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

Monday, March 30, 2015

Poems for the Millennium, Volume 5: Barbaric Vast & Wild, now published & available from Black Widow Press

POEMS FOR THE MILLENNIUM, VOLUME 5: Barbaric Vast & Wild: An Assemblage of Outside & Subterranean Poetry from Origins to Present
Edited with commentaries by Jerome Rothenberg and John Bloomberg-Rissman

Barbaric Vast & Wild is a continuation and a possible culmination of the project that began with Jerome Rothenberg's Technicians of the Sacred in 1968 and led to the first four volumes of Poems for the Millennium in the 1990s and 2000s. In this new and equally groundbreaking volume, Rothenberg and John Bloomberg-Rissman have assembled a wide-ranging gathering of poems and related language works, whose outside/outsider and subterranean/subversive positions challenge some of the boundaries to where poetry has been or may be practiced, as well as the form and substance of the poetry itself. It also extends the time frame of the preceding volumes in Poems for the Millennium, hoping to show that, in all places and times, what the dominant culture has taken as poetry has only been part of the story.

Divided into four "books" - Visions, Voices, Extensions, and Performance - Barbaric Vast & Wild brings together on a global and historical scale - from the paleolithic caves to the immediate present - works from the hieratic and sacred to the mundane and the radically transgressive and politically subversive. The range here is enormous: Egyptian pyramid texts, biblical prophecies, pre-Socratic poet-philosophers, Buddhist wanderers and "divine madmen," along with poems and related language works from dialects and "nation languages," thieves' cants and other argots or vernaculars, working class and lumpen poetries, popular and newspaper poetry, sermons and rants, glossolalia and glossographia, slogans, graffiti, private writings (journals and diaries) or semi-private (correspondence, blogs, or social-networkings), and the "art of the insane" (Art Brut) that marked the early turning of avant-garde artists and poets to the idea of an "outside" poetry and art.  The work as a whole may be taken as another step toward what the editors have called an “omnipoetics” and an “anthology of everything.”

Writes Charles Bernstein of this latest addition to Poems for the Millennium:

"Bararic Vast and Wild is the crowning jewel of the Poems for the Millennium series, just that it proposes a deep othering of the entire project, a movement beyond the radically reconceived visionary canon of poetic invention to an unchartered realm beyond any literary canon formation, from Blake's chartered streets to something that proposes a reimaging of the literary in its re-grounding in the uncharted. … The fact is that the mad eclecticism of this anthology is its greatest virtue - it moves in leaps and bounds, like Nijinsky on peyote. It defies any category previously existing and yet as a reader I feel I get it, get it again, and get it over and again, as I am pulled in different directions. In a way, this book works, even more than Rothenberg's other anthologies, as an epic poem - along the lines of a work, as Walter Benjamin imagined, composed just of quotations. The constellation - or set of constellations - is stunning and unexpected - the connections are themselves visionary or outside rational historical plotting. What this does is to make a book magically readable - not a text book, not a succession of cultural touchstones you "ought" to know, but an autonomous reading experience that changes everything page by page.

And Michael Davidson:

"Rothenberg, and his co-editor, John Bloomberg-Rissman, now turn their attention to poets who may not have thought of themselves as poets, poems that blur into image and calligraphy, texts that aspire to the condition of disappearance. Various terms for such work come to mind-avant garde, art brut, outsider art, "folk" poetry, "subterranean." … By bringing together texts from heretical religious traditions, inhabitants of mental institutions, folk or isolated cultures and placing them alongside poetry by more canonical poets who were themselves at times estranged or mad makes for a much more diverse, complex way of looking at the meaning of "outsider" art."

ISBN: 978-0-9960079-9-3

Black Widow Press
470 pages
Publication date: March 25, 2015
Best discount price at $24.92

Thursday, March 26, 2015

John Martone: from "children’s book" 2014

[To describe John Martone as our greatest living miniaturist, as I have in the past, is to go back for me to a time many years ago when Ian Hamilton Finlay & I corresponded about a poetry of small increments (one-word poems & other such concerns).  For Finlay, I believe, some form of minimalism was at the heart of the concrete poetry he was then exploring & developing, & for myself it entered into aspects of ethnopoetics & appeared most clearly in the numerically based poems (gematria) that I was beginning to write.  It’s with someone like John Martone, however, that this approach turns into a life long project, a minimal work like Finlay's of epic proportions, for which the following can serve as a yet another instance & perhaps (as “children’s book”) a new direction for his ongoing practice.  (J.R.)] 

