Posts Tagged ‘contemporary poetry’

New Collected Poems, Tomas Transtromer. Translated and Introduced by Robin Fulton

Robin Fulton in his Introduction to the Bloodaxe edition of Tomas Transtromer’s ‘New Collected Poems’ (2002), writes of the poem sequence Baltic’s ‘arch-like patterning of themes.’ Page 15, Introduction, ibid.
Instantly I was paying attention.

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In the nineteen-seventies Tomas Transtromer published his poem sequence ‘Baltics’.
It is based, we are told, on the writer finding (inheriting?) his grandfather’s ship’s log. He was a sea captain, and sailed the archipelago of islands from Stockholm to the Baltic regularly.
His home was one of the islands of the archipelago. From this grew an exploration of the writer’s family history, and its repercussions and interrelations with history and events.

If we look at ‘Baltics’ for its structure and thematic patternings we can see many interesting features.
It is a sequence of six poems of varying length. Poem Three has a striking structure, the beginning and ending sections enclosing an isolated word in capitals. In the first part of the poem we encounter a 12th Century church font; the writer imagines it revolving in his memory. Immediately prior to the last isolated word (MANDRAKE) we have an image as of a rotating lighthouse: ‘The strategic planetarium rotates. The lenses stare into the dark (…).’

This central division is critical to the sequence as a whole, treating as it does of transition from heritage issues and memories to a more contemporarily responsive approach.

The whole sequence begins with the grandfather in poem one, with the list of all the ships he has worked on; it is in effect a log book and also the diary of a man unused to recording his inner life.
The last poem in the sequence, poem VII, concentrates on the grandmother, and emphasises her unwillingness to dwell on or explore the past of her life. This attitude frees her, we read, ‘to catch what was new/ and catch hold of it.
The grandfather disappeared from sight, the grandmother remained, if only in the writer’s memory.

Many have argued that this sequence marked a turning point in Tomas Transtromer’s writing, from more closed and structurally conservative modes to more open and free-ranging modes.

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Images of wind and water recur in many guises throughout the sequence. We open with fog, a combined air and water image, as the grandfather seaman edges his way through the Swedish archipelago into the Baltic. The air/wind image is taken into the next poem, where the grandmother shows concern for seafarers whenever the wind blows, even inland on her island.
Here it is contrasted with the image of free-flowing life the child surmises the wind to be. The wind can fan the flames, or blow them out.
It is in this poem we encounter the theme of the unknown threat. The threat is turned into a benign image: the sea mine was made safe, used as an ornament. The threat is from outside, whether as here the devices of a nation at war, or later where an imposed political totalitarianism brings in the contemporary reference to eastern Europe in the depths of the Cold War.

This water image recurs in the next poem as an image of peace and safety: the church font depicts carvings of battles fought, the threat theme recurring again, but once more made safe in the use of water as a placid element. In the central section the steamer continues the water and danger themes until, ‘a hundred year’s later’ and shore-based, the threat is made safe once more. The poem is top and tailed with the image of religion paralleled with the superstition surrounding the mandrake. Both are assumed to have magical properties. The writer includes the font water into this assessment by implication. By doing so he smudges any strict demarcation of paralleled elements to great effect.

Poem Four is a short but interesting piece. It is paraphrased in the first line: ‘From leeward/ close ups.’ We encounter Bladderwrack seaweed, a Bullhead fish, then the shore-based rock face on the lee-side.

We again meet the image of water, the Baltic Sea, and picking up on the previous image of the font water as placid, a calm endless roof of sea. The sailing image returns: the flag we sail under washed-out, sun-bleached – a wonderful image of sailing under all flags and none; the parochial and national identity has broken down: the close-ups have given us a sense of perspectives: near and far as a necessary relationship, inter-dependent and mutually productive.
As a poem this too falls into two contrasted halves. Note that they are not opposed but made safe by being put into a mutually reciprocal relationship. Is it another chiasmus? A chiasmus of an order we have not come across before?

Poem Five gives us an influx of jellyfish, they are not a threat so much as a curiosity, a symptom even.
Air recurs as a wordless condition, a mis-condition of the brain – aphasia (Aphasia as a rewriting of history: what was known is devalued, overwritten).
We find here that there can be style without content, there can be language without words. In poem One the grandfather attempts conversations in a kind of English, attempts communication using whatever means he can.

Threat recurs; we have seen the danger of fog at sea, of war and the sea mine, here we have the totalitarian regime that denounces the Conservertoire Director. His response after eventual rehabilitation is aphasia: danger, and its consequences. The close-up of a snail in the grass opens up the vista a time: Franciscans brought them here as a food. The influence from outside again, but this time benign.

