Reader, this is my desk right now:
How often do I start these posts by saying everything’s chaotic? Well, this time I mean it. We’ve (mostly) moved out of the house to have some work done on it and everything’s chaotic. Poetry has not been the first thing on my mind, but I think I can scrape together a roundup. Here we go:
sometimes I think I should avoid all social media now and forever amen But then I read something like Ange Mlinko‘s reflection at FSG’s Work in Progress today, which I never would’ve seen if not for social media, and I think I have to stay on social media now and forever amen.
Mlinko writes, amongst other things, about her own discovery of what a poem is. She writes a little argument against poets needing beautiful places: “Learning another language is a thousand times more useful to poetry than a room with a view” (though, again… I would not look down my nose at a room with a view. I would not.). She reminds us that a poet’s task is not to gush over things. Here are a couple of her definitions of what poetry is, what a poem is:
“Poetry is articulation: conversation and history and the fate of persons.”
“I would no longer think of a poem as an aesthetic object, but as a fragment of an abiding conversation.”
I love this last idea especially. Every poem a fragment. Every poem in a continuum. Read the whole (short and entirely readable) reflection here.
a poet is … or is not. I’m reading Denise Levertov’s translation of Guillevic. I have another, bigger translation of his work, but so far I’m enjoying Levertov’s more, primarily because of her translations, but also because it’s much smaller and more mangeable. I am that kind of reader, I guess: Give me a tome and I’m overwhelmed before I open it; give me smaller and more manageable and I will go in, and deeply.
Anyway, the book is prefaced with remarks by Guillevic about what a poet is and is not. This was written in a time when all was written in the masculine and I’m going to let those references stand without the [sic] [sic] [sic], but feel free to imagine other pronouns, whichever fit your life. Here’s what he says:
“For the poet is he who has the power to make with the language of his country certain combinations which other men need in order to find themselves, to find the world—to live.”
“For poets, there is a road that must be travelled in order to arrive at living on the true side of life, that side of it one can finally affirm… .”
“(W)hen I say here, poet, I do not mean versifier, but that man who writes a tortured language in which other men—and the language itself—can recognize themselves as true.”
I can sign up for that.
and so there came to me sorrow Here is a beautifully sad little poem of Guillevic’s that I keep returning to (it is untitled, but bears the dedication: a Colomba (to Colomba; and that a should have a little left-leaning tag above it in the French).
I had married a wand of willow
and so there came to me sorrow.
We never took those long voyages
through clouds towards
a depth of sky.
But I was poised
for moments or for eternity
like water in water.
—And now the time comes when he must know
who, on the riverbank, has touched
whether it is again he who suffers
so much, and in so many landscapes.
It’s interesting… in a note, Levertov admits to departing from the literal meaning of the second line of the poem, which literally translated would read “and of course the worst one that came along.” For me, her translation loses the humor of Guillevic’s words, but is ever more poignant. I don’t translate, and don’t have a well-formed opinion of whether translators ought to depart from meaning this radically, but in this instance I’m pretty much loving the Levertov translation.
I’m interested in, and frankly a little puzzled by, the shift from first-person (“I”) to third-person (“he”) in the fourth stanza. A little distancing happens in that shift, but you don’t often see this… . What I’m saying is that shift would get nailed in workshop!. But I guess if you’re Guillevic you can get away with it. And I like the quirkiness of it.
Thanks for reading, happy weekend!