[Originally published in Pacific Coast Philology, Vol. 30, No.2, 1995, pp.143-154, this will appear in Antin’s long awaited & epical work of poetics & criticism, Radical Coherency, to be published later this year by University of Chicago Press.]

From Jean Pierre's introduction I guess you can tell that I come from the experimental wing of American poetry and criticism. So it won't be any surprise to you that I started out in the 1950s like many young experimental artists with a strong commitment to most of the received ideas of early 20th century modernism, the most important of which for a functioning artist was the idea of the exhaustion, experiential and esthetic, of representation in all its forms. For a language artist this mostly meant the uselessness of narrative.

I held this view for a long time, inconsistently I suppose, because I made use of some kinds of narrative anyway, but I continued to hold this view till some time in the early 1970s, when it became apparent to me and a number of other writers and artists that abstraction and collage, the modernist alternatives to representation had also become exhausted, perhaps through their success in advertising in magazines and on television. But for whatever reason, by the beginning of the 1970s both abstraction and collage appeared even more hopeless as signifiers of human experience and seemed reduced to conventionalized signifiers of style.

With something like this in mind -- the exhaustion of nearly all the modes of experiential communication -- I began to wonder if it wasn't time to re-examine narrative to see if what we had all supposed of it was really true or as I was beginning to suspect the consequence of a very narrow and conventional idea of narrative; and when I started looking around I discovered that a lot of other people had been studying it too, and some for a very long time, though very few in a way that I found useful.

The oldest studies were by the folklorists and ethnographers who had collected folktales -- like the Grimm brothers or Afanasiev -- mostly for cultural reasons; and many of them had cleaned up the material and deprived it of most of its narrative force, the way the Grimms did when they gathered together all those different tellings of the same story by different tellers in different dialects and melted them down into their idea of an Urform, which though attractive enough in a peculiar 19th century way is a kind of literary monster. And the only way you can recover the narrative force of these stories is to go searching through the vast appendices of the German collection to find the dialect originals. But even then you can't recover the original occasion or circumstances of the telling.

Now it was on one of these collections -- specifically on a group of fairy tales from Afanasiev's great collection of Russian folktales -- that Propp based his structural study, The Morphology of the Folktale, back in 1928, a work that in spite of its pioneering status seems to have gone underground with the suppression of Formalism in the Soviet Union at the end of the Twenties and didn't reappear till its translation into English in 1958. The English translation coincided with a whole new industry in structural studies in the United States and France, where it inspired and provoked a train of structural investigations of narrative, so that by the 1970s narrative was mainly being studied by a great number of structuralist critics, and a few philosophers and linguists.

The literary structuralists responding to Propp were mainly interested in finding some kind of grammar of narrative, because most of them were devoted to the fantasy science of semiotics, while the philosophers, who were involved in a dispute about the explanatory power of narrative in the philosophy of history, were mainly concerned with the logic of narrative. Since I was also concerned with the discursive force of narrative, I had some interest in the work of the philosophers. But I found practically nothing of value in the work of the structuralists, whose quasi-scientific claims were commonly attended by a cloud of technical vocabulary derived from arbitrary categories of analysis and supported by antiquated linguistics. The most valuable work I was able to find was in the areas of anthropology and sociolinguistics. I'm thinking mainly of William Labov's remarkable study of Black English Vernacular story telling and Dennis Tedlock's brilliant recreations of Zuni story telling. Somewhat later I discovered the phenomenological writings of the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, whose positioning of narrative as an engagement with the paradoxes of the experience of time, seemed of crucial importance.

Still, what I found disappointing in almost all scholarly work on narrative was the near total emphasis on plot, as though the simple ordering of the events of a story were the main reason for its existence. In my experience it was otherwise; and though this may sound strange, I could think of stories that had no narrative and narratives that had no story. Consider the curious responses made by the aristocratic Aztec informants to Bernardino de Sahagun's request for definitions when he was compiling his vast account of their culture, his General History of the Things of the New World. We do not know exactly what he asked them, but standing there in the rubble of their culture so recently destroyed by the Spaniards, what could they make of the Franciscan scholar's request for definitions of the common things of their world? What would an Aztec think of as a definition? What they gave him was this:


It becomes long, deep; it widens, extends, narrows. It is a constricted place, a narrowed place, one of the hollowed out places. There are roughened places; there are asperous places. It is frightening, a fearful place, a place of death. It is called a place of death because there is dying. It is a place of darkness; it darkens; it stands ever dark. It stands widemouthed; it is wide-mouthed; it is narrow-mouthed. It has mouths which pass through. I place myself in the cave. I enter the cave.

This typical definition is not a story. It has no plot, no clearly articulated sequence of events. It is not even certain whether individual verbal passages -- "it darkens" ... "I place myself in the cave" -- represent specific events or typical events, or whether sequences like "it is wide-mouthed; it is narrow-mouthed" - - depict sequential experences in a traversal of the cave or merely list alternate experiences of it. But as far as I'm concerned, this is clearly a narrative. What it presents is narrative experience, and what other way could these Aztecs have conceived of explaining the meaning of a cave than by attempting to put themselves back into mental proximity with it and reenacting for the listener the threat or promise of this remembered or imagined place?

On the other hand this recent story from the San Diego Union is not a narrative at all:


El Cajon
Two men robbed an El Cajon shoe store Saturday night and confronted a customer who entered the store as they were leaving, police say. One of the two brandished a chrome handgun and demanded money from the cash register at the Payless Shoe Source on Avocado Boulevard. On their way out, the robbers took the purse of a customer entering the store, police say. A nearby patrol officer gave chase but lost the men when they fled into an unlighted residential neighborhood.

It's an account of a sequence of events recorded by the police and described by a noncommittal reporter. While it has a plot and purports to be a historical description of a temporal whole, it has no continuous subject who could have experienced this coherence, which is apparently an artifact of the desk sergeant -- the policeman who said -- apparently pieced together from the testimony of several witnesses. Though constructed from fragments of several people's experience, the story finally represents nobody's experience. So perhaps we need a series of definitions of an array of related terms that could help us distinguish narrative from story. To some extent this array of terms may appear to overlap the conceptual network of action that Ricoeur lays out in Time and Narrative; but, since I have no desire to distinguish here between what he calls the world of action from the world of physical change, I will not make use of it. Suppose we start with an event.

An event is a temporal whole representing the transformation of some state of affairs into a discriminably different state of affairs.

Example: A man and a woman came out of an old brownstone on a quiet street in the East 30's.

A sequence is a chain of events that succeed each other.

Example: A man and a woman came out of an old brownstone on a quiet street in the East 30s. A black Mercedes turned the corner and pulled up at the curb. A dog started barking across the street.

A story is the representation of a sequence of events and parts of events that articulate a significant transformation.

Example: A man and a woman came out of an old brownstone on a quiet street in the East 30s. A black Mercedes turned the corner and pulled up at the curb. A dog started barking across the street. Two men in black business suits jumped out of the car, grabbed the couple, forced them into the car and drove away.