Poem VII gives us the grandmother’s story. And it is harrowing: TB and the loss of one’s family, it also looks at the meaning of family: another close up. Family as blood-kin can also mean being used as an unpaid servant. The grandmother refuses to look back, to be caught up in the recriminations and self-recriminations that are inevitably produced by this. 

The poem moves with the narrator whose memory keeps the grandmother alive. The archipelago reappears. This time the narrator uses an island fisherman’s cottage. Wind and water recur as potent images, this time of a sense of time moving on, and of perspectives opening up, newness becoming possible.

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The patternings tie together the poems, rather than opposing them as we might expect with a chiasmus. Nor do we find structurally reversed placing of theme or image between first and latter half of the sequence as a whole.  

Transtromer has noted that ‘Baltics’ marks the writer’s ‘most consistent attempt to write music’, that is, to structure the sequence thematically as a musical piece.
Helen Vendler remarked on Tomas Transtromer’s abiding concern with music in his work, particularly the work of Schubert, Grieg and Liszt, which he could play himself very competently (http://www.newrepublic.com/article/books-and-arts/magazine/99536/tomas-transtromer poetry-inexplicit). It has been suggested that his return to piano helped him over a critical period in his life, aged fifteen.

Schubert’s last sonatas in particular make great use of recurring themes and modalities; we find here similar arching structures to what we see in ‘Baltics’. Musically they are called ‘ternary’ structures, and generally have the pattern of ABA, or extensions on that, ABBA  etc.

Commentators on the Bach Cantatas WebsiteBach Contatas Website: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Chiasmus.htm, have gone into some depth discussing what constitutes a chiasmic structure in music, and how it differs from a palindromic structure.
These are literary terms applied to music. The chiasmic structure, according to the Bach writers, must needs have more than one term between first and middle part, in each half of the whole; all else is a palindrome.

To apply a musical term in turn, we can say then that a ternary structure does have similarities to a chiasmic structure. In practical terms things are much more complex: tonality and melodic elements are the elements of the structure. Schubert even introduced intermediate tonalities that had only distant relations with the general key of the piece.

Tomas Transtromer’s sequence fits more comfortably with the less oppositional structure of, say, Schubert’s last sonatas, than with strict chiasmus and ring.
His psychological concerns here with conflict-resolution, appeasement of danger, the untying of heritage-issues and parental demands does seem to have accord with Schubert’s possible last accounting and valuing that went into how and by what means he structured those last sonatas.

In 2017 Flemish poet Miriam Van Hee won the Ultima Prize.

Of course, she has won prizes before this : Jan Campert Prize; Dirk Martens Prize; Herman de Connick Prize etc.

But with the Ultima Prize Flemish Culture Award went a bronze statue, and 10,000 euros.
This prize affirmed her status.


She is also a participant in the Puzzling Poetry trilingual innovative app :
studiolouter.nl

She was born in Ghent in the 1950s, studied Slavic Studies at university, and taught Russian in schools.
She has translated from the Russian such writers as Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, Joseph Brodsky, into Dutch.

1

Her first books were met with a little puzzlement, and then categorised : Neoromatic, they said. This was not it, no. A sense of bleakness, exploring of isolation and loneliness, became predominant.
This changed later, and her work took on a new vibrancy, outwardness.

I have misrepresented here. The earlier books were realist, dealt with real subjects. That, of course, is indeed bleak. The world is nowhere near as settled and human-friendly as we think it is.

Her work has sought out places of healing, of peace from our turmoil of experiences that living is.

Her use of language and imagery have marked her out from her peers. Among Flemish writers of her time we have what has been termed the baroque style. Her language was the plain style, the everyday, ‘conversational’ style.

She has much, I find, in common with the Dutch poetry Rutger Kopland. He was also misnamed on first publication as a ‘nostalgic writer’.
If we take his An Empty Spot to Stay : that is what I always wanted to be/ an empty spot for someone to stay – alongside her own earlier writings, we find a similarity of questing style, quiet, ultimately sane, an undeceived awareness. But also an acknowledgement of emotion, and an unwillingness to allow emotion too great a say: a search for balance.

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A phrase we find repeated from those earlier poems is ‘not afraid.’ We find it in Brussels, Jardin Botanique:

… it’s going
to rain, you think, and that you aren’t afraid.

and again, in Sycamores at Nimes Station:

they were growing old and would die
as we would but without fear…


The language betrays us.
There is no drama, no system of valuing here, other than the everyday sensibility we all employ.
The denied fear, with what seems such an easy gesture, is the existential fear, nonetheless, it is THE fear. How can we not be afraid of death?

