July 31, 2011

Hans Faverey (b. Surinam / Netherlands) 1933-1990

Hans Faverey (b. Surinam / Netherlands)



Born in Paramaribo, Surinam on September 14, 1933, Hans Faverey moved to Amsterdam and a child and lived there until his death in 1990.

     For most of his life Faverey worked as a clinical psychologist, but in his free time, when not writing poetry, Faverey played the harpsichord, composing music for it as well. He also lectured at the psychology department of the Universiteit Leiden.

     In 1953, while traveling on the Croatian coast, he met his wife-to-be, the Croatian poet and literary scholar, Lela Zečković.

     His first published book was Gedicten of 1968, for which he received the Amsterdam Poetry Award, followed by Gedicten 2 four years later. Faverey's achievement was truly realized in his third book, Chrysanten, roeirs (Chrysanthemums, Rowers) published in 1977, which won the prestigious Jan Campert Award and put his works, in the minds of some Dutch readers, in the same league with Gerrit Kouwenaar and Lucebert, poets of the "Fiftiers" generation who influenced Faverey's work.

     Eight major books followed, creating what critics and readers often spoken of as a intense and densely constructed series of musical and sometimes hermetic poems. His fame grew, nonetheless, and he is now recognized as one of the major contemporary Dutch poets.

     Faverey was awarded the Constantijn Huygens Prize of his entire oeuvre the year of his death.




Gedicten (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1968); Gedichten 2 (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1972); Chrysanten, roeiers (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1977); Lichtva (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1978); Gedichten (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1980); Zijden Kettingen (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1983); Hinderlijke goden (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1985; Tegen het vergeten (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1988); Het ontbrokene (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1990); Verzamelde gedichten (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1993); Springvossen (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 2000)




Against the Forgetting: Selected Poems, trans. by Francis R. Jones (London: Anvil Press, 1994); Against the Forgetting: Selected Poems, trans. and updated by Francis R. Jones (New York: New Directions, 2004)


For a poem, "Exorcism," click below:



For a tape on the life of the poet in Dutch, click below:


July 30, 2011

Jan Erik Vold (Norway) 1939

Jan Erik Vold (Norway)


Born in Oslo, during the German Occupation, on October 18, 1939, Jan Erik Vold studied language and literature at the University of Oslo and the University of California, Santa Barbara in the 1960s.

     His first book of poetry, mellom speil og speil (between the mirror and mirrors) of 1965 brought a new energy through his focus on everyday language to Norwegian poetry, and a break from what he described as the lyric tendency in Norway "to illustrate the world through beautiful images and gentle rhythms." His anti-sentimental work also pulled away from the depiction of the inner world the emphasis on the first person. Vold became a central figure in the so-called "Profile" group, named for the journal Profil.

     Highly influenced by jazz and contemporary American writing, Vold has published over 22 collections of poetry as well as fictions, essays, and journalism. Several of his poems have been recorded with jazz musicians such as Chet Baker, Red Mitchell, Nisse Sandström and Egil Kapstad.

     In Norway, Vold is also well known for his community involvement, particularly with regard to skiing and skating, particularly expressed in his collection of poetry, Spor, snø (Track, snow) of 1970.

     The poet has received numerous poetry awards Gyldendalprisen, The Nordic Council of Literature Prize, the Brage Prize, the Cultural Council Prize, and the Tarjei Vesaas debut award.

     He has also translated American poets, including William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley, and Frank O'Hara, along with translations of Samuel Beckett.

     Vold currently lives in Stockholm.


mellom speil og spiel (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1965); HEKT (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1966); blakket (Oslo: Komment Forlag, 1966); Svingstang (private printing of 700 copies); Mor Godhjertas glade versjon. Ja (Oslo: Glydendal, 1968); Bo på Briskeby blues (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1969); kykelipi (Oslo: Glydendal, 1969); Spor, snø (1970); Bok 8: LIV (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1970); S (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1978); sirken sirkel: boken om prins Adrians reise (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1979); Sorgen. Sangen. Veien (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1987); En som het Abel Ek (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1988); Elg (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1989); IKKE: skillingstrykk fra nittitallet (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1993); En sirkel is (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1993); Kalenderdikt (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1995); Ikke [illustrated by Steffen Kverneland] (Oslo: Samlaget, 1997); I vektens tegn: 777 dikt (Oslo: Gyldendal, 2000); Tolv meditasjoner/Twelve Meditations [in Norwegian and English] (Oslo: Gyldendal, 2002); Diktet minner om vrden (Oslo: Komment Forlag, 2003/enlarged edition, Oslo: Gyldendal, 2004); Drømmemakeren sa (Oslo: Gyldendal, 2004); Huset er hvitt: dikt 1970-1978 (Oslo: Gyldendal, 2005); En som ser: dikt 1965-1966 (Oslo: Gyldendal, 2005);  Store hvite bok å se (Oslo: Gyldendal, 2011)


Tolv meditasjoner/Twelve Meditations [in Norwegian and English] (Oslo: Gyldendal, 2002)

To read one of Vold's "Twelve Meditations," click below:



For a performance of his sung poem "Balladen om reven og råken," click below:



Paal Brekke 

Profil Group (Norway) 

In the mid 1960s, Norway's writers became increasingly politically conscious, and were determined to bring Norwegian literature abreast of the rest of European literature. Profil would eventually become the most notable literary magazine. 
      To achieve their goals of radicalizing the writing of Norway, the writers of this journal rebelled against the traditional psychological fiction and poetry. The question of the true identify for the modern state was core. Dag Solstad contributed significantly to this late 60-figures modernism through his articles, essays and literary works. 
      Although poetry had already begun exhibiting a modernist style through the 1950's and early 60s, young poets sought a break with the traditionalists who still wrote in fixed stanza forms. The younger poets targeted replacing the 50s-style symbolism, and Jan Erik Vold was at the forefront of this insurgency. 
     Profil poetry introduced a new simplicity, concretism, and use of everyday language. Paal Brekke was particularly noted for promoting modern European poetry, both as poet and critic. He argued for a renewal of Norwegian poetry, and spread knowledge of foreign literature through translations of English modernist writers like T.S.Eliot. 
     In the mid 1950s Brekke participated in the debate on lyrical form, and opposed André Bjerke and Arnulf Øverland in the so-called Glossolalia debate. 
     Among the established lyrists, Olav H. Hauge transitioned to modernistic and concretist poetry and enjoyed a renaissance, especially with his collection entitled Dropar in austavind, which inspired other, younger Norwegian poets, such as Vold. 
      After a short period the Profil group went separate routes, as authors such as Dag Solstad, Espen Haavardsholm, and Tor Obrestad turned to the newly formed party Workers' Communist Party (Arbeidernes kommunistparti or AKP), and become involved in formulating a new political program that based on the view that literature should serve the working people and their uprising against capitalism. Arild Asnes Solstad's 1970 is a key novel to understanding the desire of the modern intellectual to connect with something larger and more realistic – the working people and a cause.  

--Douglas Messerli

July 26, 2011

Christian Morgenstern (Germany) 1871-1914

Christian Morgenstern (Germany)


Christian Otto Josef Wolfgang Morgenstern, born on May 6, 1871 in Munich, spent his early schooling at the "humanistische Gymnasium" in Breslau, later studying law and economics at the Breslau University. Yet he chose not to enter in either career, but worked first as a journalist in Berlin, traveling extensively to other parts of Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, in part to find relief for his tuberculosis.

