A SONG OF CHALCO

In the sedge beyond Chalco
the god raised stones for his house

Green thrushes sang in the fire,
glowing, changing to roses
Over these ruins, these diamonds
the quetzal-bird
measured its voice into song

The river trembled with flowers. It
circled through flowers of jade,
deep perfumes

Lost among flowers
the tzinitzcan waited,
making their colors
its own

& the quetzal-bird
sang a new measure
The quetzal-bird ruled them

Being a poet
I sing: my song
grafts buds to these branches
Forests of flowers
rise, deep
fragrant perfumes

The flowers are dancing:
the deep perfume
moves to the beat of a drum

Dew globules
thicken with life
& run down the stems

The father stiffens
with pleasure
A green sun
moves through the sky
In a jade urn
beautifully clothed
he sinks down

Throat bound by a
necklace of turquoise
While the flowers
rain shadows of color

Oh chieftains who sing
with me, chieftains
bringing him joy:
a new song to rise
from these flowers

The full flowers
tremble
the flowers grow heavy
with spring
bathed in sunlight

The sun’s heart
throbs in the cup
His flesh
is the darkness of flowers

Who would not cry for
such flowers, oh
giver of life? who
would not rest in your hands
that hold death?
Opening buds & corollas
an endless thirst in the sun

I have gone from your house, I
sing in a dark heavy flower
My song fills rivers with petals

Oh day of libations, oh
flowers blown through the land
Oh deep perfumes

The god has opened his flowers:
flowers born in his house
are alive in this soil


THE EAGLE & THE JAGUAR

No one so strong, no one
so lovely
in all the things of this world

As the eagle
ready for flight
& the jaguar
whose heart
is a mountain

See how they carry
my shield now
These slaves

COMMENTARY

SOURCE: Angel María Garibay K.’s Spanish versions in his Poesía Indígena, Ediciones de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma, Mexico, 1952. Poems are Aztec but earlier too.

The “flowering-war” image in Mexican poetry becomes one of the basic symbols of Nahuatl spiritualism. As Laurette Séjourné summarized it in her book Burning Water, “To reconcile the matter and spirit of which he is formed, individual man must all his life keep up a painfully conscious struggle; he is a battle-ground in which two enemies confront each other pitilessly. The victory of one or other will decide whether he lives or dies; if matter dies, his spirit is annihilated with him; if spirit wins, the body ‘flowers’ and a new light goes to give power to the Sun. … This ‘flowering war,’ continually renewed in every conscious creature, is symbolized by two divergent currents, one of water, one of fire – which at last unite.” The actual military orders of Eagles & Jaguars would then be taken as prototypes of those enlisted in that struggle: on some “real” battleground (in the later & grotesque Aztec view of it) or in man as “meeting ground of opposing principles, which die in isolation when they are removed from it.” … The imagery & ritual of flowers continue into contemporary Mexico, e.g. in the Huichol peyote songs (“where the roses are born / where they flower / garlands of flowers & wind”) & in those from the Yaqui Deer Dance (“out there / in the flower world / the patio of flowers / in the flower water”).

[Originally printed in Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas. The book, first published by Doubleday in 1972 & last by University of New Mexico Press in 1986 & 1992, has now been out of print for several years.]

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On January 26, 2009 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 Russian late 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 the town of 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.

UNTITLED POEM, after Lermontov

spleen & sadness,
not a hand held out
& heartsick

craving it!
& what’s the good
if any, ever?

Or forever – years lost
& the best of years!
Or maybe love

with whom?
the time too short,
not worth it

& forever love
impossible
to look inside you

deep down, not a trace
of lost time
joys & miseries

turned into nothing
asking: what is passion
that sweet sickness

& how long & whether
it will last or fade
when brought back to your senses

& life too? just wait
& take a long hard look
& see it like it is

an empty
stupid
joke


VITEZSLAV NEZVAL: A POEM FOR THE ELEMENTS

On the earth an old man in the water a woman
in the fire a man in the air a child
This is our history uncertain as Proteus


And the clods of earth are like his palms with their calluses
That old dirt farmer at war with his farmstead
Who smashes the wind to make poles for his fences
Old farmer old dungbeetle
Pulls out sapphires from deep in the coal basin
Like the roots of a tooth
Totes a sack filled with broken-down mountain ranges
His forehead a millstone
This man who propagates labor who shatters great stones with his heart
He is an unrelenting giant
His fingers are made of tortuous roots
His member is most like the thresher’s member
His thoughts are pelting his house
Shaking it down to foundation
A brute like a howitzer
A breast covered over with thistles
He hates any gentleness

While he sleeps broken rocks are rolling down mountains
Rivers of garter snakes stream from his temples
So for now give the word to his daughters
Those on whom he was forcing a bone
Which was more than enough
They keep this a secret as best as they can this mark of heredity
On a streambed of cattails on velvet they stretch themselves out
They are spineless
With fingers repeating an unending tremolo
Their tongues show up everywhere water seeps in
A tongue that’s as coarse as a honeycomb
Remember the rain that the Furies bring down
They who wanted to kiss you to death
In the morning after a horrible dream their quick kisses remain
on your forehead
Sometimes the rainbow will put a queen’s crown on them
You can still get a taste of them in your saliva
Oh you river that circles in a golden plum
My poems lay bare your suppleness easy as waltzes
You river dancing on the tips of your toes
As cold as you are you pretend to be fire
My secret most intimate element

When two rivers rub bare bones together a fire breaks out
Let’s follow that marathon man that old bearer of torches
Hidden in the field he shakes his menacing poppy
Wherever he steps he brands the earth with his heather
Like a volcano he spits past the crowns of these apple trees
When he runs a comb thru his hair you flare up oh starry night
His leg is a streak of wild lightning
It jumps up like clearing a xylophone
Which makes all the turkeys go crazy
Pinches the kingfisher’s belly
Like an arsonist covers the meadows with dungbeetles
Red eyes peer thru the blur of leaves on the cherry trees
The spring comes close to blushing when remembering his fireworks
Early morning & by evening he’s down by the river
& like Narcissus he drops into his mirror

I sit & listen to how the flies buzz
& I see the air just coming to birth
How the shrillest string is pulled tight
The memory there by itself
Then a cloud
A phantom that spouts from the horse’s muzzle
& a bagpiper carries his bagpipes like lungs on his shoulder
An evening suspended aloft
With a child’s tears turning to mush
That the wind jams into my mouth
Until the mouth lets out a sigh
A sigh like a small sleeping bee
Like the popping of soap bubbles rainbows eternally distant

In the end our life is only an interplay of elements
Our life like our death
Our loves & our sorrows our eternally transmuting history

[The translation of Lermontov’s untitled poem appeared originally in Poems for the Millennium, volume 3, & Nezval’s “A Poem for the Elements” can be found in Antilyrik & Other Poems, published by Green Integer Press in 2001. For a further translation from Lermontov, see “Reconfiguring Romanticism (10),” also in this blog.]


