readings: saga means to say

The technological proximal: A collaborative project setting all of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake to music.

Tomas Tranströmer is dead. I’m going to translate one of his poems.

“Drömde att jag körde tjugo mil förgäves.
Då förstorades allt. Sparvar stora som höns
sjöng så att det slog lock för öronen.

Drömde att jag ritat upp pianotangenter
på köksbordet. Jag spelade på dem, stumt.
Grannarna kom in för att lyssna.”

As I read his obituary I was led to an album recorded by his daughter, Emma. Together with composer Maurice Karkoff, she set some of her father’s poems to music. Tranströmer was also a pianist, and when he suffered a stroke and lost functionality in his right side, Karkoff composed pieces just for his left hand. The album, Dagsmeja, is like the midday sun that melts the snow. After discovering Karkoff, I discovered also that he died in 2013.

Kenzie Allen’s poem Solgangsbris also draws inspiration from attenuated meterological terminology.

Give me these new desires
swift and shifting and ocean-
reaching, plains-conquering
as the wind at sundown, the
solgangsbris which carries
the tide and cools the skin
and makes me also a
valley, also a vessel, also
vast and remaining and full.


clarity is not language

One language is many languages in dimensional parallelism. I hear it in the word “father.” The vague shape of your intention meets only my inability to map it. You think you have given me meaning. It is largely noise.


On having a clear style: Sometimes the force of a word itself is more important than clarity. These too heavy words and phrases move through the text and surface like pods of whales.


Suggestions from a woman from Brittany: George Brassens, Veraline’s Chanson D’Automne, Serge Gainsbourg.

“I love you. Me neither.”

Readings: the slick business of forgiving

The too-appropriately-named-for-my-comfort Donna Stonecipher’s poem treads fresh snow and I am ready to follow.

How “human” is human enough. Little rescues are at hand, angels in plainclothes, but how can we know inside whom embark the seeds of our

As I stood holding my face up to the night sky the stars in their pristine arrangements pricked every last swollen thing inside me, as if

For the larger the target of your heart, the more you must smelt yourself down to the slick business of forgiving

Forgiveness the liquid eating away at the cool white stars of the sugar. Intransigence the cream billowing up through the dark

Young, brilliant and beautiful Danish writer, Josefine Klougart, is trapped by snow and love in the country.

In a way, I can’t stand to be anywhere, I say in a voice that sounds brittle, dry, combustible. A ray of sun in a glass would be enough; it would break, and it could happen any time. A threat. Because in a way I’ve already seen too much. An odd sense, all of a sudden, of things being arbitrary. That it’s not my dead man who’s important; suddenly it’s someone else, the new man, on whom my life depends. I think: can I never just be in one place. Without that magnetism. That’s what the snow does. Or that’s the illness the snow cannot cover up, cannot heal; the snow as salt falling upon injured raw thoughts raw emotions. When did it happen. In the night the snow comes, the magnetism wells up in me, I wake up magnetic, and as a magnet: held back, bound up, the entire space between me and this new man vibrates like that. A disconcerting tension. Movements drawn in the air, movements revealing themselves—the second before they exist: then perhaps amounting to nothing. Distress at what could have been—so precious.

Olga Ziemska makes eerie sculptures from natural materials.

In researching justifications for leaving my poems without titles, I came across this insightful investigation of Emily Dickinson’s same decision by John Mulvihill. His thinking on her probable thinking is similar to my own.

With no title to authorize a spatial or temporal context, nor to provide a concept, emblem, or complex word on which to anchor the poem, readers must provide a context themselves — or, alternatively, draw on their reserve of what Keats called “negative capability” and remain in “uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts.”

Dickinson’s poems often leave the reader with a sense of not just the evanescent (a quality of both the snake and hummingbird) but the ineffable – the unnameable. David Porter has discussed the ineffable in relation to her poems’ abstractions: “She evidently avoided a more palpable naming in order to hold onto the unnameable merger with irrational existence” (36). I would go further to say that she not only avoids a “more palpable naming” but avoids naming at all, in not titling, in order to evoke “the merger with irrational existence.”

Like other stylistic characteristics of her poetry – its compression, inverted syntax, neologisms – nontitling is a purposeful subversion of conventional poetic practice.10 Dickinson is the first modern poet who systematically and purposefully did not provide titles for her poems. To borrow Marianne Moore’s words: her “Omissions are not accidents.”

