November 30, 2012


Wiener Gruppe (the Vienna Group)

A small and loosely-connected group of Austrian poets and writers previously connected with the postwar activities of artists connected with Art-Club, the Wiener Gruppe (Vienna Group) formed around 1954 under the influence of Austrian poet H. C. Artmann (1921-2000), existing in one form or another until 1964, with the suicide of one its original members, Konrad Bayer.

      Interested in Baroque literature as well as Expressionism, Dadaism, and Surrealism, group members also came to stand for the linguistic criticism and philosophy of figures such as Hugo van Hofmannsthal, Fritz Mauthner, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Similarly, the group—which originally included Artmann, Friedrich Achleitner (1930), Bayer (1932-1964), Gerhard Rühm, and Oswald Wiener (1935)—recognized language as both a visual and acoustic medium, and involved their work intensely with readings and recordings, and in using sound and various Austrian dialects in their works. They also shared a fascination with developments in Concrete Poetry.

     The major book on the group was edited by Gerhard Rühm, De Wiener Gruppe: Achleitner, Artmann, Bayer, Rühm, Wiener (Reinbek, Germany: Rowohlt, 1985). In English, the central anthology was edited and translated by Rosmarie Waldrop and Harriett Watts, The Vienna Group: 6 Major Austrian Poets (Barrytown, New York: Station Hill Press, 1985). Below I have reprinted the introduction to Waldrop’s and Watts’ publication.

If you had been walking through Vienna on the evening of August 22, 1953 you would have seen a strange procession. It looked like a funeral. A melancholy flute set the pace for veiled women, men in black with clown-white faces carrying wreaths, candelabra, chrysanthemums and burning incense. The procession stopped only to recite macabre passages from Poe, Baudelair, Nerval and Trakl. This Soirée aux amants funèbres was the first public poetic act of an informal group of friends—a group now recognized for its radical experimentation and linguistic discoveries which have extended the expressive potential of language.

     Vienna, a center of avant-garde writing? Vienna, the ultimate backwater capital, still mired in nostalgia for the Habsburgs and the nineteenth century! Interestingly enough, experimental movements have cropped up in the most staid and bourgeois urban centers. Dada first made its appearance in Zurich, the bastion of Swiss respectability. Schwitters conceived Merz in Hannover, one of the provincial German cities least likely to spawn a collage maniac. And the most experimental movement in German emerged, of all places, in Vienna. It would seem that the very provinciality of a place may trigger the rebellious energies of its young artists, energies which may be channeled into intensive experimentation if enough of these potential revolutionaries happen to meet. In Vienna, five of them did, between 1950 and 1955, and that was sufficient to create a movement later to be called “die Wiener Gruppe,” a movement which has initiated a more general renaissance in Austrian writing.

In 1953, Hans Carl Artmann, poet, translator and vagabond, founded a basement theater in Vienna (die kleine schaubühne) for “macabre feats, poetic acts,” and pranks like black masses, an evening “with illuminated birdcages,” or one “in memoriam to a crucified glove.” Much of it was apparently improvised. Artmann had already proclaimed an 8-point-manifesto of the “poetic act…refuses anything secondhand, i.e. any mediation through language, music, or writing.” When the police promptly condemned the theater, it metamorphosed (in late 1954) into a night club, Exil. The theater attracted Oswald Wiener and his jazz trumpet, and when the architect Friedrich Achleitner joined in 1955 he completed the actual “Wiener Gruppe”: H. C. Artmann, Gerhard Rühm, Konrad Bayer, Oswald Wiener, Friedrich Achleitner.

     These five writers read and discussed baroque poetry, the French Surrealists, Gertrude Stein, the German Expressionists, the Dadas (Arp and Schwitters became heroes), also grammars and dictionaries was well as linguistic theory, cybernetics, and Wittgenstein. It was Oswald Wiener who stimulated the interest in theory.

     And they experimented.