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The Cream City Interview, Part Three: Ego & Death

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 8:45 AM 0 comments
Chad Faries and Brent Gohde, interviewers

CF: Let’s talk about your poems a bit. I understand you are working on a series of poems in the first person [later published by New Directions as A Book of Witness]. Why, after being inundated with it in American poetry for over fifty years, have you chosen this?

JR: I know what you mean about being inundated, but where I’m located there has also been a calling into question of the first person voice – the “I” in poetry. What’s Olson’s term for it that we used to cite so often – “the lyrical interference of the individual as ego”? And yet there’s another sense in which that voice has been one of our great resources in poetry, something that turns up everywhere in our deepest past and present. I mean here a first person that isn’t restricted to the usual confessional attitude but an instrument rather by which the poet opens up to voices other than his own. There can be something very powerful and very mysterious in the way we use that “I.” It is the instrument – in language – for all acts of witnessing, and it is something that poets have used to bring up voices other than their own. I am thinking here of someone like the Mazatec shamaness María Sabina (and her echo in the work of our own Anne Waldman), who throws up a barrage of “I” assertions, when it’s really the voices of the gods, the “saint children” of her pantheon who she feels speaking through her. “Language belongs to the saint children,” she says. “They speak and I have the power to translate.”

So there are some things here that are of great concern to me. There is a question of inventing and reinventing identity, of experimenting with the ways in which I can speak as “I.” And there is a question that has been central to my work and that of others, the question of how the poet can be a conduit for other voices – “long dumb voices,” as Whitman had it at the work’s beginnings, or voices made up or gathered as the poem proceeds. So here and there I also bring in statements by other poets – very lightly sometimes but as a way of playing down the merely ego side of “I.” And I let the voices that I make up shift and move around. I want to do that, to keep it in suspense. “I am I because my little dog knows me,” Gertrude Stein writes in a poem she calls “Identity.” I have written a hundred of these poems now, and I hope that they’re both of-this-time and still connected to the oldest ways in which the poem makes itself.

CF: In your new work I sense a certain verve that I haven’t felt since “Poland.” There’s this energy that I’m speaking of, or an immediacy maybe, coming from an inquiry into death. What I mean by that is something like Gary Snyder’s assertion that “all poets must know the edge of death.” I say that while thinking of the lines from the Tsukiji Market poem [in A Paradise of Poets], when you are speaking about the preparations and slaughter of the fish at the Tokyo fish market: “the cry of food & sex so strong / there is no wrapper can contain it / but it fills the air / & from my mouth it issues like the dead / the voices of our fathers calling / plowed back in the earth / without regrets / reminding us how gorgeous death is.” And there seemed to be a lot of ruminating on similar themes.

JR: Death is one of those things we think about ... one of those things we come to ... maybe increasingly for those who live to an older age. The thought doesn’t go away, but one thinks more and has over and over again the experience of people dying, people whom we know and love, whom we grew up with. Earlier on, there is always the consideration of one’s own death. One remembers the first experience with death. For myself it was the death of a kid I knew at the age of twelve or thirteen, but maybe also the death of others whom I didn’t know, caught up in war or holocaust. For each of us, from that time on, we know it’s in the works. And later on there are the deaths of others. A number of those who were with me earlier – poets and others – began to vanish, to die. The death of Paul Blackburn, which goes back thirty years now, was an important instance or moment for me. I guess he was in his early forties when he died, a little older than me but still a contemporary. It stood out for us then, but later on – and not surprisingly – the deaths began to multiply. So it came into the poems of course, as something to ponder. In the next to last book – Seedings – the title poem is a meditation on death, and the central figure in that, although a number of other poets are also named, is Robert Duncan. It begins with a dream I had not long after Duncan’s death, a dream in which he appears while I’m giving a poetry reading. I’m trying to read the poem, “Cokboy,” but I don’t have the text in front of me and can’t remember the words. So I start to make up a poem called “Seedings,” and the poem itself is what follows. (The dream was like that, though the actual poem didn’t come in the dream but was written down later. The dream wasn’t the poem but a directive to make the poem.) So it got me into considering death in relation to Duncan and George Oppen and then back to Blackburn and to a number of others, named or not, and to those in my family who had died before that. And I knew of course that that was only the beginning. The deaths began to increase – poets and others. That was when I began to think of “a paradise of poets” as my version of an after-life (in which I naturally did not believe). Hannah Weiner and Kathy Acker died before the poems in the next book were finished, and I think they became something like ghosts in “Autobiography” (one of the poems in A Paradise of Poets). Ginsberg had died before that, which got a lot of people thinking about death, and a number of others who were even closer to me. And around the time that Paradise of Poets was being published, I knew that Armand Schwerner was dying. He was a very close friend, one of the very closest, and the idea of “a paradise of poets” was something that we batted back and forth – not very certain we believed in it, but even so ... I wanted to give him the dedication as a kind of farewell, and he knew about it, certainly, although he didn’t live to see it in the book.

So, yes, I think a certain urgency comes through in the writing, where previously the moment of inevitability was more like something in the distant future. Your contemporaries begin to show their age, and you begin to notice that some people noticeably younger than you aren’t young people any more. Like the aforementioned Language Poets. I remember the Language Poets as all guys in their twenties. Now they’re men and women in their fifties. That’s a turnaround and some of them will soon cross over to their sixties. Of course it’s no surprise. I mean we knew that if we stuck around long enough, that that was going to happen! And about the “energy” in the work, there was always this concern that the energy would somehow leave the poetry. So we keep pressuring ourselves to keep it moving and thankful when we find it does – although at some point, sometime, the mind and body could give out. And we can’t deny we’re losing time. It’s what Armand – being funny once with something Levertov had written – called the “really real.” Reality. So the question, maybe, is: does the energy of these poems come out of the death feeling itself – the brush with death? Is it the wingèd chariot drawing near ... brushing up against you?

[Originally published in The Cream City Review, volume 25, numbers 1 & 2, Milwaukee, Summer 2001. Other installments turn up elsewhere in Poems & Poetics.]

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Reconfiguring Romanticism (23): Mignon's Song by Goethe

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:30 AM 0 comments
Translation from German by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Jerome Rothenberg

Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn,
Im dunkeln Laub die Gold-Orangen glühn,
Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht,
Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht,
Kennst du es wohl?
Dahin! Dahin
Möcht ich mit dir, o mein Geliebter, ziehn!

