Thursday, November 26, 2015

Scorched Maps

Scorched Maps
by Tomasz Rozycki
Translated by Mira Rosenthal
For J. B
I took a trip to Ukraine. It was June.
I waded in the fields, all full of dust
and pollen in the air. I searched, but those
I loved had disappeared below the ground,
deeper than decades of ants. I asked
about them everywhere, but grass and leaves
have been growing, bees swarming. So I lay down,
face to the ground, and said this incantation—
you can come out, it’s over. And the ground,
and moles and earthworms in it, shifted, shook,
kingdoms of ants came crawling, bees began
to fly from everywhere. I said come out,
I spoke directly to the ground and felt
the field grow vast and wild around my head.
Tomasz Rozycki is one of the finest Polish poets living today.This poem originates from a trip he undertook to Ukraine when he visits an area where his forefathers lived before the Second world war. The poet's ninety-year-old grandmother—when she found out he was going there for the first time so many years after the nightmare of the war—wanted him to tell her if there was any sign of her house left, even though she didn’t have much illusion that there would be.
Many families were resettled from that area after the Second World War because of the agreement between Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt, who won the war. At that time the borders of Poland were shifted west, and the Poles who lived in the area that was lost to the Soviet Union were transported by freight train west to Pomerania and Silesia, where I live today. These changes affected several million people, who had to abandon their homes, neighbors, traditions, memories, and God knows what else—everything that had happened on that ground for centuries.
The Second World War in particular afflicted those living in this area, Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Armenians—everyone who had helped form the unusual mosaic of cultures and languages there over the centuries. They experienced the terror of Soviet occupation—mass executions and the transportation of millions of victims to the Gulag and forced labor camps deep within Russia—which met with the terror of the Nazis as the Germans, in a systematic way during the extermination of the area’s population, prepared their future “living space.” Inconceivably, at the same time a brutal domestic war continued between Ukrainian nationals, who cooperated with Hitler during the period, and the Polish resistance—a war in which neighbors murdered neighbors and the number of victims and the atrocity of what happened calls to mind ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. The poet's family was one of those that experienced all of the terror and mourned each of the victims.
The mournful silence of the place that he arrives in search of his roots, overwhelms the poet. He lies on the ground and makes this poignant incantatory plea to all his forefathers buried there to come out as the terror regimes are over and they can now live safely.
From "Colonies" Tomasz Rozycki . Translated by Mira Rosenthal. The introduction about this poem is from the poet's preface to it published by PEN America.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

but there are true memories as well

but there are true memories as well

by Mircea Ivănescu  

Translated by Adam J Sorkin and Lidia Vianu

once i walked around carrying a memory,
gripping tight in my hands so it couldn't escape me.
across the floor.i polished it with my coat sleeve,
i wasn't worried. my memories are rubber balls-
they never break. only, if they escape me,
out of my grasp, they can roll a long way-
and i myself am much too indolent to give chase, or even
stretch myself to limits, to reach a hand
lower and lower and retrieve the memory.
i prefer simply to pick up another. and this might be false.
once, as i said, i too walked around carrying a memory
in my arms-- (and thought, with a wicked
grin , that in a well-known book i forget who it was
walked in hell carrying his own head to light 
the way), and isn't this more or less the same thing?

 Mircea Ivanescu is one of the most original of all Romanian poets. Deceptively self-contained, refined,  gently ironic and stylishly parodic, Mircea Ivanescu's poetry is a source of intrigue and fascination. A noted translator of English and German literature including James Joyce's monumental text Ulysses and works by Franz Kafka and William Faulkner, Ivanescu is regarded as one of Romania's most important contemporary writers.

 Centring on a wide cast of characters, including his alter ego 'mopete', Ivanescu's idiosyncratic, lyrical sensibility offers allusive, comic and elegiac meditations on our common lot. Often his poetry is punctuated by moments of the absurd.

Reading his poems, one is amazed at the variety of themes that he handles.vMost of the poems have  no decisive beginning point, no pronounced closure as well.They unfold like dreams and are disjointed and often have no climax. They are replete with characteristic imageries such as absence, darkness, night, cold, snow, frozen time, memories, winter, fog, death, regret etc. The above is a sampler.

Memories are kind time machines that take us backwards. They have huge staying power and some of them could be like lanterns in our dark times.They can be key to our future as well.

The line in this poem referring to the incident of a character carrying head in his arms is from Divine Comedy where Bertran de Born, carries his severed head like a lantern (a literal representation of allowing himself to detach his intelligence from himself), as a punishment for (Dante believes) fomenting the rebellion of Henry the Young King against his father Henry II.

(Source : LINES POEMS POETRY by Mircea Ivănescu  .Translated by Adam J Sorkin and Lidia Vianu. UPP Press)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

My love, don't believe

 My love, don't believe

By Bartolo Cattafi 

Translated by Dana Gioia

My love, don’t believe that today

the planet travels on another orbit,

it is the same journey between old

pale stations,

there is always a sparrow flitting

in the flower beds

a thought grown stubborn in the mind.

Time turns on the face of the clock, it joins

a trace of fog above the pine trees

the world veers into the regions of cold.

Here are the crumbs on the earth,

the embers in the fireplace,

the wings,

the low and busy hands.

