When I read things like this--a poet being totally screwed by a press--I have a few thoughts.
I'm sure, within reasonable parameters, that stories like the above are the exception rather than the rule, but I still think the whole contest model of publishing poetry, if we keep it at all, must be completely re-engineered.
Why is a book picked up on its 20th contest submission? I can't think of any reason that does credit to the contest-driven model.
What makes an external competitive process like this worthwhile? Is there anything inherent to what poetry is that lends itself to this kind of contest-dependent publishing?
Given the changes in publishing technology, is this still the best way to get poetry published?
And, who knows, if poetry publishing becomes sclerotic, we may end up with this.
It is the editor's task . . . to help dispel the author's tunnel vision by becoming the most sympathetic and supportive, yet most discriminating, of readers . . . In truth, the editor depends no less -- speaking of money -- on the author's productivity than the teacher or psychoanalyst depends on the student's tuition or the patient's fees. The writer feels differently, dependent on the editor and on the publisher's treasury, but an editor without writers is an editor with a living.
. . . poetry qua poetry know little of hierarchy, nothing of tenure. Yes, that poet is better than I am, more gifted, more assured, more possessed of art or scope. But our relation to our work is the same. Poetry is in this sense the realm of the eternal amateur, which is why highly professionalized people distrust it.
The point is to be able, by habit, by luck, and by contriving a fecund way of life, to find one's way back to Concentration, the concentration the poet simply has to be able to call upon--not necessarily at will, but at times. Nothing else, no matter what disguise we adopt or how we choose to make a living, characterizes the poet as an artist more exquisitely than this verbally meticulous, sensuously specific, image-borne, music-induced variety of concentration, for other artists are by comparison specialized and abstract . . . There are various trades one can choose, but -- as with Judaism -- no one can choose the vocation of poetry. for that you are chosen, and your destiny then offers you a great many tradeoffs, all of them dangerous:
- Obscurity vs. Banality
- Pomposity vs. False Modesty
- Cowardice vs. Bravado
- Cronyism vs. Isolation
- Insanity vs. Conformity
- Sale of Talent vs. Invisibility
- Talent ruined by Anxiety vs. Talent ruined by Neglect
- And, finally, Distraction vs. Attention
That is one of the most dangerous things about the trade. To the extent that we give ourselves to poetry we give up the safety of trades, we deny ourselves economic value in order to claim a value of another, and, we believe, higher kind.
I'm supposed to be working on some deadline projects (and I am, I am) but I have to point this out over at the Best American Poetry Blog.
The Poetry Brothel is the first event of its kind to seduce New York City. Here's how it works: The poets play "whores," visitors play "customers," but instead of physical intimacy, the poets offer the intimacy of their poetry by giving private, one-on-one readings in sectioned-off areas.
And so on.
I kick myself that I didn't think of this. I guess, being a brothel, the poets are not crack ho's, or classy on-call escort concubines either.
I guess I could piggyback using some other degrading and illegal human relationship:
The vrzhu bullets of love blog regular tuesday post will be suffering a brief hiatus until some other current assignments are completed. Check in next week.
Incredible how the top dog always announces with such an air of discovery that the underdog is childish, stupid, emotional irresponsible, uninterested in serious matters, incapable of learning--but for god's sake don't teach him anything!--and both cowardly and ferocious . . . The oppressed is also treacherous, incapable of fighting fair, full of dark magics, prone to do nasty things like fighting back when attacked, and contented with his place in life unless stirred up by outside agitators . . . Once I learned the tune I stopped believing the words--about anybody. -Alice Sheldon (1915-1987)
We might wonder, for example, if the spectator in a theater who rushes on the stage to disarm the villain is any more naively and improperly deluded than the reader who believes, when he is reading Donne’s “Holy Sonnets,” that he is eavesdropping on the poet’s private meditations.
