Skip to main content

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 stewed,
mixes things up for my sister Grace –
put the spices in the wrong place.


The clothesline post is set
yet no totem-carvings distinguish the Niedecker tribe
from the rest; every seventh day they wash:
worship sun; fear rain, their neighbor’s eyes;
raise their hands from ground to sky,
and hang or fall by the whiteness of their all.


I think of a tree
to make it


puthwuth said…
I like the section from 'Jerusalem the Golden' in which a cat vomits and Reznikoff comments 'He has added a leaf to the garden.'
The Cat Flap said…
How did I miss that?
Laura said…
It's been a long while since I've read Neidecker. Thanks for the reminder.

Here's one of her poems that I especially like.

Poet's work

advised me:
Learn a trade

I learned
to sit at desk
and condense

No layoff
from this

Popular posts from this blog

Songs of the earth (1): Yannis Ritsos

The Meaning of Simplicity
I hide behind simple things so you’ll find me; if you don’t find me, you’ll find the things, you’ll touch what my hand has touched our hand-prints will merge.
The August moon glitters in the kitchen like a tin-plated pot (it gets that way because of what I’m saying to you), it lights up the empty house and the house’s kneeling silence– always the silence remains kneeling.
Every word is a doorway to a meeting, one often cancelled, and that’s when a word is true: when it insists on the meeting.
(Translated by Edmund Keeley, published in The Greek Poets: From Homer to the Present, Norton, 2010)
Yannis Ritsos’ output as a poet was enormous. He published more than a hundred collections of poetry, and often wrote with great speed, sometimes producing three collections in a single year. Such protean fluency can interfere with the reception of a poet in his own culture, and it can also inhibit or distort the reception in translation. How do you choose? How much o…


My new book, Sway, Versions of Poems from the Troubadour Tradition, will be published by Gallery Press in October. This one is a riff rather than a version, taking as its starting point a line by the 12th century trobairitz, Beatriz, Countess of Dia.

Riff for Beatriz
Ab joi et ab joven m’apais

I feed on joy and youth    the rest
forget    all texts
abandoned     I feed
with joy     I feed on you or would
were you here    were I there
by the lake    in the wood    where the
nightingales are    I hear them
the buds along the branches roar
the frost withdraw    I feast on the season
that you may come to me
like light to the trees    I set
my pilgrim heart to roam
I am here   your loosened armour  your
Saracen hands   I feed
on spices and desert air
the rest is argument    discourse
the lines unwinding
the lines bound like the twigs of a broom
to sweep you away and pull you back
my dust is yours together we blow through the meadows
I was here but now
a stir of language in the trees     bird…