August 16, 2012

Antonio Colinas (Spain) 1946

Antonio Colinas (Spain)

Born in La Bañeza, Leon on January 30, 1946, Antonio Colinas is a major Spanish poet vaguely situated as part of the Generation of 1970 and the Spanish novísimos, although his work was not included in the anthology of their work.
     Colinas studied history at the University of Madrid before teaching, between 1970 and 1974 at the Universities of Milan and Bergamo in Spanish. He spent two decades in Ibiza before moving to Salamanca.

His first book of over 40 books of poetry, was Poemas de la tierra y de la sange (Poems of the Land and the Blood), published in 1969 along with, the same year, Preludios a una noch total (Preludes to a Total Night), both of which established him as a kind of classicist with mystical leanings. Yet his work, filled with poetic tradition, philosophical, spiritual concerns defines its own territory, and Colinas’ voice is quite original and, often, astonishing beautiful.
      Besides his notable contributions to poetry, the author has also published numerous books of fiction ( Un año en el sur, 1986; Larga carta a Francesco, 1986; Días en Petavonium, 1994; El crujido de la luz, 1999; and Huellas, 2003), dozens of books of essays and other genres, as well as translating more than 20 authors.
     He won the Premio Nacional de Literatura prize in 1982 and the Premio de la Academia Castellana y Leonesa for poetry in 2001.


 Poemas de la tierra y de la sangre (León: Diputación Provincial, 1969); Preludios a una noche total (Madrid: Rialp, 1969); Truenos y flautas en un temple (San Sebastián: C. A. G. de Guipúzcoa, 1972); Sepulcro en Tarquinia ((León: Diputación Provincial, 1975; Barcelona, Lumen, 1976); Astolabio (Madrid: Visor Libros, 1979); En lo oscuro (Rota: Cuadernos de Cera, 1971); Poesia, 1967-1980 (Madrid: Visor Libros, 1982); Sepulcro en Tarquinia (Barcelona: Galeria Amagatotis, 1982); Noche más allá de la noche (Madrid: Visor Libros, 1983); Poesia, 1967-1981 (Madrid: Visor Libros, 1984); Diapasón infinito (Barcelona: Tallers Chardon y Yamamoto, 1986); Dieciocho poemas (Ibiza: Caixa Balears, 1987); Material de lectura (México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1987); Jardin de Orfeo (Madrid: Visor Libros, 1988); Libro de las noches abiertas (Milano: Peter Pfeiffer, 1989); Blanco / Negro (Milano: Petere Pfeiffer, 1990); Los silencios de fuego (Barcelona: Tusquets, 1992); La hora interior (Barcelona: Taller Joan Roma, 1992); El rio de sombra. Poesia 1967-1990 (Madrid: Visor Libros, 1994); Pájaros en el muro / Birds in the wall (Barcelona: Taller Joan Roma, 1995); Libro de la mansedumbre (Barcelona: Tusquets, 1997); Córdoba adolescente (Córdoba: CajaSur, 1997); El rio de sombra. Trienta años de poesía, 1967-1997 (Madrid: Visor Libros, 1999); Amor que enciende más amor (Barcelona: Plaza y Janés, 1999); Nueve poemas (Salamanca: Celya, 2000); Junto al lago (Salamanca: Cuadernos para Lisa, 2001); Tiempo y abismo (Barcelona: Tusquets, 2002); La hora interior. Antología 1967-2001 (León: Junta de Castilla y León, 2003); Seis poemas (Burgos: Instituto de la Lengua de Castilla y León, 2003); Trienta y ocho poemas (Madrid: Real Casa de la Moneda, 2003); El río de sombra. Trienta cinco años de poesía, 1967-2002 (Madrid: Visor Libros, 2004); Noche más allá de la noche (Vallodaolid: Fundación Jorge Guillén, 2004); En Ávila unas pocas palabras (Valloadolid: Ediciones de El Gato Gris, 2004); Obra poética complete, 1967-2010 (Madrid: Siruela, 2011) 


