Posts Tagged ‘David Sanders’

David Sanders: “And the moment? Well, moments are always disappearing.”

Thursday, September 15th, 2016
Share
sanders-2010

The poet, editor, publisher David Sanders

I met David Sanders many years ago. The occasion was the West Chester Poetry Conference – but circa when? The year 2000, I think, at an evening celebration at the home of the conference’s co-founder, Michael Peich. I don’t remember what the two of us were discussing so earnestly. I simply remember standing on the back porch with David, his cigarette embers glowing in the dark, a sea of crickets somewhere in the distance, and the orange tip of light making circles as he gestured. He was the director of Ohio University Press/Swallow Press then, and I thought of him as publisher, not a poet. Later, he became the founding editor Poetry News in Review at The Prairie Schooner – the Book Haven has discussed it here.

Recently, however, I was pleased to see the more personal side of the poet emerge, with the publication of his collection Compass & Clock. (The title does not refer to a poem in the collection – why the title then? Perhaps because one measures space, the other time.)

Poet, actor, and editor David Yezzi called the collection “the strongest new book of poems I have read in quite some time.” Poet Joshua Mehigan noted that the poet’s “kind, observant clarity can lull you into a sense of ease, even as he lays open the poignancy and diverse fascinations of existing on earth.” According to poet Andrew Hudgins, “Sanders knows well it is love itself that makes us miss and mourn the things we’ve lost.”

Here’s one on a topic we’re all too familiar with, the quotidian effects of death on the living – written, curiously, in first person, from the p.o.v. of the dead:

sanders-bookHousekeeping

The living pack us up.
Now that we have gone and died
it’s comforting to them
to know what’s left is tucked inside

a box, an urn, or closet
where memories, like dreams, abound.
They tend to the mess
our dying first has left around.

(Letters dried to mica,
clothes gone further out of style,
souvenirs of us
in storage, kept a little while.)

They allow themselves sadness,
drifting near this windy border.
But grief has raked out its embers,
which cool and die among the order.

His poem “Lascaux” naturally caught my eye – I recognized immediately which poem he honors when he writes “after Miłosz.” The Nobel poet’s very early 1936 poem, “Encounter” is the first in his Collected Poems. You can read it here to see the Polish maestro’s earlier treatment of the same idea. One poet answers another through time. Here’s David’s unusual take:

Lascaux

Jacques Marsal, who as a boy discovered the prehistoric paintings of the Lascaux cave with three friends and became the cave’s guardian for life, died Saturday after a long illness.

lascaux_megaloceros– (AP) July 17, 1989

The first day, his dog disappeared in the forest,
lost down a hole. The next, exploring with friends,
he found the cave – leaping stags, buffalo,
prehistoric horses.
.                         Alone a moment, one French boy lived
a dream boys dream: to stand at the place
where for thousands of years no one has been.

That was 1940. Boy and dog are dead.
And the moment? Well, moments are always disappearing.

.                         after Miłosz

Translating Orhan Pamuk: “I was, without knowing it, putting myself into a trance.”

Sunday, January 18th, 2015
Share
iwatakerie006

Cahier’s illustrations by Rie Iwatake.

“Translators, like editors, are the lieutenants of culture,” my friend and former publisher David Sanders recently reminded me. I wrote about one of these lieutenants in my most recent post here. Perhaps that’s what inspired me to finally open Angry in Piraeus, the most recent offering from the Cahiers Series (we’ve written about it here and here, among other places). It had long languished in a pile of books and periodicals waiting for my attention. The excellent Cahiers Series is a project of the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris, and despite the international kudos, is still too little known.

Museum-of-InnocenceMaureen Freely, the author of this 37-page essay, is known for her translations of the Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, but she is also a novelist in her own right. Her family moved to Turkey when she was a child, and Pamuk was a school chum – hence, the second career in translation. According to the Sylph Editions website, which publishes the Cahiers Series: “Angry in Piraeus is the story of the creation of a translator. In this cahier, Maureen Freely explores what it was in her childhood that led her to become a traveler across the spaces that exist between countries, languages, and forms. She offers rich descriptions of her itinerant upbringing in America, Turkey, and Greece, vividly evoking what it means to be constantly commuting between worlds – geographical, conceptual, linguistic, and literary – in search of a home, or a self, that is proving elusive.”

