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Showing posts from November, 2012

Jack Gilbert

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 pub…

The sadness of God

The sadness of God ('Tristesse de Dieu', Jules Supervielle)
Just as when it all began I see you come and go  on the trembling earth, with one great difference:
my work is no longer mine: I gave it all to you. But if you're my people misfortune is your own
and beyond my help. All I could provide to prove my warmth was your tears, your strength.
The ache in your soul is what’s left of me. It was all I could do. I can’t help the mother
whose son will die but I can offer you light, candles of hope. If it were any different
do you think the narrow cot would feel the weight of the sickly child? It’s as if my work
was someone else’s. All that I made slips farther away. The stream that flows
down the mountain has no thought of returning. I have as much to say to you as the potter to his pot:
one is deaf, the other  speechless before his work.  I can see you careening towards terrible precipices
but I can’t point them out let alone help you avoid them. Like orphans in the the snow you must save yourselves.

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…