March 31, 2023

Alan Halsey (England) 1949-2022

Alan Halsey (England)

Alan Halsey was born and brought up in London and has a London University degree in philosophy. After a spell of country living in Devon in the 1970s, he ran The Poetry Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye from 1979 until 1996. He moved to Sheffield in 1997 and married Geraldine Monk in 1998. He continues to work as a specialist bookseller and has been the publisher of West House Books since 1994. With Geraldine Monk and David Kennedy he founded the Sheffield Poetry International reading series in 2005. He also works as a visual artist.
     His first book, Yearspace, was published by Galloping Dog Press in 1979 and at about the same time he began his long association with Glenn Storhaug’s Five Seasons Press. Early experiments with cross-genre work led to a large-scale collage The Text of Shelley’s Death (Five Seasons, 1995) and the prose-poem/essay A Robin Hood Book (West House, 1996). 
     Since the mid-90s he has been engaged in a number of collaborative works, including Fit to Print with Karen Mac Cormack (Coach House, 1998) and Days of ’49 with Galvin Selerie (West House, 1999). Much of his recent work has been text-graphic: Dante’s Barber Shop, a “film treatment” of De Vulgari Eloquentia, appeared from West House in 2001, and Memory Screen was exhibited at the Bury Text Festival in 2005. He provided graphic interventions for Tony Baker’s translation of Blaise Cendrars’ Prose of the Trans-siberian and contributed the graphics to Kelvin Corcoran’s Your Thinking Tracts or Nations.
     He has written short studies of David Jones, Clark Coolidge, Bill Griffiths and Thomas Lovell Beddoes. His edition of Death’s Jest-Book (West House & Beddoes Society, 2003) is the first single-volume publication of the later version of Beddoes’ masterwork. With Geraldine Monk he made a recording of Beddoes’ Poems & Songs for the Beddoes Society in 2000.


Yearspace (Swansea, England: Galloping Dog, 1979); Another Loop in our Days (Hereford, England: Five Seasons, 1980); Present State (Peterborough, England: Spectacular Diseases, 1981); Perspectives on the Reach (Newcastle, England: Galloping Dog, 1981); Auto Dada Café (Hereford, England: Five Seasons, 1987); Five Years Out (Newcastle, England: Galloping Dog, 1989); Reasonable Distance (Cambridge, England: Equipage, 1992); Wittgenstein’s Devil (Exeter, England: Stride, 2000); Marginalien (Hereford, England: Five Seasons, 2005); A Looking Blass for Logoclasts (Boise: Free Poetry, 2005); Not Everything Remotely: Selected Poems 1978-2005 (Salt, 2006)

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

Ars Poetica:
Empsonics including a remark by George Saintsbury

I can't remember who predicted the fancy damage.
Seeing where a noise is coming from
helps. It helps the 'cry' in lyric when it is well managed.
Epic isn't for you if you don't like carnage.
An English fountain won't play after 5pm
even though you've bought your ticket. Fancy damage
to a country house and call it Carthage:
a fountain though a pen when a swan but the museum
turns musician as the night wears on. Carnage
is a joy in an epic and the fanciest damage.
Seeing noises will show you where an owl is coming from.
It helps the 'cry' in lyric when it is well managed.

Reprinted from The Masthead, No. 9 (2005). Copyright ©2005 by Alan Halsey

March 30, 2023

Maurice Gilliams (Belgium / wrote in Dutch) 1900-1982

Maurice Gilliams (Belgium / wrote in Dutch)

Maurice Gilliams was born in 1900 in Antwerp, Belgium, where he lived for the rest of his life until 1982. In Flanders and the Netherlands, Gilliams is considered to be one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, even though his entire oeuvre—with only sixty-eight poems in total—is contained in just one volume, a book he entitled Vita Brevis (“short life” in Latin, but also suggesting the wish for an ars longa, a “lasting art”).
     The son of a Flemish printer and a French-speaking mother from an old bourgeois family, Gilliams grew up bilingually. He decided that Dutch suited his poetic purposes best, which was to isolate fragments of a life in words, personal and detached at once, hard and true like stones. Being a poet in everything he produced, Gilliams also wrote lyrical novels (the most famous of which is Elias, 1936), essays on artists and fellow poets, and diaries. Further, Gilliams earned a living as a printer, teacher of typesetting and calligraphy, librarian for the Royal Museum of Fine arts in Antwerp, and finally, director the Flemish Academy of Dutch Language and Literature. 
     Toward the end of his life Gilliams was awarded the most important literary prizes of the Low Countries and given the title of baron when he was eighty years old.

—Marian de Vooght


Vita brevis: verzamelde werken (Antwerp: C. De Vries-Brouwers, 1955-1959; Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1984); Verzamelde Gedichten (Amsterdam: Meulenhoff/Gent: Poëziecentrum, 1993).


The Bottle at Sea: The Complete Poems, trans. by Marian de Vooght (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2006).

Nocturnal Wake in Antwerp

In memoriam Maurice Roelants

It is a swelling of sad water.
the ships stream through the windy night.
The city where I live flows off in years of illusion, rot and thingless blight.

A friend died. His verse I’ve been rereading.
Clawing through the open window comes silence.
From the hardened salt rim of centuries
moonlight whitens on the annals of butterflies.

—Is dream a vapor of perished souls?
It’s freezing in the old house. Its mirrors molded
into hollows of time without any sigh or lament.

Clotted gall of fish sticks to the knives.
The leftovers of the deep of midnight
attach shadows to my surrender.

Translated from the Dutch by Marian de Vooght


I saw you working on the field.
Out of the red trees
black birds came flying.
Light sparked on your spade.
Slowly your foot forced
the spade’s white.

Suddenly you jumped up,
staggered and looked for the bottle
and drank for a long time;
but then you keel down
like a broken steel knife.

Your fist clutched clay and stone.
Your feet lay wide

Translated from the Dutch by Marian de Vooght


Spring Poem

A pipe, a pen, a little chill,
a flower with no leaves on the table,
you can see the rooftops from your chair
what moves you most will make you wiser.
This is you standing by the books,
this is you climbing into the poem;
your eye looms larger
your mouth sinks, aslant in the corners,
your heart is given its own light.
Go back to the good letters
from the past, now and then,
but easy on thoughts of love
where the birds go weeping.

Translated from the Dutch by André Lefevere



In the wooden house
the white horse dwells,
and the wooden wagon sleeps there
beside the firewood,
ponderous and dull.

When the moon melts on the flowers,
around the wooden house,
the water glistens on the heath,
in front of the house.

Passing with the wind
the train whizzed for years on end,
and the house stays forever
with the white horse
and the wooden wagon.

Translated from the Dutch by Marian de Vooght


Saint John on Patmos

Creator with the trumpet.

The scene of the angels
and the cloud monsters
in a struggle toppling down,
stand completed in the tide.

—Humankind dances
Softly thunder growls.
Far off, betrayed in a flash,
high and towering citadels and
winding paths.

Translated from the Dutch by Marian de Vooght

Dreamed Joy

You do not taste the melancholy of a thin French book,
in front of the open window and it rains sweetly
on the blue fir tree. Evening is falling,
and I read abundance from the pages
while I keep silent. —With me alone you only want,
as it was in an old song:
to ride across the heath. I remain silent,
because your voice begins to seem unusual
and your restlessness takes its revenge in a kiss:
“stay here.” But a miserable poet
does not have what it takes to buy butter,
and then words of love melt away quickly.
—I am reading about a child who blew a soap bubble
around a beetle: mad and crazy sadness.

Translated from the Dutch by Marian de Vooght


Clarifying Poem

With this biting winter around me,
the mortal silence of my icy mind
—who will, inside, blind me
and would my flesh with ire?

One shine lasts for nights, days,
stronger than my childhood every dreamed;
I have a body mad with pain
and in my head my thoughts in cruel unity.

Like a plant held in a canal frozen over,
my past stands as if petrified;
but my future will be flowing
from the lost honey of my crying.

Translated from the Dutch by Marian de Vooght


The Bottle at Sea

Son navire est coulé, sa vie est révolue:
Il lance la Bouteille à la mer, et salue
Les jours de l’avenir qui pour lui sont venus.
alfred de vigny

The bleak profusion of the blood
brought mind and stomach no stable stock.
We are created out of pride,
out of confusions and bad luck.


