* stepping into the river with mark strand

When I read poetry, I want to feel myself suddenly larger … in touch with—or at least close to—what I deem magical, astonishing. I want to experience a kind of wonderment. And when you report back to your own daily world after experiencing the strangeness of a world sort of recombined and reordered in the depths of a poet’s soul, the world looks fresher somehow. Your daily world has been taken out of context. It has the voice of the poet written all over it, for one thing, but it also seems suddenly more alive… —Mark Strand, The Art of Poetry No. 77, 1998

* mark strand *
* mark strand 1934 – 2014 *

What moves me most about the above quote is how clearly it states the power of a poem to color one’s view of the world. You can’t step in the same river twice, Heraclitus said (and Borges quoted religiously 🙂 ). Poetry, then, is a way to document what the second steps into the river – and the third, fourth, etc. – feel like. You leave a good poem different, not for any act of manipulation, but simply an act of listening and attention, words that apply to reading and prayer.

I was happy to share the following poem with my students this week. I told them one of the things I love about it is how Strand gets away with repeating “someone” and “something,” big no-no’s that I look for when I revise my own work. Usually “something” is not pointing to an ethereal wonderment, but at a lack of specificity. In Strand’s poem, the words become the very air of a party, and then the air of the universe.

From the Long Sad Party – Mark Strand

Someone was saying
something about shadows covering the field, about
how things pass, how one sleeps towards morning
and the morning goes.

Someone was saying
how the wind dies down but comes back,
how shells are the coffins of wind
but the weather continues.

It was a long night
and someone said something about the moon shedding its white
on the cold field, that there was nothing ahead
but more of the same.

Someone mentioned
a city she had been in before the war, a room with two candles
against a wall, someone dancing, someone watching.
We began to believe

the night would not end.
Someone was saying the music was over and no one had noticed.
Then someone said something about the planets, about the stars,
how small they were, how far away.

***

Happy planeting!

Jose

* clepsydrally musing & borges

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:

* water clock tower *
* water clock tower *

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.

***

Happy desangrandose!

Jose

p.s. Check out a far more competent and eloquent translation by Tony Barnstone here.

* borges: a lyrical alignment

This past week, I found myself reading the essay “Verbiage for Poems” by Jorge Luis Borges (found in On Writing, Penguin Classics), and coming across a marvelous paragraph – emphasis on the ‘marvel,’ something of strange weather patterns moving across the sky in the middle of an ordinary afternoon about this paragraph.

In my enthusiasm, I found myself reading the words aloud to myself as I would a poem, which naturally led to my writing them out in my notebook. I pushed my fascination further by rewriting the prose into lines (loose iambics).

I present the fruits of my efforts below, calling it a lyrical alignment, something of what chiropractors do to backs – but hopefully less painful 🙂

There is a tradition of this kind of thing, a branch of ‘found’ poetry (Jose Garcia Villa immediately comes to mind as an early ‘aligner’). I enjoy reworking prose in this manner both for the way it keeps my ear sharp as well as for how it allows me to sink into the diction and phrasing of a writer.

I hope to share more of these as they come up in my reading and note-taking. For now, enjoy how Borges redefines the way you look at nouns.

* a rainbowhurricanehailstorm of a writer *
* a rainbowhurricanehailstorm of a writer *

“The world of appearances…” – Jorge Luis Borges

The world of appearances is a jumble
of shifting perceptions. The vision of a rustic
sky, that persistent aroma sweeping the fields,
the bitter taste of tobacco burning one’s
throat, the long wind lashing the road,
the submissive rectitude of the cane
around which we wrap our fingers, all fit together
in our consciousness, almost all at once.
Language is an efficient ordering of the world’s
enigmatic abundance. Or, in other words,
we invent nouns to fit reality.
We touch a sphere, see a small heap
of dawn-colored light, our mouths enjoy
a tingling sensation, and we lie to ourselves
that those three disparate things are only
one thing called an orange. The moon itself
is a fiction. Outside of astronomical
conventions, which should not concern us here,
there is no similarity whatsoever
between the yellow sphere now rising clearly
over the wall of the Recoleta cemetery
and the pink slice I saw in the sky above
the Plaza de Mayo many nights ago.
All nouns are abbreviations. Instead of saying
cold, sharp, burning, unbreakable,
shining, pointy, we utter “dagger”; for
the receding of the sun and oncoming darkness,
we say “twilight.”

***

Happy twilighting!

Jose

p.s. Please check out my poem “De Soto National Memorial Park” in the latest issue of the Rappahannock Review here.

* learning to Howl with Allen Ginsberg

Had to read and discuss Allen Ginsberg’s Howl this week in one of my classes.  Kinda went like this:

* Angelheadedwhatnow? *
* From Howl to Huh? *

I have gone back and forth on the poem Howl since I first read it at eighteen.  I shared with my classmates how I went to San Diego on spring break once and spent five days straight following this routine: wake up, do tai chi, read Howl aloud.

All.  Three.  Parts.

I was young and weird, to say the least.

The whole time I did this I felt like I was throwing myself upon the poem and asking: why is this considered such a great poem?  what can I learn from it?  did Ginsberg really have as much peyote/sex as he says he did?

