February 20, 2012

Celebration of Carl Rakosi's 99th birthday at Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania (tapes, biography and introduction) [link]

For tapes, a bio and an introduction to events to celebrate Carl Rakosi’s 99th birthday at Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania, click here:

Carl Rakosi (USA) 1903-2004

 Carl Rakosi [Callman Rawley] [USA]

Rakosi was born in Berlin on November 6, 1903. A year after his birth, his parents separated and for the next six years he and his mother lived with her family in Hungary. In the meantime his father had moved to Chicago, where he worked as a watchmaker and was involved in socialist politics with friends such as Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnicht. In 1910 Rakosi’s step¬mother traveled to Hungary, bringing Carl and his brother back with her to the United States.
     Rakosi recounted in a 2001 interview (in the Jewish Bulletin) that there was a sense of panic among the ship’s passengers concerning whether or not they would pass the health examinations, a fear ameliorated in the six-year-old child, perhaps, by his seeing the Statue of Liberty: “It was an unforgettable sight. There was a sense of great exhilaration and joy.” He never saw his mother again, and did not know what happened to her until he returned with his children to Hungary for a visit in the 1970s. On a Budapest memorial wall he found the names of his mother and grandmother, by the word “Auschwitz.”
     Eventually the family settled in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and after a brief time at the University of Chicago, he transferred to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he received a bachelor’s degree. After graduating, Rakosi signed on as a mess boy on a trip to Australia, and later worked with disturbed children in New York, which led him to return to Wisconsin to take a master’s degree in psychology.
     He was first attracted to writing in high school, when one of his teachers—“a very sexy looking woman”—responded to a book report he had written on George Meredith. She “wrote back…on what I had written in such a straightforward serious tone,” he recounts in a conver-sation with Tom Devaney and Olivier Brossard, “it gave me for the first time, the idea that maybe I had it in me to be a writer too.” Later at the University of Chicago he befriended two other students, a black student “turning out poems that sounded like Kipling, very robust and vigorous” and a Japanese student writing short, haiku-like poems. Both made an impression on him.
     During the three years of his undergraduate work at Wisconsin (1921-1924) Rakosi was able to attend to poetry, affiliating himself through a small literary circle that included Kenneth Fearing, Leon Serabian Herald and Margery Latimer (who would later marry Jean Toomer) with the political left literary avant-garde. As opposed to his small literary circle, Rakosi found his other fellow students to be unbelievably “smug”:
     The University had some ten thousand students, mostly from Wisconsin farms and small towns, blond young Babbitts of North European stock, their hair cropped close. It was a place for youth fed on fresh country milk and Iowa corn where time was suspended and they looked each other over and saw that they were comely, and flirted and horsed around, and the big events were foot¬ball and the Big Ten pennant ahead. And standing guard was a smugness hard to imagine these days, though Nancy Reagan comes pretty close to it. (“Scenes from My Life,” in Collected Prose).

     Throughout this period and for some years following his graduation, he published in numerous important literary and politically-allied magazines such as The Little Review, Two Worlds, Exile, transition, The Liberator, The Nation and The Masses. The story of his first encounter in New York with The Little Review editor Jane Heap is worth recounting. Through Margery Latimer it had been arranged that he meet with Heap:

     Apprehensive, I climbed the circular staircase one afternoon to The Little Review office, which was then in the Village. It was dark in the hallway. At one end on the first landing was a small white name-card, The Little Review, and a push button under it. I rang the bell, there was silence for a moment, then the door opened and a pudgy figure appeared in a red velvet smoking jacket, smoking a small cigar, the face very round, the hair bobbed to look mannish. For a moment there was an aston¬ishing resemblance to Oscar Wilde.

     It was Jane Heap. This startling appearance, for some reason, at once put me at ease. I simply gave her my name and she invited me in. It was not an office at all but an apartment she shared with Margaret Anderson. She was pleasant, served tea, and we talked, she as to a fellow writer. I found myself stimulated and was not lacking for words. I remember our conversation as lively and straightforward. At the end, she said, “I suppose you brought something with you,” and I said, “Yes,” and pulled out a batch of poems from my coat pocket. She read them closely, thought for a few moments and then said, “We’ll take these.”

     That was it. I was in. (“Scenes from My Life,” The Collected Prose).

The poems published by The Little Review—“Sittingroom by Patinka,” “The January of a Gnat,” and “Flora and the Ogre”—represent some of Rakosi’s very best writing. While I usually cannot tolerate American poetry with end-rhymes, Rakosi’s brilliant evocation of a gnat in mid-winter is a testament how a good poet can transform formal elements into something completely original.
     In 1929, in a commitment to a literary career, Rakosi legally changed his name to Callman Rawley, which, disguising his immigrant origins, he thought might lead to quicker acceptance in literary circles, particularly in relation to poets Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams (all poets, one observes, who expressed anti-Semitic sentiments). But his move in 1928 to Texas had already resulted in what Andrew Crozier has described as “a willed act of poetic abnegation.”
     Rakosi’s poetry, however, was not (yet) forgotten. After years of criticism of Harriet Moore’s “stale and phoney” presentation of American writing in Poetry, Pound was able to convince her in 1930 to allow Louis Zukofsky to edit a special issue. Pound’s only fear, he proclaimed in a letter of October 1930 to Monroe, was that “Mr. Zukofsky will be just and Goddam praewdent.” In January of the next year, he wrote: “Re Zuk: gord knows wot he has done to yr. respected pubctn. At least it will be a different point of view. Let us hope a younger pt. v. than mine” (in Pound, Selected Letters 1907-1941).
     According to Rakosi, Zukofsky, prodded by Pound not to include “old masters,” solicited poems “from young poets for whose poetry he had a high regard. What he collected was the best he could find” (Rakosi in interview with Tom Devaney).