The rain?
Did we leave the washing out?
No, this is the periphery, a sideways approach, to universal fears.

How can we not be afraid?
We are alive. Now. That is another time. This is the time for life.
That is the subtext.

In the Brussels poem someone asks, about transience:

whether you write to counter that
and if not, is it therapeutic then

Ah, yes the easy questions that demand easy answers. Living is a complex experience. Thinking can make it seem… accessible to thought; but it is not, except in fragments. For living is multi-cognitive.
Elsewhere she writes to the effect that she writes, as if to answer this earlier question, to integrate experiences and sense of self in the world, together.

All quotes are from Judith Wilkinson.

I have written elsewhere with reference to Rutger Kopland, that there does seem a strong phenomenology slant to his writing. I find it here also.
They both employ the ‘conversational’ tone; they both are quiet, ruminating, writers, and both are focussed on the here and now.

It is often said that Rutger Kopland had a anti-metaphysical sensibility.
This did not stop him reading and quoting St Augustine. The trick is to be, and remain, open.

Death is a constant, because it is… inscrutable?… to both writers.

Miriam Van Hee has a lovely poem, Summer End On The Leie, which begins, saying:

this is what a painter would see….

to counter, later:

how do you paint that you’ll never
walk here again, struggling
while your father holds you by the hand

And how that last image conveys so very much. It is, yes, a visual image, but it is also an experience, that struggling child with all her wants, annoyances, moods and excitements tumbling together.

Life, the here-and-now, are not just what is before us, it is how we react to it, what we bring to it, and what we’ll take away. The here-and-now is the focal point, only, of who knows how many dimensions of experience.

There is a still centre to these poems, a carefully discovered spot from where the writer can choose and manipulate words and language, mood and sensibility, to produce such multi-layered writing.

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So how does she achieve her effects?
She eschews all format other than line-integrity and stanza form. There are no upper case letters, no stops; the only punctuation allowed are commas, to emphasise/clarify meaning.
And yet the lines are strongly metrical; there is the echoic whisper of assonance. 

The line follows thought, and breaks where thought moves. It takes great craft, skill, to arrange the line like this. The thought is often ruminative, considering a past action or event – after all, whatever we are aware of is a past event. To register a real now in a meaningful and full way still entails a future action of recording. All records are of past events. 

Anne Marie Musschoot in her essay With A View of the Landscape, the Poetic World of Miriam Van Hee, https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/55747832.pdf writes of the search for interiority in her writing. It is as though part of an equation with ‘out there’. The search for self space is very much in keeping with the European experience in the time of closed frontiers, entrenched political confrontation – to encapsulate, part of the Cold War experience for those on or near the front lines.

This can also be found in her use of language, avoiding rhetoric and big concepts. Her language persuades as all language does, is always rhetorical to a degree, but she asks us to listen and to also prompts us to think. The essay says: ‘Great’ feelings are expressed simply and unassumingly, in a manner averse to pathos and reduced to everyday proportions, in language closely resembling natural speech.  
That is, not street speech : the brag and self-promotion of ‘street’, nor the ‘social glue’ of like-sounds, phrases, but communication that is loaded with gender, culture, one’s time, one’s experience and response to one’s time.

She is often considered a ‘domestic’ writer, concerned with home, children, limited environment. There is always, as we noted above, the other part of her equation. The ‘distance’, and the longing are part of the exploration, mapping, of self’s space in collective society. This in itself is an act of refusal that is also a positive act of valuing. 

An interview in stellarmarispoetry https://stellamarispoetry.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/buitenland-miriam-van-hee/

has: 
The four elements – earth, water, air and fire – keep playing their game; every new landscape offers a treasure: you remembered / all those sunsets / behind the dark forests / breath-taking / sunsets. Apart from the different landscapes, she also ‘touches’ the earth’s origins: the earth’s crust moved and continents / they rose as tall, rebellious children, / they crashed / on others and out the fire / rose mountains, heavy and mad.

We also read in this article:
besides,/the word apricot disappeared and Moscow,/
which I would very much want to read as a reference to Inger Christensen’s Alfabet (published 1981), along with referencing the status of opennness of her study-centre, heart, of Slavic Europe and Asia. 
The fall of the Berlin Wall, the opening of Russia, coincided with an opening up in her work.

