February 24, 2013

"The Making of Allen Ginsberg" | review by Douglas Messerli (on Ginsberg's Journals)

by Douglas Messerli
Allen Ginsberg Journals: Early Fifties Early Sixties, edited by Gordon Ball (New York: Grove Press, 1977)

In March of 1952, at 26 years of age, Allen Ginsberg could look back upon an active if checkered past: suspension (for writing an “obscene” word on his dorm window), reinstatement and graduation from Columbia University; close friendships with writers Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, Herbert Huncke, and William Burroughs; an epiphanic vision of a metaphysical sign accompanied by the voice of William Blake; arrest for possession of stolen goods; and incarceration in the New York State Psychiatric Institute for eight months. As Ginsberg, only half in jest, writes:

     “At 14 I was an introvert, an atheist, a Communist and a Jew…

     “At 23….I was already a criminal, a despairing sinner, a dope fiend…

    “At 26, I am shy, go out with girls, I write poetry, I am a freelance literary agent and a registered democrat….”

     The reader of the Journals is thus greeted with what might be unexpected; this is no fiery rhetoric of a revolutionary youth, but a mature voice from a poet who has already “come through” a great many experiences, a poet oppressed by his own “inaction and cowardice & conceit & cringing, running away…” who admits that “I want to find a job” and who asks, “What will I make happen to my life?”

Only a decade later, when these journals end, Ginsberg had been transformed—at least in the public consciousness—into a symbol of radical youth, and, soon thereafter, would come to stand as the prophet of the drug culture and mid-60s hippiedom.
     What happened to Ginsberg in those ten years out of which came both his great poems—Howl and Kaddish—cannot but be fascinating to anyone interested in American cultural life. But for those seeking such information, Ginsberg’s Journals may seem to be a great disappointment. A collection of fragmentary descriptions (mostly of dreams), incomplete poems, brief expositions and seemingly unimportant facts, these journals seldom explain and even less often reflect the public Ginsberg most of us want to know about.
     However, Ginsberg is not being coy. As he had learned from the haiku, “Never try to write of relations themselves.” And in fact these journals are illuminating when this is taken into account—illuminating not so much in terms of what happened to Ginsberg in a social or political context, but in terms of the personality behind the cultural events.
     This is not to say that the Journals are merely introspective. All of the five notebooks published here deal with some aspects of Ginsberg’s social and political actions. And two of the largest notebooks, written on travels to Mexico and later to France, Tangier, Greece, Israel and back to Africa, are often most effective in their lyrical poetry and descriptive prose. Other notebooks, moreover, contain a wealth of literary and political memorabilia, including a conversation with Ginsberg’s hometown poet and friend, William Carlos Williams, brief descriptions of encounters with Dylan Thomas, T. S. Eliot, and Eleanor Roosevelt, and, of course, vignettes of Ginsberg’s relationships with close friends and lovers such as Corso, Cassady, Orlovsky, and Kerouac.
     But the importance of the journals lies in their revelation of Ginsberg’s innermost perceptions and fears rather than in outward events. And it is in the dream—and the dream made public through poetry—that Ginsberg comes alive as an individual, as a compelling and compelled man. The most important thing about dreams, Ginsberg explains, “is the existence in them of magical emotions to which waking Consciousness is not ordinarily sentient.” What these journals make clear is that above everything else, even political change, it was this non-sentient emotion which in these years Ginsberg most sought. If, on the one hand, like Ezra Pound, Ginsberg saw in language’s “worn out” abstractions the need for “objective images” which when put haiku-style next to one another made for new relationships in the universe, on the other hand Ginsberg was (and is still) an avowed Romantic, a surrealist poet who through the unconscious attempts to uncover the mysteries of the universe present and past.
     What these journals reveal then is a poet trying to change objectively the culture in which he lives, while simultaneously coming to terms with a self that fears change and is constantly in search of the security of identity and love. From the beginning of these journals to the last pages written in Mombasa, Ginsberg’s dreams betray the conflict. The editor, Gordon Ball, describes the pattern in terms of what he calls “The Room Dreams”: Ginsberg dreams of finding himself in a strange room, building or street and attempts to get back to a place of security. Associated with the dream is the presence of an older male, often Ginsberg’s brother or close friends, or occasionally poet Louis Ginsberg, the father himself. Always Ginsberg is confused or endangered in these dreams and most often the safety or security he seeks is associated with his past.
     Not surprisingly, in the most political period represented in these journals (January 4, 1959-March 16, 1961), in the period in which Ginsberg was writing one of his most personal poems, Kaddish, and at the same time was composing his political poems as represented in the journals, the dreams increase (accompanied by heavier use of drugs) and are filled with paranoiac fears of the police and the police state in which the dreamer often finds himself. Again and again, the conflict is replayed; the insecure individual must do nightly battle with the artist and his political acts. Even the conscious artist is not free from the fight. As Ginsberg observes at the end of his political poem “Subliminal”: “I shouldn’t waste my time on America like this. It may be patriotic / but is isn’t good art. This is a warning to you Futurists and you Mao Tse-tung—….”
     Ginsberg obviously found a middle ground in his role as prophet, as one who could speak to the culture of its wrongs, but could also foretell the future and with that knowledge protect himself from the change it brought. And there is certainly enough evidence to believe that in his role of prophet Ginsberg discovered his true self. The recent disclosures of the CIA and the FBI show Ginsberg’s a paranoia and political accusations often to have been justified; moreover, Ginsberg’s October, 1959 description of presidential candidate John F. Kennedy—“He has a hole in his back. Thru which Death will enter.”—and his November, 1960 dream of Richard Nixon—in which Nixon is described as “an abused prisoner alone in his breakfast nook nervously being self-contained reading the papers”—all help the reader to believe in Ginsberg’s prophetic powers.
     Ultimately, however, the Ginsberg that is most convincing is the man: the highly intelligent, self-questioning critic of his country who, perceiving himself and his countrymen running head-long into destruction, desperately seeks for a shared freedom and peace. This is a difficult book, often unrewarding, and it has a few editorial problems—a confusion in the introductory pages, an erratic use of footnotes and the lack of an index—but for its utterly fascinating revelation of one of our most important poets, it is a remarkable work.