Monroe, however, insisted upon a name for the issue. Rakosi recounts:

"It seems to me now, that she must have felt that a name would show that the magazine was open to new forms of poetry and that this would benefit the magazine. She never openly approved of our poems, however. As a matter of fact, in the next issue she apologized to her readers.

Zukofsky hated the idea of pinning a name to a collection of diverse talents and protested, but being young and unknown himself at the time, sputtering angrily at how stupid she was.

Anyhow, he came up with the term Objectivist, thinking that was as close as he could come to describing the work of Reznikoff, whom he admired most. In that connection, it is interesting that Pound never could understand what Zukofsky saw in Reznikoff, but he had the good sense not to interfere with Zukofsky’s judgment. Zukofsky wrote me at the time to ask, did I have any objection to the term. I wrote back, “Hell no, just as long as I get into the magazine,” Poetry at that time being only one of two poetry magazines in the country, the other being one that I would not have wanted to appear in” (Rakosi in interview with Tom Devaney).

The February 1931 issue of Poetry contained four of Rakosi’s best poems: “Orphean Lost,” “Fluteplayers from Finmarken,” “Unswerving Marie,” and “Before You,” two of which I chose (unaware at the time of their literary pedigree) for inclusion in my large American anthology."

     Rakosi’s work continued to appear in magazines, with lessening frequency, throughout the 1930s. By 1935, however, he had completely given up writing as he worked at the University of Pennsylvania on a Master of Social Work degree. He married Leah Jaffe in 1939, and they began a family. Rakosi was now determined to follow a career in helping others, working for nearly 30 years as a psychotherapist with disturbed children in St. Louis, Cleveland, and Minneapolis.
     In 1941 James Laughlin of New Directions—a publishing entity also very influenced by Pound—printed, as the first of its “Poet of the Month” series, Rakosi’s Selected Poems, his first book. For the next twenty-five years Rakosi was silent.
     In 1965, a student of Charles Olson’s at the State University of New York-Buffalo, Andrew Crozier contacted Rakosi to discuss his poetry. His interest in the work inspired Rakosi to begin writing again, and in 1967, New Directions brought out a second book—containing mostly poems from his early years,—Amulet. Ere-Voice was published in 1971 and Ex Cranium, Night appeared in 1975. But the poet who emerges at the other end of those two and one-half decades is not the same man. The influences of his social engagement with what he would call the “common man” are everywhere apparent. No longer engaged in sensuous wonderment of a trans-formed universe, he is now more interested in proclaiming aesthetic approaches and satirically observing the excesses of what he describes as prophets and poets. “What we need in this world are workable proposals,” as he argues in his 1998 poem “Odds and Ends.” Excess in anything—particularly when it comes to artistic expression—is now the object of disdain.
     His direct narrational approach to language, his new dismissal of anything that is not related to a homespun American use of speech, suddenly puts him at odds with his own past, including his continuing love of music and literature.
     One cannot but recognize that he, like so many others, has confused (and infused) his art with politics in a manner that serves neither. In his Romanization of the “common man” Rakosi misunderstands the fact that a radicalized and intensified use of language can itself serve to effect a change in the polis, that the very fact that art is not life can offer new vision for those who might engage it.
     Perhaps no poet since Marianne Moore has done greater harm to her or his own early writing than Carl Rakosi. His Collected Poems, published in 1986—clearly unedited and printed from a manuscript he collected—is a mish-mash of older and new work, organized by gratuitous topics such “Meditations,” “Adventures of the Head,” “L’Chayim,” “The Poet, I and II,” and “Americana.” Some of his best works have been radically revised, others grafted to newer poems. Several of my favorite poems, works such as “Paraguay,” “Good Prose,” and “Sappho,” have been apparently disavowed.
     No matter how one might lament Rakosi’s later poetic attitudes, he graciously allowed Crozier and Sun & Moon Press to restore his earlier versions to print, helping the editor in the process. Despite his revisionist presentation of his earlier poetry, it is clear that Rakosi wanted that work also to appear in its original contexts. At the very least the poet recognized, as he writes in his “Cautionary Note” to the Sun & Moon Press volume, that his “atti¬tude toward the poems is not a part” of him. “They stand there as givens.” In his insightful introduction Crozier, moreover, warns us against representing the achievements of the earlier period as having been thwarted by Rakosi’s financial exigencies. It is always unwise to ignore the real social relations, writing blocks, or other inhibitions of any poet, Crozier argues, for they are part of the phenom¬enology of writing. Indeed, the work Rakosi produced when he returned to writing, while less formal and more directly transparent in its satirical focus, had its roots, often, in the earlier poems.
     In 1996 won the PEN Center USA Award for Collected Poems: 1923-1941.
     On June 25, 2004, Carl Rakosi, the man the San Francisco Chronicle described “the oldest major poet in the United States,” died. The only surprise was, perhaps, that at the age of 100 he was still living!—basically in good health and a good state of mind. He had suffered a series of strokes, but he was, according to the family, listening to Mark Twain and music at the time of his death. A family friend, Jen Hofer, recounts that a few days earlier a hospice worker asked him if he knew what day it was; he didn’t. What month was it? “September?” Did he know the year? “No.” “Who is the president?” the hospice worker queried. He hesitated, and his wife and the worker presumed he’d be unable to answer that question as well. A short while later, he answered: “Bush—that bastard!”