So, is she a poet of resistance?

If we consider the Russian poets she has translated, then we can see that all were poets of resistance, poets of personal value in mass society.

Miriam Van Hee’s choice of non-punctual, upper-case avoidance, writing style, echoes the approach by East European poets in the Cold War. There – see Zbigniew Herbert, for example – the style challenges the monolithic power-structures imposed upon them. By inverting the grandiosity, style, structures of discourse, of the Socialist Realist ideology, they sought to undermine its energy-sources, their tentacular reaching into lives.
Miriam Van Hee grew up in that environment, in the midst of the post-War world of the Soviet experiment, and its human costs, and of the West’s at times maniacal responses and posturing.

Also, the path Miriam Van Hee has travelled in her books bears many similarities in tone and response to that of the East German writer Elke Erb.
Elke Erb has relentlessly sought out the self-value, not just of herself, but for each of us. She has also sought to identify power-structures in society, cultures, social interactions, and to refuse and defuse them, whether they be gender-based, economic (which, of course, are all inter-connected), political etc.

I argue that both experienced similar journeys towards wholeness, and away from vacuous but vicious social and political constructs.

Other voices are always given equal weight in Miriam Van Hee’s poems, the ‘I’ does not declaim or dominate. There is a searching out of the workings of democracy in this.

If we look again at the Summer End On The Leie, it begins:

this is what a painter would see :
the bleached grassy bank, chestnuts
and lime trees….
On the other bank a walker, and his
thoughts, how do you paint those
………..
……………


from where we’re seated you can’t see
the water itself and I’m still wondering how you
paint distances…..
……………….
……………… and how you capture the past
when you still walked there yourself

how do you paint that you’ll never
walk there again…….


Is there a teasing-out of who, and how that who, holds the definite interpretations? In effect, the accepted translation of experience and reality? In other words, who determines the power-relations between people, between personal and public, between personal knowledge and accepted knowledge?

In The Pyramid of The Sun (Teotihuacan) she writes of how the singular personal act of climbing the pyramid reveals further and further views. Of what? Of how the pyramid is part of bigger complex, how other pyramids show further off, how houses and dusty roads appear : ‘a kind one connectedness’.
The poem ends:

you thought of the birds again, you’d
always been in awe of them, the way
they’d spread their wings at the last moment,
to set sail in the sky

A form of transcendence? Of the ability of the singular human experience to experience a kind of ‘freedom’?

In Kriekerijstraat, Sint-Amandsberg , she writes:

there are gardens that have escaped someone’s
watchful eye…..


(Kriekkerijstraat, is the part of Ghent the writer grew up. If you look it up on Google Maps you find an incredibly clean, litterless, un-graffitti’d area. Astonishing. Like somewhere that has indeed ‘escaped someone’s watchful eye’)

If my argument has validity, then it may be possible to read those early books, the snowed-in landscapes, the isolated and shut-down discourse, as empathetic responses to the Cold War human experiences of cultures she found sympathy with early-on. Enough to pursue three year’s of highly concentrated study, and many, many years teaching, and translating.

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The fullest current resource for the writing of Miriam Van Hee, in translation, is the generous selection of Judith Wilkinson, and available on Poetry International.
The site also has a great introduction to the writer, and lists availabilty. There is also a generous bibliography:

https://www.poetryinternational.org/pi/poet/866/Miriam-Van-hee/en/tile


The Shoestring Press selection of her work, Instead of Silence (1997), has long been out of print.

The translator, Judith Wilkinson does certainly need mention, though.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Wilkinson

Her own website:
judithwilkinson.net

How to make an assessment of the writings/works of Friederike Mayröcker?
Maybe by not doing so.

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For a long time it was Friederike-Mayröcker-and-Ernst-Jandl. 
They were inseparable in many way, the ways that really mattered. 
They collaborated on performance and radio pieces – their work was more sound art, vocal layering, than what we think of as a ‘play’, ‘drama’.
And between them they won innumerable prizes. Among them the top, Georg Büchner Prize, for Friederike Mayröcker.
Friederike Mayröcker’s work has always been distinctive. 
The Poetry Foundation site tells us, She is associated with the experimental German writers and artists of the Wiener Gruppe (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/friederike-mayrocker).

Widely and deeply read, the work she has produced is deeply referenced – whether to Robert and Clara Schumann’s Marriage Diaries, Samuel Beckett, Jacques Derrida, Friedrich Hölderlin, and probably a huge number that I do not recognise.
And not only European writers: she references Frank O’Hara, Jorie Graham, James Joyce, in Scardanelli alone. Elsewhere she gives John Dowland, Gertrude Stein, Glen Gould, even Blixa Bargeld of Einsturzende Neubauten – in other words, very eclectic.