     Artmann discovered the possibilities of using dialect—not in order to mimic speech or render local color, but as a reservoir of sounds and expressions which can be submitted to formal manipulation. The dialect poems of Artmann, Rühm and Achleitner exploit the tension between the spoken immediacy and the outlandish look of the dialect words when spelled out on the page. This startling effect calls our attention to the speech mechanisms (and those of thought and perception, necessarily) in much the same way as the sound poems do, and, indeed, most of these authors writings. It was the dialect poems, the “vowels of Vienna,” which first attracted general attention to the group and made Artmann particularly famous.

     Early on Rühm had become interested in visual poems; an interest which sprang up at the same time in places as remote from Vienna as Brazil and Scotland. These poems replace the sentence and its hierarchy with a spatial “constellation,” a non-linear relation of elements which may be words, syllables, or even letters.

     Wiener worked toward different, linear alternatives to the sentence and collected formulas, lists, business signs.

    All of them worked on montages of “given” material. These montages are verbal expressions of the principle of collage. Inherent in the process of montage is the possibility of making language abstract: sentences from newspapers, from grade school primers, from catalogues and technical manuals become “non-referential” when lifted intact from the natural habitats and remounted into new combinations. The montage technique also provided an opportunity for collaboration by several artists on one text. Bayer saw these collective works as the main justification of the group which made the group more than an economic organization: “a laboratory and a test-bench.”

     All of them also experimented with reduction, especially once Artmann, with his irrepressible baroque inventiveness, began to drift away from the group. They worked, for instance, with restricted vocabularies (Rühm used cross-word puzzles), sometimes with single words, which then were subjected to various kinds of manipulations, optical, serial, associative, etc.

     1957 marked a widening of the circle. The magazine Neue Wege published Ernst Jandl’s “sprechgedichte” along with work by the group. Although neither Ernst Jandl nor Friederike Mayröcker became part of the nucleus—they did not become involved in the collaborations or the cabaret—the group welcomed kindred spirits. In fact, as the original group began to disintegrate, these newcomers carried the impetus of the movement to an even more provincial center: Graz, the capital of Styria. There, in 1960, the Grazer Stadtpark Forum came into existence. Its monthly journal, Manuskripte, continues to be the principal organ for artists once associated with the “Wiener Gruppe,” along with a new generation of major Austrian writers: Peter Handke, Gerhard Roth, Barbara Frischmuth, G. F. Jonke.

     1957 also marked a widening of the audience in Vienna. There began an unending series of performances halfway between cabaret and happening, often with stormy audience reactions. The name “Wiener Gruppe” began to appear in reviews. The first dialect poems had appeared in 1956 as a special issue of the magazine alpha and found favorable echoes. Artmann’s med ana schwoazzn dintn, published in 1958, was an impressive success. Hosn rosn haa by Artmann, Rühm and Achleitner followed in 1959.

     The success, however, also marked the beginning of the end. Artmann drifted off, and others followed. In 1962, the group tried to rally once more around its own magazine, edition 62, edited by Bayer. Only two issues came out. When Bayer wrote a short article on the “Vienna Group” in The Times Literary Supplement of September 3, 1964, it was a retrospective. The working collective had dissolved back into loose contacts between friends scattered between Vienna, Berlin, and Malmö. A month later, Konrad Byaer killed himself.

     The work of these writers does not travel easily. Even when they do not write dialect their texts are very much “in” the language. They take the structures and mechanisms of language itself as their subject matter. One might say this is the common basis of all their different styles and methods. What distinguishes them from other experimental poets to whom this might equally apply (Heissenbüttel, Gomringer, to name just two) is their greater exuberance and humor.

     We have not attempted to translated the dialect poems or the cabaret collaborations. We have tried to give a characteristic sampling of those short texts by individual authors which seemed translatable.

     Oswald Wiener is not represented in this volume. He has disowned his work from the period (with the result that it is inaccessible, unincluded even in the group anthology). His novel, Die Verbesserung Mitteleuropas (Rowohlt, 1969) is available, but does not excerpt well in spite of (because of?) its aphoristic texture.


