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, January 28, 2010

Robert Kelly: Three poems from “Fire Exit,” with a note in celebration


the nomad always has another planet up his sleeve
bewildering autumn warblers
only the yellow ones get spotted but all of them sing

then rush to meet it in a book
where someone else’s name for this experience
is sold to you and the bird is gone

how long is a line
from silence to silence the shortest word—
that is a line

word, what is a word
across a room the deepest touch
now you’re being faintly fraudulent

romanticism is mechanical
when applied to people,
it is not a reaction to the industrial revolution

it is the industrial revolution,
privileging matter and methods of production
the divine artificer, Jacquard at his loom,

Shelley among thorns
how they make us feel,
sell your soul to the devil

doomed poet can’t even break the light
has no shadow, can’t cast a shape on matter—
because romanticism is all about production

about having some effect, about causing
perturbation in the system, nature and marriage,
about leaving a mark

because romanticism is Roman is Rome
is rule and sentimental grammar
and ego-worship, where Caesar’s god

is Caesar’s self
and god is anyone you pick to pay
your bloody bulls and barley to

or at midnight squealing pigs
to Hecate
pine cones on fire.


There is a letter of the alphabet like a muddy road in Sweden
where Joseph Martin Kraus wept for the king his dead lover
there is a letter like sun rising through smog industrial haze

fold what you know as a self into a letter
and be this letter
so birds fly right through you

you have come near the nesting place
the sources of life
always in the rocks always edge of the sea

they dive all round you
they void their glad cloacas on your hat
if you’re the kind of letter that has a hat,

write yourself a letter and send it to me
or leave it by the apple tree
the last one left at the construction site

yellow helmet hanging from the branch
leave it there or under midnight
give other loves a chance to find it

one letter fills up the whole page
and then I’ll know you, have you,
I’ll tell what I know to no one not even the tree,

nobody knows what the sea’s saying either
because it speaks so beautifully
all form and no information.


The woods green moveless sea
click of wood clirr of leaf
insects at their never-ending plainchant offices

no Palestrina to relieve the rise the flex the fall
of what is permanent
and yet it moves

but how do you know, he said,
what Homer’s ocean sounded like to him
your Latin’s rusty and your Greek’s been repossessed

sometimes you hear what fleshy Virgil heard
sometimes you guess
sometimes you pick a letter and become it

like a girl in a casino tricked to choose a card
by some devious entertainer with more sleeves than arms
says here you are, the Three of Diamonds,

there is no alphabet in wood
in woods
I am alone

in the middle of the alphabet
I came to water
and there was her name beginning

the bitter sea and all its pearls
and the great tower she came from
to meet me there,

follow a line as long as it goes
till it leads to yourself
pick the right letter turn into a god

powerlessly beautiful
no romanticism here
here is yielding here is letting

here is language listening to itself and letting go
so you can have some too
if you don’t become a letter the word will never speak

patch of sun on forest floor
the leaves make faces
a progression of identities procession carnival silence

the leaves are masks
all we know how to see are faces
so the leaves make faces at me

the belongers huddle beneath the shade
an austere text rustles
rebuking every image.

[A NOTE IN CELEBRATION. Robert Kelly’s passionate & prolific devotion to poetry has, for many of us, been a central fact of our lives as poets over the last half century or more. The publication by Black Widow Press of his latest long poem or poem series, Fire Exit, 135 poems that move & turn in multiple directions, finds him still at the top of his powers – a singular event, then, & a cause for celebration. For myself, the inclusion here of these three sections, connects to the theme of romanticism reconfigured as one of the dominant concerns of Poems and Poetics, but the more particular range of Fire Exit comes from Kelly himself: “Towards the notion of ‘fire exit’ three things led me, and might lead the reader. The first is the Buddha’s parable in the Lotus Sutra – existence is a house on fire, and a desperate father tries to get his children out, using any language he can to coax them from the flames. Talking our way out. The second is the sign I used to see in the movie houses when I was a kid – in flaming red letter FIRE over EXIT – it marked the sudden door that led from the world of the spectacle to the world of the actual. The third is the exit of the gods of Valhalla when the world goes up in fire: The end of the divine age and the beginning of the human age, the age where we can actually do something in the world.”]

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Akira Tatehata: Seven Poems, with a note in praise of

Translation from Japanese by Hiroaki Sato


I have no memory of traveling alone. I laughed at the endless hand-washing, its fierceness, but that, too, was merely someone else’s shame. Slow travel in which I pile up false quotations. The slowness of prose.

Milk is white the way frosted glass is; a transparent liquid turns white when innumerable scars are made, I was told. Also, that individual is another name for a group and that it is a corrupt group, besides. (We were being laughed at.) Individualist, what do you think of the delays of travel? Are you ashamed of its “pretended irrationality”? Or are you proud? (Laugh, if you want to.) Even a man with a thin frame is, in bed, a penile warrior. Repeatedly, time and again, he stirs himself up like that. Pile up a liquid’s wounds, prose on the desk, be late. Laugh at someone else’s shame, a group with another name, be late. Toward daybreak, the milk, too, is black. In your memory, that dark point that touches the other. In the darkness of the quotation, prose is left behind.


You, undulate. You, laugh. You, solidify. And voice quavering, you go out of the dark walls. —To which place?

The I of the future was weaving cells in a narrow room with sounds. The river in the room (there someone else’s blood) goes on meandering but in the end never goes outside the walls. In this case, the walls are effective. But many people are thinking the opposite: one must show “a merciless attitude when push comes to shove,” if possible like a fart released into the field. Did you laugh now?

Listen. What I open is a field page, where “towers of breasts” rise and I, as kith and kin of a man with someone else’s blood circulating in him, and without any responsibility, am listening to a scream from an ancient age. Or to the melancholy wing-beat of a corny future cell.

Even if the meandering is a form of humiliation, listen, have no mercy when push comes to shove! You, undulate. You, laugh. You, solidify. And voice quavering, you go out of the dark walls. —To which place?


I knew your voice. The red dark domain under the skin, where I was once derided and, even worse, hated. I think your voice still remains in the house people stopped visiting, though I don’t know when, and, though I can’t really grasp whether it is a photograph, a painting, porcelain, a letter, the smell of rubber, a buried seal, the pulsing darkness, or a cold request as a different matter, but in any case it belongs to the red dark domain between bones and skin.

It is a quaver and a squeak. Therefore it passes by.

I was told that the essence of being a monk is spasm; therefore they too lose their color.

Now the only thing I can do is to place my expectations in a large woman who has gotten away from the lake water and has her elbow bent in a small room. A different matter like that is cruel, too, but landscape and architecture teach us that the borderline between what’s visible and what is invisible is ambiguous. Derided or hated, I withdraw into a castle of ludicrous gestures like a quaking monk. And look for the voice that is left. Under the skin, is the domain still red and dark?


Football long after Picasso. Just running isn’t the right thing to do, but in our case, we are mindlessly roaming the white field. That pole. That bar. That line. Looking at them askance, they’re more like a white dream. Not knowing the location of our lust, that’s our defect we’d hesitate to record in our personal notes. We, the runners in the margins, won’t even be able to laugh with a wife in a Baroque salon. But that the haze-like light is “trembling,” it was confided to me. Also that, if you roam, it’s “the immediate experience of a hidden memory.” First quake. Then the lust will automatically show its outlines. . . .

Football long after Picasso. That pole, that bar, that line. My uncle who has the distant cheers seeped into his alpaca coat is also walking across the salon, but to us who see him off, eyes tending to be shyly lowered, the act also is like a white dream.

Yes, we are runners in the margins.

“There is a historic body lifted above this beautiful field.”

We are quaking runners in the margins.

