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Showing posts from 2008

Sleepless in Argentina

Imagine a hand had reached down from the sky and lifted up Paris, Rome and Madrid, shuffled them and laid them out on a grid by the River Plate delta, and you have some idea of Buenos Aires. I’m here again for the first time in almost a decade and second time around the impressions are just as overwhelming. Nothing quite prepares you for the intensity of the city: the endless roar of the traffic, the teeming pavements, the sense that all fourteen million inhabitants of the Greater Buenos Aires have just poured onto the streets. The grid layout actually increases the din; cars, buses and taxis honk and weave down five lane streets in one way systems. Haussmannesque avenidas stretch for miles crossed by a seemingly endless series of parallel streets.

You move around it as across a chessboard, with two crossing streets as your map reference. I need to get to a bookshop on the other side of the city, where a translation of a selection of my poems is being launched. ‘Scalabrini Ortiz and…

Shuntaro Tanikawa

stone axes and the like
lie quietly beyond the glass

constellations rotate endlessly
many of us become extinct
many of us appear

comets endlessly miss collision
lots of dishes and the like are broken
Eskimo dogs walk over the South Pole
great tombs are built both east and west
books of poems are often dedicated
the atom’s being smashed to bits
the daughter of a president is singing
such things as these
have been happening

stone axes and the like
lie absurdly quiet behind the glass
Shuntaro Tanikawa

from The Selected Poems of Shuntaro Tanikawa, Translated from the Japanese by Harold Wright. North Point Press, San Francisco 1983.

Charles Reznikoff

The Poems of Charles Reznikoff, 1918 – 1975. Edited by Seamus Cooney, Black Sparrow Books, 444 pp., $21.95

Poetic movements come and go and leave in their wake a few historical traces and a few poets whose practice may have been partially shaped by their allegiance. Few have left as interesting a residue as the set of gestures within twentieth century modernism that have been labelled ‘objectivist’. Whereas Modernism proper was Euro-centric, high culture and Right-leaning, the objectivists were urban, American-oriented, and with the exception of Lorine Niedecker in rural Wisconsin, Jewish New Yorkers. The politics are important because they are very much bound up with the aesthetics. George Oppen was a labour organiser and a Communist and gave up poetry for twenty years in favour of social activism. These poets lived their lives on the margins, outside both of academia and the kind of economically successful life which might have rewarded them socially. Charles Reznikoff had a succe…

Turning the world off early

Have been thinking a lot about the 'objectivists' recently: George Oppen, Louis Zukovsky, Charles Reznikoff, Carl Rakosi, Lorine Niedecker, and am working on a review of The Poems of Charles Reznikoff 1918-1975 edited by Seamus Cooney, a book I can’t recommend highly enough. The review is for a Belfast magazine but I intend to post a more expanded version here, if I ever finish it. In the meantime, I can’t help quoting from Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works, edited by Jenny Penberthy, which the long-suffering postman has just brought to the door. They’re all from ‘New Goose’, like much of her work a series of small poems ‘separated by stars to save paper’. We should all be so frugal of paper and gesture:

For sun and moon and radio
farmers pay dearly;
their natural resource: turn
the world off early.


Mr. Van Ess bought 14 washcloths?
Fourteen washrags, Ed Van Ess?
Must be going to give em
to the church, I guess.

He drinks, you know. The day we moved
he came into the kitchen …

PN 08

Festival time again. The thirteenth Poetry Now Festival takes place in Dún Laoghaire from 3 to 6 April ‘and this year it once more brings together poets of many nationalities – Irish, English, American, Jamacian, Italian, Iranian – and many styles, many languages and many concerns, for what promises to be a deeply stimulating and satisfying four days. Workshops, talks, debates and The Irish Times and Strong Awards will complement the programme of readings by a gathering of exceptional Irish and international poets.’ Poets taking part include Bernard O’Donoghue, Antonella Anedda, Jamie McKendrick, Seamus Heaney, C.D. Wright, Alan Gillis, Meghan O’Rourke, Daljit Nagra, George Szirtes, Henri Cole and Mimi Khalvati. Before the festival proper gets going there’s a panel discussion, ‘The Quarrel With Ourselves’ – Who Reads Poetry, Anyway?, in association with Poetry Ireland chaired by Michael Cronin with guests Peter Fallon, Meghan O’Rourke, Alice Lyons, Mary Shine Thompson, Maurice …

The Munster Republic

I received the following from the Munster Literature Centre today:

The brilliance of poets emerging from Northern Ireland in the last century, their dual-nationality, the colour of their background and the attention and authority of the only serious contemporary Irish poetry critic of the time (Edna Longley) led to an imbalanced projection of Irish poetry to the wider world.

With the Troubles in the past the achievements of poets from the southern quarter of the island are now coming sharply into focus.

The Munster Literature Centre is calling for academic papers written in English on the subject of Contemporary Munster Poets. The resulting work will be published in book form late 2009. The papers may focus on individual poets, perceived schools or any other aspect to do with contemporary Munster poets. The papers may deal with poets writing in English, Irish or both together.

From June 2008 as many Cork poets (Maurice Riordan, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, Bernard O'Donoghue) will feature…

Music for Viols

(Tobias Hume’s Good Againe)

Good again
this night, this late
to hear that tune and fall
again, the slow dark drag,
of thickly branched trees
swaying above water,
of sound moving
from the farthest pit
to pour down.
God and the devil
must play the viol.
The door of the world
swings open
on Hume’s excited figure.
After sadness, hunger,
royal blindness
to the great shame of this land
and those that do not help me
after a bellyful of snails
and the sniping of lutenists
good again to stand
with the night
in Jordi’s hands
and listen
and walk in
as far as the tune will go.

Wolves in the garden: Michael Krüger

Went to the launch in the Goethe Institut of Das elfte Gebot/The Eleventh Commandment/An tAonú Aithne Déag, a selection of poems by Michael Krüger, another in the series of tri-lingual editions of German poetry, handsomely produced by Coiscéim, and translated into English by Hans-Christian Oeser and into Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock. Previous outings in this series have included Günter Kunert and Hilde Domin. Kruger is active as a publisher, critic and novelist, but is best known in Germany as a poet. Carcanet brought us Diderot’s Cat, with translations by Richard Dove, in 1993.

Introducing him, Chris Oeser calls our attention to his ‘highly developed sense of time’. The poems ‘serve as snapshots, as photographs freezing a moment in time'.

It may be an intensely private moment such as locking up a holiday home for winter or coming across a set of old keys, it may be a social encounter with three beggars or with a saint in a cathedral, or there may be allusions to the weight of …

To have eyes

There are so many voices that flourish outside the main streams of poetry publication and reputation making. By pure accident, more often than not, you happen on a voice embedded in its own sustaining system of small presses and fugitive pamphlets, and realise, with a certain despairing bafflement at the invisibility of so much that is good, the lifetime's quiet achievement behind it. I was much taken with a poem by Geoffrey Holloway, taken from David Morley's site.

Double Vision: Spring

The cat among the grasses nodding as it sniffs —
like a new-bathed infant shaping for a kiss.
The swans opulent, their bulrush-furry throats
ringed, rippling, with filamented light.
Shadows that are swallow-blue, yet brittle-clear,
that match the trespass of chrysanthemums released
by lancing heels of divers whanged from trees —
and all along the towpath the spun rod,
the dainty float cavorting in the sun.
To have eyes. To see.

The stagnant salmon like a crippled submarine
leprous in the sh…