To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Three Previously Unpublished Letters from Antonin Artaud to Colette Thomas

       Translated with a note by Peter Valente


Henri Thomas, the young novelist who had been corresponding with Artaud about an article he was writing on The Theater and its Double, came to visit Artaud at Rodez on March 10, 1946, and brought his young wife, Colette Thomas, who was an aspiring actress. She was only 23 years old when she met Artaud and her marriage was falling apart at the time. For Artaud she seemed to represent a life of new possibilities and freedom. Soon she became one of his “daughters of the heart,” and occupied, for a time, a central position in Artaud’s fantasy world. They often wrote letters to each other during this time and Colette incorporated fragments from these letters in her one book, The Testament of the Dead Daughter, published in 1954. But her devotion to Artaud led to an over-identification, with him and his writings, which became intense and obsessive. She delivered a reading of texts from Artaud’s Fragmentations in June 1946, during a benefit for him in Paris. Despite her anxiety and terror she performed them with powerful enthusiasm, during a power outage, and to great applause. Artaud continued to see her during the Autumn of 1947, but she was becoming more estranged from him as he began to accuse her of claiming that she had written his texts herself and that he had stolen them from her. He also accused her of wanting to seduce him in order to have a child. She refused to participate in a reading of Artaud’s texts in November of that same year. This angered Artaud who felt it was simply a “gratuitous caprice” on her part. But it was becoming clear to the people in Artaud’s inner circle that her mental state was deteriorating under actual or imagined pressures. Colette Thomas’ mental condition worsened in later years, so much so that she could not remember who Artaud was. She spent the rest of her life in private clinics. The following letters were previously unpublished and first appeared in Samantha Marenzi’s important book, Antonin Artaud et Colette Thomas. I would like to thank her and Stephen Barber who first alerted me to the presence of these letters. 

                                                                                                            Paris, June 14, 1946
My very dear Colette, 

I waited for you at the Reine Blanche [1] for 2 or 3 hours. They told me at your hotel where I phoned that you were going to leave this hotel and were arriving tonight to take your luggage.

Do you also intend to leave Paris?

All this has extremely worried me and I wonder if there is not in you a species of despair that like a lost illusion incites you to want to leave Paris suddenly.

Yet, I, as far as it concerns me, have taken nothing and deceived you on no point.

If you had come to see me this afternoon your heart would have been completely reassured, without waiting for a new Deluge or for another fall of Sodom, and I needed you for my work.

Must I consider myself alone forever?
Write to me and schedule a meeting in Paris.
I am sure that you think I did not quite devote myself to you.

I wanted to describe my life without hiding anything, but you did not come.

I await a word from you.

I embrace you.
                                                                                         Antonin Artaud

                                                                                        Paris, Sunday, June 24, 1946 [2]

I suffered immensely for 50 years including 9 years of internment to be able to withstand the recriminations of a consciousness. 

I tried to help you exist there is something that has afflicted you, it does not surprise me, that’s life, for the rest, I do not understand what the word permanence means, I don’t even have a baccalaureat in philosophy.

I have nothing more to tell you, nothing more to say in response to your final word.

                                                                                           Antonin Artaud

P.S. I do not particularly believe that you took the place of Anie [3], but I think someone who believes in the permanence of beings, though you don’t give a fuck, replaced you, but the question will be resolved by the wrath of the Apocalypse, although what does it matter to you who I thought was interested in front of the Montparnasse station the last time we met.                                                                                           

                                                                                            Paris, June 26, 1946

I cannot forget the horrible story of internment at Bon Sauveur [4] combined with the treatment of cardiazol. [5]
I cannot forget the event at the Sarah Bernhardt Theater [6] where it was good Colette Thomas and not another who intervened in order for it to be implemented.

I cannot forget either, and especially the marvelous consciousness that came to work with me and read to everyone with all her heart at Ivry-sur-Seine [7] the texts which I had just written at Espalion and Rodez.