College Park, Maryland, September 1977
Reprinted from The Washington Post Book World, October 2, 1977.

Book World editor Bill McPherson reported to me that soon after this review Ginsberg sent him an angry letter in response. In retrospect, it is clear that I focused too heavily on Ginsberg’s doubts and paranoia as opposed to his poetic achievements, but Journals also was not centered on that aspect of his work. Over the years I have continued to have ambivalent feelings about Ginsberg’s writing, in part because of its insistence upon self-mythology and, ultimately, out of agreement with Allen’s own assessment that political writing does not always lead to good art. Yet I cannot imagine the 1950s without the clarion call of “Howl!” And there were wonderful works throughout his entire career.
     About a year after the above review, I delivered a paper on manifestoes at the Modern Language Association, discussing at length the statements of various American poets, Ginsberg among them. Ginsberg was in the audience, and, in the question and answer period, expressed his appreciation that I had at least sought out what poets were attempting through their own comments on their poetics. Afterwards, I personally expressed my admiration of his work. By this time his publisher had used a comment from my review on the back cover of the paperback edition of Journals. All, apparently, had been forgiven—or perhaps Ginsberg recognized that the review I’d written was basically a positive one.              
     I have previously written in the 2005 volume of My Year about Ginsberg’s and my relationship at The William Carlos Williams Centennial Conference in Orono, Maine in 1983.
     In November 1996, not long before his death in April 1997, I encountered Allen at Los Angeles County Museum of  Art, in conjunction with a photographic show on William Burroughs. For a few minutes, Ginsberg could not place me, but as soon as he was able to remember who I was, he kept shouting over at me that I should publish, Antler. “Antler! He's the great poet, Antler! You need to publish Antler!”
     Even nearer his death, Ginsberg sent me a poem (dated 7/5/96) for my “calendar project” that never came into existence. That poem, it seems to me, clearly summarizes his life:


              Multiple Identity Questionnaire

              “Nature empty, everything’s pure;

                Naturally pure, that’s what I am.”


