Thursday, November 29, 2007


And so – if it happens that I go –
something will remain
of me
in this world –
a slight trace of silence
amidst the voices –
a frail breath of white
in the heart of blue.

And one evening in November
a slender little girl
on a street corner
will sell chrysanthemums,
under stars
frozen, green, remote.

Someone will cry,
somewhere – somewhere –
someone looking for chrysanthemums
for me
in this world
when, with no return, it happens that
I have to go.

Nick Benson's translation of the poem below by Antonia Pozzi (1912-1938). When she took her own life at the age of twenty-six she was virtually unknown, but the notebooks she left behind were filled with terse poems of astonishing power and lyricism. Her verse places her alongside the ‘hermetic’ poets of the day – Montale, Ungaretti, Quasimodo – but her voice is unmistakable. Her poems are collected in the volume Parole (Garzanti, 1998), and a collection of prose has been published as Diari (Scheiwiller, 1988); a selection of her work was published not long ago translated from the Italian by Lawrence Venuti (Breath: Poems and Letters, Wesleyan UP, 2002).


E poi – se accadrà ch’io me ne vada –
resterà qualche cosa
di me
nel mio mondo –
resterà un’esile scía di silenzio
in mezzo alle voci –
un tenue fiato di bianco
in cuore all’azzurro.

Ed una sera di novembre
una bambina gracile
all’angolo d’una strada
venderà tanti crisantemi
e ci saranno le stelle
gelide verdi remote.

Qualcuno piangerà
chissà dove – chissà dove –
qualcuno cercherà i crisantemi
per me
nel mondo
quando accadrà che senza ritorno
io me ne debba andare.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Double shot

The aforementioned (previous post) TLS piece in one ear, tazza of Brasil Jacaranda espresso precariously balanced on my pince-nez, paging through Adam Makkai, ed., IN QUEST OF THE ‘MIRACLE STAG’: THE POETRY OF HUNGARY, Volume 1 (Chicago: Atlantis-Centaur, 1996), I was jolted from my pfeffernuss by the following two translations of a poem by Abraham Barcsay (1742-1806):

Blood-stained fruit of labor, sweated out of Black slaves,
Which the greedy English ship abroad for fat sales,
They fill up their coffers with delightful profit
from sugar cane — England gets rich from it.
Coffee bean, which of yore, grew around far Mocca,
You’re now in the West, too, slave-labor’s crude mocker,
The sage feels disgusted, seeing how a thin cup
Makes him an accomplice, sipping British guilt up.

Trans. Thomas Kabdebo [& A.M.]

Crop of sweat and blood, of African slave labour,
Sold around the world by the grasping English trader,
Sugar cane produced a sweeter taste to offer,
And to line with gold a wealthy English coffer.
And you, tiny bean, in Mocca cultivated,
By the slaves who pick you, so bitterly hated −
Thinking men are shamed to sip you in their parlour
And to share the guilt that the greedy English harbour.

Trans. Peter Zollman

The editor, Adam Makkai, writes: “The first significant poet of the Hungarian Enlightenment, Barcsay was a descendant of a noble Transylvanian family, of which Akos Barcsay, Prince of Transylvania (1610-1661) was the most prominent member [...] He was sharply critical of the colonizing efforts of the powerful European nations [...] He was the first Hungarian writer to have described folk customs without distortion or sentimental exaggeration. Toward the end of his life he withdrew to his small estate in Transylvania. While his thought was bold and progressive, he stuck to traditional verse forms such as the alexandrine in most of his poetry” (123-124).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Poem by Mebane Robertson


The city swallowed me whole like a long, squiggly bait,
Though I tell less than the truth very often.
My professors complain of this, my syntax.
My artist friends say different things depending.
Lately, I dream of silk: black silk
Tied around my eyes, and being led somewhere:
To a hellova party where I am always just arriving,
And, being blinded, I stumble and fall
Like a long ash into some stranger’s drink,
Like counting back from a hundred under chloroform,
Like ether dripping on my scalp, whispering goodnight.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bouts of lyric clarity and sudden plunges through cogitating thickets