In Angry in Piraeus, she writes the delicate tightrope act between her stories and the stories of others, and the different worlds translation creates.”When I am questioned about my ‘fidelity’ to the text I live to serve, what I can never quite manage to explain is this: if I am to be faithful to anything in the opening passage of a novel, or a short story, or a memoir, it will be to its mood. It will be to the trance it sets up, the sız sız sız, the magic trick that takes the reader through the page and into the secret realm beyond.”

Orhan_Pamuk

Author under fire.

Translation, she writes, is the “slowest, deepest, and most intimate form of reading.” Her relationship with her the childhood friend becomes strained as she translates from his Istanbul and into her own, and then back again – and as he becomes a controversial figure, widely hated in Turkey for his outspoken remarks about the Armenian genocide.

An Excerpt:

By the time I embarked on our fifth and last collaboration. The Museum of Innocence, I had been wandering through the labyrinths of his mind long enough to know their every twist and turn. I had come to accept that everything he wrote had to be anchored in some way in the streets of his childhood. I had also come to understand that, as good as he was at capturing voices, his stories came to him in images. In The Museum of Innocence these images are highly detailed, and meticulously positioned. That order is reflected, and at times even replicated, in his Turkish sentences. I can only imagine the delight he found in creating a text that embedded the conceits of the narrative at the molecular level. At a time in his life when the newspapers printed a new lie about him almost every day, narrative might also have offered some semblance of order. He was not, I think, surprised when I told him he could not exert the same sort of control over a translation. That did not stop him from trying. By that time, he had a lot of clout. I do not think I could have made it through that hellish year, had it not been for the daydream that was always waiting for me, every time I came up for air.

This was the Istanbul that I was slowly beginning to see again, if only to keep breathing. It wasn’t drained of colour, like Orhan’s city. It was golden, and the troubled bourgeoisie that I’d been translating for seven years was nowhere in sight. There were only the wild and beautiful bohemians who had brought me up. Their real-world counterparts were mostly dead and gone, or sacrificed to their bad habits, but in the 1962 of my daydream, they were still living recklessly and getting away with it, beautifully.

When at last I had sent Orhan’s museum off to the publisher, I went back into my own head for what felt at first like a luxury vacation. Little by little, I translated myself out of Orhan’s Istanbul and back into my own. And when I look back on what happened next, I can only think that I must have been using words differently after all those years in translation. I was no longer using the clipped, cut-glass language I had always trusted most. I was letting myself loop and curve across the page. I was, without knowing it, putting myself into a trance. Word by word, I conjured up Istanbul circa 1962. And when I had succeeded in putting myself back there, it turned out not to be the paradise I remembered: the gold was laced with jealousy, confusion, and terror.

 Do yourself a favor and order it here. You’ll even find out what the sız sız sız is.

Another note on a remarkable man: Daniel Weissbort remembered

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
Share
Weissbort2

A gentle spirit and unassuming hero, at the Ars Interpres Poetry Festival in 2006.

If you don’t subscribe to the weekly “Poetry News in Review,” perhaps you should. I get a weekly email notice when the new page goes up on the Prairie Schooner website.  The maestro behind the page is David Sanders – a longtime friend and formerly the director of the Ohio University Press. We met more than a decade ago on Michael Peich‘s back porch at the West Chester Poetry Conference in Pennsylvania…I think.  All I remember was a conversation in the dark, somewhere at some gathering in some state, and the glow of his cigarette, which moved like a firefly as he gesticulated.

From this week’s eloquent “Envoi: Editor’s Notes,” remembering the master translator and poet Daniel Weissbort, who died last month:

There are so many people whose names do not appear on the marquee, even on a marquee as small as that of poetry, that we sometimes don’t think to recognize their achievement in service to the art. Daniel Weissport did have, for some, a recognizable name, but it is through his many contributions as a translator, editor, teacher, and scholar – that is, as a conduit, nearly invisible – by which we recognize him. I remember having breakfast with him once about thirty years ago, when he was a guest of a friend of mine, the translator, John DuVal. What struck me was his engagement and generosity, what seem in retrospect to be common traits among those who are primarily translators. Reading his obituary, I am all the more impressed though not surprised by the connections he fostered, the work he did, and the difference he made.

