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Archive for June, 2012

(from Greguerias – Ramon Gomez de la Serna) *

Curious about the earth, the sky keeps opening and closing the clouds.

*

The hour differs throughout the stars.  In some it is yesterday, in others today, and in others centuries have passed.

*

He had a keyring so dusty, he looked like a fisherman of keys.

*

The socks tucked into the little shoes of the sleeping child wrinkle with his dreams.

***

This week The Friday Influence is proud to present the work of the Spanish poet Ramon Gomez de la Serna (1888-1963).

First, some reviews: “For me he is the great Spanish writer: the Writer, or rather, Writing…I also would have learned Spanish just to read him” (Octavio Paz).  “…the major figure of surrealism, in any country, has been Ramon” (Pablo Neruda). **

I share these quotes to show the range of influence Ramon (as he liked to be called)  had in his day.  Neruda’s Book of Questions (excerpts of which I translated last week) would not have been possible without the work of Ramon.  He wrote novels as well as stories and essays, but it is in his Greguerias that I feel his singular personality truly shines.

These sentences are packed with images and humor.  They take a little and expand it in the mind.  They do the work of haiku and aphorisms but with a distinct flavor.  I spoke last week of how a poet’s job is partly to see how much they can get away with.  In his Greguerias, Ramon gets (carried) away with himself.

Also, any writer who seriously writes about the stars after the Romantic period endears themselves to me.  Ramon’s work gave me permission to work out some single line poems of my own.  He has opened up to me what a sentence or two can offer lyric poetry.

I discovered his work two years ago by accident, working out my own ideas of prose poems.  His name came up in an essay and I made my way to his poems.  Seeing as he has stayed with me, I have decided to periodically sit down with his Greguerias and translate a few pages at a time.  If I get through the whole book in this manner, I’ll let you know.

Here’s a few more from Ramon:

The night lies there between blue eyelashes.

*

In autumn, the butterflies come out in the same red as the dry leaves, and the same wind sweeps up the one as the other.

*

After a while, the sound of the typewriter fills our thoughts with gravel.

*

Pinocchio opens books with his nose.

***

Happy gregueriando!

J

* translated by Jose Angel Araguz (word to vosotros!)

** quotes from Paz and Neruda found on Wikipedia (word to citations!)

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(from The Book of Questions – Pablo Neruda) *

 

IV.

How many churches in Heaven?

 

Why does the shark not attack
the indifferent sirens?

 

Does smoke chat with the clouds?

 

Is it true that all hopes
should be watered with dew?

 

XXIV.

 

Is 4 the same 4 for all?
Are all sevens equal?

 

When the prisoner thinks of sunlight
is it the same that lights your way?

 

Have you ever considered what color
the April of the infirm might be?

 

What occidental kingdom
flies these flags of poppies?

 

***

This week, The Friday Influence presents the work of the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

The above excerpts are from The Book of Questions, a charming book in which Neruda riffs on various subjects, always grasping for and breaking into image as well as various profundities.

For example: “Does smoke chat with the clouds?” places “smoke” and “cloud” in the same line, a visual already, and then goes deeper with “chat” – I see smoke rising into a sky and hovering, kinda like you do when you’re waiting for your place of work to be unlocked, a situation which leads to small talk amongst people who might normally not talk much.

The whole book is literally filled with questions, no answers.  Why ruin a good question with an answer?  What Neruda gets away with – and here I will avow that much of a poet’s job is to see what they can get away with – is both inspiring and engaging.  The power of a good question like a coin in your hand.

***

As the title of this post suggests, I am trying my hand at translation.  I literally grabbed the book off my shelf and went for it.  I plan to share two more sets of translation in the weeks ahead.

***

In other news, there have been some rejection letters from poetry magazines.

What the hell is that about?

***

Here’s one last bit from Neruda:

 

XXXIII.

 

And why is the sun such a bad friend
to someone walking in the desert?

 

And why is the sun so friendly
in the hospital garden?

 

Are these birds or fish here
in nets of moonlight?

 

Was it where they lost me
that I was able to find myself?

 

***

Happy questioning?

J

* translated by Jose Angel Araguz (word to your Spanish-English dictionary.)

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Tattoo by Jose Angel Araguz

It’s a reclaiming of sorts

This washing

This warm water serenade

The prick and bump of shaven skin

Your initials bulging in black ink

My calf burning as if slapped

 

This nightly ritual of waiting

For the hair to grow back

Curled, snarled, and thick

An angry arm digging itself free

An army thrusting out of me

 

Me, your likeness

Me, your boy now a man

Now a poet needling into permanence

Your name, a scar

 

Because the man who did it

Was quiet and stern

Maybe as old as you would be now

Leaned on a cane across the room

Prepped the needle and shoved

The chair into position

With his foot

 

He said I didn’t look nervous

I could feel his face moving

Over the water of my eyes

My flesh pierced by

The feeling of a blunt, persistent union

Of skin and ink

Needle and

Me

 

I will know you one day

The shine of the lotion tells me so

The letters gleaming like the world

Under a scab

Renewed, regrow

Fresh.

(062104)

***

I wrote the above poem on back in 2004.  I had just graduated from college and was spending the month of June at the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets.  We made a trip into New York City on Father’s Day.  My first time there actually.  I was filled with all sorts of romanticized notions of the city, all of which got indulged/corrected when I did my MFA there a year later.

I had also been playing around with the idea of getting a tattoo.