This account is sufficiently articulated to serve as the testimony of a witness in a murder trial, but it contains only the barest representation of anyone's experience. The witness has carefully refrained from indicating his or her feelings watching, has omitted any account of resistance or fear by the couple, and has only minimally indicated the urgency and violence of the kidnappers, who "jumped out... grabbed the couple, forced them..." In this story three potential subjects have stakes in the outcome of this sequence of events -- the couple who have been "grabbed," the kidnappers, and even the dog, though we can only guess at what they are. This is a story that could yield several different narratives from several different subject positions -- but a narrative requires a sense of something at stake for somebody in some particular subject position, which is what characterizes the stake. It is this sense of stake that should be taken as the center of narrative. To articulate the meaning of this sense of stake, it is useful to redefine narrative away from story. So let's define narrative as the representation of the confrontation of a desiring subject with the threat or promise -- or threat and promise -- of transformation.

From this definition it's easy to see why I'm claiming that narrative is a fundamental cognitive modality. Subjects are continually confronted by the promise and threat of change. But no promise comes without the threat of fulfillment. If a beggar wishes to become a king and there is a chance of his becoming one, there is also the possibility that the change will annihilate him together with his desire, leaving behind only a troubled king suspecting his wife, his sons, his brother-in-law, or a revolution in the street.

Any transformation, no matter how promising, contains the threat of destroying its desiring subject in the magnitude of fulfillment. But what the beggar wants is to remain the beggar inside the life of the king, or to hold on to that subject position from which the life of a king would be a sufficient satisfaction to at least offset the gravest problems of statecraft, which the beggar has most likely never counted on. And it would be in the interest of the king, who is suffering from all the anxieties of kingship and in whose state of mind the beggar remains only in threads of nostalgia and anxiety, to build a bridge from his present life to his past. As it would be in the interest of the beggar to build a bridge from his present to his possible future, to imagine the speculative consequences of his transformation.

This bridge building across change is what I would suggest is the central human function of narrative. The act of reconnecting subject positions across the gulf of change is what constitutes the formation of self. All self is built over the threat of change. There can be no self until there is an awareness of one's subject position, which can only be created by the threat of change or the memory of change. Every change creates a fracture between successive subject states, that narrative attempts and fails to heal. The self is formed over these cracks. Every self is multiply fractured, and narrative traversal of these fracture planes defines the self. Narrative is the traditional and indispensable instrument of self creation.

The king's genre is autobiography, while the beggar's is science fiction or dream. But both will have to address all three temporal modes -- past, present and future -- to function as narrative. The king will have to re-experience his past as the present of a beggar and the beggar's future -- in the form of desire -- as it turns into a present with the coming of kingship. To experience this from the standpoint of the king's present and anxiety ridden future. The beggar and the king will have to and perhaps never quite can be one. And all the efforts of emplotment will never put the pieces together again. If plot is a gathering together of a succession of diverse events to create an intelligible temporal whole, plot in this sense is the least significant aspect of narrative.


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Andrew Schelling: From the Arapaho Songbook

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:30 AM 0 comments
Wild animal names
are taboo in our mouths
I am going to look for it
linguists call it taboo replacement
we say racks instead of antlers
I am going to try to kill it
deformation is my form of research
thick fog April moon


A good hunter
never lets anyone touch his tools
his bow his arrows his spear
thus our pens guarded
the notebooks & keyboards with masks
D.D. Kosambi says vagura
trap or snare
can refer to a writer
antler research is one path
her breasts are like birdsongs another


Standing near the origin of things
all creatures rocks trees
the moon the river
speak a common language
here you don’t do things for just
any old reason
you respect things you don’t break off
a branch you don’t crush a leaf
even in dream her breasts
are two songs of one bird


Girls shouldn’t go
kicking around bear shit
jump over it taunt it
that’s crazy behavior way past
the limits hohookee-
a kind of crazy knowledge
lies out there
to find the actual shape of
our lives the far high mountains
origins of poetry


No you don’t just go out & talk
trash to a grizzly
the name ‘bear’ is already a ritual
distortion, the brown one
with a heart like a clear spring
should you go to the edge of the berry patch
should you step over the rim
the perilous weave of double this
double that: (is a poem
for girls who play hand games


September in Shadow Canyon
bear droppings plum pits
choke cherries the trail winds through
pines to Bear Peak young women
ample breasted making the climb
double double this
double double that

squawberry crabapple-seeds plum-pits
something tasting like lemon-grass
double this double that
double double this that


What if you are a writer,
do you jump over the dictionary
insult etymologies
go looking for trouble or
make fun of meanings
here’s a world where knowledge brings trouble
words have a life of their own
each a tiny imagist poem
I blow across etymologies
like girls who jump over bearshit


They convey swift thought
across great distance
they do it with po-o-kan-te
how many friends rise or lumber bear-like
one old friend offers beadwork
he suggests the Western Diamondback
pattern as the rattlesnake shows
great care with boundaries
no, Dale, give me the Poison Path—
film of blindness no boundary

Out there curves a steep
geographic terrain
it links to the spirit world
you can sharpen your
teeth on coffee that’s brewed there
even to whistle there’s
a gesture that intensifies the neseihi
the wildness where the tiny dry
fruit of the squawbush
puckers into a mask


Tells it to him makes
fun of him
I have pretty teeth & large breasts
took half of her tied to him he uncovered him
fractured his head gave him
“In short the undetermined, and to this writer’s mind, fundamental
problem of Arapaho, Fox, and Algonkin in general is whether these
languages say ‘he-enters-looks,’ ‘he-enters-lookingly,’ or ‘enteringly-he-looks’”
night darkness beadwork, grease cover hide


Like wood, stone, ivory, or bone
it is a substance
full, old, rounded
soft as amber, enduring,
the next two songs are so
old we’ve forgotten
the words
inside them the black wing of a crow
no one can see
it but us


Word comes of Dilip
Chitre’s death
who spent his life chiseling objects
from the poets of long-ago
the ones who sang by the riverbank
Muktabai so wild she ate
diamonds & said no, no
we Vakaris we do not hide out from life
at eighteen a flash of purple lightning
she vanished, dear Dilip


These songs without talent
beneath their poisonous fonetiks
may they carry prayer
& good medicine
woxu’ and howoo’oot
our voices
our subtle human rhythms
can we be generous, cook for each other?
were we as the Haida say brought
from the soil for this purpose?
can we speak to animals
it’s true we throw fabulous parties

Dilip your name means—
possibly, protector
question mark, of Delhi
down the page diganta is sky’s end
rim of the horizon
how the eye sees the
comrade go smokes after death
cedar puffs white sage blue beads
perhaps remote once far distant
horizon’s end more will we meet


The poems “from the Arapaho Songbook” began to take shape from studies in Arapaho, an Algonkian tongue (also spelt Algonquian). I saw excursions into the language as a way of going deeper into long-term bioregional studies—I live along the Rocky Mountain Front Range of Colorado—& the concern to get closer to plant, animal, rock, weather, or hydrological cycles, by way of the Native words that held them. Language being where mind & environment meet; and Arapaho a familiar to these ecosystems long before Spanish, French, or English got in.