Read this week’s “Poetry News in Review” here(It also has a nice mention of the Book Haven’s post on Natalia Gorbanevskaya, the Russian dissident poet whose work he translated and championed. She died last week at 77.)

“Corduroy-vested academics” and others consider Mary Jo Bang’s Inferno

Sunday, August 19th, 2012
Share
Luca Signorelli's masterpiece in Orvieto Cathedral

.

Stopped mid-motion in the middle
Of what we call a life, I looked up and saw no sky –
Only a dense cage of leaf, tree, and twig. I was lost.

                                                                 –  Canto I, Inferno (trans. Mary Jo Bang)

I’d heard a bit of the  current buzz over Mary Jo Bang‘s new free-verse, free-wheeling translation of Dante‘s Inferno, published by Graywolf Press.  The commentary I’ve read to date seemed bemused, mostly admiring.  However, Vanity Fair‘s Elissa Schappell warns me that “Bang’s Inferno already has some corduroy-vested academics tugging on their beards with indignation and beetle-browed translators jabbing at their eyes with pencils.”  She offers more hepped-up writing than she does insight about the “thrillingly contemporary translation of the first part (the juiciest part) of Alighieri’s 14th century poem…”  Why is the Inferno considered “the juiciest part”?  Anna Akhmatova kept Doré’s engravings of it on the walls of her Fontanka apartment – but then, she was living in Soviet Russia, a place where the Inferno had a special resonance.  I’ve always taken a shine to the hopeful, redemptive, and comparatively underrated Purgatorio.

I also read  Alexander Nazaryan‘s “What Fresh Hell is This?” in the New York Daily News.  He admits that Bang  “does sacrifice some of the musicality of the original,” but defends her choices:  “Bang has sacrificed some of the faithfulness to Dante’s rhyming structure (which sounds too much like sing-song in English, anyway) and has ditched many, though not all, of Dante’s allusions, in order to preserve something more important: Dante’s meaning.”

Ummm… A good translation of Dante’s terza rima shouldn’t sound like “sing-song,” and I don’t see why I should be restricted to a bread-and-water poetry because some modern readers can’t handle meter.  Poetry, after all, is supposed to be “memorable speech,” and not just because of what the words say, but the means used to say them. And don’t the allusions illustrate the meaning?

He continues:

Bang’s hell is our culture, the numbing proliferation of texts, images, meanings, interpretations. For her, the perfervid busyness of our culture leads to a deadening akin to spiritual numbness. Hence the allusions to everything from Woody Allen‘s “Crimes and Misdemeanors” to the Boy Scouts to frozen Jell-O to the Hotel California – these are the fragments that have shored up against our ruins, to borrow from T.S. Eliot, who knew a thing or two about Dante, and death, and fittingly appears several times in these pages.

Isn’t “spiritual numbness” the same as deadening and not just “akin”?  Editor, please!  Also, Eliot knew much more than “a thing or two” about Dante.

Signorelli’s self-portrait. Fra Angelico has the short hair.

Then David Sanders‘s “Poetry News in Review” in Prairie Schooner alerted me to Arlice Davenport‘s thoughtful and provocative review, A Season in Hell,”  in (of all places) The Wichita Eagle. Davenport begins his review in Luca Signorelli‘s (not Luco, as written in the review) Brizio Chapel in the Orvieto Cathedral, with the artist portraying himself at the Apocalypse, “staring back at us, as if to say: Do you understand the meaning of my masterpiece, that I am painting your destiny here, among the damned and the saved?”

Nazaryan’s review begins: “All translation is modernization. Otherwise, we would have only one Homer, one Cervantes. However subtly, the translator is also an interpolator, making a world far away or long ago familiar to contemporary readers.”  This of course ignores the translation of our contemporaries – do Italo Calvino or Eugenio Montale need “modernization”?  Also, he overlooks the need to triangulate among translations to recapture the achievement of the original.  Similarly, Bang writes:  “Translation is a method of bringing the past back into the present . . . and sharing what is common to all.”

“No, that is history,” Davenport responds. “Translation is not about making the old new, but about creating a spirited equivalency of a literary work in another language.” He continues:

A great translation must contain the original, to be sure, but it must also reshape it into a fresh, artistically integral whole that speaks to the reader directly, powerfully, profoundly in his or her own language. It must enact, in foreign words, the closest approximation of the original it can muster. It must be beautiful, compelling, ensouled.

