Monday, March 31, 2008

Design for life

As though a leaf, falling from a great height, circled its own descent, fluttered bravely into the air till it remembered it was no wing, then sank, coming to rest at last on the lake's surface, landing so gently not a ripple stirred.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

When the wounds of your memory begin to heal

When the wounds of your memory begin to heal
I find some excuse to think of you.

No sooner do Love's proclamations blossom,
then tresses are arranged in every house.

Every stranger I pass seems like an ally
even now, going past your street.

Exiles speak to the wind of their lost country
and the eyes of the morning brim with tears.

Each time she stitches a voice to her lips
the air is scattered with another song.

Darkness seals the door of the prison
then the stars, Faiz, descend in the heart.

- Faiz Ahmed Faiz

The original:

Tumhari yaad ke jab zakhm bharne lagte hain
Kisi bahaane tumhe yaad karne lagte hain

Hadeese-yaar ke unvan nikharne lagte hain
To har hareem mein gesoo savarne lagte hain

Har ajnabi hume mehram dikhayi deta hai
Jo ab bhi teri gali se guzarne lagte hain

Saba se karte hain gurbat-naseeb zikr-e-vatan
To chashm-e-subah mein aansoon ubharne lagte hain

Voh jab bhi karte hain is nutko-lab ki bakhiyagiri
Fazaa mein aur bhi nagme bikharne lagte hain

Dare-kaphas pe andhere ki muhar lagti hai
To 'Faiz' dil mein sitare utarne lagte hain.

Translations, translations everywhere. Here's another attempt of mine at translating Faiz (I'm thinking of making a habit of this, btw). And there's the translation issue of Poetry, some of which is decidedly lacklustre, but also includes this gem from Rilke, and this translation of Vallejo by Don Paterson, to mention just two.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

These are the solemn honors owed the dead

"But the chief mourners stayed in place, piled timber
and built a pyre a hundred feet in length and breadth
and aloft it laid the corpse with heavy, aching hearts.
And droves of fat sheep and shambling, crook-horned cattle
they led before the pyre, skinned and dressed them well.
And the great-hearted Achilles, flensing fat from all
wrapped the corpse with folds of it, head to foot,
then heaped the flayed carcasses round Patroclus.
He set two-handled jars of honey and oil beside him
leaned them against the bier - and then with wild zeal
slung the bodies of four massive stallions onto the pyre
and gave a wrenching groan. And the dead lord Patroclus
had fed nine dogs at table - he slit the throats of two,
threw them onto the pyre and then a dozen brave sons
of proud Trojans he hacked to pieces with his bronze....
Achilles' mighty heart was erupting now with slaughter -
he loosed the iron rage of fire to consume them all
and cried out, calling his dear friend by name"

RIP Robert Fagles


[1] Post Title - The Iliad Book 23 Line 10; translation by Robert Fagles (Penguin Classics 1990)

[2] Extract - ibid. Lines 187-204

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mirror Image

The mirror is not an image.
The image is not a mirror.

The mirror reflects, the image remembers.

The mirror observes, the image obscures.

The mirror demands, the image denies.

The mirror inverts, the image intends.

The image interprets, the mirror infers.

The image betrays, the mirror is faithful.

The image questions, the mirror answers.

The image generalizes, the mirror specifies.

The image mirrors more than mirror imagines.

Mirror image.

The age of Mirrorrim, prophet of opposites.

The image is always
the mirror is only.

The mirror is many
the image is one.

Monday, March 24, 2008

And people say I get obsessive about blog arguments

Okay, okay, so every now and then I get carried away in the comments section of this blog and end up having long, meaningless arguments with people who clearly aren't worth it. I know this. I even intend to get help. Just as soon as I manage to find the time away from all these arguments I'm busy having.

But no discussion (read argument) I've ever had on this or any other blog can even begin to compare to the tortuous lengths that M/s. Shepherd, Robbins and Co. go to in response to a post about Intentional Fallacy. 15,700 something words (and counting) of heated debate, most of it, I suspect, unintelligible to anyone who doesn't have at least an undergraduate degree in English Lit.

Personally, I'm not entirely sure what the intention of any one of the parties involved was in having the discussion, but it makes for an entertaining, if slightly abstruse read.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tops and Bottoms

Meanwhile, over at Language Log Melvyn Quince takes issue with Condoleeza Rice's claim that she will "stay on top of it and get to the bottom of it"

Of course, when it comes to tops and bottoms the final word will always belong to Cole Porter.