my morning
a mouse nest

a mind
2 joints of yr
little finger
house mouse
house mouse —
my thalamus?
house mouse
its always a childrens book 
two mice dead of fear in yr live trap
feel our way along the wall
mouse & me 
little worms
in the brightness
eyes floaters
out of touch
lie down
in snow 
suddenly feeling the river below the ice 
a puzzle

knocking the snow
from your boots
no one's home

in layers
of winter clothes look up
at night geese

first time
for some
night geese

night geese
a childrens book 


night geese
the horizon
passes overhead 


night geese
someone slips
on black ice

night geese
the old
keep up

Monday, March 23, 2015

David Matlin: Excerpt from a Novel-in-Progress

[“The following excerpt is from the final novel of a trilogy which includes the previously published How the Night Is Divided and  A HalfMan DreamingIt is part of an on-going experiment in the Southern California rural dialect I grew up with among not only Jewish ranchers and farmers but a larger community of diverse backgrounds.  Much of the narrative includes multiple portraits of land, water, and a world, for the most part, that has disappeared.”  (D.M.)]

The Kiowa decided his eyes were still good; for seeing, he guessed. He was, though, hand and foot sore, those ends of his body ready for a sling. As for his prick and balls, the fleas had not stopped coming to wake them. And as the sun shone over the world he wondered how to take this son of his friends home.
            They were traveling. Is that the way it is supposed to be written and said? They were traveling and the Kiowa saw far ahead. There were hills that became mountains and mountains that became hills in the thinning darkness. Make the daylight come quickly except for when the Stories are told. Then may the night last long for laughter and miracles, a little mud to make existence, a little quarreling to set existence to breathing; some incest, some cannibalism. Let them swim too in an ocean of riddles.
            They were living – and where?  “There”  -  “Here”  -  “A ways over yonder hills”  -  Near and more Near  -  as Near as the smell of rivers and river fruit. Is that the way to continue a Story. Keep it a step ahead of Evil and how Evil smells and licks the same water, the same flesh impatient to shed its Light so like Light itself washing over the land and sea?
            Tom Green remembered the photography of a fellow Kiowa as the sun began to penetrate a morning full of owl and bat shadow. He’d driven Wesley to the western edge of the Oklahoma Panhandle and wanted to see the silhouette of Black Mesa, Oklahoma’s highest peak at nearly five thousand feet. Not huge as the Waterer knew, but still, he longed for the Jurassic stain of the surrounding soils and the one hundred eighty million year old tongue of lava that had been tasting this section of the world and its appearances steadily as the uncharted nothingness that preens and grows the more men unknowingly swear by it.
            He wandered into this place with its canyons and petroglyphs on his way to California; stood in the tracks of an Allosaur wondering what his Kiowa and Comanche relatives thought of these signatures, whether the most astute warrior/dreamers smelled these faraway creatures buried in the near rock layers as they scouted this huge segment of landscape where the Rocky Mountains slide down into the Short Grass Plains and those horizons that, offering neither mind nor eye companionable poverty and riches, offer instead a kind of beautiful gnawing abyss that swallows the breath that holds time, the breath holding him and this dinosaur, both of them  perhaps overdressed in their skins. Call it beauty or fashion as is a creature’s want, and alternatively, as the Farmer might have said, genetics taking an affluent turn for the refreshment of its labors and wit. The Kiowa wanted also to see the flow of land from that promontory fanning down from the Sangre de Christos, the face of the grasslands southern haunches sprung by aromatic first spring winds and their press against the face, the eyelids and lips become wind pasturage and the inheritance of bone underneath until that be the only speech a human holds underfoot and then walks it with whatever incompetence and restlessness allows, truly, and listening for the sway of grassheads tumbling and serious, bee-like in their oldest vocations. An unbashful neighbor of Death, Tom Green said of it, the wind-grass, and the more bashful neighbors of Life joined to the acquaintances of bird claw and flower, snowstorms and wolf breath as its welling currents plunge and belong and destroy.
            Get up there too and think about Horace Poolaw, the Kiowa photographer. He often, while having lunch at the Farmer’s house, particularly during Southern California spring rains when work meant welding, taking engines apart, helping neighbors, fixing leaky roofs, replacing dead pumps; the tide of chores, which, if one strayed too far from them, water broke, as it might, not as a woman possessed by her time and its wonders, but sprig-by-sprig uncharted wreckage taken root, as the Farmer considered it, pitifully and without simple notice. There were, as always, piles of books on tables and chairs; some of them collections of photographs. Wesley’s mother had a particular respect for two women who made of that art “a secret dress pocket” as she said, and be careful about the ways your hand wanders down there; it was to her the equivalent of sticking your fingers in an old coastal shell heap and touching the shoals of trouble whether despondent or propitious of those inheritances which give tread to imagination. Neither in her mind escaped the divinations of strife and its long body she thought these pictures courted without mercy and yet standing tall in a garden ready to seed. Both women, she thought, had some sort of ice in their eyes.
            One was Margaret Bourke-White. The Kiowa looked through these books while the Farmer’s wife prepared mid-day stews and chili. There were pictures of families and fruit sellers in Russia and Eastern Europe. People who didn’t have a lot and were not afraid not to have what they didn’t have. You could see it in the way they held their noses, breathe the air coming to them stingily not expecting more of it nor to escape it as if theirs were a late-in-a-day corner with no surprises, the wonders spent and gone missing, but still some sweet herbs to pick for the hidden aromas however lean each will be.
            There was an Okefenokee woman. Thirty-five probably. Behind her right shoulder hangs a strange picture of, what is it, a grandmother from the 1850s with a high collared dress and face proportioned by a still alive dignity, eyes stout with business-like humor that comes with her survival, the mouth hospitable but resolute as a deep rooted weed, her beauty not fancy yet holding its ground ably though children will come and will die. A crumpling chest-of-drawers and frayed pine siding form a natural backdrop of split and bunched shadows for what the Kiowa thought was the grand-daughter who looks at her latest suckling infant as one who stares down a frost killed field, knowing the dull unbroken pity of it and that each day after it will rob the tomorrows no matter the deep enough tenderness with which she cradles her child. Her cotton dress has large white lapels set off by a thick over-all flower pattern. Her left breast is exposed for the child who rests in the crook of her left arm and tastes of what milk her body will offer whether for this day or the next no one can estimate. Her face has dried up long before her breasts. A woman, once, not unhandsome, given to carrying her body easily, and, long before, maybe, an ample dancer loving those thimble-fulls of air by which the feet are awakened. She is now, though, a spare castaway who can entertain little, even of despair and its meager composures. And yet the picture is frank in its full-of-cares distinction. A woman feeding her child of her own body, unafraid to belong to its nearing starvations, to the land of it and its oldest rules.

