May— and the cruelty this time not of the month even metaphorically but lying instead in the fact of what I must lay at your feet: actual news — in a Newsletter. A relief to most of you, surely: my own ramblings put aside so that we might speak ofâ€¦business. Yes, let’s call it that. Much of what will follow — though not all, by any means — will reappear in this month’s Editor’s Note, I should warn you.
But first, something that will not appear in that Editor’s Note: our “secret poem from Gellu Naum” — “Notes on the Translation of a Poem Based on a Mistranslation” marvelously translated and introduced by Plume contributor Chris Tanasescu (Margento):
Notes on the Translation of a Poem Based on a Mistranslation
In “Natura umanÄƒ”/“Human Nature,” Romanian surrealist Gellu Naum (1915 — 2001) takes his favorite jazz musician, Miles Davis, on a tram trip around downtown Bucharest, while the latter plays his famous trumpet. Playing the trumpet on a tramcar is not the only unusual thing here, and as we’ll see, issues of media(tion) and non-representational spatiality can be traced as playing a fundamental role in the poem.
Modern and contemporary poetry can be and has been revisited from a new media and digital space perspective–and I am not speaking of digital poetry (only) but of traditional/“page” poetry as well. Marit GrÃ¸tta for instance wrote a book on Baudelaire, circumscribing the early modernist’s poetics as deeply informed by the new media of his age–particularly pre-cinematic devices–the kaleidoscope, the thaumatrope, the zoetrope, etc. As this brief enumeration already shows, there is a strong (if not prevailing) emphasis on the visual in these early fusions. Still, in Baudelaire (as argued in the same book) the flaneur’s experience of the crowd is a profoundly sensual one.
This latter modernist motif is revisited by Naum in his poem and actually twisted almost beyond recognition, since he includes two major additions extracted from the cultural heritage of the 20th century–psychoanalysis (the girl who performs the part of her brother’s “dear mama”) and popular music (jazz).
These two additions are further distorted by placing the “concert” on a tramcar and subverting the given topographies (the Neajlov flows in reality somewhere beyond the outskirts of Bucharest and nowhere near the downtown Piazza May the 1st). “Miles Davis” thus becomes, in Ian Davidson’s terms, a “circulating entity” within another “circulating entity,” a restless, walking, performing passenger in a tramcar which is in its turn in motion.
His whereabouts is therefore always variable and uncertain, and therefore Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in quantum physics–that has been identified as perfectly applicable to digital space (cf. Stephen Kennedy 33)–is illustrated here in a most palpable way.
Moreover, multi-temporality and the multiple motions involved in the poem circumscribe an economy of place and space of particular relevance in the context of our discussion. Miles Davis’s character gradually acquires a special kind of place and space related features. His mobility as well as the connectivity and relative re-positionings and (re)arrangements he stirs in the surrounding contexts evoke both the ever-shifting, expanding, and protean networks of hyperlinks in digital space as well as the way in which within (and then as based off of) the virtual, the digital creates a space with a reality principle of itself.
The dislocated places, displaced and floating locations typical of digital space are accompanied here by another salient feature of the latter. A sky with its own stars is made visible through and within the musician’s presence and performance, both of which generate a space of their own, where the eagles on a necklace soar among the stars beyond/above the ceiling. This confusion between the two levels of reality and their fusion into a new self-sufficient kind of reality cohere with the descriptions of digital space in recent criticism as going beyond the real-virtual binary opposition and, as already stated here, acquiring a reality principle in and of itself (see for instance Kroker and Kroker, 11).
Now we can return to the new media mentioned in the opening remarks. Unlike in modernist poetries, the economy of such space and of the poem is not mainly visual anymore, but sonic. The refrain of the poem is a mistranslation (Naum literally renders the song title as “time after time”, “timp dupÄƒ timp”). It sounds like an echo, and the economy of the poem gravitates around it in ways that could be probably best described by the “echostate” (“an echo of a statement”) concept (cf. Kennedy 74-5). The re-mixed and remediated performance develops the echostate of “time after time” in ways that restore the sonic and multi-temporal dimensions to a conventional and representational space related experience. The figure of the musician himself and his wandering among passengers and from one coach to another is also a form of echostate, a metaphor for the propagation of statements and the way they connect or disconnect in various spaces and on various levels, within and across media. His presence triggers a continuous reconfiguration of relationships and causes identities, statuses, and connections to become fluent, fluctuating, and interchangeable.
