MONKEY, BERNSTEIN, TO ROBBINS, OFFICIAL DEFENDER OF TRUE POETRY: “US MONKEYS ARE ON A ROLL”

Don’t ever call me a monkey, again, Michael Robbins, you mere doctoral candidate!  Official verse culture clone!  Bad!  Bad!  Bad!

Shit Fight!

Anis Shivani’s latest Huffington Post offering, The Most Important Contemporary Poet: 22 Major American Poets Speak Out is mostly predictable, but we do seem to be moving into a 1930s zeitgeist; the choices of “most important contemporary poet” were white, male, dead, or nearly so, and foreign+ politically grim (one-half) and avant-garde (one-third) as a rule, with a smattering of High Modernist and Beat. Ashbery was not an overwhelming choice by any means (there was no consensus on a poet), but he got the most votes.

Billy Collins, Mary Oliver and Seamus Heaney did not get a mention: not enough avant-garde or political identity in those poets?

There was the usual complaint of “no one poet is best..!” which is the worst cliche’ of all, or perhaps it’s this one, which was seen, too: girl picks girl, queer picks queer, midwesterner picks midwesterner…

One entry was deliciously catty, and thus by far the most worthwhile.  Anything is better than forever dull platitudes of avant-garde or grim.

We speak, of course, of Charles Bernstein’s wacky contribution:

Poetry’s greatest asset may be its unimportance. Which means that what counts as important in poetry is, for much of the culture, unwanted, unwarranted, weirdness, what I call the pataque(e)rical. Even monkeys can do it, or so The London Review of Books, official organ of the Defenders of True Poetry against Barbarians (PAB) tells us in a pronouncement by UChicago supplicant, doctoral candidate Michael Robbins, who proclaims, from his uncontested pulpit (no letter protested) that what folks like me hold as the greatest importance for poetry is the work of nothing more than monkeys (Sept. 9, 2010). Us monkeys are on a roll: you hear it everywhere from LRB’s England from Tom Raworth, Maggie O’Sullivan, Allen Fisher, and Caroline Bergvall to the New England of Susan Howe (whose forthcoming That This from New Directions is extraordinary) and Larry Eigner. Eigner, born “palsied from a hard birth,” has a new Collected Poems, ed. Robert Grenier & Curtis Faville (Stanford) that is one of the most, well, important books of the decade. Eigner’s work is miraculous, turning insurmountable odds into poetic gold while never losing the truths of insignificance. As he ends a 1953 poem, “I am, finally, an incompetent after all.”

Is it just me, or is Bernstein self-destroying?  It has to be the influence of Emerson and Whitman, self-evidently absorbed by Bernstein as a young student: Do I contradict myself oh yes I do and I am so cute!   Bernstein champions the marginal, and yet when he becomes irate at Michael Robbins the cut comes in the form of snobby condescension: Bernstein’s premeditated attack on Robbins consists of pointing out that Robbins is a doctoral candidate.  How does Bernstein think he can swoon over Eigner’s “incompetence” and be believed (I don’t believe him for one second) when almost simultaneously he sneers at a fellow poet-critic for being a doctoral candidate?  I’m amused at how Bernstein can lead Eigner up on stage for the purpose of honoring Eigner when the stage is covered in Bernstein’s own poop—tossed at fellow human, Michael Robbins.

And what’s this about “LRB’s England?”  Is Bernstein really imagining a war between England’s London Review of Books and the true England, with Bernstein and his obscure English poetry friends vanquishing “LRB’s England” (in league with the evil UChicao doctoral candidate Michael Robbins) under the banner of Not-LRB’s England? 

Yea, it sure sounds like Bernstein’s “monkeys” are “on a roll…”  uh huh! 

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33 Comments

  1. aeoi said,

    December 21, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    God you boring, anal, flatulant indightments on life. You kill me slowly from affar.

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 21, 2010 at 8:04 pm

      And straight from LRB’s England…it’s Mister God-You-Boring…

      Let’s have a round of applause for aeoi…!

