Thursday, February 26, 2009

ein Schiff mit acht Segeln

I have some poems out in print journals I thought I'd mention, as well as other poem news. As this may become rather dull for you, I have organized video entertainment, ie Lotte Lenya singing a Kurt Weill song. Please push play.

Issue 2 of Barn Owl Review has “Etiquette.” This is a poem about trying to be polite. It involves clam dip and cigarettes, too.

Bateau (2.1) published two poems – “Reading Kolyma Tales” and “Why Pregnant Women Don’t Tip Over.” The former is about reading the book Kolyma Tales, kind of, in case you couldn’t guess. The latter comes from an explainer column in the NYTimes about why pregnant women don’t tip over. In other words, the titles of these poems are very apt.

John Wang has also let me know that he included two of my poems in the Juked #6 print anthology: “Rainmaker” and “I Will Now Eat a Loaf of Bread.” It’s too complicated even for me to explain what these poems are about.

Otherwhere, I got a couple rejections recently from Silk Road and Elimae.
But The Literary Bohemian took two poems for its next issue: "The Snow is an Intelligence Officer" & "On Stopping To Smell Perfume On the Way Home From Work." Both of those titles are self-explanatory.
Also Fraglit, a very interesting conceptual journal, took a series of poem fragments called “Tea Leaves.” It’s about tea, believe it or not.
And Hobble Creek Review took two poems: “Ghazal at Ebbtide” and “Inside the Little Picture.” Rachel Mallino will also have a couple poems in this issue, so all the more reason to read.

I will surely flag these pubs when they appear…

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

the chase scene

People are always moaning about writer’s block but nobody ever complains about reader’s block.
Writing makes some big demands on a person.
In reading, on the other hand, you’re not asked to do much more than pay attention.
And yet you arrive slack-jawed at the bottom of the page and go, “what?”
Doesn’t it make you feel like the most despicable failure
to have to travel back up the page and start again?
For goodness’ sake!

Monday, February 23, 2009

when wonderful, add water

The good thing about this blouse is it fits.

(removed for maintenance!)

Friday, February 20, 2009

austerity chic

Every day I'm more uneasy how steeply things are lurching downward. No one wants to hear this and I don't want to hear it either but I work in news and it's all I hear. Pretty soon we'll all be huddled in our dark empty cupboards, teeth chattering.
We'll be reduced to rags and eating polenta.
Whenever I think frugal I think polenta. The last time I ate polenta was in Italy on an agriturismo vacation. The polenta was grey - grey as if it had sucked all the smog from Milan. Even if things get worse, I won't eat any more polenta. My Italian husband agrees: no way.
I know some people think polenta is chic, but in more ways than one it's the culinary equivalent of burlap.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

wandered lamb-like

I’ve been very busy with numbers. It’s not a one-sided thing – we’ve both needed some organizing. I was at parents’ night for my son’s class last night. Of 33 parents, 22 were women, and of those six had dyed their hair blond. It’s very original. Even one of the fathers dyed his hair blond. And part of his beard. It’s contagious. Designing pie charts was the only thing that saved me from parents' night tedium. Even words are taking a backseat these days. For example, describing the 5th graders, the teacher used the word lammfromm. This means pious, or meek, as a lamb. But the interesting thing about lammfromm is how many Ms come in the package. Four out of nine letters. What’s that, 44%? Some words seem more like numbers than words. They’re solutions to problems. Lammfromm, for example, is gorgeously symmetrical and could be the answer to a lot of the world’s long, multi-tiered problems. For starters, it would take us far in peace agreements.

Anyway, if you’ve been trying to reach me, even telepathically, I’ve been busy calculating.