* * *
… the power of poetry always depends upon its relation to the language of discourse. This is one reason why styles change and one set of conventions is replaced by another. When a poetic style becomes too familiar or rigidly predictable, the reader’s expectation are too completely controlled by, and satisfied in terms of, strictly literary conventions. In other words, when a poem becomes a closed system, it has nothing to say and nothing to reveal but the operation of its own laws. Its style has become a cliché and it is time for a poetic revolution, for a renewal of the relation between poetic style and speech.
* * *
The changing fashion in poetic closure are obviously related to more general developments in literary history. As the general features of style change, and particularly as new kinds of structures appear, the older forms of closure are likely not to be effective. . . As we might expect, in periods of stylistic revolution or transition, there may be lag between one development and another: a poet introducing a new structure, for example, may carry over inappropriate devices of closure from an older style.
* * *
. . . we apparently find ourselves confronted by a situation that demands either a total revaluation of all we have said or, at the least, our recognition that we have been speaking only of “special cases,” that our observations are dependent, throughout, upon definitions of art and poetry and assumptions concerning the experience of both that have only limited validity. We could, of course, also meet the situation by refusing to modify the definitions or assumptions, by refusing to modify the recalcitrant “works of art” as art or the “poems” as poetry. But it is hard to say what would be gained thereby. Definitions must accommodate usage, assumptions must accommodate evidence. Not only do all art forms have a history—ends as well as beginnings—but so also does art itself, along with all human institutions. It may be suspected, however, that what we should now have to call “traditional” poetry is not without a sustaining vitality continuously fed and renewed by its relation to the rather formidable institution of language itself—and that as long as we continue to speak at all, no matter what new uses are made of language, there will remain revelations and delights to be found in the old uses. Poetry ends in many ways, but poetry, I think, has not yet ended.
-Poetic Closure: A Study of How Poems End by Barbara Heinstein Smith
I had started out writing a long and inchoate rant about how I thought it's possible that, just as poetry branched off into formal and informal styles (maybe starting with imagism, maybe with Whitman), poetry is now branching off into mimetic and non-mimetic forms. Maybe. But that wasn't working out.
So instead, there's this:
On Bartleby.com you can download The Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1920, edited by William Stanley Braithwaite. What's interesting about this book is it is a kind of equivalent to David Lehman's Best American Poetry anthologies (without the branding). What's more interesting is that it includes (unlike the BAPs, though to be fair, a similar effort today would be almost impossible and would eat up half the anthology) a Yearbook of American Poetry. The yearbook contains:
Using a somewhat arbitrary standard (my own knowledge) here is some slicing and dicing:
-Of the 591 poets published in American magazines, 21 or 4.05%, could still be called commonly recognized names.
-Of the 591 poets published, only 7, or 1.35%, could be said to be either (1) still possibly influential—as poets—for the majority of poets writing today, or (2) at least commonly read at some point in school or otherwise.
Some of the poets published are better known now for something other than there poetry.
Yeats and Pound (one of the Cantos) both published a single poem in an American magazine in 1919.
The number of poets who published four or more poems in 1919 is 91 total. Thirty-four or 37% of those were women.
