Posts filed under ‘‘New’ Poetry’

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

Hazard Response

Tom Clark


As in that grey exurban wasteland in Gatsby
When the white sky darkens over the city
Of ashes, far from the once happy valley,
This daze spreads across the blank faces
Of the inhabitants, suddenly deprived
Of the kingdom’s original promised gift.
Did I say kingdom when I meant place
Of worship? Original when I meant
Damaged in handling? Promised when
I meant stolen? Gift when I meant
Trick? Inhabitants when I meant slaves?
Slaves when I meant clowns
Who have wandered into test sites? Test
Sites when I meant contagious hospitals?
Contagious hospitals when I meant clouds
Of laughing gas? Laughing gas
When I meant tears? No, it’s true,
No one should be writing poetry
In times like these, Dear Reader,
I don’t have to tell you of all people why.
It’s as apparent as an attempted
Punch in the eye that actually
Catches only empty air—which is
The inside of your head, where
The green ritual sanction
Of the poem has been cancelled.

from Light and Shade: New and Selected Poems, © 2006 by Tom Clark

I like the call and response style the poem uses right after it sets up the contrasting opening lines, “grey exurban wasteland” and “once happy valley”. The poem goes well with the title of this book – Light and Shade (which in turn evokes Keats).

Here is a bit from a conversation featured in the Jacket‘s April ’06 issue, where Clark talks about this poem,

“I had that passage[from The Great Gatsby] in mind when I started the poem: ….

With “happy valley,” I was thinking, perhaps, of the America of Johnny Appleseed, in the Disney version, bright and abundant fields and orchards, that cartoon dream of an American past supplanting the endarkened vision of the present and future which Fitzgerald saw, or vice versa, …
The poem was written in that interesting early Fall of 2001, just after 9/ 11 and during the subsequent anthrax terror scare. One gaped with wonder at one’s TV while white-lipped network newscasters grimly presented footage of Hazmat teams in yellow plastic suits swarming pointlessly around outside suspected toxic terror sites…

Meanwhile crowds of evacuated workplace normals could be seen apprehensively looking on, too sheepish to acknowledge the real terrorists might be those they’d chosen to govern them. That image of the doubled wastelands, the wasteland in Gatsby, the wasteland in the suburban office building parking lot was indeed, as you’ve said, the switch that opened the floodgates of the “call and response” structure that holds the poem together, even as it tries to fall apart.”

UPDATE: a link to Tom Clark’s blog Beyond the Pale, where he has linked to this reading! :)


April 26, 2006 at 4:00 pm 10 comments

The Landscape

Robert Desnos


I dreamt of loving. The dream remains, but love
is no longer those lilacs and roses whose breath
filled the broad woods, where the sail of a flame
lay at the end of each arrow-straight path.

I dreamt of loving. The dream remains, but love
is no longer that storm whose white nerve sparked
the castle towers, or left the mind unrhymed,
or flared an instant, just where the road forked.

It is the star struck under my heel in the night.
It is the word no book on earth defines.
It is the foam on the wave, the cloud in the sky.

As they age, all things grow rigid and bright.
The streets fall nameless, and the knots untie.
Now, with this landscape, I fix; I shine.

(Translated from the French by Don Paterson)

Given that it's been over 60 years since Desnos died, this poem doesn't strictly qualify as contemporary poetry, but I include it here because it appeared in this week's issue of Poetry (which I've blogged about here) and because, well, I like it.

Paterson, writing about the poem in his translator's note, describes it as "one of those poems so deeply folded in its own music, it almost defines the 'problem of translation'". I can't speak to the quality of the translation here, not having read, or being capable of reading the poem in its original [1], but I think that music is very much in evidence here. Each individual line of this poem, when you sit down to dissect it, is not particularly impressive, and if the overall effect is powerful, it can only be because of the graceful rhythm of the whole. And isn't that true of landscapes themselves? That breath-taking as they may seem in perspective, closer scrutiny will show them to be merely picturesque. And empty.