     Although his health was never restored, he did meet some of the foremost literary and philosophical figures of the day.

     Most of his short life was devoted to writing, composing his most famous collection, Galgenlieder (Gallows Songs) in 1905. Humorous and witty works, these poems grew very popular, the author himself living to see fourteen editions published. In the tradition of Lewis Carroll, and Edward Lear, Morgenstern's works satirized scholarly writing through intense wordplay and nonsense.

     His humorous songs were followed with the publication of Palmström in 1910. Three volumes Palma Kunkel (1916), Der Gingganz (1919), and Alle Galgenlieder (1932), were published posthumously. Although the poems are notorious difficult to translated, several translations of Gallows Songs have appeared in English and numerous other languages.


In Phanta's Schloss : Ein Cyklus humoristisch-phantastischer Dichtungen (Berlin: Schuster und Loeffler, 1897); Galgenlieder (Berlin: B. Cassirer, 1905); Galgenlieder, nebst dem Gingganz (Berlin: B. Cassirer, 1909); Der Gingganz (Berlin: B. Cassirer, 1919); Palmström (Berlin: B. Cassirer, 1920); Auf vielen Wegen (Munich: R. Piper, 1921); Palma Kunkel (Berlin: B. Cassirer, 1922); Einkehr (Munich: R. Piper, 1922); Melancholie (Berlin: B. Cassirer, 1928) 


Galgenlieder, trans. by Max Knight (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963); Gallows Songs (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967); The Great Lalula and Other Nonsense Rhymes (New York: Putnam, 1969); Gallows Songs: Galgenlieder (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1970); The Daynight Lamp, and Other Poems (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973); Songs from the Gallows (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1993)

For a discussion of the sound values in one of Morgenstern's poems, click here:



For a video performance of some of Morgenstern's "lyrics" in German, click below:



Das grosse Lalulā


Kroklokwafzi? Semeememi!


Bifzi, bafzi; hulalemi:

quasti basti bo...

Lalu, lalu, lalu, lalu la!


Hontraruru miromente

zasku zes rü rü?

Entepente, leiolente

klekwapufzi lü

lalu lalu lalu lalula!


Simarar kos malzipempu

silzuzandkundkrei (;) !

Marjomar dos: Quempu Lempu

Siri Suri Sei []!

Lalu lalu lalu lalu la!



The Two Donkeys


A gloomy donkey, tir-d of life

one day addressed his wedded wife:


"I am so dumb, you are so dumb,

let's go and die together, come!"


But as befalls, time and again,

they lived on happily, the twain.


--Translated from the German by Max Knight


(from Galgenlieder, 1905)


The Twelve Nix


The Twelve Nix raises up his hand

and midnight strikes throughout the land.


The gaping pond in silence harks;

the canyon canine softly barks.


The bittern rises from its bog;

out of his swampland peers the frog.


The snail perks up within his house,

and likewise the potato mouse.


The will o' wisp has stopped its jig

and rests upon a broken twig.


Sophia dreams, the hangman's wench:

The moonsheep pleads before the bench.


The gallows gang sways up and down;

an infant cries far off in town.


Two moles, just married, turn about

and kiss each other on the snout.


While deep within the forest's mist

a spiteful night ghoul shakes his fist


because a hiker, late on tour,

did not get lost in pond and moor.


The Raven Ralph calls out in fear;

"The end is near, the end is near!"


The Twelve Nix, now, puts down his hand

and sleep again enshrouds the land.


--Translated from the German by Karl F. Ross


(from Galgenlieder, 1905)

July 11, 2011

IMAGISM (Imagisme)

IMAGISM (Imagisme)

The Imagist movement of American and British poetry began in 1912, with a statement by Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), Richard Aldington, R. S. Flint, and T. E. Hulme. The first manifesto contained six simple assertions, but the overall might be summed up by describing it as a call for clarity of expression and the use of precise visual images. Along with that, the poets argued for a new "cadence" that incorporated new ideas.

These statements were in reaction to Victorian and lingering Romantic styles of American and British poetry still heavily in use the second decade of the 20th century.

The manifesto statements were:

1. To use the language of common speech, but employ the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word.

2. We believe that the individuality of a poet may often be better expressed in free verse than in conventional forms. In poetry, a new cadence means a new idea.

3. Absolute freedom in the choice of subject.

4. To present an image. We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly, and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. it is for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of his art.

5. To produce a poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.

6. Finally, most of us believe that concentration is of the very essence of poetry.

Between 1914 and 1917 the group produced four Imagist anthologies, including early selections in the magazines Poetry (1912) and The Egotist (from 1914): Des Imagistes (1914), Some Imagists (1915, 1916, 1917).

Pound, one of the major figures of early Imagism, felt betrayed by Lowell's notions of the movement (expressed most notably in her essay "Imagism") and her inclusion of numerous other figures, suggesting even Frost and Sandburg as Imagists. Other poets, including John Gould Fletcher, Harriet Monroe, Conrad Aiken, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, D. H. Lawrence, and T. S. Eliot were, in fact, influenced by aspects of the group.

By 1914, Pound had broken with what he described as Lowell's "Amygism," turning to the British Futurists in order to create a new movement, Vorticism. Pound succinctly summarizes his view of Imagism in his book, Gaudier-Brezska (1916), explaining his dissatisfaction with the way the movement ultimately expressed itself.

—Douglas Messerli

For a lecture on Imagism by Langdon Hammer at Yale University, click below:

July 9, 2011

July 7, 2011

Irving Berlin

Irving Berlin [Israel Isidor Baline] [b. Russia/USA]

The great US composer and lyricist Irving Berlin was born Israel Isidore Baline on May 11, 1888, the son of Moses and Lipkin Baline. It is uncertain in which town he was born, but it appears he was born in a village near Mogilyov, Russia (now Belarus). His father was a cantor in the local synagogue. Like many Jewish families of the period, they were forced to flee, winding up in 1893 in New York City. Berlin's only memory of his five years in Russia was that "he was lying on a blanket by the side of a road, watching his house burn to the ground."

The family eventually settled in a Cherry Street cold-water basement flat on the Lower East Side. Unable to find work as a cantor, his father took a job at a Kosher meat market, giving Hebrew lessons on the side. The father died when his son was eight, and the boy was forced to find work as a newspaper boy to help support his family.

In order to work, Izzy had to quit school, virtually living on the streets. But the music he heard at the salons and bars drew him into song. Occasionally singing on the streets, people threw him coins, and he realized a new ambition of becoming a singing waiter.

At the age of 14, however, he realized that he was bringing in less money than any of his sisters, and he escaped home, turning to the Dickensian-like charitable institutions which had sprung up along the Bowery for the hundreds of young boys like himself.

With few marketable skills and even less experience, he had no choice but to seek his vocation of singing. Joining with a few of his friends, they nightly entered the saloons, singing for a few pennies the drinkers pitched them. He also began plugging songs at Tony Pastor's Music Hall, and, in 1906 began working as a singing waiter at the Pelham Cafe in Chinatown, singing parodies of "blues" songs to the delighted customers. It was there that he taught himself how to play the piano and began composing songs, beginning with "Marie from Sunny Italy," with the Pelham's regular pianist, Mike Nicholson. The sheet music for that piece published his name as I. Berlin, the name the boy adopted.