 Selection in Four Postmodern Poets of Span: A Critical Introduction with Translations of the Poems (ed. and trans. by Kay Pritchett) (Fayettevill: The University of Arkansas Press, 1991); Pájaros en el muro / Birds in the wall (Barcelona: Taller Joan Roma, 1995) (a bi-lingual edition)

The River of Shadow

This road lines with dour hundred-year-old fig trees—
where is it talking me on this uncertain night?
The heat has overcome the doves in the wheat field.
Only the cool, innumerable cascades of grapevines,
over the unhoping eye of the partridge tangled
and wounded in a snare at the clearing,
over the sweat of the horses,
The shade creates a sweet, fresh river of shadow,
a deep channel between black trunks,
traced by a divine hand.

When night falls an enormous sword
comes after me; it tears at the sky, whistles
demonically among the branches.
But today I am safe. Goodbye, persistent
and exhausting snares of life.
Safe in the unfathomed channel
of the night road, between the infinite
lines that someone drafted centuries ago.
A channel where nothing bewilders me
but the sickly, sublime aroma
of a procession of mown rose bushes.

(from Astolabio, 1979)

—Translated from the Spanish by John DuVal

“The River of the Shadow” reprinted from Kay Pritchett, ed. Four Postmodern Poets of Spain: A Critical Introduction with Translations of the Poems (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1991). Copyright ©1991 by Kay Pritchett. Reprinted by permission of The University of Arkansas Press.      

August 15, 2012

"Against Elegy: Michael Palmer's Book of the Dead" | essay by Patrick Pritchett (on Palmer's Thread) [link]

For a review of Michael Palmer's book Thread by Patrick Pritchett, go here:

Tua Forsström (Finland / writes in Swedish) 1947

Tua Forsström (Finland/writes in Swedish)

The Swedish-language writing Finnish poet Tua Forsstöm was born in 1947 in Nyland, home to skerries, forests, and beaches upon the Gulf of Finland, where she lives still today.
     She studied literature in Helsinki, at the Swedish section of the University of Helsinki. For several years she worked for the Swedish-Finnish publishing house, Söderström, but for the last many years as earned her living from her poetic writing.
      Forsström’s poetry is deceptively simple in its melancholic tone, but with references to classical literature, philosophy, cultural-historic issues and visual arts, it is far more complex than the quite simplicity of its language, and through its themes of love—involving sorrow, rage, loneliness and madness—it often creates a strongly feminist message set against the Finnish concerns of existential alienation.
      Forsström has won numerous literary awards, and her poetry has been published into numerous other languages, including Danish, German, Italian, Finnish, French, Dutch, and English.
      Her 1997 book, Efer att ha tillbringat en natt bland hästar (After Spending a Night among Horses)—an ongoing dialogue with Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky—won the most prestigious Scandinavian literary award, The Nordic Council Literary Prize.


En dikt om kärlek och annat (Helsingfors: Söderström & Co.,1972); Där anteckningarna slutar (Helsingfors: Söderström & Co.,1974); Egentligen är vi mycket lyckliga (1976); Tallört (1979); September (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1983); Snöleopard (1987); Marianergraven (1990); Parkerna (1992); Efter att ha tillbringat en natt bland häster (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1997); Jag studerade en gang vid en underbar fakultet (2003)


Snow Leopard (Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Bloodaxe, 1990);  I Studied Once at a Wonderful Faculty (trans. by David McDuff and Stina Katchadourian) (Tarset, England: Bloodaxe, 2006)

Nancy Cunard (England / lived France) 1896-1965

Nancy Cunard (England/lived France)