I know, Colette, a long and terrible history and the pneumatics [8] that you sent me about Anie show me that you were conscious of it in many ways, but so that you can see your exact position and also mine will require a total upheaval of all that appears to us. In the meantime I would prefer that your soul is not unfairly tormented, but I have heard from you many unjust and especially undeserved words. Because I am conscious of not only having wanted to help you live and the impression of having been badly rewarded, but I do not believe you are able to recognize this now, yet as you read at the Sarah Bernhardt my text, the
children of the mise-en-scène principle, [9] I want you to read the continuation on the Radio, and I do not want you to miss this last opportunity. I composed a new text to follow the one against the doctors. [10]

I need to transmit a pneu [11] to decide on a meeting about this subject. 

                                                                                                            Antonin Artaud


1 The Reine Blanche (“White Queen”) is a hotel in Paris.

2  Sunday fell on June 23

3 Anie Besnard - A friend of Artaud and one of his “daughters of the heart yet unborn.” The first meeting in 1933 between Artaud and Anie Besnard has the quality of a fairytale. During the night Artaud saw her, on the boulevard du Montparnasse, sitting on a bench, crying. She is sixteen years old, a runaway, and starving. Despite his own poverty, he managed to feed her and comfort her and they become friends. Stephen Barber writes, “The border between paternal purity and incestuous jealousy in Artaud’s attitude towards Anie Besnard was highly charged. Always resistant towards his own family, Artaud filled this absence with parallel relationships.”

4 A psychiatric hospital in Caen.

5 Colette had been interned in a mental hospital during her student years where she had been placed in a straightjacket and given cardiazol, “a seizure-provoking drug generally administered as a prelude to electroshock.” Artaud writes in a letter to her written on April 3, 1946: “The story of the asylum, of the treatments and the cardiazol, suffocates me when I think of it because it strangely resembles all those stories I experienced since the age of puberty in 1914.”

6 Colette Thomas read from Artaud’s Fragmentations at the gala benefit for him held at the Sarah Bernhardt Theater on June 7, 1946.

7 In 1946 Artaud was released to his friends, who placed him in the psychiatric clinic at Ivry-sur-Seine.

8 Artaud is referring to the system of delivering letters through pressurized air tubes, called pneumatic mail or post. Artaud rarely sent mail by ordinary post during the late period, from 1946-1948. Usually they were registered letters that the recipient had to sign for, or pneumatiques.

9 Another slight variation in this title that appears in the late letters was and the children of the mise en scène principle. Both were the original titles of a text that ended up with the title “Fragmentations” in the book also called Fragmentations. Artaud changed the title to “Fragmentations” for an edition of Suppôts et Suppliciations which was planned but abandoned. But the title remained in future publications.

10 After recording Patients and Doctors at the Club d'Essai (June 8, 1946), Artaud prepared another a text for the radio reading, Alienation and Black Magic; he believed that Colette would participate in the reading. But he read the text alone, on July 16, and then inserted it in Artaud le Momo.

11 Artaud’s use of the word “pneu” recalls the word “pneumatic” above. “Pneu” was the shortened and frequently used name for pneumatic mail. He uses the word frequently in letters written during his last months. For Artaud, the word had a special significance, suggesting a force of the breath. In ancient Greek, “pneuma” was the word for that which is breathed or blown.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Hiromi Ito’s transcreation of The Heart Sutra


Translated from Japanese by Jeffrey Angles

While looking freely and without effort at the world
While walking with people, searching for the path
In his spiritual quest to discern based on deep wisdom
Avalokiteshvara arrived at a certain thought.
The self is.  All sorts of things are. 
I sense that
I recognize that
I think about that
And it is the case that
In all things we discern
We are ourselves.
However, that means

Those things do not exist
I have understood that clearly
And I have escaped
All suffering and trouble.
Listen to this, Shariputra.

Being is not any different than non-being.
Non-being is not any different than being.

Things we think are really are not.
If we think of something as non-being that leads to being.

Those things too are just as they are.