“The honeybee’s wing-beat is the figure of a flower’s lust.”


If there’s a youth who can’t shit, let me know. I’d like to have him talk about how much fun life is. Will he contentedly respond by saying that situated in “a special site, an actual site” like the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Campidoglio, he is repeating great failures? Will he gallantly assert that he doesn’t even know the difference between autonomous and autocratic? Or will he overbearingly tell us that soon (that is, as the twentieth century draws to a close) “category” becomes vague and the shit he can’t shit comes out and that’s even more of a failure? But! But! But! The axiom of shame is iconography. The matter of shit is historicism. To a statue, life may be too hard.


That’s the house of a woman whose diarrhea doesn’t stop. No stand of trees around it, a red road quietly turns somewhere near it. I go closer, tomorrow’s rain doesn’t stop today either, and I, beating my thin breast, alone threaten the gray sky. The nights in which I repeated ridiculous gestures for you and laughed, those nights are now a thing of the past. The black market that nurtures dogmatic moralists appears to be no longer held in this neighborhood. As for the late-night wind that supported roadside lust, the station building with a fountain, the dark green bench, the clattering shutters, I might forget them. But, finger pointed, I still can love only stereotypical things. A red road without any trees. The rain doesn’t stop. That is the house of the woman whose diarrhea doesn’t stop.


I will not fight for you. Because the sun will set soon, shooting stars will be seen from west to east. The premonitions will all be fulfilled. It is ludicrous if you think you can take care of everything with a narrow society or an anti-society. To think grumbling is confrontation and regard dull rhetoric as history, if it’s a right to laugh off such a worn-out contest, everyone has it. Though it’s a terrible morning, I open the window, compare that parrot with this carrot, and inch toward the one-man show that wasn’t fulfilled yesterday. Insincerity is my habit. The night is far, and near. You are fundamentally miserable on account of your hobby of being criticized, but I’d rather ask for non-criticism. You being no longer young, know that you are in a process that hasn’t begun and is already ending. Because the sun will set soon, you can see shooting stars. Though, as to now, it’s a truly terrible morning that makes me flinch from the battle of sitting down on a chair of cold pipes. Though it’s a really terrible morning, when outside the window there’s only a dirty plaza, both that parrot and this carrot stone-cold


Union Square, New York

The seal. The white mark that closes the door to dreams. I left it unerased. The Siren disappeared behind the dreams, leaving only the white sign. As a story, this is inhuman. Trying to break the seal, I couldn’t help being afraid. A beautiful refusal like an alluring voice. The cruel sign remains faintly on the pale door.

[NOTE. In 2003 Hiroaki Sato, as translator, drew my attention to the poetry of Tatehata Akira, better known as an art historian & curator, but with a genius for the short prose poem that recalled a handful of poets so gifted in our own language & place. For his first book in English, Runners in the Margins (P.S., A Press, 2003), I wrote the following in response: “The power of Japanese poetry since World War Two lies in the creative ferocity & precision of what one of its practitioners called ‘a return to totality in poetry.’ To the ranks of those who have moved Japan into the mainstream of international poetry, we can now add Tatehata Akira & can place him among those poets from Rimbaud to the present, who have broken the spine of verse or chosen prose itself as a medium for poetry. In Hiroaki Sato’s English versions, Tatehata appears as a poet with the ability to move clusters of language & perceptions into larger assemblages – a narrative that escapes from narrative, to create a world that startles & so causes us to see.” (J.R.)]

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Uncollected Poems (13): A Poem of Fears, in seven installments


some had a fear of men
some had a fear of women
some had a fear of girls
some had a fear of children
some had a fear of tyrants
some had a fear of priests
some had a fear of popes
some had a fear of people
some had a fear of crowds
some had a fear of mobs
some had a fear of robbers
some had a fear of foreigners
some had a fear of Englishmen
some had a fear of French
some had a fear of Germans
some had a fear of Japanese
some had a fear of Jews
some had a fear of Negroes
some had a fear of Russians
some had a fear of Chinese
some had a fear of God
some had a fear of Satan
some had a fear of demons
some had a fear of ghosts
some had a fear of spirits


some had a fear of cats
some had a fear of dogs
some had a fear of horses
some had a fear of mice
some had a fear of bulls
some had a fear of animals
some had a fear of reptiles
some had a fear of snakes
some had a fear of birds
some had a fear of fish
some had a fear of worms
some had a fear of mites
some had a fear of bees
some had a fear of spiders
some had a fear of insects
some had a fear of lice
some had a fear of microbes
some had a fear of bacteria
some had a fear of germs
some had a fear of monsters


some had a fear of flowers
some had a fear of flutes
some had a fear of bullets
some had a fear of needles
some had a fear of crystals
some had a fear of mirrors
some had a fear of pins
some had a fear of dust
some had a fear of strings
some had a fear of dirt
some had a fear of corpses
some had a fear of water
some had a fear of metal
some had a fear of gold
some had a fear of money
some had a fear of machinery
some had a fear of vehicles
some had a fear of telephones
some had a fear of hair
some had a fear of skin
some had a fear of fur
some had a fear of teeth
some had a fear of eyes
some had a fear of beards
some had a fear of feathers
some had a fear of rectums
some had a fear of slime
some had a fear of feces
some had a fear of blood
some had a fear of urine
some had a fear of food
some had a fear of drink
some had a fear of drugs
some had a fear of poison
some had a fear of small things
some had a fear of new things
some had a fear of one thing
some had a fear of everything


some had a fear of comets
some had a fear of sun
some had a fear of stars
some had a fear of gravity
some had a fear of lightning
some had a fear of thunder
some had a fear of wind
some had a fear of drafts
some had a fear of fog
some had a fear of clouds
some had a fear of snow
some had a fear of floods
some had a fear of waves
some had a fear of cold
some had a fear of heat
some had a fear of fire
some had a fear of light
some had a fear of dawn
some had a fear of darkness
some had a fear of shadows
some had a fear of night
some had a fear of body odor
some had a fear of ice & frost


some had a fear of closed places
some had a fear of heights
some had a fear of precipices
some had a fear of rivers
some had a fear of the sea
some had a fear of churches
some had a fear of home
some had a fear of heaven
some had a fear of hell


some had a fear of crossing a street
some had a fear of crossing a bridge
some had a fear of passing high buildings
some had a fear of going to bed
some had a fear of coitus
some had a fear of work
some had a fear of writing
some had a fear of sleep
some had a fear of stealing
some had a fear of speech
some had a fear of swallowing
some had a fear of soiling
some had a fear of standing
some had a fear of being idle
some had a fear of taste
some had a fear of touch
some had a fear of smell
some had a fear of thinking
some had a fear of trembling
some had a fear of ridicule
some had a fear of a beating
some had a fear of smothering
some had a fear of inoculation
some had a fear of childbirth
some had a fear of death
some had a fear of music
some had a fear of sin


some had a fear of sourness
some had a fear of sharpness
some had a fear of narrowness
some had a fear of weakness
some had a fear of dampness
some had a fear of pain
some had a fear of justice
some had a fear of freedom
some had a fear of pleasure
some had a fear of fatigue
some had a fear of poverty
some had a fear of fear
some had a fear of punishment
some had a fear of color
some had a fear of duration
some had a fear of motion
some had a fear of symmetry
some had a fear of speed
some had a fear of loneliness
some had a fear of ruin
some had a fear of imperfection
some had a fear of responsibility
some had a fear of failure
some had a fear of sex
some had a fear of marriage
some had a fear of heredity
some had a fear of nudity
some had a fear of ideas
some had a fear of words
some had a fear of names
some had a fear of philosophy
some had a fear of magic
some had a fear of infinity
some had a fear of the void

[These poems were recovered, along with numerous others, for a volume of Uncollected & New Poems 1955-2005, to be published by Mark Weiss & Junction Press. Twelve previous installments have appeared since 2008 on Poems and Poetics.]