If there is one figure of the Twentieth century who connects nearly all the major modern writers, dancers, artists, and musicians it would have to be Nancy Cunard. The great-granddaughter of the founder of the transatlantic steamship line Samuel Cunard, Nancy was the daughter of Bache Cunard and Maud Burke, a woman from a California family even wealthier than the Cunards. As in many a Henry James novel, Maud's marriage with Cunard was an arrangement between old wealth and newer, more accessible money. In exchange for a dowry of two million, Maud became a “Lady,” and, presumably, the inheritor of Bache’s 13,000-acre estate, Nevill Holt. But unlike many a James character, young American women tricked by members of the corrupt old world, Maud was no innocent. It is likely that Nancy’s real father was not Bache, but the noted novelist and critic (author of Esther Waters), George Moore, whom Maud had met some two years earlier. For over forty years, Moore would be Maud’s frequent lover, and she his willing muse. And throughout most of her years with Bache and after their separation, Maud courted—and was courted by—the great British orchestra conductor (founder of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) Thomas Beecham.
      Maud, moreover, was intensely social, compared with her husband’s preference for the fox and hound, and turned Nevill Holt into a veritable social resort, regularly inviting to Leichestershire numerous social, literary, and artistic figures of the day—biographer Lois Gordon lists a few of them: Somerset Maugham, Max Beerbohm, the Dutchess of Rutland, the Asquiths, the Balfours, Lady Randolph Churchill (then Jennie Cornwallis-West), Ford Madox Ford, Fyodor Chaliapin, even Lenin—for weekends and longer periods. In one of the most hilariously telling episodes of Maude’s social and sexual appetites, Gordon describes Bache returning home one evening “to find the house full of music lovers gone berserk.”

                One of them had opened his bedroom window to sing
                the cry of the Valkyries, after which voice after voice
                responded with anotherWagnerian melody. Maud said of
                this occasion to the photographer Cecil Beaton, “When
                my husband came back, he noticed an atmosphere
                of love.” Bache had remarked: “I don’t understand
                what is going on in this house, but I don’t like it.

     Like many wealthy British mothers and fathers, Maud—far too self-involved for parenting—kept her daughter at a distance, often putting her under the care of punitive nannies. Throughout her engaging biography Gordon expresses Nancy’s later inability to develop a lasting relationship and her desperate need for love as the result of this distant, even frigid relationship between mother and daughter (the biographer is perhaps at her weakest when she attempts psychological analyses of her subject). Yet as Gordon herself notes, Maud had grown up in just such a household, and one has only to read a handful of British (and American) biographies of wealthy families to know that many, if not most of such children were treated similarly.
     Nancy, born on March 10, 1896, grew up to be a stunning beauty with piercingly blue eyes and a graceful, almost musical way of walking, was one of the most popular young women of her day both in pre-World War I England and, even more so, in postwar Paris. As her black American lover, Henry Crowder, would later describe her sexual appetite, she slept with everyone and anyone, from noted writers, musicians, and artists of the day to bellhops, chauffeurs, bartenders, nearly anyone with whom she might come in contact. Gordon even suggests that Nancy might have undergone a hysterectomy connected with an abortion or to prevent herself from becoming pregnant.
      It was not simply the fact that Cunard was an available beauty of the day, however, that makes her such a remarkable figure. Were she more like most of her set, she might have simply developed a hobby, as the British press predicted, such as raising dogs. Because of her keen intellect, her complete knowledge of several languages, her wit, and her own significant contributions of poetry—as well as her beauty—the men who dogged her, were some of the most notable figures of the period. Beyond the one- or two-night stands with writers and artists such as T. S. Eliot and, perhaps, Ernest Hemingway, she had long-term affairs with Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, Michael Arlen, Louis Aragon, and Tristan Tzara among others—relationships that would last for years and make her into a muse for much of their writing. Among her friends were James Joyce, Man Ray, Robert McAlmon, John Dos Passos, Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, Malcolm Cowley, Norman Douglas, Samuel Beckett, William Carlos Williams, George Antheil, and such women as Gertrude Stein, Kay Boyle, Mina Loy, H. D., Bryher, Dolly Wilde (niece of Oscar), Romaine Brooks, Josephine Baker, Djuna Barnes, Marie Laurencin, Greta Garbo and her lover Mercedes De Acosta, and the journalist Janet Flanner—and these represent only a few of the hundreds of friendships she developed over the years. Nancy was the model for characters in numerous novels and other writings of the century, including several books by Aldous Huxley and Michael Arlen, and works by Evelyn Waugh, Tristan Tzara, George Moore, Wyndham Lewis [see my essay on The Roaring Queen], Kay Boyle, Pablo Neruda, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Bob Brown, and more. Some believe that she, more than Duff Twysden, was the basis of Hemingway’s Lady Brett in The Sun Also Rises.
      Yet as Gordon reveals, all of this pales in relationship to Nancy’s real coming of age in the late 1920s, lasting through the rest of her eventful life. First, Nancy found a passion in publishing, purchasing a printing press and moving to La Chapelle-Réanville in Normandy in 1928. Clearly, Cunard was a natural when it came to the laborious activity of printing and binding, her Hours Press producing twenty books from 1928 to 1931, including Beckett’s Whoroscope, Pound’s XXX Cantos, and Havelock Ellis’s The Revaluation of Obscenity, along with works by Robert Graves, Louis Aragon, Richard Aldington, George Moore, John Rodker, Laura Riding, Bob Brown, and Arthur Symons.
       But it was her next “passion” that would captivate the world’s attention, ending in her expulsion from high society and the denial of any further financial support, including her inheritance, from her mother. In 1928, after a two-year affair with Aragon, Nancy met the African-American jazz musician, Henry Crowder, then working in Paris. A relationship with him brought her an increasing awareness of white prejudice, which, coupled with her long-time fascination with and, perhaps, romanticizing of all things African, led her to edit and publish one of the most important documents of black history outside of the activities of the Harlem Renaissance, Negro: An Anthology. Gordon’s long and detailed description of this book is one of the most fascinating in a study filled with revelations:

