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Essays, Manifestos, Statements, Speeches, Maxims, Epistles, Diaristic Jottings, Narratives, Natural histories, Poems, Plays, Performances, Ramblings, Revelations, and all such ephemera as may appear necessary to bring society into a slight tremolo of confusion and fright at least.

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Mr. Knife, Miss Fork

No. 2, August 2003
An on-line magazine published by Green Integer
Douglas Messerli, Editor


Valentine de Saint-Point
Translated from the French by Guy Bennett

Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński
Translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston

Nanni Balestrini
Translated from the Italian by Guy Bennett

Henrik Nordbrandt
Translated from the Danish by Thom Satterlee

Joaquín Pasos
Translated from the Spanish by Chris Brandt

Tomas Tranströmer
Translated from the Swedish by Michael James Wine

Wakefulness, John Ashbery
Reviewed by Marjorie Perloff

Questions and Their Retinue: Selected Poems, Hatif Janabi
Reviewed by Douglas Messerli

This Happened Everywhere: Selected Poems, Remco Campert
Reviewed by Douglas Messerli

Life & Death, Robert Creeley Reviewed by Paul Vangelisti

A Geometry, Anne-Marie Albiach Reviewed by Randolph Healy

At Night, beneath Trees, Michael Krüger
Reviewed by Douglas Messerli

Hourglass: The Rhythm of Traces, Giovanna Sandri
Reviewed by Douglas Messerli

Save Twilight: Selected Poems, Julio Cortázar
Reviewed by Gregary J. Racz

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Valentine de Saint-Point [France]

Although little is known in the United States of her career, French poet, novelist, dramatist, and aesthetician Valentine de Saint-Point published extensively in the early part of the 20th century in her home country. Among her many literary works are the collections of poetry Poèms de la Mer et du Soleil, La Guerre, and La Soif et les Mirages; the prose trilogy Trilogie de l’Amour et de la Mort; and fictions such as L’Orbe Pâle and Le Secret des Inquiétudes.
     Her major contributions, however, lay in her theories, as expressed in her 1912 manifesto “Futurist Manifesto of Lust,” her book on Auguste Rodin, her study of women’s theater—La Théâtre de la Femmeand in her argument for a total synthesis of the arts in La Métachorie, presented in  a stage presentation of the same name. The production premiered at La Comédie des Champs Elysées in Paris and was performed in New York at the Metropolitan Opera House in April 1917, when Djuna Barnes interviewed her.
     She often danced as she performed her poetical works.
    Translator Guy Bennett is the author of Last Words and other books of poetry. Among his many translations from the French, Italian, and Russian are Seven Visions by filmmaker Sergei Paradjanov and Operratics by Michel Leiris, both published by Green Integer.

Le Pantin et la Mort
La caverne était sombre et grande l’assemblée.
Au milieu, un pantin, objet de la veillée.
Chacune à son côté, près: moi-même et la Mort,
Chacune le tirant par un bras. Et mon sort
Etait clos en ce masque inanimé, si flasque!
Et, toute, je m’arquais, comme dans la bourrasque,
A la Mort, comme au vent, opposant ma vigueur
Que décuplait mon sang ardant d’être vainqueur.
Si mon effort cédait, certes j’étais perdue;
Ma volonté de vivre était toute tendue.

Mais, du pantin, la Mort arracha la moitié,
L’autre, en mes mains resta. Le peuple convié
Eclata d’un grand rire. Avec son laid trophée,
La Mort s’enfuit… Comment lire ma Destinée?

La foule, après la Mort, peu à peu disparut
A mes yeux sans pensée. Et quand le bruit décrut,
Je regardai ma part du pantin morne et veule,
Dans la caverne obscure, où je demeurai seule.

The Puppet and Death
The cavern was dark and the gathering was great.
In our midst, a puppet, the object of the wake.
We stood on either side of it, myself and Death,
With each one tugging at an arm. My final breath
Was encased in that flaccid, inanimate mask!
With my whole body I bent, as against a blast
Of icy wind, fighting Death with all my vigor,
Which blazed at the thought of emerging the victor.
If I failed in my effort, I knew I was lost;
My will to live grew tense—my life would be the cost.

But then Death ripped the miserable puppet in half—
I held on to my part, The crowd burst out in laugh-
ter. Then seizing its limp, mutilated trophy,
Death fled… and I now feared for my own destiny.

After Death disappeared, the crowd slowly vanished
Before my empty eyes. As the noise diminished,
I looked at my half of the puppet with a moan,
In the cavern grown dark where I stood all alone.

–Translated from the French by Guy Bennett

Les Pantins Dansent
Je mourrai, un jour de fête,
Alors que les pantins dansent.
Je n’entre pas dans leur danse,
Je ne fête pas leurs fête.
Je mourrai, un jour de fête,
Alors que les pantins dansent.

Alors qu’ils crient et qu’ils hurlent
Tous, une gaieté prescrite,
Rien je ne crie ni ne hurle,
Même une vertu proscrite.

Et leur vacarme est si faux
Que je ne puis m’écouter.
Dans un factice, si faux,
Vie ne se peut écouter.

Mon silence, mort au bruit,
Silence pour quoi je vis,
Cela seul par quoi je vis,
Mon silence, mort au bruit.

Ma solitude est si lourde,
Amertume inguérissable!
Solitude riche et lourde,
Solitude inguérissable!

Je mourrai, un jour de fête,
Alors que les pantins dansent.
Je n’entre pas dans leur danse,
Je ne fête pas leurs fêtes.
Je mourrai, un jour de fête,
Alors que les pantins dansent.

The Puppets Do Their Dance
I shall die on a feast day,
While the puppets do their dance.
I do not join in their dance,
I do not mark their feast days.
I shall die on a feast day,
While the puppets do their dance.

While they all scream and cry out
In their prescribed gaiety,
I neither scream nor cry out
In proscribed morality.

And their racket is so false
That my voice cannot be heard.
In an artifice so false,
Life itself cannot be heard.

My silence, the death of noise,
The silence for which I live,
That alone by which I live,
My silence, the death of noise.

Heavy is my solitude,
Its bitterness is fatal;
Rich and heavy solitude,
My solitude is fatal!

I shall die on a feast day,
While the puppets do their dance.
I do not join in their dance,
I do not mark their feast days.
I shall die on a feast day,
While the puppets do their dance.