Here are those 91 poets:
Lister Raymond Alwood, Mary Austin, Karle Wilson Baker, Helen Baldwin, William Rose Benét, Helen Birch-Bartlett, Maxwell Bodenheim, Stirling Bowen, Gamaliel Bradford, Amelia Josephine Burr, Witter Bynner, Archie Austin Coates, Elizabeth J. Coatsworth, Ann Cobb, Hilda Conkling, Alice Corbin, Malcolm Cowley, Nelson Antrim Crawford, E. E. CummingsMary Carolyn Davies, H. L. Davis, Glenn Ward Dresbach, Louise Driscoll, Myrtle Eberstein, Paul Eldridge, John Chipman Farrar, John Finley, Mahlon Leonard Fisher, John Gould Fletcher, Robert Frost, Louise Ayres Garnett, Wilfred Wilson Gibson, Caroline Giltinan, Herbert S. Gorman, William Griffith, Amanda Hall, Hazel Hall, Eleanor Hammond, Amory Hare, Marsden Hartley, Gordon Malherbe Hillman, Raymond Holden, Helen Hoyt, Leroy F. Jackson, Oliver Jenkins, Leslie Nelson Jennings, Ruth Lambert Jones, Harry Kemp, Alfred Kreymborg, Richard Le Gallienne, Maurice Lesemann, Agnes Lee, Janet Loxley Lewis, Amy Lowell, Jeannette Marks, Edna St Vincent Millay, J. Corson Miller, David Morton, Keneth Morris, Charles R. Murphy, Katharine Wisner McCluskey, Carlyle F. McIntyre, Robert Nichols, Norreys Jephson O’Conor, John R. C. Peyton, Bernard Raymund, Lizette Woodworth Reese, Lola Ridge, Robert J. Roe, Marx G. Sabel, Carl Sandburg, Edward Sapir, Lew Sarett, Evelyn Scott, Marjorie Allen Seiffert, William H. Simpson, Ira South, Leonora Speyer, George Sterling, Wallace Stevens, Marion Strobel, Sara Teasdale, Albert Edmund Trombly, Mark Turbyfill, Louis Untermeyer, Eda Lou Walton, Winifred Welles, Marguerite Wilkinson, John French Wilson, A.Y.Winters, Marya Zaturensky.
There are some recognizable names there.
Looking at the the volumes of Poetry published during 1919–1920, the statistics here are even more sere:
There were 137 volumes of poetry or poetry anthology published in 1919 in America.
Of these 137 books, there are 16, or 11.68%, writers whose name would still commonly be recognized. This is not to say that you wouldn’t recognize more than 16, but it might mean, if you do, you need to get out more.
Of these 137 writers, only 1, or 0.73%,could be said to be still (possibly) actively influential on poets writing today. In my judgment. This is not to say that the others on the list are not good (or even better than good) poets. Only that I don’t see their poetry actively engaged in the poetry being written today. The one poet I could probably say that for is T. S. Eliot, whose book, Poems, was published by Alfred A. Knopf.
Here are the names of the writers from the list of volumes of poetry publish in 1919 America I recognized for whatever reason (that is, not always poetry)
Today, there are 127 publishers of poetry according to this.
And according to a 2004 article in Publisher's Weekly, 17 representative publishers put out a maximum of 118 books. So the average is about 7.
If those 127 publishers each put out 7 books, 889 books of poetry would be published in any given current year. It might be more, since there are many small and micropresses that wouldn’t show up on lists such as the above. On the other hand, there are probably plenty of those presses that issue 1, maybe 2 books a year. We're only eyeballing the numbers here for argument's sake.
So let’s round up to an even 1,000 books per year. How many of the poets writing these books will be still influential 89 years (the same number of years from 1919 to 2008) from now, in 2097? If Braithewaite's anthology is any guide, 0.73% of them. Or about seven poets. It's possible it could be more given the advances in print and electronic storage technology. It could also be less given the public's indifference to poetry, our educational system's abandonment of teaching poetry to increase the emphasis on "basics", and so on. So let's assume a steady state among any population of poets: at any given time, only 0.73% will still be contributing to the art of poetry in any active sense 89 years later. Take this year. What 7 poets writing today will win the gold 89 years hence?
The Vrzhu Research Bureau announces a new and unique poetry contest:
The Poets Writing And Publishing In 2008 Still Actively Influential In 2097 Contest
The rules are simple. Use the form below to fill out your choices for the seven poets writing today who will still be influential in the year 2097, include your name, address and contact information, and mail your entry to:
Poets Writing And Publishing In 2008 Still Actively Influential In 2097 Contest
Vrzhu Research Bureau
3323 14th Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20017
The Seven Poets Writing And Publishing In 2008 Still Actively Influential In 2097 will be:
My Contact Information:
All entries will be sealed and placed in a time capsule in the Vrzhu Research Bureau Archives. Upon opening on January 1, 2098, a panel of statisticians will use advanced technology to determine which entry or entries most accurately reflects which poets writing and publishing in 2008 C.E. are considered still actively influential for the year 2097 C.E. Winners will be announced telepathically by June 30, 2009.
