Posts filed under ‘Series’

Alle Tage / Every Day

Ingeborg Bachmann

Listen (to Bachmann read)

Der Krieg wird nicht mehr erklärt,
sondern fortgesetzt. Das Unerhörte
ist alltäglich geworden. Der Held
bleibt den Kämpfen fern. Der Schwache
ist in die Feuerzonen gerückt.
Die Uniform des Tages ist die Geduld,
die Auszeichnung der armselige Stern
der Hoffnung über dem Herzen.

Er wird verliehen,
wenn nichts mehr geschieht,
wenn das Trommelfeuer verstummt,
wenn der Feind unsichtbar geworden ist
und der Schatten ewiger Rüstung
den Himmel bedeckt.

Er wird verliehen
für die Flucht von den Fahnen,
für die Tapferkeit vor dem Freund,
für den Verrat unwürdiger Geheimnisse
und die Nichtachtung
jeglichen Befehls.

Translation (by Peter Filkins):

War is no longer declared,
but rather continued. The outrageous
has become the everyday. The hero
is absent from the battle. The weak
are moved into the firing zone.
The uniform of the day is patience,
the order of merit is the wretched star
of hope over the heart.

It is awarded
when nothing more happens,
when the bombardment is silenced,
when the enemy has become invisible
and the shadow of eternal armament
covers the sky.

It is awarded
for deserting the flag,
for bravery before a friend,
for the betrayal of shameful secrets,
and the disregard
of every command.

I’ve been reading a lot of Bachmann recently, having just got my hands on a 2006 edition of her Collected Poems translated by Peter Filkins and entitled Darkness Spoken.

What I love about this poem is the first stanza, which seems to me to encapsulate the essence of modern warfare, the way the horrors of violence are converted into just another television feature, how routine steadily numbs us to the brutality of the truth.


P.S. Today’s recording comes to your courtesy of lyrikline, where you can also fine a whole bunch of other Bachmann recordings.

April 2, 2008 at 3:20 am 4 comments


Yusuf Komunyakaa


Thanks for the tree
between me & a sniper’s bullet.
I don’t know what made the grass
sway seconds before the Viet Cong
raised his soundless rifle.
Some voice always followed,
telling me which foot
to put down first.
Thanks for deflecting the ricochet
against that anarchy of dusk.
I was back in San Francisco
wrapped up in a woman’s wild colors,
causing some dark bird’s love call
to be shattered by daylight
when my hands reached up
& pulled a branch away
from my face. Thanks
for the vague white flower
that pointed to me the gleaming metal
reflecting how it is to be broken
like mist over the grass,
as we played some deadly
game for blind gods.
What made me spot the monarch
writhing on a single thread
tied to a farmer’s gate,
holding the day together
like an unfingered guitar string,
is beyond me. Maybe the hills
grew weary & leaned a little in the heat.
Again, thanks for the dud
hand grenade tossed at my feet
outside Chu Lai. I’m still
falling through its silence.
I don’t know why the intrepid
sun touched the bayonet,
but I know that something
stood among those lost trees
& moved only when I moved. 

Anytime contemporary war poetry gets discussed, Komunyakaa’s Dien Cai Dau is bound to get mentioned, and with good reason. Direct and moving, Komunyakaa’s poems combine brutal honesty with fragile lyricism, offer us an insider’s view of the war that is stripped of all rhetoric, above and beyond all politics. Reading them, we find ourselves placed in the human center of a maelstrom of savagery, loss, courage and hope, searching for a tentative beauty that is snatched away even as we glimpse it.

Today’s poem is, I think, a good example of what makes Dien Cai Dau so powerful. With its litany of narrow escapes, ‘Thanks’ shows us how the constant awareness of death is the constant awareness of grace, how the true horror of war is the way it proves death arbitrary, “slave to Fate, Chance, kings and desperate men” (as Donne would have it) and how if we come to believe in a power that transcends us, it is because we are constantly aware of how frail the thread of our life is, and how little we have done to deserve to keep it intact.