Friday, February 13, 2009

bell letters

dear meryl streep,
We adore you. You’re exquisite. But why’d you accept that role in Mamma Mia? We enjoyed watching you, but think it was a foolish decision. So what if you’re not young anymore. Who is?

dear very pregnant lady on the bus,
Hello, and please don’t be discouraged. Also clouds assume oddball shapes, but their progress is smoother than any boat on any lake.

dear ritter sport chocolate bar,
Alongside pustefix, you remain one of the few german upsides. I thank god america hasn’t discovered you. I have so few secrets.

dear pablo picasso,
I’ve been seeing your stuff since the day I was born and must admit I’ve been impressed. I remember viewing Nude Woman in a Red Armchair at the Tate and thinking the man is a genius. But still you seem like an egotistical bastard. Is that true? Modigliani, on the other hand ... soul galore!

dear president obama,
That’s it – just dear p.o. Because I’m glad to write it.

dear candle wax,
Stop corrupting my children with that hot slick. Every time I turn around they’ve plugged you with a weepy finger.

what it was supposed to be like

It was supposed to be a cool, shadowy hallway laid with an oriental runner. Doors would be open up and down, and sometimes the scent of something – say grapefruit or paraffin – would move through like a passing mood. But of course it wasn’t like that. Often it was noisy, and smelled of glue or smoke, or burnt milk.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Monday, February 09, 2009

Threw the Book at Him

Unlike the free world, you can’t name your kid anything you want in Germany. It has to be a recognized name that’s appropriate to the child’s sex and not dreamed up on your last gin bender. Thus there is no Moon Unit or 4Real; and no, unlike a New Jersey couple, you can’t name your child Adolf Hitler. The only exception is for foreigners. I was allowed to name my son Miles because as a foreigner I’m not subject to the great book of names. (I do have to suffer the very original joke about Lufthansa’s frequent flier program in regard to Miles’s name, but by not laughing I try to teach by example.)

Although German parents can’t name their kids Apple, there aren’t restrictions on how many names they can give him/her/it. This struck me today as the country got a new economics minister named Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg. Especially charming is the last name “von und zu Guttenberg,” meaning “from and to Guttenberg.” He can’t decide. All those names have confused him.

Kind of makes you dizzy, no? And a little sick to your stomach?

ange barbu

Last week we visited friends in Bad Honnef, a town on the Rhine where we've been many times, and my friend Ursula casually mentioned she'd passed a plaque in town saying Guillaume Apollinaire had lived there briefly more than a hundred years ago. Needless to say we set out to find it. Wherever he actually lived is quite gone, as some semi-modern apartments now stand behind the plaque.

Sleepy Bad Honnef, Germany seems an unlikely place for a pioneering French poet. I asked Ursula why on earth Apollinaire was living there. She explained "It's pretty here!"

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Lycra-like Trampoline

Some people insist every poem needs its own title, as if you were naming a baby. Personally I don’t mind if a poem goes around as “Untitled,” although, of course, a title lets the poet determine how the poem is identified. Don’t title it and you run the risk of readers coming up with something like “the poem with sleet in it,” or “the dead baby poem.” Who wants that? Luckily, default will usually kick in and the poem will be identified by its first line, à la e.e. cummings.

On the other side are poets who use the same title over and over, like Louise Glück in Wild Iris. This makes identifying the poem even harder than leaving it untitled. There’s “Matins page 2,” “Matins page 3,” page 12, 13, 25, etc. Hey, they were all good, but which one are we talking about?

In my book, anything would be preferable to calling a poem “Poem.” As if there were only one!

There’s a poet I know who hates long titles. I admit this can come off as gimmicky, but usually I find it a draw. A poem called “Poem in Which the Clairvoyant Gives In and Sells Her Internal Organs to Buy the Lycra-like Trampoline” would pique my interest more than “Snow.” (At least initially.) The danger here is the reader enters with big expectations. If the poem is a let-down, an extraordinary title won’t save it. It will only make the let-down worse.

I thought such long titles were rare but a recent cull of Verse Daily turns up a bunch of them. If any of these intrigue you, go forth and prosper.

"Brought to You by the Letter Ox , Or: Why I Want my Son to Remain Illiterate" by Mitchell Metz

"The Blackmailer's Wife Reads History and Considers the Nature of Guilt" by Judy Brown

"The Poem You Hang on Your Wall Like a Painting Because It Does Something Different Each Time the Light" by Timothy Kelly

"Speedy Inexpensive Chaos Theory Poem About Short Term Memory Loss" by Peggy Munson

"I Am Talking Dirty to You Like You are the Only One in the Room" by Danielle Pafunda

"On a Woodpecker Drinking from a Knothole Still Full of the Last Rain" by Maurice Manning