Friederike-Mayröcker-and-Ernst-Jandl are/were both Austrian writers, born within a few years of each other in 1020s Vienna.
This places them in the same environment and time as Ingeborg Bachmann (born Klagenfurt, Carinthia, but Vienna-based). Her novel, Malina, is based in Vienna’s district 6, whilst Friederike Mayröcker has lived a few minutes tram journey away, in district 5, for fifty years or more.


Ernst Jandl.
He wrote he started off as a conventional enough poet, but then he went to a meeting of concrete poets/Dadaists… and the fun they were having, the enjoyment…. Joie de vivre was very much his.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_Jandl

and
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPCR17dvfmg

But then he went and died in 2000. After fifty years together.

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Her subsequent publications include:
Requiem for Ernst Jandl (2001. Published Seagull Books, 2018),
Embracing the Sparrow Wall Or 1-Schumann-Madness (2011; Oomph Books, 2019),
Scardanelli (2018; The Song Cave, 2018),

chart the loss, and also continuance:

When your soul is bleeding, says Elke Erb, how can you not find words, says Elke Erb, among Mongolia melancholy monochrome and green passers-by, is he not sending you a profusion of loving-souls, and you in their midst…(translation Roslyn Theobald, Requiem for Ernst Jandl)

And you can read here the shifts of register, tone. The repetition is like a reminding, a keeping-concentration, and so not flowing away with distress – there is that, it is part of grieving, has to be allowed/admitted/lived-with.
The text is not public display, nor wholly self-referential, but walks a path where the borders blend. Do not think of strict demarcations between states, intents, because there are none.

And yet the text is here presented for publication. There have been public readings.
This is the personal made the default; the public persona has been ousted. There have been more than enough of those, thank you.

To read/listen, is to navigate the seas, the jungles and seas, of living responsiveness to the self’s and the world’s demands.

Book blurb gives us:

Tumult, ferocity, flow, immersion… reinterprets literary vocation as total theatre (Wayne Koestenbaum, Scardanelli)
( – Scardanelli is one way Friederich Hölderlin addressed himself in his ‘madness’.)

The title of her earlier, 1990s and long out of print selection in translation on Caracanet, is Raving Language

…this quiet but passionate lament grows into a song of enthralling intensity.(Roslyn Theobald, Requiem for Ernst Jandl)

There is also ‘quiet… intensity’ in Embracing the Sparrow-Wall Amid The Ivy:

whether the wet laundry in my chamber and thinking of Silvie what all she requited to me on that day when HE was buried she slept beside that night because I was afraid to remain alone and the composition >>To Silvia<< by Franz Schubert which haunted me because I had cried a lot and the winter tapped against the glass…

This is not rambling, but following a trail.
Jonathon Larson, translator of, and in his Introduction to, Embracing the Sparrow Wall, writes of her constructions as a ‘cloud of sound‘, and of her ‘density and grain of phrasing’.

Her writing purposely eschews construction issues, rules and habits of argument, discussion, the public voice, the ‘poetic’, for flow that eddies, discovers itself, discovers others.
Musicians are referenced often, and ‘orchestration’ is one way of describing her writing. And yet musical orchestration is a very regulated transposition of forms.

Her placing of words, phrasings, is with pin-point accuracy of skill. Perhaps this is a kind if transposing.
Of course, this taxes the translator’s skills hugely. She has been very fortunate in the ones listed here; they have done the work great service in making it available and also accessible to us.

All this points out the uniqueness of her writing, her forms, purposes.

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The Elke Erb quote, above, is interesting.
Elke Erb has lived throug the East German regime, from almost its beginning to its end. With the GDR’s iron emphasis on socialist realism and materialism, the survival of the term/concept ‘soul’ is all the more striking. Is this persistence, or resistance?

Wiki tells us:
 In his years of madness, Hölderlin would occasionally pencil ingenuous rhymed quatrains, sometimes of a childlike beauty, which he would sign with fantastic names (most often “Scardanelli”) and give fictitious dates from previous or future centuries.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Hölderlin

Why do I mention this?
The Poetry Foundation tells us She has also cited Friedrich Hölderlin as an important influence, describing his poetry as a type of drug she takes before writing.(https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/friederike-mayrocker

The disjunction between the tuning-into what Wiki termed the ‘childlike beauty’, and Poetry Foundation’s description of her creation from that: ‘the apparently random: the habitual use of collage techniques which layer seemingly disparate levels of experience‘ is very revealing.

