Now I breathe and now I am
Merged; the blemishes stand up and shout when the

In view was a
Renaissance; shall I say
The contrary? The sediment of the river which
Encrusts my joints, makes me very gray but I am

To it, it may
Remain there; do away
With it and I am myself done away with, for the
Patina of circumstance can but enrich what was

There to begin
With. This elephant skin
Which I inhabit, fibred over like the shell of
This coco-nut, this piece of black glass through
which no light

Can filter—cut
Into checkers by rut
Upon rut of unpreventable experience—
It is a manual for the peanut-tongued and the

Hairy toed. Black
But beautiful, my back
Is full of the history of power. Of power?
Is power and what is not? My soul shall

Be cut into
By a wooden spear; though-
Out childhood to the present time, the unity of
Life and death has been expressed by the circum

Described by my
Trunk; nevertheless, I
Perceive feats of strength to be inexplicable after
All; and I am on my guard; external poise, it

Has its centre
Well nurtured—we know
Where—in pride, but spiritual poise, it has its
centre where?
My ears are sensitized to more than the sound of

The wind. I see
And I hear, unlike the
Wandlike body of which one hears so much, which
was made
To see and not to see; to hear and not to hear,

That tree trunk without
Roots, accustomed to shout
Its own thoughts to itself like a shell, maintained
By who knows what strange pressure of the at-
mosphere; that

Brother to the coral
Plant, absorbed into which, the equable sapphire
Becomes a nebulous green. The I of each is to

The I of each,
A kind of fretful speech
Which sets a limit on itself; the elephant is?
Black earth preceded by a tendril? It is to that

The above formation,
Translucent like the atmosphere—a cortex
That on which darts cannot strike decisively the

Time, a substance
Needful as an instance
Of the indestructibility of matter; it
Has looked at the electricity and at the earth-

Quake and is still
Here; the name means thick. Will
Depth be depth, thick skin to be thick, to one who
can see no
Beautiful element of unreason under it?

(1918/from Poems, 1921)

The Fish

through black jade.
Of the crow blue mussel shells, one
adjusting the ash heaps;
opening and shutting itself like

injured fan.
The barnacles which encrust the
of the wave, cannot hide
there; for the submerged shafts of the

split like spun
glass, move themselves with spotlight swift-
into the crevices—
in and out, illuminating

turquoise sea
of bodies. The water drives a
of iron into the edge
of the cliff, whereupon the stars

rice grains, ink
bespattered jelly-fish, crabs like
lilies and submarine
toadstools, slide each on the other.

marks of abuse are present on
defiant edifice—
all the physical features of

of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns
hatchet strokes, these things stand
out on it; the chasm side is

evidence has proved that it can
on what can not revive
its youth. The sea grows old in it.

(1918/from Poems, 1921)

Dock Rats

There are human beings who seem to regard the place
as craftily as we do—who seem to feel that it is a
good place to come home to. On what river;
wide—twinkling like a chopped sea under some
of the finest shipping in the

world; the square-rigged four-master, the liner, the
battleship like the two-thirds submerged section of
an iceberg; the tug—strong-moving thing, dip-
ping and pushing, the bell striking as it comes; the
steam yacht, lying like a new made arrow on the

stream; the ferry-boat—a head assigned, one to
each compartment, making a row of chessmen set
for play. When the wind is from the east, the
smell is of apples; of hay, the aroma increased and
decreased suddenly as the wind changes;

of rope; of mountain leaves for florists. When it is
from the west, it is an elixir. There is oc-
casionally a parakeet
arrived from Brazil, clasping and clawing; or a
monkey—tail and feet in readiness for an over-

ture. All palms and tail; how delightful! There is
the sea, moving the bulkhead with its horse
strength; and the multiplicity of rudders and pro-
pellors; the signals, shrill, questioning, per-
emptory, diverse; the wharf cats and the barge

is easy to overestimate the value of such things.
One does not live in such a place from motives of
expediency but because to one who has been ac-
customed to it, shipping is the most congenial
thing in the world.