One evening, he performed a number of hits by another boy composer, George M. Cohan, singing to great applause "Yankee Doodle Boy," to which the saloon's Irish owner declared: "You know what you are, my boy? You're the Yiddishe Yankee Doodle!"

His local fame grew, and by 1909 found a job as a staff lyricist with the Ted Snyder Company. Within two years, Berlin's career would take a "meteoric rise" with the publication of "Alexander's Rag Time Band," more a march than a rag, and incorporating the bugle call from "Swanee River." But the tune, reviving the ragtime excitement of Scott Joplin, made Berlin a star. The song has been sung by nearly every great interpreter from Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and Al Jolson to Johnny Mercer and Ray Charles.

The song was not a hit when it first appeared in Jesse Lasky's "Follies" show, but later that year, appearing in another Broadway review that sparked attention and led to a new dance craze. Famed dancers Irene and Verson Castle sought out Berlin to write a ragtime revue from them, "Watch Your Step," which became an immediate hit, Variety describing it as "the first syncopated musical," bringing wide attention to Berlin's writing.

In the many years following, Berlin would compose hit after hit, giving music and lyrics to numerous Broadway shows and films, the likes Blue Skies, Holiday Inn, Easter Parade, and White Christmas. During World I and II, Berlin wrote patriotic songs for the American public, and throughout his career creating fabulous hit songs the likes of "Soft Lights and Sweet
Music," "Cheek to Cheek,""Always," "Puttin' on the Ritz," "Say It Isn't So," and hundreds of others.

Berlin died in his sleep on September 22, 1989 at the age of 101.

The songs I have selected below are, for copyright reasons, chosen only from his early years, but they reflect the wide range of the high and low cultural values in his work, with several numbers revealing the assimilative issues of a culture of immigrants, redefining itself within the larger whole. And, of course, I have attempted to select the most original and poetic of these early titles.

I have also provided links with several versions of each song when available.

Yiddle on Your Fiddle (Play Some Ragtime)

[1st verse:]
Ev'ryone was singing, dancing, springing
At a wedding yesterday
Yiddle on his fiddle played some ragtime
And when Sadie heard him play
She jumped up and looked him in the eyes
Yiddle swelled his chest 'way out
Ev'ryone was taken by surprise
When they heard Sadie shout

Yiddle in the middle of your fiddle, play some ragtime
Get busy
I'm dizzyI'm feeling two years young
Mine choc'late baby, if you'll maybe play for Sadie
Some more ragtime
Yiddle, don't you stop, if you do, I'll drop
For I just can't make my eyes shut up
Yiddle on your fiddle, play some ragtime

[2nd verse:]
At the supper table Sadie thought
Yiddle must have flew the coop
She looked all around, but could not find him
'Till she heard him drinking soup
Sadie waited till they served the fish
Then she jumped upon the floor
Put a quarter right on Yiddle's dish
And yelled to him once more


Sadie Salome (Go Home)

1st verse:]
Sadie Cohen left her happy home
To become an actress lady
On the stage she soon became the rage
As the only real Salomy baby
When she came to town, her sweetheart Mose
Brought for her around a pretty rose
But he got an awful fright
When his Sadie came to sight
He stood up and yelled with all his might:

Don't do that dance, I tell you Sadie
That's not a bus'ness for a lady!
'Most ev'rybody knows
That I'm your loving Mose
Oy, Oy, Oy, Oy
Where is your clothes?
You better go and get your dresses
Ev'ryone's got the op'ra glasses
Oy! such a sad disgrace
No one looks in your face
Sadie Salome, go home[

2nd verse:]
From the crowd Moses yelled out loud,
"Who put in your head such notions?
You look sweet but jiggle with your feet
Who put in your back such funny motions?
As a singer you was always fine!
Sing to me, 'Because the world is mine!'
"Then the crowd began to roar
Sadie did a new encore
Mose got mad and yelled at her once more


After You Get What You Want You Don't Want It

[1st verse:]
Listen to me, honey dear
Something's wrong with you I fear
It's getting harder to please you
Harder and harder each year
I don't want to make you blue
But you need a talking to
Like a lot of people I know
Here's what's wrong with you

After you get what you want, you don't want it
If I gave you the moon, you'd grow tired of it soon
You're like a baby
You want what you want when you want it
But after you are presented
With what you want, you're discontented
You're always wishing and wanting for something
When you get what you want
You don't want what you get
And tho' I sit upon your knee
You'll grow tired of me'
Cause after you get what you want
You don't want what you wanted at all

[2nd verse:]
Don't you say that I'm unkind
Think it over and you'll find
You've got a changeable nature
You're always changing your mind
There's a longing in your eye
That is hard to satisfy
You're unhappy most of the time
Here's the reason why

[Alternate Line:]
And tho' you sit upon my knee


For a performance of this by singers Gus Van and Joe Schenk in 1920, click below:

For Marilyn Monroe's rendition of the song, performed in There's No Business Like Show Business, click below:

Alexander's Ragtime Band

Oh, ma hon-ey, oh, ma hon-ey, bet-ter hur-ry and let's me-an-der
Ain't you go-in'? Ain't you go-in'? To the lea-der-man, rag-ged me-ter man?
Oh, ma hon-ey, oh, ma hon-ey, Let me take you to Al-ex-an-der's
Grand stand brass band, ain't you com-in' a-long?

Come on and hear! Come on and hear! Al-ex-an-der's rag-time band!
Come on and hear! Come on and hear! It's the best band in the land!
They can play a bu-gle call like you nev-er heard be-fore
So nat-u-ral that you want to go to war
That's just the best-est band what am, ma hon-ey lamb
Come on a-long, come on a-long, let me take you by the hand
Up to the man, up to the man, who's the lead-er of the band
And if you care to hear the Swa-nee Riv-er played in rag-time
Come on and hear, come on and hear,
Al-ex-an-der's Rag-Time Band.

Come and listen to the wonderful sound, hear the music that is sweapin, the town,
You'll soon be tappin your feet to a new kind of beat that keeps u happy all day long
I love to her that banjo strimmin eith to that bar, ragtime music is the greatest by far,
so come and see, you'll soon agree they are best in the land.
Come on lets give em a hand

Come on and hear! Come on and hear! Al-ex-an-der's rag-time band!
Come on and hear! Come on and hear! It's the best band in the land!
They can play a bu-gle call like you nev-er heard be-fore
So nat-u-ral that you want to go to war
That's just the best-est band what am, oh, ma hon-ey lamb
Come on a-long, come on a-long, let me take you by the hand
Up to the man, up to the man, who's the lead-er of the band
And if you care to hear the Swa-nee Riv-er played in rag-time
Come on and hear, come on and hear,Al-ex-an-der's Rag-Time Band


For an early version by Collins and Harlan, click here:

For the Andrews Sisters version, circa 1940, click here:

Cohen Owes Me Ninety-Seven Dollars

[1st verse:]Old man Rosenthal lay sick in bed
Soon the doctor came around and said
"No use crying, the man is dying. He can't live very long!"
"Send my son here to my side," they heard the old man say
"I've got something to tell him before I pass away"
Soon his son was sitting by his bed
"What's the matter, Papa dear?" he said
The old man said, "My son, before my days are done
I want you to know:

Cohen owes me ninety-seven dollars
And it's up to you to see that Cohen pays
I sold a lot of goods to Rosenstein and Sons
On an I.O.U. for ninety days
Levi brothers don't get any credit
They owe me for one hundred yards of lace
If you promise me, my son, you'll collect from ev'ry one
I can die with a smile on my face"