The Institute of Modern Languages site, tells us of : the tension between a playful and freely associative poetics on the one hand, and concentrated discipline on the other.
(https://modernlanguages.sas.ac.uk/research-centres/centre-study-contemporary-womens-writing/languages/german/friederike-mayröcker)
Her earlier work has used the formal format of much experimental work, from the Oulipo writers onwards. We see this in:

Will Wither Like Grass. My Hand too and Pupil

will wither like grass . my foot and my hair and my silentest word

will wither like grass . your mouth your mouth

will wither like grass . how you gaze into me

will wither like grass . my cheek my cheek and the little flower

which you know is there will wither like grass 

will wither like grass . your mouth your purple-coloured mouth

will wither like grass . but the night but the mist but the plenitude

will wither like grass will wither like grass

                 Translated from the German by Richard Dove http://www.greeninteger.com/green_integer_review/issue_4/Friederike-Mayröcker.htm


David Constatine, in his translations of Frederich Hölderlin writes, ‘Hölderlin is a poet we can read with our own atrocious times in mind. He is a deeply religious poet whose fundamental tenet is absence and the threat of meaninglessness. He confronted hopelessness as few writers have, he was what Rilke called “exposed”; but there is no poetry like his for the constant engendering of hope, for the expression, in the body and breath of poems, of the best and most passionate aspirations’ 
(http://www.jbeilharz.de/hoelderlin/fh.html)

Hope, then, and the ‘best and most passionate aspirations‘ – there I think, we have it.

There is in her writing what she terms, ‘tender prose’.
She is very specific and determined about this description. See the interview for Green Integer Review: http://www.greeninteger.com/green_integer_review/issue_4/Friederike-Mayröcker.htm
And so:

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The title of her latest book Scardanelli, as we seen, is one name chosen by Frederich Hölderlin in his ‘madness’ phase.
And if we read the writings of each we see many similarities in style.
She had been working on and towards a language of expression for her grief, and ‘Raving Language’ was one description.

In contrast, her book, Scardanelli, consists of short – little more than a page at most, often much less -pieces. Lyrical remembrances of walks with Ernst Jandl, friends afterwards, walks in the mountains, Venice.
I say lyrical, because they are marked by emotive recapturing of moments of happiness, stillness.
If we read Frederich Hölderlin’s later poems – see James Mitchell’s: http://holderlinpoems.com/list_of_poems.html – we see similar short works, that capture similar moments of lyrical recapture.

Each book is different, in style, approach, and this really attracts me.
Rather than holding the same achieved poise in address, she experiments, goes where the need takes. For each book is an event, comes from a need rather than an flow of text, play of language, keeping oneself in the market.

Ok, here’s one from my secret chamber of cherished writers: Dominique de Groen.

She is a Belgian poet. She is also another poet who featured in the High Road to Culture – Lowlands Friday Verses slot.

There is also a generous translation of her work, plus great introduction, on the Poetry International site:

https://www.poetryinternational.org/pi/poet/29417/Dominique-De-Groen/en/tile

From High Road to Culture – Lowlands
https://www.the-low-countries.com/article/dreaming-of-the-sacrificial-lamb-dream-1

Dominique De Groen (b. 1991, Jette) is a writer, artist and co-founder of Marktkorruptie, a label that publishes magazines and DIY booklets. Her debut collection Shop Girl (het balanseer, 2017), was nominated for the poetic debut prize Aan Zee and the LZWL trophy. In May 2019 her second collection, Sticky Drama, appeared.

Dreaming of the Sacrificial Lamb

Dream #1

No one wishes bad things on the sacrificial sheep
in itself
but everyone wants to see it shiver
stripped of its perfect fleece

see how its perfect belly is torn to shreds
quartered by market forces
endless lengths of entrails pulled out
on its glittering navel ring.

Interpret this nightmare for me? Here is the money I don’t have.
I put my cards on the table but they’re unreadable.
On my smooth palms no lifelines but barcodes.

In the dream a rainbow trout swam
downstream along the till roll towards me.
It looked at me with sad eyes and glittered hard and cold.
Between us endless stony deserts of interpretation.
The kiss changed us both for good.

Is this enough?
The sky is bare and without auspices.
The innards black and without symbols.
The sacrificial sheep bleeds dry, alone on the chopping block.
Cold, hard blood trickles down the centuries. I shiver.