Deadline for submission is December 31, 2008. There is no entry fee.
The winner or winners will have their poetry manuscript published by the Vrzhu Research Bureau, or its successor.
Note: DO NOT enclose a poetry manuscript with your entry. Any material, written or otherwise, OTHER THAN the entry form (or facsimile thereof) will be discarded. Manuscripts will be solicited from the winning entry or entries after the announcement of the winners. The Vrzhu Research Bureau takes no responsibility.
Members and employees of the Vrzhu Research Bureau and any of its affiliates, and family members of members or employees of the Vrzhu Research Bureau and any of its affiliates, are ineligible.
As Dan notes below, Mahmoud Darwish died this past Saturday, August 9. In addition to everything Dan says below, he was quite consciously the national poet of Palestine. Here's one more poem by Darwish:
O rose beyond the reach of time and of the senses
O kiss enveloped in the scarves of all the winds
surprise me with one dream
that my madness will recoil from you
Recoiling from you
In order to approach you
I discovered time
in order to recoil form you
I discovered my senses
Between approach and recoil
there is a stone the size of a dream
It does not approach
It does not recoil--
You are my country
A stone is not what I am
therefor I do not like to face the sky
not do I die level with the ground
but I am a stranger, always a stranger
And, as a memorial to Darwish, here are two poems from two other poets from the Middle East and arab world (though francophone):
The Earth Opens and Welcomes You
To the memory of Tahar Djaout* on the day of his funeral
The earth opens
and welcomes you
Why these cries, these tears
What have they lost
What are they looking for
those who trouble
your refound peace?
The earth opens
and welcomes you
you will converse without witnesses
O you have things to tell each other
and you'll have eternity to do so
Yesterday's words tarnished by the tumult
will one by one engrave themselves on silence
The earth opens
and welcomes you
She alone has desired you
without you making any advances
She has waited for you with Penelopian ruses.
Her patience was but goodness
and it is goodness brings you back to her
The earth opens
and welcomes you
she won't ask you to account
for your ephemeral loves
daughters of errancy
meat stars conceived in the eyes
accorded fruits from the vast orchard of life
sovereign passions that make sun
in the palm's hollow
at the tip of the tipsy tongue
The earth opens
and welcomes you
You are naked
She is even more naked than you
And you are both beautiful
in that silent embrace
where the hands know how to hold back
to avoid violence
where the soul's butterfly
turns away from this semblance of light
to go in search of its source
The earth opens
and welcomes you
Your loved one will find again some day
your legendary smile
and the mourning will be over
Your children will grow up
and will read your poems without shame
your country will heal as if by miracle
when the men exhausted by illusion
will go drink from the fountain of your goodness
O my friend
you need it
for you have worked hard
as an honest man
you left your desk clean
You turned off the lights
said a nice word to the guardian
And then as you stepped out
you looked at the sky
its near-painful blue
You elegantly smoothed your mustache
consider death to be an end
Sleep well my friend
Sleep the sleep of the just
let us for awhile carry the burden
Créteil, June 4, 199
*An Algerian journalist and author murdered in Algiers in 1993
-Abdellatif Laâbi, from The World's Embrace, translated from the French by Victor Reinking, Anne George, and Edris Makward. Translation copyright © 2003 by Victor Reinking, Anne George, and Edris Makward
* * *
We bade you farewell years ago,
we bade you the repenting elegy,
0, halo of dead angels,
0, language of fugitive locusts.
The words are packed with mud.
The words have adorned themselves
with labor pains.
Our absent wombs return to us.
And here are the rains, here are the floods.
0, language of debris and ruins,
0, halo of dead angels.
-Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said) translated by Adnan Haydar and Michael Beard
* * *
I have grown used to the fact that public repentance is the most unacceptable option for the modern politician.