      Bond, James Bond…

      James, James! the plan, I’m afraid, is a slow death implemented from afar…none will be implicated, and you’ll be dead before you know what’s happening…

      Don’t go to that poetry conference! I repeat…do NOT go to the poetry conference…

      Bloody hell…

      we’ve lost him…

      there’s snow in Ireland and they’re shutting down all the colleges…

      what do we do now??

      What’s the Greenland ice doing?

      Get Al Gore on the phone!

      Quick! There’s no time to lose!

  2. uandsometimesy said,

    December 21, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    “indightments,” “affar.”

    invective should not be taken seriously unless spelled correctly

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 21, 2010 at 9:19 pm

      yea… but…Emerson and Melville were terrible spellers…

      Besides, we’re talking mostly typos, not errors in spelling, anyway…

      As much as Scarriet prides itself on its original articles, profound insights, great humor, and literary strengths, we’re lenient when it comes to those sorts of mistakes…

  3. A.O.U.E.I said,

    December 22, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Poetry shmock aeoi ye bleddy amazing propsect for a place in posterity, as some fucking wanker ooh said, what exactly, aeoi, you stupid American cant, with ye ooh er yeah man, Lennon and fucking Ringo, ye daft apeth. Monkeys, Michael ‘fucking’ Monkey McRobbins of the Chicago trailer park school of doctoral bollix masquarading as, fucking what exactly: closing fucking invectives? For that? For a fucking shit website full of babble, shite fucking drivel from McMonkey Sqaure O’Sames, hey… oooh, closing invectives aren’t yopu so amazingly poetical as an Ampo trailer, filler for the main act. Michael fucking Robbins aeoi, remember that fucking name.

  4. aeoi said,

    December 22, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    I’m British.

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 22, 2010 at 2:23 pm

      Now, to most Brits, just being an American is a huge mistake…the truth is, all Americans are British, secretly…most just don’t know it…

      • The Noochie-Coochie Man said,

        December 22, 2010 at 9:10 pm

        Because its adherents take no orders,
        Psychedelia crosses all borders:

  5. thomasbrady said,

    December 22, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    http://www.maggieosullivan.co.uk/upton.htm

    Lawrence Upton defending Maggie O’Sullivan’s poetry…

    “Smells and bells…” when a poem is only a “trigger” of previous experiences of previous poems…

    Interesting point of view…interesting way of damning accessible poems…

  6. December 23, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    So… you’re upset that no one named Billy Collins as their choice for the most important poet today?

    It could easily be argued that someone should have named dropped Oliver and Heaney (though I suspect most of these poets were straining to name someone slightly more obscure, avoid seeming like one of the herd)… but Collins?

    The idea of Billy Collins being named an important poet (I have accepted that he is a best-selling one) sends shivers up my spine.

  7. Archambeau said,

    December 23, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Seriously? You have a problem with the picks because too many of them are “foreign”? Sheesh.

    Bob

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 23, 2010 at 5:06 pm

      Bob,

      I never said there was a “problem” with “foreign.” A 1930 zeitgeist is what we’ve got, right now, and all that implies. If you read what I said, I’m not making any judgment on that, one way or the other. If European poets and WW II suffering are looming large for American poets today that may be a “problem,” but not I think, in the way you are implying. A poll such as Anis is conducting is small in scope, of course, but interesting, none the less.

      Tom

      • Archambeau said,

        December 23, 2010 at 7:25 pm

        So I should put away my stars and stripes jumpsuit and quit chanting “USA! USA!” as I prance around the Poetry Foundation offices? Well, okay. But you’re sure a party-pooper…