It turns out that Andrew Cowell, a linguist at University of Colorado, and Alfonso Moss, Senior, a native speaker from the Wind River Reservation, had just issued a technical, very serviceable Arapaho grammar. Cowell I have gotten to know, and with him have walked the high country to the Continental Divide talking linguistics & plant lore. This, plus the re-workings he & Moss have done of songs originally collected by James Moody (1888) and Frances Densmore (1936) got me into the poetry.

hohoot niiboot

The cottonwood song
I am singing it

Arapaho Ghost Dance, song #13

Arapahoe is, moreover, the major east-west running avenue I both live & work along, named for the two peaks (once called ‘Pawnee fort’) that appear to pitch skywards from its west end. The peaks are spelt Arapaho, without the e. Much of our water comes from the glacier—also Arapaho—lying in a cirque formed by the ridgeline. So the songbook has these referents. It draws vocabulary from Spanish, Sanskrit, Chinese, & Ute. Arapaho remains central though, even though the complicated grammar rebuffs me.

Edward Sapir: “Single Algonkian words are like tiny Imagist poems.”


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Oh, my name is Dick Daglen, the cobbler,
I served my full time out in Kent.
Some call me an old fornicator
Which gives me great cause to complain.

“When I got you first, I really thought ‘twas a robin with a red breast I got.
Faith and it wasn’t, ‘twas a willy water wagtail I took.”

‘Swith me haw-ba-ba-balda-daladidy
B a-ba-balda-dalee
With me haw-ba-ba-balda-dalady
The hammer and lapstone for me.

“When you got me first, I was a well-reared little girl. There were always three full dishes on my Da’s table.”

“There were. I was looking at them.
Two of them empty, and nothing at all in the other one.”

‘Swith me haw-ba-ba-balda-daladidy
B a-ba-balda-dalee
With me haw-ba-ba-balda-dalady
The hammer and lapstone for me

“Well, I don’t know what way a woman’s tongue is held in her mouth. I could give some idea of a man’s. For the minute my woman’s tongue hits her upper lip, it goes click-clack, click-clack till I’m fairly bothered with her. If I hit her with a lash, she’ll run out in the street and she’ll roar:

‘Peelers, Peelers, Peelers! Look at the lump this old shoemaker’s after putting on my foot for the last!’

They’ve got so used to her now, they don’t mind her. And it’s eight o’clock and I must have those soled again nine.”

‘Swith me haw-ba-ba-balda-daladidy
B a-ba-balda-dalee
With me haw-ba-ba-balda-dalady
The hammer and lapstone for me.

That’s the end of it now.


E’re last night1 I received the letter of an old hag’s death.

Every tear fell from the bottom of my heart would turn a mill.

I run at the rate of eighteen mile a minute, while I was sitting down to rest myself.

I met John Javis, the coachman, driving fourteen dead donkeys under an empty steamcoach, two oId women and they roasting bugs and apples and throwing them to one another.

I asked them:

“Did you hear tell of the shower of old hag’s death?”

“No, but if ye go up to John Mangan’s he’ll tell you all about it.”

“ Where does he live?”

“He lives up a long wide narrow street. It’s a great big tall square house standing only by itself.”

When I went up, ‘twas a great big tall square house standing only by itself, with fifteen or sixteen cabins by the side of it.

When I went up, his two sons was thrashing tobacco into peas.

One of the peas leapt out through a stone wall, had killed a dead dog was barking at a pock-marked cat.

I put my hand in his mouth and I turned him inside out.

I was followed by two eye-glass pensioners, had lost heads, legs, bodies and arms and all in the Battle of Waterloo .

I run till I stepped over a stone wall.

So easy I might, the stone wall was only the length of a cabbage leaf.

The cabbage leaf was only the length from St. Patrick’s Day to America.

Cattie Patrick, she was the cleanest cook that ever was known.

She could scour scaws through her middle finger, my lord.

She lay in the day till the ditch broke on her.

A little bark come out and dogged at her.

She took out her tail and cut his knife across.

NOTE. The Travellers of Ireland (once called "tinkers" or, mistakenly, "gypsies") persist as a distinct people inside or outside Irish society as a whole, their origins still mysterious but sometimes viewed as descendants in part of traveling scholars & bards dispersed in the aftermath of English conquest & ensuing social turmoil. As with other subaltern or outsider cultures, the emphasis here falls on oral traditions & tellings, often with a touch of the marvelous alongside the historical & factual, & in recent times a plunge into written or transcribed autobiographies. Writes Michael Hayes of the account by one such Traveller, Sean Maher: “Maher (1972) cites the Traveller known as the doll-man – the strange, shaman-like figure with whom he has a dialogue regarding the position of Travellers in the modern world – as an exemplar of the challenge to the official or ‘establishment’ view from the oral culture of those who tell their stories ‘from below’ or from the mergins of society: ‘... The written history is very warped in its composition and truth. The history that has come down through the Travellers, however, is more than reliable. It is told night after night around camp fires ...’” (In M. Hayes, Irish Travellers, The Liffey Press, 2008)

Of Johnny Cassidy’s relation to those traditions, the photographer Alen MacWeeney, who recorded & transcribed them, writes: “There was an urgency about Johnny to tell me his stories, as if he anticipated that his recollections were the end of a tradition. Where did they come from? I asked. His father, he told me, used to go around to the big houses in Wexford working on the farms, and in the evening he would tell his stories to the farmers around the fire while Johnny sat between his father’s legs and listened and remembered.” And further, of the actual performance: “Johnny’s hoarse voice can be difficult to understand without reading a transcription, but it’s not essential to follow his words as much as the gist and spirit of his telling a story. His voice rises up to the pitch of a protesting old woman and a moment later goes down to the bottom of the world like the invocation of a shaman.”

For a fuller accounting, check out McWeeney’s texts from the extended Cassidy family at
http://www.paveepoint.ie/pdf/WhishtBooklet.pdf or his equally remarkable book of photos and texts, Irish Travellers--Tinkers No More (New England College Press, 2007).

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Mark Weiss: From “The Whole Island,” Six Cuban Poems

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:02 AM 0 comments
Here is a brief selection—six poets a poem each—from my bilingual anthology The Whole Island: Six Decades of Cuban Poetry (University of California Press, 2009). It’s of course far too brief to be representative, and, unlike the anthology, for reasons of space these are all short poems.

I have deliberately chosen poets who are almost entirely unknown in the anglophone world, to suggest how rich a tradition has been hidden from us.

All of the translations are mine.