               I’m a Jew! A nice jewish boy?

               A flaky Buddhist, certainly

               Gay in fact pederast? I’m exaggerating?

               Not only queer an amateur S & M fan, someone should spank me for

                        saying that

               Columbia Alumnus, class of ’48.

               Beat icon, students tell me.

               White, if jews are “white race”,

               American by birth, passport and residence

               Slavic heritage, mama from Vitebsk, father’s forbears Kamenetz-

                        Podolska near Lvov.

               I’m an intellectual! An anti-intellectual, anti academic

               Distinguished Professor of English, City University of New York,

               Manhattanite, Brooklyn College Faculty,

               Another middle class liberal,

               But lower class second generation immigrant,

               Upperclass, I own a condo loft, go to art gallery Buddhist vernissage

                        dinner parties with Niarchos, Rockefeller, and the Luces

               Oh what a sissy, Professor Four-eyes, can’t catch a baseball or dive a car—

                        courageous Shambhala Graduate Warrior!

               Still student, chela, disciple, my guru Gelek Rinpoche,

               Myself addressed “Maestro” in Milan, Venice, Napoli

               Because Septuagenarian, got Senior Citizen discount at Alfalfa

                          Healthfoods New York subway—

                Mr. Sentient Being!—Absolutely empty Non-being Non not-being neti

                          neti identity, Maya delusion, Nobodaddy, a nonentity



                                                                                              7/5/96 Naropa Tent,
                                                                                                              Boulder, CO

Los Angeles, September 20, 2003

"Negotiation" | review by Douglas Messerli (on Nicole Brossard's' Shadow Soft et Soif)

by Douglas Messerli
Nicole Brossard, Shadow Soft et Soif, translated from the French by Guy Bennett (Los Angeles: Seeing Eye Books, 2003)

The coincidence of Nicole Brossard’s short book of poetry Shadow Soft et Soif being published at the same time as the Canadian poet and fiction writer’s three fictions, The Blue Book (Toronto: Coach House Press, 2003), gives joy to those, like me, who think Brossard is one of the most outstanding of North American writers.

Like many of her other works, the book is written in a voice that is at once highly lyrical and extremely private. The reader often has the feeling in Brossard’s work that he or she is a sort of voyeur, listening in to an immediate series of events and thoughts expressed by the poet to a loved one. But then, perhaps the reader can also feel herself or himself as the lover, and that creates a kind of sensual thrill in reading her work.
    As in her other books, also, there is a feeling of “negotiation,” of the poet straddling worlds. As a French-speaking Canadian, her work in translation often contains both English and French lines. As the title indicates, the shadow about which Brossard is writing is both soft and “thirsty,” something both gentle (as if she had reversed Dylan Thomas’s plea to “not go gentle into that good night.”) yet slightly rapacious. As a poet and fiction writer, Brossard often crosses genres, and in this book she reminds the reader several times that, while it is a work of poetry, it is also a narrative:

                                     for now
                                     we’re still narrating
                                     night falls slowly

     In order to create the “shadow” one must have the sun and such oppositions as the morning and evening, the fresh beginning of life and potential death. Love is often proffered and just as quickly pulled away. Order and precision alternate with “avalanches of shattered glass.” Indeed, Brossard’s world is pulled between “pleasure” and “gestures / bites, bedrooms with their shadowy, supple, hollow spaces, knotted brows.”
     By the time the narrative is complete and, at the end of the series of short poetic sequences, “night falls,” the poet is left with no answers, only “questions,” lingering “bubbles of silence.” But the language she has used to get there has expanded her comprehension of life. And one perceives that even while the human experience has been utterly fragmented (“nights displace knees,” and “heads or tails” are “scattered”), at dawn once more life is put into motion, “the verb to be courses / in the veins, a heavenly body, it flies / after love or a grain of salt.” The cycle, the negotiation between self and lover, between reader and poet, will begin anew.

Los Angeles, 2003
Reprinted from Green Integer Blog (December 2008).

