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Apr 30, 2013
Apr 30, 2013
‘The door through which you were shoved out
into the light
was self-loathing and terror.’
Careening through time and space, having pushed onto the stage...more ‘The door through which you were shoved out
into the light
was self-loathing and terror.’
Careening through time and space, having pushed onto the stage of life without any of our own consent, we find ourselves hungering for meaning, hungering for an Absolute. Through the most difficult of times we discover the food for our souls that can best nourish us, yet discover that our bodies, our flesh, is set on an irreversible path towards rot and ruin. Frank Bidart’s confessional collection, ‘Metaphysical Dog’, a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award, exquisitely explores this hunger for an Absolute, chronicling his life’s pursuit towards understanding while unafraid to document both his failures and fears as he nears his own death. This is a highly psychological collection that—hrough Bidart’s expansively expressive style that is bravely confessional of his own fears of death, the death of his parents, and his own coming out—pushes the reader into the dark recesses of their own mind, towards ‘the eerie acceptance of finitue’, yet always reminding us that despite our destined ruin, we are a creative body ‘through which you seize the world,’ and discover the infinite through the ideas and emotions that pour from the caverns of our heart with a searing light.
As You Crave SoulBidart has a gift for casually caressing the dark fears within our mortal hearts, the fears of dying without ever becoming whole, the fears of a future in which we cannot participate in body, and the horror of watching our flesh wither and die. His style is reflective of life itself, each line spaced out—much like Wittgenstein’s most noted work—spending pages on a poem to allow each moment to be appreciated both in it’s singular beauty, but as a piece of the full evolution of the poem, much like how our individual memories are held dear as singular moments but it is the collective beauty of them all that form a life. Bidart uses full range of italics, all capital letters, bullet points, and other poetic punctuation to adorn his poetry. There is even a section of notes to help elucidate his poetry and give full credit to the many allusions found within. I was initially taken aback by this notes section, but upon further reflection it seems to be a friendly invite into his works and allows for several asides where he can frame the poems in personal or spiritual context that allows for greater enjoyment without feeling like he is holding the readers hand or annoyingly pointing out his own genius.
The true language of ecstasy
‘At seventy-two, the future is what I mourn,’ writes an aging Bidart in ‘The Enterprise is Abandoned’, the title of which being one of the many lines that is repeated like a mantra throughout this collection. Metaphysical Dog is at its best when mulling over our inevitable demise because by reminding us that we must be ground out of existence like the butt of a cigarette, we see how luminescent and glorious our expiring lives truly are and must mourn a future where we cannot exist (at least not in body, but, as Bidart hints, our words and actions remembered in those closest to us are a glimmer of immortality).’Because earth’s inmates travel in flesh,’ Bidart begins his poem ‘Elegy for Earth’, ‘and hide from flesh/and adore flesh/you hunger for flesh that does not die.’ We seek an Absolute, something we can never be, to eternalize our mortal flesh. ‘You’re deathbound,’ he reminds us, we have an expiration date in ‘this journey through flesh/not just in flesh or with flesh/but through it.’ Through flesh, through the mortal and finite and towards a finite. It is such an illustrious and gratifying idea, and it is ideas that travel through space forever, continuing on long after we are dust and memory along with the other decayed flesh that we lusted and loved as we speeded along towards the closed point of our timeline.
’Lie to yourself about this and you willBidart ties together the past and present to illuminate a lifetime spent through flesh, using both his personal history as well as film to exemplify his ideas. It is the confessional poetry that really shines in the collection, which he bravely puts forth in poems such as ‘Queer’ which documents his coming out in a unkind world where even his parents would look down upon him. ‘If I had managed to come out to my/mother, she would have blamed not/me, but herself.’ There are passionate memories of young love:
When I met him, I knew I hadThis passage really rocks my heart with it’s emotional might; begging and pleading with a god or existence to allow such a moment not be a mere fleeting blip of passing power but an eternal line carving it’s valor as a glowing arc across all of existence and eternity, despite knowing that one may be damned for it. This sort of potency is what words were made for.
Film plays an important role in this collection as well, as Bidart reflects on actors and actresses now gone from both his earlier days and from the modern era. Even Heath Ledger gets a nod, ‘his glee that whatever long ago mutilated his/mouth, he has mastered to mutilate/you’, summing up the poem with a quote from the actor himself (presented here without the poetic spacing and extra line spacing just to keep this review from stretching towards the stratosphere): ‘Once I have the voice/that’s/the line/and at/the end/of the line/is a hook/and attached/to that/ is the soul.’ Bidart uses the Hollywood themes for a duel purpose, exposed in one of the final poems ‘On This Earth Where No Secure Foothold Is’ (another often repeated line. The repetition of lines and words give a powerful, unifying force to this collection that would defy the already butchering effect of a ‘Selected Works’ and amplifies the joy that comes from reading this book in one sitting), where he shows life as having to sell yourself to others, like headshots to Hollywood, and ties the immensity of his work together in one concise poem about identity in a world fueled by consumerism (included at the end of this review).
‘The subject of this poemIn order to grasp beauty, we must live our a mortal life, a life that will be taken away and, as it is ripped from beneath us, shown in all it’s glory. It is poetry that most grasps my heart than any other art form, poetry that moves me more than anything, poetry that reminds me that any sorrow, strife or solitude I suffer is a worthwhile sacrifice for the beauty of words and escaping existence. Frank Bidart has compiled a wonderful collection here, one that didn’t really strike me at first, yet I was unable to put down for days. Each rereading exposed a new perfect sentence, and made me realize his thoughts and musings had been lurking around my brain, making me question my own life and my own mortality even while the book was tightly shut at home. Brave and forthright in his confessional poetry about his life and loves, and cutting as well as wise in his statements of death and our hunger for an Absolute, Bidart delivers an outstanding array of poems that are sure to stick deep in the heart. While they may be bleak at first glace, there is an uplifting power to them that pulls across all the ages of humanity to show us that though we are finite, our ideas can be infinite.
On This Earth Where No Secure Foothold Is
Wanting to be a movie star like Dean Stockwell or Gigi Perreau,
answering an ad at ten or eleven you made your mother drive you
to Hollywood and had expensive Hollywood pictures taken.
Hollywood wasn’t buying.
Everyone is buying but not everyone wants to buy you
You See the kids watching, brooding.
Religion, politics, love, work, sex—each enthrallment, each
enthusiasm presenting itself as pleasure or necessity, is
Each kid is at the edge of a sea.
At each kid’s feet multitudinous voices say I will buy you if you
Who do you want to be bought by?
The child learns this is the question almost immediately.
Both mother and father tried to enlist you but soon you learned
That you couldn’t enlist on both at the same time.
They lied that you could but they were at war and soon you
learned you couldn’t.
How glamorous they were!
As they aged they mourned that to buyers they had become
Both of them in the end saw beneath then only abyss.
You are at the edge of a sea.
You want to buy buy you know not everyone wants to buy you.
Each enthrallment is recruitment.
Your body will be added to the bodies that piled-up make the
structures of the world.
Your body will be erased, swallowed.
Who do you want to be swallowed by?
It’s almost the same question as To be or not to be.
Figuring out who they want to be bought by is what all the kids
with brooding looks on their face are brooding about.
Your weapon is your mind.(less)
Notes are private!
Dec 05, 2013
Jan 01, 2008
Jan 07, 2008
‘A dog trying to write a poem on why he barks,
That’s me, dear reader!’
‘Comedy and tragedy are never far from one another,’ Charles Simic, former US Po...more ‘A dog trying to write a poem on why he barks,
That’s me, dear reader!’
‘Comedy and tragedy are never far from one another,’ Charles Simic, former US Poet Laureate (2007-2008), says in a recent interview with Granta magazine, wonderfully highlighting the thin balance of bottom-of-a-bottle darkness and glorious brightness that spread forth from each of his finely tuned poems. Born in Belgrade in 1938, Simic carried with him his memories of war-torn Europe when he immigrated to the United States at the age of sixteen, giving him a cutting impression of history that brilliantly glows through his works. Through Simic, we gain a unique view of the world, and one that I am always eager to return to and nestle within. There is something utterly fantastic about his style, which both mocks and moralizes, inspires and silences, but always impresses. Simic weaves through playful stanzas of poetic imagery and startling surrealism to deliver upon the reader the full weight of history and eternity, as well as an uplifting joy as he makes even the most ordinary observations into an extraordinary statement on existence.
The obvious is difficultCharles Simic has quickly risen in the ranks of my favorite poets during this past summer. And it is no surprise with poems such as this:
Club MidnightPoems such as this are the reason I read poetry, are the immensely fulfilling reward for navigating a form of art often neglected and overlooked. Simic has an extraordinary ability to cut right through the heart and touch the soul directly with a style that takes the everyday and illuminates it in surrealistic prose that creates a wonderland out of the most banal of landscapes. His poems are like the fringes of a dream, the ones that reside in your mind all day despite being unable to fully recall them, yet echo like a warning or guidance as you go about your business. It is the sort of imagery that stick with you, holding your most dear emotions hostage to beg you to look deeper.
Evening WalkI cannot ever escape those final lines.
In my book of picturesThe burdens of history, the violence and bloodshed we impose upon our fellow man, and the sorrows we feel because of them, weigh heavy in Simic’s poetry. There are many poems about the horrors seen as a young boy during World War II, many reflections on executed men and the body count across time gleaned through history books, and an ever-present reminder that we are temporary in the timeline of eternity.
I accuse History of gluttony;Simic has a fascinating way of tying food into his works, particularly in the way he juxtaposes it not only with war, but primarily with sex. In Simic’s poetry, food is as much of a satisfaction as sex, being someone coming from the poverty and hardships of a country afire with war, and simply because it is a simple human necessity and satisfaction. It is a symbol of being alive and taking in energy, instead of having it burned up and snuffed out as history eats us. ‘ If I make everything at the same time a joke and a serious matter,’ he writes, ‘it's because I honor the eternal conflict between life and art, the absolute and the relative, the brain and the belly.’ He makes the most ordinary objects extraordinary, he gives simple acts like eating sexual power, and creates gods out of mere mortals. Sex plays a large part of his works as well, often seen as a temporary reprieve from the darkness of the world.
Unmade BedsDuring sex, be it love or, as I suspect in this poem, lust (with an impression that this is an affair), all the pain, darkness and impurities of the world are washed away in the light of passion, and even those on a grimy trip of an affair from their spouses feel bathed in a light of goodness and serenity. Simic has an affinity for poems about dark rooms and grainy films, and there are a few poems of hotels and dirty mirrors that sometime remind me of Borges.
Mirrors at 4am
While this is a wonderful collection to shake hands and introduce yourself to the great Simic, it is lacking by not including any of his prose poems from his Pulitzer Prize winning The World Doesn't End. Perhaps, for those interested in a ‘best of’, his The Voice at 3:00 A.M.: Selected Late and New Poems or New and Selected Poems: 1962-2012 would be a better, fuller introduction. However, not a single poem in these 60 poems is a let-down. His poetry creeps slowly into your soul, and while it wasn’t until revisiting this collection three or four times before he really captured my heart, by the time I realized how fantastic he was his poems had already taken eternal roots in me and now I cannot imagine being without them. Returning to Simic’s poems is like entering the home of a beloved friend, knowing an assortment of friends will be awaiting you in the basement as you sink into a familiar couch in the comforting company of laughter and kinship. These past few months have been dark days in my own personal life, and the comfort of Simic has been a great help; whenever something goes wrong, I tend to find myself reading these poems under the glow of the stars as cigarette smoke dances towards the moon. If you are to read only one poet this entire year, make it Charles Simic.
Perhaps his poetic genius is because Simic (above) is secretly Doctor Strangelove…
The White Room
The obvious is difficult
To prove. Many prefer
The hidden. I did, too.
I listened to the trees.
They had a secret
Which they were about to
Make known to me--
And then didn't.
Summer came. Each tree
On my street had its own
Scheherazade. My nights
Were a part of their wild
Storytelling. We were
Entering dark houses,
Always more dark houses,
Hushed and abandoned.
There was someone with eyes closed
On the upper floors.
The fear of it, and the wonder,
Kept me sleepless.
The truth is bald and cold,
Said the woman
Who always wore white.
She didn't leave her room.
The sun pointed to one or two
Things that had survived
The long night intact.
The simplest things,
Difficult in their obviousness.
They made no noise.
It was the kind of day
People described as "perfect."
Gods disguising themselves
As black hairpins, a hand-mirror,
A comb with a tooth missing?
No! That wasn't it.
Just things as they are,
Unblinking, lying mute
In that bright light--
And the trees waiting for the night.
Grey Headed Schoolchildren
Old men have bad dreams,
So they sleep little.
They walk on bare feet
Without turning on the lights,
Or they stand leaning
On gloomy furniture
Listening to their hearts beat.
The one window across the room
Is black like a blackboard.
Every old man is alone
In this classroom, squinting
At that fine chalk line
That divides being-here
No matter. It was a glass of water
They were going to get,
But not just yet.
They listen for mice in the walls,
A car passing on the street,
Their dead fathers shuffling past them
On their way to the kitchen.
Or, listen to him read his poetry(less)
Notes are private!
Nov 01, 2013
‘Insert dream B into slot A.’
Poetry is a wonderful bridge into the true essence of existence. Peter Berghoef’s chapbook, News of the Haircut, recently...more ‘Insert dream B into slot A.’
Poetry is a wonderful bridge into the true essence of existence. Peter Berghoef’s chapbook, News of the Haircut, recently reissued by Greying Ghost Press, is a joyful approach to many facets of everyday life, diving into snapshots of anxiety, love, the mundane, the moments of anxiety and the moments of introspective awakenings, and allowing their essence to blossom through his prose. Featured in each poem is a sincere seriousness robed in the finest fashions of succinct playfulness, and the voice of the poet shines like a friendly smile over beers during the twilight hours of bar service.