[2nd verse:]
Old man Rosenthal is better now
He just simply wouldn't die somehow
He is healthy and very wealthy since he got out of bed
Such a change you never saw, he's got such rosy cheeks
He picks up in just one week what should take weeks and weeks
Ev'ryone who knew that he was sick
Couldn't tell how he got well so quick
They went and asked him to explain how he pulled through
Rosenthal replied:

[2nd refrain:]
Cohen owed me ninety-seven dollars
And my son went out and made poor Cohen pay
A bill was owed to me by Rosenstein and Sons
And they settled on that very day
What could my son do with all that money
If I should leave it all and say goodbye?
It's all right to pass away, but when people start to pay
That's no time for a bus'nessman to die


For a wonderful performance of this song Janet Klein, with a Yiddish accent, click below:

For the 1940 version played on Victrola with Jack Ryan and orchestra, click below:

They Were All Out Of Step But Jim

[Verse 1]
Jim-my's moth-er went to see her son,
March-ing a-long on pa-rade;
In his un-i-form and with his gun,
What a love-ly pic-ture he made.
She came home that ev-'ning,
Filled up with de-light;
And to all the neigh-bors,
She would yell with all her might:

"Did you see my lit-tle Jim-my march-ing,
With the sol-diers up the av-en-ue?
There was Jim-my just as stiff as starch,
Like his Dad-dy on the sev-en-teenth of March.
Did you no-tice all the love-ly la-dies,
Cast-ing their eyes on him?
A-way he went,
To live in a tent;
O-ver in France with his reg-i-ment.
Were you there, and tell me, did you no-tice?
They were all out of step but Jim."

[Verse 2]
That night lit-tle Jim-my's fa-ther stood,
Buy-ing the drinks for the crowd;
You could tell that he was feel-ing good,
He was talk-ing ter-rib-ly loud.
Twen-ty times he treat-ed,
My! but he was dry;
When his glass was emp-ty,
He would treat a-gain and cry:

[Second Chorus]
"Did you see my lit-tle Jim-my march-ing,
With the sol-diers up the av-en-ue?
There was Jim-my just as stiff as starch,
Like his Dad-dy on the sev-en-teenth of March.
Did you no-tice all the love-ly la-dies,
Cast-ing their eyes on him?
It made me glad, To gaze at the lad;
Lord help the Kai- ser if he's like his Dad.
Were you there, and tell me, did you no-tice?
They were all out of step but Jim."


Oh! How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning

[Verse 1]
The oth-er day I chanced to meet a sol-dier friend of mine,
He'd been in camp for sev-'ral weeks and he was look-ing fine;
His mus-cles had de-vel-oped and his cheeks were ros-y red,
I asked him how he liked the life, and this is what he said:

"Oh! how I hate to get up in the morn-ing,
Oh! how I'd love to re-main in bed;
For the hard-est blow of all, is to hear the bu-gler call;
You've got to get up, you've got to get up,
you've got to get up this morn-ing!
Some-day I'm go-ing to mur-der the bu-gler,
Some day they're go-ing to find him dead;
I'll amp-u-tate his rev-eil-le and step up-on it heav-i-ly,
And spend the rest of my life in bed."

[Verse 2]
A bu-gler in the arm-y is the luck-i-est of men,
He wakes the boys at five and then goes back to bed a-gain;
He does-n't have to blow a-gain un-til the af-ter-noon,
If ev-'ry-thing goes well with me, I'll be a bu-gler soon.

[Second Chorus]
"Oh! how I hate to get up in the morn-ing,
Oh! how I'd love to re-main in bed;
For the hard-est blow of all, is to hear the bu-gler call;
You've got to get up, you've got to get up,
you've got to get up this morn-ing!
Oh! boy the min-ute the bat-tle is o-ver,
Oh! boy the min-ute the foe is dead;
I'll put my un-i-form a-way, and move to Phil-a-del-phi-a,
And spend the rest of my life in bed."


For a performance of the above song from the 1943 movie This Is the Army, click below

I'll See You (in C-u-b-a)

[1st verse:]
Not so far from here
There's a very lively atmosphere
Ev'rybody's going there this year
And there's a reason
The season opened last July
Ever since the U.S.A. went dry
Ev'rybody's going there and I'm going, too
I'm on my way to

Cuba, there's where I'm going
Cuba, there's where I'll stay
Cuba, where wine is flowing
And where dark-eyed Stellas
Light their fellers' Panatellas
Cuba, where all is happy
Cuba, where all is gay
Why don't you plan a
Wonderful trip
To Havana?
Hop on a ship
And I'll see you in C.U.B.A.

[2nd verse:]
Take a friend's
in a cellar isn't nice
Anybody who has got the price
Should be a Cuban
Have you been longing for the 'smile
'That you haven't had for quite a while?
If you have, then follow me and I'll show the way
I'm on my way to

[Counterpoint Refrain:]
Why don't you do your drinking like a Cuban
Instead of hiding in a cellar?
Since Prohibition, tell me, pal, have you been
A very frightened little feller?
Why don't you pour it from the bottle'
Stead of a tiny silver flask?
Drink your Scotch, rum and gin
Where the dries can't get in
The finest bars are there, cigars are there
That only are made in Cuba
I'm not a drinking lady, I never smoked a Panatella
But I'm a she who likes to be where all is gay, okay!
So let us leave our cares and troubles behind
And tell 'em our new address
Is where they stay up late and drink till they're blind?
Blind, but nevertheless
They're glad to see you in C.U.B.A.

Why don't you travel with us on a train or a bus
To Miami where we can begin
To plan a wonderful trip on a plane or a ship
That'll take us from Florida to Havana?
See you in C.U.B.A!

[Alternate Lines:]
Cuba, that's where I'm going
Cuba, that's where I'll stay
And where those dark-eyed Stellas


To hear Jack Kaufman sing this song in 1920, click below:

I prefer the Billy Murray recording of 1920. To hear it, click below:

For a performance by Bing Crosby and Olga San Juan from movie, Blue Skies, click below:

Andreas Okopenko

Andreas Okopenko [b. Czechoslavakia/Austria]

One of the founding members of the Graz Author's Collective, Andreas Okopenko was born in Košice (Kaschau) in what then called Czechoslavkia on March 15, 1930. His father was a Ukranian physician and his mother was an Austrian. Beginning in 1939 the family moved to Vienna where Okopenko was trained as a chemist and began to write poetry.

Before long the young poet became a central figure of nonestablishment writers who were to become known as the Vienna Group. His first poems appeared in 1949 in the literary magazine Neue Wege.

Okopenko's Grüner November (Green November) appeared in 1957, followed by Seltsame Tage (Strange Days) in 1963. In 1969 he published his popular Warum sind die Latrinen so traurig? Spleengesang (Why are latrines so sad? Spleen-song).

Obopenko also wrote fiction, penning the experimental fiction Lexikon einer sentimentale Reise zum Exporteurtreffen in Druden (Dictionary of a sentimental journey to a meeting of explort officers in Druden) in 1970, offering readers a new alphabetic arrangement of meaning. In Der Akazienfresser (The aracia eater) of 1973, Okopenko proposed a new punctuation mark to express boredom. In 1974 he published a collection of fantastic tales, Warnung für Ypsilon (Warning for Upsilon) and a play. Another fiction, Meteoriten, was published in 1977, followed by Vier Ausfsätze (Four compositions) in 1977. His Collected Poems appeared in 1980 and a new collection Affenzucker/Neue Lockergedicte appeared in 1999. His short narrative, Child Nazi, was published in English.