Essay copyright ©1985 by Rosmarie Waldrop and Harriett Watts. Reprinted from The Vienna Group: 6 Major Austrian Poets (Barrytown, New York: Station Hill Press, 1985). Reprinted by permission of Green Integer.

November 29, 2012

"The Poetry of Cid Corman" | essay by Lorine Neidecker [link]

To read “The Poetry of Cid Corman,” by Lorine Neidecker, go here:

Francisco Alvim (Brazil) 1938

Francisco Alvim (Brazil]) 1938

Born in Araxá, Minas Gerais state, in 1938, Francisco Alvim grew up in the area between Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte. Upon the publication of his first book, Sol de cegos (1968), he traveled to Paris, where he lived from 1969-1971.

After returning to Brazil he published Passatempo (Pass Time) in 1974 in the pioneering marginal collection “Frenesi.” In 1981, Brasilense Publishing House collected nearly all his work in one volume, Poesias Reunidas (1968-1988). Another book, Claro Enigma, was also published in 1988. His O Elefante was published in 2000.
      For several years, Alvim served as a diplomat in Spain, before retiring to Rio de Janeiro, where he now lives.


Sol dos cegos (Rio de Janeiro: Edição, 1975); Passatempo Rio de Janeiro: Caleção Frenesi, 1975); Lago, Moontanha (Rio de Janeiro: Caleção Capricho, 1981); Poesias Reunidas (1968-1988) (Brasilense, 1988); Claro Enigma (1988); O Elefante (São Paulo: Cia das Letras, 2000); Poems (1968-2000) (São Paulo: Cosac & Naify, 2000)


The Stone

Trees crush me
leaves and branches inside me,
void of all that I am
I can confirm that plants, like stones,
go rotten.

—Translated from the Portuguese by Dana Stevens

A Corridor

An enormous corridor
that I see everybody walking
that everybody sees me walking

An enormous corridor (enormous)
that so many of us walk
I everybody walks

A corridor that walks
I everybody us
A corridor walks (itself)

 —Translated from the Portuguese by Thomas Colchie and the author


 On top of the dresser
a can, two jars, some things
among them three old prints
On the table, two folded tablecloths
one green, the other blue
a sheet, also folded, books, a keychain
Under my right arm
a black-covered notebook
In front, a bed
whose headboard has cracked wide open
On the wall some paintings

 A clock, a cup

—Translated from the Portuguese by Dana Stevens

For a short selection of other poems and a short interview, link below:

For another selection of translations of Alvim’s work, click here:


Lorine Niedecker (USA) 1903-1970

Lorine Niedecker (USA)

Born on May 12, 1903 on Black Hawk Island near Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, Lorine Niedecker lives most her life in a rural world dominated by the river, birds, trees, and marshland that were central to many of her poems.
      On graduating from Fort Atkinson high school, Niedecker went to Beloit College to pursue studies in literature, but when her father was no longer able to pay her tuition, she dropped out, spending many years caring for her deaf mother, deeply depressed by her husband’s sexual relations with a neighboring woman.
      In 1928 Niedecker married Frank Hartwig, but after two years of marriage, during which Hartwig’s construction business failed and Niedecker was dismissed from her job at the Fort Atkinson Library, the couple separated, finally divorcing in 1942.