Berghoef’s poems each capture a tiny snapshot of life, harnessing the moment’s vibrancy into his sparse prose as the image spirals into subtle surrealism at the edges of the frame. It is a engaging style akin to the magic pulsating through the poetry of US Poet Laureate Charles Simic, blurring reality to expose it’s inner soul and presenting each ominous message as if it were shimmering in the peripheries of a last nights dream while it dissipates in the morning light. Yet, however surreal the image is at large, there is a powerful lucidity to each detail as it awakens in the mind. Berghoef keeps his poems short and direct, a style that empowers the succinct artwork as a bridge or portal into the heart of matters. Each poem spreads from it’s tiny snapshot into a tapestry of emotion within the minds eye, and the poem’s brevity welcomes the reader to explore each word in full, as if the poem were a labyrinthine mansion and each tender word were the doorways to new, luminous rooms full of ideas and mysteries to explore. It is a style I enjoy, with a vast universe of ideas densely packed into tight corridors that allow the authors words to mingle with the reader’s imagination and take further flight into the life of the mind. The surreal blending of transparent imagery and reality is a celebration of the possibilities of language. Instead of attempting to precisely wrangle material existence into abstract language, it allows language full play to bestow the true emotional resonance without having to create a cut-and-dry replication of events.
Don’t Eat the Remains of Your SweetheartThere is such a wonderful sense of hope lurking beneath each poem. His poems hold an ideal of potential purity within us all that is constantly assailed by the world around us.
thinking things throughWe come into the world bearing a glowing ball of innocence within us which, because bruised and fearful through constant collisions with blindly staggering, grim realities of life. People have a tendency, perhaps often brought out by fear or ignorance, of ’making spaces / between ourselves’, and it would seem these spaces, these voids created by people putting up a barrier of ego around ourselves instead of allowing a unifying force of love and acceptance to flow freely between us all, are the breeding grounds for the gloom, fear and anxiety found in our world. It is a world of love and joy, yet a world of pain and mistrust when people justify their rudeness, their self-centeredness and their ability to hold others down all for the sake of clamoring for some abstract finish-line of subjective successes.
the barbarians and sandwhichesThe poems within News of the Haircut are the voices of frustration, sorrow, hope and love, transmitted loudly into the heart of the reader in such few, potent words. Above all, it is a voice of strength characterized by a charmingly playful modesty. Berghoef holds steady against a world that can crush spirits, lead you to ‘forget dreams’ and become resigned to the tangible experiences such as ‘eat cereal cold / take in coffee hot / souring the mouth’ There is an limitless field of imagination lead to by each careful word, and a hope that innocence can still thrive in the world. Berghoef’s chapbook can be found here , each edition uniquely printed, or the least you can do is buy him a drink.
give me my freedom in a small
paper bag with my name
written on it
millions do better work
wages remain unaffected
and somewhere a bear gets lost
returning to the river
full of fish
now I know what you smelled
waking every day
Notes are private!
Aug 17, 2013
Jun 01, 1994
Jun 01, 1994
‘Meet me wherever I am’
The poetry of Joseph Ceravolo, the first recipient of the Frank O’Hara award , is a disorienting, energetic burst of fresh air...more ‘Meet me wherever I am’
The poetry of Joseph Ceravolo, the first recipient of the Frank O’Hara award , is a disorienting, energetic burst of fresh air and vibrancy. The Green Lake is Awake, a collection of his poems published in 1994, is a fantastic introduction into the neglected poet, offering a broad perspective on his style that ranges from longer poems that read like a waterfall of energy breaking free from a dam, to his shorter poems characterized by a chaotic syntax and direct visceral imagery. Ceravolo manages to make his poems speak volumes beyond a surface reading, which seems distorted, incomplete and much like gibberish at first, yet take hold of the heart and deliver an abstract message of pure emotion that could never be contained within words; it is poetry that uses language more for its musicality than logical linguistic meaning and creates an experience of pure joy and energy that makes one glad to be alive and breathing in his smattering of words.
I was so infatuated with this poem that one drunken night I sent this out as a mass text to everyone in my phone. ‘I can’t live blossoming drunk/this story of climbed up’ is such beautiful nonsense that, yet, makes perfect sense in the heart and soul and has become my new favorite thing to interject into conversation. This is a perfect example of what I love so much about Ceravolo: it isn’t the ordering and comprehension of words, but the emotion that blossoms in your heart when you read them that matters.
WarmthCeravolo leaves thoughts and lines unfinished, jumps into new ideas, leaves odd spaces between words, and conducts his poetry like a chaotic orchestra that somehow manages to harmonize perfectly with the heart of the reader. It is often as if his words are too excited to finish, leaving the rest implied as they are eager to get on to the next idea and must take flight mid-thought. To read his more chaotic poems is what it must be like to be the cashier at a late-night fast food place on a Friday night in a college town trying to understand the mania and orders of an ever-morphing line of young, drunken students full of feverish energy and excitement. They come and go from line without warning, too excited vitality and ebullience to be extracted from the mayhem. Perhaps that is why I get a nostalgic feeling from his poetry, and why it recalls a statement a friend made on our first night of college, that anything is art if you look for the emotion behind it, and that our MSU dormitory’s stoop would be an artistic statement come morning when the yellow dawn touched the disorder of beer bottles and the overwhelming number of cigarettes butts strewn across the concrete that served as an echo of the unhindered joy the several of us had partaken in under that star-lit summer sky. Perhaps this nods to college days is some sad nostalgia, or perhaps it is because of the youthful energy ever-present in Ceravolo’s poetry. He has this utterly fantastic exuberance that soars to tremendous heights, crashing through the stratosphere of the reader’s consciousness and exploding like the most brilliant of fireworks display to rain down luminescent trails of glorious words.
Cross FireNot all of Ceravolo’s poetry is a striking dismissal of linguistic form, and even without the oddities that bring such a vibrancy to his work, there is still a heartfelt message to behold and ponder within each poem. Ceravolo often speaks of love for existence, perfectly capturing the bittersweet pains of being alive, of feeling both the inevitable pains of life while simultaneous reflecting and appreciating the sweetness of life that can be easily overlooked. Sorrow and satisfaction are never far apart, and each poem reminds the reader why life is such a precious, fleeting thing. It is a plea for a soul-searching, to love all that you see before you, and it is as if Ceravolo is asking to take on the weight of the world just so his fellow man can be relieved of strife and suffering.
GrowThat just might be the best thing I have read all year. ‘Grow’ is a poem I return to again and again, always struck by the sheer beauty and intensity of it’s simplistic sytle and staggering statements.
While it is understandable that Ceravolo’s oddities may be a turn-off to many, this is a collection that I would urge you to take the time to sit back and let sink in. There is such a fun, free and dynamic energy to his poetry that is incredibly moving and inspiring. Like music, it is the sound and flow of his words that take hold and give the readers heart and soul wings, not the literal structure and meaning. It is a style that reinforces what I believe to be the beauty and power of poetry and Ceravolo continuously makes me believe that mere abstract words on a page have the power to move mountains and save lives. This is a immensely rewarding collection that offers rewards far beyond the cost of the effort that must be put into it.
White Fish in Reeds
till only, these are my
clothes I sit
Give them more songs than
These are my clothes to a
have no feeling
Are people woman?
Who calls you
on a sun shirt sleeves down his ecstasy
The hair you are
That this temperate is where
I feed The sheep sorrel flower is
And I want to
among all things
Although I do not
All this summer fun.
The big waves, and waiting
(the moon is broken)
for the moon to come out
and revive the water. You look
and you want to watch as
men feel the beer breaking
on their lips, and women seem like
the sun on your little back.
Where are you closer to everything?
in the plants?
on the photograph or
the little heart that's not
used to beating like the waves' foam?
A wasp is
looking for a hole in the screen.
No. There's no man in the lighthouse.
There's no woman there, but there is
a light there; it's a bulb.
And I think how complete you are
in its light. Flash......... Flash.....
And I think of how our own room
will smell; You lying on one bed
and we in the other, facing the... flash.....
Fire of Myself
What I miss most is
that subtle transformation
from inert to
that leave my welded and supple body
that carries the imprint
of that body
into the land
of pure migration
Passion for the Sky
You are near me. The night
is rectilinear and light
in the new lipstick
on your mouth and on the colored
flowers. The irises are blue.
As far as I look we are across. A
boat crosses by. There is no monkey in me
left: sleep. There is something
sold, lemons. Corn is whizzing from the
ground. You are sleeping
and day starts its lipstick.
Where do we go from here?
Notes are private!
Aug 16, 2013
Apr 08, 1992
‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?’
Despite owning Oliver’s two volume New and Selected Poems, I couldn’t resist...more ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?’
Despite owning Oliver’s two volume New and Selected Poems, I couldn’t resist snatching up this tiny collection when I stumbled upon it at a library book sale in the fifty cents bin. Although it was her American Primitive that achieved her Pulitzer recognition, House of Light remains my favorite collection of Oliver’s picturesque poetry. After spending a few days in poetic rapture through each word and staggered stanzas, I realized the former owner had discretely placed a small dot next to three different poems in the table of contents. To my joy, these three poems—assumingly singled out for being the ones closest to the former owner’s heart—coincided with my personal favorites as well. In a collection about the unity of all life as it breaches the limits of life and into death, it seemed all the more poignant to find two people across space and time sharing Oliver’s words and, as if in subtle conversation, agreeding upon the words that moved us the most. House of Light, Oliver’s metaphor of the afterlife, glides like a swan into the pond of your heart, sending out little ripples of joy and comfort as she looks towards death without fear but with acceptance and wonderment.
Some Questions You Might AskThe soul is a theme that floats through this collection as Oliver grapples with the possibility of its existence and the question of what becomes of us when we die. Oliver asks ‘why should I hate it, and not the anteater who loves her children’, and rejects the notion that humans are above any other living thing on earth. She envies the quiet life of flowers in the breeze in Lilies, she spends a day contemplating a mother bear moving down a mountain with ‘her wordlessness, her perfect lovein Spring, and seems to find her inner peace when deep in the wilderness. Out doors, in the company of nature and not people, is when the quiet answers to the universe seem to whisper themselves in her heart. Oliver seems herself a Buddhist as she declares a soul, a light inside all living things, none less beautiful than the rest.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—Taken from the conclusion to The Ponds, this reflects Oliver’s belief in the perfect universal soul, that the light of existence burns away the impurities. Her words are immensely uplifting and empowering as she urges us to maintain a quiet serenity in our hearts. Her words are always so clear, simple and still, like a cool body of water on a sunny day where the rocks on the bottom many feet down can be seen from the surface. Reading her words are like a walk in the forest, refreshing and humbling as they remind you of the things that really matter in life.
The Buddha’s Last InstructionThis light, this purity, speaks to us in every poem. Oliver reminds us to be good to one another, to respect the world around us, and to humble oneself in its immense beauty and mysteries. We are each insignificant, just a speck in all this vastness, yet we are also ‘of inexplicable value’ at the same time. We must accept love and give love, we must try to be a light, because a light can spread and cover the world, comforting and improving the lives of all those it touches.
SingaporeThis is such a moving poem (one of the three singled out with a dot in the Table of Contents) and is unique in this collection, being an incredible humanizing poem as it turns a eye of pity on our species instead of an eye of wonder towards nature. It is a perfect example of Oliver remembering the Buddha’s words, to not look down on others with disgust and remember that a ‘light can shine out of a life’ and that we all value our own existence, regardless of where in the social standings it falls. We watch Oliver chastise herself for her initial disgust, her initial pretentions against the lower classes of society, and learn to love the smiling face.
Death is a constant companion lurking behind each rock and tree in Oliver’s poems. Yet she never applies a foreboding tone, but instead looks at it as the natural course. A flower never fears its demise, so why should we. Her impressions of death reshape as the collection progresses, often asking if there is a life on the other side, often viewing it as a void or then a darkness, yet finally, in White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field, Oliver reveals to be pure brilliant beauty. To merely give the final few lines that I wish to highlight, instead of the entire poem, would be an insult.
Coming down out of the freezing sky
What a phenomenal depiction of death, as a white owl that silently snatches us from life. Death is not to be feared, it is a comforting light, warm like a heavy blanket, in which we are ‘washed out of our bones.’ How can one fear the end when viewing it like this?
This collection is breathtakingly beautiful, and probably my favorite of all Oliver’s works (although Dream Work has a few favorite poems). Death and the soul are discussed with such delicate, simple phrases of supreme potency that will wash the readers heart and soul in order to make it glow with the light of the Buddha. Mary Oliver is a national treasure.
Five A.M. in the Pinewoods
Notes are private!
Mar 22, 2013
May 01, 2004
Dec 04, 2012
‘Were it not for the way you taught me to look
at the world, to see the life at play in everything,
I would have been lonely forever.
This quote, the fi...more ‘Were it not for the way you taught me to look
at the world, to see the life at play in everything,
I would have been lonely forever.
This quote, the final few lines from the American Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s emotionally charged poem Mother, works equally well as a depiction of how Kooser himself shows the reader ‘life at play’. In this Pulitzer Prize winning collection of poems, Delights & Shadows, we watch life come alive on a grand scale in small observations, and hear the language of the land and the people who dwell upon it flow forth from each page. Each poem enters the reader then seeks that place deep within them where their joys, loves, fears and sadness reside - a place some call the soul, and wraps it up in a soothing and loving poetic embrace.
A HAPPY BIRTHDAY
The title of this collection is an excellent choice for the poem found within. We have ‘delights’ and ‘shadows’, both bound together as something inseparable instead of being two differing ideas. Through Kooser, we see how life is illuminated by death, and vise versa, both achieving poignancy through the presence and awareness of the other.
