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

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

E. Tracy Grinnell: from “body of war / songs” with a note on the process

after Danielle Collobert

the crowds
evisceral     subjects     sun-setting
in the sun
clashes waste
            depopulating fray




the revolt
in spasms
                        human or plastic

   shadows grounding
in flashes of emptiness, rhetoric

galleries of disaster
so the remove
of frozen images

habitation of
because earth absorbs shock

hands absent horizons
impotently against
the walls


the deep tombs, sink under
stones arranged
the stones and gold

      from another source
pierces the front
of solitude

the passage

the reflection of an abyss
in the morning


futility mirrors
the inertia
of the face filtered
through an obsolete

the wind
hands, raised
carries off voices

what we hear of it
the nightmare
sounds off

the infant is born
into an aging infantry
carried aloft
against the earth

on again
against a cliff’s edge

the fire nourishes
by what it consumes


attention of destruction to
           cradled into uncertainties
   the corpsman logs
what lays before

torrential forces
force of machinery’s
           hard certainty 

searches the seas
peopled with the coins
of our present 

are erasures of
immovable figure

of heros
who are


errant mutations

Note.  On “body of war / songs”

In 1961 Danielle Collobert self-published an edition of poems titled Chants des guerres. Some years later, she attempted to destroy all copies of the book. I came to these particular poems via It Then, via her Notebooks 1956-1978, and recently Murder, first as reader and then as editor/publisher. After the recent release of Murder (translated by Nathanaël, published by Litmus Press), I went back to Chant des guerres to read them in the original French (they are not translated into English). “body of war / songs” is that foray into reading her early poems.

As with my other explorations/experiments in translation, I consider translation a mode of reading, and/or reading a mode of translating, and both as a mode of writing. “body of war / songs” is very much after Collobert, temporally, as homage, but also as exploratory translation. Initially, I ‘faithfully’ translated the terse minimalist poems, leaving spaces for words I did not know. Then I translated some of these spaces, using a dictionary, or making a homophonic translation. Then I simply wrote through the text as if it were my own. Words shifted, altered, moved across the page, filled in, departed.

There are a couple things that interested me about this process of translating/creating – that Collobert’s writing was so familiar to me, that the words, the syntax itself, felt familiar. Not just because I have known her work since 1998 or so but because of poetic affinity, of writing the body in/into the poems. The sense of body, of the alienation of our bodies even in community. A sense of bodies moving through the world and touching / not touching. The remove. Also, it struck me that these poems written in 1961 could have been written now, or at any time in the last 50 years: what has actually changed? War is an ongoing, perpetual, mode. How pressing that these poems – Collobert’s – know this. It presses, as relevant, but also as pressure to write it, rewrite it.

In some ways, the distance between my poem and hers, the distance in time, in language, in other removes, between our poems and the wars they address, is also the distance between ‘zone’ and war zone. The remove of the U.S. from the carnage it enacts, the remove under which we in the U.S. are able to move about. Under drones, yes, fearful in the face of a lack of agency or ability to alter, yes, but with a very different sense of security. So when the carnage punctuates the remove, as it did in Boston most recently, we must translate this proximity into compassion, empathy – a deeper level of comprehension.

[E. Tracy Grinnell is the author of Some Clear Souvenir (O Books, 2006), and Music or Forgetting (O Books, 2001). An excerpt from Helen: A Fugue was published alongside Leslie Scalapino’s A Pear / Actions Are Erased / Appear in volume #1 of Belladonna’s Elder Series (2008). New and recent work is collected in the manuscripts Hell Figures, portrait of a lesser subject, and All the Rage. She is the founding editor and director of Litmus Press.]

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