I fixed my eyes till it was in vain.
This blind pearl I did retain
—here, on the island, spring blossoms
the pleasure of my hearth a monkey’s gain.


A lonely man grows fat in bed.
He bites his nails and cries, all sad.
Fleas and specters make him swear.
And he gets lost in swirling depths.


The stars move and advance
above my bold and sad existence.
My sleepless eyes discern no end,
but in me the End commences.


To marl you offer sun and rain
(your benevolence is rarely famed!)
—Breeches, or bread, a place for the night
did many a child never obtain.


A woman had to watch my attire
while I faced dream dragons in a fight.
Down I came from the blade on the grass.
There she sat sweetly lighting some fire.


Let me warm my feet, son.
Moon and wind made me all numb.
A man chews turnips his whole life
behind the roses of his passion.


The void along the stars gapes deep.
My heart is an emptier void asleep.
—Ah, mother, do not call me into being:
in grieving it is grief that you will reap.

Translated from the Dutch by Marian de Vooght

Dying in Antwerp

The stone angel on the Cathedral elevates
his scales at midnight for those who collapse.
the army of lice is crackling. Pissing cats
in draftless winding alleys.

Flattened on the knolls of silence,
full-fledged under a rind of sleep, curdled
the laryngeal blood, the skull plucked
bald, the smelly Cocks of torment lie.

Here the rosary’s beads are futile;
no mystery remains of flesh and bones
where in emptiness emptiness resides.

The town of streets and the house of rooms:
woe, leave the clock alone. Drink wine, count gold.
The dirt rots underground. Don’t pray for skeletons.

Translated from the Dutch by Marian de Vooght



Those lofty words the break our hearts,
are written in the flowing water.
—A stone rests on the riverbed.
It didn’t ask for the weeds’ caresses.

Translated from the Dutch by Marian de Vooght



“Nocturnal Wake in Antwerp,” “Ballad,” “Spring Poem,” “Fable,” “Saint John on Patmos,” “Dreamed Joy,” “Clarifying Poem,” “The Bottle at Sea,” “Dying in Antwerp,” and “Epitaph”
Reprinted from The Bottle at Sea: The Complete Poems, trans. by Marian de Vooght (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 1995). Copyright ©2005 by Marian de Vooght. Reprinted by permission of Green Integer.

March 29, 2023

"Interview with Frances Presley" | Edmund Hardy interviewing Frances Presley [link]

 For an interview with Frances Presley by Edmund Hardy in Intercapillary Space, go here:

Frances Presley (England) 1952

Frances Presley (England)

Born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire in 1952, of English and Dutch-Indonesian parents, Frances Presley spent her childhood in Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and finally in Somerset. She grew up in the country and had freedom to roam, although the agribusiness was already changing the landscape.
     Her defining moment in poetry came in 1969 when she first read Ezra Pound’s “Lustra.’” Her poetic and political interests developed as an undergraduate in the 70s at the University of East Anglia, studying American literature and history. She spent a year in the United States at Franklin & Marshall College and studied contemporary American poetry. Her MA thesis at the University of Sussex compared Ezra Pound and Guillaume Apollinaire, and their response to the visual arts. It was followed by research in modern French poetry and surrealism at the University of Neuchatel. Returning to UEA, she completed a critique of the contemporary French poet Yves Bonnefoy, and of “logocentrism” in French poetry.
     In 1980 she moved to London to work as a librarian, and later specialized in research and information for community development and women’s issues. She now works part time for the national Poetry Library. She joined a housing co-operative in North London, which is where she still lives.
     Although she had been writing throughout the 70s, and publishing in university arts magazines, her writing and performance came into focus in the late 80s. She took part in the SubVoicive readings in their various incarnations, and it was through these that she met her partner Gavin Selerie. She was a member and later coordinator of the Islington Poetry Workshop. She was also involved in the small press North and South, with Peterjon and Yasmin Skelt and David Annwn, which published her first collection of poems and prose: The Sex of Art.
     In the early 90s she established her own small press, the Other Press, and published her second book Hula Hoop. Ian Robinson, of Oasis Books, published her third collection, Linocut in 1997. She embarked on a major collaboration and performance with the artist Irma Irsara, based around the fashion industry and women’s clothing (Automatic cross stitch, Other Press, 2000). She also collaborated on a simultaneous email text with the poet Elizabeth James – Neither the One nor the Other (Form Books 1999).
      Somerset Letters (Oasis, 2002), which began as a collaboration with the poet Elaine Randell, experiments with prose, as well as exploring landscape and rural society. The sequence Paravane originated with discussions on the How2 editorial board post 9/11, but then examines the IRA bombsites in London: it was published in New and selected poems from Salt, 2004. She is currently working on another Somerset sequence with the poet Tilla Brading, which retraces Neolithic stone settings through visual experimentation and the writings of women archaeologists.
     She has written various reviews and essays about her poetic practice and that of other women poets.
     Of her own writing, Presley has remarked: “I have been influenced by my research in surrealism, and by its techniques, such as automatic writing; secular litany; and the exquisite corpse. One method of altering the tension between compression and expansion, as well as providing an escape from individual set pieces, is that of collaboration, particularly the kind of active collaboration favoured by the surrealists, and within a feminist poetics. From compression and reduction we arrive, however briefly, at conversation, intimacy and the open text. I am grateful to all the poets I have collaborated with, especially Elaine Randell, Harriet Tarlo, Elizabeth James and Tilla Brading.
     Visual art has always played an important role in my writing and research. It was the subject of the title section of my first collection, The Sex of Art, which included a tribute to Judy Chicago’s dinner party. It also had an increasing effect on my writing practice, through collaboration with artists such as Irma Irsara; and, in terms of the visual potential of the page, through the influence of poets such as Kathleen Fraser and Susan Howe.
     Another dominant aspect of my work which ultimately derives from Pound, but which has developed along its own trajectory, is the cross-cutting of styles and genres. It is sometimes referred to as hybrid writing. This has been particularly important to me as a way of undercutting the danger of poetic form which can be both hypnotic and self-deluding in its harmony. David Annwn has described its effect as calmly subverting ‘senses of enclosure or walled hierarchy in language’.”


The Sex of Art (London: North and South, 1988): Hula Hoop (London: Other Press, 1993); Porous [art book by Irma Irsara, with words by Frances Presley] (London: Irma Irsara, 1995); Linocut (London: Oasis, 1997); Private writings (Exeter, England: Maquette, 1998); Neither the One Nor the Other [a collaboration with the Elizabeth James ( London: Form Books, 1999; [CD also available]); Automatic Cross Stitch [collaboration with artist Irma Irsara] (London: Other Press, 2000); Somerset Letters (London: Oasis, 2002); Paravane: New and Selected Poems 1996 – 2003 (Cambridge, England: Salt, 2004); Myne: new and selected poems and prose 1976 - 2005 (Exeter, England: Shearsman, 2006); Lines of Sight (Exeter, England: Shearsman, 2009); An Alphabet for Alina (with art by Peterjon Skelt) (Five Seasons, 2012); Halse for Hazel (with art by Irma Irsara) (Exeter, England: Shearsman, 2014)

To read Presley's Gertrude Stein Award-winning poem from 2005-2006, click below:

March 28, 2023

"On Julio Cortázar's Save Twilight" | essay-review by Gregory J. Racz

 on Julio Cortázar's Save Twilight, review-essay by Gregory J. Racz, go here:

Julio Cortázar (Argentina) 1914-1984

Julio Cortázar (Argentina)


Born in Brussels to Argentinian parents, Julio Cortázar grew up in Argentina, where he later worked as a school teacher, university professor and professional translator. In 1951 he moved to Paris, where he worked as a translator for UNESCO. He died in Paris in 1984.
     Cortázar is best known as an experimental short-story writer and novelist. His novel Hopscotch is considered the seminal work of the Latin American “boom” of the 1960s. Other works of fiction include Blow-up and Other Stories (the title story later serving as the source for the film of the same name), 62: A Model Kit, The Winner, All Fires the Fire, A Manual for Manuel, A Certain Lucas, and Around the Day in Eighty Worlds.
     Upon his death, Editorial Nueva Imagen of Mexico City published his collected poems, Salvo el crepúsculo, which consisted of a 339-page paperback with a variety of graphics, a deck of poems to be shuffled and “played” as a literary game.