Selected Poems (New York: New Directions, 1941); Amulet (New York: New Dierctions, 1967); Ere-Voice (1968); Ex Cranium Night (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1975); Droles de Journal (West Branch, Iowa: Toothpaste Press, 1981); The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi (Orono, Maine: The National Poetry Foundation, 1986); Poems 1923-1941, ed. by Andrew Crozier (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1995); The Earth Suite (Buckfastleigh, South Devonshire, England: Etruscan Books, 1997)

Fluteplayers from Finmarken

How keen the nights were,
Not a star out,
not a beat of emotion
in the humming snowhull.
(Now and then an awful swandive.)

It seemed ordained then that
my feet slip on the seal bones
and my head come down suddenly over a simple rock-cisvaen,
grief-stricken and archwise.
Thereon were stamped
the figures of the noble women
I had followed with closed dyes
out to the central blubber
of the waters.

(There is not a pigeon
or a bee in sight.
My eyes are shut now,
and my pulse dead as a rock.)

The Swedish mate says he recalls
this fungoid program of the mind and matter,
where the abstract signals to the abstract,
and the mind directs a final white lens
on the spewing of the waterworm
and the wings of the midsea.

It was not clear what I was after
in this stunted flora
and husky worldcold
until the other flutes arrived:
four master musing
from one polar qualm to another.

The January of a Gnat

Snow panels, ice pipes, house the afternoon
whose poised arms lift prayer with the elm’s antennae.
She has her wind of swift burrs, whose spiel is gruff,
scanning the white mind of the winter moon
with her blank miles. Her voice is lower than
the clovers or the bassviol of seastuff.

So void moons make a chaste anabasis
across the stalks of star and edelweiss,
while Volga nixies and a Munich six
o’clock hear in the diaphane the rise
of one bassoon. So the immense frosts fix
their vacant death, bugs spray the roots like lice.
High blizzards broom the cold for answer to
their ssh of vapors and their vowel ooo


In the early hours the lovebirds
colonized the palm.

We were looking for a totem.
Finding nothing
but the Indian smells,
we booked the next boat to Janeiro.

On the east coast,
when the sun deflects the falcons
we found a blessed frère
with no cathedral
but the daisies in May,
living on milk and wafers,
with the cross in one hand
and the anatomy of sorrow in the other.

The Lobster
To W. Carlos Williams

Eastern Sea, 100 fathoms,
green sand, pebbles,
broken shells.

Off Suno Saki, 60 fathoms,
gray sand, pebbles,
bubbles rising.

and slow-
motion benthos!

The fishery vessel Ion drops
anchor here collecting
plankton smears and fauna.
Plasma-bearer, visible sea
purge, sponge and kelpleaf,
halicystus the Sea Bottle

resembles emeralds
and is the larges
cell in the world.

Young sea-horse
Hippocampus twenty
minutes old—

nobody has ever
seen this marine
freak blink.

It radiates on
terminal vertebrae
a comb of twenty

upright spines
and curls
its rocky tail.

Saltflush lobster
bull encrusted swims
backward from the rock.

Copyright ©1995, 1967 by Callman Rawley. Reprinted from Carl Rakosi, Poems 1923-1941 (Los Angeles, Sun & Moon Press, 1995).

Mirta Rosenberg (Argentina) 1951

Mirta Rosenberg (Argentina)

Mirta Rosenberg was born in Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina on October 7, 1951. She now lives in Buenos Aires, where she translates poetry from English and French and writes her own work.
     Her poetic debut came in 1984 with the volume Pasajes (Passages), followed by the 1988 work, Madam. Five further books followed before he collected works were published under the title El árbol de palabras (The Tree of Words) in 2006 by the publishing house Bajo la luna. The former publisher had been her son and his girlfriend, but in 1990 Rosenberg took over the job, changing the publishing house name to Bajo la nueva luna (Under the New Moon).

Rosenberg has also translated a wide range of English-language authors from Katherine Mansfield, Derek Walcott, Marianne Moore, and H. D. to James Laughlin, Seamus Heaney, and Louise Glück. With Daniel Samoilovich, she translated Shakespeare's Henry IV as part of an Argentinian project of translation Shakespeare's plays.
     Since 1986 Rosenberg has also been on the editing staff of the poetry journal, Diario de posía.
     In 2003 she was awarded a Guggenheim grant for poetry, and in 2004 received the Konex prize for her literary translations.
      She has also translated the poems of Sappho into Spanish.
     Writing on the Poetry International Web, critic Bart Vonck has written of Rosenberg's own poetry: "Mirta Rosenberg's poetry has its own independent voice in the highly varied panorama of present-day Argentinean poetry. She sings from the depths of language or from her own personal reading of it and the broadening that language in translation allows to appear. In Rosenberg's (often enigmatic) poems, internal rhymes, rhythm, plays on words and repetitions often occur as components of her own wayward writing. With considerable stylistic distance she sounds the abyss of intimacy."