* * *
John Crowley at his livejournal site, Little and Big, has a brilliant and beautiful response to a mealy-mouthed and mean-spirited "obituary" for Tom Disch. Here's an extract that applies to anyone who takes her art seriously:
The things that limited Tom Disch’s production — in amount or in worth — are of a piece with what enabled it. Tom was acutely, shrewdly, objectively aware of exactly what he had achieved, its limits, its reception, and just how far he had come in his art before seeing that he could, very likely, do little more that would get him closer to the ideals he was painfully aware of. This is the special death of the artist, and not an experience he was likely to share with his sometime editor.
I will eventually get off this Disch kick I am on. But for now...
* * *
That's it for today. I'll have another and different post up tomorrow. Out.
This morning I saw the obituary for Mahmoud Darwish in the New York Times and felt compelled to post something about the passing of this great poet, editor, and activist. He died on Saturday after open heart surgery in Houston, Texas but I'm just hearing about it after being away from newspapers the last week.
Not only the author of 22 books of poetry, Darwish also (as the Washington Post reported) helped craft the Palestinian Declaration of Independence. Hanan Ashrawi said the "He started out as a poet of resistance and then he became a poet of conscience." In the true poet's mold he was not only critical of Israeli occupation but of the corruption in Palestinian leadership.
Last year, Darwish recited a poem damning the deadly infighting between rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah, describing it as "a public attempt at suicide in the streets." WaPo
The Jerusalem Post has an interesting piece about the renewed argument that Darwish's death has started in the Israeli Knesset about whether his poetry should be taught in Israeli schools. There was an attempt to do so in 2000 but it was overrulled by the prime minister.
''Many people in the Arab world feel their language is in crisis,'' the Syrian poetry critic Subhi Hadidi said. ''And it is no exaggeration to say that Mahmoud is considered a savior of the Arab language.''
''The situation in Ramallah doesn't give me this luxury. To be under occupation, to be under siege, is not a good inspiration for poetry. Still, I can't choose my reality. And this is the whole problem of Palestinian literature: we can't free ourselves of the historical moment.''
When Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, complained that the Palestinians were ''an ungrateful people,'' Mr. Darwish fired back, ''Find yourself another people then.''
“Sometimes I feel as if I am read before I write. When I write a poem about my mother, Palestinians think my mother is a symbol for Palestine. But I write as a poet, and my mother is my mother. She’s not a symbol.”
''When I move closer to pure poetry, Palestinians say go back to what you were. But I have learned from experience that I can take my reader with me if he trusts me. I can make my modernity, and I can play my games if I am sincere.''
Although he now lives under the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Darwish said he still sees himself as an exile. ''I had never been in the West Bank before,'' he said. ''It's not my private homeland. Without memories you have no real relationship to a place.'' Meanwhile, he said, ''I've built my homeland, I've even founded my state -- in my language.''
Al Jazeera has a great video on youtube about Darwish. I include here with one of his poems below that.
As is always the case when a poet dies, the last word should be the poet's own work. Those words chosen so carefully. Here then is Darwish's powerful poem "A State of Seige."