Salvo el crepúsculo (Mexico City: Editorial Nueva Imagen, 1984)


Save Twilight: Selected Poems, trans. by Stephen Kessler (San Francisco: City Lights, 1997)

Gregory J. Racz on Julio Cortázar's Save Twilight

Save Twilight: Selected Poems, Julio Cortázar. Translated from the Spanish by Stephen Kessler (San Francisco: City Lights, 1997), 169 pp.

The acclaimed Argentinean novelist and short story writer Julio Cortázar may always remain best remembered for Rayela (Hopscotch, 1963), his “flip novel” and “book-kit” of indeterminate sequentiality; but in addition to a prodigious narrative output, Cortázar wrote poetry quietly, though steadily, throughout his lifetime. Published posthumously in Mexico as one volume in 1984 under the title Salvo el crepúsculo, this eclectic but well-crafted collection has been pared down and gorgeously translated for the first time into English by Stephen Kessler for City Lights.
     Kessler’s rationale for his somewhat traditional selection takes a page from Cortázar’s own avowed passion for playful disorder; quoting from the book’s “Preface,” Kessler notes that Cortázar advises his reader: “don’t begin, jump in wherever you can. No chronology, such a mixed pack that it’s not worth the trouble.” The translator feels justified in revealing that in choosing these poems, he, like Cortázar, has “favored his personal sentiments over any more objective standard of excellence.”
     Lucky for us, then, that Kessler exhibits such good judgment and able handling of Cortázar’s colloquial Spanish throughout this gem of a small-format book (Number 53 in City Light’s Pocket Poets Series), whose cover greets its readers with an affectionate photo of the author sitting on the floor playing with a cat. Kessler’s middle-ground approach to Save Twilight dispenses the original Spanish text’s line drawings and pictures of rhinos, turtles, starlets and the like; the few pieces written in French and Italian, as well as the handwritten ones; many rather canon-conscious poems on classical themes and literary forbearers; Cortázar’s ludic repetition of a poem, and whatever other efforts might have displeased more conventional audiences (or typesetters).
     Instead, Kessler opts wisely to focus on Cortázar’s one-page, free verse works, although the occasional sonnet or piece in syllabic meter does appear, as does a handful of judiciously arranged prose poems, which punctuate Cortázar’s meditations on love, time, the gods, Buenos Aires, and the Argentine political situation, with their ironic reflections on the nature of what might be called the “poetry industry.”
     The reader may be surprised to find so many pieces centering on the devastation of separation from this most postmodern of authors, yet these efforts compose the bulk of Save Twilight. After his lover’s departure in “El breve amor” (“The Brief Love”), for instance, the speaker wonders: “So why is / what’s left of me, afterwards, / just a sinking into ashes ‘ without a goodbye...?” The mistreated lover in the sardonically titled “Liquidación de saldos” (“Clearance Sale”) similarly realizes “I’m barely a bubble / reflecting you, which you’ll burst / with the blink of an eye.” So keenly felt throughout the volume is this pain at the loss of shared heightened experience, not necessarily erotic, that two poems, “Haben, tienen tres minutos” (“Speak, You Have Three Minutes”) and “Estela en una encrucijada” (“Stele at the Crossroads”), feature speakers who imagine their lovers experiencing their own experiences without them. It may well be the fear of encroaching age and impending death which prompts the speaker of “Policronías” (“Polychrony”) to obsess wryly: “It’s incredible to think that twelve years ago / I turned fifty, no less,” while self-consciously tossing off this muted accusation at his lover: “When your hand explores my hair / I know it’s looking for gray / surprises.”
     For those acquainted with his better known narrative oeuvre, a more familiar Cortázar will be found in the author of “Crónica para César” (“Chronicle for Cesar”), whose speaker declares that the titular figure “shall build a great city” where all things “shall praise [his] name,” before revealing that these professed beliefs of grandeur will be mere delusions, since “[n]one of this shall pass beyond the walls of [his] room.” This motif of reality confined to consciousness plays itself out again in “El héroe” (“The Hero”), whose medieval warrior envisions glory in hard fought battle until the final stanza, which reads:

Then he’s not so sure,
maybe the goal isn’t really a beginning;
and at the end of the street
that looked so beautiful
there’s nothing more than a withered tree
and a broken fan.

     Two cynical poems about the nature of the divine, “Los dioses” (“The Gods”) and “A un dios desconocido” (“To a God Unkown”), the latter which ends: “Whoever you are / don’t come. / We’d dump on you, garbage, made / in our nylon and orlon / image, Jahweh, God of mine,” are elsewhere balanced by the even-tempered secular bent of “Distribución del tiempo” (“Time’s Distribution”), which optimistically declares: “Every day we’re more, we who believe less / in the utilization of humanism / for the stereophonic nirvana / of mandarins and esthetes.    
     Kessler’s translations in Save Twilight are uniformly excellent, and always manage to transform Cortázar’s argentinisms into a natural-sounding English. One might quibble about his reluctance to render fixed stanzaic forms, such as the sonnet, or the few seven- and nine-syllable lines scattered sparsely throughout the volume into their metrical equivalents (with or without rhyme), but Kessler does ably handle the syllabic exigencies of “Ley del poema” (“Law of the Poem”) out of necessity, since the piece self-referentially thematizes the “perfect poem’s need for “precisely nine syllables per line.” The reader of this fabulously entertaining edition may wonder whether these poetic licenses would have upset a poet who writes in “Un amigo me dice...” (“A Friend of Me”): “Anyway, the only thing that really matters today in Latin America is to swim against the current of conformity, the received ideas and the sacred cows, which even in their highest forms play along with the Big System.” On the contrary, Cortázar would undoubtedly have approved highly of Kessler’s superior work. “[A]t least there doesn’t seem to be any risk in taking this all too seriously,” Cortázar writes serio-comically in “Poemas de bolsillo” (“Pocket Poems”), where his prose-poetic persona restates his “[m]istrust...of the anthological.” After all, as he so pointedly phrases it at the close of “Un amig me dice...”: “I never wanted butterflies pinned to a board.”

March 27, 2023

Wystan Curnow (New Zealand) 1939

Wystan Curnow (New Zealand)

Born in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1939, Wystan Curnow spent his first few years there. Composers, pianists, poets, actors, ballerinas, critics and the like pass through his home and gathered there for parties. His mother was a painter. His father, who had several books of poetry to his name and the introduction to an anthology of New Zealand poetry, was offered a position in the English Department at the University of Auckland. The family moved north. Curnow was named Wystan after W. H. Auden, an explanation which at least to begin with did not cut much ice with his contemporaries.
     He studied English and History at the University of Auckland. He took his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, where he wrote a dissertation on Herman Melville under Morse Peckham. At that time—the 1960s—he traveled often to New York and became involved in political action on the street and on campus.
     He taught at the Universities of Rochester and York (in Toronto) before returning to New Zealand. He is now a professor of English at the University of Auckland, where he teaches modern and contemporary literature. In 1989 he was visiting Professor at the University of California San Diego and in 1993 is was visiting professor at the University of New York at Buffalo. In 1997 he spent time in France on a Moet et Chandon fellowship.
     Curnow is well-known as an art critic and an independent curator. He is been responsible for twenty-nine exhibitions, in venues as far afield as New York, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Sydney, Auckland, New Plymouth and Wellington. In 1987 he founded Artspace, New Zealand’s first contemporary art space. Currently, he co-directs Jar Space in Auckland. From 1984 to 1987 he co-edited a literary magazine, Splash!, which published mainly language-oriented writers from New Zealand and the United States. In 2005 he became a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his contributions to literature and art.
  Curnow’s poetry has its sources in new American poetry and conceptual art (New Zealand performance art in particular). His books are not collections so much as loose collocations of thematically and formally related texts. Broadly speaking his earlier works (some of which are collected in ‘Wystan’s Room’ at are particularly concerned with place, space and language; the more recent poems are involved with history and culture. He is prone to mixing and confusing genres, poetry and prose especially, as well as registers and voices. His pieces are increasingly sensitive to the fact that the language they use has already been spoken for and that the task of wrestling new forms of thought and feeling from it requires an ongoing reappraisal of their poetics.
      In 2020 Curnow was awarded a CLNZ / NZSA research grant for his project Colin McCahon, Let Us Possess One World.