(printed in Others, 1920)


I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are
useful; when they became so derivative as to become unintelligible, the
same thing may be said for all of us—that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand. The bat
holding on upside down or in quest of some-
thing to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse, that feels a flea,
the base-
ball fan, the statistician—case after case
could be cited did
one wish it; not it is valid
to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets the result is not poetry,
nor tell the autocrats among use can be
“literalists of
the imagination:—above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on one hand, in defiance of their opinion—
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness, and
that which is on the other hand,
genuine, then you are interested in poetry.

(1919/from Poems, 1921)

Stephen Crane

Crane (in white suit) as a reporter in the American attack of Puerto Rico

Stephen Crane [USA]

Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1871, Stephen Crane was the fourteenth child of Reverend Jonathan Crane. Both of his parents were highly religious leaders in the Methodist Church, and over the years one of Crane’s most noted traits was his rebellion against his religious upbringing.
As a teenager he worked at a news agency run by his brother, and later left for college with the goal of becoming a reporter. He published his first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, in a private printing and under a pseudonym in 1893. The novel attracted the attention of critics such as William Dean Howells and Hamlin Garland, who later championed his novel The Red Badge of Courage, published in 1895.

The same year, Crane published his first book of poetry, The Black Riders and Other Lines, again privately printed. The typography of this book was unusual, in that the poems appeared entirely in capital letters without titles or punctuation. Reviewers of the time—and some later critics—heaped abuse on his poetry, describing them as “garbage,” “rot,” and “lunatic.” But the success of his novel of the same year, along with the reaction, made him internationally famous.

Personally, Crane claimed to like his poetry much better than The Red Badge of Courage. Over the next years, Crane devoted himself to journalism and wrote numerous short stories, including the brilliant tale, “The Open Boat.” His work as a reporter during the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, however, led to ill health, and in 1899 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The same year he moved with his common-law wife, Cora Taylor, to an unheated English manor-house outside of Rye. Most of his time he spent feverously writing, but Crane did develop literary friendships with figures such as Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford and H. G. Wells. While in England, he published his second collection of poetry, War Is Kind. His tuberculosis, however, had worsened, and in 1900, at the age of 28, he died in a German sanatorium.


The Black Riders and Other Lines (Boston: Copeland and Day, 1895); War Is Kind (New York: F. A. Stokes, 1899); Collected Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1930).

From The Black Riders










(from Black Riders and Other Lines, 1895)

from War Is Kind


Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
and the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die
The unexplained glory flies above them
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom———
A field where a thousand corpses lie.

Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Swift, blazing flag of the regiment
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die
Point for them the virtue of slaughter
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.

Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

(from War Is Kind, 1899)


I explain the silvered passing of a ship at night,
The sweep of each sad lost wave,
The dwindling boom of the steel ting’s striving,
The little cry of a man to a man,
A shadow falling across the greyer night,
And the sinking of the small star;
Then the waste, the far waste of waters,
And the soft lashing of black waves
For long and in loneliness.

Remember, thou, O ship of love,
Thou leavest a far waste of waters,
And the soft lashing of black waves
For long and in loneliness.

(from War Is Kind, 1899)


On the desert
A silence from the moon’s deepest valley.
Fire rays fall athwart the robes
Of hooded men, squat and dumb.
Before them, a woman
Moves to the blowing of shrill whistles
And distant thunder of drums,
While mystic things, sinuous, dull with terrible color,
Sleepily fondle her body
Or move at her will, swishing stealthily over the sand.
The snakes whisper softly;
The whispering, whispering snakes,
Dreaming and swaying and staring,
But always whispering, softly whispering.
The wind streams from the lone reaches
Of Arabia, solemn with night,
And the wild fire makes shimmer of blood
Over the robes of the hooded men
Squat and dumb.
Bands of moving bronze, emerald, yellow,
Circle the throat and the arms of her,
And over the sands serpents move warily
Slow, menacing and submissive,
Swinging to the whistle and drums,
The whispering, whispering snakes,
Dreaming and swaying and staring,
But always whispering, softly whispering.
The dignity of the accursed;
The glory of slavery, despair, death,
Is in the dance of the whispering snakes.