–Translated from the French by Guy Bennett

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Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński [Poland]

Krzystof Kamil Baczyński is one of the most outstanding and extraordinary poets Poland has ever produced. He has become a legend in his own country, where there is a constant stream of new editions of his work and scholarly analyses of his poems. Yet he is virtually unkown to the English-speaking world. No edition of his poems has ever been published in English translation.
     Born in Warsaw in 1921, the only child of parents who were writers and critics, Baczyński graduated from high school in the summer of 1939; he planned to study Polish at the University of Warsaw, but on September 1, 1939 Nazi Germany attacked Poland, and soon afterward Warsaw was occupied. Through the increasing hardships and violence of the occupation, Baczyński continued to write prolifically, and began publishing in small underground editions. In June 1942 he married Barbara (Basia) Drapczyńska, who was even younger than he; together they studied Polish literature in the underground university. In June 1943 Baczyński made a momentous decision to join the resistance, and began taking part in exercises. At the beginning of August 1944, the Warsaw Uprising broke out. Baczyński was involved in one of the first actions. He was shot and killed in battle on August 4, 1944, at the age of 23.
     Green Integer will publish his White Magic and Other Poems in early 2004.
     Translator Bill Johhston is a professor at the Institute of Linguistics and Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Minnesota.

Zła Kołysanka
Jesiennych liści, twoich włosów zapach,
brzęczy trwogi pęknięty zegar.
Od gwiazd wieje chłód, zagasł świecznik lata
i mój żal
czarnym psem co wieczór do rąk ci przybiega.

Czy umiesz zasnąċ? Płacz unmarłej olchy
długo wyje po nocy–kopule echa.
Płyniemy, nie ma portów, nie ma dla nas kolchid,
wiesz: smutek–zaczajony patrol–tylko czeka.
Dobry smok w bajce, teraz jest sen zastygły,
sen upiorów–upływa nocy pomnik niebosiężny.
Tylko krzyk widma, które chłop nabił na widły,
tylko krzyk kotów duszonych przez księżyc.
Czy umiesz zasnąć? Dziś obłąkany poeta
powiesił się w czarnym krzyku zamiejskich sosen,
a trupa kukły woskowej przy wiatru fletach
deszcz po ulicach długo ciągnął za włosy.

przecież cicho.
Noc urasta deszczowa na szybach
i wiatr ślepy jak ja przed domem przyklęka.
Kto nam ten dzas wolny od trwogi wydarł–

                                          10/11 wrzesień, noc, 40 r.

Evil Lullaby
The scent of autumn leaves and of your hair,
fear’s broken timepiece ticking. Summer’s candles
blown out; the stars breathe down cold air
while my grief
like some dark beast runs nightly to your hand.

Do you know how to sleep? Dead alder trees
weep, howling long into the dome of night.
Without a goal, we roam on portless seas;
you know so well how sorrow lurks in wait.
The kindly dragon; now is the sleep of ghosts
frozen; night’s lofty monument is waning.
Only a phantom cries, on pitchfork hoist,
only the mewling catas the moon is drowning.
Do you know how to sleep? The crazy poet
has hanged himself amind the pines’ dark baying,
while rain drags by the hair a dead wax puppet
through endless streets, to windblown music playing.

all’s quiet now.
The night rains on the windows, gathering power;
blinded like me, the wind kneels at our home.
Who stole from us this carefree time of ours,
my little one?

                                       Night of Sepember 10-11, 1940

–Translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston

Biała Magia
Stojąc przed lustrem ciszy
Barbara z rękami u włosów
nalewa w szklane ciało
srebrne kropelki głosu.

I wtedy jak dzban–światłem
zapełnia się i szkląca
przejmuje w siebie gwiazdy
i biały pył miesiąca.

Przez ciała drżący pryzmat
w muzyce białych iskier
łasice się prześlizną
jak snu puszyste listki.

Oszronią się w nim niedźwiedzie,
jasne od gwiazd polarnych,
i myszy się strumień przewiedzie
płynąc lawiną gwarną.

Aż napełniona mlecznie,
w sen się powoli zapadnie,
a czas melodyjnie osiądzie
kaskadą blasku na dnie.

Więc ma Barbara srebrne
ciało. W nim pręży się miękko
biała łasica milczenia
pod niewidzialną ręką.

                                         4.1.42 r., 3 w nocy

White Magic
Barbara stands at the mirror
of silence, and her hands reach
to her hair; in her body of glass
she pours silver droplets of speech.

And then like a water pitcher
she fills with light, and soon
she has taken the stars within her
and the pale white dust of the moon.

Through her body’s trembling prism
white sparks of music will leap
while ermine will creep through her
like the downy leaves of sleep.

Bears are rimed in its hoarfrost
with polar starlight imbued
and a stream of mice pours through it
in a clamorous multitude.

Till slowly she drifts into sleep,
filled all with milky white,
while time melodiously settles
deep down, in a tumble of light.

So Barbara’s body is silver.
The ermine of silence within
arches its white back softly
at the touch of a hand unseen.

                                January 4, 1942, three o’clock in the morning

–Translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston

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Nanni Balestrini [Italy]

Nanni Balestrini was born in Milan in 1935 and lives in Paris. He has been one of the principal editors of the literary magazine Il Verri and has contributed to many periodicals and journals. From 1966 to 1968 he edited, together with Alfredo Giuliani, the magazine Quindici. Balestrini’s poems were included in the celebrated anthology I Novissimi (1961). One of the propelling forces of the Gruppo ’63, he has organized many conferences and exhibitions. His book publications include Il sasso appeso (1961), Come si agisce (1963), Tristano (1966), Ma noi facciamone un’altra (1968), Vogliamo tutto (1971), La violenza illustrata (1976), Le ballate della signorina Richmond (1977), Ipocalisse (1986), Il ritorno della Signorina Richmond (1987), L’editore (1989), and Il pubblico del labirinto (1992).

