* “the pure / holy of instinct”: elizabeth acevedo

acevedoI agree with those who hold that one of poetry’s major ambitions should be to refresh the language. Through engagement and interrogation of words shared in common, poems can bring us closer to meaning what we mean. An example of the kind of interrogation I mean is evident in this week’s poem from fellow CantoMundo poet Elizabeth Acevedo’s new chapbook, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books).

In the poem below, Acevedo turns a “shitty pick-up line” on its head. The poem’s engagement with the phrase “the body is a temple” quickly turns a confrontation with a stranger into a meditation on language. This move opens up a rich territory of lyric meaning; in subverting the phrase, the speaker is able to both contradict its “pick-up line” intention while also raising the words to a higher meaning. By the end of the poem, the space of tired language and cliche is reclaimed by the speaker as a personal respite for “the pure / holy of instinct.”

*

Stranger Tells Me My Body Be a Temple – Elizabeth Acevedo

and so I show him where
I have stuck my fingernails
beneath this chipping paint

spat on the stained glass
used crooked backbone as scaffolding
knowing it won’t hold up a broken ceiling.

I tell him, I’ve glugged down
          the church wine and given sermon.
                    Men flock but they never seem to come

 for their spirits. If it were up to me
          I’d burn this altar nightly
                    and dance alone in the rubble

pray that shitty pick-up line elsewhere.
Because if anything this body is the pure
holy of instinct

like closing your eyes
and guiding an earring
into long ago pierced flesh.

*

Happy beasting!

José

P.S. If you’re in the Cincinnati area next week, make sure to check out Elizabeth Acevedo’s performance at Xavier University:

Time: 7:00 PM until 8:00 PM
Date: Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Location: Xavier University, Gallagher Student Center

To find out more about Elizabeth’s work and upcoming performances, check out her site.

 

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* translation 3/3 on the friday influence

(from Proverbios y Cantares – Antonio Machado) *

XXXII.

Oh faith of meditation!

Oh faith after deep thought!

When a heart returns to earth,

the human cup overflows, and the sea swells.

***

This week, The Friday Influence presents the work of the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado.

I first ran across the above poem during my first trip to Powell’s in Portland two years ago.  I spied Machado’s Poesias Completas on the shelf and immediately flipped through to these lines.

I was moved by the tension between the mind and the senses implied in these lines.  I mean, that’s what it’s like to be overwhelmed, to be interrupted and taken from thought to body.  The sea swells!  I fell in love and took the book home with me.

I see in these lines the days when I am so focused on the page that to be taken away or distracted hurts – mainly it makes me fussy.  Phil Levine once said: when a poem comes, the phone can wait, the knock at the door can wait, it all can wait.  Ignore it.  I respect the necessity for that kind of attention.  I figure: it’s my poetry – if I don’t make time for it and give it the attention it deserves, who will?

I believe this is a shade of what Keats meant when he spoke of the poet as being “the most unpoetical of any thing in existence.”

***

I have enjoyed this three part stint of translating.  I guess four, if you count my riffing around with Goethe.

For this week’s post, I collaborated with Andrea Schreiber, a self-styled polyglot and linguist with a true love of language.  She is also my girlfriend.  Meaning, she puts up with me when I get fussy.  And she has seen Machado’s Spain, the roads he saw, the sea…  She helped steer my translations towards the spirit of the poems.  I thank her.

Here are a few more from Machado:

XXI.

Last night I dreamed that I saw

God and that I spoke with God;

and dreamed that God listened…

later I dreamed I had dreamed.

XXVIII.

Everyone has two

battles to fight:

in dreams, you wrestle with God;

awake, with the sea.

XLI.

It is common knowledge that cups

are used for drinking;

Sadly, it is unknown

what use we have for thirst.

XLIV.

Everything moves on, and everything stays;

it is our lot to move on,

move on making roads,

roads over the sea.

XLV.

To die…and fall like a drop

of ocean back to the ocean?

Or, be what I never could be:

a man, without shadow, without dreams,

a man that goes forward

without roads, without mirrors?

***

Happy forwarding!

J

* all poems translated by Jose Angel Araguz and Andrea Schreiber.  (word to your late night conversations!)