A State of Siege
by Mahmoud Darwish (translated by Ramsis Amun)
Here, where the hills slope before the sunset and the chasm of time
near gardens whose shades have been cast aside
we do what prisoners do
we do what the jobless do
we sow hope
In a land where the dawn sears
we have become more doltish
and we stare at the moments of victory
there is no starry night in our nights of explosions
our enemies stay up late, they switch on the lights
in the intense darkness of this tunnel
Here after the poems of Job, we wait no more
This siege will persist until we teach our enemies
models of our finest poetry
the sky is leaden during the day
and a fiery orange at night… but our hearts
are as neutral as the flowery emblems on a shield
here, not “I”
Here, Adam remembers the clay of which he was born
He says, on the verge of death, he says,
“I have no more earth to lose”
Free am I, close to my ultimate freedom, I hold my
fortune in my own hands
In a few moments, I will begin my life
born free of father and mother
I will chose letters of sky blue for my name
Under siege, life is the moment between remembrance
of the first moment, and forgetfulness of the last
here, under the mountains of smoke, on the threshold
of my home,
time has no measure
We do what those who give up the ghost do…
we forget our pain
Pain is when the housewife forsakes hanging up the
clothes to dry and is content
that this flag of Palestine should be without stain
There is no Homeric echo here
Myths come knocking on our door when we need them
There is no Homeric echo here… only a general
looking through the rubble for the awakening state
concealed within the galloping horse from Troy
The soldiers measure the space between being and
with field-glasses behind a tank’s armory
We measure the space between our bodies and the coming rockets
with our sixth sense alone
You there, by the threshold of our door
Come in, and sip with us our Arabic coffee
[you may even feel that you are human, just as we are]
you there, by the threshold of our door
take your rockets away from our mornings
we may then feel secure
[and almost human]
We may find time for relaxation and fine art
We may play cards, and read our newspapers
Catching up on the news of our wounded past
and we may look up our star signs in the year
two thousand and two, the camera smiles
to those born under the sign of the siege
Whenever yesterday comes to me, I say to her,
Now’s not the right time. Go
and come tomorrow!
I wrack my head, but uselessly.
What can someone like me think of, there,
on the tip of the hillside, for the past 3 thousand
and in this passing moment?
My thoughts slay me
my memory awakens me
When the helicopters disappear the doves fly back
white, very white, marking the cheeks of the horizon
with liberated wings. They revive their radiance and
of the sky, and of playfulness. Higher and higher they
the doves, very white. “O that the sky
was real” [a man passing between two bombs cried]
A sparkling sky, a vision, lightning!
all very similar…
soon I will know if this is indeed
or my close friends will know that the poem
has gone, and yoked its poet
[to a critic:] Don’t interpret my words
as you stir the sugar in your cup, or munch your
breast of chicken!
Words put me under siege in my sleep…
the words I did not utter.
They write me, then leave me searching for the remains
of my sleep
The evergreen Cypresses behind the soldiers are
the sky from falling. Behind the barbed wire
are soldiers urinating- protected by a tank.
The Autumn day completes its golden stroll on the
a street as empty as a church after Sunday prayers
Tomorrow we will love life.
When tomorrow comes, life will be something to adore
just as it is, ordinary, or tricky
gray, or colorful…stripped of judgement day and
and if joy is a necessity
let it be
light on the heart and the back
Once embittered by joy, twice shy
A satirical writer said to me:
If I knew the end of the story at the very beginning
there would be nothing to laugh about!
[To a killer:] If you reflected upon the face
of the victim you slew, you would have remembered your
mother in the room
full of gas. You would have freed yourself
of the bullet’s wisdom,
and changed your mind: “I will never find myself
[To another killer:] If you left the foetus thirty days
in its mother’s womb, things would have been different.
The occupation would be over and this suckling infant
would forget the time of the siege
and grow up a healthy child
reading at school, with one of your daughters
the ancient history of Asia.
They might even fall in love
and give birth to a daughter [she would be Jewish by birth].
What, then, have you done now?
Your daughter is now a widow
and your granddaughter an orphan.
What have you done with your scattered family?
And how have you slain three doves in one story?
This verse was not
really necessary. Forget about the refrain
and forget about being economical with the pain.
It’s all superfluous
like so much dross
The mist is darkness … a thick, white darkness
peeled by an orange, and a promising woman
The siege is lying in wait.
It is lying in wait on a tilted stairway
in the midst of a storm.
We are alone. We are alone to the point
of drunkenness with our own aloneness,
with the occasional rainbow visiting.
We have brothers and sisters overseas.
kind sisters, who love us.
who look our way and weep.
And secretly they say
“I wish that siege was here, so that I could”
But they cannot finish the sentence.
Do not leave us alone. No.
Do not leave us alone.
Our losses are between two and eight a day.
And ten are wounded.
Twenty homes are gone.