Mis-conduct / with conductors like these who needs an audience?

You know how I'm always complaining about people annoying me at concerts?

Well, I was at this concert today - a performance of Bach's Mass in B minor [1] by this ensemble called the Vox Ama Deus - and I thought for once things were going to turn out right. Two people who seemed to be from the UPenn music faculty on my right and a nice middle-aged lady with impeccable taste [2] on my left. A few kids in the audience, true, but far away and seemingly well behaved. No couples liable to start making out in the middle of a movement. No obvious snorers. All in all, the signs seemed propitious.

The concert started. Intermission came and went and still no one had annoyed me. Finally, we were in the home stretch - the Agnus Dei - I figured nothing bad could happen now.

And then, just as I was starting to relax, the conductor, the BLOODY CONDUCTOR breaks off the performance in BETWEEN MOVEMENTS to deliver some sanctimonious little homily about 'Our Lord Jesus Christ' who died on the cross so we could be saved, and 'Our Brave Soldiers in Iraq' and on and on and on - five minutes of pure blah which not only bored the ears off the entire audience but, more to the point, destroyed all the carefully created momentum of Bach's Mass, so that when he finally got around to playing the final movement it was pretty much impossible to step back into the music. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who would do that to Bach doesn't deserve to be an usher, let alone a conductor. If there is a God, Valentin Radu will be struck by lightning on his way home tonight (thus making him a conductor of an entirely different sort).

I don't know who this Valentin Radu guy is, but if he really feels so strong a need for a soapbox I suggest he join politics or becomes a school principal or something. Anything but a musician. Oh, and Mr. Radu, if you're reading this (which I very much doubt) the whole prima donna I-am-so-moved-by-the-music-I'm-going-to-stand-there-with-my-eyes-closed-for-five-minutes-after-the-end act? Not cool. If you want to go in for cheap histrionics like that, I suggest you get yourself a rock band.


[1] My fourth concert featuring Bach in a week. Life has been busy.

[2] By which I mean that she agreed with me that the violin soloist (Thomas DiSarlo) was atrocious, the soprano (Bonnie Hoke) mediocre, the flautist (Colin St. Martin) superb and the mezzo soprano (Jody Kidwell) sublime. I don't usually strike up conversations with people at concerts, but when the person sitting next to you claps for the same people you do and, more to the point, stops clapping for the same people you do, some conversation seems in order.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Prison Evening

Stars spiral into the evening -
a staircase the night descends -
and the wind comes near, then passes,
as though someone spoke of love.
In the courtyard, the trees are exiles
who keep themselves busy
embroidering the sky.

The roof shines; the moon
scatters light with generous hands;
the glory of the stars mingles with dust
and light polishes the blue sky silver.
In every corner shadows ebb and advance,
as though the heart were lifted
by a wave of separation.

This is the thought the heart returns to:
that life, in this moment, is sweet.
Let tyrants prepare their poisons,
they will never succeed.
They may snuff out the lamps
in the rooms of lovers,
but can they extinguish the moon?

- Faiz Ahmed Faiz

The original:

Zinda ki ek shaam

Shaam ke pecho-kham sitaron se
Zeena-zeena utar rahi hai raat
Yoon saba paas se guzarti hai
Jaise keh di kisi ne pyaar ki baat.
Sahne-zinda ke be-vatan ashjar
Sarnigun mahav hain banane mein
Damne-aasman pe nakshe-nigaar.

Shaane-baam par damakta hai
Meherban chandi ka dast-e-jameel
Khaak mein dhul gayi hai aabe-najoom
Noor mein dhul gaya hai ashr ka neel.
Sabz goshon mein neelgoon saaye
Lahlahate hain jis tarah dil mein
Mauj-e-dard-e-phirak-e-yaar aaye.

Dil se paiham khayal kahta hai
Itni shireen hai zindagi is pal
Zulm ka zahar gholnewale
Kamran ho sakenge aaj na kal
Jalvagahe-visaal ki shamayein
Vo bujha bhi chuke agar to kya
Chand ko gul karen, to hum jane.

For alternate translations and general context on where this post comes from, see here.

Monday, March 17, 2008




a thing achieved,

or given.

A release

we extrapolate

into meaning.

The words

not to say.


Not an emptiness, but

a fulcrum.