September 21, 2007 at 1:21 pm Leave a comment

The Pilots

Denise Levertov


Because they were prisoners,
because they were polite and friendly and lonesome and homesick,
because they said Yes, they knew
the names of the bombs they dropped
but didn’t say whether they understood what these bombs
are designed to do
to human flesh, and because
I didn’t ask them, being unable to decide
whether to ask would serve
any purpose other than cruelty, and
because since then I met Mrs. Brown, the mother of one of their fellow prisoners,
and loved her, for she has the same lovingkindness in her
that I saw in Vietnamese women (and men too)
and because my hostility left the room and wasn’t there
when I thought I needed it
while I was drinking tea with the POW’s,

because of all these reasons I hope
they were truly as ignorant,
as unawakened,
as they seemed,
I hope their chances in life up to this point
have been poor,
I hope they can truly be considered
victims of the middle America they come from,
their American Legionnaire fathers, their macho high schools,
their dull skimped Freshman English courses,

for if they did understand precisely
what they were doing, and did it anyway, and would do it again,

then I must learn to distrust
my own preference for trusting people,

then I must learn to question
my own preference for liking people,

then I must learn to keep
my hostility chained to me
so it won’t leave me when I need it.

And if it is proved to me
that these men understood their acts,

how shall I ever again
be able to meet the eyes of Mrs. Brown?

It’s about time we updated this blog. And it’s about time we had a Levertov poem up on it.

I really like Levertov – at her best she’s one of the most stunningly lyrical poets of her generation. Today’s poem is taken from The Freeing of the Dust (1975) – one of her most political collections, featuring a whole series of ‘protest’ poems about Vietnam. Of these, The Pilots is easily my favorite, not so much because of its technical brilliance or the quality of its imagery (though it is a deeply eloquent poem) but because of the way it so perfectly captures the fundamental dichotomy between the abstraction of war and human reality of those who fight it, the way it’s so easy to hate War as an idea, and so much harder to condemn those who fight it in person. What do you say to the families of those killed fighting what you believe is a fundamentally unjust war? What do you say to the Mrs. Browns of the world, who are kind, generous and sincere human beings, and yet who take pride in the fact that their sons are out there attacking and killing innocent people?

The Pilots is set in Vietnam, but the questions it raises, the choices its narrator is faced with, remain (sadly) as relevant today as they were three decades ago.


September 19, 2007 at 4:11 am Leave a comment


Hart Crane


We will make our meek adjustments,
Contented with such random consolations
As the wind deposits
In slithered and too ample pockets.

For we can still love the world, who find
A famished kitten on the step, and know
Recesses for it from the fury of the street,
Or warm torn elbow coverts.

We will sidestep, and to the final smirk
Dally the doom of that inevitable thumb
That slowly chafes its puckered index toward us,
Facing the dull squint with what innocence
And what surprise!

And yet these fine collapses are not lies
More than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;
Our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.
We can evade you, and all else but the heart:
What blame to us if the heart live on.

The game enforces smirks; but we have seen
The moon in lonely alleys make
A grail of laughter of an empty ash can,
And through all sound of gaiety and quest
Have heard a kitten in the wilderness.

What better way to end our poems about movies theme than with this exquisite poem by Hart Crane. Crane is one of the greatest and most original visionaries of twentieth century poetry, shaper of an inimitable aesthetic, master of finding the lyrical in the prosaic, the astonishment of beauty in the tedium of the everyday. What other poet could have taken something as out and out entertaining, as raucously funny, as a Chaplin film, and written a poem this gentle, this heartbreaking? What other poet could have written a line as perfect as “we have seen / The moon in lonely alleys make / A grail of laughter of an empty ash can, / And through all sound of gaiety and quest / Have heard a kitten in the wilderness”?

I can think of no better summing up of this madcap enterprise of illusion and fantasy, of moonlight and tears,  that we call the movies.


August 14, 2007 at 2:40 am 3 comments


A. E. Stallings


Late at night,
One of us sometimes has said,
Watching a movie in black and white,
Of the vivid figures quick upon the screen,
“Surely by now all of them are dead”—
The yapping, wire-haired terrier, of course—
And the patient horse
Soaked in an illusion of London rain,
The Scotland Yard inspector at the scene,
The extras—faces in the crowd, the sailors;
The bungling blackmailers,
The kidnapped girl’s parents, reunited again
With their one and only joy, lisping in tones antique
As that style of pouting Cupid’s bow
Or those plucked eyebrows, arched to the height of chic.

