Read More on Graph Magazine's site
Friday, May 17, 2013
Read More on Graph Magazine's site
Thursday, May 16, 2013
What are we concerned with? What are we really attached to? Are we entitled to reject the contamination of the impermanent and to withdraw into the stronghold of speech, like the king in Poe’s tale, far from the plague-stricken land? Or did we love the lost object for its own sake, and do we want at all costs to recover it? (Bonnefoy, The act and the place of poetry. 102)There is something interesting and powerful about an orchestrated series of poems – the kind of sequence or grouping that sets up conversations between the constituent parts, and where a common stock of images and verbal effects complement and reinforce each other. The frame of a sequence is really a loose kind of house, a dramatic space and a series of interconnected rooms, and those connections are important. It means the different parts can speak to each other and it also means there can be an accumulation of image and mood over the duration of the series.
For some poets, this working by accumulation and accretion is their default mode. These are poets of the architectonic imagination, the great organisers, deployers, orchestrators whose works have strong conceptual frameworks and who think very much in terms of the suite, the sequence, the series, the book.
Yves Bonnefoy has always been this kind of poet, as I was reminded when I found myself reading ‘La maison natale’ from his 2001 collection Les planches courbes. The book is available in a dual language edition (Bonnefoy, The Curved Planks ) with translations by Hoyt Rogers, but the English translations I first read were John Naughton’s, which are available on the Poetry International website. Both are fine translations. I have been reading Bonnefoy on and off for many years, and again, as often happens when I encounter the work, I was immediately gripped by the force of the poems, and by the way they deploy an obsessive imagery of memory and loss where the real and the dreamed are fused to disturbing effect. What follows is an attempt to report on this particular encounter with Bonnefoy, and to try to register, however inadequately, some of his characteristic concerns and effects, something of what makes him one our of era’s unforgettable poets.
Read more on Graph Magazine's new website.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
With thanks to Poetry Ireland Review (the poem appears in issue 109, edited by John F. Deane). The issue is partly devoted to long, longer and longish poems, which tend not to get much room in journals as a rule. Galway Kinnell, Harry Clifton, James Harpur, Patricia McCarthy and Robert Minhinnick also contribute longer pieces, and there's an interview with Bernard O'Donoghue.
In the dream of perfect ownership
light drenches the wood, falling
through windows long looked through.
The wine and the oil sleep in the store
and small gods have come to rest
in hearth and threshold, tile and countertop,
in doors, in handles smooth from long use.
They inhabit radios, tumbling clothes,
the silence of the winter yard, and when we’re here
they stream through us so every breath
is altar and core. Robed with home we go,
from room to room moving with grace,
lords of our little universe.
Who could forget the poet’s house, the one he made
when he ran out of money and time
and what the world couldn’t provide
he supplied himself, in verse after verse?
Remember the stonework, the avenues, the orchard?
Next came flowerbeds, the kitchen garden,
the wine cellar and the wood where every morning
he strolled for kindling. One river
led to another, a rusted gate grew meadows
where the autumn poured its aching light
and every evening he walked the boundaries
with calm affection, working the land
so hard in his mind when frost comes in April
we stumble from our beds, fearing for his vines.
This is the house that Jack lost, that packed up
and slid away, forgetting Jack and everyone else,
the faces, the photographs, breath on the mirrors,
prints on the bed, forgot hands, feet, fingertips
and so removed us not a crack in the wall or a stain
in the floor remembered anything that came before.
Our uses passed, our noise fell back to whisper, rumour,
the age before silence gripped and held.
This is the absence the house proposes,
the emptiness we rush to fill when we enter,
eyes darting from corner to corner,
until we’ve hammered ourselves into it. This is the house
that Jack retrieved, hauling it back from ice-beds, oceans,
that he voiced, echoed, ghosted, that slips through his fingers still.
Posted by The Cat Flap at 2:38 p.m.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
It's a strange experience to be here speaking about Dennis because I can still hardly fathom the fact that he's no longer with us. I still expect to bump into him, to carry on the conversation with him – the one ongoing conversation about poetry that we'd been having on and off for thirty odd years. It seems like a moment since we stood and chatted in Hodges Figgis in Dublin. He was buying presents, concentrating hard and looking a little lost in the non-poetry section of the shop, on his way to a poetry launch. He'd been to visit some of his beloved art galleries in the afternoon. Bookshop, galleries, poetry launch: a typical urban routine. The things that mattered. What did we talk about? Poetry, of course. We never really talked about anything else. What we were reading, what we were working on. I chanced an inquiry about his health but he swatted it aside, as always.
I suppose in one way I couldn't say that I knew Dennis well. He was an intensely private man, and he had a lot of charming strategies to protect that privacy. Charm and privacy went hand in hand. I knew him as a poet, an artist, I knew him as a companion on the road to the strange destination that poetry is, and as with all companions, they're so much part of the road, the journey, you think they'll always be there.
As long as I've been writing, I've been aware of Dennis. When I was about twenty I remember going to see him give a talk on eastern European poetry. In his beard and tweeds, he struck me as a distinguished, slightly Dostoyevskian figure, yet he was no more than a few years older than me. He was by then a regular critic for Hibernia, sharp, unsentimental, interested in what was going on outside this small island. A little later I became aware of the early books Kist and Hidden Damages. Later, Dennis often dismissed his first book as callow but I've long learned never to trust poets on their own work, and Dennis' early work is full of fine things – some of which I know we'll year today.