Translation doesn’t need contemporary bells and whistles to pull this off. It doesn’t need pragmatic theories of art. It genuinely aspires to the heavenly exchange of language, even if it must descend to Hell to get there.

Anything less leaves us feeling cheated, still lost in a dark wood, facing our fears, facing death, facing eternal punishment, and praying for a luminous guide to come our way.

Davenport asks:  Is the spiffy new translation a translation at all?  Then he considers other issues:

As with so many knee-jerk postmodernists, Bang’s poetics hinge on the belief that the “distinction between high culture and popular entertainment has all but ceased to exist.” So she’s free to throw in references to John Coltrane, “South Park,” Emily Dickinson, Andy Warhol, John Wayne Gacy, Stephen Colbert and Woody Allen, whenever it suits her purposes. Her Dante dwells in a pluralist’s paradise, even if he is in Hell.

But to say that contemporary culture no longer recognizes the difference between high and low art is not to say that there is no difference. It simply means that our culture has given up making the effort to sustain the difference. It is (again, ironically) a form of sour grapes.

Let’s look a little closer at Bang’s big idea. Doesn’t the fact that she, an award-winning poet, has to dig 700 years into the past to find a poem worth laboring over ultimately indict the vacuity of contemporary poetry?

Doesn’t her need to focus so intensely on Dante simply reinforce the unshakeable distinction between high and low art? Contemporary poets still idolize the author of “The Divine Comedy” because his grand, celestial achievement overreaches the centuries. His aim is sky high and heart deep: Divine Love and human love, reflected in the radiant visage of Virgil, and fulfilled in the heavenly reunion with Beatrice, his beloved.

Art doesn’t get much higher than that.

I worry about how we review poetry nowadays, and how much reviewers know about poetry at all, and what body of knowledge, experience, and understanding they bring to what they write.  Or do they simply go by their gut?

Postscript 8/20:  From the matchless Jeff Sypeck:  “I find it maddening that in 2012, Vanity Fair can’t provide us with a simple link so we know which ‘corduroy-vested academics’ are supposedly ‘tugging on their beards with indignation’ and which ‘beetle-browed translators’ are ‘jabbing at their eyes with pencils.’ It’s summer, and the book’s was out for a only week when the Vanity Fair blog post went live. Few academics, and certainly not the stereotypes who stumbled into Schappell’s article from early 1950s New England, have even read the book yet.”

Postscript on Dana Gioia – beyond the “businessman, statesman, poet”

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
Share

At Stanford commencement, 2007 (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Dana Gioia has been making the rounds: on April 26, he gave a reading from his new collection, Pity the Beautiful, at The Corner Bookstore in Manhattan (93rd Street and Madison Avenue).

David Sanders‘s Poetry News in Review, now included in the electronic pages of the Prairie Schooner here, tipped me off on where to find the text of poet David Lehman‘s introduction to the reading that night, titled “The Businessman, the Statesman, and the Poet.”

I’m glad for the opportunity to include an excerpt the day before Dana’s appearance at Kepler’s in Menlo Park, (Wednesday, May 2nd, at 7 p.m.)  It wouldn’t do to talk about Dana without mentioning his personal generosity.

In his introduction, Lehman,  editor for The Best American Poetry series, praises Dana’s “unflagging energy and stringent work ethic [that] remain an inspiration to his friends” – true, true – then describes his ambitious agenda as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.  “It is safe to say that not since Archibald MacLeish headed the Library of Congress has a poet worked so hard, and accomplished so much of value, in so prominent a position in the federal government.”

Lehman continues:

“I like to remember the day in 2003 when Dana came to New York and we had coffee at the Cornelia Street Café. Dana told me about the National Book Festival he was organizing for the fall and he asked me to help him make a presentation of American poetry. There would be a brunch at the White House that my wife, Stacey, and I could attend. I said: My mother – It would mean a lot to her, a holocaust refugee, then 88, to come. Dana took the cell phone out of his pocket and made a call and five minutes later my mother was on the guest list. The day we visited the White House was one of the happiest days in her life, and for that I will always have Dana to thank.”