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Crisis of Lascaux: Petition & Overview

from The International Committee for Preservation of Lascaux

The 17,000 year old paintings inside the cave of Lascaux are in grave danger. Since 1998, when the first incursion of lichen was found growing inside the cave, Lascaux has been attacked by a series of molds, fungi and bacteria. The installation of an Air Recirculation System in 1968 was designed to work in passive concert with Lascaux’s natural air flow and was only needed during the wettest seasons of the year. When operational, the system mimicked the cave’s natural currents pulling the air to a cold point causing condensation to form there rather than on the walls of the cave. After several early crises in the cave, the first scientific commission conducted careful, in-depth studies of the cave’s interior climate. The result was the design and installation of the passive convection system which served Lascaux very well from 1968 until 2000 when a new air recirculation system complicated the situation and compromised the stability of the atmosphere inside Lascaux. One of the fungi found growing inside the cave was Fusarium Solani, a very common and virulent mold found in agricultural environments which infects both soil and crops. It is highly resistant to treatment and often entire crop fields must be turned under and burned to eradicate the disease. Fusarium solani is a common mold found in the agricultural areas around Lascaux. It has been charged that workers installing the new air-conditioning system did not take care to sterilize their shoes on entering the cave thus bringing the mold inside with them each day

By 2001, the molds colonized in the cave were forming a white mass over the floors and ledges of the painted chambers. Authorities began spraying massive doses of antibiotics and fungicides in an effort to stop the rapidly spreading organisms. Within weeks the molds reappeared quickly developing a resistance to the antibiotic sprays. Realizing that the air-conditioning system was ill fitted for the cave and was indeed part of the problem, authorities shut down a major portion of the newly installed system.

In the fall of 2001, authorities began to pour in Quicklime (Calcium oxide [CaO]), commonly known as lime, quicklime or burnt lime, a widely used chemical compound. It is a white, caustic and alkaline crystalline solid, as well as a refractory and dehydrating agent. In 2001, in an attempt to kill the fungus Fusarium Solani inside Lascaux, authorities poured four tons of quicklime on the cave's floor in a very aggressive and controversial move, hoping to stop the advance of the molds and fungi. This created a rise in the cave’s internal temperature and quickly destabilized the interior hydrometric balance of the cave. These higher temperatures dried up the air of the cave causing moisture to form on the cave's walls; the moisture washed off some of the prehistoric pigments. While this measure is intended to stop the spreading of molds and fungi, it also raises the internal temperature of the cave as the quicklime virtually suffocates the cave floor. Compresses soaked in a mixture of fungicides and antibiotics are then applied like bandages to the walls and ledges of the cave in a further attempt to control the growing organisms.

The fungi and molds had retreated by the summer of 2002 but bacteria were still growing in large dark spots inside the cave. Authorities then resorted to a mechanical removal of the roots of the bacteria. This method is highly invasive and unending. The damage inflicted on the cave by having crews constantly inside physically removing the roots, coupled with the brown spots that remain and are highly visible, is not a viable long-term solution to save the cave.

Many faulty decisions have been made as to the treatment of the cave:

-- the massive spraying of the cave was not only ineffective but there are substantial consequences to saturating the cave and its paintings with high levels of moisture;

-- the decision to change the type of air cooling system inside the cave from air-recirculation (which had been in effect and working well since 1963) to forced air destabilizes the cave and quickly promotes the spread of mold;

-- the decision to pour Quicklime, a white, caustic and alkaline crystalline solid, as well as a refractory and dehydrating agent. (In 2001, in an attempt to kill the fungus Fusarium Solani inside Lascaux, authorities poured four tons of quicklime on the cave's floor. This created a rise in the cave’s internal temperature and quickly destabilized the interior hydrometric balance of the cave. These higher temperatures dried up the air of the cave causing moisture to form on the cave's walls; the moisture washed off some of the prehistoric pigments. Quicklime over a living cave floor leads to further destabilization and deterioration of the cave’s sensitive interior);
-- the invasive extraction of the roots of the Fungus: Any one of the members of the thallophyte division such as mushrooms, molds and mildews, which subsist on dead or living organic matter.

There are other problems; not only is Lascaux threatened from the interior, but also from the exterior. The placement of the car parking lot for Lascaux II [a recent simulacrum of part of the cave] appears to sit directly on top of Lascaux. There are important concerns about how the material of the car park, the weight of the cars, the emissions of the cars, etc., are impacting the cave beneath.

To date, the French government has been ineffective in its handling of the crisis inside Lascaux. Four different departments are charged with the care of the cave with no one authority held accountable. There is overlap and a real failure by the authorities charged with the cave’s well-being to judge the situation in its severity. There is no independent international oversight. Unless change is undertaken quickly, the world stands to lose Lascaux’s irreplaceable masterpiece and its rich story of mankind’s place in time.

[Further information and a petition to the French government can be found at ]

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Reconfiguring Romanticism (36): Jacques Darras, We Are all German Romantics


A Republic of aristocrats: romanticism. A Republic of aristocrats linked together by a kind of busy idleness. For whom the only conceivable activity was working at freeing themselves from work. Who created what we now call “literature .” Who feverishly produced reflexive, critical, poetic texts as well as translations. The way they invented for themselves a whole genealogy -- a Gotha -- of literary ancestors. The way they established a canon of major literary texts in which they gathered together Shakespeare and Dante, as nobody had thought to do before them. The way they grouped themselves into societies for endless discussions, all that was the invention of their Jena group. We cannot and could never dissociate ourselves from their adventure without breaking decisively the link that makes us legitimate as well.

Witness Samuel Taylor Coleridge rushing to Hamburg in the Fall of 1798, so eager was that 26 year old London-based poet to join the conversations he felt were going on there, leaving him stuck in his English backwater. In Göttingen, from which Friedrich and August Wilhelm Schlegel had graduated a few years earlier, he learnt crash-course German in order to read the language more than to speak it. He abandoned his traveling companions William and Dorothy Wordsworth, far too cumbersome for him, far too ponderously mired in their Cumbrian daffodils. He let them go back to their Cumberland Lakes long before he did. He was through with their shared dreams of poetic militancy, their desire to implant poetry among the peasants. For Coleridge, who in the meantime had turned in his reading to Kant and Schelling, that meant a decisive and durable end of versified poetry. Which is precisely why English tradition would long consider him a poet who had lost his way in the labyrinth of German critical philosophy, until his reemergence in 1817 with the two volumes of his intellectual autobiography, Biographia literaria.

The Kantian, French and industrial revolutions convinced Coleridge that no synthesis was any longer possible. Mainly as far as poetry was concerned. Autobiography, at best, was the only way of apprehending the new reality. Finding coherence in one’s journey should from now on be one’s only ambition. Thus Coleridge’s own poetic adventure was to break brutally in two. As he fled to Germany in order to master the thoughts of Fichte, Schelling and Schlegel before they had even completed them, he exposed his own vulnerability as learning subject. But at the same time that he took that risk, he powerfully asserted his poet’s desire for philosophy. That was the exemplary drama inaugurated by Coleridge in modern times, the drama of poetry and its desire for philosophy.

Now the poem indeed could only accept two forms of time. Either it would methodically have to follow its flowing rhythm, practising an ascetic sort of “deferment” until the final opening which it knew beforehand it would never master. (Work in that case would necessarily be left unfinished until it came to the posthumous notice of readers.) Or it would have to settle for a fragmentary form the better to maintain and hopefully perfect the control of one’s thought over life. At possible risk of contradicting itself but also out of a contemptuous assertion of the superiority of art over the predictable decline of existence.