              Negro is a staggering accomplishment—in purpose,
              breadth of information, and size. Almost 8 pounds,
              855 pages (12 inches by 10 ½ inches), with 200 entries
              by 150 contributors (the majority, black) and nearly
              400 illustrations, it was, and in many ways remains,
              unique—an encyclopedic introduction to the history,
              social and political conditions, and cultural
              achievements of the black population throughout much
              of the world: the United States, Europe, South and
              Central America, the West Indies, and Africa. It is one
              of the earliest examples of African American, cross-
              cultural, and transnational studies and a call to all
              civilized people to condemn racial discrimination and
              appreciate the great social and cultural accomplishments
              of a long suffering people.

Cunard’s involvement with Crowder led her to write a polemic, Black Man and White Ladyship, that scandalized most of British and American society, and resulted in her life-long commitment to black political issues, including the attempt to free the Scottsboro Boys and to protect Haile Selassie and Ethiopia from Italian fascist takeover. Beyond the rejection of her own family and the end of long relationships with figures such as George Moore, Nancy suffered anonymous threats and hate mail, some so obscene, she declared, that “this portion of American culture cannot be made public.”
     Had Nancy done nothing else in her life, she would have been a significant figure of the century. Yet her political stands against fascism, and, in particular, her struggles to support the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War and, most importantly, to save the defeated soldiers and intellectuals interned in French camps, is heroic. One of the few individuals willing to walk long distances to cross the borders of Spain and France, Cunard wrote dozens of articles, many about the horrific conditions of the French camps, arguing that the world must come to the rescue of these men. When no salvation appeared, she personally saved several individuals. The Spanish cause was a passion as strong as her determination to fight prejudice, and it became a battle that would last until the end of her life.
     During World War II, Nancy returned to London, witnessing the terrible bombings of the blitz first hand, while working as a journalist and reporter for various government agencies, one of her tasks being to translate Pound’s fascist rants, for which she never forgave him. Upon her return to France after the War, she was distressed to find that her house, revered paintings, and African bracelets, as well as her archives and correspondence had been destroyed, many of the possessions stolen by her Vichy-collaborating neighbors.
     Gordon suggests that that event, her continued financial woes, her shock at the silence of the Allied countries with regard to Spain, and her deteriorating health led, ultimately, to a brief mental breakdown and incarceration in an institution, her friends arguing that Nancy was not mad as much as mad about life. Cunard’s life clearly had been one lived at high pitch, and the passionate commitments to social and literary causes had been met primarily with silence and scorn. Despite her continued friendships with notables throughout the world and an embracement of younger friends such as Philadelphian Charles Burkhart, Cunard’s body and mind continued to decline during her last years.
     In her final hours in a cheap Paris hotel—having refused to accept refuge in the home friends, fearing that she would become an imposition to them—she could barely climb the stairs to her room, and events became almost surreal. Yet throughout her life she staunchly stood as a beacon of joyful living, social commitment, and moral courage that one rarely finds combined in a single individual.