Messaggi di Speranza
Tutti I giorni la stressa cosa
parlano a bassa voce

che giorno è oggi
parlano a stento

oggi è un altro giorno
parlano in fretta

giorno dopo giorno
parlano a bocca chiusa

è stato un gran bel giorno
parlano tanto per parlare

il gran giorno era giunto
parlano a fior di labbra

non è di tutti I giorni
parlano per allusioni

non è affare di giorni
parlano senza riflettere

da quel giorno nessuno li ha visti
parlano da soli

un giorno o l’altro
parlano da anni

campano giorno per giorno
parlano perchè hanno la lingua

ai nostri giorni
parlano fra sè e sè

al giorno d’oggi
non c’è nessuno con cui parlare

verrà il giorno in cui
tutto parla contro di loro

un giorno lo sapranno
parlano a quattr’occhi

va a giorni
parlano a cuore aperto

non tutti I giorni sono uguali
parlano al muro

i giorni si accorciano
parlano al vento

sembra giorno
parlano a vanvera

ci corre quanto dal giorno alla notte
i fatti parlano da sè

si vede la luce del giorno
parlano del più e del meno

è chiaro come la luce del giorno
i muti parlano a segni

verrà a giorni
se ne vanno senza parlare

uno di questi giorni
parlano tutti insieme

Messages of Hope
Every day the same old thing
they talk quietly

what day is it
they talk with difficulty

today is another day
they talk fast

day after day
they talk in a hum

it was a great day
they talk just to talk

the great day was made
they talk in a whisper

it isn’t every day
they talk in allusions

it’s not about days
they talk without thinking

no one has seen them since that day
they talk when they’re alone

one day or other
they’ve been talking for years

they live day to day
they talk bcause they like to

they talk to themselves

in our day
there’s noone to talk to

the day will come when
everyone will talk against their own

one day they’ll know
they’re talking privately

goes day by day
they talk openly

not all days are alike
they talk to the wall

the days are growing shorter
they talk to the wind

it seems to be day
they talk nonsense

for us it runs from morning til night
the facts talk for themselves

the light of day is seen
they talk about more or less

it’s as clear as the light of day
the mute talk with signs

will come day by day
they’ll leave without talking

one of these days
they’ll talk all at the same time

–Translated from the Italian by Guy Bennett

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Henrik Nordbrandt [Denmark]

Born in Copenhagen in 1945, Henrik Nordbrandt grew up as the son of a Danish Marine Corps captain and a county administrator. As a teenager Nordbrandt attended a school of the arts where he fell under the influence of the renowned Danish writer, critic, and founder of the University of Copenhagen’s Writer’s Workshop, Paul Borum. Another of his teachers was the noted Danish poet, Inger Christensen, whose book-length poem Det (It) helped to define Danish poetry of the early 1970s.
     A sickly child, Nordbrandt accordingly has perferred, during his adult years, to live in the Mediterranean–Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey. Several of Nordbrandt’s books of poetry, God’s House, Armenia, and Selected Poems have been translated by the American publisher Alexander Taylor. Green Integer plans a volume translated by Thom Satterlee, The Hangman’s Lament: Poems in late 2003.
     Thom Satterlee is a professor at Taylor University in Indiana. He won the American-Scandinavian Foundation Translation Prize in 1998 for his manuscript of The Hangman’s Lament.

Nær Lefkas
Flimrende står lyset in sin søjle, som intet bærer.
Alt forvandler den ved mindste berøring til salt.
Jeg bad om en skygge, og du gav mig et søm
           langt, rustent og forvredent.
Jeg bad dig om en seng, og du gave mig en vej
der skar dybere I mine fødder, jo højere den steg.
Jeg bad om vand, og du gav mig bitter vin.
Jeg drak af et irret krus under mørke ikoner
jeg bad om at dø, du gav mig guld for at blive
jeg bad om en historie, og du gav mig min egen.
Op af vandet løfter Grækenland sine kantede sten
såvi ser og takker og fortryder at have set.
Et århundrede i dødsriget koster hver dag os her.

Near Levkas
Light flickers in its column that holds up nothing.
At the slighteset touch it changes everything to salt.
I asked for a shadow and you gave me a nail
             long, rusty, and bent.
I asked for a bed, and you gave me a road
that cut deeper into my feet the higher it rose.
I asked for water, and you gave me bitter wine.
I drank from a tarnished mug under dark icons
I asked to die, you gave me gold to stay
I asked for a story, and you gave me my own.
Out of the water Greece lifts its sharp stones
so we see and give thanks and regret having seen.
Each day here costs us a century in the land of the dead.

–Translated from the Danish by Thom Satterlee

Digteren Carducci, af hvem jeg intet har læst
Og om hvem, jeg kun ved, at han er død
boede I huset skråt over for mit.
Om natten, til flodens brusen
fyldte strofer på italiensk mine drømme.
Om dagen var de borte, og jeg kunne intet
foretage mig, ikke skrive en linie
men gik rastløt omkring og ryddede op
i et rod, der blev stadig uoverskueligere
som om flere personer flyttede ind hver dag
skønt jeg var alene. De strofer
som nu fylder mine drømme, er atonale
underlagt horn, klokker og markedsstøj
fra pladsen, som du krydser hver dag
–og om morgenen kan jeg desuden huske dem.
Men når jeg ser på dig, får jeg den ide
at det er Carducci’s kærlighed til en anden
jeg genoplever, hans vanvid, jeg lider
og hans uskrevne digte, jeg skriver.
–Hvis det er tillfældet, elsker jeg ham
for at have brugt mine øjne til at se
det næsten usynlige lys, som omgiver dig
–med den længsel, som måske kun de døde ejer.

The poet Carducci, of whose work I’ve read nothing
and about whom I know only that he’s dead
lived in the house kitty-cornered from mine.
At night, with the roar of the river
my dreams filled with Italian stanzas.
By morning they had vanished. I couldn’t
do a thing, couldn’t write a line
but walked around restlessly and straightened up
the mess that grew increasingly more confused
as if several people moved in each day
although I was alone. The stanzas
that now fill my dreams are atonal:
accompanied by horns, bells, and market noise
from the square where you cross every day.
And in the morning I can still remember them.
But when I look at you, I begin to think
that it is Carducci’s love for someone else
that I relive, his madness I suffer
and his unwritten poems I write.
If this is true, then I love him
for having used my eyes to see
that almost invisible light that surrounds you
for the longing that maybe only the dead can have.