The young Jena romantics were in a hurry. So they chose the fragment. Since they wanted to combine speed in both mobility and idleness, they had to adopt the right technique for it. So frequent was their travelling between Dresden, Jena, Weimar and Berlin that it is incredibly difficult to follow their daily movements in space, Their visits to one another reached a particular intensity at the turn of the century. Bewteen 1798 and 1801 Friedrich Schlegel’s unifying power sought to submit them to his literary ambition. He had Schleiermacher and Tieck come from Berlin, Novalis from Leipzig, as well as falling in love himself with Dorothea Mendelssohn who held a “salon” in Berlin. If events were to accelerate in terms of months, each day expanded to the rhythm of conversations on literature and art. Speed and idleness, accordingly!

Yet one should not forget that death was to prove much faster than them. Wackenroder died at 25 in Berlin before reaching Jena. Novalis disappeared at 30 in 1801. Fragmentary their lives were to be, in advance of their work. They had to hurry to speak for themselves. A hidden distant link united the young French generals of the Revolution and the generals of Romanticism fighting in the same war against Time. As if the speeding up of lives were part of the strategy of Fate itself. In England too poets died an early death. Keats, Shelley and Byron did not tarry long on earth. They declared their preference for the elements of air and water. Earth felt like an injury for Keats. In Florence, Shelley prayed to the West Wind to carry him off to Heaven. Poetry for them was more aspiration than inspiration. A desire to ascend into air, a desire for purity and sublimity.

Intercessing angels had left Protestantism. So the French Revolution made up for that deficit, inaugurating the myth of youth sacrificing itself for the good of mankind. That was the time of the angel-like poet, whose image would soon reach its culmination with Arthur Rimbaud. The Ardenne-born poet, alongside Gerard de Nerval, was surely the most romantic, the most Germanic of all French poets. Where the frontier between France and Germany actually was, he knew intuitively, long before those stupid French engineers who would build their incompetent Maginot Line. He alone was familiar with the fir-trees and bogland of that border region called Fagnes, between the Eifel mountains and Luxemburg. The Illuminations are visionary fragments developed from Novalis’s negatives, whose form perfectly answers Schlegel’s definition: "A fragment, like a miniature work of art, has to be entirely isolated from the surrounding world and be complete in itself like a hedgehog." (Fragment 206)


This image is relevant. Journeying almost exclusively by night, the hedgehog unfolds its rolled-up body when the time comes for it to go hunting. For all its scurrying along and around on its short legs it eventually accomplishes long distances. A fantastic animal reminiscent of monsters, it betrays its proximity through noisy blowing sounds through its snout. How vulnerable though beneath the apparent protection of its quills! Breaking from classical --- hence French --- “bon goût” (good taste), the Romantics inventend a shaggy type of beauty, itself beyond beauty. As if they had intuitively grasped Kant’s approach, the most obsessively domestic of all philosophers, they had a romantic night landscape hidden at the core of forests and hedges unfold before their eyes, which put them in direct connexion with the infinite divine. The infinitely distant sublime disclosed itself to them within the small and near. In the form of so many close at hand rather than grandiose thresholds. The low holzweg mountain landscape – we would rather translate “holzweg” by “sommière” i.e “wood lane” than the famous Heideggerian “lane leading nowhere” – is for the most part covered with an ideally black forest. That’s exactly how it is in Thuringia between Weimar, Erfurt and Eisenach, where the fir-woods are so thick that night prevails there in broad daylight, and even its clearings and its hilly openings seem haunted by that nocturnal proximity.

Baltic painter Caspar David Friedrich has painted those Romantic landscapes that seemingly waver between night and day, producing an indefinable interplay of domestic instability on whoever looks at them. Which side of the world are we on? Are we not figures seen from behind, owing to the fact that we cannot grasp that against which our eyesight is backed? Both the Greifswald painter and the Königsberg philosopher seem to have drawn the frontier separating us forever from knowing things. We cannot see, we cannot reach the other side of what we see. Which constrains us to posit objects in front of us (gegenstand), whose reality we assert and assume to be such as the Sciences describe it, though we cannot take for granted that it isn’t the arbitrary product of our constitution. Just as the Earth revolves forever and ever around the Sun, we too revolve around objects, unable to assign a fixed center to our ever-revolving ex-centricity.

“Fragment” indeed is the proper image applying to that fracture. “Fragments” are “sums of vision” containing whole potentialities and analogies, beyond (and beside) the scientific definitions assigning them to a certain category. Every fragment is a hidden entrance that leads one directly into poetry. Every fragmentive object is as it were separated by a great divide between object for study and object of imagination. “Fracture” means the greatest possibility of alliance as well as the most abysmal depth separating our analytic faculties from our imaginative power. Imagination is a blind woman at worst, short-sighted at best, only able to look ahead for want of apprehending the infinitely close at hand. Their groping methods eventually draw poets and scientists towards one another. It is through their passionate love for mineralogy, geology or chemistry that Novalis, Goethe or Wordsworth tried to preserve the link between pure and imaginative reason, whose complexity Kant’s analysis had probed and kept apart.

No one can live for long suspended in pure reflexivity. That formal analysis soon was to leave its vacuum. Though still using “fragments” to compose his Philosophy of Nature, Schelling, himself a friend of the Jena group, gave new legitimacy to the link between within and beyond, subject and object, reconciling them with each other and rerooting them in a common ground. By reverting to the old pairing first posited by mediaeval philosophers and reactivated by Spinoza, linking Creative Nature, i.e “Natura naturans,” to Created Nature, i.e “Natura naturata,” Schelling resolved that disturbing “fracture.” Explaining how Substance could give itself to itself through the singular, through the “fragmentation” of individual experience, became his main quest. One had to conceive that each singular experience, each singular “this” could give access to the “Weltseele” (the Soul of the world). For the Soul “is a true and living presence of the Infinite in the Finite” (Fragment 93)

For Schelling as well as his poet friends, Nature was the place where Instant and Space ought to be joined together again. According to him poets desired to revert to “repos” (quietness) because “quietness and its mirroring in Space, which is quietness itself” is the very essence of Substance. (Fragment 88) One conceives that such deep nostalgia for Home should have chosen to express itself through one’s love for one’s singular birth-place. Hence that particular link to one’s Nation, in the sense of Place where one is born, that seemed to characterize German romanticism. On the other hand one should not forget either that the French Revolution was first to coin the new French sovereignty in the name of “La Nation en armes “ (Nation in arms) and to impose it on the rest of Europe. More deeply intimate, more subtly philosophical would be the pact sealed by the German romantic poet with his Little Home (petite patrie), his countryside, his local nook. And yet such link, such pact would never be questioned, let alone broken, by anyone any longer in centuries to come. Made familiar through our visual relationship to a singularly privileged landscape such a link, such a pact would become what we would always be ready to fight in defense of, to the utmost degree of our fierceness and most hypocritical lies.

Just as a matter of example, can we pause and quietly reflect, meaning “in the quietness of Space,” over Romanticism itself, standing as we do in the midst of Goethe’s city of Weimar with our eyes looking to the North towards the woody hills of Buchenwald? What barbarous act has deliberately soiled and spoiled that delicate visual link established by the Romantic poets with their immaculately initial Homeland? Could there have been a lethal hidden side to their philosophy? (…)

[From Nous sommes tous des Romantiques allemands: De Dante à Whitman en passant par Iena (Calmann-Lévy, 2002, Paris). Translaion into English by the author.]