            As he drove he looked at his friend’s son’s ankles and recalled Bourke-White’s photos of a place called “Hood’s Chapel Georgia.” No town in the pictures he examined but there was a row of trees and a row of prisoners in a ditch digging toward those trees and the ugly horizon of an empty sky. A man stands above the line of men squeezed into their single file of pure brooding weariness and goddamned if they didn’t wear about the same stripped clothes as the “inmates” he saw in that place called “Buchenwald.” The “overseer” stands over them like some sort of well oiled pumpkin, a shot-gun hung over his left shoulder, no decoration, no air, and him, he stands over that cruelty like it is some sort of fine parade he’s figured out, can aim that cannon, and without fluttering the trigger, introduce his own sweetest blooms of violence to his parish of sun-stroked exiles. One of the photographs is a close-up of boots scoured by the furnace of hostilities feeding upon them. The legs above the boot line are covered with prison stripped leggings. The cloth loathsomely wrinkled and sweat rotted with the slow, crushing hours has the stamp of the Grand Tour of Dread the world covets as if it were a mother lode. Each leg is shackled choke tight from ankle to just below knee. What is not noosed by steel is noosed thick by leather calf restraints cinched to a just before maiming of vein and skin. Each man’s legs wreathed and suffocated with slave gear were a bottleneck, the Kiowa guessed, where a God goes in young at the entrance and at the exit comes out inconceivably heavy with the starvations that crush Gods and their offspring into villainous stubs. In one picture two legs from separate bodies are belted together. There is no use in improving the pain, no need for a face to disturb the stillness of ratcheted fatigue and misery. There is a spoon pushed through what appears to be an extra leather loop. It is shiny with being licked, licked hard by human tongues, bare ribbed spit making the little metal trough some famine snare, running late or early, it doesn’t matter.