        Bob

      • thomasbrady said,

        December 23, 2010 at 10:07 pm

        Bob,

        I suppose if someone asked a bunch of Roman poets in the first century to name their most important contemporary, Greek poets would be mentioned, but since you have appointed yourself the canary in Scarriet’s mine re: the use of “foreign,” I’ll explain: I did say “foreign + grim” and I have in mind things like Parini choosing Simic, saying, “Born in Belgrade in 1938, he understands viscerally about war, oppression…” or Matthias choosing Geoffrey Hill, or Herrera choosing Rozewicz (“holocaust”) or Biespiel choosing Milsoz (“Poland of genocide”) or Gonzalez choosing Saenz (“fearless in politicizing his verse”). Do we then assume other poets are not political, or are cowardly in politicizing their verse? Is a poet who the American public doesn’t read, but who happens to match your politics, an honest pick for “most important contemporary?” Anis didn’t ask, ‘who should be the most important contemporary’ but ‘who is the most important contemporary poet.’ Obviously, it’s tricky: what are you going to do? Simply name the best-selling poet of the day? And even that’s tricky, for ‘best-selling’ in poetry these days doesn’t mean all that much, anyway. So the poets who were asked basically responded thusly: ‘based on the kind of political-thinker-who-also has a small interest in poetry that I am, here’s the poet I wish more people would read.’ Which is maybe one of the reasons why the American public doesn’t read poetry: the poets find it impossible to give an honest answer about it?

        Tom

  8. thomasbrady said,

    December 23, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Coffee,

    I have argued for the merits of Collins’ aesthetics here:

    https://scarriet.wordpress.com/2010/11/19/why-is-billy-collins-popular/#respond

    and here

    https://scarriet.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/billy-collins-harry-mathews-battle-in-march-madness-east-semi-final/#comments

    But I would assert that popularity is NEVER a bad thing, and only a misanthrope would say so. Even when a popular movement has bad results, it is not the popularity, per se, which is to blame.

    There is always a good at the bottom of what is popular. The ‘good’ may be mass intoxication, which is forgetfulness, which is a good, since some amount of forgetting is necessary for sanity. Thus, as much as I may be repulsed by a drunken sports crowd, I must remember that the popularity of spectator sports exists for a reason; my individual disgust does not cancel out that good.

    The best-selling aspect of Collins simply can NOT be ignored as a criterion for ‘most important.’

    Tom

    • December 28, 2010 at 1:31 am

      I don’t object to Collins because he is a best-selling (though it does offend my sensibility that a poet I find so irritating sells so much better than poets I consider far superior).

      I just don’t like Collins’ insistence on having it both ways – his “aw shucks” anti-intellectualism to satisfy America’s conservative, anti-intellectual soul, combined with enough faux intellectual name dropping to assure the liberal left that he voted for Obama.

      • thomasbrady said,

        December 28, 2010 at 3:42 am

        Coffee,

        I agree that “name dropping” is often a “faux intellectual” pursuit and “aw shucks anti-intellectualism” is sometimes a ticket to popularity, but the question becomes: just how intellectual does poetry have to be for you, and who are these poets that you find “superior” to Collins, and why are they “superior?” And further, what exactly is true “intellectualism” for you?

        I find it hard to fathom how there is any poet who is “superior” and more “intellectual” than Billy Collins today, if, by “intellectual” we mean brainy, intelligent, learned, insightful, and broad-minded. It’s hard to overestimate the talent required to become a popular poet today (excluding someone like Jewel, who also happens to be a cute singer) based solely on the poetry.

        I’d be happy to put a Collins poem side-by-side with any poem of your choosing and see if yours is “superior.”

        Are you up for the challenge?

        Tom

  9. Noochness said,

    December 25, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    #22 (selecter) — Michael McClure

    http://archives.waiting-forthe-sun.net/Pages/Players/Personal/mcclure_recalls.html

    #22 (selectee) — Diane di Prima

    Rant

    You cannot write a single line w/out a cosmology
    a cosmogony
    laid out, before all eyes

    there is no part of yourself you can separate out
    saying, this is memory, this is sensation
    this is the work I care about, this is how I
    make a living

    it is whole, it is a whole, it always was whole
    you do not “make” it so
    there is nothing to integrate, you are a presence
    you are an appendage of the work, the work stems from
    hangs from the heaven you create

    every man / every woman carries a firmament inside
    & the stars in it are not the stars in the sky

    w/out imagination there is no memory
    w/out imagination there is no sensation
    w/out imagination there is no will, desire

    history is a living weapon in yr hand
    & you have imagined it, it is thus that you
    “find out for yourself”
    history is the dream of what can be, it is
    the relation between things in a continuum

    of imagination
    what you find out for yourself is what you select
    out of an infinite sea of possibility
    no one can inhabit yr world

    yet it is not lonely,
    the ground of imagination is fearlessness
    discourse is video tape of a movie of a shadow play
    but the puppets are in yr hand
    your counters in a multidimensional chess
    which is divination
    & strategy

    the war that matters is the war against the imagination
    all other wars are subsumed in it.