Born in Picardy, district of Ponthieu by the sea, Jacques Darras has been composing a long poem in several Cantos since 1988, whose name “La Maye” derives from a little river in Northern France. Canto VII has just been published under the title of La Maye réfléchit (The Maye reflects) by Le Cri in Brussels (2009). In 1978 he founded the literary magazine in’hui, (To-day in the Picard language) in Amiens, now reborn in a European form as Inuits dans la Jungle (Inuits in the Jungle). An emeritus professor of English and American poetry at the University of Picardy in Amiens, he has translated Walt Whitman, Malcolm Lowry, Ezra Pound, S. T. Coleridge, William Carlos Williams, Basil Bunting, Geoffrey Hill, David Jones, Hugh MacDiarmid, and Ted Hughes. He was the first Frenchman and European ever called to deliver the Reith Lectures (1989) in celebration of the bicentenary of the French Revolution. He was awarded the Prix Apollinaire in 2004 and the Grand Prix de Poésie of the French Academy in 2006.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Aimé Césaire: Three Poems Newly Translated by Eshleman & Arnold

Translation from French by Clayton Eshleman & A. James Arnold
I have had occasion in the bewilderment of cities to search for the right animal to adore. So I worked my way back to the first times. Undoing cycles untying knots crushing plots removing covers killing hostages I searched.
Ferret. Tapir. Uprooter.
Where where where the animal who warned me of floods
Where where where the bird who led me to honey
Where where where the bird who revealed to me the fountainheads
the memory of great alliances betrayed great friendships lost through our fault exalted me
Where where where
Where where where
The word made vulgar to me
O serpent sumptuous back do you enclose in your sinuous lash the powerful soul of my grandfather?
Greetings to you serpent through whom morning shakes its beautiful mango mauve December chevelure and for whom the milk-invented night tumbles its luminous mice down its wall
Greetings to you serpent grooved like the bottom of the sea and which my heart truly unbinds for us like the premise of the deluge
Greetings to you serpent your reputation is more majestic than their gait and the peace their God gives not you hold supremely.

Serpent delirium and peace

over the hurdles of a scurrilous wind the countryside dismembers for me secrets whose steps resounded at the outlet of the millenary trap of gorges that they tightened to strangulation.

to the trashcan! may they all rot in portraying the banner of a black crow weakening in a beating of white wings.
broad and royal disgust overpowering the return in the sands of deception
spindrift nourishing the vain raft of the seagull
in the pale tempest of reassuring silences you the least frail warm yourself
You bathe yourself this side of the most discordant cries on the dreamy spumes of grass
when fire is exhaled from the widow boat that consumes the cape of the echo’s flash
just to make your successive deaths shiver all the more—green frequenting of the elements—your threat.

Your threat yes your threat body issuant from the raucous haze of bitterness where it corrupted the concerned lighthouse keeper and that whistling takes its little gallop time toward the assassin rays of discovery.

charming biter of womens’ breasts and through whom death steals into the maturity in the depths of a fruit sole lord lord alone whose multiple image places on the strangler fig’s altar the offering of a chevelure that is an octopodal threat a sagacious hand that does not pardon cowards


In the foreground and in longitudinal flight a dried-up brook drowsy roller of obsidian pebbles. In the background a decidedly not calm architecture of torn down burgs of eroded mountains on whose glimpsed phantom serpents chariots a cat’s-eye and alarming constellations are born. It is a strange firefly cake hurled into the gray face of time, a vast scree of shards of ikons of blazons of lice in the beard of Saturn. On the right very curiously standing against the squamous wall of crucified butterfly wings open in majesty a gigantic bottle whose very long golden neck drinks a drop of blood from the clouds. As for me I am no longer thirsty. It gives me pleasure to think of the world undone like an old copra mattress like an old voodoo necklace like the perfume of a felled peccary. I am no longer thirsty. All heads belong to me. It is sweet to be gentle as a lamb. It is sweet to open the great sluicegates of gentleness:

through the shaken sky
through the exploded stars
through the tutelary silence
from very far beyond myself I come toward you
woman sprung from a beautiful laburnum
and your eyes wounds barely closing
on your modesty at having been born

It is I who sings with a voice still caught up in the babbling of elements. It is sweet to be a piece of wood a cork a drop of water in the torrential flood of the end and of the new beginning. It is sweet to doze off in the shattered heart of things. I no longer have any sort of thirst. My sword made from a shark’s-tooth smile is becoming terribly useless. My mace is very obviously out of season and out of play. Rain is falling. It is a crisscross of rubble, it is a skein of steel for reinforced concrete, it is an incredible stowage of the invisible by first-rate ties, it is a branchwork of syphilis, it is the diagram of a brandy bender, it is the graphic representation of a seismic floodtide, it is a conspiracy of dodders, it is the nightmare’s head impaled on the lance point of a mob mad for peace and for bread.

I advance to the region of blue lakes. I advance to the region of sulphur springs.
I advance to my crateriform mouth toward which have I struggled enough? What have I to discard? Everything by god everything. I am stark naked. I have discarded everything. My genealogy. My widow. My companions. I await the boiling, I await the baptism of sperm. I await the wingbeat of the great seminal albatross supposed to make a new man of me. I await the immense tap, the vertiginous slap that will consecrate me as a knight of a plutonian order. I await in the depths of my pores the sacred intrusion of benediction.

And suddenly it is the outpouring of great rivers
it is the friendship of toucans’ eyes
it is the fulminating erection of virgin mountains
I am pregnant with my despair in my arms
I am pregnant with my hunger in my arms and my disgust in my mouth
I am invested. Europe patrols my veins like a pack of filariae at the stroke of midnight. To think that their philosophies tried to provide them with morals. That ferocious race won’t have put up with it.

Europe pig iron fragment
Europe low tunnel oozing a bloody dew
Europe old bag Europe
Europe old dog Europe worm-drawn coach
Europe peeling tattoo Europe your name is a raucous clucking and a muffled shock

I unfold my handkerchief it is a flag
I have donned my beautiful skin
I have adjusted my beautiful clawed paws

I hereby join all that powders the sky with its insolence all that is loyal and fraternal all that has the courage to be eternally new all that knows how to yield its heart to the fire all that has the strength to emerge from an inexhaustible sap all
that is calm and self-assured
all that is not you
eminent name of the turd

As soon as I press the little pawl that I have under my tongue at a spot that escapes all detection all microscopic bombardment all dowser divination all scholarly prospecting beneath it triple layer of false eyelashes of centuries of insults of strata of madrepores of what I must call my niagara cavern in a burst of cockroaches in a cobra twitch a tongue like a cause for astonishment makes the leap of a machine for spitting a mouthful of curses a rising of the sewers of hell a premonitory ejaculation a urinary spurt a foul emission a sulfuric rhythm feeding an uninterruption of interjections—and then right there pushing between the paving stones the furious blue eucalypti that leave far behind them the splendor of veronicas, skulls smack in the delirium of dust like the jaboticaba plum and then right there started up like the loud buzzing of a hornet the true war of devolution in which all means are justified right there the passenger pigeons of the conflagration right there the crackling of secret transmitters and the thick tufts of black smoke that resemble the vaginal vegetation thrust into the air by rutting loins. I count. Obstructing the street a honey-colored armillaria lying dwarf-like on its side a church uprooted and reduced by catastrophe to its true proportions of a public urinal. I cross over collapsed bridges. I cross under new arches. Toboggan eye at the bottom of a cheek amidst woodwinds and well-polished brasses a house abutting an abyss with in cut-away view the violated virginity of the daughter of the house the lost goods and chattels of the father and the mother who believed in the dignity of mankind and in the bottom of a wool stocking the testicles pierced by the knitting needle of an unemployed workman from distant lands.

