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

Friday, April 3, 2015

Ariel Resnikoff: A New Poem from “Avoidances,” with author’s note & commentary

[Ariel Resnikoff is best known at this point for his translations from the Yiddish poetry of Mikhl Likht & others, but with “Avoidances” he clearly sets out as a composer of poems in his own right & in a line as well with other poets with whom he shares a name.  His Likht translations & his writings on Likht & Zukofsky have appeared several times on Poems and Poetics, & he has been resident since last September in the doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania, where his good works continue. (J.R.)]

Teachings of the Magic Kohl-Rabi

: Aleph

No place

psephos matter—

ambient                             constant            
 tentative            suspension

—a substance fixed. For            

fluent thought
it orders 
chaos into things

the magic Kohl-Rabi speaks:

 ex          |             peri       |             ment

from danger in
-to experience.

& the question of not
whether it is 
or isn’t 
but if you can see by it.

The glowing speech made
a sea

-faring people
go blind

from  Ellis Island  
to Palestine   

out of necessity

by law of broken mirror 
made all things true

we can-not read

: Beys

Still or text
or local
or imported
four or five 
oil sketches
on paper
leaving Athens. Those

of reproductions
were the “tr” b/w
ship & water

‘s language

fat chance.
My avoidance
says the Kohl
shall be  
the cut.

: Giml

4 breads,
4 ways  
               I’m fed 
                              -- the thick, coarse
lower stuff
in upper foods called 
forward --  
                              thinner than

Grinded ash (from gold)
thrown in 

w/ holy 
my body 

drunk on bullion  

5 Prepositions 

1 present aim
‘s to avoid
the fork’s


what it asks

things it forgets
in memory
basic utterance

2 actions
in circle I

by hand

my mouth &

doubled me

3 me’s
I I am am  

stabbed on the gold
-en prongs 

my presence

4 lives tell
in skin



asking, demanding

5 gates
from simple
to most
vague statements

a past
body for

exits on

[author’s note.  The title of the cycle, Avoidances, has multiple connotations across English-Yinglish-Yiddish-Hebrew. In English, "avoiding" solidity, conclusion, paraphrase; producing meaning which does not close on itself but opens outward onto multiple potentials; the avoid-dance of never settling on both feet at once for very long. In this way, I'm interested also in a legacy of nomadic poetry, both modern Jewish & pre-islamic Qasida, which is always on the move, tho not linearly, but, rather, by a process of encircling. In Hebrew "Avoda"; in Yinglish & Yiddish, "Avoyda": understood in modern terms as "work" either in the external world or on the internal self; in the ancient context, Avo(y)da as sacrifice, a ceremony of giving away something precious to God. Also associated with "avo(y)da-zara" or idol worship: sacrifice to the wrong source. Avoidances as a process of vast & contradictory containment, multilingual meaning, which is constantly pivoting toward plurality.

The Magic Kohl-Rabi, whose teachings begin the cycle & reappear thru-out,  also crosses a number of language/meaning boundaries. From a Germanic standpoint, a "Cabbage-Turnip" vegetable; From a Hebraic vantage, the Kohl (=voice) of the Rabi (=Rabbi, sage, elder). The idea of playing on the name came first from my glee at stumbling upon the kabbalistically-infused artichoke & emerald lettuces of Duncan's "What Do I Know of the Old Lore." I find something extremely exciting & powerful in Duncan's ability to attach spiritual/mythic potency to things as banal, but also, as essential, as garden vegetables.  The Kohlrabi is a favorite among the group of poets I spent time with in Israel/Palestine, especially the American Hebrew poet, Harold Schimmel, who ceremoniously prepares & eats it daily & would often comment to me about its unique characteristics. The most important aspect of the Kohlrabi for Schimmel (who, at times, speaks thru the MK"R in the poems) is that the vegetable is a root that takes on visible scars when it is cut from the ground. Its skin tells a story then, (the first taste is with your eyes!) of a cut, thru the strange & beautiful scarring patterns that manifest. The poems in Avoidances are all dealing in some way with the implications of "cutting" -- from place, history, language, etc. -- & the multifarious ways these cuttings become scarred (or scored). The Magic Kohl-Rabi is the muse of the cut: not a singular voice but a constellation of teachings which speaks to the poetics & aesthetics of dis-location. (A.R.)]

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