OR (Magazine) (USA) 2008-2014

OR (Magazine) (Los Angeles, USA) 2008-2014

Edited by director of the MFA Writing Program at Otis College of Literature + Art, OR magazine succeeded that program’s publication, The New Review of Literature, when the journal lost its US distribution. Or, in a far less expensive, newspaper-like format, was printed and shipped out to authors and university and college locations free of charge. Yet, its exciting graphic presentations, along with its wide mix of international and US poets, fiction writers, essayists and reviewers, was perhaps even more dynamic than the previous Otis journal, recalling, in fact, Vangelisti’s early Los Angeles journal, Invisible City.

It would be hard to list all of its major contributors, but a selective list includes: Adonis, Amiri Baraka, Jorge Amado, Luigi Ballerini, Paul Vangelisti, a related symposium on the Italian poet Adriano Spatola, Nick Piombino, Marco Giovenale, Dennis Phillips, Mohammed Dib, Ko Un, Nathaniel Tarn, Mark DuCharme, Antonio Delfini, Martha Ronk, Douglas Messerli, Standard Schaefer, Guy Bennett, Giovanna Sandri, Frederic Tuten, Rainer Kunze, Brian Blanchfeld, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Cesare Vivaldi, Giorgio Caproni, Ken McCullough, F. T. Marinetti, Raymond Queneau, Elizabeth Robinson, John Latta, Mac Wellman, Sarah Suzor, Gianluca Rizzo, Bob Crosson, Ernst Jandl, Terence Winch, John Kinsella, Neeli Cherkovski, Gilad Elbom, Tomas Tranströmer, Nanni Cagnone, Vincente Aleixandre, Béatrice Musli, Bill Mohr, Francis Jammes, Laura Mullen, Barbara Maloutas, Amy Allara, Dale Herd, Antonio Porta, Corrado Costa, Alain Freixe, Nanni Balestrini, Marjorie Welish, Stephen Kessler, Giulio Marzioli, Zbiegniew Herbert, Emilio Villa, and artists such as Michael C. McMillen, Courtney Gregg, Giuliano Della Casa, William Xerra and others.
     As with The New Review of Literature, OR represents many of the Otis faculty and their interests, especially the Italian connections between Vangelisti, Bennett, and others. But the eclectic listing above also reveals the journal’s interest in writers from across a wide spectrum of the modernist and contemporary literary scene.
     The typesetting and design for these issues was done by Rebecca Chamlee, who also worked on several Green Integer books. The editors-at-large include Luigi Ballerini, Guy Bennett, Beppe Cavatorta, Ray Di Palma, Marco Gioveale, Douglas Messerli, Gianluca Rizzo, and Standard Schaefer.
       The journal lasted for 12 issues, from 2008-2014.

—Douglas Messerli

"German Angst" | essay by Douglas Messerli (on Michael Krüger's At Night, Beneath Trees)

by Douglas Messerli
Michael Krüger At Night, Beneath Trees, translated from the German by Richard Dove (New  York: George Braziller, 1998)

Michael Krüger writes the kind of angst-ridden, lyrical meditations with which American readers have little experience and American (innovative) poets have little truck. The present clearly is too much with us in Krüger’s vision. As he writes in one of the best poems of the collection At Night, Beneath Trees, “Letter to a Child,” “I’m sorry, there’s too much now / too little yesterday and tomorrow in this letter….” And things of the present, the computer’s “Glassy emerald eye,” theories of the end of history, the landlord’s edict that he move out of his house, the fires of the Los Angeles riots are all equally emblems of danger if not the direct sources of the poet’s evident despair. Occasionally Krüger treats his frightening and befuddling landscape with a sense of detachment and ironic, Günter Eich-like wit, as in the poem dedicated to Eich (“Commemorative Sheet for Günter Eich”) or as in “The Mailman’s Allocution”—

                                 I’ve got a charming collection
                                 of postcards I couldn’t deliver
                                All those lovely canceled faces:
                                Adenauer, Franco, the doleful king of Greece
                                who, although long exiled, was still being
                                stamped on.–

—that at least relieves if not redeems his present angst. But for Krüger the past also offers little consolation. The horrors of the past, “wrested out of History’s jaws,” offer only an easy excuse for exit; the “Little German National Anthem” of gemutlichkeit by the hearth is brilliantly satirized:

    Just imagine we asked the brook
     to leave its gravelly bed so the fish
     would not have to cross the land
     on its way to our pot.