Back in the USA (Wellington, New Zealand: Black Light Press, 1989); Cancer Daybook (Auckland: Vanguard Xpress, 1989); Castor Bay, Poems and Proses (Auckland: The Holloway Press, 1996); Modern Colours (Auckland: Jack Books, 2005); The Art Hotel (split/fountain, 2014)

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

Portrait of Picabia

Francis Picabia's a nomad we thought
he goes through ideas the way
one goes through countries and cities
-incessant, says Gertrude Stein-
swallong abstruse rosellas and
wood pigeons, wolfing down volume
on volume, hanging around high flyers
making love to curiouscormorants
and washing one's forearms in alizarin

'Funny Guy' Francis Picabia
is an idiot
is a dag
is a pickpocket
is an imbecilic professor
of Spanish

Francis Picabia is to style parliaments
as jumbo jets and jumbos as I don't know
what costly erotic cures for dumbstruck
summoning up plausible ungeants
hologrammatically from the decks of
ocen-going liners, just to get by. Says

he from the pig's back! Or the internal
engines of combustion! Steam heat!
More than him as to ghost writer
of resignation speeches for stick label
despotics never again see the people
he knew and loved, even casual acquaintances
-notorious roue never put-his word
the same woman twice in his bed unless
he'd another who cheated on him every
day with a different man. Even so.

Francis Picabia's a wag
He is an idiot
He's a clow
Is not a painter
Is a crazy
Is a Spaniard
Is a professor
Is not serious
Is rich
Is poor.
Take his word

Reprinted from Wystan Curnow, Modern Colours (Auckland, New Zeland: Jack Book, 2005).

March 26, 2023

Sjoerd Spanninga [Jan Dijkstra] (Netherlands / wrote in Frisian) 1906-1985

Sjoerd Spanninga [Jan Dijkstra] (Netherlands / wrote in Frisian)

Born in Joure, Friesland—the northern province of Netherlands which includes part of the Frisian Islands—in 1906, Spanninga was a journalist and a publicist in the town Sneek for much of his life.
     His first book of poetry, Spegelskrift, appeared in 1949, and he continued to publish books until the late 1960s. In 1951 he was the winner of the Gysbert Japicx-pris for his book Núnders. In 1968 he translated Rudyard Kipling’s “Mary Gloster.”
     Spanninga was noted for being a Frisian experimentalist, and was recognized for poetry that was personal and often erotic as in the selection below.
     He died in Schagen on July 7, 1985. A posthumous collection Samle fersen was published by the Frisian Academy in 1992.


Spegelskrift (Snits [Sneek]: Brandenburgh, 1949); Núnders (Drachten: Laverman, 1950); Finzen en frji (Snits [Sneek]: Brandenburgh, 1957); Rattelmansreau (Drachten: Laverman, 1962); Kymgong (Ljouwert: Miedema, 1964); Samle fersen (Ljouwert: Fryske Akademy, 1992).

Caravan Song

Look, my love! I have hung my tent with dark-glowing tapestries
and bright-flamed dresses from El Khahira.
When I am with you I feel world-weary.
You are the graceful bride
with whom I wander through the courtyards of meditation,
and my soul of stone becomes a well of mercy,
a pure well for gazelles
jealous of your youthful and light-footed allure.
In the carboniferous age long ago nature mixed the color
of your black locks
in which the fragrance of precious spices
in which my passions yearn to lie.
Never has a sheik’s horse had a more beautiful mane,
nestling on the oasis’ shadow.
Let your hair glide through my fingers
like a bewitching web of glossy silk
spun of the finest threads of primal matter on the spindle of the universe.
Your nose is a poem;
on your cheeks lie the bronze of northern autumns.
Your teeth are a string of pearls in the velvet of your mouth,
and your ears like rare shells
that an ocean ship scooped from the sea in the fresh tracks of the waves.
Your eyebrows were sketched in charcoal:
two small sickles, reaping passion.
Love is still slumbering between your breasts:
let me rouse it, daughter of the South.
You have exquisite arms and the perfect neck of a chamois;
What jeweler has flashing gems like your eyes,
fine-cut diamonds which millennia have chiseled,
sparkling like Orion?
And in them burns the mystic fire of mosque lanterns,
as if escaped from one of Scheherazade’s tales.
Yes, you are calligraphy from the Koran,
and the centuries find well-being in your appearance.
With you there is wonderful, restful repose
and the security of an infant,
in the happy pleasure
of playing ball with sun and moon and stars;
the turtle-dove and the hawk peacefully perch upon your shoulders.
The palm trees rejoice in your slender shape and supple limbs;
all trees halt their whispering and hang their leaves to listen
to the secret dialogue of our hearts.
I shall play the tambour for you,
and sing my sweet-sounding songs of the deserts,
for you are like a deer that dances over the hills,
fleeing the hunger.

—Translated from the Frisian by Peter Constantine


“Caravan Song”
Copyright ©2006 by Peter Constantine

March 25, 2023

Andrew Joron (USA) 1955

Andrew Joron (USA)

Born in San Antonio, Texas in 1995, Andrew Joron grew up in Stuttgart, Germany; Lowell, Massachusetts; and Missoula, Montana. He attend the University of California at Berkeley, where he majored in history and philosophy of science. After a decade and a half spent writing science-fiction poetry, culminating in his volume Science Fiction (Pantograph Press, 1992). After that, he turned to a more philosophical mode of speculative lyric. This work has been collected in The Removes (Hard Press, 1999), Fathom (Black Square Editions, 2003) and later publications.

     Equally inspired by surrealism and the science of nonlinear systems, Joron has sought to implement an "ontological turn" in poetic practice. In his essay "Language as Ghost Condensate," Joron argues that "poetic 'lines of force' point toward uninhabited wildernesses within language, toward removes of irreducible meaning––so that a poetic impulse will cause the system of language to exceed its own boundary conditions, and to undergo a phase transition toward the Unsayable."
     Joron has also written books of fiction and prose, including The Cry at Zero and O0 (2022).
     He lives in Berkeley, where he worked as a freelance bibliographer and indexer and in 2014 joined the Creative Writing staff of San Francisco State University.


Force Fields (Mercer Island, Washington: Starmont House, 1987); Science Fiction (Berkeley, California: Pantograph Press, 1992); The Removes (West Stockbridge, Massachusetts: Hard Press, 1999); Fathom (New York: Black Square Editions, 2003); The Sound Mirror (Flood Editions, 2008); Force Fields (with Brian Lucas) (Hooke Press, 2010; different from the previous title of the same name); Trance Archive: New and Selected Poems (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2010); The Absolute Letter (Flood Editions, 2017).

For a selection of his poems, go here:

For a selection of audio readings by Andrew Joron, click below:

March 24, 2023

J. Bernlef [Hendrik Marsman] (Netherlands) 1937-2012

J. Bernlef [Hendrik Marsman] (Netherlands)

Born Hendrik Marsman in St. Pancras, Netherlands in 1937, Bernlef (a pen name to which he added the first initial to separate himself from an earlier Dutch author), made his literary debut with Kokkels (Cockles) in 1960. At first his use of language led to protest by critics and readers, but soon his many works of poetry, fiction, plays, and essays brought him renown, and his books became compulsory reading in the schools.
     Among his many books of poetry are Ben even weg (1965, Back in a Minute), Bermtoerisme (1968, Wayside Tourism), Zwijgende man (1976, Silent Man), and Gedichten 1960-1970 (Poems 1960-1970) published in 1978.
      In 1994 Bernlef received the P. C. Hooft Prize for his writing, one of the most coveted of Dutch literary awards. Having won the Constantijn Huygens Award for prose writing, Bernlef was asked by journalists which award was of most importance to him: “Compare my work,” he responded, “to that of a painter who makes drawings. The drawing is a quicker medium more suited to putting down first impressions. With prose you always have to take structural matters into account. There’s more planning involved in writing a novel. Not so with poetry. I come up with and invent things through poetry, because it is more direct, like a sketch. For me poetry is the seed from which my other work has sprung.”
     Bernlef is also a noted translator, having brought the work of Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore—as well as others—into Dutch.
     Among his many works of fiction are Hersenschimmen (1984), Publiek geheim (1987), De witte stad (1992), Eclips (1993), and Boy (2000), the last of which won the Libris Literatuur Prijs. Several of his works of fiction have been translated into English.


