Tuesday, July 28, 2015

John Ashbery . . .

The Serious Doll

The kinds of things are more important than the
Individual thing, though the specific is supremely
Interesting. Right? As each particular
Goes over Niagara Falls in a barrel one may
Justifiably ask: Where does this come from?
Whither goes my concern? What you are wearing
Has vanished along with other concepts.
They are lined up by the factory balcony railing
Against blue sky with some clumsy white paper clouds
Pasted on it. Where does the east meet the west?
At sunset there is a choice of two smiles: discreet or serious.
In this best of all possible worlds, that is enough.

fr. Houseboat Days
[Penguin Books, 1977] 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

RIP James Tate

The Blue Booby

The blue booby lives
on the bare rocks
of Galápagos
and fears nothing.
It is a simple life:
they live on fish,
and there are few predators.
Also, the males do not
make fools of themselves
chasing after the young
ladies. Rather,
they gather the blue
objects of the world
and construct from them

a nest—an occasional
Gaulois package,
a string of beads,
a piece of cloth from
a sailor’s suit. This
replaces the need for
dazzling plumage;
in fact, in the past
fifty million years
the male has grown
considerably duller,
nor can he sing well.
The female, though,

asks little of him—
the blue satisfies her
completely, has
a magical effect
on her. When she returns
from her day of
gossip and shopping,
she sees he has found her
a new shred of blue foil:
for this she rewards him
with her dark body,
the stars turn slowly
in the blue foil beside them
like the eyes of a mild savior.

fr. Selected Poems
[Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1991]

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Paul Sampson

A Middle Manager, Newly Dead, Learns That Tibetan Buddhism Is True

Bardo, they call this. Jail is more like it.
"Don't worry," they tell me. "You'll be out in no time."
No time! Little joke there, eternity humor.
Very funny. "No time." Cute. I get it.

So this is the deal: you keep doing it over,
no telling how often. "Get it right, get it perfect,
you can stop, no more troubles." It doesn't sound likely.

And doesn't seem fair. Each "Life," as they call it,
you start over, pig-ignorant, misleading road map,
expected to learn what you missed on the last trip,
in spite of distractions, incessant annoyance,
orders from everyone, dozens of voices,
all claiming authority, threatening punishments,
always enough to keep you off balance.

Then on short notice, it's pack up, it's over.
The return trip is usually painful and scary,
and back in your cubicle at Bardo's Head Office,
you desk has been filling with karmic account books
that need straightening out. "So how was it?" they ask you.
"I scarcely remember. Too short, that's for damn sure,"
and you get down to business, reporting to demons
(this much seems familiar) until the next journey.

The end of it all? The retirement program?
"Nirvana," they tell you. No details to speak of;
"The End of Desire." It had better be worth it.

--Paul Sampson

fr. Dirge in a Resolutely Major Key [Unicorn Press, 2006]

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Rosmarie Waldrop . . .

The Grandeur of the Mountains

Could the grandeur of the mountains be inhaled by a village girl? How fraught the bond between warm-blooded animals. The governing classes had no intention of loosening their grip. The more snow piled up undenied on the snowbank the more shadows of clouds moved across "household slavery." What does it mean to put a word between quotation marks? Thanks to the discoveries of Darwin the structural plan of every species is laid down in two strands.

How wonderfully the air is laid down on shadows. She had left her widowed mother to discover the grandeur of the mountains. Above a certain solitude no trees grow. Snowballing denoted making few concessions to women. What is passed from generation to generation is a structure of detail like the lacing of boots. Whereas inverted commas take their distance from language.

Such as the accessories of light, heat, electricity, laced boots. Soon she was pregnant. The more rapidly commas were snowballing the harder the resolve to maintain symbols of order. For proper understanding use distance from language. Sometimes slight errors occur above a certain solitude. The sense has been shifted, but not cut into mouthfuls.

This air, then, those we call animals suck in by mouthfuls. In October, there was a severe storm among the symbols of order. This is what is known as genetic mutation. Solitude engulfed the accessories. The vast, shifting grandeur of the mountains. Sexual tolerance was confined within commas, suspended within its history, weighted and therefore thought.

The old woman knew her daughter was near her time. Air is decomposed in the lungs and therefore thought. But genes are grouped into larger units called history. The word enclosed within quotation marks is waiting for its moment of revenge. The governing classes did not confine covert storms, but fidelity to one's wife remained a warm-blooded option. No smoke rising in the public realm.