Pasajes (Buenos Aires: Trocadero, 1984); Madam (Buenos Aires: Libros de Tierra Firma, 1988); Teoría sentimental (Buenos Aires: Libros de Tierra, 1994); El Arte de Perder (Buenos Aires: Bajo la luna nueva, 1998); Poemas (Badajoz, Spain: Asociación de Escritos Extremeños, 2001); El árbol de palabras (Buenos Aires: Bajo la luna, 2006); El paisaje interior (2012); El arte de perder y otros poemas (Valencia, Spain: Pretextos, 2015); Bichos (with Ezequiel Zaidenwerg) (2017); El árbol de palabras (collection including El paisaje interior and Cuaderno de oficio) (2018)

Omar Cáceres (Chile) 1904-1943

Omar Cáceres (Chile)

 Omar Cáceres was born in Cauquenes, Chile on July 5, 1904 and became linked with the turbulent poetic and artistic period in South American literature of the 1920s. Primarily he devoted himself to literary criticism that appeared mainly in the Illustrated Journal. Critic Eliot Weinberger describes him also as being a violinist, the only sighted member of a orchestra for the blind. One source also describes him as joining the Communist Party.
     Cáceres' poetry appeared in two anthologies, Contemporary Chilean Poetry of 1931 edited by Ruben Azocar, and the controversial Chilean Poetry Anthology edited by Volodia Teitelboim and Eduardo Anguita of 1935. For the most part, however, his poetry remained unpublished until 1934, when his brother self-published a book for Omar, Defensa del ídolo (The Defense of the Idol). Discovering typographical errors in the book, the poet bought up almost all the copies and burned them. According to Weinberger, only two copies of the fifteen-poem publication, remain intact. The introduction to this book was written by the great Chilean poet and writer Vicente Huidobro, although it is unknown whether the two actually met.
     Little else is known about him. He died under strange conditions, his body being found in a rural ditch near Renca in September 1943. His head was cracked open and his pockets were empty.


Denfesa del ídolo (self-published, 1934)

For an article "On Cáceres," which includes a translation of one of his poems by Eliot Weinberger, see below:

February 19, 2012

"The Sciart Origins of Bern Porter’s Found Poems" | by Joel Lipman (Introduction to Porter's Found Poems) [link]

For an essay on the "Found Poems" of Bern Porter by Joel Lipman, click here:

"Ronald Firbank as Poet" | essay by Douglas Messerli [link]

For an essay regarding the (usually-described) fiction writer Ronald Firbank as a poet, see below:

J. Karl Bogartte (USA) 1944

J. Karl Bogartte (USA)

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 8, 1944, J. Karl Bogartte began in high school reading a wide range of poets and other writers, from William Butler Yearts to E. E. Cummings, from Thomas DeQuincy to Madame Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine. At age 17 he discovered the New Directions edition of Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell, which, along with reading the City Lights Anthology containing a section devoted to surrealism edited by Franklin Rosemont, completely transformed his thinking, both visually and poetically.
     Bogartte took the City Lights book with him to Paris in 1971, when he stayed in the city for almost a year. Without knowing French he assimilated much of French surrealist literature, and a few years later begin to define his writing as surrealist-inspired.
     In France he did meet Francis Ponge in Provence. Bogartte remembers: “It was a strange and marvelous meeting, since neither of us knew each other’s language, and we ‘pondered each other.’ We walked, made attempts to communicate. He signed a book of his I had purchased, and well, I was in awe and didn’t want to impose.
     Returning to the US, Bogartte studied anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and photography at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. He also contacted Rosemont and joined the Chicago Surrealist group.
     In 2004, he published a novella, Antibodies (A Surrealist Novella), followed uup his first book of poetry, The Wolf House. Secret Games followed in 2007, along with Luminous Weapons 2009, The Mirror Held Up in Darkness 1976-2003 in 2010, and A Curious Night for a Double Eclipse in 2011.


The Wolf House (Paris: La Belle Inutile Éditions, 2005); Secret Games (Paris: La Belle Inutile Éditions, 2007); Luminous Weapons (Paris: La Belle Inutile Éditions, 2009); The Mirror Held Up in Darkness 1976-2003 (Paris: La Belle Inutile Éditions, 2010); A Curious Night for a Double Eclipse (Paris: La Belle Inutile Éditions, 2011)

from Luminous Weapons

The game that is most intense when the apples come to glow, and the gifted hands of the translator fondle the abacus of distant fixations. A sudden dialectic mirrors the syrup of hallucination between the clothing of bereavement and the stairway that leads to the forest, and ultimately there is a devastating humor in the shadow when it ignites.

The spirit of a forceful defiance, a dangerous rapture clinging to the parapets deer-laden with immaculate caressing sensations arriving fully formed, labyrinths of indecent exposures (Medea-roses) inciting curses and other idiosyncrasies, like sparkling lures or shining breastplates of adopted flight-patterns groomed as totems and delicious pets... Your mouth close to her ear, where the word “sinister” enters the mastery of jasmine and arson, like wind gathering the axial stones of consciousness into phantom arcades.

Often, there is the delicate cooing, the diabolical inclusions, the ravishing of wishbones... “Dearest Equinox, you must leave before the doors close in the children’s eyes...” precise gesticulation to unsettle the savants in their hidden chambers. The rare infernal flowers of locomotion, whispering amongst themselves... A buzzing drama of dark machines and blonde pianos of a river that captures bells for pleasure and twitching, intimate with a street that follows the scent of your eyes. The magnolia of the wolf’s eyes lit up like wounds seem like the grates of a sudden encounter, in the middle of the night, a flaunting image of pale mysteries torn into premeditated seductions.

“Equinox... out of the landscape, out of the forest, spin the fur into gold, into windows through stone, out of shadow spread your eyes into fleece... ”

The anthropology of your body lives past the bronze age of those liquids that solarize the face of a woman, whose bell of slumbering shatters the city of elongated sorrows, and whose name in Galicia is venerated by scholars, and despised by children. Her face follows rain and flood. Bones glittering for windows. Shadows cut into perfect squares. Her name is always invisible, her gate covered with whispering, her fluids powering impossible getaways

Copyright ©2009 by J. Karl Bogartte. Reprinted by permission.