If you feel you’ve been hiding too much in the open, it’s time to look into a new book of poems by an old friend, Mebane Robertson, Signal from Draco. I know, “this is a friend of his, so of course...” OK, but tell me if you find another book like this, the first volume in Black Widow’s ‘New Poets’ series ( It is an uncommon collection, at once generous and unsparing. The book can be compared to a broad canvas, or perhaps a sequence of five canvases to correspond to the book's sections; mingling there are elements of imbedded information, a personal geography, and a psychic itinerary. Though tightly woven and economical, the poems are never reductive in tracing thought and emotion through the entire bric-a-brac of experience. The book’s layered soliloquies are as exacting as life: they refuse to broker an expedient deal with daily living and the nightcrawl to come up with something reassuringly tidy but untrue. As I read, I thought if Berryman were here, and he could mosh, he might say these lines.

I hope to post some of Mebane's work here soon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Yi-Chen Jessie Tsai is the artist.
She is from Taichung, Taiwan.

I asked her how she did this, and she said
the photo was over there, I painted over
here...I nodded, but have no idea...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Poetry of the season must include the following haiku:

Send application
Stress out while they pick and choose
Send the deposit

Applying to school
Just does not seem fair to me
Pay to be denied?

Part of the haiku epic series under construction by Alex Strelov - known as Farsh - his family is from Zlarin. Clever - once enrolled in senior classes, he announced that he was going to do the year again. This has many advantages. I think this post is over now, except I will say that the entirety of the haiku epic series is a kind of installation-art stroke of genius. Readers who know Farsh will have already figured this out.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mark Rudman writes:

I just heard about Norman Mailer's death. Sad! It might be of some interest that I wrote a poem in dialogue with The Executioner's Song, called "Provo." Of course I had the misfortune to spend too much of my adolescence in Salt Lake City, and I still haven't stopped trying to recreate the sense of repression that gave Gilmore's fate such a tragic cast. "Provo" was first published in the London Review, where I hoped Norman might have seen it, and later became the first poem in The Couple, a bad move in a way because reviewers often fixed on the poem and used up too much of their allotted space, and it was hardly typical of the dialogic poems in the book, although this is in dialogue with Mailer, my stepfather, the town, its inhabitants, and the landscape which I doubt corresponds to how people from the east coast see Utah, especially now in light of the upbeat Sundance. Park City is not Provo.

I'll put a link to Mark's new website in the list to the right. He is a singular poet, in the best sense. I'm particularly fond of the use he makes of Italian places and influences. I'll have a review of his latest book of poems, Sundays on the Phone, in the Spring 08 issue of Prairie Schooner. More will be said about the considerable pleasures of reading his essays and the poems of the Rider Quintet - five books of poetry published in the years 1994-2005 - in future posts.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Poem by Emily Alter

Landour, Mussoorie, July 29th, 2007

I cried, or should have,
had I been more alone,
more at ease with my homesickness
and its new settlement –
that is to say its new target
at which to shoot the arrows of that pain,

a pain attributed to a small child
suddenly and unknowingly separated,
which I am not.
I am accompanied in this new and renewed
home by that which a homesick
child cries for.

Home, whose definition grows with
the stages of our lives, is an
idea which nomads refuse,
or so the story goes, and in this refusal
appeal to some higher sense of belonging.

Shoes sink into endless sand
that fortifies this belonging, an existence:
a connection and inseparability to land, earth, ground
so when these shoes are lifted from it,
it, quite often, is brought along.

The earth that I picked up to bring along,
has been returned.
As we drove up the winding roads, windows open,
I hurled it from my weathered hands,
and now I find – in returning it –
that I have lost my ground and found my

Poem by John Alter

Sum, some, Somme

He didn’t stand a
What in the mind is
Like fallen leaves,
In a day, a kind of
I don’t remember
Well. Walking at odd ends
We came across
Leading down to what
Once had been a
Graveyard, I think. Life
Shuts the book. Turns off
The microphone. Who’s keeping
Track of numbers anyhow?
58,000 British soldiers,
Battle of the Somme,
Some kind of single day record.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

In Dimapur by Jon Hartmann

I was fast asleep when I felt something begin to shake my feet which were hanging off the edge of my bunk. It was the Hijras, a tribe of fancifully dressed transsexuals native to train stations across India. Even in modern day their supposed power over fertility and future marriages is believed to be true. It was my turn to pay up. Shifting his weight to his right foot under a sequined sari and lifting a henna painted hand, I, in my undying quest to live as an Indian, crusaded for a two rupee piece within my pocket. Rolling back under my railroad issue wool blanket, I fell asleep as the train again rattled itself up to speed along the tracks.