Kokkels (Amsterdam: Querido, 1960); Morene (Amsterdam: Querido, 1961); Dit verheugd verval (Amsterdam: Querido, 1963); Ben even weg (Amsterdam: Querido, 1965); De schoenen van de dirigent en twee andere teksten (Amsterdam: Querido, 1966); Bermtoerisme (Amsterdam: Querido, 1968); Het testament van De Vliegende Hollander, gevonden op een vliegveld en bevatatende 16 liederen (Amsterdam: Querido, 1969); Hoe wit kijkt een Eskimo (Amsterdam: Querido, 1970); Grensgeval (Amsterdam: Querido, 1972); Brits (Amsterdam: Querido, 1974); Zwijgende man (Amsterdam: Querido, 1976); Gedichten 1960-1970 (Amsterdam: Querido, 1971); Stilleven (Amsterdam: Querido, 1979); De kunst van het verliezen (Amsterdam: Querido, 1980); Alles teruggevonden, niets bewaard (Amsterdam: Querido, 1982); Winterwegen (Amsterdam: Querido, 1983); Verschrijvingen (Amsterdam: Querido, 1985); Wolftoon (Amsterdam: Querido, 1986); Verzwegen visioen: tombe voor Pieter Janszoon Saenredam (Bedum: Exponent, 1988); Gedichten 1970-1980 (Amsterdam: Querido, 1988); Geestgronden (Amsterdam: Querido, 1988); De noodzakelijke engel (Amsterdam: Querido, 1990); Voor eigen rekening: zestien kwatrijnen (Landgraaf: Herik, 1992); Niemand wint (Amsterdam: Querido, 1992); Vreemde wil (Amsterdam: Querido, 1994); Achter de rug: gedichten 1960-1990 (Amsterdam: Querido, 1997); Aambeeld (Amsterdam: Querido, 1998); Bagatellen voor een landschap (Amsterdam: Querido, 2001); Hetzelfde anders (Zutphen: De Kolenpers, 2003); Kiezel en traan (Amsterdam: Querido, 2004); Voorgoed. Gedichten 1960-2010 (Amsterdam: Querido, 2012)


 Driftwood House (trans. by Scott Rollins) (1992)

For a selection of Bernlef's poetry, go here:

March 23, 2023

Martin Nakell (USA) 1945

Martin Nakell (USA)

Martin Nakell was born, the son of a CP (Certified Public Accountant), in Alpena, Michigan—a small town on the shores of Lake Huron. His family moved to Southern California when he was 15, and he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1971 from the California State University, Northridge, near Los Angeles. He received his M.A. in Creative Writing in 1974 from California State University in San Francisco and his Doctor of Arts from the State University of New York at Albany in 1983. Upon graduating from Albany, Nakell became a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Chapman University in Orange, California, where he continues today.
       For some years, Nakell taught a summer course for Chapman students in Ischia, Italy.
     Nakell begin writing in the 1960s, publishing in numerous journals, but was dissatisfied with his own writing until much later. His first book, The Myth of Creation, was published by Parentheses Writing Series in 1993. In 1997 Sun and Moon Press published his short fiction, The Library of Thomas Rivka, and in 2001 Green Integer/EL-E-PHANT books published his long novel, Two Fields That Face and Mirror Each Other, to literary acclaim. Other works of fiction include Settlement (2008), Monk (2009), The Lord of Silence (2016), and The History of Zero & Alter Fictions.
     Nakell’s work is philosophically-based and ruminative in its structures. Often, his poems flow in prose-poetry forms, and commonly, his poems function in a series of sequential writings that consider abstract issues such as “sequence,” “dialogue” and other such concerns.
      In the city of Orange, where he lives, Nakell is also known for organizing poetry events and for the publications, particularly that of Leland Hickman on his Jahbone Press. He has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Blue Mountain Center, and from Writers and Books in Rochester, New York. He has also received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Chapman University, and the University of California.
      He is married to writer Rebecca Goodman.


The Myth of Creation (San Diego: Parentheses Writing Series, 1993); Form (New York: Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2004); Goings (Margin-to-Margin Press, 2000); Tautological Eye (New York: Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2011); The Desert Poems of Southern California (New York: Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2014); IS (Litfest Press, 2015); Unnamed: The Emotions (Jaded Ibis Press, 2016); saltearth airstone waterbody (New York: Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2019); Consciousness (New York: Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2021)


two very decent gentlemen
in a sun chessboard
object born of a mind
first one sighs
the other sighs
a chessboard in a sun struggles
each has a thought which he struggles with
and of course wins, conquers
or that they are on the same side, team,
work together for the sake of

in the same sun molecules
on a salt body of water
salt as
some ubiquitous.

notion or idea holds them together
or something much stronger in a good life
imagined by a greek in a strong no a good chess

but these two are italians
no, actually puerto ricans, shopkeepers
with good shops so there’s no going home

the chessboard of course has long since resolved its
fingers curl over the absence of oars and water, water in
each country

some ubiquitous
but these two russian gentlemen
had never known such sunlight quite like this though
you’d think molecules
and never imagined such pleasures
as portable as

the molecular structure of the act of change is a

sunlight falling through the translucent chessboard
leaving the hands of the gentlemen placed upon the
dissolving notion,
historically, of the city-state, of the country-state
of the state

except that one yawns, a deficit of oxygen
and the dictatorship of boredom
and the return of a thought not to be conquered:


I tried to imagine her thoughts. I imagined her
thoughts. I crossed
that imperial boundary among the bombardments,
of a real world. I came home with my bounty: the
absence of an ideal self.
ever present but not omniscient: the water.
omniscient but absent: an adam and an eve, or certain
figures and a motif, recurrent throughout musics

The park was like a garden in an old country. We played chess there
each afternoon meeting each other. When the war came we persisted,
although, of course, then we had to stay inside. My companion was a
brilliant interior carpenter who had built himself an excellent library, and
so we played chez toi. I love it when I know even one phrase from another
language, as though language were something ubiquitous, falling
from a sky like rainwater into my old mouth. He is more intelligent than I,
who am only a shopkeeper. Though I read through some of his books, now
that I’m alone, and I beat him often at chess not because I’m more bold,
and actually I don’t know why. Since we left Lebanon, a Paris of the Middle
East older than Paris if you want to know

to have been a seaman
to have sat at the oars of the longboat
to have seen the waters evaporate
to have continued, at your oar
to have looked around
to have had the idea to call some thing by its name
to have known that you were one of the symbols

(from The Myth of Creation, 1993)

Questions from the Gates

in that one is return
two is familiarity

Where were you today?

At the gates.

Did you go in?



Yes, some.

What were they talking about
at the gates today?

The weather. And waiting.

Where were their hands?

In their pockets.

Where were their eyes?

In their hands.

What did you see?

Cumulus clouds, though the sky
was temptingly pale, transparent blue
in the open spaces between

What else did you see?

I saw the gates, those iron
vertical bars open
and close.

Did they stay open for long?

I don’t think
they were open at all.

But you said you went in?

I thought I went in; there were
times I thought I was on
the other side, and someone
kept calling me to come out.


Someone with eyes
like my own: startled, that is,
brown eyes.

Were they in his hands
in his pockets?

No. He kept looking at me.
He kept saying to me,
come bout before those gates

Why didn’t you stay?

I don’t know. Perhaps I’m a coward.

What was happening inside
the gates?

Many things. A man…


…legs, he was digging for something
inside his legs.

Did you go in far?

Yes, I went in
very far.

Did you see me there?

You were there!

Yes, with my eyes
in my hands, holding them up
so they could see.

Were you actually inside the gates?

Yes. Some.

Did you put your eyes
back in your pockets
like the rest of them?

No. I put them back
where eyes come from.


Because I had to come back here
to see you, to talk to you
about things.

Would you go back?

You mean inside those gates, where we both have been?

Yes. Back, inside.

What gates?

(from Form, 2004)

Sequence of Forms Six

is idea
plus essence or

So rich in that part of that city.
Idleness to approximate sensual
sloth’s seaside argument.

Two sparrows in a pepper tree,
Hawk-eyed, hung light-footed, hungriness,
indulge in the dearth of indifference.

Aesthetic’s muscular labor
The voice of that vendor: Potatoes!