Kennst du das Haus? Auf Säulen ruht sein Dach,
Es glänzt der Saal, es schimmert das Gemach,
Und Marmorbilder stehn und sehn mich an:
Was hat man dir, du armes Kind, getan?
Kennst du es wohl?
Dahin! Dahin
Möcht ich mit dir, o mein Beschützer, ziehn!

Kennst du den Berg und seinen Wolkensteg?

Das Maultier sucht im Nebel seinen Weg,
In Höhlen wohnt der Drachen alte Brut,
Es stürzt der Fels und über ihn die Flut:
Kennst du ihn wohl?
Dahin! Dahin
Geht unser Weg! o Vater, laß uns ziehn!

Know’st thou the land where the pale citrons grow,
The golden fruits in darker foliage glow?
Soft blows the wind that breathes from that blue sky!
Still stands the myrtle and the laurel high!
Know’st thou it well, that land, beloved Friend?
Thither with thee, O, thither would I wend!

Know'st thou the house? The roof set on its beams,
Whose rooms stream light, whose inmost chamber gleams?
And marble statues steadfast stare at me!
Thou my pooor child, what have men made of thee?
Know'st thou it well, that house, thou surest guide?
Thither with thee, O, thither would I ride!

Know’st thou the hill where clouds obscure the way,

Where mules amongst its fogs wander astray!
Deep in those caves the dragon guards his brood,
The cliffside plunges down and then the flood!
Know’st thou it well, that hill? O father, hear!
Thither our way, O, thither let us steer!

N.B. Coleridge’s shot at translating the song from Goethe’s novel, The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Mister, got as far as the initial stanza & petered out. In the process of assembling Poems for the Millennium, volume 3, I found myself enough attracted to what Coleridge had done, to try to emulate his voice over the remaining two stanzas. Our version, needless to say, is more poeticized than Goethe’s original, but the pleasure of channeling Samuel more than makes up for it – at least for me.

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Start by giving away different colored glass bowls.

Have everyone give everyone else a glass bowl.

Give away handkerchiefs & soap & things like that.

Give away a sack of clams & a roll of toilet paper.

Give away teddybear candies, apples, suckers & oranges.

Give away pigs & geese & chickens, or pretend to do so.

Pretend to be different things.

Have the women pretend to be crows, have the men pretend to be something else.

Talk chinese or something.

Make a narrow place at the entrance of a house & put a line at the end of it that you have to stoop under to get in.

Hang the line with all sorts of pots & pans to make a big noise.

Give away frying pans while saying things like “Here is this frying pan worth $100 & this one worth $200.”

Give everyone a new name.

Give a name to a grandchild or think of something & go & get everything.


[As originally published in Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas & before that in Technicians of the Sacred. Based on native accounts in “The Amiable Side of Kwakiutl Life: The Potlatch & the Play Potlatch” by Helen Codere (1956). Reprinted today toward a generosity of small things.]

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the caveat onus ::: one

stared into
everwhich at everwhat
this slender hour comes forward
barefoot to the sun
if only I had gray green
black brown yellow eyes
or a door I could see
through terribly clearly
slowly the answer
becomes an epitaph
a flip of the coin
juggling apples
tracing hexagrams

the caveat onus ::: two

O tough assed angels
deadly reckoners of cheap promises
guardians to the gates of no paradise
and bohemeths that cometh
like Whitman oversized comets
landing in city park lagoon
ordered me to be made
and while more than once
I gazed at my feet
more than the heavens
and more true I said yes
having done many things
but never against you

the caveat onus ::: three

words of the koan
ho-hum like eiderdown
my eyes have the patience of sleep
a loveless faith to love itself
and as I am no more
happy than happy
eventually there are days
I can’t know anything
to which of you is not meadow
smelling faintly of heather
the breath of a young girl
mouth open
going to the sun

the caveat onus ::: four

I observed my fingers
never knowing when to stop
because of an abeyance of light
because of my desire
to please you
but to go on forever
to say I have a million thoughts
to steal chocolate
or what a lack
of seriousness might mean
the apparatus can then answer
in straight sentences
I write to kill time

Dave Brinks Jan ‘05

NOTES ON THE TEXT

The Cycle. Caveat Onus is cyclical poem of meditations based on the numerical value of 13. Each meditation consists of 13 lines, each section contains 13 meditations; and the entire work is comprised of 13 sections in all.

The Composition. I began writing Book One of Caveat Onus in mid December 2004. It was fully my intention to take my time with it, but those circumstances changed. As such, I completed Book Three in November 2006, with the final 13 meditations, Coda, following shortly thereafter.

Hexagrams. One of the operations of this work is that each meditation should function loosely as a hexagram, actually two hexagrams (the first six lines and the last six lines); thus leaving the middle line (the seventh line) to serve as a kind of spine, or as I would like to think, an axis mundi, the center of a sphere, with a line moving through that point in space, in opposite directions.

The Delineation. Each section begins with a totem animal. Each totem animal directly corresponds to the Bak ’tun Cycle of the Mayan Calendar where the solar year is divided into 13 moons rather than 12 months.

The Symmetry of Sonnegrams. The 13 line form throughout Caveat Onus, the sonnegram, is a form which I conceived specifically for this work. It creates a peculiar matrix with regards to the readings of each meditation. Often, and very clearly, the meditations can be considered as follows: first line – last line; second line – second to last line; third line – third to last line; and so on, moving inward, until one reaches the final line, which is the seventh line. In addition, this symmetry provides for the converse to be true as well, beginning with the seventh line, then moving outward.

The Matrix. The matrix reaches its most distilled form in the final sections of each book (Owl, Hawk, Rabbit) wherein a complete expurgation of my theories on chance methodologies, double-helix intuitions, numerical gyroscopes and shamanistic connections is fully drawn upon and simultaneously employed. In fact, the final section of each book can be considered as two giant hexagrams (the first six meditations and the last six meditations) with the middle meditation serving as the overall central axis, and most literally, the vanishing point for each book.

Vanishing Points. My understanding of vanishing point is that point on a physical plane, for example, in the works of Leonardo da Vinci, where everything disappears. Alternately, my understanding of vanishing point has a very specific frame of reference directly corresponding to quantum theory; and, in this context, can be described simply as that irreducible point in space where zero mass is found.

Architectonics of the Work. Notes on the Text is intended to provide an entry to the overall structure of the Caveat Onus and thereby does not presuppose to be a summation of its parts.

Postscript. The circumstances as to why this work wrote itself so quickly have a lot to do with the evening of 28 August 2005; when it became apparent that the eye of the hurricane was going to come ashore and move almost directly over New Orleans. After that night, due to the inundations of land by water spanning a period of several weeks, the only significant light that New Orleans would experience after sundown came from the moon. And just as the moon is the guiding principle of water, so it is with this work.