"On Jerome Rothenberg at 80" | essay by Jeffrey Robinson (celebrating Rothenberg's 80th birthday) [link]

For a piece by Jeffrey Robinson on "Jerome Rothenberg at 80," please click below:

Roland Jooris (Belgium / writes in Dutch) 1936

Roland Jooris (Belgium / writes in Dutch)

Roland Jooris was born on July 22, 1936 in Wetteren, Belgium. Jooris graduated as a teacher for secondary education in Germanic languages, and worked for some years as a teacher at the State Technical Institute in Lokeren.
     In 1956 he published his first collection of poetry, Gitaar (1956), followed by Bluebird in 1957 and Een knosumptief landschap in 1969. Although his output over the decades was relatively small, his poems— influenced mostly by the French writings of André Du Bouchet and Pierre Reverdy—gained him a substantial reputation in Flanders and Netherlands.

Jooris later became the curator of the Roger Ravell Museum, and has written extensively on art. He has several books of essays and interviews as well as his poetry.
     Critic Tom van de Voorde has noted that "Jooris' poetry evolves along the way into more stubborn terseness, into more language ascesis and calm. It is an evolution from concrete visibility to more abstract contemplation, from euphoria with regard to reality as poetry to the distillation of poetry as reality."
   Jooris has wond the Tweejaarlijkse prijs voor poësie van De Vlaamse Gids in 1976, the Jan Campertprijs for his Gedichten 1958-1978 in 1979, and the Prijs van de Vlaamse Provincies in 1981.


Gitaar (1956); Bluebird (1958); Een konsumptief landschap (Ghent: Yang, 1969); Laarne (Ghent: Yang, 1971); 'More is less (1972); Het vierkant op het einde van de zomer (1974); Het museum van de zomer (Ghent: Yang, 1974); Bladstil (1977); Gedichten 1958-1978 (Antwerpen: Lotus, 1978); Akker (Tielt: Lanoo, 1982); Uithoek (Ghent: Poëziecentrum, 1991); Geschilderd of geschreven  (Ghent: Yang, 1992); Bloemlezing uit de poëzie van Roland Jooris (Ghent: Poëziecentrum, 1997); Gekras (Amsterdam: Querido, 2001); Als het dichtklapt (Amsterdam: Querido, 2005); De contouren van het verstrijken (Amsterdam: Querido, 2008)



I would like to place
that nightly blackbird
on a branch in a poem,
but after all why should
I, it’s perched there
where it should be: in
a poem out there.


thank you so much, just
applause will do, that’s
how yardbird charlie
dismissed the flaring

and that blackbird
in my garden too
can make do with
some musing after
a stirring solo

at the slightest clap of hand
he swishes off into
the dark

—Translated from the Dutch by Peter Nijmeijer


a village is a circle
drawn by hand
around a church;

a dove is a very
simple line void of air
on a rooftop;

a spring season leaves wet
stains on the paper
of the sky;

and look, now this is true
reality: I shall presently
let it rain
on my poem
so that it runs
into a watercolor
of sodden
illegible words.

--Translated from the Dutch by Peter Nijmeijer

English language translation copyright ©2005 by Peter Nijmeijer

February 18, 2012

Nathaniel Mackey

Nathaniel Mackey [USA]

Born in Miami, Florida, Nathaniel Mackey spent his youth in Southern California, where at the age of four, his family moved. He received his BA from Princeton, and his PhD from Stanford University.

His major poetic influences were William Carlos Williams and Amiri Baraka, but other jazz musicians such as John Coltrane and Don Cherry became important influences on his life, and particularly transformed his notion of fiction, which throughout much of his career he transformed into an ongoing series of prose works, published under the general name of From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, fictions beginning with Bedouin Hornbook in 1986 (Callaloo Fiction Series, 1986, reprinted by Sun & Moon Press in 1997), and continuing in Djbot Baghostus’s Run (Sun & Moon Press, 1993), Atet A.D. (City Lights Books, 2001), and Brass Cathedral (New Directions, 2008), a series of fictions that have become important “underground” works that are extraordinarily popular with readers. The first three of these volumes were recently collected by New Directions in 2010. The works have been described by critic David Hajdu as “kinetic and also contemplative, elegiac and mercurial, sometimes volatile.”

     Mackey, for many years a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, also published books of criticism, including Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993) and Paracritical Hinge: Essays, Talks, Notes, Interviews (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005).

     Among his several volumes of poetry are Eroding Witness (University of Illinois Press), School of Udhra (City Lights Books), Whatsaid Serif (City Lights Books), and Splay Anthem (New Directions).

     Mackey has also edited and coedited books of essays, including Moment’s Notice: Jazz in Poetry and Prose (1993) and has published numerous works on tape. He has won the National Book Award for Splay Anthem, the Roy Harvey Pearce/Archive for New Poetry Prize in 2007, the Stephen Henderson Award from the African American Literature and Culture Society in 2008, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2010. Mackey also edits the magazine, Hambone.

     Mackey has been extremely important in his influence on younger African-American poets, particularly upon Los Angeles poet Will Alexander, whose works he advocated to Sun & Moon Press and others.

     After years of being a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Mackie recently became the Reynolds Price Professor of Creative Writing at Duke University.