In 2008 he published a book of autobiographical essays, Erinnerung an de Hoffnung. Gesammelte autobiographische Aufsätze. The poet also wrote lyrics for Austria's famed "The Worried Men Skiffle Group," an anarchist musical group that included Gerhard Richter and Herbert Janata.

Okopenko won the Grand Austrian State Prize for Literature in 2002 and the Georg Trakl Prize.

From 1999 until the year of his death, Okopenko was a member of the Austrian art senate.


Grüner November (Munich: R. Piper, 1957); Seltsame Tage (Munich: Bechtle Verlag, 1963); Warum sind die Latrinen so traurig? Spleengesang (Salzburg: Residenz Verlag, 1971); Orte wechselnden Unbehagens. Gedichte (Salzburg: Residenz Verlag, 1971); Gesammelte Lyric (Vienna/Munich: Jugend & Volk, 1980); Immer wenn ich heftig regne: Lockergedichte (Vienna: Edition Falter/Duticke, 1992); Affenzucker: neue Lockergedichte (Vienna: Deuticke, 1999)


selections in Austrian Poetry Today, trans. and ed. by Milne Holton and Herbert Kuhner (New York: Schocken Books, 1985)

Green Melody

....green melody blue girl
holidays are white.

I green in the meadow of the young village
My farm is yellow with girl with grain
My girl is yellow with farm with grain
I green in the grain of the young village

The sun is on the way to market
My girl is on the way to market
My green grain girl my green meadow girl
My green young village girl is on the way to market

The marketplaces are with pumpkins
The pumpkins are white dust of the marketplaces
The white dust of the noonday marketplaces
The white dust the way to the house to the girl to the garden

I green the afternoon in the girl garden
I am greening in the girl garden now
A cool room a blue check cloth
A noonday jug a blue glass a water

A younger sister intently playing the children's green
A younger sister who goes away and leaves us alone
The children's game the water splashes blue
My girl in the cool room apart

I am the cool room I am in the cool room
I am where at last the girl is I am with the girl
The girl and the water I drink the water
The jug is the room it takes us both

An ant crawls across the Latin grammar
A leaf has come in through the window
A drop of water has run across my mouth
A slow small clock makes the afternoon of aluminum

I shine silver in the sun like aluminum
I have buried my clock in earth in the flowerpot
My girl is not the beetle that runs across the wood
My girl lies in her summer dress on the window sill

On the window sill on the slight chair on the light cupboard
On the shadow the memory of sun on the afternoon the garden
I well understand the little that keeps her fingers in green leaves

I know that Pythagoras is important and Aristides and Caesar
I am in revolt against the hidebound school
The blackboard the rune the school physician the chalk being dry
The duster being damp the sandwich paper being brown

I please the holidays of the children the little ones the beetles
The water the blue mirror the sunburn the railway
The farmdog the yellow one, the little pups the furballs
The red bow of the cat, the mouse in the trap with the bacon

I am the holidays I am the green
I green on the meadow in the grain
I blue in the room of the girl
In the afternoon, I blue in the girl

—Translated from the German by Christopher Middleton


Early Impression

Somewhere I sat on warm white steps
Somewhere I sat tanning in the sun
And watched an insect come out of the bushes.

I heard someone call a beloved name
And went in the direction of the call.
Somewhere—that was at age fourteen.

—Translated from the German by Milne Holton and Herbert Kuhner


Deep garden
of dark-green leaves
they come from the ground
and are moist.

Brown earth
under the leaves.

a path
under high grass.

The morning
young and smoke-blue

Before noon
the sun
half shines here.

O day
is here
a long time,
up until evening.

And then
green darkens
into night.

breathing in
the warmth
of the shadows....

—Translated from the German by Milne Holton and Herbert Kuhner

To see a hilarious short clip of "The Worried Men Skiffle Group" in German, click below:

"Green Melody"
Reprinted from Modern German Poetry: 1910-1960, trans. and ed. by Michael Hamburger and Christopher Middleton (New York: Grove Press, 1962). Copyright ©1962 by Grove Press.

"Early Impression" and "Garden"
Reprinted from Austrian Poetry Today, trans. and ed. by Milne Holton and Herbert Kuhner (New York: Schocken Books, 1985) Copyright ©1985 by Milne Holton and Herbert Kuhner.

July 6, 2011

Sixty-six Writing Experiments

"Sixty-six Writing Experiments"
by Charles Bernstein

For a connection to Bernstein's fascinating writing experiments, click below:

John Wieners

John Wieners [USA]

Born on January 6, 1934 in Milton Massachusetts, John Wieners attended elementary school in Dorchester in that state, and graduated from Boston College High School. From 1950 to 1954, Wieners attended Boston College, from where he received an A.B.

In 1954, Wieners attended a Beacon Hill poetry reading at the Charles Street Meeting House, where first heard and encountered Charles Olson. The event encouraged him to enroll at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he studied under Olson and the poet Robert Duncan from 1955-1956.

Returning to Boston, he worked as an actor and stage manager at the Poet's Theater in Cambridge, while he began edition the magazine Measure.

From 1958 to 1960 Wieners moved to San Francisco, actively participating in the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance, a period commemorated in Wieners' poetic journal 707 Scott Street, a manuscript which remained unpublished until Sun & Moon Press released it in 1996.
Although much of Wieners experiences were joyful, during the same period he was heavily under the influence of drugs and lived in dire poverty, experiences that underlie his first stunning collection of poetry, The Hotel Wentley Poems of 1958, published when Wieners was 24 years of age.

Returning to Boston in 1960, Wieners was committed for a period to a psychiatric hospital. In 1961, he moved to New York City, working at the then-famed Eighth Street Books as an assistant bookkeeper from 1962-1963. During this period, he lived with writer and counter-culture figure Herbert Huncke on the Lower East Side.

In 1963 Wieners returned yet again to Boston, working as a subscriptions editor for the Jordan Marsh department stories until 1965. His second of poetry, Ace of Pentacles, was published in 1964.

After traveling to the Spoleto Festival and the Berkeley Poetry Conference with Olson in 1965, Wieners enrolled in the Graduate Program at SUNY Buffalo, working as a teaching fellow under Olson until 1967, the year which his book, Pressed Wafer was published.

In the spring of 1969, Wieners was institutionalized, a time in which he composed Asylum Poems, published later that year. Another book of poetry, Nerves, containing work from 1966 to 1970, was published the following year.

During the 1970s, Wieners became active in educational and publishing cooperatives, involving himself in politics and, particularly, in the gay liberation movement. It was during this period that he moved into his famous Boston address on 44 Joy Street on Beacon Hill, where he lived the rest of his life.

His influential Selected Poems was published in 1972 and Behind the State Capitol or Cincinnati Pike appeared in 1975, but after this period Wieners remained isolated from the public eye for at least ten years, a period during which publisher and editor Raymond Foye often financially helped him, while, locally, friends such as Jim Dunn cared for him.

In 1986 Foye edited a new Selected Poems: 1958-1984 and edited a new book, Cultural Affairs in Boston: Poetry & Prose: 1956-1985, published in 1988. In 1999, celebrating an exhibit by the painter Francesco Clemente at the Guggenheim Museum, Wieners gave one of his last public readings. A collaboration between the two, Broken Woman, was published as well.