D.B. 29.viii.08

[The following written in celebration of his emergence as a poet: “The Caveat Onus, for those of us lucky enough to have watched its development, is present in its first installment as a poetry event of consequence – a cycle of poems, geared to a life & expressed through a system of words & numbers, that could make it (I would dare to predict) one of the significant long poems of our time. Pivoting on the number 13 & never abandoning its symmetries & variations, it charts the works & days of Dave Brinks, citizen of New Orleans before & after the floods, world traveler in the ways that really count. I can only say to him as someone once said to someone else, ‘I greet you at the beginning of a great career,’ & hope & trust that it sticks.” – J.R.]

Caveat Onus: The Complete Poem Cycle is forthcoming as one volume (240 pages) from Black Widow Press in June 2009. For further details see http://blackwidowpress.com/.]


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Abdelwahab Meddeb: The Pornography of Horror

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 8:02 AM 0 comments
14/01/2009

Sad days have marked this transition from one year to the next. This sadness emanates from the events in Gaza, which illustrate the least glorious aspect of humanity. Here the horror of the human race appears in all its nudity.

The horror of those who present themselves as victims in an intolerable way.

The horror of those who wage abstract electronic war to preserve themselves from guilt over the death they inflict.

The horror of this war which, precise as it is in setting its targets, never manages to avoid killing children and the innocent.

The horror of Hamas which has multiplied its provocations, interrupting the ceasefire by firing useless, infinitesimally bothersome missiles and which failed to prepare for the terrible response it knew would follow. The very day the Israeli attack was sparked off, a Hamas police school celebrated the graduation of one hundred and fifty new recruits, offering to the enemy an ample target. Sixty of the 150 graduates were killed by the air strikes.

The horror of Israel which uses the pretext of the derisory Palestinian missile attacks to mount a ferocious punitive response, trusting overly in high technology to destroy an enemy using archaic means. I intentionally use the words derisory, futile, archaic, infinitesimally bothersome, because a glance at the statistics is enough to see that these words are justified. The thousands of missiles launched at Israel by Hamas from Gaza in recent years have killed but a dozen people and wounded a few dozen more.

I myself am contaminated by the horror, using arguments drawn from the macabre body count.

The horror of the discourse of Hassan Nasrallah, who condemns Egypt for not leaving open the Rafah passage although this would make Sinai a Palestinian refuge and widen the battlefield.

The horror of the same Nasrallah in his repeated appeals to Hamas fighters since the start of the ground war to kill the largest number of Israeli soldiers possible and so obtain another "divine victory", every bit as false as his own "victory" during the war which ravaged Lebanon in the summer of 2006 which he also pronounced "divine".

The horror of Egypt which invokes legality to veil its apathy: the international accord stipulates that people may only cross the border post at Rafah if it is controlled by the Palestinian Authority together with representatives of the European Union, and with the consent of Israel. But after its coup d'état Hamas chased the Palestinian Authority from Gaza, causing the European Union to withdraw its officials.

The horror of certain Arab states, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, which outdo each other in sending medical teams to Rafah, distributing the wounded among themselves to make up for their powerlessness and ease their consciences at little cost.

The horror of the scandalous fatwa uttered by the self-proclaimed doctors of the law who deprived the Egyptian officer killed by Palestinian bullets at Rafah of the status of martyr.

The horror of the way in which Egypt celebrates its desecrated victim by clothing his remains in the sacred rags of the martyr.

The horror of the backward debate on the notion of the shahid, or martyr. The entire Arab and Islamic world participates in this debate, while in fact these are war dead and wounded. They are not God's sacrifices but victims of men, of their mediocre and incompetent leaders who are ignorant of the most rudimentary techniques of war and politics.

The horror fuelled by Arab television networks (in particular Al-Jazeera) which complacently zoom in on bloody and disfigured faces which are sometimes contorted with pain and sometimes inert. These images succeed one another according to the morbid logic of editing designed to excite Arab opinion, which is disconsolate in its identification with the Palestinians. By resorting to emotionalism such media avoid the political and strategic analysis which should show that much of the problem stems from Hamas, from its coup d'état, its mixture of religion and politics, its will to show itself as an expiatory victim, the involuntary dramatisation of its military and political incompetence and its recklessness in exposing its troops and its people to death. Hamas uses the cult of the martyr to pass this death off as legitimate, staging it as an instrument of conquest. In so doing it obscures the horizon of political modernity constructed on cooperation and on concessions that facilitate conciliation, if not reconciliation.

The horror of martyrdom was most dismally illustrated by the decision by Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan to stay at home with his four wives and eleven children although he had been informed that his residence figured among the hundreds of targets listed by the Israel Defense Forces. Despite knowing this he decided to expose himself and his family to collective martyrdom. His house was blown up by the dreadful missiles which, after flying in a horizontal trajectory, turn at a right angle and bury themselves up to thirty feet below the surface of the earth where they explode, pulverising everything around them.

The horror of Mahmud az-Zahar, one of the military leaders of Hamas, promising "victory" in the street battles on the third day of the ground offensive. This victory which in his words "will come with God's permission" (bi-izhni 'llah), will not come at all, because the God he invokes cannot be convened. He will not be present, just as he was not present at the worst disasters which confused those who believed he would be, whatever their religion. They should know that a God like that will never do anything more than what men do. He will be conspicuous by his absence, so that those who adore him can measure themselves against the ordeal and the doubt to which they are submitted by the intensity of their faith.

The horror of the cult of technology symmetrical to the cult of the martyr, illustrated by the satisfied smile of {Israeli foreign minister] Tzipi Livni at the Elysée Palace beside President Nicolas Sarkozy and her colleague Bernard Kouchner, a smile of society politics while children and women died under high-precision bombs. Mrs Livni used the opportunity to state that there was no need to accept the "humanitarian ceasefire" proposed by her hosts.

Yet another horror burdens Tzipi Livni, who during her army's ground offensive stated that it is impossible to avoid incurring civilian victims because the Hamas fighters move freely among the populace.

Such horrors add to the horror of Hamas which takes the population hostage by making it what - in reference to the jihad or "holy war" - it calls "resorting to the human shield".

The horror which the Israeli press does nothing to mitigate, criticising in advance the ineffectiveness of this war and comparing it to Lebanon's war against Hezbollah. Certain columnists think that in fact this war will not achieve its objective (delegitimising if not weakening Hamas). It is true that it takes another kind of war to defeat Hamas, a war of ideas and of ideological confrontation which – alas! – has hardly started and which is far from being won.

The horror of the Czech declaration in the name of the European Union affirming that Israel is legitimately defending itself and so absolving it of war crimes. What to say of the 256 children among the 850 Palestinian dead after two weeks of fighting?