Listen to this, Shariputra.

All things that are, are not. 
There is also no living or dying.
There is also no dirty or clean.
There is also no increasing or decreasing.

To put it another away
In non-being
There is no being.
There is also no sensing, no recognizing
Also no thinking, no discerning.
There are also no eyes, no ears, no noses, no tongues
Also no bodies, no hearts.
There are also no colors, no shapes, no voices, no scents, no flavors,
Also no tangible things, no thought-provoking things.
There is also no world that can be seen with the eyes.
There is also no world that can be sensed by the heart.
There are various things that arise from the workings of the human
Ranging from the world that can be seen with the eyes
To the world that can be sensed by the heart
But none of those exist,
Yet neither do those workings go away. 

There is also no suffering of not knowing.
Nor does the suffering of not knowing go away.
There is also no aging, dying, and suffering
Nor does aging, dying, and suffering go away
Because people do not know
There are kinds of various kinds of suffering as grow old and die
But none of those exist
Yet neither do those sufferings go away.

There is also no suffering in living. 
There is also no confusion that creates suffering.
There is also no hope our suffering and our confusion
Will one day go away
Yet neither is there any effort to rid ourselves
Of suffering and confusion.

There is no knowing.
There is no gaining.

In other words, we cannot gain.
Those who search for the way
Follow this wisdom.
And then.
The things our hearts dwell upon go away.

All things we dwell upon go away.
Fear will go away.
All confusion will grow distant,
And the heart free of suffering will grow clear.
Present, past, future
All awakened ones always follow this wisdom
They have lived by it and will live by it.
And then.
It is clearly possible to awaken. 
Know this wisdom that will carry you to the far shore. 
This is a powerful incantation.
This is a powerful incantation that you will hear clearly. 
This is the ultimate incantation. 
This is an incantation that knows no equal.
All suffering will leave you immediately.
This is the truth.  This is not a false claim.

I will tell you this wise incantation.
Here, I will tell you.  This is how it goes. 

Pāra gate
Pāra samgate
Bodhi svāhā

This has been the Heart Sutra.

[Translator’s note: In the 1980s, Hiromi Ito emerged as one of Japan’s foremost poets, thanks to her powerful and dramatic writing about motherhood, childrearing, and sexual desire. In recent years, she has been writing more about aging, suffering, and the impermanency of life—a theme brought home first by the death of her parents, then her dog, and then her partner the British-American artist Harold Cohen. Although Buddhism has been an important element in her work since at least the mid-1980s, recent years have seen her returning to the Buddhist classics more frequently as she reflects on what they say about life, death, and the nature of being.
            In 2010, she published The Heart Sutra Explained (Yomitoki han’nya shingyō), in which she provides essays, personal reflections, and modern contemporary poetic translations of well-known Buddhist texts. The poem included here comes from that book and is Ito’s modern Japanese translation of The Heart Sutra (Hannya shingyō), one of the best-known Buddhist texts. The original consists of a monologue delivered by the enlightened bodhisattva Avalokitesvara to Shariputra, a disciple who is seeking wisdom. In this terse and poetic monologue, Avalokitesvara explains the fundamental Buddhist insight that all things are empty and illusory, including form, feeling, volition, perception, and consciousness (what the Buddhist philosophers call the five skandha or “aggregates”). In translating Ito’s text, instead of returning back to the original Chinese, I have relied on her contemporary Japanese translation in order to showcase her individual interpretation. The text concludes with the mantra, which if read in Sanskrit goes “Gyate gyate pāragate pārasamgyate bodhi svāhā,” and means something like “Gone, gone, to the other shore, gone, reach, accomplish enlightenment.”]

Reprinted from Poems of Hiromi Ito, Tashiko Hirata & Takako Arai, with translations by Jeffrey Angles, Vagabond Press / Asia Pacific Series, 2016

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Outside-in / Inside-out Schedule

The following is the schedule for the major festival of “outside & subterranean poetry,” which takes as its point of departure Barbaric Vast & Wild, the anthology/assemblage co-edited by Jerome Rothenberg & John Bloomberg-Rissman.  The total Outside-in / Inside-out festival, as announced, will take place at venues across the City of Glasgow from September to November 2016. 

