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, December 18, 2014

For Milos Sovak in memoriam: Vitezslav Nezval’s “The Heart of the Musical Clock” (1924), a collaborative translation

On January 26, 2009, nearly six years ago, Milos Sovak died after a long illness.  Our friendship had lasted over thirty years & gave me the opportunity to work with him on a series of translations, the most important a book of selected poems from the great Czech modernist Vitezslav Nezval & scattered poems from the late Russian Romantic Mikhail Lermontov.  Our collaborations took place mainly in the sunlit garden of his home in Encinitas, California, & occasionally in his other home in Provence, close to Mazan & the chateau & theater of the Marquis de Sade.  Milos was himself a gifted translator into Czech & the designer, typographer, & publisher of limited edition artists’ books through his own Ettan Press in California.  He was a good friend to many poets & artists, & most remarkably an important medical researcher & the inventor of an impressive range of devices in many fields.  The felicities in what follows are largely of his doing.                        

Someday to have gone that far
to slip the white glove off
your eye fixed on that one spot on the ring
reality in motion colors sounds & smells
the clock in motion too but different
but different too from science
& from buying a new tie & looking all around you
but different too from thinking hard about it


In the end the upholsterer will have to be invited
at dusk the gardener lights the lights in the asparagus
& in the rosy raspberries a caterpillar’s sleeping


Oh that fantastic doll in her green furs
There was that Japanese picture you once gave me
I lost it somewhere in a crush of people
there isn’t any need to go that far for it
have you observed the laces on the bosoms of your lady friends?
that’s what poetry is all about

A bird landed in the roses & broke its wing
once we could all learn something from these birds
but the bird landed in the bushes broke its wing & now says nothing
listening to the music of the wingless flugelhorn

Oh you pink watermills
a star fell in the clock & now it spins around!
let’s go & wind up all those stars
whenever somebody betrays you
then it’s time to fly in closer
Creole women back  in Buenos Aires shining on the promenade
up there in the airplane
& in the pocket mirror

A butterfly has settled in a box
it was the butterflies pinned down we most regretted
but you were pinning words down with a dagger

I pressed the letter to my heart
& died

In the calendar it says the month of May
oh all you sixteen year old boys & twenty-seven year old women
in the calendar it says the month of May
& you there with a head & hands & legs
So I would change into a kiss a word a smell
would dissipate & vanish
like a dandelion

                                                         The windmill of the seasons

A summer night of violets & fireworks out in the little garden

 Spring serenades you on a sugary guitar With autumn there are
                                                                                           [walks & walkers
a nickelodeon plunks on all morning            an English park complete
                                                                                           [with fountain

                      In winter best  of all (oh yes) to be a fan held by a lady

                                                   Windmill of love & the four corners
                                                   On the night stand Poudre Inconnu 

In the Chinese silk a charm                 The red handkerchief conceals a
as of the almond tree                                                      [dreadful dagger

                       Southlands of love the Oranges the mouths the lemons

[collage with words by Teige] 

What is the most beautiful thing inside the coffee house?
The red white flowers on the terrace across the way


Some magazines look like the map of Oceania
what will my magazine named Siren look like?

the glances

Love is running along a line of lemon fizzes
the sparkling acrobatics of these eyes
oh you my sweetest bonbons
where does this fun & games express train run to?
from eye to eye into your green arcadia
the snow is interlaced with pink adornments
& maybe best of all a super ice cream
oh stay asleep my little vermin

oh you my cardinal stay fast asleep

an event

First we thought it was a secret sign
it could have been a MENU
only it was a calendar
above it there a burnt-out bulb was hanging
until an absolutely white man sauntered by
a woman with her face completely white
oh yes it only was a calendar
I don’t remember the moon any more
ostensibly it didn’t shine
ostensibly it was the new moon

Those incredibly small wives are our real heroes
relentlessly they call you on the phone
oh in your heart the bell plays games with you forever
each one of them gets on & screams HELLO!
lays the receiver down
& keeps you on hold until you die


                                GLOBE - light
                                GLOBE - bearer
                                GLOBE - worm
                                GLOBE - star
                                GLOBE - gloom
                                GLOBE - trotter

Someday to have gone that far
to cast aside your weary civilization
so all realities will glow in ultraviolet
but 17 poems will still be something different
& different too from what you first intended
from thinking hard & long to write a poem


NOTE. Nezval (1900-1958) was, with Velimir Holan, one of the two great early poets of Czech experimental modernism. Like other innovators then & now, he worked through a prolific sweep of modes & genres: open & closed forms of verse; novels drawn from his childhood & more surreal, chance-oriented prose works; avant-garde theater collaborations; numerous translations of his modern counterparts & predecessors (Rimbaud, Apollinaire, Neruda, Lorca, Eluard, et al.); & forays as composer, painter, journalist, photographer, & (from 1945 to 1951) director of the film section of the Information & Culture Ministry in Prague. His commitment to Communism came early (1924), & his politics before & after made him a prominent member of that network of tolerated avant-gardists/poet-heroes that included Neruda, Brecht, Picasso, Hikmet, Eluard, & Tzara, among others (with some of whom he shared pro-forma hymns to Stalin in the early postwar years). As with many of them also, a Surrealist connection was clearly in evidence but should in no sense diminish the originality of his own practice & its contribution to ours.

The poem presented here is from a longer selection,
Antilyrik & Other Poems, translated by myself & Milos Sovak & published by Green Integer Books in 2001. (J.R.)

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