An additional horror to put down to President G. W. Bush (perhaps the last in his eight-years in office) who maintained that Israel has the right to "protect itself", thus removing it from suspicion.

Such events update the cry which Joseph Conrad put in the mouth of his creature Kurtz, and with which "Heart of Darkness" ends: "The horror! The horror!" Certainly, what humans have had in common in the colonial empires of the era of globalisation, from the end of the 19th century to the first decade of the 21st, is first and foremost horror.

This display of horror is pornographic, crowning Thanatos by deposing Eros and privileging the principle of death over the love of life, suspending the renunciation and the reserve which make civilisation what it is and hastening the advent of destructive, instinctive barbarity which, in according primacy to violence, spreads death and transforms populated areas into ruins and graveyards.

Abdelwahab Meddeb is a major French writer of Arab origin. He was born in Tunis in 1946 and comes from a long line of theologians and scholars. He studied art history and literature, and worked as an editor for a publishing house in Paris. Between 1974 and 1988 he edited his own series of literary titles at Editions Sindbad. Since 1995, he has been professor of comparative literature at Paris X University (Nanterre). He has published the novels "Talismano" (1976) and "Aya dans les villes" (1999). His book "The Malady of Islam" (2003), translated by Pierre Joris, gives an account of contemporary Islam. He lives in Paris.

This article was published in German in the Frankfurter Rundschau on January 9, 2009 and in French in Le Monde on January 12, 2009. [I retrieved it from a slightly different version on Pierre Joris’s Nomadics blog.]

Translation: John Lambert, from http://www.signandsight.com/features/1813.html

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Chad Faries and Brent Gohde, interviewers

BG: The Academy of American Poets recently added nine new chancellors which included Robert Creeley, Susan Howe, Michael Palmer, Adrienne Rich. … I thought of this in relation to the “Anthology Wars” of the fifties between Hall and Allen. Do you think the division between the Avant-Garde on one side, and a more traditional narrative poetry on the other is somewhat symbolically rectified now with the addition of these new members?

JR: No, I don’t think a peace pact has been signed yet [laughs] if that’s the question. You referred to the Donald Allen New American Poetry anthology of 1960 and to the Hall/Pack/Simpson one of a few years before (assuming anyone remembers the latter), but I don’t think that those two any longer represent contemporary divisions. The Hall/Pack/Simpson one (New Poets of England and America) was full of examples of what at a later point came to be known as neoformalism. There was some modest free-verse as well, but very little if memory serves me. So at that point, we could make a distinction – and I was incidentally a participant in neither book – between what was in the Allen anthology and struck us as relatively avant-garde or experimental and what was in the Hall/Pack/Simpson, which was ... well, the usual term back then was “academic,” because it seemed to be connected to the university and (still more to the point) to older, more conventional ideas of verse. Of course, that was forty years ago or more, and things have changed since then. The formalism or conventionalism almost disappeared for a while – even for those who practiced it in the late fifties. Take Hall and Simpson themselves as examples. Both of them went through a rebirth in the 1960s, opened up their writing, so to speak, though I don’t know how they’ve fared among the current neo-formalists. I don’t even know if the neo-formalists are still current, and I don’t know to what degree the neo-formalists or the blander free-versers are represented in the Academy of American Poets now. You know, if all of my guys are ending up in the Academy of American Poets, and all of us are now scattered in academies throughout the country, I’m a little fearful [laughs] that the academic label could get thrown back at us, for all that it matters. I mean, one already hears that kind of thing thrown at the Language Poets, say, by people a lot less adventurous than they are. But that’s especially so if you take a very limited, very literal definition of academic or of non-academic – university position rather than what Olson called stance-toward-reality or Tzara called state-of-mind (esprit).

CF: Well that’s what happened to the language poets, definitely.

JR: Yeah, now, I knew the … [takes on deep, wizened tone] “I remember the language poets” when they weren’t yet the Language Poets, and early along in the career of language poetry – even though they were already accused of being, if not academic, then university poets – yet most of them were not at universities. So thinking back to maybe 1975 or 1976, Dennis Tedlock and I were running Alcheringa magazine, and for one of the issues, I got Ron Silliman, because he had been “good-mouthing” some of the things we were doing there with ethnopoetics, to do a mini-anthology of a kind of poetry (not all that strange to me) that he was still looking to give a name to. Ultimately, and shortly thereafter, it would be called “l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e poetry” (with or without the equal signs). He named the anthology The Dwelling Place and spoke of the writing as “language centered,” “non-referential,” “structuralist” (maybe), and so on. (There were a lot of choices there.) Shortly after, I met Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews and put them in touch with Silliman and maybe with each other. Andrews may have already been in the university but as a political scientist and not a poet, Bernstein had no connection, and Silliman for that matter still has no connection. But now move ahead a quarter of a century, and most of the ones I knew then with the exception of Silliman are strongly university connected. But university connection is hardly the point – neither for them nor for me, I would hope – but more a question of being open to change and transformation, or not. For many of those I would consider as anti-academic, the university patronage finally opened up, and now, it would seem, the Academy connection as well. And an immediate result is that Jackson Mac Low, a life-long innovator who is neither academic nor university connected, is suddenly the recipient of a major award from the Academy of American Poets [the Tanning Prize in 1999]. As Bob Creeley points out, this would never have happened without a shift in the makeup of their board – the very shift you mention. So if that’s happened, it would be foolish not to welcome it, but beyond that we should wait to see how all of it plays out.

BG: You’ve already spoken of language poets coming into the academy, are there any poets who bridge that gap between the avant-garde and the academy?

JR: Coming into the universities, that is, and a mere handful so far coming into what actually calls itself the Academy. (I also probably have a more restricted sense of what are called Language Poets as an aspect of the much broader range of radical or non-academic poets.) But anything that one would identify as the academy is susceptible to invasion, and at various time in my memory the door has been left open to some experimental, innovative, avant-garde poetry and poets, though for the most part the door has been kept closed. Many of us are suspicious too that if we come into any kind of academic recognition, we are doing something wrong – more specifically, that we may be sacrificing principles for career. I don’t know if that’s true or not, and I suspect that it’s self-defeating or a trap set up by others. I think Jackson, for example, since we mentioned him before, has led a very honorable life as a poet, and that when some good fortune comes to him at the age of seventy-five, [laughs] and some hundred-thousand dollar award is dropped on him … well!