SURVIVINGHe lovingly reminds us to take joy in everything around us, to treasure it, because life is fleeting and suddenly we discover beauty in the tiniest of objects simply because we remember both the objects and ourselves are merely temporary. This ever present cloud of death does not hang heavy on the poems or in our hearts through Kooser, as he views it as just another state that we all go through and never once does foreboding taint his imagery. Even in the poem Mourning, focusing on a funeral, we see people who ‘came this afternoon to say goodbye,/but now they keep saying hello and hello,’ showing how deaths message of our own mortality offers a more weightier, positive message to cherish those still with us than to fear the end. Even in the poem Father, reflecting on his fathers death twenty years prior to the writing of the poem, the focus is on how death was kind to allow his father to pass with his ‘dignity intact’ instead of having to suffer endless trips to hospitals as ‘an ancient, fearful hypochondriac’ caught In a downward spiral that would have made everyone miserable. The poem is so uplifting, speaking of lilacs blooming as they did on the day of his birth to still welcome him, placing such a peaceful tone to smother the darkness of death. We all must endure it, and we might as well accept it.
THE OLD PEOPLE
Kooser chronicles all change as a transformation that blends two states from one to the other. Through this collection he always selects phrases ‘slowly tipping forward into spring’ or ‘lean into wave after wave of responsibility to reflect how one state flows into the other, making them somehow inseparable as opposed to there being a clear dividing line. Often we never realize our transformations in life until after they have already occurred unbeknownst to us, such as in The Skater when the woman is ‘smiling back at the woman she’d been just an instant before’. These transformations come alive in Kooser’s words.
Another wonderful aspect of this collection is the way the American landscape comes alive through his prose. Even a quick shuffling through the pages engulfs the reader in a vivid transportation from their reading chair to the American farms, fields, creeks, cities and deep into the heartland as the sights, sounds, smells and language of these areas rise from the page.
MEMORYThe American heartland sings loud and clear through each word, bringing all these images and emotions alive and collecting them at the tip of a pen to comment on the power of poetry to be able to harness and contain all the powers of the world into carefully selected, beautiful words. This poem is one of the finest arguments for the power of poetry that I know of, all managed through those final two lines. Simply stunning.
This is a marvelous collection of poetry and I fell in love with each and every word. Ted Kooser has a magical ability to bring his words, and the world, alive through these short poems. What impressed and satisfied me most was the sheer joy that shines forth from each phrase and page and the general uplifting attitude that echoes out of each poem, especially those dealing with death. Every minute detail of existence is told to stand up and dance their hearts out, coming alive in such a joyful, seemingly effortless manner. In his series of poems about four Civil War paintings by Winslow Homer, the image of the sharpshooter in the tree has a great bit comparing his finger waiting to pull the trigger being like ‘the chord behind the tight fence of a musical staff, the sonnet shut in a book’. Kooser makes the everyday a cause for celebration. This is an absolutely delightful collection.
Look at how awesome and happy Kooser is.
He just wants to relax and let perfect prose dance from his mouth. You can watch and listen to him read another poem from this collection here.
Also, he wrote a children’s picture book, Bag in the Wind, focusing on the importance of recycling. What a cool guy. He just wants the world to smile.
HOME MEDICAL JOURNAL
Notes are private!
Jan 17, 2013
Apr 01, 1998
'I have always felt that a poet participates in the management of the estate of poetry, of that in his own language and also that of world poetry.'
-Cz...more 'I have always felt that a poet participates in the management of the estate of poetry, of that in his own language and also that of world poetry.'
For those, like me, that always wished they could have enrolled in one of Miłosz's courses at Berkeley, can find a bit of a consolation in A Book of Luminous Things. Edited, with a wonderful introduction asserting his intention to not defend poetry but 'remind readers that for some very good reasons [poetry] may be of importance today', and a slew of interpretations and insights into the poems found within, by Miłosz himself, this collection is a great way to experience world poetry through Miłosz's guiding eyes. He wishes to allow us to witness poetry with the same pure fascination and joy it reaches him, selecting the poems in order to show how 'the artist in his work hasto capture and to preserve one moment, which becomes, indeed, eternal'. Separating his collection into eleven sections, grouping them by ideas capturing a singular moment or emotion such as The Secret of a Thing, Travel, Nonattachment, or even Women's Skin (choosing to avoid 'Adding a few drops to the sea' of Love poetry and instead focusing on the sensation of pleasurable skin sensations, particularly those of women as detailed by women), Miłosz offers commentary and examples from a wide variety of poets across the globe to please our eyes. Viewing poetry through the eyes of my favorite poet is an uplifting and educational experience, introducing me to many new names and reaffirming the genius of poems I've long loved.
The single best aspect of this collection is Miłosz's commentary on the sections and poems. He occasionally analyzes the poem, but most often shares the emotions that boil inside him while caressing each carefully crafted line, and to share in these insights is truly rewarding. It is like attending a lecture by the great Nobel Laureate himself.
This poem, on a little town in Minnesota, is a synthetic image or even a collage. There is no single observer. First, we see the last car of a moving train, then we receive information about two lights in the darkness, one a bulb in the prison, the other a flashlight handled by an old woman And so altogether a province. The prison is an important building; and old house with cats belonging to a lone woman (the husband dead, children somewhere far away). Simultaneous images - moments are recaptured.
LATE LIGHTS IN MINNESOTAThis collection is like riding shotgun with a friend and listening to their favorite album while hearing all their insights to each lyric, and discovering what each note means for them. I had a friend once where we would just drive around an analyze our favorites in such a way, a friend that would bestow such wonderful quandaries of life and attempt to deconstruct them to illuminate the joys in each detail. These drives not only taught me a lot about what I value in life, always looking to this friend as a teacher of sorts, but also let me truly appreciate the poetry of existence. This collection reminds me very much of those drives, except here I am passenger to the great Miłosz, and although he doesn't always give his opinions, he directs you towards beauty and asks you to decide for yourself what ideas and emotional fulfillment you can extract from each piece.
And here travel at night, before dawn, in a horse carriage, obviously only one stretch of a longer journey - it associates in my mind with similar travels in my childhood when automobiles in my remote corner of Europe were few. I love Po Chü-I for the extraordinary vividness of his images
STARTING EARLYIt is especially gratifying to read him praise so highly poets and poems that I have already loved, reaffirming my joy and giving me a bit of validation in my own opinion. It's like finding out your favorite musician loves the same songs you love. It's like a connection reaching beyond death, this glimmer of shared love, that human connection that makes reading and living so rewarding, powerful and beautiful, made only the more poignant by sharing it with a personal hero that really made me love this collection. Hearing him speak of Mary Oliver, a poet who might as well own my heartstrings, among others, really gave me joy.
In view of the great number of nihilizing experiences in literature of the twentieth century, one should appreciate wisdom drawn by people from their contact with nature. Those experiences cannot be rationally defined. But perhaps most essential is the feeling of a universal rhythm of which we are a part simply thanks to the circulation of our blood. In this poe of Mary Oliver's, good and evil, guilt and despair, are proper to the human world, but beyond there is a larger world and its very existence calls us to transcend our human worries
WILD GEESEOccasionally, he tends to take a stab a poets, offering a reason why he dislikes a certain poem, yet still includes it within his collection for other reasons. I personally love Wisława Szymborska, yet Miłosz asserts that she is 'too scientific and that we are not so separated from things' in his description of, what I find truly lovely, View With A Grain of Sand. He includes it, however, for its brilliant depiction of the opposition of 'the human (i.e. language) to the inanimate world and shows that our understanding of it is illusory'. There are a few other cutting remarks by Miłosz throughout this collection, and often it leaves you wondering if he actually hated the poem.
This collection contains poets from across the globe, and has introduced me to many I had previously never heard of. While his own Polish poets are represented heavily, Wisława Szymborska, Anna Swir (all of hers are translated by him personally, and he offers great praise to her art), Adam Zagajewski, and Zbigniew Herbert among them, a great deal of space is given to the ancient Chinese poets. Miłosz loved these poets for their philosophical eye and for their ability to 'draw with a few dashes a certain situation' in such marvelous power. Take for example Tu Fu, a poet heavily referenced in this collection (and one I must certainly find a collection by soon):
WINTER DAWNMany review here seem to complain of the high number of Chinese poets, which do seem to dominate the collection, yet they were Miłosz's favorites and analyzing their prose gives a great insight into his own. There are moments where one can clearly draw the connections of inspiration and see the great techniques Miłosz sharpened in his studies of these masters. It is also interesting to note that these same reviewers neglect to mention that the single greatest quantity of poems come from English written, particularly American, poets (I will concede that this is a male dominated collection, and I feel that an inclusion of more female poets would have been to its advantage). While Miłosz does touch upon the standards, offering some classic Walt Whitman or the William Carlos Williams we all loved, and loved to groan over, in our Lit 101 courses, he does contain many of my favorites. This collection, published in 1996, predates the Poet Laureate status of many of the American poets included, such as Billy Collins, Charles Simic, Ted Kooser, W.S. Merwin and even fellow Nobel Laureates like the incredible Tomas Tranströmer (if you enjoy poetry and have yet to read The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems, I urge you to find it and bask in it as soon as possible!) find honorable mention before most of America even realized who they were. Although many of these names were already relatively decorated at the time, I still credit Miłosz with having a great eye for poetry.
Composed of a vast assortment of wonderful poets, this collection is a great little dip through world poetry and a satisfying treat for anyone who loves Miłosz. While it isn't as focused as most poetry collections, this has the charm and nuance of being a book put out by a great poet which sets it above the basic 'Best English Poems' or '100 Poems To Blow Your Fucking Mind' nonsense that fill up bargain bins and shout to all half-hearted poet enthusiasts to purchase so they can have enough background to outwit the common streetwalker. This collection has heart, and personalized insight that really grasps the heart.
The following poet inspires us to reflect on what seldom crosses our minds. After all (literally after all), such an anniversary awaits every one of us.
FOR THE ANNIVERSARY OF MY DEATH(less)
Notes are private!
Jan 16, 2013
Sep 01, 2008
Sep 01, 2008
‘Stories come to us like new senses’
W.S. Merwin’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize winning collection of poetry, The Shadow of Sirius, is an enrapturing look at th...more ‘Stories come to us like new senses’
W.S. Merwin’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize winning collection of poetry, The Shadow of Sirius, is an enrapturing look at the memories which have shaped our lives and send us forward into eternity. Poet Laureate of the United States from 2010-2011, and recipient of numerous awards, including two Pulitzer’s, one for this collection and a previous award for The Carrier of Ladders in 1971,
Poet Laureate of the United States from 2010, W.S. Merwin has proven himself time and time again to be a champion of the pen and prose, and this slim collection may be one of his very best.
‘From what we cannot hold the stars are made’
The Shadow of Sirius spends much of it’s time winding through Merwin’s memories, which are viewed as a shadow on the mind, a contrast of light and dark that corresponds to present and past. These memories form the building blocks of our character, and are always hand in hand with the present forming the bigger picture of everything we do. Merwin reflects often upon his mother, now gone into the shadow, and the lessons and values she instilled in him.
From Rain Light:
All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
Merwin demonstrates how life is a collection of wisdom we gain through experience. He shows how each day, each vision, each color, smell and feel of the world which we pass through, leaves an imprint upon our minds and souls. We are always growing, always changing, always learning.
The late poems are the ones
I turn to first now
following a hope that keeps
waiting somewhere in the lines
almost in plain sight
it is the late poems
that are made of words
that have come the whole way
they have been there
As the title implies, we are in the shadow of Sirius, the shadow of the heavens and of eternity. We are doomed to return to the dust, mortal in an vast endless sea of space. Like the star Sirius, we are a bright shining speck in the void, our memories and actions blaze through the darkness of existence until we are extinguished, but such a blaze of light is what casts shadows. Without life, without light, darkness and death would take no meaning, As in the poem Youth (included in it’s entirety below as it is too beautiful to miss), without loss we could not ‘learn to miss you’. Through the collection of memories, through the fusion of past and present, through our acquisition of wisdom, we form a space in the void of existence that leaves a shadow, leaves a mark, leaves a legacy, that is both ephemeral and eternal. Through Merwin, all those he has known and lost exist forever in his prose:
‘As those who are gone now
keep wandering through our words
sounds of paper following them
at untold distances’
Merwin writes with little to no punctuation, in one long strand, broken occasionally into stanzas, that flow endlessly and tirelessly in a river of thought. The language is simple, the metaphors and similies are nothing that will baffle the reader, but it works well to create a visceral vision inside the reader that is vibrant and immediate, while also haunting and translucent as a dream from which you have just woken.
‘a vision before a gift
of flight in a dream
of clear depths where I glimpse
far out of reach the lucent days
from which I am now made’
The words from Merwin are each a little gift to the world. For those who love poetry, for those who love words, and for those who love life, this is an extraordinary collection and a great introduction into the works of an American treasure. The great W.H. Auden, a personal prose hero of mine, hand selected Merwin’s first book of poetry to be published, and if he speaks truth in Worn Words, than here in his later life we have an even greater wealth of insight and wisdom.
Through all of youth I was looking for you
without knowing what I was looking for
or what to call you I think I did not
even know I was looking how would I
have known you when I saw you as I did
time after time when you appeared to me
as you did naked offering yourself
entirely at that moment and you let
me breathe you touch you taste you knowing
no more than I did and only when I
began to think of losing you did I
recognize you when you were already
part memory part distance remaining
mine in the ways that I learn to miss you
from what we cannot hold the stars are made
One of the Butterflies
The trouble with pleasure is the timing
it can overtake me without warning
and be gone before I know it is here
it can stand facing me unrecognized
while I am remembering somewhere else
in another age or someone not seen
for years and never to be seen again
in this world and it seems that I cherish
only now a joy I was not aware of
when it was here although it remains
out of reach and will not be caught or named
or called back and if I could make it stay
as I want to it would turn to pain.