Or that most days after work they come home,
then walk by the uneven shore
so that much later they might sleep well
under open windows.
Or if not, she would say,
Bring me down into sleep with you,
and he would say,
abandon to other shapes, insolid also.

That corruption causes individual consequence.
The exercise even of small power.
It’s not an aphrodisiac,
but arises from a mark of ordinary fear, causes a sense of safety.

Cause and effect, cause and effect, cause, and effect.
Light-footed the sparrows’ fine claws find grooves in the bark

Or the shape of an aesthetic labor taking shape

(from Form, 2004)


Reprinted from The Myth of Creation (San Diego: Parentheses Writing Series, 1993). Copyright ©1993 by Martin Nakell. Reprinted by permission of the author.

“Questions from the Gates,” and “Sequence of Forms Six”
Reprinted from Form (New York: Spuytin Dyvil Press, 2004). Copyright ©2004 by Martin Nakell. Reprinted by permission of the author.

March 22, 2023

POETRY FOR READERS | John Latta : Some Alphabets [link]




                        Featuring books of poetry

                        and where to order them. 

today’s title:

Some Alphabets

John Latta

order here:

John Latta (USA) 1954

John Latta (USA)

Born in Ypsilanti, Michigan, John Latta spent his childhood in the “Jack pine savage” country of lower northern Michigan, and went to high school in Ann Arbor. He attended Cornell University (1971-1976, A.B.) in Ithaca, New York and there learned letterpress printing, bookbinding, and editing at Ithaca House—the small press founded by Baxter Hathaway—and edited Chiaroscuro, a poetry journal (six issues, 1976-1986).
     Latta lived in Paris circa 1973-74, and 1979-80, thanks, in the latter case, to an NEA Creative Writing fellowship. He worked at Ithaca House (and the formerly poet-requisite “succession of stupid jobs,” janitorial to editorial) during most of the 1980s. Latta attended the University of Virginia (1987-1989, M.F.A.) and SUNY at Albany (1991-1995, Ph.D.) He married Joanne Tangorra in 1991; a son, Giancarlo, was born in 1995. 
     Since 1997 Latta has worked in Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Michigan, in a variety of positions. Currently, he selects and edits texts for the Early English Books Online project, part of the Digital Library.
   Latta’s first collection, Rubbing Torsos, was published by Ithaca House in 1979. His second collection, titled Rue Hazard, was a finalist twice—in 1992 and 1994—in the National Poetry Series competition, and remains unpublished. A third collection, Breeze, won the Ernest Sandeen Prize in Poetry (selected by John Matthias) and was published in 2003 by the University of Notre Dame Press.  
   Other poems from his most recent collection, Some Alphabets, appeared in The Poker, Jacket, New American Writing, 1913, Boston Review, Wherever We Put Our Hats, No, Fence, Free Verse, Typo, LIT, American Letters & Commentary, Bird Dog, Xantippe, and elsewhere.
    Latta occasionally wrote reviews, reading notes, assorted jibes and juvenilia at a blog titled Isola di Rifiuti ( and Rue Hazard.


Rubbing Torsos (Ithaca, New York: Ithaca House, 1979); Breeze (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003); Some Alphabets (New York: Agincourt Press, 2020)

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


Empahtic's the rasp of I
In the star-eye'd crosshairs
Of my cant and holy
Gibberish, zinnia'd out to th'azimuth
Where th'empty disjointure between being
And meaning, that inconquerable lag
Pettiness betweixt fallow hope &
Torn arrival's what I will
Call God. O such thin
Narrative'll ruin the illimitable name!
So the hectic of a
Madness's fury. The Trencher'd bread
Goeth blacke as incke! I
Say set simpering criminal fires
To the 'carking anxious houses'
Of the fuggin' ambitious yessers!

Reprinted from The New Review of Literature, II, no. 2 (April 2005). Copyright ©2005 by John Latta.

Go here for some other poems:

March 21, 2023

Oliverio Girondo (Argentina) 1891-1967

Oliverio Girondo (Argentina)

Born of a wealthy family in Buenos Aires in 1891, Oliverio Girondo spent his early years in Argentina and Europe, traveling to the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900, when he was only nine, and where he later claimed to have seen Oscar Wilde stalking the streets with sunflower in hand. After spending some time at the Lycée Louis le Grand in Paris and Epsom school in England, he made an agreement with his family to attend law school in Buenos Aires if they would send him each year to Europe for the holidays. For the next several years, Girondo explored the continent, even travelling to find the source of the Nile.
     Meanwhile, back at home he had begun writing avant-garde plays, which caused a stir in the theater world of Argentina. In 1922 he published, in France, his first volume and verse, 20 Poems to Be Read in a Trolley Car, which shows the influence the Appolinaire and the Parisian scene. Only in 1925, with the second printing of this book, did Girondo receive attention in Argentina. By this time, the ultraists, lead by Jorge Luis Borges, had become a major force the scene, and Girondo continued his own humorous exploration of the aesthectic in his second volume, Decals. In the same period he became involved with the avant-garde journal Martin Fierro, which brought together younger poets such as Girondo and Borges with more established figures such as Ricardo Güiraldes and Macedonion Fernández.
     After a five year period of traveling again, Girondo returned to Buenos Aires, publishing two of his major works, Scarecrow (1932) and Intermoonlude (1937). A new book, Our Countryside, appeared in 1946, the same year he married the poet Nora Lange. In this new work he moved away from the ultraist ideas, playing with elaborate metaphoric language. As Borges moved toward his more fantasist works, and a new generation of poets arose, Girondo was increasingly described as a humorous or even frivolous poet, but his 1956 work, Moremarrow stood as a darker summation of his career, a work that bears comparison with the great Chilean writer Vicente Huidobro's Altazor. However, many readers feel that Girondo went further in his linguistic explorations. During that same period Girondo revived the journal Contemporánea.
    In 1964 Girondo was hit by a car, and for the several years suffered terrible pain before dying of those injuries in 1967. His last works were gathered by the surrealist poet Enrique Molina.


Viente poemas para ser leídos en el travía (Argenteuil, France: C. H. Barthélemy, 1922); Calcomanías (Madrid: Editorial Calpe, 1925); Espantapájaros (Al alcance de todos) (Buenos Aires: Editorial Proa, 1932); Interlunio (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sur, 1937); Persuasión de los días (Buenos Aires: Editorial Losada, 1942); Campo nuestro (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1946); En la masmédula (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1954, 1956, 1963); Obras completas (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1968); Obra completa (Madrid: Galaxia Gutenberg, 1999).


Scarecrow and Other Anomalies, trans. by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert (Riverside, California: Xenos Books, 2002); In the Moremorrow, trans. by Molly Weigel (Argentina: Action Books, 2014)


I don't have a personality: I am a cocktail, a conglomerate, a riot of personalities. In me, personality is a species of inimical furunculosis in a chronic state of eruption; not a half hour can pass without my sprouting a new personality.

Whenever I think I am alone, the assembled host surrounds me, and my house looks like the consulting room of a fashionable astrologer. There are personalities everywhere: in the reception room, in the halls, in the kitche, even in the W.C....

It's impossible to strike a truce, or find a moment's rest! It's impossible to know which one is the real me!

Although I see myself forced to live in the most abject promiscuity with them, I am not convinced that they have anything to do with me.

What connection can they possibly have — I ask myself — all these univited, unconfessed personalities, so bloddthirsty they could make a butcher blush with embarrassment? How can I allow myself to identify, for example, with this shrivelled-up pederast who didn't even have the courage to act it out, or with this cretinoid whose smile could freeze a speeding locomotive?

The fact that they inhabit my body is enough, however, to make me sick with indignation. Since I cannot ignore their existence, I want to make them hide in the inmost convolutions of my brain. For they have to do with a certain petulance...a certain selfishness...a certain absence of tact....

Even the most insignificant personalities arrogate to themselves certain cosmopolitan airs. All of them, without exception, consider themselves entitled to display an Olympian disdain for the others, and naturally there are quarrels of all sorts, inerminable disputes and disagreements. You'd think they might have some grounds for compromised, adopt some means of living together, but no, sir, each one claims the right to impose its will, without taking into account the opinions and tastes of the others. If one of them cracks a jake that makes me break out laughting, during the act another comes out to propose a little stroll through the cemetery. Nor is it good that the former wants me to go to bed with every woman in the city, while the latter attempts to show me the advantages of abstinence; and while one takes advantage of the night and does not let me sleep until down, the other wakes me at daybreak and insists that I get up with the chickens.