I think, in the matter of liaison figures, of someone like Charles Bernstein, because a major part of his activism is his willingness and ability to go out and use the academic connections he’s been given, to use them for the promotion of the range of poetry in which he’s interested. And Charles is really interested in something much broader than language poetry in the narrow sense – not in the boring poets, though, the neo-formalists and such, as far as I can tell, but in connecting with other kinds of innovators and with people who have an interest in all that but who write, say, from an MLA or academic perspective. He’s willing to serve on those committees of the Modern Language Association and to set up events and do the kind of thing that most of us avoid. And he was crucial also in creation of the Electronic Poetry Center out of SUNY-Buffalo, an academic institution, and in using that institution [and others] toward furthering the interests of not only language poetry but of other underrepresented poetries. He has a sense of how to use such institutions. Others have taken a crack at this, myself included, but Charles is very good at it, and very generous.

[Originally published in The Cream City Review, volume 25, numbers 1 & 2, Milwaukee, Summer 2001. Other installments turn up elsewhere in Poems & Poetics.]

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THE RUSH TO DEATH
bereaves the living
even more

we say or think
forgetting
what played out in those

who took their lives
in hand
the fatal lapse

they seek
the freedom death
affords them

when the world
still senseless
leaves them empty

inward desolation
horror of
great darkness

great things
on the ocean
break

& counterfeit
infinity


21.xii.08

[italicized lines after Coleridge's notebooks]

Charles Bernstein’s ”Eulogy for Emma”
A note from Felix Bernstein
The program for Emma Bee Bernstein’s funeral

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Hiromi Ito: The Maltreatment of Meaning

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 8:05 AM 0 comments
Translated by Jeffrey Angles with Commentary by Yasuhiro Yotsumoto

Can you speak Japanese?
No, I cannot speak
Yes, I can speak
Yes, I can speak but cannot read
Yes, I can speak and read but cannot write
Yes, I can speak and write but cannot understand
I was a good child
You were a good child
We were good children
That is good
I was a bad child
You were a bad child
We were bad children
That is bad
To learn a language you must replace and repeat
I was an ugly child
You were an ugly child
We were ugly children
That is ugly
I am bored
You are bored
We are bored
That is boring
I am hateful
You are hateful
We are hateful
That is hatred
I will eat
You will eat
We will eat
That is a good appetite
I won’t eat
You won’t eat
We won’t eat
That is a bad appetite
I will make meaning
You will make meaning
We will make meaning
That is conveying language
I will use Japanese
You will use Japanese
We will use Japanese
That is Japanese
I want to rip off meaning
You want to rip off meaning
We want to rip off meaning
That is the desire to rip off meaning
I want to show contempt for language as nothing more than raw material
You want to show contempt for language as nothing more than raw material
We want to show contempt for language as nothing more than raw material
That is, language is nothing more than raw material
I will replace words mechanically and make sentences impossible in real life
You will replace words mechanically and make sentences impossible in real life
We will replace words mechanically and make sentences impossible in real life
That is replacing words mechanically and making sentences impossible in real life
Rip off meaning
Sound remains
Even so we search for meaning.
The primitive reflex of a newborn sucking a finger one sticks out
The primitive reflex of a newborn sucking a finger I stick out
The primitive reflex of a newborn sucking a finger you stick out
The primitive reflex of a newborn sucking a finger we stick out
The primitive reflex of a newborn sucking a finger that sticks out
As for me, meaning
As for you, meaning
As for us, meaning
Is meaning, that is
Do not communicate
As for me, do not communicate
As for you, do not communicate
As for us, do not communicate
Do not do that, that is communication
Meaning ripped apart and covered in blood is surely miserable, that is happiness
I am happy meaning covered in blood is miserable
You are happy meaning covered in blood is miserable
We are happy meaning covered in blood is miserable
The blood-covered meaning of that is blood-covered misery, that is happiness

© 1991, Hiromi Ito
From: Noro to Saniwa

Publisher: Heibonsha, Tokyo, 1991
© Translation: 2005, Jeffrey Angles

[Translator's Note: This poem draws inspiration from American artist Bruce Nauman’s 1985 video installation Good Boy, Bad Boy in which two video monitors are placed opposite one another, each showing a sixty minute-long video loop. In them, two actors recite alternating phrases, such as “good boy” and “bad boy,” with an increasing degree of emotion. Itō’s poem, written at a time when she was traveling back and forth between the different linguistic worlds of the United States and Japan, shows her interest in (and resistance to) the signifying process by which people learn language and make meaning. In fact, the poem’s structure is not unlike the grammatical drills that language learners use to master new patterns, yet by the end of the poem, the neat grammatical patterns have broken down. The Japanese title of the poem, Imi no gyakutai (literally “meaning abuse”), leaves it unclear whether meaning is the thing being
maltreated or the thing doing the maltreatment.]


COMMENTARY
by Yasuhiro Yotsumoto

Hiromi Ito, born in 1955 in Tokyo, is one of the most important and highly regarded poets in Japan. Since her sensational debut in the late 1970’s as a free-spirited and intelligent female poet with shamanistic qualities, Ito has published more than 10 collections of poetry including such monumental works as Oume (Green Plums, 1982), Watashi wa Anjuhimeko de aru (I am Anjyuhimeko, 1993), and Kawara Arekusa (Wild Grass upon a Riverbank, 2005) which won the prestigious Takami Jun Award

She has also written a dozen essay collections on such diverse topics as child rearing, foliage plants and English lessons, collaborated with the photographer Nobuyoshi Araki and the feminist critic Chizuko Ueno, creatively translated the medieval Buddhist stories and a 19th century novel into modern Japanese, and published novellas, two of which were the finalists for the Akutagawa Prize, Japan’s most prominent award for literary fiction.

Ito has been consistently expanding her creative spheres over the last decades: from the relationship between the sexes, motherhood, the oral traditions of Native Americans, and pop songs from the 1960’s, to the lifecycles of plants, just to name a few. As the critic Nobuaki Tochigi points out, “she is an omnivorous poet who can transmit and transform a variety of literary legacies”.

But whatever she writes in whatever form, one can always recognize qualities that are unquestionably hers, qualities that remind us of the wandering minstrels in Medieval Japan who delivered their poems by voice alone and not by written text. She seems to be obsessed with moving, both in her real life and in her narratives, and with the voices that “just come out and fade away”. After having left Tokyo for Poland and then for Kumamoto in Southern Japan, Ito now lives in California, writing in Japanese and visiting Kumamoto frequently.
[A video of Hiromi Ito & Jeffrey Angles reading "The Maltreatment of Meaning" has recently been posted at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGGYS7-noBw ]

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FUMBLING AROUND IN DARKNESS: SPEAKING WITH JEROME ROTHENBERG

Chad Faries and Brent Gohde, interviewers

CF: So since we’re in Milwaukee, where the First International Symposium on Ethnopoetics took place in 1975, at the Center for 20th Century Studies, I thought it appropriate to ask a couple of questions about ethnopoetics. Ethnopoetics has been defined as an attempt to define a primary human potential. Can you elaborate on that?