While I offer this evidence of Dickinson’s linguistic skepticism as a quite specific explanation of her nontitling, I agree that her nontitling can be seen as of a piece with her nonpublication, and more generally of a piece with her antipathy toward the public sphere and her commitment to the interpersonal and private spheres. This antipathy is expressed in P288:

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you — Nobody — too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise — you know!

How dreary — to be — Somebody!
How public — like a Frog —
To tell one’s name — the livelong June —
To an admiring Bog!
(first varient)

The public world is the verbal world, and particularly the world of names and titles. It is where you “advertise” yourself, have a career in which you make a “name” for yourself. It is where you can be a “Somebody” — when being a “Somebody” means many people know your name who don’t know you.

Fascinating look at the history of translation in Cairo by Samah Selim.

The line between original, translation, and adapted works at this time “was a very thin one,” and translations were so popular, Selim said, that some Arab authors published their own original work as translations. Original works, she said, might masquerade as translations for prestige, profit, or for the greater license.

These weren’t just a foreign colonial form somehow “imposed” on a blank reading public. Selim traces the popularity of the French mystery genre in 19th and early 20th century Egypt to a local narrative culture dating to the medieval tradition of qissa and sira — as well as he trope of the corrupt and dangerous modern city, popular in the news media.

Massively popular nineteenth century Lebanese novelist Jurji Zaydan suggested, Selim said, that these foreign stories were “genetically related to the medieval Arab story tradition” — that is, the stories of the Thousand and One Nights or the semi-oral siras. And this is surely true, as 19th century novels drew heavily on Nights motifs, and the Nights themselves had been freely adapted into Western languages and had, for Western audiences, an “exotic” appeal similar to reading Sherlock Holmes in Cairo.

juvenal and juvenilia (until you rose and left me)


Back from when Deucalion climbed a mountain in a boat
as the clouds lifted the waters, and then asked for an oracle,
and then little by little spirit warmed the soft stones
and Pyrrha showed naked girls to their husbands,
whatever men do – prayer, fear, rage, pleasure
joy, running about – is the grist of my little book.

Ex quo Deucalion nimbis tollentibus aequor
nauigio montem ascendit sortesque poposcit
paulatimque anima caluerunt mollia saxa
et maribus nudas ostendit Pyrrha puellas,
quidquid agunt homines, uotum, timor, ira, uoluptas,
gaudia, discursus, nostri farrago libelli est.


the steps to the attic cellar
of age are spinning coins

might I fly


but empty

cohesion rises
when blood has not
solitude becomes idea

severing constellation ties to each iris


plastic lizards amazing bouncing balls
protect me from gasoline and body hair
return the late day glow
of the nursery the eating
of a moth dirt and roaring
I will build a home from my sleep


old man in a charcoal suit and a yellow tie
wrinkled like similes wrinkle a thought


I want to go blind for words
cataloged neatly in cabinets scattered
about tables under glass pinned labeled
destroyed indistinguishable brazilian reds
every word a tree black eden
in bloom under halogen bulbs let me go blind
for you my eyes turn to milk for you
let only the words of god sift through


the half man shuffled in
the mommies and aunties could only shout
as daddies and uncles rose to turn him out

they must have forgotten the season
“It is winter,” I said
and they replied eerily in unison: “Amen.”


my friend bends to the water’s surface
she calls this surface stars
she gives a cup to me
and cannot keep it filled


whisper to me your name
I have forgotten
its difference from heaven’s
“there is no difference
we are separate halves of one kiss”


this silence I once feared like madness
like falling from great heights like drowning
flailing as my lungs filled with water
I used to talk all day
tonight I whisper your name
into your soft admonishment
with only silence to speak
I kiss you until the dawn


you stretch across the night sky
in disguise but I know you
I pretend not to
I touch the stars beneath your skin
and gaze at your soul changing color


your legs tremble
and my soul ceases to recognize itself
you speak and my soul becomes your words
you breathe and my soul is inside of you
telling you my secrets and beckoning me to follow


the universe teased with my teeth
shuddering tightening escaping gasping
immense and infinite under my lips
her firmament with its heavy scent
floating like fog her stars pale silver
beneath her skin the places she is pink
heat my only air the pulsing the continuous
bursts of light the collapsing exhaustion the slow quiet
breathing the charting of limbs onto maps of the sky


yes the ax is sharp
you have seen others
their life seeping into the stone

but look at her hair curled around her collar

that image will remain
as your blood balls the dust


search for a balance they say do not indulge
the only balance is falling everything
weightless while I fall and fall and fall
tumbling around the syllables of your name


until you rose and left me
I was eternal immense and drowned