Forty olive groves destroyed,
in addition to the structural damage
afflicting the veins of the poem, the play,
and the unfinished painting.
In the alleyway, lit by an exiled lantern,
I see a refugee camp at the crossroads of the winds.
The south rebels against the wind.
The east is a west turned religious.
The west is a murderous truce minting the coinage of
As for the north, the distant north,
it is not a place or a geographical vicinity.
It is the conference of heavenly divinity.
A woman said to a cloud: cover my dear one,
for my clothes are wet with his blood.
If you are not rain, o dear one,
then be a tree,
fertile and verdant. Be a tree.
And if not a tree, o dear one
be a stone
laden with dew. Be a stone.
And if not a stone, o dear one,
be the moon itself
in the dreams of she who loves you. Be the moon itself.
[thus a woman said
to her son, in his funeral]
O you who are sleepless tonight, did you not tire
of following the light in our story
and the red blaze in our blood?
Did you not tire, you who are sleepless tonight?
Standing here. Sitting here. Always here. Eternally
we have one aim and one aim only: to continue to be.
Beyond that aim we differ in all.
We differ on the form of the national flag (we would
have done well if we had chosen
o living heart of mine, the symbol of a simple mule).
We differ on the words of the new anthem
(we would have done well to choose a song on the
marriage of doves).
We differ on the duties of women
(we would have done well to choose a woman to run the
We differ on proportions, public and private.
We differ on everything. We have one aim: to continue
After fulfilling this aim, we will have time for other
He said to me, on his way to jail,
“When I am released I will know that praise of nation
is like pouring scorn on nation…
a trade like any other!”
A little of the infinite blue
suffices to reduce the burden of our times
and cleanse the mud from this place right now
The spirit needs to improvise
and walk upon its silken soles
by my side, as hand in hand, two old friends
we share a crust of bread
and an old flask of wine
walking the path together,
then our days fork off into two separate paths:
I to the unknown, and she
sits squatting upon a high rock
[to a poet] Whenever the sunset eludes you
you are ensnared in the solitude of the gods.
Be “the essence” of your lost subject
and the subject of your lost essence. Be present in
He finds time for sarcasm:
My telephone has stopped ringing.
My doorbell has also stopped ringing.
So how did you know
that I am not here?
He finds time for song:
Waiting for you, I cannot wait
I cannot read Dostoyevsky
nor listen to Umm Kalthum, Maria Callas or another.
Waiting for you, the hands of the watch go from right
to a time without a place.
Waiting for you, I didn’t wait for you.
I waited for eternity.
He asks her, “What kind of flower is your favorite?”
She says, “The carnation. The black carnation.”
He asks her, “And where will you take me, with those
She says, “To the abyss of life within me.”
She says, “Further, further, further.”
This siege will endure until the besiegers feel, like
is an emotion like any other.
“I don’t love you. I don’t hate you,”
The prisoner said to the interrogator. “My heart is
of that which is of no concern to you. My heart is
full of the aroma of sage.
My heart is innocent, radiant, brimming.
There is no time in the heart for tests. No.
I do not love you. Who are you that I may give my love
Are you part of my being? Are you a coffee rendezvous?
Are you the wind of the flute, and a song, that I may
I hate imprisonment. But I do not hate you.”
Thus a prisoner said to the investigator. “My feelings
are not your concern.
My emotions are my own private night…
my night which moves from bed to bed free of rhyme
and of double meanings!
We sat far from our destinies, like birds
which build their nests in cracks in statues
or in chimneys, or in tents
erected on the prince’s path at the time of the hunt
On my ruins the shadows grow green
and the wolf sleeps on a hibernating poem,
dreaming, like me, and like a guardian angel,
that life is pure and free of label
Myths refuse to amend their patterns.
Perhaps they were struck by a crack in the hull;
perhaps their ships have been stranded on
a land without a people.
Thus the idealist was overcome by the realist.
But the ships will not change their mould.
Whenever an unpleasant reality crosses their path
they demolish it with a bulldozer.