Come and be transported, be utterly dislocated and transformed by this poem!
by Gellu Naum
When Davis entered my sleep he played crooked
and that bewilderment had emerged which finally encloses
you in autumn when you’re alone and ordained for states of
mind you can’t resist
I started out then Davis plays on his green trumpet
the mouth of the trumpet scraping the ground
and suddenly we find ourselves in Piazza May the First
there was a girl on the #3 Tram with a sanitary handbag
made from tarpaulin it had a red cross painted on the top she wears
a beret made of sky colors bound with a strap which slides
down the neck
she was about 14 years old all terribly made up
playing a game she made up pretending to take the wrong
coach accompanied by a much younger brother
she corrected him constantly performing the part of dear
in the crowded coach Davis plays crooked passing among
the others his trumpet touching the floorboards time after time and I felt like crying he was just an old
man the others couldn’t hear him the girl with the son-brother passed on to the other coach she returned then
Davis plays crooked he passes among the others I made
out above through the ceiling yellow stars on blue
sky I admired the necklace at his throat a great
jewel with eagles
the others smoked as Davis wiped the sweat from his brow
his trumpet seemed a golden amphora sweat poured down those eagles
Davis plays crooked his heart ever deeper dragging with his
fingers making unintelligible signs then there was one with long flowing hair and a small black guitar
the hair ran down over his guitar or it rose up in any case
he couldn’t hear Davis either
Davis played crooked this girl was made-up violently
passing into the other coach the other watched
snapdragon flowers through the windows and the
reddish-black hollyhocks would stir time after time
for two days we’d traveled as Davis played crooked
down close to the floor
on the third day I got off at Piazza May the First while
Davis stayed among the passengers I remained alone
despondent on the banks of the Neajlov that girl
(brother’s mother) I believe was in the same coach
with Davis I hadn’t noticed
in any case I was certain and she clamped the back of her
hand over her son-brother’s face and pulled from the
sanitary handbag a black bandage for his eyes
smeared with my shadow I wiped the sweat from my
(translated from the Romanian by MARGENTO and Martin Woodside from Athanor and Other Pohems, Calypso Editions, 2013, reprinted here with permission from the publisher.)
de Gellu Naum
CÃ¢nd Davis a intrat Ã®n somnul meu cÃ¢nta Ã®ncovoiat
ieÈ™ise la ivealÄƒ Ã®n sfÃ¢rÈ™it acea nedumerire care te cuprinde
toamna cÃ¢nd eÈ™ti singur È™i rÃ¢nduit la stÄƒri
pe care nu le poÈ›i respinge
pe urmÄƒ am pornit la drum Davis cÃ¢nta la o trompetÄƒ verde
gura trompetei atingea pÄƒmÃ¢ntul
È™i pe neaÈ™teptate ne-am pomenit Ã®n PiaÈ›a 1 Mai
era o fatÄƒ Ã®n tramvaiul 3 cu geantÄƒ sanitarÄƒ
din prelatÄƒ avea o cruce roÈ™ie pictatÄƒ pe capacul genÈ›ii purta
o bascÄƒ de culoarea cerului legatÄƒ cu o cureluÈ™Äƒ
care Ã®i cÄƒdea pe ceafÄƒ
avea vreo paisprezece ani era teribil de fardatÄƒ
juca un joc se prefÄƒcea cÄƒ a greÈ™it
vagonul o Ã®nsoÈ›ea un frate mult mai mic
de fiecare datÄƒ Ã®l certa vroia sÄƒ parÄƒ
era Ã®nghesuialÄƒ Ã®n vagon Davis cÃ¢nta Ã®ncovoiat trecea
printre ceilalÈ›i trompeta atingea podeaua timp dupÄƒ timp È™i Ã®mi venea sÄƒ plÃ¢ng era bÄƒtrÃ¢n
ceilalÈ›i nu-l auzeau fata cu fiul-frate a trecut Ã®n celÄƒlalt vagon apoi s-a reÃ®ntors
Davis cÃ¢nta Ã®ncovoiat trecea printre ceilalÈ›i zÄƒream
deasupra prin tavan stele gÄƒlbui pe cerul albÄƒstriu
Ã®i admiram colanul de la gÃ¢t un mare
giuvaier cu vulturi
ceilalÈ›i fumau È™i Davis Ã®È™i È™tergea sudoarea de pe faÈ›Äƒ
trompeta lui pÄƒrea o amforÄƒ de aur sudoarea Ã®i cÄƒdea pe vulturi