See, my  mom ran away from my dad when I was 2 and he died when I was 6.  I got to see him twice in that time, once in prison.  I know 5 things for sure about him, one of them being that he had my name tattooed on his calf.  Being in the city for the first time on Father’s Day of all days seemed like enough of a sign that the time had come to get the tattoo.

That first night with it, all the new pain and sting that I had to care for put me in a quiet place.  I haven’t looked back at this poem in 8 years.  I can see the breaking of skin, though, as a breaking of a silence.

***

Happy breaking!

J

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Song of the Barren Orange Tree – Federico Garcia Lorca *

 Woodcutter.

Cut my shadow from me.

Free me from the torment

of seeing myself without fruit.

 

Why was I born among mirrors?

The day walks in circles around me,

and the night copies me

in all its stars.

 

I want to live without seeing myself.

And I will dream that ants

and thistleburrs are my

leaves and my birds.

 

Woodcutter.

Cut my shadow from me.

Free me from the torment

of seeing myself without fruit.

 

***

 

This week’s Friday Influence presents this lovely poem by the great Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

One of the great things about lyric poetry  is how the personal nature that moves behind it can be either implicit or explicit.  Here, so much is implied through the character of an orange tree.  Desolation and loss are evoked in the repeated first and last stanza.  There is also desire – the “ants/and thistleburrs” of the third stanza come alive and send shivers through me.

There is something  to a poem like this, the way it works within a context and makes use of the image of a barren orange tree to make you feel something, make you consider things you never could otherwise.  “Why was I born among mirrors?”  I would never have asked myself that before.  It all lies in the use of “I”.

To go back Rimbaud’s idea of “I is an other” – the “I” here is literally “an other”, but it reflects the “I” who I am all the more.

Yes.  I  just wrote that sentence.

 

***

 

In other news, I got my job back at the bookstore here.  I come home smelling of old books.  The smell is like cantnip to my lady.

Happy thistleburring!

J

 

* translated by W.S. Merwin

 

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undulate

The East river is never still upon stones and ships.

 

tremble

Always, the chance of touch.

 

leaf

How thin we are– how everything

makes us flap, snap, fall

 

crooked branches before night

They are like hands frozen into longing,

hairs tangled beyond separation.

 

Urdu

A Lucknow courtesan adorned to madness,

weeping Ghalib.

***

This week on the Friday Influence I am featuring the work of my good friend and excellent poet: Adeeba Talukder.

What moves me most about this series of short poems is how much they play with chance.  They take on a riddle-like structure to define things in a lyrical and personal manner.  Talukder lives in Brooklyn, so there is the East River as only she can open it up.  She is fluent in both Urdu and the work of the great classical Urdu and Persian poet Mirza Ghalib, and sees the language so tied up in his work that she cannot define it without mentioning him.  (It is also a bittersweet touch to allude to the great love affair of Ghalib’s life).

Reading these poems, I am reminded of other efforts forged in chance and singularity such as Gertrude Stein’s tender buttons and Yannis Ritsos’ monochords.  “tremble” evokes some of Sappho’s fragments, that immediacy and intensity that can only be channeled through lyric poetry.

Read individually the poems stand on their own.  Read in a series the poems play off each other in their focus on movement and fragility.  The line “How thin we are” applies to the leaf but also to the lovers at the end, lovers weeping tied up in the air of language.

Here’s the poet on her work:

God and love constantly elude me, so they have a way of sneaking into all my thoughts and sentences; many of my poems constantly revisit the imagery, language, and rituals that both concepts have traditionally evoked. For me, the two are also intrinsically intertwined; I am a student of classical Urdu ghazal poetry, and years and years of dwelling within its universe have birthed in me an obsession with the idea of physical, human love as a step towards– or even a manifestation of– love for the Divine. I have developed a fondness for the ghazal’s characters and metaphors– the cruel beloved, the mad lover tearing his collar in anguish, the frenzied moth circling the flame, the nightingale singing its songs of love for the rose. Its recurring themes of desire and separation, the slaying of the ego, and absolute obliteration in the path of desire are also among my haunts. My poems are often simply attempts to reconcile that fantastical world with this other one I inhabit.

These words open up Talukder’s work for me not just as a reader but as a poet as well.  In them I see a poet embracing her obsessions, not using them for fodder but rather seeing them as colors in the room she lives in.  That is the way craft works: it is a thing inside you that grows the more you grow.

***

This week’s post has been a treat.  I have been toying with the idea of opening up the blog for submissions.  My trial run was through solicitation.  I am still working out the process and guidelines but plan to open up the blog to submissions soon.  Should you be interested, feel free to email me at thefridayinfluence@gmail.com

Here’s another poem by Adeeba Talukder:

God 

What feeble minds have held you between their fingers? Despite your

reshapings and growths and falls Manhattan’s still living between banks.

 

your tide-fist’s swell

spread calm as water,

as light, light, light.

 

Nothing moved between the skins of earth and sky. They sank into the

darkness, traced each other’s noses as though it were love.

 

the soft of dusk

its waist of light

 

how much of you moon?

how many eyes the night?

***

Happy chancing!

J

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Hello y’all!

Since I am moving this week back to Oregon and am on the road as I write this, I decided I would forgo the usual Friday Influence post and share some life sketches.  I will resume the usual astrologically-centered good times next week.  Enjoy!

***

 

walking in Flagstaff

the folds of her blue dress

in the wind

our laughter folded there

 

***

 

driving at night

the lights of Bakersfield

disappear behind the hill

like so many gleaming eyes

closing

 

***

 

on the highway

in the half-light of sunset

the passing lights of trucks

like the eyes of a man

leaving

when told to go

 

***

Happy driving!

J

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