[note.  As a poet & novelist, as well as in his groundbreaking study of America’s prisons (Prisons: Inside the New America), Matlin gives us a political/mental/visceral mapping of the fate of America, its people, & the other worlds on which it has impinged in the course of our lifetimes.  In his work, then & now, he displays the poetry/history combine that marks the best side of American writing in whatever form it takes.  In an early description of that work Robert Creeley wrote of Matlin’s prowess & promise: “Unremitting particular powers of the human long before it got lost in the junk—where a bird can still sing it.”  And Charles Stein, going still further: “Matlin's work is not a comfortable ‘read’—in fact it is not a ‘read’ at all—but an initiation, possibly, into the predatory condition of one's own vitality. It is a poetry that bears witness to the occluded stain of violence across American life, local and historical; its means are an ear that is tense and accurate, and an attention, particular, conscientious, and cleansing.”  The proof by now is overwhelming. (J.R.)]

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jerome Rothenberg: At Huidobro’s Tomb, a Recollection & Lament

                        open this tomb
                        at the bottom of the tomb
                        you will find the sea           

at Huidobro’s tomb
the dirt lies
scattered    beer cans
from a later time
& tiny bones,
half chewed,

the sad detritus
of a world
still not created,
where the stones
under our feet
carry the stains

not from the century
before us
nor looking at it
from across the bay
the bright electric signals
Parra saw

but as we face it now
the sea still there
beneath it
helpless to stop
the spectators who piss
onto its stones

Huidobro’s tomb
receptacle for what
was long forgotten  
a white spot
on a hill of green
beset by grime

the birds that fly
backwards from where
Neruda rests
where overhead the cross
hangs in the sky
unseen* by us                                   * unclaimed

huidobro’s tomb
the place to fly
to land among
the mindless
sightless dancers    
without eyes or limbs

broken bottles
everywhere we turn
the diamond
in your dreams
cracked open
in  a mindless sea

the sound
of distant crowds
marching to join us
Huidobro’s tomb
a lonely outpost
over the void

like a dot
that blossoms
neither good
nor evil
true or beautiful
or left in place

lonely & lost
Huidobro’s ghost
arises from his tomb
& looking down
sees nothing

but a field on Mars


note. 18.xi.2004.  We had first been visiting with Nicanor Parra, from whose house we looked across the water to Huidobro’s tomb in Cartagena.  The grave there appeared as a white spot set against the green hills in the background.  All of this seemed almost pastoral & truly fitting for a great poet's gravesite, but when we drove there shortly after, the scene we found was one of desolation – devastation really – with beer cans & other debris from local partiers & small stones kicked & scattered under foot.  It was something I didn’t write about then, though the image pained & stuck with me, so that the poem I should have written earlier has just now happened.  (J.R.)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Mark Weiss: "Different Stories" from "As Luck Would Have It" (Shearsman Books)

[The following is from Mark Weiss’s long awaited & very welcome new book, As Luck Would Have It, from Shearsman Books in the UK.  Comments by Ron Silliman & Peter Manson appear beneath the poem – a further tribute to Weiss’s presence & prowess in a new American poetry & poetics.]

The man who lives in boring times
bucket by bucket moves a mountain.

Wedded to the trajectory,
a collection of shattered lenses,
a matrix of rituals.

Man, or machete.
A catalogue of expectations.
Cutlass, for instance,
the brute violence of the toolshed
become a scimitar in the hands of pirates.

On the subway platform the girl sways
to invisible music.
Maybe she’s gone to the islands.

Different stories.
I knew a girl whose childhood
was her mother’s experiment
in elective surgeries to make her
“beautiful,” new nose, new eyelids,
as the world sees it.
Except that she’d refused the last experiment.
A different story. And what became
of all that perfection,
that one defiance,
that vote for symmetry.

Failure to make circles.

Old age, as the young man assured me,
is a state of mind.

In the order of things
there will be fire.

Ownership of islands will be swept by the sound
and all these wetlands.

This has been home
and this has been home
and this has been home.
Much of what you plan for
won’t happen, and what does
you’ll be unprepared for.

Following beasts,
elk and elephant providing wisdom.
“Where grass is good
there will be meat.”
“Salt is aggressive
and rises to water.”

and mystery
in the English
idiom, math
and mastery
in the physics of war.

A nice day,
flaxen girl in flat sandals licks
a cone of white ice cream
and strides through the park.

Strides through the park in flat sandals
licking a cone of white ice cream.
So nice a day. She eats
white ice cream.

Oh custard.
Oh sugarplum.

A Mayan woman with her Mayan children
at the Delacort fountain.
Hard to imagine a beauty more divorced
from that belle époque fragility, she
recalling blood and viscera.
But her children
will speak the local dialect.