(from War Is Kind, 1899)


A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
“A sense of obligation.”

(from War Is Kind, 1899)

A man adrift on a slim spar

A man adrift on a slim spar
A horizon smaller than the rim of a bottle
Tented waves rearing lashy dark points
The near whine of froth in circles.

God is cold.

The incessant raise and swing of the sea
And growl after growl of crest
The sinkings, green, seething, endless
The upheaval half-completed
God is cold.

The seas are in the hollow of The Hand;
Oceans may be turned to a spray
Raining down through the stars
Because of a gesture of pit toward a babe.
Oceans may become grey ashes,
Die with a long moan and a roar
Amid the tumult of the fishes
And the cries of the ships,
Because The Hand beckons the mice.

The horizon smaller than a doomed assassin’s cap,
Inky, surging tumults
A reeling, drunken sky and no sky
A pale hand sliding from a polished spar.

God is cold.

The puff of a coat imprisoning air.
A face kissing the water-death
A weary slow sway of a lost hand
And the sea, the moving sea, the sea.

God is cold.

(from Collected Poems, 1930)

Laura (Riding) Jackson

Laura (Riding) Jackson [USA]

Laura Riding was born in New York City in 1901, the daughter of an immigrant from Austria-Hungary and a mother who had lost her health from years of work in sweatshop labor. Her father, a socialist and labor organizer, treated his daughter almost as a peer, involving her in lively debates on politics and other issues. In 1918, after winning three scholarships, began college at Cornell University. There she encountered the history instructor, Louis Gottschalk, who she married two years later.

After several years of traveling from college to college for her husband’s career, and being unable to finish her own education, Riding divorced Gottshalk. She had, however, begun to write her own work, submitting poems to The Fugitive, a magazine dedicated to the works of a conservative group of Southern poets, Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, and Robert Penn Warren, among them. They published her work in several issues of the magazine, embracing her for her irony and formal constructions. But by 1925 she had already moved away from their viewpoints, herself championing a poetry that embraced ideas of the poet as prophet (see “A Prophecy or a Plea”). Disgusted with American culture, and the New York literary world, she sailed to England in 1926, joining the British poet Robert Graves and his wife Nancy Nicholson.
She soon began Graves’s lover and collaborator, for fourteen years working closely with him on numerous projects of prose, poetry and fiction. He helped her to publish her first collection of poetry The Close Chaplet. She and Graves co-wrote A Survey of Modernist Poetry in 1927, and from 1935 to 1938 they edited Epilogue, a journal of textual analysis that would influence critics of the New Criticism. In 1927 she published her second collection, Voltaire: A Biographical Fantasy. During this period she also wrote other prose works such as Contemporaries and Snobs and works of fiction and prose combined, Anarchism is not Enough. A third book of poetry, Love as Death, Death as Death appeared in 1928. Sales of her books were limited, and Riding began to look beyond Graves to find intellectual stimulation. She helped to edit transition and, after discovering the work of Gertrude Stein, published in 1930 three further books, Poems: A Joking Word, Twenty Poems Less, and Though Gently, writing influenced in part by the great American experimentalist.

The same year she published another work of fiction, Experts Are Puzzled. She also drew the Irish poet Geoffrey Phibbs into the Graves circle, falling in love with him. When he rejected her, she leaped from a window, breaking her spine. Her demands upon her lovers, accordingly became almost legendary. A fictional account of her attempt a suicide, 14A: A Novel Told in Dramatic Form was published in 1934, and the following year she published her major collection of tales, Progress of Stories. The novel, A Trojan Ending, appeared in 1937 and her remarkable work, Lives of Wives appeared two years later.