Mark Weiss

Luis Rogelio Nogueras (1944-1985)

For Luis Marré

Yesterday I wrote a magnificent poem
I lost it somewhere
and now I can’t remember it
but it was great
it said more or less
that I was in love
it said it, of course, in another way–
it was really good–
but she was in love with another guy
and then there was a really beautiful part about
the trees the wind and then
it said something about death it didn’t
say death, of course, it said
dark claw or something like that
then there were some extraordinary lines
and toward the end
it told how I walked
through an empty street
convinced that life would begin again
on some corner
of course it didn’t say it that pretentiously
it was a good poem
sad loss
sad memory

Delfín Prats (1945-)

Season of green figs
Season of green figs
Each morning I see farther beyond the wall
that separates me from the Garden of forbidden illusions
and repeat the urgent slogan:
It’s a season of green figs.
I wake up with this conviction
it stays with me through the difficult day
buffeted by stupidity and uselessness
and at the hour of the yearned-for meeting
I share it with you
in places condemned to ruin
strictly separated from God’s affection.
This is the season of green figs
The animals appear to sense it
they keep a cautious distance
they stray from whoever we continue to wait for.
For amorous friendship
it’s also the season of green figs.
I have seen too much to do nothing
The wind out of Patmos moves my beloved papers
hovers above my parents’ house
it’s threatening the places that you and I,
together, are trying to save from chaos and ruin.
I have seen too much to wait calmly
for the revelation to happen.
Civitas Dei, your cry in the wilderness, your sign
in the rainbow displayed as an only token of survival

Soleida Ríos (1950-)

To Carolina, Estela and Chiqui

The only paradises not forbidden to man
are those that are lost.

J.L. Borges

In the garden,
further back, Maleva sees
children falling from the trees.

Those innocent children that we once were
diapered in white
fall from the trees.
But they fall to their deaths
so that we may forget.
And they laugh as they fall
because they enjoy in advance
the sorrow to come
the despair that
soon or late
we all succumb to.

The death of these children is not predestined.
They prefigure it in the oddness of their games.
Before, whether an instant or
two hundred centuries ago,
the children invented games
as if nostalgic for earlier children.

(The first, the last that return
to begin the lines
now invent nothing, they shout
mummymeat mummymeat we want
the head on the shield.)
Who pretend to be the last
Who are the first.

The children
whether an instant or two hundred centuries ago
came into the garden with roles assigned.
They fall from the trees.
They fall

Iraida Iturralde (1954-)

Lost in the flounces of a foreign mother
the tongue becomes twisted.
Pronouncing its name.
Memory is the prop, the mariner
who in his wandering
arrives at our door.

Let the dam hold back
the water from that soil
filled with aphorisms.
Let that insolent icon
rot from within,
its burden of shards
a stink in the night.

Cry out now:
those who wander there
have fallen mute.
Intent on the sea,
they flee.

Ramón Fernández Larrea (1958-)

maybe you’ll never breathe
your hand is on your belly don’t breathe
maybe you’re not dreaming
you may not sleep
with your hand in your groin you’re not asleep
don’t breathe
maybe there’s never been
a golden root or branch or earth for you to wallow in
the land of elves awaits you
the land prepares your coming
you are tiny don’t breathe don’t dream
because the ogres could find you
the land feels wretched without your feet on it

my name is ramón
unfortunately my name is ramón
at my feet is a tiny land
I am a gnome a wingless elf
I’m not breathing there’s no god as small as me
in the land of elves my name is ramón
there are 24 hours in a day
the day is a kind of land
my name is ramón I’m not dreaming
and I don’t invent another land beneath my belly
I’m always wingless
the land will always be far away
like a dream like a belly like the land of elves

Alessandra Molina (1968-)

From albino lashes
no thicker than pollen in light
her personal allergy descends,
in the form of a sudden sneeze.
Allergic, albino, she could be a goddess
if despite her finicky eating
her transparent skin exploded in purple blotches,
and her eyes distended
as if the rush of blood were a sacrifice.

In this place without seasons or ancient goddesses,
here where there are no crimes,
where a fiction is better than crime,
she recounts what a neighbor, a
voice teacher, the newlyweds, the goatherds, the young
novelist, the psychologist tell her.
They repeat a childish round of shrill stories that approach
and exceed the wildest of tales in their trashy
projections of horrors.
They speak of a broken doll, the foot of a girl,
a whole toy store hanging among the branches;
they speak of the copulation of nocturnal beasts.
In this place without seasons or ancient goddesses
or authentic toads.

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Concealments & Caprichos: A New Publication

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:39 AM 0 comments
Publisher: Black Widow Press
Paperback Publication Date: May/June 2010
212 Pages
ISBN 10: 0-9842640-0-1
ISBN 13: 978-09842640-0-1

The following is from the announcement by Black Widow Press:

Combining two series of poems written since the turn of the century, A Book of Concealments and 50 Caprichos after Goya, Rothenberg's latest volume is a two-pronged follow-up to his earlier hundred-poem work, A Book of Witness, with some notable changes in strategy & composition.

As Rothenberg states in his preface: "In A Book of Witness I was concentrating on the rescue of the first-person voice as our principal instrument of witness - not only the personal 'I' but the possibilities of a real if sometimes fictive 'I' across a range of experiences, my own & at choice moments those of others. ... By contrast the poems in A Book of Concealments suppress or conceal the witnessing 'I' but draw from more distant ‘romantic’ predecessors & from my own accumulated works by collaging as italicized inserts small fragments of poems already written & published, while 50 Caprichos, written simultaneously, compensates for the largely missing 'I' by allowing a give-&-take responsive to the dance of images in Goya's early opening to states of spirit & mind that many of us would later come to share. ... The writing of these poems at a time of new wars & new dissimulations - a notable change since the writing of A Book of Witness - is another circumstance not to be ignored."

Selected excerpts from Concealments & Caprichos have appeared previously as postings on Poems & Poetics.

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Ryuta Imafuku: Ode for Jerry in Lorca’s Mood

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:22 AM 0 comments
Dear Jerry,
Mi estimado Gerónimo,

You began with olive trees.
Then I’ll begin with banyan trees
full of aerial prop roots hanging from their knotty branches.

You began with eclipse and insomnia.
Then I’ll begin with crescent and lunacy.
A southern sea lunacy
which induces us into the sueño
of our aquatic origin
of our archipelagic genesis.

Your Lorca’s Spain is blue and gray
Gray is your unique discovery in Lorca’s kingdom.
If you stick to the gray with an “a”
Then I’ll go with the grey with an “e”
An Irish grey hue with an “e”
As Michael always wrote it.

I’ll tell you a fragment of my recent journey
to the southern island of Kakeroma, Amami
where I met an Okinawan poet
and with him I had an improvised poetry reading session together.
His name is Shinichi Kawamitsu
obviously it tells you that he is originally from Miyako island.
One of the native islands of the old Ayagu
A delicate mode of poetic chanting in the Ryukyu islands.
Kawamitsu who is an exile from the island and its native tongue
Uses his own pidgin, a unique mixture of Miyako, Okinawa, Yamato and universal literary and ideological idioms.

We called and responded under the Banyan trees.
I was carrying in my mouth another voice from another island
Irland is the voice’s country
Michael Hartnett is the voice’s name
He wrote poems first in English and then solely in Gaelic
He declared he was going to the territory of meagre voice
With little weeping
To court the language of his own people.
A farewell to English,
Silent, modest announcement, but big, almost fatal decision.

Hartnett wrote:

I say farewell to English verse,
To those I found in English nets:
My Lorca holding out his arms
To love the beauty of his bullets,
Pasternak who outlived Stalin
And died because of lesser beasts;
to all the poets I have loved
from Wyatt to Robert Browning;
to Father Hopkins in his crowded grave
and to our bugbear Mr Yeats
who forced us into exile on islands of bad verse ...