A tendency to swallow whole when excited
(a tendency to excitement)
but masticate, grind,
that the chestnut not
become the death of you. Chew
as if your life
depended on it.
Time enough for the visible world
beyond the restaurant.

In his will he endowed a fund
to feed a homeless person once a year
the finest, most expensive,
and record
the recipient’s despair

Gleaning the last of an insufficient harvest, he
chops down the final bit of scrub so that his child
will have warm food. Who knows
what luck might bring
to keep them for another day.

First worry,
then despair.

Maybe the last
of insect or mammal
will descend upon them.

Where blond means enough to eat
and brunette not so much.

So it turns out
that we’re not the answer
to the dreams of centuries.

Lope of the hunter from field to forest.

“We have adapted wheat to grow on clouds
and grain to fall like rain.”
Laughed, then died, and the living
guess at the joke.

* * *

some comments on mark Weiss and as luck would have it

“This is a barefoot poetry, almost in the very oldest Asian sense of that phrase, a poetry of voice & body that recognizes that even body-language has accents, which surely it does. The eye is keen, the humor self-deprecating. Mark Weiss has reached that point on life’s mesa where forgiveness (to oneself as well as others) may well be the most important of gestures. A book to make you glad to be in the world.”
—Ron Silliman

“From point and line to jetplane, ‘The line articulated / so as to express volume’. In As Luck Would Have It, Mark Weiss plots the trajectory of a life lived between moments relished by the hungriest eye in the language. A rueful, funny and tolerant take on the self allows the wide world in, always in search of the strangeness in seemingly-familiar things, and on guard against the human capacity to dehumanise (April always was the cruellest kid). It’s a trip worth taking, where every flight is a kind of homecoming, the darkness seasoned with sauce enough to carry us through.” 
Peter Manson

[Order from the usual suspects, on both sides of the Atlantic, or from]

Thursday, March 12, 2015

George Economou: Three More Poems from “Finishing Cavafy’s Unfinished” with a note on the process

Photo credit: Andrea Augé

          A one scarcely visible, next nine, next
          one, the fourth number looks like a nine.
          This was found among some poet’s papers.
          It’s dated, but quite illegibly.
Stavros dealt out our shares in the loot.
The alpha youth in our gang,
smart, tough, and too beautiful for words.
The most capable, though except for me
(I was twenty) he was the youngest.
My guess is he wasn’t quite twenty-three.

Our haul was three thousand pounds.
He kept, as we convinced him was fair, half of it.

But now, at eleven at night, we were working on
putting him on the lam the next morning,
before the police found out about the burglary.
Not a lightweight heist, but grand larceny.

We were down in a cellar, safe-housed in a basement.
After we’d decided on the plan for his escape,
the other three left us, me and Stavros,
with the understanding they’d return at five.
(stanza break)
There was a ripped up mattress on the floor.
Dead-tired, the two of us dropped. And with our shaky
feelings, and the extreme fatigue,
and with the anguish over his getaway
in the morning––I hardly realized, didn’t realize at all
that in these last hours together our love had come to its end.

Their way of making money      was surely not aboveboard.
But they’re street-smart boys,      the four of them, who’ve figured out
how to do their business      steering clear of the police.
Apart from being smart,      they’re super tough together.
Since two of them are joined      by the bond of pleasure
so are the other two joined      by the bond of pleasure.
They can dress to kill      as is quite suitable
for such handsome boys,      and the theater and bars,
and their snazzy car,      and a trip now and then
to Cairo in the winter,      they are missing nothing.

Their way of making money      was surely not aboveboard,
with an occasional scare      of getting cut up
or of doing time in jail.      But look at how Love
has such power to take      the dirty money they make
and fashion it anew      into something blindingly pure.

That money none of them      wants for himself or
for personal interests.      None of them tallies it up
grossly or with greed.      They never take note
if one brings in less      or another more.
In common they hold      their money, using it
to dress with style,      to bankroll the outlay
that makes their lives      elegant and well-suited
to such handsome boys,       for helping out their friends,
and then, as is their way,      just forget about it.


Now that Zenobia’s become queen of numerous great lands,
now that she’s the wonder of the Anatolian world,
and now that even the Romans fear her,
why shouldn’t her greatness be fulfilled?
Why should she be pigeonholed as Woman/ Asian?

Two scholars well versed in history
will prepare her genealogy forthwith.