The circumstances

from which



they are meant.



not an emptiness, but

a thing achieved. A fulcrum,

or, given the circumstances,

a release, from which

we extrapolate absences

into meaning, infer

the words they are meant

not to say.


Blogging's been sporadic lately, I know, and is likely to continue that way for a couple of weeks. Combination of the Philadelphia Bach Festival (hence the post), a dissertation proposal that's due in two weeks and a couple of other projects I may tell you about someday, if you're foolish / sadistic enough to let me dandle your grandchildren on my knee.

Meanwhile, you can go watch / listen to M/s. Gould and Menuhin play Schoenberg, who I've been listening to a lot lately, and finding disturbingly easy to relate to.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Okay, I know I've blogged about Dean Young before (and this is turning into a little bit of a poetry obsessed week on 2x3x7), but I've been reading his 2007 collection Embryoyo and laughing myself silly with sheer delight, so I felt I had to share.

You can find poems from the collection here, here, here , here, here and here.

And here's one that you can't find online:

Bunny Tract

Primarily by zigzags like a poem,
bunny moves. Out of base material,
grass is arranged. Certainly, bunny
has much figured out. Quickly, it converts
fear of death, starvation, boredom
into giddy-up, part Chinese checker,
part quantum which is here or there
but never in between. Cherished
by Plains Indians was bunny's power
to disappear by holding very still.
The ancient poet wakes, a bit hungover,
footprints of his friend in new snow
going down the hill, bunny dances
on the edge of the abyss. A cactus
has less in common with static
than a thistle with a kestrel. Baseball
is full of superstition because
it's surrounded by infinity, played
on a diamond formed by multiples of three.
Full of funny hops, bunny twitches,
procreates, kept alive by a curious,
somewhat gross digestive practice
and, perhaps in recompense, excessive
cuteness except for cousin jackrabbit
who looks like those late photos
of Artaud. To give a jackrabbit shock
therapy would be redundant though
Bunny glimpsed by headlight: sailor's
delight; bunny in the morning red:
might as well stay in bed. Bunny
munches its radish leaves without irony.
Without irony, bunny dashes down the hole.
A sense of incongruity, feigned ignorance,
or the doubleness of being one place
but feeling you are another is solely
a human blessing / curse, an aid perhaps
in traffic jams but much worse trying
to embrace a lover and feeling stuck again
in the third-grade cloakroom, whiffs of glue.
It is times like these it seems bunny
knows exactly what to do, flee then stop
and disappear but friend, our work is dark
in a darker world of not leaping in the sun
much. Nerves live in the wormwood.
Every canoe is a sad canoe. Bunny
hops in the vetch but whatever holds us
in its mouth hasn't decided yet to bite
or drop us in a fluffier nest.

- Dean Young

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Gift of Mediation / Poetry vs the Canon

From today's Poetry Daily:

The Gift of Mediation

Shadow warns shadow that you approach,
light warns light.
Frightened, a wild dove starts up. You are an obstacle,
not foreseen here between the loftiness of pines
and penal divisions of low grasses.

You are a foundling looking for a family,
a prodigal son who has fled
and returns to bear witness to the independence
of trees and thistles, quick butterflies and dying dragonflies.

It is through them this moment of peace comes to us,
they help grace descend on the wing
of an unknown bird
and it is their voices—an ermine's cry, moan of a dove,
complaint of an owl—that remind us
the hardship of solitude is measured out equally.

- Julia Hartwig (trans. from the Polish by John and Bogdana Carpenter)

Seriously, what is it with Poland?


Meanwhile, over at the Guardian there's the Great Poets of the Twentieth Century thing. I know one should be grateful anytime the mass media pays serious attention to poetry, but I can't help finding the whole exercise terribly stick-in-the-mud. Do we really need to be told that Eliot, Auden, Larkin, Hughes and Plath are Great Poets? Again? [1]

Sean O'Brien, in a companion piece to the series in this week's Guardian Review makes an argument for 'bringing back' the canon, citing a friend's daughter who dislikes Eliot and arguing that to ignore the canon in the name of difficulty or as a political reaction to the hegemony of dead white men, is to deprive ourselves of some of mankind's most delightful and rewarding artistic achievements.

