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.

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