The Peacemaker
Joan Bemel Iron Moccasin

The Peacemaker
Joan Bemel Iron Moccasin

Editor’s Note

Readers –

 

Welcome to Issue # 38 of Plume.

 

August: 1972, seventeen, and still rehearsing the banal  errancies of an American youth (which I suspect are common in outline if not particulars to at least some of you, today), enacted that sweltering month, however, as if somewhere an hourglass had been overturned: the background music of marijuana and cheap wine played now at thought-smashing volumes; petty delinquencies expanding to fill the attenuated half-light of late summer evenings; in general the pale snout of recklessness twitching its fine whiskers as never before, alert to the scent of  possibilities only the profoundest boredom can confer  — tonight finding myself atop a lakeside cliff or railroad trestle at three a.m., tomorrow in a strange city without funds, language, or the slightest acquaintance.  Ahead the drudgeries and inconsequential rewards of high school’s end; without prospects or desires beyond evasion. But always, for me (as for you, too, yes?): reading. Which meant, in those days, the library. Of all places. (Little Tarcisius, I told no one.) Tall windows across whose bubbled and seeded glass a cloud might lumber, or through which the shadow of a jet replicate its distant trajectory, its toy-like form propelled across the table by an invisible hand. Hours of silence in which a gritty idleness washed over me, yielding from time to time a yellowish speck or two: passages from Rilke, Mallarme, Lautremont, Borges, Paz, But most prized of all: the Surrealists.  Apollinaire, Aragon, Eluard, Peret, Soupalt, Desnos, Char. My initial encounter with written beauty, never forgotten. And it is from those happy long-ago sessions that the journal to which you have come today or tonight for whatever reason — and there may be many — owes its existence, I am certain. As evidence, look no further than the name: Plume, from the Michaux character, of course, that deadpan, distant Hulot. So the thought occurs: our secret poem this month should be – not the Plume of “Dans les Apartements de la Reine” or “La Nuit des Bulgares,” say, marvelous as they are – but to my mind the altogether more enchanting work below, which, Ponge-like, captures — uncannily, perhaps? — the spirit of our little adventure of exploration and discovery.

 

 

 

I Am Writing to You from a Far-off Country

I

We have here, she said, only one sun in the mouth, and for only a little while. We rub our eyes days ahead. But to no purpose. Inexorable weather. Sunlight arrives only at its proper hour.

Then we have a world of things to do, so long as there is light, in fact we hardly have time to look at one another a bit.

The trouble is that nighttime is when we must work, and we really must: dwarves are born constantly.

II

When you walk in the country, she further confided to him, you may chance to meet with substantial masses on your road. These are mountains and sooner or later you must bend the knee to them. Resisting will do no good, you could go no farther, even by hurting yourself. I do not say this in order to wound. I could say other things if I really wanted to wound.

III

The dawn is grey here, she went on to tell him. It was not always like this. We do not know whom to accuse.

At night the cattle make a great bellowing, long and flutelike at the end.

We feel compassionate, but what can we do?

The smell of eucalyptus surrounds us: a blessing—serenity, but it cannot protect us from everything, or else do you think that it really can protect us from everything?

IV

I add one further word to you, a question rather.

Does water flow in your country too? (I don’t remember whether you’ve told me so) and it gives chills too, if it is the real thing.

Do I love it? I don’t know. One feels so alone when it is cold. But quit otherwise when it is warm. Well then? How can I decide? How do you others decide, tell me, when you speak of it without disguise, with open hearts?

V

I am writing to you from the end of the world. You must realize this. The trees often tremble. We collect the leaves. They have a ridiculous number of veins. But what for? There’s nothing between them and the tree any more, and we go off troubled.

Could not life continue on earth without wind? Or must everything tremble, always, always?

There are subterranean disturbances, too, in the house as well, like angers which might come to face you, like stern beings who would like to wrest confessions.

We see nothing, except what is so unimportant to see. Nothing, and yet we tremble. Why?

— Henri Michaux, translated from the French by Richard Ellman

 

 

And, you, reader, what teen-age treasure box gleams in the watery depths of your memory?

 

Segue: Inept, abrupt. Which is to say: news.

The fall reading in Los Angeles is firming up: Mark Irwin, Arthur Vogelsang, and Marci Vogel at Beyond Baroque.  But also it seems Rae Armantrout and Ralph Angel. One reading or two, date and time: TBA. And Paris: Marilyn Hacker (and friends, I hope), Molly Lou Freeman, Jeffrey Greene. The American University of Paris.  Grand Salon, 30 October at 6:30 p.m.

Many thanks to all of these PLUME contributors!

Upcoming readings in Asheville and Chicago, details as they coalesce.

(Again: on the off chance that you, poets, are interested in reading at one of the above sites, or might want to organize a reading in your own neighborhood, please, again, email me at plumepoetry@gmail.com – we’ll make every effort to accommodate you, I promise.)

Our cover art this month comes from Joan Bemel Iron Moccasin, who lives and works in Columbus, Minnesota. She earned her BFA degree in studio art from the University of Minnesota and is the recipient of numerous awards. She exhibits regionally and nationally, and her work is included in many private collections, including that of the Weisman Art Museum.

Next up, after this issue’s Featured Selection from Andre du Bouchet (translated by Hoyt Rogers and Paul Auster) look for extended work Daniel Bourne and Tadeusz Dziewanowski in collaboration; Gennady Aygi and the great Russian Tatar painter Igor Vulokh, also in collaboration;Linda Pastan; Glenn Mott; Chris Kennedy; Jim Daniels in collaboration with Charlee Brodsky; Tess Gallagher and Lawrence Matsuda; and Nin Andrews, with others just appearing on the horizon. (Here, too, again, let me add as always: those with projects that might be suitable for the Featured Selection please do contact us with your proposal at plumepoetry@gmail.com ).

Finally, New Work Received this month includes pieces from Cynthia Cruz, Helen Ivory, Brian Culhane, David Baker, Karen Volkman, Dore Kiesselbach,  Peter Cooley, Jay Hopler, Lia Purpura, and William Logan.

As always, I do hope you enjoy the issue!

 

Daniel Lawless

Editor, PLUME

 

 

Nature

Ralph Angel

Looking through trees strangely into nature.

A window, an air-conditioner, a wall covered with ivy.

The book on your lap.  Your head tilted back.

Like handling cups or pennies, a shovel, a stone.

Like where an arm is found, or where the tangled limbs go.

A bookshop, a fruitstand.  You wake up and there you are, and there you are.

“Do we have any cookies, or something nice?”

Toward the east outstretches the shadow.  On the left a plywood lake.

Gods and horses playing in the fountain.  A conch shell.  A robe.

The swallows, the sandstorms, a pink fire in the clouds.

And the generator, the chain and the pulley.  Unheard-of laughter and prayer.

The long exhalation.  Of baskets and flutes.

Of bracken.  Of reed.  Of cypress and olive, pelvis and spine.

Three shoes on a doorstep.  Of human unfinished.

The spirit in time.

 

 

 

Ralph Angel’s Your Moon received the 2013 Green Rose Poetry Prize. His Exceptions and Melancholies: Poems 1986-2006 received the 2007 PEN USA Poetry Award, and Neither World won the James Laughlin Award of The Academy of American Poets. In addition to five books of poetry, he has also published an award-winning translation of the Federico García Lorca collection, Poema del cante jondo / Poem of the Deep Song.

Two Poems

Brian Barker

Lobsters

In the depths of the sea they will eat the sea and outgrow the world’s largest pot. They will flash one claw for seizing skee balls, beauty queens, crowbars, and French cigarettes. They will wield a second for crushing padlocks, testicles, school buses, and cops. At night we will hear them on the roof and in the attic, clacking away like an escadrille of vulturous typewriters. We will find them clinging to curtains, curled beneath beds, wedged into air conditioning ducts. Some of them will prefer to sit upright in armchairs, basking ceremoniously in the glow of reading lamps. When we tiptoe closer, they will grind the three teeth hidden in their stomachs. They will flex their speckled mandibles in a frantic gesture of loneliness and menace.

 

 

Turkey Vultures

They will reek of tire fires and scorched fur. Their heads, shrunken by boredom, will be like desiccated beets skewered by the sun. They will descend forever, singed dirigibles corkscrewing blue skies, dreaming of the tart tartare of armadillo, the rank sinewy tangle of wolf. In a roadside ditch, they will bow their mummified faces into the steaming bowl of a body and eat, and raise them again, their blood-red hoods lacquered redder by blood. At night, they will roost in a forest of metal trees, black pineapples ripening in the moonlight, downy cocoons waiting to be kicked open by an angel. They will be the first and last foreboding: spangles of soot blown away in a gust.

 

 

 

Brian Barker is the author of The Black Ocean (Southern Illinois University Press, 2011), winner of the Crab Orchard Open Competition, and of The Animal Gospels (Tupelo Press, 2006), winner of the Tupelo Press Editor’s Prize. His poems, reviews, and interviews have appeared in such journals as Poetry, Ploughshares, Quarterly West, American Book Review, The Writer’s Chronicle, The Indiana Review, Blackbird, Pleiades, fugue, and storySouth. His awards include an Academy of American Poets Prize and the 2009 Campbell Corner Poetry Prize. He has earned degrees in Creative Writing and Literature from Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University, and the University of Houston. He is married to the poet Nicky Beer and teaches at the University of Colorado Denver, where he co-edits Copper Nickel.

A Heresy Sublime

Stephen Todd Booker

An artist whom I’ve met is Dürer,

Whose hands are oh-so busy,

In a word, beaverish.  Poemed,

 

He gnaws himself to splinters,

Though I have it on good authority,

Saintly Jerome materialized there

 

Before his dim gaze, sat for portraiture

While also astride a crisp log in Tartarus,

And at that very moment still wanted

 

For company, to see them reincarnated,

Roasting (peace, to him, eternal anathema).

The sorcerer was of course immortalized.

 

He became a religion.  But Dürer is yet

Beyond confessing to biting his nails

And saving them to blissfully eat alone.

 

Weep, weep, for the famished who have

No hands, Dürer teaches; for prayerful hands,

Fettered in cuffs, even with chains broken

 

Upon wheels inside of wheels of slavers

Rolling like sizzling bacon, are doomed,

Smokes a pack a day of fake faith healers,

 

Reclining at poolside with St. Jerome—

Boys in virginal white thongs, their angels.

Angels’ feathered wings are what, synthetic?

 

—Made like Purgatory, eraseable?—

Like Mithra’s birthday, not to be discussed?

Immortality, you deserve a rest.

 

 

 

Stephen Todd Booker, born in 1953is originally from Brooklyn, and has spent 38 years in prison, 34 on Death Row in Florida, where he started writing poetry. His work has appeared in numerous publications worldwide, most recently in the new renaissance, Mudlark, and Watershed. He’s the author of three collections: Waves and License (Greenfield Review Press); Tug (Wesleyan U. Press); & Swiftly, Deeper (Mandrake Poetry Press)

The Muse Writes Luis Jorge Borges A Letter On His 86th Birthday

Chard deNiord

The night has entered your eyes

with algebra and fire,

señor, so please don’t listen

anymore to  María Kodama

who says you’ve buried something

already immortal in

the library of the past.

She’s only repeating what

I said about Sappho,

Dante, and Shakespeare—

that no poet can

become his own under-

taker until he’s dead

himself. That such burial

is death’s work alone

and no one else’s, especially

the poet’s. Although she walks

beside you like your mother

on the streets of Buenos Aires,

you must leave her behind

on the road that’s not a road

you’ve chosen to walk by yourself

at night with me if you wish

to see at all. You’re almost

invisible now that you’re

so famous, which María

for no reason you

can blame her, is

as blind to as you are

to a wall, unlike the others

who pass you on the street

without regard, except

for the child who watches the way

you stop at every corner

to sign the air with your cane

as if it were the title

page of a book of poems,

which it is, it is—the one

you’ve been writing for centuries

in poet years and have finished

now that you’ve come to see

so much in the light of darkness.

 

 

 

Chard deNiord is the author of four books of poetry, The Double Truth (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011), which was cited as one of the top ten books of poetry by the Boston Globe in 2011, Night Mowing (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005), Sharp Golden Thorn (Marsh Hawk Press, 2003) and Asleep in the Fire (University of Alabama Press, 1990). His new book of poems, Interstate, will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2015. His book of essays and interviews with seven senior American poets (Galway Kinnell, Donald Hall. Maxine Kumin, Jack Gilbert, Ruth Stone, Lucille Clifton, Robert Bly) titled Sad Friends, Drowned Lovers, Stapled Songs, Conversations and Reflections on 20th Century American Poets was published by Marick Press in 2012. His poems have appeared recently in The Best Poems from Thirty Years of the Pushcart Prize, Best American Poetry, The Kenyon Review, AGNI, Salmagundi, The New Republic, Harvard Review, and New Ohio Review. He is a Professor of English at Providence College and lives in Putney, Vermont

A Terribly Sentimental Fork

Amy Gerstler

As unmined silver,

I spent eons in twilight sleep,

rubbed lustrous by seasons,

And learnt much from it.

Thumbless hand,

I’ve been jammed

into tine-bending clay

to gouge holes

for planting jasmine

when a spade wasn’t handy.

Human mistreatment

of their best inventions

led this still-handsome fork

(my classic pattern’s

known as Acanthus

or Aegean weave)

to be employed

prying up old linoleum.

Forks are mentioned

six times in the bible!

Slave of the grip, bound

to spear earthworms

or currants, I have

pedigree, nobility,

but am sans volition.

Today, the brat

in the dotted Swiss pinafore,

plagued by frequent nosebleeds,

used me to stab the cat. I am

scholar, diplomat! striving’s

elongated shape! Yet my fate

is shame. As if pitched here

by some tantrum-prone

god, I’ve lain for days

in the grass where

I was flung.

 

 

 

Amy Gerstler’s most recent books of poetry include Dearest Creature, Ghost Girl, Medicine, and Crown of Weeds. Her book of poems Bitter Angel received a National Book Critics’ Circle Award in 1991. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. These include The New Yorker, Poetry, Paris ReviewAmerican Poetry Review, several volumes of Best American Poetry, and The Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry. She teaches at University of California at Irvine.

Two Poems

Douglas Goetsch

Shin Issues

Probably you have shins.

If you were born shinless

there would still be something between

your knee and ankle and we

could call that space

shin,

just as we could say the unknown guy

who supposedly wrote Shakespeare’s plays

was also, coincidentally, named Shakespeare.

That was a long sentence.

We elected a president who has shins.

He stands with other world leaders,

or they sit talking with their shins

parked indifferently under

the table like service dogs.

Let’s say you’re feeling bad, or else good—

no matter: your shins will still be

only okay. Unless you whack them

on, for example, something.

In that case go ahead and scream why don’t you.

“Son of a bitch!” you could shout,

like your father, or just bark.

In closing, you might think of trees

as having shins. They don’t.

 

 

 

Flash Flood

I don’t want to die. Not on a day

that’s cloudy or clear, near women

pretty or plain, listening to the song

of a sparrow or a truck backing up,

or the Roberta Flack tune I belt out

under cover of an arriving train.

Not while falling in love or breaking up,

or doing both at the same time, as rain

pours off the café awning, and baristas in

their aprons scramble to get bowls under

all the leaks. I don’t want it to stop—

I feel I’ve been alive

less than the seven days allotted the housefly.

Whatever I’ve read about death,

whatever I believed about past lives,

parallel universes, the eternal—just forget it.

There’s no world but this one,

no river to cross, no other

side to see you on.

 

 

 

Douglas Goetsch  is the author of Nameless Boy and several other volumes of poems. His work has appeared in The New YorkerPoetryThe Gettysburg ReviewThe American ScholarBest American PoetryThe Pushcart Prize and numerous other journals and anthologies. Among his honors are fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Donald Murray Prize.

Two Poems

Jane Hirshfield

The Conversations I Remember Most

The way a sweet cake wants

a little salt in it,

or blackness a little gray nearby to be seen,

or a pot unused remains good for boiling water,

 

the conversations I remember most

are the ones that were interrupted.

 

Wait, you say, running after them,

I forgot to ask—

 

Night rain, they answer.

Silver on the fire-thorn’s red berries.

 

 

 

As A Hammer Speaks to a Nail

When all else fails,

fail boldly,

fail with conviction,

as a hammer speaks to a nail,

or a lamp left on in daylight.

 

Say one.

If two does not follow,

say three, if that fails, say life,

say future.

 

Lacking future,

try bucket,

lacking iron, try shadow.

 

If shadow too fails,

if your voice falls and falls and keeps falling,

meets only air and silence,

 

say one, again,

but say it with greater conviction,

 

as a nail speaks to a picture,

as a hammer left on in daylight.

 

 

Jane Hirshfield ‘s eighth poetry collection, The Beauty, is forthcoming from Knopf in March 2015, along with a new book of essays, Ten Windows. Her most recent book is Come, Thief (Knopf, 2011). Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Nation, The American Poetry Review, Poetry, McSweeney’s, Orion, seven volumes of The Best American Poetry (as well as the 25th anniversary Best of the Best American Poetry volume), and many other publications. In 2012, she was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and named the third recipient of the Donald Hall–Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry. In 2013 she served as the Hellman Artist in Residence in the neuroscience department of UCSF.. 

 

Plastic Bag Caught in a Tree

Kevin Prufer

Some dark animal’s

sloughed-off skin.

 

Bit of the night sky

snagged on a limb.

 

Black as a lung that wheezes

in the oil-thick breeze.

 

Eyeless hood,

shroud, or veil. Yesterday, a caught

 

paratrooper cut the cords

and fell through the branches,

 

leaving behind his chute.

The snagged soul

 

can never quite escape,

so the wind makes a flag of it,

 

makes a black thought of it.

We are bags filled with bones

 

and blood. I couldn’t stop thinking

and then my thought slipped out,

 

and now look—it’s rippling

in the high branches.

 

 

Kevin Prufer‘s sixth book is Churches (Four Way Books, 2014).  Newer poems are coming out in Paris Review, Poetry, A Public Space, and The Southern Review

Two Poems

Mary Ruefle

Hellebore

Lord, I am all

stretched out to quality,

but I fear I wear

a ring of hellebore

on my brow, as I am

a daughterish son

and my torment is that

I fed the flowers

to a circle of friends

not knowing their sudden

life-changing effect—

so a boy poisons his dog

and Hamlet his mother

and all beings

of whatever kind

afterwards walk trampled

as if crushing with

their own bare hands

(things are not familiar!

things are not familiar!)

the love they were

saving for a more

opportune moment

such as this

 

 

 

The Way of Books

My chickens call to my chickens

 

Your chickens call to my chickens

 

We grow old and die,

 

with never a need for a visit

 

 

 

Mary Ruefle was born in Pennsylvania in 1952. Winner of the 2011 William Carlos Williams Award for her Selected Poems, she is the author of fifteen books of poetry and prose, as well as seventy-two erasure books.

Inner City Canal

Michael Smith

This water tumbling over the canal locks

pours no redemption as once in times gone by.

 

Dead dogs and cats float amid the bankside reeds

with plastic bags, beer cans, bottles, other debris.

 

The revelleries of youth have long since past.

The sportive summer boys have swum their last.

 

Needles of death now litter the ancient towpaths.

Dark bodies crouch under low cavernous bridges.

 

Only the majestic swans paddle patiently

awaiting the stale bread of strollers & flight to other parts.

 

Ghosts of those we loved and those we once befriended

hover over the canal’s green sludge, directionless & homeless.

 

 

 

 

Michael Smith has translated, much in collaboration with his friend and Spanish scholar, Luis Ingelmo, a wide range of Spanish-language writers including Federico García Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Miguel Hernández, Gerardo Diego, Luis Cernuda, and Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Claudio Rodríguez, Rosalía de Castro, along with the two Spanish masters of the baroque, Francisco de Quevedo (Dedalus) and Luis de Góngora (Anvil Poetry). With the Peruvian scholar Valentino Gianuzzi, he has translated the complete poems of César Vallejo in four volumes (Shearsman Books). Next year his translation with (Luis Ingelmo) of the Renaissance poet, Fernando de Herrera, will be published by Shearsman Books as well as a collection of new poems entitled Poems to the Dead & Other Poems. Parlor Press (USA) will also publish Magnetic Brackets by the contemporary Spanish poet, Jesús Losada. His achievement in translation was acknowledged in 2001 when he was awarded the European Academy Medal for Poetry. He has also published several volumes of his own poetry, which itself has been widely translated – a collected edition of his work has been published by Shearsman Books.

Two Poems

Ron Smith

Coda alla Vaccinara

                        (Monte Testaccio)

Leo X was “Determined to make Rome the most cultured
city in Europe.” –Christopher Hibbert

The pedigree of honey
Does not concern the bee—
A clover, any time, to him
Is aristocracy.
–Emily Dickinson

 

 

From Keats’s grave, past the Paladiana and Coyote

nightclubs, I limped to the celebrated

ristorante, determined to play it safe this year,

gout-wise, and eat only ox tail, where twelve

months ago I had the intestines and the tripe

and the sweet, sweet testicles and paid,

as they say, the price. I like to think

this is where Pope Leo enjoyed orange-

throwing contests, whatever they might

have been. But I know this is where, in his

God-has-given-us-the-papacy-let-us-enjoy-it

frame of mind, that jolly, genial, generous fellow

loved with a special relish the game of the rolling

of the barrels down ancient Rome’s famous

trash heap.

 

The poor and the country folk liked Leo,

though they kept their distance, partly because

of the odor of his anal fistula. His advisors

mouth-breathed at the side of His Obesity, who

trembled with delight. Machiavelli smiled

almost genuinely as Il Papa squealed

and pounded his palms.

 

The barrels

gathered impressive speed clink-clanking down

one hundred and fifty feet of weed-sprouting

potsherds, amphorae so scrupulously broken, so

carefully stacked, convex into concave, century

after century, and the barrels out of the sky

making little landslides, small avalanches of

tumbling points and edges, and the people,

so many people, rushing to catch the pig-filled

barrels, risking some of their not-yet ruined faces,

risking the crushed sternum and the splintered ribs,

shattered arms, legs smashed to pieces—

Can you imagine how they came hurtling

down that commerce-created mountain, that

monument to the discipline of year upon year

of oil and wine from all over the Mediterranean?

This was not the running of the bulls, fleeing

from frightened, hugely pissed off beasts. This

was more like the drunks at Daytona trying

to catch the cars as they roared around the track.

 

“Some fun!” said Flannery’s Bobby Lee,

I thought, ungenerously. A mezzo of red

arrived and then my wife’s exquisite liver

and my steaming ox tail, so fat-sweet, so lush

with perfect pomodori and sprinkles of cioccolato.

When a barrel broke open, the terrified pig lit out

for any space not filled with a hungry grin,

and the pope’s litter, flush with his enormous

capacity for pleasure, rocked with, I suddenly

want to believe, a not-entirely unwholesome

hilarity, with, let’s say, a genuinely warm

fellow-feeling all the way back to the papal palace.

 

                                                           

A Dusting

The sun was the moon all morning,

the trees signatures of trees. Where

 

had you been, emptiness, my old friend?

 

Nary a cow, a single crater–white hole

in the luminous gray.

   I crossed the field, I re-

crossed the field. A dusting, as we say.

 

Footprints: waves, wavelengths:

 

A human being can’t go straight. I turn,

I begin.

Which is to say, I begin again.

 

 

 

 

Ron Smith is the Poet Laureate of Virginia. His most recent book of poems is Its Ghostly Workshop from Louisiana State University Press. His Moon Road: Poems 1986-2005 appeared from LSU in 2007. The title poem of his first book, Running Again in Hollywood Cemetery (1988), was reprinted in Southern Poetry Review and in the anthology Don’t Leave Hungry (2009) from University of Arkansas Press. Smith is the winner of the Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize, the Guy Owen Award from Southern Poetry Review, and the Theodore Roethke Prize from Poetry Northwest and has published poems in many magazines and anthologies, including The Nation, The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, New England Review, Helen Vender’s Poems, Poets, Poetry (2010) and The Poets of the Sala Capizucchi (2011), the latter published in Italian and English by University of New Orleans and, in Italy, by Raffaelli Editore. Ron Smith’s critical prose can be found in The Georgia ReviewBlackbirdThe Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere.

 

Pedestrian Interval

Mark Svenvold

The trick in all of this is to build well–

I’m thinking of Siracusa with Ted and Patty,

taking pictures of a 9th century church built atop

Roman baths, our children wilting in the heat,

or the place we took refuge—into the Ear of Dionysious I,

the rock quarry where we let loose with a tri-chord,

our voices carrying to where the cruel king is said to have

listened to the screams of his prisoners,

or the Greek Teatro: carpenters banging away

with improvements (acoustics so fine

tuned you can hear them dickering over measurements

for a new staging of Sophocles). The place

predates Hannibal, the Han Dynasty,

Euclid, the calculation of the earth’s circumference,

the Rosetta Stone, Adam and Eve–

it resists erasure, i.e., there’s no rusting rebar.

If you want it to last, build it in stone.

There’s a lot to live up to in a place, in a poem.

*

Back from Sicily, down Radipole Road—Saturday,

a sunny disposition in the London sky,

the clouds of John Constable passing by,

I find a bank machine, a pound of coffee,

walk again into the sun, and, now quite turned around,

spend part of the morning getting to know Fulham’s

(you have to admit) confusion of intersecting

diagonal streets, white row houses repeating

into the middle distance, except for places that got bombed,

in which case there’s something lastingly brutal

thrown up that you hadn’t noticed the first time,

or even the second or third time,

with groceries in a plastic sack–

for all the world like a man having just completed

a morning’s errand, and heading back.

*

Live long enough and everything’s emblematic—

 

except for the work of Damien Hirst, perhaps, or my

life-long preoccupation with sex. There’s an art

to the thoughts we might have had, Jean Paul Sartre!

I’m kidding about Hirst, though.

I walked into his retrospective thinking, This guy’s a charlatan,

but I left thinking, This guy’s a charlatan

­­and Wow, I love the cathedral butterflies.

I love the black disc of dead flies,

I don’t love the pharmaceutical cabinets,

I do love the pills and the cigarettes, and I do love

the formaldehyded shark and sawed-in-half calf, and the dove.

At the center something beautiful and brutal in all we love,

something Kali-like and fucked-up at the center—

something stupid and hateful at the center of all we love.

I’m with my nephew and son among the throngs at Turbine Hall

We stand on a bridge for a moment,

as below a flash mob of “pedestrians”

in a grid, without touching or bumping, emphatic

in three-second intervals, take their silent steps—

 

Live long enough and everything’s emblematic.

 

 

Mark Svenvold‘s article “The New Commute,” on real-time ride-sharing, is forthcoming in Orion Magazine (http://www.orionmagazine.org) in September. Five poems appeared recently in The Literary Review‘s “Artificial Intelligence” issue. His most recent book of poems, Empire Burlesquewon The Journal Prize and was published by Ohio State University Press. He lives in New York City and teaches at Seton Hall University.

 

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FEATURED SELECTION: Openwork

André du Bouchet trans by Paul Auster and Hoyt Rogers

By way of introduction to this month’s Featured Selection, per usual, first a brief introduction by the translators (separated by some forty years!), followed by the work itself and some biographical material.

 

APPEARING OCTOBER 2014
IN THE MARGELLOS SERIES
OF THE YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS

 

 

 

. . .  this irreducible sign―deutungslos―
. . .  a word beyond grasping, Cassandra’s
word, a word from which no lesson is to
be drawn, a word, each time, and every
time, spoken to say nothing . . . 

Hölderlin aujourd’hui
(lecture delivered March 1970 in Stuttgart to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Hölderlin’s birth) 

                             (this joy . . . that is born of nothing . . .) 

                                       Qui n’est pas tourne vers nous (1972)

 

Born of the deepest silences, and condemned to life without hope of life (I found myself / free / and without hope), the poetry of André du Bouchet stands, in the end, as an act of survival.  Beginning with nothing, and ending with nothing but the truth of its own struggle, du Bouchet’s work is the record of an obsessive, wholly ruthless attempt to gain access to the self.  It is a project filled with uncertainty, silence, and resistance, and there is no contemporary poetry, perhaps, that lends itself more reluctantly to gloss.  To read du Bouchet is to undergo a process of dislocation:  here, we discover, is not here, and the body, even the physical presence within the poems, is no longer in possession of itself―but moving, as if into the distance, where it seeks to find itself against the inevitability of its own disappearance ( . . . and the silence that claims us, like a vast field.)  “Here” is the limit we come to.  To be in the poem, from this moment on, is to be nowhere.

A body in space.  And the poem, as self-evident as this body. In space:  that is to say, this void, this nowhere between sky and earth, discovered anew with each step that it taken.    For wherever we are, the world is not.  And wherever we go, we find ourselves moving in advance of ourselves―as if where the world would be.  The distance, which allows the world to appear, is also that which separates us from the world, and though the body will endlessly move through this space, as if in the hope of abolishing it, the process begins anew with each step taken.  We move toward an infinitely receding point, a destination that can never be reached, and in the end,  this going,  in itself,  will become a goal,  so that the mere fact of moving onward will be a way of being in the world, even as the world remains beyond us.  There is no hope in this, but neither is there despair.  For what du Bouchet manages to maintain, almost uncannily, is a nostalgia for a possible future, even as he knows it will never come to pass.   And from this dreadful knowedge, there is nevertheless a kind of joy, a joy . . . that is born of nothing.

Du Bouchet’s work, however, will seem difficult to many readers approaching it for the first time.  Stripped of metaphor, almost devoid of imagery, and generated by a syntax of abrupt, paratactic brevity, his poems have done away with nearly all the props that students of poetry are taught to look for―the very difficulties that poetry has always seemed to rely on―and this sudden opening of distances, in spite of the lessons buried in such earlier poets as Hölderlin, Leopardi, and Mallarmé, will seem baffling, even frightening.  In the world of French poetry, however, du Bouchet has performed an act of linguistic surgery no less important the one performed by William Carlos Williams in America, and against the rhetorical inflation that is the curse of French writing, his intensely understated poems have all the freshness of natural objects.  His work, which was first published in the early fifties, became a model for a whole generation of post-war poets, and there are few young poets in France today who do not show the mark of his influence.  What on first or second reading might seem to be an almost fragile sensibility gradually emerges as a vision of the greatest force and purity.  For the poems themselves cannot be truly felt until one has penetrated the strength of the silence that lies at their source.  It is a silence equal to the strength of any word.

PAUL AUSTER                                                                                                                                 Paris, 1973

 

An unjustly neglected giant of French literature—and obliquely, of several other literatures as well—André du Bouchet was one of the greatest innovators of twentieth-century letters.  Trailblazing poet, maverick philosopher, multifarious critic, trenchant stylist, fearless anthologist, daring editor, prolific diarist, intrepid translator in four languages, tireless explorer of nature and the visual arts, he was an authentic iconoclast who has yet to receive his due, especially in the English-speaking world.  This anomaly seems all the more inexplicable, given his dazzling renditions of Shakespeare, Joyce, and Faulkner into French.  We should also mention his lifelong attachment to the classic authors of nineteenth-century America, particularly Hawthorne and Melville; and in most of his writings, the elliptical syntax and halting dashes of Dickinson inform every page.

By drawing the attention of the English-language public to du Bouchet’s work, Paul Auster and I hope that our anthology, Openwork—appearing this autumn in the Margellos Series of the Yale University Press—will help to rectify a glaring omission.  Though most translators and omnibus anthologists of French verse have understandably tended to focus on du Bouchet’s better-known poetry from the sixties, we have expanded the scope of Openwork to include pieces from the author’s entire trajectory, both “poetry” and “prose.”  For du Bouchet, as for many French writers of the last two centuries, these modes of expression are intertwined and often indistinguishable.

Throughout his life, du Bouchet spent a large part of his time in the French countryside, devoting himself to the long walks—first in Normandy and then in the Drôme—which nourished the creation of his notebooks.  He often jotted down the entries as he was engaged in his rambles, especially during the decade of the fifties, and they have gradually emerged as signal works in their own right.  Accessible yet elusive, veering off in unexpected tangents, they are well represented by the sequences translated here.  Once the entire corpus of du Bouchet’s journals appears in print, the more challenging texts he published in his middle and later periods will come into focus as trees fully integral to the understory below.

Despite its seeming abstraction, du Bouchet always grounds his work in primal sensation; but the interplay between reality and trope is far from simplistic.  As he often demonstrates, even such a straightforward motif as the mountain that recurs in his poetry can never be fully grasped.  We cannot encompass a whole mountain from any vantage point.  From high above, we cannot observe the core of the rock below its many surfaces.  In a horizontal view, we only register one of the mountain’s many faces.  All of these vary as well, according to the vagaries of lighting and weather, or the play of shadows made by clouds.

Such phenomena, both outer and inner, are beautifully limned in one of his archetypal phrases:  “But the white rock-face—gilded and glazed by the light that picks it out and sweeps it with dim mountains.”  Du Bouchet was a translator of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and he twists the familiar phrase “the mind has mountains” inside out.  Not only does he internalize the landscape, he externalizes the mindscape.  In nature as in art, the mountain we can see is always a metonym.  That is why it is so much like a word:  never the thing or the concept itself, a word only points in their direction, before retreating once again into its own inscrutability.

Hoyt Rogers

Venice, 2014

 

 

 

bouchet

Alberto Giacometti, “Andre du Bouchet III,” reproduction on cover and as frontispiece courtesy of the Giacometti Estate.​

 

 

 

from PART ONE:

EARLY POEMS AND NOTEBOOKS

(translated by Hoyt Rogers)

 

 

The Piercing Thorns

(from a notebook of 1951)

 

The piercing thorns, the clear ice-floes of awareness in the vapid light of day and dreams.

Writing when all we find before us is this mute wall that does not answer.   Writing because there is nothing left to say; that’s the moment, the worst moment of all, when we have to say it.

I still find myself in front of myself:  I must move on.

It’s the immensity that stops me.  The untellable sense of choking on reality that makes me set out again.  I start over, I shout behind this wall of words that slowly parts, and will close behind me once more.  We wanted to go outside:  all we did was enter another room.

Writing this text should come as naturally as breathing.  Each time, I have to thrash wildly ahead, as if in freezing water.  Which means my usual state is suffocation.

Here are the few surviving phrases from the poem I have forgotten, and that vanished with the sun.

Everything has been said, but we have to repeat it again and again.

The horror of seeing these things arrange themselves into words.

 

 

Two forms of poetry:  the one that takes shape while the poet says nothing, words made of much silence; and the one that molds its words around the hero.

The sleepwalking earth.  The printed air stirred by night.

*

Paying with words.  Silence gives only silence.

Every poem is a ripped-off piece of bark that flays the senses.  The poem has broken this casing, this wall, which atrophies the senses.  Then for an instant we can grasp the earth, grasp reality.  Then the open wound heals over.  Everything goes deaf again, goes mute and blind.

To take hold of man, as real as nature.  A mind blazing without words.

Instead of creating words and sentences, I begin by imagining my silent connection with the world.

Assembling words beforehand makes the task easier, but the poem becomes more cowardly.

Lamentation, invective, and interrogation have been supplanted by the impulse to define.  Hardly surprising that poems tend to be more concise.

If we could force nature to speak:  all hyperboles spring from that.  Pry nature open as we pry open a chest—speechless nature.

 

 

Eternal back-and-forth between wide-open texts, redolent with objects that balk at words, and these ten lines as tight as a fist.

We need to hollow out in words, in broad daylight, a space analogous to this room, for example.

Man is the conscious part of reality; man is reality’s head.

 

 

Like a Man

[from a notebook dated August 23, 1953]

 

like a man

in a day without sun

that glows

alive

almost

outside the air

what I write bothers me as much as my body

 

it is a white lamp

 

always lit

 

even when its light is useless

and day has come

 

and for no reason I lose myself in the daylight

 

but should I insist

I would find     my destruction

 

and I see     through this framework

 

I am not dead

 

I walk     till the end of day

 

without falling behind

 

as you have to lift your feet off the ground

for the ground to let go

every time we laugh, we get to the bottom of reality

Sometimes, I have the joy of discovering that I am far behind what

I have already done.

 

I hurry up to get ahead again.

Romantic:

I cannot keep myself from incarnating what I know

is my illness.

 

I find my shoulders

like a stone

 

before my illness

 

it’s that my truth

my sincerity

is still outside myself

 

I do not incarnate         it

is found instead in my friends

 

and you

my lost wife

 

I still see you

like a shattered blade

in the frame of the door

 

the time of thinking of you

and having seen you disappear

you had become as thin and cutting

as a blade

I would like to live

having seen

 

and seeing

should be enough

 

to become a country

 

drawing my worth from a river or a road

 

to become a field

and the plowshare of that field

 

so that field will work for me

I turn to a blank sheet of paper

in order to find some rest

Poetry is the price of an animated reality—the pain of an

animated nature.  And undoubtedly, all else failing, this pain

is genuine

 

the pain of what tears itself apart in order to come alive

 

that is all I have to do, and that is all I do

 

poetry—what people love—like the audience, responsive above all

to the cadenza—generally written much later—of the concerto,

itself real, which gives the ground, the irrefutable grounding

from which that cadenza removes itself—such is the influence wielded

by a poetry which in that very influence fades away

 

 

I Saw the Train Growing Larger

[from a notebook dated March 12, 1955]

 

I saw the train growing larger with the land

 

train Venice—Greece

 

a growing splinter of star, swollen

half-submerged in the black expanse

 

and the gathering speed, uncanny under the clouds—on the

slick iron

 

how everything is interwoven

even though we haven’t yet emerged from the earth—from this

reserved enclosure of air

 

But whoever sees the air a bit beyond the path, for him the path

is lost.

 

under the dome of air

 

Then here, stopped in the dead of night, in the heart

 

of wool country—

embedded in the fields

—at the edge of the mountains, the fire retreats, dies down

we are freed from

and attached to the light

 

then the cold air detaches us from stone—

the day tearing away from us, issuing from the shattered mountain—

 

we had still recognized the point where we had to

separate

 

before the streaming black water

from time to time, a foray outside the human, in the headless

 

Outside the walls—

 

then again the steam of light, a hand that comes down before evening

—we are encircled by that white breathing,

by a breath, close and cold, that widens us.

 

by a breath close to the building

 

here, my god, there’s nothing but this black wave that slowly passes.

 

The heart, this whirlwind.

The heart—hollowed out.

Wood on the chopping block.  The gully’s features, left behind by the torrent.

the air that quickens.  Then we enter the fire of several

lost faces again—

at the edge of the dull belt of earth.

 

I stared the road down.

twice I have seen the earth shrink

 

seen its gaze brush the water’s gaze

 

what reaches me here has not parted with what is lost

 

 

stones, cold and hot, answer each to each

 

the rock interrupted

by new rock

Your face next to me,

earth.

 

After the cold has welcomed us.

 

Alone, at night—or for all the nights—your face in

my sky, in my head.

 

your face with eyes closed

 

there is, in the dryness, blue water

staring at you

 

 

from PART TWO:

POEMS FROM WHERE THE SUN

(translated by Paul Auster)

 

Where the Sun

Where the sun

―    the cold, earthen disc, the black and trodden disc,

where the sun disappeared    ―    upward, into the air

we shall not inhabit.

 

 

Sinking, like the sun, whether we have disappeared   ―

the work of the sun   ―   or again moving on.

 

 

Up to us    ―    rugged road up to the brow.

 

 

I ran with the sun that disappeared.

 

 

 

Light, I’ve held my ground.

Up to the air we do not breathe    ―    up to us.

 

Tomorrow    ―    already, like a knot in the day.  The

halted wind thunders.

 

 

As, under the figure

of the sparse

air, in soils overturned upon it, straw, it,  sought by the wind, still  ―

 

 

Uprooting itself, as I move on    ―    uprooted from its distances, the new soil,

shot through with light.

 

 

Up to this earth inhabited under the step, that dries up    ―    only under

the step.

 

 

 

Like the look of what I have not seen    ―

ahead as well.

 

 

 

Under the step, only, opening up to the day.

 

 

 

 

 

The face of water from the glaciers.  The face of water standing in the day.

 

 

But the earth, as long as I run, is stopped under the wind.

 

 

 

Through the stones of waterless paths.      Stones half-way    ―

 

 

 

In the day and its dust, with the same step    ―

upon us, cold, and breath, as if

hovering.

 

 

Through what gives, in the distance, another step    ( a burden masking the fire,

the coolness )

 

 

The air    ―  without reaching the soil,

even    ―    under the step, returns.

 

 

Postponement

 

Alone I inhabit this white

place

where nothing thwarts the wind

if we are what cried

and the cry

that opens this sky

of ice

this white ceiling

we have loved under this ceiling.

 

 

 

I almost see,

in the whiteness of the storm, what will come to pass without me.

 

I do not diminish.  I breathe at the foot of arid light.

 

 

 

If there were not the force

of dust

that severs arms and legs

but only the white

that spills

I would hold the sky

deep rut

with which we turn

and which knocks against the air.

 

 

 

 

In this light that the sun

abandons, all heat resolved in fire, I ran, nailed to the light

of roads, till the wind buckled under.

 

 

 

 

Where I split the air,

you have come through with me.  I find you in the heat.  In the air, even

farther, which uproots itself,

with a single jolt, away from the heat.

 

 

The dust lights up.  The mountain, frail lamp, appears.

 

 

 

The Light of the Blade

 

This glacier that creaks

to utter

the cool of earth

without breathing.

 

 

 

 

 Like paper flat against this earth, or a bit above the earth,

like a blade I stop breathing.  At night I return to myself, for a

moment, to utter it.

 

 

 

 In the place of the tree.

In the light of the stones.

 

 

I saw, all along the day, the dark blue rafter that bars

the day rise up to reach us

in the motionless light.

 

 

I walk in the gleams of dust that mirror us.

 

 

 

In the short blue

breath

of the clattering air

 

far from breath

 

the air trembles and clatters.

 

 

from PART THREE:

LATE POEMS

(translated by Hoyt Rogers)

 

Crete

 

. . .    Byzantium

in this rock

as long as the incarnate

toe

is stubbed.

 

 

. . .    not wanting to turn the water of waters

to steel.

 

 

 . . .    and

   legs dangling

into the moment

this day

has

dug.

 

 

 

      . . .    world

withdrawn from world

you are

there

like falling water.

 

 

 

. . .    your back

to the mountain

without leaning

back on the mountain

as between

me and the world.

 

 

 

 . . .    you

draw

on having

 as though on having

been.

. . .    looking

all

the way

through

 

the open

door.

 

 

 

. . .    to leave, then, like the snow.                                          without seeing

without sound.

 

 

 

Painting

after the door, I

am      —      and open, in what I have opened.

 

where color

has been just a splinter of color, no doubt it is less

like the color itself than a splinter

through that color, and

since it pricks, it looms coldly in front of the color.

 

its piercing,

like the door ahead

when it opens, that is what it will project

from the loss of identity.

 

 all the rest of the person

must then follow suit.

 

 

the eye and the

hand        —                       in front of us, open an expanse where the

rest of the person

has disappeared.

 

 

 the impersonal

split apart.

 

 

 

eye touching          —       like a splinter     —     the sensitive

point to which you have fled once again.

 

 

 

the future      —      turning back

on itself, dazzles.

 

 

  but color is you, if you recognize yourself in

the identity you have lost, yourself like a look that blindly rests

where the blind hand rests.

 

 

From a Notebook

something of the thickness

of the wind when it starts to blow steals away from itself.

 

 

slate pursued in the vein

of its compression.

 

 

thirst

entwined with thirst crosses the barrier.

 

 

I have found the mountain only by tearing it out.

 

may you reach me, snow, a man who quickens his step in the snow    —    as on scalding ground or tiles.

 

 

here I have kept in touch with the cold.

 

the image, I have sought it at its

root     —     disappearance.

 

cold that I have breathed once.                                                          that is

   only once, though endlessly

begun again.

 

 

recurrence,

or a blinking     —     the thickness.

 

 

unless to make it solid,

I do not need to     —     break the sky

between eyelid

and self.

 

 

bushes of lavender, locked-up blue.

 

 

 It was enough     —     in order to bury the self-born

image, to lift my head.

 

as

is the ground where my foot has found room.

 

 

the dust that gave blueness

sponged away, the round earth has turned black.

 

 

color has broken through.

 

 

air that carries

vanished words.

 

 

the anvil here, and there, which will speak of distances.                            air

that bears.                                     vanished anvil.

 

 

words     —     anvil vanished     —     gone together.

 

 

a mudslide     —     sign of the steep slope.

 

mountain

shorn of its summit, and on its ledges once again removed

from a useless image.

 

 

mountain, the perception of that face

still engaging us

from head to foot.

 

 

 eminences, flowered

heights where the circular sun has turned around to stake its claim again.

 

 

 

cut to the chase

make no conclusions.

 

what’s withdrawn from this is the earth we will have crossed.

 

 

… an about-face

in the thick of things  —  where new surfaces are found  —

brings me back to myself

where I must end.

 

 

 

Paul Auster is known worldwide for his novels, which have won him numerous awards, as well for his films, memoirs, essays, and poetry. But he is also an authority on French literature and a noted translator from the French. In 1982 he edited The Random House Book of Twentieth-Century French Poetry, and he has published translations of Joubert, Mallarmé, Sartre, Blanchot, Dupin, and many other authors. He did his translations of du Bouchet between 1967 and 1971; they were first published in book form by Living Hand in 1976. He has revised them for Openwork. Paul Auster lives in Brooklyn with his wife, the writer Siri Hustvedt.

Hoyt Rogers has published his poems, stories, essays, and translations in many books and periodicals. He translates from the French, German, Italian, and Spanish. His translations of Jorge Luis Borges were included in the Viking-Penguin centenary edition of 1999. Farrar, Straus and Giroux published his translation of Yves Bonnefoy’s The Curved Planks in 2006, and his anthology of the poet’s recent work, Second Simplicity, appeared in the Margellos Series at Yale in 2012. In early 2014 his translation of Bonnefoy’s The Digamma was published by Seagull Books. Hoyt Rogers divides his time between the Dominican Republic and Italy.