It's a good argument, and as someone who loves the work of almost all the poets featured I'm certainly not going to argue with the idea that more people should be encouraged to read them. But I can't help feeling that an overemphasis on the canon, especially the canon as defined by these choices, obscures what is, to me, one of the chief qualities of modern poetry - its sheer range. Poetry is large, it contains multitudes, and that multiplicity of voices is something we need to celebrate, not only because it allows poetry to speak to wide range of constituencies but because each one of those voices exists in the context of the other, so that the combination makes (to quote Keats) "pleasing music, and not wild uproar". To attempt to impose a canon on such diversity is to either fall into the trap of being 'representative' or to end up championing (consciously / unconsciously) one set of voices over the others. And neither of those approaches is particularly useful.

The trouble with the Canon, and the privileging it leads to, is that it limits the experience of poetry for potential readers, and therefore limits the readership for poetry. By making poets part of the Canon we make them gatekeepers into what is, for many, the mystical land of poetry, and in the process end up driving many of them away. Every time someone tells me that "they don't get poetry" or "don't much care for it" I always want to ask them - what have you read? It usually turns out to be something from the Canon. People sample these 'great' works, often in a classroom setting under the tutelage of uninspiring and poorly informed teachers, and end up coming to the conclusion that all poetry (or at any rate all modern poetry) is like this, and since this is the 'best' work and they don't like it, it's hardly worth pursuing it further. But, of course, those of us who do pursue it further know that there is much more to poetry than what goes into the Canon. I would go so far as to say that it's entirely conceivable that you could love poetry without being particularly fond of M/s. Eliot, Auden, Larkin and Hughes. I wonder how many people never realize that.

What we need if we want to make a wider audience engage with poetry (and that, I assume, is the Guardian's purpose - it hardly seems worthwhile to tell a group of people who already love poetry that Eliot was a great poet) is not a canon, but a new set of gatekeepers. One that will help people discover the variety of poetry. One that will help them to find, as a first step, a voice or a set of voices that they can delight in, and which can then become their entry point into this exciting new realm [2]. The question to ask is not who the great poets of the last century are, but who are the poets you would recommend to someone who was unfamiliar with poetry and regarded it with suspicion.

Don't get me wrong. This is not an argument for dumbing poetry down or for trying to write poetry that is more 'accessible'. It is simply a call for recognizing that a) different people will relate to different styles / voices and that b) some poets may be easier to relate to than others. My own list of poets to get people started on includes Amichai, Szymborska, Frost, Yeats and Billy Collins - each a perfectly respectable poet in his / her own right, but for most people, I would argue, an easier place to get started than Heaney or Ashbery.

Nor is this an argument for ignoring 'difficult' poetry. It is simply an argument for recognizing that difficult poetry may, for some people, need to be grown into. John Donne writes: "That which in him was fair and delicate / Was but the milk, which in love's childish state / Did nurse it: who now is grown strong enough / To feed on that, which to disused tastes seems tough." Making sure we provide that milk, rather than stubbornly insisting on the primacy of the canon, is what greater public engagement with poetry demands.

In the end, I keep coming back to the daughter of O'Brien's friend. Is seeing Eliot feted as on the 'Great Poets of the Twentieth Century' in the Guardian going to convince her to give him another try? Or is it just going to confirm her bias against him - making him even more of an authority figure and therefore someone more passionately to be rebelled against? The worst thing that could happen here is that this girl's prejudice against Eliot gets transferred to twentieth century poetry more generally, so that she ends up disliking not just Eliot [2] but poetry itself, and become one of those people who go around saying they "don't much care for poetry". What we need to do is not so much convince her that Eliot is worth the effort (if we can keep her reading poetry she'll figure that out eventually, and even if she doesn't, does it really matter?) as find her some other poet she can champion in Eliot's place. That after all, is how art progresses - by the intense championing of the new and exciting against the hegemony of the old and established [4].


[1] Though admittedly, Siegfried Sassoon being one of the century's great poets is news to me. I'm looking forward to hearing what William Boyd has to say about that one.

[2] I'm tempted to draw parallels to Virgil leading Dante all the way to Paradise, but never mind.

[3] I have my own theories on why people dislike Eliot, but that's a whole other post.

[4] You could argue, of course, that by putting up this list the Guardian has created a set of establishment figures to be opposed, sparking a broader discussion on poetry in the name of telling them why they're wrong (witness, for instance, this post) but somehow I doubt that's what they had in mind.