In Kakeroma island
Kawamistu also chanted in Miyako dialect
Returning to the language of his people
But remembering his young devotion to Lorca in mind
With deep sympathy to the other exiled being Lorca conjured:
Gypsy people.

You, Lorca!

Passing through the winter ice of the north mountains,
and through the folds of closed hearts of the people,
Your mother finally reached
The Granada hill with its olive scent.
You never trace her footmarks.
You are a child of a Gypsy
Born from the prairie breeze.
You are the blue mark of meteorite,
But you never feel bitter against your mother.
You, a bastardo of a Gypsy.

Tonight, I have brought here three interpretations, three essential transcreations, three amazing, wild echoes of Federico Garcia Lorca.
One by a Black American Poetic giant Langston Hughes, another by an Irish enigmatic natural-born poet Michael Hartnett, and still another incredible re-interpretation/creative composition by our great mentor Jerome Rothenberg: The Lorca Variations.

As you say, The Lorca Variations is a series of experimental poetic compositions based on Lorca’s vocabulary, especially nouns and adjectives, and you mixed with your own verbs and adverbs to it. The result is that these poems both are and aren’t Jerry’s, both are & aren’t Lorca.
What a nice, wonderful abandonment of the notion of pure, centralized voice.
If I use the word I coined
An “abundancing” of the power of language.
Let me read one of your amazing passages called “Backwaters”.

See him in ice & in pain
(mad Lorca)
sdee him in cypresses.
Dead in his eye,
In his tongue.
Stagnant water lies over him.
Poplars cut deep
& glass willows.
Water is locked in his heart.
In his eyeballs.
Dead air.
Metal branches.

What I want to add tonight is just another small Lorca Variation dedicated especially for you, Jerry.

I really don’t remember when I first discovered Lorca’s kingdom.
But I remember that I, at the age of 24, was already a pilgrim standing in front of the Fuente Grande, a big fountain along the road near the Andalucian village of Viznar, where Lorca was assasinated by Nationalist militia in August, 1936.

I was there without any fantasma, any magia, no.
No obsession with political ideas.
I was just haunted by his moon, his gypsies, his bewitched woman in St. James’ Eve, and his necklace of almonds.
His fireworks, his mirror visions, and his sky-inscribed palimpsests as you depicted.

I remember that it was the Easter of 1980 when the moors and christians were fighting in the town of Alcoy, Alicante, firing blanks everywhere.
I heard the shout “Reconquista!”
“Viva Sant Jordi!”

Then I went to the border town of Jerez de la Frontera
Looking for water and shadow
Dreaming the ecstacy of the stork.

Now I also begin with olive trees, as you did, Jerry
This fragment happened to appear before me
In a small island village of Oku
At the end of the narrow road to the interior of Okinawa
Where Basho trees, namely bananeros grow thick.
This fragment of wind called itself “Bluest Blues”:
At least I could hear so.

Bluest Blues

Round ridges of olivos
Billowing red slopes of sunlight
Behind the rocks in the folds of the redgreen hills,
From their casa de cuevas,
I hear somebody speaking in a hoarse voice,
with the lowest possible heart beat,
I hear a dash of scream, gritos
Uno, dos.
The breath stopped.
And here begins your blue, bluest blues.
You gipsy, gitanos!
Your daybreak rushes into the twilight of the grey moon
Your dancing feet are stepping on the dead ancestor’s bones.
In the middle of an abyss of the clapping hands,
La Duende, the spirit of the muse, stands up and sings:
“Don’t rush toward the ilusory windmills!”
“Killing a mirage dragon won’t do any good!”
“Keep secret your fingertips that could touch the very heart of the heart of darkness!”
Silencio, silencio, silencio.
A hush falls over the blue, bluest blues
The land of the red soil becomes
filled with the blue, bluest ocean.

El fin de los shark’s fins.
The end of the ephemeral duende.

Jerez de la Frontera
Pillars of Hercules
Land’s end
Lomonosov Ridge
Cap desolation
Lieu de la naissance du language


Yes, Jerry
I saw the amazing Aurora
on our trip to the source of Ishikari river, you remember?
Ish-kar, in ainu means:
“Making some beautiful thing out of bird feathers."
Along the serpentine water of Ish-kar
We went down to the mouth of the river
With our aurora of feather.
You and Diane remember that forever.

Lorca made some beautiful thing out of the breath and stomping from the Gypsy cavern
Out of the blind panorama of Nueva York
Out of the winding sugar cane road to Santiago de Cuba.
A creation of the grammer of the tawny tongue
Both his & not his, both mine & not mine.

Lorca’s kingdom is everywhere.
Spain, New York, Cuba, Irland, Miyako, Amami, Encinitas ......

Yes, as you know, the moon finally could stop at the snow-white curve where black horses all gather.
Jaguars, panthers, leopards, too.
You can hear them.
We hear them.

I realized, sitting on the opaque curve under the Banyan trees:

Voice is a genius.
With its rhymes and prosodies,
It has its own enegy inside.
Voice is now, and here.
Voice is nowhere, and everywhere.
Voice is, then it disappers.
That’s the nature of the voice.
Don’t record it.
Don’t make a CD from it.
DVD, CDR, MPEG, MP3, QuickTime...., nothing.
Voice is always present tense.
Voice is outstandingly hybrid as our reality is hybrid.
The more hybrid our tongue is
The more elegant & graceful our voice speaks.
This genius opens the horison of new verse.
A new variation of our blue-grey tongue.

Dedicated for & read in the presence of Jerome Rothenberg
Tokyo, 03/27/2010

[NOTE. My acquaintance with Ryuta Imafuku goes back a decade or so, to when he was a director of the Institute of Cultural Studies in Sapporo, Japan, and I was twice a guest there. It was renewed this March when he joined me and Keijiro Suga for a reading at Meiji University in Tokyo. Born in Tokyo and with extensive travels and research in Latin America, Imafuku is an anthropologist and cultural critic whose unique writings and voice on contemporary culture, art, history and politics are widely recognized in Japan and elsewhere. He is best known as one of the first Japanese writers and scholars to demonstrate what he calls a creolist vision of contemporary culture. His recent activities include the “archipelagic university” project in the Amami/Ryukyus Islands, and collaborations on books and exhibitions with Claude Lévi-Strauss, the poet Gozo Yoshimasu, filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha, and photographers Shomei Tomatsu and Sebastião Salgado. He is the author in addition of The Heterology of Culture, Technology of the Wild, Sensory Angels, The Eternal Dice: A Critic on Travel and Border Writing, Elsewhere: Toward the Corridor of Images, and Mínima Gracia: History and Craving, among others. Imafuku currently teaches Cultural Studies and Ethics at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, and is a permanent visiting professor of Communication and Semiotics at the Catholic University of São Paulo, Brazil. References in his “Ode” are to my book, The Lorca Variations, published in 1993 by New Directions. (J.R.)]