[The material in this essay was based on Lois Gordon Nancy Cunard: Heiress, Muse, Political Idealist (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007) and written as a review in 2007.


Outlaws (London: Elkin Mathews, 1921); Sublunary (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1923); Parallax (London: Hogarth Press, 1925); Poems (Two) (London: Aquila Press, 1925); Poems (London: Aquila Press, 1930); Poems for France (1944); Relève into Maquis (Derby, England: The Grasshopper Press, 1944); Poems of Nancy Cunard: From the Bodleian Library (ed. by John Lucas) (Nottingham: Trent Editions, 2005)

from Parallax

* * * * *

Dry moss, grey stone, hill ruins, grass in ruins
Without water, and multitudinous
Tintinnabulations in the poplar leaves;
A spendrift dust from desiccated pools,
Spider in draughty husk, snail on the leaf—
Provence, the solstice.
And the days after
By the showman's travelling houses, the land caravels
Under a poplar; the proud grapes and the burst grape-skins.
Arles in the plain, Miramas after sunset-time
In a ring of lights,
And a pale sky with a sickle moon.
Thin winds undress the branch, it is October.
And in Les Baux, an old life slips out, patriarch of eleven inhabitants:
"Fatigué" she said, a terse beldam by the latch,
"Il est fatigué, depuis douze ans toujours dans le même coin."

In Aix what's remembered of Cezanne?
A house to let (with studio) in a garden.
Meanwhile "help yourself to these ripe figs,
And if it doesn't suit, we, Agence Sextus, will find you another just as good."
The years are sown together with thread of the same story:
Beauty picked in a field, shaped, recreated,
Sold and dispatched to distant municipality&emdash;
But in the master's town merely an old waiter, crossly:
"Of course I knew him, he was a dull silent fellow,
Dead now."
And beauty walked alone here,
Unpraised, unhindered,
Defiant, of single mind,
And took no rest, and has no epitaph.

* * * * *

"—Then I was in a train in pale clear country
By Genoa at night where the old palatial banks
Rise out of vanquished swamps,
And in San Gimignano's towers where Dante once ..
And in the plains with the mountains' veil
Before me and the waterless rivers of stones—
Siena-brown with Christ's head on gold,
Pinturicchio's trees on the hill
In the nostalgic damps, when the maremma's underworld
Creeps through at evening.
Defunct Arezzo, Pisa the forgotten—
And in Florence, Banozzo
With his embroidered princely cavalcades,
And Signorelli, the austere passion.
Look: Christ hangs on a sombre mound, Magdalen dramatic
Proclaims the tortured god. The rest have gone
To a far hill. Very dark it is, soon it will thunder
From that last rim of amaranthine sky.
Life broods at the cross's foot,
Lizard and campion, star-weeds like Parnassus grass,
And plaited strawberry leaves;
The lizard inspects a skull,
You can foretell the worm between the bones.

(I am alone. Read from this letter
That I have left you and do not intend to return.)

Then I was walking in the mountains,
And drunk in Cortona, furiously,
With the black wine rough and sour from a Tuscan hill,
Drunk and silent between the dwarves and the cripples
And the military in their intricate capes
Signed with the Italian star.
Eleven shuddered in a fly-blown clock—
Oh frustrations, discrepancies,
I had you to myself then ....."

* * * * *


I saw the people climbing up the street
Maddened with war and strength and thoughts to kill;
And after followed Death, who held with skill
His torn rags royally, and stamped his feet.