It was a late book given up for lost
again and again with its bare sentences
at last and their lines that seemed transparent
revealing what had been here the whole way
the poems of daylight after the day
lying open after all on the table
without explanation or emphasis
like sounds left when the syllables have gone
clarifying the whole grammar of waiting
not removing one question from the air
or closing the story although single lights
were beginning by then above and below
while the long twilight deepened its silence
from sapphire through opal to Athena"s iris
until shadow covered the gray pages
the comet words the book of presences
after which there was little left to say
but then it was night and everything was known
When I think of the patience I have had
back in the dark before I remember
or knew it was night until the light came
all at once at the speed it was born to
with all the time in the world to fly through
not concerned about ever arriving
and then the gathering of the first stars
unhurried in their flowering spaces
and far into the story the planets
cooling slowly and the ages of rain
then the seas starting to bear memory
the gaze of the first cell at its waking
how did this haste begin this little time
at any time this reading by lightning
scarcely a word this nothing this heaven
Notes are private!
Sep 01, 2012
Oct 13, 2009
Looking up from my book, from the close countable lines
into the finished-full night outside:
how in starry measure my packed feelings scatter,
as though...more Looking up from my book, from the close countable lines
into the finished-full night outside:
how in starry measure my packed feelings scatter,
as though a bouquet of wildflowers
were being untied…
One needs only to thumb through any book of Rilke’s poetry for a mere minute to find a line or stanza that will captivate their heart and mind. Considered by many to be the preeminent German language poet, Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926) has left us with a dazzling collection of poetry and prose that can make anyone believe in the power and glory of language.
Rose, oh pure contradiction, joy
of being No-one's sleep under so many
I decided to investigate Rilke after his Duino Elegies were so highly praised and alluded to in Pynchon’s Gravity's Rainbow, particularly the eerie 8th Elegy. Ludwig Wittgenstein was another to openly admire Rilke in his writings, and the novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress contained a wealth of facts about the poet. With so many references to him in such a short span of time, how could I not own the complete collection of his poetry? After spending the summer reading through the great Wittgenstein investigating the deficiencies of language, Rilke illuminates the potency and remarkable versatility of language.
Rilke explores the human heart and extracts our emotions into perfectly crafted imagery. Roses, angels and the heavens appear throughout the majority of his work, yet each time appearing fresh and fulfilling. A major selling point for this edition is that it includes a vast assortment of his body of work, including the full text of his most famous Duino Elegies and his Sonnets To Orpheus. I can’t speak any more highly of this poet, as nothing I can say will do him the justice his poetry will. I simply recommend this to anyone with even the slightest interest in poetry. Within the lines of his poems, you will find images and metaphor that will take your breath away.
-My life is not this steeply sloping hour,
in which you see me hurrying.
Much stands behind me; I stand before it like a tree;
I am only one of my many mouths,
and at that, the one that will be still the soonest.
I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death’s note wants to climb over—
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
And the song goes on, beautiful.
How should I keep my soul
from touching yours? How shall I
lift it up beyond you to other things?
Ah, I would gladly hide it
in darkness with something lost
in some silent foreign place
that doesn’t tremble when your deeps stir.
Yet whatever touches you and me
blends us together the way a bow’s stroke
draws one voice from two strings.
Across what instrument are we stretched taut?
And what player holds us in his hand?
O sweet song.
Do you still remember: falling stars,
How they leapt slantwise through the sky
Like horses over suddenly held-out hurdles
Of our wishes – did we have so many? -
For stars, innumerable, leapt everywhere;
Almost every gaze upward became
Wedded to the swift hazard of their play,
And our heart felt like a single thing
Beneath that vast disintegration of their brilliance-
And was whole, as if it would survive them!
-Again and agan, even though we know love’s landscape
and the little churchyard with its lamenting names
and the terrible reticent gorge in which the others
end: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lay ourselves down again and again
among the flowers, and look up into the sky.
Lord: it is time. The summer was immense.
Lay your long shadows on the sundials,
and on the meadows let the winds go free.
Command the last fruits to be full;
give them just two more southern days,
urge them on to completion and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.
Who has no house now, will never build one.
Who is alone now, will long remain so,
will stay awake, read, write long letters
and will wander restlessly up and down
the tree-lines streets, when the leaves are drifting.
See how in their veins all becomes spirit:
into each other they mature and grow.
Like axles, their forms tremblingly orbit,
round which it whirls, bewitching and aglow.
Thirsters, and they receive drink,
watchers, and see: they receive sight.
Let them into one another sink
so as to endure each other outright
Ignorant Before the Heavens of my Life
Ignorant before the heavens of my life,
I stand and gaze in wonder. Oh the vastness
of the stars. Their rising and descent. How still.
As if I didn't exist. Do I have any
share in this? Have I somehow dispensed with
their pure effect? Does my blood's ebb and flow
change with their changes? Let me put aside
every desire, every relationship
except this one, so that my heart grows used to
its farthest spaces. Better that it live
fully aware, in the terror of its stars, than
as if protected, soothed by what is near.
Notes are private!
Aug 22, 2012
May 01, 1968
May 01, 1968
I first heard of this unique collection a few years back while attending on of my linguistics courses when our professor recited one of the poems. It...more I first heard of this unique collection a few years back while attending on of my linguistics courses when our professor recited one of the poems. It was the last class period before the final, so to lighten our minds and spirits after a grueling review session our professor recited one of these French poems to provide an entertaining example of what one could do with an intensive knowledge of language and linguistics.
Chacun Gille Houer ne taupe de hile
Tôt-fait, j'appelle au boiteur
Chaque fêle dans un broc, est-ce crosne?
Un Gille qu'aime tant berline à fêtard.
Hearing this read aloud, one gets the impression that they are hearing the familiar nursery rhyme Jack and Jill, just read in a thick French accent. However, the poem works as an actual poem in the original French as well. Brilliant right?
Reine, reine, gueux éveille.
Gomme à gaine, en horreur, taie.
We hear the familiar ‘Rain, rain, go away…’ rhyme from our childhood, yet according to Van Rooten’s footnote, this translates as
Queen, queen, arouse the rabble
Who use their girdles, horrors, as pillow slips
Silly, but the whole thing is highly amusing and creates a very comical and curious coffee-table book.
There are endless other gems in here. ‘Papa, blague chipe’, ‘Lit-elle messe, moffette, Satan ne te fête’, or ‘ Pis-terre, pis-terre
Pomme qui n'y terre’. It is a bit of a treasure hunt through linguistics, as many of them take a few readings to realize what nursery rhyme it is, but one the rhythm and meter is figured out, many of these are an uncanny representation.
The real fun is Van Rooten’s seriousness to keep to the charade that these are ‘lost’ manuscripts of French poetry from 1788. The brief introduction tells how he received these manuscripts from a dead colleague, etc, and reminded me instantly of Nabokov’s Pale Fire. The poems are all heavily footnoted to point out all the ‘philosophical’ and ‘poetic’ genius of the writer as if he is intending to direct you to the actual French poetry instead of the nursery rhyme joke. Never once does he break character or mention that these are French poems written to sound like nursery rhymes in English. He merely encourages you to read them aloud ‘in the sonorous, measured classic style… these poems then assume a strangely familiar, almost nostalgic, homely quality.’ The footnotes, and especially the Notes on the Type, are all a bit humorous in the way this book is treated like a manuscript of major importance to French literature.
If you can find a copy, and a friend who speaks French well enough if you yourself do not, this book is a great way to kill a few hours laughing and playing with the language to discover the hidden nursery rhyme. It is also quite funny how the translated French is always quite gloomy. These poems are often of death, demons, and violent deflowering of young virgins, but all under the cutesy wrappings of Mother Goose.
Noyé l’ami, dans tout sa lippe
Aprés d’alarmants sauts, l’équipe.
En duvet deuil beffroi évêque…
Apprête alors ma sale de teck
(Scornful of life, the friend was drowned
After alarming leaps by the clique.
In downy mourning the bishop’s tower…
Prepare then my room of teak)
Here's your French lesson for the day
Notes are private!
Jul 09, 2012
Jul 12, 2012
Jul 09, 2012
Jan 01, 1960
Sep 30, 2004
for a person like meNicanor Parra’s collection Antipoems: How to Look Better and Feel Great is a drop of pure joy into a we...more
for a person like meNicanor Parra’s collection Antipoems: How to Look Better and Feel Great is a drop of pure joy into a weary heart. Parra, who has been heavily praised by fellow poets such as Roberto Bolaño and Pablo Neruda, and touted by Harold Bloom as an ‘obvious’ choice for the Nobel Prize, has a literary toolkit overflowing with wit and humor and a strong base of Shakespearean education to construct his satirical ‘antipoetry’. Antipoetry is more like the opposite side of the same coin as poetry, or, as ‘antitranslator’ Liz Warner writes in the introduction, ‘antipoety mirrors poetry, not as its adversary but as its perfect compliment.’ Comprised of both antipoems and a handful of small drawings with witty captions, this is an excellent introduction into the antipoets work. With a biting irreverent humor that probes at the serious hearts of his topics, Parra—and Warner’s unique translation—delivers an exciting and insightful collection of antipoetic glory.
STOP RACKING YOUR BRAINSFor Parra, no topic is sacrosanct. Politics, religion, morality, death, and, most of all, literary merit and awards, all face glorious mockery in this slim collection.
They are all dictatorships, my dear friendWhat is immediately apparent is just how funny Parra manages to be, with charming titles such as ‘Let’s Rob This Dirty Old Man Blind’, his plea to win the Nobel Prize for Reading (provided at the end as this poem is too good to miss), all his witty turns of phrases and unique methods of incorporating numbers and symbols into his work (piano, for example, is written as πano). ‘They said 2+2 makes 4 / They should have said it made 4 / Today nothing is known in this regard’ Antipoetry is shown to be a method of instigating humor where poetry is typically serious to mine an idea for all it is worth, to forego typical conventions and create antipoetry much like the concept of antimatter. Parra explains many of the rules to his methods.
1.In antipoetry, it is poetry that is sought, not eloquence.And so on. Antipoetry isn’t about wrapping an idea in radiant displays of oration, but about boldly diving into the fray with a maniac’s battlecry and dragging out the bodies of your messages. The second rule is quite important to follow, as many of the poems are tiny snapshots of an idea that build upon each other and further shape a larger point as the collection continues. Clara Sandoval, Parra’s uneducated mother, becomes a motif throughout the collection, building an idea of formal education in Shakespeare as well as being the giver of ‘one hell of a beating’ to her ‘pupils’.
The translation, or rather ‘antitranslation’, of this collection is equally as intriguing as the poems. Liz Warner worked side by side with Parra to reproduce his poetry into English (Warner notes that while Parra can read and understand English fluently, he refuses to use it aside from quoting Shakespeare in the original). What Parra wanted most was for her to literally rewrite instead of translate. ‘He persists in believing that translation is impossible,’ writes Warner, ‘and I am in full agreement.’ The collection contains both Parra’s original poems in Spanish on the left side, and Warner’s reworkings on the right in English. Having a basic background in Spanish is quite helpful to be able to deduce what has been altered and why, creating an even more fulfilling enjoyment for the reader when they can enjoy the poems in both variants, almost as if hearing an acoustic version of a favorite song. Parra encouraged her to ‘find cultural equivalents rather than literal translations’, which is why the reader encounters Dulcinea in the Spanish poems but Ophelia in the English. Another example:
Viva Chile mierMosa patriaThe humor and cultural significance of a poem is transferred to accommodate the English reader, making the work feel tailor made while still allowing the reader to appreciate the original humor. This method really works for this type of poetry.
Hilarious, irreverent, and often times surprisingly heartfelt, Anitpoems by Nicanor Parra is an absolute gem. It may initially seem like nonsense and silliness, yet it’s potency accumulates exponentially with each turning of the page. This is unlike anything I have read before, and I certainly hope to immerse myself in more like it.
One day in a park in New York City
A pigeon fell at my feet
She thrashed 4 a few seconds
And then died
But the most unexpected thing of all
Was that she revived on the spot
Without giving me time to react
And took off flying
As though she had never been dead at all
Bells were ringing somewhere far away
And I just stood there watching her zigzag and zigzag
Between the marble statues
& there was a noisy growling in my guts
& I got started spitting out this poem
zooms by at high speed
in the direction of the old folks’ home
without paying any attention to me
as if I were a red-lipped teenager
when death knows full well I’m her fiancé
and all I do these days is yawn
evasive death—indifferent death
you are the biggest flirt of all
THE NOBEL PRIZE
The Nobel Prize for Reading
should be awarded to me
I am the ideal reader,
I read everything I get my hands on:
I read street names
and neon signs
and new price-lists
the police news,
projections for the Derby
and license plates
for a person like me
the word is something holy
members of the jury
what would I gain by lying
as a reader, I’m relentless
I read everything —I don’t even skip
of course these days I don’t read much
I simply don’t have the time
But—oh man—what I have read
that’s why I’m asking you to give me
the Nobel Prize for Reading
as soon as impossible(less)
Notes are private!
Jun 27, 2012
Mar 15, 2011
Mar 15, 2011
‘Get me a set of simple tools out of which to fashion a song for these.’
Space, in Chains is a feast of metaphors exploring the grim facts of life, lo...more ‘Get me a set of simple tools out of which to fashion a song for these.’
Space, in Chains is a feast of metaphors exploring the grim facts of life, love and death, and the way we are stitched together in an eternal chain of such knowledge as it moves towards eternity generation by generation. Kasischke strings together subtle connections between vibrant, varied ideas together, creating a sort of hazy, transparent glimpse at the heart of each poem. It is fitting that so many are simple entitled ‘Riddle’, as that is precisely what they are. The poems are a sort of head game played by piecing together the emotional residue that collects in the heart as each image passes through it. This is a very cerebral type of poetry, requiring both the heart and mind to work together to reach the overall mosaic-style goal in each poem like two children putting together a puzzle on the kitchen floor. However, Kasischke ultimately wishes to ensnare the mind over the heart, so the poetry occasionally registers as cold and numb, being more like a math problem on the chalkboard than heart warming prose.