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[An excerpt from “The H.D. Book,” soon to be published in its entirety as volume one in The Collected Writings of Robert Duncan, University of California Press, forthcoming. The impact of this work in its unpublished form is a crucial part of our history. -- J.R.]

The drama of our time is the coming of all men into one fate, "the dream of everyone, everywhere." The fate or dream is the fate of more than mankind. Our secret Adam is written now in the script of the primal cell. We have gone beyond the reality of the incomparable nation or race, the incomparable Jehovah in the shape of a man, the incomparable Book or Vision, the incomparable species, in which identity might hold & defend its boundaries against an alien territory. All things have come now into their comparisons. But these comparisons are the correspondences that haunted Paracelsus, who saw also that the key to man’s nature was hidden in the larger nature.

In space this has meant the extension of our "where" into a world ecology. The O.E.D. gives 1873 as the earliest English use of the word in the translation of Haeckel’s History of Creation—"the great series of phenomena of comparative anatomy and ontogeny . . . oecology." The very form of man has no longer the isolation of a superior paradigm but is involved in its morphology in the cooperative design of all living things, in the life of everything, everywhere. We go now to the once-called primitive—to the bush man, the child, or the ape—not to read what we were but what we are. In the psychoanalysis of the outcast and vagabond, the neurotic and psychotic, we slowly discover the hidden features of our own emotional and mental processes. We hunt for the key to language itself in the dance of the bees or in the chemical code of the chromosomes.

The inspiration of Marx bringing economies into comparison and imagining a world commune, of Darwin bringing species into comparison and imagining a world family of the living in evolution, of Frazer bringing magic, rituals and gods into comparison and imagining a world cult — the inspiration growing in the nineteenth century of imperialist expansions was towards a larger community of man. In time, this has meant our "when" involves and is involved in an empire that extends into the past and future beyond times and eras, beyond the demarcations of history. Not only the boundaries of states or civilizations but also the boundaries of historical periods are inadequate to define the vital figure in which we are involved. "For the intense yearning which each of them has towards the other," Diotima tells Socrates in Plato’s Symposium, "does not appear to be the desire of lovers’ intercourse, but of something else which the soul of either evidently desires and cannot tell, and of which she has only a dark and doubtful presentiment."

The Symposium of Plato was restricted to a community of Athenians, gathered in the common creation of an arete, an aristocracy of spirit, inspired by the homo Eros, taking its stand against lower or foreign orders, not only of men but of nature itself. The intense yearning, the desire for something else, of which we too have only a dark and doubtful presentiment, remains, but our areté, our ideal of vital being, rises not in our identification in a hierarchy of higher forms but in our identification with the universe. To compose such a symposium of the whole, such a totality, all the old excluded orders must be included. The female, the proletariat, the foreign; the animal and vegetative; the unconscious and the unknown; the criminal and failure — all that has been outcast and vagabond must return to be admitted in the creation of what we consider we are.

The dissolving of boundaries of time, as in H. D.’s Palimpsest, so that Egyptian or Hellenistic ways invade the contemporary scene—The reorganization of identity to extend the burden of consciousness—this change of mind has been at work in many fields. The thought of primitives, dreamers, children, or the mad—once excluded by the provincial claims of common sense from the domain of the meaningful or significant— has been reclaimed by the comparative psychologies of William James, Freud, Levy- Bruhl, Piaget, by the comparative linguistics of Sapir or Whorf, brought into the community of a new epistemology.

"Past the danger point, past the point of any logic and of any meaning, and everything has meaning," H.D. writes in Bid Me To Live: "Start superimposing, you get odd composites, nation on nation." So, Malraux in his Psychology of Art hears "a furtive colloquy in progress between the statuary of the Royal Portals of Chartres and the great fetishes" beginning in museums of the mind where all the arts of man have been brought into the complex of a new idea of art and Man in their being superimposed. "Our art world is one," he writes in The Metamorphosis of the Gods, "in which a Romanesque crucifix and an Egyptian statue of a dead man can both be living presences." "In our imaginary museum the great art of Europe is but one great art among others, just as the history of Europe has come to mean one history among others." "Each civilization had its ‘high places’," he concludes in the introduction: "All mankind is now discovering its own. And these are not (as the nineteenth century took for granted) regarded as successive landmarks of art’s long pilgrimage through time. Just as Cezanne did not see Poussin as Tintoretto’s successor, Chartres does not mark an ‘advance’ on Angkor, or Borobudur, or the Aztec temples, any more than its Kings are an ‘advance’ on the Kwannon at Nara, on the Plumed Serpents, or on Pheidias’ Horsemen."

If, as Pound began to see in The Spirit of Romance, "All ages are contemporaneous", our time has always been, and the statement that the great drama of our time is the coming of all men into one fate is the statement of a crisis we may see as everpresent in Man wherever and whenever a man has awakened to the desire for wholeness in being. "The continuous present," Gertrude Stein called this sense of time and history, and she saw the great drama as man’s engagement in a composition of the contemporary. Man is always in the process of this composition. "The composition is the thing seen by every one living in the living they are doing," she writes in Composition As Explanation: "they are the composing of the composition that at the time they are living is the composition of the time in which they are living. It is that that makes living a thing they are doing."

"Nothing changes from generation to generation," she writes later in her lecture Portraits and Repetition, "except the composition in which we live and the composition in which we live makes the art which we see and hear." "Once started expressing this thing, expressing any thing there can be no repetition because the essence of that expression is insistence." "Each civilization insisted in its own way before it went away." To enter Into "our time", she saw as "a thing that is very troublesome", for life itself was a disturbance of all composition— "a fear a doubt and a judgement and a conviction", troubling the waters toward some needed "quality of distribution and equilibration."


The first person plural—the "we", "our", "us." is a communal consciousness in which the "I" has entered into the company of imagined like minds, a dramatic voice in which the readers and the man writing are gathered into one composition, in which we may find kindred thought and feeling, an insistence, in Plutarch or Dante, Plato or D.H. Lawrence, closer to our inner insistence than the thought and feeling of parents or neighbors. The discovery of self, time and world, is an entering into or tuning to possibilities of self, time and world, that are given.
"The single experience lodges in an individual consciousness and is, strictly speaking, incommunicable," Sapir writes in Language: "To be communicated it needs to be referred to a class which is tacitly accepted by the community as an identity. Thus, the single impression which I have of a particular house must be identified with all my other impressions of it. Further, my generalized memory or my ‘notion’ of this house must be merged with the notions that all other individuals who have seen the house have formed of it. The particular experience that we started with has now been widened so as to embrace all possible impressions or images that sentient beings have formed or may form of the house in question. In other words, the speech element ‘house’ is the symbol, first and foremost, not of a single perception, nor even of the notion of a particular object but of a ‘concept’, in other words, of a convenient capsule of thought that embraces thousands of distant experiences and that is ready to take in thousands more. If the single significant elements of speech are the symbols of concepts, the actual flow of speech may be interpreted as a record of the setting of these concepts into mutual relations."