–Translated from the Danish by Thom Satterlee

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Joaquín Pasos [Nicaragua]

Born in 1915, Joaquín Pasos was a popular poet of Nicaragua until his early death, at the age of 31, in 1947, just after he had completed his great symphonic epic, The Warsong of Things. Pasos spent most of his life in Granada, the colonial center of the country. The son of a well-to-do family, he wrote songs of birth and death which connected more with the Indian culture than to his own privileged upbringing. He also wrote a popular book, Poems of a Young Man Who Has Never Traveled, concerning the places he hadn’t been, such as Norway. He claimed to know no English, but wrote eleven poems in that language.
     Chris Brandt lives in New York City, where he has translated Entre la vigilia el sueño de la fieras by the Puerto Rican poet Carmen Valle.

¡Oh! Esta es Noruega
suave como el algodón,
con su tierra de galleta
y sus costas roídas por el mar.

He estado en el puente toda la mañana
y han pasado los carros de las pescaderías.
Uno pequeña fábrica cariada de ventanas
lanza cada minuto el diávolo rojo del tranvía.

¡Oh! Esta es Noruega,
que tiene árboles de metal
y señoritas criadas en refrigeradoras.
Aquíun pájaro gira como un molino
y los caballos son más dóciles que en Holanda.
Se levantan los fiords como viejos telones.
Se acuesta el sol cada seis meses.

País-pez a remolque del Polo,
oso blanco con el ojo verde de Spitzbergen.

He estado en el puente toda la tarde
y han pasado los carros de las pescaderías.
Cayóde un camión un bacalao muerto
y lo cortóla guillotina del tranvía.

¡Oh! Esta es Noregua
verde y blanca,
blanca y verde como un anciano obsceno.


Oh! This is Norway
soft as cotton,
land like a cookie
and ocean chewing its shores.

All morning I’ve been on the bridge
and the fish carts have gone by.
A small factory shot through with windows
flings out a red diabolo each minute–streecars.

Oh! This is Norway
possessed of metal trees
and young ladies brought up in refrigerators.
Here a bird turns like a windmill
and the horses are tamer than in Holland.
The fjords rise like old theater curtains.
Every six months the sun goes down.

Fish-country on the North Pole’s gaff,
white bear with a blue eye: Spitzbergen.

All morning I was on the bridge
And the fish carts went by.
One of them dropped a dead codfish
and the streetcar guillotine sliced it in two.

Oh! This is Norway
green and white,
white and green like an obscene old man.

–Translated from the Spanish by Chris Brandt

Canción canción a la mujer mujer
Poema irritante
Yo vi a una mujer esta mañana
en una ventana.
Ella quería cantar,
pero el sol se le hizo agua en la boca.
(Aquí se dicen todas las imprudencias.)

Yo vi a una mujer
a todo correr.
¡Qué viento más horroroso!
(Aquí se grita y se patea.)

Yo vi a una mujer
haciendo así, sin querer,
(aquí se pregunta: ¿cómo hizo?)

Yo vi a una mujer sentada
zurciendo una ilusión desgarrada.
(Aquí no se dice nada.)

Yo vi a una mujer.
Mujer mujer.
(Aquí cae uno muerto.)

Song Song to Woman Woman
(irritating poem)
This morning, I saw a woman
in a window, a woman.
She wanted to sing
but the sun was water in her mouth.
(Here someone says the most shameless things.)

It was a woman I saw, I could tell,
running, running like hell.
What a horrid wind!
(Here someone kicks and screams.)

I saw a woman this is true
doing like this, not wanting to.
(Here someone asks, how’d she do it?)

I saw a woman sitting on a conclusion
darning a ragged illusion.
(Here nobody says anything.)

I saw a woman
woman woman.
(Here somebody drops dead.)

–Translated from the Spanish by Chris Brandt

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Tomas Tranströmer [Sweden]

Born and educated in Stockholm, Tomas Tranströmer received a degree in psychology from the University of Stockholm, and worked for several years at the Psychotechnological Institute at the University. His first book of poetry, 17 dikter (1954) , brought him great acclaim, and since that time he has risen to the position of one of the most influential of Swedish poets, many times nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Among his other books are Klanger och spår, Östersjöar (1974), Baltics, 1975), and Hemligheter påvägen.
     Michael James Wine is the author of the collection of poetry Longwalks (Sun & Moon Press) and has directed a documentary film on Tomas Tranströmer, with music by his twin brother Charles Wine, with whom he also collaborated in producing a musical composition with poetry. He lives in Sweden and Virginia.

Ett blått sken
strömmar ut från mina kläder.
Klirrande tamburiner av is.
Jag sluter ögonen.
Det finns ett ljudlös värld
det finns en spricka
där döda
smugglas över gränsen.

Blue light
streams out from my clothing.
Clinking tambourines of ice.
I close my eyes.
There is a soundless world
there is a chink
where the dead
are smuggled across the border.

–Translated from the Swedish by James Michael Wine

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Wakefulness, John Ashbery (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), 84 pages

I have been rereading John Ashbery’s nineteenth book of poems in the Santa Monica Courthouse, where I am on jury duty. The waiting is interminable (I was first assigned to the Zubin Metha vs. Susan McDougal jury pool!) and not enhanced by the now ubiquitous proximity of other people’s cell phones. “Face it, Myrna!” says the scruffy old gent to my right, “You’re into total denial.”
     What a great setting in which to read Wakefulness! For despite the charges of difficulty, incomprehensibility, and non-sense, Ashbery is, as Douglas Crase argued some fifteen years ago in his contribution to David Lehman’s Beyond Amazement, eminently our realist poet. When he begins “Cousin Sarah’s Knitting,” with the lines:

                                 You keep asking me that four times.
                                    Why trust me I think.
                                    There is, in fact nobody here

He is recording, with only the slightest heightening, the way people (in this case his own relatives) actually do talk. And when, in “Laughing Gravy,” the poet declares, “The crisis has just passed. Uh oh, here it comes again, / looking off to blame itself on,” he is pinpointing, with droll humor, precisely the way information is disseminated. Indeed, one can hear the White House officials declaring that the crisis has just passed, and then – Uh oh!
     But despite these great comic moments, Wakefulness is a somber book. At seventy, Ashbery is more overtly haunted by the past than was the poet of Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror and Houseboat Days. “Everything,” we read in the title poem, “was as though it had happened long ago / in ancient-peach-colored funny papers,” and again, “History goes on and on, / rolling distractedly on these shores.” The past and the future–or the fear that soon there won’t be one. “Each day, dawn condenses like a very large star.” And night thoughts become pervasive.
                    A kind gnome
                      of fear perched on my dashboard once, but we had all been instructed
                         to ignore the conditions of the chase. Here it
                         seems to grow lighter with each passing century. No matter how you
                            twist it,                                                                 
                      life stays frozen in the headlights.
                      Funny, none of us heard the roar.

