Haiku by whom?

Recently, there was a literary scandal when a poem by Yi Fen Chu, chosen for inclusion in Best American Poetry 2015, turned out to be written by Michael Hudson, who said the poem had been rejected 40 times when submitted under his own name; he then got the idea of the Yi Fen Chu alias. Under that name, Prairie Schooner accepted the poem and it made it to the “best” volume. It’s pseudonymity highlighted the current literary bias towards publishing minority, disenfranchised, or foreign writers.

yasusadaIn the discussion, an older, more complex work came up: the two volumes, one of letters, one of poetry, allegedly by a Japanese survivor of Hiroshima, Akiri Yasusada, whose family was devastated by the blast.

After high profile reviews and excerpts from the volumes, his identity turned out to be the biggest literary fraud since Thomas Chatterton’s impersonation of Thomas Rowley, an imaginary monk of the 15th century, complete with fragments on parchment. But was it a fraud, or a construct designed to be discovered? Continue reading “Haiku by whom?”

Reading to each other

noonanSince we were first together, Larry and I have read to each other–over breakfast, while making dinner, or just when something good struck the eye.  This morning, we were both reading different articles by Peggy Noonan. I read him this, from her article about learning her craft in the Wall Street Journal:

“In 1980, the Mount St. Helens volcano in Washington state erupted. It really blew, with an eruption plume that was 15 miles high; it spread ash along a dozen states. It was my job, over those days, to call everyone I could think of nearby or in surrounding towns to do audiotape interviews about what they had seen, experienced, and what was the latest.

erruptionOne morning, a week or so into the story, I tracked down a guy who knew what was going on near the volcano…he told me that the biggest problem right now was the long lines at the post office. Everyone in town was picking up volcanic ash and putting it in envelopes and mailing it to their friends. The ash was slipping out of the envelopes and clogging the machines. I found this comic and lovely—how do we respond to disasters? we get mementos!—but I thought it insufficiently serious for a sober network news broadcast, so I didn’t give it to my editor to use.

…I mentioned it to our morning anchor, a young man named Charles Osgood, who was famous for writing the news with cleverness and wit. The minute that I told him about the post office, Charlie’s ears perked up. Put that on top, he said.

I was startled. I thought it was just a little story that would be interesting to us. But he knew that something interesting to us is likely to be interesting to everyone. And though it was a small anecdote, it said a lot about the mood around Mount St. Helens: It tells us the emergency is over and human nature has kicked in.”

And this: Continue reading “Reading to each other”

An exemplary sentence

sim2Georges Simenon is known better for his Inspector Maigret novels than his darker, more literary “romans durs.” The latter present a bleak, existential universe without much pleasure. But the short who-done-its are restful to read. The world is orderly, and Maigret is in charge. The best thing about them, aside from the brooding, intuitive Maigret, is the occasional paragraph like this. It is dawn in Paris after an all night investigation:

“All around them, workmen were eating their croissants, still sleepy-eyed, and the early morning mist spangled their overcoats with moisture. It was chilly. In the streets, each passer-by was preceded by a little cloud of steam. Windows were lighting up, one after the other, on the different floors of all the houses.” Continue reading “An exemplary sentence”

Not exactly a poem

But when I was thinking about what poem to post today, I remembered this as a poem and went searching for it:

heineMine is a most peaceable disposition. My wishes are: a humble cottage with a thatched roof, but a good bed, good food, the freshest milk and butter, flowers before my window, and a few fine trees before my door; and if God wants to make my happiness complete, he will grant me the joy of seeing some six or seven of my enemies hanging from those trees. Before death I shall, moved in my heart, forgive them all the wrong they did me in their lifetime. One must, it is true, forgive one’s enemies– but not before they have been hanged.

Heinrich Heine

Unfortunately, no one seems to list the translator, so they remain without credit


Dorothy Parker

parkerShe was famous for her wit, and her boss at the New Yorker, Harold Ross, was famous for his penury.  Larry read me a quip Parker made when Ross was berating her  because one of her assignments was late:

“I’m sorry,” Parker said, “But someone else was using the pencil.”

Fall garden

Because of the drought, I didn’t plant a summer garden, but everyone’s predicting massive rains this winter, so I turned on the irrigation and started seeds in flats. I use old plant holders or egg cartons, or anything that holds dirt. I set them in something that retains the water and keep them wet. I started these four days ago, and already I see little seed leaves from the lettuce and  zinnias.

2015-10-14 10.56.55

Continue reading “Fall garden”

Verde que te quiero verde

The first poet I read in translation who captured my imagination was Federico García Lorca (his full name is Federico del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús García Lorca, or Federico Sacred Heart of Jesus García Lorca!).  I knew nothing about Franco, the Falangists, the Guardia Civil, or the Spanish Civil War, and less about surrealism in poetry. Perhaps I knew that they existed, but had no sense of their weight or meaning. But somehow the slim bilingual volume of his selected poems (thanks to Donald Allen) found its way to me when I was 18. The music of these poems led me to learn about him, his execution, and the forces at play in Europe of the thirties.

Here is the poem I loved most in that volume, without trying to make sense of it.

lorcaBallad of the Sleepwalker

Green, how I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
The ship out on the sea
and the horse on the mountain.
With the shade around her waist
she dreams on her balcony,
green flesh, her hair green,
with eyes of cold silver.
Green, how I want you green.
Under the gypsy moon,
all things are watching her
and she cannot see them.