We often say that someone has a powerful presence yet find it hard to pinpoint the focus or the pulse of that presence. In Dennis's case a number of related things came together. There was his own work: the powerful, uncompromising poems, the essays and reviews, there was the personal presence: the encouraging word or postcard, the never exhausted fund of praise, the sense that whatever poetry was produced in the world he was somehow its first audience.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Another Hölderlin version . . .There are many versions of this poem in English, but my favourite translation is Kathleen Jamie's Scots version.
Hälfte des Lebens
Mit gelben Birnen hänget
Und voll mit wilden Rosen
Das Land in den See,
Ihr holden Schwäne,
Und trunken von Küssen
Tunkt ihr das Haupt
Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.
Weh mir, wo nehm’ ich, wenn
Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo
Und Schatten der Erde?
Die Mauern stehn
Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde
Klirren die Fahnen.
Yellow with pears
Heavy with wild roses
The land hangs in the lake
Drunk with kisses
You dip your heads
In the holy sober water
Where will I find
Flowers this winter
And where will I find
The sunshine and shade
of the earth? Speechless and cold
The walls stand, and the weathercocks
Rattle in the wind
Friday, March 22, 2013
'In lieblicher Bläue…’
In lovely blue
the steeple flowers
the swallows cry around it
The metal roof
glints in the sun
and the weathercock
struts and crows in his
As in a still life
everything holds its shape
sharpens in the light
A man comes down the steps
under the clock
wearing the hour
like a sculpted coat
and the windows of the bell tower
are like gates on miracles
so close still
to the forest, and pure
The mind swings on difference
and is made serious
so simple all of this, so sacred
we would have to be saints
to describe it
or know such kindliness
to draw near
Is God unknown
or clear as the sky?
He must be clear
and this our measure
to live with our clutter
still lightly, like poets
on the earth
wohnet der Mensch auf dieser Erde
The dark night
templed with stars
if I can say it like this the
no purer than man
made in His image
Is there a measure on earth?
For never the creator restrains
The genius of the maker
can’t prevent the thunder
in the sun
but the eye lights
on other creatures
more astonishing, more beautiful
Does it please God
if our hearts and bodies bleed
does it please Him
if we disappear?
This much I know
the soul must stay pure
or the eagle will perch on the Almighty
mouthing songs of praise
and the voices
of every bird in creation
Du schönes Bächlein
du rollest so klar
wie das Auge der Gottheit
durch die Milchstraße
The little stream
clear as the eye of a god
piercing the Milky Way
These tears yet
I see joy flower
in every shape created
and with good reason
I see it now in the solitariness
of two doves in the churchyard
But the laugher of men saddens me
I should like to be a comet
quick as a bird, all fiery flowers
and pure in heart, pure as a child
Who could look for more?
A serious spirit
drifts in the garden
this joyous virtue deserves her praise
There, by the columns
A beautiful girl should cover
her head in myrtle
to show her nature
and her love
If someone looks in the mirror
and sees his image there
Look in the mirror
the painted man
who stares back is you
A man’s image has eyes
but the moon has light
and Oedipus has an eye too many
The sufferings of man
are beyond description
so much in this world
And what do I feel now
when I think of you?
Like a continent washed away, like Asia
like Oedipus, like Hercules
To be alive under the sun is to suffer,
the sun that takes men by the hand and tempts them
Sohn Laios, armer Fremdling in Griechenland!
Leben ist Tod, und Tod ist auch ein Leben
Son of Laios, poor stranger in Greece
Life is death, and death too is a kind of life. . .
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Painting by Jack Richard Smith
I was sorry to hear of Jack Gilbert's death recently. Gilbert was one of those poets who are famous for not being famous. For most of his life he operated below the radar of critical attention, but this was by choice. After winning the Yale Younger Poets Prize for his first book he lived a modest and peripatetic life, travelling around Europe and spending periods in England, Denmark and Greece. But there was more to his relative invisibility than that. He was an old-fashioned kind of poet, a muse poet who wrote obsessively about the women in his life -- the poems he wrote for his dead lover Michiko are among his most powerful. And he didn’t produce at the regular intervals reputation demands. He took twenty years to produce his second book, Monolithos (1982) and only published a further two books, The Great Fires (1994) and Refusing Heaven (2005) which brought him some late recognition, winning him the National Book Critics Circle Award.Bloodaxe published Transgression: Selected Poems in 2006. Here are two poems which can be found in that book, the first forseeing the disappearance, in him, of his birthplace, the second probably his best-known poem.
They Will Put My Body into the Ground
They will put my body into the ground.
Chemistry will have its way for a time,
and then large beetles will come.
After that, the small beetles. Then
the disassembling. After that, the Puccini
will dwindle the way light goes
from the sea. Even Pittsburgh will
vanish, leaving a greed tough as winter.
The Forgotten Dialect Of The Heart
How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind's labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not laguage but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.
Listen to Jack Gilbert read his poem here