Against the generations of empty men I have my weapons.
The dry blood poisoned with copper.
No life possible here. But not there either. So.

Pull the plug out of the sacrificial sheep and the universe will
bleed dry, as above
so below.

No, this dream is too insubstantial
to be interpreted.
It is an impenetrable thing
that has nestled in me.
Leech that sucks the sickness from me
to which I cling.

The colour drains from the trout.
It becomes ghastly and white.
Resists the evil eye of my analytical mind.
The awful blondness of the pop princess.
Drag her by the navel ring to the chopping block
but in her realm the moon never sets.

When the water of the world was on fire
and all animals were boiled alive
and all suns rose at once

lonely whale in grey channels of this hinterland
a premonition of what was to come…

Spirals of life thinner and thinner.
Beings that warm each other till the end of time.
Till we too reach melting point.

In me, a soft lamb, evil spirits move
of toxins and trans fats
detox an expensive exorcism
I am draining
under a sky without birds
filled with entrail without microbes.

Demonology of a purified body.
The lamb primed with laxatives.
The anus raw and inflamed.
On the eve of the sacrifice.

And the animals burn in the night sky
like sulky supernovas
till we all become liquid
in their embrace.

Once again, Tom Christaens, sub-editor of High Roads to Culture, has given permission to reproduce Dominique de Groens’ Friday Verses. Translation by Paul Vincent.

See also her own page:

https://www.versopolis-poetry.com/poet/313/dominique-de-groen

And, on YouTube:

I would love a copy of Shop Girls.

ON Friday 8th April, the ‘High Road to Culture – The Low Countries‘ site published in their Friday Verses slot, a poem by the Belgian poet Jens Meijen.

Jens Meijen is almost unknown in the English-speaking world, which is a great shame.
His poem Luxe/Luxury took me by surprise with its reach, its implications, and its assured style. And also by its humour.
Translated by Paul Vincent, I have now gained permission to share it here, and have also included their biographical support details.

www.the-low-countries.com

This week’s Friday Verses are written by Jens Meijen. We translated Luxe (Luxury). This poem first appeared in Dutch in Het Liegend Konijn, a magazine for contemporary Dutch-language poetry.

Jens Meijen (Beringen, b. 1996) holds Master’s degrees in Literature and European Studies and works as an assistant and postgraduate researcher in political science at the Catholic University of Leuven. His first poetry collection, Xenomorf, was published by De Bezige Bij in 2019, and in 2020 won the C. Buddingh’ Prize for the best debut in Dutch. His first novel, De Lichtjaren (The light Years, De Bezige Bij), will appear in August 2021. Besides pursuing his creative writing, he works as a journalist and literary reviewer for Humo, a freelance translator, and member of the central editorial committee of the literary magazine Dietse Warande en Belfort. He has published previously in literary periodicals such as De Revisor, Kluger Hans, deFusie, Hard//hoofd and Deus Ex Machina. In 2016 he was elected as the first young Belgian National Poet.

Luxury

the customer knows that the paris fashion store where the customer
buys clothes channels all its income
into tax havens: where the palm trees are green with
dollars
the sun a lump of gold, the moon a lump of gold, the nipples
little lumps of gold
the birds long opulent tails
waving in the wind
and tax-deductible balance-sheet items are unloaded
onto the windscreen of an azure Maserati

the customer puckers its lips
diverts the air currents to its mouth,
cash flows, tangling roots
the riparian motions
that flow along the seabeds of the mouth

the customer complains about the careless stitching on the hem
of the cut-price trousers
and hence complains about the lax child labourer who sewed it
out of shame the customer eats the chemical granules that
are supposed to remove damp from the trousers and so
unexpectedly finds damp after all in the crotch

the corporation selling clothes channels
the streets rot underfoot
as if the customer steps in hot chocolate
the cut-price moccasins get stuck
in the chocolate
now the customer has to continue barefoot
and travel along mountain trails, meandering
paths, bays overlooking the ocean
the sun squeezed under its armpits
the moon wrapped in a cloth and held close
like a baby

suckling, stroking, a sweet rough skull
and so on the way to the edge of the world
to undreamt-of secrets, hidden under blushing bushes
looking for jewels, salty shells with ribbed rims
the world a Rubik’s cube
the customer forgets it is a customer
and thinks a final thought: I could serve as
an ash tray-holder make a career of it 
build a life out of it would be cool
so fucking cool

Enjoy reading.

Further information:

https://www.jensmeijen.be

What Was It?