    the ultimate famine is the starvation
    of the imagination

    it is death to be sure, but the undead
    seek to inhabit someone else’s world

    the ultimate claustrophobia is the syllogism
    the ultimate claustrophobia is “it all adds up”
    nothing adds up & nothing stands in for
    anything else

    THE ONLY WAR THAT MATTERS IS THE WAR AGAINST
    THE IMAGINATION

    THE ONLY WAR THAT MATTERS IS THE WAR AGAINST
    THE IMAGINATION
    THE ONLY WAR THAT MATTERS IS THE WAR AGAINST
    THE IMAGINATION
    ALL OTHER WARS ARE SUBSUMED IN IT

    There is no way out of a spiritual battle
    There is no way you can avoid taking sides
    There is no way you can not have a poetics
    no matter what you do: plumber, baker, teacher

    you do it in the consciousness of making
    or not making yr world
    you have a poetics: you step into the world
    like a suit of readymade clothes

    or you etch in light
    your firmament spills into the shape of your room
    the shape of the poem, of yr body, of yr loves

    A woman’s life / a man’s life is an allegory

    Dig it

    There is no way out of the spiritual battle
    the war is the war against the imagination
    you can’t sign up as a conscientious objector

    the war of the worlds hangs here, right now, in the balance
    it is a war for this world, to keep it
    a vale of soul-making

    the taste in all our mouths is the taste of power
    and it is bitter as death

    bring yr self home to yrself, enter the garden
    the guy at the gate w/ the flaming sword is yrself

    the war is the war for the human imagination
    and no one can fight it but you/ & no one can fight it for you

    The imagination is not only holy, it is precise
    it is not only fierce, it is practical
    men die everyday for the lack of it,
    it is vast & elegant

    intellectus means “light of the mind”
    it is not discourse it is not even language
    the inner sun

    the polis is constellated around the sun
    the fire is central

    http://modampo.blogspot.com/2006/04/diane-di-primas-rant.html

  10. Noochness said,

    December 25, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    #21 (selecter) — Kevin Prufer

    Death Comes in the
    Form of a Pontiac Trans Am

    When I have fears that I may cease to be,
    I think of death that revs and growls, backfires,
    stops for none, is cherry red and sleek,
    eats Honda Civics, coughs, and spits out wires.

    It doesn’t approach, but, boom, it appears,
    growling where its muffler ought to be.
    It has no sense of sin—but it has gears.
    It shifts them when it must, but grudgingly.

    It will not purr—it spits its awful stutter,
    then roars these words: I want, I will, I am.
    It flattens snakes, knocks dogs into the gutter.
    It speaks American. It speaks American.

    http://www.readab.com/kprufer.html

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 25, 2010 at 3:09 pm

      Does Mr. Prufer want to keep his Honda Civic, or trade it in? It’s hard to tell…

  11. Noochness said,

    December 25, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    #21 (selectee) Robert Hass