4th October – 8th October 2016
Glasgow, Scotland 

Tuesday 4th October
MANY Studios, 3 Ross St, Glasgow G1 5AR

5-7pm             Opening of Palimpsest Exhibition & drinks reception
                        Welcoming Remarks
                        Readings: John Bloomberg-Rissman, Nuala Watt, and Nat Raha

Wednesday 5th October
5th floor Alwyn Williams Building, Lilybank Gardens, University of Glasgow

9.30 am           Registration open; tea & coffee
10-10.15          Welcome remarks: Vassiliki Kolocotroni, Jeffrey Robinson, Colin Herd, Nuala Watt, nick-e Melville 
10.15-11.45     Introductory Panel 
10.15-10.30: Andrea Brady – Inside Lyric: Poetry in Prison
10.30-10.45: Sarah Hepworth – Glasgow University’s Special Collections of the Literary Outside
10.45-11.00: Sandeep Parmar – Coterie, Community and Censure: UK Poetry and Race
11.00-11.15: Jeffrey Robinson – Outside-in / Inside-out: An Overview
11.15-11.45: Discussion
11.45-1.30       Break for lunch (self-catered)
1.30-3              Parallel Panel Sessions A and B

Panel A: Propriety and Legitimacy - 5th Floor Alwyn Williams Building

1.30-1.45:  Elizabeth Marie Young – Obscenity and Poetic Propriety in Latin Priapic Verse
1.45-2:  Kirstie Blair – Working Class, 19th Century Newspaper Poetry
2-2.15:  Nicholas Karavatos – Echo Location: John Giorno Performs the Culture Industry
2.15-2.30: Isabel Waidner – Gaudy Bauble
2:30-3:  Discussion

Panel B: Identity and the Body - Edwin Morgan Room, 5 University Gardens

1.30-1.45: Ed Luker – ‘things don’t represent’: Fred Moten’s fugitive surface
1.45-2: Rebecca Tamas – WITCH: A Poem of Female Strangeness
2-2.15: Nisha Ramayaa – Moving Devotion, Moving Displacement: Decolonising Responses to Mirabai and Bhanu Kapil
2.15-2.30: Eric Eisner – Keats in Drag: Mark Doty, Cockney Poetics and Queer Excess
2.30-3: Discussion
3-3.30              Break for tea & coffee - 5th floor Alwyn Williams
3.30-5              Parallel Panel Sessions C and D

Panel C:  The Space of the Page - 5th Floor Alwyn Williams 

3.30-3.45: Sarah Hayden – POEM? POEM? POEM? POEM? POEM? POEM?: On Reading Peter Roehr
3.45-4: Mark Tardi – Stratal Geometries
4-4.15:  Rachel Robinson – Betweenness in the Work of Cecilia Vicuña
4.15-4.30: Rey Conquer – Line and Layout in German Experimental Poetry: what is at stake?
4.30-5:  Discussion

Panel D: Figuring the Outside - Edwin Morgan Room

3.30-3.45: Robert Snyderman – Autochthonous Roads, Visceral Apostrophe: Tradition Beyond Human Control, or Why it Happened that C.D. Wright Found besmilir brigham
3.45-4: Sara Guyer – Out of My Knowledge/Knowledge of the World (Clare, Bouabré)
4-4.15: Peter France – Salute – to Singing: Gennady Aygi and Chuvash Culture
4.15-4.30: David Miller – The Proverbials
4.30-5:  Discussion

CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts), 350 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, G2 3JD

Participants’ book table, sponsored by Aye-Aye Books

7.30-11            Barbaric Vast and Wild launch, with a mixture of performative-critical papers and readings by Jerome Rothenberg, John Bloomsberg-Rissman, Andrea Brady, Diane Rothenberg, Tawona Sithole, Aonghas MacNeacail, Sandra Alland, Holly Pester, Nicole Peyrafitte, and Pierre Joris

