Sunday 22 May 2016

Sunday Poem


You are here you leave and
come back you
look back through before this you
     used only hello to say

Looking over your back
     you are still greeting until
     again and you are lying
you will leave this home not
     your home you have left
            your own home you have

Just started to settle in before
going back again and you will
again say hello or again and

Be back, that look, the one
               you exchange until again and
                           there is no end.

Goodbye until again.

By Helen Hajnoczky, from Magyarázni (Coach House , 2016)
(Painting by Derek Overfield)

Keeping it Small

Michael Young believes we have to stop giving chapbooks the short shrift:
The poet Tomas Transtromer, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize, demonstrated the power of an oeuvre that accumulates in small increments, growing slowly like a glacier over years. Each individual addition to his total output never amounts to what is defined as a full-length collection. Only by combining old material with new material does he make more than a chapbook. His first book, 17 Poems, was, of course, 17 poems and they weren’t long enough to cover 48 pages. Not even close. The next set of new poems, Secrets on the Way, added fourteen more poems to his work. The collection after that, The Half-Finished Heaven, added twenty-one more poems. In this way, he kept adding to his oeuvre. But any given addition never would have broken that 48-page barrier. Many other poets have published works that are chapbooks. 

The original publications of T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock and Other Observations, and Ginsberg’s Howl were both chapbooks. Of Louise Bogan’s four major collections, two of them—The Body of This Death, and The Sleeping Fury, were chapbooks. Edgar Bowers’ second collection, To the Astronomers, was 36 pages. And the following collection Living Together, although 84 pages, was a new & selected and therefore, full of material from his first two collections. I’m fortunate to own a copy of this book and can tell you that the new poems in the collection only compose a total of 10 more pages. This could also be pointed out of many other poets. So what is our obsession with making collections long when so many important poets published short works of great significance? Why consider these mere works on the way to—not more important work, but just larger collections of work? 
He continues:
Our entire culture believes, as if it were divine writ, that bigger-is-better, that perpetual growth defines success. But it is error in many ways and folly for poets to follow along with this thinking. A poet should write and construct the best book they can, and if that collection is under 48 pages, then that is how long it’s supposed to be. To ignore a collection because it’s only 20 or 30 pages long rather than 60 or 80 pages is simply the error of a mind that thinks bigger is better. Or it at least is not questioning that implicit assumption. I wager that most poets don’t think of themselves as adhering to this mentality and yet, here we are, all racing toward that 48-page mark as though it were what defines a collection of poetry. Certainly nothing in poetry itself determines that. It is an ulterior motive shaping the collection to reach that mark. Consciously or unconsciously it is not a poetic motive directing the poet’s choices here and it’s time to put that to an end.

Sunday 15 May 2016

Sunday Poem

Crow goes off, a gravelgullet.
An exit wound beyond the pane.
What day? Fuck fuckmonday.
Fivefifteen a.m. Wrong time.
Unholy hour. Rollover, ah—
Squawksquawk! Notetoself:
Fellthatdamnedtree where crow
now Everests exhilarated as
Hillary. Here, radio goes off.
Gawd. Pop song's off. Sloppy,
not in time or tune. My ears.
Brain's gone off. Altered state.
Not quite sprung. Ungodly March.
Note to Nature: keep your sex
to a dull roar. SQUAWK! Right.
No sleep now. Stare at where
roof apparently is. Conjure
a silent reveal of stars. Far off. 
By Ingrid Ruthig, from This Being (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2016)

Saturday 7 May 2016

Essential Poetry

Sunday 1 May 2016

Sunday Poem

First was the claw and the claw
clasping clay, closing in breath. 
More turns to them than to sea-snails,
brain and gut ravelled like yarn 
into clews to be threaded through.
Like Theseus, I was closed-in 
with an abomination of bestial desire:
she wanted to be nailed by a bull 
and she did a bull and bore
a bull-of-a-thing with a menacing club. 
It's with this thought that I'm locked,
throughout this maze that I travel. 
I've no key, no clue: only minatory echoes
and shadows to see it through.

By Asa Boxer, from Etymologies (with essay by David-Antoine Williams, 
Anstruther Press, 2016)

Age of Iliads

In her review of a new translation of The Iliad by Caroline Alexander—the first such effort by a women—A. E. Stallings flags the contemporary fascination for the epic:
The Iliad begins with a grudge and ends with a funeral. In between are passages, if not necessarily of boredom, to alter the war adage, of lists, pathos, sex, humour, fairytale strangeness (golden fembots, a talking horse) and lyric images, punctuated by moments of pure terror (eyes popped out of heads, a spear throbbing in a beating heart, a man cradling his intestines in his hands). With several new translations in the past year alone, as well as a film in 2004, and recent novels (David Malouf’s Ransom), dramatisations, and book-length poems (War Music by Christopher Logue and Memorial by Alice Oswald), we are clearly, in our era of seemingly perpetual war, in an age of Iliads.
James Romm has some concerns about the "increasingly rapid pace at which new Iliads keep emerging":
It was not ever thus. Classics graduate students in the 1980s (of whom I was one) debated the relative merits of Richmond Lattimore and Robert Fitzgerald, the only two Iliads then in wide circulation. A new version by Robert Fagles appeared in 1990, and for most of that decade, the three Rs had the field of Homer translation entirely to themselves. Then Stanley Lombardo entered the ring in 1997 with his streamlined and brashly colloquial style, in an edition that shocked the academic world by putting on its cover a photo from the D-Day invasion. Since then, the graph of new Iliad translations has followed a parabolic curve.

Trends in publishing have led to greater diversity of many Greek and Roman texts, but none have multiplied quite so fast as
The Iliad, in part because none are so widely assigned by college teachers. As the Classics’ share of the curriculum has shrunk, Homer has remained the blue-chip stock that belongs in every portfolio, the one ancient author that the entire college community—including students, who increasingly challenge faculty on the makeup of their reading lists—can agree is worth reading. So The Iliad, and to a lesser extent The Odyssey, can be counted on to produce a steady stream of revenue for publishers, every time fall and spring term book orders come due. (It was reported in The Wall Street Journal that Caroline Alexander’s version, despite being the “new kid on the block,” would have an initial print run of 30,000, and that Robert Fagles’ 1990 version has by now sold more than a million.)

The profit motive may explain the spate of new translations, but the proliferation of translators is more puzzling. Given that a responsible Hellenist needs years of labor to render more than 15,000 lines of Greek verse into passably accurate, euphonious English, and can expect very little in the way of either financial reward or (in the ranks of academia at least) professional advancement, whence comes this great throng of men, and now one woman, who follow in Homer’s trail like enchanted children following the Pied Piper?