Ignorant of so many things we know,
How they seem innocent, and yet they too
Possess a knowledge that they cannot give,
The grainy screen a kind of sieve
That holds some things, but lets some things slip through
With the current’s rush and swirl.
We wonder briefly only about the girl—
How old—seven, twelve—it isn’t clear—
Perhaps she’s still alive
Watching this somewhere at eighty-five,
The only one who knows, though we might guess,
What the kidnapper whispers in her ear,
Or the color of her dress.

We’re almost at the end of our poems about movies theme now, so it feels apt to indulge in a little nostalgia. This little gem comes to you from the archives over at Blackbird, via a recommendation from Space Bar. It’s a pleasant, clever poem, which reminds me, for some reason, of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (the 1934 version with Peter Lorre, not the 1956 one) and also makes me think of the time before we had color television, and the shock of seeing some of the shows I’d only known in Black and White suddenly blazing with color.


August 12, 2007 at 5:26 pm Leave a comment


B. H. Fairchild


Before the lights went out, looking back
in a full house, you must have seen
old faces, child-like with expectancy.
The strangest things can happen. Here.
And then you knew we wanted dreams
where all the terrors that we learned
weren’t real, were real, here, in the dark:
dreams that flickered like venetian blinds
in a white-frame houses where we stood
in halls with roses on the walls, stared
at doors the wind slammed shut, yelled
up stairs before we took one step,
and then another, up. And ran back down.
You took us only where we’d been
before, and then made every fear
come true. The hall that darkens
at the end, leads to darker rooms.
The door that keeps the unknown out,
lets it come in. The winding stairs
that draws us from our mothers’ laps,
won’t let us come back. We stand there,
looking up, and all the shrieks and
flapping wings we ever woke up from,
we wake up to. And when we leave,
glad for light outside dim movie houses,
we grow back into day and wide, white streets.

I have to admit I’m not terribly fond of this poem. There are a couple of phrases in it that make me wince, and I think the end is terribly weak. Plus, frankly, I’m tired of the whole Hitchock: Master of Suspense thing. Yes, the man was brilliant at building up that sense of nerve-wracking tension, of fear and foreboding. But to focus exclusively on that is to miss out on so much more in his films – the quirky little comic turns, the natural ease of his characters, the sheer audacity of combining light-hearted romance with tales of murder and intrigue. Admittedly this is probably more true of his early British films than of his later work (why, oh why would someone with Hitchcock’s talent waste it on Tippi Hedren?), but still.

Having said that, Fairchild’s poem does accurately capture the nightmarish menace of Hitchcock’s films, the way he shows us, again and again the possibility of terror in the heart of the ordinary, so that we can never step into a shower or stare out of the rear window at a neighbor or watch birds gathering on a nearby tree without experiencing that slight premonition of horror, without imagining, for only a split-second, how things could turn out terribly wrong.


P.S. You can read more about B.H. Fairchild here. This poem comes from his collection Arrival of the Future (Alice James Books, 2000)

August 4, 2007 at 3:47 pm 2 comments

Ave Maria

Frank O’Hara


Mothers of America
let your kids go to the movies
get them out of the house so they won’t
know what you’re up to
it’s true that fresh air is good for the body
but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by
silvery images
and when you grow old as grow old you
they won’t hate you
they won’t criticize you they won’t know
they’ll be in some glamorous
they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or
playing hookey
they may even be grateful to you
for their first sexual experience
which only cost you a quarter
and didn’t upset the peaceful
they will know where candy bars come
and gratuitous bags of popcorn
as gratuitous as leaving the movie before
it’s over
with a pleasant stranger whose apartment
is in the Heaven on
Earth Bldg
near the Williamsburg Bridge
oh mothers you will have made
the little
so happy because if nobody does pick
them up in the movies
they won’t know the difference
and if somebody does it’ll be
sheer gravy
and they’ll have been truly entertained
either way
instead of hanging around the yard
or up in their room hating you
prematurely since you won’t have done
anything horribly mean
except keeping them from life’s darker joys
it’s unforgivable the latter
so don’t blame me if you won’t take this
and the family breaks up
and your children grow old and blind in
front of a TV set
movies you wouldn’t let them see when
they were young

My thanks to Space Bar for reminding me of this delightful poem. It’s the ultimate ode to escapism, and who better than Frank O’Hara to pen it?