Read the whole thing here.

Robert Bly’s long epilogue with Alzheimer’s Disease

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012
Share

Then

I met Robert Bly years before Iron John: A Book About Men made him internationally famous, long before he was taken up as the popular bard of the New Age movement.  Well, long before there was a New Age movement.  The Michigan Daily archives undoubtedly has the article I wrote in the huge, yellowed volumes in its dusty library – if the library or the volumes or the dust are still there.

Bly was into “the Great Mothers” then.  When I interviewed the Minnesota poet at the Ann Arbor home where he was staying, he playfully waved some of the masks he had collected and let out mock shrieks.  He had co-founded American Writers Against the Vietnam War some years before and was a prominent antiwar hero.  By then, however, he was caught up with American involvement in Central and South America – a phase that seems to be largely overlooked in the online biographies of him.  It was a fun interview, though, and the reading that he gave beforehand on campus was one of the most exuberant and confrontational I’ve  ever witnessed.

If we were in Central (or was it South?) America, he told us, we wouldn’t be letting him read from the podium as passive spectators.  We would be pushing him aside to read our own poems.  He challenged the students more during a Q&A period.  The takeaway quote I remember:  “It is better to pick one red pepper from a street market in Chile than to watch an hour-long documentary about the country.”  The favoring of experience over knowledge … evidently, I took that message to heart over the subsequent years.

So I was sorry to hear, via David Sanders“Poetry News” in Prairie Schooner that the poet has Alzheimer’s.  His daughter, Mary Bly, told Minnesota Public Radio:

You know he’s very happy. So… not very happy but he’s happy. So I’m very grateful that he’s not experienced the personality changes that sometimes accompany that sort of loss. But it’s sad, it’s very very hard for someone whose life is made up of looking at a tree and turning it into a poem – so your whole life flows by you in words – to not be able to manipulate words is a terrible thing.

At Minnesota's "Poetry Out Loud" in 2009 (Photo: Creative Commons)

For a good part of my childhood my dad was working on short prose poetry. And he used to make us – the children had to do it along with him! Our dinners were often made up of impromptu poetry readings. So in a way this was my tribute year to him, too, because that’s the kind of writing he did when I was growing up. He worked very hard on very small sets of words.

…My stepmother was talking about watching a video of him – and he sparked with ideas all the time – and he hasn’t lost his sense of humor so he said “I like that guy!” And then he said “I wish I knew him.” So it was very hard for my stepmother in that moment. But he’s both recognizing what’s happening – his sense of humor is not gone at all – and acknowledging that life has different phases.

I met up with Bly again decades later at Stanford in 2008, but by then I was different and older, and he seemed curiously (perhaps deceptively) the same, although his hair was pure silver, and he seemed more a grandfatherly figure to the students.  He turned to the young poet wannabes and cackled conspiratorially, “You can’t tell this to your parents.”  Of course, he was a parent by then, and so was I, so the comment seemed oddly nostalgic.

I spoke to him privately, during a break in the class, and told him of our meeting decades ago.  For a moment our eyes met, and he seemed curiously vulnerable, aware of the mask he was wearing that had somehow grown to him, the name and fame he carried like a heavy backpack, and could no longer put down.

Joseph Brodsky monument: It’s the thought that counts.

Friday, July 8th, 2011
Share

There'll be bird poop on his face within a week.

I don’t care for the likeness, but I do rather like the chutzpah of the sculptor, Georgy Frangulyan.  His proposed statue of Joseph Brodsky lost a contest in the Nobel poet’s native St. Petersburg, and earlier was the subject of frenzied internet opposition.  So he up and decided to put the statue up on his own dime (or ruble) … in Moscow.

“It is my own personal monument,” said Frangulyan. “I didn’t have a choice, as there was a crisis and all those who had promised money withdrew.”

Late for the train, John?

Frangulyan wouldn’t say exactly how much it cost, but priced it at a few million dollars.  Since the sculptor is fronting the money for the project out of his own pocket, without anyone buying the statue, I don’t know how he would assess its value.  Materials?  I doubt he had that kind of money to invest.  Labor?  He puts a high price on himself.  Usually, the value of artwork is determined by someone making a bid.  But if these are the new rules, this post is worth $50K, and I expect you all to start chucking money at me.