    Many are making love. Up above, the angels
    in the unshaken ether and crystal of human longing
    are braiding one another’s hair, which is strawberry blond
    and the texture of cold rivers. They glance
    down from time to time at the awkward ecstasy—
    it must look to them like featherless birds
    splashing in the spring puddle of a bed—
    and then one woman, she is about to come,
    peels back the man’s shut eyelids and says,
    look at me, and he does. Or is it the man
    tugging the curtain rope in that dark theater?
    Anyway, they do, they look at each other;
    two beings with evolved eyes, rapacious,
    startled, connected at the belly in an unbelievably sweet
    lubricious glue, stare at each other,
    and the angels are desolate. They hate it. They shudder pathetically
    like lithographs of Victorian beggars
    with perfect features and alabaster skin hawking rags
    in the lewd alleys of the novel.
    All of creation is offended by this distress.
    It is like the keening sound the moon makes sometimes,
    rising. The lovers especially cannot bear it,
    it fills them with unspeakable sadness, so that
    they close their eyes again and hold each other, each
    feeling the mortal singularity of the body
    they have enchanted out of death for an hour so,
    and one day, running at sunset, the woman says to the man,
    I woke up feeling so sad this morning because I realized
    that you could not, as much as I love you,
    dear heart, cure my loneliness,
    wherewith she touched his cheek to reassure him
    that she did not mean to hurt him with this truth.
    And the man is not hurt exactly,
    he understands that life has limits, that people
    die young, fail at love,
    fail of their ambitions. He runs beside her, he thinks
    of the sadness they have gasped and crooned their way out of
    coming, clutching each other with old invented
    forms of grace and clumsy gratitude, ready
    to be alone again, or dissatisfied, or merely
    companionable like the couples on the summer beach
    reading magazine articles about intimacy between the sexes
    to themselves, and to each other,
    and to the immense, illiterate, consoling angels.

    http://purplefontgirl.blogspot.com/2006/01/privilege-of-being.html

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 25, 2010 at 3:04 pm

      Robert Hass writes about sex and the heavens listen?

      There are 3 basic ways in which we do not like a poem:

      1. We sense the poet is investing more than is required in working out a conceit or illustrating a truth that we already understand.

      2. We sense the poet is investing less than is required in working out a conceit or illustrating a truth we already understand.

      3. We do not understand what the poet is saying.

      I’m guessing Hass’s poem will fail the sophisticated reader in the first way and less sophisticated readers in the second way—they will wish for more, even a novel, perhaps? on the subject.

  12. Noochness said,

    December 26, 2010 at 11:45 am

    #19 (selecter) — Campbell McGrath

    “Lincoln Road”

    Browsing, before dinner, at Books & Books,
    checking out the new poems
    in the new journals, the vast glass panes thrust against
    by shoppers and gawkers on Lincoln Road
    emit a particular cautionary hum
    as they insist upon delimiting inside from out,
    tongued and grimed by the fingerless
    gloves of the homeless,
    bodies gesturing and melding back
    into the pyroclastic flow,
    someone considering black lingerie next door,
    bedside lamps of Italian design,
    something sleek to refresh the kitchen—honey,
    a silver pasta fork?

    tattooed dance clubbers and waitresses
    slaloming trays through the crowd,
    a woman selling jewelry knit from optical fibers
    lurid as stationary fireworks, pages
    of a Carioca newspaper
    turning, foil off a champagne bottle golden
    against the tile, pink straws, the splash
    of modest fountains
    in common space, a baby
    in green hip-harness
    staring back at me goggle-eyed, recording it all
    like the tourists with digital camcorders
    pre-editing their memories
    and the ringing of cellphones broadcasting
    a panegyric of need
    with whichever hooks and trembles
    we have chosen in the darkness to answer.

  13. Noochness said,

    December 26, 2010 at 11:51 am

    #19 (selectee) — Natasha Trethewey

    Here, she said, put this on your head.
    She handed me a hat.
    you ’bout as white as your dad,
    and you gone stay like that.
    Aunt Sugar rolled her nylons down
    around each bony ankle,
    and I rolled down my white knee socks
    letting my thin legs dangle,
    circling them just above water
    and silver backs of minnows
    flitting here then there between
    the sun spots and the shadows.
    This is how you hold the pole
    to cast the line out straight.
    Now put that worm on your hook,
    throw it out and wait.
    She sat spitting tobacco juice
    into a coffee cup.
    Hunkered down when she felt the bite,
    jerked the pole straight up
    reeling and tugging hard at the fish
    that wriggled and tried to fight back.
    A flounder, she said, and you can tell
    ’cause one of its sides is black.
    The other is white, she said.
    It landed with a thump.
    I stood there watching that fish flip-flop,
    switch sides with every jump.