Thursday 6th October
5th Floor Alwyn Williams Building

8.30am            Coffee & tea
9-10.30            Parallel Panel Sessions E and F

Panel E: Language(s) of the Outside - 5th Floor Alwyn Williams 
9-9.15: Jeffrey Robinson – Romanticism and Outsider Poetics
9.15-9.30: Ellen Dillon – A poetry at the gates of existence: negotiating (with) the outside in the work of Peter Gizzi and Peter Manson
9.30-9.45: Colin Herd – Show-orations: The Sophists and Contemporary Poetry
9:45-10:  Nicole Peyrafitte and Pierre Joris – Occitan Poetry
10-10:30:  Discussion 

Panel F: Poetics of Trauma/Repression/ Expression - Edwin Morgan Room
9-9:15: Will Rowe – The Image of Suffering in Colonial, Postcolonial and contemporary works
9.15-9.30:  Dominic Williams – Translating Illegibility in the Scrolls of Auschwitz
9.30-9.45:  Kate Sutherland – Using Law Against Itself: Muriel Rukeyser’s Documentary Poetics
9.45-10:  Laura Rae – Pieces of Me: Poetry as Response to Trauma, PTSD and Sexual Assault
10-10.30:  Discussion

10.30-10.45     Break for coffee & tea - 5th Floor Alwyn Williams 

10.45-12.15     Parallel Panel Sessions G and H

Panel G: Sound / Music / Voice - 5th Floor Alwyn Williams  

10.45-11: Mike Saunders – Noise and Purchase
11-11.15: Hanna Tuulikki – Air falbh leis na h-eòin / Away with the birds
11.15-11.30: Robin Purves – Keiji Haino: Asynchronicity, Mora-Timing and the Undoing of Rock
11.30-11.45: Katie Ailes – Contemporary Performance-based Poetry
11.45-12.15: Discussion
Panel H: Outside Subjectivity - Edwin Morgan Room

10.45-11: Iain Matheson – My Own Private Imago: Introspectibilia in Gaston Bachelard and Iris Murdoch
11-11.15: Dunja Baus and kerry doyle – Desiring Thresholds
11.15-11.30: Katy Hastie – Blows Against the Big Brother Tongue
11.30-12.00:  Discussion
12.15-1.15       Break for lunch (self-catered)

The Homeless Library, viewings, discussion - 5th Floor Alwyn Williams
1.15-2.15         Philip Davenport and Homeless Library participants & exhibit of ‘The Homeless Library’

2.15-3.30         Break for coffee & tea (Alwyn Williams) with private viewings of Ian Hamilton Finlay and Edwin Morgan archives – Special Collections, 12th floor, The University of Glasgow Library
3.30-4.30         Sandeep Parmar, guided discussion on Race and US/UK Poetics

Lighthouse Gallery, 11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow G1 3NU

5-7pm             Viewing of Design and the Concrete Poem exhibition, with remarks by curator Bronac Ferran

Poetry Club, 100 Eastvale Place, Glasgow, G3 8QG

7.30-11            Outside and Subterranean Poetry Night with performances by Susan Bee, Gerry Loose, Julie Carr, Maggie O’Sullivan, Will Rowe, nick-e melville, Liliane Lijn, Charles Bernstein, Gerrie Fellows, and Peter Manson

Friday 7th October
Glasgow Women’s Library, 23 Landressy Street, Glasgow G40 1BP

9.30am            Coffee & tea
10-11               Discussion on Archives and Experimental Poetry
10-10.15:  Adele Patrick – The GWL and its Archives
10.15-10.30: Michael Parsons – The work of Lily Greenham
10.30-10.45:  Liliane Lijn – On her own work
10.45-11: Discussion
11-11.30          Break for coffee & tea and Poetry Discussion Point
11.30-1            Parallel Panel Sessions I and J