JR: It comes out of the notion that what we knew about poetry, what we knew about that and a number of other things, had been based, always, on a very partial experience of what existed on a global scale. The tradition of poetry as we knew it in the West was only a small and limited portion of poetry throughout the world. Even written poetry, when looked at on a global scale, represented only a portion of the poetry that ever had existed. Most poetry both in the past and present has been oral rather than written And often very different kinds of poetry from what prevailed with us. It was with understandings like that, assumptions like that, that some of us pulled together to begin to consider what I then named “ethnopoetics.” You know, not a big feat of naming because there had been …

BG: Ethnomusicology…

JR: Ethnomusicology, ethnohistory, ethnolinguistics, ethnoscience … so why not an ethnopoetics? It is not a way of making poetry, but rather a way of talking about poetry, both the practice and the theory of poetry, as it exists in different cultures, with a certain emphasis on cultures without writing or in which oral poetry and poetics seemed to be dominant. And all of this was as much of a challenge to a conservative poetics as was the work of the most radical experimenters among us. It also tied to the quest for “a primary human potential” by allowing us to start with a serious search across the spectrum of cultures.

CF: Right now, or perhaps I should say in this past century, there has been a lot of talk about fragmentation. We even the have the term “schizopoetry” stemming from the work of theorists Deleuze and Guattari. But it seems ethnopoetics seeks some sort of thread… perhaps Ariadne’s thread, which leads us out of the labyrinth to seek some sort of light, maybe an Artaudian light, something strange and cruel. Can you speak to that?

JR: It’s either to seek some sort of light or to sow some version of confusion. That is, if you bring enough items into the mix, if you make it enough of a mix, there is as much – I don’t want to say darkness, that’s not the question – but things don’t easily resolve themselves. So to say that everything we do spreads light may not be an accurate way of calling it. There may also be a need to create confusion, to welcome confusion, to welcome contradiction, and not to try to smooth out everything and make it all the same. (Here I would also call to mind a lovely sentence of John Cage’s: “IF THERE WERE A PART OF LIFE DARK ENOUGH TO KEEP OUT OF IT A LIGHT FROM ART, I WOULD WANT TO BE IN THAT DARKNESS, FUMBLING AROUND IF NECESSARY, BUT ALIVE.”)

CF: I normally wouldn’t chose the term light either, but Artaud, in The Theater and its Double, speaks of an alchemical theatre which will enable us to see a strange, cruel light. I was thinking of that as an illumination, albeit an ambiguous illumination, rather than an easy sort of a light that maybe takes away from some of the intricacies of poetry and culture.

JR: But certainly looking for differences along with resemblances and looking for the multiple ways in which language has been fashioned in the minds of individuals, and how they use that language.

CF: In A Seneca Journal you mention Michael McClure and Noam Chomsky as “the speakers of deep tongues” who point the way to a “universal speech, in which the kingdoms of the world are one” or will become one. But is there a danger of a sort of liquidation of culture, and/or cultural integrity, in advocating such a universalism?

JR: Oh, yes, probably there is. “It’s my universalism, but it’s not your universalism.” [laughs] Well, the poem you mention starts out with a little biographical sketch … you know, how I became a Beaver in 1968. So, having become a Beaver – that is, having been adopted by Richard Johnny John, who was a member of the Senecas’ Beaver clan – led me to meditate and think about what it is to be a beaver, and what connectedness there is between not only different orders of beings and species, different animals, but also different cultures, different people, different languages. So I’m invoking at that point, what seem to me to be two ways of going deeper – what McClure on the one hand, Chomsky on the other, are doing. McClure is asserting a mammal connectedness. “I am a mammal.” Or, “I am a mammal patriot.” So the identification crosses the barrier between human and animal to encompass a mammalian life in common. And Chomsky at the same time is positing a deep grammar or a universal grammar that makes it possible to talk across languages. The surface differences are masking an underlying universal grammar. So Chomsky coming out of linguistics and McClure coming out of poetry and to some degree ecology, are both to my mind “speakers of deep tongues.”

CF: Chomsky’s assertion that there is some deep language that can be communicated across cultures is a good justification for doing translations. And maybe this is what Mark Strand and Charles Simic proposed in the introduction to Another Republic, when they challenged Frost’s dictum that poetry is what is lost in translation and proclaimed a deep universal language that is in fact naturally retained in translation.

JR: All people are languaged, or, to be totally crude about it, all of us have the wiring for language. It doesn’t matter where in the world we are or what language we happen to be speaking. There are no people, no “normal people”at least – whatever that means – who are born without this capacity for language, and this capacity is then developed through a series of identical stages, no matter the language or culture we’ve been born into, as we grow up into fully languaged people. Yet on the surface of course all these languages appear to be very different from each other. What Chomsky is saying, then, is that the grammar is wired into us – that while the vocabulary and syntax and so on are surface phenomena, the underlying structures are inherently the same for all people.

CF: “All people are languaged” makes me think of Paul Celan. Among many young poets of my generation, those born around 1970, he’s sort of our new master — his translations have been a significant influence. And you were one of the first, if not the first to translate Celan in your first book. Is that correct?

JR: Yeah, I was, I think … or almost the first. There may have been a translation of “Death Fugue” earlier, possibly by the art critic Clement Greenberg. And I found out later that Cid Corman had been both an avid reader and a translator of Celan, going way back, and yet it couldn’t have been much earlier than when I put Celan into New Young German Poets. I was working on the translations in ‘57-’58, and the book came out in ’59. But that was still early Celan – not the great later works. “Death Fugue,” when I first came across it, was something of a revelation. In the earlier poetry, aside from “Death Fugue,” there were still some very overt surrealist gestures. But by ‘58-’59, he was starting to develop into the Celan that has interested a whole generation of poets – not only Language Poets but many others. Poets of all persuasions. For myself, to be perfectly frank, I remember backing away from translating the later poems because they were too much, too deeply into their language, in a good sense I mean. The poetry and language were too specific, and since I admired that quality, I had no desire to mess with it. And then I did meet him – that at a time when I was pondering further translation..

BG: Yes, in your Notebooks you have a moving letter dedicated to him, “How your poems arise in me alive.”

JR: Yeah, a poem more than a letter, written not long after he died. I met him in Paris a few years before the suicide. And there was some notion ... somebody was talking about putting out a selection of Celan’s poems in English, and he and I had a little bit of correspondence going. My wife and I had gone to London in 1967, and I was in touch with him from there. He and I met at the École normale supérieure, where he was teaching, and we went out for lunch together, for drinks, and I had a couple of hours of conversation with him. We spoke in a mixture of broken German on my part and broken English on his part. And at the end, he had been, in a specific way, quizzing me about Jewishness, mine and others’, and was very concerned with that in relation to his various translators. And in the end, I turned to him and said, “Just out of curiosity, do you speak any Yiddish,” and he said yes, but that it had come to him late. And I said it was very curious, wasn’t it – we had been having this sometimes labored conversation – about identity and language largely – and here we might have had a common language, even a Jewish one, at our disposal, but we didn’t use it.