The poems are often of bleak topics, death being a near-constant companion through each page, yet she approaches them with an almost cold indifference. Death, pain, love, grief are all commonplace and everyday occurrences, so Kasischke treats them as such. Pain and sorrow are as equal as the boredom of waiting for the bus. ‘ The sun shining dumbly all over this world and its troubles’ is her image of reality, and it is no surprise that her poetry offers no real answer to the troubles of the world other than simple acceptance. Religion is touched upon, yet viewed as more of a bandage than an actual solution. Her poems insist that all we have is each other to love and to hold, to remember and be remembered by. It is through the passing of stories, love and knowledge that we find an eternity. We have our parents to teach us life lessons (‘who taught me to love by loving me. Who, by dying, taught me to die’), and then we have our children to whom we must pass these lessons on to. This endless flow from person to person seems reflected in her style. The line breaks usually come in mid-thought, keeping our eyes always jumping forward, each idea leading into the next much like how each life leads to the next.
Laura Kasischke is quite the busy writer. While teaching in the MFA program at the University of Michigan, she has managed to release eight novels, eight collections of poetry and been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment of arts. This collection, her eighth, displays a great talent for creativity and a wonderful focus. Plus, she is published through Copper Canyon Press, which is home to the great W.S. Merwin. While this collection doesn’t quite charm in the fashion I usually enjoy through poetry, it is quite intellectually stimulating and stunning nonetheless.
A bear batting at a beehive, how
clumsy the mind
always was with the heart. Wanting
what it wanted.
timidly the heart approached the business
of the mind. Counting
what it counted.
Light inside a cage, the way the heart-
Bird trapped in an airport, the way the mind-
How it flashed on the floor of the phone booth, my
last dime. And
I didn’t send
to find it now.
All this love I must have felt.
Your last day
So we found ourselves in an ancient place, the very
air around us bound by chains. There was
stagnant water in which lightning
was reflected, like desperation
in a dying eye. Like science. Like
a dull rock plummeting through space, tossing
off flowers and veils, like a bride. And
also the subway.
Speed under ground.
And the way each body in the room appeared to be
a jar of wasps and flies that day – but, enchanted,
like frightened children’s laughter.
Notes are private!
Jun 14, 2012
Sep 17, 2002
‘I want the scissors to be sharp
and the table perfectly level
when you cut me out of my life
and paste me in the book you always carry.’
Billy Collins, t...more ‘I want the scissors to be sharp
and the table perfectly level
when you cut me out of my life
and paste me in the book you always carry.’
Billy Collins, the American Poet Laureate from 2001-2003, is a poet whom you really always keep with you. The man is a pure shot of brilliance; his serene and seemingly effortless prose will seduce your intellect and make sweet, playful love to your soul. This particular collection serves as an early ‘best of’ and would make a perfect introduction to Collins. If you have yet to read his works, I would like to take this opportunity to direct you here. It is well worth your time, even if you don’t typically like poetry as Collins writes in such an accessible manner that reading his poems are as simple and refreshing as breathing the clean morning air. Also, this Selected Works slim size (192pgs dripping wet) is deceiving of the momentous achievements sequestered beneath the covers. Often quite funny and whimsical, yet also tender, sentimental and enduring, Billy Collins is absolutely incredible and I cannot help but fall into superlative clichés in crying my love for his simple poetry from atop this Goodreads mountain.
New York native Collins is a highly decorated poet, and quite deservingly so. His works represent such an insightful ‘slice-of-life’, if you will, that cuts to the core of what it is to be a functioning lover of the arts in this day and age. From ‘buzzing around the house on espresso’ to chopping onions, Collins provides an accessible, ‘everyday man’ voice that makes it easy to seek a warm shelter in like a snug sweater. He has such a love of words and books that really resonated well with me. His thoughts on writing in the margins, something I take pleasure in, really made me laugh (this stanza is for you Mike P):
We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.
This is not a collection to read if you are trying to quit smoking cigarettes however, as he makes them sound so damn appealing in a large variety of poems. Take these last few stanza’s of The Best Cigarette for example:
Then I would be my own locomotive,
I can’t express more how much I love his poems. I feel like a teenager with experience their first debilitating crush when I flip through these pages. How can you not fall in love with words all over again after reading such a joyous, hopeful poem about bars as this:
In keeping with universal saloon practice,
Goddamn. I say Goddamn! (Picture for a moment that I am Uma Thurman and these poems are all cut and lined up on a table. Weak joke, I know).
But really, read this amazing shit:
A sentence starts out like a lone traveler
Are you not impressed?! (Be glad I’m shite at photoshop or you’d be looking at Billy Collins face super imposed on Russell Crowe right now)
Collins is a joy. He makes turning 10 into a tearjerker of a milestone. He shows you the full moon as ‘ a pale bachelor, well-groomed and full of melancholy, his round mouth open as if he had just broken into song’. He makes NOT going on a vacation or not fishing on the Susquehanna in July seem fun. And he dazzles with every word. And most importantly, he wrote THIS:
Some days I put the people in their places at the table,
That was the sound of your mind orgasm. Read Billy Collins.
5 beautiful stars out of 5
This came highly recommended from both Stephen and Scott. If you ever need to find some great poets, I highly recommend raiding Scott's 'read' list.(less)
Notes are private!
Jun 07, 2012
Apr 01, 2000
‘My God, my dreamer, keep dreaming me’
Borges. I simply adore the man. Every word from his pen traces a warm euphoria through my veins. If drug dealers...more ‘My God, my dreamer, keep dreaming me’
Borges. I simply adore the man. Every word from his pen traces a warm euphoria through my veins. If drug dealers sold books, Borges would be what you get when you ask ‘for that dank chronic, yo’. The man restructures reality and imparts infinity with prose alone. If you are unfamiliar with this writer, please, do yourself a massive favor and pick up a copy of Ficciones or even just find the text of Garden of the Forking Paths online here. As a disclaimer, I am not responsible for cleaning up the mess when your mind bursts all over your wall when you reach the end of his stories. However, this review is not about his stories, it is about his poetry. If it was stunning how much he could convey in tiny stories, it is even more impressive the power contained in his lines of poetry. These poems, which span his entire career, are certainly worthy of 5 golden stars, yet, the translations in this collection do there best to tarnish the rating. Still, to step inside the mind of this master is to step into a magical realm of literature, knowledge and fantasy.
Not unlike his short fiction, Borges fills his poems with ethereal visions of winding labyrinths, notions of infinity, dreams, the sadistic and mystical nature of mirrors, and endless allusions to literature ranging from the famous Greek stories, James Joyce, Walt Whitman, and spreading to the most esoteric myths he could conjure up. Huge armies clash and fall, kings are murdered in the dark, Pythagoras ponders, mirrors come alive while the moon muses the passage of time; these poems feel larger than life and as monumental as reading Homer for the first time. Time, death, and the fabric of reality are the major themes that run through these epic stanzas. Even after a quick flip through the book, the reader will notice Borges has something he really wants to tell you: ‘You are going to die’. These thoughts of death hang on his head like a heavy crown and permeate a vast majority of the poems.
‘To The One Who Is Reading Me’
You are invulnerable. Have they not granted you,
those powers that preordain your destiny,
the certainty of dust? Is not your time
as irreversible as that same river
where Heraclitus, mirrored, saw the symbol
of fleeting life? A marble slab awaits you
which you will not read – on it, already written,
the date, the city, the epitaph.
Other men too are only dreams of time,
Not indestructible bronze or burnished gold;
The universe is, like you, a Proteus.
Dark, you will enter the darkness that awaits you,
Doomed to the limits of your traveled time.
Know that in some sense you are already dead.
Through many of these poems, Borges shows us the frailty of our life, drawing out the infinite length time occupies to juxtapose it with our ephemeral existence. He reminds us ‘your matter is time, its unchecked and unreckoned/Passing. You are each solitary second’ while we collect and surround ourselves with lifeless belongings that ‘will endure beyond our vanishing and will never know that we have gone’. He even embraces his own death, yet offers up a hopeful sentiment acknowledging that even when he too enters the realm of shadows, that his words will remain. He will ‘assemble the great rumble of the epic and carve out my own place’, and we will keep him alive eternal through these words.
‘Through this indolent
arrangement of measured words I speak to you.
Remember Borges, your friend, who swam in you.
Be present to my lips in my last moment.’
Not all is dark and dreary however .It is clear through his poems that to him there is nothing greater than to create a lasting work of words, and hopefully he found peace and acceptance of death through this. ‘My fortune or misfortune does not matter. I am the poet.’ Most of this collection is uplifting and wildly inventive. His patterns of logic will send your mind spinning. Mirrors and dreams are toyed with often, and at the end I will include an excellent example of this. He also spends much time speaking lovingly of books and of Buenos Aires.
The major issues with this collection are the translations. Granted, there are 13 different translators at work here and some are much better than others. This does lend to a very uneven feel, and also it seems a shame that the better translators have the fewest number of poems. One aspect I really enjoyed of this collection was that it included the poem in its original language across from the translation. It may serve as a disclaimer for the translation, but it does not forgive the liberties that are taken with the poem. I never like when translators force a rhyme scheme, it really is not needed. Here, not only do they freely alter the structure and meaning to force a rhyme, but they don’t even use the same rhyme scheme as Borges! Borges will offer beautiful stanzas following a pattern such as ABBC CDDA while the translator gives us ABCB DEFE. What is the point in giving a cheap rhyme that insults the integrity of not only the prose, but the original flow? Plus, the words and order will be changed dramatically to fit this cheap rhyme and it all comes out as a farce. Especially because I can see right on the other page what he was really saying, so it almost feels like I am being lied right to my face. This is a perfect example of what my dear Goodreads friend Richard insightfully referred to as ‘he triumph of hope over experience’, (one of the many excellent quotes from him, there are several that future scholars should embrace, which make this site such a useful resource). They fail in my eyes. Also, the translation to the collection The Maker in this collection is different than those included in Collected Fictions put out by the same publisher. This is nice, as it offers a different view and flow, but I found the Collected Fictions to appeal more to my taste.
For example, in CF as translated by Andrew Hurley, the final line of Ragnorok (one of my favorite Borges lines) reads: ‘We drew heavy revolvers (suddenly in the dream there were revolvers) and exultantly killed the gods.’
As by Kenneth Krabbenhoft: ‘We drew our heavy pistols (in the dream, they just appeared) and cheerfully put the gods to death.’
In the collection Labyrinths: ‘We took out our heavy revolvers (all of a sudden there were revolvers in the dream) and joyfully killed the Gods.’
I suppose, as with any translated work, you should shop around and see which works best for you.
This collection of poetry shows Borges as a master of language. Despite some translation issues (at least you can see the original and hopefully know enough Spanish to get by), this is a truly mind blowing collection. I highly recommend it, and please enjoy your stay in the labyrinth of Borges’ mind.
I have committed the worst of sins
One can commit. I have not been
Happy. Let the glaciers of oblivion
Take and engulf me, mercilessly.
My parents bore me for the risky
And the beautiful game of life,
For earth, water, air and fire.
I failed them, I was not happy.
Their youthful hope for me unfulfilled.
I applied my mind to the symmetric
Arguments of art, its web of trivia.
They willed me bravery. I was not brave.
It never leaves me. Always at my side,
That shadow of a melancholy man.
The Art of Poetry
To gaze at a river made of time and water
And remember Time is another river.
To know we stray like a river
and our faces vanish like water.
To feel that waking is another dream
that dreams of not dreaming and that the death
we fear in our bones is the death
that every night we call a dream.
To see in every day and year a symbol
of all the days of man and his years,
and convert the outrage of the years
into a music, a sound, and a symbol.
To see in death a dream, in the sunset
a golden sadness--such is poetry,
humble and immortal, poetry,
returning, like dawn and the sunset.
Sometimes at evening there's a face
that sees us from the deeps of a mirror.
Art must be that sort of mirror,
disclosing to each of us his face.
They say Ulysses, wearied of wonders,
wept with love on seeing Ithaca,
humble and green. Art is that Ithaca,
a green eternity, not wonders.
Art is endless like a river flowing,
passing, yet remaining, a mirror to the same
inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same
and yet another, like the river flowing.
Not a single star will be left in the night.
The night will not be left.
I will die and, with me,
the weight of the intolerable universe.
I shall erase the pyramids, the medallions,
the continents and faces.
I shall erase the accumulated past.
I shall make dust of history, dust of dust.
Now I am looking on the final sunset.
I am hearing the last bird.
I bequeath nothingness to no one.
History of the Night
Throughout the course of the generations
men constructed the night.
At first she was blindness;
thorns raking bare feet,
fear of wolves.
We shall never know who forged the word
for the interval of shadow
dividing the two twilights;
we shall never know in what age it came to mean
the starry hours.
Others created the myth.
They made her the mother of the unruffled Fates
that spin our destiny,
they sacrificed black ewes to her, and the cock
who crows his own death.
The Chaldeans assigned to her twelve houses;
to Zeno, infinite words.
She took shape from Latin hexameters
and the terror of Pascal.
Luis de Leon saw in her the homeland
of his stricken soul.
Now we feel her to be inexhaustible
like an ancient wine
and no one can gaze on her without vertigo
and time has charged her with eternity.
And to think that she wouldn't exist
except for those fragile instruments, the eyes.
Of these streets that deepen the sunset,
There must be one (but which) that I’ve walked
Already one last time, indifferently
And without knowing it, submitting
To One who sets up omnipotent laws
And a secret and a rigid measure
For the shadows, the dreams, and forms
That work the warp and weft of this life.