As for the locale, Moscow worthies decided to put it across from the U.S. Embassy:  “We looked for a place for a long time,” said Alexander Kuzmin, Moscow chief architect, in 2007. “We looked to see where the relatives of the poet lived. Then we asked ourselves a question: What most of all links Brodsky and Moscow? And we understood – the American embassy, from there he left the U.S.S.R.”

The Russia Beyond the Headlines article, here (with a hat tip to Dave Lull) is a masterpiece for what is left unsaid. The article states that “Brodsky actually left for Vienna, initially…”  Well, no, the government had a policy of shipping its unwanted Jews to Israel.  Vienna was merely the stopover where he bailed, with Russian scholar and friend Carl Proffer, and headed for the U.S. instead.  The article notes that he never visited his parents again after his exile.  Well, no, he didn’t.  Even though he petitioned repeatedly, with increasing desperation, to get them a visa.  He even wrote about it, bitterly.

Nearby are sculpted silhouettes of twelve people in two groups, but Brodsky is obeying a shopworn convention of the otherworldly poet, staring into the sky, abstracted, not watching to see if he is stepping into pigeon crap.

According to the article:

Frangulyan said it shows how a poet is alone but with a circle of followers. “Some people go through life like a shadow and some become individuals,” he said.

Well, okay.  Whatever.  But the look on his face is, well, a little disdainful.  Like he’s looking down his honker at everyone.

David Sanders suggested that he was on the lookout for overhead pigeons.  The first well-targeted pigeon bombing should dispel that one.  It’s likely to land on his prominent nose.  He won’t see coming: his eyes are closed, if you look closely at the face.

I have another explanation:  He’s finally back in the new Russia – but he is stubbornly refusing to look at it.

For purposes of comparison, here’s a statue of John Betjemin in the square where I lived briefly some years ago.  He also, is looking up – but looks rather confused, and lost in the St. Pancras/Kings Cross Station, and maybe late for a train.

Postcript on 7/10:  David Sanders, in his emailed Poetry News in Review, had this more sagacious comment, which humbled me mid-snark: “Maybe it’s time for a renaissance in publicly memorializing poets and writers through the strategic placement of their likenesses, if only in hopes that it will prolong the life of their words, raise their public profiles (so to speak), and give them equally footing with our other heroes. For some of us, these men and women are our heroes.”

“Only silence is innocent”: Zagajewski on Rilke, irony, and the future of poetry

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011
Share

they warm themselves...

Kraków sustains a steady descant through the pages of Adam Zagajewski‘s new collection, Unseen Hand – most often, it’s Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter where I stayed in May:

In the Church of Corpus Christi I lit candles for my dead,
who live far off – I don’t know where
– and I sense they warm themselves in the red flame too
like the homeless by a fire when the first snow falls.

That’s Corpus Christi, outside my window in Wolnica Square.  And one poem for St. Catherine’s Church, and at least three references to Jozef Street, catty-corner to Wolnica Square.  “Joseph Street in Winter,” is dedicated to Joachim Russek, the head of the Judaica Foundation, a tutelary spirit for my first trip several years ago:

In winter Joseph Street is dark,
a few pilgrims flounder through wet snow
and don’t know where they’re going, to which star,

And two references to pigeons – charitable, because I know Adam finds them contemptible.  It was the subject of our first discussion when we met in Rynek Główny, which was swarmed with pigeons.

He didn't like the pigeons.

I actually “met” Adam during an online interview six or seven years ago for an article that was published Poetry Foundation article).  But much of the short interview never made it to the final piece.  For example, I asked him what gave rise, to a generation of giants:

“Good question. I have many contradictory explanations. One of the main ones is that the attention given to the meaning of human life in radical circumstances  (as opposed to the hermetic direction, or to a purely formal quest) in Polish poetry after the WWII catastrophe was a very important move: it gave the dying Modernism a new energy. It ‘rehumanized’ a highly sophisticated but a bit empty palace of modern poetry.”

On irony:

“Well, the disease of irony seems to be well identified. I adore irony as a part of our rich rhetorical and mental apparatus but not when it assumes the position of a spiritual guidance. How to cure it? I wish I knew.”

"We'll be living in small ghettos..."