We now have many Ashberyian poets, but none that can rival the master at this sort of effect. The note of anxiety in lines 1-2 is common enough, but who else could personify fear as a “kindly gnome...perched on my dashboard”–a very just metaphor because it actually is when one is driving along somewhat aimlessly that such thoughts intrude. The “chase,” whose “conditions” we have “been instructed /  to ignore” can refer to its diminishing weight, but it can also refer to the increasing sense of constantly living under floodlights from which there is no escape. The poet’s anxiety, in any case, is characteristically deflated by the cliché“No matter how you twist it.” But at that very moment, his car seems to hit something. A deer crossing the road? A human being? A shadow of oneself? The “light” of line 4–the light of common day–becomes the specific headlight in which “life stays frozen.” It is thus we meet death, never heeding the warning signs: “Funny, none of us heard the roar.”
     Such intimations of mortality are chilling but never self-pitying. As the poet puts it in “Added Poignancy,” “What could I tell you? I couldn’t tell you any other way. / We, meanwhile, have witnessed changes, and now change / floods in from every angle.” Then immediately the deflationary impulse kicks in: “Stop me if you’ve heard this one.” Like many of the poems in Wakefulness, “Added Poignancy” has an intimacy of address that is new to Ashbery. The second-pseron mode, latent in poems as early as “They Dream Only of America,” now becomes pervasive: “Stop me if you’ve heard this one, / but if you haven’t, just go about your business.” Here, as usual in Ashbery, the final clause makes a U-turn: the expected conclusion would be, “but if you haven’t, then listen!” or “But if you haven’t, stay a moment.” 
     Such non-sequiturs are by now an Ashbery trademark, but the poet is endlessly inventive (or is it by now second nature?) at producing deflationary gestures as when, in “The Burden of the Park” (the title is just two letters away from the familiar “The Burden of the Past”) the “park” is defined as “all over,” and becomes the scene for a series of fragmentary narratives of childhood, part memory, part dream, my favorite being the “inner tube on a couch,” which becomes a way “out,” taking the poet and his friends on a trip “down the Great Array river.” One “Each of the inner tubes,” we now learn, “was of a ‘different color’: Mine was lime green, yours was pistachio.” But–wait a minute–pistachio is lime green: so much for the ability to make meaningful distinctions.
     Despite its greater emphasis on history and memory, on death and Last things, on a new, more intimate relationship with “you,” Wakefulness does not mark a notable departure for Ashbery. He is not writing in a new mode or experimenting with new techniques. One might complain, therefore, as my students sometimes do, that Ashbery’s poems have become repetitive, that however effective, say, “The Burden of the Park” may be, Ashbery has already written this kind of poem many times before, creating a sense of replacability.
     It’s a case, I suppose, of finding the cup half empty or half full. From the perspective of the total oeuvre, Wakefulness my not be an absolutely essential link in the chain. The mastery its poems exhibit is a mastery that has been witnessed before. On the other hand, taken in itself, Ashbery’s new book is still more accomplished, more pleasurable, more profound than nearly any of its current rivals. A sifting out process will take place later. But for the moment, we can take each new Ashbery volume as it comes, relishing the exquisite sense of timing that produces lines like

                             You know I adore ceremony,
                     Even while refusing to stand on it.

Or, as he puts it later in this poem (“Homecoming”):

                    I need your diapproval

                                                                                                          –Marjorie Perloff

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Questions and Their Retinue: Selected Poems, Hatif Janabi. Translated from the Arabic by Khaled Mattawa. (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1996), 66 pages.

Born in Ghammas, Iraq, in 1952, Hatif Janabi spent his earliest years in the relative comfort of a merchant landower’s house; but in 1963 one of his father’s employees was charged with murder, which endangered his entire family, who were eventually forced to flee. They settle first in Baghdad and then in the Shite holy city of Najaf. There Janabi observed the local parades to commemorate Hussain’s matyrdom, which involved “highly exhibitionist rituals,” including self-flagellation, all of which made a big impression upon the child. As a teenager he began to write poetry.
     In 1968, Janabi entered Baghdad University to study Arabic literature; upon graduation he was conscripted into the military and served in Southern Iraq in Kikuk, a city made up of Arabs, Persians, Kurds, Turkoman, and adherents of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zorastrianism. His experiences there further broadened his awareness, and in 1976, in a climate highly unfavorable to contemporary poetic expression, he escaped through the northwest border of Iraq across Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania, to reach Poland, where he obtained a scholarship. He was welcomed warmly in Cracow, and stayed on to graduate from Warsaw University in drama. Despite the censorship of the communist government, Janabi found Poland a place where he was more free to express himself than Iraq, particulalry since he did not write in Polish. Except for a period of time in Algeria and as a guest professor at Indiana University, he has remained in Poland and has become a Polish citizen.
     The background of these dramatic events–his early experiences in a multi-religious envirnment and his continued feelings of exile–is necessary to understand his poetry. For Janabi’s poems combine a dramatic sense of aggrievement, a resigned desperation, and several comic effects, all woven together in associative processes and often extreme surreal imagery. At times the poems seem “to gesticulate wildly,” and other times to be “subdued and pensive.” But all are passionate and serious, and cannot be lightly dismissed.
     Accordingly, there is a power in Questions and Their Retinue that one rarely finds in contemporary American or European poetry.Janabi’s sense of history, of aggravation, disgust, even hate are balanced by radical poetic techniques the push against the often self-righteous sounding rhetoric of his poems. The result is truly quite amazing, as the reader is carried along by the outpouring of imagery that at its most extreme is almost comic; but, then, just as quickly is drawn back into language and form.
     There are many wonderful poems in this revelatory volume, but in particular I was struck by “Questions and Their Retinue,” “Open Form,” “Poems without a Shelter,” and “Poets of the New Regions.” Below is a selection from the last named poem:

  • House Songs

                         What do you call a stone that now refuses to fall?
                         what do you call a stone that eats itself,
                            that withers in the light of a candelabra,
                                             that falls in love at the whim of the wind?
                          What do you call a stone ground by wind
                                              in a shattered pot,
                                              a room where tenants pay their debts,
                                              where the children write their lessons
                                              under a porthole that lets in flashes of lightning?
                                              What do you call the miracle of lightning?