Throughout much of the early 1930s, Graves and Riding had lived on Mallorca, but when the Fascists came to power, they returned to England, moving on to Switzerland and Britanny. In April 1939, the couple visited friends in the United States, Schuyler Brickerhoff Jackson and his wife. While Graves attempted to sexual engage the wife the former poetry editor of Time magazine, Riding appropriated Jackson himself. Ultimately, they married and, in 1943, moved to Florida, where they became involved with citrus farming. During this later period Riding ceased to write poetry, but worked instead, with her husband, on A Dictionary of Related Meanings. They also worked together on a large philosophical work, Rational Meaning: A New Foundation for the Definition of Words, which she completed six years after Jackson’s death in 1974.
In 1971 she was awarded the Martk Rothko Appreciation Award, and in 1973 a Guggenheim fellowship. In 1991, the year of her death, she received Yale University’s Bollingen Prize for poetry.


The Close Chaplet (London: Hogarth Press, 1926/New York: Adelphi, 1926); Love as Death, Death as Death (London: Seizin Press, 1928); Poems: A Joking Word (London: Jonathan Cape, 1930); Though Gently (Deyá, Majorca: Seizin Press, 1930); Twenty Poems Less (Paris: Hours Press, 1930); Laura and Francisca ((Deyá, Majorca: Seizin Press, 1931); The Life of the Dead (London: Arthur Barker, 1933); Poet: A Lying Word (London: Arthur Brker, 1933); Americans (Los Angeles: Primavera, 1934); Collected Poems (London: Cassell, 1938/New York: Random House, 1938); Selected Poems: In Five Sets (London: Faber and Faber, 1970/New York: W. W. Norton, 1973/reprinted by New York: Persea Books, 1993); The Poems of Laura Riding: A New Edition of the 1938 Collection (Manchester, England: Carcanet/New York: Persea Books, 1980); First Awakenings: The Early Poems of Laura Riding (Manchester, England: Carcanet/New York: Persea Books, 1992); A Selection of the Poems of Laura Riding (Manchester, England/Carcanet, 1994/New York: Persea Books, 1996); The Poems of Laura Riding: A Newly Revised Edition of the 1938/1980 Collection (New York: Persea Books, 2001)

Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg [1878-1967]

Carl Sandburg was born, one of seven children of Swedish immigrants, in Galesburg, Illinois on January 6th, 1878. His father, August, had helped to build the first cross-continental railroad. But life in the Sandburg home was often difficult, with the two youngest sons dying of diphtheria in 1892.

Leaving school at the age of thirteen, Carl went to work at various odd jobs to help in the support of his family. At eighteen, with his father’s railroad pass, he traveled to Chicago, and in 1897 traveled as a hobo for three and a half months through much of the Midwest, working on farms, steamboats and railroads. The following year he volunteered for service in the Spanish-American war, serving in Puerto Rico. Free tuition to soldiers allowed him, after the war, to attend Lombard College in his hometown.

At Lombard, Sandburg was a student of the economist and poet, Philip Green Wright, who encouraged the young Carl to write and published his first small books on his Asgard Press, Incidentals, The Plaint of a Rose, and Joseffy. The first two books represent the young Sandburg as a poet of no great talent, influenced by various writers of the time, including Emerson and Whitman.

With his idealist sentiments, Sandburg joined the Social Democratic party in Wisconsin in 1907, remaining in the party until 1912. During this period the young poet published occasional poems, supporting himself, once again, through various jobs, including as salesman for Underwood stereopticon equipment. In 1908 he married Lilian Steichen, the sister of American photographer Edward Steichen, and her and her brother’s influences, along with his former teacher Wright, were recognized by Sandburg as the most important of his life.

During the years of 1910 through 1912, the Sandburgs lived in Milwaukee, where the poet helped the Milwaukee Socialists’ win an election. At the age of 32, Sandburg was appointed secretary to Emil Sseidel, Milwaukee’s Socialist mayor. In 1911, Carl left his position to write for the Social Democratic Herald, and the following year, the family moved to Chicago, where he joined the staff of the Socialist newspaper, the Chicago Evening News. When that paper closed, he found work writing for various periodicals owned by W. E. Scripps.