(this post is up over at linebreak's blog, too)

Friday, February 06, 2009

the past, there you have it

Like many blonde children I was born royal but abducted by envious pygmy bunnies and taken to keep their warren clean. They pecked me, and did not pay well. Still I was able to learn three languages, including bird slang of the western hemisphere. When I got too big the bunnies left me with with the management of Sloat’s Tavern in Scranton, PA in exchange for a purse of chocolate coins wrapped in tinfoil. The man who became my father swept up the tavern. He was a music critic who hated the phrase “head cheese” and his parents were bartenders beset by moods. My greatgrandfather was a tap-dancing Dane who died of typhoid fever while doing the vaudeville circuit. He introduced yoga to the US. but they hid this fact from me, thinking I’d be too full of myself to continue the flute lessons if I knew.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

serious filth

My poem "Scullery" is up at Verse Daily!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

so much depends upon a good translator

The Cigarette by Francis Ponge (translated by Lee Fahnestock)
First let’s set the atmosphere, hazy yet dry, wispy, with the cigarette always placed right in the thick of it, once engaged in its continuous creation.
Then, the thing itself: a small torch, far more perfumed than illuminating, from which, in a number of small heaps set within a chosen rhythm, ashes work free and fall.
Finally, its sacrifice: the glowing tip, scaling off in silvery flakes, while a tight muff formed of most recent ash encircles it.

The Cigarette (translated by C.K. Williams)
Let’s first create the atmosphere, at once misty, dry, and dishevelled, in which the cigarette, since it itself continuously creates it, is always laid athwart.
Then its person: a little torch, much less luminous than fragrant, from which in a rhythm yet to be determined a measurable number of little lumps of ash detach themselves and fall away.
Finally, its passion: that fiery bud, flaking off into silver dandruff, held by a sleeve immediately formed by the most recent of them.

La Cigarette by Francis Ponge
Rendons d’abord l’atmosphere à la fois brumeuse et sèche, échevelée, où la cigarette est toujours posée de travers depuis que continument elle la crée.
Puis sa personne: une petite torche beaucoup moins lumineuse que parfumée, d’où se détachent et choient selon un rythme à dèterminer un nombre calculable de petites masses de cendres.
Sa passion enfin: ce bouton embrasé, desquamant en pellicules argentées, qu’un manchon immédiat formé des plus récentes entoure.

It seems to me the Williams’ translation has a couple inspired moments, eg “that fiery bud” for “bouton embrasé,” whereas the Fahnestock uses the simpler “glowing tip.” I also prefer Williams’ “sleeve” to “muff,” mostly because a sleeve for me evokes a long cylinder enclosing another long cylinder, something loosely housing something else. “Muff,” despite an unfortunate sexual connotation, is certainly on the mark, but a little cute at the same time.

I didn’t especially like Williams’ unappetizing rendering of “pellicules” as “dandruff,” but in fact that’s what “pellicules” is. Dandruff!

I think the main weakness of Williams’ translation is in the first segment, where he uses “create” twice. Fahnestock finds a way around that that’s more down-to-earth, but completely servicable and preferable to repetition. Secondly, Williams’ “laid athwart” reads awkwardly to me, while Fahnestock chooses the smoothly idiomatic “in the thick of it,” which goes so well with her later “heaps.” I like those “heaps,” and also prefer “perfumed” to “fragrant.”

To be honest, the more I look at this prose poem the more difficult it seems to translate well at all. So many phrasings offer themselves up to potential (and manifest) awkwardness. It would be lovely just to speak French. I think I’ll do that.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

as writing is itself a translation

I'll be guest-blogging this week over at linebreak.

Guide to Re-reading Hardy

From the Madding Crowd

There’s one café that still welcomes smokers. The house ale pours mahogany. In the glass a mist sifts up before settling like a frail collar, lacy at the lip.

It will all happen. There’s no stopping it.

To staunch the draft, the owners have cloaked the vestibule around the door with a wool drape. When the door swings open, a gust erupts with a cough of snow, abrupt and cold.

Collar. Color. Coral. A rhapsody of coal smoke engulfs the crowd.

It's easy to read things wrong first time around.
Love can make it maddening.

others in this series: Tess, Jude
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