Davis cÃ¢nta Ã®ncovoiat cu inima mult mai adÃ¢ncÄƒ fÄƒcea cu degetele semne
de neÃ®nÈ›eles era acolo unul cu pÄƒrul foarte lung cu o chitarÄƒ micÄƒ neagrÄƒ
pÄƒrul i se scurgea Ã®nspre chitarÄƒ sau Ã®i creÈ™tea din ea Ã®n sus Ã®n orice caz
nici el nu-l auzea pe Davis
Davis cÃ¢nta Ã®ncovoiat fata aceea violent fardatÄƒ
trecuse Ã®n vagonul celÄƒlalt vedea
prin geamuri flori de gura-leului
È™i nalbe Ã®nroÈ™ite-negru care se miÈ™cau timp dupÄƒ timp
de douÄƒ zile tot cÄƒlÄƒtoream aÈ™a Davis cÃ¢nta Ã®ncovoiat
aproape de podea
a treia zi m-am coborÃ¢t Ã®n PiaÈ›a 1 Mai el a rÄƒmas
acolo printre pasageri eu am rÄƒmas tot singur
ca un amÄƒrÃ¢t pe malul Neajlovului fata aceea
(mama fratelui) cred cÄƒ era cu Davis Ã®n vagon
Ã®n orice caz sunt sigur cÄƒ È™i-a pleznit cu dosul palmei
peste mutrÄƒ fiul-frate È™i cÄƒ a scos
din geanta sanitarÄƒ faÈ™Äƒ neagrÄƒ ca sÄƒ-i bandajeze ochii
mÃ¢njit de umbra mea eu Ã®mi È™tergeam sudoarea de pe frunte
Gellu Naum (1915-2001) started as an orthodox Surrealist, together with André Breton and Victor Brauner in the Paris of the 1930s, where he pursued a PhD in philosophy from the Sorbonne. After returning to Romania in the early 1940s, he embarked on a solitary and prolific career, riskily immune to the political agenda of the Communist regime. He reshaped surrealism by means of a mode-of-existence poetics that absorbed (often jocosely) erudite eastern and western references along with popular culture and the quotidian, thus managing to fuse a wide range of styles and dictions into a unique discourse, shamanistic and deadly humorous at the same time. A major voice of the 20th century, his verse contains varied infinities while staying mysteriously homogenous and enlightened by the pursuit of the same unmistaken path.
MARGENTO (Chris TÄƒnÄƒsescu) is a Romanian poet, performer, academic, and translator who has lectured, launched books, and performed in the US, SE Asia, Australia, and Europe. His pen-name is also the name of his multimedia cross-artform band that won a number of major international awards. His book of translations–together with Martin Woodside–from Gellu Naum’s poetry (Athanor and Other Pohems) was nominated by World Literature Today as Most Notable Translation in 2013, and his more recent work has appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Prairie Schooner, Belas Infieis, Experiment-O, and Tristan Tzara Notebooks, among other places, and he has recently completed the libretto for a rock opera composed by Bogdan Bradu. He continues his work on the graph poem project together with Diana Inkpen and the latter’s students at University of Ottawa. MARGENTO is Romania & Moldova Editor-at-Large for Asymptote.
Wonderful, yes? Thank you, Margento — Chris, and Martin.
And now: so many to thank for recent kindnesses:
First, to AWP, where Susan Sanford stepped in at the last minute to fill the otherwise unoccupied chair at the Plume booth: how kind of you, Susan — all who stopped by, who have written me, extolled your virtues: intelligence and humor always are appreciated.
And the readings! At LACE Gallery and the Library Bar. By all accountsâ€¦interesting: fun and illuminating. And how could they not have been? At LACE, for Plume, the readers were Arthur Vogelsang, Marilyn Kallet, Phillis Levin, Susan Rich, Lynn Emmanuel, Andrea Cohen, Cornelius Eady, Patricia Smith, Ralph Angel, and HélÃ¨ne Cardona, the last of whom merits special thanks for producing and emceeing the event.
At the Library Bar, a combined Plume/MadHat/White Pines event: Sally Bliumus-Dunn, Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Julie Bruck, John Hennessy, Bill Yarrow, Larissa Shmailo, Jeffrey Ethan Lee, HélÃ¨ne Cardona, Elizabeth Hodges, John Fitzgerald, Salgado Maranhao, Alexis Levitan — and emcee extraordinaire Elena Karina Byrne — much gratitude to each and every!