                          The solitary date palm
                             in the house yard,
                                       the solitary room
                                       and a forest of eyes,
                             The body hanging
                                        from the wall.
                             What do you call a stone rejected by a wall?
                             The solitary date palm
                             reveals its chest, and leans gently
                                         to a stubborn girl.
                             What do you call a stubborn girl?
                                                          What do you call a stone scratching itself
                                                          that withers in the light of a candelabra,
                                                          that falls in love at the whim of the wind?

                                                                                                            –Douglas Messerli

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This Happened Everywhere: Selected Poems, Remco Campert.Translated from the Dutch by Manfred Wolf. (San Francisco: Androgyne Books, 1997), 84 pages.

Of the major Dutch experimentalists of the group known as the “vijt-tigers” or The Fiftiers–consisting of Bert Schierbeck, Jan G. Elburg, Gerrit Kouwenaar, Lucebert, Sybren Polet, Hugo Claus, Remco Campert, and others–Campert most resisted the radical experimentalism with which their poems are associated.Nowhere is this made more apparent than in this small, rather badly produced, collection.
     At his best, in poems such as “Sparrows,” “Falling,” “Hurray, Hurrah,” “Poetry Is an Act...,” and “A flag on a device,” Campert combines everyday observations, social concerns, and his recurring theme of love in a disnjunctive, often humorous narrative that unsettles the reader just enough to transform the banal into a kind of wonderous inevitability. Some of his best poems, collected in The Year of the Strike (1968), reveal a joyful self-consciousness that generataes the excitement of the poem:

                                    No, it was Caligula, fat
                                    Half-bald and 29
                                    (if you remember that winter),
                                    a dishonorable, prosaic death
                                    in the darkened entrance to a theater
                                    at the whispering hands of an assassin.

                                                           (from “Sparrows”)

     The poems of this new collection, chosen evidently from a number of Campert’s books, reveal little of that joy and even less of his considerable craft.The poems brought together by Wolf center upon two themes: love (Campert’s lifelong topic) and old age. Throughout this tiresome assembledge, the poet speaks directly to the reader about the futility of poetry itself:

                                         The way you move
                                      through the room from the bed
                                      to the table with the comb
                                      no line will ever move–


                                  The way you’re silent
                                  with your blood in my back
                                  through your eyes into my neck
                                  no poetry will ever be silent.

                                                                  (from “A Futile Poem”)

Too many writers, it seems to me, fall into the delusion as they age that a simplicity of saying what one means necessarily results in a more honest poetry.Indeed, most of these poems presume a shared world with the reader, and accordingly, fail to communicate much else but the sentiments of the media for the nostaglia of the past:


                                       When I die
                                       I hope that you’re with me,
                                       that I’m looking at you,
                                       that you’re looking at me,
                                       that I can still feel your hand.

                                       Then I’ll die quietly,
                                        then no one need be sad.
                                        Then I’ll be happy.

The reader has little admission to such private desires. Let him knock instead on the door of the three good poems of this collection: “As in a Dream,” “Someone Poses the Question,” and “Lamento”:

                                          Here now   along the long deep water
                                          that I thought I thought that you always
                                          that you always

                                           here now   along the long deep water
                                           where behind the shore’s reeds   behind the sun
                                           that I thought you that you always but always

                                           that always your eyes   your eyes and the air
                                           always your eyes and the air
                                           always rippling   in the water rippling

                                                                      (from “Lamento”)

                                                                                                             –Douglas Messerli  

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Life & Death, Robert Creeley (New York: New Directions, 1998), 88 pages.

In the first section of Life & Death, “Histoire de Florida,” a rather long, diary-like meditation on a life of poetry, Creeley remarks: “It must be anecdotal, / sudden sights along the so-called way.” The lines may be taken as a formal guide to the entire collection, as well as an index to the most vital and problematic elements herein.
     Just for the chanciness and, for Creeley, its almost downright querulousness, this opening section is overall the most attractive. Although not exactly an ars poetica, “Histoire de Florida” works like a verse essay on the state of the florid, that flowering art Creeley has been engaged in for some fifty years.From its invocation,

                                            You’re there
                                                still behind
                                                the mirror,
                                                brother face.
                                                Only yesterday
                                                you were younger,
                                                now you
                                                look old.
                                                Come out
                                                while there’s still time
                                                to play,

to its conslusion, a variation on Wallace Stevens’ “Anecdote of a Jar,” poetic issues and figures preoccupying a career move in and out of the verse in a direct, stately manner. Within a partial autobiography, jumping from Calcutta, Naropa, Kuala Lampur, Holland, Long Island, Nokomis, Sarasota, from childhood to young manhood to maturity to old age, are the many writers juxtaposed to the landscapes: Chaucer, Pound, Basil Bunting, David Jones, Wordsworth, Shakes-peare, Defoe, Kafka, Madelstam, Williams, Whitman, and others. And, of course, Wallace Stevens.
     This tribute or reassessment of Stevens is one of the most remarkable features of “Histoire de Florida,” and the volume as a whole. There are many sections of the poem redolent with the tonalities of that other Yankee solipsist, such as the sections or stanzas beginning: “Out over the piece of water  where the sound is...”; “One knows that in the waters hereabouts, in particular spring / Ponce de Leon staggered in so as to live forever.”; “The shell was the apparent / inclusion, that another might be here.”; or “Rise into the air and look down / and see it there, the pendant form of it, / the way it goes out alone into an ocean.” In the section that starts, “In pajamas still / late morning sun’s at by back,” Creeley names the habit of mind that links him most clearly to Stevens, while subsuming the ancestor’s mannerisms within a composition strikingly his own,

                              solipsistic a loop yet moving, moving
                                 with these insistent proposals
                                 of who, where, when,
                                 what’s out there, what’s in,
                                 what’s the so-called art of anything,
                                 hat, house, hand, head, heart, and so on
                                 quickly banal.