[1] Paterson himself is careful to make the point that this is a 'version' not a translation. He writes:

"By definition, pursuing a lyric aesthetic in translation makes it an act of versioning, no translation proper. Because you know the original surface-sense will suffer as a result, your allegiance switches from the original words to your subjective interpretation of them, i.e. to that wholly personal mandala of idea and image and spirit that floats free of the poem, and functions in a kind of intercessory capacity in it reincarnation. A translation is different. It tries to remain true to those original words and their relations, and its primary aim is usually one of stylistic elegance (meaning essentially the smooth elimination of syntactic and idiomatic artifacts from the original tongue, a far more subtle project than it sounds) – in which lyric unity is only one of several competing considerations."

Worth remembering for the next time we have the discussion about translations of Faiz on this blog.

April 25, 2006 at 4:01 am 2 comments

Affair of Kites

Robin Robertson


I sit, astonished by the pink kite:
its scoop and plunge, the briefness of it;
an escaped blouse, a pocket of silk
thumping like a heart
tight above the shimmering hill.
The sheer snap and plummet
sculpting the air's curve, the sky's chambers.
An affair with the wind's body;
a feeling for steps in the rising air, a love
sustained only by the high currents
and the hopeless gesture of the heart's hand.

The kitemaster has gone, invisible
over the hard horizon;
wind walks the grass between us.
I see the falling,
days later feel the crash.

Over the last six months, Robin Robertson has moved pretty high up on my list of contemporary poets to watch. First alerted to his poetry by poems that appeared in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, I've since read both of his collections, A Painted Field and Slow Air (I liked Painted Field much better) and am looking forward to his third book, Swithering, which came out this month.

At his best, Robertson combines the lyrical accuracy of Heaney, with a violence that reminds me of Lowell, and a bloodthirsty-ness that does credit to his Scottish ancestors. He is a fine, fascinating poet, who this poem, picked to show off his more whimsical side, does not do full justice to (though it's a lovely poem for all that). Read him.

April 23, 2006 at 3:08 pm 1 comment

Pitching Horseshoes

Claudia Emerson


Some of your buddies might come around
for a couple of beers and a game,
but most evenings, you pitched horseshoes

alone. I washed up the dishes
or watered the garden to the thudding
sound of the horseshoe in the pit,

or the practiced ring of metal
against metal, after the silent
arc – end over end. That last

summer, you played a seamless, unscored
game against yourself. Or night
falling. Or coming in the house.

You were good at it. From the porch
I watched you become shadowless,
then featureless, until I knew

you couldn't see either, and still
the dusk rang out, your aim that easy;
between the iron stakes you had driven

into the hard earth yourself, you paced
back and forth as if there were a decision
to make, and you were the one to make it.

Taken from Late Wife, a collection of poems for which Emerson won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry this year (see my review of the book here).

This is one of my favourite poems from the first part of the book. I like the unusual, lonely image of a man pitching horseshoes late into the night, the clanging and metallic flavour of it, the way Emerson makes it so vivid, so easy to picture. And I love the way this seemingly innocent hobby becomes a metaphor for so much more, for a sort of stubborn isolation, for the struggles of a man thinking things through over and over, trying to get it exactly right.

April 21, 2006 at 8:33 pm 15 comments

Suicide of a Moderate Dictator

Elizabeth Bishop


for Carlos Lacerda

This is a day when truths will out, perhaps;
leak from the dangling telephone ear-phones
sapping the festooned switchboard's strength;
fall from the windows, blow from off the sills,
– the vague, slight unremarkable contents
of emptying ash-trays; rub off on our fingers
like ink from the un-proof-read newspapers,
crocking the way the unfocused photographs
of crooked faces do that soil our coats,
our tropical-weight coats, like slapped-at moths.