In 1946, Niedecker’s first book of poetry was published, New Goose, by a private publisher in Prairie City, Illinois. But she had already come into contact with the Objectivists as early as 1931, when she read the Objectivist issue of Poetry, edited by Louis Zukofsky. Admiring the work, Niedecker wrote to Zukofsky, sending him some of her recent poems. Zukofsky suggested she send them to Poetry magazine, where they were accepted, suddenly putting the isolated poet into contact with the American avant-garde.
     Two years later, Niedecker visited Zukofsky in New York City, and the two engaged in a short affair, the result of which resulted in Niedecker’s pregnancy. Despite his insistence upon an abortion, to which she complied, they remained friends, carrying on a long correspondence upon her return to Wisconsin.
     After the publication of New Goose, Niedecker once again fell into obscurity, working at a job scrubbing floors for the Fort Atkinson hospital, reading “proofs” for a local magazine, and renting cottages, leaving her in near-poverty. Although she continued writing, working on a sequence titled For Paul, the name of Zukofsky’s son, Zukofsky himself felt uncomfortable with the seeming family intrusion and discouraged its publication. More than previously, Niedecker felt her deep isolation, having published poems only six times in ten years.
     By the 1960s, however, poets began rediscovering her work. Two British publishers, Wild Hawthorn Press and Fulcrum Press, published books, and magazines suddenly became open to her work, in part, because of the intercession of poets such as Cid Corman, Basil Bunting, and younger English and American writers. My Friend Tree (1961), North Central (1968), and, most importantly, T&G: The Collected Poems (1936-1966), published by Jonathan Williams’ The Jargon Society, returned Niedecker to the literary map.
     Also in 1963 Niedecker remarried, this time to Albert Millen, an industrial painter, which returned her life to financial stability and brought her to Milwaukee’s south side, where it was easier for her to communicate with her literary friends. When in 1968, Millen retired, they moved back her beloved Blackhawk island, living in a cottage Niedecker had inherited.
      After her death of a cerebral hemorrhage, Neidecker’s career gained new attention, with presses publishing new poems and, in 2002, her Collected Works, edited by Jenny Penberthy by the University of California Press.
       As the only female “member” of the loosely-aligned Objectivists, Niedecker’s reputation, issuing from the intense, concise, and somewhat surrealist images of her work, has continued to grow, allowing us to now see her as one of the most original of American poets. 


New Goose (Prairie City, Illinois: James A Decker, 1946); My Friend Tree (Edinburgh: Wild Hawthorn Press, 1961); North Central (London: Fulcrum Press, 1968); T&G: The Collected Poems (1936-1966) (Penland, North Carolina: The Jargon Society, 1969); My Life by Water: Collected Poems 1936-1968 (London: Fulcrum Press, 1970); Blue Chicory, ed. by Cid Corman (New Rochelle, New York: The Elizabeth Press, 1976); From This Condensery: The Complete Writings of Lorine Niedecker, ed. by Robert Berthoff (Highlands, North Carolina: The Jargon Society, 1985); The Granite Pail: Selected Poems of Lorine Neidecker, ed. by Cid Corman (Berkeley, California North Point Press, 1985); Harpsichord and Salt Fish (Durham, North Carolina: Pig Press, 1991); Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works, ed. by Jenny Penberthy (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2002)
For a selection of poems by Lorine Niedecker, click here:

November 28, 2012

"Comment on Basil Bunting" | brief piece by Jonathan Williams [link]

“Comment on Basil Bunting,” by Jonathan Williams

Gyula Illyés (Hungary) 1902-1983

Gyula Illyés (Hungary)

Gyula Illyés was born in Rácegres, Hungary on November 2, 1902. His father (an agricultural machinist) was a Catholic, while his mother, a servant, was Calvinist. Living on an estate which was run in an almost feudal manner, Illyés experienced both traditional forms and the need for rebellion. In his youth, he joined the revolutionary army, but when the proletariat dictatorship collapsed in 1919, he was forced into exile, time in which he attended the Sorbonne of the University of Paris, while at the same time working as a miner, a bookbinder, and a teacher. In Paris he encountered French Surrealism, which influenced his earliest poems.
     Illyés returned to Hungary in 1926, when he worked as a clerk. But his passion was still writing, and when the great Hungarian author Mihály Babits offered him a regular space in the avant-garde monthly Nyugut, Illyés began contributing poetry, addressing Hungarian problems in a surrealist manner. Through these writings the young author became known as a spokesman for the peasantry, living at the time under near serf-like conditions.
     His first book of poetry was Nehézföld, published in 1928, in which he decried the conditions of the peasants. Further exploring the theme in his prose work Puszták népe (The People of Pusztak, 1967), published in 1936, Illyés recalled the events of his own youth, exposing the terrible conditions of families such as his. In part because of this continued fight for better conditions for the peasants, the poet was elected to the Hungarian Parliament in 1945.
     After the Communist takeover in 1947, Illyés’ anti-Marxist views brought attack from party leaders, and he was silenced. Gradually, however, as writers began to speak out again in the 1950s, Illyés took a central position in declaring revolution, and during the 1956 revolution he published the famous poem “One Sentence of Tyranny” (written in 1951) that continues to stand as a masterwork of Hungarian modernism. When the revolution was crushed, he was again silenced, writing major works of poetry in private. In 1948, 1953, and 1970 Illyés won the Kossuth Prize for Literature, and in 1965 he received the Maison Internationale de la Poesie (in Brussels) International Grand Prix.
     He died in 1983.