I place my hand on my forehead it’s a hatching of monsoons. I place my hand on my dick. It fainted in leaf smoke. All the deserter light of the sky has taken refuge in the red white and yellow heated bars of snakes attentive to the wasting away of this landscape sneered at by dog piss.
For what?
The planets are very fertile birds that constantly and majestically disclose their guano silos
the earth on its spit alternatively vomits grease from each of its facets
fistfuls of fish hook their emergency lights to the pilasters of stars whose ancient slippage crumbles away during the night in a thick very bitter flavor of coca.

Who among you has never happened to strike an earth because of its inhabitants’ malice? Today I am standing and in the sole whiteness that men have never recognized in me.


NOTE BY C.E. These three poems are from Aimé Césaire’s unexpurgated 1948 text of Soleil cou coupé (Solar Throat Slashed), cotranslated by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman, to be published by Wesleyan University Press in 2011. In the late 1950s, at the same time that he was increasingly politically focused, Césaire, in effect, gelded Soleil cou coupé, cutting out 31 of the 72 poems in the collection, and editing out a significant amount of material from another 29, leaving only 12 poems untouched. To this revised text was added the 1949 10 poem collection, Corps perdu (Lost Body). This material was then published in 1961 as Cadastre (looking at this word now, I always see the shadow of “castration” in it). For decades, Cadastre has represented Soleil cou coupé.

However, in 1994, with the publication of Césaire’s La Poésie, the eliminated poems, along with the lines cut from the revised ones, were reprinted as "Soleil cou coupé: poèmes non repris dans la version définitive.” Arnold and I are in agreement that the unexpurgated 1948 Soleil cou coupé is probably Césaire’s MOST substantial and powerful collection of poems. Concerning the three poems printed here: “To the Serpent” and “Forfeiture” were both eliminated from Cadastre. In the case of “At the Locks of the Void,” a dozen lines were cut, and what was left of the poem appeared in Cadastre.

The revision of the last two lines of the poem is quite striking: “Europe / eminent name of the turd” was changed to: “considerable hiccup.” Readers can check out the 1961 revision in Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry (cotranslated by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith, University of California Press, 1983).

--Clayton Eshleman, January 2010]

[N.B. A further translation from Césaire appeared here on December 16, 2012.]

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Nathaniel Tarn: From Anthropologist to Informant, a Field Record of Gary Snyder (Part Two)

[Tarn’s comments continue in parentheses and italics, Snyder’s in roman type. For Part One of the interview click here. ]

(When pressed on this a little - take Barthes’ highly sophisticated S/Z for instance I’m teaching right now - admits graciously that maybe he has not quite kept up with increasing sophistication of narrative technique studies. NT disagrees a little with feelings about Ph.D. Things start getting repetitive after the Ph.D. These blank sheets in Rangoon the second time round and a big howl of “No” inside...”Did you ever feel also that the mental orientations were ultimately in conflict: you know, a certain kind of allegiance to ‘objective’ fact on the one hand going against the alchemist in you on the other?”)

GS: Oh yes, very much that! And then the sense that in the world of folklore and mythology there’s a...wisdom tradition if you like, half buried but that poets can dig it out and anthropologists can’t and aren’t allowed to...Three years out of the field, I think I realized that I didn’t want to be the anthropologist but the informant. That’s it: wanting to be a subject by which I mean being authentically what you are. I made it a rule in Japan not to elicit information that didn’t come out naturally in my relationships with people. By really living with people you can enter into certain things... but then there’s the difficulty of keeping quiet, of not betraying trust. I was, yes, conscious of the “danger” of being an anthropologist; at the beginning, yes, I collected information, but in the world of Zen now, I’m an informant.

(NT: “Well like not being obliged to ask a certain type of question any more, just being allowed to be with people and not swamped by the culture coming at you 24 hours a day.” “On the other hand, it leaves one with a certain attitude to fact, right?”: cf. Note to The Beautiful Contradictions: “For him - the anthropologist - scientific records serve as a formal constraint, as well as a point of departure, for the imagination and faithful topography may be very near to the concept of justice.”)

GS: Yes, I continue to respect facts. To have your facts right is to allow yourself the latitude to be far out in other ways


GS: I admire it but I could never do it myself. Philip Lamantia, an old friend, is the leading Surrealist poet in America. I read him with great pleasure.

(“How were other writers reacting to Anthropology?”)

GS: Whalen was a great reader. He was a veteran of World War II and had a better library than Reed College in certain subjects. He had a big collection on Indian Philosophy. He read a lot of anthropology. Very remarkable man. Dell, Dell of course was more of a poet then than an anthropologist, he was very romantic, revolutionary poet, a good poet. Now he’s gone the other way. Yes, Kerouac and Ginsberg were interested, but they weren’t respecters of the fact, you know, like people who’ve been through this are respecters of the fact ...

(“And after Indiana?” )

GS: I began to move towards Oriental studies. I had the sudden realization that Anthropology was concerned with understanding human nature - but then why go to other people, why not study one’s own nature? So ... Zen. When I’d firmly decided that all this was to be done as a poet, then I went to Berkeley: 1953-55. I told the Head of Oriental Studies, Ed Schafer, with whom I still correspond, that I would never take a higher degree. At that time Oriental Studies had precious few people, they were glad to get students. I still tell young people, I make a pedagogical point of getting kids to learn about as many cultures as possible: Anthropology replaces History in this respect.

(Ask about any kinship felt with Olson’s Sumeria, Maya etc. I’ve noticed Olson never really comes up in Snyder’s work ...)

GS: I never came to Olson. I was rather put off by the Mayan Letters, the Romanticism and the lack of scholarly seriousness. Around 1953. I never trusted Olson as a scholar. Maybe its an East Coast thing against a West Coast thing. Non-Americans think we’re all the same, but West Coast is West Coast.

(Express surprise; instance Olson’s useful work on Maya fisheries for a start - (meeting CO for the first time at Bled in 64 or so, taking him the first Cape contract, saying, on meeting, just finished the Letters/him: well? well? as a Mayanist? - But Charles, you spend the whole book telling Mayanists to go to hell! - Ah!...Well, never mind, what do you think of it, what do you think of it? Very excited...) and Dorn among the Shoshone?)

GS: I always felt that Olson was an apologist for Western Culture; the trip from Sumeria to Gloucester a sort of justification for White-America. I do dig Olson poetically. Well, not since the beginning have people gone dryshod from Europe to the U.S. and people have gone dry shod from Asia to America. That makes a difference, Ships? Well, it’s not as old as walking. And animals walked before men. As for Dorn: he came late to the Shoshone and under Olson’s aegis. He didn’t really like living in Idaho. Now Duncan is possibly my favorite poet, of now. Duncan is Gnostic whereas Olson was esoteric. You know: Duncan, Spicer and Blaser were all students of the great Medievalist Kantarovich at Berkeley. Spice ... Spicer as a matter of fact was part Indian; he looked like a Sioux. I don’t know what he was: I think Sioux or Cherokee. He didn’t go into Indian things specifically but if you look at the Grail poems and Billy the Kid, you’ll see it was there…And Rexroth now: one of the first poets to clearly invoke Amerindian songs.

(Can we go back into the past a bit? What about Fiedler’s The Return of the Vanishing America?)

GS: Fiedler: yes, but cranky. Looking for faggots under every bush. I start from someone like Lawrence who said “when you think the Indians are gone look out”. And there’s that kickoff I’ll use for the final version of Mountains and Rivers: “Where there aint no Indians that’s where you find them thickest”. Jim Bridges said that, great mountain men in the 1820s and 30s.

(“What I meant was” (this unerring sense of his for scholarly transmission) “do you have any sense of lineage?”)