Borges said that Walt Whitman the man spent his writing life wanting to be more and more like the Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass.  Both Ginsberg and Whitman were larger than life.

Both were also very diplomatic and American.  Our professor shared with us that, while in Spain, he would run into people who, though they knew nothing of American poetry, they knew Howl.

And that’s Ginsberg accomplishment.  Not everybody loves The Wasteland, but it is a mountain between Leaves of Grass and Howl (this is in keeping with American poetry being a mountain range which is something I realize now may only make sense in my head).

Howl is one of those poems that is in the blood of American poetry like it or not, it is that family member that crashes the party with great stories but bad breath.

I won’t excerpt Howl here – you gotta take that ride yourself, y’all – but instead will share a poem that has much of what I love about Ginsberg – the humor and the heart.

**

A Supermarket in California – Allen Ginsberg

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for
I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache
self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went
into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families
shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the
avocados, babies in the tomatoes!–and you, Garcia Lorca, what
were you doing down by the watermelons?

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber,
poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery
boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the
pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans
following you, and followed in my imagination by the store
detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our
solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen
delicacy, and never passing the cashier.

Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in
an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the
supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The
trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be
lonely.

Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love
past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher,
what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and
you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat
disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

Berkeley, 1955

***

Happy disappearing!

Jose

* some words from W. H. Auden & the friday influence

“I will love you forever” swears the poet. I find this easy to swear to. “I will love you at 4:15 pm next Tuesday” – Is that still as easy? (Auden)

Can you make it?
Can you make it?

This week on the Influence: W. H. Auden.

Auden’s one of those guys I come back to in my thoughts, and whose words I butcher in conversation.

Like there’s the essay where he talks about how if you have a poet who writes because he believes strongly that he has something to say, let that poet become a politician, a journalist, or anything else because he doesn’t have a chance of becoming a poet.  But if you have a poet who is genuinely interested in putting one word next to another and seeing how they might affect each other, bleed into one another, then maybe – just maybe – that person might turn out to be a poet.

His writing – poems and essays – have been with me long enough to have become part of the layers of sedimentary rock that make up the floor holding up my writing self.  (As is evident, I am not so with the smarts as him!)

Usually the “some words” posts are made up of longer quotes, but I feel I have quoted, paraphrased, or said things shaped by the man enough throughout the Influence’s existence that I can do right by him best by simply admitting it.

His gift for aphorism is almost as great as Oscar Wilde’s.  But his distinction is how he will say a thing both sharp and true (Wilde seems to always be going for the kill).  Case in point:

In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag.

He also has a sensibility about reading that makes him kindred with that other great reader, Jorge Luis Borges:

There are good books which are only for adults.
There are no good books which are only for children.

AND I keep finding more aptly said things – apt because with all the big moves going on in my life at the moment, I need to hear things like the following said:

You owe it to all of us to get on with what you’re good at.

Amen.  That might be my mantra for the next few years.

*estrellas*
*estrellas*

The following poem exhibits much of the same bite and vulnerable spirit that rings through in the quotes above.  Enjoy.

The More Loving One – W. H. Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well

That, for all they care, I can go to hell,

But on earth indifference is the least

We have to dread from man or beast.

 

How should we like it were stars to burn

With a passion for us we could not return?

If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me.

 

Admirer as I think I am

Of stars that do not give a damn,

I cannot, now I see them, say

I missed one terribly all day.

 

Were all stars to disappear or die,

I should learn to look at an empty sky

And feel its total dark sublime,

Though this might take me a little time.

***

Happy timing!

Jose

p.s. PhD update: For those of you keeping up, I am happy to announce that me and mine are Cincinnati bound!

* the Borges/Araguz haiku challenge & the friday influence

3 Haiku – Jorge Luis Borges *

They have said something to me,

the afternoon and the mountain.

Already, it is lost.

**

The antique sword

dreams of its battles.

Another is my dream.

**

Is it an empire

that light dying down

or a firefly?

**

luciernaga – much cooler word than firefly.


This week on the Influence – Jorge Luis Borges.

Borges has been a kind of spiritual/writing mentor for me the past couple of years.  He prided himself in being a better reader than writer, and prized the pleasure of reading above any fame and notoriety to be gained in the writing world.

In the introduction to a book of prose poems, he defended himself from those who would bicker over whether the pieces in the book were poems or not, that they were poems to him, some of which took their form in prose.

I took this as permission to take on the prose poem in my own fashion.  But more than that, it gave me permission to own my sense of what a poem is, that it could be many forms aspiring to one spirit.

Which is how I take on haiku.

You take on a form and keep writing until you have a relationship with it, until it is yours.  Whatever gets it out of you, gets you writing, gets it written.

My challenge today is more of an homage.  Here’s to Borges and getting it written.

***

3 Haiku – Jose Angel Araguz

shadow of a branch

across the page

writing

**

the tension

between two

buttons

**

down moon-paved roads

cold morning

walks

**

Happy walking!

J

* translation by Jose Angel Araguz (word to your Obra Poetica!).