Also, a thousand thank-you’s, too to Terese Svoboda for reading in St. Petersburg for the second installment of the Plume Poetry Series. A delight in every respect. (And that jokeâ€¦).
Finally: what to say of the Featured Poet at the annual Plume Reading Series: current U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera? That he was everything I imagined him to be — erudite, passionate, hilarious, graceful — and nattily attired per usual — yes. And modest, andâ€¦fascinating…andâ€¦new receptor of a second stint as U.S. Poet Laureate! A wise choice, to say the least.
Upcoming readings: Margo Berdeshevsky, Chantal Bizzini, Marilyn Hacker, Marilyn Kallet, and Emmanuel Moses, in Paris at Shakespeare & Co 37 rue de la BÃ»cherie 75005 Monday, May 30 7 p.m. If you’re there, well, come!
Readings in Boston/Cambridge, NYC, et cetera, in the fall, announced as plans are firmed up.
And: if you’d like to organize a reading — or allow us to do so — in your neck of the wood (autocorrected from “words”!), please, email me.
But now, again, the launch of Plume Poetry V 4 and various readings in support of its launch. Use the zoom on your computer if you’d like to read an excerpt from Daniel Tobin’s Preface, the roster of contributors, or blurbs from Afaa Weaver, Cole Swensen, David Rivard, and Lia Purpura.
And — please see the Editor’s Note for details — and, forgive me in advance when I tell you that an email will appear in your Inbox soon, extolling the virtues of the anthology and — god — urging you to purchase one. Believe me, it pains me to do this — send emails uninvited — and I doubt I’ll do it again, so — fear not: you’ll likely never see PLUME in that queue after this one-off!
Our Featured Selection this month is from Thomas McCarthy, with an introductory interview conducted by Co-International Editor HélÃ¨ne Cardona. Stunningly good, both.
Don’t forget that the first offering from Plume Editions, Boogie-Woogie Crisscross, a collaboration between Tess Gallagher and Lawrence Matsuda, is available now at MadHat Press.
As noted, our cover art, “Silo” is from the marvelous Randi Ward, a writer, translator, lyricist, and photographer from West Virginia. She earned her MA in Cultural Studies from the University of the Faroe Islands and is a recipient of the American-Scandinavian Foundation’s Nadia Christensen Prize. During her last six months in the Faroe Islands, Ward lived on the island of Hestur. Fewer than 20 people reside in the lone village of Hestur. There are no longer any school-age children living in the village; nearly all of the remaining residents are over the age of 65. Faroese politicians have decided that an undersea tunnel, currently slated for construction between the islands of Streymoy and Sandoy, will not incorporate Hestur. Being connected to the main island of Streymoy, via tunnel, was considered Hestur’s last hope for revitalization.
Adam Tavel reviews The Oppens Remembered this issue — a delight, I assure you. Here’s the cover and a glimpse of what awaits you there:
When Of Being Numerous won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1969, George Oppen seemed like an emblematic poet for the zeitgeist: he wrote associative verses that were taut and mysterious, he championed syntactic innovation over sophisticated diction, and he embodied an urban political awareness that spoke to the decade’s social upheavals. “In fact,” Ted Pearson writes in his essay “Successive/Happenings,” “George felt co-opted by the prize, which, in the name of Pulitzer, represented not only the literary establishment, but also a class and ideology that he long since rejected, vigorously opposed, and whose recent ‘approval’ of his work he could only find disturbing.” An activist during the Great Depression, a member of the Old Left, and a World War II veteran, Oppen was in his sixties when he won the most prestigious literary award in the United States, an occurrence which, remarkably, did little to change his daily circumstances, his sense of self, or his painstaking, recursive craft. This incorruptible humility is one of many virtues on display in The Oppens Remembered: Poetry, Politics, and Friendship, deftly edited by Rachel Blau DuPlessis, which contains twenty essays and remembrances of George and Mary Oppen. Commendable for its balance of critical insight and personal anecdote, The Oppens Remembered chronicles a truly noble literary couple that deserves wider recognition for their grace, talent, and inspirational example during the most volatile decades of the 20th century.
Please see the Editor’s Note for a never-fails-to-astonish-me list of New Work Received.
That’s it for now.
As always, I do hope you enjoy the issue!