Three to ten hours later I still couldn’t quite sleep and sat awake in the open boarding gate of the train as it shambled deeper into the Bengal. Looking out into the moonlit countryside a thousand small fires dotted the fields, to each a few mildly cold and hungry sugarcane farmers. Sobering; a sea of candles.

The train would slow down and pass by these crossroads where the inter-village roadways happened to cross the railroad. The roads in between the villages have sprung up as an effect of jeeps burning the pathways into the dusty soil rather than by the government construction, as with railroad crossing gates along these roads. The train now began to slide by one of such stations and I looked on at the collection of villagers in jeeps and mulling around on foot and bikes waiting for the train to pass. It was a strange mix of moonlight and firelight that was cast upon the faces of the grey-shawled and jagged toothed farmers making the midnight journey from one village to the next. Strange how even in the dark, I could see their yellowed eyes look back in some askew nutrient deficiency, not accusingly, but in question.

I arrived in Guahati Nagaland expecting elephants and sugarcane, to find a starving urban setting not unlike old Delhi, apart from the greater East Asian presence. I strafed my way through stifling sidewalk crowds and quickly into the nearest restaurant. I hadn’t seen another westerner in weeks, excepting the three other Caucasians I was traveling with. Guahati was unsafe at night, it’s a city ruled by petty gangs and territory lords, full of prostitution and struggling farmers. I ate some ice cream and wandered back to my hotel, treading on stamped sugarcane rinds and old newspaper the whole way, walking in the electric shadow of run-down high rise apartments festooned with adds in Hindi. People here mysteriously have a pastime for snapping photos of any foreigner. Long after the women had been forced to retreat indoors I still remained outside rather unsafely as gangs began to gather and light their trash-fires in alleyways, chewing betel. An Asian phenomenon, a strange stimulant in the form of a tooth-hostile nut served with red dye and pickled sugar wrapped in a leaf. You can immediately recognize a betel chewer by their red and eroded teeth and highly receded gum-line. They’re mostly the shadier members of society and simply the bored. As I saw the traffic and families all but disappear I knew it was time to be getting back to my hotel room.

The room was spacious, empty, and stained heavily with betel, everywhere, the walls, the shower, bed sheets, couch. I presumed the couch to be the least of all evils and slept there for a hearty six hours, in full dress as I had taken to after a month of living out of a train.

Showers are a curious thing. Everyone in India enjoys a hot shower; however, in a single building, rarely is there a room with more than a minute and a half of hot water. It has become a custom to fill up a bucket with what hot water exists and then to use a smaller ladle to spoon said water onto yourself and wash with the aid of a 5-rupee packet of soap, available in the bazaar, when you do choose to bathe.

The next city I traveled to was Dimapur, north of Guahati. The city is significantly friendlier and less corrupt. Interestingly and unbeknownst to me somewhat of a pirate culture exists in Dimapur; the name itself indicates a more east Asian or Singaporean origin and this is also apparent in Dimapur’s system of ports and river markets.

At one point during my stay in Dimapur I decided to eat something. I had a powerful hankering for some Indian McDonalds, the Maharaja Mac or something to that effect doused in masala mayonnaise. I and my Afghan friend Montazer set out in a rickshaw journey not soon to be forgotten. We asked the driver if there was a McDonalds around he could take us to, and he nodded fiercely with one hand on his moustache and the other on a framed picture of Siva. This particular rickshaw needed to get a running start before the engine would go into gear or even start. So we all got out and ran with the rickshaw into the road, all the while amid fierce traffic oncoming in all directions. The rickshaw sputtered to life, our driver gunned the throttle, and the floor shook fiercely.

