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

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Note and Poem for Jean Pierre Faye and "Change"

I came into the orbit of Change, the magazine & the collective, in the early 1970s – a visit to Paris that Mitsou Ronat, who had spent some time in California, arranged for me. There was then what I remember as a close relationship between Change & Action Poétique – both interested, certainly, in what I & other American poets were doing – & there were gatherings that brought the two together, one or two that I attended in a bookstore on St. André des Arts. It was also on that visit that I gave a reading – the first I had ever done in Paris – at Jacques Roubaud’s apartment on Rue de la Harpe. I was then living on an Indian reservation in western New York state, & for some time before I had been translating & working on traditional American Indian poetry. That led me to perform some poetry in a way that was apparently new for Paris (& new for me as well) – shaking a Seneca Indian horn rattle & chanting other songs translated or composed by what I came to call “total translation” from Navajo. But the most important thing for me was that I came to meet a number of French poets & active writers who brought me into areas of contemporary work & thought that I hadn’t known before.

The times then were askew, as they have always been during our lives, & Change within those times was a miracle or a part of a miracle shared with projects from around the world that I came to know & in which I was able to participate. Jean Pierre Faye was one of my principal guides here – as I hope I was for him – & in his presence & in those of others who became good friends & comrades-in-poetry (& in life), I felt for the first time the truly international character of the work that we were doing. Through him & the Collectif Change, with its self-identification as “le mouvement du change des formes,” my first book in French (Poèmes pour le jeu du silence) appeared 1978 in Christian Bourgois’ Collection Change Sauvage.. I also acted as American correspondent for Change & for Change International, its short-lived successor, & Jean Pierre cooperated with me on New Wilderness Letter, my own magazine of the late 1970s & early 1980s. (The name “New Wilderness” stares out at me from the cover of Change 36, the issue that took as its subtitle “S&T [Set] International.)

For me Jean Pierre Faye’s relevance was & remains that of a poet, a talent & an occupation that forms the living center from which the rest of his work emerges. That work, because he is so much a poet, has a wholeness that brings together poetry with a real poetics & with a complex philosophical, linguistic & historical consciousness & conscience – a stance-toward-reality (to use Charles Olson’s term) that forms the link between the “change des formes” (now further realized) & the still projected change of life & language that continues to elude us. In all of this it was our common ambition to cross boundaries of nation & mind – a move (as he put it in the manifesto for Change International in 1983) toward “une circulation entre les forces de culture de pays différents … [et] une approche sans frontières de lieux ou de thèmes”.

The poem printed below & newly dedicated to him & to our common work in Change and New Wilderness comes in the aftermath of the September 11th attack on New York, to which I was with many others an unwilling witness. Still in progress, as the time itself is, the poem is my own recollection of world war, cold war, & those wars of culture & religion that loom as the clear & present danger for the century on which we’ve just embarked. “Blessèd terror” is Bin Laden’s phrase of course, as “shock & awe” (in the third section) is ours, & together they compose a “totalitarian language” (renewed) that Jean Pierre may understand far better than I do. It had been my early hope that poetry (or something like poetry) would be the antidote to such a language, and while I no longer believe that to be the case (except, I want to say, for us), I will continue, as I trust that he will, in that hope.

* * *

Blessèd Terror
A Poem in Progress
for Jean Pierre Faye
. . . . . . .

blessèd terror
issues from his mouth
as words,
like poems from yours:
it is a pinnacle
the true sum of our days
of the earth on which we’ve walked,
where men & animals
lie broken,
a century of flames & ashes
that a mad man stokes,
bad poet mixing
art & life,
sad witnesses in whom his words
cohere, their flesh
as the universe will also be,
no god in sight

that death could fall from heaven on so many,
right in the middle of rushed life

Picasso, 1967

the sky has failed us waking crazed
to hear death falling in a space
outside the center where we watch
the crowds push down the road the statue
in the harbor sparkling in the sun
our teeth still caked from last night’s
catch a thunder felt beneath the earth
& in the mind’s eye cities rocked &
swollen birds eclipsed by ashes & by
light shadowed the wires once again
the way the cough stuck in my throat
the fish bones clattered carp & thread-
fish devil-fish & milk-fish little fish
with deep eyes sunk into their skulls
the vendors on canal street offering
to sell us what we crave mementos of
the death of thousands a millennium
of deaths of nothing left of us but
smoke of children of the sun of stars
of entropy distributed throughout
the universe inside the collar of a dog
the irons every man & woman wears
that shackles them to life or death
(to life and death) who come at us with
open hands with sores with words
that tell us that the hungry dead are here
the wanderers who fill our streets now
moving between squads of soldiers
north of where the bodies burn
no longer bodies but the furnace
that is god appears again the same force
now unleashed that burnt the children
out of all existence turned their bodies
into shadows shades the hungry dead
ungrateful unforgiving where the watchers
saw the bodies launched into the air &
hanging dangling in the void qué sacrificio
the fury in the god’s name at the god’s
behest again they know no simple
pleasures they are once again the men
in love with death like those who led
our cousins down a road made awful by
the ice against their bare feet not to be
forgiven but the act to be repeated
with each century that passes ice
& flames that leave their mark deep
in the consciousness of what was once
called man this little blip in time
the twice forgotten the unresurrected made
into a game a sight for distant visitors with
memories of fires & of images your mind
can’t unerase but wait in terror knowing
that the dead are never gone
but in the night in dreams we see them
moving joining with the nameless others
from the place where consciousness
was murdered never to be reborn

Days of Shock & Awe

death fell from the sky
& finally
it found us
where we lived,
huddled like children,
only to feel the air
the weight of centuries
too great to bear,
the days of shock & awe
unpunctuated, drifting
from death to death,
the killer who inscribes
a call to war,
who puts his tools in place,
confronts the glass,
his eyes stare at his eyes,
fingers reach out to fingers,
concealment as a crime,
the more we search for it
the less we find,
no end to war
or terror,
but the few who live,
the sad survivors,
walk among the stones
& do not know
the fateful elegies
too terrible to tell,
dark angels, strangers
sharing our common
fate, their eyes
turned inside out,
forever in a state of siege,
of madmen facing
other madmen,
pursuing them through
ancient towns,
new cities,
preparing for the final war
to bring it home

Published originally as “Terreur Bènie” and “Une Note pour Jean Pierre Faye et Change,” with translations by J.P. Faye, in faire part, Paris, 2005. Additional translations from Khurbn will appear in La correspondance littéraire philosophique et critique later this year. The magazine Change was primarily Faye’s work & that of the Collectif Change & was one of the most influential French reviews of the post-World War 2 period. A major French poet, he is also the author of Langages totalitaires, an ongoingly vital study of the use and abuse of language by totalitarian states.


Anonymous said...

I fail to see how those phrases add up to a "totalitarian language". I believe you are abusing this concept, right off the bat. You cannot simply take a couple phrases from the discourse of someone you do not like and call it (a) totalitarian language. At its lowest reduction I could do this to you for doing that to bin-Laden, and you could do the same to me for opposing you. Maybe this nonsense is inherent to Faye's work, I really do not know. In any event you should try to be less of a prig.

Anonymous said...

Death to America btw.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing...
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