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

Monday, October 25, 2010

Jerome Rothenberg: Variations on the Hell of Thieves (from a New On-line Book)

[From The Jigoku Zoshi Hells: A Book of Variations, published in full & just released by Jeffrey Side's Argotist Ebooks at]

vvvvvThe thieves, the thieves, the lovely thieves are no more.

When a wind blows
in from the sea, a door
swings open & light
white as Hell
nearly blinds us.
Night begins later,
the skin on my fingers
flakes off. A rank wind
shakes the ladders
we climb on,
the earth more distant,
for which we still
hunger, the sea
filling up with our tears,
our voices lost
in the wind.
Thieves who scour
our shores at evening,
whose voices sound under
our windows, whose tears
hide our pain,
cry out with one voice,
past shadows & windows.
one voice for
earth & one voice
for water,
& thieves dressed
like thieves,
a Hell like
no other, a house
overlooking the sea,
on a night
when coins
ring & death
has a voice,
like a thief’s voice,
earth returning
to earth,
then to water,
a voice
thieves dissemble
in dreams.
Thieves & a sea
& a chimney
down which thieves
clamber. More
thieves in the snow,
skin & hair
growing white.
A shadow that thieves
spill like blood,
like the voice
from a stone,
the voice
of the dying.
Thieves & voices,
shore, wind, & sea,
tears & eyes,
fingers spinning
a thread,
in fear of the sky
& the earth,
of thieves
lost at sea,
a grave
& a stone
left for thieves
where thieves

A NOTE ON THE PRECEDING. In the 1990s I composed a series of thirty-three “Lorca variations,” drawing vocabulary, principally nouns, from my previously published translation of Federico García Lorca’s early gathering of poems, The Suites. I later made use of this method of composition for homages to Jackson Mac Low, Octavio Paz, & others as a step beyond translation but with an idea of translation – or what Haroldo de Campos called “transcreation” & I called “othering” – as one of the defining characteristics of poetry as a whole. The obvious difference in the variation presented here & in the larger series from which it comes is that I apply the same procedure to an earlier work of my own, The Seven Hells of the Jigoku Zoshi, a suite of eight poems (not seven) drawing themes but not specific images from ancient Japanese painted scrolls of that name & their accompanying verbal descriptions. The first publication of that work goes back to 1962, & it has remained in print for many years now as part of the first gathering of my selected poetry, Poems for the Game of Silence (New Directions, 1971). As with other variations – other translations for that matter – the procedure, if it works, doesn’t so much annihilate the original version as bring it into a new dimension, where both versions can lead an independent if interlinked existence. The fifty year gap between them adds its own strangeness to the mix.

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