The next stop, though it was a McDonalds, was not what we were expecting. The mascot of this particular eatery was a clown but it was more swollen and scarecrow like, in 2D sign form wrapped with Christmas lights, as was the entire ceiling inside. Three steps inside and we were nearly choked with the thick cigarette smoke in the air. It was almost hazy; the sheer amount of smoke created a foggy atmosphere, but we were hungry. The restaurant itself reminded me of kind of a typical cheap Italian restaurant in the States, particle board tables with checkered tablecloths, mirrored ceilings, low light, and fake plants in every other corner. Except there were no Americans, or Italians for that matter, but Nagas, all very Asian and very surprised to see a white boy of questionable origin accompanied by an Afghan in their local hangout. We strode through the mood lighting and over to the table in this strange opium-den – pizzeria – lounge fusion of a restaurant. The food wasn’t particularly amazing and I knew nothing on the menu, so the first chicken item I saw, I ordered, and it happened to be some strange pile of shredded chicken on a bun. I think we must have been the first people in months to order anything other than beer; we were graced by two very dusty bottles of coke.

Nagaland is a place of extremes, or maybe just opposing generations. Opposing generations in that the generation of parents right now still appreciate Naga culture, still believe that the piles of caterpillars I saw for sale in bazaars actually held medicinal power, that it’s still proper to have tea, and to keep a Naga-spear above your fireplace.

At one point I walked through a bazaar deep in Dimapur. The entire block had been set up around probably what is a square quarter mile of bilge or cesspool water for the lower residential section. It was almost a story down in a sort of swimming pool affair except the water was more of a jersey –green than the ideal swimming color. And no one would dream of swimming here. This bazaar was typical in that it was all narrow alleyways covered in halogen light and cheap cloth. At one point I began to smell probably the most powerful odor I’ve ever smelled. It was a Naga fish market. There was sort of this hangar affair in the middle of the bazaar where no shops were around; so, dangerously curious, I went inside and almost immediately felt the need to vomit, even breathing though my mouth the smell still penetrated my lungs and created kind of a gagging feeling. There were shelves upon cabinets and desks covered in fresh fish and eels, freshwater stingrays, everything you could conceivably eat out of the local river, all rotting in the unrefrigerated glory of this fish-hangar. I was immediately greeted by a scaly young man, scaly in that he was literally covered with fish scales, and he urged me to look over his fine selection of moderately fresh produce. Underneath the tin roof halogen globe lights were hanging down the center aisle, casting yellow-red light. It baked the smell somewhat.

After only under 10 minutes, I hurried quickly back out into the market, carefully avoiding stepping on the piles of caterpillars being hawked by street-vendors. I ventured back to the cesspool market, and stopped to look out for a minute. The sky was grey and seemed to hang closely above the high rises bordering the square pool. All along the cement walls, holding the pool now below me, were painted Coke ads, where rats scampered over the heaps of trash decomposing at the pasty green water’s edge.

There was sort of a basement feeling to the surrounding bazaar, closed hallways full of fading clothes and discarded cookware, the occasional shady-stalker after your wallet, as occasional as a patch of natural light, or a glimpse out to the pool. Outside I noticed it was beginning to get dark, as less light fell through the tangled jumble of power lines creating a canopy over the street-tops, in-between the stained high rises.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Green Hill, What Izzat?!

Green Hill, what is that? A pile of money? Not here, no! An optimistic look at Purgatory? Why not. It sounds better than Route 47. Green Hill passes three churches as well as the green commons of Washington, before bisecting the Gunnery campus, after which it waves off Route 109 to Roxbury and zips past the Mayflower's driveway... if you're coming from the Depot. But what is this? Who needs directions in writing anymore? Besides, we all know very well where we are going.

It seems to me that it was out of this demented life-preserving certitude that this blog spontaneously emerged. Green hill must be a reference to the heaps of green coffee beans lying around the Zero Prophet roastery, waiting for their moment, waiting perhaps to be pulverized and taken off to McCutcheon. These beans have already undergone quite an extensive translation, having been cultivated, harvested, milled, transported multiple times... Finally, the disparate elements, the stray shots & highlanders & journals in english arabic hindi korean cantonese spanish german italian hungarian... all are meant to circulate and meet here, in a Zocalo of the imagination.