There is no isolate experience of anything then, for to come into "house" or "dog", bread" or "wine", is to come into a company. Eros and Logos are inextricably mixed, daemons of an initiation in each of our lives into a new being. Every baby is surrounded by elders of a mystery. The first words, the "da-da" and "ma-ma", are keys given in a repeated ritual by parental priest and priestess to a locus for the child in his chaotic babbling, whereby from the oceanic and elemental psychic medium—warmth and cold, calm and storm, the moodiness previous to being—persons, Daddy and Mama, appear. But these very persons are not individual personalities but communal fictions of the family cultus, vicars of Father and Mother, as the Pope is a Vicar of Christ. The Child, the word "child", is himself such a persona, inaccessible to the personality of the individual, as the language of adult personal affairs is inaccessible to the child. To have a child is always a threat to the would-be autonomous personality, for the parent must take leave of himself in order to enter an other impersonation, evoking the powers of Fatherhood or Motherhood, so that the infant may be brought up from the dark of his individuality into a new light, into his Childhood. For the transition to be made at all, to come into the life of the spirit, in which this Kindergarten is a recreated stage set of the mythic Garden, means a poetry then, the making up of an imaginary realm in which the individual parents and infant participate in a community that exists in a time larger than any individual life-time, in a language. For "Father", "Mother", "Child", are living words, deriving their meaning from thousands of distinct experiences, and the actual flow of family life, like the actual flow of speech, "may be interpreted as the setting of these concepts into mutual relations." The toys of the nursery are not trivia but first given instruments of an extension in consciousness, our creative life. There is a travesty made of sacred objects when the building blocks that are also alphabet blocks, the animal and human dolls, the picture books, are rendered cute or babyish.

"The maturity of man— " Nietzsche writes in Beyond Good and Evil: "that means, to have reacquired the seriousness that one had as a child at play." In The Zohar of Moses of Leon, God Himself appears as Child-Creator-of-the-World: "When the Holy One, blessed be He, was about to make the world, all the letters of the Alphabet were still embryonic, and or two thousand years the Holy One blessed be He, had contemplated them and toyed with them. When He came to create the world, all the letters presented themselves before Him in, reversed order. The letter Tau advanced in front and pleaded: May it please Thee, O Lord of the world, to place me first in the creation of the world, seeing that I am the concluding letter of EMeTh (Truth) which is engraved upon Thy seal." One by one the letters present themselves. At the last, "the Beth then entered and said: O Lord of the world, may it please Thee to put me first in the creation of the world, since I represent the benedictions (Berakhoth) offered to Thee on high and below. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to her: Assuredly, with thee I will create the world, and thou shalt form the beginning in the creation of the world. The letter Aleph remained in her place without presenting herself. Said the Holy one, blessed be His name: Aleph, Aleph, wherefore comest thou not before Me like the rest of the letters? She answered: Because I saw all the other letters leaving Thy presence without any success. What, then, could I achieve there? And further, since Thou hast already bestowed on the letter Beth this great gift, it is not meet for the Supreme King to take away the gift which He has made to His servant and give it to another. The Lord said to her: Aleph, Aleph, although I will begin the creation of the world with the beth, thou wilt remain the first of letters. My unity shall not be expressed except through thee, on thee shall be based all calculations and operations of the world, and unity shall not be expressed save by the letter Aleph. Then the Holy One, blessed be His name, made higher-world letters of a large pattern and lower-world letters of a small pattern. It is therefore that we have here two words beginning with beth (Bereshith bara) "in-thebeginning He-created." and then two words beginning with aleph (Elohim eth) "God the."

In this primal scene, before the beginning of the world that is also here before the beginning of a writing, the Self contemplates and toys in a rite of play until the letters present themselves and speak; as in another primal scene, in a drama or play of the family, the child contemplates and plays with the sounds of a language in order to enter a world in which Father and Mother present themselves and speak. So too in the fullness of the imagination, blocks and even made-up playmates present themselves. The teddy bear was once in the shaman world of the great northern forests Grandfather or Folk-Father. The figures we play with, the members of our play world, given as they are, like the Katchina dolls of the Zuni child, are spirit figures. "My unity shall not be expressed except through thee," the Child-Creator promises. It is the first promise of love, "on thee shall be based all calculations and operations of the world."

These powers, the ambience in which all things of our world speak to us and in which we in turn answer, the secret allegiances of the world of play, the psychic depth of time transformed into eternity in which the conceptual persons of Father and Mother, Child and Play-Thing, exist—these are pre-rational. Brother and Sister have such an existence in the unreal that, where actual brother and sister do not exist or are unwilling to play the part, imaginary brother and sister may appear.

For men who declare themselves partisans of the rational mind at war with all other possibilities of being, the pre-rational or the irrational appears as an enemy within. It was not only the Poet, but Mother and Father also, that Plato would exclude from his Republic. In the extreme of the rationalist presumption, the nursery is not the nursery of an eternal child but of a grown-up, a rational man. Common sense and good sense exist in an armed citadel surrounded by the threatening countryside of phantasy, childishness, madness, irrationality. irresponsibility—an exile and despised humanity. In that city where Reason has preserved itself by retreating from the totality of the self, infants must play not with the things of the imagination nor entertain the lies of the poets but play house, government, business, philosophy or war. Before the guardians of this state the voices and persons of the Child-Creator stand condemned as auditory and visual hallucinations a dangerous non-sense.

In the world of the Zohar, dolls were not permitted. The Child plays with the letters of an alphabet and Logos is the creator of the world. Man is to take his reality from, to express his unity in, the letter. But this letter is, like the doll, alive to the mind. Tau presents herself and speaks, just as the bear in our nursery does. To the extent that once for us too alphabet blocks were animate, all future architectures and worlds are populated, and we are prepared to understand the world-experience of the Kabbalist.

In this world-experience rationality does not exist apart from the whole, but the understanding searches ever to picture the self in the ununderstandable. The human spirit draws its life from a tree larger and more various than knowing, and reason stands in need of a gift, "the gift of the queen to them that wander with her in exile."

There is a return in the imagination to the real, an ascent of the soul to its "root", that Hayyim Vital describes in his life work, The Tree of Life: "The imaginative faculty will turn a man’s thoughts to imagine, and picture as if it ascended in the higher worlds up to the roots of his soul . . . until the imagined image reaches its highest source and there the images of the supernal lights are imprinted on his mind as if he imagined and saw them in the same way in which his imaginative faculty normally pictures in his mind mental contents deriving from the world." We seem to be in the description of the process of a poem, for here too the mind imagines, but then enters a real it had not imagined, where the image becomes informed, from above or below, and takes over as an entity in itself, a messenger from a higher real. In his ascent the mystic is irradiated by the light of the tree and in his descent the light finds a medium through which to flow back into the daily world: "The thought of the prophet expands and rises from one level to another . . . until he arrives at the point where the root of his soul is. Next he concentrates on raising the light of the sefirah to En Sof and from there he draws the light down, from on high down to his rational soul, and from there, by means of the imaginative faculty, down to his animal soul, and there all things are pictured either by the inner senses of the imaginative faculty or by the outer senses."