August 2, 2007 at 1:41 pm 2 comments

TV Men: Lazarus

Anne Carson



Yes I admit to a degree of unease about my
motives in making
this documentary.
Mere prurience of a kind that is all too common nowadays
in public catastrophes. I was listening

to a peace negotiator for the Balkans talk
about his vocation
on the radio the other day.
“We drove down through this wasteland and I didn’t know
much about the area but I was

fascinated by the horrors of it. I had never
seen a thing like this.
I videotaped it.
Then sent a 13-page memo to the UN with my suggestions.”
This person was a member

of the International Rescue Committee,
not a man of TV.
But you can see
how the pull is irresistible. The pull to handle horrors
and to have a theory of them.

But now I see my assistant producer waving her arms
at me to get
on with the script.
The name Lazarus is an abbreviated form of the Hebrew ‘El’azar,
meaning “God has helped.”

I have long been interested in those whom God has helped.
It seems to often be the case,
e.g. with saints or martyrs,
that God helps them to far more suffering than they would have
without God’s help. But then you get

someone like Lazarus, a man of no
particular importance,
on whom God bestows
the ultimate benevolence, without explanation, then abandons
him again to his nonentity.

We are left wondering, Why Lazarus?
My theory is
God wants us to wonder this.
After all, if there were some quality that Lazarus possessed,
some criterion of excellence

by which he was chosen to be called
from death,
then we would all start attempting to achieve this.
But if

God’s gift is simply random, well
for one thing
it makes a
more interesting TV show. God’s choice can be seen emerging
from the dark side of reason

like a new planet. No use being historical
about this planet,
it is just an imitation.
As Lazarus is an imitation of Christ. As TV is an imitation of
Lazarus. As you and I are an imitation of

TV. Already you notice that
although I am merely
a director of photography,
I have grasped certain fundamental notions first advanced by Plato,
e.g. that our reality is just a TV set

inside a TV set inside a TV set, with nobody watching
but Sokrates,
who changed the channel in 399 B.C. But my bond with Lazarus goes deeper, indeed
nausea overtakes me when faced with

the prospect of something simply beginning all over again.
Each time I have to
raise my slate and say
“Take 12!” or “Take 13!” and then “Take 14!”
I cannot restrain a shudder.

Repetition is horrible. Poor Lazarus cannot have known
he was an
imitation Christ,
but who can doubt he realized, soon after being ripped out of his
warm little bed in the ground,

his own epoch of repetition just beginning.
Lazarus Take 2!
Poor drop.
As a bit of salt falls back down the funnel. Or maybe my pity
is misplaced. Some people think Lazarus lucky,

like Samuel Beckett who calls him “Happy Larry” or Rilke
who speaks of
that moment in a game
when “the pure too-little flips over into the empty too-much.”
Well I am no explaining why my documentary

focuses entirely on this moment, the flip-over moment.
Before and after
don’t interest me.
You won’t be seeing any clips from home videos of Lazarus
in short pants racing his sisters up a hill.

No footage of Mary and Martha side by side on the sofa
discussing how they manage
at home
with a dead one sitting down to dinner. No panel of experts
debating who was really the victim here.

Our sequence begins and ends with that moment of complete
and sport –
when Lazarus licks the first drop of afterlife off the nipple
of his own old death.

I put tiny microphones all over the ground
to pick up
the magic
of the vermin in his ten fingers and I stand back to wait
for the miracle.

I know, I know, this isn’t really a poem about movies, but it’s close enough. What I love about this poem is the distance it travels, as well as the way it blends ideas and images, the ancient and the modern, the lyrical and the prosaic.

Anne Carson has been pretty much my poet of the month this past July (I’ve blogged about her here and here) so it felt fitting to include some of her work on Poi-tre. This one comes from Men in the Off Hours and is just one of many, many brilliant poems in that collection.


P.S. BM points me to an article about Men in the Off Hours in Slate

August 1, 2007 at 1:28 pm 3 comments

My Career as a Director

Bob Hicok


It’s the last moment of night in the theatre.
The names of the best boy and key grip
are floating towards heaven. The movie
was about the paralyzing sadness of death
and the last movie I saw in this theater
with my feet up on the balcony
was about the paralyzing sadness of death
but the name Albert Albertson is funny.