My life thus becomes a breeding of possibilities that are never realized, an explosion of opposing forces that confluct and collide in the process of mututal destruction. The attempt to make the least decision causes me such a mass of difficulties, before undertaking the most insignificant act I must put such personalities in accord, so that, frankly, I prefer to give up everything and wait from them to get tired of arguing over what they have to do with my person, in order to have, al least, the satisfaction of consigning one and all to the shitcan.

—Translated from the Spanish by Gilbert Alter-Gilert


They admire, they desire, they gravitate
they caress, they undress, they osculate
they pant, they sniff, they penetrate
they weld, they meld, they conjugate
they sleep, they wake, they illuminate
they covet, they touch, they fascinate
they chew, they taste, they salivate
they tangle, they twine, they segretage
they languish, they lapse, they reintegrate
they wriggle, they squirm, they infundibulate
they fumble, they fondle, they perficate
they swoon, they twitch, they resuscitate
they sulk, they pout, they contemplate
they ignite, they inflame, they incinerate
they erupt, they explode, they detonate
they nab, they grab, they dislocate
they clinch, they clutch, they concatenate
they solder, they dissolve, they calcinate
they paw, they claw, they assassinate
they choke, they shudder, they federate
they repose, they loll, the oscitate
they splace, they smolder, they colligate
they abate, they alate and they transubstantiate.

—Translated from the Spanish by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert


Weep living tears! Weep gushers! Weep your guts out! Weep dreams! Weep before portals and at ports of entry! Weep in fellowship! Weep in yellow!

Open the locks and calas of tears! Let us soak our shirts, our souls! Inundate the sidwalks and the boulevards, and bear us along safely on the flood!

Assist in anthropology courses, weeping! Celebrate realtives' birthdays, weeping! Walk across AFrica, weeping!

Weep like a caiman, like a crocodile...especially if it's true that caimans and crocodiles have no real tears in them.

Weep anything, but weep well! Weep with your nose, with your knees! Weep through your navel, through your mouth!

Weep of love, of hate, of happiness! Weep in your frock, from flatus, from frailty! WEep impromptu, weep from memory! Weep throughout the insomniac night and throughout the livelong day!

—Translated from the Spanish by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert


May noises bore into your teeth like a dentist's drill, and may memory fill you with rust, broken words and the stench of decay.

May a spider's foot sprout from each of your pores, may you find nourishment only in packs of worn cards and may sleep reduce you, like a steam roller, to the thickness of your photograph.

When you step into the street, may even the lampposts dog your heels, may an irresitible fanaticism oblige you to prostrate yourself before every garbage pail and may all the inhabitants of the city mistake you for a urinal.

When you want to say "My love," may you say "fried fish": may your own hands try to strangle you at every turn, and every time you go to flick away cigarette, mayit be you who is hurled into the spittoon.

May your wife deceive you even with the mailboxes; when she snuggles next to you, may she metamorphose intoa blood-sucking leech and, after giving birth to a crow, may she bring forth a monkey wrench.

May your family amuse itself deforming your bone structure, so that mirrors, looking at you, commit suicide out of sheer repugnance; may your only enterainment consist of installing yoursle fin the waiting rooms of dentists, disguised as a crocodile, and may you fall so passionately in love with a toolbox that you can't desist, even for an instant, from licking its clasp.

—Translated from the Spanish by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert

(from Espantapájaros (Al alcance de todos), 1932)

Invitation to Vomit

Cover your face
and cry.
thick slivers of glass,
bitter straight pins,
worm-eaten words,
stifled shrieks of fright;
puke on this pus-flood of innocence overflowing its banks,
this slime of sickening iniquity sloshing from its trench,
and this fetid, denatured submissiveness brewed
from a flatulent broth of terror and starvation.

Cover your face
and cry...
but don't hold back.
retch in the face of this macabre paranoiac stupidity,
heave all over this delirious stentorian cretinism,
and this senile orgy of prostatic egotism:
foul coagulations of dried-up disgust,
pulped bulks of impotence already drowned
in a rancid gravy of boredom,
rotten chunks of soured hope...
hours split open by neighings of anguish.

─Translated from the Spanish by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert

(from Persuasión de los días, 1942)

The Pure No

The no
the novarian no
the cease aryan no
the nooo
the post-mucosmos of animalevolent zero no's that no no no
and nooo
and monoplurally no to the morbid amorpus nooo
nodious no
no deus
no sense no sex no way
the stiff no bones about it nooo in the unisolo amodule
no pores no nodule
nor me nor man nor mal
the no no macros dirt
the no greater than all no things
the pure no
the no bull

─Translated from the Spanish by Eliot Weinberger

(from En la masmédula, 1954)

Sodium Pentothal So What

So what's not gloomy about the lay
the harmony so what the strain
they had possessed
the head-on gasping grasping sub-sucking smacks
the skinquakes
the piritual scuba
the honeycomb-come so what
coming so what to the finish line
relapsing lapping weighed down so what what larva the tedious
tongue-twisting in poisonous cubes
so many others others
thirst so what
the dizzy nexus
the taste of so what nakedness
the stubborn stillborn helliday with the kids
the exnubile pros
giving yourself to give to what
the endless accompaniments
the undressed wounds
the pounding impounding
the warping warp in the daily Sing Sing of the blood
the ideonecrococci with their ancestors of dirt
to be so what
or not to be so what
tough luck
the slow summing shrinking
the veneral Avernos
the fish in the nau-sea for what
whosoever so what's whoever
s many sowhats

so what

so what

so what

and yet

─Translated from the Spanish by Eliot Weinberger

(from En la masmédula, 1954)


[I know nothing], [8], [12], [18], and [21] from Scarecrow and "Invitation to Vomit,"
reprinted from Scarecrow and Other Anomalies, trans. by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert (Riverside, California: Xenos Books, 2002). Reprinted by permission of Xenos Books and the translator.

from "The Pure No" and "Sodium Pentothol So What,"
Reprinted from The Borzoi Anthology of Latin American Literature, Vol. II, edited by Emir Rodriguez Monegral (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977), pp. 623-624. Oliverio Girondo trans. by Eliot Weinberger. Reprinted by permission of Eliot Weinberger.

March 20, 2023

"Visar Zhiti: Victim of the Surreal" | essay by Robert Elsie (on Zhiti) [link]

"Visar Zhiti: Victim of the Surreal"

For an article about the imprisonment of Visar Zhiti by Robert Elsie, go here:

POETRY FOR READERS | Visar Zhiti : The Condemned Apple: Selected Poetry [link]




                        Featuring books of poetry

                        and where to order them.

today’s title:

The Condemned Apple: Selected Poetry

Visar Zhiti

order here:

Visar Zhiti (Albania) 1952

Visar Zhiti (Albania)


Born December 2, 1952 in the Adriatic port city of Durrës, Albania, Visar Zhiti was the son of the stage actor and poet Hekuran Zhiti (1911-1989. The young Zhiti grew up in Lushnja, where he finished school in 1970. After his studies at a teacher training college in Shkodra, he began his teaching career in the northern mountain town of Kukës, demonstrating an early interest in verse, with a few publications published in literary magazines.


     In 1973, as he prepared a collection, Rapsodia e jetës së trëdafilave (Rhapsody in the life of roses) for publication the so-called Purge of the Liberals broke out in Tirana at the Fourth Plenary Session of the Communist Party. Zhiti’s father had earlier come into conflict with the authorities, and the young poet suddenly became one of the many political scapegoats selected in order to intimidate the intellectual community. The manuscript of his collection, which had been submitted to the editors of Naim Frashëri publishers, was now seen to contain grave ideological errors and was seen as blackening socialist reality. Zhiti and his works were denounced, and with no support by his fellow writers, he had nothing he could say to his interrogators to prove his innocence. He was arrested on November 8th, 1979 in Kukës and forced into solitary confinement. Pen and paper were forbidden. In order to maintain his sanity, he composed and memorized over one hundred poems. Sentenced at a mock trial in April 1980 to thirteen years in prison, he was taken Tirana jail and later transferred to a concentration camp in the isolated northern mountains that was similar to the Soviet gulags. Many of his fellow prisoners died of mistreatment and malnutrition or went mad.