Nehéföld (Budapest: Nyugat, 1928); Három öreg (Budapest: S. Szerző, 1932); Hősköről beszélek (Cluj-Koloszvár: Korunk, 1933); Ifjuság (Debrecen: Nagy Károly és Tásai, 1934); Szálló egek alatt (Budapest: Nyugat, 1935); A kacsalaba fargo var (Budapest, 1936); Nem menekulhetsz (Budapest, 1936); Rend a romokban (Budapest: Nyugat, 1937); Külön világban (Budapest: Cserépfelvi, 1939); Ősszegyüjött versek (Budapest, 1940); Egy év (Budapest: Sarló, 1945); Megy az eke (Budapest,1947); Ősszes versei (Budapest, 1947); Szembenézve (Budapest: Revai, 1947); Tizenkét nap Bulgáriában (Budapest, 1947); Két kéz (Budapest: Athenaeum, 1950); Illyes Gyula válogatott versek (Budapest, 1952); A casudafurulyás juhász (Budapest: Ifjúsági, 1954); Oda Bartokhoz (Budapest, 1955); Egy mondat a zsamoksagrol (Budapest, 1956); Kéfogások (Budapest: Magvetö Konyvkiadó, 1956); Uj versek (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1961); Nem volt elég (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1962); Nyitott aftó (Budapest: Europa Konyvidiadó, 1963); Dőlt vitorla (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1965); A kolto felel (Budapest: Athenaeum Nymoda, 1966); Poharaim (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1967); Fekete-Feher (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1968); Abbahagyott versek (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1971); Haza amagasban: Összegyüjött versek, 1920-1948 (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1972); Minden lehet (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1973); Teremteni: Összegyüjött versek (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1973); Illyes Gyula Összegyüljött versei (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1977); Nyitott ajok: Összegyüjött versforditasok (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1978)


 A Tribute to Guyla Illyés, edited by Thomas Kabdedo and Paul Tabori (Washington, D.C.: Occidental Press, 1968); Selected Poems, edited by Thomas Kabdebo and Paul Tabori (London: Chatto & Windus, 1971); selections in Modern Hungarian Poetry, edited by Miklós Vajda (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977); selections in In the Quest of the Miracle Stag: The Poetry of Hungary, edited by Adam Makkai (Chicago: Atlantis-Centaur/Budapest: Corvina Publishers, 1996); selections in The Colonnade of Teeth: Modern Hungarian Poetry, edited by George Gömöri and George Szirtes (London: Bloodaxe Books, 1996); What You Have Almost Forgotten: Selected Poems by Gyula Illyés, edited by William Jay Smith (Budapest: Kortárs Kiadó/Willimantic, Connecticut: Curbstone Press, 1999); Charon’s Ferry, trans. by Bruce Berlind (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2000); selections in The PIP Anthology of World Poetry of the 20th Century, Volume 4, ed. by Douglas Messerli (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2003)

The Apricot-Tree


The apricot-tree
shoulder-high or less—
Look! An apricot
at branch-tip ripeness
Stretching, straining,
holding out a prize,
the tree is a maiden
offering closed eyes.