[A version of the foregoing was published as "Rites of Participation" in Clayton Eshleman's Caterpillar 1 & Caterpillar 2 in 1967 & 1968.]

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From friend to friend
the voice comes,
& the answer
that a stranger overhears
robs him of speech.
The guest is half
Nowhere he turns
or runs, caught
in a web
or caught between
two open doors,
is right for him.
The way out west
leads back to Asia,
Asia leads him
into wilderness,
a bitter landscape
where no friend
no gaze or touch
so tender.
Those who fight
for love,
once living,
know it as a taste,
sweet in the mouth
though distant.
At length, at last,
the friend is double
in your sight,
but turns from you.
The time to come
draws nigh.
And does the poem exist
when there is no one there
to hear it?

[Written early in 2010 this poem with the dedication “... for those who went before” is the opening page in the newly published Concealments & Caprichos (Black Widow Press, 2010). The death within days of each other of these three poets is a reminder once again of our common lives & destinies.]

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Translation from French by James Brook

Sweeper at His Door

We must have the same attitude toward words
as that of a fly-hunter
using as the absolute weapon
all the other words
already trapped by the sticky paper
or buzzing for a little while longer
above the most commonly hidden

We must attend to what the glue catches
and see that the flies fall
above the hand that writes
beneath the skin of the bear
happy for just a little longer
in its sold-off forest
brought right here as an offering

We must untiringly return
to the head of stone prepared just for this
as a prelude to the whole body
hidden sprawled across the path—
tired warrior or exhausted tempter—
before the ultimate apparition
this black woman
sweeping in front of her door

We must attend to what the jungle conserves
its temples buried up to the neck
immersed since the first day
beneath the strata of ash
of the wives burnt alive
temples returned to the groundwater
guardians of darkness—
sheltered from the hazards
of helping hands
and feats of strength—bright spots

We must without delay recognize
in the head of the temple
taken out of the water
the signal for the opening of a new season
of manhunting
recognize the hooks of blood
that hold together the clothes of the officiating priest
in the water that separates head and body
we must wash away the forgotten blood
of crimes committed in our name
during our repeated absences
we must no longer forget
the blood spilled by others
—in my name—
thus speaks the head of the temple
brought out of the water
to give the signal for the opening

The Unclassifiables

In the street those who saw the flames
engulf the triple body of the prison
didn’t believe it

After licking the curves of the stone
the tongue of fire lashed out
toward the heights

No revolution came to warn us
of the approaching end of fear
of the instantaneous spreading of the fire
in the narrow hallway
where the well-informed trainers had
killed in advance their favorite wildcats
and waited now for the fire
to procure them a supplementary ration
of unhappiness

The traps thus destroyed like
drawers emptied into the mass
grave where victims and executioners
came to meet

The feet of the colossus that was consumed by the flames
were the last to disappear
their decision to endure was weak
the fire in the shape of the worm Ouroboros
had also aspired too avidly to the heights

In the street those who weren’t blind
didn’t believe what they saw
the painting already tarnished before being framed

In the street there was nothing but mirrors
and eyes turned up
no trace of the fire that had invited us

Mother Country

this took place in 1948
a year when the young czechoslovakian writers not yet
brought into step
believed firmly in the triangle country-mother-poetry
there was only the voice on the radio to reassure them
and the loved ones in a hurry to make them abandon
right away the cheap apartment of the gate-crasher
and the well-chosen word-play to render forgotten
the intoxicating scarf glimpsed on a street in Edinburgh
where people took their own wine to a restaurant
just as they did in the real war

some could not forget
neither the offering-poems on the benches of the suburban trains
or the metro Sunday mornings at the same station
where they got off year after year
of finicky work
nor the eternal pullover whose grayness
was the proof in this world that poetry knew how to transgress
the choppiness of the seasons passed in inhospitality
nor the wind in the streets of London or Toronto
nor the suffocation in the woods of Chapultepec

1948—a year when the Congress of Young Writers
in Prague had not yet been
brought into step but had
energetically condemned Ivan Blatny’s
nonreturn from London
the nonreturn of the beloved poet to his public
before he knew which relatives to turn to
Nezval or his father according to confirmed rumors
but who could his mother be
among all those immobile people mouths of fire
of unsuspected bunkers

I salute you Ivan Blatny!
and I admire your courage!
throughout your life against the phantoms
of the old country
where the mothers always cry too late
for the wars that they incite

by Jerome Rothenberg

If there is a Romanian diaspora - & there is – then Sebastian Reichmann is among its notable poets &, like others before him, ready to be a player on a worldwide stage. The predecessors of course are awesome: Tristan Tzara in the days of Dada, Paul Celan & Gherasim Luca, Eugene Ionesco, Isidore Isou, Mircea Eliade, even (nearer home) our bon ami Andrei Codrescu. All of them began in Romania & all, moving out from there, changed languages but kept the native accent in how they spoke the words they wrote. That much is the mark par excellence of the “nomadic poet” for whom – Pierre Joris has told us – “there is not at-home-ness…but only an ever more displaced drifting…’ on the way’ [unterwegs] as Celan puts it.” Or still more tellingly : “The NOET [nomadic poet] learns & then writes in foreign languages (real or made-up ones) in order to come to the realization that all languages are foreign.”

For Reichmann the path to other-ness began in post-World War II Bucharest and took him from there to later residence in Paris. Israel was another stop along the way, as was – for periods up to a year & more – America. As with others of his time, his moves were conditioned by the loss of possibilities in the native place & language and by the desire, then sensed, to work without constraints, at the furthest limits of his powers. The exile to France was also to a place of exile in the “other” language. Thus the tension was played out in the very body of the poem – not as theme so much as skin or substance.

This is quintessential twentieth century – a time of renewed wanderings but also, as he words it, “the season of authorized murder.” As a matter of biography – cultural, political – the thread runs from war & holocaust (before his birth) to cold war & repression (in his growing years) to the later time of crossing borders – “a departure,” he writes, “from the compulsory Paradise in search of the problematics of hell.” It is a search too – & again he is aware of it – for a “post-totalitarian synthesis,” where history & personal history come together. While rarely overt, as another kind of (message) poetry might be, it permeates the work to become what he describes as his “particular weaving of elements of memory, history and myth.” That “weaving ,” if its terms sound familiar here in U.S.A., is not at all in Pound’s or Olson’s mode, for the deeper histories – the ancient matters – lie just outside or well below the surface of these poems, so that everything here exists in the immediate present – or just before.

For the rest, it is enough to read the poems – in James Brook’s cool & sure translations - & to keep a sense throughout of all their underlying tensions, both those which can be translated and those locked into Reichmann’s adopted & nomadic language. The synthesis – of a language-centered surreality with the awareness of a man in motion through real worlds, real times – is both precise & striking. And it is this synthesis which prepares him for what the new century – like the old one – so much needs: the ability to see what is there in front of us but also what lies hidden where appearances no longer are sufficient in themselves.

[More poems by Sebastian Reichmann can be found in translation on the Duration Press web site: http://www.durationpress.com/authors/reichmann/home.html, for which this postface was originally written. Some of his work will also appear in the next issue of Poetry International.]

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