My translation of Borges two weeks ago received a great response on here – thank you all for your kind words!
This week’s poem, “Reading Holderlin on the Patio with the Aid of a Dictionary” by Rita Dove, evokes some of the fascination and thrill of working out a poem from one language to another, how there is a “shyness” but also a “stepping/out” of one’s body in the task.
Reading Holderlin on the Patio with the Aid of a Dictionary – Rita Dove
One by one, the words
up, white flags dispatched
from a silent camp.
When had my shyness returned?
This evening, the sky refused
to lie down. The sun crouched
behind leaves, but the trees
had long since walked away.
The meaning that surfaces
comes to me aslant and
I go to meet it, stepping
out of my body
word for word, until I am
everything at once: the perfume
of the world in which
I go under,
p.s. I wrote about Holderlin a ways back – check it out here.
This week’s post is a meditation on form via sharing some new publications.
First, the good folks over at Rattle have recently shared the content of their Summer 2014 issue online which includes my own poem “Abandoned Church.” Rattle is unique in that they ask for some insight into the work via the contributor’s bio, which allowed me to share a bit of my thinking behind the form of this and other kin poems:
“These poems come from working at times in a five-line form, which I call ‘hands,’ maybe because each could be written on the palm of a hand. I consider them the poetic, unkempt nephews to Yasunari Kawabata’s ‘palm of the hand’ stories. These pieces are surprising me, pushing me to be concise and spooky, narrative and imagistic within a limited frame.”
I’m also happy to announce the release of the new issue of Inflectionist Review which includes my poems “First Night” and “Blue in the Rain” – the latter of which is also in the “hands” form. Check out the issue here.
My two guides into the form have been the short lyrics of Yannis Ritsos as well as my reading and writing in the Japanese tanka form. Here’s some of that Ritsos mojo:
A Door – Yannis Ritsos
The carpentry shop,
the grocery store,
the farmer’s rubber boots
on the porch,
the low, cloudy sky,
and, so unexpectedly,
a blue door
fallen flat among the ruins
with the key
still in place.
Working in and out of various forms, I’m always curious if people take note or not. Ultimately, what matters is writing a solid poem worth rereading, which is the ongoing good fight.
Of course, all this talk of “hands” has me thinking about these guys:
Found myself recently turning back to a sonnet by Jorge Luis Borges for an epigraph for a new poem. Below is the original poem in Spanish, followed by my own modest translation.
Two things stood out to me in translating. First, the word clepsydra which, after much maneuvering and reading through information, turns out to refer to a long history of water clocks. The clepsydra of the poem is both clock and music box, and so the gotas/drops work both on a physical level as well as on an aural one (music notes as water drops). So fascinating and strange a word it is, I decided to keep it in the poem, if only to have folks go and do some searching themselves. If you do, you’ll see stuff like this:
The other thing that stood out to me revisiting this sonnet is the long question in the second half of the poem. It is traditional for sonnets to have a turn, and here Borges takes up six lines for an epic, wide turn of argument, amping up the rhetoric and emotional power as he goes.
Caja de Música – Jorge Luis Borges
Música del Japón. Avaramente
De la clepsidra se desprenden gotas
De lenta miel o de invisible oro
Que en el tiempo repiten una trama
Eterna y frágil, misteriosa y clara.
Temo que cada una sea la última.
Son un ayer que vuelve. ¿De qué templo,
De qué leve jardín en la montaña,
De qué vigilias ante un mar que ignoro,
De qué pudor de la melancolía,
De qué perdida y rescatada tarde,
Llegan a mí, su porvenir remoto?
No lo sabré. No importa. En esa música
Yo soy. Yo quiero ser. Yo me desangro.
Music Box – Jorge Luis Borges
Music from Japan. Reluctantly,
the drops from the clepsydra fall
in a slow honey, made of an invisible gold
whose pattern over time repeats
eternal, fragile, mysterious and clear.
I fear that each drop will be the last.
They are a yesterday returning. From what temple,
from what meager garden on the mountain,
from what vigils before a sea I’ve never seen,
from what modest melancholy, from what lost
and recollected afternoon do they come to me,
their remote future? I do not know.
It does not matter. In that music
I am. I want to be. I bleed away.
p.s. Check out a far more competent and eloquent translation by Tony Barnstone here.
Been talking a lot with my students about expectations, of ways of subverting them and surprising the reader, especially through titles. The poem below is a good example.
When I first read Jeremy Schmidt’s “Stafford Loan” earlier this year, I read the title and expected a strident commentary on the plight of being young and going through the (oft times burdened) motions of getting an education. And the poem delivers just that – only not how you expect. Through the image of a deer in an unexpected place, the poem goes on to take the connotations of the title to an unexpected place, becoming an allegory for a societal circumstance.
Stafford Loan – Jeremy Schmidt
Approaching through the mist I spot a deer;
unstartled, at the border of Schoodic Park
and the nearest private lot.
Normally I’d challenge her to a contest
or snap a picture with my phone,
but it’s been an awfully tough day and she
appears in good spirits, full-bodied,
of sound mind, etc. So I think it best to roll
over and stiffen: to wait, lying down,
for her to approach slowly, curiously, ever less
cautiously until she’s feet away, lured
by the smell of cashews in my palm,
until she’s practically astride me, until
she’s walking then prancing atop,
then stomping my body, prone in the grass,
crushing me out, step by hoofed step.
*from the Boston Review
P.S. Schmidt was one of Boston Review’s “Discovery” Poetry Contest Winners this year. Check out the rest of the good folk here.