On an evening in late February 2002, after attending a party for his friend Charley Shively, Wieners collapsed on a Boston street where he was discovered by strangers and taken to Massachusetts General Hospital. Tracing a piece of paper to Jim Dunn, the police notified the friend, who with others rushed to the Hospital, where he died on March 1.

Two books have been published posthumously, including a book, Kidnap Notes Next, ed. by Dunn, in 2002 and A Book of Prophecies in 2007.


The Hotel Wentley Poems (Auerhahn Press, 1958); Of Asphodel. In Hell's Despite (1963); Ace of Pentacles (New York: James F. Carr and Robert A. Wilson, 1964); Chinoiserie (San Francisco: Dave Haselwood, 1965); Pressed Wafer (Buffalo, New York: Gallery Upstairs Press, 1967); A Letter to Charles Olson (Samuel Charters, 1969); Asylum Poems (New York: Angel Hair Books, 1969); Youth (New York: Phoenix Book Shop, 1970); Nerves (London: Cape Goliard Press, 1970); Selected Poems (New York: Grossman Publishers, 1972); Playboy (Boston: Good Gay Poets, 1972); Woman (Canton, New York: Institute of Further Studies); The Lanterns Along the Wall (Brooklyn: Other Publications, 1972); Hotels (New York: Angel Hair Books, 1974); Behind the State Capitol: or Cincinatti Pike (Boston: Good Gay Poets, 1975); Selected Poems: 1958-1984, ed. by Raymond Foye (Santa Barbara, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1986); Cultural Affairs in Boston, ed. by Raymond Foye (Santa Barbara, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1988); 707 Scott Street (The Journal of John Wieners is to be called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holiday, 1959) (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1996); Kidnap Notes Next: Selected Notebook Entries 1988-1999, ed. by Jim Dunn (Boston: Pressed Wafer, 2002); Book of Prophecies, ed. by Michael Carr (Lowell, Massachusetts: Bootstrap Press, 2007)

For a the selection of poems originally appearing in Douglas Messerli, ed. From the Other Side of the Century: A New American Poetry 1960-1990 (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1992), click below:

For a wide selection of poems read by John Wieners, see his PENNSOUND page by clicking below:

July 5, 2011

Investigative Procedures: Publishing Spatola

Investigative Procedures: Publishing Spatola
by Douglas Messerli

Adriano Spatola The Position of Things: Collected Poems 1961-1992 (Los Angeles: Green
Integer, 2008)

With the Green Integer copy of Adriano Spatola’s collected poems, The Position of Things, in hand, wherein Paul Vangelisti thanks me in his “Translator’s Note,” for my “longstanding commitment to the book, I thought I might ponder why I had been so committed to and active in seeing this book come to print, particularly since Paul asked me to write something about the publishing of the book. I thought perhaps it will be of some interest to readers to consider why a publisher chooses the books he does, why a particular book—as opposed to all the others that could possibly have been selected—is brought to life. My choice of books is very personal, as I seek works that elicit deep feelings in me or intimately relate to my own
experiences. Accordingly, I ask the reader’s indulgence in this particular exploration of a great author’s work as I compare my own life and perceptions of myself with those of another. My comparisons are not of the quality of work, but of impetuses behind the writing.

I had previously published the long Spatola poem, “Material, Materials, Recovery of” in a bi-lingual edition in my 20 Pages Sun & Moon Press series. And I had printed a large chunk of Spatola’s works in the 1999 Sun & Moon anthology, The Promised Land: Italian Poetry After 1975. I also had been given copies of Paul’s noted earlier translations of Spatola’s Majakovskiiiiiiiij and Various Devices (I have two copies in my library), and I’d read portions of those titles. Yet it seems amazing—particularly given all the other hundreds of poets in translation I was reading during these same years—that from 1996 to the present I kept advocating the publication of Spatola’s work.

In a sense, I had felt Spatola’s presence in Los Angeles the moment, after moving here in 1984, I began to meet some of the serious poets of the city. Paul, of course, spoke highly of Spatola, whom he had first published in 1971 in his magazine, Invisible City, and whom he had first met in April 1975. Spatola had himself visited Los Angeles, long before my coming here, in 1978 and again in 1980, and memories of those visits and his poetic impact were still fresh in the minds of writers such as Dennis Phillips (who had not met Spatola, but had read his poems) and Lee Hickman, the latter of whom published in his last issue of the magazine Temblor (issue no. 10) Spatola’s poem “Little Exhortation” and Antonio Porta’s obituary of Spatola, “From the Threat of Silence,” as well a selection from my own work. I don’t recall reading that obituary at the time, but I must have, at least, scanned it, noting Porta’s impassioned exhortation of his first paragraph:

It doesn’t seem possible that we would want to forget so quickly and without any reservation a poet of absolute value like Adriano Spatola. Yet one has the unpleasant impression that there is no desire to take serious stock of his death (having come last November 23, at the age
of 47). Have we really become so “cool” toward a poetry that was never conformist? Are we truly content with our modest coaster and our comfortable little neoclassic harbor, and do we prefer repetition to invention? So it is necessary to call attention one more time, empha-
tically, to the work of Adriano Spatola….

I must also have noted, later on in this short essay, Porta’s loving tribute to his poet friend:

Founding Tam Tam was Spatola’s moment of major cultural determination. That act of courage, personal and political, which helped many rediscover a trust in poetic language, would have been enough to ensure him a definite place in our cultural history.

If nothing else, I assimilated these ideas about Spatola, that he was an important poet, like myself an editor, and a man who lived a life almost completely immersed in his art. As Beppe Cavatorta has written: Spatola was a “renaissance poet,” “a visual poet, a sound poet, a concrete poet, a linear poet, editor of an innovative magazine, a refined critic and translator, organizer of historical poetry happenings…and founder of his ‘republics of poetry.’”

As late as 1996, when Paul and I first began our aspirations of publishing Spatola’s collected poems and I wrote to Bianca Maria Bonazzi for permission to do so, however, I had not yet read most of Adriano’s work, and Spatola remained for me a somewhat shadowy figure. How then explain my fervor and long-lasting commitment over these years when I was so overcommitted to publishing other poets, fiction writers, dramatists, and belle-lettrists?

When Vangelisti and I finally determined, late last year, that the time had come to actually produce the book, moreover, I acted—which what many of my writers will describe as uncharacteristic swiftness —producing the finished book in just a few weeks after the delivery of the final manuscript, taking time out only to finally read the whole of it!

What I discovered in those poems and the excellent afterword by Cavatorta, was a confirmation of the poet—as if he needed my confirmation! But I think I can now, at least, explain my previously sublimated interest in the man and his work.