     He was released from prison in early 1987 and “permitted” by the Party to work in a brick factory in Lushnja, where he kept a low profile until the fall of Hoxha’s dictatorship. In 1991, he managed to get to Italy and worked in Milan until 1992. Through a scholarship provided by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Zhiti visted Germany in 1993 and went to the United States the following year.


     Upon his return to Albania, we worked as a journalist and was appointed head of the publishing company which had planned to print his first book. He was later employed by the administrative services of the new Albanian parliament and in1996 was himself elected to parliament. The somber realities of Albanian politics, however, soon let him to withdraw from politics. In 1997 he joined the Albanian foreign service and was appointed cultural attaché to the Albanian Embassy in Rome, where he remained until 1999.

     His first book of poetry, Kujtesa e ajrit (The memory of the air) was published in Tirana in 1993, which included several prison poems. Hedh një kafkë te këmbët tuaja (I cast a skull at your feet) was published the following year. This volume contained all 100 poems composed in prison between 1979 and 1987, verse which had survived only in his memory. Numerous volumes followed, and he is now recognized as one of the major Albanian poets of the 20th century. He has also written numerous short stores, collected in two volumes, and translated works by Garcia Lorca and the Italian poet Mario Luzi into Albanian. His prison memoirs, Rrugët e ferrit: burgologji (The roads to hell: prisonology) was published in Tirana in 2001. In 1991 he was awarded the Italian “Leopardi d’oro” prize for poetry and in 1997 he received the prestigious “Ada Negri” prize.

     In 2022 Zhiti published a novel Këpuca e aktorit (Actor’s shoe).


Kujtesa e ajrit (Tirana: lidhja e Shkrimtarëve, 1993); Hedh një kafkë te këmbët tuaja (Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1994); Mbjellja e vetëtimave (Skopje: Flaka e vëllazërimit, 1994); Dyert e gjalla (Tirana: Eurorilindja, 1995); Kohë e vrarë në sy (Prishtina: Rilindja, 1997); Si shkohet në Kosovë (Tirana: Toena, 2000)


The Condemned Apple: Selected Poetry, trans. by Robert Elsie (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2005)

Elegy of the Forest

The forests have shrunk
And fear has expanded,
The forest have dwindled,
There are less animals now,
[less courage and less lightning,
[less beauty
[and the moon lies bare,
[deflowered by force and
[ then abandoned.

The forests have shrunk,
Poetry, sighs have diminished,
There are less words for leaves
[and more rumors.

The forests have shrunk,
The rivers have lost their magic,
The rivers are bewildered,
[They observe us like zebras in a zoo.

The forests have shrunk,
And shame has shriveled,
How little shame we now have,
We regret nothing at all,
We have no little time to regret.
The roads have grown,
[so have the billboards and dilemmas,
[warehouses, cinemas and praise.
The cities have grown,
And shame has expanded
[All that shame the newspapers cannot contain,
[to be continued in the next issue
[and in the next year’s subscription of folly.

The forests have shrunk
[and the forest protection units have grown.
Love has recoiled
[and the birds have less room
[for their lovemaking,
For they cannot make love in office buildings.
Faces have receded.

A little boy draws trees on the walls,
Draws trees in my eyes,
Tattooing a tree
[ on his slender arm,
[like the end of the twentieth century,
Piercing it so often with this burning needles adrip with ink
[that the forest is in a frenzy of blood,
[ the festering sore of suffering.

—Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie

(from Kujtesa e ajrit, 1993)


How far my night is
[from your night!
Other nights rise between them like impassable

I sent the road out for you. But you could not be found.
It grew weary and returned to me.
I sent out the roebuck of my song. But
The hungers shot it and, wounded,
[ it returned to me.
I don’t know which direction the wind took. I got lost
In the forest and in the caverns of pain, and returned to me,

Rain is falling, robbed of hope.

Tomorrow at dawn, shall I send out a rainbow
To look for you? But, as naïve as joy itself,
It can only cross one mountain.

I shall set out in the night myself.
I shall search, I shall search, I shall search
Like a hand groping in the darkness of a room,
[to find an extinguished candle.

(Qafë-Bari prison camp, 1983)

—Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie

(from Kujtesa e ajrit, 1993)

The Colosseum

I finally made it to the Colosseum,
The last slave, with open wounds,
The tiger teeth of tyranny still in my body.
The gigantic walls of antiquity, labyrinths of life,
Crosses and staircases falling like death,
Steps ascending like the cries of the masses,
Up there were the seats of my rulers,
I see their evil, stubby fingers,
Thumbs turned down, demanding my death,
No shadow is cast by those hands, only black blood,
They slew my best friend, sliced me to pieces with a sward,
Cast my bowels away and tore me up like the streets of Rome.
But now I am quiet. Not curious at all. I don’t want to talk
To the bothersome tourists. I have come here
As if from the dead, not in an embassy limousine.
I got out like a ghost in the middle of day,
In the middle of Rome, in the middle of Oblivion.

(7 December 1991)

—Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie

(from Kujtesa e ajrit, 1993)

The Condemned Apple

The day gapes open
Like an endless chasm under my feet.
How can I fill it to enter the next day?
Hundreds of times have I heaved myself into it,
[trodden upon myself.
Descent into solitude!
I have been left without the comfort of human voices
[as if without fire.
Barefoot day after day
I walk back and forth
With nowhere to go.
There is no road under my feet,
No one here to say “good morning,”
They hurl a broom at me
And make me sweep the floor
[of my misfortune.
And I, gone mad, scream in silence:
Hi there, world!
You may have forgotten me,
[but not I, you.

There I stood before an Apple
How could I not be overjoyed?
An Apple,
Apple, Apple,
Which brought to earth the love of Adam
[and Eve from the deception of paradise,
It fell from a branch,
[proving to us the theory of gravity.
An Apple
As red as kissed lips
What enigma does it withhold, what desire
That even war cannot overcome?
A dream to be grasped above the heads of men.

And they even arrest Apples!...

When they take me to the interro(r)gation room
The interrogator shouts: you, you, ou, ou, u, u
Read the book ‘Apple’ by Yevtushenko.
“No,” I reply.
“We have evidence you’ve been translating poetry.”
“No!” I lie.

All night
The leave me standing in a corner.
Into my face they blow cigarette smoke
[spewing out of their throats,
The fumes of civil war,
What ghost does it conjure up, or is it from our ruins?
What can I do? I wrap around myself
Like the Apple hiding in the leaves.
The seed inside
Must be protected.
Words must be shrouded,
Songs must be sheltered
[until the chasms of day are sown with apples
Let them shoot us in the head,
My blood will grow roots
[and will blossom.

—Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie

(from Hedh një kafkë te këmbët tuaja, 1994)

Prison Leaf

A cigarette butt lay burning
On a green leaf. Some confused being
Had probably thrown it into the flowers.

And I was thinking about the prisoner who took it,
How could he be an enemy?

(Qufë-Bari prison camp, 1985)

—Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie

(from Mbjellja e vetëtimave, 1994)

Angel in Holland

I came across a marble angel
With wings
Made for a tombstone,
[that afternoon.

It held a white chisel
And a white hammer
In its alabaster hands,
It was sculpting a face
[to save it from death.

Oh angel,
What are you doing among the graves?
Come and carve our faces,
Remove the excessive, fatal features.
They have been few
Since the creation of this world,
[ not only devils,
[but angels.

(Vaals, 124 April 1993)

—Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie

(from Dyert e gjalla, 1995)

Buried a Second Time Over

Never to die
And to be buried twice over.

And to wander as a ghost
Through bloody amnesia.

To have them shovel the rich soil
Over your face
And not to cover up the crime.

the Plain of Kosova
Has been sown for centuries with the dead
And it grows but the grain of life.

I gather the heads of grain as a last wish and testament,
Make a bundle and whimper.

the dead do not die!

—Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie

(from Si shkohet në Kosovë, 2000)


“Elegy of the Forest,” “Love,” “The Colosseum,” “The Condemned Apple,” “Prison Leaf,” “Angel in Holland,”and “Buried a Second Time Over”
Reprinted from The Condemned Apple: Selected Poems (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2005. English language translation copyright ©2005 by Robert Elsie. Reprinted by permission of Green Integer.