Look at how she’s clearly descended from the Lagids.
Look at how clearly from Macedonia her bloodline flows
into the stream of her noble Semitic spring: “Augusta” suits her well.

Clearly one day soon she’ll parade through Rome in wraps of gold.

[a note to zenobia. Septimia Zenobia (Bat-Zabbai in Aramaic; al-Zabba in Arabic), who was born around 240 A. D. and died some time after 274, the “warrior queen” of the Roman colony of Palmyra (in present day Syria), was the second wife of King Septimus Odaenathus and succeeded him after his assassination in 267. Unusually ambitious, beautiful, courageous, and highly cultured (the rhetorician and critic Longinus lived in her court), and expert in creative biographic enhancements, she proclaimed herself “Augusta” and ruled from 268 to 272, conquering several Roman provinces, including Egypt and Anatolia, before she was subjugated by the emperor Aurelius (270––275). There are numerous accounts of what happened to her after her military losses, but the most accepted one is that Aurelius proved merciful and granted her a good Roman life in exile after she was displayed in golden chains (a star even in defeat?) at his triumph.]

on finishing cavafy: a note on the process.  The three poems in this third and final installment from an ongoing project that will be published by Shearsman Books in the fall of 2015 as the first part of a work entitled Finishing Cavafy’s Unfinished & Selected Poems and Translations, present two unusual features in a collaboration with Cavafy that I have previously described as un métissage de l’écriture, a trans-compositional approach in which the work of translator and poet have been combined in order to create a finished poem in English out of the variable complex elements in the unfinished drafts of their Greek originals. The making of the first two poems in this trio, “Crime” and “Foursome,” was basically carried out following the same process that directed the composition of most of the poems in this collection out of the drafts, variants, and marginal comments and corrections that portray the singular nature of each of Cavafy’s unfinished poems as diplomatically edited and reconstructed by Renata Lavagnini (Atele Poiemata, 1918-1932, Athens: Ikaros, 2006).
            “Crime” and “Foursome”(provisionally entitled “A Company of Four” by its author) stand out among the “unfinished poems” but also among all the other poems––published, unpublished and rejected––because of the poet’s explicit and sympathetic treatment of their attractive young criminals. It is well-known that many of Cavafy’s poems explore the lives of poor young men, an interest he expressed in a note he wrote on June 29, 1908: “I am pleased and moved by the beauty of the masses, of poor young men. Servants, workers, petty clerks and shop attendants. It is the compensation, one imagines, for their deprivations” (Selected Prose Works, translated and edited by Peter Jeffreys, Ann Arbor, 2010, p. 136). Although at times these poems skirt the shadows of questionable and rough and tumble life-styles and occasionally even obliquely suggest some sort of illicit or criminal activity, none so openly represent, or actually celebrate as in “Foursome,” beautiful young mobsters as do these two poems. If in finishing them, I have at times resorted to idiomatic expressions unmistakably rooted in our own underworld culture, I have done so in response to the emotional force that pervades and impels these two extraordinary poems.
            The unique demand of the third unfinished poem of this group, “Zenobia,” that I complete rather than merely finish it, was anticipated by a small distraction in Professor Lavagnini’s reconstruction of “Foursome” in which the tenth line lacks its second half, a defect Cavafy never allows in any of the numerous poems in which he uses this unusual, personal form of verse consisting of lines divided by caesura-like spaces into two metrically analogous parts. I have addressed the problem caused by this puzzling omission by shifting the phrase in the first half of the line to the second half and completing the line with the phrase “to Cairo in the winter” on the strength of Cavafy’s addition of it in one of the draft stages in the poem’s file. Further confirmation of the cogency of using this added phrase came when I read the final paragraph in Lavagnini’s commentary on this poem, which begins: “The trip to Cairo (added here at sheet 4, line 8) symbolizes an easy-going and carefree life,” and continues with an account of how Cavafy recalled that his father made frequent trips to Cairo (p. 288).
            That Professor Lavagnini’s reconstruction of “Zenobia” comes to an abrupt stop mid-poem with two crosses, each of which, according to her editorial apparatus, represents two illegible letters, after the word “Macedonia” in Cavafy’s single sheet manuscript comes as no surprise considering the great vacillation with which this sole, somewhat inchoate, draft was written. After composing a brief note on Zenobia, my common practice for all of the historical figures mentioned in Cavafy’s Unfinished Poems, I proceeded to work towards a rendition of the customary “finished” version that has been the goal of every poem in this project.  Then I suddenly understood that my commitment to Cavafy to “finish” every one of these poems meant in this anomalous case that I had to “complete” that fragmentary version, which I did unhesitatingly, with the moderate addition of two and a half italicized lines that proceed syntactically out of his text into an alluring ironic closing informed by several details from some of his favorite sources that I hope is worthy of the splendid Alexandrian.  (G. E.)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Outside & Subterranean Poetry (66): Gilbert Eastman, from “Epic: Gallaudet Protest” (in American Sign Language)