Posted: February 24, 2020 in John Stammers Page
Tags: , ,

‘Venetian ‘merchants’, besieging Athens’
their artillery scoring Acropolis hits. 
Imagine it.
                       Sneering; 
we were always good at that.
Commerce and culture, ‘Bean-counters, 
and creators, makers.
’ 
Both bear our scrutiny.

How these thin columns hold their lintel
of argument. The frieze of warriors
that overlays bare stone, chisel marks,
the industries of art – overlaying
the sophist’s forgotten blind alleys,
with only the successful, useful
remaining.

                    What was my argument, again?
I forget, my concentration overlaid 
by an artillery of marketing 
and contemporary concerns, moments.

Chain

Posted: January 3, 2020 in Chat
Tags: , , , ,

Each day’s like a chain that hangs from its cloud.
Tuesday was clumsy, loose, not reaching ground;
today is fine-spun, hall-marked, many linked –
each link frames a dimension of life.

Broken chains are dangerous, lash out
whenever air stirs, clouds mass, trees bend,
and no storm breaks. How many died, do you think,
their lost days clashing overhead?

These chains connect us, we would not be
without them. They themselves could be
the finest spun, glinting, and delicate.

But they are not.

Every time you turned the street turned with you:
the languages, distractions, sales, and somewhere
a street band. You turned and the current flowed
around you, through you; kept moving. The window display
was there for you. Streets of bodies eddying, surged.

You still felt their tug in a doorway. Turned, and
lifted away; it fell from you. You rose
quickly and above it all; shop lights far below.
Rose past cornices, pigeon spikes, to colder air;
the smells of fast food, music, muting.

A sudden panic; the city lights indistinguishable –
you were rising faster, ‘How will I breathe?’
Higher, higher to break through to sudden
openness, emptiness,
and strung there
were huge chains of lives, channelled
across darkness — people connected, singly,
as far as sight was possible.

A policemen next to you, his difficult face;
the barrista who snubbed you, the shop assistant
who had seemed distant,  all there together,
connecting.  And listening revealed
high tones, metallic, different timbres. The planets,
ringing in the openness.

Linked lines of lives stretched from planet
to planet and the sun’s radiance. All connected,
attuned  to a vast, opening sense
of awareness, completion.

 

A cub reporter he was cobbling up
in the hot Turkish sun
that dries and chaps noses, lips,
the freckly European skin,
how soldier’s flake out under canvas
sapped by flies, and inaction.
‘At first,’ he wrote, ‘the skirmishing
kept them sweet, but adrenaline’s
as much a drug, a poison, as any
you can buy on the Turkish street.’

‘Now month on month, while the season closes,
shops close, and beaches are deserted,
they’re still here, still camped among
the growing dunes of cans, skirting
the latrine’s no-go areas.
The last flight gone they linger, inert
in airports with low-slung rifles,
assertive in bars, or hammer, drunk,
on closed doors late at night.’

And the horror stories the military
could not hold down: the travel guide
dragged off was more lucky murdered
than others they took.

Now sub-editor, on his desk
a new cub’s update on his winning story:
Contacts inside say the soldiers’ home-pay
is used by top brass to invest outside.
And so when stocks fall
cheques bounce, families… fail.

From his high window, watched
as developers bulldozed
an office block in the next lot.
His favourite Turkish restaurant
cordoned off; he sipped coffee
from a plastic cup; a superstore ciabatta.
The photo of his wife fell flat;
his coffee a telephoto lens
focusing in, focusing out, as a rumble
shook the superstructure.
Some hot-head cowboy contractor
had not secured the foundations
.

 

HER FRIEND SAID

Posted: September 13, 2019 in Chat
Tags: ,

reversing her beloved Beetle to angle it better,
the parking-space side-on, and the pampered Chrysler
there unexpectedly. Inevitably
the exchange of insurance, names and addresses.

To be weighed against a feather, judged, then passed on.

And he was late for the lecture he was giving,
and she for the first paper of her exam.
Aged sixty; sitting her Egyptology: she had applied
for a post in the city museum already. He was lecturing
in Quantum Physics, some current thinking.
They met, parted; lives stalled, and then restarted;
crossed lines diverging into complex futures.
The story starts where it stops, they walk out of shot.

The correct positioning of the hieroglyph
in the cartouche, she would say, is crucial to the meaning.
For him, the pilot wave spreads out, a pulse,
until meeting an obstacle, is then registered as a particle.
These lives that cross, but do not meet.
By mapping out trajectories we think to identify natures;
weigh what we observe; judge; then pass on.
All are part of the same point.