     Consequently, the poet’s despair—expressed primarily in a vague fear of perpetual war and in the more concrete image of a people being fed by Hitler now eating with “a fork in each neck”—emanates from a place outside of the writing, leaving the reader (at least the non-German reader) as cold witness rather than participant in the poet’s outcries. And although the poet may dismiss the very concept of the “end of history,” he has created his own endgame, has painted himself in, so to speak, in his desperate search for “the faintest echo / of a single feeble answer,” “Sloes and snow and rowanberries, / that must suffice.”
     The focus on the now—frightful as it is for Krüge—nonetheless does reverberate with occasional possibility in his strongest poems such as “To Zbigniew Herbert,” “Writers Congress,” and “The Cemetery.” But it is, finally, by just standing still, the witnessing of the world itself wherein Krüger places any hope.
New York, 1998
Reprinted from Mr. Knife, Miss Fork, No. 3 (August 2003).

About a year later, in 1999, I attended—as I had for many for years—the annual Frankfurt Bookfair. As a smaller publisher and an irregular attendee, I generally was assigned a hotel near the airport (only a couple of subway stops from the main Bahnhof) and this year was no exception. One morning I determined not to have the mediocre breakfast my hotel offered, and instead took an early train to the Hotel Frankfurter Hof, where the publishers of Europe’s most established presses and the most notable authors stay.  I was about to enter the dining room when the maître d’ asked, “Are you a guest in the hotel.” “No,” I answered, “but I would like to have breakfast here.” “Might I have your name?” I gave her my name, and she responded as many Germans do, “That’s a very Swiss name. Are you from Switzerland?” “No, I’m from the United States,” I said, “but my ancestors were from Switzerland.” She went to the door of the crowded room and announced, with a formal flourish as if I were about to enter a grand ball, “Mr. Douglas Messerli, a citizen of the United States with family from Switzerland.” I blushed bright red, and entered, more than a little amused. As I sat down to coffee, it seemed even stranger when others entered the room without any introduction whatsoever. Perhaps it was assumed, since they were guests in the hotel, that everyone would know who they were. In any event, I swallowed my embarrassment and went up the breakfast buffet, only to encounter my friend, the noted Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom, who invited me to share breakfast at his and his wife’s table. As I sat down with them, Cees turned to talk to the man at the table next to him, introducing me as the publisher of Sun & Moon Press (I had just begun Green Integer). “Ah, yes,” said the stranger, your press has a great reputation.” “Thank you,” I responded, presuming Cees might present me with his name. But no, Cees spoke to him for a while, and then excused himself and his wife—they had to be on their way.
     After a few moments of silence, I turned to the neighboring gentlemen again, “Cees didn’t tell me what you do for a living.”
     “I’m also a publisher,” he smiled.
     “For what publishing house do you work?”
     “Oh, I’m sure you wouldn’t know it.”
     “Well, I might,” I stubbornly held out.
     “Carl Hanser Verlag,” he responded.
     “Are you Michael Krüger?” I queried. “I know your poetry as well.”
     “Well, thank you.”
     I didn’t dare to tell him that I’d written the somewhat negative review above.

Los Angeles, 2003


February 23, 2013

Coral Bracho (Mexico) 1951

Coral Bracho (Mexico)

Poet Coral Bracho was born in Mexico City in 1951.
    Her first book of poetry, Peces de piel fugaz (Fish of Fleeting Skin) was published in 1977. Commenting on one of its poems, “Agua de bordes lúbricos,” Bracho noted in 2005 that she tried “to get close to the movement of water,” with images that are “fleeting; you can’t grasp them, they are very fluid. What remains is that continuity of water.”