 Four for Trane (Golemics, 1978); Septet for the End of Time (Boneset, 1985); Eroding Witness (Champaign: University of Illinois Press); Outlandish (Tucson, Arizona: Chax Press, 1992); School of Udhra (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1993); Song of the Andoumboulou: 18-20 (Moving Parts Press, 1994); Whatsaid Serif (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1998); Splay Anthem (New York: New Directions, 2006); Blue Fasa (New York: New Directions, 2014)

 For a sizable selection of recorded readings of poems, click here:

For an interview with Mackey upon his arrival at Duke University, click below:

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

Beginning ‘We the Migrating They’

      —andoumboulouous étude—

          We the migrating they we
      instigated, those in whose
name we went. To get where
    they were going and lie
   was all we wanted, love’s
     choric voices convening,
caroling home, home ex-
       ploded long since… It was
          up and be gone again,
     shell taken for sun where
there was no sun, without
   or about hope no one could
      We the migrating they we
    stared out at, prodigal wish to
burn elsewhere intransigent,
      Stella’s high skylight were
         suddenly one of us, she the
     one who said move on…
        They were not the dead
    dolls of the dead, a dream of
      coming back as we were going.
Eyes wide but eyes nothing
          out from, effigies adrift in the
    A parsed pomp and circumstance
  it was, not being there but the
      image of being there what they
were caught in, lagleg retreat,
      advance… Inside the bubble
  the house became we saw each
       awake one, puffed-up
ascendance all there was of
     ing back, an effigy of each if
  each its own effigy, each an un-
likely remit… Everyone someone
          knew, resemblance mocked us,
     faces doll hard, clavicles crossed.
Each with a big mouth, telling on
   everyone, what so-and-so did,
      so-and-so thought… Who they
          otherwise were we fell away from,
equate their going with our going
    though we did… Who they were
      otherwise were, the away what there
  of it still
Reprinted from Blackbox Manifold (2011). Copyright ©2011 by Nathaniel Mackey     

February 17, 2012

Douglas Messerli"s Dinner on the Lawn and Some Distance | review by Peter Inman

Review of Douglas Messerli’s Dinner on the Lawn and Some Distance by Peter Inman

By reviewing two books in one fell swoop I hope I’m not undifferentiating them in the process. Hopefully, I’m underlining their different tactics, for Messerli seems to me one of those poets (Charles Bernstein and Steven Benson are two others) who use a wide variety of poetic modes. His approach is postmodernist: eclectic and analytic, unconcerned with the establishing of a poetic voice, a style.

Rather than ignore traditional poetic conventions Messerli uses them to highlight the distance between, say, a Messerli ode and “the ode.” In Some Distance (New York, Segue Books, 1982) especially, Messerli uses a range of anachronistic poetic effects: alliteration, rhyme (end and internal), assonance, meter. But these generic conventions aren’t used as building blocks in the construction of some larger, overall thematic structure. Instead such devices as reminders that we are reading a poem, whose effects and stratagems are historically located. Some Distance can be seen as a meditation on the poem’s generic location among other genres, other species of discourse. The fact that many of the conventions Messerli uses are outmoded emphasizes that there is no eternal prosody, Grecian urns notwithstanding. The art of writing is a social practice, not a matter of genius communing with its muse.

Dinner on the Lawn
(College Park, Maryland: Sun & Moon Press, 1982): Its standard line is short, almost always two to three words long. It seems less concerned with poetic convention than Some Distance; its tone is more conversational, less rhetorical. The poems look like Creeley’s early ones, but don’t read like them at all. Instead of representing the poet’s hesitancy and anxiety, the lines’ shortness serves to indicate their own directions.

Two quotes. (1) “….in it (literature the ordinary signifier/signified relationship is complicated by yet another kind of signification which bears on the nature of the code itself. Thus each literary work, above and beyond its own determinate content, also signifies literature in general. Like the Latin sentence, above and beyond what it actually does mean, it also says: I am Literature, and in so doing, identifies itself for us as a literary product, and involves us in that particular and historical social activity which is the consumption of literature.” (Fredric Jameson, The Prison House of Language). (2) “We thus encounter once again the unavoidable necessity of participating in the very activity that is being denounced precisely in order to denounce it.” (Craig Owens, “The Allegorical Impulse, Toward a Theory of Postmodernism”).

In “Chairs for Everyone” (Some Distance) Messerli uses discrete phrases as mini-paragraphs. They are emotionally charged (in Stein’s sense, i.e. they promise some final summation, some level of meaning larger than themselves) but, in fact, they don’t add up to a whole greater than the sum of their parts. The work remains on the molecular level, in fine:

The steps begin to be

irregular, the breath with black pines

building a comfortable lodge in honor of strangers

who sit too close, a darkness grows into an active

retirement, waking one to say

it saw ibex in the sheep.

The feel of these lines is that they are part of a larger argument, they are “going somewhere.” The first phrase makes perfect sense, steps can be irregular. The personification of black pines building a lodge is a leap Robert Bly would approve of. (Presumably, the lodge would either be in Minnesota or on a fjord in Norway.) Strangers do, indeed, on occasion sit too closely together. But the last line quoted (also the poem’s last line) doesn’t tie things together after all. There is no resolution into an overall theme, no unifying or central image. The lines in “Amelia Earhart” (Dinner on the Lawn) also adhere to one another, stretching out into one long sentence whose meaning will become clear upon conclusion. But the final twist on the cliché “wear my heart on my sleeve” (“where / I wear my shoulder / my heart”) belies such an expectation. The suspension doesn’t solidify. There’s no precipitate.

Messerli’s work, jarring as it sometimes is, anachronistic and balky by turn, jolts us from a complacent acceptance of everyday language. It reminds us that language is not some transparent carrier through which the poem’s (or press release’s) message shows through. Messerli’s poems are insistently disjunctive. The rhymes, assonances and sudden twists of associative thread are not matters of idiosyncratic whim; they act as brakes which slow us down and force us to pay attention to the detail of language as such; to its material presence and nuance. His point of attack is similar to that of the Formalists. For them the literary text distanced its readers from the numbing effects of everyday language. Via a process of dislocation of syntax and imagery it dehabituated how the reader read and saw things. Literature, optimally, could be used as an epistemological tonic, undeadening the senses and transforming the reader’s perception of the world around her/him. Messerli’s poems exist within such a practice, address such concerns. They’re well worth reading.