GS: Well, Jeffers is very important to me as the man who claimed for the values of nature against those of technology. And Whitman: a sort of 19th century positive Jeffers. Lawrence I’ve mentioned. Pound: an American trying to construct a myth out of the lore of Europe and Asia with varying degrees of success. Rexroth a neo-classicist with his base in Greek, American Indians, etc. A great reclaimer. Further back? I find it difficult to relate to past America because it’s Christian. I find it easier to go back to the Greek Anthology, the Romans, the medieval Chinese.

(No mention of the great Mesoamerican phenomenon: Maya/Mexican/Inca?)

GS: No, too abstract for me. You see, it was closer for me to get to China because it LOOKS so much more like the North West Pacific Coast!

(Can’t help expatiating on the glories of “my” Americas. Hold that only in a few places up here can one see the grandeur of the Center: the great Kiva at Chaco Canyon, e.g., greater than the one at Aztec that he has seen. Summer of 70: goodbye to Rothenberg at Aztec, after beginning Alcheringa I in Santa Fe …)

GS: It’s the next order of business and my wife is as keen on it as I am. I want to learn Spanish and then, off to Mexico. Since India, I’ve felt I’d be o.k. in a place like Mexico.

(“A few last shots…What about your syncretism?” (GS blank) “well, in Earth House Hold, e.g., p. 57: “involuntary gassho and bow to the virgin” note how you capitalize Buddhist icons but not others usually. I’m referring to my notion that syncretism is mankind’s lot: only the very privileged can afford purism")

GS: Syncretism: yes in theory; no in practice. Both Buddhists and Gnostics agree on this. My practice is now syncretistic but on after years of orthodox practice in Rinzai Zen. My teacher now agrees to this search here for ways of living Zen in America. Padmasambhava is my model here: the great Buddhist acculturater who took Buddhism to Tibet. Making contact with local spirits, getting onto terms with them.

(“Levi-Strauss? You mention him in Earth House Hold. I wasn’t quite sure there how you were seeing him?”)

GS: Fascinating, a genius, but a rationalist. The insights are circumscribed by the commitment to rationalism. The dimension provided in Anthropology by someone like Casteneda is not open to Levi-Strauss. What’s useful in him is the stress on the intellectual power of the primitives. This is his major insight: yes, I agree it came late in his thinking…I have read everything that Levi-Strauss has done in English.

(Notice signs of tiredness. Suggest we are drawing to a close …)

GS: Yes, that was good. It helped me put some order into my thoughts. Now you must reconstitute this conversation.

(“I’ll send it to you. You should check it out.”)

GS: Yes, and now what do you think of all this?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Book of Shadows, for Tita Reut

History is over.
In another world
you find another
young as you,
your shadow
over his, the two
together, sharing
hidden sorrows,
thoughts of
expiation. The world
does not forgive.


The neighbors cross the boulevard
in pairs.
The door adjacent to
our thoughts shut also.
Therefore they shift
their legs between
short bursts,
the cadence of a march,
old world, old
fashioned melodies
unheard. A single hand
can sweep the board.
A single eye can glimpse
a shadow of the cosmos
through a pin hole.


She is a princess,
fresh as soap
she meets you at the gare,
French dolls like ghosts
step forth at midday.
Everyone is sportif
geared for speed
never to turn a shoulder,
to name a game for love.
Their aim is circular,
it follows where you lead them,
down a secret path,
into a basement
shadowed by
your childhood dream,
a lurking hole,
then up the backstairs
lost to sleep,
concealments of a borrowed life
outside the circle.


The cavern of the universe
widens each morning.
My head fills up with dew,
the father writes,
having no home but where
his shadow leads him.
In greasy shirtsleeves, heavy
lids, blotched faces,
the men pursue
a trail of tears,
unbuttoned captive
to a dream,
a starless galaxy,
the deeper sky
a field of images
measureless & mindless,
absent their god.


It was always dark.
The red hole’s
wetness threatened
the lost sheep.
Sharp exchanges
were not clearly heard.
Rivers did
not flow.
You did not defend
your brother.
We ascend
toward progress.
I scratch fire &
remove it from your throat.
I run out of
distant shadows
now that no one
tries to stop
the passage from a city
that is drowning.


I look for lights
under my fingers.
I will take them & will make
foolish minds wise.
Then when I flick my half closed eyes
your mouth will open wide
& I will sail by with my flags.
You will applaud me
when I scratch for cash
under your shadows.
I who am geared to tear down
what you build
your houses like your ashes
swept away.


Poetry is made in bed
for some for me
the call of life is stronger.
I walk & see my shadow
hanging upside down
with yours. The way
your mouth says I
is just like mine.
I multiply
the little portion
that your fingers
I cannot comprehend
the way men kill
or laugh. I will not
vouch for them.
There is a space to burrow in
under the covers.
The way he wants to kiss
while vomiting
is part of life. The way
he calls on death
trumpets his own.


I is an other gaunt
& somewhat turned
into the light.
I threatens to return,
is hungry now
for power
as for love.
He is my own, becomes
my shadow
I reach a hand to him
& freeze.
I cannot speak
without him
though we try.


I run from shadows
to avoid old people
maddened by God.
I follow animals
whose eyes at night
mirror my face.
Seeing myself asleep
I touch my arm.
I celebrate
new forms of sex.
I am frantic
knowing that nobody
has a way out
or a face
more marked than
I was not
born live


It is a shame to watch
my face to see it
running through your hands
like jelly.
I am my own
dark friend
a shadow set against
a darker shadow.
I hear a sound
like pianos
buried in the earth.
The pressure of my feet
against the pedals
opens a flood.
A carrousel is bobbing
up & down.
The happy singer
enters paradise
with seven others.


There are some who shadow us
for what we love.
Nightly the passengers
still blind me
while I bind their wounds.
I feel their final jabs
between the covers & the sea
no time for preening.
I watch my feet move
among the stars.
Everything we offer
to the world
is what the world gives back
without a thought
or breath.


Coda to A Book of Shadows

What is remembered
of the dead is how
they tottered, little more
to write, & less
to pass a test
at understanding.
How discreet
to dance here in a hall
of shadows,
or to sit this moment,
dozing in the fast train,
while the clouds
take shape, even
as they leave
their shadows, like the dead
across the fields.
I am more alive
for thinking of them,
knowing that the time
draws nigh,
the outline disappears,
& dark as Monday
I am marching
with the fathers, ready
to mark my presence
in their ranks.


[The preceding poems were commissioned as a suite & are scheduled for publication, with photos by the author, in a series of artists’ books published by Tita Reut under the imprint of Les Editions de l’Ariane. The poems themselves, all but the closing coda, are fragments from the author’s A Book of Witness (Un livre de temoignage), a part of which was translated into French by Tita Reut & Joseph Guglielmi & published with illustrations by Arman in 2002.]

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Reconfiguring Romanticism (35) -- McClure, Rothenberg, Scalapino

[An announcement for any in range]

An evening of Romantic Poetry
with Michael McClure, Jerome Rothenberg, Leslie Scalapino

City Lights Books, San Francisco
Thursday, January 14th, 7:00 p.m.

Poetry must have something in itthat is barbaric, vast and wild.
-- D. Diderot

In the spirit of an experimental and visionary romanticism that links closely with the experimental modernisms of where we are right now, McClure, Rothenberg and Scalapino will read from and discuss the works of acknowledged Romantics and postromantics like Blake, Shelley, Goethe, Hugo, Whitman, Dickinson, and Rimbaud, as well as poems of their own in the newest and oldest of romantic traditions. The reading will also include works outside of conventional literatures and national boundaries, sound poems and non-sense poems, prose poems and visual poems, journal poems and fragment poems, outsider poems and aboriginal poems, shouted poems and whispered poems. The evening will let new ideas fly from the poems, the audience, and the readers.