Gilbert Eastman (American Sign Language, 1934-2006)
From epic: Gallaudet protest

universe    earth    u.s.a.    washington, d.c.
lincoln memorial    statue    hands: a & l
looked back    124 years ago
charter    signed    announcing
college for the deaf
face-profile    columns    looked at reflection pool
washington monument    streets    cars
capitol dome    u.s. flag
turned streets    trees    buildings
stop. fence    gate: “gallaudet university
entered    road-curve
chapel hall    tower clock
arches    terrace    steps    streets
statue base    gallaudet and alice
one student came    students one by one came
looked at statue    walked    joined more people
long line of people    football field    bleachers
got button    fade-out “deaf president now”
fade-in    looked at crowd    pickets
speaker with beard came    spoke    clapped
another speaker    spoke    screamed
another speaker    spoke    waving-hands
deaf deaf deaf “d” unity all-over
stood    walked around campus
dark    into    night
week-later    sunday    march 6   time 7:00 p.m.
one by one came crowd waited and waited    became nervous
looked at cop walking toward crowd
papers stacked    passed out
paper announcing new president:
zinser woman hearing hair-curl, scarf
paper crushed, set afire
burn z    anger
“go!” crowd ran    stopped hotel
doorman stopped    cops stood in row
students stood in rows and rows
leader called    spilman
hair-up, ruffles, came-down    stopped
faced students    with interpreter    spoke
“deaf people are not ready to function in a hearing world.”
row-students shocked    fists-up    screamed
cries up in sky    up in darkness
screams disappeared into night    silence               
sunrise    monday   
group    pointed at gate    chain lock
point gate    chain lock    point gate    chain lock
ran to main entrance    stood one by one
rows and rows    closed gate
cars tried entering    couldn’t    left
rows    guard
group discussed    called students    flocked
leader man blond, crew-cut came with red band    stood
followed three persons, blue bands
one tall, thin, glasses, jacket, buttons
one medium, thin face, smoking
one woman, small, strong, hair short, glasses
three joined leader, four faced
first rows    yellow bands
more rows    more rows    looked at leader
explained    “no violence!”
“understand!”    “give up no”
rows hands-rising, waving. stopped
4 demands:    1) deaf president
            2) spilman (hair-up, ruffles) out
            3) board 51% deaf
            4) no reprisal
rows clapped    returned to gate, guarded
spilman arrived with group, meeting doors closed
called students    flocked to building    gym
large room    sat    hands-waving
vips entered    stood-in-line    sat
spilman entered with interpreter
spilman spoke, interpreter signed
suddenly deaf professor interrupted    signed “please leave.”
spilman tried to stop them but couldn’t
students got-up    left gym    stood outside
anger    confused    looked for help
walked to capitol    ran-up steps    doors closed
chaos    looked-up in sky    darkness
stars falling down    disappearing into darkness
sunrise    tuesday
guards    let some people coming in
faculty    staff    students    supporters
uppers (administratives) out
professors asked what? students asked help us! four
people flocked, sat rows. each expressed problems
they listened    formed committees    meetings
fund-raising    how? thermometer with round-line red
money-giving    red-rising
press conference    newspaper reporters plus
tv reporters came    asked questions
deaf felt helpless    looked at group coming
“interpreters!” they helped us!
deaf signed, interpreters spoke to reporters
looked at five deaf leaders coming
national organizations different
leader by leader spoke    clapped    waved hands
reporters wrote down    ran to cars    drove away
stopped at newspaper building    entered    ran into office
typed    computer    line by line
pushed key    came-out paper    took it and ran
to huge room    put on machine    turned on
rolled    pressed    folded    stacked
put-in trucks    doors opened    trucks hurried out
same time    pressed    wired all-over usa
continued through the night    stars faintly twinkled
sunrise    wednesday
guards    rows    rows    tired
blockade    looked at truck    let it in
opened doors    packs of newspapers    came out
headline: “gallaudet protest”
hurrah    returned to gate, guarded
professors    workers met together
discussed    voted.  approved four demands
helped students    hurrah    but
one ran in, stood, breathed, announced
z hair-curled, scarf favorable
looked up, disappointed    heart broken
one by one grab flag    rose high
inspiring    hands waving
over there    building    room    tv camera lens
ted koppel hair, apart, sat, table curve
point blond crew-cut, point z hair-curled, scarf
point california, mm hair-long-curl, glasses
ted looked at watch    lens to camera
frame, down wire to next room
man earphones, microphone, tv sets
1) fix tie    2) fix scarf    3) fix hair
count 5 4 3 2 1 0              push button
line ran down    went through to disk
then, shot up into space    reaching satellite
satellite moved    shot down
china    frame    burn z
india    frame    gate
africa    frame    pickets
italy    frame 4 4 4
france    frame    spilman out
sweden     frame    deaf unity
england    frame    deaf president now
america    frame    blond hair crew-cut signed
zinser spoke, captioned
mm emoted
ted koppel looked at clock    5 4 3 2 1
cut    blackout
sunrise    thursday
gate    guarded    tents    slept
 woke up    clothes dirty    hungry
 got up    joined group
another truck came in    let it in
opened doors    boxes boxes out of truck
looked at boxes    puzzled    opened
food! food! food! grabbed    gave out    shared
truck left    guarded all day
mail trucks entered    doors opened    bags
letters pile
building (ole gym) rails    doors opened
people stood    busy running around
room table round    telephones
interpreters    hearing volunteers
sat around table. rings    rings
answered    hung up    answered
deaf president thumb-up mark thumb-up mark
deaf president thumb-down mark thumb-down mark
thermometer red-line up    up
box    coins    bills    checks    up    up
tap shoulder, looked around    puzzled    noticed
girl little holding dime    put it in box
inspired    tears in eyes
gate guarded    tv trucks    antennas
tv reporters    newspapers reporters
microphone moved, deaf signed, interpereters spoke
all day into night
clouds crept into darkness