Bartolo Cataffi (1922-1979) was born in the province of Messina, Sicily, but worked in Milan with brief vacations in his hometown. He began writing after a medical discharge from the army in WW II , and continued to write up to the time of his death of cancer at age 57. He published several award-winning collections during his lifetime

Cattafi's concerns are often philosophical: how to find significance in the fleeting moments of brief lives when surrounded by an infinity of time and an omnipotent universe. He tackles these issues with a dry humor, a semi-ironic belief that everything and everybody are special despite how routine, predictable, and common much of existence is. It can be the landscape of depression, those never-ending dilemmas without resolution. But usually he toughs it out by sheer physical effort, the optimism of fresh beginnings, a shaky belief in the improbable or impossible or that time-honored weapon against death: the erotic.

This poem describes the experience of a tension between the poles of temporal and eternal being, not an objective cognition either of the poles or of the tension itself. Whatever may be the status of man as the subject of the experience, he does experience in his soul a tension between two poles of being, of which one, called temporal, is within himself, while the other lies outside of himself, yet cannot be identified as an object in the temporal being of the world but is experienced as being beyond all temporal being of the world.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015



by Angel Gonzalez

Translated by Steven Ford Brown and Gutierrez Revuelta

I notice it: how I'm slowly getting
less certain, confused,
dissolving in the daily
air, coarse
tatter of myself, frayed
and ragged at the cuffs.

I understand: I've lived
another year, and that's a hard thing to do.
To move one's heart almost a hundred
times a minute every day!

Just to live a year one has to 
die over and over.

(from Astonishing World: Selected Poems of Angel Gonzalez)

Ángel González Muñiz (September 6, 1925 – January 12, 2008) was a major Spanish poet of the twentieth century. 

Time is something mysterious, beyond human comprehension and control. Yet, human beings are so fond of measuring it for practical reasons. This poem that measures the slow impact of time on physical and psychological aspects of our persona is typical of it. Its primary effect is to keep the reader poised between assent and dissent. The speaker's comparing himself to a worn-out part of clothing (frayed and ragged at the cuffs),  is credible to his reader when he describes how time and experience have aged him.

But in explaining why he is frayed, his credibility itself wears thin. ThIs reasoning conflicts with common sense perceptions of what makes one feel eroded by life. What seemed suitable as a concrete metaphor (the person as a garment that wears out) has become all too concrete and physical. Not only does the speaker overemphasize precise numbers (hundred times), which gels with the birthday aspect since it is also often tagged with a number, but he attributes complex aging process to a single facet of physical existence insufficient to explain his psychic disorientation. The involuntary beating of the heart- a basic animal level of aliveness- has little to do with the emotional wear and tear that the reader accept. In attributing the stress on one more year to a single aspect of being alive, the speaker suddenly turns the attention to the ennui of existence itself. The speaker is trapped in a meaningless world where his life is a living death can be understood as an expression of the absurdity of human existence.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Goat

The Goat
by Umberto Saba (Italian Poet)
Translated from the Italian by Stephen Sartarelli

I had a conversation with a goat.
She was tied up, alone, in a field.
Full up with grass, wet !
with rain, she was bleating.

That monotonous bleat was brother
to my own pain. And I replied in kind, at first
in jest, and then because pain is eternal
and speaks with one voice, unchanging.
This was the voice I heard
wailing in a lonely goat.

In a goat with a Semitic face
I heard the cry of every woe on earth,
every life on earth.

Translated by Geoffrey Brock
I've spoken to a goat.
She was alone in the field, she was tethered.
Sated with grass, drenched
with rain, she bleated.

Her steady bleating bothered
my own grief. And I replied-at first
in jest, then because the voice of grief
is one unchanging everlasting note.
This was the voice
moaning out of the solitary goat.
Out of that goat with its Semitic face,
came grievances regarding every evil,
from every throat.
I love poetry were the conscious personal presence of the poet adds impact to the poem. There exists a permeable membrane between the inner and outer realities of the poet. Expressing this interplay effectively requires not only skill and sensitivity but also self-awareness.
This is a poem of revelation, hinging on the moment where the speaker bleats back at the goat--"at first in jest, then because the voice of grief/  is one unchanging everlasting note." It is also a moment of recognition, as mockery turns to empathy.
From here the recognition of the universality of this primal sound of pain opens outward, as the speaker recognizes the goat as having a "Semitic" face. Saba was of Jewish descent and forced to flee his native Italy due to fascist racial discrimination laws instituted during World War II. Here he not only sees the goat as one of his "people" ethnically but recognizes the sound of pain within its bleat as representing "grievances regarding every evil,/from every throat."
The poem effectively explores the interplay between the outer experience of the lonely goat and the inner experience of the speaker's own pain through this moment of well-observed revelation. The moment is also well-observed outwardly, as the recognition of the universality of pain is not forced down upon the poem through artificial means--it is drawn out through the external description of both man and goat.
In this way, Saba gives us a poem with a certain veracity akin to the bleating itself. He is alive to the experience of man and goat, reporting the interplay between inner and outer, between the "I" and the observed goat, in a way that does not feel forced. Instead, through this recognition and report, we are given a powerfully symbolic account that feels genuine, and strikes us as a momentary but essential remark on the human (and animal) condition.