I have already alluded to feeling a great interconnection with Spatola’s literary activities and my own life. I might never be willing to call my publishing pursuits, which have now spanned more than three decades, “courageous” acts—although leaving the university and all financial capabilities behind represented, if nothing else, slightly insane behavior. But reading Cavatorta’s descriptions of Spatola’s intellectual “poetocrazia,” his “country of poetry,” along with Spatola’s own comments—

What then is my activity? First of all, it is a full-time activity. I am free only when invited to a festival of poetry…. On Sundays I have to meet authors and friends who work and are busy during the week. During the other days I typeset, layout and finish books for the printer, I take care of correspondence, I prepare large and small packages for subscribers, I answer the telephone, I cook….—

made me aware that we are at least “soul brothers” in the lonely act of living a life of art. As most people who know me well can tell you, I am to be reached in my Green Integer (and formerly at my Sun & Moon) offices (the latter located behind the self-proclaimed Getrude Stein Plaza) any day of the week. And, although, unlike Spatola, I do little cooking (my companion forbids me from turning our kitchen into a culinary chaos—which also explains why, instead of Spatola’s favorite working space, the kitchen, I packed up books in Sun & Moon’s early days in our bedroom), along with my new enterprise of publishing an annual book of cultural memoirs, one might say that, like Spatola, I live what many might describe as a “committed life”—perhaps a somewhat selfish life, but one I see as representing an impassioned dedication to poetry and writing in general. For me also, art is “serious business.”

That said, Spatola and I do not exactly share the same poetics. His para-surrealistic, paratactic language, a writing which he often describes as “black, dirty, and personal,”

Black poetry black on both sides
doesn’t eat with its mouth or its teeth
not even forceps cancers asthma urology
lips almost open and almost lacerated
the zoomorphic animal that appears dilated
or salad sand of mature thoughts
little by little but only slithering
black dirty privy of presentiments

seemingly bears little resemblance to my more lyrically-inspired, more American romantically-based, and hermetic work. Certainly, our poetry often shares in the density and impactedness of the language, but my collage-based aesthetic is oppositional to Spatola’s longer, repeating poems. Yet in a work like his “The Scissors on the Table,” in which the poet wittily pulls the chair out from under his four-lined rants, “cutting” away the significance of his own dark and emotional statements as he lays them, so to speak, out upon the table, I recognize some of my own early attempts to stealthily situate my own emotions in relation to the reader.

From things the silence the lazy indifference
the old grudge the irresolute insistence
brick upon brick without the last rows
fermented fears irrational requests
nothing much important.

To make sense the rule a secret understanding
syrupy backgrounds odd prejudices
ball of wool and subsoil background with shadow
above all the absence the satisfied coldness
nothing much important.


By repeatedly insisting upon the unimportance of his previous comments, Spatola, of course, draws attention precisely to his words and, by poem’s end we recognize the “acts of degradation,” the “homicidal combustion” and other forces he catalogues as being very much of importance, as representing just those things about which we should become outraged. By work’s end we may recognize, indeed, that it is the “lazy indifference,” the “old grudges,” the “odd prejudices” which ultimately come to be “nothing much important.”

It is perhaps the very differences between us, however, that so draws me to this poet. For in a work such as “Material, Materials, Recovery of”—a poem I could never have written—I am completely overwhelmed by Spatola’s powerful images of a truly “black and dirty” world, a near-holocaust landscape where seemingly all of society has come together to destroy the planet:

Toward the city of placental byways
grazed by the plentiful wares of florists
of pharmacists endowed with prenatal memories
in the gilded bream that seems to swell
dualistic like the profit of interested parties
with the correct and three-dimensional perception
even the look is important in doing business.

Toward the glacial cold the genetic weakness
of formal thought’s painless erosion
which we suspect inside erratic boulders
or among the ants of the frenetic spirit
the force of belligerents with a lively cure
but the grindery carries out the grinding
never had the wound been so simple and pure

How far we have come from Eliot’s contained patient “etherized upon a table” or even William Carlos Williams’ “road to the contagious hospital!” In Spatola’s bleak and blasted environmental disaster, there is no possible redemption. His “acrid zone burning with combustion,” a world of “grass crushed by rasping bulldozer tracks,” where “ambulances are busy with the locals,” represents something of which we only take stock, seek out the “microfilm of the life of investigative procedures.”

One might almost use that metaphor to describe much of Spatola’s writing: “investigative procedures” into how, in the latter half of the 20th century, we lived our lives. If his poetry gives us any evidence of our failures and successes—and it does—I am proud to have been able to help keep those words alive, and further, introduce them to an American audience so much in need of comprehending what has happened to create, as he begins his Eliotic satire “The Cocktail Hour,” “This image of an uninhabited planet.”

Indeed Spatola lived the poetic life—a somewhat hidden life, at times a lonely life—almost as an undercover detective devoted to getting at the truth. His admission at the end of that poem—

I am this history, canned beef, illustrated cerebrum
exhibited in a lecture hall, with my cortical zones and
traces of thought and memory and time and the violence
of comprehension

—might almost serve as a preamble to the aspirations of my own poetic and critical acts.

Los Angeles, March 2, 2008

Presented at a three-day celebration of Spatola, “The Position of Things: The Life and Work of Adriano Spatola,”in Los Angeles (Bonelli Contemporary art galley, Otis College of Art + Design, and the University of California, Los Angeles) on March 6-8, 2008.
Reprinted in Or, No. 1 (September 2008).

Christopher MIddleton

Christopher Middleton (England/lives USA)

Middleton is one of most noted translations of German literature of the 20th and 21st centuries, having translated Robert Walser, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, Christa Wolf, Paul Celan, Gottfried Benn, Elias Canetti, Günter Grass, Gert Hoffman, and numerous other major writers. He is also a noted poet and prose writer.

Middleton served in the Royal Air Force from 1944 to 1948, before attending Merton College in Oxford. After teaching English at the University of Zürich, be became Lecturer and afterwards, Senior Lecturer in German and King's College London (1955-1965).

The following year he was invited to be Professor of Germanic Language and Literature at the University of Texas in Austin, later becoming the David J. Bruton Centennial Professor of Modern Languages at Texas, where he continues to reside today.

His first book, Torse 3: Poems 1944-1961 was published by Harcourt in 1962, for which he shared the Geoffrey Faber award. Thus followed numerous volumes of verbally exuberant poet texts, including Twenty Tropes for Doctor Dark and The Fossil Fish. His Collected Poems was published in England in 2002.

Middleton also wrote brilliantly written prose works, most notably Pataxanadu & Other Prose (1977), Serpentine (1985), In the Mirror of the Eighth King (Green Integer, 1999), Crypto-Topographia: Stories of Secret Places (2002), and Depictions of Blaff (Green Integer, 2010)


Torse 3: Poems, 1949-1961 (New York: Harcourt, 1962); Penguin Modern Poets 4 [with David Holbrook and David Wevill] (New York: Penguin, 1963); Nonsequences: Selfpoems (New York: Norton, 1966); Our Flowers and Nice Bones (Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Press, 1969); The Fossil Fish: 15 Micropoems (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1970); selections in John Matthias, ed. 23 Modern British Poets (Chicago: The Swallow Press, 1971); Briefcase History: 9 Poems (Providence, Rhode Island, 1972); Fractions from Another Telemachus (Frensham, England: Sceptre Press, 1974); Wild Horse (Frensham, England: Sceptre Press, 1975); The Lonely Suppers of W. V. Balloon (Boston: David R. Godine, 1975); Razzmatazz (Austin, Texas: W. Thomas Taylor, 1976); Eight Elementary Inventions (Frensham, England: Sceptre Press, 1977); Anasphere (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1982); Carminalenia (Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 1980); Woden Dog (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1982); 111 Poems (Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 1983); Two Horse Wagon Going By (Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 1986); Selected Writings (Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 1989); The Balcony Tree (Manchester, England: Carcanet Press/Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York: Sheep Meadow Press, 1992); Some Dogs (London: Enitharmon Press, 1993); Intimate Chronicles (Manchester, England: Carcanet Press/Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York: Sheep Meadow Press, 1996); Twenty Tropes for Doctor Dark (London: Enitharmon, 2000); The Word Pavilion and Selected Poems (Riverdale-on-Hudson: Sheep Meadow Press, 2001); Collected Poems (Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 2008)

For an obituary of Christopher Middleton, go here:

The Thousand Things

Dry vine leaves burn in an angle of the wall.
Dry vine leaves and a sheet of paper, overhung
by the green vine.
From an open grate in an angle of the wall
dry vine leaves and dead flies send smoke up
into the green vine where grape clusters go
ignored by lizards. Dry vine leaves
and a few dead flies on fire
and a Spanish toffee spat
into an angle of the wall
make a smell that calls to mind
the thousand things. Dead flies go,
paper curls and flares,
Spanish toffee sizzles and the smell
has soon gone over the wall.