Today's a day when those who work
are idling. Those who played must work
and hurry, too, to get it done,
with little dignity or none.
The newspapers are sold; the kiosk shutters
crash down. But anyway, in the night
the headlines wrote themselves, see, on the streets
and sidewalks everywhere; a sediment's splashed
even to the first floors of apartment houses.

This is a day that's beautiful as well,
and warm and clear. At seven o'clock I saw
the dogs being walked along the famous beach
as usual, in a shiny gray-green dawn,
leaving their paw prints draining in the wet.
The line of breakers was steady and the pinkish,
segmented rainbow steadily hung above it.
At eight two little boys were flying kites.

I've blogged extensively about the new collection of Bishop's fragments and unpublished pieces elsewhere, so I'll spare you the larger discussion. This particular poem is one of the most polished of the collection though, and showcases admirably Bishop's gift for both atmosphere and surprise. Some of the phrases that Bishop throws in so casually are simply stunning ('tropical-weight coats, like slapped-at moths) and the sense of expected panic, of the fake calm of a day when a storm is expected comes across perfectly. "in the night / the headlines wrote themselves, see, on the streets / and sidewalks everywhere", Bishop writes, and you can just picture the town teetering on the edge of nervous anticipation. Even the normalcy of the last stanza, the obliviousness of the truly innocent (I'm reminded of Auden's Musee de Beaux Arts, that line about 'how everything turns quite leisurely away from the disaster'), only heightens the sense of submerged tension in the poem.

April 19, 2006 at 9:13 pm Leave a comment


Louise Gluck


Part 5

Part 6


It is true there is not enough beauty in the world.
It is also true that I am not competent to restore it.
Neither is there candor, and here I may be of some use.

I am
at work, though I am silent.

The bland

misery of the world
bounds us on either side, an alley

lined with trees; we are

companions here, not speaking
each with his own thoughts;

behind the trees, iron
gates of the private houses,
the shuttered rooms

somehow deserted, abandoned,

as though it were the artist's
duty to create
hope, but out of what? what?

the word itself
false, a device to refute
perception – At the intersection,

ornamental lights of the season.

I was young here. Riding
the subway with my small book
as though to defend myself against

this same world.

you are not alone,
the poem said,
in the dark tunnel.


The brightness of the day becomes
the brightness of the night;
the fire becomes the mirror.

My friend the earth is bitter; I think
sunlight has failed her.
Bitter or weary, it is hard to say.

Between herself and the sun,
something has ended.
She wants, now, to be left alone;
I think we must give up
turning to her for affirmation.

Above the fields,
above the roofs of the village houses,
the brilliance that made all life possible
becomes the cold stars.

Lie still and watch:
they give nothing but ask nothing.

From within the earth's
bitter disgrace, coldness and barrenness

my friend the moon rises:
she is beautiful tonight, but when is she not beautiful?

The more I read Gluck, the more I find myself admiring her work. Today's selection comes from her book – Averno [1] – which is a lovely collection of graceful, meditative poems about aging and mortality and grief. A handful of poems here ('Prism', 'Fugue') are a too fragmented, too insistently clever for my taste, but the rest are all consistently stunning.

I picked the last two sections of the long poem October both because they embody everything I like about Gluck's style, and also because they provide an excellent illustration of the way Gluck balances, in Averno, a sense of overwhelming despair with the kind of sad hope that comes only from acceptance. Hope is not a currency that poetry can presume to trade in, Gluck seems to say, but when you find yourself in the dark tunnel, what can the poem find to say to you, except that you are not alone? (that line, btw, is in italics in the original)

P.S. My plan for the rest of the week, just by the way, is to try and focus on 'new' poetry – poems from recent collections / magazines as well as by more contemporary poets.

[1] From the front pages of the book: "Averno. Ancient name Avernus. A small crater lake, ten miles west of Naples, Italy; regarded by the ancient Romans as the entrance to the underworld"

April 18, 2006 at 11:31 pm 14 comments