Reprinted from Washington Review (February-March 1983).

Shin Kyong-Nim (South Korea) 1935

Shin Kyong-Nim (South Korea)

 Shin Kyong-nim was born in 1935 in Ch'ongju, North Ch'ungch'ong Province, in what is now South Korea. He grew up in the midst of Korea's old rural culture and in later years went travelling about the countryside, collecting the traditional songs of the rural villages. His literary career as a poet officially dates from the publication in 1956 in the review Munhak Yesul of three poems. For years after that he published nothing, immersing himself instead in the world of the laboring classes, the Minjung, and working as a farmer, a miner, and a merchant. The experience of those years underlies much of his finest work as a poet. He only graduated from the English Department of Dongkuk University (Seoul) in 1967, when he was over thirty.
     His fame as a poet dates mainly from the publication of the collection Nong-mu (Farmers' Dance) in 1973, some of the poems from which were first published in the avant-garde review Ch'angjak-kwa Pip'yong in 1970, heralding his return to the literary scene. It would be difficult to exaggerate the historical significance of this volume in the development of modern Korean poetry. In 1974 Nongmu earned Shin the first Manhae Literary Award, bringing his work unexpected publicity and critical attention. Shin thus helped open the way for public acceptance of a poetry rooted in harsh social realities, a militant literature that was to grow into the workers' poetry of the 1980s.
     Many of the poems in this collection are spoken by an undefined plural voice, a "we" encompassing the collective identity of what is sometimes called the Minjung, the poor people, farmers, laborers, miners, among whom the poet had lived. He makes himself their spokesman on the basis of no mere sympathy; he has truly been one of them, sharing their poverty and pains, their simple joys and often disappointed hopes. Shin is one of the first non-intellectual poets in modern Korea and the awareness that he knows the bitterness he is evoking from the inside gives his poems added power.
     Echoing throughout Nong-mu are memories of the political violence that has characterized Korea's history since its Liberation from Japanese rule in 1945. The divisions and conflicts of the first years of independence culminated in the Korean War (1950-3). Later, throughout the 1960s and 70s, the government's policy of industrialization led to a further brutal uprooting of rural populations that had already undergone severe dislocation in the course of the war, and violence continued. In those years, all forms of political opposition or social organization were forbidden and fiercely suppressed under the increasingly severe dictatorship of President Park Chung-Hee. In particular, any advocacy of workers' rights was considered to be an expression of communism, a sign of support for North Korea, and was punished as a crime against national security.
     In a literary culture accustomed to the individualistic "I" speaker of the western romantic tradition, or the fairly unspecified voice of modern Korean lyrics, the collective "we" employed in Nong-mu was felt to be deeply shocking. The leading recognized Korean poets in the 1960s and 1970s were writing in a highly esthetic style inspired by certain aspects of French Symbolism. Poets and critics alike insisted that literature should have no direct concern with political or social issues. This had already been challenged in the earlier 1960s by a number of younger writers and critics including the poet and essayist Kim Su-yong, who was killed in a car crash in 1968. In particular, Kim's advocacy of a poetic style reflecting ordinary, everyday spoken language, with its colloquialisms and pithiness, is reflected in Shin's poems.
     Nong-mu took Kim's rejection of conventionally accepted literary style to new heights and gave rise to an intense critical debate. A major literary scission occurred and the more activist, 'engaged' writers established their own movement, advocating social involvement. Shin Kyong-nim has continued to play a leading role in this movement. He has served as president of the Association of Writers for National Literature, and of the Federated Union of Korean Nationalist Artists. Members of these groups were repeatedly arrested and harassed throughout the 1970s and 80s.
     The poems of Nong-mu often express with intense sensitivity the pain and hurt of Korea's poor, those of remote villages in the earlier sections, but the final poems focus in part on the urban poor, those marginalized in industrial society. The first edition of Nongmu published in 1973 contained just over forty poems, some written years earlier and full of echoes of rural life. A second edition (1975) added two extra sections containing nearly twenty poems written between 1973 and 1975, in a more urban context. Some critics regret this expansion, feeling that these poems are less powerful, but the fuller version represents the poet's final option and I have translated it in its entirety.
     Later volumes of Shin's poetry include Saejae (1979), Talnomse (1985), Kananhan sarangnorae (1988), Kil (1990), and Harmoni wa omoni ui silhouette (1998). Shin uses easily accessible, rhythmic language to compose lyrical narratives that are at times close to shamanistic incantation, or at others recall the popular songs still sung in rural villages if not in Seoul. Much of his work composes a loosely framed epic tale of Korean suffering, as experienced by the farmers living along the shores of the South Han River, the poet's home region, in the late 19th century, during the Japanese colonial period, and during the turmoil of the last fifty years.
     No poet has so well expressed, and so humbly, the characteristic voice of Korea's masses, both rural and urban. Shin never sentimentalizes his subjects but rather takes the reader beyond the physical and cultural exterior to reveal them as intensely sensitive, suffering human beings.