     Here, and throughout “Hisoire de Florida,” Creeley’s language remains vivid and elegant, firm evidence of what has made him, along with Stevens, one of the most consistently alluring and convincing of poets in the Anglo-American tradition. (Pound and Eliot both importantly, and sometimes disatrously, attempted to desert this tradition through exile, politics or religion. There may be heard too, in the finale of the above section of “Florida,” a hearkening back to the touch lyricism, the “hard squares,” of the late Cantos, even if the prison house here is somewhat less dramatic:

                                Locked in my mind,
                                my body, toes broken, skin
                                wrinkling up, look to the ceiling
                                where, through portals of skylight,
                                two rectangular glass boxes in the stained wood,
                                the yellow light comes, an outside is evident.
                                There is no irony, no patience.
                                There is nothing to wait for
                                 that isn’t here and it will happen.
                                 Happiness is thus lucky
                                 Not I but the wind that blows through me.
     In the book’s second section, “Old Poems, Etc.,” there is fine work, such as “The Dogs of Auckland” and “Goodbye,” but some of the poetry lacks, to this reader’s taste, the considered and more often dire energy of the opening section.The last part of the book, “Life and Death / There / Inside My Head,” is made up of the texts of three of Creeley’s collaborations with the artist Francesco Clemente. Even with fascinating and extraordinary passages throughout, it seems that the poetry’s publication would have been better served if the visual artist’s work was also included. Though this is a problem perhaps equally shared by the publisher, it is hard to tell whether the curious, sometimes mysterious effects of the verse are a result of what’s lyrically elided or what’s simply not there.
     In all, Life and Death moves a music, however risky and idiosyncratic at times, convincingly towards the poet’s finale: “I want no sentimentality. / I want no more than home.”  

                                                                                                   –Paul Vangelisti

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A Geometry, Anne-Marie Albiach. Translated from the French by Rosmarie Waldrop and Keith Waldrop (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1998), 28 pages.

This book collects three pieces: “Vertical Report in White,” translated by Rosmarie Waldrop, and “Incantation” and “Figures of Memory,” translated by Keith Waldrop.The first of these begins “she does not know herself, is dazzled by data,” which is echoed near the end by “white, dazzled, she / wastes a tangent.” The circle thus completed is followed by a further text, a tangent. And, to continue the mathematical theme, there is a sustained and very pleasing use of alliteration (“dark doubled / in a minor key, this tactile memory,” or “a tiny trace on the chest”), the repeated consonants perhaps intended to suggest the letters used to label a geometrical construction.
     Two groups of sentences and phrases, one in italic, the other in normal font, are interwoven. The italicised text initially carries the burden of abstraction, using words like data, relations, outline, figures; whereas the text in roman font deals more with concrete materials such as parts of the body: hair, knees, eyes, lips, chest. Yet, as the work progresses we find the two groups moving into each other’s domain, reminding us that geometry is at root an earthy word, that any division between the concrete and the abstract must be subject to constant incursions from both sides
      In Plato’s Timaeus, geometrical figures are given all sorts of other significance by relating them to the four elements. In the second piece here, “Incantation,” the veins’ “addicted blood” is offered as a “alternate liquid element.”
     The same interplay of italicised and roman fonts is taken up again the the third work, “Figures of Memory.” Personae alrady introduced–a “she,” “they” and “he”–move in a complex fugue, continuing the mathematical subjects.
     Many mathematical terms–body, figure, relation–have more immediate human connotations. Indeed, mathematat is the Greek word for experience. At least some of the pleasure of categories is their porosity. This short book is very rewarding, and a tribute to the translators in how beautifully it reads in English.

                                                                                                           –Randolph Healy

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At Night, beneath Trees, Michael Krüger. Translated from the German by Richard Dove (New York: George Braziller, 1998), 92 pages.

Michael Krüger writes the kind of angst-ridden, lyrical meditations with which American readers have little experience and American (innovative) poets have little truck. The present clearly is too much with us in Krüger’s vision. As he writes in one of the best poems of this collection, “Letter to a Child,” “I’m sorry, there’s too much now / too little yesterday and tomorrow in this letter...” And things of the present, the computer’s “Glassy emerald eye,” theories of the end of history, the landlord’s edict that he move out of his house, the fires of the Los Angeles riots are all equally emblems of danger if not the direct sources of the poet’s evident despair. Occasionally Krüger treats his frightening and befuddling landscape with a sense of detachment and ironic, Günter Eich-like wit, as in the poem dedicated to Eich (“Commemorative Sheet for Günter Eich”) or in “The Mailman’s Allocution”:

                                I’ve got a charming collection
                                    of postcards I couldn’t deliver
                                All those lovely canceled faces:
                                Adenauer, Franco, the doleful king of Greece
                                who, although long exiled, was still being
                                stamped on.–

that at least relieves if not redeems his present angst. But for Krüger the past also offers little consolation. The horrors of the past, “wrested out of History’s jaws,” offer only an easy exuse for exit; the “Little German National Anthem” of gemuchlikeit by the hearth is brilliantly satirized:

                                     Just imagine we asked the brook
                                     to leave its gravelly bed so the fish
                                     would not have to cross the land
                                     on its way to our pot.

 Consequently, the poet’s despair–expressed primarily in a vague fear of perpetual war and in the more concrete image of a people being fed by Hitler, now eating with “a fork in each neck”–emmantes from a place outside of the writing, leaving the reader (at least the non-German reader) as cold witness rather than participant in the poet’s outcries. And although the poet may dismiss the very concept of the “end of history,” he has created his own endgame, has painted himself in, so to speak, in his desperate search for “the faintest echo / of a single feeble answer,” “Sloes and snow and rowanberries, / that must suffice.”
     The focus on the now–frightful as it is for Krüger–nonetheless does reverberate with occasional possibility in his strongest poems, such as “To Zbigniew Herbert,” “Writers Congress,” and “The Cemetary.” But it is, finally, just standing still, the witnessing of the world itself wherein Krüger places any hope.
                                                                                                 –Douglas Messerli

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Hourglass: The Rhythm of Traces, Giovanna Sandri. Translated from the Italian by Guy Bennett (Los Angeles: Seeing Eye Books, 1998), unpaginated.