CF: So what is his attraction? Why such a powerful resurgence in the last decade of the century? I’m thinking of John Felstiner’s biography, Rosmarie Waldrop’s prose translations, countless essays, and then I’ve even seen some new recovered Romanian poems.

JR: And Joris’s full and lovely versions, which are very close to me. Well, I think there are a number of things. You mentioned Rosmarie, who is native German, and is of my generation. I think with Celan, to begin with, there is a question of poetry & language. In a sense, he’s a kind of language poet – in the way that any of us are. He’s working with the language – struggling with it really. So at the same time, one knows that there are a number of very profound and moving things at play here. There is a biography, a life behind the poems & language. One knows that that life has come out of the Second World War and the Holocaust, and that coming from there he seems in the process to be raising questions about language – the language that he speaks and the Language underneath all language – and the ability of language, or the lack of the ability, to deal with tragedies like those. I think a lot of that comes to a special focus in Celan. So I can say with some assurance that that configuration of things (the radical language & the push behind the language) was what people were feeling in his work. Of course, you could simply say that he was an extraordinary poet and let it go at that, but I think the greatness of a poet like Celan isn’t apart from where he comes from. It all meshes, works together, though at the same time I wouldn’t bury the poetics (as I think those like Felstiner do) beneath an almost sentimental version of the life.

[Originally published in The Cream City Review, volume 25, numbers 1 & 2, Milwaukee, Summer 2001]

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from CHESS section 5, a serial text composed in Germany, December 2001
(read for Jerry and Diane, their night at St Marks, 12 December 2001)

Maine maybe. Down there
lost in a guess of blue lights.
How lost I am
in a night of things,

things I can name.
Pressure. The no
name numbers
I can’t take home.

No one can own a number.
Rule of Dada. The king
stands still, the castle moves.
ar-Rukh, the tower the

elephant. We saw a camel
thick for winter
munching oats below the Roman wall

2.
and by the steps beside the overpass
an altar to Mithras, the god
yanking the bull’s head back

the god killing the bull.
And next to it another stone―
here the bull is dead.

But who is that standing above him?
Is it still the god?
Or is he only a god when he kills?

Mithras, the good mate,
the soldier’s friend. Comrade.
Pawns in horror house marching north.

And here, after twenty-one years campaigning
Dulianus fell, something like a sergeant
he had been in all those years, those wars,
fell fighting the Chatti, the Suevi,
the Alemanni, the Americani, the Nazis, the Taliban,
so many people to fight against
until you’re dead
and here he lies
in German land. Here he is dead.

Who is it that stands above a dead one,
animal or man? Who is an altar?

3.
Among all these altars I wanted
to remember what the sacred meant.

Be sacred
as a sock is
wet with your own
sweat shaped
to your occasions,
the flex and fall and lift
of foot, the pressure
of it all.

When something matches something else,
matches the situation so perfectly it makes you laugh:
that is the sacred.

A pair of pants flat on the bed.
Mary talking back upside down to God.

10 December 2001

NOTARIQON UPON JEROME ROTHENBERG

Jerusalem estranges reality, overcomes masculine embarrassment repeat­edly. Or thermally hovering, engages narrow beauty. Everlasting renegade, glad Jeremiah? European raptors over mountain enfilades roar ontological truisms. Hands enlace Nirvana, bodhisattvahood entails rigorous generosity. J’en rêve. Outre-mer et rare, orfèvres tiennent huppés emérauds. Naufrages brisent éventails réligieux, galvaudés.

Commentary:

1.
What it’s trying to say. Commentary is a city. Verb and response. Let’s get married. Only my mother and my father were married longer.

2.
In a city built on a rock, conflict. Conflict also is a rock, enough, to hold, a house. When the man is tired of the man, he floats above himself almost beautiful. Though no song says Beinahe schön.

3.
jEmptiness. jEager. jEnlightened. jErotic. jEarnest.

4.
Beauty (the text is trying to say) is the slimmest distance between here and Jerusalem. Slimmer than the gap between candlewick and candleflame. Patent pending.

5.
Hawks, that’s what I mean. Their hawk held me up, lifted me, brought me to the place of work, washed me with the waters of his well. Till I was Araber than new.

6.
When you know these people, you become somebody.

7.
The French say: Jewelers, to them are precious stones a-plenty, but lacking to them is furniture not hackneyed. Furniture is comfort, not glory. Furniture is cliché. Only space knows how to laugh.

8.
“If you want to make God snicker, make a plan.” If you want to make God cry, tell a story. We tell so much (Americans especially), no wonder there’s so much grieving.

9.
So he cuts away and cuts away and cuts away the story, till all that’s left is a little girl dressed like a general, dressed like an admiral, a little boat speaking the weirdest Spanish. And we’re free to go.

10.
He attacks everything we ever stood for. To make us stand.

12 December 2001


A TRIBUTE FOR ROBERT KELLY
with Pierre Joris

"Write everything / the oracle said ..." & thus the decision at 23 to spend his life in the service of saying: "To write every day was the method. To attend to what is said. To listen. To prepare myself for writing by learning everything I could, by hanging out in languages and enduring overdetermined desires ..." The harvest is major: over fifty collections of poems (as well as four volumes of prose works & a novel), representing but a fraction of the total output. As skilled practioner of the long poem — Axon Dendron Tree (1967), The Loom (1975), & more recently, Mont Blanc (1994) [still more since this tribute was written] — Kelly is heir to both Pound & Zukofsky in his vision of the poet as "scientist of the whole ... to whom all data whatsoever are of use / world-scholar." The title of his 1971 collection, Flesh Dream Book, writes Kelly, "perhaps sets the priorities straight," locating "the three great sources of human information: the flesh of sensory experience, dream & vision, & the holy book of tradition & learning, shared through time." If everything is of use in the alchemical conjunctio that is the poem, the process of composition will be that of "finding the measure" where (so Jed Rasula) "measure is musical base (or bass), and any trope is a turning in a universe continually returning to its utterance of measure, or scale and proportion." The clearest statement remains his "(prefix:" to the 1968 volume Finding the Measure, which opens with these lines:

Finding the measure is finding the mantram,
is finding the moon, as index of measure,
is finding the moon's source;

if that source
is Sun, finding the measure is finding
the natural articulation of ideas.
. . . . . . .

[From Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris, Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry, volume 2, 1998. Since then, for Kelly, an even greater harvest of books & poems.]

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