His job was to shout, “Quiet on the set”
when the actors were about to be sad
or die. And the director’s job was to ask
if the actors could be sadder, if they could die
better. And the makeup crew
drank together in parking lots and hotel rooms,
always looking at the sky or the bedspreads
for the true colors of sadness, the spooky hues
of death. If the last two movies I’ve seen

had babies together, I’d pay to meet
their offspring in this theater from the 1940s,
recently restored and staffed by volunteers
who enjoy Portugese films about the struggle
to eat good food and Norwegian films
about the agonizingly beautiful noses
of Norwegians. The firstborn
would be an achiever of sadness,
the dead people would die again
so they could be mourned again by the long shot
of birds swirling at sunset like scatter
is what becomes of us. The second born

would be shy and have water in every scene
and at least one actor would smile
and a bicycle would lean against the wall
of the cottage, where after three bottles
of wine, the four couples who’ve come
from the city for a week of the dishes
being magically done after their feasts
and the beds being magically made
after their partner-swapping sex, discuss
the paralyzing sadness of death while a fire
suggests that the cycle of life is beautiful
though not energy efficient. In the third,

a man would read a letter twenty years
after it was written by his mother
about the day they played in the sandbox.
She described how sunlight was trapped
in his hair and that he leaned back
and kissed her shin and how after they buried
his green soldiers to their heads,
they pulled them out and set them free
on the sea of the birdbath. She wrote
the letter just after they played
while looking out the window at another woman
tying the shoe of a little girl, we would see her

at her desk in a flashback after everyone
who would die in the movie has died,
after everyone who would scream has screamed,
after the cup that would look glorious
and symbolic has looked gloriously symbolic,
has glowed on the counter like it can never fade,
though behind and around it everything does.
When he folds the letter and puts it back

in the envelope and comes down from the attic
and touches the hair of a woman who is sleeping
on the couch and carrying how close we come
to being eternal in her womb, the movie will end
with the opening of her eyes, eyes that were cast
because they are brown like the richest soil

and I will sit in the dark while the names
ascend, the sadness of the movie feeling false
because there’s so much of it until the lights
come on and people feed their arms to the appetite
of their coats and faces flow back into skin
and minds return to bodies and bodies recall
how brief they are and I will live in my creaking
seat until the screen catches fire again.

We’ve never run any Hicok on Poi-tre before, which is a shame because he’s one of the funniest and most inventive poets writing today.

‘My Career as a Director’ is classic Hicok. It’s casually conversational, it wanders here and there, skipping lightly from one idea to another, it’s deliciously funny in bits, but also, in a slapdash way, beautiful and somehow genuine. It’s like listening to someone who isn’t trying to be clever, but is, effortlessly. And I love the ease with which Hicok evokes these imaginary films of his, the movies themselves seeming so real that you feel certain that you’ve seen them, or something very like them, but can’t remember what.


July 25, 2007 at 12:01 pm Leave a comment

‘The Prisoner of Shark Island’ with Paul Muni

John Berryman


Henry is old, old; for Henry remembers
Mr Deeds’ tuba, & the Cameo,
& the race in Ben Hur,—The Lost World, with sound,
& The Man from Blankey’s, which he did not dig,
nor did he understand one caption of,
bewildered Henry, while the Big Ones laughed.

Now Henry is unmistakably a Big One.
Fúnnee; he don’t féel so.
He just stuck around.
The German & the Russian films into
Italian & Japanese films turned, while many
were prevented from making it.

He wishing he could squirm again where Hoot
is just ahead of rustlers, where William S
forgoes some deep advantage, & moves on,
where Hashknife Hartley having the matter taped
the rats are flying. For the rats
have moved in, mostly, and this is for real.

Yet another poem about the nostalgia for old movies. Except this one comes to you in the exuberant and inimitable voice of John Berryman. Berryman’s Dream Songs rank among my favorite works of poetry from the last century – a collection of poems so exquisitely inventive, so casually lyrical, so enthusiastic in their engagement of language that they seem almost drunk with it, so brimming with the wit and rhythm, energy and sweetness that they should, rightfully, be classified as jazz.


P.S. The trailer for John Ford’s ‘Prisoner of Shark Island’ here.

July 23, 2007 at 12:50 pm Leave a comment

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