For its sixth publication, Seeing Eye Books has presented the first American publication of the important Italian poet, Giovanna Sandrií The work here might be described as elegantly concretist in its approach. But Sandri’s work has none of the literalist tactics of many concrete writings. Certainly, the eye is led across or down the page in these works to denote meaning, as in the poem “reangling the axes”:

                                           against the vigilant
                                               a cloud
                                               of probabilities


                                               the pre
                                               of go

What is not reproducable in this review, however, is the equally powerful facing page, which of various typological “o’” and blocks pour across space like a constellation of their own. The effect of this maneuver in most cases is to create a counterpart to the linguistic element which sometimes mirrors but just as often takes the reader in a different direction from the language, enriching the poem by creating several laysers (visual and verbal) of meaning.
                                                                                       –Douglas Messerli

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Save Twilight: Selected Poems, Julio Cortázar. Translated from the Spanish by Stephen Kessler (San Francisco: City Lights, 1997), 169 pp.

The acclaimed Argentinean novelist and short story writer Julio Cortázar may always remain best remembered for Rayela (Hopscotch, 1963), his “flip novel” and “book-kit” of indeterminate sequentiality; but in addition to a prodigious narrative output, Cortázar wrote poetry quietly, though steadily, throughout his lifetime. Published posthumously in Mexico as one volume in 1984 under the title Salvo el crepúsculo, this eclectic but well-crafted collection has been pared down and gorgeously translated for the first time into English by Stephen Kessler for City Lights. Kessler’s rationale for his somewhat traditional selection takes a page from Cortázar’s own avowed passion for playful disorder; quoting from the book’s “Preface,” Kessler notes that Cortázar advises his reader: “don’t begin, jump in wherever you can. No chronology, such a mixed pack that it’s not worth the trouble.” The translator feels justified in revealing that in choosing these poems, he, like Cortázar, has “favored his personal sentiments over any more objective standard of excellence.”
     Lucky for us, then, that Kessler exhibits such good judgment and able handling of Cortázar’s colloquial Spanish throughout this gem of a small-format book (Number 53 in City Light’s Pocket Poets Series), whose cover greets its readers with an affectionate photo of the author sitting on the floor playing with a cat. Kessler’s middle-ground approach to Save Twilight dispenses the original Spanish text’s line drawings and pictures of rhinos, turtles, starlets and the like; the few pieces written in French and Italian, as well as the handwritten ones; many rather canon-conscious poems on classical themes and literary forebearers; Cortázar’s ludic repetition of a poem, and whatever other efforts might have displeased more conventional audiences (or typesetters).
Instead, Kessler opts wisely to focus on Cortázar’s one-page, free verse works, although the occasional sonnet or piece in syllabic meter does appear, as does a handful of judiciously arranged prose poems, which punctuate Cortázar’s meditations on love, time, the gods, Buenos Aires, and the Argentine political situation, with their ironic reflections on the nature of what might be called the “poetry industry.”
     The reader may be surprised to find so many pieces centering on the devastation of separation from this most postmodern of authors, yet these efforts compose the bulk of Save Twilight. After his lover’s departure in “El breve amor” (“The Brief Love”), for instance, the speaker wonders: “So why is / what’s left of me, afterwards, / just a sinking into ashes ‘ without a goodbye...?” The mistreated lover in the sardonically titled “Liquidación de saldos” (“Clearance Sale”) similarly realizes “I’m barely a bubble / reflecting you, which you’ll burst / with the blink of an eye.” So keenly felt throughout the volume is this pain at the loss of shared heightened experience, not necessarily erotic, that two poems, “Haben, tienen tres minutos” (“Speak, You Have Three Minutes”) and “Estela en una encrucijada” (“Stele at the Crossroads”), feature speakers who imagine their lovers experiencing their own experiences without them. It may well be the fear of encroaching age and impending death which prompts the speaker of “Policronías” (“Polychrony”) to obssess wryly: “It’s incredible to think that twelve years ago / I turned fifty, no less,” while self-consciously tossing off this muted accusation at his lover: “When your hand explores my hair / I know it’s looking for gray / surprises.”
     For those acquainted with his better known narrative oeuvre, a more familiar Cortázar will be found in the author of “Crónica para César” (“Chronicle for Cesar”), whose speaker declares that the titular figure “shall build a great city” where all things “shall praise [his] name,” before revealing that these professed beliefs of grandeur will be mere delusions, since “[n]one of this shall pass beyond the walls of [his] room.” This motif of reality confined to consciousness plays itself out again in “El héroe” (“The Hero”), whose medieval warrior envisions glory in hard fought battle until the final stanza, which reads:

                                           Then he’s not so sure,
                                               maybe the goal isn’t really a beginning;
                                               and at the end of the street
                                               that looked so beautiful
                                               there’s nothing more than a withered tree
                                               and a broken fan.

Two cynical poems about the nature of the divine, “Los dioses” (“The Gods”) and “A un dios desconocido” (“To a God Unkown”), the latter which ends: “Whoever you are / don’t come. / We’d dump on you, garbage, made / in our nylon and orlon / image, Jahweh, God of mine,” are elsewhere balanced by the even-tempered secular bent of “Distribución del tiempo” (“Time’s Distribution”), which optimistically declares: “Every day we’re more, we who believe less / in the utilization of humanism / for the sterephonic nirvana / of mandarins and esthetes.
     Kessler’s translations in Save Twilight are uniformly excellent, and always manage to transform Cortázar’s argentinisms into a natural-sounding English. One might quibble about his reluctance to render fixed stanzaic forms, such as the sonnet, or the few seven- and nine-syllable lines scattered sparsely throughout the volume into their metrical equivalents (with or without rhyme), but Kessler does ably handle the syllabic exigencies of “Ley del poema” (“Law of the Poem”) out of necessity, since the piece self-referentially thematizes the “perfect poem’s need for “precisely nine syllables per line.” The reader of this fabulously entertaining edition may wonder whether these poetic licenses would have upset a poet who writes in “Un amig me dice...” (“A Friend of Me”): “Anyway, the only thing that really matters today in Latin America is to swim against the current of conformity, the received ideas and the sacred cows, which even in their highest forms play along with the Big System.” On the contrary, Cortázar would undoubtedly have approved highly of Kessler’s superior work. “[A]t least there doesn’t seem to be any risk in taking this all too seriously,” Cortázar writes serio-comically in “Poemas de bolsillo” (“Pocket Poems”), where his prose-poetic persona restates his “[m]istrust...of the anthological.” After all, as he so pointedly phrases it at the close of “Un amig me dice...”: “I never wanted butterflies pinned to a board.”
                                                                                                                           –Gregary J. Racz

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