Finding places to publish his poetry, however, eluded him until 1914, when Harriet Monroe’s journal Poetry published six of his poems. That publication brought him into contact with the Chicago literary circle, which included Edgar Lee Masters, Theodore Dreiser, Vachel Lindsay, Floyd Dell and others. Ezra Pound, the journal’s foreign correspondent, also took note of Sandburg’s contributions. Dreiser and Masters encouraged Sandburg to put together a book, and presented it to Alfred Harcourt, editor at Henry Holt and Company, which published the book, Chicago Poems, in 1916.

Cornhuskers of the following year was a celebration of agrarian life, but also contained a number of Sandburg’s war poems, which gained him further attention. By the time the book was published, however, Sandburg was in Sweden for a visit, continuing on in Europe as Eastern European correspondent for the Newspaper Enterprise Association. Returning to the United States, he went to work for the Chicago Daily News, writing on the city’s racial tensions, which went on to influence his views of the working man and woman in his next poetry publication, Smoke and Steel of 1920, which led to him to win the Poetry Society of America Award in 1921.

Despite the epilepsy plaguing his wife, Sandburg continued during this period writing as a journalist and working on his short fables composed for his children, The Rootabaga Stories, the first volume of which was published in 1922. His fourth volume of poetry, Slabs of the Sunburnt West, was published the same year to highly mixed reviews.

Soon after Sandburg began his major biographical venture, immersing himself in the life of his subject, Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years was published in two volumes in 1926, and the second installment, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, was published in four volumes in 1939. For the second volume, Sandburg was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

During the latter years of the 1920s and into the 1930s, he occasionally produced volumes of poetry—Good Morning, America (1928) and The People, Yes (1936), but his focus remained nonfiction works, including a study of his brother-in-law, Steichen, The Photographer, on Mary Lincoln, and other subjects. During this same period, Sandburg developed a close friendship with poet Archibald MacLeish, and the men began a dialogue about the poet and his social roles. Sandburg’s Complete Poems were published in 1953, and throughout the 1950s he worked also on his autobiography. His last book of poetry was Honey and Salt of 1963. He died in Flat Rock, North Carolina at the age of eighty-nine.


Incidentals (Galesburg, Illinois: Asgard Press, 1907); The Plaint of a Rose (Galesburg, Illinois: Asgard Press, 1908); Chicago Poems (New York: Holt, 1916); Cornhuskers (New York: Holt, 1918); Smoke and Steel (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Howe, 1920); Slabs of the Sunburnt West (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1922); Selected Poems, edited by Rebecca West (London: Cape, 1926; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1926); Good Morning, America (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1928); The People, Yes (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1936); Complete Poems (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1950; revised and expanded, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970); Harvest Poems, 1910-1960 (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960); Honey and Salt (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963).


Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:
They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen
your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true
I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces
of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer
at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud
to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job,
here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities:
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage
pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse,
and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laugher of Youth, half-naked,
sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

(from Chicago Poems, 1916)

For a reading of Sandburg's poem "Chicago" by actor Vincent Price, click below:

For a reading by Carl Sandburg of his poem Grass, click belowhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xueB0_ikAI


Becker sat in a chair and they killed him; I don’t care.
Becker sat in a chair talking to God about his immortal soul
and calling, “Jesus, save my soul”; I don’t care.
Becker hired pimps and dope-fiends to shoot a squealing gambler
at noon on a crowded street; I don’t care.
Becker told the pimps and dope-fiends he’d keep the coopers
pinching them for croaking Rosenthal; I don’t care.

A lot of girls driven onto the night streets, driven into saloon
back rooms, driven to hangouts of thieves,
Tired of the coin paid ‘em in stores and factories, peddled
their bodies and legs and breasts to men for a dollar
and two dollars
And some of them died of the syph, some of them turned dips
and boosters, some of them took to coke and whiskey
and went bugs—
And Becker, well, he went fifty-fifty with pimps, dicks,
landlords and politicians—God-damn Becker and all higher-ups
and go-betweens to wash blood off blood-money before it
gets to them.