Her second book of poetry, El ser que va a morir (This Being That Is Going to Die), won the prestigious El Premio Nacional de Poesia de Casa de la Cultra de Aguascalientes (Aguacalientes National Poetry Prize).
    Although some of her later collections were more autobiographical, Bracho’s work, extending from influences as far flung as Luis de Góngora to the Cuban poet José Lezama Lima, centers on what critics have described as her “verbal luxuriance,” an often dark and abstract complexity of language.
     After publishing several further books of poetry, she received the Xavier Villauurtia Prize in 2004. Today she is recognized as one of the major Mexican authors.
    Her work has been translated into English by Forrest Gander in two books to date: Of Their Eyes as Crystalline Sand (1999) and Firefly Under the Tongue (2008).


Peces de piel fugaz (1977; reissued as Huellas de Luz, 1994); El ser que va a morir (México, D.F.: J. Mortiz, 1982); Bajo de destello liguido (1988); Tierra de entraña ardiente (with art by Irma Palacios) (1992); La voluntad del ámbar (México, D.F.: Era, 1998); Esse espacio, ese jardín (México, D.F.: Era, 2003); Cuarto de hotel (México, D.F.: Era, 2007); Si ríe el emperador (México, D.F.: Era, 2010).


selection in Mouth to Mouth: Poems by Twelve Contemporary Mexican Women (Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1993); Of Their Eyes as Crysalline Sand, trans. by Forrest Gander (Sausalito, California, 1999); Watersilks (Poetry Ireland, 1999); selection in Reversible Monuments: An Anthology of Contemporary Mexican Poetry (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2002); selection in Líneas Contectadus: nueva poesía de lost Estados Unidos (Connecting Lines: New Poetry from Mexico), ed. by Luis Cortes Bargallo and Forrest Gander (Louisville, Kentucky: Sarabande Books, 2006); Firefly Under the Tongue, trans. by Forrest Gander (New York: New Directions, 2008); It Must Be a Misunderstanding, trans. by Forrest Gander (New York: New Directions, 2022)
For a selection of poems in English, click here:

February 22, 2013

Attilio Bertolucci (Italy) 1911-2000

Attilio Bertolucci (Italy)

Born on November 18, 1911 in San Lazzaro, in the province of Parma, Attilo Bertolucci grew up in an agricultural bourgeois family.
     He begin writing poetry and other works early, publishing his first book Sirio as early as 1929.
     Two years later he began law studies at the University of Parma, but left soon thereafter in favor of literary studies. The following year his book Fuochi in novembre won high praise from Italian poet Eugenio Montale.
     He moved to Rome in 1951. Marrying Ninetta Giovanardi, Bertolucci had two sons, both later the film directors Bernardo and Giuseppe. His book of the same year as his move, La capanna Indiana won the Viareggio Award for literature. During this same period he established a close friendship with writer and director Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Perhaps his most important work, Viaggio d’inverno (Winter Journey) was published in 1971. This work, characterized, as are many of Bertolucci’s works, as using straight-forward language to express his love of nature, also expressed, as translator Nicholas Benson has described it, a kind metaphysical angst: “…the book evolves an account of parallel illnesses: the author’s nervous axiety, and the broader afflictions of a nascent consumer society. Together, these ailments form the common background to a wide net of verse recording moments of intense personal and unexpected civic value.”
     Beginning in 1975, the poet worked with Enzo Siciliano and Alberto Moravia on the literary review, Nuovi Argomenti. He won a second Viareggio Award for his narrative poem, La lucertola di Csarola of 1997.
     The poet also wrote numerous books of essays and letters.
     Bertolucci died in Rome in 2000.       