  14. Noochness said,

    December 26, 2010 at 11:59 am

    #19 (selecter) — Campbell McGrath

    The Human Heart

    We construct it from tin and ambergris and clay,
    ochre, graph paper, a funnel
    of ghosts, whirlpool
    in a downspout full of midsummer rain.
    It is, for all its freedom and obstinance,
    an artifact of human agency
    in its maverick intricacy,
    its chaos reflected in earthly circumstance,

    its appetites mirrored by a hungry world
    like the lights of the casino
    in the coyote’s eye. Old
    as the odor of almonds in the hills around Solano,

    filigreed and chancelled with flavor of blood oranges,
    fashioned from moonlight,
    yarn, nacre, cordite,
    shaped and assembled valve by valve, flange by flange,

    and finished with the carnal fire of interstellar dust.
    We build the human heart
    and lock it in its chest
    and hope that what we have made can save us.

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 26, 2010 at 2:10 pm

      Why not 3-line stanzas?

      and finished with the carnal fire of interstellar dust.
      We build the human heart and lock it in its chest
      and hope that what we have made can save us.

      I suppose this sounds (looks?) too rhyme-y for a modern: dust/chest/us.

      A modern dares not load his end-lines consecutively with ‘dust,chest, us’ so he breaks it up with ‘heart.’

      Interesting, because sound-wise it is pretty much the same: if the line ends with ‘heart,’ it may cause the reader to pause slightly on ‘heart,’ but grammatically, there’s no difference, and a good reader would pause slightly on ‘heart’ (simply because it is an important word in the context of the poem) whether it were in the middle of a line, or not.

      But I think there’s another reason why McGrath uses four lines instead of three: if the half-rhymes of ‘dust, chest,’ and ‘us’ become more apparent, utilizing the three-line instead of the four-line pattern, this brings the rhyme-music to the fore, and then it becomes apparent that the meter of the poem is not smooth: “we BUILD the HU-man HEART and LOCK it IN its CHEST” clashes horribly with “and HOPE that WHAT we HAVE MADE can SAVE US.”

      ‘and hope that what we have made can save us’ is a wonderful line, but the attempt by the poet to de-Longfellow himself only contributes to a general mangling of the total effect of the poetic music (when it does exist, almost against the poet’s will and design) due to both shame at looking at all like Longfellow, and the confused attempt to hide from that shame.

  15. Noochinator said,

    December 28, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    #18 (selecter) — Forrest Gander

    http://jacketmagazine.com/02/gander02.html

  16. Noochness said,

    December 29, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    #18 (selectee) — John Ashbery

    Alcove

    Is it possible that spring could be
    once more approaching? We forget each time
    what a mindless business it is, porous like sleep,
    adrift on the horizon, refusing to take sides, “mugwump
    of the final hour,” lest an agenda—horrors!—be imputed to it,
    and the whole point of its being spring collapse
    like a hole dug in sand. It’s breathy, though,
    you have to say that for it.

    And should further seasons coagulate
    into years, like spilled, dried paint, why,
    who’s to say we weren’t provident? We indeed
    looked out for others as though they mattered, and they,
    catching the spirit, came home with us, spent the night
    in an alcove from which their breathing could be heard clearly.
    But it’s not over yet. Terrible incidents happen
    daily. That’s how we get around obstacles.

  17. Noochness said,

    December 29, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    #19 (selecter) — Campbell McGrath

    from “Nights on Planet Earth”

    Gravel paths on hillsides amid moon-drawn vineyards,
    click of pearls upon a polished nightstand
    soft as rainwater, self-minded stars, oboe music
    distant as the grinding of icebergs against the hull
    of the self and the soul in the darkness
    chanting to the ecstatic chance of existence.
    Deep is the water and long is the moonlight
    inscribing addresses in quicksilver ink,
    building the staircase a lover forever pauses upon.
    Deep is the darkness and long is the night,
    solid the water and liquid the light. How strange
    that they arrive at all, nights on planet earth.

  18. Noochness said,

    December 29, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    #17 (selectee) — Mahmoud Darwish

    Diary of a Palestinian Wound

    (For Fadwa Tuqan)

    We do not need to be reminded:
    Mount Carmel is in us
    and on our eyelashes the grass of Galilee.
    Do not say: If we could run to her like a river.
    Do not say it:
    We and our country are one flesh and bone.