Michael McClure's next two books are Of Indigo and Saffron from UC Press, and Mysteriosos and other poems from New Directions. McClure performed on December 8th with The Charles Lloyd Quartet in Los Angeles at Disney Hall.

Jerome Rothenberg is the author of over seventy books of his own poetry (thirteen from New Directions) and major assemblages of experimental and traditional poetry such as Technicians of the Sacred and Poems for the Millennium, the third volume of which is a no-holds barred anthology of romantic and postromantic poetry.

Leslie Scalapino is the author of thirty books of poetry, fiction, essays, and poem-plays, the most recent being: Day Ocean State of Stars' Night published by Green Integer; and It's go in horizontal, Selected Poems 1974-2006 published by UC Press, Berkeley, 2007.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Enzo Minarelli: Quality and virtue of the performing voice (with a note and a manifesto)

The performing voice is the sum of so many voices: it is authentic, archetypal, bewitching, it comes directly from the deep interiority of the body, and through the body from the beyond, metaphysical, ontological voice, a voice dialectic for ever, a critical voice in its social integrity, an electronic voice in its intermediality, natural and artificial, the murmur of the mouth to regenerate and to deform; a distorted voice, phonetic stream like a God’s word to be accepted without any opposition, royal voice, superior voice, in its oneness, voice of vitalism, maybe a voice of utopia.

Inside the practices called polypoetry and sound poetry, the voice builds up its supremacy over writing, an absolute, unmistakeable primacy, never debated, whether or not technology is used. The voice is the centre of its being operative, it is the pivot around which the whole wheel turns, the first motor that drives everything.

Such a primacy is not directly tied to the chosen medium. The primary medium is the mouth, slot with an intermittent opening, guided by cerebral energies, by the soul’s energies. The mouth discharges clouds of white smoke, untouchable, impregnable, only kissable.

Corporal voicing, unlike urine and excrement which isolate and reject, is capable of making a union, enchanting and provoking a shock.

One has to understand, starting from the incontrovertibility of such a statement, that the poet thinks of his work only for the purpose of an oral processing-performance-fruition. He or she is the producer-maker of the verbal message; he has planned it and he performs it live, only then, the receiver (the audience) is allowed to see, to listen.

All takes place inside the components of space and time, the poet acts in a context, say, a theatre stage, an art gallery, an auditorium, a square, and it is exactly in these places that the performing event of the poem happens.

The sound poem is therefore performed in real time, and this is the unique chance the audience has to enjoy it correctly. In a way, there is only this single event, as live intervention. Although the sound poem is always the same, it has some unrepeatable background (the local-humoral co-ordinates).

Undoubtedly, a good performance is the direct consequence of a perfect, symbiotic balance between audience and performer. It is the answer to their own dialogue, a dialogized inter-connection.

Where the voice of the poet runs as a fluid, sprinkling the faces of the spectators, the voice of the performer and the ears of the audience play really hyper-active roles to reach the desired climax of a total acoustic comprehension.

Such a crescendo-coupling which does not always happen, and we may not to take it for granted, is the opposite of Brecht’s so called denouement. On the contrary, this climax is a cybernetic process where three poles turn continuously, exchanging their roles: the audience re-sends its own signal into the circle of communication, as does the poet. The performance message, a poetic Ping-Pong ball, is thrown from one side to the other. The poet’s warm breath, which comes from his interiority, from his deep ego, a spiritual breath, re-makes the message, giving it that ethereal imprint which will be absorbed equally by the audience, who, in turn, do not re-transmit the message through an oral form, but through their silent auscultating state, re-send the corporal vibrations, magnetic waves due to the excitement of their being there to hear. The audience, willy-nilly, suffers changes of skin, of emotion. The audience alters during the performing intervention. There is a modified state due to the dynamic energy left in the air by the poet-performer, who receives feed-back as a further input to improve himself, to do better and better, to exhibit the muscles of his own spirit.

We wish we could consider that the voice of the poet is able to veil, to cover the contents as if with a soft layer of transparent dew, allowing everything to be seen, a psycho-visual enchantment, an epiphanic dew.

The audience members themselves are the first to catch the core of the message, to see it, and they are quick to take possession of it. But they are unable to keep it because during the performance, their pores are so enlarged that they are obliged to emit it anew. This means that the sound poet is successful, going straight to the conclusion of his poetical orgasm in unison with the audience, in his utopian belief of transubstantiation.


NOTE & MANIFESTO. Since the early 1970s Enzo Minarelli has been an important maker & shaker of sound poetry, video poetry, & performance art, bringing earlier modes of experimental writing & performance into a contemporary context. In his “Manifesto of Polypoetry” from the late 1980s, he sets out the following program:

1. Only the development of the new technologies will mark the progress of sound poetry: the electronic media and the computer are and will be the true protagonists.

2. The object "language" must be increasingly investigated in its smallest and largest parts: the word, basis of sound experimentation, takes the characters of multi-word, broken into its inner body, restitched at its exterior. The word must be able to free its own manifold sonorities.

3. The exploitation of sound has no limits. It must be carried beyond the border of pure noise, a signifying noise: linguistic and oral ambiguity has a sense only if it completely uses the instruments of the mouth.

4. The recovery of the sense of time (the minute, the second), apart from the laws of harmony and disharmony, because only through editing is the right parameter of synthesis and balance found.

5. Language is rhythm. Tone values are real vectors of meaning: first an act of rationality, then an act of emotion.

6. Polypoetry is devised and realized for the live show; it gives to sound poetry the role of prima donna or starting point to link relations with musicality (accompaniment or rhythmic line), mimicry, movement, and dance (acting or extension or integration of the sound text), image (television or slide projection, by association, explanation or alternative and redundancy), light, space, costumes, and objects.

[From "Manifesto of Polypoetry," published for the first time in the catalogue Trames d'Art (Valencia, Spain, 1987) and later in the catalogue A più voci (Florence, Italy: Festival of Sound Poetry, 1989). Translated from Italian by Harry Polkinhorn.]

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Case of Liu Xiaobo of China: An Update

[This is a followup to a posting on May 10, 2008, of an excerpt from the Charter 08 Manifesto, a declaration of human rights to which the Chinese writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo was a principal signatory and organizer. An earlier petition on Liu Xiaobo’s behalf can be found at]

New York City, December 25, 2009-PEN American Center President Kwame Anthony Appiah issued the following statement in response to the conviction of writer and fellow PEN member Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced today by a Beijing court to 11 years in prison for his writings:

"The show trial of Liu Xiaobo by the Chinese authorities is a scandal. It denies him his rights under international human rights law and basic morality. It makes a mockery of the promises of freedom in the Chinese Constitution. And it confirms that, for all the superficial changes of recent years, China still has a profoundly totalitarian regime. I especially deplore the cynicism of the decision to announce this sentence when so many people around the world are celebrating a season of peace and goodwill.

"PEN American Center stands in solidarity with our fellow writer, Liu Xiaobo, and with his family. We must keep attention on his case-and his courageous example-as we fight for his release in the days and months ahead. The Chinese government must understand how the world views Liu's trial and conviction. If his great nation with its extraordinary cultural traditions is to play the role in the world to which her government and her people now aspire, the regime is going to have to learn to respect the fundamental rights of her own citizens.

"We wish the Chinese government could find better ways to acknowledge the significance of her writers than throwing them in prison. We call on President Hu Jintao to reverse this injustice and to release Liu and the scores of other Chinese who have been imprisoned for simply speaking their minds.”

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, the world's oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center, which works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled, has been working to end China's imprisonment, harassment, and surveillance of writers and journalists and curtail Internet censorship and other restrictions on the freedom to write in that country.