You stand and wonder:
will she bend or sway
her slender waist or
step back, run away.
With quick breath shudders
from heat or passion,
fans herself, signals
in the high fashion.

Shakes the shimmering
pomp out of her dress,
then blushing she waits
for your compliments.

This garden a ballroom,
she gazes about,
anxiously, constantly,
wants to be sought out.


I spend each evening
all evening with her.
Come again tomorrow
she says in whisper.
She rustles softly
when I salute her.
It seems my poetry
can still transmute her.

Sweet apricot-tree,
in a dream I saw
the cool arbor, and you
on the crackling straw.

First you glanced around
anxiously, then left
the dark hedge, the well,
in your moon-white shift.

Your steeping increased
the silence gently,
brought me your body
soft and sweet-scented.

Since that dream I glance
towards you, flushing.
Please look at me too,
askance and blushing.


—Translated from the Hungarian by Christine Brooke-Rose

Grass Snake and Fish

Among pebbles, at the pond’s edge,
     in limpid shallows whose water
flows as transparent as the atmosphere,
     suddenly visible

in the world made for other lungs,
     living purity, where
the stone wavers in the drift
     of the reflection, a branch in air;

into that shut Eden, slides the snake
     guided by the oldest law
a fish palpitates hanging from its fangs
     howling what no one can translate.


—Translated from the Hungarian by Charles Tomlinson

“The Apricot Tree” and “Grass Snake and Fish”

Reprinted from What You Have Almost Forgotten: Selected Poems by Gyula Illyés, ed. with and Introduction by William Jay Smith (Budapest: Kortárs Kiadó/Willimantic, Connecticut: Curbstone Press, 1999). Copyright ©1999 by Curbstone Press. Reprinted by permission from Curbstone Press.  

November 27, 2012

Age de Carvalho (Brazil) 1958

Age de Carvalho (Brazil)

Age de Carvalho was born in Belém, in the Pará state of Brazil, in 1958. He completed his primary and high school studies in Modern College in Bethlehem and graduated in Architecture froom the Federal University of Pará in 1981. His first book of poetry, Arquiteura dos Ossos (Architecture Bones) appeared in 1980.

In 1984, de Carvalho moved to Europe, living for a while in Innsbruck and Munich, before settling in Vienna.
      He works primarily as a graphic designer, serving for several Austrian and German magazines as art director.
      His books include Arquiteura dos Ossos (1980), A fala entre parênteses (1982), Arena, areia (1986), and Ror (1990).


Arquitetura de Ossos (Belém: Editora Falângola/Semec, 1980);  A fala entre parênteses (Belém: Ediçōes Grapho/Gráfica Semec, 1982); Arena, areia (Belém: Grafisa/ Ediçōes Grapho, 1986); Ror. 1980-1990 (São Paulo: Duas Cidades, Secretaria de Estado da Cultura, 1990); Móbiles (with Augusto Massi) (Rio de Janiero: 7 Letras, 1998); Caveira 41 (São Paulo: Cosac & Naify/7 Letras, 2003); Seleta, antologia poética (Belém: Editora Paka-Tatu, 2004); Sangue-Gesang (Portuguese and German, trans. by Curt Meyer-Classon) (2006)


For a poetry performance (in Portuguese) by Age de Carvalho, click here:!


It was July
stones were blooming
you hauled the river’s shadow

We were called:
august, north, nobody


 Translated from the Portuguese by Dana Stevens

Negative of Ricardo Reis

Mouths purple (not
with wine),
above the white
brow grass grows

 I don’t call you Lydia: we know
nothing of the river of things.

—Translated from the Portuguese by Dana Stevens

The Age of the Oak

The age of the oak
blossoms from stone
(unwritten circle of stone,
shadow and difference)
points to the desert,
             the branch of a name,
awaits a date,
the answer

—Translated from the Portuguese by the author

“Passage,” “Negative of Ricardo Reis,” “The Age of Oak,” translations ©1997 by Dana Stevens and Age de Carvalho. Reprinted by permission of Green Integer.