The colour of their truth dictates the text: she is
white, without blemish.
[to a semi-orientalist] Let’s say things are the way
you think they are…
that I am stupid, stupid, stupid
and that I cannot play golf
or understand high technology
nor can fly a plane!
Is that why you have ransomed my life to create yours?
If you were another… if I were another
we would have been a couple of friends who confessed
our need for folly
But the fool, like Shylock the merchant,
consists of heart, and bread, and two frightened eyes
Under siege, time becomes a location
Under siege, place becomes a time
abandoned by past and future
This low, high land
this holy harlot…
we do not pay much attention to the magic of these
a cavity may become a vacuum in space
a contour in geography
The dead besiege me with every new day
and ask me, “Where were you? Give back
to the lexicon all the words
you offered me
and let the sleepers sleep without phantoms in their
The dead teach me the lesson: there is no aesthetic
The dead point out to me: why search beyond the
for the eternal virgins? We loved life
on earth, between the fig and the pine trees
but we couldn’t find our way even there. We searched
until we gave life all we owned: the purple blood in
The dead besiege me. “Do not walk in the funeral
if you did not know me. I seek no compliments
from man nor beast.”
The dead warn me. “Do not believe their rejoicing.
Listen instead to my dad as he looks at my photo
“How did you take my place, son, and jump ahead of me?
I should have gone first! I should have gone first!”
The dead besiege me. “I have only changed my place of
abode and my furnishings.
The deer now walk on my bedroom’s roof
and the moon warms the ceiling from the pain
thus putting an end to my pain
to put an end to my wailing.”
and the moon warms the ceiling
to put an end to my wailing.”
This siege will endure until we are truly persuaded
into choosing a harmless slavery, but
in total freedom!
To resist: that means to ensure the health
of heart and testicles, and that your ancient disease
is still alive and well in you
a disease called hope
in the remains of the dawn I walk outside of my own body
in the remains of the night I hear the footsteps of my
I raise my cup to those who drink with me
to an awakening to the beauty of the butterfly
in the long tunnel of this dark night
I raise my cup to those who drink with me
in the thick darkness of a night overflowing with
I raise my cup to the apparition in my being
[to a reader:] Don’t trust the poem
She is the absentee daughter. She is neither an intuition
nor a surmise, but a sense of disaster
If love is crippled, I will heal it
with exercise and humour
and with separating the singer from the song
My friends are ever preparing a party for me-
a farewell party, and a comfortable grave in the
shadow of the oak
together with a marble witness from the tombstone of time
But I seem to be first in attending their funerals.
Who has died today?
The siege is transforming me from a singer
to a sixth string on a five string violin
The deceased, daughter of
the deceased, who is herself daughter of the deceased,
who is the deceased’s sister
The deceased resister’s sister is related by marriage
to the mother of the deceased, who is granddaughter of
the deceased’s grandfather
and neighbor to the deceased’s uncle (etc., etc.)
No news worries the developed world,
for the time of barbarism has passed
and the victim is Joe Bloggs. Nobody knows his name,
and the tragedy, like the truth, is relative (etc., etc.)
Quiet, quiet, for the soldiers need
at this hour to listen to the songs
which the dead resisters had listened to, and have remained
like the smell of coffee, in their blood, fresh
Truce, truce. A time to test the teachings: can
helicopters be turned into ploughshares?
We said to them: truce, truce, to examine intentions.
The flavour of peace may be absorbed by the soul.
Then we may compete for the love of life using poétique images.
They replied, “Don’t you know that peace begins with oneself,
if you wish to open the door to our citadel of truth?
So we said, “And then?”
Writing is a small ant which bites extinction.
Writing is a bloodless wound.
Our cups of coffee, and the birds, and the green trees
with the blue shade, and the sun leaping from wall
to wall like a doe
and the waters in the skies of infinite shapes, in
what is left to us
of sky, and other matters the memory of which has been
put on hold
prove that this morning is strong and beautiful
and that we are guests of evermore.