If all things have a limit and a value
A last time nothing more and oblivion
Who can say to whom in this house
Unknowingly, we have said goodbye?
Already through the grey glass night ebbs
And among the stack of books that throws
A broken shadow on the unlit table,
There must be one I will never read.
In the South there’s more than one worn gate
With its masonry urns and prickly pear
Where my entrance is forbidden
As it were within a lithograph.
Forever there’s a door you have closed,
And a mirror that waits for you in vain;
The crossroad seems wide open to you
And there a four-faced Janus watches.
There is, amongst your memories, one
That has now been lost irreparably;
You’ll not be seen to visit that well
Under white sun or yellow moon.
Elegy For a Park
The labyrinth is lost. Lost too
all those lines of eucalyptus,
the summer awnings and the vigil
of the incessant mirror, repeating
the expression of every human face,
everything fleeting. The stopped
clock, the tangled honeysuckle,
the arbour, the frivolous statues,
the other side of evening, the trills,
the mirador and the idle fountain
are things of the past. Of the past?
If there’s no beginning, no ending,
and if what awaits us is an endless
sum of white days and black nights,
we are already the past we become.
We are time, the indivisible river,
are Uxmal, Carthage and the ruined
walls of the Romans and the lost
park that these lines commemorate.(less)
Notes are private!
Mar 29, 2012
Feb 08, 2010
The Best of It collects new and selected poems from sixteenth US Poet Laureate Kay Ryan’s career covering 1993-2005. A highly decorated poet, Ryan tea...more The Best of It collects new and selected poems from sixteenth US Poet Laureate Kay Ryan’s career covering 1993-2005. A highly decorated poet, Ryan teaches English at the College of Marin in California (her partner Carol Adair also taught there until her death in 2009) and has released eight collections of poetry. Ryan write tight little poems teeming with figurative language and marching to a rhythmic beat to emphasize her rhyme schemes that marries the traditional poetry styles of old with modern poetry.
The Edges of TimeRyan often takes a small, specific idea or moment, and unlocks a quick insight, offering a surprising amount of depth from such a small idea and in such small paper space. While her poems rarely exceed a few short lines, they are filled with poetic devices and charge forward to the rhythmic quality of her words. She fuses her techniques together so well that it is difficult to tell which device was the ultimate goal for the poem, all of them working together in unison to create a brief immaculate image. This rhythm, often iambic, gives the poetry an older feel to it, and allows her to construct interesting rhyme structures. Many of her rhymes are interior rhymes that are brought out and highlighted by the rhythm of her words.
AtlasI must admit, however, that the rhythm and rhymes of her poetry is my greatest complain with it. It is cute and fun at times, but it is often too much. The rhyming to her poems is like eating a piece of cake with frosting so rich that you cannot take more than a few bites without feeling sick. Much of her poetry is playful and witty, while always retaining an overall seriousness to the poem, yet the playfulness did not charm me the way it does with, say, Billy Collins. I hate to say it, but reading this reminded me of why I love Collins and I felt that Ryan pales in comparison. However, that is not a fair comparison to make, as both poets have radically different styles and goals, but all in all I prefer Collins. There were some very touching poems in here, and several that did grab me. For example, I loved her poem on Hide & Seek, which really reminded me of my 2 year old daughter and her current ‘hiding method’ of standing in the middle of the room with a blanket over her head yelling ‘Where Tilly go?!’:
Hide & SeekRyan does take a fun look at poetry as an art form and often uses it as a commentary on other poets. A good quarter of the poems contained in this collection begin with the quote to which they are either inspired by, or in response to. Marianne Moore, Annie Dillard, and Joseph Brodsky are the most common writers spoken to through poetry, and there are several poems based on facts from Ripely’s Believe It Or Not!, such as her poem on stage productions or her poem about Matrigupta (Matrigupta wrote a poem that so pleased Rajah Vicraama Ditya that he was given the state of Kashmir for his efforts, which he ruled from 118-123 until abdicating to become a recluse). She even dedicates a poem to W.G. Sebald:
He Lit a Fire With IciclesHer commentary on language, translation and poetry in general are some of the best aspects of this collection.
Poetry is a Kind of Money
As a sort of ‘best of’, this collection left me a bit underwhelmed. There were some wonderful and touching poems, but much did not particularly grab me. I can see why many people would really enjoy her poetry, and reading a bit about her life reveals an impressive woman with a wonderful mind, but this just fell a bit flat for me. I did enjoy her method of blending the traditional with the modern, and the way her poem often spoke to the title, either allowing the title to be the actual first lines, or to posit and idea that the poem would then look up to the top of the page at and deconstruct. It was the rhyming and overly bouncy rhythm that wore thin on me, which happened in far too many poems. Which may be a point of personal pretention as I don’t mind rhyming in older poems, but in these it just felt, well, cheesy and often times forced. It occasionally played out in my head like corny rap lyrics that would be sung over preset Casio beats. This is still a great collection to sample however, and if you enjoy rhyming poetry you might end up adoring Kay Ryan. She is deserving of praise.
Notes are private!
Mar 04, 2012
Apr 03, 2002
Apr 04, 2006
‘What’s the writing of poetry but a confession that life isn’t enough?
What’s art but a way to forget that life is just this?’
-Álvaro De Campos
Fernando...more ‘What’s the writing of poetry but a confession that life isn’t enough?
What’s art but a way to forget that life is just this?’
-Álvaro De Campos
Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) was a living literary masterpiece. Writing in Portuguese, French, and English, Pessoa turned out a staggering, and seemingly endless collection of poetry, translations, literary criticisms and numerous essays on politics, religion and philosophy, as well as the highly praised and highly ponderous The Book of Disquiet, all under a vast collection of heteronyms. Coined by Pessoa, Heteronyms are a literary device somewhat like an extension to the concept of a pseudonyms, being fully fleshed-out character, each with their own unique styles, beliefs, and themes as well as a complete biography through which Pessoa wrote as opposed to simply being a false name ¹ Through 81 confirmed heteronyms (the complete list is contained below), Pessoa rocked the literary climate of his native Portugal, being credited as the genius behind the three greatest Portuguese poets of his time: Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis.
Richard Zenith’s introduction to this collection offers an interesting, in-depth look into the life of Pessoa, from his political activism to philosophical musings, and the ideas and inspirations behind the creation of his most famous heteronyms. Pessoa evinced literary greatness very early on in life. writing his first poem at age 7 to his mother:
Here I am in Portugalspending his early childhood creating fake newspapers for his own enjoyment (written by a fake group of journalists whom he wrote biographies for), and publishing short stories and poems through the heteronym, Charles Robert Anon, at age 16. As Pessoa grew as a writer, he began to create more and more identities to suit his needs. ‘Each of my dreams,’ writes Pessoa as Bernardo Soares in The Book of Disquiet, as soon as I start dreaming it, is immediately incarnated in another person, who is then the one dreaming it, and not I To create, I’ve destroyed myself…. I’m the empty stage where various actors act out various plays.’ Much like a character actor, Pessoa was able to take on the personality of endless characters, leaving so little trace of himself that people often questioned if it was possible for someone to be able to express one set of opinions and style, yet concurrently write such opposing ideas from another heteronym (although many of the critics debating this or publishing analytical essays on the poets turned out to actually be Pessoa again). Pessoa often experimented with automatic writing to ‘find’ new heteronyms, and after studying heavily into astrology, he began to assign astrological signs to his heteronyms to build their personalities. Zenith collects the ‘best of’ from each of Pessoa’s major poets in this collection to exemplify the diversity and sheer genius of Pessoa.
If they want me to have mysticism, okay, I’ve got it.
Caeiro, an Aries, was written to be a simple country dweller with no education and a desire to perceive life simply as it is without any thought getting in the way to taint it: ‘to know how to see without thinking, to know how to see when seeing and not think when seeing nor see when thinking’. Born in 1889 and dying in 1915, Caeiro is said by Pessoa to have come to him ‘in a kind of ecstasy’ that allowed him to write the majority of Caeiro’s body of work within a 2 week period.
O ship setting out on a distant voyage,
I want the flower you are, not the one you give.
Reis, born in 1887 ², was a physician and immersed in the Greek classics, writing epic, metered odes and sonnets about fate. Reis questions religion (often preferring to believe in the Greek gods than his own Christian faith) mocks man, and seeks only for truth.
Whatever ceases is death, and the death
Álvaro de Campos
I got off the train
How amazing is that!?
De Campos is my favorite of the heteronyms collected in this book. Born in 1890, De Campos was created to be the antithesis of Pessoa’s true self. Known for writing scathing criticisms, long poems (which later became very short poems in which he expresses sadness for not being able to create the long poems of his youth) and political activism, De Campos has the most personality and public life of the heteronyms. Often Pessoa would show up in character as De Campos to readings or lectures where Pessoa Himself had been scheduled and proceed to bad mouth the Pessoa Himself, which Zenith points out, didn’t always sit well with the public.
I’m gonna throw a bomb into destiny.
Interestingly enough, Pessoa as himself was the least famous of his major poets. Much of his self poetry is spent discussing the ideas of the ‘self’ and consciousness. He wrote several poems in English, which were only marginally received. As he had taught himself English at a young age by reading his favorite writers, Poe, Shakespeare, Keats, Milton, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dickens among others, his English built itself to have a slightly outdated, stuffy academic feel to it that was noted in many of his English poem reviews. However, it was also mentioned that his Elizabethan style felt extremely authentic.
All beauty is a dream, even if it exists
¹ While most instances of his are simply considered pseudonyms, Søren Kierkegaard had several heteronyms which he used to distance the opinions in certain books or essays of his from the major body of work.
² The idea that Reis continued living after the death of Pessoa is explored in Saramago’s novel The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, in which Lydia, a woman frequently mentioned in Reis poetry, is a significant character.
THE LIST OF PESSOA’S HETERONYMS: (view spoiler)[
1. Fernando Antonio Nogueira Pessoa - Himself - Commercial correspondent in Lisbon
2. Fernando Pessoa - Orthonym - Poet and prose writer
3. Fernando Pessoa - Autonym - Poet and prose writer
4. Fernando Pessoa - Heteronym - Poet; a pupil of Alberto Caeiro
5. Alberto Caeiro - Heteronym - Poet; author of O guardador de Rebanhos, O Pastor Amoroso and Poemas inconjuntos; master of heteronyms Fernando Pessoa, Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis and António Mora.
6. Ricardo Reis - Heteronym - Poet and prose writer, author of Odes and texts on the work of Alberto Caeiro
7. Federico Reis - Heteronym / Para-heteronym - Essayist; brother of Ricardo Reis, upon whom he writes
8. Álvaro de Campos - Heteronym - Poet and prose writer; a pupil of Alberto Caeiro
9. António Mora - Heteronym - Philosopher and sociologist; theorist of Neopaganism; a pupil of Alberto Caeiro
10. Claude Pasteur - Heteronym / Semi-heteronym - French translator of Cadernos de reconstrução pagã conducted by António Mora