Panel I: Gender, Reading, and Form - Main Conference Room 

11.30-11.45: Annie Higgen – A is for Auden
11.45-12: Sophie Collins – A performance of the act of reading: feminist epistemologies in translation
12-12.15: Nuala Watt – Partial Sight and Poetic Form
12.15-12.30: Juana Adcock and Jennifer Williams – BODY: Text is Flesh
12.30-1: Discussion

Panel J: Translation and Border States - Breakout Room
11.30-11.45: Piotr Gwiazda – Alone with Language: On Exophonic Poetry
11.45-12: Wanda O’Connor – Entwurf
12-12.15: Jacob McGuinn – Fragmenting Figuration: Celan inside Paris outside Blanchot
12.15-12.30: Calum Rodger, Rachel McCrum and Jonathan Lamy – Cinepoems: Scotland/ Quebec
12.30-1: Discussion

1-2:      Lunch and Poetry Discussion Point

2-3.30: Parallel Panel Sessions K and L

Panel K: The Space of Performance - Main Conference Room

2-2.15: Sandra Dias – The Evanescent Body: Poetical Experimental Performance in Portugal
2.15-2.30: Scott Thurston – Jennifer Pike and Movement as Poetry
2.30-2.45: Jane Goldman – Room of One’s Own: Woolf Supper Launch
2.45-3: Theresa Munoz – Interactivity, the Body and Human Emotion in Digital Poetry
3-3.30:  Discussion

Panel L: Ecologies - Break-out Room

2-2:15 Daisy Lafarge – Affirmation as Resistance
2.15-2.30: Srishti Krishamoorthy – Disruptive Botanical Surfaces in Susan Howe’s Poetry since 1990
2.30-2.45: Julie Carr – Women, War and Labour in the Poetry of Lorine Niedecker
2.45-3: Discussion

3.30-4  Break with coffee & tea and Poetry Discussion Point

Main Conference Room

4-5       Holly Pester workshop on GWL archives

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ‘Music Studio,’ Buchanan Galleries, Glasgow, G2 3NY

8-11     Outside Chance: ‘poetry lottery’ open mic extravaganza

 Saturday 8th October
MANY Studios
9.30-10            Coffee & tea
10-11               Digital Transformations – Andrew Prescott, Bronac Ferran and Tom Schofield in discussion
11-11.45          Readings: Jerome Rothenberg, Alec Finlay, and Lila Matsumoto

11.45-12          Break

12-1                 Charles Bernstein respondent

END: Outside-in / Inside-out

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Brandon Som: Two Elegies & Title Poem from “The Tribute Horse,” with a note by Marjorie Perloff

Elegy (I)

My grandfather’s grave in scorched grass has two names in the gravestone’s granite: one with strokes—silent and once forbidden; the other lettered—a stowaway vowel between one aspirate, one liquid. Speech wears the written in the speaker’s absence to stay the sound & breath’s passing. I read that the wood, for Thoreau, was resonator Sundays when towns tolled bells—Lincoln, Acton, Bedford, or Concord. Pines with resin reverbed in sap what wind sent. A Chinese immigrant, on his Pacific-crossing, carried coaching papers for the memorizing. Approaching the island station, these pages were tossed to sea. A moon’s light in a ship’s wake might make a similar papertrail. My grandfather, aboard at twelve, practiced a paper-name.  What ensued was a debt of sound.

Elegy (II)

 Of Babel’s moon, I have notes. It was a marked card. It lit a chandelier out of an acacia. The trowel glinted with it. Crickets were out too, and, as if they sightread stars, settled in to leg-kick song. A light wind blew seed into the web between tines of a hayrake. A soldier stood letting his horse drink well water from his helmet. The moon trembled in it. There was nothing forsaken about it. It simply issued a shadow while burnishing a surface. This morning, I read that when returning from a trail, Thoreau knew he had had visitors by what was left behind: a wreath of evergreen, a name in pencil on a walnut leaf, a willow wand woven into a ring. Its path not without disruption, the moon, in its orbit, tethers and tethers again. The morning of the funeral, my father dressed my grandfather: from the eyelet, each button, new to full; the tie’s knot loose as if it had swallowed a small bird.