Mir-ly adequate

Okay, okay, so I know it's been two months since Szerelem asked me to do a Mir translation and I said I would, but these things take time, you know, especially when you forget all about them.

Anyway, here goes. I'm not entirely happy with the translation, but it'll have to do for now. You can read the original here and a slightly shortened version (with an alternate translation by K.C. Kanda) here. You can also see a video clip of Mehdi Hassan singing this ghazal on Youtube. I've skipped on couplet of the original because it didn't really make sense to me, and I haven't really stuck too closely to the literal meaning, so it's more a transcreation than a translation, but what the hell:

Look at the heart, see where it rises.
See how it comes upon us, like smoke.

Whose ashen grave is this? This sky
from which a flame daily rises.

These ruined chambers of my heart,
this house you must never leave.

When lamentation tugs at me,
a great roar rises, fills the air;

a dust of confusion rises
where your eyes engage my grief.

Where shall he find rest again?
The man who rises, leaves your door?

When I left your street it was as though
I chose to abandon the world.

Love, Mir, is a heavy stone.
Who can rise from under its weight?

- Mir Taqi Mir

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spritzer said to be weighing resignation

Am I the only one who sees this headline and has an immediate mental image of a man standing mournfully before a weighing scale, adding page after page to his letter until the pans balance?

What I find really outrageous about this whole thing is the $ 1,000 to $ 5,500 an hour the folks at Emperor Club charge. Do you know how many stupid undergraduate papers I would have to grade to make that kind of money?

Monday, March 10, 2008

City of Meh

Just got back from watching Paulo Morelli's Cidade dos Homens, which is basically a Ram Gopal Varma film, only in Portuguese and with hotter men. Actually, it's more like a combination of a RGV film and one of those corny Hindi films from the late 70's where child actors had a distressing habit of growing up to become Amitabh Bachchan. No, seriously. Story about two kids growing up fatherless in poverty, ending up being best friends, close as brothers? Check. Love interests? Check. Love interest who turns out to be daughter / sister of hero's most hated enemy? Check. One friend betrayed by other? Check. Betrayed friend falling into wrong company and taking to crime? Check. Startling revelations about hero's parents? Check. Friends break up, end up on opposite sides and come close to killing each other? Check. Hell, they even have a scene with the two friends driving about on a motorbike (though mercifully without a sidecar). I swear I sat in the theater humming "Yeh Dosti" under my breath, I was that bored. If you watched City of God and liked it (as I did) Don't watch this film. On the other hand, if you really enjoyed Knocked Up and / or are still nostalgic for the lost era of films starring Shatrugan Sinha, this is the film for you.

The most entertaining part of the whole experience was actually the couple sitting two rows away (who made up, incidentally, 40% of the film's audience). They get to the hall fifteen minutes early. They change seats three times before the finally decide where they want to sit. They sit there for one minute. Then they go out to get popcorn. They come back. They sit for thirty seconds. Then the guy goes to get water. He comes back. They sit for thirty seconds. Then the woman decides she wants to a Coke. So she goes and gets that. They sit for forty-five seconds. Guy goes to the restroom, returns. They sit for thirty-eight seconds. Woman goes to the restroom returns. They sit for two minutes, with the guy complaining that the movie hasn't started even though it's ten seconds pas the time, while the woman has a loud conversation on her cellphone about what she plans to cook for dinner. Show starts. Woman turns off cellphone, guy sits up. They settle in to watch. They watch the first trailer. They watch the second trailer. They find the third trailer inexplicably funny. Halfway through the fourth trailer they start whispering to each other. The movie starts. They watch it for fifty six seconds. Then they walk out, taking popcorn / water / coke with them. One minute later they return, bringing back popcorn / water / coke. They go to place where they were first sitting. They go to place where they sat next. They clearly have no clue where they were sitting but want to go back there. They pause, watch another two minutes of the film. Then they start searching again. A-ha! they have found woman's coat. Woman puts on coat while guy holds popcorn / water / coke / cellphone. Finally, seven minutes into the film, they leave, taking popcorn / water / coke with them.

Saturday, March 08, 2008


"I'm trying to write a poem that will alert me to my real life,
a poem written in the natural speech of the breakfast table,
of a girl spooning yogurt, pausing, the spoon held aloft
while she gestures toward the exact turning of her thought.

It would have to be a poem dense with ordinary detail
the way the sun, spilling across walnut and balled-up napkins,
can pick out cups, plates, the letter from which someone has just read aloud,
with evenhanded curiosity, leaving behind a gloss of pleasure."