He has earned my own fealty, not only for his poetry, but for his many kindnesses.  So I was pleased when I read on Ann Kjellbergs website for her journal Little Star, a lengthy excerpt from his introduction to Edward Snow’s translations of Rainer Maria Rilke. (It was also excerpted by Poetry Daily here.) Adam is much in demand for introductions, blurbs, reviews, and essays.  This introduction is one of his best (I excerpt from Ann’s excerpts – and by the way, thank you, David Sanders, for pointing out the piece in Poetry News in Review):

“We have a new sorrow today: after the terrible catastrophes of the twentieth century, after the disasters that entered both our memory and imagination, we tread gingerly at the point where poetry meets society; “Don’t walk beyond this line,” as the sign on every jetliner’s wing warns us. And yet the central issue for us is probably the question of whether the mystery at the heart of poetry (and of art in general) can be kept safe against the assaults of an omnipresent talkative and soulless journalism and an equally omnipresent popular science—or pseudo-science. It also has a lot to do with the weighing of the advantages and vices of mass culture, with the influence of mass media, and with a difficult search for genuine expression inside the commercial framework that has replaced older, less vulgar traditions and institutions in our societies. In this respect, it’s true, poets have less to fear than their friends the painters, especially the successful ones, who, because of the absurd prices their works can now command, will never see their canvases in the houses of their fellow artists, in the apartments of people like themselves, only in vaults belonging to oil or television moguls who don’t even have time to look at them. Still, the stakes of the debate and its seriousness are not very different and not less important than a hundred years ago.

We know that the main domain of poetry is contemplation, through the riches of language, of human and nonhuman realities, in their separateness and in their numerous encounters, tragic or joyful. Rilke’s powerful Angel standing at the gates of the Elegies, timeless as he is, is there to guard something that the modern era—which gave us so much in other fields—took away from us or only concealed: ecstatic moments, for instance, moments of wonder, hours of mystical ignorance, days of leisure, sweet slowness of reading and meditating. Ecstatic moments—aren’t they one of the main reasons why poetry readers cannot live without Rilke’s work? I mean here readers of contemporary poetry who otherwise are mostly kept on a rather meager diet of irony. The Angel is timeless, and yet his timelessness is directed against the deficiencies of a certain epoch. So is Rilke: timeless and deeply immersed in his own historic time. Not innocent, though: only silence is innocent, and he still speaks to us.”

From my interview (I had cited this in an earlier post last fall, when Adam’s name came up again for a Nobel), when I asked him about the future of poetry and poetry-lovers in the world of tweets and sound bites he said this:

“We’ll be living in small ghettos, far from where celebrities dwell, and yet in every generation there will be a new delivery of minds that will love long and slow thoughts and books and poetry and music, so that these rather pleasant ghettos will never perish — and one day may even stir more excitement than we’re used to now.”

By the by,  Patrick Kurp of Anecdotal Evidence has a review of Unseen Hand here.

“Not poetry, but the idea of poetry”: Charles Bernstein disses National Poetry Month

Sunday, April 17th, 2011
Share

Bernstein has a counterproposal

Courtesy of David Sanders‘s weekly Poetry News in Review, another diss for National Poetry Month, this time from language poet Charles Bernstein, who points out that the whole bland endeavor “not poetry but the idea of poetry, and the idea of poetry too often has meant almost no poetry at all.”

National Poetry Month is about making poetry safe for readers by promoting examples of the art form at its most bland and its most morally “positive.” The message is: Poetry is good for you. But, unfortunately, promoting poetry as if it were an “easy listening” station just reinforces the idea that poetry is culturally irrelevant and has done a disservice not only to poetry deemed too controversial or difficult to promote but also to the poetry it puts forward in this way. “Accessibility” has become a kind of Moral Imperative based on the condescending notion that readers are intellectually challenged, and mustn’t be presented with anything but Safe Poetry. As if poetry will turn people off to poetry.

That’s just the beginning.  He notes that some of the sponsors who have backed the Academy of American Poets‘ National Poetry month are among the corporate chains that have driven small presses and independent bookstores out of business.  Then he goes on a tear:

“I also note this year that The New York Times is a major sponsor of National Poetry Month; but if the Times would take seriously the task of reviewing poetry books and readings, it would be doing a far greater service to poetry than advertising its support for National Poetry Month. The whole thing strikes me as analogous to cigarette makers sponsoring a free emphysema clinic.”