ACMEISM (Russia)

Acmeism (Russia)

Acmeism was a short-lived poetic group, also called the Guild of Poets, which began around 1910 in Russia beginning with the poets Nikolai Gumilev and Sergei Gorodetsky. The central focus of Acmeist poetry (the word taken from the Greek acme, meaning “the best age of man”) was to make poetry more clearly expressive and compact.
     Acmeist concerns were first described by Mikhail Kuzmin in his 1910 essay, “Concerning Beautiful Clarity.” But the ideas as expressed by Gumilev and Gorodetsky were centered what they saw as an Apollonian purity (the group’s magazine was titled Apollo) as opposed to a “Dionysian frenzy” argued for by the Russian Symbolists such as Andrei Bely and Vyacheslav Ivanov. As opposed to the Symbolists’ attempt to intimate through symbols, the Acmeists sought a “direct expression through images.”
     Another member of the group, Osip Mandelshtam, in his essay “The Morning of Acmeism” (1913), extended the group’s goals to include a yearning for world culture, naming such poets as Alexander Pope, Théophile Gautier, Rudyard Kipling, Innokentiy Annesky, and the Parnassian poems as their predecessors.
     The central poems of Acmeism included Nikolai Gumilev, Osip Mandelstam, Mikhail Kuzmin, Anna Akhmatova, and Georgiy Ivanov. They met, generally at The Stray Dog Café in St. Petersburg.

Osip Mandelshtam (Russia) 1891-1938

Osip Mandelshtam (Russia)

Osip Mandelshtam grew up in St. Petersburg in an assimilated middle-class, Jewish family. He was educated in classical studies at the Tenishev School.
     From 1907-1910 Mandelshtam spent most of his time in western Europe, where he discovered the French Symbolists and other contemporary writing of his time. In 1911, he returned to Russia, attending St. Petersburg University. There he joined with poets Anna Akhmatova and Nikolai Gumilev in establishing the poetic movement, Acmeism.

Mandelshtam continued to write during World War I and through the Russian Revolution, taking no active role in either conflict. During the civil war he served briefly in the Education Ministry in Moscow under Anatoly Lunacharsky.
     Mandelshtam’s early works include Kamen (1913, Stone) and Tristia (1922). After 1922, he was unable to publish until the end of the decade. During that time he supported himself by translating and writing children’s books. In 1920 he published Stikhotvorenia 1921-25 (Poems 1924-25), containing some of his most important and profound meditations. In 1934 he was arrested by Stalin for denouncing the leader as a “peasant slayer,” and was sentenced to three years exile in Voronezh. At the end of that time, Mandelshtam was allowed to return to Moscow, but was eventually banished to the suburbs. He was arrested again in May of 1938, and this time he was sentenced to five years hard labor. In a transit camp near Vladivostok, the poet died of heart failure.


Kamen (1913); Tristia (1922); Stikhotvorenia 1921-25 (1928); Sobranie sochinenni (4 volumes), edited by Gleb Struve and Boris Filipoff (Vol 1: Washington, D.C.: Inter-Language Literary Associates, 1979; Vol 4: Paris: YMCA Press, 1981); Stikhotvorenia, edited by Nikolai I. Khardzhiev (Leningrad: Biblioteka poeta, 1974)

Osip Mandelstam’s “Stone,” translated by Robert Tracy (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981); Osip Mandelstam: Selected Poems, trans. by Clarence Brown and W. S. Merwin (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press/Athenaeum, 1973/1974); Osip Mandelstam: 50 Poems, translated by Bernard Meares (New York: Persea Books, 1977); Osip Mandelstam: Selected Poems, trans. by David McDuff (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1974); Osip Mandelstam: Poems Chosen and Translated, trans. by James Green (Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala Publications, 1978); A Necklace of Bees: Selected Poems, trans. by Maria Enzensberger (London: The Menard Press, 1992); Tristia, trans. by Kevin J. Kinsella (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2007)


Insomnia. Homer. Taut sails.
I have read the list of ships to the middle:
This migrant flight
That once winged over Hellas.