The fires flamed up and burnt the serried town,
Most where the sadder, poorer houses were;
Death followed with proud feet and smiling stare,
And the mad crowds ran madly up and down.

And many died and hid in unfounded places
In the black ruins of the frenzied night;
And death still followed in his surplice, white
And streaked in imitation of their faces.

But in the morning men began again
To mock Death following in bitter pain.

Samuel Beckett (Ireland/France) 1906-1989

Samuel Beckett (Ireland/France)

Born on April 13, 1906, Samuel Beckett was the son of a Dublin, Ireland surveyor and nurse, the second son of the couple. As a boy he attended a local playschool and then attended Earlsfort House School in the center of the city. In 1919 he was sent to Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh (where Oscar Wilde also went to school). The young Beckett excelled at cricket, later playing for Dublin University.
     From 1923-1927 Beckett attended Trinity College in Dublin, graduating with a B. A. degree. He briefly taught at Campbell College in Belfast before taking the post of lecteur d’anglais in the École Supéerieure in Paris. There he met James Joyce, later working with him on research for the book that became Finnegans Wake.
      Beckett’s first published work was a critical essays defending Joyce’s work and method, “Dante…Bruno…Vico…Joyce,” which was published in Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress, a book of essays on Joyce with other contributions by Eugene Jolas, Robert McAlmon, and William Carlos Williams. The two men’s relationship turned sour, however, when Beckett rejected the advances of Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, suffering from progressing schizophrenia.
     Beckett’s first story, “Assumption” was published in Jolas’ transition, and the following year his poem Whoroscope won a literary award selected by Nancy Cunard and Robert McAlmon and published by Nancy Cunard’s Hours Press.
     In 1930, the author returned as a lecturer to Trinity College, but he soon became unhappy with the post, inventing a figure, Jean du Chas, the supposed founder of Concentrism, and writing an essay (as fiction) for the Modern Language Society of Dublin. He resigned his post in 1931, ending his academic career.
     He traveled to Europe, spending some time in London, where he published is critical work, Proust, In 1932, he wrote his first novel, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, and two years later published his first collection of short stories, More Pricks Than Kicks. The same year he published his second book of poetry, Echo’s Bones and Other Precipitates while also working on the novel Murphy, published in 1938, and a year later returned, frustrated with his life in Ireland, he settled permanently in Paris.
     In January of 1938 Beckett was stabbed in the chest and nearly killed, becoming a friend of his lifelong companion, Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, when she visited him in the hospital.
     During World War II Beckett joined the French Resistance, working as a courier, and on several occasions was nearly caught by the Gestapo. After his unit was betrayed in 1942, he and Suzanne fled on foot to the south of France, living in a small village, Roussillon, storing arms in his back yard to assist the Resistance. Upon war’s end, he was awarded the Croix de guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance by the French government for his wartime efforts.
     At Roussillon he worked in a novel, Watt, but did not publish the book until 1953. After a kind of revelation on a visit to Dublin in 1945, Beckett suddenly realized the kind of work he wanted to create, returning to Paris and over the next many years writing numerous fictions, plays, and performative works, among them Waiting for Godot, Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable, Endgame, Krapp’s Last Tape, and Play. In 1961 Beckett won, with Jorge Luis Borges, the International Publishers’ Formentor Prize in recognition of his entire body of work.
     In 1969 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
    Although the author is far better known for his fiction and drama than for his poetry, many of works, like Stein and Joyce before him, might be read as poetry, and all certainly contain a high level of poetic writing.
     Today Beckett is recognized as one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century.