He suggests an anti-poetry month, with full-page ads:
.
Go ahead, don’t read any poetry.
You won’t be able to understand it anyway:
the best stuff is all over your head.

And there aren’t even any commercials to liven up the action.

Anyway, you’ll end up with a headache trying to figure out
what the poems are saying because they are saying
NOTHING.

Who needs that.

Better go to the movies.

Bad taste in my mouth, on the page: Donald Hall, Sarah Palin, and WaPo

Thursday, March 10th, 2011
Share
No caption needed.

No caption needed.

Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post gives us more evidence that she is not a class act, though after her rather tasteless derision of the octogenarian poet Donald Hall receiving the National Medal of Arts last week, we really needed no further proof.  I posted about David Sanders‘s comments in “Poetry News in Review” on March 7, and the post was picked up by (among other places) the conservative Weekly Standard.

When Sarah Palin tweeted about Petri’s “caption contest,” I feared it might become a political football, and I was right. A fundamentally human issue fell into the mighty left-wing/right-wing chasm that now disfigures this country’s public discourse.

Petri grabbed the low-hanging fruit.  In her blog post, she reveals:

“My first thought on hearing that Sarah Palin had tweeted this in response to something I’d written was: ‘Oh no, she’s read the Justin Bieber coverage.’

After all, I frequently wake up in cold sweats from dreams in which I am reprimanded by Sarah Palin for writing too much about Justin Bieber — or vice versa. This is the single most shameful thing that can happen to anyone, ever, including wearing white after labor day while being Charlie Sheen.”

While I’m not a fan of the Alaskan governor, she (or whoever wrote the tweet for her) happened to be right on this one.

However, Petri appears to be one of those people who only opens her mouth to change feet.  Hence, she continues:

Meh.

“Still, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, Sarah Palin et al., but caption contests have been around for a while. They fall, like rain, on the just and the unjust alike. From the sounds of the coverage, you would think I’d gone to Mr. Hall’s home with a megaphone and read ‘Sudden Things’ in a snide voice, or that caption contests were a new invention, designed explicitly to bedevil old gentlemen with rich life experiences who wind up in amusing snapshots.”

Nice to see you googled Donald Hall to read one of his works, Ms. Petri – not his best effort, but I don’t expect you’d know the difference, given the cultural interests you’ve cited.  In any case, we’d prefer you’d stuck to Justin Bieber and Charlie Sheen.  Caption contests don’t fall “like rain,” they are developed by writers, approved by editors, and then read by the public.  This isn’t a big issue – and I certainly didn’t expect a moment of conscience from you – but it’s worth noting, which is why I took time to write about it.  I had hoped for better from your editors.

“Maybe this is a good time to explain the concept.

“A caption contest presents you with a photo. (Sarah, a photo is basically like a TLC series about you, but sometimes it can show you in an unflattering light.) Then, the people who see this photo attempt to write something called a caption, the goal of which is to provoke laughter in the people who read it with the photo.”

Donald Hall receives honor from Pres. Obama

Yes, Ms. Petri, we gathered that was the point.  That’s why many people wrote about their dismay and your lack of respect for people who are clearly your betters.  We were appalled by the low cultural level your writing represents for a once-great national newspaper.  We were repelled by the ageism you encouraged in the comments. When you offered, in today’s post, your own picture, for more funny captions, we are puzzled by your lack of self-respect as well.  But it explains a lot.  Really.

“I’ve written more than a dozen pieces about Palin herself, who is like cocaine except that there are rare occasions when cocaine might make your writing better.”

Whatever it takes, Alex.  Whatever it takes.

Postscript: Mark Bauerlein at The Chronicle of Higher Education weighs in: “It must be read to be believed.”  Read more here.

Postscript #2:  Frank Wilson at Books Inq throws in his 2 cents:

[Petri] certainly appears either incapable or unwilling to grasp that the problem was not with her having a caption contest, but with her choice of photo, which was of a person deserving respect, not derision. So let’s help: You were making fun of a frail old man, Alex, for no other reason than that he looked frail and old. Most people regard doing such as in terrible taste. Don’t hide behind Sarah Palin. Go take a course in remedial manners.