Part of what they inhale is distributed with the arterial blood (warm). The broken door banged backwards and forwards on its hinges. Only in exceptional cases does a mutation enable an organism to adapt more profitably to solitude. She wrapped her daughter in a quilt. The clergy showed themselves unprepared to overturn the institution of "household slavery." He who puts a word in quotation marks can no longer rid himself of it.

--Rosmarie Waldrop

fr. CrossConnect [Vol. 2, issue 3; Feb. 2007]

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Miroslav Holub

The Minotaur's Thoughts on Poetry

Certainly this thing exists. For
on dark nights when, unseen,
I walk through the snail-like windings of the street
the sound of my own roar reaches me
from a great distance.

Yes. This thing exits. For surely
even cicadas were once of gigantic stature
and today you can find mammoths' nests
under a pebble. The earth, of course,
is lighter than it once was.

Besides, evolution is nothing but
a long string of false steps;
and it may happen that a severed head
will sing.

And it's not due, as many believe, to
the invention of words. Blood
in the corners of the mouth is substantially
more ancient and the cores of the rocky planets
are heated by the grinding of teeth.

Certainly this thing exists.
a thousand bulls want to be
And vice versa.

--fr. Intensive Care (Oberlin College Press, 1996)
tr. Ewald Osers

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

On Comments

Comments on this blog page or any of my others are refused, or deleted if they haven't been refused, whenever I find them, if not signed with the commenter's full name: i.e. no first or last names only, no group or organization names, no anonymous. Please feel free to resend a comment if you find that it's gone or unpublished. Sorry to be so fussy, but . . . well, not really. Put your name on what you write.

Halvard Johnson

Friday, March 27, 2015

Alice Fulton

Trouble in Mind

A murdered body's shallow grave.
A ditch that shelters sniper fire.
Who says memory's a friend? Who'd grieve
to find their sleep unrifled, furred

by a select amnesia? Because I thought
recalling all turned all to sense,
I filed my life in pieces, all that
debris changed to meaning, all scenes to signs.

As soldiers dismember weapons to check
on their perfection, I broke the said
and done. Blame's the bullet you catch
between your teeth or worse, inside.

And if some angel dust or peace
pill, busy bee or killer weed
could turn the past to has-been, a poison
shot let bygones be, who wouldn't

try it? The stuff of Agent Orange,
which says the world's no matter, gutting
every ghost within its range.
A jungle of nothing. A forgetting.

fr. Powers of Congress (1990)

Monday, February 23, 2015

David Shapiro


In extreme pain
Q meets T
They walk into a house
And later a double-exposure is sent to S

Somewhere behind the curtains
Uncertainty is laughing
As you ask the yes or no questions
I am moving towards you by analogy

fr. David Shapiro, New and Selected Poems (1965-2006)
     [Woodstock & New York: Woodstock Overlook Press, 2007]

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Paavo Haavikko

fr. The Bowmen (1955)

Statecraft, sagacity
Gone to the mountain council
My lord has planted his banner
We must not go there

And clearly
Alone I am nothing
Come read it now --

Returning to Worms
I take my nail and hammer

The hand touches sky
The foot presses down on the ground
Henceforth may nothing divorce
The hand from the sky
The feet from the ground

On the mountains forever
Winds water and fire
Scorched earth
The elements bringing forth bloodshed
Rebellion war
Plague evil sudden death

Statecraft, sagacity
And also the men in black
Honour cries out for violence
Sagacity's foresight improves
When glasses are reddened by flames

We have not come here
To look into wisdom
But into our hearts
We have all of us come here
Not to display sagacity
But the willingness
To make sacrifices.

--tr. Anselm Hollo

Tomas Tranströmer



The train stopped far to the south. There was snow in New York.
Here you could go about in shirtsleeves the whole night.
But no one was out. Only the cars
flew past in their glare, flying saucers.


'We battlefields who are proud
of our many dead . . .'
said a voice while I wakened.

The man behind the counter said:
'I'm not trying to sell it,
I'm not trying to sell it,
I only want you to look at it.'
And he showed the Indians' axes.

The boy said:
'I know I have a prejudice,
I don't want to be left with it sir.
What do you think of us?'


This motel is a strange shell. With a hired car
(a huge white servant outside the door)
almost without memory and without ploy
at last I can settle on to my point of balance.

--fr. Sounding and Tracks (1966)
tr. Robin Fulton