Translated from the French by Hoyt Rogers
The great French poet died July 1st at age 93, just as these two selections were being cued up. Reading them now, in the award-winning translations of Hoyt Rogers, one can’t help but feel a spirit going to the most primary places—cellars and attics of ancient-seeming abodes—to reckon with time and the question of what might lie on the other side of various glimpsed thresholds and doors.
Here are two poems full of feathers and suffused with wanting—of forgetfulness, of transformation. Though it is Virgil who is at one point invoked, the spirit of a modern Ovid presides, as Grae declares: “We can leave/ the dress behind that didn’t fit or fly to a new city/ & wear the metropolis as our skin.” Rustlings and night-sounds abound.
Moore is a poet of lyrical longing and the bittersweet consolations of longing addressed. How sweetly memory melts into the continuance of things, gestures what is yet to be. And what power of suggestion is found in “the chalky white roads/that wind through the distance in his [Bellini’s] paintings” . . .
Compressed chains of perception create startling sensory bursts. Lemon moves in with close-focus attention to remind us, lest we forget, that the world in our peripheral awareness is at every moment in a state of heady percolation.
Transformation, transfiguration, maybe even transcendence—Kozma’s declarative odes put the lens tight onto moments of destruction and release. If the apostrophizing O’s seem hyperbolic at first, they steadily earn their keep as the lines advance.
Wharton combines a rag-picker’s eye for anomalous lore from the natural world—from peacocks to penguins to bonobos—with a sly appreciation of the ironies that spark up when inferences to human behaviors are made. Witty, but also sad and affecting at times, these linked-up tales are full of reminders that we have achieved no evolutionary exemption; we ourselves are subject to just such estranged inspections.
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Cultural identity caught and examined through recollections and meditative refractions. From the outsized projections of Imelda Marcos, to the contrary image of Pinoy poet Jose Garcia Villa and the multiple webbings of family lore, Siasoco conducts an exploration of the defining associations of his heritage.
The loosening of the threads of a literal seam, so tactile, the seamstress angling the “single-tooth mouth along the puckering ravines” of the material, becomes the instigation of a searching and anguished outpouring—a cry of the heart that leads to a confrontation with first and last things.
This imagined dream among horses becomes a point of historical access as well as a kind of homage to the great Alexandrian poet Constantine Cavafy. We feel the past repossessed through a palpable, almost saturated longing, made all the more vivid by the calm restraint of the poet’s diction.
In an impassioned salvo, Ukraine’s most prominent writer argues that ignorance of Ukrainian history leaves the West diminished and vulnerable. As for who or what is to blame, her country’s habit of silence vies with a willful blindness outside its borders. But in recent years Ukraine’s writers have rediscovered an older tradition that lay dormant for too long—rich and raucous expression.
A nuanced and implication-laden excavation of a single word—sibboleth. This questioning becomes a way to grapple not only with the gradations of meaning in poet Paul Celan, but also to underscore the huge importance of the smallest shifts and displacements of language, how meaning can teeter on the fulcrum of a syllable.
Subtle psychic shifts turn a when—a time of young love—into a where. The past is a place left behind in literal increments, “a long bus ride home alone, small town to small town,” the destination in the end taking the form of a realization that keeps renewing itself.
Recursive to the point of near-inanity, “Jury Duty” plays the formal public process of peer deliberations against the doubts and vexations that bedevil a jury’s progress toward the receding mirage of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If the world is, as Wittgenstein proposed, “everything that is the case,” then we surely live in a multi-verse.
The intensities of kinship in Carlson-Wee’s poem are underscored by the slippery shifting and merging of pronouns—you, me—and somehow driven home by the counterpointing lurchings of a train moving through a city in the night. The evoking of place and sensation is so very precise, while the negotiation of the bonds of relationship remains suggestively mysterious.
Syncopation marks out the momentum and the shape of impulse in these short poems. It’s as if we’ve been given special access to the accelerating run of breath and heart, find ourselves suddenly present at two very different occasions of surrender.
translated from the German by Eldon Reishus
We’ve all readied ourselves for this examination, though possibly only in those dreams that we wake from in a sweat, thanking the kind gods that we are not really being called. How much depends here on the intuitions of faceless power, and the readiness—worse, willingness—to comply.
A tribute to Armenian-born painter Arshile Gorky, Davis’s poem uses color and punctuations of imagery and lore to mark out what might be called the space of painterly imagination. The nouns are artfully distributed and balance like the discrete pendants of a mobile.
Consider the humble aphorism, its compressed lyricism, its sly swift strike . . . Character-brevity is by no means the brevity of character, and is often enough its reverse. Aphorisms—as we see in this culling from Lababidi—are the distillation of reflection into provocation.
Kazarian explores the complex relation between trauma and the possibilities of lyric fragmentation in the essays of Peter Balakian. Despite a generation separating reviewer and critic, the resonance of a shared heritage—the weight of Armenian history—can be felt throughout.
The presence of the “satyr of the sideburns” is ongoing in the collective American psyche, and his encore appearance in Ruescher’s “Dedication” is occasion for a witty, period-soaked inventory of his far-flung fanbase. It’s hard not to smile at the image of “those femme fatales who were born that way / Slurping frappes through straws at clean-cut soda fountains / In streetcar suburbs.”
The power of writing to express inwardness—this we know. But how does expressed inwardness then turn its energies back onto the writer? How does that writer then navigate the often dizzying shifts between his written past and his brooding present? Can we ever really rid ourselves of the traces we’ve made—on paper or in the world?
Not likely to ever be an Olympic event, women’s tree climbing remains a minority sport. But what intense energies are exerted, and what care goes into establishing relative levels of ascension. Where are the men? It’s a question that Phifer-Byrne’s poem does try to answer.
Signification, the capacity of words to embody what they name, is the subtle animating principle in these poems, both of which play with the power of naming and, at the same time, consider the ambiguous spaces created when words are forgotten or repressed.
Just as an apple can conceal the shape of a feasting worm, so the folksy homespun of a Tennessee wedding is packed here with sly surprise. McGlynn wields a devious wickedness that gets us quickly behind the facades of decorum—a whole future of wedded “bliss” is glimpsed in a few perfectly orchestrated turns of phrase.
A letter written to register a consumer complaint opens a digressive path into a psyche that has possibly begun to lose its moorings. But the voice prevails, its comical aggrieved bravado trumping the sense of slippage—though it’s also hard to shake the sensation that a tugged bit of yarn might eventually unravel the scarf.
Such an unearthly dilation is found right here on terra firma as we glide on the moving walkway, and Carolyn Guinzo takes advantage of the possibilities of that receptivity. What happens? A fly, some finches, some ants—their scaled-down doings are suddenly magnified in the imagination. Reading, we feel departure, then arrival, both part of a traveler’s momentary business.