BOOKS OF POETRY [in both French and English]

Whoroscope (Paris: The Hours Press, 1930); Echo’s Bones, and Other Precipitates (Paris: Europa Press, 1935); Poems in English (London: John Calder, 1961; New York: Grove Press, 1970); Four Poems (Leeds: The Stand, 1961); Poèmes (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1968); Collected Poems in English and French (London: Calder, 1977; New York: Grove Press); Poèmes {Mirlitonnades] (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1978); Collected Poems, 1930-1978 (London: John Calder, 1984); Quatre poèms=Four Songs (New York: Edition Gunnar A. Kaldewey, 1986); Selected Poems (London: John Calder, 1999); Selected Poems 1930-1989 (Ed. by David Wheatley) (London: Faber and Faber, 2009)

offer it up plank it down
Golgotha was only the potegg
cancer angina it is all one to us
cough up your T.B. don’t be stingy
no trifle is too trifling not even a thrombus
anything venereal is especially welcome
that old toga in the mothballs
don’t be sentimental you won’t be wanting it again
send it along we’ll put it in the pot with the rest
with your love requited and unrequited
the things taken too late the things taken too soon
the spirit aching bullock’s scrotum
you won’t cure it you won’t endure it
it is you it equals you any fool has the pity you
so parcel up the whole issue and send it along
the whole misery diagnosed undiagnosed misdiagnosed
get your friends to do the same we’ll make use of it
we’ll make sense of it we’ll put it in the pot with the rest
it all boils down to blood of lamb

Reprinted from Samuel Beckett Collected Poems in English and French (New York: Grove Press, 1977). Copyright
©1977 by Samuel Beckett.

August 14, 2012

Dom Moraes (India / writes in English) 1938-2004

Dom Moraes (India/writes in English)

Dominic Francis Moraes was born in Bombay on July 19, 1938. His father was the famous journalist and writer Francis Robert Moraes, an Oxford graduate and a barrister who became the first editor of the noted Times of India after independence from the British Empire. As a child, the young boy traveled with his father on his assignments through the South-East Asia, the Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka between 1947 and 1950, highly influencing Moraes’ later essays regarding his father (My Father’s Son: An Autobiography) and his many writings on travel.
     Moraes’ mother, Beryl D’Amonte, was a highly respected pathologist and clinical researcher at the Cana Hospital. Although both parents belonged to India’s Roman Catholic minority, they were, as editor/poet Ranjit Hoskote describes them, members of different ethnic groups,  being of East India descent from his mother’s side and Goan from his father. Accordingly, the poet’s childhood was “shadowed by the dissensions between his parents along with his mother’s terrifying fits of violence,” which ultimately led her to be confined to a series of mental institutions.
     Moraes began writing poetry as early as the age of twelve, encouraged by the visitors to his parents’ home, among them the novelists Mulk Raj Anand and G. V. Desani, the poet Stephen Spender, and others. Even the poems of his early teens were published by Karl Shapiro in Poetry Chicago and James Laughlin in his New Directions anthology. By the time Moraes attended Jesus College, Oxford, in 1956 he had already established himself as a poet. His first book, Green Is the Grass was published in 1951. At Oxford W. H. Auden's house would be his home for a decade or more, while Stephen Spender published his poems in Encounter.
      Involved in the Soho Bohemian scene, Moraes became involved with a circle of friends including Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, poets George Barker, W. S. Graham, David Gascoyne, and publisher David Archer, including Henrietta, the witty foul-mouthed, drug-taking queen of Soho.
      As Hoskote summarizes, already playing the role of “prodigy and Romantic genius,” Moraes traversed India to write his first autobiography, Gone Away: An Indian Journal, soon after traveling with his new wife, Henrietta Bowler, to Athens and Peloponneus, picking up, along the way, Gregory Corso, the latter and Ginsberg reading with him in London and Oxford, scandalizing some members of the establishment.
      The intense world of drugs and exhibitionism ended with Moraes walking away from his marriage:

                            One fine morning Dom said, ‘Look, darling, I’m off
                            to the pub,  just going to get some cigarettes. See you
                            in about ten minutes.’ He didn’t come back and I
                            couldn’t find him anywhere. For the next few months
                            I heard his voice everywhere, I heard him talking to
                            Nanny in the kitchen, I heard his footfall in the studio
                            stairs and the sound of him crossing the room but he
                            was never there…. Dom had vanished, completely.
                            He closed the front door behind him and disappeared.