(from Chicago Poems, 1916)


Blossoms of babies
Blinking their stories
Come soft
On the dusk and the babble;
Little red gamblers,
Handfuls that slept in the dust.

Summers of rain,
Winters of drift,
Tell off the years;
And they go back
Who came soft—
Back to the sod,
To silence and dust;
Gray gamblers,
Handfuls again.

(from Cornhuskers, 1918)

Cool Tombs

When Abraham Lincoln was shoveled into the tombs, he forgot
the copperheads and the assassin…in the dust, in the cool tombs.

When Ulysses Grant lost all thought of con men and Wall Street,
cash and collateral turned ashes…in the dust, in the cool tombs.

Pocahontas’ body, lovely as a poplar, sweet as a red haw in November
or a pawpaw in May, did she wonder? does she remember?
…in the dust, in the cool tombs?

Take any streetful of people buying clothes and groceries, cheering
a hero or throwing confetti and blowing tin horns…tell me if
the lovers are losers…tell me if any get more than the lovers
…in the dust…in the cool tombs.

(from Cornhuskers, 1918)

April 26, 2009

Martin Nakell

Martin Nakell [USA]

Martin Nakell was born, the son of a CP (Certified Public Accountant), in Alpena, Michigan—a small town on the shores of Lake Huron. His family moved to Southern California when he was 15, and he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1971 from the California State University, Northridge, near Los Angeles. He received his M.A. in Creative Writing in 1974 from California State University in San Francisco and his Doctor of Arts from the State University of New York at Albany in 1983. Upon graduating from Albany, Nakell became a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Chapman University in Orange, California, where he continues today.

Nakell begin writing in the 1960s, publishing in numerous journals, but was dissatisfied with his own writing until much later. His first book, The Myth of Creation, was published by Parentheses Writing Series in 1993. In 1997 Sun and Moon Press published his short fiction, The Library of Thomas Rivka, and in 2001 Green Integer/EL-E-PHANT books published his long novel, Two Fields That Face and Mirror Each Other, to literary acclaim. Other works of fiction include Settlement (2008), Monk (2009), and The Lord of Silence (2016).

Nakell’s work is philosophically-based and ruminative in its structures. Often, his poems flow in prose-poetry forms, and commonly, his poems function in a series of sequential writings that consider abstract issues such as “sequence,” “dialogue” and other such concerns.

In Los Angeles, where he lives, Nakell is also known for organizing poetry events and for the publications, particularly that of Leland Hickman, of his Jahbone Press. He has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Blue Mountain Center, and from Writers and Books in Rochester, New York. He has also received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Chapman University, and the University of California.


The Myth of Creation (San Diego: Parentheses Writing Series, 1993); Form (New York: Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2004); Goings (Margin-to-Margin Press, 2000); Tautological Eye (New York: Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2011); The Desert Poems of Southern California (New York: Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2014); IS (Litfest Press, 2015); Unnamed: The Emotions (Jaded Ibis Press, 2016)


two very decent gentlemen
in a sun chessboard
object born of a mind
first one sighs
the other sighs
a chessboard in a sun struggles
each has a thought which he struggles with
and of course wins, conquers
or that they are on the same side, team,
work together for the sake of

in the same sun molecules
on a salt body of water
salt as
some ubiquitous.

notion or idea holds them together
or something much stronger in a good life
imagined by a greek in a strong no a good chess

but these two are italians
no, actually puerto ricans, shopkeepers
with good shops so there’s no going home

the chessboard of course has long since resolved its
fingers curl over the absence of oars and water, water in
each country

some ubiquitous
but these two russian gentlemen
had never known such sunlight quite like this though
you’d think molecules
and never imagined such pleasures
as portable as

the molecular structure of the act of change is a

sunlight falling through the translucent chessboard
leaving the hands of the gentlemen placed upon the
dissolving notion,
historically, of the city-state, of the country-state
of the state

except that one yawns, a deficit of oxygen
and the dictatorship of boredom
and the return of a thought not to be conquered:


