Readings: Guenda


Modiano’s Nobel Prize speech:

I have always thought that poets and novelists are able to impart mystery to individuals who are seemingly overwhelmed by day-to-day life, and to things which are ostensibly banal – and the reason they can do this that they have observed them time and again with sustained attention, almost hypnotically. Under their gaze, everyday life ends up being enshrouded in mystery and taking on a kind of glow-in-the-dark quality which it did not have at first sight but which was hidden deep down. It is the role of the poet and the novelist, and also the painter, to reveal the mystery and the glow-in-the-dark quality which exist in the depths of every individual. My distant relative, the painter Amedeo Modigliani, comes to mind. In his most stirring paintings, the models he chose were anonymous people, children and street girls, maids, small farmers, young apprentices. He painted them with an intense brush stroke reminiscent of the great Tuscan tradition – Botticelli and the Sienese painters of the Quattrocento. He also gave them – or rather revealed – all the grace and nobility that was inside them, beneath their humble appearance. The work of a novelist must travel in the same direction. His imagination, far from distorting reality, must get to the bottom of it, revealing this reality to itself, using the power of infrared and ultraviolet to detect what is hidden behind appearances. I could almost believe that the novelist, at his best, is a kind of clairvoyant or even visionary. He is also a seismograph, standing by to pick up barely perceptible movements.

Solmaz Sharif’s writes minimalist collages of political terror.

• it was my job to put a cross on each home with dead for clearing • it was my job to dig graves into the soccer field • I wrote red tracksuit • I wrote Shahida, headless, found beside Saad Mosque • buried in the same grave as the above • I wrote unidentified fingers • found inside Oldsmobile car • I wrote their epitaphs in chalk • from my son’s wedding mattress I know this mound’s his room • I dropped to a knee and engaged the enemy • I emptied my clip then finished the job • I took two steps in and threw a grenade • I took no more than two steps into a room before firing • in Haditha we cleared homes Fallujah-style • my father was reading the Koran when they shot him through the chest • they fired into the closet • the kitchen • the ninety-year-old standing over the stove • just where was I • uno a uno tu cara en todos los buses urbanos • Here lie the mortal remains of one who in life searched your face • call me when you get home • let’s miss an appointment together •

John Walser writes of midwest landscape and longing in the eclectic Hiram Poetry Review to which today I will submit a few things.

Because in March
when I still drive down
every other weekend
but not on this,
at one in the morning,
this cold alternate Saturday morning,
I will sit lonely in the window
of a loud, crowded, dark Main Street bar,
drinking a glass of wine,
reading by streetlight as thin as condensation
a paperback of Gogol or Kafka,
while she sleeps alone in her bed
232 miles away

and the snow falls in swarms
like lakeflies in July,
in waves of summer moths

A. Anupama’s poetry blends myth and science and sex.

A red hibiscus flower in a tall hedge
attracted me with its color
and its long bright stamen,
extended in a sort of greeting.

I didn’t notice until I got closer
the green parrot sitting directly above it.
I stopped still, for fear of startling the bird.
It looked at me with one eye, then hopped
deftly into the flower,
where it disappeared.

Xtiidxanu’ hruzá’ xquendabiaaninu

Our language molds the gifts of our thoughts: Zapotec poetry by Irma Pineda.

Pineda’s poems weave universal themes of birthplace, homeplace, and the human connection to the natural world. Two other poems, which she performed to music matching the rising and falling tones of Zapotec, are part of a series that describes choosing a clay pot for her child’s doo yoo. This “cord-house,” holding the baby’s umbilical cord and placenta, is buried on the family’s land, physically connecting person and place. Isthmus Zapotecs speak metaphorically about “home” as doo yoo: both the specific site of their buried cord-house and the broader landscape to which they are intrinsically tied. Pineda says of doo yoo, “This tradition happens less and less often. We’re becoming less and less connected to the earth.” She writes in another poem about the doo yoo:

The clay vessel is wide and cool
so your soul might rest
protected by the land of your grandparents
the land bathed with their sweat
the land blessed with their labor

In the Zapotec version of this stanza, Pineda uses the word guenda, which exemplifies the Zapotec connection to the earth. The word appears frequently in Pineda’s poems and resists straightforward translation. She translates it into Spanish most often as “soul,” but also as “totem animal,” “spirit,” “guardian,” and “gift.” In Pineda’s poems, these gifts include a woman’s brilliant gaze, one’s whole life, a child’s smile, and the darkness in the eyes of the dead. Talent—say, for writing poetry—is also a guenda, as is taking on an important community responsibility such as being elected town mayor. “Guenda is also our parallel being in this life,” Pineda says. “This parallel being journeys with you through life. If something bad happens to your guenda, you will be hurt, as well.”

Readings: Guenda


In which I post links to writing here so I can close windows on my browser because I can’t trust myself to remember anything anymore.

Globalism is surreal and borders are absurd in Deepak Unnikrishnan’s stories.