Green, how I want you green.
Great stars of frost
appear with the fish of shadow
that opens the road of dawn.
The fig tree rubs its wind
with the sandpaper of its branches,
and the forest, cunning cat,
bristles its brittle fibers.
But who will come? And from where?
She is still on her balcony
green flesh, her hair green,
dreaming in the bitter sea.

–My friend, I want to trade
my horse for her house,
my saddle for her mirror,
my knife for her blanket.
My friend, I come bleeding
from the gates of Cabra.
–If it were possible, my boy,
I’d help you fix that trade.
But now I am not I,
nor is my house now my house.
–My friend, I want to die
decently in my bed.
Of iron, if that’s possible,
with blankets of fine chambray.
Don’t you see the wound I have
from my chest up to my throat?
–Your white shirt has grown
thirsty dark brown roses.
Your blood oozes and flees a
round the corners of your sash.
But now I am not I,
nor is my house now my house.
–Let me climb up, at least,
up to the high balconies;
Let me climb up! Let me,
up to the green balconies.
Railings of the moon
through which the water rumbles.

Now the two friends climb up,
up to the high balconies.
Leaving a trail of blood.
Leaving a trail of teardrops.
Tin bell vines
were trembling on the roofs.
A thousand crystal tambourines
struck at the dawn light.

Green, how I want you green,
green wind, green branches.
The two friends climbed up.
The stiff wind left
in their mouths, a strange taste
of bile, of mint, and of basil
My friend, where is she–tell me–
where is your bitter girl?
How many times she waited for you!
How many times would she wait for you,
cool face, black hair,
on this green balcony!
Over the mouth of the cistern
the gypsy girl was swinging,
green flesh, her hair green,
with eyes of cold silver.
An icicle of moon
holds her up above the water.
The night became intimate
like a little plaza.
Drunken “Guardias Civiles”
were pounding on the door.
Green, how I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
The ship out on the sea.
And the horse on the mountain.

For those of you who like to see the original language, here it is. I don’t think you have to know Spanish to enjoy it:

Romance Sonámbulo

Verde que te quiero verde.
Verde viento. Verdes ramas.
El barco sobre la mar
y el caballo en la montaña.
Con la sombra en la cintura
ella sueña en su baranda,
verde carne, pelo verde,
con ojos de fría plata.
Verde que te quiero verde.
Bajo la luna gitana,
las cosas la están mirando
y ella no puede mirarlas.

Verde que te quiero verde.
Grandes estrellas de escarcha
vienen con el pez de sombra
que abre el camino del alba.
La higuera frota su viento
con la lija de sus ramas,
y el monte, gato garduño,
eriza sus pitas agrias.
¿Pero quién vendra? ¿Y por dónde…?
Ella sigue en su baranda,
Verde carne, pelo verde,
soñando en la mar amarga.

–Compadre, quiero cambiar
mi caballo por su casa,
mi montura por su espejo,
mi cuchillo per su manta.
Compadre, vengo sangrando,
desde los puertos de Cabra.
–Si yo pudiera, mocito,
este trato se cerraba.
Pero yo ya no soy yo,
ni mi casa es ya mi casa.
–Compadre, quiero morir
decentemente en mi cama.
De acero, si puede ser,
con las sábanas de holanda.
¿No ves la herida que tengo
desde el pecho a la garganta?
–Trescientas rosas morenas
lleva tu pechera blanca.
Tu sangre rezuma y huele
alrededor de tu faja.
Pero yo ya no soy yo,
ni mi casa es ya mi casa.
–Dejadme subir al menos
hasta las altas barandas;
¡dejadme subir!, dejadme,
hasta las verdes barandas.
Barandales de la luna
por donde retumba el agua.
Ya suben los dos compadres
hacia las altas barandas.
Dejando un rastro de sangre.
Dejando un rastro de lágrimas.
Temblaban en los tejados
farolillos de hojalata.
Mil panderos de cristal
herían la madrugada.
Verde que te quiero verde,
verde viento, verdes ramas.
Los dos compadres subieron.
El largo viento dejaba
en la boca un raro gusto
de hiel, de menta y de albahaca.
¡Compadre! ¿Donde está, díme?
¿Donde está tu niña amarga?
¡Cuántas veces te esperó!
¡Cuántas veces te esperara,
cara fresca, negro pelo,
en esta verde baranda!

Sobre el rostro del aljibe
se mecía la gitana.
Verde carne, pelo verde,
con ojos de fría plata.
Un carámbano de luna
la sostiene sobre el agua.
La noche se puso íntima
como una pequeña plaza.
Guardias civiles borrachos
en la puerta golpeaban.
Verde que te quiero verde.
Verde viento. Verdes ramas.
El barco sobre la mar.
Y el caballo en la montaña.

Poets in translation

jimenezThe other day at lunch a friend and I were talking about the wealth of wonderful poems in translation. Here is one, for which we are indebted to Robert Bly:

I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
And nothing
happens! Nothing….Silence….Waves….

—Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

Juan Ramón Jiménez
translated by Robert Bly

Phil Woods

Optimized.philwoodIt seems to me I first heard of Phil Woods while in college. Now he’s gone, and Larry read me portions of his obituary over breakfast yesterday. According to Larry, who has seen him in person, he was a great story teller.

A story Larry told me was that Phil was playing his first paid gig at a burlesque show and at the break he felt there was something wrong with his saxophone, he wasn’t getting the sound he wanted–the mouthpiece wasn’t right, or the reed was too hard, or the action of keys wasn’t quite right. Continue reading “Phil Woods”