I tried to imagine her thoughts. I imagined her
thoughts. I crossed
that imperial boundary among the bombardments,
of a real world. I came home with my bounty: the
absence of an ideal self.
ever present but not omniscient: the water.
omniscient but absent: an adam and an eve, or certain
figures and a motif, recurrent throughout musics

The park was like a garden in an old country. We played chess there
each afternoon meeting each other. When the war came we persisted,
although, of course, then we had to stay inside. My companion was a
brilliant interior carpenter who had built himself an excellent library, and
so we played chez toi. I love it when I know even one phrase from another
language, as though language were something ubiquitous, falling
from a sky like rainwater into my old mouth. He is more intelligent than I,
who am only a shopkeeper. Though I read through some of his books, now
that I’m alone, and I beat him often at chess not because I’m more bold,
and actually I don’t know why. Since we left Lebanon, a Paris of the Middle
East older than Paris if you want to know

to have been a seaman
to have sat at the oars of the longboat
to have seen the waters evaporate
to have continued, at your oar
to have looked around
to have had the idea to call some thing by its name
to have known that you were one of the symbols

(from The Myth of Creation, 1993)

Questions from the Gates

in that one is return
two is familiarity

Where were you today?

At the gates.

Did you go in?



Yes, some.

What were they talking about
at the gates today?

The weather. And waiting.

Where were their hands?

In their pockets.

Where were their eyes?

In their hands.

What did you see?

Cumulus clouds, though the sky
was temptingly pale, transparent blue
in the open spaces between

What else did you see?

I saw the gates, those iron
vertical bars open
and close.

Did they stay open for long?

I don’t think
they were open at all.

But you said you went in?

I thought I went in; there were
times I thought I was on
the other side, and someone
kept calling me to come out.


Someone with eyes
like my own: startled, that is,
brown eyes.

Were they in his hands
in his pockets?

No. He kept looking at me.
He kept saying to me,
come bout before those gates

Why didn’t you stay?

I don’t know. Perhaps I’m a coward.

What was happening inside
the gates?

Many things. A man…


…legs, he was digging for something
inside his legs.

Did you go in far?

Yes, I went in
very far.

Did you see me there?

You were there!

Yes, with my eyes
in my hands, holding them up
so they could see.

Were you actually inside the gates?

Yes. Some.

Did you put your eyes
back in your pockets
like the rest of them?

No. I put them back
where eyes come from.


Because I had to come back here
to see you, to talk to you
about things.

Would you go back?

You mean inside those gates, where we both have been?

Yes. Back, inside.

What gates?

(from Form, 2004)

Sequence of Forms Six

is idea
plus essence or

So rich in that part of that city.
Idleness to approximate sensual
sloth’s seaside argument.

Two sparrows in a pepper tree,
Hawk-eyed, hung light-footed, hungriness,
indulge in the dearth of indifference.

Aesthetic’s muscular labor
The voice of that vendor: Potatoes!

Or that most days after work they come home,
then walk by the uneven shore
so that much later they might sleep well
under open windows.
Or if not, she would say,
Bring me down into sleep with you,
and he would say,
abandon to other shapes, insolid also.

That corruption causes individual consequence.
The exercise even of small power.
It’s not an aphrodisiac,
but arises from a mark of ordinary fear, causes a sense of safety.

Cause and effect, cause and effect, cause, and effect.
Light-footed the sparrows’ fine claws find grooves in the bark

Or the shape of an aesthetic labor taking shape

(from Form, 2004)


Reprinted from The Myth of Creation (San Diego: Parentheses Writing Series, 1993). Copyright ©1993 by Martin Nakell. Reprinted by permission of the author.

“Questions from the Gates,” and “Sequence of Forms Six”
Reprinted from Form (New York: Spuytin Dyvil Press, 2004). Copyright ©2004 by Martin Nakell. Reprinted by permission of the author.