- Jane Cooper, 'Ordinary Detail'

"Hurry up or you'll be late", her mother says.

The child knows better.

Alert as an alchemist, the child measures out each teaspoon of sunlight, adds it to the glass. Stirs it vigorously till the water shines with a dissolved brilliance. Till the water becomes a co-conspirator, and the spoon winks back at her, trying not to laugh.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Now that's what I call a birdie

Sometimes the jokes just fall into your lap.

Needless to say, this blog strongly disapproves of cruelty to animals, especially endangered species. What do you think humans are for?

Meanwhile, the Yahoo News site continues to be a source of endless entertainment. Another article from the site informs me that scientists have discovered that the Grand Canyon is at least ten million years older than it's usually considered to be. That's about 2,628,000,000,000 missed photo ops. No word yet on how old John McCain actually is.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Have been reading an early selection of poems by Danish poet Henrik Nordbrandt (translated by the poet and Alexander Taylor), and was struck by how strongly Nordbrandt (or at least early Nordbrandt - he has a few poems in this month's American Poetry Review that seem very different; he also puts in an appearance in a recent issue of Agni) seems to be influenced by Cavafy.

Exhibit 1:


We have been travelling so long
we no longer know where we live.
But if we did know
we would go straight home...

We call this city Athens
but we really can't
have arrived in Athens yet
since this place corresponds neither with
our memories nor our imaginings.

And since it is not Athens
how can we leave again
as long as we do not know
what place it is we are leaving?

So let us stay here a while
take a look at the ruins and get to know the city
and if after a time
we begin to feel so much at ease
we are convinced that it is Athens

we can begin again
to wonder where we live
and at that time
hopefully go straight home....

Exhibit 2

On the way to Ithaca

On the way to Ithaca I see myself at last:
A shape more blurred with the crest of each wave
as the men who created
its cold blue contours by rowing the ship forward

gradually are left astern, perish in their dreams
or fall dead on the oars:
Their disappearance brings me, bit by bit,
to the arrival that has always pursued me:

Pink mountains, capped with snow, jutting
from a pink sea, dissolve my features in theirs.
I am the nobody Ithaca has made me.

The Ithaca mirrored in the sea I had abandoned.
The Ithaca I thought was my longing
when that longing still had a form and could be stilled.

See what I mean? Of course, not all of it is like this. You also have:

China observed through Greek rain in Turkish coffee

The drizzle
falls into my coffee
until it gets cold
and runs over
until it runs over
and clears
so the picture at the bottom
comes into sight.

The picture of a man
with a long beard
in China
in front of a Chinese pavillion
in rain, heavy rain
that has congealed
in stripes
over the windblown facade
and over the face of the man.

Under the coffee, the sugar and the milk
which is curdling,
under the worn glaze
the eyes seem burnt out
or turned inward
toward China, in the porcelain of the cup
slowly emptying of coffee
and running full of rain
clear rain. The spring rain

atomizes against the eaves of the tavern
the facades on the other side of the street
resemble a huge
worn wall of porcelain
whose glow penetrates the wine leaves
the wine leaves which are also worn
as if inside a cup. The Chinaman
sees the sun appear through a green leaf
which has fallen into the cup

the cup whose contents
are now completely clear.


Head of Clay

The storm has washed a head of clay up the shore.
It is a sea nymph
and from the relationship of the face to the neck
it seems she has something in her hand
she is fond of. She looks
most of all like a girl from the country on her way to the dance
but has something sad about her
which she can't explain.

Now you carefully scrape the chalk from her face
to try to find out
what it is that troubles her. She looks
as if she were sleeping, dreaming
in a meadow. But on her cheek
near the right corner of her mouth is
embedded in the clay a birthmark
which she is trying to hide under a tuft of hair.