Brother Anthony of Taizé


Nong-mu (Sŏul Tʻŭkpyŏlsi: Chʻangjak kwa Pipʻyŏngsa, 1973); Saejae (1979); Talnŏmse (1985); Kananhan sarangnorae (1988); Kil (1990); Ssŭrŏjin cha ŭi kkum (1993); Harmoni wa omoni ui silhouette (1998)


Farmers' Dance, trans. by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Young-Moo Kim (Ithaca, New York: Cornell East Asia Series, 1999); Variations: Three Korean Poets: Kim Su-Young, Shin Kyong-Nim, Lee Si-Young trans. by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Young-Moo Kim (Ithaca, New York: Cornell East Asia Series, 2001); selections in David R. McCann, ed. The Columbia Anthology of Modern Korean Poetry (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004)

For an English-language discussion of Shin's Farmers' Dance, go here:

Amado Nervo (Mexico) 1870-1919

Amado Nervo (Mexico)

Born in Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico on August 27, 1980, Amado Nervo's life might be said to be filled with sorrow. When he was 13 years old, Amado saw his father die. His brother, Luis committed suicide, and his own wife, Ana Cecilia Luisa Daillez, died in 1912 after just 11 years of marriage. Yet Nervo's poetry, centered on his strong religious perspective, emanates a spiritual calmness found in very few poets.
     Nervo studied at the Colegio San Luis Gonzaga in Jacona, Michoacán before he prepared for the priesthood at the Roman Catholic Seminary in Zamora. There is studied science, philosophy, and one year of law, also cultivating his later interest in mystical theories.
     Economic necessities, however, forced him to leave the Seminary and accept a desk job in Tepic. Later he moved to Mazatlán working alternately as an lawyer's assistant and as a journalist for El Correo de la Tarde  (The Evening Mail).

In 1894 he moved to Mexico City, where he talents were better appreciated. With Manuel Guitérrez Nájera, he helped to edit the magazine Blue, during which time he read the work of major Spanish-language poets of the modernist movement, including Luis G. Urbina, Tablada, Dávalos, Rubén Dario (with whom he became a close friend), José Santos Chocano, and Campoanor. He also continued as a journalist working for El Universal, El Nacional, and El Mundo, the later with whom he had a long relationship.
     Nervo also contributed to both the journal Revista Azul and the more influencial modernist journal, Revista Moderna. His earliest books of poetry began appearing in 1898 with the volume Misticas, followed by Perlas negras (1898), El éxodo y las flores del camino (1902), Lira heroica (1902), Cantos esolares (1903), Las voces (1904), and Los járdines interiores (1905). The same year as that last volume, the poet was appointed as secretary to the Mexican diplomatic delegation in Madrid, where he remained until 1918. During these years Nervo also wrote fiction.
     He was later appointed as the Mexican Ambassador to Uruguay. Nervo died in Montevideo in 1919, the Uruguayan president returning the body to Mexico aboard the cruiser Uruguay. Nervo and his poetry is still much beloved in Mexico, and highways, airports, and even schools have been named after him. In Tepic his birth home is now The Amado Nervo Museum.


Misticas (1898); Perlas negras (1898); Poemas (1901); El éxodo y las flores del camino (1902); Lira heroica (1902); Cantos esolares (1903); Las voces (1904); Los járdines interiores (1905); En voz baja (1909); Serenidad (1914); Elevación (Buenos Aires: Tor, 1916); El estanque de los lotos (1919); Obras completas de Amado Nervo (Madrid: Biblioteca nueva, 1920); Obras completas (Mexico City: Ediciones Botas, 1938)


Selection of poetry in Mexican Poetry: An Anthology, trans. by Samuel Beckett (New York: Grove Press, 1985); selection of poetry in Stephen Tapscott, ed. Twentieth-century Latin American Poetry: A bilingual Anthology (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996)

Entreaty to the Cloud

The swan bears on its neck the initial of sleep,
and like a strange white dreaming sleep it passes;
but the stranger is the cloud that goes on fire
in the grave sunset and the smiling dawn:

Cloud, visible wake of invisible wind,
thou swan a dawn, raven in the void of night;
cloud, akin to the celestial vane,
cloud, thou ocean and wave and foam and sail!

Cloud, be my protectress. Stoop in pit,
clothe in transfigurations all my doubting
all the darkness that is in my mind.
As I have sorrowed let me shine, although
the storm wind gather that will strip me bare.

 —Translated from the Spanish by Samuel Beckett

Sorrow Vanquished

Sorrow, since you cannot make me
quit God, where is your power?
"Where is thy sting?"

                                     The hours
fly, carrying away on each wing
a certain portion of your dark energy.

Sorrow, you are also a slave
of time; your potency
diminishes as the moments wear thin,
while God, sheltered inside me,
grows larger and larger, the more
I keep loving Him.

 —Translated from the Spanish by Sue Standing


 Each perfect rose that unfolded yesterday,
each sunrise I note between blushes,
fills me with deep pleasure...
I never tire of seeing with my own eyes
the perpetual miracle of life.

Long ago, I looked at the stars
in the transparent nights of Spain,
finding them more exquisite each time.
Long ago, by the sea, alone,
I heard the waves quarrelling,
and the waves' wonder stuns me.

Each time I find nature
more supernatural, more pure and holy.
For me, here, everything is beautiful
and everything enchants me equally:
the mouth of the mother, praying,
the mouth of the child, singing.

I want passionately to be immortal,
because it is marvelous, the panorama
that invites us to immense creation;
because every star calls to me,
saying with brilliant light, "here, also,
they think, here they struggle, here they love."

 —Translated from the Spanish by Sue Standing
"Entreaty to the Cloud"

Reprinted from Octavio Paz, ed. Mexican Poetry: An Anthology, trans. by Samuel Beckett. ©1985 by Grove Press.

"Sorrow Vanquished" and "Ectasy"

Reprinted from Stephen Tapscott, ed. Twentieth-century Latin American Poetry: A bilingual Anthology (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996). Translation ©1996 by Sue Standing.