What drives this wedge of cranes into alien borders?
What do you seek, Archean men?
Were it not for Helen,
What need had you of Troy?

 Homer falls silent
And foam swirls from the head of kings.
Only the black sea rages
And a heavy surf thunders against my pillow.

(from Kamen, 1915)

Translated from the Russian by John Glad

On Stony Pierian Spurs

On stony Pierian spurs
the muses’ ring was forged in dance
that blind bards might lay up for us like bees
heavy combs of Ionian honey.
And from the bulging female brow
fell coldness
that distant grandsons might touch
the archipelago’s tender coffins.

Spring tramples the fields of Hellas
as Sappho pulls on a red slipper.
And from the cicada’s hidden smithy
tiny hammers ring out over the cut grass.
Already beef hides have been stretched
over wedding shoes,
and before the carpenter’s door
scamper headless chickens.

the lyre lies fingerless,
baking its golden belly
in the Epirian sun.
She longs to be flipped over, caressed.
Where is Terpander?
How long must she wait
for the rape of dry thumbs?

Above the gossiping, bare-headed grass
wasps copulate with honeysuckle
and oaks drink deep from tepid springs.
I would break no bread
and sip but wine and honey
where the creak of labor
does not blacken the islands’ sky.

 (from Tristia, 1922)

—Translated from the Russian by John Glad


I have studied the science of parting
In the bareheaded laments of night.
Oxen chew, the waiting drags on
As the vigil stretches the night’s last hour.
I honored the ritual of the crowing night
When I took up the traveler’s heavy grief.
I saw in a woman’s distant eyes
Tears mingling with the Muses’ song.

Who can tell from the word “parting”
What kind of separation lies before us,
What awaits us in the rooster’s call
When a fire burns in the acropolis?
And at the dawn of a new life,
While the oxen chew lazily in the barn,
Why the rooster, herald of the new day,
Beats its wings on the city wall?

I love the routine of spinning wool,
The shuttle’s glide, the spindle’s hum.
Look, drifting towards us like swan’s down,
Barefoot Delia comes flying!
How poor the foundation of our lives,
How plain the language of joy!
Everything has come before and will again,
But only the moment of recognition is sweet.
So be it: a transparent shape
Lies on a clean, earthen dish
Like the stretched hide of a squirrel.
A girl, bending over the wax, reads it.
It is not ours to tell the future of Greek Erebus:
Wax is for women as bronze is for men.
Our lot is to fall in battle,
Their’s to die by prophecy.

(from Tristia, 1922)

 —Translated from the Russian by Kevin J. Kinsella

Can’t remember how long

This song’s been known to me—
Does a thief slink along to its tune
Or the prince of mosquitoes drone?

I would like just one more time
To speak of nothing at all,
To blaze up like a match in the dark,
Or nudge night awake with my shoulder.

To lift off the air’s hat
Like a smothering haystack,
To shake up a heavy sack
Chock-full of caraway seeds.
So that the flow of blood
And the ringing of dry grass
Every after would ripple on
Through the ages, the hayloft, the dream.

(from Stikhotovorenia 1921-25, 1928)

—Translated from the Russian by Maria Enzensberger

“Insomnia” and “On Stony Pierian Spurs”
Reprinted from Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry, edited by John Glad and Daniel Weissbort (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1992). Copyright ©1992 by University of Iowa Press. Reprinted by permission of the University of Iowa Press.
Reprinted from Tristia (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2007). Translation copyright ©2007 by Kevin J. Kinsella. Reprinted by permission of Green Integer.

“Can’t remember how long”
Reprinted from A Necklace of Bees: Selected Poems, trans. by Maria Enzensberger (London: The Menard Press/King’s College London, 1992). Translation copyright ©1992 by the Estate of Maria Enzensberger. Reprinted by permission of The Menard Press.