It is shaped like the imprint of a finger
the little finger of the right hand
and put there long ago when you once
touched her, only once, to thank her
for something you no longer remember.
Maybe it was only that she yielded
to your wishes exactly the way you wanted, so beautiful
you couldn't bear to leave her alone.

and just by way of comparison, here's one of the poems from APR (translated by Thomas E. Kennedy)

The House in Sweden

I bought a house in Sweden. And never
have I done, felt or seen anything more absurd
or seen a more insane row of words on paper.
"I" to start with certainly does not belong here.
"I" could just as convincingly have been an apothecary
or a lynx made of asbestos
and "bought" sounds like the only word
that has unhappily survived
a long dead Siberian language.
And "house." I who never wanted to live on earth
and of all places in Sweden: Not on your life.
Therefore I bought the house
so the apothecary's crisp bells could be heard
in early spring far out in the darkening birch wood
and the asbestos lynx could have a lake to mirror itself in.
I looked it right
in the eyes tonight as I prepared my suicide.
There stands the house in these words
on the length of the lake, whose depth is clearly visible
through the black holes of the ice.
It is a house. And because it is me
it is as red as blood but running nowhere.

More Nordbrandt poems here.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Author admits boring memoir is fantasy

Hohum County, Nevada

In a tearful statement here today 62 year old Emanla E. Rymton, author of a critically and commercially unsuccessful memoir about the joys of growing up in 50's America, admitted that her memoir, All Things Nice, is a complete fabrication from beginning to end. Ms. Rymton said "she didn't know what possessed her to publish that ghastly thing as my life story" but said that while she herself had never experienced any of the events in the book, the stories in it were drawn from the reminiscences of fellow residents of her old-age home. "I guess I just got sick of listening to them talk about all the pretty dolls they had", Ms. Rymton said.

Published last year, All Things Nice tells the story of an idyllic childhood in the suburban mid-west, spent playing with dolls, giggling about boys, and dreaming of white weddings and washing machines. The book, which the only critic who read it described as a 'saccharine snore-fest', and which is currently being made into a movie starring Lindsay Lohan, was an instant flop across the country, selling a total of 14 copies in the first month, including the three copies someone stole from Ms. Rymton's room.

It seems however, that the childhood Ms. Rymton describes never happened. Ms. Rymton never lived in a suburb outside Chicago, never owned a complete set of Barbies and did not spend her days cutting pictures out of Woman and Home to stick in her tinsel-and-ribbon filled scrapbook. Nor was Ms. Rymton ever a cheer-leader, in fact, she never even attended high school.

The child of a Mr. and Mrs. Rymtonski, a Jewish couple forced to flee their native Poland after the Nazi occupation, Ms. Rymton was orphaned at the age of 6 months when her parents were both killed in a mining accident in South Dakota. The rest of her family having vanished in the Holocaust, Ms. Rymton spent her childhood in a series of foster homes, where she suffered physical and sexual abuse, before running away to the Alaskan wilderness at the age of 12, where she proceeded to establish a working rapport with the grizzly bears and survived by hunting elk. A career as a drug-runner followed, then a stint in the CIA during the Nixon administration, followed by twenty years running covert operations for the Canadians in Northern Mongolia (as part of the series of top secret espionage missions described in Warren P. Aren't's thrilling book The Cold Shoulder War: The Race to be the Less Insignificant Neighbor).

When asked why she had chosen to conceal these facts, Ms. Rymton said that she felt like she needed "a different voice, a voice people would listen to, would respect, would understand". She also says that she apologizes for any disappointment her readers may feel upon learning of her true past, but that it was never her intention to trivialize the sufferings of the survivors of American suburbia, whom she described as "the true heroines of my story".

The revelation of the book's fictional nature caused little consternation, since no one has actually read it, but Simple and Huckster, the publishers of the book, issued a statement immediately following Ms. Rymton's expressing "their disappointment at being made the victims of this hoax, as well as of being deprived of this woman's real story, which we might actually have made of a profit off".

Ms. Rymton's statement is the third in a series of such revelations that have shaken the publishing industry recently, the other two being Margaret B. Jones' Love and Consequences and Misha Defonseca's Misha.

P.S. This just in: The reporter behind this news story just issued a statement saying that the entire report is a fantasy. In a tearful statement to his fellow journalists...

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Reading Snow

"as I speak he is freezing
my words he will melt them

to listen and listen
to the water of my voice

when he is the last
speaker of his language"

- Agha Shahid Ali

He wakes to find it's snowing, and he's the only one who knows the code.

He pulls on his overcoat, steps out into the yard. Snowflakes drift past, tiny packets of information, each one unique.

Where others see forgetting he sees pattern, beauty; his practiced hands finding, always, the snowflakes he seeks, the lightness of them on his fingertips that he deciphers into words.

With his eyes closed, the air is a braille of impressions. He has only to touch these poems to feel them melt away.