    Before June we were not fledgling doves
    so our love did not wither in bondage.
    Sister, these twenty years
    our work was not to write poems
    but to be fighting.

    The shadow that descends over your eyes
    — demon of a God
    who came out of the month of June
    to wrap around our heads the sun —
    his color is martyrdom
    the taste of prayer.
    How well he kills, how well he resurrects!

    The night that began in your eyes—
    in my soul it was a long night’s end:
    Here and now we keep company
    on the road of our return
    from the age of drought.

    And we came to know what makes the voice of the nightingale
    a dagger shining in the face of the invaders.
    We came to know what makes the silence of the graveyard
    a festival…orchards of life.

    You sang your poems, I saw the balconies
    desert their walls
    the city square extending to the midriff of the mountain:
    It was not music we heard.
    It was not the color of words we saw:
    A million heroes were in the room.

    This land absorbs the skins of martyrs.
    This land promises wheat and stars.
    Worship it!
    We are its salt and its water.
    We are its wound, but a wound that fights.

    Sister, there are tears in my throat
    and there is fire in my eyes:
    I am free.
    No more shall I protest at the Sultan’s Gate.
    All who have died, all who shall die at the Gate of Day
    have embraced me, have made of me a weapon.

    Ah my intractable wound!
    My country is not a suitcase
    I am not a traveler
    I am the lover and the land is the beloved.

    The archaeologist is busy analyzing stones.
    In the rubble of legends he searches for his own eyes
    to show
    that I am a sightless vagrant on the road
    with not one letter in civilization’s alphabet.
    Meanwhile in my own time I plant my trees.
    I sing of my love.

    It is time for me to exchange the word for the deed
    Time to prove my love for the land and for the nightingale:
    For in this age the weapon devours the guitar
    And in the mirror I have been fading more and more
    Since at my back a tree began to grow.

    Translated by Lena Jayyusi and Christopher Middleton

  19. Noochinator said,

    December 30, 2010 at 11:04 am

    #17 (selecter) — Fady Joudah

    Additional Notes On Tea

    In Cairo a boy’s balcony higher than a man’s deathbed.
    The boy is sipping tea,
    The view is angular like a fracture.

    Surrounding the bed, women in wooden chairs.
    They signal mourning with a scream.
    Family men on the street run up the stairs and drink raven tea.

    On the operating table in Solwezi a doctor watches a woman die.
    Tea while the anesthetic wears off,
    While the blade is waiting, tea.

    The doctor says the woman knows god is sleeping
    Outside heaven in a tent.
    God is a refugee dreaming of tea.

    Once upon a time an ocean married a sea to carry tea around.
    Land was jealous.
    So it turned into desert and gave no one wood for ships.

    And when ships became steel,
    Land turned into ice.
    And when everything melted, everything tasted like tea.

    Once upon a time there was a tea party in Boston.
    Tea, like history, is a non sequitur.
    I prefer it black. The Chinese drink it green.

  20. Noochinator said,

    January 2, 2011 at 10:34 am

    #16 (selectee) — Marie Ponsot

    Northampton Style

    Evening falls. Someone’s playing a dulcimer
    Northampton-style, on the porch out back.
    Its voice touches and parts the air of summer,

    as if it swam to time us down a river
    where we dive and leave a single track
    as evening falls. Someone’s playing a dulcimer

    that lets us wash out mix of dreams together.
    Delicate, tacit, we engage in our act;
    its voice touches and parts the air of summer.

    When we disentangle you are not with her
    I am not with him. Redress calls for tact.
    Evening falls. Someone’s playing a dulcimer

    still. A small breeze rises and the leaves stir
    as uneasy as we, while the woods go black;
    its voice touches and parts the air of summer

    and lets darkness enter us; our strings go slack
    though the players keeps up his plangent attack.
    Evening falls. Someone’s playing a dulcimer;
    its voice touches and parts the air of summer.

  21. Noochness said,

    January 3, 2011 at 9:42 am

    #16 (selecter) — Marilyn Hacker

    http://www.poetrysociety.org/psa/poetry/crossroads/qa_american_poetry/maryilyn_hacker/


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