Sirio (Parma: Minardi, 1929); Fuochi in novembre (Parma: Minardi, 1934); Lettera da casa (Parma: Minardi, 1951); La capanna Indiana (Fierenze: Sansoni, 1951); In un tempo incerto (Firenze: Sansoni, 1955); Viaggio d’inverno (Milano: Garzanti, 1971); Verso le sorgenti del Cinghio (Milano: Garzanti, 1983); La camera da letto (Milano: Gaarzanti, 1984, 1988); Le poesie (Milano: Garzanti, 1990); Al fuoco calmo dei giorni. Poesie 1929-1990, ed. by Paolo Lagazzi (Milano: Garzanti, 1991); La lucertola di Casarola (Milano: Garzanti, 1997); Opere, ed. by Paolo Lagazzi and Gabriella Palli Baroni (Milano: Mondadori, 1997)


Selected Poems, trans. by Charles Tomlinson (Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Bloodaxe, 1993); Winter Journey, trans. by Nicholas Benson (West Lafayette, Indiana: Parlor Press); Sunshine and Shadows, trans. by Allen Prowle (2010);

Why do butterflies always go two by two
and if one vanishes into the tuft
of September violets the other doesn’t disappear but stays
there and flies around confused as though batting
against the walls of a cell which is just
this gold of day already set to dim
at five in the afternoon nearing October?

—maybe you thought you’d lost her but she is still here
suspended in midair, resuming the irrational movement
toward the regions darkness claims soonest
of Sunday’s harvested, plowed fields:
you need only follow her into the night
just as you waited in the restless light of the sun
till she was sated with nectar from those autumn flowers.

Translated from the Italian by Nicolas Benson
(from Viaggio d’inverno, 1971)

Wind and Rain

Why today when wind
brings bad weather
do children hidden
by the corrugated blue tin shelter
strike the sick bitch, while the kitten
sweeteyes, she’s a female, carries
a mouse in her mouth like a son
before finishing him off?
This wind they call marine
will drop, a tepid rain
and other events will sadden me. Then
it will clear again, because it’s summer,
and when night has come
to black chestnut woods, the drying sheds
in ruin
will appear new in the chalklime of the moon.

 —Translated from the Italian by Nicolas Benson

 (from Viaggio d’inverno, 1971)

English language translations copyright ©2005 by Nicholas Benson. Reprinted from Winter Journey (West Lafayette, Indiana: Parlor Press, 2005).

The New Review of Literature | magazine (USA) 2003-2008

The New Review of Literature (Magazine) (Los Angeles, USA) (2003-2008)

The New Review of Literature, a magazine produced by the Otis College of Art’s M.F.A Graduate Writing Program, was edited by Paul Vangelisti, with Douglas Messerli (fiction editor), Dennis Philllips and Martha Ronk (poetry editors), Guy Bennett (translation editor), and Standard Schafer (nonfiction editor).

     The magazine, which featured both USA and international writing, along with, in each issue, a substantial number of essays and literary reviews, lasted for 10 issues from 2003 to 2008, creating a significant dialogue between American and world writing. In the end, as with numerous other such journals, the high cost of printing (each issue was covered with a laid paper featuring a color banner—excepting the first three issues) and the closing of distribution sources in the US, forced the lively journal to cease, Vangelisti replacing it with the more newspaper-formated journal Or, resembling in several respects his early Los Angeles magazine,
Invisible City. Or was sent free to numerous US writers and literary locations.
     Dozens of poets were published in the journal, including work by Mohammed Dib, Aaron Shurin, Stephen Racliffe, Giuseppe Goffredo, George Albon, Deborah Meadows, Nathaniel Tarn, Barbara Guest (including her last published poems), Claudia Roquette-Pinto, Jean Day, Jacques Roubaud, Osip Mandel’shtam, Ray DiPalma, Timothy Liu, Ameilia Rosselli, Diane Ward, Aaron McCullough, John Latta, Cole Swenson, a selection of Quebecois poets (edited by Nicole Brossard and Jean-Éric Riopel, Philip Whalen, Luigi Ballerini, Allyssa Wolf, Molly Bendall, Elizabeth Robinson, Rosmarie Waldrop, Octavio Paz, Mohammed Bennis, Alice Notley, Jerome Rothenberg, Paul Hoover, Bruna Mori, Ece Temelkuran, Rae Armantrout, Catherine Wagner, Mark Wallace, Leslie Scalapino, John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, Corrado Costa, Liz Waldner, Norma Cole, Susan M. Schultz, Anselm Hollo, Spencer Shelby, Ben Lerner, and Dennis Barone.
     Noted fiction writers included Frederic Tuten, Valère Novarina, Steve Katz, Murray Pomerance, Brian Evenson, Øystein Lønn, Peter Rosei, Ascher/Straus, Michael Disend, Peter Ferry, Jacques Jouet, Len Jenkin, Martin Nakell, Toby Olson, Stacey Levine, Jorge Miralales, Chris Kerr, Christopher Middleton, H. E. Francis, Mac Wellman, David Antin, Sam Eisenstein, Wilfrido Nollendo, David Matlin, Arkady Averchenko, Domício Coutinho, Wendy Walker, and Elizabeth MacKiernan.
     Several of these writers also appeared in readings at Otis, creating deep links between the faculty and students with the writers, as well as with others in the Los Angeles community.