11. Bernardo Soares - Heteronym / Semi-heteronym - Poet and prose writer; author of The Book of Disquiet.
12. Vicente Guedes - Heteronym / Semi-heteronym - Translator, poet; director of Ibis Press; author of a paper
13. Gervasio Guedes - Heteronym / Semi-heteronym - Author of the text “A Coroação de Jorge Quinto”
14. Alexander Search - Heteronym - Poet and short story writer
15. Charles James Search - Heteronym / Para-heteronym - Translator and essayist; brother of Alexander Search
16. Jean-Méluret of Seoul - Heteronym / Proto-heteronym - French poet and essayist
17. Rafael Baldaya - Heteronym - Astrologer; author of Tratado da Negação and Princípios de Metaphysica Esotérica
18. Barão de Teive - Heteronym - Prose writer; author of Educação do Stoica and Daphnis e Chloe
19. Charles Robert Anon - Heteronym / Semi-heteronym - Poet, philosopher and story writer
20. A. A. Crosse - Pseudonym / Proto-heteronym - Author and puzzle-solver
21. Thomas Crosse - Heteronym / Proto-heteronym - English epic character/occultist, popularized in Portuguese culture
22. I. I. Crosse - Heteronym / Para-heteronym -
23. David Merrick - Heteronym / Semi-heteronym - Poet, storyteller and playwright
24. Lucas Merrick - Heteronym / Para-heteronym - Short story writer; perhaps brother David Merrick
25. Pêro Botelho - Heteronym / Pseudonym - Short story writer and author of letters
26. Abilio Quaresma - Heteronym / Character / Meta-heteronym - Character inspired by Pêro Botelho and author of short detective stories
27. Inspector Guedes - Character / Meta-heteronym(?) - Character inspired by Pêro Botelho and author of short detective stories
28. Uncle Pork - Pseudonym / Character - Character inspired by Pêro Botelho and author of short detective stories
29. Frederick Wyatt - Alias / Heteronym - English poet and prose writer
30. Rev. Walter Wyatt - Character - Possibly brother of Frederick Wyatt
31. Alfred Wyatt - Character - Another brother of Frederick Wyatt and resident of Paris
32. Maria José - Heteronym / Proto-heteronym - Wrote and signed “A Carta da Corcunda para o Serralheiro”
33. Chevalier de Pas - Pseudonym / Proto-heteronym - Author of poems and letters
34. Efbeedee Pasha - Heteronym / Proto-heteronym - Author of humoristic stories
35. Faustino Antunes / A. Moreira - Heteronym / Pseudonym - Psychologist and author of Ensaio sobre a Intuição
36. Carlos Otto - Heteronym / Proto-heteronym - Poet and author of Tratado de Lucta Livre
37. Michael Otto - Pseudonym / Para-heteronym - Probably brother of Carlos Otto who was entrusted with the translation into English of Tratado de Lucta Livre
38. Sebastian Knight - Proto-heteronym / Alias -
39. Horace James Faber - Heteronym / Semi-heteronym - English short story writer and essayist
40. Navas - Heteronym / Para-heteronym - Translated Horace James Faber in Portuguese
41. Pantaleão - Heteronym / Proto-heteronym - Poet and prose writer
42. Torquato Fonseca Mendes da Cunha Rey - Heteronym / Meta-heteronym - Deceased author of a text Pantaleão decided to publish
43. Joaquim Moura Costa - Proto-heteronym / Semi-heteronym - Satirical poet; Republican activist; member of O Phosphoro
44. Sher Henay - Proto-heteronym / Pseudonym - Compiler and author of the preface of a sensationalist anthology in English
45. Anthony Gomes - Semi-heteronym / Character - Philosopher; author of “Historia Cómica do Affonso Çapateiro”
46. Professor Trochee - Proto-heteronym / Pseudonym - Author of an essay with humorous advice for young poets
47. Willyam Links Esk - Character - Signed a letter written in English on April 13, 1905
48. António de Seabra - Pseudonym / Proto-heteronym - Literary critic
49. João Craveiro - Pseudonym / Proto-heteronym - Journalist; follower of Sidonio Pereira
50. Tagus - Pseudonym - Collaborator in Natal Mercury (Durban, South Africa)
51. Pipa Gomes - Draft heteronym - Collaborator in O Phosphoro
52. Ibis -Character / Pseudonym - Character from Pessoa’s childhood accompanying him until the end of his life; also signed poems
53. Dr. Gaudencio Turnips - Proto-heteronym / Pseudonym - English-Portuguese journalist and humorist; director of O Palrador
54. Pip - Proto-heteronym / Pseudonym - Poet and author of humorous anecdotes; predecessor of Dr. Pancrácio
55. Dr. Pancrácio - Proto-heteronym / Pseudonym - Storyteller, poet and creator of charades
56. Luís António Congo - Proto-heteronym / Pseudonym - Collaborator in O Palrador; columnist and presenter of Eduardo Lança
57. Eduardo Lança - Proto-heteronym / Pseudonym - Luso-Brazilian poet
58. A. Francisco de Paula Angard - Proto-heteronym / Pseudonym - Collaborator in O Palrador; author of “Textos scientificos”
59. Pedro da Silva Salles / Zé Pad - Proto-heteronym / Alias - Author and director of the section of anecdotes at O Palrador
60. José Rodrigues do Valle / Scicio - Proto-heteronym / Alias - Collaborator in O Palrador; author of charades; literary manager
61. Dr. Caloiro - Proto-heteronym / Pseudonym - Collaborator in O Palrador; reporter and author of A pesca das pérolas
62. Adolph Moscow - Proto-heteronym / Pseudonym - Collaborator in O Palrador; novelist and author of Os Rapazes de Barrowby
63. Marvell Kisch - Proto-heteronym / Pseudonym - Author of a novel announced in O Palrador, called A Riqueza de um Doido
64. Gabriel Keene - Proto-heteronym / Pseudonym - Author of a novel announced in O Palrador, called Em Dias de Perigo
65. Sableton-Kay - Proto-heteronym / Pseudonym - Author of a novel announced in O Palrador, called A Lucta Aérea
66. Morris & Theodor - Pseudonym - Collaborator in O Palrador; author of charades
67. Diabo Azul - Pseudonym - Collaborator in O Palrador; author of charades
68. Parry - Pseudonym - Collaborator in O Palrador; author of charades
69. Gallião Pequeno - Pseudonym - Collaborator in O Palrador; author of charades
70. Urban Accursio - Alias - Collaborator in O Palrador; author of charades
71. Cecília - Pseudonym - Collaborator in O Palrador; author of charades
72. José Rasteiro - Proto-heteronym / Pseudonym - Collaborator in O Palrador; author of charades
73. Nympha Negra - Pseudonym - Collaborator in O Palrador; author of charades
74. Diniz da Silva - Pseudonym / Proto-heteronym - Author of the poem “Loucura”; collaborator in Europe
75. Herr Prosit - Pseudonym - Translator of El estudiante de Salamanca by José Espronceda
76. Henry More - Proto-heteronym - Author and prose writer
77. Wardour - Character (?) - Poet
78. J. M. Hyslop - Poet
79. Vadooisf (?) - Poet
80. Nuno Reis - Psuedonym - Son of Ricardo Reis
81. João Caeiro - Character (?) - Son of Alberto Caeiro and Ana Taveir
Notes are private!
Jan 03, 2012
Feb 06, 2007
’At night the poet builds
a paradise for his dead’
Born from the suffering and slaughter of his countrymen under the totalitarian rule of both the Nazi’...more ’At night the poet builds
a paradise for his dead’
Born from the suffering and slaughter of his countrymen under the totalitarian rule of both the Nazi’s and the Communists alike, Zbigniew Herbert, the Polish born warrior of words, inks out powerful testimonies to the human race. To read Herbert is to join him, hand in hand, on his ’long walks down avenues of burned houses and broken glass’ as he pays homage to the fallen and tries to squeeze bright drops of hope from the darkness. Herbert writes in a prose poem of the world moving on past the trauma:
’It happens very rarely. The earth’s axis screeches and comes to a stop. Everything stands still then, storms, ships and clouds grazing in the valleys. Everything. Even horses in a meadow become immobile as if in an unfinished game of chess.
In 1952, Herbert supplemented his income by selling his blood to survive. I can think of no more poignant an image of a poet as this. At a young age, Herbert joined the underground resistance movements and watched many a fellow friend and poet succumb to the bullet and bomb. Much of his work reflects on these Fallen Poets as this poem is named:
’Silent one receive A shrieking bullet
A memorial of words to those who have gone before us is erected through this collection. 'They who sailed at dawn/ but now will never return/ left their trace on a wave'. Through the eyes of his prose we witness cities blown apart, comrades execute by firing squads (Five Men delivers one of the most impactful moments in his whole collection) and the sadness of loss. However, all is not lost, and Herbert manages to rise above the squalor and ‘in dead earnest/ offer to the betrayed world/ a rose’ . My soul would shudder and crawl, yet, pages later he offers a warmness that would perk it right back up and fill me with a glow while reading.
Herbert was a close friend of Czesław Miłosz, Polish Nobel laureate and my personal favorite poet, whom he learned much of his trade from. Together the two took to political activism beyond the written world and were very outspoken against communism. Herbert was certainly a poet who walked what he talked, raining down bullets, potent prose and good old fashion activism against all who stood in his way. 'Our steps pounding the pavings skin/ a proud step that will turn the world/ into one procession and one slogan'. How can you not respect this man? And then take a look at the cover of this life-long collection, how can you not respect a man with that awesome of a cover photo?!
While there is a large focus on his political and wartime poetry, as well as other dark themes such as abandonment and fear, there are still a vast variety of other lighter themes flowering in this collection. I personally greatly enjoyed his poetry about poetry, and the art of creating it. Writing, offers a whimsical description of the writing process:
’When I mount a chair
Herbert also writes heavily about a certain Mr. Cogito (an alter-ego, if you will, with a name that reminded me of Jim Morrison’s Mr. Mojo Rising), where he is able to detach and examine the human soul and conscious. These are some of the finest, and funniest poems in the bunch, as harnesses existential dilemmas and irony to create a portrait of his hero. Much deals with the search for identity, redemption, and the will to push on after so much suffering has befallen the countryside. There is a comical poem where Mr. Cogito reflects on Hell, and decides the inner circle is filled with poets, artists and musicians, but they happy there are because ’Beelzebub supports the arts. He guarantees his artists tranquility, a healthy diet, and complete isolation from infernal life. He boasts his [artists] outdo those in heaven.’
This is a great collection of poetry, especially for those interested in wartime Europe and the Polish poets (they do well with the Nobel awards, that’s for sure. Herbert never received one, but he is right up there with Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska). The translation seemed fine by me, although I have nothing to compare it to, only the fact that this edition is a revision of the translations by Miłosz himself. Speaking of whom, Herbert writes in the poem Czeslaw Miłosz: Angels descend from heaven/Halleluiah/when he sets down/his slanted/azure-spaced/letters’. If that’s not a sell for him, I don’t know what is. Herbert weaves a tapestry of words that will take your breath away. He will be missed. Rest in peace: 1924-1998
arm in arm
go blindly on
toward new horizons
toward contracted throats
from which rises
an unintelligible gurgle(less)
Notes are private!
Feb 14, 2012
Jan 01, 2012
Apr 30, 1983
‘Whatever it is you try to do with your life, nothing will ever dazzle you like the dreams of your body’
I’ve always found that the world outside my wi...more ‘Whatever it is you try to do with your life, nothing will ever dazzle you like the dreams of your body’
I’ve always found that the world outside my window, deep in the immersion of nature, is where I feel most alive and at peace. I love to travel into the wild woods of Michigan, off from the beaten path, and lose myself among the trees. I look up and feel dwarfed and insignificant among the leafy giants that stretch towards the limitless sky, and allow the breeze to blow through me, taking my worldly thoughts away with its passing. Sometimes it feels as if I could just dissolve from my physical form, meld with nature, and become counted among the countless trees and plants. Perhaps this is the primitive animal instinct in us all, calling us back to simplicity. The pristine beauty of Mary Oliver’s Pulitzer Prize winning collection, American Primitive, is the voice of this wild world and celebrates the unity of the animals and Earth. Her words are a trek through the seasons, a nature walk of words across meadows and streams and deep into the mysterious forests of our hearts.
Oliver has a gift to bestow all the sounds, smells and feelings of the wilderness through mere words. You will feel the drops of rain, hear the babbling brook, and watch the animals scurry about all within a white page. She harnesses the rhythm of nature, from winding rivers to the sight of two snakes slithering through a field of flowers ‘like a matched team / like a dance / like a love affair’. Poems such as Bobcat use the form of the poem to reflect the darting movement of the beast across the land, or to elevate the imagery of waves in The Sea. The language is always simple, yet intensely eloquent.
All four seasons are accounted for within this volume. Her poems of the Ohio winters hit close to home, detailing the muted silence of a snow covered night, beneath a starless sky such as in First Snow:
Its whitewhy, how
whence such beauty and what
There are the blossoming poems of spring, bringing us rain ‘soft as lilacs and clean as holy water’, and the glorious warmth of summer.
There is no end,
While much of the works are directed towards the blooming and buzzing of life, the river of her poems travel to darker territories at times where the land reclaims the living. The poem The Kitten, about a stillborn cat, is particularly moving:
But instead I took it out into the field
There it the fall poetry of the falling leaves and dying warmth, and the wet smell of damp decay rises up from sweet stanzas to fill your nose. I once worked at a large park and was lucky to spend my summers surrounded by miles and miles of wilderness. This collection really brings back the joy from those times, yet one poem in particular hits close to home. Something mentions a man who goes into nature to end his life, which is something that commonly happened at this park as well and her words brings back the unshakable memory of an early morning discovering a swinging form engulfed by the rising sun. From the earth we came, and to the earth we will return.
If you love nature, or poetry, or just good writing in general, do yourself a favor and introduce yourself to the poems of Mary Oliver. She gives Robert Frost a good rival with American Primitive, and upon reading it you will most likely find yourself lacing up your shoes and setting forth into the woods with a new found synergy with the rhythm of the wild. I highly suggest you do so. And now, nature calls and I must go.
Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,
the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back
from the particular island
of this summer, this now, that now is nowhere
except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle
of unobservable mysteries - roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This
I try to remember when time's measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn
flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay - how everything lives, shifting
from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.
Notes are private!
Mar 17, 2012
Dec 24, 2011
Jan 01, 1998
Nov 16, 2000
Wisława Szymborska, the recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in literature, has the power to make the reader feel both insignificant and heroic simply fo...more Wisława Szymborska, the recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in literature, has the power to make the reader feel both insignificant and heroic simply for existing. This collection, which spans her career from 1957-97, offers a broad range of Szymborska’s talents. Her eloquent prose is direct and extremely quotable, overflowing with clever witticisms just begging you to go crazy with a highlighter through the pages, and is very accessible, making this a perfect collection for both veteran poetry fanatics and for those who only occasionally dip into the sea of poetry.
Born in 1923, Szymborska was witness to all the horrors of the century from her home in Krakow, Poland. Inspired by another Polish poet, Nobel Laureate Czesław Miłosz (of whom I give the highest of recommendations), she began penning her first poems, as well as short fiction, in the mid-1940’s while serving on the railroads. Despite her first collection being banned by the socialist regime, she continued to refine her craft and held close to the party limitations until splitting ways in the mid-60’s. Anyone who has read Miłosz’s The Captive Mind will see why he would applaud her for breaking loose and writing freely. This collection of her poetry does neglect much of her overtly political poems written while towing the party line and focuses primarily poems which are more all-encompassing of of humanity.
Poets are poetry, writers are prose-
Prose can hold anything including poetry,
But in poetry there is only room for poetry-
Baring her soul, Szymborska often addresses her self-conscious feelings about being a poet in this collection. ”They publically confess to being poets only reluctantly, as if they were a little ashamed of it” she says in her Nobel Lecture, which, as a nice little addition, is included in this collection. Poetry is often overlooked; I myself admit to being enamored with poetry yet often neglect this art for lengthy periods of time. Poetry is not taken as serious as it should be. Perhaps this is due in part to every weepy eyed kid you knew in high school who had a folder of sappy or morbid ‘poetry’ that they took far too seriously when finding any moment to read it and show off their ‘inner pain and deepness’. Okay, total cliché, but we’ve all seen this in film or in real life and I think this image of poetry has taken root in the everyman’s mind and created a slight aversion to it, masking it as only for ‘arsty’ folk. Even Szymborska states that it is better and more comfortable to say whatever it is else you do in life that to label yourself as ‘a poet’. With this collection, Szymborska scores a massive victory for poetry and evinces that poetry can be for and understood by the everyman, and although she may be quite self-conscious while doing so, she bravely puts forth her powerful stanzas. Poems such as Evaluation of an Unwritten Poem shows her ideas of the power of poetry, especially over the absence of poetry that would or could have been written.