In a labor camp, somewhere in the Persian Gulf, a laborer swallowed his passport and turned into a passport. His roommate swallowed a suitcase and turned into a little suitcase. When the third roommate, privy and vital to the master plan, ran away the next morning with the suitcase and the new passport, he made it past the guard on night duty, made it on the morning bus to the airport, past the bored ticket agent at Check-In, past Security, past pat-down and a rummage through his suitcase, past using the bathroom once, twice, thrice, to pee, to shit, to sit, past Duty-Free, where he stared at chocolates and booze and magazines and currencies, past families eating fast food in tracksuits or designer wear, past men and women sleeping on the floor, past his past, past his present, past the gold in the souks, the cranes in the sky, petrol in the air, dreams in his head, past God and the devil, the smell of mess halls, past humidity and hot air, past it all, until he found an empty chair in the Departures lounge, where he sat and held his future in his palms.

Rivka Galchen writes about Kafka and writing about Kafka.

Often his character recalls both Larry David and Bertie Wooster. Many are the plans that Kafka makes in a manner that ensures their eventual unmaking. Over five years he courts, engages, un-engages, re-engages but never marries Felice Bauer, a woman with whom he spends less than 15 scattered and not always happy days, whose dear friend Grete Bloch he also woos in letters, and whom he makes clear he could not be sexually available to in a marriage. Then, in a letter he sends to her in advance of a meeting at which they plan to discuss things (she has even quit her job at his bidding so as to be able to move to Prague), he calls her ‘my human tribunal’. During the First World War, Kafka repeatedly begs his superiors at work to release him from his job so he can become a soldier; but as he later writes in his diary, he doesn’t go too far; he never becomes a soldier. Nor does he marry the next woman he asks to marry him, or the one after that. Nor does he deliver (or destroy) the long letter he wrote to his father. Nor does he, despite extensive plans and study of Hebrew, move to Palestine. Kafka at times causes others to suffer in a manner akin to the way the illimitably charming Don Quixote does, by adhering to an untrue but more ennobling view of the world.

Eileen Battersby’s best-of list is composed mostly of books in translation.

German translator Adrian West introduced me to Marianne Fritz.

After the headless figure had spoken, the scattered groups of people merged into a single human mass. All of them held their heads at their side, holding them in their hands and resting them on their hips. Each head was the same as the others. And all the heads resembled helmets.

“What have I done to you?” Rudolf cried. And since no one answered him: “Why am I hanging here on this cross? Why?”

One headless being after the other stepped forward from out of the mass of people. The voices of women, girls, men and boys drowned one another out in turn.

“You can’t catch a ball.”

“You can’t play an instrument.”

“You can’t even sing.”

“You always fall down.”

“Your nose bleeds.”

“You have two left hands.”

“You can’t remember your numbers.”

“You can’t even remember the ten commandments.”

“You can’t write properly.”

“You can’t even copy things down.”

“You can only draw animals and just barely a house; you can’t draw people with two hands, ten fingers, two feet, and a head. Your people have five eyes and monstrous mouths. Your people have seven heads or no head, twenty-three fingers or none at all.”

“You can’t catch frogs.”

An interview with Kevin Young.

In The Grey Album I joke that I was looking for a unified theory of black culture. If you look at Lucille Clifton’s work, you can see that kaleidoscopic quality. Take a poem like “won’t you celebrate with me,” where she’s thinking that every day something has tried to kill [her] and failed, and she says, “born here in babylon / both nonwhite and woman.” It is such a specific poem. But there’s something about that shared “I,” and in her case, a lowercase “i,” that is so powerful. The specificness of her vision is part of the breadth of it.

And this is true of someone like Seamus Heaney, too. When he’s writing about his family farm in Derry, I realize he could be talking about my family farm, or the land we lived on in Louisiana and still have. It’s been there in the same parish for something like two hundred years. There’s a real rootedness in what he’s talking about. It’s important to my poetry—that idea of a place—which isn’t so far away from the idea of multitudinousness.

Michael Mazur is important to me for some reason (I lack the verve to know why). Maybe because he brought intense observation into a zoo that hurts as much as my glancing but continues to look forever.

A loving touch and an exquisite sense of color and light go full tilt in Stoneham Zoo (1976–1979), even as the subject matter is on the cusp of being repellent. This is the kind of challenge that most artists, no matter what the medium, avoid: to confront and stroke difficult subject matter, to be open and sympathetic without trivializing or becoming sentimental. This is what Cormac McCarthy does with the repugnant Lester Ballard in his short novel, Child of God (1973), and what Mazur does with his primates in Stoneham Zoo (1976–1979).

Nicholas Brady’s texts for Henry Purcell’s music– I am studying.

‘Tis Nature’s Voice; thro’ all the moving Wood
Of Creatures understood:
The Universal Tongue to none
Of all her num’rous Race unknown.
From her it learnt the mighty Art
To court the Ear or strike the Heart;
At once the Passions to express and move;
We hear, and stright we grieve or hate, rejoice or love;
In unseen Chains it does the Fancy bind;
At once it charms the Sense and capivates the Mind.



Don Mee Choi gave a wonderful PEN Ten interview.