The Tribute Horse 


The handscroll woven from silk
has a finch in the cane rendered
in the ink of lampblack. Because
with some beauty you feel the need

to talk aloud to it, tell it about itself,
I got closer until I could see the depth
produced by the silk sucking on
the soot, & slightly self-conscious,

I addressed the bird, asked whether
it were sketched with a switch
of willow or a brush of goat’s hair.
It was endeared & twittered there,

flit in the cane. It asked me if I were
the scholar or the angler, if I saw
the horsemen with the tribute horse
pass the village on the way to court.


Often ink-stones were roof-tiles,
clay wattle from imperial houses
with names like Bronze-Bird-Terrace.
What kept rain out, kept ink wet.

A brick of ink fledges—a bird
in the stroke settles on the strokes’
branches, lifts & leaves them
a metronome’s sway. A hollow

stroke returns to smoke traces.
The dry brush returns & wets
its bristles in ground soot and gum
kept wet in the stone’s well,

that house for the ink’s dark.                                                                                                       
Under roof is want & over,
a well’s winch, a finch’s chit,
light tappings sounding the depths.


If my song were smoke, I would knot
the braid & cut its movement upwards,
lariat the sinews, harnessing bone
to muscle the kite of the cane birds.

I would knot & bird the line as birds
notch the branch or leave steps
in bank mud. I would thieve the tracks
as I would the pine’s shape as it shadowed                                                
& stretched a figure past the furthest
branches’ reach. Each tree shadows.
Each tree shades. Each tree thirsts
& traffics resin. What a pine darkens

foreshadows its pitch in the pine-smoke.
My song, if my song were smoke, would
rise from kindling & reach, pine-like,
past itself to where the wind takes it.

A calligrapher, in order to regain
the confidence of birds, selects
a whisker brush fringed with rabbit fur
& bundled with an ivory mount

on a handle hewn from bamboo.
The whisker is plucked from field mice
& the fur from the rabbit’s flank
in autumn before its winter molt.

With thumb & forefinger, a bird’s
beak at the wrist’s service, he has
mastered his strokes—bending
weed, sheep’s leg, dropping dew.

But it is a seed-eating bird he wants
in the stroke-work of the word,
the trill answer in the coarse rustle
of brush across the page grain.


Dear finch, that you may have fed
on the worm that if left to live
makes the silk thread, on which
—woven now—you, lighter
at the breast, darker on the wing,
flit and rest, poised for flight
out of the cane, suggests a weaving
finer than I might have guessed.

Legend says an empress found
in her tea a cocoon undone
by the water’s heat, & wound
the thread around her finger.

Spinners need spools, dear finch.
Four sloughs & the worm weaves
a cocoon for wings. Seems you,
dear finch, have borrowed these.

[Jacket Statement by Marjorie Perloff.   “My grandfather, aboard at twelve, practiced a paper-name.  What ensued was a debt of sound.”  That name, which will also be the poet’s own, contains “a stowaway vowel between one aspirate, one liquid” (S-O-M), and it constitutes, in Brandon Som’s The Tribute Horse, a debt of sight as well as sound.  Rarely in our time has a young poet produced a set of poems in which citation and allusion have created such perfectly rendered ideograms, a collection in which ekphrasis, whether of seascape photographs or, as in the title poem, a Chinese handscroll, can generate such luminous detail, at once “Chinese” and yet wholly American in their contemporary reference and argot.  Whether contemplating the way “tunnels turn / The windows of the [subway] train to mirrors” or composing homophonic translations of Li Po’s “Night Thoughts,” Brandon Som makes not only every word, but every syllable and letter echo and resonate.  The Tribute Horse is a magical book.]