The message lying in wait within her poems is often fairly discernable upon the first reading and Szymborska uses very direct and honest language. Literally anybody could pick this up, flip through, and find a half dozen poems that they feel is a potent statement on the human condition. This is a translated work, but the messages come through unhindered, though (I have not seen or am able to understand the original Polish) there may have been a loss of some literary devices so I cannot be certain that she doesn’t chip in cases of consonance or apply any alliteration or any other devices of that nature.
Much of her poetry pertains to death. Szymborska takes it upon herself to prepare the reader for their inevitable fate, showing humans as fragile, temporary, and sometimes rather insignificant in the face of eternity. I found it humorous how she occasionally sneaks this in, drawing me near with some tirade and then slapping me across the face with an open palm of mortality. Take, for example, the poem True Love, in which she humorously details how annoying those who are caught up in love are to those around them. This poem wraps up as follows:
Let the people who never find true love
Keep saying that there’s no such thing.
Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.
Heavy stuff right out of the blue. Poems such as Cat in an Empty Apartment or The Suicide’s Room show the void death leaves within the world. However, Syzmborska has one of the most optimistic poems about death I have ever read with On Death, Without Exaggeration. She illustrates death as weak and sloppy, saying death always does the job awkwardly and
can’t even get the things done
that are part of its trade:
dig a grave
make a coffin
clean up after itself
Syzmborska is one of the rare few who place the living on the winning side in a battle against death:
Whoever claims that it’s omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it’s not
There’s no life
that couldn’t be immortal
if only for a moment.
always arrives by that very moment too late.
In vain it tugs at the knob
of the invisible door.
As far as you’ve come
can’t be undone.
Not all of her poetry is gloomy. Much of it deals with the human condition and Szymborska has a signature bemused flair that seeps into her poems about mans fate and place in the universe. She often writes of how the world is seemingly made up of chance, how we by chance became who we are (and that she would never want to be anyone else) and that each second of life is an escape from a chance death (which made me think of life as a game Russian Roulette – each time a near death experience slides by its as if we hear that ‘click’ of safety, but this can only go on so long before that ‘click’ will be the ‘bang!’). Several poems, including my personal favorite Life While-You-Wait give us a Shakespeare-like vision of each human as a actor upon a stage, except life is improvisational acting and there is no rehearsal and no second chance to get it right.
I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it’ mine, I can’t exchange it.
I have to guess on the spot
just what this play’s all about.
If I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven’t seen”
The link between the past, present and future is often tied tightly within her poems. In a very existential way, Szymborska describes us as being a product of our choices and pasts, a unique chance of actions that created us out of the infinite possible selves. From No Title Needed:
And yet I’m sitting by this river, that’s a fact
And since I’m here
I must have come from somewhere
and before that turned up in many other places,
exactly like the conquerors of nations
before setting sail.
From somber, introspective, morbid to outright funny, Szymborska’s collected poems deliver one treat after another. It could easily be picked up and read at random, but a straight through reading offers a bit more insight to the growth and maturation of the aging poet. If you are a fan of this often neglected art, do yourself a favor and read some Szymborska. If you are looking to get into poetry, this is a perfect starting point. Keep your pen or highlighter nearby while you read because she is very insightful and delivers gem after gem that you will want to revisit.
A few recommended poems:
On Death, Without Exaggeration
An Opinion on the Question of Pornography
I’m Working on the World
No Title Needed
A Contribution to Statistics
Notes are private!
Dec 10, 2011
Dec 22, 2011
Oct 16, 2011
Apr 17, 2003
Notes are private!
Oct 15, 2011
Dec 08, 2011
Oct 17, 2006
This collection of poetry, from the whole of Transtromer's career, more than justifies the stamp of "Nobel Prize Winner" that is printed on the cover....more This collection of poetry, from the whole of Transtromer's career, more than justifies the stamp of "Nobel Prize Winner" that is printed on the cover. Shamefully, I had never heard of this Swedish born poet until the week before he won the prize. I had read an article that highlighted him as a frontrunner for the prize this year and I began to seek out his poetry. It took a bit of patience, and I urge anyone to first flip around in the book for awhile until they find the right poem that speaks to them, but once I caught the cadence of his thoughts (it was the poem A Winter Night for me), the gates opened and I was ushered into Transtromer's beautiful, and sometimes sad, vision of life. I have been bursting with nothing but praise for him ever since. His prose is very lucid and ethereal, creating a seemingly weightless reality that hovers just above and beyond our own. It called to mind a quote from the Polish author, Bruno Schulz. Schulz, in the introduction of his "The Streets Of Crocodiles", says there are images that "...are merely trying to occur, they are checking whether the ground of reality can carry them. And they quickly withdraw fearing to lose their integrity in the frailty of realization." Transtromer builds up just these sorts of images that dwell in the peripherals of existence as he speaks of death, islands, shadows, trains, memories and the absurdity of our position in life.
"I am transparent/and writing becomes visible/inside me" he writes in the poem "Further In". Much of his poetry comes from life experiences, which pass through him ("I am the turnstile" - The Outpost) and out through his pen into insightful observations on the human condition. His shorter poems often times give the reader cryptic metaphors or a simple weightless image to ponder, such as the "bridge builds itself/slowly/straight out in space" (Snow Is Falling), but it is in the longer poems where Transtromer works his real magic. In poems such as The Gallery, Night Duty or Traffic, to name a few, Transtromer weaves a variety of metaphors and images into one powerful theme. He also spends much time detailing the seasons, from lush green summers to cold, dead winters. There is a moment where he describes spring as the trees turning back to face him as he and the earth run towards each other. There is so much joy and love for the world and existence to be found within his words. In later poems, specifically poems written after his stroke, death becomes a prevalent theme as he shows us all existing within its inevitable shadow.
Give Transtromer a try. If you are patient it will really pay off and you will never view the world around you the same again. He gives us, as he puts it in a haiku:
Thoughts standing still, like
the colored mosaic stones in
the palace courtyard.
Notes are private!
Oct 15, 2011
Oct 31, 2011
Oct 15, 2011
Jan 01, 1977
May 31, 2002
people are not good to each other.
perhaps if they were
our deaths would not be so sad.
Love him or hate him, Charles Bukowski was a bitter, drunken assh...more people are not good to each other.
perhaps if they were
our deaths would not be so sad.
Love him or hate him, Charles Bukowski was a bitter, drunken asshole with a gift for putting onto paper all the ugliness and baseness hiding in the human heart. Before jumping into the discovery and thoughts that are the inspiration for this ramble about the dirty old writer, a few moments should be spent on the actual poetry found in this volume. I’ve always enjoyed the earlier Bukowski, before he became too jaded and bitter and let a few really tender moments flower within all the crassness. Love, and more specifically the failures and loss of it, are the heart of this collection. All through the poems here are allusions to the ‘red haired woman’, whom Bukowski shows a deep regret in loosing. Much of the crassness feels reactionary to this loss of love as Bukowski documents a spiral into dirty, drunken debauchery and madness as a method of hardening the heart against such pains. Love is replaced with lust to erase loneliness, yet, ironically, it only instills further self-hatred and builds towards a crippling loneliness.
there is always one woman
Bukowski is that drunk asshole always diving to the bottom of a glass, keeping shallow relationships and never trusting women. He is, at best, a rude misogynist, but under the layers of dysphemism, we see a heart drowning in sorrow (and booze). There is still some charm though, he is often humorous in his crassness, and there are moments where he truly shows remorse for the terrible manner in which human beings treat one another. He did not really like people, probably a lot of that having to do with his fear of being hurt by others. His poetry is rather simple, nothing complex to pick apart, and very rarely uses many poetic devices, but that is what makes it so powerful. It cuts right to the heart. He often describes the writing process as pounding the keys like a prizefighter, and often refers to his typewriter as his 'piano' (Bukowski was a huge fan of classical music, especially Brahms, and compares music and writing often).
This collection contains a poem that not only introduced me to Knut Hamsun (who is now one of my favorite authors), but I’ve always kept in mind as a darkly comical motivation for being a writer:
How to be a Good Writer
While looking to find more references to Hamsun in this collection, I noticed that within the margins, my own handwriting was mixed with that of another’s. It turns out that one of my closest friends, a friend I have not seen in years and have been separated from by the circumstances of life that separate even the closest of people, had gone through this book and left me all sorts of comments for me to think about, as well as comment upon my own reaction. It was like having a conversation across 3 years time with an old friend, the type of friend that is more like a brother. The power of language and writing seemed more important than ever suddenly, as it is a tool tying people together across space and time. This particular collection couldn’t be more fitting to find these notes written years earlier (I have a few other books where we both wrote notes to each other, such as Thus Spoke Zarathustra which we were both reading at the same time while he was our ‘guy on couch’ at an old apartment), both with Bukowski’s discussions of loneliness, but as it was indicative of my current state at that time. A few years ago was a bit of a darker period where the group of us had close ties and stayed rather under the radar of society. I would go to class, return to our apartment and we would spend all our time playing music, drinking and discussing film and books. This was a bitter period, as I had been in that post-heartbreak stage where the world seems ugly and, like Bukowski, just wanted to revel in my bitterness for awhile. Finding these notes brings back only the happy memories of those times and makes you realize that the loss of someone you loved as a brother is far more important to you than the loss of any former lover, and these are the people you miss most down the line in the birth pangs of some lonely, introspective morning. This all reminds me very much of the Savage Detectives and that sadness of people spreading out across the map as friendships rust and wash away in the changing tides.
What struck me most was his notes about the sadness that permeates this collection. In one margin is written: ‘Bukowski seems genuinely troubled/depressed by the imagery of failed relationships and their aftermath – the failings of love and the intended + unintended ways we hurt one another’. That more or less sums this book up. I also enjoyed moments where he circled lines such as ‘oh brothers, we are the sickest and lowest of the breed’, which summed up that summer we all spent together in our tiny, dirty Ypsilanti apartment. He was also kind enough to highlight every mention of the ‘redhead’ and string together the story that is told through fragments.
Enough of that emotional reflection though, nobody likes that sort of stuff. Which leads me to a quote from Neil Young (my favorite, and it pains me to be referencing such an obvious song instead of some lesser-known greater one) that ‘every junky is like a setting sun’. They are on their way out, difficult, if not painful, to look right at, yet beautiful. Bukowski fits this bill, as his life and works are painful to watch, but there is some beauty in there. Also like a setting sun, people like this aren’t something you can hang around long or you will get hurt (or loose your vision if you stare at the sun too long!). This is a messy metaphor, but I swear it’s going somewhere. Poems like those of Bukowski, or people who fit this bill such as drinking buddies, are good for certain times and places, however, you can’t linger there. When you are feeling dirty and ugly and crass, Bukowski is wonderful fun. Works like his are empowering at those times because you can relate and laugh along with, and, primarily, because it is reassuring to see that others with this same ugliness are able to create something beautiful. Once you’ve had your fill though, the time comes to move forward, as this sort of ugliness can only lead to more ugliness and eventually it will fill you and drag you down with it. These types of works are very reactionary, only as a venomous bite toward what hurts you and not a truly constructive method of moving on. The mid to late 2000s was full of this sort of behavior, look at the emo culture, where people wanted to express their disdain for the world around them (the emo culture did it with more self loathing and tears, whereas something like Bukowski is more about pushing someone away through acting depraved and hard when you actually truly want them to get close to you). However, we can’t always be angry and we have to move on, get over our problems, or they win. They become us. We can’t be simply made up of only our failures and sadness, we must learn to deal with them, get past them, and win by being stronger than our problems.
I tend to rag on Chuck Palahniuk a lot, but he really fits this idea for me, and if I can quickly explain it, perhaps I won’t have to keep using him as an example anymore. His works were very popular in the era mentioned above (okay, I know Bukowski wasn’t writing then, but this has transcended Bukowski’s works into a discussion about getting over problems), because they were a gripe against social forces. Chuck P. took hold of many adolescents through writing stories with adults who are characterized like angsty teenagers. They view the world and societal constructs as threatening, as something holding them down, and turn to nihilism to deal with that. However, nihilism will only negate things, it won’t transcend them. I lost interest in Palahniuk once I realized that he would never offer a true solution to the problems he imposes on his characters (as well as simply recycling characters and techniques, but that is a different discussion). I couldn’t wallow in his cynicism and darkness any longer, and turned to bigger, better and brighter authors. I have never looked back. Yet, I can’t condemn him entirely, because he fit my 17 year old needs for awhile. I enjoyed Fight Club at the time, Choke made me laugh, and sometimes it is good to wallow in the ugliness. But stay to long and the pity-party, because that is all it really is, becomes sad and pathetic.
All in all, I’m glad I’ve read Bukowski, but I feel like my life has taken me places where his opinions no longer really reach me. I can’t wallow in that sadness, and I find his lusts rather creepy and his woman-bashing rather offensive. However, that is exactly what he was striving for. Still, those moments of beauty are worth coming back for, and I can’t express enough how cool it was to find the notes from my friend. Mostly, being able to reminisce about those days of stupid, wild youth is what really holds my heart.
Okay, and this poem, Dinosauria, We is great (although not from this collection)
Notes are private!
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Sep 12, 1990
Notes are private!
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Aug 04, 1955
Notes are private!
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Sep 09, 1996
Notes are private!
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Mar 15, 1979
Notes are private!
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Feb 19, 1990
Notes are private!
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Sep 17, 1991
Notes are private!
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Sep 25, 1963
Notes are private!
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Mar 01, 1971
Notes are private!
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