A naked child jumps over the threshold,
waving a green spry of leaves of vine.

China Shop Vigil

Useful these bowls may be;
what fatness makes the hollows glow,
their shadows bossed and plump.

Precisely these a wheel whirling backward
flattens them. Knuckles whiten on copper:
headless men are hammering drums

Cup and teapot may be such comforters:
small jaws mincing chatter
over the bad blood between us once.

When baking began, the air in jugs frothed
for milk, or lupins. Now mob is crushed
by mob, what fatness but in wild places,

where some half dozen dusty mindful men
drinking from gourd or canvas huddle,
and can speak at last of the good rain.

Disturbing the Tarantula

The door a maze
of shadow, peach leaves
veining its wood colour,

and cobwebs broken
breathing ah ah
as it is pushed open—

two hands
at a ladder shook
free the tarantula, it slid

black and fizzing to a rung
above eye-level,
knees jack knives,

a high-jumper's, bat mouth
slit grinning
into the fur belly—

helpful: peaches
out there, they keep growing
rounder and rounder

on branches wheeled low
by their weight over
roasted grass blades; sun

and moon, also, evolve
round this mountain
terrace, wrinkling now

with deadly green
emotion: All things
are here, monstrous convulsed

rose (don't anyone
dare come), sounding through
our caves, I hear them.

The Laundress

Bothering us for a long time,
This laundry woman: Beneath
A blue segment of sky she is
All brown and profiled against
A cliff so laboriously hewn
That it resembles a rampart.
Like a baby mask her face,
Black crescent moons for eyebrows
And greys to streak her bodice,
But yellow or brown the rampart
Towers behind the woman, as if
Its gravity propelled her—darkly
Her combed hair clings to the head
She launches forward, stooping.
Awkward skirts impede her,
Surely now she has to be hurrying
Somewhere. A little daughter
Runs at her left side, one foot
Lifting off the shadowy ground,
Hurled stooping forward she
Mimics her mother, and the labour
Extracted from the mother, that
She will inherit too. Still,
Goya’s glimpse of them has put
Happy family bonding into question:
Are they running to the fountain
Or to the river at all? Are they
Running away from something
Hidden? Their velocity
Must have to do with bread. Yet
Won’t they have had to scoot,
In those times, across the picture,
Basket on the mother’s haunch
Bumping up and down on it, because
Shirts coiled in the wickerwork
(Where bristles dashed, dripping
White, the profile of a billygoat)
Had been stiff with blood, or wet?
The next up for execution
Needed snowy linen, so the French
Bullets could be met with decent
Spanish gestures, death be dignified,
You now conjecture, whereupon
Some villagers in bleached
Apparel sign to us how best not
To die, if only, in Bordeaux,
Goya, to assuage despair, stands
Candle-crowned for half the night,
Imagining, him, in grief and detail,
Horrors he had likely never seen.

Judge Bean

Of him or her who placed it there, and why
No one knew anything. —Thomas Hardy

Judge Roy Bean of Long Ago
Beheld once in a magazine
The face of Lily Langtry,
And in the twilight often
Judge Bean upon his porch
Rocked in a rocking chair,
Upon his porch he’d rock
And dream and dream of her.

A distant blue, how it pulls
The flesh to Long Ago
And far away, although
Judge Bean had hopes:
Lily Langtry just might come,
Passing through, and sing to him.

Not far from where the judge
Had sat and rocked and hoped
There was a tree festooned
With bottles that were blue.
Over the tips of many twigs
Somebody had been slotting
Milk of Magnesia (Phillips),
His empties, by the dozen.

Well-water there is hard;
Deep canyons through the rock
The Rio Grande, a trickle now,
Had had long since to carve.
There too the mountains host
Various flocks of birds,
Yet not a one would choose
To nest in such a tree.

The tree, so dead its twigs
That pronged the bottles, have
They in the meantime broke?
A striking sight against the sky,
An image not to be forgot,
So many bottles of blue glass
And sips of milk drunk up,
It still explodes to mark
Dimensions in the mind,
A horizon in the heart.

Long before the twigs had pronged
Blue bottles for my sight,
Like Tao it had for sure
No name at all, that place
Where Judge Bean rocked;
But Lily Langtry’s face
Nothing airy in his mind,
Not despairing of his dream,
One stormy day he took his pen
And wrote:

Now Langtry is its name

felo de se

When he had pulled upright his jingle-jangle cart,
he said he hoped he would not be disturbing me.
He unpacked his kit from the cart and lost no time
but baited his lines with worms from a box of dirt
and made a long cast for the lead to plop in mid-river.

When he says he in Tex-Mex but spoke as a child
no Spanish, he explains that he took himself soon
to school, learning the way they speak it in Spain.

When he was little his father died, says he.
So he helped in the house, cleaning and sweeping,
cooking the beans, washing dishes for mother.

When he had a family of his own, two boys
and a girl, he told them, one by one, as they grew,
there’ll be no lazy nobodies in my house,
told them when it was time to grow up
and that it won’t be easy but here’s your support,
grow up to be somebody with an education:

Now there’s my boy in the marines (this war, it makes
no sense) but then his line is aviation, the mechanics,
in law-school the girl, the other boy in medicine,
and all three speak Spanish as well as they do English.

When he’s et to make a cast with this third rod,
he says his father-in-law’s funeral cost ten thousand,
but his own uncle’s was cheaper for he was cremated.

And when he has cast with a fourth rod far out
into mid-river, he says that he’ll be tonight
in Marble Falls where the catfish bite better,
that because of the funeral he has a week off.

But when he went to Mexico he didn’t like it,
didn’t like the Mexicans, a crooked lying crowd,
says he, they look down on us, call me a gringo.

Me, I’m a carpenter, he says, I can build you
a pretty house, restore, where wood has gone to rot,
repair, adapt, install any kind of cabinet:

anything to do with wood, I can do it with finish,
fishing is just a pastime when you’re needing it,
and it has clouded over now, the fish like that.

Yes, he says, any kind of wood, I can handle it,
and we were standing under a water-cypress,
a very tall tree that has gone brown by March,
the tangle of its roots ran in long looped
cylinders out under water, while he talked.

wearing a cobalt gimme cap with NY in a monogram,
an olive-green tabard (pockets in place of emblems),
drainpipe trousers and spongy-soled suede boots,

yet all I had asked was if he knew perhaps
a meaning of felo de se, supposing it Spanish.
Not theft, he said, thieving is robar, robo;
what you said, might that be in a book?

Poetry copyright © by Christopher Middleton