      What followed was a transformation of the young Romantically-inspired poet, as he sought out formal choices for his poetry, including poets such as Robert Conquest, Kinsley Amis and others of what came to be called “The Group.” Much of that poetry came to be described by both the poet and others as a kind of poetry which many Indian critics described as that of a “nostalgist, a dreamer, and alien.” Moraes himself characterized his emotions of the period as he moved back from India to London in 1968:

                            My attempts to write poetry were completely futile.
                            The old excitement, the thrill in the blood that
                            produced a poem, the rhythms that had sung them-
                            selves in my head, the complete lines that came out
                            of nowhere, none of these visited me anymore, nor
                            could they be compelled to do so. I could not put
                            their absence out of my mind. A recurring dream was
                            of my writing a new poem; I could see the page, and
                            the lines written on it. When I awoke, I sometimes
                            thought this had actually happened, that during the
                            night I had written a poem which would be lying amidst
                            the debris of my desk. But it was never so. Altogether,
                            these were very bad days for me.

    Over the next several years, however, Moraes gradually transformed his political stances, living in Hong Kong, visiting Viet Nam, and encountering the new radical policies as a journalist, gradually moving back into contemporary Indian culture, now feeling, more than previously, the cultural and the social issues into which he had been born. Ranjit Hoskote, in his edition of Moraes'Selected Poems, published in 2012 by Penguin Press, particularly focuses on Moraes’ social and ideological changes, pointing to poems that, despite the poet's early British influences, reveal a deeper and more profound poetic impetus in the poet’s work, revealing a more complexly conflicted figure than has previously been perceived, and a poet that eventually recounted some of the important issues of Indian culture, including “the twentieth century’s dramas of betrayal, slaughter and heroism.”


A Beginning (London: The Parton Press, 1957); Poems (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1960); John Nobody (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1965); Poems 1955-1965 (New York: Macmillan, 1966); Bedlam Etcetera (London: Turret Press, 1966); Absences (Bombay: Selprint, 1983); Collected Poems 1957-1987 (New Delhi: Penguin, 1987); Serendip (New Delhi: Penguin, 1990); In Cinnamon Shade (Manchester, England: Carcanet, 2001); Typed with One Finger (Calicut: Yeti Books, 2003); Collected Poems 1954-2004 (New Delhi: Penguin, 2004); Dom Moraes: Selected Poems (ed. with an Introduction by Ranjit Hoskote) (New Delhi: Penguin, 2012)


The audience may be dead; programmes
Flutter down the aisles, function ended.
Conclude in tedium, for applause is
Disallowed here, perhaps for always.

If the furies conflict, let the cu pass.
Where confrontations are, because your lids
May nicitate at suns they do not use,
Caress, as it leaves, the compromise.

The loyalties recalled, even those failed,
include some petulance at by bygone ships.
Analysed by tears, dry lenses stare
Into a false despair, adieux unuttered.

Corrections of shape, the scraped lips
Falter at necessary commonplaces:
Dehydrate words, helpless silences.
Never such tenderness as in these.

The sad collaboration of friends,
Unfinished theatre of patchwork lives
That fall apart, not heard of after.
Such long preambles to absurd ends.

Brandeth Ended

Say his foot slipped on stone,
but you knew him: it's likely
he only threw himself away
as of no further use.

He spun like a sun in his fall.
He became next day's news.
he fell till he ceased to fee
dignified, any more.

He exploded on rock, lightly.
The broken shell lay on shore
as the red yolk from the skull
slithered into the sand.

When Brandeth wrote poetry,
he cupped sounds in his hand.
He never called, words came
tamely as birds to him.

In this stark theatre of stones
they wail, wheel from a death,
as they hear Brandeth's bones
crack in God's black teeth.

"Theatre" and "Brandeth Ended" reprinted from Dom Moraes Selected Poems (edited with an Introduction by Ranjit Hoskote) (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2012). Copyright ©2004, 2012 by Dom Moraes. Permission to reprint granted by Penguin Books.