—Douglas Messerli

Kamau Brathwaite (Barbados) 1930-2020

Kamau Brathwaite (Barbados)

Kamau Brathwaite was born Lawson Edward Brathwaite in Bridgetown, Barbados on May 11, 1930. For his secondary education, Brathwaite studied at Harrison College in Bridgetown, winning the Barbados Island Scholarship in 1949 to attend Cambridge University, where he studied English and History.
     He received a B.A. with honors from Pembroke College at Cambridge in 1953. In 1954 he received a Diploma of Education from the same institution, and moved to Ghana, where he worked as Education Officer for the Ministry of Education. In 1960 he married Doris Monica Wellcome, a Guyanese graduate in Home Economics and Tropical Nutrition from the University of Leicester.
     During his years in Ghana Brathwaite began writing, first plays, Four Plays for Primary Schools (1964) and Odale’s Choice (1967), the later play premiering in a Ghana secondary school before being performed in the nation’s capital, Accra.

In 1962 Brathwaite became Resident Tutor in the Department of Extra-Mural Studies in St. Lucia, and in 1963 joined the History Department of the University of West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.
     In 1966 the poet began the organization of the Caribbean Artists Movement, from London, serving as the co-founder and secretary of the organization, CAM. His focus on Caribbean studies has produced numerous academic studies of great importance throughout his life, including Folk Culture of the Slaves in Jamaica (1970), The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820 (1971), Contradictory Omens: Cultural Diversity and Integration in the Caribbean (1974), Our Ancestral Heritage: A Bibliography of the Roots of Culture in the English-speaking Caribbean (1976), History of the Voice: The Development of Nation Language in Anglophone Caribbean Poetry (1984), and other such works.
     Among his many works of poetry are, Rights of Passage (1967), Masks (1968), and Islands (1969), collected as The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy in 1973. Since then he has written numerous works poetry, winning the Griffin Poetry Prize for his Born to Slow Horses in 2005.
     Brathwaite has won numerous other awards, including Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships, the 1994 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Bussa Award, and the Casa de las Améicas Prize for Poetry.
       Brathwaite died in 2020.     


Rites of Passage (London: Oxford University Press, 1967); Masks (London: Oxford University Press, 1968); Islands (London: Oxford University Press, 1969); The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy (London: Oxford University Press, 1973); Other Exiles (London: Oxford University Press, 1975); Days and Nights (Mona, Jamaica: Caldwell Press, 1975); Black + Blues (Benin City: Ethiope Publishers, 1977); reprinted (New York: New Directions, 1995); Mother Poem (London: Oxford University Press, 1977); Word Making Man: Poem for Nicolás Guillién (Mona, Jamaica: Savacou Cooperative, 1979); Soweto (Mona, Jamaica: Savacou Publications, 1979); Sun Poem (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982); Gods of the Middle Passage (Mona, Jamaica, 1982); X/self (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987); Shar (Mona, Jamaica: Savacou Publications, 1990); Middle Passages (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1992); DreamStories (Essex, England: Longman, 1994); Ancestors: A Reinvention of Mother Poem, Sun Poem, and X/Self (New York: New Directions, 2001); Born to Slow Horses (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2005); DS (2) [Dreamstories] (New York: New Directions, 2007); Elegguas (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2010); The Lazarus Poems (Middletown, Connecticut, 2021)

For a YouTube performance by Brathwaite of his Born to Slow Horses, go here: