FEATURED SELECTION | Emmanuel Moses

By way of introduction to this month’s Featured Selection of poems by Emmanuel Moses, translated by Marilyn Hacker, we present an introductory interview with our own Associate Editor for Special Projects, the estimable Nancy Mitchell, followed by the work itself and some more detailed biographical material.

 

EM

NM:  Good Morning Emmanuel.  Your beautiful poems have emboldened me to suggest that we transcend this sensually impoverished cyberspace and meet this morning on my pond dock for a version of My Dinner with Andre; perhaps Coffee with Emmanuel and Nancy?

The aroma of coffee—or is it espresso, for you? —hovers the dark elixir of fallen, damp leaves and fugitive wood smoke.   A rowdy scatter of geese gathers itself into a flock, forms a respectable V and rises up and over the pond to outlying farm fields to scavenge corn spilled during the harvest, their cacophony of honks fading into distant traffic grinding down the highway.  Little dark slips of birds flicker yellow leaves as they flit from tree to tree, their bright songs chipping away the morning.  “Quick!” you might say, as you write in “Time of Color,” and point to the small bush the passing light has burst into flames, or “quick!…see how, in the water’s shimmery reflection, the trees along the opposite shore are like smeared paint of an autumnal palette.”

EM:     Nancy, this beautiful restitution of the landscape, as you add to the colors and hues, bird voices and cars sounds your reverie becomes all of a sudden my reverie…

NM:    Ah!  Then we are indeed here, Emmanuel…Look!;  how quickly the sun has dried the pond dock of dew from everything except for our shadows. So, here, together, we begin:

For this poet, the litmus test of real poetry—which these poems certainly are—is

the phenomenon that while reading it, I fall into a poetic reverie. By reverie, I don’t mean the fuzzy, dreamy trance, which precedes a nap, but a poetic reverie, which Gaston Bachelard, in The Poetics of Reverie, distinguishes from the common daydream in that “it situates one most fully in the present, where all the senses awaken and fall into harmony.” Certainly, your poem “Time in Color” snaps us awake and calls our attention to an electric present/presence with the imperative “Quick! Colors through the window! / Colors on fields” and reminds us of the fleeting, ephemeral quality of these moments:

Before the weather changes

And changes everything

Empties fields and forests of their substance

And ponds and farms

How fleeting the sun is!

Your imagery is so original, all “newborn poetic images,” which Bachelard identifies as the undisputed “offspring of poetic reverie.”  Here are but a few stunning examples of such offspring: “Let life drown itself in fumes of wine/Let death flee like a pickpocket” and “Mother, you hid your tears under the pillow/Like a miser hiding gold coins” from “My Life.”

And again from “Time in Color” :

The yellow of colza in nearly-black fields,

The silver of streams

The silt-browned green of fish-filled rivers—quick!

Cabbage’s purple in well-mannered squares—quick!

as well as the breathtaking “The black of a village chimney silent as a closed mouth—quick! / The black of a village church-bell never to be caught up in the saviors arms—quick!”

And I would be remiss not to mention these lines from “A Stolen Dream”:

But of shop window dummies

Male and female

White, so blindingly white under the dead leaves

That arouse from within me and perhaps came from all the cemeteries

and from “Portrait of My Friend”:

The tobacco in the bowl of his pipe glowed too

As dark as time

Burning like life

Emmanuel, I’m compelled to ask: if your poems induce reverie in the reader, is my intuition correct that they were composed in reverie, as well?  If so, do you access or fall into reverie via solitary

contemplation the natural world which Bachelard posits is “the transcendent vehicle to poetic reverie” or via other vehicles?

EM:     When I write, or, more precisely, when the urge to write surges like a moor-bird from the weeds of this no man’s land betwixt consciousness and unconscious, I am that person who turns his back to the world and craves for golden light, who suffers from low sinister skies, but at the same time, I am his dreamy-lazy spirit and eye wandering in the landscape framed by the window, under celestial influences, again, but also nourished by details and particulars brought to my sight by the complexity and movability of things within me, by the intimate and secret inner climate and seasons we all harbor. From the conjunction of those powers and phenomenons, the poem is born, a kind of earthly-aerial creature, half golem, half butterfly.

NM:    Lovely…so if, as Bachelard argues, “The man of reverie and the world of his reverie are as close as possible; they are touching; they interpenetrate.  They are on the same plane of being,” is it not possible that the reader who falls into reverie while reading what was written in reverie enters into a poetic ecology of sorts with the writer which could indeed be the fusion of two reveries?

EM:     I do agree with your idea of a mutual rêverie, the one of the writer and the one of the reader. The writer, in a strange process, closes himself up like a snail to enter the external world, which, of course, is HIS external world, and the reader is opening himself up to that inner-outer singular world of the writer.

Those two apparently contradictory movements create no tension but an encounter. Almost a sexual one, between the self-centered writer, yet going toward the outside, and the reader being entered by the text he reads and being changed by it.

I think there is a gap between the creative and the created and that an immense loneliness befalls both. And yet, they do touch, naturally.

NM:    Yes… that gap between the creative and the creative is such “an immense loneliness”…so sorrowful… so, to continue with mutual reverie, as the reader is entered by the text, she is simultaneously entering the writer’s reverie-text.  Yet, alas, this very real and profound sense of connection, paradoxically via the dissolution of self, in reveries “which take us so deeply within ourselves that they rid us of our history. They liberate us from our name” is so fleeting…is it not so like sexual union, before we fall back out of reverie and via “the gap” fall back into our separate selves?

But while we are in reverie we dwell in an atemporal terrain of the immediate present, as a non-personal presence in which we are not defined by our past or are pulled by an imagined trajectory of a future.  In fact, it is precisely this quality of your poems that I find so original, refreshing and enlivening. We hear in the speaker of “A Stolen Dream” a consciousness so unencumbered by time or identity it’s capable of inhabiting the dream of another:

While reciting the stolen speech

I realized that the dream wasn’t mine either

I was in someone else’s dream

As I might be in the body of someone else’s wife

NM:    I want to ask you about your poem “Prayer,” which opens your manuscript.  It seems to function as both an invocation: “God of drizzle and resonant earth” and as a petition: “Give us the strength to get through the bad days.” I’m wondering if it might, too, be a threshold, a door into the manuscript itself; would it be a stretch to say that the speaker/poet is also the priest/shaman, the guardian of the threshold, who, via prayer, opens the door?

EM:     Who is that God, Nancy? Who am I addressing in this short poem? I remember Saint Augustine’s words: “God is more intimate to myself than myself.” I am speaking, then, to my most secret und unknown self, to a hidden energy whose rays are filling the world, my world at least. This infinitely intricate net of time, times, actually, space, dimensions of space, of nature, which is a reflection of the boundless. I am addressing the unseen I who is both deep inside me and outside me, in eternity and infinity. This nucleus, axis, fundamental note of which I am a vibration, or a set of vibrations, is a staff, a consolation, an aspiration, it is the God of good hope and the God who pours the “Lux Perpetua” from and on the tenebrous reality, realities, in which we are all thrown, as it is our destiny of beings-towards-death, to quote Heidegger’s profound words.

Prayer, as the gesture, the movement of addressing, invocating, of one’s voice – as the translation of one’s soul, our invisible breath – lifting itself up, rising and pointing to what is greater then myself (yet, as mentioned above deeply rooted in me), to what is higher than my daily dust, prayer, then, is the begetter of poetry. It is a Psalm and poetry is of a psalmistic essence. Therefore, Prayer. Praise, exultation, fright, hope and despair constitute the chromatic scale of prayers, Psalms and poems. Its palette. Prayers, Psalms and poems are addressed both the unreachable transcendency and to the unfathomable depth in us.

NM:    Emmanuel, anything I might add would be superfluous; we’ll let your response lead our readers directly into your featured poems.

 

PRAYER

God of drizzle and resonant earth

Give us the strength to get through bad days

God of exotic birds and astounding flowers

Give us the joy of the sun streaming through a tangle of branches

God of sap and fog

Give us the sensual sweetness, the melancholy sweetness

Of the seasons passing

 

PISZ NA BERDYCZOW

 

“ Pisz na Berdyczow !” That means “Write to me at Berdichev!”

Since all the merchants of Poland, Lithuania and Russia

Passed through Berdichev, a main commercial and banking center of the region

But when commerce moved to Odessa, the city went downhill quickly

And “ Pisz na Berdyczow !” became “Write to nobody !” or “Leave me alone !”

He writes “Pisz na Berdyczow !” on a piece of paper and tacks it to his door

But no one reads Polish here, people don’t understand what he meant

So they knock, they ring the bell, they slide messages between the doorframe and the

parquet

They whisper or they shout, they speak rudely or with distinction

According to the circumstances

What can you do under the circumstances?

“Pisz na Berdyczow !”

 

A STOLEN DREAM

In my dream I asked to speak

I went up to the platform

I gave someone else’s speech

The men and the women in the audience

Were divided by an aisle

As they would be in a synagogue

While reciting the stolen speech

I realized that the dream wasn’t mine either

I was in someone else’s dream

As I might be in the body of someone else’s wife

I thought that this other person might be dead

And that he had willed me his dream

Or that perhaps I had killed him

To steal his dream from him

I thought that perhaps I myself was dead

And that I was dreaming a living man’s dream

In order to linger in life a little longer

The way vampires nourish themselves with fresh blood

So as not to die entirely

And the speech

Was in fact about death, or about the dead, more precisely

And about the continual birth of those who survive them

But as I continued my remarks

I was thinking that, on the contrary, faced with the dead, survivors die too

They die tirelessly

At every moment of their miserable existence

I said “There is light,”

And I was thinking “There is no light.”

It seemed as if dead leaves were coming out of my mouth

That they emerged in continuous waves and fell silently all around me

It seemed as if they were falling on the silent audience

That was not made up of living beings after all

But of shop window dummies

Male and female

White, so blinding white under the dead leaves

That arose from within me and perhaps came from all the cemeteries

 

Time in Color

Quick! Colors through the window!

Colors on fields and forests

Before the weather changes

And changes everything

Empties fields and forests of their substance

And ponds and farms

How fleeting the sun is!

How the sky mocks our admiring gaze

Eternity is an optical illusion

Immensity a dubious abstraction

The wheatfields’ gold – quick!

The pink of bricks piled on a building-site – quick!

The foliage’s chilly green – quick!

The rust-color of bushes, train-tracks, roadbeds, quick!

The yellow of colza in nearly-black fields,

The silver of streams

The silt-browned green of fish-filled rivers – quick!

Cabbages’ purple in well-mannered squares – quick!

The road’s grey – quick!

The absolute blue of clear sun-softened autumn days—quick!

Red! Red! Red of tractors, cars, traffic-lights red – quick!

The red of a hunter’s cap, his rifle wedged in his armpit – quick!

(And soon the imagined red of a slain beast’s blood)

The metallic green of our roadside poplars – quick!

Blue slate roofs—quick!

The blue of distant mountains – quick!

Stone blue, horizon blue,

Blue light falling in a fine mist on the world – quick!

And white – I had almost forgotten white – the white of dusty roads,

The white of cows lazing in pastures – quick!

Omnipresent white, that the eye disdains

Of a wall between two cypresses, of trucks going swiftly past

White – quick!

Then black! Black! The black of fertile earth ploughed over and over again  – quick!

The black of a horse driven mad by the trains

Who gallops in crazed circles alongside the fence – quick!

The black of a village chimney silent as a closed mouth—quick!

The black of a village church-bell never to be caught up in the saviour’s arms—

quick!

White, black, green, pink, blue and gold—

Quick! Quick! Quick!

 

MY LIFE

Mother, I’m taking my life with me

Father, I’m taking my life with me

Woman, you are taking my love, I see you on the dusty road

Where once we kissed

 

Let the sun dance on women’s backs

Let the rain hammer men’s hands

Let life drown itself in fumes of wine

Let death flee like a pickpocket

 

Mother, you hide your tears under the pillow

Like a miser hiding gold coins

Father, you hide your face under the earth

And your feet are planted in the clouds

 

Woman, I carry my shame in the depths of my pockets

I drink and I smoke what doesn’t fit there

One day I will be Cain

I’ll be pursued for what I did with my life

 

My arms will never embrace the sun

My mouth will never drink up all the rain

Life will go to the devil

I’ll catch up with old death

 

Father, it’s time to sleep

Mother, it’s time to leave

Woman, dust can be a lovers’ bed

Shame weighs down my steps on every road

 

PORTRAIT OF MY FRIEND

He had been waiting for me for five years

Behind drawn venetian blinds

We talked right away about hatchets and revolvers

The frozen sea, the whole caboodle

He no longer wrote a word

He saw nobody

Because literature had lost all interest for him

Since you earned less with it than by selling tomatoes

And because his friends were now

Black inscriptions on white stones

Tormenting his persistent memories

He had had enough of the noise of the city

The noise of the family

The noise of the past

He hoped for a silent future

Saw himself in beloved cities, their streets deserted

Through motionless nights

In the arms of taciturn and tender women

A river would flow

Discreet as everything outsize

You could make out the wind only from the contortions of flags

And leaves rustling

On the trees of refined gardens

And still later there would be nothing but nothing

This thought transformed his face into a smile

His eyes into to suns

The tobacco in the bowl of his pipe glowed too

As dark as time

Burning like life

 

 

EMMANUEL MOSES     

LIST OF PUBLICATIONS

 

Poetry

 

Le repas du soir,  éditions du Titre, Paris, 1988

Métiers, éditions Obsidiane, Paris, 1989  (Prix de la Vocation)

Les bâtiments de la Compagnie Asiatique, éditions Obsidiane, Paris, 1993 (Prix Max-Jacob)

Opus 100, Flammarion, Paris, 1996

Le présent, Flammarion, 1999

Dernières nouvelles de monsieur Néant, éditions Obsidiane, 2003

Figure rose, Flammarion, 2006 (Prix Ploquin-Caunan de l’Académie Française)

D’un perpétuel hiver, Gallimard, La blanche, 2009

L’animal,  Flammarion, 2010

Préludes et fugues, Belin, 2011

Ce qu’il y a à vivre, Atelier La Feugraie, 2012

Comment trouver comment chercher, Obsidiane, 2012

Le voyageur amoureux, Al Manar, 2014

Sombre comme le temps, Gallimard, 2014 (Prix Théophile-Gautier de l’Académie Française)

 

Fiction

 

Un homme est parti, short stories, Gallimard, Paris, 1989

Papernik, novel, Grasset, Paris, 1992 (Folio n°3451)

La danse de la poussière dans les rayons du soleil, novel, Grasset, 1999

Valse noire, novella, Denoël, 2000 (Folio n°3721)

Adieu Lewinter, short stories, Denoël, 2000

La vie rêvée de Paul Averroès, novel, Denoël, 2001

Les Tabor, novel, Stock, 2006

Martebelle, novel, Le seuil, 2008

Le rêve passe, novel, Gallimard, 2010

Le théâtre juif et autres textes, fiction, Gallimard, 2012

Ce jour-là, novel, Gallimard, 2013

Rien ne finit, novel, Gallimard, 2014

 

Radioplays:

Le mort, 2009

L’éveil au rêve, 2010

Les migrants/ Métamorphoses, 2012

 

Opera libretto:

Metamorphosis (preceeded by a prologue by Valère Novarina), opera by Michaël Levinas, commissioned by the Opéra de Lille, produced in march 2011

 

Books in translation:

English:

Yesterday’s Mare, 17 prose poems, translated by Andrew Johnston, Vagabond Press, Stray Dog Editions, 2003

Last news of Mr. Nobody, selected poems, translated by Alba Branca, Marilyn Hacker, Kevin Hart, Andrew Johnston, Davod Kinloch, Gabriel Levin, Robert Olorenshaw, Peter Snowdon, Agnes Stein and C.K. Williams, Handsel books, 2004

He and I, selected poems, translated by Marilyn Hacker, Oberlin College Press, FIELD translation series, 2009

 

German:

Papernik, novel, translated by Wieland Grommes, Aufbau Verlag, 1993

Tanzender Staub im Sonnenlicht, translated by Manfred Flügge, Aufbau Verlag, 2000

 

Translations:

From german:

Peter Huchel, La tristesse est inhabitable, poems, La Différence, Paris, 1990

Stéphane Mosès, Rêves de Freud, essays, Gallimard, 2011

Stéphane Mosès, Approches de Paul Celan,  essays (with Mireille Gansel), Verdier, 2015

Stéphane Mosès, Walter Benjamin et la modernité juive, essays, Le Cerf, 2015

From hebrew:

Yaakov Shabtaï, L’oncle Peretz s’envole, short stories, Actes-Sud, Arles, 1989

11 poètes israéliens, Obsidiane, Paris, 1990

Yehuda Amichaï, Anthologie personnelle, poetry, Actes-Sud, Arles, 1992 (Prix Jean-Malrieu de la traduction)

Yaakov Shabtaï, Et en fin de compte, novel, Actes-Sud, Arles, 1992

David Vogel, Un amas de nuit, poems, Métropolis, Genève, 1997 (Prix Nelly Sachs de la traduction)

Israël Pincas, Discours sur le temps, poems, L’escampette, Bordeaux, 1997

Yehuda Amichaï, Perdu dans la grâce, poetry, Gallimard, 2006

Batya Gour, Meurtre en direct, novel, Série Noire, Gallimard, 2006

Hanoch Levin, Histoires sentimentales sur un banc public, short stories, Stock, 2006 (with Laurence Sendrowicz)

Alon Hilu, La mort du moine, novel, le Seuil, 2008

Samuel Joseph Agnon, Au coeur des mers, tale, Gallimard, 2008

Agi Mishol, Journal du verger, poems, Caractères, 2008

Ory Bernstein, Le temps des autres, poems, Caractères, 2009

Efratia Gitaï, Correspondance 1929-1994, (with Katherine Werchowski), Gallimard 2010

David Grossman, Tombé hors du temps, a story for voices, Le Seuil, 2012

David Grossman, Les aventures d’Itamar, Le Seuil, 2013

From english:

C.K. Williams, Anthologie personnelle, poetry, Actes-Sud, Arles, 2001 (avec Claire Malroux et Michel Lederer)

Anne Atik, Comment c’était, a memoir on Samuel Beckett, L’Olivier, Paris, 2003

Raymond Carver, La vitesse foudroyante du passé, poetry, L’olivier, 2006

Nissim Ézéchiel, L’homme inachevé, poetry, Buchet-Chastel, 2007

Gabriel Levin, Ostraca, poems, Le bruit du temps, 2010

Gabriel Levin, Le tunnel d’Ézéchias, fiction, (with Marc Cohen), Le bruit du temps, 2010

 

Publisher:

Prisma: 11 poètes israéliens, Obsidiane, Sens, 1986

Anthologie de la poésie en hébreu moderne, Gallimard, Paris, 2000

 

Emmanuel Moses was born in 1959 in Casablanca (Morocco). After a childhood in Cachan (Val-de-Marne), and then in Paris, he moved to Jérusalem in 1969 with his family. In 1986 he left Israel and settled in Paris where he lived from different jobs (part-time journalist, organiszer of cultural events, publisher). He shares presently his time between writing and translating.

Marilyn Hacker is the author of twelve books of poems, including Names and Desesperanto (Norton P), and an essay collection, Unauthorized Voices (Michigan P). Her translations from the French include Marie Etienne’s King of a Hundred Horsemen (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux), which received the 2009 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and Amina Saïd’s The Present Tense of the World (Black Widow P). For her own work, she received the PEN Voelcker Award for poetry in 2010. She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Nancy Mitchell, a 2012 Pushcart Prize recipient, is the author of two volumes of poetry: The Near Surround and Grief Hut. Her poems have appeared in Agni, Poetry Daily, Salt Hill Journal, and Green Mountains Review.

Featured Selection Issue #55 February 2016
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