What is the responsibility of the writer?
The Brazilian writer I admire, Clarice Lispector, said that she insists on not being a professional, to keep her freedom. Like Lispector, we writers should insist on staying amateurs to keep our freedom. Only thing I’ll add to this is: get out of debt. It may not be possible for most of us though. The majority of my time goes to paying off debt. As Foucault pointed out already, confinement is no longer needed, for we are disciplined by time/work. For me, time is not money. Time is freedom

Time is freedom. Amen.

Read some of her brilliant poems.


Asymptote is possibly my favorite journal. Today it introduced me to these poems by María do Cebreiro. It sent me down a rabbit hole of dialogic possibilities in poetry. Poetry monologues really well, but these…


Louise Bogan was brought back to my attention due to a poetry prize named in her honor. Her poem Medusa is, I think, praise and indictment of the stilling powers of art. I need to find her collected and a couple weeks in a very quiet place.

“And I shall stand here like a shadow
Under the great balanced day,
My eyes on the yellow dust, that was lifting in the wind,
And does not drift away.”


flarf is dada outsourced

but I hadn’t heard any of the flarfiliated poets mention it. I googled the above insight (is all googling a protoflarf moment? Probably) and found this intelligent essay by Rick Snyder that confirms I am clever if not original.

I may have encountered flarf previously and forgotten it, but it was brought (back?) to my attention because Pen published The Revolt of the Peasant Girls by Anne Boyer. The poem in turn repulsed and intrigued me, but through that see-saw fun I began to know that Anne Boyer was a Kansan. So I protoflarfed her.

I like Anne Boyer. I am going to ask her out. By which I mean I am going to ask her to submit something to The Habit. That’s the journal I am starting. I don’t so much bury a lede as make of it a horcrux .

Sarah and I used to collect poems by the ‘gentle spambot‘ which were those strings of words at the end of spam messages. Unlike flarf poems, the bot’s work was primarily sincere. It was innocent, Anne Boyer. Language sucking itself in a world that was all womb.

flarf is dada outsourced

The pixel and the page

I wrote the following set of scenes at a pub this afternoon. I was reading Bitov’s The Symmetry Teacher, drinking the free near-pint at the bottom of a Smithwick’s keg, and in an emotional welter.

I tried to transcribe it here, clean, dress, and feed it, but it resisted. Like a deep sea creature, exploding from an absence of pressure.

There is that which cannot live here, that which the blogosphere spirits will not allow.

I quote it, however, as though it were some preinternet text.

My ambition, my goad, is to know and perform all literary art. Poetry, prose, and potboiler. Trash, mere information, theory, close read, essay, memoir, tabloid, joke, and pun. Lucid observation, fuddlement, and hallucination and the shared hallucination at the base of the real.


Alana tells me about her lovers and most of the telling later subsumes into one or two details.
This is how I understand stories.
He put his hand over her face to take the measure of each.
I have come to welcome her lovers into my desire.
His hand is the many in the I. Her face is the spring from whence all art…


I came to my work with the scientist’s ambition to godhead. But myth not math is my medium.


The Indian chief is dying. His wounds will not heal. He is covered in sores, swellings, and scabs red and hot. His features are deformed. He calls for his horse, but his people will not bring her. He calls for his horse, but his people will not bring her. He calls for his horse. He says he wants to ride to Death’s country like a warrior. His people bring his horse. They help him to mount. He is unsteady in the saddle. He clicks his tongue. He digs in his heels. His horse runs. He rides out of the village, into the setting sun, toward the infinite plain. His scabs break. His sores shower him and his horse with puss. His grasp fails and he falls, comical, into the grass. His people retrieve him and prepare for his death. But he does not die. He recovers. He thought he would ride his horse to Death but rode instead to life.


I said once, in casual, meaningless, and complete honesty, the kind known only as a sensation once the saying has passed, that I was searching for compositional laws at the base of all known arts.

“Let me know if you find any.”
“Oh I probably won’t, but I like where the search takes me.”

The pixel and the page

Those hills are not hills

Fair is the sight from the midst of the Dnieper of the high hills, the broad meadows, and the green forest! Those hills are not hills: they have no foot; they are sharp-peaked at both bottom and top; under them and over them is the tall sky. Those woods standing on the slopes are not woods; they are hair growing on the shaggy head of the old man of the forest. Under it his beard washes in the water, and under his beard and over his hair–the tall sky. Those meadows are not meadows: they are the green belt tied in the middle of the round sky, and the moon strolls about in both the upper and lower half.
–Nikolai Gogol. Translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky

So much to admire here; each idea is surprising. After the banal though idyllic beginning, one expects the broad meadows to follow the high hills, but instead Gogol jumps to the woods. In each image a sphere is explained, but in each the sphere is different, until at the end we are given the moon, strangely aligned with the green belt of the meadows. The entire set of imagery is at once anthropomorphic and mechanistic while still retaining the feeling of a folktale.

I am so much further from the materials, both cultural and natural, than Gogol, but this feeling is what I want.

Those hills are not hills