Translation from ASL by Gilbert C. Eastman
source: H-Dirksen L. Bauman, Jennifer L. Nelson, & Heidi M. Rose, editors, Signing the Body Poetic: Essays on American Sign Language Literature, University of California Press, 2006.

(1) POETRY WITHOUT SOUND.   Even in its early, tentative stages, the signing poetry emerging as an aspect of the "culture of the deaf" challenges some of our cherished preconceptions about poetry and its relation to human speech.  Ameslan (American Sign Language) represents, literally, a poetry without sound and, for its practitioners, a poetry without access to that experience of sound as voice that we've so often taken as the bedrock of all poetics and all language.  In the real world of the deaf, then, language exists as a kind of writing in space and as a primary form of communication without reference to any more primary form of language for its validation.  It is in this sense a realization of the ideogrammatic vision of a Fenollosa – "a splendid flash of concrete poetry" – but an ideogrammatic language truly in motion and, like oral poetry, truly inseparable from its realization in performance.  (Ethnopoetic analogues – for those who would care to check them out – include Hindu and Tantric mudras, Plains Indian and Australian Aborigine sign languages, and Ejagham [southeastern Nigerian] "action writing": a history of human gesture languages that would enrich our sense of poetry and language, should we set our minds to it.)  The reader may also want to relate this piece to more recent discourse about "written-oral dichotomies, etc., but the revelation of Ameslan, in that sense, isn't a denial of the powers of oral poetry but the creation of its possible and equally impermanent companion in performance. (J.R., from Symposium of the Whole, 1983)

(2)  The “epic” goes back to March 1988 and a massive student strike at Gallaudet University, a federally chartered school for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing located in Washington, D.C., over the failure to appoint a non-hearing university president.  Writes Kristen C. Harmon, in introducing the epic & Gilbert Eastman’s part in it as “creator and omniscient narrator”: “Eastman is not conversing in everyday ASL.  In English, this introduction translates as ‘Within the blackness of space a single planet comes into focus – the earth, in its orbit, rotating on its axis.  The face of the earth comes into view – the United States’; even in translation, this kind of language clearly represents a departure from the conventions of conversational or informal written English.”  The resultant performance work, then, is in a tightly condensed language of its own & at a true remove from what it might have been as spoken.

(3) Quoting W.J.T. Mitchell (“Preface: Utopian Gestures”, in Signing the Body Poetic): “In the world of the Deaf, I am a disabled person, incapable of hearing or seeing or reading or listening to what is being said by the people around me.” Exactly who is the outsider here?